Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Readings for Monday

For Monday, please read Plantinga, "On Existentialism" and "Reply to Pollock" (copies available in the philosophy department). There are some issues not directly relevant to our main concern in these papers. Look at them with an eye toward extracting Plantinga's two arguments for seriousness (serious actualism, in particular). Next it is worth looking at Bergmann's short paper, "A New Argument from Actualism to Serious Actualism" and Hudson's reply, "On A New Argument from Actualism to Serious Actualism". Then, if you haven't had enough, a good next stop would be Yagisawa's recent paper, "A New Argument Against the Existence Requirement" (an argument against seriousness) and Caplan's reply, "A New Defence of the Modal Existence Requirement". I'm putting a copy of another recent reply to Yagisawa in the department box: McCarthy and Phillips, "No New Argument Against the Existence Requirement".

This is a lot of stuff to work through. I don't expect everyone to read it all. The main objective is to try to distill some arguments for/against seriousness from the above. So it is not necessary to read every word of every paper. Also, this issue is hard. So don't be surprised if the reading is difficult. It's better for you to have a good grasp of one argument than a poor grasp of several.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Noneist Existence Predicate

I’d like to present an objection to noneism from a very recent van Inwagen paper, “McGinn on Existence”. (Colin McGinn is a noneist and van Inwagen is criticizing him. The objection can be extended to Priest, however.)

Non-noneists accept the following:

~upside down 'A'x~ Fx iff backwards 'E'x Fx
E!a iff backwards 'E'x (x = a)

('E!' is the existence predicate.) Noneists employ U and G quantifiers and define upside down 'A' and backwards 'E' in terms of these and E!. But notice that noneists cannot go on to define E! in terms of backwards 'E'. So noneists employ a predicate that does not make sense to non-noneists. Or if sense is made of it, sense can no longer be made of U and G.

Concerns with Creatures

I will post a few of my worries that I have with Van Inwagen's "Creatures of Fiction".

1)The use of existence/non-existence as as attribute on par with other attributes. We see this in Van Inwagen's assumption about Meinongians, p.299a. He says, "They mean to assert that there are, there really are, certain objects that have, among attributes (such as jollity and rotundity), the attribute of non-existence". My worry is that Van Inwagen is treating existence as a first order predicate, a big no-no according to Kant in his objection to Anselm's Ontological Argument. Kant, in his Critique of Pure Reason, writes "BEING is evidently not a real predicate, that is, a conception of something which is added to the conception of some other thing. It is merely the positing of a thing, or of certain determinations in it. Logically, it is merely the copula of a judgement". If we treat existence as an ordinary attribute there is no stopping the Ontological Argument to prove God's existence, a priori. Because the Ontological Argument appears fishy to most people, we should accept that Kant was right in his assessment of the existence predicate. I have not yet thought out the consequences for Van Inwagen, among others, nor am I convinced that he thinks this way. However, I put forth the concern.

2)"I do not see how it is I am supposed to use (Ix, [supposedly the same as (Crazy Ux]) and (Backwards Ex)" (300). This solution is simple according to Priest's set up. We just read Ix as applying to all worlds, and only commit to existence in the use of (Backwards Ex).

3)"If the Meinongian is asked, 'About your Mr. Pickwick--has he an even number of hairs on his head?,' he will answer... 'He neither has nor lacks the property of having an even number of hairs on his head; he is therefore what I call an incomplete object" (300). - Meinongians say that an object is incomplete because it does not exist. Surely if Mr. Pickwick existed he would have either an even or odd number of hairs on his head, but a Meinongian cannot say this. Van Inwagen faults Meinongians for this--yet his own solution is to say that when an author writes about some attribute of a character, e.g. Mrs. Gamp's fatness, she does not have this characteristic in the normal sense, but somehow bears a "certain intimate relation to fatness"(305). In the case of hairs on head, she would bear no relation if the number was not specified, so Van Inwagen's answer is the same as the Meinongian's.

4)The scope of existence. I believe Van Inwagen wants to say that Creatures of Fiction exist in the general sense of existence. He says "Anyone who said that there were such things as characters in novels, and went on to say that there was no such thing as Mrs. Gamp would simply be factually ignorant. He would be like someone who said that there were such things as irrational numbers, but no such thing as [pi]" (302). I am not sure that his solution guarantees this, though. First, notice how he phrases the above sentence. He always says "characters in novels". Now, it seems that even a Meinongian will say that characters would exist if the world of the novel was the actual world. This response, of course, does not entail that we say Mrs. Gamp exists in this world. What I believe is that all of Van Inwagen's references to the existence of characters fall within the scope of the world of the fiction. See, for example, all of his logical renderings of sentences 4-7. His later solution affirms this when he says, "The proposition commonly expressed by 'Mrs. Gamp is fat' we may express by 'A(fatness, Mrs. Gamp, Martin Chuzzlewit)'" (305). Only a later change suggests we can fill in 'x' for 'Martin Chuzzlewit', but this variable seems to be crucial to our interpretation of the relationship. For example, if x is a fiction like 'War and Peace', we cannot ascribe new things to the physically existing (in some higher sense, supposedly) persons, like Napoleon. So it seems we NEED to locate the character within his proper world. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the character exists in our own.

A Confessional About How a Priest Lacks Virtue.

I have a confession to make… most of my confusion while reading Towards Non-Being stems from the odd sentence or two (not the whole thing as a conjunction thereof, ha!) that Priest chucks out that lack any argument. He takes for granted certain claims as undeniable, then leaves things the way they are full stop and carries on. Today, I shall harp on one of these priceless Priestly moments which can be found in the chapter on Fiction (second paragraph of 6.2).

I have another confession to make… The ‘p’ word, as in phenomenological, makes me queasy. It’s similar to the word intuition. I find both words to be nebulously vague (yes, nebulous & vague, not either or) when used to define something, and when used, lend to more questions than clarifying answers. So, I’ll use (and hopefully Priest is using the term in the same manner) it as is defined in the Stanford Encyclopedia’s entry on phenomenology:

“Phenomenology is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of an experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience of or about some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions.”

