A brood comb

….philosophical and other notes….

Archive for the ‘Concepts’ Category

There happen to be gaps

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on December 2, 2008

Thinking about what we mean by our words for kinds of things (“lions”, “gold”, “trees”, etc…), it seems clear to me that what we have in mind are not some essences. (This is of course separate issue from the issue if in fact the individuals which we see as belonging to the certain kind in fact share some essential characteristic.)

It can’t be that we have the essence in mind, because we aren’t aware of this essence. We can for sure think of “the essence which is shared by all those things” without knowing it, but even before that we need to have “those things” in mind in first place. Some kind of grouping of things into a kind needs to be done even before common essential characteristic is assumed.

So, given that it is not some essential (or defining) characteristic that is base of seeing individuals as belonging to one kind, what is it?

Last year, I was saying that it is some similarity on base of which we see individuals belonging to some kind – that is… we become aware of group (multitude) of individuals sharing some similarity, and it is that what we have in mind (the multitude of individuals [actual or possible] sharing some similarity) and that we baptize that when we introduce common nouns. So, to say – there happens to exist this multitude of things which are similar in some way, and we think of them when we use those common nouns. Be it the case where we talk about lions, trees, water etc…

As part of this kind of stance, in other posts I said I’m suspecting that there aren’t such things as concepts – e.g. LION, WATER, TREE, which would be what is meant by our common nouns. That is because, first I think the basis of using common nouns is in thinking of multiplicity and not of one single thing which has some properties; and second because that what we refer to are groups of things which happen to exist (that is what we have in mind) – we don’t have in mind some abstract criteria.

I think there is another part for this my story to make sense – and those are the gaps in the “similarity space”. If we put attention on the things that happen to exist, even if we can’t specify some defining characteristics of them, it so happens that there are gaps in their similarity. That is, it so happens that we have lions which are similar to each other, and then we have a gap of similarity to some other species. It is this fact, I think, that even in the absence of defining features, enables us to think of kinds of things – so it happens that there are not individuals which would fall in the similarity space between lions and e.g. tigers.

Of course, there might happen to be one individual (something between a tiger and a lion) but that wouldn’t really mean that there are no two groups of individuals which are separated by a gap. It would be two groups and one individual between them. But if instead of this individual, there happened to be lot of individuals which would fill the similarity gap between tigers and lions, it is hard to imagine that we would be able to discuss two kinds of things as we are today. What we could do is maybe paying attention on some feature, and do arbitrary setting of some border, but that would be quite different I think.

Because our thinking of lions and tigers as two different kinds today IS based on the fact that there is a real gap, not of our making, and that we have in fact group of things which are similar among each other. It is this actual phenomenon that we are thinking of. So, while there are no defining features, and even no defined borders of when does a lion stop being lion (and becoming something else),  there is a real phenomenon. While in the case where we would arbitrarily define what would be counted as lion, we are moving in thinking about quite another thing. We are not thinking of things which happen to exist, but we are defining kinds based on features – and this kind of definition is unrelated to the issue if individuals exist which satisfy this feature or not.

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Posted in Concepts, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 12 Comments »

Reading Mind and World – Note 1

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on July 8, 2008

I started reading McDowell’s Mind and World few days ago.

From what I understood so far (I’m near the end of lecture two) McDowell’s contrasts two views:

1.The idea that there is something given to us through our receptivity, something which serves as a constraint on possible conceptualizations of what we are experiencing, and further as a ground for empirical judgments. It is a way to make sense of how judging and thinking can have bearing on the reality.
2.Conherentist idea – that there is no such thing as Given which serves as a rational constraint to our thinking and judgments. The thought is not rationally constrained through experience, but only causally influenced. In such view nothing can count as a reason for holding a belief except other belief.

McDowell finds both views unsatisfactory, so his solution is that our experience is already conceptualized – that it represents things in the world as being thus and so. In that way he says we get the external rational constraint to our thinking (something which is required for the thought to have bearing on reality, and make sense of the apparent fact that there IS something in our experience which we can’t change as much our judgments or thinking changes), while avoiding the problems for which Given was rejected (like the problem that space of reasons can’t extend into nonconceptual Given – the Given would fall into the realm of pure sensibility, which can’t be connected to the normative nature of judgments).

I guess I don’t find this solution very interesting, as my beliefs kind of go in somewhat parallel direction.

First, I think it includes “experience” in philosophers’ sense, which I take to be just a myth. As I said before, instead of reifying experience as something that represents the state of affairs in the world, and which has some what-it-is-likeness to it, we should accept the everyday sense of the world ‘experience’, where it refers to events in the world in which we participate, and in which events we are somehow affected or from which we learn something, or in alternative sense where ‘experience’ refers to the knowledge gained in that way. When talking about our relation with the world we simply then change the talk from discussions of “experience” to discussion of seeing,hearing, and perceiving in general. The acts themselves are events in the world, which relate the things in the world to ourselves.

In such view, of course there is no reason to discuss any such thing as ‘conceptualization of experience’, as what is “external rational constraint” to our thinking is not any kind of experience, but the world itself – or what we perceive of it.

If one keeps on his mind the physical description, or neurochemical description of what we know is going on whenever we see, (hear, smell, etc…) something, this might seem as avoiding the problem. How does this solve the problem of the relating the normative aspect of the judgment to this scientific description?

