Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Schaffer's Permissivism

A couple of weeks ago we discussed Schaffer's 'On What Grounds What'. Although we discussed quite a bit about different, non-equivalent ways of characterizing 'permissivism' in detail, I got the sense that there was a general sympathy towards the spirit of the contention that existential questions about numbers etc. were somehow easy, and the harder questions concerned what grounds what, and thus what is fundamental.

In particular, those in attendance did not object to the following constituting a proof of the existence of numbers (p. 357):
  1. There are prime numbers.
  2. Therefore there are numbers.
This is just an invitation to people not in attendance to share their views ;-).

Lasersohn as a Truth Relativist, MacFarlane style

I remember there was a discussion at some point between Dan LdS and Manolo CG about whether Lasersohn is a "non-indexical contextualist" or a "relativist" (MacFarlane's terms). The discussion concerned Lasersohn's 2005 paper, "Context dependence, disagreement and predicates of personal taste", where, with the exception of a short paragraph whose interpretation sparked the debate, there is nothing to base a relativist interpretation on ("relativist" - mind you - as opposed to "non-indexical contextualist"; there's no question whether Lasersohn is a contextualist of the ordinary sort.) However, in his more recent paper, which we were supposed to read in our unofficial reading group on contextualism and relativism last year, things are crystal clear. Here is what Lasersohn says in "Quantification and perspective in relativist semantics", Philosophical Perspectives 2008:
What makes this system “relativist”? Different authors use this term in
different ways. As I understand it, there are two crucial features of the system
just outlined which make this term appropriate. First, sentences may vary in
truth value without a corresponding variation in content. Second, this variation
depends on some parameter whose value is not fixed by the situation in which a
sentence is used. (pg. 315)
And then he continues, relating his view with MacFarlane's:
These criteria are equivalent, as far as I can tell, to the claim that sentences
may be assigned contents whose truth values depend not just on the “context
of use” but also on the “context of assessment” (MacFarlane 2003, 2005a). We
treat the context of use as fully determined by the situation in which the sentence
is used; if truth values vary independently of this situation, we regard them as
at least partly dependent on a separate context determined by the situation in
which the sentence is assessed for truth or falsity.
Maybe the debate was solved months ago, but I thought I should mention it anyway!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kaplan and the shotgun

This is a non-serious post connected to Dan LdS's talk on Wednesday (which I suppose took place...). To be more precise, it's conencted to Egan's paper that Dan was considering. I haven't re-read the paper, but I remember I wasn't convinced that the Kaplanian framework has serious problems with (at least some of) the examples Egan is giving. Also, it struck me as a bad thinig that Egan doesn't think it necessary to sharply differentiate his view from the multiple-utterances view. If I remember correctly, Egan's preferred view is that an utterance produced at a given context of utterance expresses a multiplicity of propositions, which proposition is expressed being determined by the context of utterance together with the context of assessment (don't remember whether he actually uses this latter term, but let's stick to it for the moment). On the other hand, the multiple-utterances view has it that each time different assessors are presented with a sentence produced in a context of utterance (different from the respective contexts of assesment), that counts as a different utterance of the sentence at issue. [Let me here note that even the shotgun metaphor that Egan uses is closer to the multiple-utterances view than to his preferred one: the shotgun is the producing of the sounds, the bullets are the different utterances and the wounded people are the different propositions expressed. (Yes, this is Romanian mafia speaking. Shhhh...)] Now, the thing is I'm not sure Kaplan has problems with the multiple-utterances view. In defining truth in a context, Kaplan speaks of occurences of sentences. Could these be equated with utterances? If not, is the relation between occurences and utterances such that an occurence of a sentence can only result in one utterance being produced? My "I'll be back in 5 minutes" post on my office door constitutes, I take it, just one occurence of the sentence. Yet, it seems to me to spread around a multiplicity of utterances - one for each different minute (second?) the note spends hung on my door. Of course, to get across a content, someone needs to read the note, so that that someone grasps the proposition, but I don't think it's so implausible that there are propositions out there that no one grasps :-) (This is similar to the gravestone poem example, right? What does Egan say about that - how does he reject it? Sorry for being lazy...) So maybe Kaplan's talk of occurences gets things wrong, but defining truth for utterances instead of truth for occurences would fix it - in such a way that the multiple-utterances view is compatible with the "modified" Kaplan. Even if one finds ungrasped propositions hard to swallow, each grasped proposition gets expressed in a context in which there is both a "speaker" and an audience, located in time and space, which seems to me to be the notion of context Kaplan is using.
If you find this too confusing or stupid, please ignore it. :-)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Epistemological Nightmare

All our worries were justified: Two "Zebras" in a zoo in Gaza turned out to be cleverly painted mules:
The UN are sending in a hastily assembled squadron of epistemologists to keep the situation from escalating.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


We have had the first session of the new LOGOS Reading Group on Metaphysics. We discussed Varzi’s recent ‘Universalism Entails Extensionalism' in Analysis. I was quite surprised to learn about the difference between characterizing a sum of the Xs as
something that overlaps all and only those things that overlap some of the Xs
something that has the Xs as parts and no part disjoint from the Xs.