So, with this definition in the back of our minds, imagine me on the bus eavesdropping on two chicks, and their conversation goes something like this:

“blah, blah, … yeah I remember hearing this story about a kid whose family decided to emigrate over to Canada from India. So they managed to hitch a ride on a boat that was carrying a bunch of circus, or zoo, or something, animals on it. But, the boat shank and the kid had to survive on a dingy for like months with a bunch of animals. Crazy, eh!”

On overhearing this story I’m struck with many intentional states, like admiration for, sadness for, etc., about the kid in the story. Then the conversation goes on:

“Yeah that’s crazy. So where did you hear this? An who was the kid?”

“I think his last name was Patel or something. Someone wrote a book about it a few years ago called The Life of Pi.”

Now I, being reasonably up on my Canadianna, am darn well aware that The Life of Pi is a work of fiction cooked up by an author named Yann Martel. There is no kid named Pi Patel who endured a heroic journey as described from India to Canada. And my intentional state about some object, in this particular case the kid Pi, has dramatically changed. The admiration for, sadness for, etc., I felt is now of a lesser degree.

It’s important to note, that Priest does not claim that you cannot have intentional states based on the existential status of a fictional objects, he claims quite the opposite, that we can have the same full bodied experience about a fictional object as we would about an existent one. What he claims is that the existential status of an object “is completely immaterial phenomenologically.”(117) But, if the status of a fictional object is completely immaterial, then why did my admiration for, sadness for, etc. change? Perhaps, this point is more in the domain of aesthetics with reference to such classic examples as Carroll’s Loath Letter (a personal fav.!) or Moore’s Glass Flowers, which do not illustrate directly the issue of existence vs. non-existence. But, do show that our intentional states about an object can vary or flux depending on that object’s phenomenology.

Our intentional states (or experience of or about some object O) is by virtue of O’s content or meaning (it’s representation or phenomenology). One is not immaterial to the other.

To compound the issue further, if Priest wishes to define existence as just another thing in the set of properties (as seen in the Proof of Arbitrary Existing Entities below) to get out of the mess that CP causes for Meinongians, then he will have to give an account as to how the existence property can be prized out of the set before, during, whenever, it is connected with a representation. Properties, intentional states, and representations are all connected by virtue of each other. In this case virtue does make a world of difference!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Necessary Existence Revisited

Accepting premise 1 that we can quantify over everything, let's look at premise 2: If (1) then it's not possible that there's something such that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it."
I think, in its current form, premise 2 may be denied. Indeed, there isn't actually something such that absolutely everything is distinct from it, however it may be possible that there is something such that, possibly everything is distinct from it. Take an arbitrary x in the domain (which includes all existent things).

1. It is not necessary that x be in the domain (that x exist)
2. If (1) then (3)
3. It is possible for x to not be in the domain
4. If (3) then (5)
5. It is possible for everything in the domain to be distinct from x
6. If (5) then (7)
7. There is something such that possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it
8. If (7) then (9)
9. It is possible that there is something such that possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it

Why is this argument able to fly in the face of the good reasoning that gave us premise 2? I think the answer lies in the notion of "possible". To say something possibly doesn't exist is roughly equivalent to saying that possibly everything that exists is distinct from it. For any existent object this obviously isn't the case, but that doesn't exclude the possibility for it being the case. Note, that the case in which the possibility is fulfilled, it is not contradictory to the necessity of identity. If the object were to not exist, it wouldn't be in the domain anyway, and thus would need not be distinct from itself. The argument for Necessary Existence depends on a rigid domain, but the notion of possible non-existence depends on the domain being flexible. So clearly, if we hold the domain rigid in our logic, it will look like the domain can't possibly be other than it is.
So, let's reformulate premise 2 of the original argument to see if it can still cause trouble:

2*: If (1) then it's not possible that there's something such that absolutely everything is distinct from it.

Here I removed the possibility operator I exploited in my argument. If we follow the original argument through using 2* instead of 2 we get the conclusion:

C: Necessarily everything exists.

Let's rephrase that in terms of the domain (which still includes all existing things).

C*: Necessarily, everything in the domain is in the domain.

This is beggining to look a little less threatening let's rephrase it one more time.

C**: Necessarily, for every x in the domain, x is in the domain.

Does this still say that necessarily everything that exists exists? No, this is little more than the law of identity applied to the domain itself. It doesn't exclude the possibility of different things being in the domain, but if those things are in the domain they better be in the domain.

To sum up, I deny premise 2 of the argument previously presented in the blog, but maintain the necessity of identity. I do this with the simple obvervation that in possible scenarios, it's possible that the domain be different than it actually is.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

A Reluctant Defense of Quine

There are a few ideas in Quine's "On What There Is" that, if taken seriously enough to support better, might warrant a closer look than Priest gave. Quine "gives up" the word exists, but makes the fatal mistake of letting Russel keep it, and that's where Priest jumps on him:
2. Meinong believed that there exists a unique being who is chief god living on Olympus, and he lives on Olympus...
Meinong did not believe the Greek gods to exist any more than you or I do: he knew they were mythological." page 110
The criticism is that under Quine's strategy 2 comes out true. Priest, on the same page states the very thesis that undermines this objection:
"To be assumed as an entity is, purely and simply, to be reckoned as the value of a variable" Priest quoting quine page 110
While one is under no obligation to accept Quine's thesis, it is still true that if his thesis is true, than sentence 2 is true. Meinong DID believe a unique being who is chief god living on Olympus exists(by quine's definition of 'exists').
Now the issue comes down to simply what it means to exist. In essence, it's just the debate about seriousness. If one is "serious" than Quine's thesis isn't far-fetched at all. Just like Priest can demmand some sort of support for Quine's thesis, Quine make a counter demand for some justification on why he can have non-existent objects being quantified over. Priest would then call Quine prejudiced against non-existent objects, and Quine would find something to say back; then maybe give Priest a different name and start attributing to him theories he doesn't accept at all.