The trick is here to think of those acts (seeing, hearing, etc…) not in terms of the physical, neurochemical or some other such scientific description, but in the way we are aware of them, and see the physical and neuro-chemical description of event only as a description of an aspect of whatever is going on. Of course this requires certain metaphysical view – it requires the view that the world in general is not reducible to those aspects, and further related to it – the epistemic view that through our perception we can be aware of those things in the world, even they are not reducible to those aspects. In such way all those things of which we can become aware, including our ability to become aware, language and so on, ARE genuine phenomena in the world, unrelated to our awareness of them, even as phenomena they are not reducible to the physical description. (If you are interested in more thoughts on relation between concepts, what we see and what-it-is-likeness here)

If this is still hard to understand, it is probably because someone might think that I’m saying something more complicated than what I’m really am – This is nothing but the everyday common-sense view of the world.

So, in that way, the “external rational justification” is the world, or at least whatever we perceive of it. There is no “experience” which is “already conceptualized”, there is the world and its aspects to which we can put our attention (or alternatively which can attract our attention). This ability to abstract, to put attention on aspects, is what is ground of our awareness of different phenomena of which we can further think, which we can name and talk about.

Posted in Books, Concepts, Consciousness, Perception, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Perpetual Illusion And Abilities

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 21, 2008

I keep thinking about the perpetual illusion scenario. That is the scenario where baby’s brain is put into a vat and connected to a sources of random electrical impulses. It so happens that by mere chance, the impulses happen to be such that the baby is under illusion of living normal life within society. So, in few last posts I was defending the possibility that I am such brain, and I also was discussing different issues related to this, like:

  1. How is this possible? I pointed that while the subject doesn’t become aware of anything real while subject of perpetual illusion, she may become aware of different possibilities. For example, she may become of the possibility that there are things, movement, multitude of things, possibility for there to be certain number of things, and so on…
  2. Related to this, I pointed to the principle that if she can think of those things, she can also think a priori about those things. The easiest to point to was the example with the numbers, where proofs of mathematical theorems that she learns (comprehends) while being subject of perpetual illusion, will be the same proofs that we comprehend in real world.

Here, I want to discuss another issue related to the scenario, and that is, if we become aware of those possibilities while not being presented with real instances of those possibilities, does that mean that we have innate ideas of those possibilities (e.g. possibilities of things, motion, numbers, language, colors, and so on)?

It is pretty attractive idea I think. We would say that because in the illusion those notions were not present, it can’t be that those notions came from “outside”. So, those ideas must have been in “our minds” even before we became aware of them. I guess, for the last sentence to make more sense, we would be inclined to say that we remember them, or recognize them. That would take care of the issue of how could they be “in our minds” but we weren’t aware of them.

I don’t buy this story. When I become aware of something new, I don’t remember it. It is a fact that I was never aware of it before. And in the phenomenology, I don’t experience it as something that I recognize, but I’m usually mesmerized – I feel that my awareness of the world is getting bigger – I’m now aware of something that I wasn’t aware of, something which I had no idea of before, something that I wasn’t expecting before also. Take a case of the subject of perpetual illusion for the first time seeing an illusion of red thing. From that experience she becomes aware of the possibility of there being red things (even not seeing a real red thing), but is she really remembering the possibility that there be red things? I think not, I think this new color is that – new color for this subject. It is not something which was there in her mind the whole time, it is something which she became aware of only in virtue of this experience.

So, the phenomenological description doesn’t imply at all that we are remembering or recognizing in some way those notions. We become aware of those in virtue of the experiences. But, we are back to the problem that those notions (or as I said possibilities) are not there in the experience itself.

To me it seems that good way to approach this issue is to relate this to innate abilities. While we might not have those notions in ourselves as such, we might be born with the abilities to become aware of those things (‘be born with’ should be taken in a loose way, as those abilities might be developed also automatically later in life, e.g. in early childhood). It seems that this is pretty common-sense approach. We aren’t aware of things before we are born, but when we are born we can become aware of the things through our perception. It is our perception which is this ability to become aware of things. We also have the abilities to become aware of colors, sounds, movement, multitudes of things, numbers of things, and so on…

This can be related to this different approach to the issue of other minds, that I’m pointing to from time to time. One of the approaches to other minds issues (the issue of how do we know that other people are conscious) is analyzed through the idea of theories which relate the behavior of the people as a thing that we see directly to the “invisible minds” which are behind those actions. But, why not say in this case also that we are born with the ability to see subjects qua subjects. To see them as acting with intentions, to see them as aware of things that we are aware of, and so on (one can point to the researches here which show that we can be very precise in figuring out where the other person is looking at.)…

Anyway, back to the topic. The general idea is then, that our abilities are such that we easily become aware of some things. Be that the objects around us, where they move, what other people look at, what they are doing and so on. Simply said, we are born as beings which can become aware of things. And this our ability is limited, and focused – we become aware of some things more easily than of another things.

But we are not out of the woods yet, as even we allow that we are born with abilities to become aware of those notions, it doesn’t answer the question of how come we become aware of those, when they are not even there (in the case of perpetual illusion)

I will think/write on it in the next post I guess…

Posted in Colors, Concepts, Consciousness, Illusions, Phenomenology, Philosophy | 7 Comments »

The Meaning of Few Different Words Within the Illusionary World

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 19, 2008

For the few past posts I was thinking/writing on the issue of how I could be a brain in a vat, to which random electrical impulses are fed, but so it happens that by mere chance, I’m under illusion of living a normal life in society.

