A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Archive for May, 2007

Take THAT you bad paradox!

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 30, 2007

Sentence A: If sentence A is true, then Curry’s paradox doesn’t exist.

Posted in Silly/Funny | 3 Comments »

Phenomenology of Names And Twin Earth

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 28, 2007

One can give a name just to something one is aware of.
One can become aware of different things – planets, persons, hurricanes and so on… So one can give a proper names to them.
One can also become aware that multitude of things have or might have some similarity. So one can give a common name to those objects that have such similarity. For this thing we use common nouns.

As far as giving a common name goes, in principle there is no difference between artifacts and natural kinds. In both cases we have to become aware of some multiplicity of things sharing certain similarity.

The basic similarity that is first noticed is gestalt perceptual similarity. In gestalt similarity one thing reminds you on another thing, even without explicitly being able to describe that thing (or e.g. make a picture of that thing), i.e. without awareness of the details. However, further, one can become aware of the further characteristics of those things, the possibility to use them for different things and so on… To the gestalt perceptual similarity of the named kind, then this other awareness of shared characteristics is added. We can say, that we are now aware of a multitude of things which share not just gestalt perceptual similarity, but also other characteristics.

Because the common nouns relate to the awareness of multitude of things sharing some similarity, they refer to all those things that share this kind of similarity, and not just to the things of which we have become aware of.

This kind of view gives an interesting twist to the twin Earth thought experiment.

The common nouns “water” on Earth, and “water” on Twin Earth in this picture mean same before citizens of Earth and Twin Earth become aware other kinds of similarities among the multitude of the stuff on their planet (i.e. before they become aware that this multitude is chemically analyzable as H2O on Earth, and that it is chemically analyzable as XYZ on Twin Earth).


image by Mor
Tvenice tflooded twith XYZ

Posted in Intentionality, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 14 Comments »

‘Appears as a Red Ball’ vs. ‘Is a Red Ball’

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 27, 2007

In last few posts i was saying that different things can appear same, both because of the things themselves (two different things can appear same if looked from certain side even to the ideal observer), and also because of the limits of the perception, and because of certain characteristics of the situation (fog, glasses, different lights, rewired brain, etc…).

In such way a red ball under a white light appears same as a white ball under a red light (all other things being equal). As in this picture we don’t assume sense-data or really any kind of “phenomenal experience” standing between the balls and the observer, there is nothing to be veridical vs. non-veridical (until we make it matter of judgment, that is).  What we have is merely two situations that appear (look/seem) same.

Further, it should be pointed that because we can focus on specific things in the world and ignore others, we can talk about “appearing same” not just of the whole situations, but also about parts. So, for example even the lights might be visible in the situation, we can ignore them and say that the balls in both situations appear same. This is similar to the situation where we are not sure if the situation is what we think it is, so we can say “it appears red” meaning it appears as it appears when there is a red ball, suspecting that it might be in fact some other situation which might appear same.

Also, talking about illusions I said that because one of those situations, i.e. red ball under normal light is what we treat as a standard for that appearance, and the other requires a setup (possibility of which we might be ignorant of) we might falsely conclude that the case is the standard one, and that this wrong judgment is what happens in case of illusion.

However in order to say that something appears as a red ball, we need before that to be aware that a ball can be red. If not the whole “appears as a red ball” doesn’t make sense. So, “appears as a red ball” can come only after  “is a red ball”. That is, we can’t say that the ball is red because it appears as a red ball, because for that we need a concept of a red ball.  So where does “is red” come from? The answer to this question probably would also shine light on what “standard” means in the above paragraph about illusion.

I take it that teaching of words for colors almost always happens by ostension. Teacher points to some thing which has e.g. red color, and says “that thing is red”, at other time again points to some other thing and say “that thing is red”, and so on… What is needed is that the student becomes aware of what is pointed to. Through attention (which also means abstraction – i.e. ignoring other specifics of the object), we can become aware of the object qua object in specific color. And as I said in the post about common nouns, after through ostensive teaching being presented salient examples of objects in red color, we can become aware of the similarity between the pointed things, so that eventually we become aware of red objects in the world.

