A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Baptizing and The Qua Problem

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on August 9, 2007

The “Qua Problem”

In the causal theories of reference, ultimately the reference of some term is grounded in the act of baptizing, an act where there is some direct causal relation between the referent and the baptizer. However those theories face the so called “qua problem”:

Consider my natural-kind concept ‘horse’. This is grounded in a few horses. But those objects are not only horses, they are mammals, vertebrates, and so on; they are members of very many natural kinds. In virtue of what is my concept grounded in the objects qua horses rather than qua any of the other natural kinds of which they are members? So in virtue of what does it refer to all and only horses? Why does the concept formed by those groundings not “project onto” the members of these other natural kinds? The problem is worse. What restricts the kinds in question to natural kinds? The objects in which ‘horse’ are grounded may be pets, investments, brown, and so on, and they are horses or cows, horses or cows or kangaroos, and so on. In virtue of what are the groundings not in them qua members of those kinds? (Devitt, Naturalistic Representation) (HT:Richard Brown)

Baptizing and Intentionality

In previous posts I wrote few notes about the baptizing, that I thought (and still think) are quite unproblematic…

Someone somewhere decides to give a name to something. And in order to to that, that something has to appear as intentional content of his intentional acts. So to say, a person’s thoughts has to be directed to something, so that there is any sense in the act of baptizing. We name something – something which we think about, or something that we see, hear, imagine, understand, assume, and so on…

In the case of proper names, like ‘Aristotle’ and  ‘G.W.Bush’, I think that this general formulation of the baptizing avoids the qua problem. The name Aristotle isn’t grounded in a time-slice of Aristotle’s body, or in certain undetached part of his body, simply because the Aristotle and not any time-slice or detached part is intentional content which the baptizer decides to give name to.

Common Nouns (Mass And Count Nouns)

However, if you accept that always in case of baptizing there is some intentional content which gets named, the question appears of what this content is in the case of common nouns (the names we use for natural kinds, artifacts, nominal kinds, and so on…). Say… in the case of ‘horse’? What is that that we become aware of, and that we name, after seeing several horses?

I think that the answer is that the intentional content in those cases is a multiplicity of things which share certain similarity. We see a horse, and then after some time we see another horse which reminds us of the first one (“oh, another such thing” – we think). And now, being aware that there is multiplicity of those things we can give name to them – ‘horses’. 

In this case the similarity is gestalt visual similarity – the second horse reminds us of the first one. We are aware of the first one, of the second one, and we are aware that they are similar. We don’t even have to know what this similarity consist of (children can learn what ‘horses’ refer to, without actually being able to draw a horse, or to tell some characteristic of horses. I’m sure I can’t draw a horse for that matter). However I use ‘similarity’ in very general sense here. For example similarity might be that the multitude reacts in same way to some test, or the multitude may share some property and be similar in that, or a multitude can share a common ground. Those would all fall under ‘similarities’ as used here.

Because the common noun now refers to those things which show certain similarity, the common noun refers not just to the horses that we actually met, but to all horses. So, this solves the question – in virtue of what the common nouns refer not just to the things that we got acquainted to, but also to other things. Why ‘horses’ refer to all horses, and not just the ones that baptizer saw. And this brings me to another way to address this question, which Richard pointed to in the comments of one previous post. I will try to describe the view, I hope that I will get explanation right on base of what Richard said.

Intending To Name The Type To Which The Thing Belongs

The solution is that the baptizer intends to name the type of things to which the instance (with which we get acquainted) belongs. So, the baptizer thinks “I will call the type to which this thing belongs – horse, and I will call all of the things which belong to this type – horses”. Because the baptizer intends to name the type to which this thing belongs, and because so it happens that the type of thing is the natural kind – horse, the ‘horse’ ends up referring to the natural kind – horse. Let’s mark this view as INK (intending to name the kind).

