Does Deflationism Rule Out Relativism?

Bill thinks so.  He summarises:
No deflationary theory of truth is a substantive theory of truth.  All relativistic theories are substantive theories.  Ergo, no deflationary theory of truth is a relativistic theory of truth.
Yet it seems to me that to arrive at this dichotomy both the deflationist and the relativist have 'factored out' the most significant relativistic aspect of all this.  Namely that the truth of 'snow is white', 'grass is green', and the rest, is relative to, or at least dependent upon, the existence of speakers of English.  This becomes obvious if we render
'Snow is white' is true
not as the bald
Snow is white
but as
The stuff we English speakers call 'snow' is the colour we call 'white'.
It's as if the deflationist, having forgotten this, is happy with an empty theory of truth.  The relativist has also forgotten this but isn't happy with the result, and scouts around for an idea to fill the vacant space.

Perhaps another way of putting this is to say that if we are looking for a truthmaker for 'snow is white', then we need to look beyond snow and beyond white and include, as part of what makes 'snow is white' true, we English speakers ourselves.

Again, Bill says,
One version of deflationism is Quine's disquotationalism according to which the function of the truth-predicate is to remove the quotation marks from a quoted sentence. Thus "'Snow is white' is true" says exactly what 'Snow is white' says, namely, that snow is white. And "'Grass is green' is true" says exactly what 'Grass is green' says, namely, that grass is green. And so on. There is nothing common to these sentences in virtue of which they are true. 'True' is just a device of disquotation; it does not pick out a genuine property.
But we can render these sentences as
The stuff we English speakers call 'snow' is the colour we call 'white',
The stuff we English speakers call 'grass' is the colour we call 'green',
and it's apparent that these sentences have a common form in which the correct word for a certain colour property and the correct name for a certain stuff are used to assert that the stuff has that property, and it does. Is this irrelevant? Naive correspondence?

Expressing 'Something exists'

Bill returns to the limitations of language and logic.  He offers the following 'surely valid and sound' argument,
1. Stromboli exists,
2. Something exists,
and shows that the attempt to render this using the so-called Quine formula for 'exists'  results in a 'murky travesty of the original luminous argument'.

I agree that he ends with a murky travesty.  But he doesn't start with a valid argument.  The name 'Stromboli' is plucked out of the sky without introduction.  This can lead to even murkier depths.  See Bill's piece Deducing John McCain from the Principle of Identity and especially the comment thread which dives deep into the mud at the bottom.  Interestingly, Bill correctly diagnoses the problem, namely that a supplementary premise is needed:
1.5 'Stromboli' refers to something that exists.
Putting this back in at the beginning we get
1. 'Stromboli' refers to something that exists.
2. Stromboli exists.
3. Something exists.
Substituting the equivalent Anglo-Saxon for the Latinate 'refers' and 'exists' in (1) we get
1. There is something called 'Stromboli'.
2. Stromboli exists.
3. Something exists.
That's now valid.  (2) is seen to be redundant and (3) is seen to be contained in (1). To render this in the language of the predicate calculus we first prise apart 'something' as 'some thing':
1. There is some thing called 'Stromboli'.
2. Stromboli exists.
3. Some thing exists.
This is equivalent to
1. ∃x.Thing(x)
2. Thing(Stromboli)
3. ∃x.Thing(x).
(2) is Existential elimination from (1) and (3) could be seen as Existential Introduction (aka generalisation) from (2).

The murky travesty suggests to Bill that
What I am getting at is that standard logic cannot state its own presuppositions.  It presupposes that everything exists (that there are no non-existent objects) and that something exists.  But it lacks the expressive resources to state these presuppositions.  The attempt to state them results either in  nonsense -- e.g. 'for some x, x' -- or a proposition other than the one that needs expressing.
Well, I'm not so sure about all that.  If Bill could let go of the bette noire of the Quine formula he would see that the predicate calculus language does better than he allows.  But he could still attack the murkiness of the predicate Thing().  [He does somewhere---I'll look it up],  As I use it here it's equivalent to Object() or Individual(), all candidates for the concept at the root of the Porphyrean Tree.  If Bill seeks the presuppositions  that cannot be expressed in the logical language, he might consider whether discrete individuals with discrete properties can indeed coherently be separated from the Bulk, ideas which do seem integral with the structure of the language.  But the existence of said individuals can be expressed.  That, as Quine says, is what the existential quantifier does.

Existence, the Bulk, and the Discursive Framework

Bill’s recent theological discussions have taken an interesting turn.  God is temporarily out of the picture while we delve into the limitations inherent in the Discursive Framework.  This, if I understand Bill, refers to the nexus of everyday language and logic, the thought that can take place within that structure, and by extension those aspects of reality that can be grasped within it.

With The Two Opposites of 'Nothing' and the Logical Irreducibility of Being he returns, in part, to his attack on the 'Thin theory of Existence'.  For Bill, existence is 'thick'---there is much that we can and must say about it.  But for Bill, the thin theory is exhausted by a certain formula of Quine's, viz,
y is/exists =df for some x, y = x,
which seems to reduce existence to the logic of identity.

We can agree that Quine's attempt at a definition of 'exists', if that is what it is, is useless.  But do we then have to agree with Bill when he says,
I find it self-evident that the existence of a concrete individual is an intrinsic determination that makes it be as opposed to not be?
Far from finding this self-evident, I'm having trouble attaching any sense at all to it.  If asked, What makes a concrete (material) individual be? I'd have to say something like this.

First of all there is an undifferentiated mass of stuff I call the Bulk.  Bits of stuff break away from the Bulk and adhere together.  When enough stuff sticks together for long enough we say there is a discrete individual, though we know that the most interesting individuals are also continuously swapping their stuff with the Bulk, though remaining broadly the same.  And we also know that the ways of stuff are such that every individual eventually loses its coherence, its stuff subsides back into the Bulk, and it ceases to exist. What I find interesting about this is that our best ideas about stuff aren't couched in terms of individuals at all, though our everyday language reflects the centrality of individuals and their properties to our lives.  If Bill's notion of the Discursive Framework is restricted to what can be said in the language of individuals then I can agree with him that it has limited reach.  But he hasn't quite said that.

Ask me about the existence of the Bulk and I simply say that it is a necessary being.  Without it we could not exist and the question could not be asked.  Beyond it we cannot go.

Intrinsic character?

Ed Feser finds some sticks in Nietzsche with which to beat the liberalism of New Atheists.  I was more interested in some of Nietzsche's comments on science.  Following some animadversions on the etymology of the term 'law of nature' Ed summarises,
A major theme of The Will to Power’s treatment of science is the idea that, despite having largely stripped from our notion of nature that which reflects the contingent perspective of the observer, physics still -- insofar as it rests on sensory evidence -- inevitably reflects that perspective to some extent.  Of course, to remedy this, physics tries to frame its description of nature in the abstract language of mathematics.  But Nietzsche anticipates Bertrand Russell’s theme (to which I have often called attention) that insofar as physics gives us only knowledge of the physical world’s mathematical structure, it does not give us knowledge of the intrinsic character of that which has that structure, and thus actually tells us relatively little about objective reality.
He concludes that one would be
hopelessly naïve in supposing that [] and that science gives us much in the way of objective knowledge.
This I find puzzling.  What does Ed mean by the 'intrinsic character' of, presumably, the physical world, and what does he think possessing knowledge of this would be like?  There is a clue in a Nietzsche quote:
The calculability of the world, the expressibility of all events in formulas -- is this really "comprehension"? How much of a piece of music has been understood when that in it which is calculable and can be reduced to formulas has been reckoned up?
The performance of a piece of music can be a complex business, as can our response to it.  Maybe there's not much more to comprehend in an electron other than its mass, charge, and spin?  Nietzsche and Ed seem to think that there is:  that the world might be knowable in a way analogous to the way a piece of music or perhaps a person can be known.  A rather romantic idea, I think.

Nietzsche also says,
It is an illusion that something is known when we possess a mathematical formula for an event: it is only designated, described; nothing more!

Mechanistic theory can… only describe processes, not explain them.
Perhaps, in the end, description is all we can achieve, in any domain.  I could be content with that.

Max Black exists!

