A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Phosphorus and Hesperus In The Phenomenal World

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on February 18, 2007

One of the interesting things about philosophical issues like Frege’s puzzle, it seems to me, is that nobody in the world has the problem with them except for philosophers and those who allow to be confused by philosophers.
Instead of analyzing how come that there is no problem (as really isn’t it obvious that nobody has problem with learning that the person they see today called Michael, is the little kid they called Mikey many years ago?), you will hear from philosophers solutions of the problem which everyday people can’t understand. (And more then that the solution is shown bad by pointing to an example which is understandable by everybody to be one way, but the solution predicts it the other way around.)

Same situation with math. Everybody (except philosophers and those confused by them) knows and understands that one and one IS two, but for the philosophers  it becomes a problem, and they then might again try to “solve” the problem and say – ‘That one and one is two is true in this and this axiomatic system, and you can understand why is it true just if you follow us through the proof, which is in *this* book.”. No wonder nobody takes philosophy seriously. If you thought you understand simple matters you understand, you were wrong!

Anyway, enough rant, what follows is a text written using by normal letters, but also bold, italic and underlined. Also I used colors and even different sizes of font! So, in three words: Doesn’t look nice. And don’t expect much from the actual argument either.

Some introductory notes

Short introduction to Frege’s puzzle:
Suppose that Phosphorus and Hesperus mean in the sentence just the object they refer to. If so, they can be interchanged in the sentence, without that sentence changing.
But S1:”If Phosphorus is a planet, then Phosphorus is a planet” is non-informative, while S2:”If Phosphorus is a planet, then Hesperus is a planet” is informative. As S1 and S2 differ in a property, they can’t be the same sentences. So, it can’t be that “Phosphorus” and “Hesperus” mean the same thing in those sentences.

Short introduction to the difference between psychological and phenomenological pictures:
Let me first define something that I will call – “psychological theories of phenomenal experience” (PTPE).
Those are theories that talk about “phenomenal experience” or “field of experience” as of a psychological phenomenon.
They may come in different varieties.

  • The simplest form is sense-data PTPE. In it the “phenomenal experience” is imagined as a sort of field which  has as its parts simple elements like colors, sounds, pains, etc..  Further, in that picture, higher cognitive functions like association on basis of this data build concepts.
    In the paradigm of sense-data PTPE, when you put green glasses the sense-data becomes greenish. Also, there is visual-field (2D or 2.5D) which contains some properties across it (e.g. clear in center, and more vague to periphery)
  • In its more complex variants the PTPE might not agree with the idea of sense-data. But it will still think of the experience as a mental phenomenon that contains the things which appear in that experience. Though now it is not based on sense-data, but it is for example constituted by the brain in the interaction of the information from the senses and higher cognitive functions (e.g. concepts, memory, etc…).

As I said in the other post, I think that PTPE give wrong pictures of what is going on.
Instead, I think, we should return to a “more naive-realistic picture” (MNRP). In this picture we don’t talk so much about phenomenal experiences, but about subject being in and experiencing the phenomenal world. The phenomenal world which appears in our experience is then the real world. Also the phenomenal world in this picture is the physical world, though not merely the physical world (they stand in subject/predicate relation).

So, what I ask in the MNRP is that we don’t take in consideration that “photons reflect from the surfaces of things, get focused through the lense of or eye, fall onto rods and cone cells etc…”. I think that this whole story about photons is story about the phenomenal world itself, and as such can’t be used to explain the phenomenal world. If we analyze the phenomenal world, we find the photons there in it. And we find in it also the eyes, and the cells, and the brains etc… All that is in the phenomenal world, and not producing the phenomenal world. (for more discussion on this see e.g. this post, also some more arguments for MNRP (or against PTPE) here)

How does intentionality appear in those two pictures?

In the PTPE theories what is in our experience is not the thing itself (the thing can not be produced by our brain, and the experience in PTPE is produced by the brain). Instead what is there in the experience is representation of the thing. To give account for intentionality then one needs to relate the thing and the brain somehow, and this is (as far as I known) mostly done by appeal to causal relations between the thing and the brain.

In the MNRP we experience the thing (see it, hear it, touch it, etc…), and there is nothing between me as subject and the thing that is experienced. So, the problem of intentionality as it is in the PTPE theories doesn’t appear – it is the thing itself that appears directly to me. And because it is in publicly accessible space,  it is the same thing that appears directly to other people.

Little phenomenological analysis of the meaning of notions of looking, thing and change

1. Thing we see transcends our seeing it
When we talk about physical objects around us, like apples, glasses, chairs etc.., intentional content appears not as some kind of sense-data, but appears as something in the world, publically accessible. If me and my friend are looking at an apple, in my experience there is just one apple that we both look at. The apple is there as something independent from me and my friend –  both acts of looking at it are incidental, and don’t affect it. As long there are some difference in what we see, they are properties of the seeing itself, and not the object. For example I see the apple from *here*, and my friend from *there*, I see it through fog, and he sees it through glasses. So:

(a)Intentional content isn’t a part of our intentional act (isn’t contained in it).