Keeping inline with my externalistic preferences, I said that while in the vat the subject can’t become aware of anything real, she can become aware of different possibilities. She will become aware of possibilities of objects, multitudes of objects, multitude of objects sharing some similarity (kinds), possibility of other subjects perceiving, possibility for open possibilities in the world, related to this acting and practices, related to this possibility of language as practice, and so on.

I want here to add few thoughts on the words used to describe the scenario, like ‘brain’, ‘vat’, ‘electrical’, ‘impulses’, ‘chance’, ‘life’, ‘society’, ‘illusion’, and so on. I want to comment on the issue if those words could have same meaning unrelated to the fact if I am a subject of perpetual illusion or not.

‘Vat’ seems pretty unproblematic. A large container used for storing or holding liquids. Vats are surely not natural kinds, nor is having idea of one dependent on there being one. I guess in general for artifacts we could say this… for one to create (engineer) something new, one needs to be able to think about the possibility of such thing, even before there are such things. The issue is though, how abstract those possibilities are. On one side we could have abstract things like for example Turing machine, with abstract algorithms (e.g. Quick Sort), but maybe the idea of vat (the awareness that there could be vats) is little more problematic, as it depends on the idea of liquids. I don’t know… I don’t see liquidity as problematic either, it seems to me that it describes a possible property of a substance, and that we could distinguish the liquidity as property from the reason for liquidity. And liquidity as a property there is related more with what how the substance behaves, and as such we can become aware of possibility of such behavior.

Brains… What do we mean by ‘brains’? Generally, we tend to find this organ in humans and other animals higher animals’ heads. So, I think we need to put attention to ‘humans’, ‘animals’, ‘organ’ and ‘head’. ‘Humans’ in one sense are a specific natural kind, and as I said, I’m inclined to think that our words within the vat that was supposed to mean natural kinds can’t refer to real natural kinds (as they weren’t based to real multitudes – so similarly to how proper names can’t mean real things, as they weren’t based on those real things). But, from another sense, ‘humans’ might be taken to mean – the species to which I belong. And the idea of ‘species’ along with the idea of ‘animals’ and ‘kinds of animals’ seems much more abstract that it would refer to the same thing, be I under perpetual illusion or not. Of course, it might be also that for the case we have here, we don’t need to go as far to other animals, and kinds of animals, but just to think of the kind to which I as a subject belong (defined thought the possibilities of becoming aware of all those different things, and possibilities for acting), and further the idea of having body, and having head, and having something in the head which is related to being a subject.

‘Electrical’ seems very problematic, as it refers to a specific natural phenomenon, which isn’t much a specific property of the things, but something that we figured out through science. I don’t know though… The physical laws take very abstract form, and the notions which are related to the physical theories (like atoms etc…) are also kind of abstract.

The possibility of other subjects is i think non-problematical, and the possibilities for those subjects to act in different ways when together, including possibility of communication, different social relations and so on – I think if one becomes aware of those as possibilities within the vat, and if thinks of those within the vat, those are the same things of which we may think of. I think it is similar to the case with engineering I described before. The communication, or different ways of acting towards other subjects are I think possibilities of which one might become aware even before those ways of acting towards others exist. For sure, we might be inclined biologically to take some of those ways, but we also think and invent new ways of how to relate to others, how to solve problems in our relations, how to better do different things, and so on. And if some person becomes aware of some of those possibilities within the vat, I think he can then, when outside of the vat share the same ideas with others (real others).

I guess it is much more important what the scenario meant to point to, and that is a certain possibility which is more abstract than the words that were used to describe the scenario. And the possibility is that I as a being which can think, perceive and so on, can be in fact subject of perpetual illusion. And ‘illusion’ is I think less problematic in this sense. As I described in some past post, it is about possibility that the subject can’t distinguish between two different experiences in which he takes part. And I think the brain in a vat which is under perpetual illusion, and us, when thinking of illusions are thinking of the same thing.

Anyway, after I noted in last post that there might be some problems in the details, I thought it would be interesting to do some analysis, so… that’s about it. Probably, if nobody objects, I will have another post (or two) about the perpetual illusion scenario.

Posted in Concepts, Illusions, Intentionality, Mathematics, Meaning&Reference, Metaphysics, Perception, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Becoming Aware Through Illusion

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 16, 2008

I wrote about the following scenario in last post…

A baby’s brain is put in a vat, and connected with wires to a generator of random electrical impulses. By mere chance, though random, those electrical impulses happen to be such that the subject which is related to the brain is under an illusion of living what we would call normal life within a society. (If you think that other parts of the body are needed for such an illusion to be possible, just imagine the whole body in the vat, like in Matrix).

I don’t see anything wrong with the possibility that I, myself am a subject related to such brain (or body) in a vat.

Personally I think that central notion in the relation between the subject and the world is the notion of awareness. First, we can think only about things of which we became aware of, things that somehow appeared as intentional content of our perceptual or other cognitive acts. And second in other as basic requirements for thinking and communication in general, the intentional content needs to be intrasubjectively and intersubjectively transcendental – i.e. it should be such that I can think about it multiple times, and also such that other people can think about it (the same thing) also. Given those requirements those things of which we think can’t be literally in me, or can’t be literally in my mind, and I think again the notion of awareness nicely captures that relation in which the person gets acquainted with something which is not himself, but which can become now subject of his thinking.