No, not the philosopher.   Bill V. is fond of demonstrating his notion of 'singular existence' by reference to one of his cats.  'Max exists!' he exclaims, and his readers can imagine the accompanying thump on the table.  I've said many times now that this statement is true but uninformative, given that Bill must already have told us 'I have a cat named 'Max Black'', or some such.  I guess it behoves me to explain why our language has such constructions.  For if we think that language evolves by the elimination of the uninformative and the redundant, then surely such locutions should vanish?

Firstly, a singular existential claim like 'Max exists!' serves to emphasise and reinforce a general existence claim.  If Bill informs me that he has a cat called 'Max', that Max is such-and-such and has done so-and-so, and I am looking somewhat quizzical, Bill may say 'But Max really exists!' in order to urge on me the truth of what he is telling me. 

A second use for the singular existential occurs when knowledge by description turns into knowledge by acquaintance.  I know Max only by the descriptions Bill writes in his blog.  All knowledge from description is held but tentatively, at least at first.  We all know that what we read in the papers and what people tell us can be false, wilfully or mistakenly.  If I were to travel to Arizona and meet Max in the flesh I would come to know him by acquaintance.  I might well exclaim 'So Max really exists!'  Though I have no doubt that what Bill has told us about Max is true, nevertheless I am reassured when knowledge by description is confirmed by acquaintance.  Being the co-operative social creatures that we are this phenomenon lies deep in our psychology.  We are obliged to rely on information from others but are aware that we can be deceived.  So we are constantly on our guard.

Univocity of 'exists(s)'?

Bill is much exercised by an argument of Peter van Inwagen that he summarises thus:
a. Number-words are univocal.
b. 'Exist(s)' is a number-word.
c. 'Exist(s)' is univocal.
He explains that
(b) captures the Fregean claim that ". . . existence is analogous to number. Affirmation of existence is in fact nothing but denial of the number nought." (Foundations of Arithmetic, p. 65)
He goes on,
Consider my cat Max Black. I exclaim, 'Max exists!' My exclamation expresses a truth. Contrast the singular 'Max exists' with the general 'Cats exist.' I agree with van Inwagen that the general 'Cats exist' is equivalent to 'The number of cats is one or more.' But it is perfectly plain that the singular 'Max exists' is not equivalent to 'The number of Max is one or more.' For the right-hand-side of the equivalence is nonsense, hence necessarily neither true nor false.
So Bill thinks that 'exist(s)' in 'Max exists' has a different meaning to 'exist' in 'Cats exist', and he denies PVI's univocity claim.  After some more argumentation he concludes,
So if you want to maintain the univocity of 'exist(s)' across general and singular existentials, you must either conflate the 'is' of identity' with the 'is' of predication, or embrace haecceity properties.
Bill has always maintained that there is an important distinction to be drawn between what he calls 'singular existence', exemplified by such as 'Max exists', and 'general existence', as in 'Cats exist'.   For all the ten years or so I have been reading him I have yet to understand what he is getting at.  For suppose that Bill's cat Max is the only cat there is. Then Max is our 'witness' that there is at least one cat. That Max exists shows that cats exist.  And if cats exist then there is at least one cat, in this case exactly one, and Bill has chosen to call him 'Max'.  I can't see how the verb 'to exist' is being used differently in the two cases.

Unfortunately, PVI's argument weighing in on the side of this univocity thesis gives Bill a hostage.  For it allows him to come up with 'the number of Max is one or more' as a paraphrase of 'Max exists'.  Besides being ungrammatical English, Bill can argue that any attempt to make sense of this leads to unacceptable conclusions.  So PVI has scored an own-goal.

I argue for the univocity thesis as follows.  Observe what Bill says,
Consider my cat Max Black. I exclaim, 'Max exists!'
He says that his exclamation expresses a truth.  Indeed it does.  We can see it's true because his first sentence, which is actually imperative, tells us that Bill has a cat whom he calls 'Max'.  In other words, some cat, in fact the one Bill calls 'Max', exists.  Bill's exclamation merely confirms, or emphasises, what we know already, namely, that there is a cat and that Bill calls him 'Max'.  But this is a general existential claim. The singular claim 'Max exists' is really a disguised general claim.  I say that all existential claims are in fact general and the question of univocity does not arise.

Deducing John McCain?

In the course of Bill's recent discussion on the Univocity of 'Exist(s)', I recalled a much earlier posting where a lack of what we might call 'logical hygiene' leads to much confusion.  This is especially evident in the comments.  Bill offers the following conundrum:
1. (x)(x = x) (Principle of Identity)
2. John McCain = John McCain (From 1 by Universal Instantiation)
3. (Ex)(x = John McCain) (From 2 by Existential Generalization)
4. John McCain exists. (From 3 by translation into ordinary idiom)
Correctly, in my view, Bill identifies the trouble in the move from (1) to (2), though he tables a couple of other panaceas that he says are 'essentially equivalent'.  He says that we need a supplementary premise, namely,
1.5 'John McCain' refers to something that exists.
I would not put it quite that way myself.  The notion of 'reference' is a big topic that we have discussed endlessly at Maverick Philosopher, and the 'something that exists' seems to leave open the possibility that there might be something that doesn't exist, and we will be on the road to Meinongia.  So for simplicity I prefer to replace Bill's (1.5) with my own variant,
DB. There is something named 'John McCain'.
I call this the mention before use rule for proper names. This is just as effective as Bill's proposal for removing the rabbit out of a hat result that the existence of the contingent John McCain 'is validly deducible from an a priori knowable necessary truth of logic', as Bill puts it.  But in this response to my suggestion, Bill seems to reject the idea, saying that I 'seem to be denying the very possibility of coherent fictional discourse' and that he doesn't see the need for my brand of logical hygiene.  We await with interest.

Reference: do we agree?

Bill offers us some distinctions for our consideration.

A. Referring terms versus non-referring terms. 'London' is presumably a referring term as is 'Scollay Square.' 'And,' 'or' and other logical words are presumably not referring terms. Surely not every bit of language plays a referential role. Some terms are syncategorematical or synsemantic.


B. Purported reference versus successful reference. Asserting 'Scollay Square is in Boston,' I purport to refer to Scollay Square. But I fail: the square no longer exists. But if I say 'Trafalgar Square is in London,' I succeed in referring to Trafalgar Square.

I think there is room for some notion of unsuccessful reference but it isn't what Bill is getting at here.  If I say to you out of the blue, 'I am having dinner with Jane tonight', and you have no idea who Jane is because I haven't introduced the name 'Jane' into the conversation, then I think I have made an unsuccessful reference (or maybe no reference at all).  But Scollay Square was a well-known square that used to be in Boston, so the name 'Scollay Square' hardly fails to refer in this sense. 

C. Guaranteed successful reference versus contingent successful reference. It is not obvious that the first-personal singular pronoun is a referring term. Elizabeth Anscombe, following Wittgenstein, denies that it is. But I say that 'I' is a referring term. Suppose it is. Then it is guaranteed against reference failure: a correct use of 'I' cannot fail to have a referent and it cannot fail to have the right referent. The cooperation of the world is not needed for success in this instance. If I try to make a reference using 'I' I will succeed every time. But the cooperation of the world is needed for successful reference via proper names such as 'Scollay Square.' If I try to make a reference using a proper name I can fail if the name has no (existing) bearer, or if I get hold of the wrong (existing) bearer.

Consider: 'I am Ozymandias, King of Kings.  Look upon my works ye mighty, and despair.'  Is this a case of guaranteed successful reference?

D. Reference versus referents. The referent of a term is not to be confused with its reference. 'Scollay Square' is a referring term and it has a reference, but it has no referent. Not all reference is successful reference.

I don't get the distinction Bill is making here.

E. Mental reference versus linguistic reference. Necessarily, to think is to think of or about. Thinking is object-directed. Thinking is essentially and intrinsically referential. It can occur wordlessly. It is arguably at the basis of all reference, including reference via language. Just as guns don't kill people, but people kill people using guns; words don't refer to things, but people refer to things using words.

Agree with the last clause.  Disagree with the rest, which I think is back to front.

F. Extralinguistic versus purely intralinguistic reference. Consider the following sentence from a piece of pure fiction: 'Tom's wife left him.' The antecedent of the pronoun 'him' is Tom.' This back reference is purely intralinguistic. It is plausible to maintain that the only reference exhibited by 'him' is back reference, and that 'him' does not pick up the extralinguistic reference of 'Tom,' there being no such reference to pick up. Then we would have case of purely intralinguistic reference.

