The Meaning and Use of ‘is True’

The first thing that we need to do is to make a distinction between the redundancy theory of truth, which is a claim about the use of the predicate ‘is true’ in a natural language, and deflationsim, which is a metaphysical claim about the nature of the property picked out by ‘is true’. Usually what you find is that people just use ‘minimalism’ and ignore this difference though they seem to think that redundancy is true and so therefore deflationsism is true (Blackburn is a classic example of this).

The main motivation for redundancy is a collapsing of the meaning/use distinction that is characteristic of Horwich and other neo-Wittgensienians. If the meaning of a word just is the way that that word is used, the function it conventionally plays in a public language game, then finding out how people use the truth predicate and abstracting the rule that defines its function (the T-schema) is finding out the essence of our concept of truth. But there are reasons not to conflate meaning and use (which I won’t go into here). While I do think that people often use the word ‘true’ as a way of communicating that they agree with either what they themselves, or someone else, has said this communicative use of the predicate ‘is true’ depends on its having the correspondence meaning. ‘True’, the English word, means something like ‘being in accordance with the actual state of affairs’ and so it is easy to see how I could use it to express agreement with what has already been said; to say that something is true is to say that it is really the way things are. So in conversation I am able to exploit that meaning in order to indicate that I agree with something that has been said, I am in effect saying ‘yes, that is in accordance with the facts’.

We exploit the meanings of words in this way quite often. Searle (Searle 1969/2001, p. 142) pointed out a similar phenomenon with ‘promise.’ Suppose a parent says to their lazy child “clean your room or I promise I will take away your cell phone!” It is very odd to think the parent is actually promising to do anything here since the thing promised is not something that the child wants the parent to do. In fact this kind of utterance is most likely a threat or a warning. Or consider a professor confronting a student suspected of plagiarism. The professor says “this passage is taken from Wikipedia” and the student says “I didn’t plagiarize! I promise I didn’t!” This doesn’t look like a promise either, how can you promise that you did not do something? This is rather an emphatic denial of the professor’s accusation. How is this possible? It is because the verb ‘to promise’ is one of the strongest indicators of commitment in the English language, and so we adapt it in these cases as a way of indicating that we are really committed. It would be very hard to explain, from Horwich’s view, how the predicate came to have the function of indicating agreement in the first place without appealing to the correspondence meaning that the word has. If this is right then one of the motivations for accepting deflationsim about truth falls apart.

What’s so Unobservable about Causation?

What is it that is supposed to be so unobservable about causation? This question has nagged at me since my days as an undergraduate (and there has recently been a lot of discussion of it over at Brains, which inspired me to post on it). It had always seemed to me that the causal relation was entirely observable. We even have evidence that we have been observing it since before we could talk. For instance from the cradle we witness the passing of the sun behind clouds and the subsequent darkness, we witness objects falling to the ground, we witness that motion is attended with sound, and etc. Nor are these examples special; cases like these can be multiplied indefinitely. We can see water extinguish flame. While walking about I kick a stone and see my foot cause the rock to begin its trajectory. I can see the acid turn the litmus paper red. Pointing a magnifying glass at a piece of paper on a sunny day will cause the paper to smoke and turn brown, eventually catching fire. A small dog biting at my ankles will cause a pinching sensation and perhaps annoyance! I take these to be examples of seeing A cause B, seeing A causing B and feeling A cause B.

So why think that the causal relation is unobservable? I take the canonical text on this to be Section seven of Hume’s Enquiry. For instance in paragraph six of that section he says,

When we look about us towards external objects, and consider the operation of causes, we are never able, in any single instance, to discover any power or necessary connexion; any quality, which binds the effect to the cause, and renders the one an infallible consequence of the other. We only find, that the one ball does, actually, in fact, follow the other. The impulse of one billiard-ball is attended with motion in the second. This is the whole as it appears to the outward senses. The mind feels no sentiment or inward impression from this succession of objects: Consequently, there is not, in any single, particular instance of cause and effect, any thing which can suggest the idea of power or necessary connexion. (Hume 1999)

No doubt it was passages like this that lead to Kant’s rather rude awakening from his dogmatic slumber. It seems to me to have plunged us into one. In the above passage, which is completely typical of that section, Hume seems to be saying that since we cannot see that the connection between these events is necessary, which is to say that we cannot see why what happens is the ‘infallible consequence’ of the first event as opposed to some other event, there is no way that the idea of causation could be taken from anything perceptible in the outside world. It follows from what he says that the causal relation is not observable; something that makes no impression on the human senses would have to be. The intuition that we have to see the necessity of the causal relation in order to see it at all has guided discussions of the observability of the causal relation. It seems to me that Hume here fails to make a distinction between what we observe and how we analyze what we see. What we observe is a relation; it is when we turn to how to characterize that relation that necessity is involved.

