`Bachelor` And the Phenomenon of Bachelorhood

Instead of talking about ‘bachelor’ as an analytical concept, related to my ideas of how words work, I think what we need to concentrate instead is what is that in the world that ‘bachelor’ refers to.

And put in that way one answer is that ‘bachelor’ is related to phenomenon of bachelorhood, and that is what we are aware, which was baptized by the word, and which we think of when we use the word. But in analyzing the term ‘bachelor’, then we don’t need to put attention to some “concept” of bachelor which would be analytically reducible to some other terms, but instead to understand bachelorhood we need to look at the world in which this phenomenon (of which we are aware) appears.

And the phenomenon of there being bachelors is related to the wider social context. We might not be aware of the dependence of the phenomenon to this context, but it is there. For example bachelorhood depends on the social relations in which males of certain age are expected to be married. In the society in which the institution of marriage doesn’t exist, the phenomenon can’t exist. In same way, it is related to the social context in which we live, in which a male can be married just to one female. If it wasn’t so, again the phenomenon of bachelorhood wouldn’t be possible.

Thinking about ‘bachelor’ and what it refers to, and thinking about propositions which include bachelors is then thinking about phenomena in the world, and their inter-relatedness.

The questions then if the Pope is a bachelor, or if a Muslim with one wife is a bachelor, are then seen as problematic not because ‘bachelor’ doesn’t have precise meaning, but because its meaning is connected to a phenomenon that appears in certain conditions (context), although we might not be aware of this relation. In that way, the choice if we would name those other cases – bachelors, is not an issue which has an objective answer. It is that – a choice if we will use words that refer to concrete phenomenon that exists in concrete conditions, to different (but similar in something) cases which appear in different conditions.

Baptizing and The Qua Problem

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.

Scientist Mary and Causal Theories of Reference

I want to draw some connection between the Jackson’s Knowledge Argument and the causal theory of reference. I will probably say lot of problematic things on which people don’t agree, without saying that those things are problematic. That isn’t because I’m sure those things are as I say they are, but just so that side comments don’t obscure the relation I want to draw. So here it goes…

To be red is to appear somehow in specific circumstances. Let’s leave aside what are those specific circumstances. My inclination is to talk about “uncomplicated” circumstances, but maybe it should be ‘normal’ or ‘ideal’ or ‘optimal’ or something else. People became aware that some things have some specific appearance which they also could remember and recognize, and used ‘red’ to refer to it.

I can’t say that “to be red is to appear red (in specific circumstances)”, because I take it that to say that something appears red (in some situation) is like saying that the thing appears same as red things appear (in specific circumstances). And so that would render “to be red is to appear red” circular.

Scientist Mary knew about red color (e.g. that there is some color which is referred by the word ‘red’), knew how to recognize red things (using technology for example – a red things detector) and so on, but she is not acquainted with red things’ appearance in terms of their color. She might have seen red things, but she never have seen their color (say, red things were presented to her, but because of some operation on her eyes she was temporarily fully color blind). What she learns then when she lives the room is how red things appear (in uncomplicated circumstances). But Mary doesn’t learn just that. Because she knows that red things in uncomplicated circumstances appear same as white things appear when shined by red light, she has also learned how white things appear when shined by red light.

But one can do the things the other way. By presenting Mary with a white ball shined by red light, she can learn what white ball shined by red light looks like. But as she knows that white ball shined by red light appears as a red ball in uncomplicated circumstances appear, she now has learned what red things in uncomplicated circumstances look like.

But if to be a red thing is nothing more than to appear somehow in uncomplicated circumstances, there is nothing more to learn about what ‘red’ refers to than what Mary became aware by seeing a white ball under red light. Or maybe red things don’t enter the story anyway, even red lights. Maybe Mary was presented with a green circle and then was asked to look at a white wall. The wall because of the afterimage illusion will appear same as a wall with a red circle on it. So Mary can become aware of red, being presented with situations in which there are no red things nor red anything.

Let’s change the scenario a little, and say that people were hiding the names of colors from Mary. After seeing the red afterimage, Mary can form idea of things which appear in uncomplicated circumstances as the wall appears with the afterimage effect, name the color of those things ‘red’, and ask ‘are there things with red color?’. So, now Mary has a name for red color (a property that red things have) without ever being acquainted with things with red color (nor anything red). (Of course, she might not call it ‘red’, but the fact is that she has word for red, without ever being causally related with anything red, nor is the meaning of the word borrowed meaning.)