Yes, but 'Tom' could be an intra-linguistic back reference to the indefinite 'a chap' in 'I met a chap called Tom in the pub last night.  Tom's wife has left him'.  And this could all be made up.  Then what?  We need to clarify what extra-linguistic reference is.

G. Extralinguistic per se reference versus extralinguistic per alium reference. 'Max' names (is the name of) one of my two black cats; 'Manny' names (is the name of) the other. These are cases of extralinguistic per se reference. But 'he' in the following sentence, while it refers extralinguistically, refers per alium, 'through another':
Max is sick because he ate too much.
The extralinguistic reference of the pronoun piggy-backs on the the extralinguistic reference of its antecedent. The pronoun has no extralinguistic referential contribution of its own to make.

Leave out 'extralinguistic' and it still makes sense.  'Max' links back to the indefinite 'one of my cats' in the second sentence where the name is introduced.

H. Grammatical pronouns can function pronominally, indexically, and quantificationally. Consider first a sentence featuring a pronoun that has an antecedent:
Peter always calls before he visits.
In this sentence, 'Peter' is the antecedent of the third-person singular pronoun 'he.' It is worth noting that an antecedent needn't come before the term for which it is the antecedent:
After he got home, Peter poured himself a drink.
In this sentence 'Peter' is the antecedent of 'he' despite occurring after 'he' in the order of reading. The antecedency is referential rather than temporal. In both of these cases, the reference of 'he' is supplied by the antecedent. The burden of reference is borne by the antecedent. So there is a clear sense in which the reference of 'he' in both cases is not direct, but mediated by the antecedent. The antecedent is referentially prior to to the pronoun for which it is the antecedent. But suppose I point to Peter and say
He smokes cigarettes.
This is an indexical use of 'he.' Part of what makes it an indexical use is that its reference depends on the context of utterance: I utter a token of 'he' while pointing at Peter, or nodding in his direction. Another part of what makes it an indexical is that it refers directly, not just in the sense that the reference is not routed through a description or sense associated with the use of the pronoun, but also in that there is no need for an antecedent to secure the reference. Now suppose I say
I smoke cigars.
This use of 'I' is clearly indexical, although it is a purely indexical (D. Kaplan) inasmuch as there is no need for a demonstration: I don't need to point to myself when I say 'I smoke cigars.' And like the immediately preceding example, there is no need for an antecedent to nail down the reference of 'I.' Not every pronoun needs an antecedent to do a referential job.

In fact, it seems that no indexical expression, used indexically, has or could have an antecedent. Hector-Neri Castaneda puts it like this:
Whether in oratio recta or in oratio obliqua, (genuine) indicators have no antecedents. ("Indicators and Quasi-Indicators" reprinted in The Phenomeno-Logic of the I, p. 67)
For a quantificational use of a grammatical pronoun, consider
He who hesitates is lost.
(One can imagine Yogi Berra asking, 'You mean Peter?') Clearly, 'he' does not function here pronominally -- there is no antecedent -- not does it function indexically. It functions like the bound variable in
For any person x, if x hesitates, then x is lost.
I am tempted to say that indexical uses have implicit antecedents.  If Bill points to Peter in my presence and says, 'This is Peter. He smokes', then I can perform for myself the introduction, 'There is a man called Peter'. More needs to be said on this.

I. Reference via names, via definite descriptions, via indefinite descriptions. 'Socrates,' 'the wisest Greek philosopher,' 'a famous Greek philosopher of antiquity.' Do they all refer? Or only the first two? Or only the first?

As words none of them refers in Bill's 'extralinguistic' sense.  But I think Bill's distinction between words and uses of words may be useful.  For we could say that Bill refers to Socrates by using these words in certain contexts. I'd like to see this idea developed more.  The key point is that BIll's 'extra-linguistic reference' is something that we can achieve by using words in the real world.  It's not something inherent in the words themselves.

J. Successful reference to the nonexistent versus failed reference to the existent. Does 'Pegasus' fail to refer to something that exists or succeed in referring to what does not exist? Meinongian semantics cannot be dismissed out of hand!

I reject Bill's notion of 'successful/failed reference' and hence the question too.

K. Speaker's reference versus semantic reference. 'The man in the corner drinking champagne is the new dean.' Suppose there is exactly one man in the corner drinking water out of a champagne glass. Has the speaker of the mentioned sentence succeeded in referring to the man in the corner? Presumably yes despite the man's not satisfying the definite description in subject position. Here speaker's reference and semantic reference come apart. This connects up with distinction (E) above. 

I think it connects up with (I).

Purely Fictional Objects

It looks as if Bill's musings on 'same God' have led him back to What Problem Does Literary Fiction Pose?,
a reworking of an earlier post that we have already discussed.  He offers the following aporia:
  1. Purely fictional objects do not exist.
  2. There are true  sentences about purely fictional objects, e.g., 'Sherlock Holmes is a detective' and 'Sherlock Holmes is purely fictional.'
  3. If a sentence of the form Fa is true, then there exists an x such that 'a' refers to x.
For me, alarm bells were ringing before I reached (3). If we conjoin (1) and (2) we get
There are no PFOs yet there are true sentences about them,
and we should ask what the them refers to. Compare with
There are no leprechauns but there are true sentences about them.
So we can reject (1) and (2) without worrying too deeply about what it means to be a PFO.  I have claimed earlier that 'purely fictional', like 'mythological', 'past', 'intentional', and others, are not adjectives in the ordinary sense.

The Same God?

Bill has been running a series of posts recently asking whether the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim gods are the same god, whether Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe in or worship the same god, and so on.  Earliest post here and work forward.

Bill seems to think the answer depends on one's theory of reference, and in particular on a notion of 'successful (or otherwise) reference'.  I'm not so sure.

This has been a large discussion ranging over multiple postings and indeed websites, so I may well have overlooked something.  But all contributors so far seem to be using the phrase 'the same X' as if it were transparent and unproblematic.  If only it were so.  It seems to me that 'the same X' is ambiguous between what we might call a 'de re' sense and a 'de dicto' sense.  If I say,
It looks identical but this is not the same car as the one involved in the accident,
then I'm clearly using the de re sense.  There are two distinct individuals in play.  If I say,
He wasn't the same man after the accident, 
then I'm using the de dicto sense.   There is just one individual in play but two distinct descriptions or conceptions of it.

Everyone agrees that the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim conceptions of God/Yahweh/Allah are divergent, so they cannot be the same, de dicto.  Could they be the same in the de re sense?  This seems to be where the concerns with reference come in.  But I think the answer here is quite simple. If the founding scriptures of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are true, then God, Yahweh, and Allah are different names for the one god.  If, in particular, there is a unique creator of the world, called God by Christians, Yahweh by Jews, and Allah by Muslims, then these names refer to a single individual.  This much seems inescapable.  But these are big ifs.

And no theorising about reference in sight, to boot.

James Dean

  1. James Dean no longer exists.
  2. Somebody no longer exists.
  3. There is somebody who no longer exists.
  4. There exists somebody who no longer exists.
  5. There exists x such that x does not exist.
(1) is undoubtedly true.  Each statement seems to follow from its predecessor.  But (5) can't be right.  Where do we go wrong?

God and the world

Bill has been discussing the relation, if it is one, between God and the world.  He offers Gilson's account in terms of 'participation'.  But he finds it problematic.  He says,
I exist, but contingently. My Being is not my own, but received from another, from God, who is Being itself. So my Being is God's Being. But I am not God or anything else. So I have my own Being that distinguishes me numerically from everything else. So I am and am not that in which I participate.

Gilson does not show a convincing way around this contradiction.
Somewhat to my surprise, I don't find this problematic at all.  Suppose a wave could speak. It might say,
I exist, but contingently.  My Waviness is not my own, but received from another, from Ocean, who is Waviness itself.  So my Waviness is Ocean's Waviness.  But I am not Ocean or anything else.  So I have my own Waviness that distinguishes me numerically from everything else.  So I am and am not that in which I participate.
There is a reading of the wave's speech that makes it utterly unproblematic and indeed obvious and could not be otherwise.  And to this extent Bill's 'contradiction' is unproblematic too.  But we mustn't read it too literally.  There is a temptation to see Waviness as an entity in itself.  Especially as it may be 'received from another', as a gift, as it were.  And also because it supposedly 'distinguishes me numerically from everything else'.  If Bill's version is contradictory I say it is so to the extent that it hypostasises Being.  This is where Bill and I part company.  For I can't see Being as a gift or distinguishing principle.  Without Being I am nothing so to whom is the gift?  Likewise, in what sense was I undistinguished from all else before Being was granted me?  I can give an answer to these questions, but pace Bill's intentions in writing this piece, it's a profoundly materialistic one.

