A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

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
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14 Responses to “Phenomenology of Names And Twin Earth”

  1. I don’t see how this follows from what you have said. Why does the meaning/reference of “water” depend on which similarities I am aware of? Why isn’t it the case that I become aware of some stuff, give it a name and then later find out something interesting about that stuff? This doesn’t change the meaning of “water” but adds to my knowledge of the stuff that I/we call water.

    Another way to put the point. On your modified causal/intentional/historical view the reference of the natural kind term is the stuff I am aware of, and that stuff is H20 whether I know it or not, so the reference of the term is H20 whether I know it or not. On twin Earth the stuff they are aware of is not H20 and so the reference of their term is not H20, so the reference of the two terms is never the same…

    At least if this is not what you think you need an argument for it, which I don’t see here…

  2. Hi Richard,

    I guess you will allow that we can only name things of which we are aware.
    In the case of proper names, the Twin Earth scenario is I think unproblematic. If Toscar and Oscar each have a child, and they both names their child – Martin, Toscar’s “Martin” will refer to his child, and Oscar’s “Martin” will refer to his child.

    However in case of common nouns, it is not particular entities (or particular extension) that we become aware of and name, even the motivation is based on particular entities. For example, when we see two rabbits, we don’t name *those two rabbits* as “rabbits”. If we do, that wouldn’t be a common noun, but a proper name for a group (“The rabbits”). And same goes for “water”.

    Now, here is the issue… what do we become aware of, and hence what do we baptize in case of common nouns?

    If we take that by “water” we refer merely to the multitude of particulars of stuff I became aware of, and if this particular extension of this stuff is (unknown to me) H2O, then it would be true that by “water” I’m referring to H2O even I don’t know it. But, as I said “water” would then be proper name for that particular extension (and surely we would want ‘water’ and ‘rabbit’ to refer to water and rabbits we aren’t aware of). So again the question appears – what is that which we became aware of?

    You say we become aware of some stuff, but what does that mean? We become aware of instances of that stuff and what we need here is something else, which we become aware of and name. You might say that one becomes aware of ‘a type of stuff’, or ‘a type of an animal’. But I fail to see what is this “type of” which I’m aware of, if not awareness of a multitude which share some similarity. Similarity of which I’m aware of.

    And if the multitude of things showing some similarity is what I became aware of, it will cover all the multitude in the universe which shares such similarity.
    Does this help clear up my position?

  3. Actually I wouldn’t allow that, since we named Jack the Ripper ‘Jack the Ripper’ and Pluto ‘Pluto’ without being aware of them…we introduced a desription that fixed the reference in those cases…

    Yes, on the standard causal/historical view what you call ‘common nouns’ are names of natural kinds, that is pretty much why they trun out to be ridgid designators on Kripke’s view…

    I don’t know why you think that that means that it only refers to the stuff that I am aware of. It picks out the natural kind, and so refers to all of that stuff, some of which I was aware of…

    We become aware of an instance, as you say, it just so happens to turn out, after some science takes place, that that thing was an instance of a natural kind and so that is why the reference of the term is to that kind of stuff and not just to something that looks like it (e.g. XYZ)…

  4. Let me argue for my position through comparing two scenarios:

    Scenario 1:
    1 – Martin sees a bunch of elm trees. He becomes aware of gestalt similarity of those trees, and names them “trees”.
    2 – Later, on other place, Martin sees beech trees and says – “Ah, there are more trees here.”

    I’m saying there is nothing wrong here. But would you say that this person is now making a mistake? That those are not ‘trees’, because what the baptizer gave name to is extension of elm trees, and beech trees are not elm trees?

    Scenario 2:
    1′ – Martin sees bunch of elm trees, and becomes aware of gestalt similarity of them and name them “trees”.
    1a’ – In this case Martin further puts attention to the form of their leafs, roots. He gets more knowledge of the extension that he is acquainted with.
    2′ – Later, on some other place, Martin sees beech trees. But in this case he notices that those are different from “trees”. So he says “Ah, there are those things here that are similar to the trees, but those are not trees”.

    Again, it doesn’t seem to me that there is anything wrong here.

    Conclusion:
    In first scenario Martin rightly referred to beech trees as “trees”, and in the second scenario he rightly concluded that beech trees are not “trees”. So, even the name is based on same extension, in 2 and 2′ it has different meaning.
    The only thing that is different in both cases is 1a’ – Martin gaining further knowledge of the extension to which has access to. Before that and after that the history is same.
    So, it must be that 1a) changed the meaning of the term.

