Wednesday, February 20, 2008

philosophy of philosophy

The Seminar on the philosophy of philosophy was amazing, its seems to be about everything I’m most interested in. Better still Barry Smith was there, I hope he’ll come every week, listening to Smith and Papineau arguing is like watching a speeded up film of whole debates in contemporary philosophy.
The thing about the philosophy of philosophy is it is productive. If you can make methodological distinctions clearly, then what may seem to be an intractable problem in philosophy maybe unravelled and revealed as a simply clash of methodological choices. If the goal of philosophy is to unravel the riddles of the universe, (rather than, say, create jobs philosophers), then this might be a generative source of successful philosophy. And what can be better than successful philosophy?
One aspect of the seminar that excited my interest without gaining my understanding was this point about Carnap and Ramsay sentences for the meaning of terms.
The background: a verificationist theory meaning (not the best one according to me) attributed to Quine has it that the meanings of a terms (are) (supervene on) (are constituted by) (are what cause) our dispositions to use the terms. Problem, if person A has theory X about f but person B has theory Y about f, they may have different dispositions. Does this mean that A and B are talking about different things when talking about f? I feel there are strong reasons for saying “no, they’ve just got different theories.” Argument: If A persuaded B to change theories, B may change her beliefs about f, but surely not the meaning of f, otherwise it is hard to say what the belief change consists in. But this is just me. Philosophers sometimes when confronted with a certain species of counterexample to their favourite theory will use the argument “oh, you just have a different concept of f”. So for example, if Ruth Millikan claims that 2 out of three people she has interviewed don’t actually share the Gettier intuition, then we can do one of three things. 1. Say that the interviewees have a different concept of knowledge. 2. Change our theory to accommodate the interviewees. 3. Use our theory to claim that the interviewees are wrong.
Another example:
Stich: “Beliefs don’t exist”.
Chorus: “Of course they exist (otherwise how am I supposed to believe that they don’t)”.
Stich: “But our concept of belief has it that beliefs are entities in the brain with causal roles, yet in our brains is just neural nets, nothing like beliefs.”
Chorus: That’s not my concept.

Now the bit I don’t really understand. A term can be fully (cashed out)? (defined)? (extended)? Using a conjunction of all its (applications)? (sentences in which it appears)? (true sentences in which it appears)? Using a Ramsey sentence.
E(Q) T(Q)
The idea is, you list all the sentences in which the term f features, this gives you T(f), then you replace (f) with Q. Then your theory claims that E (Q) in which the Ramsay sentence is true. (E = existential quantifier)
(My view of this is it will only work, and it will work very well, if the Ramsey sentence is a list of sentences which are believed to probability 1, or “known” in which the term appears. This will include all known predictions and known hypothetical and counterfactual cases. Therefore it will include intuitions when we intuitively know, but not when we intuitively reckon, think or guess)
Professor Papineau then compares a Carnap version:
T(f) = If E (Q) then T (Q).

The difference is simply that the Ramsey version is false if nothing fits the description, whereas the Carnap version is true even if nothing fits the description.. Stich has a Carnap version of the concept of belief, because his T(belief) contains sentences like “beliefs are entities in the brain with causal roles within action”. The fact that there are no such entities therefore does not force him to change his concept “belief”, instead it leads him to assert that beliefs don’t exist. However when using a Ramsey sentence, then Stich’s “discoveries” that there are no beliefs simply proves that the theory is false, not that beliefs don’t exist.

What is puzzling me is how to proceed. How does this help untangle the riddles of the universe? My opinion is that our concepts are like the Ramsey sentences. Suppose I am such a materialist that I count it as known that beliefs are bits of brain that fulfil a certain causal role. Then my Ramsey sentence will be like this (S1, S2, S3……..SN). I am horrified to discover that nothing fits this description. I am wrong! Something I thought I knew was false! Impossible? Of course not, it happens all the time, except to the very narrow minded and dogmatic. But since S1 …SN count as known, there is a real conflict, which may well result in a strong desire to reject the evidence. But if the evidence is overwhelming, rationality will require that you give up what previously counted as certain. So let us say you drop SX to SN, the sentences related to the belief – brain identity thesis. Is your concept now different? Not that different, you still have a huge store of known sentences involving the term belief. You still know S1 to SX You still know a million facts involving the term “belief”. Eg. I know that John Wright believes that there is a region of London called Mayfair and he wants us all to go there on the 1st of March. I know that if he believes that there are pubs in Mayfair, then he also believes that there are pubs in London. No bit of fancy neuroscience is going to convince me to drop these facts. These parts of the Ramsey sentence remain intact. The term “brain” may have taken a bit more of a knocking, but hey, how much do I know about brains anyway? I am happy to leave that up to the scientists. Currently I know that the hippocampus is enlarged in taxi drivers and certain male birds, and is involved in navigational tasks. However, if some scientists demonstrate that this is false, then this may radically alter my concept of “hippocampus”. Ouch! But hey! Its only the hippocampus, its not my girlfriend.


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