On Rossian physical indeterminacy

Further to understanding what Ross(*) means by 'the indeterminacy of the physical'.  Here is the operation table of a three-bit wide adder.  I have arbitrarily labelled the inputs and outputs.


This does not, prima facie, look like addition.  However, symmetry about the main diagonal shows that ⊕ is commutative.  Much laborious checking reveals that ⊕ is also associative.  More obviously, the element h under ⊕ behaves as an identity element:  h⊕x=x and x⊕h=x, for every x.  Further, the element d under ⊕ acts as an absorbing element: d⊕x=d and x⊕d=d, for every x.   Reordering the table with h first and d last gives us this table.

h a b c e f g i d
h a b c e f g i d
a i d b f c d g d
b d d d d d d d d
c b d d g d d d d
e f d g a i b c d
f c d d i g d b d
g d d d b d d d d
i g d d c b d d d
d d d d d d d d d

Perhaps the next thing to note is that the element d crops up a good deal.  Why this is will emerge shortly.  But note that, in combination under ⊕ with the other elements, h produces one d, e produces two ds, a three ds, f four ds, i five ds, c six ds, g seven ds, and b eight ds.  Re-arranging the table in order of increasing 'd-productivity' gives us the following.

h e a f i c g b d
h e a f i c g b d
e a f i c g b d d
a f i c g b d d d
f i c g b d d d d
i c g b d d d d d
c g b d d d d d d
g b d d d d d d d
b d d d d d d d d
d d d d d d d d d

Some structure is starting to emerge.  Note now that
so we might relabel a as 2e, f as 3e, i as 4e, and so on. We can also relabel h as Z, e as 1U, and d as ⟂.  This gives us a final version of the combination table for ⊕ as this:

 ⊕ Z 1U 2U 3U 4U 5U 6U 7U
Z 1U 2U 3U 4U 5U 6U 7U
1U 1U 2U 3U 4U 5U 6U 7U
2U 3U 4U 5U 6U 7U
3U 4U 5U 6U 7U
4U 5U 6U 7U
5U 6U 7U
6U 7U

We can see now that the table is generated by the elements Z and 1U.  Any non-Z element can be reached by combining a number of 1Us with ⊕, and in general, nU⊕mU=(n+m)U, unless n+m >7, in which case the result is ⟂.    Compare now the table for ⊕ with that of addition, +, shown below.

+ 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ...
0 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ...
1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ...
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ...
3 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ...
4 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 ...
5 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 ...
6 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 ...
7 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 ...
: : : : : : : : :
But for a relabelling of the elements the tables are identical in the top left corner.  There are, however, two significant differences between them,
  • the ⊕ table is finite whereas the + table is infinite, as indicated by the ellipses,
  • the ⊕ table contains mysterious ⟂ entries in certain places.
It should be clear that ⟂ is the adder's signal that it can't give an answer because the correct result requires more than the adder's three bits for its encoding.  This is the equivalent of the human calculator running out of paper while doing a sum.  That the + table is infinite may be the source of Ross's notion of indeterminacy.  For it would seem that the ⊕ table could be extended in infinitely many ways that are not compatible with +.  There appears to be an unanswerable question, Which of these extensions is the ⊕ table 'really' a small part of?      

(*)  Immaterial Aspects of Thought, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 89, No. 3, (Mar., 1992), pp. 136-150 (available at

Do you believe in magic?

At dangerous idea Victor Reppert recently published a short piece entitled Do you believe in magic?  There followed a lengthy comment thread, much of it the lazy slagging off that VR lets his commenters get away with.  Here is the original post followed by a comment I made and the responses it drew.

VR's original post
I don't believe that reason could arise from nonreason, therefore I think that reason is at the foundation of the universe. According to the naturalistic view, the normative arises from the nonnormative, the logical arises from the nonlogical, the universe exists without an explanation for its existence even though it looks contingent as all heck, the universe was finely tuned for intelligent life, purposes arise where none existed before, consciousness comes from a lack of consciousness. The very foundations of science don't even seem possible in the irrational universe that atheists believe in. Even the very fact that our thoughts are about something else is something that can't be captured by basic physics. It has always seemed to me that the atheists, not the theists, are the ones who believe in magic.
DB said
If magic is the intervention into the world of powers that lay outside it, then theists, on the whole, do seem to believe in magic. On the other hand, the gist of Victor's piece is that atheists, like Lewis Carroll's White Queen, believe in impossibilities. Are both claims true?

I can't speak for the theists on the issue of magic. But some of Victor's impossibilities are more tractable than others. Certainly, intentionality, normativity, purpose, and reason aren't present in the entities of basic physics. But what about the entities of biology? There are the beginnings of naturalistic accounts of how all four can arise in living things. Considering just reason, how do we explain that different people can reason their way to radically divergent conclusions? The Christian theist, I think, might say that reason is present in God at the foundation of the universe, but that in humans it is a weak reed on account of the fall. The naturalist will say that reason is something cobbled together by evolution that gives us an advantage in dealing with the quotidian problems of life. On metaphysical questions it's maybe not so reliable. This has implications for other of Victor's impossibilities which are less tractable. Questions as to the origin of the universe, its apparent fine-tuning, and the origins of life, present formidable problems to the naturalist, and perhaps to reason itself.

Modes of being?

In Merely Intentional Objects and the 'Existential Fallacy' of December 2013 Bill lays out his stall with regard to the intentionality puzzle in response to criticism from Ed Ockham.  It's the clearest exposition of his view to date.  It's a lengthy piece and I won't reproduce it in full.  But Bill's solution fails.  Here is why.

Early in the piece Bill characterises Ed's 'robust sense of reality' thus,
(C1) For any x, x exists iff x is both extramental and extralinguistic.

This is not intended as a definition of 'x exists' but as a clarification of how Ed is using 'exists' and cognates. We could call (C1) the Independence Criterion: the existent is independent of (finite) mind and language.
He ends by saying that he regards the following as consistent:
a. Tom is thinking of a unicorn
b. Unicorns do not exist in the (C1)-sense.
c. Tom's mental state is object-directed; it is an intentional state.
d. The object of Tom's mental state does not (C1)-exist.
e. The merely intentional object is not nothing.
f. The merely intentional object enjoys intentional existence, a distinct mode of existence different from (C1)-existence.
Very neat.  But let's apply it to the 'Sally wants a baby' case.   As Bill says earlier in the piece,
In the normal case, when a woman wants a baby, what she wants is not some particular baby already in the world; what she wants is motherhood: she wants to be the receptacle through which a new baby comes into existence.
So, at the time of her wanting, the object of Sally's wanting does not (C1)-exist.  Being an object of an intentional state, presumably it enjoys intentional existence.    But what Sally wants is a real flesh-and-blood baby that C1-exists, not some simulacrum in some barely understood realm of existence.  Note the similarity between this argument and the familiar arguments that reject psychologistic solutions to the puzzle. 

Bill's solution fails for the usual reason that Ed Ockham points out every time.  Things start to go wrong as soon as Bill exports the object of Tom's thinking, Sally's wanting, etc, out of its intentional context and makes it the subject of some predication.  Step (d) in the above.  In fact, Bill rather spectacularly begs the question against Ed in the course of his rebuttal:
Ed's complaint may be that I am committing the Existential Fallacy by engaging in existentially loaded exportation. Well, let's see. One thing is clear: if Tom is thinking about a unicorn, then he is thinking about something, not nothing. He has a more or less definite object before his mind. That object is not nothing; so it is something. This is a phenomenological datum that every theory must cater to or accommodate. To think about a unicorn is not to think about a flying horse or about the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine. This object is the object of the mental intention, or, the intentional object. It may or may not exist in reality apart from the mental acts trained upon it. So one cannot infer the extramental existence of intentional object O from O's being an intentional object.
Sadly, the very first sentence in the above paragraph that makes this false move, Bill regards as expressing a phenomenological given.  One can't be confident that any entente can be reached on this topic.