Priest has another issue with Quine that is perhaps a stronger one. That is, Quine's strategy for deriving meanings of empty names rests on replacing the name with a definite description. This makes him a targed of the modal&epistemic objections, as Priest points out. And as proff Tillman pointed out to me, it also makes him target of most, if not all, objections raised against Frege. Still, consider the two ways of referent fixing: 1) baptism by perceptual contact 2) reference fixing by description. Note that in the case of empty names, (1) is impossible. In the case of 2, the name is originally dependant on a definite description. It would take more research and space to flesh this out than a mere comment paper; but perhaps this can be exploited to get a plausible theory of descriptivism that applies to empty names only. If this can be done, Quine's method would be sort of plausible. And if this were so, it could solve the paradoxes of non-existence, while still allowing seriousness and a relatively small ontology (it would require at least past&presentism). Contingent on this massive project of empty-name descriptivism, Quine's may be the best theory on balance.

The Metaphysics of Idol Worship: The Paradox of the Ancient World

Well, I thought Priest's argument concerning his readings of Quine and Russell were sound, so in order to stir up some excitement this week I'll have to resort to making up a crazy theory of my own. If you are looking for something to comment about, feel free to attack this article, as I do not sincerely hold to the view that I will present below. I leave it up as merely a possible theory to consider.

We come to the problems surrounding the paradox of nonexistence. As discussed in class...

Homer worshipped Zeus
seems true.
The sentence is true iff the object denoted by 'Homer' bore the relation expressed by the word 'worship' to the object denoted by 'Zeus'.
One problem: Zeus does not exist.

The noneist has a ready answer to the paradox of nonexistence because they allow for the object denoted by 'Zeus' to be nonexistent. However, for those who take a different approach, the paradox presents a real concern.

I offer these opponents of Meinong a solution:

(1)Ramses worshipped the sun
It is clear that this sentence is clear of paradoxical worries. The object denoted by 'Ramses' bore the relation expressed by the word 'worship' to the object denoted by 'the sun'. The sun is a concrete, existing object and thus there is no problem here.

(2)Ramses worshipped Ra
'Ra' is the egyptian sun god. When Egyptians worshipped Ra, they worshipped the sun. The object denoted by 'Ra' is the sun. We see this in an egyptian hymn to Ra, which reads:

"Homage to thee, O thou who risest in the horizon as Ra,
thou restest upon law unchangeable and unalterable. Thou
passest over the sky, and every face watcheth thee and thy
course, for thou hast been hidden from their gaze. Thou dost
show thyself at dawn and at eventide day by day..."

Thus, this case, too poses no paradox.

But what about (3)?

(3)Ra raised Osiris from the dead.
It is obvious that the sun did not raise somebody from the dead, nor did the Egyptians intend it this way. Ra had characteristics and performed actions beyond that of the sun. Does this lead us into paradox? Consider the following...

(4)William Wallace shot bolts of lightning from his arse.
William Wallace, the real Scottish fighter, did not do this. The truth value is false. However in...

(5)Peasant Joe believed William Wallace shot bolts of lightning from his arse.
It is the case; this sentence is true. This poses no paradox, as Wallace was a real man. An untrue, and fanciful, statement (arse lightning power) was attached to the concrete being.

Such could be the answer to (3) - Ra is the concrete sun with a fanciful statement attached to it which is false. However, the Egyptians believed it to be true.

So we return to

(6)Homer worshipped Zeus.
As we have said, Zeus does not exist. However, there are today, and in the times of ancient Greece, what we would call 'idols' of Zeus, including the incredible statue at Olympia. When one such as Homer were to worship Zeus, he would be in front of a statue, or call to mind the mental representation of the carved god. It is clear where I am going: idols are concrete objects. Stories of deeds of the gods can be attached to the figure of an idol, without resulting in the paradox of nonexistence. Notice that something such as 'framus' has no idol or concrete representation. It is truly meaningless, whereas 'Zeus' is not.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Necessary Existence

Okay since we're not doing necessary existence, I'm going to present what I take to be a fairly upsetting argument that is discussed at length in the readings for the 'necessary existence' section of the course syllabus.

First, note that often when people use 'everything' and related quantifiers, they don't mean it. So a used car salesman may say 'everything is on sale' and not mean to imply thereby that my sweater is on sale. Similarly you might say 'there's no beer in the fridge' even if there's a tiny puddle of beer at the bottom of the fridge.

But in order to do metaphysics, it must make sense to use 'everything' to mean absolutely everything, rather than some restricted domain. So for example if you make a metaphysical claim, like 'God does not exist', and you're only quantifying over some subset of everything (like the used car salesman does), then you have not succeeded in making an appropriately metaphysical claim. That's because if your domain of quantification is restricted, then it is compatible with what you said that God does exist--he just is outside the domain you are quantifying over. Similar considerations apply to any other putative metaphysical claim.

I will assume without argument that it's actually possible to do metaphysics. Since this seems to require that we can quantify over absolutely everything, I'll infer from the assumption that we can do that too. So we have (1):

1. We can quantify over absolutely everything.

But if (1) is true, we can ask the following question: Is it possible that there's something such that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it?

The answer is 'no'. Take any candidate. If it's possible that that thing is such that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it, then it is possibly distinct from itself. (Remember, we're quantifying over absolutely everything.) But nothing is possibly distinct from itself. (That is, if a = a, then necessarily, a = a.)

So we established the following:

2. If (1), then it's not possible that there's something such that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it.

By modus ponens, we may infer (3):

3. Therefore, it's not possible that there's something such that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it.

But (3) is logically equivalent to saying that necessarily, it's not the case that there's something such that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it. So we have (4):

4. If (3), then necessarily, it's not the case that there's something such that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it.

But the consequent of (4) is logically equivalent to saying that necessarily, absolutely everything is such that, it's not the case that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it. So we have (5):

5. If necessarily, it's not the case that there's something such that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it, then necessarily, absolutely everything is such that, it's not the case that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it.

