05 June 2008

It occurs to me that there might be some persons who do not read "Language Log" regularly.

This would be an error on their part. Language Log is great fun; I would be surprised if the sort of folk who like Wittgenstein & Davidson and all that would not also like much of what is discussed at Languge Log. "Grammar" in the unphilosophical sense is pretty neat, too.

I've almost finished Paul Redding's "The Logic of Affect". I was hoping that it'd offer a more detailed picture of the connections between aesthetic judgements and individuals that Redding'd addressed in "Hegel and Piercean Abduction", but so far the book doesn't seem to be coming together very well. Hopefully the last two chapters, on Hegel and evolution respectively, will help the rest of the book to gel. But the connections he draws between "intellectual intuitions" and qualia are certainly interesting, I'll give him that.

As far as philosophical-type content on this blog goes, I have recently been busy elsewhere.

9 comments:

Ben Wolfson said...

Elsewhere you say: Meaning comes into being only at the level of sentences, and, as the Slingshot shows, there is nothing to which a sentence could refer except to the universe as a whole

Any thoughts on Evading the Slingshot?

Ben Wolfson said...

Wow, there's an ugly link. Better.

Daniel Lindquist said...

Nope, because I haven't read it! Will remedy this.

Daniel Lindquist said...

I have now read the article. Here are some "thoughts"; I use scare-quotes because I would never have written them up if you hadn't asked me about the essay. So all that follows? Your fault.

"P1 Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers.
P2 Peter did not pick a peck of pickled peppers.
P3 Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers or Peter did not pick a peck of pickled peppers.
P4 Mary is sitting and (Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers or Peter did not pick a peck of pickled peppers).
P5 Mary is sitting.

Intuitively the truth conditions of P1 are about Peter, since it mentions him and predicates something of him. It seems that if the truth condition of S are about Peter, those of ~ S should be too, so P2 is about Peter. If the truth conditions of S and those of Q are both about an object, it seems that those of S or Q will be about that object, so those of P3 are about Peter.9 It seems that if the truth conditions of S are about an object, those of Q and S will be about that object, so those of P4 are about Peter."

I don't know where these intuitions come from, or why these things "seem" to be this way to Perry. The only one I can make any sense of is the first one, where the grammatical subject of an indicative sentence is said to be what the sentence is "about". This sounds like the sort of thing that might appear in English grammar for those learning the language: useful as a tool for figuring out how sentences work, but not actually true.("Something" can be the grammatical subject of a sentence, but if "something" is what any sentence is about, then I'd think every sentence was about "something".) So I don't share the intuition appealed to: If I had to say what P1 was about (and had some reason to think the question should not be rubbished), I'd say it was about Peter's picking of a peck of pickled peppers. And what seems apparent to Perry does not seem so to me: P2 appears to me to be about Peter's not having picked a peck of pickled peppers; I have no logical intuitions of the type Perry seems to. It's not at all clear to me whether or not being about Peter's not having picked a peck of pickled peppers would be the same as being about Mr. Piper's not having picked a peck of pickled peppers, assuming Peter is named as is traditional, or the same as being about The objects Peter and several peppers, the relation of having-been-picked, and the properties of being-a-peck and being-pickled, or whether or not sentences with a "not" are supposed to be "about" negation. If forced, I can find something to say about what a sentence is about; I have no idea what to say about whether or not it's the same or different from other sentences, or other answers people give to what the sentence is about. Perry seems to think that it's intuitive, and that the slingshot is an affront to these intutions.

In general, I don't see how what a sentence is "about" is supposed to be determined, in the sense which Perry wants to make use of for avoiding the slingshot. "Designation" just looks like "reference" by another name, and Perry just seems to assume that it's scrutable. If we can easily go from words to objects, properties, and relations in a way in which these are uniquely determined, then I shouldn't be surprised if something is fishy with the slingshot. But I don't think that we can do this, so I don't see why the slingshot should seem bothersome. It seems to simply show that truth cannot be reduced to something more basic. If appeals to intuition are supposed to count for anything, I find that idea intuitively appealing; truth seems more basic, simpler, more grokkable, than much of what's invoked to "explain" it. The mechanics of "correspondence theories" generally strike me as pretty Byzantine; disquotation is a picture of elegance.

I'm not at all sure I've understood this paper, though. I'm not familiar with some of the notation used; I've not looked at the slingshot itself in years. I was simply convinced of its correctness and have proceeded to forget just what convinced me; I know that the version in "Trinity and Truth" was the most perspicuous, and the most convincingly set-out. (I am confident that no one who reads this will have read this book. Unless I read my own comment. Incidentally, I was really disappointed to find out that Marshall didn't try to tie triangulation and the Trinity together; I was hoping that he'd try to do so, and end up with a hilarious mess of a book. Instead it's largely about Davidson and truth, and the actual theology part is really weak and uninteresting and mostly involves taking back some of what he said about Tarski-type theories of truth just so he can make truth three-pronged and split it up between the Persons. Though I recall liking some of his comments about Lindbeck.)