An observant reader will notice that I make exactly this move in my little argument above about Sally's baby, and may be inclined to think that I'm not observing my own strictures.  But all I'm doing is taking Bill's position, making the moves that he allows, and showing that we arrive at a contradiction.  This demonstrates that Bill's view is incoherent.  Diagnosis: Treating the grammatical object of an intentional sentence as an existent of any kind or of any mode of being leads to disaster. 

What I find hard to understand is how Bill can give a perfectly adequate account (quoted above) of what 'Sally wants a baby' means and yet still find it necessary to invoke the rigmarole of 'modes of being'.  But perhaps I shouldn't put words in his mouth.

Intentional objects and Meinongian objects

I have been puzzling for some time over Bill's talk about 'intentional objects' and also about these mysterious 'Meinongian objects' (some of) which are jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein, 'beyond being and nonbeing'.  This piece is my attempt to make some sense of it all.  It will not be an argument.  Argument is impossible when it's not clear how words are being used.  It just leads to the jungle.  I will simply give an interpretation of the terms that are used that I claim is self-consistent.  Readers can judge for themselves whether it reflects reality.

To think of a thing is to exercise an idea of a thing.  An idea of a thing is a set of properties (or predicates?).  To exercise an idea is to entertain, for some or all the properties or predicates in the idea, the proposition that the thing has that property or satisfies that predicate.   The propositions so entertained form the content of the thought.  The idea of a thing is thus a description or specification.  There is no requirement that there be an entity that satisfies the description or specification, nor indeed that there could be.  If there is such an entity, then the idea will be incomplete in that it can be extended with further properties/predicates that the entity has or satisfies.  If there is not, then we may say that the idea is uninstantiated, or is not realised, or has no being.  Thus an idea of a thing may exist yet have no being, in this sense of have being. If the properties/predicates are inconsistent with one another, or inconsistent with some assumed set of 'background' propositions that we accept as true, then the idea is impossible---it cannot be realised.  Note that, strictly, we must say that the idea of the thing is impossible, not the thing itself, just as we say the idea is incomplete, and not the thing itself.  The latter locutions, as I hope I have shown elsewhere, lead to dreadful tangles.  Note also that the idea of a thing does not do duty for the thing itself.  If Jack wants a sloop then he wants a sloop and not the idea of a sloop.  Yet the idea of a sloop must be inherent in his wanting:  he must have some idea of what he wants.  Perhaps this is how we should see Brentano's point that one cannot simply think or want, but must think of something or want something.  Such intentional states necessarily involve an idea or conception of the thing thought about or wanted.

I reject all talk of 'intentional objects', precisely because it leads to the aporias which Bill has so ably presented over the years.  Fortunately, everything which needs to be said can be said in ordinary language without using this phrase.  Intentional objects can be 'translated away' without loss.  For example, in The Aporetics of the Intentional Object, Part I, Bill at one point says,
So when Tom thinks of a mermaid, a mermaid is his intentional object. For it is that to which his thought is directed.
What purpose is served by the underlined clauses?  Is this an attempt to elaborate upon or explain 'thinking of a mermaid' in terms of a new theoretical construct?  If so, this is like explaining combustion in terms of phlogiston or the advance of the perihelion of Mercury in terms of the planet Vulcan.  If a conception leads to contradictions then it can't be instantiated.  Do we then have a use for it? We must, perhaps reluctantly, put it to one side and start again, just as we do with the concept 'rational square root of two'.  But Bill would say that I am rejecting what he takes to be 'datanic'.  For Bill, when he thinks about his blue coffee cup, there really is an object 'before his mind', just as there is a coffee mug before my eyes and hands (no scare quotes) right now.  Why do we differ so greatly on this?  This is a matter of psychology rather than logic, I think.   Possibly another post.

We now have the apparatus we need to dissolve all the aporias under Bill's Intentionality and Meinong Matters categories.  This is a bold claim, and I have no general argument for it.  All I can do is show how it can be done, instance by instance.  Here, for example, is a post from November 2013 entitled Imagining X as Real versus Imagining X as Unreal and a Puzzle of Actualization.
Peter and I discussed the following over Sunday breakfast.

1. Suppose I want a table, but there is no existing table that I want: I want a table with special features that no existing table possesses. So I decide to build a table with these features. My planning involves imagining a table having certain properties. It is rectangular, but not square, etc. How does this differ from imagining a table that I describe in a work of fiction? Suppose the two tables have all the same properties. We also assume that the properties form a logically consistent set. What is the difference between imagining a table I intend to build and imagining a table that I do not intend to build but intend merely to describe as part of the fictional furniture in a short story?

2. In the first case I imagine the table as real; in the second as fictional. Note that to imagine a table as real is not the same as imagining a real table, though that too occurs. Suppose I remember seeing Peter's nondescript writing table. To remember a table is not to imagine one; nonetheless I can imagine refurbishing Peter's table by stripping it, sanding it, and refinishing it. The imagined result of those operations is not a purely imagined object, any more than a piece of fiction I write in which Peter's table makes an appearance features a purely fictional table.

3. The two tables I am concerned with, however are both nonexistent. In both cases there is a merely intentional object before my mind. And in both cases the constitutive properties are the same. Moreover, the two are categorially the same: both are physical objects, and more specifically artifacts. Obviously, when I imagine a table, I am not imagining a nonphysical object or a natural physical object like a tree. So there is a clear sense in which what I am imagining is in both cases a physical object, albeit a nonexistent/not-yet-existent physical object.

4. So what distinguishes the two objects? Roman Ingarden maintains that they differ in "ontic character." In the first case, the ontic character is intended as real. In the second, intended as fictional. (The Literary Work of Art, p. 119).

5. Now I have already argued that purely fictional objects are impossible objects: they cannot be actualized, even if the constitutive properties form a logically consistent set. We can now say that the broadly logical impossibility of purely fictional objects is grounded in their ontic character of being intended as fictional. The table imagined as real, however, is possible due to its ontic character of being intended as real despite being otherwise indistinguishable from the table imagined as fictional.

6. Now here is the puzzle of actualization formulated as an aporetic triad
a. Every incomplete object is impossible.
b. The table imagined as real is an incomplete object.
c. The table imagined as real is possible, i.e. actualizable.
The limbs are collectively inconsistent, but each is very plausible. At an impasse again.
I have underlined the pseudo-concept terms that we need to translate out.  I gave up at the triad itself and underlined everything.   The first thing to say is that here we have just a single idea for a table.  Bill concedes this in para (1) where he says 'the two tables have all the same properties' and in para (3) where he says 'in both cases the constitutive properties are the same'. The two cases differ in Bill's attitude to the idea.  On the one hand he sees the idea as a specification that he wants to realise by suitably machining and assembling pieces of wood to make a table that conforms to his concept.  On the other hand he sees the idea as a description that he will transcribe or elaborate into sentences to be included in his next work of fiction.  Bill says he can 'imagine the table as real' or 'imagine the table as fictional'.  This is not exactly ordinary English.  If we take these phrases literally as attributing properties of 'realness' and 'fictionality' to the table, then Bill cannot fail to imagine the former and must fail to imagine the latter.  For 'realness' is one of those vacuous pseudo-properties like 'existence' that a table cannot fail to possess, and to ascribe 'fictionality' to a table, rather than a work of literature, for example, is a category mistake.  What we have to take Bill to mean is that he can imagine both the process and result of realising his design in wood, and also both the process and result of transcribing his idea into sentences.  How are we to render Bill's triad?  I suggest something like this:
  1. Every idea is incomplete; no object is incomplete.
  2. The idea of the table is incomplete; it can be extended with further properties.
  3. If consistent within itself, and consistent with true background assumptions as to what is possible, then the idea of the table is realisable.
I see no inconsistencies within this.

But what is thinking?

Here, with comments, is Bill's recent piece Do You Think Matter Thinks?.