2. Thing as changing
The objects also appear in the phenomenal world (or to us) as persisting through time. When I’m looking at that apple, there is no such things as moments in which I get some kind of sense-data-patches, in time t, then in time t+dt, then yet another in t+dt+dt, etc… If I take the apple in my hands, and if I rotate it, it is one and the same apple that rotates, and I don’t have any problems with it, nor it seems like something weird. I don’t because the category of thing has in it that refers to something persisting and changing (through time, we might say, but the determination through time is there exactly because we are aware of their changing).

It becomes a problem for understanding which presuposes that “time”, “moments”, or “fully determined being” (vs. becoming) is what is true. For sure if those were the categories to which our thought (or the world for that matter) is limited, there would be a contradiction between notions of change and thing. As by requiring that a thing is determined being, we are negating possibility for change. But as we see that is not a problem for the world, nor for the common-sense which hasn’t went into analyzing of its categories, and reducing them to simpler ones. The situation is not as we want to make it through our abstractions. It is not such in our mind, nor the contradiction that we produce by holding the abstract categories as self-subsistent can be such in the world. The category of thing is such that it has notion of change in it. Things exist as becoming, as changing.

(b) Momentary state of a thing, is an abstraction of thing which changes (and eventually ceases to be). Momentary state of thing, doesn’t exist as such, as “left” and “right” don’t exist as such.

3. Baptizing the thing
Baptizer gives a name to an intentional content (what he sees, hears, etc…). Baptizer doesn’t see a sense-datum, nor a momentary state of a thing. As per (a) and (b) what person is seeing, and naming is a “full-blooded thing”.

(c) Giving a name (baptizing) is dependent of there being intentional act with some intentional content. The person *always* gives a name to an intentional content of intentional act. (We can’t name something that doesn’t appear in our intentional acts)

The intentional content is not at all affected by it being intentional content (it is unaffected by our seeing or not seeing it) – “being intentional content” isn’t an intristic property of the intentional content.

Sense/Reference Distinction?

What we have there can be compared to what is usually called “sense” and “reference”… the intentional content is both… First it is a full-blooded thing (see (a) and (b)) (what we can compare with reference), but it is also the full-blooded thing which was seen (an aspect that we can compare with sense).

The thing which we see IS the full-blooded thing which transcends our seeing it, so there is just one thing that has two aspects. One we can say is the intristic – its existence, and the other is its appearance as intentional content.

There is no name without the second aspect, though it might be names without the first aspect (e.g. imaginary things, illusions, etc.. can be named).

So, it is possible that we knew a little kid named Mikey appeared as content of our looking, hearing about, etc..), and now know a grown up man called Michael (which also appeared as intentional content in this or that way), without knowing they are the same person. The question is asked, what the names Mikey and Michael mean? Don’t they mean the same person? Yes, they do, but they do mean only as connected to a person who means that person with it. And because that person might not know that Mikey and Michael are the same person, the sentence Michael=Mikey is informative for him. Which is normal because to refer to something we don’t need to know much about it.

Let me at the end just repeat again, that because the analysis is done within the MNRP picture, it isn’t psychologism, and the names refer to real things in real world, and can be shared as names by the community to refer to one and the same thing.


2 Responses to “Phosphorus and Hesperus In The Phenomenal World”

  1. Clark said

    I liked your introduction which I think is correct. I think though that the reason they are problems for philosophers and not regular people is that from ancient days the philosopher has as a kind of virtual audience the skeptic. The goal of the philosopher is to convince the skeptic against their will. Thus a lot of philosophy but especially major trends like most of Kantianism.

    Of course one might say that this is a problem with philosophy since trying to appease the skeptic on the skeptic’s own terms is problematic. (I take this to be Heidegger’s position)

    BTW – I think the semiotic approach to language avoids Frege’s paradox. That is signs signify more than one thing at a time. The approach to Frege most take avoid this possibility of resolution. Once you reject a Fregean ideal object as meaning then I think language becomes considerably more intelligible. But then that’s one reason why I think challenging the skeptic is useful. It shows us where we are playing on the skeptic’s terms.

  2. Thanks Clark,

    Yes, I agree about the skeptic. Maybe even “inner skeptic” which necessarily appears in the development of personal philosophy.

    And I guess it is necessary first step in reflecting on things. I said nobody has problems except philosophers, but I think it would be also fair to say that those who didn’t think of it don’t have problems and that philosophers fall into the problems because they do think of those issues.

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