As C.J. Ducasse pointed out, Hume’s claim about the unobservability of causation would be true only under “the assumption that a ‘connection’ is an entity of the same sort as the terms themselves between which it holds…” (Ducasse 1993, p 131). Hume’s mistake was to look for the sense impression of a relation. This we will not find unless relations exist in the same way as the things they relate. But the relation between two objects is not itself a third object! Consider two objects, one to the left of the other. We do not see the relation ‘to the left of,’ but rather see one thing as being to the left of another. It does not even make sense to ask ‘what does the relation ‘to the left of’ look like?’ If asked this question all we could do is describe the position of the objects along with the definition of ‘left,’ and ‘right.’

Any further questioning about what ‘left of’ looks like would betray a category mistake. That is, mistaking a relation for an entity of the sort that it holds between. By way of comparison imagine Hume arguing that ‘left of’ is unobservable. I mean all we see is object A and Object B no where is there an impression of ‘left of,’ and so strictly speaking our idea of ‘left of’ is meaningless. But this is ridiculous! The argument seems to work against any relation and so proves too much.

When we see one ball hit the other we observe that the two balls are related, one causes the other to move, but we do not see that the relation is necessary even though it is in fact a necessary one. Just as we can see X moving without seeing that X is going 22 MPH, or we can see X being 3 ft away from Y without seeing that X is 3 ft away from Y. Despite the fact that I do not see that X is three feet from me I do see the relation ‘3 ft away from,’ I just don’t know that it is this relation. We see relation X qua relation while not seeing that X is such and such a relation. So on the view I am advocating we see A and we see B and we see A cause B but whether or not we see THAT the relation is necessary is a different question. 

As ‘Corny As I Want To Be

As some of you may know, I have been mounting an offensive against Pete Mandik’s Unicorn argument against higher-order theories of consciousness. We have been having quite a bit of discussion over at the Brain Hammer (Me So ‘Corny) on whether or not my proposed answer works or not, and so I thought I would take this opportunity to sum up the debate so far.

The Argument

Pete’s argument is actually quite simple. Here is the way that he puts it:

First, some quick and dirty definitions of my targets:

[Higher-order Representationalism] – The property of being a conscious state consists in being a represented state.

P1. Things that don’t exist don’t instantiate properties.

P2. We represent things that don’t exist.

P3. Representing something does not suffice to confer a property to that thing.

C1. Representing a state does not suffice to confer the property of being conscious to that state (so [higher-order representationalism] is false).

There is another conclusion (C2) that first-order representationalism is false, but I already knew that and so will ignore it.

Two Ways to Kill a ‘Corn

Now it is not secret that I think that is a bad argument that rests on several misunderstandings of the higher-order theory. It is not a threat to Rosenthal’s version of higher-order theory because he would deny the assumption needed to get P3 and hence C1. Here is the way I put it in Kripke, Consciousness and the ‘Corn.

[T]his argument does not threaten Rosenthal’s version of higher-order theory because for him the higher-order thought does not ‘transfer’ or ‘confer’ the property of consciousness to the first order state. For him the property of being a conscious state consists solely in my representing myself as being in a certain state. The first-order state is not changed in any way by the higher-order thought. The only thing that has changed is that the creature is now aware of itself as being in the state.

Now it may be counter-intuitive to say that the higher-order state in no way changes the first-order state, but intuition is not argument. Also, the transitivity principle commits you to this claim as I detailed in Explaining What It’s Like, and as Rosenthal is well aware of. Here is his response to the problem posed by P2 (The interviewer is Uriah Kriegal)]

Ephilosopher: Professor Rosenthal, let me raise one final difficulty for your theory. According to your theory, what it is like for the subject to be in a conscious state is determined by how that state is represented by the second-order state. But what happens when there is a misrepresentational second-order state, with no first-order state at all? It seems your theory commits you to saying that, in such cases, the subject is under the false impression that she is having a particular kind of conscious experience, when in fact she is not. Doesn’t that strike you as absurd, though?

