Friday, December 22, 2006

The nature of possibilia in Peacocke’s (2002) Principles for Possibilia

In the reading group on modality we discussed about Peacocke’s (2002) Principles for Possibilia, but we couldn’t finish the discussion about Peacocke’s ontological commitment to possibilia.

According to Sonia’s interpretation, Peacocke is committed with objects (possibilia) that are contingently non concrete (they are not concrete, but they could have been concrete.) So, a possibile exists in a possible world just in case that possible world involves certain non concrete object. That possible world would involve a singular Russellian proposition containing that object.

According to my interpretation (which corresponds to the theory that anyway I would like to favor), the principle-based account wasn’t committed with such mysterious entities. That a possibile exists in a possible world simply means that the existential quantification of its individuating condition holds in that world. So, a possibile exists in a possible world just in case that world involves the existential proposition that there’s something satisfying certain property (certain individuation-condition). But this world won’t involve the singular Russellian proposition that certain (non actual) object satisfies that property.

Now I’m not so confident about this interpretation, because in pp. 501-2 he seems to hold that he is not trying to resolve this issue. In any case, it would be interesting if someone could provide more textual evidence and/or an opinion about this issue.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

MM Sider (and Bennett): Whether 'exist' admits of precisifications

I would like to object to Sider’s claim (with which Dan appears to agree) that “questions of fundamental ontology … are not susceptible to the non-fact-of-the-matter argument since there are no multiple candidates for ‘exists’ to mean” (206); the standpoint from which I make the objection has some connections with the Carnapian view of existence, but they also differ significantly. I would object on a similar basis to Sider’s argument for 4-D in “Against Vague Existence,” Philosophical Studies 114, 142-144.

Sider assumes that there is a non-arbitrary meaning for the logical expression ‘there is’ or its formal counterpart ‘∃’ – non-arbitrary unlike the alleged meaning he envisages (204) on which it has to do with what Nelson Goodman says – such that it ranges “unrestrictedly over absolute everything, except perhaps non-“concrete” things” (204). He also thinks that non-arbitrary meanings such as this for the more basic logical constants are determined in part by eligibility, given the “existence of logical joints in reality” (205). I am happy to grant all of this (although later I will come back to discuss to what extent one should grant the latter assumption).

We have the practice of, and the freedom for, ascribing new “temporary” meanings to expressions with specific literal meanings, under certain constraints. This is what we do when we convey implicatures, and (perhaps just a particular case of the former) when we produce new metaphors. We apply this freedom to expressions whose literal meaning is fundamentally determined by eligibility, such as natural kind terms. Thus, perhaps ‘to swallow’ has a basic meaning such that it refers to natural events; but nothing stands in our way to use it “temporarily” for what ATMs sometimes do with our credit cards. I see no reason why we cannot do the same with more “abstract” or “formal” expressions, like the apparatus of reference – the quantifiers, the referential expressions which may occupy the “positions” in logical form “occupied” by the variables they bind, the identity sign. To provide a philosophical account of how this is implemented, we would need at the very least an account of how those “temporary” meanings are created, and one of what exactly is the literal meaning of the referential apparatus (even if Sider is right about the role of eligibility considerations, there might well be more to it, such as its cognitive and inferential role). But we do not need such accounts to accept the possibility of extending the practice to such a case.

A plausible case in which this applies to the apparatus of reference, granting Sider’s assumptions, is in my view that of explicit reference to, quantification over, and identification of, fictional characters; given a sufficiently elaborated philosophical account of the kind envisaged in the previous paragraph, we could develop along these lines a figurative view of fictional characters, close, I think, to views put forward by Stephen Yablo for abstract entities.

Now, a complication for Sider’s claim results from the fact that “temporary” meanings such as the metaphorical meaning for ‘to swallow’ turn easily into standard, conventional meanings. It is no easy matter to contend that afterwards they are still not “literal”, even if the meanings are related (so that the resulting ambiguity is not like the one in ‘bank’). Obviously, the figurativist about fictional characters I have envisaged would acknowledge that the “extended use” of the referential apparatus he posits is a fully standardized one.

Let us now apply this to Sider’s discussion. Here are three different candidates for ‘exists’/’there is’ to mean, granting his assumptions: (i) the nihilist is right about an “ontologically fundamental” core given solely by the eligibility considerations Sider mentions, and a figurative account along the sketched lines applies to the use of the referential apparatus that both the chaste endurantist and the friend of 4-D invoke. (ii) it is the chaste endurantist who is right about the core. (iii) it is the friend of 4-D who is right. Now, one could think that the availability of these candidates does not contradict Sider’s claims, such as those quoted at the beginning, because it will still be the case that “eligibility” considerations as a matter of fact select one of the candidates, no matter what it is and independently of whether or not we can come to know what their verdict is. But I think this would be to quick; it is here that I need to go back to this assumption I said before I was granting to Sider.

