Sunday, October 01, 2006

A Hurried Hoodwink?

It is the section 2.4 of Towards Non-Being where Priest preliminarily introduces and discusses The Paradox of the Hooded Man. It is this discussion that I wish to hurriedly focus on and how he lays out an analysis the paradox. Then question a few of the moves or assumptions (I indicate the sections with *s) he makes in analyzing the paradox and perhaps more importantly how his ‘handling’ of the Hooded Man foreshadows his plans for handling propositions.

The paradox begins:

This man is your brother.
You do not know this man.
You do not know your
brother.

The problem in the paradox above is readily seen. It is that the premises are true but the conclusion appears to be false. This can’t be right, so perhaps it is because the second premise is false. Afterall it is more so the case that you don’t know who the man is when wearing the hood. So reformulated:

This man is your brother.
You do not know who this man is.
You do not know who your brother is.

But yet again this can’t be right because you do know who your brother is. Which means the conclusion is still false. So what to do? Priest recommends that we should take a look at what it is to ‘know who’. To know who someone is context dependant. It is to know different bits and bobs about the person. It is to ‘know that’ about the someone. So we can replace ‘know who’ with ‘know that’. It this case the ‘knowing that’ is ‘being born in Megara’:

This man is your brother.
You do not know that this man was born in Megara.
You do not know that your brother was born in Megara.

Priest now moves on to a discussion of the demonstrative ‘this man’ found in the paradox. He notes that: “The denotation of a demonstrative depends on context. In this case, the referent of the demonstrative is fixed by the intention of the utterer. But if the context does not change, the denotation of the demonstrative does not change, and the same role can be played by a name referring to the object in question.”(35) So Priest christens (ha, ha…) ‘this man’ Nescio. Giving Nescio the status of a rigid designator in the Kripke sense where the expression designates the same ‘Nescio’ in all possible worlds.*

So the way things now stand are:

Nescio is your brother.
You do not know that Nescio was born in Megara.
You do not know that your brother was born in Megara.

And because Priest loves a good contraposition… it can be rewritten and simplified as:

Nescio is your brother.
You know that Nescio was born in Megara.
You know that your brother was born in Megara.

“And with this version of the argument, we cannot avoid the problem, as we did the original, by saying that you do know that Nescio was born in Megara; you just don’t realize this. For you certainly do realize that your brother was born in Megara.”(36)*

After a couple of other examples of the same kind, Priest then concludes that the paradox “has nothing to do with knowledge as such. It is an issue about the behaviour of identity in all intensional propositional contexts.”(37)*


My queries from top to bottom:

Priest claims that “The denotation of a demonstrative depends on context. In this case, the referent of the demonstrative is fixed by the intention of the utterer.” Really!? Always!? Say I agree with Priest on this and play the context game… then if:

To say, the denotation of a demonstrative depends on context, is to say that:

The ‘knowing that’ of ‘this man’ depends on context, which in this case are the bits and bobs known by the utterer (brother being asked questions in the room).

But:

To say, the referent of the demonstrative is fixed by the intention of the utterer, is to say that:

The ‘knowing who’ of ‘this man’ is fixed by the intention of the utterer.

So in the first part the utterer is responsible in a way for fixing the context in which his ‘knowing that’ depends on. Whereas in the second part, the intention of the utterer cannot be fixed to the referent of the demonstrative.

It seems to me that the context of true knowledge is staying stable in the first part but not in the second because there is no true knowledge being fixed by the intention of the utterer. No wonder there is a problem… the epistemic context is not ‘fixing’ to all parts of the paradox. Perhaps we should not depend on context for fixing the truth to knowledge?

This brings me to the second point where Priest introduces the rigid designator, Nescio.

This is an understandable move, why not avoid the whole issue of demonstratives being fixed by context and have a rigid designator that points to the same thing under all circumstances? So now ‘this man’ turns into Nescio. But as the further Hooded Man formulations show there is a problem, or rather the same problem as at the beginning. There is a gap between the knowledge of Nescio and ‘your brother’ to the utterer.

What I don’t understand is if you want to have a situation in which all the components agree, in essence, intention agreeing with the denotation, or the ‘knowing that’ and ‘knowing who’, then why not look to the questioner. He’s the one who is controlling or adding the context to the demonstrative. He’s the one pointing to ‘this man’ and ‘your brother’. And if so, then we can change both to rigid designators and avoid at least some of the paradoxical problems.

The last little query is his claim that the whole issue has nothing ‘really’ to do with knowledge. Overall I agree, but not for the reason that it is because knowledge in case can be replaced with all intentional operators and the problem still arises. He uses believe, fear and desire as substitutions. Hummmmm…. How do I fear, desire, ect., without knowing that I do? Priest even admits that even those intentional operators are forms of knowledge in section 2.8 with the tomato example.

In the end The Hooded Man is a hoodwink of sorts. I agree with Priest that is not a discussion of knowledge, and I’ll add the context of that knowledge. But, the promise that it is about ‘the behaviour of identity in all intensional propositional contexts’…. Hummmm……

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