David Rosenthal: Answering this question requires a lot of care in how we put things. We can get a feel for what’s at issue by considering a case that actually occurs. Dental patients sometimes seem to themselves to feel pain even when the relevant pain nerve endings are dead or anaesthetized. The widely held explanation is that these patients feel sensations of fear and vibration as though those sensations were pain. We certainly have no trouble understanding this explanation. But how should we describe what’s happening specifically in terms of the patient’s conscious states? It’s undeniable that the patient is in some conscious state, but what kind of conscious state is it? From the patient’s subjective, first-person point of view, the conscious state is a pain, but we have substantial independent reason to say that there simply is no pain. How we describe this case depends on whether we focus primarily on the state of which the patient is actually conscious or on the way the patient is conscious of it. The trouble is that these two things come apart; the patient is conscious of sensations of fear and vibration, but conscious of them as pain. So it’s not at all absurd, but only unexpected, that one be conscious of oneself as being in a state that one is not actually in. It’s worth noting that this divergence between the state of which somebody is actually conscious and how that person is conscious of it has practical importance. The area of so-called dental fear is of interest to dentists and to theorists because patients who understand what’s happening readily come to be conscious of their sensations as sensations of vibration and fear, which is not especially bothersome. How one represents one’s experiences does determine what those experiences are like for one. Is this really the kind of case you asked about? You asked about what happens when one has a higher-order thought that one is in a state that doesn’t occur. But maybe we should treat the dental case rather as a higher-order thought that misdescribes its target; it misdescribes sensations of fear and vibration as a sensation of pain. But I think it will never matter which way we describe things. When a higher-order thought occurs, there are always other mental states, as well. So whenever a higher-order thought doesn’t accurately describe any state that actually occurs, we can say either that it misdescribes some actual state or that it’s about some nonexistent state; it won’t make any difference which way we characterize the situation

So on Rosenthal’s view there simply is no difference between saying that the HOT represents a state that does not exist and saying that it misrepresents a state that does exist. So Rosenthal’s versionof higher-order theory is completely unaffected bythe unicorn argument.

Even so, it does commit him to saying some strange sounding things, but there is another way to think of the relation between the higher-order state and the first-order state, and gives rise to the distinction between what I call K-HOTs and Q-HOTs (Two Concepts of Transitive Consciousness). A K-HOT is caused by the first-order state that it represents, whereas a Q-HOT simply ‘accompanies’ the first-order state it reporesents. Rosenthal used to endorse K-HOTs but has since moved to Q-HOTs, but as I argued in ‘Two Concepts’ there is no reason to abandon K-HOTs and the give us a second, more convincing, way to kill the ‘corn. Here’s how.

A K-HOT represents its target state via the concepts at the disposal of the creature in question in just the same way that Rosenthal has spent so long arguing is the case. The difference is that the K-HOT is (theoretically) required to be caused by some first-order state or other and it is that causal link that determines what first-order state the higher-order state is about. So, K-HOTs will NEVER represent a first-order state that does not exist, it will rather ALWAYS represent (or misrepresent) a state that does in fact exist. So the property of being represented is none other than the property of causing a higher-order state. This means that while it may be true that WE represent things that do not exists, K-HOTs do not. So again, P2 and P3 are blocked.

So whether you link Quine and Q-HOTs or Kripke and K-HOTs the unicorn is no threat to higher-order theories. Of course having said that I think there are reasons to prefer K-HOTs butthat is another story.  

A Tale of Two T’s

A while ago over at the Brain Hammer Pete asked the question ‘What are you conscious of when you have conscious experiences?‘ (I think he asked the same question over at Brains a little later). His basic idea was to solicit peoples intuitions about Transitivity and Transparancy, which he defined as follows.

“The Transparency Thesis”: When one has a conscious experience all that one is conscious of is what the experience is an experience of.

“The Transitivity Thesis”:When one has a conscious experience one must be conscious of the experience itself.

Given these two claims he was in particular interested to ask

Since each of these claims is alleged to be obvious, and since they are in opposition, I’d be interested in hearing what others think of the matter: Which is more obvious than the other?