Eligibility considerations, as pointed out by Sider, have to do with sensible replies to Putnam’s “model-theoretic” argument, and similar arguments with an anti-realist basis for the indeterminacy of reference, translation or meaning. They come to the fact that causal-explanatory relations between language use and the objective extra-linguistic world by themselves contribute to determine meaning, independently of whether or not they are part of our linguistically stated beliefs. But they should be applied with care, and holistically. To go back to the analogy I have been repeatedly using, perhaps they can be invoked to argue that expressions such as ‘to put’, ‘to walk’, ‘to swallow’, ‘on’, ‘in’, etc., have, among their equally standard/conventional meanings, an “ontologically fundamental” core (the “more physical” meanings) distinct from more “figurative” ones; although it is not clear how exactly they do.

Now, as I said I am prepared to grant that the objective world comes equipped with “logical” or “formal” features, contributing as part of the global eligibility considerations to determining the correct semantics for a given language or representational system. But given the unclarity concerning their nature, and even more about how exactly they intervene in the global eligibility considerations, I do not find at all out of the question that neither facts about linguistic use, not facts about eligibility properly understood in this global way, give any verdict on the three meanings envisaged before for ‘exists’. In any case, I think the model I have sketched provides a conceptually coherent possibility that suffices by itself to refute Sider’s claims quoted at the beginning, rejecting a “dismissive” attitude (to use Bennett’s term) towards questions of fundamental ontology, in Sider’s own terms.

This discussion has, I think, consequences for the Bennett’s paper. I guess the form of dismissivism I envisage here is, in her taxonomy, a form of semanticism; although the view that there is no fact of the matter whether, say, the 4-D position is just a legitimate figurative extension of the referential apparatus, or is rather rendered correct by pure eligibility considerations applies to the natural kind existence, sounds also close to her “anti-realism”. I share with others that posted before on this blog the concerns about her objections to the analyticity of existentially committing claims. My main concern is whether there is room for a distinction between real believers and hermeneutic nihilists.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Suggested Readings for the MM e-RG

It might be interesting to open a separate thread where people can suggest further readings for the LOGOS e-Reading Group on MetaMetaphysics. (If you add links to e-versions, that is for everyone's convenience ;-)!)

Mine: McCall & Lowe 2006; Sider forthcoming; Chalmers ppt.

MM Sider: question about different sorts of dependencies

Hi all,

I have a doubt I would like to discuss:
Sider says that 'whether multiple candidate meanings for talk of personal identity exist, and what they are like , depend on what the true ontology of persistence turns out to be'. I know this is an example but I guess Sider would say the same for the other cases.
So, in Sider's view, the true ontology of persistence (of persons, too) determines whether multiple candidate meanings for 'person' exist and what they are like.
But, on the other hand, one would say that what the true ontology of persistence (of persons, too) is depends on our semantic intuitions about, for example, persons, or, at least, that to respect these intutions is a point in favour of competing theories.
But then the position seems to be quite unstable.
What do you think about that?

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Manolo P-O on Williamson on Possibilia

Manolo P-O’s reply to Williamson’s argument for the validity of the Barcan Formula (BF) in his contribution to the LOGOS Seminar last Wednesday appears to depend on taking a sort of instrumentalistic attitude deflating the ontological commitments incurred in building an account of relations of logical consequence (in his language L4). However, he grants that (i) L4 does have explanatory commitments, in that it is intended to account for consequence relations among modal statements. Here I would like to raise some concerns that, prima facie, (i) is inconsistent with (ii) Manolo’s rejection of the validity of BF, together with (iii) his crucial “material” contention in section 7, that there are objects not in the domain of D(w*). Let me elaborate.

(i) Firstly, consider Manolo’s analogy with the first-order case (section 4). Granted that “there is a model with respect to which Socrates is human” is a very misleading way of putting the L4 way of stating the non-validity of ‘Socrates is human’. However, unconstrained talk of functions and interpretations will not do to properly reflect the explanatory commitments of the relevant L4 statements. For, appealing to that unconstrained talk, we could also establish that ‘Socrates is identical to himself’ is not valid. The functions and models of which we talk in L4 must be restricted by a correct theory capturing that, whatever it is, in virtue of which some statements and arguments are first-order valid and some others are not. According to many, this means that they must preserve the meanings of the first-order “logical constants”; in the case of ‘Socrates is human’, the semantic categories to which ‘Socrates’ and ‘is human’ belong, i.e., that they must be assigned, respectively, object-like meanings and monadic-property-like meanings. The same applies, mutatis mutandis, when we move to the modal case; and here we must assume that the modal operators, ‘possibly’ and ‘necessarily’, count among the logical constants.