    In the picture that I’m arguing for, i.e. that common nouns name a multitude which share some similarity of which we are aware, this is fully accountable for and expected to happen.

  5. I agree that scenerio 1 is OK, but I can’t believe that you believe that nothing is wrong with the second! The similarities between birchs and elms far outweigh their differences, so in the second scenerio Martin should conclude that they are a different kind of tree and not that they are not trees. The word ‘tree’, having its reference fixed by the baptisism of a natural kind, has that as its reference whether he knows it or not. So if he concludes that the birches are not trees, he is wrong (whether he knows it or not).

    Also, you seem to be running meaning and reference together…which do you mean to be talking about?

  6. I don’t see why you find the second scenario wrong…
    Maybe it is your intuition because the word used is “trees”? The word that we use of course is not important, and we can change it with some other word, e.g. “elms”…
    Scenario 2:
    1′ – Martin sees bunch of elm trees, and becomes aware of gestalt similarity of them and name them “elms”.
    1a’ – In this case Martin further puts attention to the form of their leafs, roots. He gets more knowledge of the extension that he is acquainted with.
    2′ – Later, on some other place, Martin sees beech trees. But in this case he notices that those are different from “elms”. So he says “Ah, there are those things here that are similar to elms, but those are not elms”.
    If you find this scenario better, then it was problem of your intuition with the specific word that Martin used as a name. But nothing significant depends on which name Martin chooses.

  7. You seem to be overlooking that ‘tree’ is a natural kind…if you are using ‘elm’ as the name of the natural kind ‘tree’ then he is wrong to think that those things are not elms…a more acurate description of teh situation would seem to be that this person comes to have a general term for the natural kind and then learns that there are sub-types, or in other words he learns how to taxonomize…and you still haven’t told me whether you mean to be talking about meaning or reference.

  8. First to answer the two side questions that I didn’t answer:
    By “aware of” I mean anything that appears as a content of a conscious intentional act. So, not just perceptual awareness, but also things that we imagine, assume, etc…
    I’m talking about the meaning of the word Martin uses. I used there “extension” too, to talk about the particular extension – that number of trees which in this or that way motivate his naming whatever he names.

    You say:

    if you are using ‘elm’ as the name of the natural kind ‘tree’ then he is wrong to think that those things are not elms

    *I* am not naming anything in the case, Martin is. So, I don’t *intend* to use ‘elm’ (or ‘tree’) as quoted words in the scenarios to refer to elms or to trees.
    What the scenarios are supposed to show that what happens is that in the first scenario Martin’s word ends up meaning what we mean by ‘trees’, and in the second scenario it ends up meaning what we mean by ‘elms’. Because of that, the first scenario intuitively sounds better to us if we use the word ‘trees’, and the second scenario sounds better to us if we use the word ‘elms’.

    But you seem to still think that Martin is wrong is scenario 2? Are you saying that there is no way that by 2′ Martin means elms by ‘elms’, instead trees in general? If yes, why? You are saying that trees are natural kind, but aren’t elms natural kind too? Why do you give advantage to the trees in general vs. the specific sub-type of trees?

  9. So, you think that I am ‘aware’ of Jack the Ripper? But I don’t have any idea who he is, except that he is whoever commited a string of ghastly murders of prostitutes in England around the turn of the last Century…so in what sense am I aware of him? Only in the sense that I think there is someone who fits this desription…if that is true then I am also ‘aware’ of the first person to be born in the 75th Century CE, let’s call whoever it is ‘Bob’…so now I am aware of Bob? You must be using the word to mean something other than ‘conscious of’…

    Uh, who is Martin? Don’t pretend that he is doing things that you have not stipulated that he has done! If these scenerios are going to be of any help then we need to know what he is doing, which means we need to know what you think he is doing, since you are stipulating the example. Furthermore, I took it that the question was not what Martin could mean/refer to by saying what he did, but rather what the thing that he says means/refers to. As for the question about what the word refers to, we need to know about the baptisism ceremony, as on my view the word will refer to the thing/stuff that he is causally related to and how he intends to pick it out. It seems natural to me to assume that he might think something like “I’ll call those things ‘trees'” (or ‘elm’ or ‘glagacogid’ it doesn’t matter). What is important to me is to find out what he intends to indicate via ‘those things’ (on Devitt’s view it is the “biological function” of the perceptual state that plays the role I want the intention to play), and only you can tell me (sonce it is your example)…

    Finally, if we take your view that the meaning of our words change if we learn something new about the extension of the word then words cease to have any public meaning at all since we all are more or less ignorant about more or less everything. This has certain well known consequences like being unable to ecplain certain obvious properties of language and communication.