I want to point to three things here comparing INK, with the view that the common nouns baptizing is based on similarity of multitude (SIM):

  1. INK is not incompatible with SIM. INK is special case of SIM where the similarity is an assumed common ground – an essence which is present in all the objects of this type.
  2. INK suffers from the qua problem. If one intends merely to name the type to which the thing belongs, we don’t know why ‘horses’ would refer to horses, and not to mammals, vertebrates, or any other types/kinds to which this thing belongs. The problem doesn’t appear for SIM, because it is the specific similarity that is the ground for thinking of the multitude as multitude, and not some other similarity (which would correspond to mammals, vertebrates, etc…).
  3. We don’t actually see the essence of the natural kind. So the question is… INK needs to explain why we don’t assume that there is specific type for every thing that we see. That is, INK needs to introduce a separate explanation how we come to think that this horse and that horse both belong to the same type. And that reason can’t be the essence itself, as we don’t see it. So, INK has to acknowledge that baptizer can think of a multitude in first place based on some other characteristics, *in order* to assume that those belong to the same kind.
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5 Responses to “Baptizing and The Qua Problem”

  1. Hi Tanasije,

    This is a very interesting post! Sadly, I don’t have time to say anything about it right now, but, as the Govinator would say, I’ll be back…:)

  2. I look forward to it :)

  3. OK, I’m back…

    First off, I still don’t see why your ‘intentional-historical’ account is any different from Devitt’s account. Here is his account of the theory:

    The basic idea of the causal theory of grounding is as follows. The name is introduced at a formal or inform dubbing. This dubbing is in the presence of the object that will from then on be the bearer of the name. The event is percieved by the dubber and probably others. To percieve something is to be causally affected by it. As a result of this causal action, a witness of the dubbing, if of suitable linguistic sophistication, will gain an ability to use the name to designate the object. Any use of the name excercising that ability designates the object in virtue of the use’s causal link to that object: perception of the object prompted the thoughts which led to the use of the name. In short, those present at the dubbing aquire a semantic ability that is causally grounded in the object. (p 67 Language and Reality)

    So can you tell me specifically which part of this story that you disagree with? It seems to me that the only difference is that Devitt uses ‘perceive’ whereas you use ‘appear as intentional content’ but this is not a real difference…Furthermore, Devitt’s view is that perception has the biological function of representing natural kinds, so it looks like you two also agree that it is Aristotle and not some time slice that one is causally in contact with…Switching to natural kind terms, again the differences are hard to see…you say that the word ‘horse’ refers to horses because we notice similarities between various horses…but the way that you define similarities makes it sound like you could mean what Devitt means, i.e. as he says (on p.89)

    In a paradigm case [a natural kind] term is introduced into the language by ostenive contact with samples of the kind. Thus, ‘tiger’ is introduced by causal contact with sample tigers and ‘gold’ is introduced by causal contact with samples of gold. The extension of the term is then all those objects, or all those samples of stuff, that are of the same kind as the ostensively given samples, that share the underlying essential nature of the samples

    What the underlyingessential nature is is determined by natural science. So ‘gold’ refers to all the stuff that has a certain atomic number as that is what the underlying essential property tunrs out to be. This is why, according to Devitt, ‘water’ does not refer to xyz. It is because our word ‘water’ is grounded in samples of H20, as revealed by science. So one difference seems to be that you think that the extension of teh term is determined solely by the similarities and not by the actual underlying nature of the stuff. But, as I have argued before, this view has horrible problems in that everything is similar (in some respect) to everything else. And each pair of objects is an instance of many, many, many different kinds of similarities, so your view is especially subject to the qua problem.

    Finally, thanks for addressing my view. Let me say something about your characterization of it.

    Re 1. INK is not a special case of SIM. SIM says that it is awareness of some similarity that grounds the term in a natural kind. INK says that it is the intention of the dubber that picks out the stuff and then agrees with Devitt that science tells us what the underlying nature of the stuff is. The dubber intends to name ‘that stuff’ as opposed to ‘that thing’.

    Re 2. That is a good point that you make, but I do not think that it is very worrying. I say that we intend to name ‘those things’ “horses” after having causally interacted with horses. ‘horse’ then refers to horses and not to mammels because of the sample that we causally interacted with. So ‘those things’ are all horses. If the sample had been a horse, a zebra, an elephant, etc and then I said ‘I’ll call those things “horses” then it would be plausible that ‘horse’ is picking out mammels. If the sample included some fish as well then it is more likely that it picks out vertabrates…ect. So we have causal perceptual interaction with some samples and intend to name those kinds of things. No qua problem…it is actually your view (if it is in fact different from Devitt’s) that has this problem (see above)

