Welcome to the latest incarnation of Maverick Philosopher. I began this weblog in May of 2004 and have kept it up continuously on different servers, missing only a few days. I'm in this game 'for the duration,' as long as health and eyesight hold out. It has proven to be deeply satisfying, not the least reason for which being that my scribbling has attracted a large number of like-minded individuals, some of whom I have met in the flesh, and have come to value highly as friends.
And for that I am grateful.
What you need to know is that this weblog is just one philosopher's online journal, notebook, common place book, workshop, soapbox, sandbox, and literary litter box. A lot of what I write is unpolished and tentative. I explore the cartography of ideas along many paths. Here below we are in statu viae, and it is fitting that our thinking should be exploratory, meandering, and undogmatic. Nothing human, and thus nothing philosophical, is foreign to me.
The graphic well illustrates my approach. A lonesome traveller meanders along a desert path toward a distant prominence which points up and away to the goal of his Quest, a goal fitfully glimpsed, never grasped. Leastways, not while he is on trail and on trial. The quester quests until his thought rests, but the Rest is far off. Meanwhile there is the Quest, an integral part of which is philosophy, reason's search for the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters. But reason is not reason unless it strives mightily beyond itself to sources of truth that transcend it.
I write about what interests me whether I am expert in it or not. Some find this unseemly; I do not. I oppose hyper-professionalization and excessive specialization. After all, this is only a weblog. Every once in a while I post something that is mistaken, someone corrects me, and I learn something. I admit mistakes if mistakes they be. See how modest I am? On the other hand, this rarely happens. My PhilPapers page currently lists 64 entries and will give you some idea of what I am more or less expert in.
I allow comments on only some posts, usually the more technical ones. And to keep the cyberpunks at bay, Comment Moderation is always on. Comments must address what I say in my posts. If you go off on a tangent, I will most likely not allow your comment to appear. Comments must meet a certain standard, and I do not suffer fools gladly. But on some days I go soft, being only human.
I suppose that in these decadent days of the Decline of the West I should issue a TRIGGER WARNING: this is no place for the politically correct. It is not a 'safe space.' Here you will find free speech, trenchancy of expression, and open inquiry.
Michael Kinsley, Old Age: A Beginner's Guide, Tim Duggan Books, 2016:
Boomers -- short for baby boomers -- are Americans born during the "baby boom" that followed the end of World War II, as millions of couples tried to make up for lost time. Boomers include everybody born in the years between 1946 -- the earliest date at which a serviceman returning from Europe after the war could come home and join his wife in producing a baby -- and 1964, the last year anyone could reasonably use celebration of the Allied victory in World War II as a reason for having sex. (49)
The book is a snarky but enjoyable read from the liberal, Kinsley. You remember the guy. What I didn't know about him was that he was diagnosed with Parkinson's at age 42. He is now 65.
Expect more books in this genre as late-stage boomers approach the end of the trail.
No, I will not link to the The Who's version of Shakin' All Over from Woodstock, 1969, but to Dylan's Forever Young.
Among the great religions of the world, where 'great' is to be taken descriptively not normatively, Islam appears uniquely intolerant and violent. Or are there contemporary examples of Confucians, Taoists, Buddhists, Hindus, Jews, or Christians who, basing themselves on their doctrines, publically issue and carry out credible death threats against those who mock the exemplars of their faiths? For example, has any Christian, speaking as a Christian, publically put out a credible murder contract on Andres Serrano for his "Piss-Christ"? By 'credible,' I mean one that would force its target, if he were rational, to go into hiding and erase his identity?
UPDATE 9/19. Commentary by James Taranto here. Why doesn't Obama speak up for First Amendment rights in this case?
Could it be because he seeks a "fundamental transformation of America," which, as fundamental, would have to involve an overturning of the Constitution?
So what happened to Molly? Here is a recent update.
A thalassocracy (from Greek languageθάλασσα (thalassa), meaning "sea", and κρατεῖν (kratein), meaning "to rule", giving θαλασσοκρατία(thalassokratia), "rule of the sea") is a state with primarily maritime realms—an empire at sea (such as the Phoenician network of merchant cities) or a sea-borne empire. (Wikipedia)
Putin is now massing troops near Ukraine. Iran is absorbing Iraq and Syria. China has carved out a thalassocracy in the South China Sea. Tensions will only rise in these areas in the next 90 days, to the point of either outright war or more insidious and humiliating withdrawals from U.S. interests and allies. Either scenario favors Trump’s Jacksonian bluster.