In doing this we find the objects’ colors and the similarity IN their appearing to us. What we can probably say here is that while this learning goes on, what we are aware of is the similarities and differences of the appearances of the objects pointed to. Whatever other conditions there are which might make an appearance similar or different, e.g. glasses, different light, being exposed to bright light before seeing etc… we aren’t in this case aware of them, and those conditions are in the normal cases such that the only difference of appearance is due to the differences of the objects (one can point here that we do tend to see red objects as red even in different light after some time, and that we tend to see the distant and the near trees of same height as being a same height, that we do tend to see the rotated coin as circular (and not elliptical), and so on).

So same as other common nouns, “red object” would require an awareness of multiplicity of objects that show some kind of similarity (in this case similarity of appearance). But isn’t this returning to “red objects appear red”? No, because here the meaning of “red object” is connected to the awareness of there being objects that show similarity of appearance given the background conditions and, and I think this is important, while we are being ignorant of the background conditions.

Posted in Colors, Meaning&Reference, Perception, Phenomenology, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Awareness of Object Permanence In Infants

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 23, 2007

In the previous post where I was commenting on Quine, I mentioned a research done by Baillargeon, R. – “The Object Concept Revisited”. To give a example of those researches, I will point to one of the experiments done by Baillargeon and Julie DeVos (“Object Permanence in Young Infants: Further Evidence”) on the issue of young children being aware of object permanence…

The experiment was done on infants which were approximately 3.5 months old, to which (after the habituation events) those two test events were presented:

possibleimpossible.gif

Here is the summary of the result and the interpretation of the results as given in the paper:

The infants in the experimental condition tended to look equally at the tall and the short carrot habituation events, but looked reliably longer at the impossible than at the possible test event. These results indicate that the infants (a)realized that each carrot continued to exist after it slid behind the screen, (b)assumed that each carrot retained its height behind the screen, (c) believed that each carrot pursued its trajectory behind the screen, and therefore (d) expected the tall carrot to be visible in the screen window and were surprised that it was not. These results confirm Baillargeon’s (1987a) conclusion that infants as young as 3.5 months of age are aware that objects continue to exist when occluded.

To read more about the Baillargeon’s research visit the Infant Cognition Lab, where you can find few pdf documents reporting the findings of the investigations.

Posted in Philosophy | 3 Comments »

The Web of Belief – A Reading Note 2

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 21, 2007

Continuing from the paragraph quoted in previous post, Quine further writes (my italics):

In an early page we asked what sorts of things were the objects of belief. Then we gratefully dropped that question, noticing that we could instead talk of sentences and of believing them true. Now a similar maneuver conduces to clarity in dealing with the notion of observation: let us ask no longer what counts as an observation, but turn rather to language and ask what counts as an observation sentence.

What makes a sentence an observation sentence is not what sort of event or situation it describes, but how it describes it. Thus I may see the dean of the law school mail a birthday check to his daughter in Belgium. Saying so in these terms does not qualify as an observation sentence. If on the other hand I describe that same event by saying that I saw a stout man with a broad face, a gray moustache, rimless spectacles, a Homburg hat, and a walking stick, putting a small white flat flimsy object into the slot of a mailbox, this is an observation sentence. What makes it an observation sentence is that any second witness would be bound to agree with me on all points then and there, granted merely an understanding of my language. The witness would not be bound to agree that it was the dean, whom he or she might not know, nor expected to know anything about the check or a daughter in Belgium.

About agreement on observational sentences… As I’ve said in the past posts about illusions, it seems to me an obvious fact that different things, (and there I mean completely different things), can appear same way, depending on…

  • characteristic of things
  • which kind of sensual modality (or access) is in question
  • the characteristic of that sensory access. For example in case of seeing – where we are seeing the things from, from what angle, do we wear glasses, are we sleepy, is there a fog, has anybody tampered with our brain, etc…

So, I think, that instead of “second witness would be bound to agree with me on all points then and there, granted merely an understanding of my language”, it would be better to speak that in case of observational sentences the second witness would be bound to agree that the situation seems such and such (granted merely an understanding of the language).

