Emotive Realism Ch. 2

Here is the (rough draft) of the second chapter of the dissertation. Again, comments are welcome!

Emotive Realism Ch. 2 –Language and Metaethics

A propos of all the recent discussion of Berkeley, here is an excerpt

It had been long recognized that language can be used to do more than to merely describe the world. This is explicit in Berkeley, especially in Section 20 of the Introduction to his Principles (Berkeley 1710/1998). He there says,

Besides, the communicating of ideas marked by words is not the chief and only end of language, as is commonly supposed. There are other ends, as the raising of some passion, the exciting to, or deterring from an action, the putting the mind in some particular disposition…I entreat the reader to reflect with himself, and see if it doth not often happen either in hearing or reading a discourse, that the passions of fear, love, hatred, admiration, disdain, and the like arise, immediately in his mind upon the perception of certain words, without any ideas coming between (p 99)

He even suggests that ‘good’ and ‘danger’ are examples of words that do not stand for ideas but rather serve to excite passions or exhort to action. This is mentioned in Warnock’s Ethics since 1900 (Warnock 1960, p 64) but what she does not point out is that Berkeley is much more radical than this. He goes on in Section 20 to argue that even proper names “do not seem always spoken, with a design to bring into our view the Ideas of those individuals that are supposed to be marked by them.” Sometimes they are used “to dispose me to embrace his opinion,” as when I say that Aristotle held some view simply as a way of getting you to accept it. So, it had been a long standing view in the empiricist tradition that language could be used in ways that went contrary to their meanings and for more subtle purposes than to describe the world.

A Random Thought about the Oscars

So, I was watching the Oscars last night and I was struck by the fact that there is a separate prize for best actor and best actress (in both lead and supporting categories). It seems to me that there is no reason to have separate awards for these, I mean we do not have separate racial awards (best Black actor, best Hispanic actor, etc), nor do they have seperate awards based on sexual preference (best gay actor, best straight actor). So why on Earth should they have seperate actor/actress awards? It seems to me that they should drop ‘actress’ altogether and group everyone under ‘actor’. That way men and women would compete for ‘best actor’.

Has Idealism Been Refuted?

So, I have been having a very nice and informative discussion with Brandon about Berkeley’s so-called “Master Argument” which got me to thinking. Has immaterialism been refuted? It seems to me not. Here is a brief, and no doubt sketchy, survery of some of the better known ‘refutations’.

I. Kant

Kant famously argued as follows:

I am conscious of my own existence as determined in time. All determination of time presupposes something permanent in prception. This permanent cannot, however, be something in me, since it is only through this permenent that my existence in time can iteself be determined. Thus perception of this permanent is possible only through a thing outside me and not through a mere representation of a thing outside me…(B276)

Let us leave aside the problems with applying the concept ‘thing’ to noumena. It seems clear that this is question beging against the immaterialist, for they will gladly admit that there is something outside their mind; namely immaterial ideas. Kant’s argument only establishes, if it establishes anything, that our experience is not possible if we are solipsists

2. Moore

Moore, as I understand it, argued that the nature of judgement refutes idealism. Our hudgments are about things that are outside our minds and this fact shows that not everything is in the mind. But again, this is nothing more than question beging for the same reasons as given above. What argument has been given that the things outside the mind are not themselves mental?

3. Armstrong

Armstrong identifies materialism with the view that only the postulates of physics are ultimately real. He then argues against immaterialism using something that is closer to my heart; namely the causal clusure of the physical. We have no reason to believe that there are immaterial substances because it would be utterly mysterious how they would causally act in the world. But yet again this is just question beging against the immaterialist from the get go. The immaterialist can happil;y admit that the only things that are ultimately real are the postulates of physics but then maintain that electrons and quarks are simply ideas out of which more complex ideas are composed.

So it seems to me that idealism is far from being refuted. Rather it just seems that people are sick of arguing about it…Now, I don’t mean to say that it is true (or that it is false; I am agnostic).

Are there any other refutations of idealism that I don’t know about?

Email and Speech Acts

There are broadly speaking two conceptions of how we perfrom speech act. One, the Austinian one, is that speech acts are purely conventional. So to promise is simly to utter the words ‘I promise…’ because there is a convention in English that says that saying ‘I promise…’ counts as making a promise. The other view is that (at least some) speech acts are performed via a kind of Gricean intention. This is the view that Strawson defended in his famous paper ‘Intention and Convention in Speech Acts’. On this view what makes something a promise is the intention that the speaker has in uttering it. In other words if I intend to be making a promise (and other conditions are met) then I count as making a promise.