Too many of our rights, liberties, and securities already hang by a one-vote thread. A Clinton Supreme Court would surely do away with them. It is a better bet that a President Trump together with Vice President Pence and a Republican Congress would ensure that Scalia's seat or any other open seats would be filled by a conservative. If you are a conservative who cares about the future of this country, there is only one choice. A vote for anyone else, third parties included, only helps Clinton and brings liberals one vote closer to ruining our republic as we know it.
If you care at all about the country, please read Bennett's piece, and please try to not let your loathing for Trump the man get in the way of clear thinking. For if you do, then you are no better than a gushing, emotion-driven liberal.
I pulled out my scribblings from the summer of '66. Puerile stuff from a half-century ago. Painful in places. But earnest and sincere with a good line here and there. The old man honors the adolescent he was.
I wrote for posterity, though I didn't realize it at the time. And I still do. The posterity of self.
The word flashed before my mind when the alarm went off. The love of wisdom is real in some of us, but the attainment of wisdom may be forever beyond all of us. To live well, however, we must live as if wisdom is attainable, if not in this life, then in the next. And we must strive to attain it.
"But you can't bar Muslims from immigrating! We have freedom of religion! That's not who we are! That goes against our values!"
Andrew C. McCarthy answers this sort of nonsense very sensibly here.
As I would put it: Freedom of religion does not extend to the protection of a hybrid political-religious ideology whose aim is to subvert the very Constitution that protects the freedom in question, and protects it for all.
Graph from the American Enterprise Institute. Commentary mine.
One irony here is that the more worthless college education becomes (in the non-STEM areas at least), the more outrageously expensive it becomes, while with electronics, the use value of the gear skyrockets while prices plunge.
In the 'higher education' sector, a trifecta of corruption and stupidity. The federal government underwrites huge loans with no oversight; greedy and mostly useless administrators proliferate like rabbits, raising tuition and fees because of the availability of federal funds; stupid students go deep into debt to finance worthless degrees.
The degrees are not only economically worthless; they are intellectual junk to boot. Outside of the STEM areas, and the medical schools, the universities of the land have become leftist seminaries and hotbeds of political correctness.
One of the reasons put forward by some conservatives for voting for the controversial Republican nominee is that not voting for him would be “a vote for Hillary”. It’s important to understand why this is a really bad argument.
I agree that it is a bad argument, and for the reason Professor Anderson gives, namely, that if the choice is between A and B, one might vote for neither. Note that Anderson doesn't name any conservative who gives the really bad argument, but if there is such a conservative, wouldn't charity require us to construe 'A non-vote for Trump is a vote for Hillary' as a loose way of saying that not to vote for Trump is to aid Hillary?
Surely the latter -- not to vote for Trump is to aid Hillary -- is true. Or if not 'surely,' then 'arguably.' I will now try to argue it out.
There are of course candidates other than Trump and Hillary, but they have no practical chance of winning. I guarantee you that Gary Johnson, the Libertarian/'Losertarian' candidate will not be the next president of the USA. So, practically speaking, it will be either Trump or Hillary. Not both and not neither. Now suppose you are a conservative who votes for neither: you refuse to vote for Hillary because she is a leftist, and you refuse to vote for Trump because he is an obnoxious vulgarian and 'no true conservative' or for some other similar reason or reasons. By not voting for Trump you aid Hillary. You are not thereby voting for her, of course, but you are aiding her because you are failing to do something that would harm her in however slight and insignificant a way.
Anderson speaks of the "neutrality of a non-vote." But are non-votes politically neutral?
Consider a simple voting situation. Socrates Jones is up for tenure. He receives five votes against and three votes for, with three abstentions. He's out like Stout. Were the non-votes -- the abstentions -- neutral? Not at all. If the three abstainers had voted for, then Jones would have been in like Flynn. So while it would be absurd to say that the abstainers voted against Jones, it remains true that their abstentions were not neutral. You could say that the abstainers were complicit in the denial of tenure to Jones. They failed to do something which is such that, if they had done it, then Jones would have received tenure.
Or consider a hiring decision, which is a better analogy. It is down to a choice between A and B. A receives five votes, B three, with three abstentions. A gets the job. Clearly, the abstentions are not neutral. If the three abstainers had voted for B, then B would have got the job.
I suppose the neutrality question is the nub of the issue.