If matter could think, then matter would not be matter as currently understood.
Alternatively, thinking would not be thinking as currently understood.  One man's modus ponens... 
Can abstracta think?  Sets count as abstracta.  Can a  set think?  Could the set of primes contemplate itself and think the thought,  I am a set, and each of my members is a prime number?  Given what we know sets to be from set theory, sets cannot think. It is the same with matter.  Given what we know or believe matter to be from current physics, matter cannot think.  To think is to think about something, and it is this aboutness or intentionality that proves embarrassing for materialism.  I have expatiated on this over many, many posts and I won't repeat myself here.  (Here is a characteristic post.)  Please remind yourself of the obvious: physics is not materialism.  Physics is science; materialism is philosophy.
Thinking involves change but sets, being abstracta, cannot change.  Ergo, sets cannot think.  Given what we believe thinking to be from current philosophy, matter cannot think.   But it clearly does.  We are prime examples.  So we need to rethink our thinking about thinking.
But couldn't matter have occult powers, powers presently hidden from our best physics, including the power to think?  Well, could sets have occult powers that a more penetrating set theory would lay bare?  Should we pin our hopes on future set theory? Obviously not.  Why not?  Because it makes no sense to think of sets as subjects of intentional states. We know a priori that the set of primes cannot lust after the  set of evens.  It is impossible in a very strong sense: it is broadly logically impossible. 

Of course, there is a big difference between sets and brains.  We know enough about sets to know a priori that sets cannot think.  But perhaps we don't yet know enough about the human brain. So I don't dogmatically claim that matter could not have occult or hidden powers.  Maybe the meat between my ears does have the power to think.  But then that meat is not matter in any sense we currently understand.  And that is my point.  You can posit occult powers if you like, and pin your hopes on a future science that will lay them bare; but then you are going well beyond the empirical evidence and engaging in high-flying speculations that ought to seem unseemly to hard-headed empiricistic and scientistic types.
If the meat between our ears has the power to think then maybe thinking is not thinking in whatever sense we currently understand it.   We should look for a better understanding of thinking rather than for occult powers in matter  That's my point.  Sorry to labour it.
Such types are known to complain about spook stuff and ghosts-in-machines.  But to impute occult powers, powers beyond our ken, to brain matter does not seem to be much of an improvement.  For that is a sort of dualism too.  There are the properties and powers we know about, and the properties and powers we know nothing about but posit to avoid the absurdities of identity materialism and eliminativism.  There is also the dualism of imagining that matter when organized into human brains is toto caelo different from ordinary hunks of matter.  There is also a dualism within the brain as between those parts of it that are presumably thinking and feeling and those other parts that perform more mundane functions.  Why are some brain states mental and others not?  Think about it.  (I have a detailed post on this but I don't have time to find it.)
I suppose, like Bill, that there could be further powers inherent in matter as yet unknown to science.  But I prefer to work within our present understanding of matter.  That means that we have to reconceptualise the mental.  And this is proper work for philosophy. 
One might ask, Is there a dualism between those parts of a car engine that are propelling the car and those other parts that perform more mundane functions?  
The materialist operates with a conception of matter tied to current physics.  On that conception of matter, it is simply unintelligible to to say that brains feel or think.  If he nonetheless ascribes mental powers to matter, then he abandons materialism for something closer to panpsychism. 
But we could also say that the antimaterialist operates with a conception of thinking tied to late nineteenth century philosophical phenomenology, and on that conception of thinking it is simply unintelligible to say that brains think or feel.
It is worth noting that the reverent gushing of the neuro-scientistic types over the incredible complexity (pound the lectern!)  of the brain does absolutely nothing to reduce the unintelligibility of the notion that it is brains or parts of brains that are the subjects of intentional and qualitative mental states.  For it is unintelligible how ramping up complexity can trigger a metabasis eis allo genos, a shift into another genus. Are you telling me that meat that means is just meat that is more complex than ordinary meat?  You might as well say that the leap from unmeaning meat to meaning meat is a miracle.  Some speak of 'emergence.'  But that word merely papers over the difficulty, labeling the problem without solving it.  Do you materialists believe in miracle meat or mystery meat?  Do you believe in magic? In a young girl's brain?
Of course, greater complexity pure and simple cannot be the whole story.  The organisation of matter is clearly significant.  The contrast between a single-celled living organism and a similar quantity of inert matter is one primarily of structure, though that structure will possess some minimal level of complexity also.  Does this count as a shift into another genus?  If so, does that mean we must accept a fundamental duality of the living and the non-living, just as we are asked to accept a duality of the mental and the material?  Better to say that living is what suitably organised matter can do.  Likewise thinking.  Which is mysterious.

The phenomenology of phenomenology

Here is another quote from Bill's  More on Ficta and Impossibilia on which I have commented before.
And, as a matter of method, we must begin with the phenomenology of the situation. Suppose I write a two-sentence novel:
It was a dark and rainy night. Shakey Jake, life-long insomniac, deciding he needed a nightcap, grabbed his flashlight and his raincoat and headed for the Glass Crutch bar and grill, a local watering hole a half a mile from his house. 
Now I couldn't have written that, and you can't understand it, without thinking about various intentional objects that do not exist. Am I saying that there exist objects that do not exist? No, that would be a contradiction. Nor am I committed to saying that there are objects that have mind-independent being but not existence. Furthermore, I am not committed to Meinong's doctrine of Aussersein.

All I am doing is holding fast to a phenomenological datum: when I create a fictional character as I just did when I created Shakey Jake the insomniac, I bring before my mind an intentional object. (The act-object schema strikes me as having pretty good phenomenological credentials, unlike the adverbial schema.) What can we say about this merely intentional object? First, it is no part of the acts through which I think it. My acts of thinking exist in reality, but Shakey Jake does not exist in reality. (This point goes back to Twardowski.) When I think about Hamlet or Don Quixote or Shakey Jake, I am not thinking about my own mind or any state of my mind. I am not thinking about anything real. But it doesn't follow that I am not thinking of anything.

If Ed denies that there are merely intentional objects, then he is denying what is phenomenologically evident. I take my stand on the terra firma of phenomenological givenness.  So for now, and to get on with it, I simply dismiss Ed's objection. To pursue it further would involve us a in a metaphilosophical discussion of the role of phenomenological appeals in philosophical inquiry.
Let me start at the end.  I too do not wish to engage in a discussion,  no doubt at an exceedingly abstract level, on the role of phenomenological appeals.  Nevertheless, we can usefully discuss aspects of the language in which the phenomenology is expressed.  There is an immediate problem here.  My phenomenological experience is not out in the open so that others can correct the language I use to describe it.  This problem is so acute that it's hard to understand how we can possibly have a common phenomenological terminology.  Yet there does seem to be basic language that we all can use.  We talk of 'thinking about something' or of one's 'idea of something'.  But this doesn't go very deep.  Is it possible to say any more about what thinking about Shakey Jake is like or what my idea of Shakey consists of?  I find I cannot get beyond regarding my thinking about Shakey as merely rehearsing sentences about him.  Likewise my idea of him consists of a set of predicates I take to be true of him.  Bill, however, says that understanding his story amounts to 'having before one's mind an intentional object'.   This is not the sort of thing an ordinary person would say.  Where does the terminology come from?   Well, it seems to come to us from Brentano, Husserl, and their successors.  But the problems it gives rise to are daunting.  Jungly, even.   If the 'intentional object' was a scientific hypothesis it would have been abandoned long ago as unworkable.  But what to me seems a theoretical construct of dubious value has been so internalised by Bill that it has become the natural way of expressing his experience.  For Bill it is 'evident' and 'given'.  This needs explanation.

The end of existence?

I'm tempted to make this the last comment I write on Bill's existence posts.  His latest, What the Meinongian Means by 'Has Being' and 'Lacks Being', promises much but delivers nothing new, as far as I can see.   Bill has been reviewing Peter van Inwagen and he hangs this piece on remarks he finds in PVI's  Existence, Ontological Commitment, and Fictional Entities.  PVI says that he doesn't understand what a Meinongian might mean by the phrases has being and lacks being.  Bill puts PVI's incomprehension down to his adherence to the so-called 'thin', 'Quinean', or 'Fressellian' so-called 'theory of existence', and treats us to another exposition of its inadequacies.  This is a pity.  It would have been nice if Bill had told us what he thinks Meinongians mean by a statement such as
M. Some items have no being.
Instead he tells us that he rejects (M) on the grounds that he holds that everything exists.  This, surely, is to conflate the somewhat weaselly term 'item' with 'thing' and 'has being' with 'exists'.  This is not a million miles from PVI's position, which finds (M) to be contradictory, hence false, or so it seems to me!  My own view is that we can make sense of (M) and see that it is true, but we have to draw distinctions between 'item' and 'thing' and between 'has being' and 'exists'.  More on this later, if I can get my thinking clear.