However, when we give up the possibility of sense-data language, I don’t think there is much sense to talk about infallibility of this kind of observational sentences. As there is not some factual state to which we have infallible access.

  1. This IS NOT going back to sense-data description, or to some
    “phenomenal seeming” which would be divorced from the world, and about which we could give some statements.
  2. According to the given analysis, the usage of “it seems that T” doesn’t mean that T is the case, but that among other things if T is the case, it would appear like whatever is the case appears now.
  3. Seeming or Appearance are always to someone. Something can’t appear except to someone. (Notice the symmetry with e.g. One can’t see without seeing something) So implicitly ‘seems’ is ‘seems to me’. And this further acknowledges that there might be limits to my perception, or limits to what I have focused on, or what I’m ignorant of, because of which it appears to me that T.

So, the report is then not a infallible report of some phenomenal fact, but just report of a judgment that we do. Something like “That might be car, but maybe it is not.”. It is hard to see that as some kind of infallible report (though of course, it is hard to see how it can be wrong too).

The Quine’s position on this issue is not like the one I’m presenting here though. He seems to acknowledge that there is some kind of “private experience” and sense-data, and that there are such things as “I’m in pain” and “I seem to see blue”, which would be reports about that “private experience”…

We remarked that some philosophers have identified observations with events of sensation. It is thus not to be wondered that in some philosophical writings the title of observation sentence is reserved for sentences very different from observation sentences as we have defined them. It is reserved for introspective reports like “I am in pain” and “I seem to see blue now.” Such reports also have been rated as infallible. It must be conceded that they tend to be incontestable, because of the speaker’s privileged access to his or her private experience. But on this very point they differ diametrically from observation sentences in our sense. The situations that make them true are not ones to which multiple witnesses could attest.

Posted in Illusions, Intentionality, Perception | 3 Comments »

The Web of Belief – A Reading Note

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 21, 2007

I started reading Quine’s – The Web of Belief this weekend. In it there is one part which goes like this:

What are observations? Some philosophers have taken them to be sensory events: the occurrence of smells, feels, noises, color patches. This way lies frustration. What we ordinarily notice and testify to are rather the objects and events out in the world. It is to these that our very language is geared, because language is a social institution, learned from other people who share the scene to which the words refer. Observation sentences, like theoretical sentences, are for the most part sentences about external objects. This is why they can enter into logical relations with scientific theory, confirming or refuting it. (italics mine)

Quine, I think, rightly points that what we ordinarily notice are not colors patches, noises, etc; but objects and events… I think that is true, and more than that – those are the things we first notice, and only then we notice the colors, forms, and so on. It is true that the sense-data assumption first comes to mind when we learn the bio-physical facts. Namely, we learn how we have a “bag” of sensory receptors, and that each of these is separately affected by something in our surrounding. So, it is very normal to assume that the starting point of our consciousness of things is grounded in the consciousness of something that correlates with this bag of sensory events. So, the thinking goes, what we are conscious of in some moment is sense-data, and everything else is then synthesized on base of these sense-data.
But even this picture might make sense on first look,  lot of empirical research on conceptual development (for a nice sum up see Keil, 1989) shows a “holistic to analytic” shift. Those facts I think go strongly against the assumption that what the kids are initially aware is some sense-data, and that then the awareness of things as wholes which include more properties, and complex concepts is synthesized.
In previous posts, I said that this is because of the salience of things around us (by “things” I mean objects, properties, events, etc…). The whole objects tend to be more salient than specific properties (you will become aware of a rabbit, but not of its fur).

As I read that paragraph Quine isn’t thinking that we can become aware of wholes (in time or space) in the perception directly, without some sense-data to back it up. He seems instead to distinguish the awareness of the objects, which are supposed to be in publically accessible space, from colors, feels, etc… which are supposed to be something personal. Because of this Quine encounters a problem – how can we include persistent things in our observation sentences:

That there are enduring bodies at all, behind the passing show of sensory appearance, is a point of physical theory-a rudimentary point, but still something beyond the observable present occasion.