So, for me, in the case of the vat-scenario, the questions relate to the awareness of the person related to the brain in a vat…

What can be said about the awareness of the person in the scenario described? If we allow that the person is aware of something (minimally allowing that I’m such brain in a vat, I should be aware of enough things so that I could understand such scenario), then how could he become aware of those things even he was subject of perpetual illusion?

I guess first it is straightforward to say, that if I’m the person subject to such illusion, that nothing I have seen is real. That is, none of the people I have seen, none of the animals, none of the objects, plants and so on is real. So, it can’t be that I become perceptually aware of any person, animal, plant, object, and so on, through my life under perpetual illusion. And yet, for me to even say what I said, I need to be aware of the notions of objects, animals, plants and people, (and of course the notions of illusion, brain, vat, random electrical signals, chance, and so on)…

In the discussion of the meaning of common nouns, however I was saying that there are no concepts in our heads, that are meaning of those nouns, but that their genesis in our becoming aware of multiplicity or possibility of multiplicity of things which show certain similarity. So, in this case, what I should say is that though I never become aware of the things belonging to any of the kinds of things I named, I became aware of the possibility of multitude of things which would show certain kind of similarity – that is, I became aware of a possibility of kinds of things. What about specific kinds?

I would say yes. Given that the similarities in question are possible, I became aware of possible specific kinds, and when I talk about trees, animals, humans, and so on, while those might not be multitudes in the real world, they are possible multitudes which share certain possible similarity. Hence, I think there is nothing problematic for me to think about those kinds, and talk about them, even I never became aware of anything which belongs to them.

Interesting question here appears if it might turn out there to be real multitudes of things which relate to the kinds that I became aware of while subject of perpetual illusion. I would think that some minimal overlapping has to be possible, if I want to still claim that I could be a brain in such a vat.

Of course, if we follow Kripke and Putnam, even I became aware of possibility of some stuff which I call ‘water’ while under perpetual illusion, it won’t be true that I became aware of water. That is, not just that I haven’t seen any water while under perpetual illusion (which is really non-problematic I think), but because I haven’t seen any water (nor I’ve been in contact to anybody who has seen water), it can’t be that I can be aware of water. I guess, I need to be careful with my intuitions on this point, as it is easy for them to be tricked by the complexity of the scenario. I will continue thinking about this issue in the next post…

Posted in Concepts, Illusions, Intentionality, Meaning&Reference, Perception, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

Cartesian Externalism

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 13, 2008

I never saw anything contradictory with the idea that we might be subjects trapped in Matrix type scenario – a brains in vats scenario. Really, given the developments of things like computer generated virtual realities, in which we immerse ourself through gaming, it is easy to imagine the possibility of the simulations being so good that they are indistinguishable from our experiences in real life. And I can’t see anything contradictory with the idea that my body when I was a baby was hooked up to some virtual reality.

Now, there are arguments like Putnam’s one against brain in vats, which are related to certain theory of meaning of the words, but the possibility of virtual reality is so clear, seems to me, that denying the possibility that we are brains in vats on base of that argument, seems to me on par with denying that there is movement based on Zeno’s argument. Certainly there is value in Zeno’s paradoxes, but the value is not in proving that motion is impossible.

Anyway, not just that I don’t see anything contradictory in me being brain in a vat, which is placed within a virtual reality controlled by machines, but I don’t see anything contradictory with the idea that my brain was put in a vat, and that what it was and is getting from the inputs are signals generated by a random process, and that only by mere chance those inputs ended up such that I’m under the illusion that I’m a subject with a life I have, with wife, with kids, with all those experiences.

I think that even this turns out to be true, and every individual thing to which I was acquainted in my life turns out to have been an illusion, I will still have idea of wives, bachelors, chairs, books, philosophy, vats, brains, language, and so on… And, if by mere chance, it also turns out that these illusions were fully inline with what is there really in the world, my intended meanings in the virtual reality, will be fully inline with the meanings in this real world. I will be able to express my previous thoughts (the same thoughts I already had) about bachelors, about books, about brains, language, and so on…

What is interesting to me is how to relate my thinking that those kinds of scenario are possible with some of my externalist inclinations.

As I said, I believe that there is no such thing as ‘phenomenal experience’, and that ‘experience’ properly (and traditionally) refers to the events in the world in which we participate, and by which we are affected or from which we learn, OR (in alternative sense) it refers to the knowledge gained in that way.

Further, related to this, I don’t think there are concepts, if by concepts we mean some constituents of our thinking which would be some things in our heads. As said, I think that words like ‘bachelors’, ‘chairs’, ‘books’ and so on, refer to multitudes of things which are part of certain (and real at that) phenomenon in the world – a phenomenon of which we are aware. (I don’t think that concepts are Platonic ideas neither.)

I would also take externalist position on words meanings also, as I think they only have meaning in the context of language as part of the practices in the society, so again, would take externalist stance on this also.

So, I guess there is some kind of tension between those views. A very interesting dialectic here.

Posted in Concepts, Illusions, Meaning&Reference, Metaphysics, Perception, Philosophy | 6 Comments »

On ‘What Something Is’

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 6, 2008

Just few thoughts related to the last post.