The essence of the 'thin theory' is that nothing of interest can be said about 'existence'.  I'm afraid that over the ten years or so that I've been following his postings on this topic, Bill has said nothing to persuade me otherwise.

Heidegger and Carnap

Bill has a recent post in which he defends Heidegger's metaphysics against Carnap's deflationary pinpricks.  He starts with the celebrated ex nihilo, nihil fit, 'Out of nothing, nothing comes.'  Carnap's contention is that 'nothing' is not a name but rather a bit of special logical syntax, which can be expanded into quantification and negation.   Thus 'nothing comes' means 'not something comes'.  More formally, ~∃x. x comes, which is equivalent to ∀x. ~x comes.  Bill (and Heidegger) accept that the second 'nothing' in  ex nihilo, nihil fit does indeed succumb to this treatment.  The problem comes with the first 'nothing'.  Let's read our sentence as 'If nothing exists, then nothing can arise'.   Bill's case is that 'nothing exists' is perfectly meaningful but cannot be reparsed into negation and quantification à la Carnap.  This leaves a 'substantive' use of 'nothing' from which Heidegger can launch his metaphysical balloon.

My problem with this is that I'm not sure that Carnap's procedure applies even to the second 'nothing'.  The sense of 'comes' here is not that of 'nobody comes to my parties', but rather of 'becomes' or 'will exist'.  So the sense of the consequent is that of the antecedent, but in the future tense. Hence, if Carnap does not apply to the antecedent, as Bill insists, then I don't see how it does apply to the consequent.

Does this give Heidegger permission to cast off or must he remain tethered?  The latter, I think.  For if we can allow ourselves an elementary notion of counting in our Carnapian 'logically correct language' then we can translate  'nothing exists'  as 'there are zero things' and 'something exists' as 'there is at least one thing'.  The supposedly 'substantive' term 'nothing' once more disappears into the logic, or, rather, the arithmetic.

I have two further minor comments on Bill's piece.  He says,
And I suggested that 'nothing' could name the total absence of all beings. If this total absence is a possibility, as it would be if every being is a contingent being, then Nothing (das Nichts) would have some 'reality,' if only the reality of a mere possibility.
Does it follow from a universal contingency that nothingness is a possibility?  It's certainly a conceivability.  However, the world might be such that there has to be something even though it is contingent which thing that something is.  Think of a Max Black world consisting of a single metal sphere.  But that sphere could be iron, zinc, copper, etc.
Thus when I assert that nothing is in my pocket, I presuppose that things exist and the content of my assertion is that no one of these existing things is in my pocket.
We don't have to presuppose this.  We could be just saying that there are zero things in our pocket. An appeal to counting, in other words.  Or, better, perhaps, to 'taking away'. Zero is a relatively late invention. 


Some cat is fat.
Of the cats, one is fat.
Of the cats, there is one that is fat.
Of the cats, there exists one that is fat.
Of the cats, there exists a fat one.
There exists a fat cat.


In Holes and Their Mode of Being from August 2012 Bill says,
Consider a particular hole H in a piece of swiss cheese. H is not nothing. It has properties. It has, for example, a shape: it is circular. The circular hole has a definite radius, diameter, and circumference. It has a definite area equal to pi times the radius squared. If the piece of cheese is 1/16th of an inch thick, then the hole is a disk having a definite volume. H has a definite location relative to the edges of the piece of cheese and relative to the other holes. H has causal properties: it affects the texture and flexibility of the cheese and its resistance to the tooth. H is perceivable by the senses: you can see it and touch it. You touch a hole by putting a finger or other appendage into it and experiencing no resistance.
Hmmm.  There is something wrong with this, surely?  But what?  Bill then says,
Now if anything has properties, then it exists. H has properties; so H exists. 
But wait. What about r, the rational square root of two?  It's rational, and it squares to two.  So it has properties.  Does it exist?

Here is an earlier unpublished response to Bill's piece.  It was to be titled The metaphysics of absence.

Much of this is contestable, I think.  If there is a spade in my bucket then it seems I have two things.  If there is a hole in my bucket then it seems I have one thing with a certain geometry that probably makes it useless for carrying water. An incomplete bucket, perhaps, or a leaky bucket, or a holed bucket.
H is not nothing. It has properties. It has, for example, a shape: it is circular.
Alternatively, it's the local boundary of the cheese that's circular.
The circular hole has a definite radius, diameter, and circumference. It has a definite area equal to pi times the radius squared. If the piece of cheese is 1/16th of an inch thick, then the hole is a disk having a definite volume. H has a definite location relative to the edges of the piece of cheese and relative to the other holes.
This describes the geometry of some material that we can readily imagine being present but whose absence 'constitutes' the hole.  It's a little harder to describe the geometry of the hole in a torus or quoit.  Easier to say where the material is rather than where it isn't.  And if something is absent how do we measure its size?
H has causal properties: it affects the texture and flexibility of the cheese and its resistance to the tooth. 
Of course,  we find it convenient to talk of absences in the language of presences.  But this isn't really good enough.  It's a little like saying that if I weld three rods of steel into a triangle then the strength and rigidity of the triangle is somehow due to the empty space around it.
H is perceivable by the senses: you can see it and touch it. You touch a hole by putting a finger or other appendage into it and experiencing no resistance.  
A good criterion for there being nothing rather than something.
Now if anything has properties, then it exists. H has properties; so H exists. 
This looks like a metaphysical 'bridging' principle between language and reality.  It seems to be saying that there may be 'things' that have properties.  If so, these are the things that exist.  In contrast, presumably, there may be 'things' that do not have properties, and these won't exist.  This is a strange notion of thing.  'Imaginings' might be better.

Despite my title I don't want to think of holes as absences.  That way lie paradox and confusion.  This puzzle is part of the much bigger problem of how geometrical features and 'accidents' in general can be thought of as things or said to exist or depend.

Bill goes on to argue that the holes in his slice of Emmental have a different 'mode of existence' from the slice of cheese.  This seems to be building a metaphysical structure on a spongy foundation of decidedly debatable substantive commitments, but Bill says he has other examples besides holes, so we will have to wait and see.

Dust and Ashes

On Ash Wednesday Bill gave us a little homily taken from Genesis 3, 19.
In sudore vultus tui vesceris pane, donec revertaris in terram de qua sumptus es: quia pulvis es et in pulverem reverteris.
No problem with this at all.  But Bill goes on to say,
The typical secularist is a reality denier who hides from the unalterable facts of death and impermanence. This is shown by his self-deceptive behavior: he lives as if he will live forever and as if his projects are meaningful even though he knows that he won't and that they aren't. If he were to face reality he would have to be a nihilist. That he isn't shows that he is fooling himself.
There is something rather slippery about the word 'meaningful' here.  It would have been nonsensical if Bill had said of the secularist that he lives as if his food is tasty even though he knows that it isn't.  What is it about 'meaningful' that with one hand it can be granted and with the other taken away?

Stromboli exists!

I was reminded recently of Bill's The Stromboli Puzzle Revisited from February this year.  Here is how it begins.
Here is a little puzzle I call the Stromboli Puzzle. An earlier post on this topic was defective. So I return to the topic. The puzzle brings out some of the issues surrounding existence. Consider the following argument.
Stromboli exists.
Stromboli is an island volcano.
An island volcano exists.
This is a sound argument: the premises are true and the reasoning is correct. It looks to be an instance of Existential Generalization. How can it fail to be valid? But how can it be valid given the equivocation on 'exists'? 'Exists' in the conclusion is a second-level predicate while 'exists' in the initial premise is a first-level predicate. Although Equivocation is standardly classified as an informal fallacy, it induces a formal fallacy. An equivocation on a term in a syllogism induces the dreaded quaternio terminorum, which is a formal fallacy. Thus the above argument appears invalid because it falls afoul of the Four Term Fallacy.

Objection 1. "The argument is valid without the first premise, and as you yourself have pointed out, a valid argument cannot be made invalid by adding a premise. So the argument is valid. What's your problem?"