His explanation of how this is possible strikes me as unnecessary, given that other empirical researches show how children are aware of the objects as persistent well before learning language. This post has an example, but for a lot of examples which go beyond simple persistence, you might want to check Baillargeon, R.- “The Object Concept Revisited” (I read it in the Concepts – Core Readings book).

UPDATE:I added a post to give the general idea of the tests done by Baillargeon.

Posted in Perception, Philosophy | 9 Comments »

All The Way Down

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 17, 2007

vats.png

A confession: I never bought into Putnam’s argument that we can’t be brains in a vat.

Posted in Philosophy, Silly/Funny | Leave a Comment »

What Are Illusions?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 16, 2007

Chris at Mixing Memory has a post discussing few visual illusions, and also pointing to the announcement of the Best Visual Illusion of the Year.

As illusions came out also in the discussion we had with Richard in the comments, I thought I write a post about them.

What are illusions?

I guess the first intuitive answer would be: “the illusion is when something appears differently from how it is”. For example… two lines are same length, but they appear as having different lengths. Or… some color is gray, but we see it as yellow (check under Colour Perception illusions here). Or, there is no painted skull on the wall, but it seems to us that there is a skull. And so on…

But saying that “things appear differently from how they are”, has certain problems…

To point to one of the problems, I will point to a simple illusion. Take a white ball, for example. The ball is white and seems white. Now shine a red light onto it. The ball seems red, right? But what does “seems red” means there? We can say that white ball when under red light appears same as red ball under white light. But why put priority to how the red ball appears under white light? Why not say that red ball under white light appears as white ball under red light. What is so special about white light?

It seems to me, all we can say here, is that “red ball under white light” and “white ball under red light” appear the same. But if we don’t put priority on the one of those situations, where does the illusion come from?

Let me now propose the different description of what illusions are about, and then try to discuss it further:

Desc*: Illusion:One thing can appear as some another thing even if the things are different. In the course of our lives, we are encountering one of those situations more often, and the other situation usually requires a deliberate setup, or unlikely conditions which rarely occur. So, when we encounter the second situation we tend to judge it to be the first situation.

Illusions are then, not inherent in perception but are problem of the judgment, and usually of our ignorance of the complications in the situation, including the ignorance of the limits of our senses of perception.

So, how this differs from that first explanation that was proposed… Here is I think main differences:

1. That first explanation seems to imply that there is some such entity as “an appearance of a thing”. The logic is, if two things appear as same or similar, there is something identical in both cases, and that which is identical is “an appearance”, then this “appearance” is reified as independent thing, and most likely located in the mind/brain of the subject. (I will explain why in the next point). And because the appearance is something in the mind, to which we have direct access, if there is some mistake it has to be in the appearance itself. Instead of this kind of thinking, in this other way of looking at the illusions, we can negate that there are such things as appearances. Instead we speak about things appearing some way to us, that is, “appear” is used just as a verb and points to a relation between the thing and a person, and not to some other specific entity.

2.When talking about “the appearances” as entities in the previous case, they are imagined as simple, and things to which the subject now has some kind of direct and infallible access. It has to be infallible in this model, because if it is fallible then we haven’t solved the problem at all. Because of this fallibility it will be possible for the “appearance” to appear differently to the subject. And then we need to assume another level of “appearance” and so on…

3.Instead of that, in Desc*, we can include in the picture different properties of the subject’s access to the thing. To be more precise, in one case of appearance,  we can talk about:

  • the intentional content (that to which we access through our senses – it can be a dog, cow, box, etc…)
  • the type of intentional access (e.g. seeing, hearing, etc..)
  • the different characteristics of the intentional access (for example, when we talk about seeing, a person can have glasses, the object might be put under different light or context, there can be fog, can look at the thing from different angles and distances, his eyes might be tired, someone might have rewired some things in the brain, etc…)

All those complications now become possible variables which might be tampered with, in order for something to look like something else.
For example we can say things like “a red ball in normal context appears like a white ball when one sees it through red glasses (or other way around)”, or “two lines with equal lengths drawn on paper with added arrows at the ends, look like lines with different lengths seen in perspective”, or that “gray circle in certain context seems like purple circle in normal context”, or that “a wall after we tamper with our eyes by fixing our eyes to certain color, appears like wall with a circle on it”, and so on…

So, in general there is nothing problematic here that is not present in simple case where a box, and a pyramid can appear same, if we look them from proper side. Things appear same because of limits of our perception, and some of those require a deliberate setup and are rarely encountered, so we will tend to judge such situations as others.