    Re 3. Yes you are right about that (I think) but so what? The question is not about what I can and cannot do, but rather what determines the reference of a term. In fact it seems that this point counts against you. Sure I see things that have similarities and which seem to be ‘naturally grouped’ as kinds in nature…but that alone won’t help you (unless you take Devitt’s view about the biological function of perception)…so it seems that the only two adequate responses to the qua problem are Devitt’s and mine…

  4. Richard, thanks for the detailed comment!

    I will answer first about the differences with Devitt’s view…

    Yes, based on those quotes it is sure that there are lot of things which are same. I’m happy to call this a version of a causal-historical account. I’m not trying to be different by the way. I’m more worried if by using the term I will misrepresent what is meant by causal-historical. You be the judge, if you say that it is variant of causal-historical account, I will call it so :)

    Anyway my motivation to speak of “appears as intentional content” vs. “being causally affected by something”, is that it serves to:
    a) handle the issues of names of non-existents. Those are then explained by speaking about intentional content of imagination or intentional content of wrong assumptions, while not needing new way to threat names. They will all fall under the general “what is named is what appears as content of this or that intentional act”.
    b) handle the ‘qua problems’ in case of proper names, removing the question, why it is not undetached parts or time-slices which are named
    c) handle the cases of naming some relations (e.g. distances), which can appear as content of intentional acts, but it is hard to see in which way they causally affect the baptizer. How does distance affect observer for example?

    It is because of this points, and the lack of causality in some of the intentional acts, because of which I don’t feel that I can call this ‘causal-historical’. But really, I don’t mind.

    As for the natural kind terms, artifacts and nominal kind terms, the difference is that talking about naming of intentional content again covers lot of different possibilities in a general way. It doesn’t require for the baptizers to be ‘naive essentialists’ however it covers that possibility (INK being special case of SIM) as ‘assuming’ is taken to be an intentional act, and ‘common ground’ is content which can be assumed. So intending to name the stuff, is translated to “intending to name the assumed common ground of the multitude”. But also it provides the way for the person to baptize a multitude even without thinking there is some underlying essence, but on base on some other similarities (so covers artifact terms like chairs and tables).

    Finally, you say:

    But, as I have argued before, this view has horrible problems in that everything is similar (in some respect) to everything else. And each pair of objects is an instance of many, many, many different kinds of similarities, so your view is especially subject to the qua problem.

    I would be really thankful if you can make another attempt to explain this objection to me. I think I’ve missed the point in that other discussion.

  5. About INK:

    Re 1. In the “translated” INK, SIM would say that the intentional act is one of assuming, and the intentional content is the common ground/essence/common underlying nature which is assumed; and that the baptizer has that content on mind when he decides to give the name. Given that the baptizer is right in those assumptions, he succeeds in naming that multitude that shares the common essence/ground/nature, so, succeeds in the intention to name ‘that kind’/’that stuff’ same as in INK.

    Re 2.If I understand your answer right, when the baptizer intends to name the natural kind of some multitude to which he is causally related, will succeed in naming the highest common natural-kind of that multitude (or ‘lowest’… depends how one imagines the hierarchy of natural-kinds, are the more general on the top, or on the bottom. Here I take the more general natural kinds to be towards the bottom). So, if he is causally related to two horses, he will name the natural-kind horse as that is the highest common natural-kind to those two. If he intends to name the natural kind of a zebra, an elephant and a horse, the highest natural kind will be mammal, and so on… If I understand the implications of your answer right, seems that INK is also committed like SIM of taking a multitude to be one of important things. Maybe INK can get away with naming the highest natural kind of single animal (e.g. horse), but single horse can’t be ground for those ‘lower level’ natural kinds. Is this a fair understanding of your answer?

    What if two natural kinds happen to have same extension (though not necessarily so). Because of such contingent state of affairs, whenever you are causally related to a member of the first natural kind, you will be also related to a member of the second natural kind. Would you claim that in such state of affairs we can’t name both natural kinds separately?

    Re 3. The problem I wanted to point, is related I think to the motivation for the intention to name the (highest common) natural-kind of ‘those things’ of the baptizer. Without more details, the image I get is that we pick out few random objects, and intend to name their highest common natural-kind. But we don’t pick out two horses, and name them ‘horses’, and then pick out two other horses, and name them ‘morses’, then pick out yet another two horses and name them ‘norses’, etc… So, I want to ask for further explanation compatible with INK of why such baptizing doesn’t happen.

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