Reply 1. The argument without the first premise is not valid. For if the singular term in the argument has no existing referent, then the argument is a non sequitur. If 'Stromboli' has no referent at all, or has only a nonexisting Meinongian referent, then Existential Generalization could not be performed, given, as Quine says, that "Existence is what existential quantification expresses."
Bill tables a second objection, which he also rebuts, and then offers his own account of why the argument is valid, which hinges on a distinction between 'first-level' and 'second-level' uses of exists. I won't comment on these because I think Bill's Objection (1) gets things right.  I reject his Reply (1) as follows.  If 'Stromboli' has no existing referent, has no referent at all, or has only a nonexisting Meinongian referent, then there is no such thing as Stromboli and therefore 'Stromboli is an island volcano' is not true.  It may be false or it may be meaningless, but it certainly can't be true.  In which case the argument remains truth-preserving:  It has not been shown to take us from truth to falsehood.  Bill has not demonstrated that it is invalid.

But this talk of non-existing referents is already verging on the absurd and it would be better to reject Bill's Reply as nonsensical.  After all, an invalid argument is unpersuasive, and yet this argument, even without the first premise, is utterly persuasive.  Consider the following dialogues:
A: Stromboli exists.
B: This tells me nothing more than that there is something called 'Stromboli'.
A: Well, Stromboli is an island volcano.
B: OK.  So there is an island volcano?
A: Yes, an island volcano exists.
B: Good. Glad we understand each other.
A: Stromboli is an island volcano.
B: So an island volcano exists?
A: No.
B: What? You just told me Stromboli was one!
A: Yes, but Stromboli doesn't exist.
B: I don't follow you.
A: Stromboli is an island volcano.
B: OK.
A: And Stromboli exists!
B: Yes, I know, you just told me.  It's an island volcano.
Do these not have the ring of truth?  I think they do.  And this point of view is beautifully simple.  Compare it, for example, with Bill's 'two-level' account.  But I clearly need to say more.  Bill, and others, are happy to talk about 'empty' names, names with no referent, names with no existing referent, names with Meinongian referents, and so on.  So-called 'free' logics (there are at least three kinds) have been invented to accommodate the notion.  I need to say something more about what is going on here.

Let's distinguish the meaning of a name from its referent, if any.  The meaning of a name is what has to be understood about it in order for sentences involving the name to make sense.  This is quite independent of any external referent the name may have, as is shown by the fact that fictional sentences are perfectly understandable despite the proper names within them usually lacking real-world referents.  Now, in properly formulated discourse a name has to be introduced before it can be used.  This is how the name gets its meaning.  If, out of the blue, you say to me 'Stromboli exists!' and I have never been introduced to the name 'Stromboli', then what you say has no meaning for me.  I have no information to attach to the name 'Stromboli' and your statement doesn't change my epistemic state.  Asked to say something about Stromboli, I can tell you nothing.  If, on the other hand, you say 'There is an island volcano called Stromboli',  the name 'Stromboli' acquires a meaning.  If asked about it I can reply 'It's an island volcano, isn't it?'  For me, the name now means this island volcano and you can go on to tell me more about it by using the name.  What you say may be complete fiction---there may be no island volcanoes at all---but it will be meaningful, nevertheless. Notice that the name is introduced on the back of (literally behind) an existential claim:  'There is an island volcano---and it is called Stromboli', and it is open for this claim to be false.  If, out of the blue, you tell me 'Stromboli is an island volcano', and I have never heard of Stromboli, I have to interpret your sentence as a somewhat compressed existential assertion and name introduction.  This is the style adopted by dictionaries.  A subsequent use of the name, such as 'Stromboli is extinct', which has similar form,  does not carry an implicit existential claim, else we would have two entities in play, an island volcano and an extinct thing, rather than one.  Instead, the name means the same thing as was introduced earlier under the same name. 

All this, of course, is Ed Ockham's theory of  relativity of reference  which I think is spot on.  Where Ed and I differ is that Ed, I think, holds that negative free logic is needed to make inferences from sentences using names understood in this way.  I see this as an unnecessary and counter-intuitive complication to a simple and elegant theory.  Logical inference operates on the meanings of sentences not on the real-world objects and properties they might be about.  We can make inferences within fictional discourse just as easily as we do in discourse about the real world, using classical logic.  In Ed's theory all properly introduced names have meanings  and there are no names that lack meaning.  Hence we have no need to resort to free logics.  Ed may say that in classical logic we have no way of expressing negative singular existentials such as 'Vulcan does not exist'.  I answer that this amounts to a rejection of the explicit or implicit existential claim on the back of which the name 'Vulcan' was introduced. See also this post.

A neurobiological perspective on identity

The neuroscientist Bill Skaggs has an interesting post at Scientia Salon which prompted the following piece, somewhat too large and too late for a SciSal comment.

That the world is divided into objects seems by most philosophers to be taken as a given.  Quite what counts as an object or substance and why is not considered.  I think it's an important question.  Philosophers discuss 'existence' a good deal, which they contrast with 'non-existence'.  But the etymology is ex+sistere---to stand out.  So the contrast should be with that which doesn't stand out, which we might call 'undifferentiated stuff', or 'the bulk', or even 'prime matter', rather than 'nothing'.  However,  I don't think our concern is with the ontology of objects, but rather their epistemology.

The commenters at SciSal had some fun with the science fiction of personal identity and the self.  But I think Bill is right to emphasise the neural basis of our knowledge of objecthood and identity over time for external material objects.  This must surely have appeared earlier in evolutionary history than the self.  If we can get some understanding of how neural structures could represent external objects for a non-self-conscious creature, then we might be able to see a way forward to understanding how a similar architecture could come to represent the creature for itself.  But this definitely comes later.   

It's clear that we have to hypothesise that there are neural surrogates for enduring objects in the environment, and probably more temporary surrogates for objects we encounter from moment to moment to which we direct our attention.  These must arise through sensory contact---in philosophical terms they constitute Russell's knowledge by acquaintance.   Likewise surrogates for the objects of knowledge by description---those things we hear about through language and other representational media, including historical and fictional entities.

If we are prepared to do this, then I think we obtain solutions to several paradoxes in the philosophy of language, including Frege's puzzle of Hesperus and Phosphorus from On Sense and Reference, and Kripke's paradoxes in A Puzzle about Belief.  I think we can say that all these puzzles have a common form:  a failure of the object extraction/surrogate construction process adequately to model the objects.  Ancient astronomers find two celestial bodies, Hesperus the evening star and Phosphorus the morning star, rather than just the one planet, Venus; Pierre finds two cities, London the ugly and Londres the jolie; Peter finds two Paderewskis, one the musician, and one the politician.   Frege's puzzle, if I have understood it, is that if proper names contribute their referents and nothing more to the meaning of a sentence, then 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' should be equally as informative as 'Hesperus is Hesperus', and it clearly is more so.  We can resolve the puzzle by saying that the proper name 'Hesperus' refers indirectly to Venus via the neural surrogate Hesperus* that encodes the information 'rises first in the evening'.  We can imagine that hearing or reading the word 'Hesperus' causes some kind of excitation of the structure Hesperus*.  Hearing 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' must then cause a degree of cognitive dissonance leading to a possible denial.  For we can suppose that the two structures Hesperus* and Phosphorus* are distinguishable at the neural level, that is, some neural signal representing the equality or otherwise  of Hesperus* and Phosphorus* must be available. This may be where Bill's unique identifiers can play a part.  If we are to come to believe that Hesperus really is the same thing as Phosphorus then the neural surrogates Hesperus* and Phosphorus* have somehow to be submerged into a single object surrogate which encodes both 'rises first in the evening' and 'sets last in the morning' and which responds to both proper names.   It seems plausible that this can be achieved by growing new neural interconnections.  

Likewise, we can also take some of the sting out of Kripke's paradoxes.  Kripke insists that the question Does Pierre believe London is pretty? must have a definite answer.  For Pierre assents to 'London is not pretty' and also to  'Londres est jolie' and London and Londres refer to the same city, don't they?  But we can resist this insistence.  We can say that Kripke is reporting Pierre's belief in terms of his own assay of cities, in which London and Londres are one, rather than in terms of Pierre's mistaken assay in which London and Londres are two.  If Pierre and Kripke cannot agree on what cities there are and how to name them, then how can we expect them to agree on the properties of cities?

I should emphasise that this is not just a non-Millian theory of reference.  It's also non-descriptive.  It doesn't substitute a description for 'Hesperus' at the level of sentences.  The usual arguments against descriptivism assume just this.  Instead, it proposes intermediaries between language and objects through which external reference is mediated.