Take for example, a case of afterimage illusions. It requires first fixing your eyes at a specific place for certain time (say 20-30 seconds), and then looking at some blank wall, and not moving the eyes, in order to trick us into making wrong judgment. But we usually don’t make wrong judgment, and say that it “seems” because we are aware that the situation just seems like that other situation (as both situation seem same), and not that it is that other situation.

If you by chance glance towards the sun, it is pretty easy after that to tell that you have problem with the vision. It is not that we are thinking that world has gone weird and some green patch is moving over it.

Posted in Illusions, Intentionality, Philosophy | 4 Comments »

Obligatory Links and Optional Pictures

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 15, 2007

Of course, you’ve heard about the Philosophers’ Carnival #47 and that OPC2 started.

And few pictures I made this past weekend at countryside…

No turtles were harmed during the making of the pictures, (and at least one of them eventually ran away, and my daughter was sad). I guess it just hid in the nearby high grass while we were having lunch, but we couldn’t find it after that.

Took photos of few bugs…

Of my nephew…

, and of a tree…

Posted in Links, Personal | 2 Comments »

Thoughts about few Half-Baked Rabbits On Sequoias

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 14, 2007

The title is just (what seemed to me) an interesting permutation of the words from the title of the previous post.

Anyway… few links…

In the comments, Richard (who, if you haven’t heard started a blog few days ago, called Philosophy Sucks!) pointed that on Devitt’s web page one can find Devitt’s book Designation in pdf format.

Other blog I stumbled on recently is The End Of Thoughts. I spent few pleasant hours the other day reading the posts there.

I saw this comic, and thought how a nice version could be with philosophers and thought-experiments (creating exact replicas of people, planets, weird creatures and all that). What do you do if you have original comic idea? I googled “make comics“, and there seems to be quite a few online tools which can help you build comics. I tried this one, and this was the result:

offer.png

Can I also remind you of my other attempt to make a comic about P.Churchland?

Posted in Links, Philosophy, Silly/Funny | 4 Comments »

Few Half-Baked Thoughts On Rabbits and Sequoias

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 13, 2007

I said that I think that the common nouns (or general and mass terms) are referring to multiplicity as intentional content. That is, as proper names are given to something that appears as intentional content (be it that we become aware of it through seeing, touching, etc…, or we heard about it from someone else, or assume it, imagine it, etc..), those common nouns are given to some multiplicity (again, it might be assumed, imagined, and so on). If a person sees one rabbit, then another rabbit which reminds him of the first, and then another and another, he becomes aware that there is some kind of multiplicity in the world. And he can give name “rabbits” to this multiplicity.

There are few thoughts I want to add…

1.
A person doesn’t just come out from some unconscious state, become aware there is some multiplicity, just to get back to unconscious state again. A person encounters this multiplicity usually in the context of which he is aware. For example, a person is aware that he has drove from the city to the nearby woods, and that is where he saw the rabbits. So, he becomes aware of this multiplicity, but this is not without context.

2.
a) The salience has important role what one becomes aware of. Salience means that some things will tend to attract attention, and you will most probably become aware of them with or without trying. Some other will require more deliberate attention to become aware of.  A jumping rabbit is salient. Its parts aren’t so much. Things are probably in general more salient then their properties. So, usually we will become aware of some things, and not of others. (Just to avoid misunderstanding – I don’t mean that salience is property of the things)

Similarities can be more or less salient too. Gestalt similarities seem more salient in general than similarities that require putting attention to parts (I guess, this is understandable?). Gestalt similarities are where you don’t need to become aware of the characteristics of the things. Faces are similar even you haven’t put attention to any characteristic of those faces. The second rabbit reminds you to the first one, and you leap to thinking of “these things” even you might not really know even how many legs those have, if they have fur or not, and so on. First rabbit was salient, the second one was salient too, their similarity was salient, enough to think of them as multiplicity. (One can point to researches like of Vygotsky where children were given blocks of different color, form and size, and was asked to categorize them. Younger  children didn’t categorize them on base of any of those properties.) Of course it is no rule, gestalt similarity might be less salient then some characteristic property. Even kids would probably categorize humans with fully dark eyes (like in the horror movies) on one side and all other “normal” people on another.