In it I said that we give a name to the notion that we “have in mind”. (as I mentioned in last post, this phrase – “have something in mind”, should be taken for what it is – a metaphor, which means – to think of something in context of some act, be it talking, analyzing, etc…)

Those notions come from experience, but not as a bunch of facts, nor as definitions. Those are new things from the world of which we become aware. Be it movement, money, books, colors, coffee, and so on…

While the notions don’t come in form of facts/propositions/definitions, the awareness of those notions is not just an “empty” causal relation. When we have a specific notion in mind, it is in specific way that notion, and not some other that we are thinking of. And there are possible determinations of those notions – from the notion one can abstract/focus on/isolate different aspects. Those determinations are what the thing IS.

‘A is B’, is a relation between the subject A and the predicate B. The predicate doesn’t tell us everything about the subject. Cows are animals, red is a color, that apple is red, the weather is hot (today), and so on… We are left with the predicate when we abstract from some things about the subject, and focus on others.

However, what we had in mind when baptizing is the notion itself, and not some determination of the notion. And in that sense, we can safely say, that what we had in mind is more (as the full-blooded notion which stands as a subject in the mentioned subject/predicate judgments) than what that something is (in terms of different predicates that can be given to it).

This first ‘is’ is not an ‘is’ of predication, but of identity, where the notion is self-identical, and different from other notions (“Something is what it is”). The second ‘is’ is the ‘is’ of predication, of determining the notion in different ways.

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Notions, Determinations, A Priori and Definitions

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on May 3, 2008

  1. The thought (as a proposition, true or false) is always about something.
  2. It is about something that we are thinking of (as subjective process directed towards that something). [more on thinking/thought distinction here]
  3. When we are thinking about something, we have that certain something “in mind” (not in Cartesian sense, of course).
  4. Be it individual or a notion, it is something that we became aware of through our experience.
  5. By becoming aware of some notion, we have “on our hands” not just simple fact, not just a some causally based reference.
  6. Notions are not collections of facts. (Facts are impossible without notions.)
  7. This ability to be aware of a notion, to “have it in mind” (to think about it), to remember it, and so on, is what makes it possible to figure out new propositions (new determinations) about the notion.
  8. Because the determinations, while not coming with the notion (notion is not collection of facts), are possible or not depending on the notion.
  9. As such, a priori understanding, is not understanding which relates two sides – it is an understanding of the possible determinations within one and the same notion.
  10. As determinations are something which is only possible or not, they can’t straightly be “read of” from the notion itself.
  11. Thinking needs to inquire if certain determination is or isn’t applicable. It is speculative process, and it can be easy, but also very hard. (think of different proofs in math, where two determinations of some notion are related)

Relation to “definitions”:

  1. When we become aware of a notion, we can “have it in mind”, we can think of it.
  2. We can baptize and refer to whatever we “have in mind” (again, this shouldn’t be read literally, it is just a common phrase which is used in normal speech. In any case, to not be misunderstood I put it in quotes).
  3. In becoming aware of a notion, we aren’t becoming aware of some kind of definition.
  4. What is called definitions are pointers – it is using some characteristic determination of the notion, in order to remind someone of the notion. However no characteristic determination is the notion itself.
  5. That’s why definitions can be hard too. They require the same kind of thinking which is present in the figuring out of a priori truths.

Posted in Concepts, Philosophy | Leave a Comment »

About a Dogma

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on February 16, 2008

Both N.N. over at Methods of Projection and Daniel over at SOH-Dan discuss Grice and Strawson’s opposition to Quine’s attack on analytic/synthetic distinction in In Defense of a Dogma.

I will write my opinions on this matter, though somewhat more disconnected from Grice/Strawson’s article. For more info on  In Defense of a Dogma, please check both mentioned posts (which are great BTW). Anyway, some of my opinions are in this post, and probably there will be some more in the following…

First, I agree with Quine that analytic/synthetic distinction in a certain sense is problematic. That is, this distinction often goes (or went) together with a view which I think one can safely characterize as wrong (though I’m sure there will be people with different oppinion). In that (wrong) view, words like common nouns refer to concepts, and concepts are further reducible to a combination of some other concepts. So, for example, concept of BACHELOR is reducible to (or in its “structure” contains) concepts UNMARRIED and MALE. Different philosophical views can differ in the details here, one view might use for example genus/differentia view where MALE is genus and UNMARRIED is differentia (which as I was told by Brandon from Siris in another post, was the standard view in the times in which Kant worked and which came from “Wolff’s scholasticized Leibnizianism”); or might imagine the concepts as simply being a set of necessary and sufficient conditions in terms of other concepts (which I guess was standard for conceptual atomism of Russell and of first half of 20th century empiricism in general).

Anyway,  to this structure of the complex concept which is made from simpler concept, in the realm of language there will be a corresponding definition. So, to the structure of the concept BACHELOR, there will be a corresponding definition “bachelor is an unmarried male”. In those views then, to learn what bachelor means is to grasp its definition, and we end up in situation where ‘bachelor’ means ‘unmarried man’. The judgment that any bachelor is an unmarried male, or the proposition that any bachelor is an unmarried male, are then taken as analytic, having in mind those particular types of theories. In those theories, analytic truths are also a priori, as the definition ‘A is B’ has to be grasped by the mind to know what A means, and once that it is grasped it never ‘leaves the mind’ so to say. Or we can say, that semantic facts which are important for the sentence being true, in the case of analytical sentences, given this theory, are in our possession, given simply that we are competent speakers of the language.