These two claims both seem obvious to me and so I am interested in finding out why people seem to think, as Pete clearly does, that they are in opposition. Part of theproblem is the way inwhich Pete define Transitivity. He claims that it claims that we must be conscious of the experience itself, but this is actually wrong. What Transitivity claims is that we must be conscious of ourselves as having the experience (or conscious of ouselves as being in a certain state). Once we see that this is the right way to construe transitivity it is no longer the case that these two claims are in opposition. When I have a conscious experience (say, as Pete does, of a leafy tree) then it will be the case that I am conscious of myself as having a leafy tree experience (transitivity) and because of that it will also be true that it seems to me that all that I am conscious of is the leafy tree.  So where is the opposition?

There is No Santa Claus

Philosophers often speak about Santa Claus in the context of discussing the problem of names without reference. Since ‘Santa Claus’ does not refer (that is, there is no Santa Claus) what are we to say about sentences that have the name. Is ‘Santa Claus is Jolly’ true? False? Neither true nor false? Nonsense? There are those who defend each of these positions. Yet there is a more pressing issue that has received almost no attention from philosophers. I speak of the moral issue of lying to our children about the existence of Santa. It is commonly recognized that we have a duty to be truthful and yet millions of Americans engage in the most elaborate deceit imaginable all aimed at duping their children. Is this a moral action on their part? It is my position that it is not. Let me now make the case.

What then is it to lie? Common sense dictates that one lies when one utters a falsehood with the intent to deceive. Thus, our common sense idea of a lie focuses on the speaker and his intentions not on the hearer and their expectations. Perhaps more reasonable is our common sense feeling that it is sometimes OK to lie when the consequences of telling the truth are dire. So, if someone asks where you mother is and clearly has the intention of finding her and commit murder most foul, few of us would feel that we violate our moral duty to tell the truth by lying to this person. So is it the case that telling the truth about Santa would cause more harm to our children? Hardly! In fact the opposite seems to be the case. We actually cause more harm by perpetuating this falsehood. In the first instance what we do is to teach our children that they cannot trust us. They then lack any reason to believe what the parent says about other, more important things. For instance, the child might equate what the parent says about God with what they say about Santa. In the second place what we do is to teach our children that it is OK to lie for no good reason. What the child learns is that the truth is not valuable. So, far from being a harmless ‘white lie’ this is quite a damaging tradition

The most common defense for this behavior appeals to a sense of the mystery of child-hood or ‘child-like innocence’. What is wrong, it is often asked, with having a little magic in ones childhood? Isn’t it just like a child believing in Red Riding Hood or Hobbit’s End? The difference between these kinds of cases should be obvious. In one case we tell the child that it is a fable, or a fairy tale. In the other case we go out of our way to deceive the child. I mean, no one leaves things out for the Big Bad Wolf. Santa Claus is portrayed as real, not only in the story but also by the parents. No parents pretend that Darth Vader is real but when I was on a plane on Christmas Eve the PILOT announced over the intercom that he had spotted Santa on the radar!!!!  And, while it may be Ok to omit certain information in order to protect a child it is absolutely immoral to actively perpetuate a lie.

Thus, according to both deontological and utilitarian moral theories it is immoral to lie to ones kid about the existence of Santa Claus. It causes more harm than good and we violate our duty to tell the truth. I think it hardly worth mentioning that it is also vicious and so would be ruled out by any virtue ethics. There is no moral theory that condones this behavior. We do our children, and ourselves, a great disservice by prolonging this nonsense.

Freedom and Evil

The existence of evil in the world poses a serious challenge to the claim that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving being (henceforth ‘God’).  Perhaps the most common response to the problem of evil is the free will defense. According to this defense the reason that there is evil is because God gave us free will and some people make the choice to be (or to do) evil. This is captured in the story of Adam and Eve. God told them not to eat the fruit and they freely chose to disobey. Even Satan is portrayed as exercising free will when he rebels against God. Thus God is still all-powerful, all-knowing, and all-loving and evil exists.

The next natural question is ‘if our having free will is the reason that there is evil, then why did God give it to us?’ The answer to this question is that it is better to have free will. A world where there is free will and, unfortunately, some evil is better than a world of pure automatons where there is no evil. Some have even held that we can know this to be true from that fact that we have free will in the first place. From the premise that God could have created any world he wanted to, and the observation that he created this world, it would seem to follow that this is the best of all possible worlds, evil and all!

