25 March 2012

"Unclear statements don't get a bit clearer by being repeated!"

Wittgenstein's crack about Principia Ethica came to mind while reading this interview with Kit Fine:

Part of the problem here is that terms like ‘exists’ and ‘real’ are used in many different ways, especially in philosophy. For me, the fundamental question of ontology is not ‘what is there?’ but ‘what is real?’. But what do I mean by ‘real’?

As a first stab, I would say that what is real is what one must make reference to in giving a description of reality. Thus suppose you were a platonist and thought that reality included facts about numbers, such as that 2 + 2 = 4. Then numbers for you would be real. This is to explain the real in terms of reality. But what is reality? Here perhaps the best I can do is to explain the role of reality in metaphysical thinking.

Reality is what accounts, in the most perfect way possible, for everything that is the case. Suppose, for example, that I thought that the existence of a chair consisted in nothing more than certain atoms arranged in the shape of a chair. Then this would strongly suggest that reality did not include the existence of a chairs, since I could account for their existence in other terms.
I am impressed by how resolutely unclear this is: Every sentence seems like it might be the worst of the bunch.

3AM's interviews are odd. I don't know what determines their selection of subjects. The Setiya and Teichmann interviews were both pretty good, though.