But the consequent of (5) is logically equivalent to saying that necessarily, absolutely everything is such that, necessarily, it's not the case that absolutely everything is distinct from it. So we have (6):

6. If necessarily, absolutely everything is such that, it's not the case that, possibly, absolutely everything is distinct from it, then necessarily, absolutely everything is such that, necessarily, it's not the case that absolutely everything is distinct from it.

But the consequent of (6) is logically equivalent to the claim that necessarily, absolutely everything is such that, necessarily, something is identical to it. That is, necessarily, absolutely everything necessarily exists. So we have (7):

7. If necessarily, absolutely everything is such that, necessarily, it's not the case that absolutely everything is distinct from it, then necessarily, everything necessarily exists.

By (2-7) and multiple modus ponens, we infer the conclusion:

8. Therefore, necessarily, everything necessarily exists.


The ways out seem three-fold: deny metaphysics is possible (i.e., deny (1)), deny necessity of identity (i.e., deny (2)), or deny the logical equivalence between (2) and (8) (so deny one of (3-7)). Not an attractive set of options.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Priest's Reply to the Paradoxes of Nonexistence is Not Fully General

The gist of Braun’s objection is that it’s not the case that, in all cases, the conditions on successful reference are satisfied even if there are fictional, mythical, and imaginary objects and even if we can refer to such thing (note that these two claims are different on Priest’s view).

Braun’s First Objection

1. If LeVerrier’s uses of ‘Vulcan’ referred to Vulcan, then Vulcan satisfies the reference-fixing description by which LeVerrier introduced the name.
2. Vulcan does not satisfy that description.
3. So LeVerrier’s uses of ‘Vulcan’ did not refer to Vulcan.
4. If (3), then there are empty names.
5. So there are empty names.

(1) Given the theory of reference, LeVerrier’s initial uses of ‘Vulcan’ either refer because LeVerrier was in causal/perceptual contact with Vulcan, or because Vulcan satisfies the reference-fixing description via which LeVerrier introduced the name. Since the former is not the case, the latter must be. So (1) is true.

(2) If our uses of ‘Vulcan’ refer, then they refer to an abstract mythical object that is not a planet, perturbs no orbits, etc. So (2) is true.

A Priestly Reply

I think Priest would deny (2). Priest, as with all Meinongians, defends a version of the Characterization Principle. Its naïve form is as follows:

(CP) For any property or conjunction of properties A(x), we can characterize an object o and be guaranteed that A(o).

(CP) is unacceptable in this form. We can use (CP) to prove the existence of arbitrary entities; worse, we can use it to prove arbitrary truths. (CP) is inconsistent.

Proof of Arbitrary Existing Entities

The trick here is just to include existence in the set of properties. So let A(x) be any conjunction of properties, and let B = A(x) & E(x). By applying (CP) to B, we have an object o such that A(o) & E(o). So we’ve proved that something with an arbitrary conjunction of properties exists.

Proof of Arbitrary Truth
Let A be an arbitrary sentence. Let B = [(x = x) & A]. By applying (CP) to B, we have an object o such that (o = o) & A. By conjunction elimination, we infer A.

This sort of problem, noted by Russell and others, has prompted Meinongians to seek restrictions on (CP) that are consistent but remain true to the spirit of the Meinongian idea that an object of thought can be characterized in just about any way and still be thought of.

Priest’s proposal is novel. Let A(x) be any conjunction of properties. One can intend an object that satisfies exactly those properties. Let ‘o’ rigidly designate that object. If a is the intending agent, and B is the relevant intentional operator, then aB(A(o)) is true at @. So at every w such that w is accessible from @ under B for a, A(o) is true at w. That is, the objects in question do not necessarily have all of their characterinzig properties at the actual world, but they do have them at some world or other.

Before returning to Priest’s reply to Braun’s first argument, let’s forestall a potential objection to Priest’s proposal. Suppose ‘Necessarily F’ is our characterizing property. Then in some world, there is an object that has that property. But doesn’t this entail that that object is actually F? No. The world in question must be an impossible world if the object in question is not actually necessarily F.

Given Priest’s version of (CP), Priest may resist (2). Vulcan does have the properties specified in the reference-fixing description 'the planet causing perturbations in the orbit of Mercury'. It just does not have them actually. So Priest may avoid Braun’s first objection. (We might worry about what happens if the reference-fixing description is 'the actual planet causing perturbations in the orbit of Mercury'. Let's hold that thought for a minute and grant that Priest can avoid objection one.)

Caplan’s Objection

Priest’s reply to Braun’s first objection appears to play him into the hands of an objection from Caplan, however (plausibly, this sort of objection is originally attributable to Kripke). Priest’s view is that something has the properties LeVerrier attributed to Vulcan at some non-actual world. But it is not the only such thing. There are infinitely many possible objects, in fact, that have the properties LeVerrier attributed to Vulcan. So the description is not reference-fixing, since it is not definite. The description is satisfied by many non-existent objects. We can state the objection as follows:

1. If LeVerrier’s uses of ‘Vulcan’ refer to Vulcan, then there is a unique entity that satisfies the reference-fixing description, 'the planet causing perturbations in the orbit of Mercury'.
2. There is no unique entity that satisfies that description. (On Priest’s view, there are too many of them.)
3. So LeVerrier’s uses of ‘Vulcan’ do not refer to Vulcan.

I think Priest is best interpreted as rejecting (1). According to Priest, the reference of a description, including an indefinite description, is fixed by speakers’ intentions. So provided some planet was the one LeVerrier was thinking about, LeVerrier could even succeed in referring to it via indefinite description. So Caplan’s objection, directed against Priest, is unsound.

Braun’s Second Objection
(See section 8 of Braun for the passage from which the following is extracted.)
1. If LeVerrier had a standing intention to the effect that if nothing actual satisfies his description, then ‘Vulcan’ does not refer to anything, then LeVerrier’s uses of ‘Vulcan’ did not refer to anything.
2. LeVerrier had a standing intention to that effect.
3. So, LeVerrier’s uses of ‘Vulcan’ did not refer to anything.

