Thursday, March 22, 2007

Janiv Paulsberg against representational theories of pain.

Janiv gave an interesting talk last night about pain. From what I gathered Tye’s representational theory is committed to the view that the phenomenal conent of a pain experience is identical to its representational content. Janiv then wanted to show that this must be false by providing a clear cut case where two experiences are phenomenologically the same but have different representational content. This would show that there is more to an experience than its representational content.
Although I am of the opinion that there is little sense in talking of aspects of an experience over and above its representational content, I found myself rooting for Janiv and finding Tye’s position less and less tenable. First off, two dials in a car could have their wires switched. Before the switch Dial A represents the amount of fuel remaining, and Dial B represents the amount of oil remaining. After the switch this is the other way around. B: fuel; A : oil. Suppose A has a white arm sticking towards the red number 4 before the switch and after the switch. The same person looks at the dial before and after the switch. It seems the representational content is different before and after the switch but the phenomena is the same. For a reason I didn’t quite grasp, this was only an analogy. I guess “representational content” is more about the “raw data” of the experience unmediated by higher level beliefs and inferences. So in both cases the representational content is of a dial with the arm pointing to the 4. But I’m already beginning to lose the point at this stage. It is plausible to me that the dial would “look” different in these two cases.

The more complicated and weird example that should please “Ds” family. (see comment on last post) is of inverted earth. Someone (lets call him Sam) is transported knowingly to inverted earth where the colour of things is the opposite of what it is on earth. Tomatoes are green, the sky is yellow and grass is red. People’s use of colour terms is also inverted on inverted earth, so they correctly call the sky blue and the grass green because they use the word “blue” to refer to yellow things etc.
Sam knows all this, but to make things easier for himself he wears some spectrum inverting glasses whilst on inverted earth. So when he looks at the sky, he sees that it is blue and therefore can agree with inverted earthling judgements without needing to revise his colour language.

OK, weird example, but lets accept it and see where it gets us. The idea is that when Sam looks at the sky on earth without the glasses, he has the exact same phenomenological experience as when he looks at the sky on inverted earth. But the representational content is different. (I'm not sure how. Is it because he falsely sees the sky as blue the second time, so therefore it's representational content must be that it is yellow?) Therefore experiences aren’t identical to their representational content.

What is mysterious to me is why the need for the complicated example. Perhaps if I could understand that, I could understand what is going on. In particular, why is it important that the inverted earth colour language is inverted?
Someone explain. What is the difference in the representational content of the two cases?


Thursday, March 15, 2007

Pity without object. Gina Tsang

How do you solve a problem like Anna Karenina?
Thomasson’s Artifactual Theory of Fictional Characters

Problem: Certain sentences of fictional discourse seem true yet there is no referent of fictional names. We emotionally engage with fictional characters yet there is no thing which we pity, desire or despise. Language and experience of fiction do not seem to match with non-existence of fictional characters.

Non-realists: those who wish to avoid ontological commitment to fictional characters
Frege, Russell (descriptivism) and Walton (‘Pretence’ view)
Realists: those who wish to postulate fictional characters
Meinong, Zalta, Parsons, Kripke and van Inwagen (abstract object view). Lewis (possibilism)

Thomasson (1999) = Realist about fictional characters.

1. What are fictional characters?

*Fictional characters are abstract artefacts.*
Artefact= an object created through the intentional activities of humans.

I1) Fictional characters are created by an author(s).

Provided there is no pre-existent character or real person to whom the author is referring (importing fictional character vs. importing real people into fiction).

I2) Fictional characters are created at a particular point in time.

I3) Fictional characters are ontologically dependent on their author(s) and literary works/ memory of the work/ competent readers of the language in which the work is written.

Some contingent entity A ontologically depends on some contingent entity B, iff necessarily, if A exists then B exists.

Two types of dependency:

D1) a fictional character is historically and rigidly dependent on its author(s).

Historic= Author brings character into existence at a particular point in time, though can exist independently thereafter.
Rigid= The character is dependent on a particular author (thus the author and social and historical circumstances need to exists in all pws in which the character exists).
Analogies= Child and parents, chair and maker, the colour of an apple and the apple, fictional work and the intentional acts of a particular author.

D2) a fictional character is constantly and generically dependent on either copies of literary work/ memory of the work/ competent readers of the language in which the work is written.

Constant= the character exists only as long as the work/memory/reader exist.
Generic= the character exists provided there exists any copy of the work/memory/reader exist.
Analogy= Government and the intentions and behaviour of its people, party and partygoers.

