This is David Brightly's Typepad Profile.
Join Typepad and start following David Brightly's activity
Join Now!
Already a member? Sign In
David Brightly
Recent Activity
Further to my preceding comment. I am impressed that inference works just as well on fictional accounts, eg, detective novels, as it does on accounts of reality like newspapers and history and mathematics. This suggests that inference is a linguistic business that requires no 'connection' to reality, except perhaps in so far as it accommodates a reality in which there are individual things and events. This makes sense if we assume that language must work over all possible worlds. This world's fiction is another world's fact, and language and inference cannot depend on anything contingent to the actual world. When we say that quantification is over a 'domain' we can't mean that this domain has to be a subset of reality. What we mean is that when we say 'some x is P' or 'all x are P' we require that the set of individuals over which x ranges be well defined, else truth preservation fails. The tokens in the bag, the members of Emma's Box Hill picnic party, or the past presidents of the USA. Earlier you asked, So the past domain exists but is empty? How could the past exist but not be 'populated' with events and things? I say almost the exact opposite: that the past domain is populated with events and things none of which exists. They all were but are not. The price of admission is to have ceased to be. Nor does the past domain itself exist outside of thought. If a set is 'any collection into a whole of definite and separate objects of our intuition and thought' then a set of objects of thought is presumably also a thought of some kind.
And so I am. The number of past items increases by one each time an item ceases to be. So we aren't counting beings, we are counting ceasings-to-be. That answer rather side-steps the question of what we mean by 'past item', but it gives us hope that this is not an impossible ask.
Let's put the null domain/set to one side. It's not very interesting and I'm not suggesting that the past, as a domain of discourse and quantification, is empty. Quite the contrary, it's surely getting more numerous all the time (!) I do agree that all quantification is over a domain, either explicitly declared or implicit. Suppose we have a bag of tokens. I say 'some token in the bag is white'. That would be false (and it would be useful to know that it was false) if the bag were empty.
Afternoon Bill, Yes, one can do logic on the empty domain. It's not very interesting! All universally quantified sentences are true and all existentially quantified sentences are false. Before we look at the logic of talk about PAST things let's consider FICTION things. In a detective novel there is no problem in applying quantified logic to the sentences the author gives us in order to ferret out the murderer. Ditto for those made-up situations one sometimes gets in exam questions, eg, in Law. So from a purely logical point of view I don't think the 'ontological status' of the items being talked about is relevant. Hence I can't see any difficulty applying the logic of quantification to sentences about the past. Thinking about past and present presidents of the US we can say 'Some president was taller than Trump', and we can verify the truth of this because we have historical height records.
Morning Bill, One more point that needs clarifying. I take it you hold that reality is exhausted by temporal reality, i.e., that everything real is in time, which boils down to: everything is in time. Yes. And then you apply presentism to the restriction to the temporal to get: Everything exists at present. Yes, but see (1). The present I will assume is for you 'nonpunctuate,' i.e., it has a short duration. Cf. William James' "specious present." Hmmm, see (2). Notes 1. Trivially true if quantification is over what I call the NOW domain. False if over the PAST domain. Using 'exists' here as a predicate, not part of the machinery of quantification. 2. Tricky. I think it's a mistake to think of 'the present moment' as a point on some geometric 'line' of time, despite the usefulness of this idea in physics. I am with Lowe in saying the world undergoes change and one kind of change is the regular movement of the hands of the clock. Phenomenologically we live in a specious present of short but varying duration. Yet what I call the NOW domain contains things like the Earth itself that have spanned myriads of rotations of the hands of the clock.