Even in the gestalt similarities, there are more and less salient ones. Gestalt similarity among trees (which makes one think – “ah, another of those things”, and name them “trees”) is more salient than gestalt similarity between sequoias. We will most likely become aware of trees, before we become aware of sequoias.

b) The salience of things and similarity is changed through the life, we become aware of different things that were not so salient… those things might be interesting for us, because of this and that, probably we train ourselves to recognize faster those things, and as result their salience grows. Some other things… they become uninteresting and get pushed in the background (one rabbit or two rabbits will be salient, but if for few hours they keep appearing every minute, we probably won’t notice them any more after that).

3.
Even some basic categorization can be based on this kind of salient similarities, one can become aware of some less salient properties, on base of which one can categorize things (for this or that use). We become aware of the common properties of animals, we become aware of social relations, we become aware of chemical properties of elements.

4.
Even the salience of a similarity or a thing is not something which belongs to the object as such, but it is connected (by definition) to how much this object attracts our attention, or how much we tend to notice that similarity; still the things (which were seen as similar) are real, and hence when they are named the name connects to the awareness of those real things which are similar in some way. For example – the word “rabbits”. That “rabbits” refer to a multiplicity, doesn’t mean that there won’t be cases for which we won’t know if they are rabbits or not. There is no Platonic form of rabbit, which any rabbit will satisfy, nor I think it is some concept in our head that defines what we consider a rabbit. . “A rabbit” is just one of this specific multiplicity that we became aware of.

Posted in Intentionality, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 16 Comments »

Action Philosophers Comics

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 10, 2007

If you haven’t stumbled on this yet, there are several funny history of philosophy comics at Action Philosophers!

Posted in Links, Philosophy, Silly/Funny | Leave a Comment »

Free Tickets!

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 9, 2007

ticket.jpg

Click the ticket to book a seat. Don’t wait, as the number of seats is unlimited!

Posted in Links, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

What Do Common Nouns Name?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 9, 2007

My answer to the question is – a multiplicity (or assumed multiplicity) of things that show some similarity. But let’s go step by step, and see why I’m arguing this…

The simple intentional-historical picture of names goes like this:

  1. Person A becomes aware of X.
  2. Person A decides to call X with name ‘X’.
  3. By pointing to X or description, A makes other people aware of X.
  4. A tells other people that he calls X – ‘X’.
  5. Other people accept that, and start to call X – ‘X’
  6. Other people further communicate awareness of X, and the name that is used for it.

Personally I believe in this picture is right, and really to me it seems just as a description of what happens. As really, for someone to give name to something, he has to be aware of that something! How can anyone negate that? And how can one communicate about something if he doesn’t have word to refer to it? Of course… either by pointing to the thing, or by describing it in order for the person to figure out what he thinks of (so, as they say – describing in order to fix the reference)! (I wonder if by adding more exclamation marks, I would be more convincing.)

Of course there are possible complications there, but they can be added to the picture, for example:

  • In some point of communication some of the people might misunderstand the pointing or description, and become aware of Y, and than misunderstand that ‘X’ is referring to Y. This misunderstanding might be resolved, or might be that the misunderstanding will spread, and after some time ‘X’ will be used to refer to both X and Y.
  • OR some Z might be similar enough to X, that some in lack of more precise word, might start using ‘X’ to referring to Z.
  • Multiple persons can become aware of X, but not be aware that there is already word ‘X’ used to refer to X. So, those people can invent new word for X, e.g. ‘X2′.
  • X can change gradually through time into Y. If that happens through long enough time. The name ‘X’ might be preserved, but end up referring to Y. (Think socially conditioned phenomena, for example)
  • One can become aware of all the kind of complications with X itself. Maybe it turns out that there was no X, that what seemed as one thing X, it turns out to be two (or more) different things. The language can change in different ways then.
  • etc…

What I think is important here, is to notice that X can be whatever we can be aware of; or to get more specific – anything that might appear as content of our intentional acts… So, it can be what we see, what we hear, what we feel, what we imagine, what we assume, and so on. So this kind of description doesn’t have problems with non-existents, theoretical or assumed things, etc… (I know I repeat those things very often, but I’m thinking  if someone stumbles to this post, pointing to few general things would help).