Most of these analogies seem unconvincing.

Further problems:
Have to give up traditional definition of ‘abstract’ that of being ideal, eternal and non-spatial.
It is not clear that the author intends to bring a character into existence in the way stipulated.
The seeming disanalogy between concrete and abstract artefacts has been ignored.

2. Why should we postulate fictional characters?

2.1 The Arguments from Language

Thomasson: Kripke’s direct theory of reference + chains of ontological dependence

Why should we posit such chains?

This is how language works: Kripke’s view can be generalised to cover fictional characters since they exist as abstract artefacts.
Separates ontological and referential worries: the desire for a sparse ontology is separated from worries about the referent of fictional names.

Quasi-indexicality and Illocutionary Acts

“The textual foundation of the character serves as the means whereby a quasi-indexical reference to the character can be made by means of which that very fictional object can be baptized by authors or readers.” (1999: 47) Emphasis added.

Illocutionary acts and possibility of error.

Serious Statements: Real versus Fictional Contexts

FC) Anna Karenina throws herself under a train.
RC) Anna Karenina first appears in chapter 18 (part 1).

FC) can be prefixed with a story operator whereas the RC) cannot be prefixed.

Thomasson cites unsatisfactory parsing of ‘serious’ statements as reason to posit fictional characters as abstract artefacts.

Intersubjective Identification: We refer to the same object when we both use the same fictional name as reference to object succeeds.

“There is an abstract entity who we pretend throws herself under a train” does not seem like an adequate analysis of FC).
How do we manage to refer to the same abstract artefact? Through the same textual foundation?
Mixed statements do not neatly fall into either real or fictional contexts (e.g. I feel sorry for Anna Karenina when she throws herself under the train).
Creative biographies, Shakespeare’s Richard iii.

2.2. The Argument from Intentionality

Tripartite conception of intentionality:
Conscious act (the thought, desire etc)
Object (referent)
Content (like Fregean senses)

Three constraints:
Existence independence, conception dependence, context sensitivity.

There’s a non-realist reliance on either content or context to do all the work as they do not posit the object. However, this is not satisfactory for mixed cases in which two or more constraints are exercised.

a) The protagonist is loved by Vronsky.
b) Anna Karenina throws herself under a train.
c) The protagonist is the father of Goneril.

Non-realist cannot show how content in both cases refers to the same character (or perhaps more correctly, how both contents are unified) - intersubjective identification of the character fails.

Thomasson = all intentional acts have an object (not to be confused with ‘object of thought’) – intersubjective identification succeeds.

Abundant ontology (numerous intentional objects of hallucinations/imaginings etc).
No possibility of error (again) over existence of object.
Unclear how the content succeeds in picking out the object or the same object each time.

Summary= Postulation of fictional objects does not seem to assuage our worries concerning both language and experience of fictional characters; indeed it seems to raise further problems.


Monday, March 12, 2007

The Meaning of "The". Timothy Pritchard

What ‘the’ really means

1. What ‘the’ does NOT mean.
‘The’ is not a quantifier of any sort whatsoever. Consider the sentence:

The sheep bleated merrily amongst the buttercups.

How many sheep are bleating merrily amongst the buttercups? Is it one, or two, or three; is it a few, many, loads and loads? If I had written ‘One sheep bleated’ or ‘two sheep’ or ‘a few sheep’ or ‘many sheep’ you could tell me how many sheep were doing the bleating (even if in only relatively vague terms like ‘a few’). That is because these qualifiers are quantifiers. ‘The’ is not a quantifier – it tells us nothing about quantity.

2. What ‘the’ DOES mean.
To find out what ‘the’ means the best place to look is in the writings of the professional scholars who have committed themselves to describing the English language. I use a summary given in the OED, and it is the only account you will find in a comprehensive grammar of English:

‘the’ marks an object as ‘before mentioned or already known or contextually particularized’.

Suppose I write a children’s book and start with ‘A bear walked down the street’. If I speak about that bear again in the second sentence I will use the definite form: ‘The bear was going home.’ The bear is before mentioned.

Suppose a friend comes to me and says ‘I have finished writing the book’. If I did not know that my friend was writing a book I will be irritated – the use of ‘the’ suggests that the book is already known. If I point out to my friend that I didn’t know of any book, the friend will respond ‘Oh, I thought you knew about the book’ – note how it is OK now to use ‘the’ because the (sic) book has been introduced into the discourse.

Suppose I say: ‘We walked past a farm and the farmer greeted us’. The use of ‘the’ before ‘farmer’ is OK here because it is common knowledge that farms have farmers – the farmer is contextually particularised.