My thesis is that IF (i) one is a conservative and wants to see the conservative agenda advanced and/or the leftist agenda impeded, AND (ii) one believes that Trump, as awful as he is, will advance the conservative agenda somewhat and/or impede the infiltration of leftist totalitarianism into every aspect of our lives and institutions, while Hillary will go full-steam ahead in implementation of the leftist agenda, THEN to abstain from the choice between Trump and Hillary is to aid the leftist agenda and to work against one's interests as a conservative, which implies that one's non-voting is NOT politically neutral.
The thesis I am opposing is the negation of the foregoing. If you deny the first conjunct of the protasis of my conditional thesis, then I show you the door, or rather, I don't let you in the door in the first place. If you accept (i) but deny (ii), then we have an entirely different discussion which I am not interested in having at the moment. The precise question in this post is not whether (i) and (ii) are both true -- I assume they are both true -- but whether, given (i) and (ii), one aids Hillary by abstaining. I say yes.
Certain conservatives want to be able rationally to resist the following sort of 'bullying' speech from someone like me:
If Hillary gets in, then we can expect all or most of the following: four more years of illegal immigration from the south; four more years of largely unvetted Muslim immigration, including Syrian refugees; four more years of erosion of First and Second Amendment rights; four years in which Hillary can make 2-5 Supreme Court appointments that will change the complexion of SCOTUS for years to come; four more years of attacks on civil society, the buffer space between the individual and the state apparatus; four more years of sanctuary cities and the flouting of the rule of law; four more years of assaults on the likes of the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who stand in the way of the pro-abortion agenda; four more years of exploding national debt; four more years of leftist infiltration of our institutions, four more years of Obama's "fundamental transformation of America," and more.
Now Trump, as awful as he is, is all we have to stop or impede all or some of the foregoing, and there is a good chance he will do some impeding while there is NO chance that Hillary will do any impeding, quite the contrary.
Therefore, if you are a conservative, then you ought to do what you can to stop Hillary; at a bare minimum you ought to vote for Trump. If you do not, you are aiding Hillary contrary to your interests as a conservative.
What is the force of the 'ought' in my conclusion? For present purposes it suffices to take it as a merely prudential ought. It would be imprudent of you, even if not immoral, to abstain given your acceptance of (i) and (ii) above.
But have I really shown that your abstention, given your acceptance of (i) and (ii) above is not politically neutral? It seems to me that I have. By depriving Trump of your vote, and persuading others to deprive him of their votes, you are lessening the number of votes he receives. How can that be politically neutral?
“We do not pay ransom. We didn’t here, and we won’t in the future.”
Barack Obama might like to have that one back this morning, to stick a pin in the moving finger that writes. But the finger done writ, and it won’t come back to cancel a single line of the president’s fatuous fib that the United States didn’t pay $400 million to ransom four hostages taken by the president’s friends in Tehran.
Perhaps the president can take some solace, thin as it is, in the fact that nobody believed him, anyway.
'Fatuous fib' is not quite the phrase. It is a brazen lie from a man who specializes in the brazen lie. And not just the lie, but every mode of mendacity.
A mere picture of the man would suffice to define homo mendax.
Vote for Hillary and you will get more of the same. The difference between her and Obama is that she is not a very good liar.
Why is this? Permit me a speculation. Hillary is much older than Obama. She grew up in a time when it was understood that there is such a thing as truth and that lying is wrong. So at some level she knows she is doing wrong when she lies. This dim awareness interferes with the efficacy of her lying. But Obama is the POMO-prez. Truth? What's that?
His brand of leftist replaces truth with narrative.
I actually saw this on the back of a car the other day. It was surrounded by other liberal bumper stickers. That suggests that no irony was intended. No doubt liberals are willfully stupid people, but is any liberal so stupid as not to know that 'b.s.' is a polite abbreviation for 'bullshit'?
A dog whistle is, according to Wikipedia, “political messaging employing coded language that appears to mean one thing to the general population but has an additional, different or more specific resonance for a targeted subgroup.”
Saying that Hillary Clinton lacks the physical and mental stamina to take on ISIS [as Donald Trump said in his speech last night] is literally saying the thing that supposedly needs to be dog whistled as a supersecret message. It can’t be secret, coded messaging when it’s the thing he says!
Complain if you like about the low level of your students, but bear in mind that you probably wouldn't have a teaching job if if it weren't for the decline in standards that led to the expansion of 'higher education.'
If you want the short answer for why the Arab world is sliding into the abyss, look no further than this little incident. It did itself in chiefly through its long-abiding and all-consuming hatred of Israel, and of Jews.
[. . .]
