Jumpstarting the Blog: Objecting to Sider’s Objectivism

June 27, 2012

Given that it’s been over a year since we’ve had any posts, I’ve decided to try to jumpstart the blog again. Here goes…

While reading Sider’s Writing the Book of the World, I noticed a strange dialectic circularity. One of Sider’s main theses is that structure is objective: it’s ‘out there in the world’ in some metaphysically heavy sense. But, Sider then goes on to give an account of objectivity in terms of structure. Given this circularity, it’s possible to find a reductio.

Sider claims that structure is not subjective (i.e. structure is objective). I take this to mean that sentences about structure are not subjective. Without loss of generality, let’s take the following sentence about structure:

(S): ‘being negatively charged’ is structural

Sider wants to claim:

(O): (S) is not subjective

He goes on to give the following account of subjectivity: “A sentence is subjective…if and only if it’s truth-value depends on which of a range of equally joint carving candidates is meant by some term in the sentence, where the candidate that we in fact mean was selected in a way that is not arbitrary, but reflects something important about us, such as our values” (59). Combining this account of subjectivity with (O) gives us:

(O’): It’s not the case that the truth value of (S) depends on which of a range of equally joint carving candidates is meant by some term in (S), where the candidate that we in fact mean was selected in a way that is not arbitrary, but reflects something important about us, such as our values.

This roughly amounts to saying that in order for facts about structure to be objective, they must ‘carve at the joints’ — in other words, facts about structure must themselves be structural. But that’s a condition that far too easy to meet. For instance, take a simple expressivist view of structure. Roughly, to say ”being negatively charged’ is structural’ is simply to express some mental attitude A towards ‘being negatively charged’. I think we can all agree that, pretheoretically, this is a subjective account of structure. But, if Sider’s account of subjectivity is correct, an expressivist account of structure is consistent with the claim that (S) is objective. Accepting (O’) amounts to expressing attitude A towards ‘is structural’; this is all we need to accept (O’), because the terms in (S) do not have ‘a range of equally joint carving candidates’ — by our own lights, ‘structural’ is joint-carving. So, either Sider must reject his account of objectivity or accept that expressivism about structure is consistent with structure being objective. I take it that he will choose the former.


Too Many Dans or Just One?

May 6, 2011

Though it wasn’t quite the University of Woolloomooloo, in July 2010 at the Australian National University, I, Dan Singer, was honored to join the company of Dan Greco, Dan Korman, Dan Marshall, Dan(iel) Nolan, and Dan Stoljar.

Courtesy of Thomas Whitney

There sure were a lot of people with the same name … or so you might think …

  1. Dan Singer and Dan Nolan have the same name.
  2. Names are rigid resignators, a la Kripke (1970/80).
  3. So, Dan Singer’s name and Dan Nolan’s name pick out the same thing in all possible worlds.
  4. So, Dan Singer’s name actually picks out the same thing that Dan Nolan’s name picks out.
  5. So, Dan Singer is Dan Nolan.
Either 4 is wrong or I know a lot more about metaphysics than I thought I did.  It seems pretty obvious to me that there is an equivocation on “name” between 1 and the rest of the premises.  The issue is that I can’t figure out a sense of “name” that makes sense of 1.  Here’s why: The natural move is to say that the names of 1 are individuated by their syntactic properties (i.e. the letters and the sounds associated with them).  Then admit two senses of “name”.  But if this is right, we’d expect the analogous move to apply to words in general, i.e. that there’d be the two analogous senses of “word”.  But I’m inclined to deny that there is any sense of “word” such that financial institutions and sides of rivers can be picked out by the same word.  Am I just being stubborn on this point?  Are there other viable solutions here?


February 12, 2009

So I’ve been thinking about this objection I made to the Possible Worlds account of counterfactuals as an undergraduate, and I’m curious whether anyone has read something which deals with this problem (or whether anyone has a rough-and-ready rejoinder).

The objection goes like this: Possible Worlds Semantics (PWS) claims to give an account both of our notion of counterfactual dependence and our notion of possibility.  These are, roughly, the notions we express with the English constructions “If…had been the case, then…would have been the case,” and “It might/could be/have been the case that…”  PWS explicates these notions by saying that the former is true iff the closest world (on some contextually-defined similarity metric) in which the antecedent is true is a world where the consequent is true also.  The later is true iff there is some world accessible to the world of evaluation at which ‘…’ is true.

However, things seem to go screwy when we stick these two notions together.   Read the rest of this entry »

Quick question

February 5, 2009

While reading an influential text on direct reference, I found the following claim:

In the framework I have just sketched, a proper name is a word which must be used in a certain way, even though it may happen to be used in other ways.

I don’t know how to interpret this in a non-inconsistent, or non-contradictory, way.  I wonder, more specifically, how the quoted text differs from the following:

According to the rules we have just stipulated, you must come home every night at 8, even though you may come at other times.

Any proposals?

Home Ain’t Where The Heart Is

July 25, 2008

The Initial Claim:
The word ‘home’ does not refer to where the heart is because the referent it takes on is not any location but a direction. It’s not where, but which way.

Some Evidence:
Consider words that refer to some location, even indeterminate ones, such as ‘the bar’. Aino and Cade is talking to Maite. Aino says, “We’re going to the bar.” The natural way for Maite to understand this assertion is that Aino and Cade together are going to some bar, whose location may or may not be determined already. However, it would be very weird for Maite to understand Aino to be saying that Aino is going to the bar and Cade is going to the bar, but they might be going to different bars, i.e. different locations.

In contrast, consider words that refer directionally, like ‘left’. Aino* and Cade* is talking to Maite*. Aino* says, “We’re going left.” The natural way for Maite* to understand this assertion is still that Aino* and Cade* are going in some direction together. But it would be less weird for Maite* to understand Aino* and Cade* are going toward different locations if, say, Aino* is facing west and Cade* is facing east. In that case, it is plausible that what Aino* means is that Aino* will go toward south and Cade* will go toward north.

Finally, consider ‘home’.

Read the rest of this entry »

Against Structured Propositions

March 7, 2008

Here’s a view about propositions:

A proposition P is a set of ordered pairs <A,G> where the first object is an individual and the second a property. These propositions are generally expressed by declarative statements such as my utterance of the sentence `Alvin is Green’. Call this `Structured Propositions’.

Here’s an argument against this view of propositions.

P1) If propositions are structured then one must either: a) become Meinongian, or b) accept gappy propositions.
P2) According to Russell, Meinongianism entails contradictions, so it’s unacceptable.
P3) Gappy propositions cannot explain informative speech acts where true negative existential are asserted. Such speech acts cannot express gappy propositions. So, gappy propositions are unacceptable.
P4) From P2 and P3, it follows that we should neither be Meinongian nor gappy proposition theorists.
C) Propositions are not structured. Read the rest of this entry »

philosopher makes mistake

August 31, 2007

In “How to Define Theoretical Terms” (1970), David Lewis says the following. Take a theory T that introduced a new term ‘t’. Replace ‘t’ in T with an appropriate variable to form an open sentence R`. Lewis now claims that ‘t’ is correctly defined as follow:

t = the unique x such that R`

Note the uniqueness requirement. If there are multiple realizations of R` (that is, variable assignments that satisfy R`) differing in what they assign to x, then ‘t’ is denotationless. Van Fraassen (1997) argues that, provided only that T is consistent and has an infinite model, such will always be the case. Read the rest of this entry »