What if she didn’t know about afterimage illusion, so that she wasn’t aware that she is seeing just a wall in “complicated” circumstances. As in the previous case, she is aware of everything that one can be aware of about red, can continue using ‘red’ to refer to red things, and might in fact after some time come to know, that what she saw the first time was not a red thing, even she did the baptizing on base of something that was not red, nor was causally related to anything red. She can say “I thought it was red thing, but it was just an afterimage”.

Is this scenario compatible with causal theories of reference?

Few Notes on Few Previous Posts

In previous posts, I was mostly writing on two issues.

One is the issue of perception, and I tried to argue that illusions, hallucinations and dreams doesn’t necessarily imply some experience which represent states of affairs in the world. Instead I put attention of how the issues can be approached by talking about experience in externalist sense, or a sense which I think is close to how that word is used in everyday communication.

The other issue that I put attention is the causal-historical account of names. Though as I said instead of ‘causality’ talk I prefer the view where the major role is given to intentionality.

Here I want to put few further notes which somewhat relate those two topics…

I think that we baptize things (singular things, or multitude of things showing some similarity)  of which we become aware. And in the case of teaching a term, I think correspondingly teacher makes the learner aware of that thing (by pointing, or fixing the reference using a description), and telling the word used to refer to that thing. (Of course, the learner might become aware of the thing even outside of the teaching of the words, and ask “What is that?”. As a part of explanation of what is that of which the student became aware, the word is usually introduced – “That is a car. We use it to go to different places.”) The word then tends to keep its meaning because of the logic of communication – people want to use the words in the way they are used.

As I said in other posts, this intentional content might appear in different types of intentional acts (I wonder if maybe it is better to use “intentional target”, as “content” implies that the thing is part of the intentional act, when really the thing exists, or is considered as existing, independently of the act, and even in the case of the imaginary things transcend the act of imagining – if not nobody could tell the same joke to another person, or same story to another person). One can perceive things, or one may imagine them, or one may assume some entities, etc… Depending on the way the type of the intentional act in which target of the intention which is baptized appeared, we can say that the words refer to phenomenal entities (i.e. those which we become aware through perception), theoretical entities (i.e. those we assume), imaginary entities (those that we imagine), and so on…

Theoretical entities are entities which are assumed in order to explain something about phenomenal entities. However in some cases philosophical theories pick out a word which was there in the language even before the theory, and now use it to refer to the theoretical entity. This is often done uncritically, without inquiry into what the word used to mean, and even more problematic – because of this lack of inquiry the theory might pretend as if the theoretical meaning of the term is inline with the traditional meaning, when in fact they are not.

This, I think, can negatively affect our understanding of the things. As the theoretical meaning is mixed with the everyday meaning, we are from one side inclined to think that the word refers to something of which we are directly aware of, but on other side this word now also implicitly carries some kind of theory. In this way we, without noticing, give a special status to the theory – of something of which we are directly aware of, and which is beyond questioning.

So, I consider as an important thing to disentangle the theoretical meanings from the traditional meanings of the words. To disentangle phenomenal (that of which we become aware through perception), from the theoretical content. I have in mind terms used in philosophy such as ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’ or ‘experience’.

In the previous post I was critical of the term ‘experience’, but I have similar thoughts about ‘mind’, ‘consciousness’, ‘appearance’ and so on. Needless to say, I have big respect (not that I respect just philosophers that I agree with :) ) for Ordinary Language Philosophy, and books like Ryle’s The Concept of Mind (though I disagree with lot of things in that book too), and Austin’s Sense and Sensibilia.

Setting Aside Certain Types of Change Of Meaning

I think when we talk about change of the meaning of the words, we need to differentiate two things. One is change that comes from knowledge about the correct use of the word, and the other is change of meaning that might come from the knowledge about whatever it is to which the word refers.

If two people don’t mean the same thing by the word because of misunderstanding of what the word is supposed to mean.