We also resumed a discussion we had last year about who should count as anti-extensionalist, allowing that there be two non-atomic things sharing all proper parts. Varzi mentions Wiggins 1980, but as Marta Campdelacreu pointed out, for a Wigginsian arguably the head of the cat is part of it, but not of a ‘mere’ fusion of its body cells, right? Any other candidates?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Illocutions, Perlocutions and Metaphorical Content

In his talk last Wednesday at the LOGOS Seminar, "On Metaphorical Content", Gergö Somodi gave an argument that puts pressure on anti-Davidsonian theories of metaphorical content, and suggested a possible way out, to be further researched and elaborated. Here I will present my interpretation of the paper, and I will indicate that, if I understood it correctly, the research project is indeed worth pursuing.

Following more or less the Austinian terminology that Gergö was using, and more or less the interpretation of Davidsonian views he was assuming, on a Davidsonian view the only illocution made with an utterance of a metaphorical sentence such as 'Juliet is the Sun' is the one whose content is the literal necessary falsehood that Juliet is identical with our star. It is true that the utterance conveys to audiences other, more sensible ideas, such as the claim that Juliet gives warm and light to the speaker; but this is no illocution, it is only a causal effect of the literal illocution on which the latter has as little rational influence as if that idea had been produced in the audience by "a bump in the head" (Davidson, sic). On a Davidsonian account, then, grasping that Juliet gives warm and light to the speaker is merely a perlocutionary effect.

Anti-Davidsonians like Elizabeth Camp argue instead that the more sensible idea is also an illocution (in addition perhaps to the illocution of the literal meaning) of the utterance, perhaps conveyed in the indirect way that indirect speech acts or conversational implicatures are conveyed, or perhaps more in the way that context-dependent meanings are conveyed. Now, the problem that Gergö raised for these views (as Genoveva helped me to appreciate) goes as follows: writers like Camp accept that an essential part of the mechanism through which the alleged metaphorical illocution is conveyed to audiences has audiences "noticing resemblances, seeing things, entertaining pictures"; but all of these are perlocutionary effects; how can an illocution be conveyed by essential perlocutionary means?

My initial resistance to this way of setting the problem was as follows: if perlocutions are defined the way Gergö proposed (intention-irrelevant causal effects of utterances), then it is not clear that the categories illocution/perlocution are incompatible. For understanding the literal semantic content of a context-dependent utterance, such as Kaplan's 'That is a picture of the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century.', might well be an intention-irrelevant (in the sense indicated by Gergö) causal effect of an utterance. But then the anti-Davidsonian is safe, because "noticing resemblances, seeing things, entertaining pictures" might be perlocutions but also illocutions, and there is no problem with the view. This would be clearer if we used a less question-begging description of the way we interpret metaphors, such as, in our example, "thinking of the target-domain of persons in terms of the commonly believed properties of the source-domain of stars", instead of speaking of "noticing, seeing, picturing".

Alternatively, we can define "perlocution" in such a way that the categories of illocutions and perlocutions are really incompatible, as on the Strawsonian definition that what is distinctive of perlocutions is that they cannot be produced by Gricean communicative intentions. But then it is question-begging to say that the way we interpret metaphors, through "noticing resemblances, seeing things, entertaining pictures", is a perlocution. The anti-Davidsonian would say that this is no perlocution, in the Strawsonian sense, but rather something that can indeed be achieved by means of communicative intentions, what, again, would be clearer if we described it in less question-begging terms such as "thinking of the target-domain of persons in terms of the commonly believed properties of the source-domain of stars".

In the course of the discussion (particularly the exchange with Josep), I came to think that this is also what Gergö wants to suggest, and that his point was rather that defending it requires a better clarification of what is usually meant by perlocution, so that we can see that effects that in some sense can be called 'perlocutionary' can contribute to properly illocutionary effects. With this I agree, in fact Gergö's characterization of a perlocution as an intentionally-irrelevant causal effect of an utterance is what many writers on these topics seem to have in mind (see for instance chapter 2 of Alston's Illocutionary Acts and Sentence-Meaning).