2. The past is nothing. Temporal passage -- which we both are assuming to be real and not merely subjective, right? Yes-- reduces present items to nothingness. Yes. So as I read you, your presentism is of the creationist-annihilationist variety, like Lowe's. That is not my view however. Yes, I find much to like in Lowe. Do you agree that you are committed to the proposition that the wholly past is nothing? Yes. If yes, then I ask: is the 'is' in the proposition to which you are committed in the present tense? Yes. If you say yes, then the proposition is a tautology. All will agree that the wholly past is nothing now. Are you content to espouse tautological presentism? Yes. If you say no, then the 'is' in the proposition to which you are committed is tense-neutral which would contradict things you said earlier. I conclude that your creationist-annihilationist presentism is a tautological thesis. Agree? Yes.
Hi Bill, That is very helpful. It highlights our differences of view and of vocabulary. Have you understood my position? Pretty much so, though I don't see the reality of the past as located in facts about language, be it tense or reference. Rather there is space and matter undergoing endless change, including regular, repetitive motion that serves as a temporal index. Change includes the standing out (ex+sistere)and falling back of parcels of matter from undifferentiated background matter. We call this the creation and annihilation of things. We use tensed language to talk about becoming, being, and 'begoing', if I can coin that term. So far I suspect we agree. We diverge in that you will use terms like 'existence simpliciter', 'temporal presentness', 'tenseless existence', 'being/becoming nothing' which are outside my vocabulary. I have to use them to some extent in order to engage in the rewarding activity of discussion with you, but for me it is a foreign language and I use it with trepidation. Having lived nearly three score and ten without them I wonder how they have come about. They strike me as theoretical terms, like 'electric potential', say, that have been introduced as part of a vocabulary for discussing certain seeming problems and puzzles with regard to time: Reference to the past, the truthmaker problem, formulating a non-trivial presentism, and so on. You ask, You want to say that what is nothing now is nothing without any temporal qualification. Can you prove that? Can you refute the view that wholly past items, which by definition are nothing now, have (tenselessly) a share in reality? Can you prove that the past -- past times, past events, processes, continuants, etc. -- are simply nothing as opposed to nothing now? No, I can't. I don't know how to use these terms. I have no idea how to assign truth or falsehood to statements containing them. Here is a mathematical analogy. Certain problems in real analysis, for example the integration of some real function over the whole of the real line, can be easily solved by extending the function to the complex plane and employing results from complex analysis. The latter, of course, is a fully worked out theory on as firm a footing as real analysis. It contains the 'language' of complex numbers which extends the language of real numbers. But here the analogy breaks down. I remain unconvinced that the 'language' of the philosophy of time has a sufficiently well-defined semantics that truth-value assignment and inference are possible in it. What follows from 'x has tenselessly a share in reality' or 'x is nothing at all'? To the extent that these terms are poorly defined I regard them as a misuse of language. One cannot get away with this in mathematics. I would be really happy if they could be explained in terms of some kind of model, just as complex numbers can be identified with 2x2 matrices of reals, say So I am inclined to reject what for me is new-fangled talk insufficiently tethered to the ground of everyday speech. I prefer to seek solutions for the seeming puzzles of time on an ad hoc, piecemeal basis, borrowing ideas from other departments of philosophy. Hence the tentative investigations into non-standard conceptions of reference, diachronic truthmaking relations, neo-Meinongian encoding versus exemplification, and so on.
Hello Bill, I have just spotted that you quote EJL as saying, This, of course, raises the question of how we can so much as talk about Caesar now that he no longer exists simpliciter -- how we can speak about 'that which is not.'My understanding is that 'no longer' is a marker of a tensed verb. So Lowe appears to be using 'to exist simpliciter' as if it were tensed. This leaves me somewhat confused. I'm not at all sure that 'simpliciter' adds (or subtracts) anything here. Lowe's paragraph, minus the 'simpliciter', makes sense as ordinary tensed English. Also, further down you say, However things stand with respect to the future, the past surely seems to have a share in reality.Could you not have said '...the past seems to have had a share...'? Again, The question is whether what WAS has a share in reality as opposed to being annihilated, reduced to nothing, by the passage of time. [my emphasis]You then return to the truthmaker objection. It seems to me quite natural and unproblematic to say that the past both had a share in reality and has been reduced to nothing. Problems only appear when we say the past both has a share in reality and has been reduced to nothing.