  • If one of the parties in semantical disagreement is taken to be expert on what the word is supposed to mean, the disagreement is resolved by the expert correcting the wrong usage of the word of the other party. Such is the case I think with the children and their usage of words described in the previous post. The children being aware just that the things can show gestalt perceptual similarity, don’t have anything else to connect the word to. So to say, because they aren’t (at that time) aware of any other kinds of similarity between the things, they do their best with what they are aware of. But in this case adults are taken to be expert of the usage of the words, and through the years by explaining, pointing, describing children become aware of other kinds of similarities, and connected to that can correct their use of words. We can say that what is changing here is both the knowledge about the world, which  opens possibility for learning the correct use of the word.
  • If none of the two parties considers the other one (or others) as an expert, either they will be pragmatic or they will end up fighting.

As Richard pointed in the comments of last post, if people can mean different things by the same word is not an issue. I acknowledge that point, and I think that nobody has (or should have) problem with change of meaning of words which is motivated by learning or by pragmatic decision about use of words, and which (I think) would cover the cases that appear in cognitive development.

So to make the issue which I raised in previous posts more specific – it is not just if there is possibility of change of meaning of the words, but if a change of the meaning of the word can happen among the competent users of the word, which are in same time also experts about what the word refers to.

More On Twin Earth and Change Of Meaning

In the post Phenomenology of Names and Twin Earth, I said that if one accepts the position that common nouns are based on awareness of multitude of things (real or assumed) which share some similarity, the consequence is that in the Twin Earth scenario, Oscar and Toscar mean same thing by “water” before they figure out that water is H2O, and that twater is XYZ. That is, because the similarity on which their words are grounded are shared across both water and twater.

In the comments of that post, I compared two scenarios to back up that claim:

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

Scenario 2:
1′ – Martin sees bunch of elm trees. He becomes aware of the gestalt similarity of this multitude and names those “trees”
1a’ – Martin further puts attention to the form of their leafs, branches, roots and so on. He gets more knowledge of the extension that he is acquainted with (and which he calls “trees”).
2′ – Later, on some other place, Martin sees beech trees. But in this case he notices the difference between beech trees, and what he called “trees”. So he says – “Ah, there are those things here that are similar to the trees, but those are not trees”.

If you find the second scenario sounds wrong to you, just change the word “trees” with the word “elms”. Nothing substantial changes, by changing the word that is used.
Both scenarios seem normal to me, but in the first scenario word “tree” ends up meaning tree, while in the second scenario “tree” ends up meaning elm. However everything is same in both scenarios, so there has to be some change of meanings which corresponds with the additional knowledge that Martin gained in second scenario in step 1a’.

Richard in the comments said that if the additional knowledge changes the meanings of the words, then communication is not possible. One can point here to two things:

1.
That it is a fact that this kind of differences of meaning appear in the conceptual development. Frank C. Keil in his book Concepts, Kinds and Cognitive Development does different tests of the development of different concepts in kids.
One example is where he asks children if some kind of transformation would change certain thing (animal, mineral, artifact) from one type to another. Here is an example of the story about tiger/lion “transformation”:

The doctors took a big tiger that looked like this. They used special fur bleach to take away its stripes, and they sewed on a huge mane so that it ended up looking like this. Was this animal after the operation a tiger or a lion?

The question was asked to children of different age, and the results were as in the following graph:

The X axis represents the kids’ grades K (5 to 6 year olds), 2 (7-8 year olds) and 4 (9 to 10 year olds). The Y axis represents the answers that were given, where 1 = judgment that transformation changed kind type, 2 = judgment indicating indecision on that issue and 3 = judgment that operation did not change kind type.

So, it seems that there is some change of what kids mean by “tiger” or “lion” through their development and I think that the graph goes nicely with the idea that first kids become aware of multitude of things that show gestalt perceptual similarity, and that only later they become aware of other kind of similarities that hold between certain multitudes. (This is surely a oversimplification, but I think it could be analyzed in more details if needed).

2.
But what to do with objections like Fodor’s from Thought and Language, when talking about possibility that children and adults might mean different things by the words, he says (citation also taken from Keil’s book):

They must misunderstand each other essentially; and, insofar as they appear to communicate, he appearances must be misleading. Nothing less than this is entailed by the view that word meanings evolve.

I want to point here, that as long as the two meanings (in the sense of awareness of some similarity) are grounded on the same extension, the communication might go without bigger problems, as in both cases it is finally the extension that one is aware of (i.e. the multiplicity). So to say, as long the things that show the gestalt perceptual similarity which is ground for the usage of the common noun of certain person (e.g. “tree” in the example) are the same things which show some other kind of similarity that is ground for the usage of the same word for another person, those two persons will agree in lot of cases on the use of the noun. For example Martin-scenario1(after 1) and Martin-scenario2 (after 1a’), would not have lot of problems of communication until such things as 2/2′ happens.