Let’s assume (2) is correct. If it’s not, it doesn’t matter much. We could introduce a name now with such an intention and we could re-state the objection using our new name. So what can Priest say against premise (1)?

A Priestly Reply
Priest might begin by noting that, on his view, the argument contains an ambiguity. ‘Vulcan’ does not refer to anything may be understood in the following ways:

(1a) (upside down 'A')x ~ (‘Vulcan’ refers to x)
(1u) (crazy U)x ~ (‘Vulcan’ refers to x)

If LeVerrier’s intention is best understood in the first way, then Priest could grant that the argument is sound, since (1a) is true but (1u) is false, on Priest’s view. What if LeVerrier’s intention is best understood in the second way?

The best I can do on Priest’s behalf is to suppose that LeVerrier had some “Vulcan-y” mental representation and he intended his theory to be a theory of the thing so represented. This thing, on Priest’s view, is a non-existent planet that perturbs the orbit of Mercury. Perhaps such an intention overrides the standing intention for the name to be non-referring if there is nothing that actually satisfies the relevant reference-fixing description. Thus (perhaps) Priest can deny (1) under the second reading.

Braun may reply that LeVerrier almost certainly intended that ‘Vulcan’ refer to something that actually exists. If this is a condition on LeVerrier’s successful reference, and it is not met, then it is plausible to suppose that LeVerrier’s uses of ‘Vulcan’ did not refer. These are extremely difficult issues to sort out, however. So let’s turn to some further considerations that are more specific to Priest’s view.

Further Criticisms

There are two ways a name may be non-referring:

(1) There may not be anything (in the ‘crazy U’ sense) that is even a candidate for being the referent of the name. (It is perhaps easiest to see how this could happen on the serious presentist view.)
(2) There may be a candidate, but the conditions on reference may not be met.

I. Violations of (2)

If Priest’s view is correct, then it is pretty easy to meet the conditions on reference. Simply imagining something and mentally focusing on it seems sufficient. But there are or could be cases in which a name or simple singular term could be introduced without the corresponding mental focusing.

The simplest case involves demonstratives. Suppose you use ‘that’ while not intending anything in particular. Then your use is empty, even on Priest’s view. Were you to introduce a name under similar mental conditions, presumably that name would be empty as well. Suppose S introduces n into L without the proper intention. We can put the problem as follows:

1. If Priest’s view is correct, then S’s uses of n are empty.
2. If S’s uses of n are empty, then Priest’s view does not provide a fully general solution to the paradox of nonexistence.
3. So if Priest’s view is correct, then Priest’s view does not provide a fully general solution to the paradox of nonexistence.

Priest might note that such names are quite bizarre and rare; we don’t have the sorts of intuitions about these uses of names that we seem to have about, say, ‘Zeus’. But note that if the name “caught on” in the language, it’s plausible that people would develop such intuitions. So this seems to me to be something of a problem for Priest.

II. Violations of (1)

It seems to me however that there are bigger problems for Priest. If his view is correct, then there are violations of condition (1) as well. These problems have to do with the Characterization Principle. So if these considerations are correct, they not only show that Priest’s view does not provide a fully general solution to the paradox of nonexistence. They also show that (CP) does not do what Priest wants it to do.

The first objection is similar to the one in Beall’s review of Priest’s book. It was also discovered independently by Dan.

In English, there is a use of ‘actual’ according to which it is an indexical that rigidly designates the world of the speaker. It seems we can imagine an actual green elephant in the seminar room. Let’s do that. Now let’s introduce a name for it: Let ‘Randall Farnsworth’ refer to the actual green elephant in the room, and no thing otherwise.

1. If Priest’s view is correct, then there is no existent or nonexistent object that is the actual green elephant in the seminar room.
2. If there is no existent or nonexistent object that is the actual green elephant in the seminar room, then ‘Randall Farnsworth’ is an empty name.
3. If ‘Randall Farnsworth’ is an empty name, then Priest’s view does not provide a fully general solution to the paradox of nonexistence.
4. So if Priest’s view is correct, then Priest’s view does not provide a fully general solution to the paradox of nonexistence.

Beall hedges on whether there is such a use of ‘actual’. I am less reserved than Beall on the matter. It is clear that there is such a use in English. But even if Beall is right, we need not rest our case on this example. Call anything that is either a possible, impossible, closed, or open world a circumstance. Now let’s introduce an operator, ‘Super’, that satisfies the following condition:

'Super (Fx)' is true with respect to a circumstance under an assignment iff '(Fx)' is true with respect to absolutely every circumstance.

Now imagine the super green elephant in the seminar room. We may re-state the objection after engaging in a naming ceremony as before and replacing ‘actual’ in the objection with ‘super’.

I conclude that Priest’s view does not provide a fully general solution to the paradox of nonexistence. So this is not an advantage it has over non-noneist views.

I should add, though, that on some scores noneism seems to do a bit better than the alternatives. Consider something like Braun’s view. On it, the following sentences as uttered by LeVerrier get the following truth values:

1. ‘Vulcan’ refers to Vulcan F
2. Vulcan does not exist T
3. Vulcan is identical to Vulcan F
4. Vulcan is an abstract object F
5. Vulcan is as hot as Vulcan F
6. ‘Vulcan’ refers to Randall Farnsworth F
7. Vulcan is as hot as Randall Farnsworth F
8. Vulcan is identical to Randall Farnsworth F

Uttered by us, things are different (since we refer to the mythical/imaginary objects):
1. T
2. F
3. T
4. T
5. T?
6. F
7. T?
8. F

On Priest’s view we have:
1. T
2. T
3. T
4. F (I think—he contrasts fictional objects with mathematical and other abstract objects, but does not explicitly rule on mythical objects. At any rate, I think it is more intuitive to suppose (4) is false.)
5. T?
6. F
7. T?
8. F
Priest’s rulings on (1-4) may line up better with our pre-theoretic intuitions. But if Braun is right and such intuitions are deeply confused and inconsistent, this may not be much of an advantage.