I'm sorry, Bill, but for me your question is ambiguous. For concreteness let's suppose that 'temporally real item' means the same as 'former US president'. Joe Biden is excluded. How many items are there? Taking 'are' to be strictly present-tensed the answer is five: JC, BC, GWB, BO, DT, none of which is temporally non-present. Interpreting 'are there' more generously the answer is forty-four, of which thirty-nine could be said to be temporarily non-present. So there is a language issue at the heart of this question, even at the level of discussing its Moorean truths. My hope is that if we can sort out the language to our mutual satisfaction then the metaphysical question evaporates.
Evening Bill, You can see where David is going with this. He is proposing that we analyze 'M is (wholly) past', ' M is in the past,' and 'M has ceased to exist' in terms of 'R has ceased to be veridical.' That's not where I'm hoping to get! I see no need to explain the phenomenon of the cessation of existence in terms of ideas or memories. I take it as an external given. The question is, How do we speak about it? I'm suggesting that if R exemplifies the property you are calling 'non-veridical' and I'm calling 'non-encounterable' then we express this by saying 'M is in the past', etc. I entirely agree that 'What existed cannot depend for its having existed on the present contents of any finite mind'. So I think your critique from there on misses the mark. I see now that 'unencounterable' is badly-chosen. Going back to your piece on Yourgrau for inspiration, I imagine an unencounterable representation as akin to a crossed-out picture. The representation is 'stamped' with some symbol that has no meaning in the represented world. Instead, it nullifies the representation itself. Pay no attention to the encodings within!
I accept your four distinct senses of presentness. I am closest to your (C) since it avoids talk of tenselessness but I would quibble with the wording of 'within the range of our quantifiers when taken 'wide open'' since the latter is to close to 'everything' and this is ill-defined. In my view when we make quantified statements we are free to choose the domain of quantification. In no way is the domain 'forced' on us though clarity behoves us to specify it. Let me try to embed the presentism question in a somewhat larger context. My mind is populated with ideas of things. I acquire these ideas (a) directly through acquaintance with external objects and (b) indirectly by description in language and image. These ideas of things guide my interaction with the outside world. Having seen a bear go into the cave or having been told 'There's a bear in the cave', I approach the cave with caution. Through my contact with the external world I come to accept that all external things come into existence, exist for a while, and then pass out of existence. The ceasing to exist of things that I am familiar with and am attached to is an everyday experience. When I have such an experience, or have a thing's passing described to me, my idea of that thing becomes modified. None of the idea itself passes away, at least not initially. Instead the idea (not the thing it's an idea of) acquires a new attribute, analogous to the label 'Account Closed' on the front of a business ledger, signifying that, to a first approximation, the content of the idea can be safely ignored for purposes of guiding my life. I might express this label by saying 'The thing is past' or 'The thing is in the past' or 'The thing has ceased to exist'. The important point here is that, despite appearances, these assertions are not predicating something of the thing itself but rather of my idea of it, namely that the idea is redundant. Something to similar effect occurs when I read fiction. My mind acquires an idea of Captain Ahab, say, but labels it fictional. I might express this by saying 'Captain Ahab is a fictional man', but if we see this as asserting the property 'fictional' of some man then we quickly get into logical deep water. What I really mean implies that the content of the idea fails to represent or to have a referent. And likewise when reading history. My mind fills with ideas of people and events all labelled as past. But I need not concern myself with bumping into Winston Churchill or becoming embroiled in WWII. I am clearly influenced by neo-Meinongianism. Ideas both encode properties of their objects and exemplify properties of their own. But I wouldn't want to say that 'there is a class/domain of items that have no being whatsoever'. That sounds ontologically much too strong as well as contradictory. On the other hand I don't want to rule out quantification over mixed domains of existents and non-existents. We may well consider those men, past and present, who were or are US president, and compare and contrast among them, to the exclusion of all others. This doesn't seem to cause trouble though we gloss issues of tense: Lincoln was/is taller than Trump; there are/were 45 such men. In short: The existents are the encounterables, and that does not include the past.
