Stop Your Quining!!!

The Philosophical Lexicon defines the verb ‘to quine’ as follows

quine, v. (1) To deny resolutely the existence o[r] importance of something real or significant. “Some philosophers have quined classes, and some have even quined physical objects.” Occasionally used intr., e.g., “You think I quine, sir. I assure you I do not!”

The joke, of course, is that Quine denied the existence of the analytic/synthetic distinction which is both real and important. So is there any reason to think that there is something wrong with this distinction?

Examples of analytic truths are things like ‘bachlors are unmarried males’ and ‘an aniverssary is one year after an event’. Now there are alleged to be counter-examples to these kinds of claims and this is taken to be evidence that there are no alalytic truths. So, to take an excellent example of David Rosenthal’s, consider the following case.

Suppose that I am married (I am not) and that my wife and I decide to get a divorce. We get lawyers and hold meetings and hammer out an agreement. The lawyers draw up the papers and my (soon to be) ex-wife signs the papers on Friday afternoon. I can’t come in on Friday and so arrange with the lawyers to come in first thing Monday morning and sign the papers. Now let us suppose that I go out on Sunday night and meet another woman and let’s further suppose that I somehow get lucky and we end up sleeping together. Now it seems that I cannot be accused of commiting adultry and since only married people can commit adultry there is a sense in which I am not married (and so a bachlor). But technically I am still married (I have not finalized the divorce). So it looks like on Sunday night I am a married bachlor.

Now, people usually resist the conclusion of this scenerio, but let us suppose that it is accurate. Is it a counter-example to the alleged analytic truth that bachlors are unmarried males? I don’t think so. Rather what is at issue here is what counts as being married. Once we settle whether I am really married or not then we will settle whether or not I am a bachlor.

Similarly, consider an alleged counter-example to the anniversay business. Suppose that I get married on Leap year. Then my anniversery will not occur one year later, right? Again, I do not think that this is a counter-example. What is at issue here is ‘what counts as one year?’

So it seems to me that these kinds of cases are not serious threats to the analytic/syntetic distinction and so y’all should stop your quining! 

Why Must We Worship God?

For those that do not know me, I am an agnostic. I do not believe that there is a God, nor do I believe that there isn’t one. In fact I think that both the theist and the atheist make the very same mistake; They each affirm something that there is inadequate evidence for. The agnostic claims that the only intellectually honest answer to ‘is there a God?’ is ‘how the hell am I supposed to know?’ By ‘theist’ I mean someone who believes that there is an all-powerful, all-knowing, all-loving being and by ‘atheist’ I mean someone who denies that. Theism should be distinguished from religion. All existing religions are silly and are obviously the product of Mankind. It is also demostrably true that organized religion has been one of the greatest forces for evil known to man.

Having said that I want to ask the theist a question . Why must we worship God? Closely related to this is the question ‘what is the point of it?’

I suppose that there are three traditional answers to this question.

1. Because God is all-powerful!!! He could destroy you in a micro-second or banish you to an eternity of pain and torture…so you had better worship Him or you’re screwed!!

This might be a reason that it is in my best interest to worship God, but it does not seem like the kind of reason that I am looking for. This answer makes God out to be a petty tyrant and that is incompatible with the description of Him as all-knowing and all-loving.

2. Because God deserves it! He created this Universe just for us. Think of a beatuiful sunset, or any natural beauty, don’t you think that it would be nice to thank the Creator of that beauty? We worship God to show our appreciation for the gifts that He has given us.

This answer has always kind of bothered me. In the first place why am I obligated to be grateful for a gift that I did not ask for? But let us wave this consideration. The more pressing problem is whether God really deserves to be worshiped. The problem of evil in the world seems to me to be reason to think that He may not deserve it after all and as far as I can see there is no really good answer to this problem.

3. We should worship God because he commands us to do so!

If this answer is to be different from (1) then the reason that we should follow the command cannot be because of fear of the consequences or desire for reward. It seems that there must be some reason that grounds God’s command, but so far we have not found one…but let us leave that aside. The more pressing concern is ‘what kind of God would command us to worship him?’ This seems sort of needy and insecure, something that I take to be at odds with the characterization of God as all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful.