  10. As I said, the way I used ‘aware’ there, was in sense that everything that we name must appear as content of our intentional acts, and we must be aware of that content.
    We can name the first person to be born in 75th century – ‘Bob’ *only* because we can consciously assume that there will be such a person. To be aware of the content which is assumed doesn’t mean that the assumption will turn out right of course.
    As for the case of Jack the Ripper, we don’t do the baptizing, so not sure how it relates to what I said. But let’s say that we were the ones that saw those murders and assumed there is a murderer. Again, in that case, that assumed murderer appears as a content of our intentional acts (of assuming), and we are conscious of that content, and because of that we can give it a name.

    Ok, so you do agree that by the time he gets to 2 and 2′, Martin by ‘trees’ might in first scenario mean trees, and in second scenario mean elms, but now you are saying that what the word ends up meaning depends on what he intends to name? But the 1 and 1′ are identical in this case, so the resulting different meaning in 2 and 2′ can’t be about any intention in the moment of the baptizing.

    I will think about the third issue, and reply in separate comment.

  11. So what are we aware of? The content of our assumption? That is not the same as being aware of the first person born in the 75th Century.

    I agree that 1 and 1′ are the same, the question is precidely whether or not there IS a change in meaning in 2 and 2′

  12. Yes, there is something that we assume… i.e. that there will be a person which will be born first in the 75th century. And that assumed person is what we name ‘Bob’. I agree that there is a difference between perceptual awareness of a person, or hearing about a person after he is born, but surely we give the name to something that we are thinking of, and in this case it is that assumed person.

    As for the communication problems connected to the change of meaning of terms, I think that in fact there will be communication problems in the situations as described. In the second scenario, it might be that Martin and some other user of the word ‘trees’ (or ‘elms’), in point 2′ come to disagree if the beech trees are ‘trees’ (or ‘elms’). Martin might say that those are not ‘trees’ (with his better knowledge of the extension on which he grounded the use of ‘trees’, i.e. he might use ‘trees’ to mean elms), and that other person might say that those are just another kind of ‘trees’ (so, using ‘tree’ to mean trees). Of course, to keep using the word, those two will have to agree on one accepted meaning.

  13. Re 1: I am not sure you are getting what the critisism is supposed to be. You say that ‘we can only name things that we are aware of’ and I say that we can name the firsat person born in the 75th Century but that we are not (in any sense that I am aware of) aware of that person because whoever it is has not been born yet. I agree that we assume that there will be a person, but we do not name that assumption. Presumably we name whoever in fact happens to be the first person born in the 75th Century, not my assumption! We do not give the name to ‘something that I am thinking of’ we give the name to whoever satisfies this description, and I am NOT thinking of that person because I do NOT know who it is.

    Re 2: the point is not that there will be some communication problems. The point is that there will not be any communication at all! According to you the meaning of a word changes if I learn something about the extension of the word. So, consider someone who thinks (for some reason or other) that water is a sentient being sent here to observe our actions, when this person says ‘water is wet’ the word ‘water’ that he says will mean something different than the word that I would say if I were to say ‘water is wet’. How could I disagree with this person’s strange views? Not by saying ‘water is not a sentient being’ because I am using a word with a different meaning than his! This example is far-fetched but this sort of thing would happen all the time on your view. A child who says ‘water is wet’ and adult who says ‘water is wet’ and a scientists who says ‘water is wet’ will all have said different things! Notice, this is not merely the claim that they will have meant different things by what they have said, it is the claim that what they have said (the words that they utter) will all mean different things because they all know different things about water. No one can ‘agreeon one accepted meaning’ unless everyone knows all of the same stuff about water, but that is something like impossible!

  14. First, sorry about being so late with the answer Lot of work lately, so haven’t been very active here.

    re 1:I agree that we don’t name our assumption. What I’m saying is pretty unproblematic in my view. It is just that at some moment we will decide to give a name to something. We have that intention, and we have something “in mind”, and we name that. I don’t see how we can give name to something that we can’t consciously think of.

    re 2:What both people agree in your example is that there is extension out there, instances of which share some similarities. The strange person doesn’t think that there is water which is sentient being, and water which isn’t. So, in that way both of you are talking about same extension, and communication is possible.
    Same is the case in my example with two people in pre.2 situation. Even for one of them “tree” means elms, and for the other “tree” means trees, the extension of which they are aware of pre.2 is the same. So when they are talking about trees, as far the situation like 2 doesn’t become an issue, they will successfully communicate.

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