3. The sign of a good theory is that it fits and explains the data. The account which treats ‘the’ as a quantifier neither arises from the data nor explains anything. Notice how the whole emphasis in the debate on ‘definite descriptions’ is on solving problems that arise from the theory itself. The problems arise because the theory is false, and the resulting debate is all about defending the theory rather than on saying anything illuminating about language. The correct theory, given by descriptive linguists for at least 70 years, arises from the data and explains the data (or at least a lot of it). It also gives us an insight into language.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

An argument from freedom against causal closure

I want to approach this mind body problem from a fresh angle, which pretty well encapsulates everything I think about the nature of things.
Decision theory tells us what action to take given the reasons we have. The metaphysics involved is that we can (it is metaphysically possible to) decide to do things on the basis of our reasons. Reasons are made up of evidence for propositions, or beliefs; and subjective utilities which are ordered preferences of outcomes. Ultimately we have the choice to act not in accordance with our reasons. Decision theory tells us what we should do given our evidence and our goals. To make this simple, let us say that the best decision theory will be one such that you input beliefs and desires and you get an output in terms of action. The output will result in a physical event that is counterfactually dependent on the beliefs and desires and the operation of the decision theory. Given an internalist theory of Mind beliefs and desires and the decision process used by a subject in a decision will all be brain states, or at least be realised or supervene on brain states. So here a picture emerges of what we typically take to be mental causation. The agent has Belief states B1, B2, B3 and desire states D1, D2, D3. Churn these through some decision function DT and out pops A1 which causes physical effect E1.

Physical theory tells us what will happen given certain preconditions. The preconditions are churned through a physical theory PT and out pops the consequences, the physical effect E1. So B1, B2, B3, D1, D2, D3 and the mechanism that realises DT are identical with some set of physical preconditions PP. PP and PT will jointly entail E1. (For those who believe in quantum indeterminism or even macro indeterminism then E1 will presumably be a partition of probable effects). Causal closure of physics means in this light that for every actual effect E, there will be a causal explanation such that E can be entailed by the conjunction of the completed Physical Theory and a set of physically described preconditions.

So the hope of token identity theory is that this is fine. We can go to work on PT and work out the underlying causes of our free decisions, which will be to do with neurons and what have you.

The problem now is that our free choices are vulnerable to the endemic problem of self reference. The problem of self reference can be also thought of as the problem of incompleteness. It underlies the liar paradox and the sorites. It destroyed Russell’s principia mathematica and lies at the heart of the ineffability of consciousness, which is irreducibly self referential. The problem is related, if not identical with Newcomb’s problem and since human beings are essential competitive, it is a problem that our brains have been under great pressure from natural selection to overcome.

Let us suppose that an agent has the complete physical theory and also has the wherewithal to measure his own physical brain states. He is in a competitive situation and he knows that his enemy has used PT and his brain states to predict his decision. In this case the agent may reason that his best decision is not to act in accordance with his own decision theory, but choose an action that his own decision theory would not recommend.

Let’s call the agent “Ace”, and his enemy, “Bad”. To simplify as much as possible, there are two choices before Ace. He can either choose Box 1 or Box 2. Bad has loaded the boxes. Bad has used the complete physics and a brain scan of Ace’s mental states to calculate what Ace will do. Ace knows this. Ace has also access to the complete physics and a brain scan of his own mental states. Bad is obliged by the rules of the game to put a Million pounds in one box and nothing in the other. Ace will get the contents of the box he chooses and Bad will get the contents of the other box. The complete physics and Ace’s brain scan predict that Ace will choose Box 1. Question 1: which box should Bad put the million in? Question 2: Which box should Ace choose?

Conclusion: The causal closure of physics is incompatible with our ever being able to use it for practical decision making.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