Yet the fact remains that over the past 70 years the Arab world got rid of its Jews, some 900,000 people, while holding on to its hatred of them. Over time the result proved fatal: a combination of lost human capital, ruinously expensive wars, misdirected ideological obsessions, and an intellectual life perverted by conspiracy theory and the perpetual search for scapegoats. The Arab world’s problems are a problem of the Arab mind, and the name for that problem is anti-Semitism.
[. . .]
Anti-Semitism makes the world seem easy. In doing so, it condemns the anti-Semite to a permanent darkness.
Today there is no great university in the Arab world, no serious indigenous scientific base, a stunted literary culture. In 2015 the U.S. Patent Office reported 3,804 patents from Israel, as compared with 364 from Saudi Arabia, 56 from the United Arab Emirates, and 30 from Egypt. The mistreatment and expulsion of Jews has served as a template for the persecution and displacement of other religious minorities: Christians, Yazidis, the Baha’i.
How ubiquitous, yet how strange, is sameness! A structure of reality so pervasive and fundamental that a world that did not exhibit it would be inconceivable.
How do I know that the tree I now see in my backyard is numerically the same as the one I saw there yesterday? Alvin Plantinga (Warrant and Proper Function, Oxford 1993, p. 124) says in a Reidian vein that one knows this "by induction." I take him to mean that the tree I now see resembles very closely the one I saw yesterday in the same place and that I therefore inductively infer that they are numerically the same. Thus the resemblance in respect of a very large number of properties provides overwhelming evidence of their identity.
But this answer seems open to objection. First of all, there is something instantaneous and immediate about my judgment of identity in a case like this: I don't compare the tree-perceived-yesterday, or my memory of the tree-perceived-yesterday, with the tree-perceived-today, property for property, to see how close they resemble in order to hazard the inference that they are identical. There is no 'hazarding' at all. Phenomenologically, there is no comparison and no inference. I just see that they are the same. But this 'seeing' is of course not with the eyes. For sameness is not an empirically detectable property or relation. I am just immediately aware -- not mediately via inference -- that they are the same. Greenness is empirically detectable, but sameness is not.
What is the nature of this awareness given that we do not come to it by inductive inference? And what exactly is the object of the awareness, identity itself?
A problem with Plantinga's answer is that it allows the possibility that the two objects are not strictly and numerically the same, but are merely exact duplicates or indiscernible twins. But I want to discuss this in terms of the problem of how we perceive or know or become aware of change. Change is linked to identity since for a thing to change is for one and the same thing to change.
Let's consider alterational (as opposed to existential) change. A thing alters iff it has incompatible properties at different times. Do we perceive alteration with the outer senses? A banana on my counter on Monday is yellow with a little green. On Wednesday the green is gone and the banana is wholly yellow. On Friday, a little brown is included in the color mix. We want to say that the banana, one and the same banana, has objectively changed in respect of color.
But what justifies our saying this? Do we literally see, see with the eyes, that the banana has changed in color? That literal seeing would seem to require that I literally see that it is the same thing that has altered property-wise over the time period. But how do I know that it is numerically the same banana present on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday? How do I know that someone hasn't arranged things so that there are three different bananas, indiscernible except for color, that I perceive on the three different days? On that extraordinary arrangement I could not be said to be perceiving alterational change. To perceive alterational change one must perceive identity over time. For there is change only if one and the same thing has different properties at different times. But I do not perceive the identity over time of the banana.
I perceive a banana on Monday and a banana on Wednesday; but I do not visually perceive that these are numerically the same banana. For it is consistent with what I perceive that there be two very similar bananas, call them the Monday banana and the Wednesday banana. I cannot tell from sense perception alone whether I am confronting numerically the same banana on two different occasions or two numerically different bananas on the two occasions. If you disagree with this, tell me what sameness looks like. Tell me how to empirically detect the property or relation of numerical sameness. Tell me what I have to look for.
Suppose I get wired up on methamphetamines and stare at the banana the whole week long. That still would not amount to the perception of alterational change. For it is consistent with what I sense-perceive that there be a series of momentary bananas coming in and out of existence so fast that I cannot tell that this is happening. (Think of what goes on when you go to the movies.) To perceive change, I must perceive diachronic identity, identity over time. I do not perceive the latter; so I do not perceive change. I don't know sameness by sense perception, and pace Plantinga I don't know it by induction. For no matter how close the resemblance between two objects, that is consistent with their being numerically distinct. And note that my judgment that the X I now perceive is the same as the X I perceived in the past has nothing tentative or shaky about it. I judge immediately and with assurance that it is the same tree, the same banana, the same car, the same woman. What then is the basis of this judgment? How do I know that this tree is the same as the one I saw in this spot yesterday? Or in the case of a moving object, how do I know that this girl who I now see on the street is the same as the one I saw a moment ago in the coffee house? Surely I don't know this by induction.