 Now, one thing I have noticed, is that when communicating via email it is easy to misinterpret what someone has ‘said’ (hence emoticons), which can lead to a quick escalation of tensions. How is this possible? It seems that the only way that this is possible is if the Strawsonian conception of speech acts is right. If performing a speech act is a purely convention act then there should be no question of whether a certain token, say of ‘I promise…’, is a promise, or a threat, or a guarentee, or what. 

One may think, ‘ah, but there are different conventions governing that sentence type’ then one still needs to know what convention the ‘speaker’ intends to be conforming to. Either way the purely conventional nature of speech acts is brought into question. 

Homomorphism Theory and the Mental Attitudes

OK, so I have been distracted the last few days with thoughts about Berkely and the relationship of God to quantum mechanics, but today I have to get back to work on my consciousness stuff…April will be here before you know it, and I have still got to turn this into a powerpoint presentaion!

 So, before my ADD kicked in I was addressing Josh and Rosenthal’s response to my question about the difference between conscious pains and conscious thoughts that resukts in one being qualitative while the other isn’t. Their response is that the difference between the two cases is the result of the difference between the kind of property that one attributes to onself. I argued that they still haven’t told me why one isn’t like anything at all for the creature and that it is inconsistent with Rosenthal’s view about the emotions.

However, even if one is not moved by the above considerations, a closer look at Rosenthal’s account of thought and its relation to speech reveals something which closely resembles his homomorphism theory of the sensory qualities. He may be right that we cannot give a hommorphism theory for the content of beliefs, but we may be able to give one for the mental attitudes themselves.

On Rosenthal’s view there is a tight connection between thought and language. So for him thoughts consist in taking some mental attitude towards some propositional content. These thoughts are expressed in speech acts that (most often) have the same propositional content and an illocutionary force that matches the mental attitude of the thought. So, for example, if I think ‘it’s snowing’ (that is, if I believe that it is snowing) I can express that by saying ‘it’s snowing’ and my speech act has assertive illocutionary force that matches the mental attitude of the thought. This is in general true for him. As he says,

When a speech act expresses an intentional state, not only are the contents of both the state and the speech act the same; the speech act and the thought also have the same force. Both, that is, will involve suspecting, denying, wondering, affirming, doubting, and the like. Whenever a speech act expresses an intentional state, the illocutionary force of the speech act corresponds to the mental attitude of that intentional state. (p. 286)

So there are families of mental attitude among which similarities and differences will hold. So believing will be more like suspecting than it will be like wondering.

What are we to say about the actual homomorphism to perceptible properties? Is there any set of properties that the mental attitudes are homomorphic to? That is, is there a set of properties that have similarities and differences which resemble and differ in a way that preserves the similarities and differences between the mental attitudes? This is important since we need a way to specify the attitudes apart from their qualitative component. As I have suggested beofe we can hypothesize that the homomorphic properties are the illocutionary forces of speech acts.

So the differences between beliefs that p and desires that p are homomorphic to the differences between the illocutionary force of the utterance of some linguistic item in the process of expressing the belief or desire. Rosenthal’s overall view even suggests this. For instance he says,

It is arguable that speech acts inherit their intentionality from mental states by being a part of an overall causal network that involves those mental states…If so, then not only is the intentionality of speech acts due to their causal connections with thoughts; the intentionality of mental states themselves consists, in part, in the causal relations those states bear to speech acts. (p97)

Thus there are no relevant difference between these kinds of states. We are left wanting an explanation for why it is that one kind of thought results in there being something that it is like for me to have the conscious experience while in the case of the other kind of thought this is denied. Now perhaps there is an another worked out theory of the qualitative properties that could be able to supply a satisfying answer to this question; but I have not seen it. I am doubtful that one can be given.

God Vs. The Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser

This is the name of an experiment first proposed in 1982, and is the one that I have had in mind when talking about God and quantum mechanics. I realized that most of the comments I have received seem to be taking me to be talking only about the standard double-slit experiment; this is of course my own fault since I haven’t done a very good job of indicating what I had in mind. So, let me describe these results and then reformulate the argument.

We have to build up to this, so let’s start with the quantum eraser experiment. Here is how Brian Greene describes the experiment in his recent book The Fabric of the Universe.