A related question that has always bothered me is what is the point of prayer? It seems contradictory to hold that an all-loving, all-loving being would require that I ask for something that I need before He would give it to me. What kind of a person would i be if I knew what my girlfriend wanted and I could give it to her, and I claimed to really love her, yet I refuse to give it to her simply because she did not ask me for it?!?!?!?!

So it seems to me that even if God exists there is no reason that it is obligatory that I worship Him or pray to him, nor do I think that He cares if I do or not. So it is contradictory to hold that there is an all-powerful, all-loving, all-knowing being who will punish me if I do not pick the right religion.

Material Implication, English, and Truth at a World

I was reading this post in the latest edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival on conditionals and free will…I don’t have anything to say about the main topic of the post so I thought I would comment here…

What caught my eye was someone in the comment section who said that material implication  ‘–>’ is not meant to capture ‘if…then’ in English rather it is merely a “convient way to combine negation and disjunction”…It is true that material implication is defined in terms of negation and disjunction but so is ‘&’ and in fact all of the truth functional connectives but that doesn’t mean that they do not attempt to capture the meaning of the English words.  The truth conditions for ‘–>’ are meant to capture at least on of the things that we mean when we say ‘if…then’.  Consider,

(1) if Santa is fat then Santa is jolly

The truth table definition of material implication says that this sentence is true when both antecedant and consequent are true and also when they are both false as well as wehn the atecedant is false and the consequent is true. The only time the sentence is false is when the antecedant is true and the consequent is false. So the claim is that these truth-conditions do not capture ‘if…then’ in English. Even the author of the post expresses some suprise that these turn out to be the truth-conditions for ‘if…then’.

But, what we mean when we say (1), and the reason why people intuitively accept Modus Ponens as a valid argument form, is that if it is true that santa is fat then it will also be true that Santa is jolly. The natural way to see if this sentence is true is by finding out whether Santa is fat or not and whether he is jolly or not. Now suppose that Santa in fact turns out to be neither fat nor jolly, does common sense expect (1) to be false? I don’t think so. (1) says that on the condition that Santa is fat he will be jolly as well, so if he is not in fact fat the condition doesn’t hold, but (1) could still be true because it might be true that if Santa were fat then he would be jolly. So the falsity of ‘Santa is fat’ is compatible with what the sentence says still being true counter-factually. But suppose that Santa turned out to be in fact fat but decidely NOT jolly. Then the sentence would be false because the relation that it asserts is shown not to hold. So it seems to me that the truth-table meaning of ‘–>’ does capture the meaning of ‘if…then’ in English.

It seems to me that the reason why the truth-conditons are suprising to people who see them for the first time is that it makes them realize that some sentence’s truth conditions depend on how the sentence behaves modally in opposition to the naive view that all sentences simply depend on how the world actually is for their truth. To put it a bit technically it forces them to realize that the sentence is made true in this world because it is true at some other possible world. It is NOT because these truth-conditions clash with what we take the meaning of ‘if…then’ to be…This, incidently, seems to me to be more evidence that there is something wrong with Williamson’s argument against the distinction.

These truth-conditions capture one of the meanings listed for the English conjunction ‘if”; that there are other uses of the conjunction doesn’t seem to matter.

Two Kinds of Semantics

In an earlier post I introduced a distinction between what I call P-semantics and L-semantics as a way of neutrally formulating the contrast between frigidty and rigidity.  The distinction between P and L semantics corrosponds to what one takes the semantic task to be. One might take the semantic task to be that of giving the meaning of and truth-conditions for thoughts, as Michael Devitt does. For instance, here is how he characterizes the semantic task in the precis to Coming to our Senses: A Naturalistic Program for Semantic Localism.

In Coming I seek a solution to this problem [i.e. identifying the semantic task] by focusing on the purposes for which we ascribe meanings (or contents) using `that’ clauses (“t-clauses”) in attitude ascriptions: in particular, the purposes of explaining intentional behavior and of using thoughts and utterances as guides to reality. I call these purposes “semantic.” I say further that a property plays a “semantic” role if and only if it is a property of the sort specified by t-clauses, and, if it were the case that a token thought had the property, it would be in virtue of this fact that the token can explain the behavior of the thinker or be used as a guide to reality. We are then in the position to add the following explication to the statement of the basic task: A property is a meaning if and only if it plays a semantic role in that sense. And the basic task is to explain the nature of meanings in that sense (Devitt 1997)

For Devitt meaning is primarily a property of thoughts and the semantic task is to explain what property they have which allows them to play the role in behavior that they do. This is what I call P-semantics.