For next time, please read Quine's "On What There Is", Russell's "On Denoting", and Priest's replies to these papers in Chapter 5 of his book, "On What There Isn't". The recommended reading is Richard's "Commitment".

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The sad story of a fictional individual's existent place based on pretences.

Takashi Yagisawa in his paper "Against Creationism in Fiction" attacks… yep you guessed it… creationism in fiction. His first victim is Searle. Admittedly an easy target, but sometimes it’s easier to start a war with the weakest opponent, in particular one who advocates the basic creationist view.

Creationism is when fictional individuals (characters) exist as a result of being created by the relevant author(s).
So, fictional individuals actually exist either:

1. As a result of being created by the author(s)
2. Not as a result of being created by the author(s)

Which means that either:
(A) Fictional individuals actually exist as a result of being created by someone (or something) other than the author(s)
(B) Fictional individuals actually exist not as a result of being created at all.

Yagisawa’s aim is to deny 1. and therefore conclude that fictional individuals don’t actually exist. As a side note, the reason for Yagisawa’s dismissal of 2. is because of “its inherent implausibility and lack of supporters.”(1) I am admittedly a little mystified by this. If his aim is to full out deny that fictional individuals don’t actually exist, not simply to deny the view that they are results of creationism, he must at least entertain these ‘unpopular’ views in order to deny that fictional individuals actually exist.

Anyhow on to Searle’s simple creationism…

Searle says:
“By pretending to refer to people and to recount events about them, the author creates fictional characters and events.”(3)

In other words, the author pretends to tell a true story and by doing this he creates fictional individuals.

So the formula (as it were) for Searle in creating a fictional individual is to:

The author pretends* to make an assertion.
By pretending to make an assertion the author pretends that there is an object being referred to.
The pretend reference creates a fictional individual.

note: the author is not referring to an antecedently created fictional individual. It’s the reader (us) that is outside the fictional story that does this and can really refer to a fictional individual.

* Though the act of pretence on the part of the author is obviously important to the formula for Searle, he doesn’t offer a great defense as to why it’s important, so I won’t talk about it. Yagisawa attacks it latter in his segment on the pretence-theoretical creationist accounts, à la van Inwagen.

Speech acts of reference:

(1) M pretends to refer to FI by the use of the proper name ‘FI’
(2) Speech act of reference is successful only if there exists an object M is referring to
(3) M pretends there is an object being referred to by the use of the proper name ‘FI’
(4) M creates FI

Yagisawa at this point follows the outline for speech acts of reference by pointing out that Searle, who seems to agree with it (bad move on his part), is doing something “abrupt and unwarranted” in the steps (3) to (4). I have to agree with Yagisawa on this. If the fictional individual’s existence is needed in order to fix reference, then, Searle’s formula is unsuccessful when taking the speech acts of reference account into consideration. Searle can’t have both.

Yagisawa then backs up a bit and tries to help Searle from incoherence. Perhaps it is the case that Searle is talking about existence not in actuality, a robust existence, but a watered-down kind of existence as an idea in the mind or in the land of the fictional story. But, this is not the creationist’s view. They are advocating robust existence. So Searle is still incoherent.

The next lifeline Yagisawa offers Searle is to deny “that necessarily for any x, if x is created, then x comes to exist” (7). Basically Searle needs to choose an account, either it is existence in actuality that fixes the reference, or, it is the reference that fixes the existence in actuality. If he chooses the former, then he’s agreeing with the speech acts of reference account, in which case he cannot have a creationist’s view. If he chooses the latter, he can have a creationist’s view but deny the speech acts of reference account.

Frankly Searle is lost at this point. If he wishes to maintain a creationist’s view he’ll need to give a better account of reference. And the most glaring way to do this is to cash out exactly what it is for an author’s pretence of reference that is responsible for fixing a fictional individual’s existence. Good luck Searle!

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Two Recent Reviews of Priest's Book

I thought I would link to two recent reviews of Priest's Toward Non-Being: one in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews by J.C. Beall and one in Disputatio by Fred Kroon.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006


The van Inwagen and Salmon papers should be available in the philosophy department (soon). (Van Inwagen's arguments are recapped in several of the other readings. These are sufficient for you to get the gist of van Inwagen's idea. It's best to take a look at the original though.) Caplan's paper, "Creatures of Myth, Fiction, and Imagination" is here. Takashi Yagisawa's paper, "Against Creationism in Fiction", is here. For arguments that there are empty names, review section 3.3. of Chapter 2 of Caplan's dissertation and section 8 of Braun's paper, "Empty Names, Fictional Names, Mythical Names".

Monday, November 06, 2006

In Defense of Priest

I'm going to step up to the plate and defend Priest against the objections of last class, I'll do them in descending order, from toughest to easiest. (Proff Tillman I know I asked you about this already, but I'd like to present it here)

No Friggin Way:
A rough sketch of this objection goes like so:
- Objects are functions from worlds to identities
- "Russel Jones" is "Old Dirty Bastard"
- Under Priest's semantics we achieve RJ = ODB
- Under Priest's semantics we are forced to have RJ(W) and ODB(W) to output different identities for some world W
- Therefore the functions RJ and ODB are not equal
- Therefore, even at the actual world, RJ is not ODB, even though RJ = ODB is true at the actual world
- Therefore, No Friggin Way Priest!!!

Now, I'd like to make a concession on Priest's behalf. An object is not a function. I'm an object, and I take food, oxygen, beer etc. as input and output things like philosophical jargon, and other unmentionables. I do not take in worlds and output abstract concepts, and I doubt Priest is trying to say I do. This is just a convenient way of developing the semantics. So, ODB is not a function, he is whatever he is, and at this world he is Russel Jones. So what of this function from worlds to identities? The completion of this response I'll give in the context of the next response.

What the Deuce? (I dedicate this response to Stewie Griffin)

The objection goes as follows:
- What the deuce are identities?

