09/05 Devitt II

So I wanted to finish up talking about Devitt’s view about the methodology of naturalized semantics.

Given that the semantic task cannot be solely to investigate our intuitions about meanings, we then need a way to identify what the semantic task is. Devitt’s answer is that we need to begin by asking what the purpose of meaning attributions are. From this he extracts two key tasks that a semantic theory should explain. The first is how thoughts come to have meanings which allow them to be appealed to in an explanation of behavoir. The second is to explain the property of thoughts that allows them to¬†be a guide to¬†reality for the¬†person. This he calls ‘playing a semantic role’. The semantic task is then to identify which properties of thoughts (if any) allow them to play a semantic role. As you might know already, Devitt’s answer is going to be that in some cases the property is a causal/historical one, in other cases it will be inferential/conceptual connections.

In an earlier post I distinguished two kinds of semantic tasks. The semantic role that Devitt is here talking about is what I call P-semantics. Strictly speaking Devitt cannot say that sentence types have meaning, as sentence types do not play the semantic role that he has identified. According to Devitt the sentence type is there merely to give us a clue to the speaker’s meaning, or to the meaning of the thought. The sentence meaning is determined by the conventions of the language in question. ¬†I will have to wait and see how serious Devitt is about claiming that sentence types do not really have any meaning at all.


Devitt discussed this issue in class two weeks later. I report and comment on it here.

09/05 Devitt

Devitt on Intuitions

As I talked about in a previous post, Devitt argues that there is only one way of knowing, which is the empirical way. He calls this the epistemological thesis of naturalism. From this standpoint semantics is a science. When we look at other sciences we do not see them being interested in the intuitions of the common folk about their subject matter (a point an actual scientist has been making against me over at Brains…). So, Biologists are not concerned about folk intuitions about life forms, nor is their science given the task of systematising the intuitions that people have about life forms. So, he continues, why should we think that semantics, as a naturalized science, would be any different. The subject matter of biology is life forms not intuitions¬†about them, the subject matter of semantics is meanings, not intuitions about meanings.

Now this does not mean that he gives no role to intuitions. Intuitions can be ‘reliable’ in so far as the person who has them is an expert in the theory from which the intuitions flow. His example is one of a paleontologist who is able to spot a certain white thing in the sand as a such-and-such bone. I asked him if he thought that ordinary language users counted as expert in English, and if so mightn’t that be the reason that their intuitions are important? I *think* he agreed. Neale at that point asked if Devitt thought that the paleontologist and the English speaker were in exactly the same boat and Devitt said ‘yep’. Neale, like most philosophers, attributes a certain weightyness to intuitions that Devitt does not. I hope we can hash this out a bit more…

Devitt on the Methodology of Natural Semanitcs

There is a lot to say about this, but I think I’ll eat dinner and get back to it later..

09/05/07 Kripke

So,¬†since I am auditing these courses and I do not have to do any work for them I figured I would instead keep track of what is going on here…any comments are welcome.¬†¬†

Russell’s Argument Against Existence as a Predicate

In the lecture’s on Logical Atomism Russell says, in response to a question, that the problem with treating existence as a property is that it then couldn’t fail to apply, and this is characteristic of a mistake. Kripke argued that we can eaisly define the existence predicate as ‘(Ey)(y=x)’ which can fail to apply. Russell must have been thinking of (x)Ey(y=x) which just says ‘everything exists’, but this isn’t a predicate…

Kripke on Fiction 

Kripke takes fictional characters to exist as abstract objects. So ‘Sherlock Holmes’ is a name for an abstract fictional object. These abstract objects are not supposed to be thought of as some shadowy things (“no abstract object ever lived on Baker Street”) but, as he puts it, “exist in virtue of the story”. We can ask all kinds of empirical questions about these abstract objects, like ‘which fictional character is most written about by literary critics?’ etc.

In the story it is assumed that whatever conventions for naming are, they have been met. So fiction cannot be evidence for or against ANY semantic theory of names.

In the story existence claims are true. ‘Sherlock Holmes exists’ is true in the story ‘considered as actual’ in just the same way as ‘Kripke exists’ is true here in the actual world (because we assume that in the story we assume that whatever the right theory how names get their reference is met). But when evaluated outside of the story the sentence, though still true, is not true in the same sense. It does not pick out a person who was detective and who lived on Baker street, it picks out a certain fictional abstract object…is Kripke a two-dimensionalist with respect to fiction? Sounds like it to me….