Phenomenology of Names And Twin Earth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Few Half-Baked Thoughts On Rabbits and Sequoias

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

There are few thoughts I want to add…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Do Common Nouns Name?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Kripke and the Ship of Theseus – a question

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

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

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

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

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

Connected posts:Unity of Consciousness, Ontology and Reference

Kripke Without Causal Links

I wrote in other posts that I buy into a kind of intentional-historical account of names.
The idea is that the meaning of names is reduced to history of intentional acts, that ends (or starts with, depends how you look at it), with a baptizing a content of intentional act.

By “intentionality” I mean the possibility for our acts to be directed to things of which we are aware of. We don’t just see, we see things; we don’t just think, we think of something; we don’t just love, we love something; and so on… We speak of the things to which those acts are directed as intentional content. For example when one is looking at an apple, the apple is an intentional content. One other characteristic feature of those acts is the type of intentional act, namely one can have different types of intention directed towards the same intentional content – one can look at an apple, think of an apple, wish to see the apple, and so on…

Kripke, in Naming and Necessity gives, as he says, a picture of how names refer to things. Here is one of the passages where he describes how that would work:

Someone, let’s say, a baby, is born; his parents call him by a certain name. They talk about him to their friends. Other people meet him. Through various sorts of talk the name is spread from link to link as if by a chain. A speaker who is on the far end of this chain, who has heard about, say Richard Feynman, in the market place or elsewhere, may be referring to Richard Feynman even though he can’t remember from whom he first heard of Feynman or from whom he ever heard of Feynman. He knows that Feynman was a famous physicist. A certain passage of communication reaching ultimately to the man himself does reach the speaker. He then is referring to Feynman even though he can’t identify him uniquely. He doesn’t know what a Feynman diagram is, he doesn’t know what the Feynman theory of pair production and annihilation is. Not only that: he’d have trouble distinguishing between Gell-Mann and Feynman. So he doesn’t have to know these things, but, instead, a chain of communication going back to Feynman himself has been established by virtue of his membership in a community which passed the name on from link to link, not by a ceremony that he makes in private in his study: ‘By “Feynman” I shall mean the man who did such and such and such and such’.

So, it is clear why Kripke’s picture is called historical. It is because what the name refers to, is not connected to some description (as in Frege/Russell theories), but with “certain passage of communication”.
Anyway, I buy this picture of Kripke but without the causality-talk, that is usually connected to it. The causality talk, as I understand, should play two roles in Kripkean picture. One is in the baptizing – the baptizer gives name to X, because X is in some kind of causal relation with the baptizer. And the other role is in the historical links – the transfer of the meaning of the names would be explained through some causal relation between the two persons in the communication.

Instead of causality-talk, I think a more general talk of intentionality is better suited. That is, the original baptizing and the “links”, I think, are better explained through intentionality-talk.
Some might think that intentionality can be reduced to causality, but I don’t. Even if intentionality can be reduced to causality the issue can be put aside and addressed separately.

Here is my reasons for changing causality-talk with intentionality-talk… First, about the original baptizing (or giving a name):

1.For it to happen, what is named must appear as intentional content of the baptizer. There is no sense in baptizing something when there is nothing to baptize- where something doesn’t appear as intentional content of any my intentional act – I (as a baptizer) have to name something which appears in my thoughts, so to say. It doesn’t matter how the baptizer is affected by X, if the baptizer doesn’t become aware of X (through some intentional act), there is no way he can baptize it.
I guess some people think of “see”, “hear” and other intentional acts, so that they are not directed to the real thing, but to something in our perception, which might or might not stand for a  real object. In such theory when I say that I see an apple, what I’m seeing is in fact a representation of an apple. I don’t use those words in such sense. Here, it should be taken that “I see apple” is taken to mean that there is an apple, and that I’m aware of it through sense of sight. If there is some representation going on, it is subsummed in the act of seeing as a part).

2.It is hard to see what kind of causal relation can there be between imaginary or assumed things and the person who does the baptizing. However in the intentional-talk, we can say that imagination and assuming (theorizing) are valid intentional acts, and whatever appears as intentional content in them, can be also baptized.