J.L.Mackie, inhis famous article “Evil and Omnipotence” makes a very interesting response to this kind of argument, which I think has been under appreciated. His argument is actually pretty simple. It is perfectly obvious that I sometimes freely choose to do the right thing, so it is not logically impossible that God should have made me so that I always freely choose to do the right thing. What this shows is that the world we live in is not the best of all possible worlds that God could have created. He could have made a better world where people always freely chose to do the right thing; a world where people were free but in which the Holocaust could not happen. So again, either he is not all-loving or not all-powerful. Another way of making Mackie’s point is by asking ‘why it is that our being free requires that we be allowed to do evil?’ This seems to me to be a very powerful response. If God could have made us so that we always freely choose to do good then the Free Will defense, which I take to be the only response to the problem of evil that had a chance of answering the argument, fails to do so.

It has been my experience that people do not like this argument. The most common objection I hear is that to really be free all options must be on the table, including the evil ones. Mackie objects to this because it assumes that “choices and actions can be ‘free’ only if they are not determined by [the] characters [of those that choose or act]”. This response is rather obviously biased towards some kind of compatibilism, but I do not think that we need to endores a view like that to make Makie’s argument work.  

On a very common sense view about what it means to have free will it turns out to be perfectly reasonable to claim that God could have made us so that we always freely chose to do good. Though there are those who would disagree, a useful way to characterize freedom of the will is in terms of being able to have done other than what we actually did do. This is often summed up in the slogan ‘could of done otherwise’. So, for example, this morning when I got up I had a cup of coffee, but it seems to me that I could have been able to have had tea instead. I did not have to have coffee this morning. Now the next thing we have to talk about is what does it mean to have been able to do otherwise?   It is certainly the case that as I am falling to my death from the Empire
State building, I could have done otherwise in the sense that I might have avoided falling off in the first place, but now that I am falling it is out of my control. Does this mean that I am not free? NO! As the French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre pointed out, even a jailed man is free. His actions are limited but his will is free.

So why couldn’t God have made it the case that I always freely choose good? If it is to be freedom then in any given case I must have been able to do other than what I actually did do, but all this requires is that I have options, not that some of those options be evil! I am not free to fly, or to be the Queen of England, and yet I am free, so why couldn’t God have made doing evil like flying? Putting things this way let’s us be neutral about theories of free will and keep the insight of Mackie’s argument.

What Kripke Really Thinks

In an earlier post I introduced a distinction between rigidity, a semantic property that some words have and that others lack, and frigidity, a pragmatic property whereby reference is determined by how a word is used. In this post, I argue that frigidity actually better captures what Kripke is talking about. Upon looking at what Kripke says it seems undeniable that what he is concerned about is the truth conditions of utterances that express singular thoughts. Thus our intuitions about the truth of sentences like 1. and 2. are really intuitions about the thoughts that these sentences are taken to be used to express.

1. The first great analytic philosopher might not have been the first great analytic philosopher
2. Bertrand Russell might not have been Bertrand Russell

That is, our intuitions are about particular uses of sentences and Kripke is talking about token utterances. This means that who these sentences depend on for their truth can vary depending on how they are used, and hence that frigidity better captures Kripke’s idea.

This becomes much clearer when we look at Kripke’s later article, “Speaker Reference and Semantic Reference,” (Kripke 1977/1991) where he is much more explicit about what the jobs of semantics and pragmatics are.  He begins, following Grice, by distinguishing between speaker and semantic meaning.

The notion of what words can mean in a language is semantical: it is given by the conventions of our language. What they mean on a given occasion is determined, on a given occasion, by these conventions, together with the intentions of the speaker and various contextual features. Finally what the speaker meant, on a given occasion, in saying certain words, derives from various further special intentions, taken together with various general principles applicable to all human languages regardless of their special conventions (Cf. Grice’s maxims) (SR p 84)

So, in effect we have three kinds of meaning. We have the general meaning of the words as given by the conventions of the language (what Grice called timeless meaning (Grice 1957/1994)), we have the meaning of the words on a given occasion which is determined by the conventions of the language and the intentions of the speaker and ‘various contextual features’. This allows us to resolve any ambiguities, figure out what any indexical or demonstrative elements are being used for and in general determine what proposition the sentence expresses. Finally we have what the speaker meant on a given occasion in saying what they did, which may diverge from what the sentence that they said means on that occasion.

So far this all looks like standard the Gricean picture. Kripke then goes on to distinguish the semantic referent of a term from the speaker’s referent, which he says are special cases of semantic and speaker meaning. 