On the causal efficacy of a lovers promise

Marcella Herdova gave a talk on mental causation last night. It opened my eyes to why I think the whole business is misguided. By “the whole business” I mean supervenience and token identity theories and the causal closure of physics. All these claims are metaphysical, which, call me old fashioned, is another word for nonsense. The causal closure of physics is not hard science, it is a belief in the same category as the omnipotence of God. England is a free country, so you can believe it if you like, but you can’t demonstrate it, or argue for it, because as it stands at the moment, hardly any physical events have a complete causal explanation, and many of those that don’t have an adequate mental causal explanation. However, this is never where the philosophy starts. The philosophy always starts with PC, the physical cause of PE. So there is no room for any doubt that there is such a thing. The causal closure of physics demands that there is so there must be. So I want to give a case where there is a physical effect and a mental cause such that there can be no physical cause.
Here it is. In seven years every cell in your body is replaced. In May 1st 1991 Jack promises his lover Jill that in seven years time he will return to her and knock the knocker on her threshold, the one shaped like the head of the lion. This promise he burns into his mind, in a metaphorical sense, since there is nothing that his mind is identical to that can be burned into, just like there nothing that a promise is identical to that can “burn in” to anything. Jack goes off on exile and has all sorts of adventures, including quite a bit of drinking and neuro-chemical abuse. Every cell in his brain is replaced. In seven years time, he keeps his promise and travels across the globe to return to his sweetheart. On may 1st 1998 he knocks the knocker on her threshold. It was his promise that caused this to happen, and his promise remained operative, functional, causally efficacious, even though every physical part of him changed. This is a token mental cause of a token physical effect to which there is no token physical event that it is identical. In other words, no physical theory, however complete, could describe any conditions in or around Jack at the time he made the promise that would count as the cause of his return and the knocking of the knocker. I lay down the gauntlet to any physicalist to say what the physical cause would be here that is identical to the promise. The only plausible thing I can think of is the entire state of the universe at the time of the promise, and even then, you’d would have to be a determinist to count this as a cause. The only metaphysical principle I am relying on here is that if A is identical with B, or supervenes on B, then A and B must be contemporaneous.

Monday, March 05, 2007

What is Space, Stephen Tiley

The Reality of Space

Two questions immediately arise:

1) what is space? [metaphysical question]

2) how can we know space? [epistemological question].

Needless to say, both questions are intricately connected: in order to ask what space is we must ask how, if at all, we can know acquire knowledge of it.

The two main historical positions concerning the nature of space are absolutism [or substantivalism] and relationalism.

Absolutism, most prominently expressed by Newton , argues that space has an existence over and above the objects contained within it.

Relationalism, most prominently expressed by Leibniz, argues that space has no existence over and above the relations between objects contained within it.

Both offered intricate arguments to support their respective positions.

According to Newton , as space is ontologically prior to the objects contained within it, viz., space can exist even when there are no objects contained within it, his view entails that objects in space can have absolute positions and velocities.

For Leibniz, on the other hand, space exists only as a relation between objects, and therefore has no existence apart from the existence of those objects; motion exists only as a relation between those objects.

Leibniz believes that such notions as absolute position and velocity, as espoused by Newton ’s absolutism, are meaningless and lead to contradictions.

The two arguments he offers us rely on his principle of sufficient reason and the identity of indiscernibles.

Leibniz thought-experiment:
He asks us to imagine two universes situated in absolute space. The only difference between them is that the second is placed five feet to the left of the first, a possibility available if such a thing as absolute space exists. Such a situation, however, is not possible according to Leibniz, for if it were:
a) where a universe was positioned in absolute space would have no sufficient reason, as it might very well have been anywhere else, hence contradicting the principle of sufficient reason, and
b) there could exist two distinct universes that were in all ways indiscernible, hence contradicting the Identity of Indiscernibles.

In defence against Leibniz, Newton offered us his famous ‘Bucket’ thought-experiment.

Newton’s Bucket:

The rotating bucket argument attempts to show that true rotational motion cannot be defined as the relative rotation of the body with respect to the immediately surrounding bodies. It is one of five arguments from the "properties, causes, and effects" of true motion and rest that support his contention that, in general, true motion and rest cannot be defined as special instances of motion or rest relative to other bodies, but instead can be defined only by reference to absolute space.

Water in a bucket, hung from a rope and set to spin, will start with a flat surface. As the water begins to spin in the bucket, the surface of the water will become concave. If the bucket is stopped, the water will continue to spin, and while the spin continues the surface will remain concave. The concave surface is apparently not the result of the interaction of the bucket and the water, since the water is flat when the bucket first starts to spin, becomes concave as the water starts to spin, and remains concave as the bucket stops.

This argument attempted to demonstrate the necessity of the existence of absolute space to account for phenomena like rotation and acceleration that cannot be accounted for on a purely relationalist account. Clarke argues that since the curvature of the water occurs in the rotating bucket as well as in the stationary bucket containing spinning water, it can only be explained by stating that the water is rotating in relation to some third thing, namely absolute space.

According to Newton , absolute space has the following properties:

1) Space has an ontologically prior existence to the objects contained within it.
2) Space can affect the objects/matter contained within it, but these objects cannot affect/influence space itself.