In this sense then analytic/synthetic distinction is a cover under which we have specific theory. It is in this sense (or with this burden) that I don’t think that distinction works as I don’t think those kind of theories work.

We can put forward another sense of ‘analytic’ though, where we can say that a sentence is true solely in virtue of certain linguistic facts.

To start with an example… In this sense ‘Hesperus is Phosphorus’ is analytic because both names refer to the same object – Venus. And that they refer to the same object is a part of the linguistic facts – which include the history of the usage of the names, going back to and including the baptizing of something which appeared as intentional content of intentional acts of people in certain linguistic community. That is, in simple words, in certain society people were seeing Venus in the morning sky, baptized it Phosphorus, were seeing also Venus in the evening sky and baptized in Hesperus. This with addition of the other linguistic facts of the usage of those names until their use today (in which use I take part with this post) is enough facts to proclaim the sentence true. We don’t need anything else.

In this sense however (to contrast it with that previous sense) linguistic and other facts needed to determine the truth value of the sentence doesn’t have to be possessed by us. By the way, that is why I didn’t use more standard “it is true in virtue of its meaning” – given the standard meaning/reference distinction, it doesn’t seem right to say that Phosphorus is Hesperus, if we limit ourselves just in the realm of meaning, and exclude the reference. The meaning might determine the reference, but that is further linguistic fact which doesn’t seem to be included in the meaning of ‘Hesperus’ or ‘Phosphorus’. So, instead, it is better to say that a sentence is analytic if it is true in virtue of certain linguistic facts. If you ask me what those linguistic facts would be, my first thought probably would be a) linguistic facts about the words used in that sentence and b) the facts about linguistic practices performed in certain way by certain combining of the worlds.

In this way analytic sentences don’t have to be a priori. ‘Analytic’ here is doing quite a different work than it was when related to the specific theories that were mentioned. There, analytic, as I can see, was supposed to serve to point to independence of the truth of the sentence from empirical matters, and it was either supposed to be one kind of a priori, or merely identical with a priori. However in this other sense, it is used to point to independence of the truth of the sentence from empirical matters other than certain linguistic facts.

Having given this place to the the analytic/synthetic distinction, is it the distinction to which Strawson and Grice point to when they say that that there is obviously difference between “My neighbor’s three-year-old understands Russell’s Theory of Types.” and “My neighbor’s three-year-old is an adult.”? I don’t think so, as they say that we can’t understand what the later could mean (which means I guess that we can’t imagine what could count as making this sentence true). So, what they are pointing, seems to me have more to do with some kind of a priori/a posteriori distinction.

Is the distinction that they are drawing related to the classical view of concepts? It might be.

Is the matter settled if we agree that Grice and Strawson were really defending a dogma which is wrong (related to the bad theories mentioned)? Not even close! Well, at least me as a good idealist, I have to believe that we can get to new truths about the world solely by thought, and express those truths and the conclusions through words of which we don’t know anything else but their meaning. Hope that I will be able to put something sensible on this in the next post.

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Little Explanation

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 23, 2008

To shed some light on the previous posts about (against) concepts, I think I need to explain maybe little the context of my beliefs.

I don’t believe in reductionism. And not just about the mind, but in general.

What I mean by reductionism?

We become aware of things. Reductionism would be when we want to reduce some of those things of which we are aware to some others of which we are aware (I use aware to refer not just to things that we perceive, but for anything that appears as object of our intentional acts) – to say that the former are nothing but some specific configuration or combination of later. In this sense there can be lot of kinds of reductionism, depending on what is taken to be reducible, and what are the things to which the things are reduced.

So, we are aware for example of information, and we can be reductionist in the sense that everything can be reduced to information. Pythagoreans were aware of numbers, and thought that phenomena in the world can be in some way reduced to number (I guess this is oversimplification, I can’t believe that they really thought that?).  Or one can believe that all the different kind of phenomena that we are aware can be reduced to configurations and movement of physical components. Or maybe combination of physical and some assumed mental thingies…

So, when i say that I don’t believe in reductionism in general, I think that there are lot of phenomena in the world of which we are aware, that can’t be reduced to some other things that we assume or are aware of.

Lot of times, people are happy with reductionism about non-mental phenomena, and give special status just to those mental phenomena. In this move whatever we are aware in the world but doesn’t seem compatible with physics, is ‘taken back’ into the mind – aspects of the things that we perceive are called qualia and as they seem incompatible with this “clear” physical picture are assumed to be something that is produced by the mind. Social phenomena like language, books, governments, etc… are also not cleanly reducible to the physical aspect, so in the similar move they are “moved to our heads” as concepts.

When we “return” those phenomena that we become aware of into the world, what special “power” is left to the mental-phenomena are the abilities we have – abilities to perceive, to imagine, to assume, to remember, etc… Of course those aren’t also seen as something outside of the world, but as abilities which belong to us as subjects in this same (and rich) world. And, also those aren’t seen reducible to the other things that we become aware of.

Let me just in short also say what would be the relation between this rich world and the physical. It isn’t relation of two things, because it is one and the same world. Just that the physical is one aspect of the world that we are aware of. And here is where my story goes radical – I think that the physical aspect is determined in big part by the way that aspect is isolated – that is, by the measurements that we perform. I think because the measurements have specific nature, as a consequence there are metaphysically necessary relations between those things we measure. In such way, that aspects seems to us as closed (and self-subsistent), but that is just because what we measure is in that aspect.