3.What kind of causal relation can there be between abstract things like numbers and people? Do numbers exist anywhere and affect the baptizer? We might say that one can figure out that there is distinction between four and five things, by looking at two examples. One where there is four things, and one where there is five things. But does the “fiveness” and the “fourthness” from the example somehow causally affect the baptizer? Is there such things as “five-ness” and “fourth-ness” that enter causal relations? In the intentional account one can become aware of there being quantity of things/number of things, and can give names to those.

Second, the links would work the way as Kripke put it in N&N (notice that he doesn’t at all mention causality here):

A rough statement of a theory might be the following: An initial ‘baptism’ takes place. Here the object may be named by ostension, or the reference of the name may be fixed by a description. When the name is ‘passed from link to link’, the receiver of the name must, I think, intend when he learns it to use it with the same reference as the man from whom he heard it. If I hear the name ‘Napoleon’ and decide it would be a nice name for my pet aardvark, I do not satisfy this condition.

Concepts, Phenomena and Analyticity

In this post Clark at Mormon Metaphysics in the context of the Quine’s criticism of analytic/synthetic distinction puts attention on what is often taken as a prototypical analytic statement – “All bachelors are not married”.

I want to put here some thoughts on the relation of theories of concepts and analyticity in relation to this issue, and further connect that to an argument that concept-talk can be avoided in lot of cases, and that instead we can talk about awareness of multiplicity (or possibility of multiplicity), and that such avoiding is natural and explains some intuitions.

Kantian analyticity and Classical Theory of Concepts

The Kantian idea of analytic judgments is connected to the idea which is usually called ‘classical theory of concepts’. For Kant the sentence ‘A is B’ is analytic if the concept B is contained (somehow) in the concept A, and in the classical theory concepts are seen as composed of other concepts as of some kind of list of necessary and sufficient features. It should be pointed though, that in order to have analytic sentences (in Kantian sense), we need just to accept that a part of what constitutes a concept are some necessary features, and not require that sufficient features can be fully specified in terms of simpler concepts.

So, in this Kantian/classical concepts picture the idea is this: if we accept that it is a part of what bachelor means that it is male and not married; obviously by virtue of that meaning “all bachelors are not married” will be true.

It is easier to attack the traditional theory of concept as a whole, then the one that is needed for the Kantian analyticity. That is because the whole theory includes the “sufficient” part, and it is pretty easy to point to cases where the features that were proposed as sufficient are not sufficient after all. For example it is easy to point to cases where X is male and not married, but where still we aren’t inclined to call him bachelor. One example is that X might be too young to be called bachelor (or too old) or that X is the Pope (or any Catholic priest).

To attack analyticity, on other hand, we need not the case where the sufficiency of the features is attacked, but their necessity. Though it might be harder to point to such cases, I think there are… For example, we might be inclined to call a Muslim with one wife – a bachelor (though not a prototypical one), so “not married” would not be necessary feature. Or… is it clear what “male” is? We have cases of individuals whose gender identity doesn’t match their body. Now, there are prototypical males, but what to do with not-so-prototypical ones? Maybe someone will have problems identifying female-to-male transsexual as a male (instead e.g. one might insist that they are separate category), but also the same person might not see an issue in saying that such transsexual in a certain social position – will be  a bachelor. Again “being male” wouldn’t be a necessary characteristic for someone to be a bachelor.

There are other examples of the sentences which seem analytical on first look, but where we can find issues with what was supposed to be necessary features. Putnam for example points that “cats are animals” is not analytic as cats can turn out to be robots (or say… group hallucination.).

(Now, while I take it that it is clear that analyticity is hard to be defended of those examples, in my opinion there is analyticity in the propositions of math, logic, metaphysics etc…, in the sense that they are true in virtue of their meaning, and not because of matter of fact. To point to example… we don’t measure sides of right triangles in the world to confirm that Pythagorean theorem is right. It just doesn’t make sense to do that.)

Concepts or Phenomena

So,  we don’t have problems with the possibility of cats turning to be automatons (at least we don’t have in principle, I don’t think anybody sane believes that there is actual possibility that they will). But in a previous post (Are hedgehogs small spiny animals?) I pointed that we might have problems with something that doesn’t seem to be as essential to being a cat as being an animal is.  I have on mind “possibilities” that e.g. cats turn out to be enormous, or that cats turn out to be spiny. I won’t claim that quantified propositions (“no cats are enormous” and “no cats are spiny”) of those sentences to be analytical, as for sure, a cat might turn to be enormous, and some cats might turn out spiny; but still, saying that cats are enormous, or that cats are spiny (so without quantification) doesn’t sound right to me.