Bill, You asked me about tenseless verbs in ordinary English. I'm not convinced. Copulative and identitarian 'is' are grammatically verbal and can carry tense but they are hardly 'doing words' as we called them at school. In 'Hume is an empiricist' I think 'Hume' functions metonymically for 'Hume's written works' (which we have in the present). I remember being told by the Latin master to 'open your Kennedy at page 23' and finding this rather odd at first. 'Cats are animals' etc, 'seven is prime', and 'ideas derive from sensory impressions' express relations between concepts. We tend to think of such relations as fixed over time which perhaps explains why 'grue' is such hard work. Are there examples of tenseless usages outside the conceptual sphere (in which I include numbers)?
Hello Bill, We have started with the following, The presentist faces a problem of formulation. He tells us that only what exists at present exists.The problem is to say what the second occurrence of 'exists' in the italicized sentence expresses or denotes. What are the combinatorially possible views?Your painstaking case analysis of possible understandings of the second 'exists' and your rejection of each of them, apart perhaps from the tautologous (A), suggests to me that this characterisation of presentism is at fault. We have been focusing on the second 'exists'. What about the first? If the 'at present' non-trivially qualifies 'what exists' then this first 'exists' must have more than a present-tensed sense. We have been looking for exists simpliciter in the wrong place. I suggest we start with Only what presents exists,where this 'exists' has its ordinary tensed sense. Now I have to explain what 'presents' means. It seems that we have a pre-theoretical understanding that all items can be exclusively categorised as past, present, or future, at least in so far as we freely use these terms in arguments about time and existence. So my suggestion is that 'what presents' means the same as 'those items categorised as present'. My reformulation is, Only those items categorised as present exist.Winston Churchill does not present; Boris Johnson does. We are quantifying here over the domain of 'items' which is strictly larger than the domain of 'present existents'.
Morning Bill. I have been trying to fit this topic into the larger one of language and reference that we have also touched on over the years (!). I look forward to your next posts.
Thanks, Bill. That has clarified things a great deal, I think. You ask two questions of me: Q1. Do I accept the notion of existence simpliciter? Yes and No. In so far as 'X exists simpliciter' appears to be a shorthand (a computer scientist's macro) for the disjunction of tensed claims 'X existed or X exists or X will exist' then I can guardedly accept it. This does seem to capture what is meant by 'listed in the final ontological inventory', does it not? But I worry that if we aren't very careful it can lead to logical mistakes. 'Simpliciter' here is a strange beast. It isn't an adverb qualifying 'to exist' for that would make 'to exist simpliciter' into a tenseless verb, and there are no such things. Nor, I think, does 'exists simpliciter' attribute a property to an item, so I cannot see 'existence simpliciter' as a concept. There is a whiff of 'grue' about it. Q2. Do I agree that the thesis of presentism cannot even be formulated without the notion of existence simpliciter? No. I take the core intuition of presentism to be that there is nothing 'outside' the ever-changing present and that the 'spatialisation' of time is a misleading metaphor. But I think of presentism as more of an attitude than a thesis. That attitude is one of adhering to tensed language and avoiding gerrymandered terms. You say that if we stick with tensed English we won't be able to formulate the problem. I say that if we try to go beyond tensed English we will be in danger of formulating a pseudo-problem. For example, you say,When I say that the past is real, I mean that past items exist simpliciter. I do not mean that past items exist now -- which would be self-contradictory -- or that they existed -- which would be trivial. We differ here. Let x be an element of the past. You want to explicate 'x is real' as 'x exists simpliciter', which, you say, means something non-trivially beyond 'x existed or x exists or x will exist'. But how do we get beyond the disjunction? That remains unclear. Our question is, How do we reconcile the reality of the past with the presentist intuition that reality is exhausted by the present, that there is nothing outside the present? By equivocating between things and ideas of things. Here is a sketch. Let IWC, IBJ, and ISH denote my idea (singular concept) of Winston Churchill, Boris Johnson, and Sherlock Holmes, respectively. I categorise ideas of things in two dimensions: REAL/IMAGINARY and PAST/NOW/FUTURE:IWC---REAL---PAST IBJ----REAL---NOW ISH---IMAG---PASTOnly those things the ideas of which I characterise as both REAL and NOW can I expect to encounter and to be able know by acquaintance. There are as it were two species of unreality, the IMAGINARY and the PAST/FUTURE. When I talk about the objects of these ideas a degree of ambiguity arises. I might say, Winston is real but in the past / Winston was real Boris is real Sherlock is/was a fictional detective All these are acceptable ways of expressing the categorisation of the corresponding ideas.