On a first reading absolute space seems to be endowed with a rather bizarre ontological status: it can exert an influence on objects contained in it but cannot itself be affected. It is immutable, eternal and unchanging.

Furthermore, if we cannot exert and influence of space itself, how can we possibly acquire knowledge of its existence?

As all we can really interact with are the objects contained within space, surely it follows that only these objects can be said to exist….?

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Thursday, March 01, 2007

Logical Distinctness. An interpretaion of Templing

Robert Templing gave a great talk on causation last night best summed up in his own words: “What the heck is logical distinctness anyway?”. Rob was looking into what seems to be a fairly standard assumption in the philosophy of causation which is that the cause must be logically distinct from the effect. Two questions are: 1. Does the cause have to be logically distinct from the effect? What motivates this rule? 2. What is it for two facts, events, objects (whatever causes and effects are) to be logically distinct?
I will give my answer to the first question without further ado. Cause is a linguistic concept and language is governed at least partially by pragmatics. If one can deduce B from A anyway, one doesn’t need the concept of cause to explain the fact that B followed A. Where there is the relation of logical entailment between 2 events a causal explanation of the relation is redundant. So intuitively speaking “Frodo puts on the ring” is not the cause of “Frodo puts on the ring” because the counterfactual dependence is already explained logically. This explains the intuition as far as I am concerned. By way of argument, all I offer is that often people do make these kinds of causal claims, and their uselessness is the best argument against them. For example: “Eating something poisonous causes one to be poisoned.” The intuition I have is not “False!” but “Well duh! No shit Sherlock.”
The second question is the more interesting and wide ranging., especially now when the new logical inquisitors are asserting as fact that “necessary” means “logically necessary” and “possible” means “logically possible” and “identity” means “logical identity”. Logic is to do with true and false, and true and false only attach to representations, maybe even only linguistic representations. The universe as a whole is not true. It is not a conjunction of true propositions. The universe just is. The flash point in Rob’s talk as far as I was concerned was a challenge to logical distinctness from Davidson. Davidson views cause to be a relation between events. Logical distinctness seems to be a relation between descriptions. So the logical distinctness condition is false since you can always describe a cause and an effect in such a way that the cause and the effect are not logically distinct. Moreover, it doesn’t really mean anything to say that two events are logically distinct. Davidson’s argument is that
Suppose A causes B. This means the description “the cause of B” truly describes A. So we have this true causal statement “The cause of B causes B.” This is a tautology. Therefore under at least one description every cause is not logically distinct from its effect.
But this is rubbish. If “the cause of B” rigidly designates A, then, given that some causal relations are logically contingent, it is true that it is logically possible that the cause of B does not cause B. If on the other hand “the cause of B” only refers to whatever is in fact the cause of B, then “the cause of B” no longer refers to A necessarily, but merely contingently. Either way the cause of B and B are logically distinct.

To try and make this a little less abstract. Chapman by the action of shooting murdered John Lennon. Therefore Chapman’s action was the cause of John Lennon’s death. Now we have a description of an action “the cause of John Lennon’s death”. This refers to Chapman’s action. But suppose Chapman’s action was not the cause of John Lennon’s death. Now we have: “Suppose the cause of John Lennon’s death was not the cause of John Lennon’s death.” Are our high Priests of Modal logic going to deny us this hypothesis on the grounds that it is impossible? Of course they aren’t, they are reasonable people. So it is Davidson who has made the mistake. The cause of B is logically distinct from B, even so described.
Take a non causal example. Jack is married to his wife. Is this a logical tautology? Not really. It makes perfect sense to me that Jack actually never got married to his wife. I mean in this world, indicative possibility, epistemic possibility. They might never have had a ceremony.

Another example of this pervasive error is the fact that everything I know is true. Williamson and others take the appearance of tautology in this statement to ridiculous extremes. The fact that I know that p does not entail that p in any interesting way. I now hereby claim to know that Robert Templing gave a talk last night. These two events are distinct. Robert could have given his talk without me knowing about it. I could have claimed to know it without him having given it. It is true in a sense that if he hadn’t given his talk, my knowledge wouldn’t be knowledge. It is also true that if I hadn’t known about it his talk may have been a slightly different event. But this is not a logical relation. In my private world I refer to this representation of Roberts talk as “knowledge”. This act of describing does not warrant the inference that it is logically impossible that Robert failed to give a talk. It just entitles me to assume with certainty that he gave a talk. It is logically possible that I am a brain in a vat. Or that the world consists of two identical iron balls. The only logically impossibility is that logicians have got it wrong. This puts logicians up with Freud and the Pope.