(ii) Now, Manolo rejects BF, i.e., he thinks that while, e.g., ‘it is possible that there is an object that LW fathered’ is true, ‘there is an object such that it is possible that LW fathered him’ is false; while (iii) he accepts that there are objects not in the domain of D(w*), WHICH ARE PRECISELY THOSE WE NEED AS WITNESSES for the non-validity of BF, i.e., for ascriptions of truth and falsity exactly like the previous ones. Thus, (*) THERE IS an object that contributes to making ‘it is possible that there is an object that LW fathered’ is true. My main concern is now this: Given the explanatory commitments granted for L4 in (i), how is it that (*) is consistent with counting ‘there is an object such that it is possible that LW fathered him’ as false? Given those explanatory commitments (particularly, that of respecting the meanings that the modal operators like ‘possibly’ do have), how is it that (*) does not commit us to the existence of a-possible-entity-fathered-by-LW? But this appears to be to grant that ‘there is an object such that it is possible that LW fathered him’ is, after all, true.

I think that M P-O needs to say more about the commitments and lack thereof derived from the explanatory endevours associated to L4; merely gesturing towards a distinction between “structural” and “material” issues is not enough for a reply to Williamson’s argument for possibilia.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

MM Sider: The Taxonomy of Positions

As I understand it, I very much agree with the taxonomical part in Ted Sider's ‘Criteria of Personal Identity and the Limits of Conceptual Analysis.’ Actually, as I understand it, his fits nicely with the three-fold classification I’ve been suggesting in previous posts ;-)! Let me elaborate.

On the one hand there are genuine semantic disputes, where participants dispute as to whether which is the correct analysis of a given target term or concept (of the sort of Karen’s martini case we have already discussed here). These are cases “under the scope of conceptual analysis” where premise 2 fails (see p. 201): “use” fits one of the proposal better than the alternatives.

On the other hand there are merely apparent disputes, in a certain sense to be dismissed—what Siders calls ‘no-fact-of-the-matter’ cases. He seems to characterize them as cases where there is there is semantic indecision between the alternatives: nothing in “use” (nor in the “eligibility” of the options) settles one option as the semantic right one. I think I agree that this is a sufficient condition for (true) “dismissivism” (actually, something like this seems what is argued in Sidelle 2001), I am curious about whether it is also necessary.

Finally, there are genuine metaphysical disputes, where none of the former applies (and I side with him against Karen that composition provides a nice example.)

Sider illustrates this with the case of ‘person.’ Let ‘person*’ be the entities individuated by psychological conditions, and ‘person#’ be the entities individuated by the bodily conditions. Every (relevant) disputant would agree that a description in terms of persons* and persons# is complete with respect to which (relevant) facts there are. The remaining issue is how there are to be described in terms of the older ‘person.’ If there is a semantic fact of the matter, then the dispute is genuine, though semantic. Otherwise, the dispute turns out not to be genuine after all, and all subsequent discussion should, I guess, be dismissed. Sider thinks the latter is the case, I tend to think that the former seems more plausible (see discussion in section 4), but this is another matter.

MM Sider: what kind of dismissivism is this?

Ok. It seems that I will open our second session of the Logos’ e-reading group on MetaMetaphysics. The text to be discussed is Sider’s “Criteria of personal identity and the limits of conceptual analysis”. In this paper, Sider tentatively defends the view that “there is no fact of the matter” as to which criterion of personal identity is right ---i.e. a ‘dismissivist’ position about this issue, to borrow a term from Bennett’s paper previously discussed here. However, the main aim of Sider’s paper is not to defend the dismissivist claim about personal identity but rather to clarify with the help of this example which form a dismissivist argument could have (sections 1-6) and argue that this kind of argument does not apply to disputes in ontology like the 3D-4D debate, the debate over composite objects, etc. (sections 7-8). The main idea seems to be that the dismissivist argument outlined in the first part of the paper could apply to those disputes which are decided on the basis of conceptual analysis (though he thinks that it actually applies to only some of them), and ontological disputes are not like these. I have doubts about several points of the paper, and hope to discuss all of them during this e-session. I start with two points on the first part of the paper, which relate to our previous discussion on Bennet’s paper.(I save for later some other points about more central issues in the paper)

(1) Which of Bennet’s three types of dismissivism suits best Sider’s position about the debate on personal identity? I would say that it is epistemic dismissivism. Though Sider repeatedly says that his view is that “there is no fact of the matter” as to which criterion is true (which could suggest antirealist dismissivism), he acknowledges that future philosophical inquiry could resolve the issue between bodily continuity and psychological continuity. Thus, it is not that there is no fact of the matter. It is only that, if there is one, we do not know yet which it is. But then, Dan’s point about Bennett’s epistemic dismissivism applies here as well: rather than dismiss the debate, we should keep trying and not be discouraged by the long standing epistemic impasse. (Sider acknowledges something like this, though, in pf. #7 of section 7).