Bill, You characterise my stance on the 'Tom was green' example as ['Tom was green'] has a truthmaker but one that simply does not exist given presentism, according to which only what exists now exists simpliciter.I would say that in this instance I am making no commitment to presentism or any understanding of 'exists simpliciter'. Rather I am committed to Moorean facts expressed in tensed language. If we then introduce the theoretical idea of a truthmaking relation it would seem that we are forced to accept that said relation is diachronic. But this is no worse than, say, the relation taller than. Lincoln was taller than Trump (6ft4 versus 6ft3 apparently) but their lifetimes do not overlap.
Vito, My birth certificate purports to record the event of my birth which occurred on such and such a day to such and such parents, etc. For an event or process to exist is for it to be ongoing or occurring. So my birth, being wholly past, no longer exists. This does not mean it never occurred or never existed, just that the passage time brought that event or process to an end. Bill would argue that if the passage of time annihilated my birth then my birth certificate would record nothing (no real event). This could only be true under a strict and literal interpretation of 'annihilation' as making a thing (and the world) as if never existed. Elsewhere Bill calls this 'absolute annihilation'. It seems to me, however, that Lowe is operating with a weaker notion of annihilation as a bringing to an end---a mere ceasing to be rather than a ceasing to having been. I too believe that the past is (was?) real, but I suspect my understanding of this claim differs from Bill's. Bill appears to contrast 'reality' with 'nothingness'. I contrast 'real' with 'imaginary'. We need to look into this difference of view. Arguably a blank birth certificate records no event. A falsified birth certificate records an event, but an imaginary or unreal one.
Hello Bill,For what makes it true now that the proposition that Caesar exists had a truthmaker? Nothing at all if presentism is true. Is there not an assumption here that a truthmaker and the statement that it makes true must exist synchronically? Cannot metaphysical grounding occur diachronically? If yesterday Tom the tomato was green and today he is red, it seems obvious to me that yesterday's no longer extant greenness is what makes-true 'Tom was green yesterday' uttered today. The Moorean force of this outweighs, to my mind at least, theoretical quibbles over the nature of time. Lowe tells us that "the proper name 'Julius Caesar' is perfectly meaningful, not because it now has an existing referent, but because its use is historically traceable back to a referent that did exist . . . ." Lowe mentions Kripke's causal theory of reference. It is difficult to see how there could be any historical tracing if all of past history has been annihilated by the passage of time. This seems too pessimistic. Even if all of (wholly) past history has been annihilated by the passage of time, we are still left with present memories, documents, artifacts, etc, which have not yet suffered annihilation. It is through these that we retrace and reconstruct the past.