…the semantic referent of a designator is given by a general intention of the speaker to refer to a certain object whenever the designator is used. The speaker’s referent is given by a specific intention, on a given occasion, to refer to a certain object (p 84)

The semantic referent is given by a general intention which means that I have a general intention to refer to Kripke by using ‘Kripke’.  This means that I have something like a standing intention; I generally use tokens of ‘Kripke’ as a way of referring to Kripke. As he says,

…he uses ‘Jones’ as a name of Jones-elaborate this according to your favorite theory of proper names-and, on this occasion, simply whishes to use ‘Jones’ to refer to Jones,” (ibid).

The reason that I am able to do this is elaborated by his favorite theory of names, which is a causal theory. So, who it is that I have in mind is determined by the causal link that the name (token) has to an individual. This determines who the thought is about.The picture he is developing seems to be like this. When things go right, the speaker has someone in mind, that is, has a singular thought about a particular person, has a word that he (generally) uses as a name for that person (this person is the semantic referent of the term) and on this occasion he intends to refer to that person by using the name (this is the speaker reference).

Now let us return to the question at hand. When we evaluate sentences like 1. and 2. what is it that we are evaluating? I have suggested that Kripke thinks we are evaluating sentences that are taken to express singular thoughts. That is, thoughts about a particular individual. It is in this way that we can understand why Kripke thinks that the test for rigidity is a metaphysical one. This emerges clearly when Kripke says,

In practice it is usual to suppose that what is meant in a particular use of a sentence is understood from the context. In the present instance, that context made it clear that it was the conventional use of ‘Aristotle’ for the great philosopher that was in question. Then, given this fixed understanding of [Aristotle was fond of dogs], the question of rigidity is this: Is the correctness of [Aristotle was fond of dogs], thus understood, determined with respect to each counter-factual situation by whether a certain single person would have liked dogs (had that situation obtained)? …this question is entirely unaffected by the presence or absence in the language of other readings [of the sentence]. For each such particular reading separately, we can ask whether what is expressed would be true of a counter-factual situation if and only if some fixed individual has the appropriate property. (NN P.9)

Kripke means to be talking about sentences as used on a particular occasion. What he is concerned with is particular uses of sentences, and their meaning and reference are determined by who the speaker has in mind and his intentions. So the big picture is that we express a singular thought about something and we want to know the truth conditions for it. The way we determine the truth conditions of the thought is by looking at the token utterance that we take as expressing it and as we have seen this is done partly by the speaker’s intentions (since ‘Aristotle’ names more than one object), and partly due to the context of utterance. This is called semantics because we are talking about truth-conditions, but it is important to see that on this view it is token sentences that get evaluated and that these token sentences are taken as expressing singular thoughts.

Introduing Frigidity

Recently there has been a lot of talk, here at this blog (Kripke, Consciousness and the ‘Corn, and Two Concepts of Transitive Consciousness)  and over at the Brain Hammer (Me So ‘Corny, Kripkenite, and Crushing Puppies, Superman) about kripke and causal theories of reference. I have been arguing that a causal theory of reference is independently motivated and if we happen to like higher-order theories of consciousness it gives us a very nice answer to several objections that seem wide spread and in fact gives us an implementation of the higher-order strategy and saves very many of the Cartesian intuitions that people have about consciousness.

But even though I think that all of this is true, I do not think that there is any such thing as rigidity. That is I do not think that there is a semantic property that names have and that definite descriptions lack. Following Kent Bach, I deny that there are any rigid designators in natural languages. I addressed this in my PMS WIPS  Kripke, Devitt, Bach where I introduce ‘Frigidity’ and ‘frigid stipulation’ as a contrast to rigidity and rigid designation but I thought I would bring it up again…

The semantic thesis of rigidity is that the meaning of a name is its reference and since the meaning of our terms stay the same when we evaluate modal scenarios then the individual that is relevant to determining the truth of the sentence in question stays the same, whereas for descriptions the meanings of the terms stay the same and the individual that is relevant to determining the truth of the sentence can vary. So consider the following pair of sentences.

   1. The greatest living philosopher likes tea
   2. Saul Kripke likes tea

The meanings of all the words in (1) stay the same but its truth will vary depending on when you say it. It is true now because it (arguably) picks out Kripke (and he does like tea), but it might have been false if said in 362 BCE, and true again in 1905 because its truth depends on different people at different times (Aristotle and Russell respectively). (1) also behaves this way when we evaluate it with respect to modal scenarios. So we can imagine that Kripke never became a philosopher (maybe he became a shoe salesman) (1) would then designate someone else (perhaps Putnam).  The name ‘Saul Kripke’ on the other hand names the same person in all modal contexts where the actual Saul Kripke exists (hence it wouldn’t name him before his birth, or in fact before his initial baptism). The truth of (2) depends on just one individual for its truth if it depends on anybody; the truth of (1) can depend on many individuals.