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Am I Missing Something?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 18, 2008

As I’m thinking about the discussion of the previous post on concepts, I’m thinking that the situation seems pretty simple. Maybe I’m missing something, but here is how I see the simple story…

I see a rabbit, and then see another one. I can see that both are similar, and assume that there are further common truths about them separate from this gestalt similarity. I also can assume that there are lot of things which share this similarity.
Because I live in a linguistic society in which the language is used in all kinds of practices, it is helpful to have a word to refer to the rabbits. So in a specific baptizing practice (probably also linguistic practice), I can choose a word to refer to rabbits. Namely I choose to call any of them ‘a rabbit’, and to call them ‘rabbits’.

I don’t see here any need for ‘concepts’. There are rabbits, there are people who can become aware of them, and those people are part of linguistic society and can use a word to refer to them. Also, I don’t see a need for there to be a word for rabbits, in order for me to be able to think of them. In fact, thinking in terms of this simple story it is quite impossible for there to appear a word for rabbits, if we already didn’t become aware of the rabbits.

Of course, once the word is there, same as with proper names, a person can use it and expect that the word has a meaning, which goes back to some initial baptism (or some similar linguistic practice). But, that doesn’t mean that there is some ‘concept’ which goes along with the knowledge of the word. After all, one might not be able to recognize rabbits from cats, and still use both words. If such person asks how to recognize rabbits from cats, for sure he will mean rabbits by ‘rabbits’ and cats by ‘cats’.


‘Nuf said about rabbits
Cows demanding inclusion in philosophical examples
(Cows Staring, Hencio)

Posted in Concepts, Intentionality, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 6 Comments »

Further Thoughts on Concepts and Meaning of Common Nouns

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 17, 2008

Continuing from the previous post, I will use Putnam’s analysis from his 1970 paper ‘Is Semantic Possible?’, to give some comments about how acknowledging that plural forms of common nouns (like ‘lemons’) have meaning but singular forms (simply ‘lemon’) don’t, helps us avoid difficulties that different theories about meaning related to traditional views of concepts encounter when they put attention on the singular form (‘lemon’).

Putnam starts with the ‘traditional view’, where

the meaning of lemon, is given by specifying a conjuction of properties. For each of those properties, the stataement ‘lemons have the property P’ is analytic truth; and if P1, P2, …, Pn are all the properties in the conjunction, then ‘anything with all the properties P1, …, Pn is a lemon’ is likewise an analytic truth.

However as he notes, this is simply wrong, as if we for example take defining characteristics of lemons to be yellow color, tart taste, etc…, it is easy to imagine for example a lemon which is blue, or which doesn’t have tart taste. So, obviously what is said to be meaning of ‘lemon’ in that quote, can’t be the meaning of ‘lemon’. If it was, it would be impossible for us to imagine blue lemon, same as it is impossible for us to imagine square circle.

The next step Putnam sees as possible for ‘perfecting’ the traditional view, we see that the problem is somewhat solved when we start to think in terms of lemons, and not lemon. In the second try, we get that ‘lemon’ means – something

that belongs to the natural kind whose normal members have yellow peel, tart taste, etc..

So, instead of requiring that the meaning of ‘lemon’ is related to some defining features, we now turn our attention to the multitude, and to ‘normal features’ of this multitude. But, as Putnam points, the color of lemons might change because of some new gas in the Earth’s atmosphere which reacts with lemons’ pigment. We won’t say then that lemons ceased to exist (as there would be no such thing as ‘natural kind whose normal members have yellow peel, tart taste, etc…’).

It seems to me that both the need for ‘natural kind’ and ‘normal members’ speech is still connected to the thinking that what we are after when talking about meaning of common nouns is something related to the singular term – ‘lemon’ in this case. Talk about ‘natural kind’ is serving as a glue for ‘abnormal’ lemons, as surely we want what we mean by ‘lemon’ to cover them – any of those abnormal lemons is a lemon also. The other phrase ‘normal members’ on another side twists again the move that we made towards the multiplicity, and sees individual members as important. Those are, in my opinion, the reasons this stub at meaning of ‘lemon’ are still unsuccessful and get into problems.

Putnam further analyzes this move which might get the traditional view out of difficulties:

X is a lemon = df X belongs to a natural kind whose normal members …. (as before) or X belongs to a natural kind whose normal members used to … (as before) or X belongs to a natural kind whose normal members where formerly believed to, or are now incorrectly believed to… (as before)

While Putnam says that this definition which tries to address the issues of the previous is slightly crazy, I think that it is again move in the right direction. Putting aside that it still has the problems of the previous definition, it brings forward (well, at least points into direction of) one important thing – the act of baptizing is a conscious act in which we give a name to something of which we think – to something that appears as target to our intentional acts.