What I want to propose here, is that this points to the fact that usage of common nouns (like “bachelor”, “cat”, “chair”) is grounded in people becoming aware of a phenomenon which includes multiplicity of things which are seen as similar. Now, this is vague, especially the term “similar”, but I think there are good points to be made.

1. It is hard to see why a common noun would appear if there is no multiplicity (at least assumed). If we have just one thing, we don’t need common nouns. We will use a proper name instead. But who needs common noun “cat”, if there was just one cat in history, or common noun “bachelor” if there wasn’t lots of people who come into time for marriage (in certain social conditions)?

2. If we don’t become aware of that multiplicity, nobody will need a word for it. So becoming aware of it is needed. And because of 1, becoming aware not just that there is a thing that has some features, but becoming aware of a multiplicity.

3. If there is no similarities (or some base of grouping) of this multiplicity, again we wouldn’t need a common noun. When I see a cat, and another cat after that, it is the fact that this second one reminds me on the first one, that will produce a thought “there are more of those things (multiplicity)”.

If we avoid “concepts” as some structures, and instead view things in this way, we can see why we might problems with “cats are enormous”, but not with “a cat can be enormous”. It is because the ground of “cat” is in becoming aware of multiplicity that shares the property of not being enormous. So to say the ground of common noun “cat”, is not one cat, but it us becoming aware of there being lot of cats in the world – becoming aware of the phenomenon of cats.

A separate question is where this kind of view falls in the realist/nominalist gap. This view doesn’t say that there is a list of sufficient and necessary features that all cats must share, but while the base of “cat” in this view isn’t some such thing it is still in the reality where there is a phenomenon of animals which appear similar, and the refering is to reality even if one doesn’t accept such ideas as natural-kinds. In such way, it seems to me, one can avoid Platonic forms, while still being able to avoid “concepts” as some kind of nominalist particulars. (Though, I don’t see this contradicting the possibility of talk about some kind of structures in the brain analyzed on some other level, and called “concepts”. But that there is correspondence to some such information structures in the brain and our awareness of something in the world, doesn’t mean that we should confuse our semantic and speak of our thinking in e.g. terms of concept of CAT, when we are really thinking of cats, i.e. of the real phenomenon.)

Let me just say that the difficulties of the classical theory of concepts are not shared by other theories. And this post wasn’t as much argument against any theory of concepts in particular or them in general, as much explaining why I think concepts as mental particulars are not needed (as some mental particulars). For a nice overview of different theories of concepts, you can check this older set of posts at Mixing Memory (1, 2, 3 and 4).

I would like to discuss also the issue of non-existence and historical-intentional account of names in the relation of this kind approach to concepts (or against them), but I guess I will leave it for a next post.

Is There Such Thing as an Unconscious Understanding?

At This is the Name of This Blog, Trent is asking if there is such thing as a conscious inference. He is reporting that he can’t notice that he is doing anything in the cases which would usually be called “conscious inferences”. Besides maybe wondering about premise, and becoming aware of the conclusion.
Trent seems to connect that to a theory of there being a separate cognitive module which does the inference when we wonder, and return the result to us as on screen.

I left comment there, that we are actually doing something (at least in the cases when we are not doing the inference mechanically). What we are doing is that we are understanding the premise.
I would further argue, that it is that understanding (or comprehension) which is in fact what we call “conscious inference”, and not some separate process.

There are two arguments I want to give about this:

1.
I want to point of how we sometimes use “what it means” and “understand what it means”. Often we use it to connect the inference B with the original statement A. So we say “A means B”, and this is which fits with my position, we can equate person failing to do inference B with person failing to understand what A means. I think that in fact we are more likely to say “he doesn’t understand what it means”, and not “he fails to do the inferences”. It seems to me that this second way of talking, might in fact be connected to some wrong assumption that our mind works as some formal logical machine.