I don't understand section 8 at all. If a "situation" "making" "states of affairs" "factual" is intelligible antecedently to good ol' Tarski-type disquotational truth (or as different in some way), I'm not seeing how. Which it seems like it is supposed to be, since "facts" are supposed to be derivative from this "situation making a state of affairs factual". But then I'm not sure how one is supposed to go from a "situation" like "a checkerboard, eight rows, eight columns, the relations of being red at and being black at, being under and being to the right of" to anything like a determination that this-or-that is a fact. I can construct sentences using the limited sort of vocabulary mentioned in the series (with allowances for grammar), and then I might judge their truth or falsity by looking at the checkerboard, but I don't see how the cluster of what-have-yous "makes" any of my sentences true or false. Truth & falsity seem to be "brute", with nothing simpler to explain them by. And if a "state of affairs" being "factual" is supposed to be a separate issue from a sentence being true, then I neither know what's going on nor why it could possibly be important.

But like I said, I'm not at all sure I've understood this paper. At all. I'm mainly just confused by it, and have no idea how it's supposed to save the correspondence theory of truth, or a necessity operator, or whatever it is that's supposed to be denied by the slingshot. And the inscrutability of reference doesn't even seem to be glanced at, which seems like an oversight if you're trying to argue "that sentences stand for complexes of objects and properties".

Ben Wolfson said...

I don't think, actually, that I've read that paper all the way through, so I certainly don't want to say something like that I understand it—though I do share Perry's intuition that there's something fishy-seeming about the slingshot.

To be honest, I've never seen why sentences need to refer to anything at all, even the universe as a whole, though I'm usually careful about not copping to this.

Ben Wolfson said...

Since I got you to read the paper, though, I'll read it (possibly again) and attempt to say something that seems intelligent.

I can say that saying that "Peter picked a peck of pickled peppers" is about Peter's picking of a peck of pickled peppers strikes me as quite odd. (I would be inclined to say that such a sentence, if uttered, would probably be about Peter, his picking of the peck, the peck, or the peck's being picked, picking, or one of those things, depending.) It offends my sense of the normal use of "about": if I talk about the modern American novel, I should say something about it. I can't just say "the modern American novel" and leave it at that.

Daniel Lindquist said...

"To be honest, I've never seen why sentences need to refer to anything at all, even the universe as a whole, though I'm usually careful about not copping to this."

I'm totally fine with saying this. I see the slingshot not as showing that sentences refer to truth-values, but that trying to make them refer to something like "facts" ends badly: there ends up just being one "fact". Sentences have truth-values; it just sounds strange to say they refer to them. In this I take myself to be in line with Davidson; he's generally careful to say that the slingshot shows that sentences "refer to the world as a whole if they refer to anything", but generally doesn't speak of them as referring to anything. The slingshot's role is a negative one, not a positive one; it takes down the correspondence theory of truth without establishing another theory to replace it.

"(I would be inclined to say that such a sentence, if uttered, would probably be about Peter, his picking of the peck, the peck, or the peck's being picked, picking, or one of those things, depending.)"

If we're speaking of our "normal" senses of words, I find it weird to refer to "the peck". A peck is an archaic measurement of some sort. It seems weird to refer to "the quart" or "the ton" rather than what the quart or the ton are quarts or tons of. (I don't think this entails anything interesting philosophy-wise. But it seems weird that you don't want to mention the peppers.)

"if I talk about the modern American novel, I should say something about it. I can't just say "the modern American novel" and leave it at that."

You certainly can't. Which is why I was reticent to say that the sentences were about anything: If I'm not asked to say what they're about, I'm not going to say anything about what they're about. And if I'm forced to say something, I have nothing interesting to say about what the sentences are about; all I can do is repeat them (with phrasing altered for grammatical reasons).

There are certainly occasions where I can imagine that asking "What is P1 about?" makes sense. Someone might be wondering if it's that Peter, the one from the tongue-twister, or just some other Peter. Or what a "peck" of peppers is. Or how the peppers could be pickled while still being on the vine. (Branch? I don't know how peppers grow.) Then I can imagine a variety of things that might be said as helpful responses: "Peter Piper, yes that one, picked some peppers." "Peter picked a lot of peppers." "I don't actually know how the peppers were pickled while on the plant, so the parallelism breaks down in this quotation marked sentence."

Separated from a confused person asking "What is this sentence about?", though? I don't know how to answer it.

(There are other scenarios where the question seems real, such as this trivia question: "What is the famous phrase Homo sum; homini nihil a me alienum puto talking about?" And I'm sure I'm failing to think of other ways in which the question can be made to have force. But I don't see that it has any force when standing all on its lonesome like in Perry's paper. It's just idling.)

J said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J said...

Holy Designators, Batman! Let's see Herr Doktor Perry like on the "semantics of Stanferd search engine monopolies," or "Anti-trust suit against Google."

Skeptics, whether xtian, or positivistic, generally do what they can to deny political and economic reality.