A simple version of the quantum eraser experiment makes use of the double-slit set up, modified in the following way. A tagging device is placed in front of each slit; it marks any passing photon so that when the photon is examined later, you can tell through which slit it passed…when this double-slit-tagging experiment is run, the photons do not build up an interference pattern.

As he goes on to point out, this is what we would expect. Since we measure the photon’s path, we get the photons acting like particles. But then it gets weirder. As Green continues, the quantum eraser asks,

What if just before the photon hits the detection screen, you eliminate the possibility of determining through which slit it passed by erasing the mark imprinted by the tagging device?

The answer, as it turns out, is that the interference pattern shows up again. Which, is , uh, weird. But again it gets weirder with the delayed-choice quantum eraser. Greene describes it thus,

It begins with [the set-up of the quantum eraser], modified by inserting two so-called down-converters, one on each pathway. Down-converters are devices that take one photon as input and produce two photons as output, each with half the energy (“down converted”) of the signal. One of the photons (called the signal photon) is directed along the path that the original would have followed toward the detector screen. The other photon produced by the down-converter (called the idler photon) is sent in a different direction altogether. On each run of the experiment we can determine which oath a signal photon takes to the screen by observing which down-converter spits out the idler photon partner. And once again, the ability to gleen which-path information about the signal photons– even though it is totally indirect, since we are not interacting with any signal photons at all– has the effect of preventing an interference pattern from forming.

OK, so far so good. This is just a fancier version of what we have already talked about, with the exception that we are now no longer causally interacting with the signal photon. Everything we know about the signal photon we learn by observing the idler photon. But even so, we get the photons acting like particles. But we aren’t done yet. Again Greene

 Now for the weirder part. What if we manipulate the experiment so as to make it impossible to determine from which down-converter a given idler photon emerged? What if, that is, we erase the which-path information embodied by the idler photon? Well, something amazing happens: even though we’ve done nothing directly to the signal photons, by erasing which-path information carried by their idler partners we can recover an interference pattern from the signal photons[!!!!!!]

OK, so what this seems to show is that it is not anything that we do to the photon that determines which way it will behave. Rather what determines this is whether or not we are able to know which path the photon takes to the detector. Nothing changes here except our ability to know which path the photon took.

We can hammer home this point with one further modification of the experiment. Suppose that we set it up so that we could only get which-path information from some of the photons (and further that which ones we get this information about is random). Again Greene.

Does this erasure of some of the which-path information– even though we have done nothing directly to the signal photons– mean that the interference effects are recovered? Indeed it does– but only for those signal photons whose idler photons [had their which-path information erased]…If we hook up equipment so that the screen displays a red dot for the position of each photon whose idler photons [had their which-path information erased] and a green dot for all others, someone who was color-blind would see no interference pattern, but everyone else would see that the red dots we arranded with bright and dark bands– an interference pattern.

So, it is the knowledge of which-path information that determines which way the photons behave. Since God always has which-path information, whether he obtains it in such a way as to effect the physical world or not, He will never see the interference pattern. Or in other words, the wave like nature of reality will be hidden from Him.

Sheez! That took longer than I thought!!  

God and Quantum Mechanics: Round Two

I was re-reading the comments on an earlier post where I proposed a dilemma for God’s knowledge of the nature of the reality. I argued that if God knows the outcome of the the random events hypothesized in (some interpretations of) quantum mechanics then his knoweldge of these outcomes will interfere with the physical process in such a way as to ‘hide’ the wave-like nature of matter. If this is the case then God’s knowledge is necessarily limited and we would have discovered something about nature that God can’t know (i.e. that matter has wave-like properties).

 In the comments the main response, given separately by Richard C. and Eric Weinberg, seemed to be that God’s knowledge would be achieved in such a way that it did NOT interfere with the physical process. It would not bring out the collapse of the wave-function and so His knowledge is not mysterious. I disagreed with this objection, but then I started thinking that even if I grant the objection there is still a problem here. So let’s grant it and assume that God knows the outcome of teh random physical process in such a way that it does not disturb the process and so does not collapse the wave-function.

 But if that is the case then we have the same, but opposite, problem that we had before. Instead of the wave-like nature of reality being ‘hidden’ from God, it now looks like it is the particle-like nature of reality that is ‘hidden’. For, if His knowledge does not collapse the wave-function then He won’t ever see the constituents of reality acting like particles!

Either way, it looks like we have discovered something about reality that God couldn’t have discovered on His own…