Sunday, September 17, 2006

Comment Paper on Chapter 1 and 2 of Toward Non-Being

I hope this is where the comment papers are supposed to go on the blog:

Priest builds up his semantics in chapters 1 and 2 of his book, Towards Non-Being, and makes a number of assumptions along the way. Hopefully by tying some of these assumptions together with his semantics and the material in class, Priest’s motivations and the power behind his interpretations will be made more clear. Priest makes the assumption that Noneism is correct (the view that not all objects exist) and that when we quantify over all or some things, this quantification includes objects at all worlds, regardless of their existential status at the actual world. He even goes as far as to introduce new quantifiers so as to not confuse the reader (yes, he did an excellent job there).

Therefore it seems a good fit to attempt to apply this semantics to interpreting some of the paradoxical problems of the kind discussed during the first class.

The problem of negative existentials is likely from where the motivation for Noneism originally came, because it is easy to ascribe the property of non-existing to a non-existent object, as we cannot fail to refer when making mention of it. The sentence ‘Santa Claus does not exist’ is true because, at least when written at the actual world, the object referenced by ‘Santa’ does not exist. This object may have existence at other worlds (possible or not), but that does not matter, as ‘Santa’ is a rigid designator that picks out an object with multiple identities, one for each world. This solution works because Priest would reject the ontological assumption, that for two objects that stand in a certain relation, the relata must exist. Similar solutions hold for the problems raised by satisfaction, empty thoughts, necessary existents and compositionality when non-existent objects are brought in (these being more of the issues brought up in class).

The handling of fictional objects is simple as well, since that for any fiction (consistent or inconsistent), the stories, characters and events will be realized by some possible or impossible world, to which we can refer while discussing those things. For the sentence ‘I believe that Sherlock Holmes was a detective’, we can interpret it as meaning that for the world* where Conan Doyle’s story is realized, the person to which Sherlock refers is a detective, one that doesn’t exist at the actual world.

An intentional context where an exported object is indeterminate can be handled in a similar manner. Consider the familiar sentence ‘I want to own a sloop’. If my interpretation of Priest is correct, he would say that it is true only if for all worlds where sloop ownership is realized by my counterpart/identity at that world, my desire would in fact be satisfied. If at some world, I had a rundown sloop and was not satisfied, then it is not true to say that I want to own a sloop, I must want to own a non-rundown sloop instead. Taking it further, even in cases where all sloops are tragically destroyed at the actual world, it has no effect on the non-actual worlds that do the work of determining the truth of the sentence. Therefore, under Priest’s interpretation, there is no problem with exportation because sloops are exported at every world where my desire is realized.

This should hopefully clear up more of the sorts of problems this semantics is intended to solve.

* Would a fiction be realized by one world, or multiple? There should only be one ‘correct’ interpretation of a fiction, though I suppose something like an ambiguity would fork one interpretation into multiple, both equally correct. But this is beside the point I guess.

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