On the other hand, one might take the semantic task to be that of giving the meaning of sentences independently of their being used to express any thought. This way of thinking about semantics has it as simply a part of grammar. To illustrate, if I say ‘Saul Kripke likes tea’ talking about my dog and you say it talking about Saul Kripke we both use the same sentence, though we refer to different objects (Strawson 1950/1985). We do so in the sense that we use something with the same physical structure but we also use something with a certain syntactic structure, something that has a noun phrase and a verb phrase as part of its structure like (1)

(1) [S [NP [proper noun, Saul Kripke]], [VP [verb, likes], [np, tea]]]

This is roughly Kent Bach’s position. According to Bach the job of semantics is to provide an interpretation of (1) that explains how it can be used to do the things that people do with it. Here are a couple of quotes from his 1999 paper “The Semantic Pragmatic Distinction: What it is and Why it Matters” and his 2002 paper “Semantic, Pragmatic”

I take the semantics of a sentence to be a projection of its syntax. That is, semantic structure is interpreted syntactic structure. Contents of sentences are determined compositionally; they are a function of the contents of the sentence’s constituents and their syntactic relations. (Bach 2002)

Semantic information about sentences is part of sentence grammar, and it includes information about expressions whose meanings are relevant to use rather than to truth conditions. Linguistically encoded information can pertain to how the present utterance relates to the previous, to the topic of the present utterance, or to what the speaker is doing. That there are these sorts of linguistically encoded information shows that the business of sentence semantics cannot be confined to giving the proposition it expresses. (Bach 1999)

This is what I call L-semantics. It seems to me that both of these conceptions are legitimate conceptions of something that should be called ‘semantics’. Both kinds of theories will be interested in giving the truth-conditions of sentences. One then is faced with a choice between three options.

1. L-semantics just is P-semantics

2. P-semantics just is L-semantics

3. L-semantics and P-semantics are distinct and need distinct theories

1 is perhaps the most popular. Jerry Fodor (Fodor 1998) endorses 1 when he says “…English has no semantics. Learning English…[is] learning how to associate its sentences with the corresponding thoughts.” 2 is perhaps less popular but it is the kind of view that followers of Seller’s will likely endorse. Frigidity claims 3.

Why does 1+1=2?

If someone demanded proof that 1+1=2 is true what would you do? Would you get an object and place it next to another object and then count them? One might argue that that doesn’t prove that 1+1=2 because 1+1=2 is a necessary truth and you cannot get necessity from experience (as per the history of philosophy). If one thought that all knowledge comes from experience one might then, like Quine, think that it is possible that we could have experience that dis-confirmed mathematics. For instance David Rosenthal has argued that if we ever had irrefutable counting evidence (i.e. widespread, re-created and independently confirmed) that 1+1=2 were false then we would have to admit that it was false and so mathematic is contingent on experience. Yikes!

Or would you appeal to the Peano axioms, which include the claim that 0 is a number and that it has a successor denoted by S(0) and then define addition as

(for all a) a+0=a

(for all a and b) a+S(b)=S(a+b)

So then it is easy to show that 1+1=2 as follows


But then one might worry about the successor relation. It might seem as though we have simply assumed addition in the definition of the successor relation (i.e. it tacitly assumes that S(a)=(a+1)).

Of course we can show that S(a)=(a+1) by the definition of addition above. So, let S(0)=1 then a+1=a+S(0) by the definition of addition we get a+S(0)=S(a+0) and since a+0=a we get S(a) so (a+1)=S(a). But then we seem to have assumed addition by stipulating that S(0)=1 (as we actually did in the initial proof of 1+1=2…worse and worse!)

Is the claim that when you have nothing and add a thing you then get only the one thing (i.e. S(0)=1) supposed to be a truth that we just apprehend with pure reason? A self-evident truth that is ‘clear and distinct’? Or something that experience has trained us to believe? Is there any non-question begging reason to prefer either of these?