First of all, I'd like to note than the concept of identity isn't quite as intuitive when dealing with other worlds. Supposedly there is a world in which Russel Jones is a jazz musician, and not a rapper. However, you can't say that these two RJs are identical in the ordinary sense, I mean c'mon, Leibnitz's law blatantly fails with respect to these two entities. However, we don't want to say something like "Russel Jones couldn't have been a Jazz musician because by Leibnitz's law he wouldn't be Russel Jones anymore". However, given possible worlds, arguably RJ's alternate selves can be arbitrarily different. Still, there's some intuitive notion that even though Russel Jones can be radically different in different worlds, we're still talking about Russel Jones. So, to indicate we're talking about the same things modified at different worlds, and not just different entities, we have the function RJ(x) (where x is a world) that points to the same thing (in most worlds) in order to indicate we're still talking about the same thing. But, we still need to relate this function to the actual object somehow. We can simply say that every object has a coresponding identity function, at the actual world Russel Jones's identity function is RJ.
Still No Friggin Way

- even if this is the case, why does RJ(W) and ODB(W) point to a different identity at some world?

This isn't such a problem anymore. Consider common world-varient speach. If we say "Russel Jones could have been a jazz musician" we would want to refer to the RJ we know and love, and merely talk about a world in which he doesn't rap. But if we say something like "it could have been the case that ODB is not RJ", then we are no longer identifying the two, and RJ would have his same old identity while ODB must assume a new one (at that world). This makes sense, because the statement paraphrased is "It could have been the case that ODB and RJ did not have the same identity". Note that at the actual world the two are still identical since the two functions point to the same identity (and strictly speaking, RJ is not a function). Plainly speaking, the world-to-identity functions are derived from who we mean to describe when discussing a world, and the identities assure that we're describing who we mean to be.


no comment, I thought this was a pretty good objection


This is a response I'm not too sure about. The move from de-dicto to de-re requires that "bugsy" be a rigid designator. But Elmer doesn't know that "bugsy" is a rigid designator. He doesn't think its denotation remains the same at all worlds, in fact, he thinks its denotation varies in the actual world! Therefore, he can't be expected, even as a perfect logician, to make the leap from de-dicto to de-re claims.

Priest... I've done my best, may your theory survive the onslaught!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Probability and Propositions

There was a recent discussion in the Online Philosophy Conference of some considerations that seem related to Adam's idea below. Here's the link to that discussion, which includes a paper by David Chalmers and a reply by David Braun.

"Pauvre Poirot"

I’m going to run through Caplan’s The End of the Picture argument in section 3.3 (p. 40-43) in point form. Then do a question and comment recap at the end.

Objects that couldn’t exist: “…refer to complex objects that have as essential constituents or members possible objects that happen to be incompossible.”

Caplan: ‘Poirot’ is not one of these, rather, it refers to objects that don’t exist.

Therefore, they must be merely possible objects.

Caplan: But, there are too many merely possible objects.

Therefore, ‘Poirot’ is not a merely possible object, perhaps ‘Poirot' is an incomplete (Meinongian) object.

Accordingly, an incomplete object: “refers to a definite object: namely, the incomplete object that has the properties of being…” so and so and / or lacks the properties so and so.

So, (A) an incomplete object “would be possible only if they could have many more properties than they actually have.”

and / or

(B) “would be possible only if they could lose some properties that they actually have.”

Caplan: ‘Poirot’ can’t be incomplete because:

(1) “incomplete objects aren’t complex objects that have as essential constituents or members possible objects that happen to be incompossible.”
(2) “…incomplete objects are incomplete; they lack most ordinary properties.”

Therefore, if ‘Poirot’ cannot refer to an incomplete object then it is implausible that ‘Poirot’ refers to an object that:
Could exist but doesn’t actually,
Couldn’t exist,
Once existed buy doesn’t anymore,
Will exist but doesn’t yet,
And could exist but doesn’t actually.

Then, ‘Poirot’ doesn’t refer to an object that doesn’t exist, and, doesn’t refer to an object that exists.

So, ‘Poirot’ is empty. ‘Poirot’ doesn’t refer to anything at all.

According to this argument there is only two options presented to us either we accept that objects like ‘Poirot’ are empty or that they do refer to incomplete objects. But, as Caplan points out in objections (1) and (2) they can’t be incomplete. So what to do? Say we don’t want to accept the ‘empty’ view (just for the sake of entertainment at this point…), then we have to deny either objection (1) or (2). I’m voting for (2). As for objection (1), I agree with Caplan that incomplete objects, at least ones like ‘Poirot’, are not complex objects that happen to be incompossible. ‘Poirot’ is just not the same kind of thing as ‘Nothan’, and should not be referred to as such. So, that leaves (2). At this point I will not argue for (2) because I’m hesitant as to what the conclusion means, is coming from, implications of and how it works.

As the story goes…

Incomplete objects are incomplete (they lack most ordinary properties), so I’m assuming this means they must gain some ordinary properties? What exactly are the ordinary properties that they require? And if they gain these properties then doesn’t that mean according to the definition, (A), of incomplete objects that by virtue of them gaining (or possibly gaining) the properties they become possible? No good. How about saying that incomplete objects have too many properties, and that they fall into the other category, (B), of incomplete objects? This option seems fine to me… for now…

How to Keep Humpty Dumpty from Falling

In class was raised this objection to Millianism:

Humpty Dumpty says:
a)"I believe ODB is a rapper"
b)"I believe RJ is not a rapper"

-now, no matter how much Humpty Dumpty asserts these properties, the Millian must claim that Humpty Dumpty is wrong: that he ACTUALLY, deep down, believes that RJ is a rapper. The Millian must say this because he holds that "the content of a linguistically simple singluar term is its referent". Of course, ODB and RJ refer to the same being, so it is bizarre to both believe and disbelieve that somebody is a rapper.

Now, the Millian holds that when somebody believes something, they have a BEL relation to that thing.

i.e. (BEL) A believes P iff There is some x such that(A takes P in way x & BEL (A,P,x).

Now, my solution is controversial and may not be easily incorperated into the Millian schema. What I will do is to call the amplified version of Millianism "Millianism'".