2.
In the cases which are described by “doing consciously the inferences”, we do understand the necessity of the inference, or how the assumption is related to the inference. If the work was done by some separate module and if we were getting as a ready result, it wouldn’t matter for us if we are getting this or that result, what we would have is some blind faith in whatever is returning us the results. But, it is not the case. When I understand that if (A v B) & ~A means B, it is because I understand fully what is going on, not because I’m dependent on some cognitive module.
Connected to this, I want to point that the things are similar in other cases. For example when we compare two shades of color and say that one is brighter, if we aren’t doing it mechanically, we are in fact aware that the one color looks brighter to us, and we are not merely reporting an answer which came to us from some separate “comparator” – so to say, that relation between the two shades is there in the shade as we are aware of them. Same as if we are comparing two shades of color as being same, when we are saying that 1+1=2 (though, this is risky to say on philosophical blog, because I guess philosophers don’t understand 1+1=2 as all “normal” people do), etc…

Related Posts:
Wink, Wink – Do You Understand What I Mean?
Familiar Faces, Gestalts and A Priori Truths

Language – From Abstract To Concrete

I wrote about my thoughts on the phenomenon of names in multiple posts, mostly analyzing it in terms of few abstractions, i.e. the intentional acts, intentional content, and how in case of baptizing it appears with two aspects – the baptizing is connected to particular intentional act, but the content is transcending that act.

The abstract analysis, however complete, shouldn’t be seen as a full account of the phenomenon. It even shouldn’t be seen as a ground for the phenomenon so that we can give full account by merely adding details to that abstract picture. On contrary – moving from more abstract to more concrete aspects of the phenomenon, should provide the ground for the abstract. (This is different from the usual reductionist view, in which the most abstract is seen as the ground, and everything “upwards” is fully determined by that ground. Those “higher” levels are then in reductionist picture, in some sense merely incidental and of smaller importance than the ground.)

Such non-reductionist movement from abstract to concrete when talking about phenomenon of names, I think can be seen in few posts where I wrote about the issue of non-existence. In these posts I argued that there is no single criterion for (non)existence that would be found on the abstract level of intentional act/content. Instead we need to understand it in more concrete cases of intentional acts. That is, certain intentional acts (imagination, hallucination, assuming, etc…) are those that actually cover the abstract notion of “non-existence”. One word is used for all of them because they  show some kind of family resemblance. (I haven’t talked about what this resemblance consist of, but I would take that it consist of a negation of the simple relation with the world)

When we move towards concrete, the “abstract” is now something which is a result, not a ground. The procedure of abstraction is such that we start from something, and put our attention on certain aspects while ignoring others. Hence movement to “more concrete” can be understood as moving towards fuller comprehending of the phenomena (and not just noting incidental patterns of the higher level). The abstract case is then merely a specific case of the more concrete case, and its role is that it helped us to understand the relation of certain aspects isolated from the richness of the whole, so that when we analyze the “big picture” we are not confused by those abstract aspects. The intentional act is concrete intentional act (and is not abstract ever, except in our abstract analysis), and the same holds for the content.

To make example in case of math – one such case of movement from more abstract to more concrete would be the movement from the special case to general case. For example the Pythagorean theorem says that the lengths of sides of right triangle will satisfy the equation a^2+b^2=c^2. On other side we have a law of cosines which is true for any triangle, and is expressed by equation: a^2+b^2-2ab\cos\gamma=c^2. It is clear that Pythagorean theorem is a special case of the law of cosines. We get it from the law of consines when we use gamma=90 degrees. It is also clear that the special case doesn’t really contain anything that isn’t already present the general case.

Analogical situation with language, would be movement from the language as used to mean something, to language as acting. On the abstract level, words do mean something, but on concrete level we can say that they are used to mean something, and now all kind of complexities appear, one might mean by word what that word doesn’t usually mean. You won’t be able to comprehend this fact on the level of abstract account, you need to include the humans, their intentions, the learning of language and so on.  And then on level of sentences, the meaning shows even more complex features, the sentences are used in the context of some more or less fixed background of the communication, by same sentence lot of things can be meant depending of what the speaker think should be inferred from them having on mind the background.
-“She is coming.”- the meaning of that sentence, is not contained in the abstract meaning of each of the words, but is connected to the context.

So, we can say that it is not that concrete usage of the language is grounded in some Platonic abstract level in which words mean things, but words mean things only as part of the phenomenon of language in the society. The abstract is grounded in the concrete.

In some future post, I want to talk about common nouns, and how their proper account requires analysis on more concrete level (though of course abstract “words mean things” and “we can baptize only whatever we are aware of” would still hold).

UPDATE:I updated the format of the formulas. I don’t use much math in the posts, so I thought I might as well do a little experiment with MathML capabilities of WordPress.com.