So, talking about meaning of ‘lemons’, it is important that people first notice that there is a phenomenon of some multitude in the world. And this simply by recognizing similarity – there is multitude of things in the world, that are similar somehow. Related to this, we can point to the moments in that definition that are still problematic:

1. Properties talk shouldn’t be essential – I don’t need to be able to recognize colors, or shapes for one lemon to remind me of another.
2. I don’t need to know what ‘natural kind’ is, to mean something by ‘lemons’. After all, it is fully meaningful to ask if lemons are natural kind. If what I meant by ‘lemons’ is tightly related to them being natural kind, the answer would be obvious to me.
3. Talk of normal members is not required too. That it so happens that there is phenomenon of some multitude of things, which happen to be similar in some way, is a normal situation which will motivate us to invent new common noun to use for those things. But that doesn’t imply anything about ‘normal members of a natural kind’, nor that I can find that this first gestalt similarity isn’t product of some “deeper” similarity which would uncover that there are abnormal lemons possible.
4. Because it is the multitude and the similarity which is important, we don’t have problems with the ‘vagueness of concepts’. The similarity might be continuous in the world – A might be similar to B, C similar to B, but less similar to A, D similar to C, but less similar to B and even more to A, etc… There is no objective way in which the common noun will cover the similarity just from A to C, and not to D. People might agree to use the common noun for C, and not for D, but you won’t find that in the meaning of the common noun. Related to this, this view where the meaning is related to similarity of a multitude, also doesn’t have problem with typicality effects.

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Are There Concepts?

Posted by Tanas Gjorgoski on January 15, 2008

I’m back from the short vacation, so it is time to write something new…

I want here to express my skepticism about ‘concepts’ (Well, at least about the word as philosophers and cog.scientists use it. Same as with the word ‘experience’, I’m sure there is quite a nice meaning that the word ‘concept’ has in the everyday speech.) . The notion of concepts (in philo-sense) is, I think, tightly connected to language. Language consist of words which have meanings. What are the meanings of those words? For proper names the answer is fairly straightforward, the meaning of a proper name, is the individual which was baptized with that name. But, the question appears about the meaning of common nouns – what is the meaning of such words like ‘rabbit’, ‘book, ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’ and so on?

It is here, I think, that by analogy with proper names, we are inclined to think that there is some one thing, which is meaning of those nouns, so – the meaning of ‘rabbit’ is the concept of rabbit, the meaning of ‘book’ is the concept of book, and similarly for the concepts of ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’, ‘justice’, ‘milk’, ‘love’, ‘gold’, ‘tiger’ etc… Given this assumption, it is later asked what is the nature of those concepts, how do we form them, how do we recognize things as falling under certain concepts, and so on. As attempts to answer those questions we get different theories of concepts.

We have for example classical theories of concepts, where a concept consist of a list of sufficient and necessary features. This theory sees concepts as kind of definition through other ‘more simpler’ concepts. For example a concept of bachelor would consist of concepts male and not married. One sub-type of this theory is, I guess, the genus/differentia view of concepts, where concepts are supposed to create a branching tree, where the concept in the branch is defined by its ‘parent’ concept, and a defining characteristic which separates it from other siblings in the same parent. Then, there are prototype theories, where concepts are not lists of defining features but representations which contains some kind of statistical information about properties that things which fall under that concept tend to have. Theory-theory of concepts changes the focus to more holistic understanding of concepts, where what is put to front are theories people have about the world, and where concepts have their existence only as parts of those theories.

However there is a certain problem for this view that the meaning of part of those common nouns is one certain thing. Because, while we can think about John, Mary and Peter, we can’t think about chair, bachelor, book and tiger. There is no such thing as intentional act, in which the target will be simply chair (not ‘a chair’, as then it is some specific chair), simply bachelor, simply book, or simply tiger. So, if we are supposed to give names to things of which we think of, we don’t have reasons to think that there is one specific thing, which is baptized with those common nouns.

What we can think of is books, rabbits, bachelors, tigers and chairs. I think this points that when we search for the meanings related to the words like ‘book’, ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’, etc…, we should in fact look at the plural form of those words. That words like ‘book’, ‘chair’, ‘bachelor’ are simply meaningless, and that they have meanings just when in forms like ‘a book’, ‘some book’, ‘any book’, and so on…. We can think about a book, about some book, about any book,etc… but not think about book.

So, if those words like ‘book’, ‘rabbit’, ‘bachelor’, ‘tiger’ and ‘chair’ don’t have meanings by themselves, it is a reason to suspect that we are on the right way when assuming such things as concepts. (I must note here that the argument given here doesn’t work for the mass nouns like ‘gold’ or ‘water’. Though I believe that there are no concepts behind those nouns too, at the moment I don’t have any argument for those.)

What is the alternative then?

As I was arguing in few places, I think that firstly it is very straightforward that common nouns only make sense in relation to multitude. If we aren’t thinking of multitude, there is no reason for us to use common nouns in our language. So, we should focus on the plural forms – that is ‘books’, ‘rabbits’, ‘bachelors’, ‘tigers’, ‘chairs’. When we move to the plural form, what we have as a meaning is obviously not one sole thing, but – a multitude. And, that is I think also unproblematic – we CAN think of multitudes, and this capacity of ours to be aware/think/see/imagine/assume etc… multitudes is not simply being aware of some kind of different thing (where the whole multitude would be taken as ONE thing). Multitude IS multitude, is NOT one. That this is separate faculty, we can see in persons that suffer of different forms of simultanagnosia. Related to this it might be interesting to see if maybe those people in some form of the agnosia might also have problems with using, or at least with learning of new common nouns.

Say that you grant that the meaning of common nouns aren’t concepts, and that those singular forms are ‘borrowing’ the meaning in different ways from the plural forms. What is then the meaning of those plural forms? What ‘books’, ‘bachelors’, ‘rabbits’ and ‘lemons’ mean?

This post is getting too long, so I will continue with this line of thought in some other post.

Posted in Concepts, Meaning&Reference, Philosophy | 23 Comments »