These abstract objects can be vauge, depending on the story. So take the ghost that Hamlet sees. Suppose the story had been written so that it was unclear whether that ghost was real (in the story) or a hallucination. Then it would be the case that (metaphyscially, not epistemically) it would be undertermined what kind of¬†abstract object the ghost was.¬†Or to take an example more to my liking, take Pan’s Laberynth (SPOILER ALERT); we never really find out whether Pan and the other-worldly stuff is real or not. So the status of those fictional character’s is indeterminate…

¬†The ‘fictional’ operator iterates. So there can be fictional fictional characters. An example of this is the Play that is put in in MacBeth…or one more to my tastes, Itchy and Scratchy from the Simpsons. They are fictional fictional characters.

When I asked if he thought that fictions were mini-worlds, he said no because some stories deliberately contain contradictions, whereas possible worlds don’t. When I asked if he thought possible worlds were fictions, he said no. But I don’t see why not. He claims that possible worlds are abstract objects, fictional worlds are abstract objects…when I pressed him on this he said ‘there is some connection’…I am interested to see how this will play out…It seems to me that the possible worlds should be a subset of the fictional worlds

I Refute You Thusly

Courtesy of Jared Blank, I got some photos from the ASSC in Vegas this summer. Here are some of me and Josh Weisberg that tell the story of philosophy through the ages…ahh…Vegas, baby¬†

A Refutation in Three Acts;

Guys talk girl board

Act 1: I listen to Josh’s case, hmm, yes, consciousness you say?…Jennifer looks bored….she is sooo into consciousness…


Act 2: Well, I’ve listend and I just don’t see it working out…Josh is clearly intuition mongering at this point…Jennifer’s still bored…


QED. ¬†Roblin thinks I’m crazy…Jennifer?


Thanks Jared (right, with Josh being licked by Dave Biesecker)

Does God Know About Quantuum Mechanics?

I was answering a comment from Richard C. which made me think of this.

It has been established via experiment that Einstein was wrong and that randomness is a fundamental feature of the quantuum mechanical description of reality. Scientists are even now using entaglement in the lab to ‘teleport’ information¬†(in the form of transfering states fromone entangled atom to the other) inthe hopes of making this suprising fact about nature useful (relativity physics has never even come close to being so useful!).¬†The question, then, is can an omniscient being know in advance the outcome of the random quantuum events?¬†Either way you answer there is trouble.

If you say that God cannot know the outcome of the events then there¬†is an obvious limitation of God’s knowledge. With respect to quantuum mechanics He can do no better than us! He knows the outcome of the events in the form of probabilities, but just like us He is unable to say in any given case what the outcome will be. But the Quantuum Mechanics is surely the greatest discovery in the history of the universe! For, if this is true then we have discovered God’s knowedge of the universe…but this sounds crazy!¬†So it seems to me that there is strong pressure to say that God does indeed¬†know the outcome, in advance, of all quantuum events.

But then there is a seperate problem. Forget for the moment the issue of whether His foreknowledge is compatible with the outcome being truely random and consider the double slit experiment (I assume you know what that is, if not let me know and I’ll give a description). One of the strangest things that we have found out about it over the last thirty years or so is that if there is a way for us to know the path that the¬†photon actually takes, and so determine which slit it actually travels through, then the interference pattern no longer manifests. What we get is ‘nothing but us particles down hir sir’. In Green’s book The Fabric of the Cosmos he details experiemnts he calls ‘quantuum erasures’ where they showed that¬†what¬†matters is whether¬†someone could know the path taken by the photon. Tis is obviously extremely strange and anti-common sense, but it is a robust experimental finding. But now consider God. If He knows the path that the photon takes then it will not act like a wave. It will act like a particle. So¬†from God’s point of view particle physics has to be correct. Since He is always holding the door of the refrigerator open, metaphorically speaking,¬†the light inside will always be on. But this really reduces to the first option in claiming that God can’t have any direct knowledge of quantuum physics.

In fact one might think that if God did in fact exist then we couldn’t have discovered quamntuum mechanics in the first place.¬†¬†