The pragmatic thesis of frigidity, on the other hand, separates meaning from reference. The meaning of a name is one thing, how it is used to refer another. The meaning of a name contributes to determining the truth-conditions of the sentence in which it occurs but the sentence can only be true when it is used to perform some speech act or other.  So in order to evaluate the following sentences for truth we must first take them to be particular utterances, said by someone.

3. The first great analytic philosopher taught Wittgenstein
4. Betrand Russell taught Wittgenstein

(3) and (4) by themselves are not true or false; they have conditions which specify when they would be true, but it is only the sentence as used that actually has a truth value. Who is relevant to determining the truth of an utterance is a property of how language is used, so whether (3) and (4) depend on the same individual or not depends on how someone uses them rather than on the meaning of the words.

The obvious fact that the truth conditions for sentences like (4) and (2) vary depending on who the speaker means to be referring to is an argument against rigidity and for frigidity. But again, this is all a clam about sentences, not about thoughts. On this view, the causal theory of reference is a theory that tells us how it is that we can have singular thoughts.

Kripke, Consciousness, and the ‘Corn

Most of you guys probably know Pete Mandik as the bassist and/or singer for the world’s premier Zombies Blues Band, NC/DC and the Devastating Objections

He has also been hammering out an argument against higher-order theories of consciousness that he calls The Unicorn, which tries to show that theories that implement the higher-order strategy via a higher-order thought theory, as Rosenthal does, can’t be right. This is because, Pete argues, these kinds of theories claim that conscious states are states that come to have the property of being represented by a higher-order thought. This would be fine, but there is no such property, for if there were that would mean that unicorns could have it, since we represent them in thought. Closely related to the unicorn argument is the objection to higher-order theories from the possibility of the occurrence of the higher-order state in the absence of the first-order state. What state is it that has the property of being conscious?
I ave argued that this argument does not threaten Rosenthal’s version of higher-order theory because for him the higher-order thought does not ‘transfer’ or ‘confer’ the property of consciousness to the first order state. For him the property of being a conscious state consists solely in my representing myself as being in a certain state. The first-order state is not changed in any way by the higher-order thought. The only thing that has changed is that the creature is now aware of itself as being in the states. In the last post I relied on this in making my argument that the higher-order strategy commits people like Rosenthal to the claim that thoughts are qualitative. Now, if one wants to, one can say that the creature has gained a new property, that of being aware of itself as being in a certain state, but he certainly wouldn’t say that a state’s being conscious was a matter of it acquiring a property that it did not have before.

Now, though Rosenthal says this, and it is an answer to the unicorn argument, it is held by most to be puzzling. Intuitively what most people think when they think of the higher-order strategy is that the higher-order state makes the first-order state a conscious state. But now we are told that that is not the case. The higher-order thought makes us conscious of ourselves as being in a certain state, but the first-order state plays no role in determining what it is like for us to have the state in question.

But there is another way of thinking about the relationship between the first-order state and the higher-order thought that represents it. Rosenthal thinks of this relationship as descriptive. The higher-order state describes the person as being in a certain first-order state which is located at such and such a place in some quality space in the case of sensory experiences. In the case of beliefs and desires the higher-order thought describes the person as having a belief or desire with such and such a content. I call these kinds of higher-order thoughts Q-HOT’s. The other way of thinking about this relationship is along the lines of the causal theory of reference. On this way of construing the higher-order thought theory a first-order state is a conscious state if and only if it causes, in the right sort of way,  a higher-order state to the effect that one is in that state.  I call these K-HOT’s.

Now, I don’t really know if the higher-order thought theory of consciousness is true or not, but it seems to me that it has got a good shot at being true. It is not obviously false. But I think that if one is going to have a higher-order thought theory then it is better to cast it in terms of K-HOT’s. It solves the problem of the unicorn as well as the problem of the non-existent state. We will never have K-HOT’s about non-existent states. Every K-higher-order thought is caused by some first-order state and if all we mean by ‘has the property of being represented’ is this causal reference relation then the first-order state will have the property of being represented. There are other advantages that recommend this modification to higher-order thought theory, but I have to go grade papers and so I will come back to them.