Hello Bill. You argue, Clearly, the thought expressed by 'The man who just boarded is shabby' is distinct from the thought expressed by 'I am shabby.' After all, Mach had the first thought but not the second. So they can't be the same thought. And this despite the fact that the very same property is ascribed to the very same person by both sentences. May I offer an alternative analysis? Mach is not ascribing shabbiness to the same person (himself) in both sentences. This I think is very clear from the variant example where the property is 'has his fly open': if Mach thought his fly open he would act to button it. Rather, Mach's first thought is better expressed as A second man has boarded the bus and this man is shabby/has his fly open.This thought has an existential component, There is a second man who has just boarded the bus,which is false. This false existential claim renders the subsequent referring phrase 'this man' empty, since it refers back to the putative 'second man', and there is no such man. The structure of this example is very close to that of Kripke's 'Paderewski' example in 'A puzzle about belief'. Both hinge on an ambiguity. In this case the phrase 'the man who just boarded' is ambiguous, for Mach, between Mach himself and his putative second man. In Kripke, for his protagonist Peter, 'Paderewski' is ambiguous between two individuals, one a politician, the other a musician. Kripke's puzzle succumbs to an analysis parallel to the one I give above. Lastly, I am sceptical that your account of the Mach story justifies the exceptionality of 'I'. The puzzle, in your wording, remains even if we replace the 'I' in Mach's later thought with 'Mach'.
Thanks, Ed, that makes sense. It's the individual concept that's unrepeatable, not any greater or lesser cluster of descriptive concepts forming part of its content.
Toggle Commented Sep 24, 2021 on Singular Concepts Again at Maverick Philosopher
Bill >> A concept of an individual, then, would have to be a mental grasping of what makes that individual be the very individual it is and not some other actual or possible individual. Would it, though? If I am told, There is an individual called 'Socrates' and another individual called 'Plato', I learn nothing of these individuals apart from their names and that they are distinct. Yet I can distinguish them in my mind and learn more. I can say 'Tell me first about Socrates, what kind of thing is it?' and expect my idea of this individual to become elaborated by the responses. At no time do I need to grasp what makes that individual be the very individual it is. Quite the contrary. All I need to grasp is that an individual is a locus of instantiation of general concepts, not a mere cluster of concepts, that individuals are countable, that two individuals can instantiate the same general concepts yet be distinct, and so on. >> We agree that a first-level singular concept C, if instantiated, is instantiated by exactly one individual in the actual world and by the very same individual in every merely possible world in which C is instantiated. I suspect that 'instantiation' here is misleading. A singular concept is more akin to a representation of an instance. If my example above makes sense there can be singular concepts with nil general conceptual content. Far from uniquely instantiable! Singular concepts appear to be very different animals from general concepts.
Toggle Commented Sep 23, 2021 on Singular Concepts Again at Maverick Philosopher
When we learn that Hesperus = Phosphorus two of some kind reduce to one. But what kind? It cannot be Planet or celestial body. No cosmic collision occurs. The obvious thing to say is that the kind is 'idea of an individual'. We once thought there were two individuals, now we think there is just one. I'm happy to replace 'idea of an individual' with 'individual concept' or 'singular concept'. If a concept is seen as necessarily general or repeatedly instantiable then so be it. But it seems we need some word or phrase to express this idea.
Hello Bill, No objections at all. I confess that I struggle with 'possibly' followed by an indicative sentence, which I tend to read epistemically. I get the ontic meaning better by rephrasing as 'I am now seated, but possibly I be not seated' or 'I am now seated, but not necessarily so'. I have dipped into Sainsbury and Tye. I got it when I became interested in Kripke's Paderewski puzzle, but was disappointed in their treatment. For me the source of the puzzle lies in how we accurately report other people's beliefs which S and T (and K) rather gloss over. I'm afraid I put the book to one side.
Hi Bill, I guess that for me, the phrase 'the man who is prime minister' immediately resolves to the individual BJ. So the sentence you quote says in part that BJ must be BJ, which I think you grant. For me, it requires mental effort to hold the phrase open as an unresolved definite description. So perhaps I incline to the de re interpretation and you to the de dicto. That we can make this distinction might be seen as evidence for singular concepts, or at any rate, some conceptual capacity beyond the general.
Addendum: The man who is prime minister might not have been the prime minister but he has to be the man who is prime minister.