Millianism' shall incorperate one thing - that instead of Belief being a simple Yes/No relation, it is instead a probability relation. That is, A has 75% belief in P. This could be taken as a confidence level in one's belief.

There is precedent for this move in the philosophical literature. See Wesley Salmon's “Rationality and Objectivity in Science or Tom Kuhn Meets Tom Bayes.” (Scientific Theories. C. Wade Savage (ed.) Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press (1990), 175-204.), and Harold Brown's “Reason, Judgement and Bayes’s Law” (Philosophy of Science 61 (1994), 351-369.), to name a few.

If we take the Millian BEL relation in this probibalistic way, we can approach a solution to the Humpty problem.

Let us look at the claims again, and I will attach probabilities to them...
a)"I believe ODB is a rapper" - 90% BEL. Humpty has seen the ODB in some of his more popular music videos, and one Halloween (back in '93) he saw some friends dressed up as the Wu-Tang Clan. I will not give him 100% BEL because it has been a while since ODB passed away, and Humpty doesn't want to confuse him for a used car salesman down the street.

b)"I believe Russell Jones is not a rapper" - Humpty is not a huge rap fan, but knows all of the big name rappers. Russell Jones is not one of these names. This is what he bases his belief off of - 55% BEL.

Now, Humpty will say he believes both of these claims, and he has reasons for believing both of them. However, the probability of belief hypothesis (Millianism') gives room for error in each of these beliefs. We often assert things that we believe, but are not totally sure of. In this case Humpty was just wrong about one of his beliefs.

The Millian was previously put in an unfavorable position where he had to claim he knew what a person's beliefs were better than that person themself. In Millian', the Millian acknowledges that the person knows what he believes, but also knows that when a person says they believe something, they accept that they could be wrong.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Caplan's DREN Ch2 S1.1

As a comment on this section, I'd like to knuckle down, bite the bullet, plea for help and say I have no idea what's going on here.
One, what is a mode of being? I'm not quite sure, and it doesn't look like anyone really is quite sure. Meinong seems to have identified two, Concrete being and Abstract being. This part makes sense, I have a certain mode of being, and the referent of "the least prime number" has another. But more than that, Meinong puts these modes in a hierarchy, and I'm not sure why: "On Meinong's view, every object that 'existieren' also 'bestehen', but not every object that 'bestehen' also 'existieren'. I don't see that relation at all between abstract existent objects and concrete existent objects. What is this property I supposedly share with the number 2? What is 'bestehen'? If 'bestehen' denotes and abstract mode of being or a certain way of sub-standard existence then I don't have it. I exist as a concrete object, not as an abstract entity. If 'bestehen' means something like "possibly exists" then it wouldn't apply to abstract entities, because if they have a lower mode of being they couldn't possibly have a higher one. Perhaps 'bestehen' means something like 'makes sense', but this would apply to non-existent possible objects as well, which Meinong denies.
Another, unrelated problem I'm having: Is existence a predicate or a quantifier, or both? We can talk of existence as a quantifier, "there exists an x such that", or a predicate "the constant 'a' satisfies the predicate of existence". Each use has it's own implications as to what existence means. Meinong's statement "There are objects of which it is true there are no such objects" would make more sense if this were straitened out first. I think Priest has the right idea in not using the existence quantifier, since it includes some assumptions about existence (such as the validity of Fa -> ExFx) that maybe it's best not to start with when in a discussion about existence itself.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

What do Millians believe?

According to Salmon, believes is a binary relation between agents and propositions, where an agent and proposition stand in the relation only if some brain states of the agent represent that proposition, and if those brain states play the kinds of causal roles that we normally attribute to belief (the brain states are in the belief box). Consider a case of two people having these beliefs, respectively: “Clark Kent is heroic” and “Superman is heroic”. Both beliefs express the same proposition, which is simply the complex <Clark Kent, being-heroic>. So both people hold the same proposition as the object of intentionality, though intuitively we might think they believe different things in virtue of the propositions expressed being different. After all, we’d be quicker to believe the latter rather than the former, and people might argue the truth value of one compared to the other, despite it being the case on the Millian account they would be arguing over the very same proposition.

Salmon has a way of differentiating the roles they play: simply introduce ‘ways of believing’ by means of the BEL relation, so that an agent A believes a proposition P by means of way x only if BEL<A, P, x> obtains. So, different brain states (mentalese sentences corresponding to “Clark Kent is heroic” and “Superman is heroic”, for example) can all distinctly represent the proposition by means of BEL. These different brain states play different causal roles, and might lead to an agent assenting to different things, such as “Clark Kent is not heroic while Superman is” or “Clark Kent and Superman are both heroic”, etc. So, says Salmon, all is well, simply introduce ways of believing that play causal roles in our actions, locutions, thoughts, etc.

At this point, the unsatisfactory consequence has obtained. These ‘ways of believing’ play causal roles, are involved in cognition, and more. But aren’t these simply the things that our beliefs are supposed to do in virtue of their contents? After all, isn’t it simply in virtue of the propositional content of my belief ‘Superman is heroic’ that I point to the thing in the air and say ‘That guy is heroic!’, then later point to Clark Kent and say ‘that guy is no hero.’? No; according to the Millian, we must push the characteristics of our beliefs further down, since the parts doing useful work must be the ways of believing.

This is unsatisfactory because ways of believing (brain states) are missing characteristics we normally associate with belief, such as publicity (I cannot share a way of believing the propositional content <Clark Kent, being-heroic>, only the propositional content itself, despite the former having the specific content I want to share). And even if the Millian replies and tells us that of course beliefs are these things, it seems then that the propositional content is no longer relevant to the roles that these beliefs play. After all, the brain states are far more granular than the propositions they express, and carry additional information.

Thus, propositions as understood by Millians, are wholly external to the mind, and just as well, since they are not granular enough to represent my full set of beliefs anyway, and would be useless in explaining why I act a certain way or believe such-and-such thing. But it seems too much of an abuse of both beliefs and propositions to let stand. So I ask of the Millian: just what is it for me to believe that your view is in trouble?