But now, back to the common nouns, and how they might work in this picture. In order to figure out what common nouns refer to, we can ask point to two places in the history of usage of the word. First, what did the original baptizer become aware of, and gave name to? Second, because of the possible complication, we can ask what it is pointed to the users of the language today (what they need to become aware of), when the term is taught to them? (when put it this way, I start to wonder what I’m talking about, isn’t this obvious?)

Say, we analyze the word “cats”. We need to ask – how does one  become aware of cats? I think the plausible story is this… one sees a cat… It is salient (meaning – it attracts attention), so we easily become aware of it. But now, if we want to name it, we would give it proper name, because this is just one cat. But later we see another cat, and it reminds us of the first one – “aha, one of those things”, we think. So, we become aware of a multiplicity. Notice that we don’t become aware of some abstraction, nor we become aware of some universal (Platonic form). We just become aware that there are cats – a multiplicity.

Or say… “chairs”. How do we become aware of chairs? Here probably there is difference from the person(s) that invented chairs, and who named some concept – (i.e. “hey, I got an idea, we can create something that we will sit on.”), and children who are born in the world which is full with those chairs, and to which chairs appear more as cats do – as a multiplicity. Of course, even the person who invented chairs, thought of them as multiplicity, he didn’t think “I invented Machocho (a singular thing on which one can sit)”, but he thought – “there can be those things on which people can sit”. So again, it is multiplicity of things, even if assumed.

So, what I think this is pointing to, is that common nouns are not naming something abstract, but that using common nouns people talk again about concrete things. That is, when they talk about cats or chairs, they don’t have on mind some abstract form (nominal/platonic/whatever), but concrete things which have some similarity. I think that is so, even for imagined and assumed cases. That if one speaks of “aliens”, one doesn’t speak of some abstract form, but of possible aliens – multiplicity of real things (which share some similarity). Now, of course one can speak of “a cat”, or “a chair” or “an alien”, but seems to me, again we will be speaking of a concrete thing (be it real, imagined or assumed) which is one of those (cats).

Does anyone buy into this kind of thinking? It seems very normal to me.

Some ideas for next posts: how natural kinds would work within this view (e.g. “water”), how does this would works for Twin Earth thought experiment,  what about things that fall under two categories (e.g. “tree” and “sequoia”), what about abstract common nouns (triangles, numbers, points…) etc..

Posted in Intentionality, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 20 Comments »

Kripke and the Ship of Theseus – a question

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 8, 2007

I wonder if someone can help me with the following question…

As I understand it, what is required for the historical-causal account of names, is that at some time there to be a causal relation between the thing being named (some particular X) and the baptizer B. That is a requirement for there to be possibility for B to name X, to give it name, e.g. ‘X’. From that moment we can speak about ‘X’ referring to X and that through causal chain the usage of the name can get to other users of the name, each of which will mean X by ‘X’.

But, let’s say that X is the ship of Theseus. (That is the sheep on which the old planks were took away as they decayed, and new planks put in their place, so that in the end all planks were changed).

I guess that the causal relation can be only between physical things, so that there was a causal relation between the original planks and let’s say the baptizer who baptized it. But if ‘X’ is to stand for X only if the baptizer was in causal relation with X, it can’t be that ‘X’ can stand for the ship as it is after changing all the planks, as none of those parts was in a causal relation with the baptizer.

How do defenders of historical-causal account deal with this?

Connected posts:Unity of Consciousness, Ontology and Reference

Posted in Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 1 Comment »

 
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