(2) Can Sider’s view be considered as an instance of “semantic dismissivism”? I do not think so. And I think that the reasons why not will help to understand the semantic dismissivist’s position –a point we were discussing before here and here. I propose the following characterization of semantic dismissivism, which I think is in the spirit of Bennett’s official characterization and differs from the one given by Dan here:

Semantic dismissivism about the debate over ‘there are Fs’ is the view that the parties in the debate disagree about the meaning of some term in the disputed sentence and fail to perceive this disagreement is taking place. (Equivalently: they are not aware of the analytic character of the “linking principles” over which they disagree). As a consequence, they talk past each other when they argue about whether there are Fs, i.e. the dispute is merely verbal. The dispute could be resolved simply by first exposing the unnoticed semantic disagreement and then finding out who is speaking ordinary English and who is not.

So construed, the view is not simply that the debate should be dismissed because it involves a semantic disagreement (which could be relatively easy to resolve), but rather that something is wrong with the debate because the semantic disagreement is not being noticed by the participants.

On Siders’s view the debate on personal identity is much like the case in which the sorority girl and the purist disagree as to whether there is a Martini on the table; on both debates, the parties agree on “all the facts” (namely, that there is, say, a mindless body in a coma in front of us, and that there is an alcoholic beverage in a V-shaped glass in front of us, respectively). They only disagree about how to “describe” these “facts”. But this is not enough for the disputes to be a target of semantic dismissivism, as I propose to understand it. In addition to there being a semantic disagreement, semantic dismissivism requires that this disagreement goes unnoticed, with the consequence that the participants of the debate “talk past each other”. And this is what happens when they do not acknowledge the analytic character of the linking principles over which they fight ("there is a human body --> there is a person, there are simples arranged tablewise --> there is a table. etc). In the case of the debate over composition, what makes people talk past each other, on the dismissivist`s view, is that they are not aware of the alleged analycity of the principles they defend. In contrast, in the case of personal identity as described by Sider, this clearly does not happen. On Sider’s picture of the debate, the participants are well aware of the analyticity of their principles and cannot be described as being talking past each other (I am bit puzzled about the second paragraph in section 7, where he introduces the issue of ambiguity without explicit connection to the previous discussion). Thus, his view about this particular debate is not an instance of semantic dismissivism, as I am proposing to understand it (in consonance with Bennett, I think, and dissonance with Dan).

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Problem of the Many, Supervaluations, and the Sorites

(Cross-posted at bleb.)

These days I am revising this paper, once again :-(! There I argue against the so-called ‘supervaluationist’ solution to the problem of the many, which is often the one favored by fellow defenders of the view of vagueness as semantic indecision.

In a nutshell, I claim that the feature of precisifications that such a solution requires—selecting just one of the many candidate-mountains in the vicinity of paradigmatic mountain Kilimanjaro—render them inadmissible. In my paper I focus on the penumbral truth that if something is a paradigmatic mountain, and something else is very similar to the former in that which is required for something to be a mountain, then the latter is also a mountain. One other main difficulty, emphasized by McGee 1998, is that such precisifications fail to preserve clear cases of application of the predicate, in that there is no entity that is determinately a mountain—at least, on standard ways of characterizing what it is for something to satisfy a 'determinately'-involving matrix.

In Williams 2006, Robbie claims that, in virtue of nothing determinately satisfying ‘is a mountain,’ the solution undermines the explanation offered by defenders of the view of vagueness as semantic indecision such as Keefe 2000 of the persuasiveness that the (false) sorites premise certainly has. According to her,

“Our belief that there is no true instance of the quantification gets confused with a belief that the quantified statement is not true. … The confusion … is a confusion of scope, according to whether the truth predicate appears inside or outside the existential quantifier” (Keefe 2000, 185).

Insofar as I can see, however, the difference in scope in truth- (or determinate-) involving existential statements appealed to here is compatible with nothing determinately satisfying ‘is a mountain’—disturbing as the latter might be for other reasons, of course.