Edward of the Logic Museum bids us ruminate upon the following aporetic hexad:
We agree that visual and propositional content can be the same. The content-clause ‘that a man was dead’ specifies a content that can be seen (‘the armour-bearer saw (or seemed to see) that a man was dead’) or told (‘the armour-bearer was told that a man was dead’).
If so, content can be veridical or not. What we were told (that a man was dead) would be false if no man was dead. And it can visually appear so (‘seemed to see’), without it being so (perhaps the man is unconscious).
Content clauses can be general (‘a man was alive’) or singular (‘the same man is dead’).
Two contents can imply a third. If true (A) that a man was alive, and true (B) that the same man is dead, then true (C) that a man who was alive is now dead.
From (1) above, the same must be true if the contents are visual. If there are visual contents corresponding to A and B, then these together imply C.
But there cannot be two such visual contents A and B, because for the inference to work, the visual content must contain something corresponding to ‘the same’, in ‘that the same man is dead this afternoon’. But there is no such content. Suppose the armour-bearer sees a man alive at midday, who he takes to be Saul, but who in fact is Saul’s identical twin. Then he sees Saul dead in the afternoon. But the first visual content would be the same if it were Saul, or his twin. That is the whole point of identical twins being ‘identical’, i.e. they look exactly the same. So it is perfectly possible for two visual contents to be veridical, yet with the third content (that a man who was alive is now dead) false.
The 6 claims above cannot all be true. Clearly some must be true, and we probably have to choose between 1 and 5. Either there are some propositional contents which do not have visual correlates (1 is false), or there is some ‘singular’ ingredient in some visual contents, which generate inferences such as above. But that is implausible. How can a visual content ever contain the information that some object is identical to the object of a content perceived earlier? We might believe that, or infer it, or know it for other reasons. But there is nothing in the content itself that signifies identity.
Note there is no epistemological point is at issue. I am not asking how we know that people are the same or not. Rather, what are the logical connections between contents, and are those connections incompatible with the phenomenology of visual content?
You have mastered the aporetic method, Ed. This is a very hard nut to crack.
Perhaps I was premature to agree with you about (1). Premature excogitation? I can easily believe that the dead man is the same as the man who was alive at midday, but I cannot see that the dead man is the same as the man who was alive at midday. And this for the reason you gave. In this case, the visual content is poorer than the propositional content.
But I don't understand why you say that there is no epistemological point at issue. After all, your point, I think, is that the phenomenology of visual content does not reveal diachronic numerical identity. Identity is not empirically detectable.
Comments appreciated if you are en rapport with the subject matter.
The Case Against Facts
Arianna Betti, Against Facts, The MIT Press, 2015, pp. 296 + xxvii
If Buridan's contribution to the bestiarum philosophorum was the ass, and David Armstrong's the ostrich, Arianna Betti's is the hedgehog bristling with spines. The hedgehog is an appropriate totemic animal inasmuch as her book too bristles with sharp distinctions and prickly arguments designed to inflict pain upon the friends of facts. In this penetrating and beautifully organized volume Professor Betti deploys her distinctions and arguments against two sorts of facts, compositional and propositional, as she calls them. The states of affairs of David Malet Armstrong's middle period (Armstrong 2007) are examples of the first kind of fact. These items are the main target of Betti's animadversions in the first part of her two-part book. She does not go so far as to claim that Armstrongian facts do not exist; her claim is the rather more modest one that we have no reason to posit them, since the work they do, if it needs doing at all, can be done just as well by a certain sort of mereological sum. (101) Betti ignores, however, Armstrong's very different later conception of states of affairs or facts. (Armstrong 2009; Armstrong 2010, 26-34; Vallicella 2016) This later conception also counts as compositional in her sense and ought to have been discussed for the sake of completeness, especially since it in some ways approximates to Betti's mereological position.
One might wonder how a fact could fail to be compositional. Facts are complex or composite items, after all, not simples. So they must all have some internal composition or other, whether they be truthmaking facts or facts of the Chisholmian-Plantingian sort. At a bare minimum, a's being F is composed of a and F-ness. Thus I find less than felicitous Betti's talk of propositional facts in contrast to compositional facts as “noncompositional objects at the level of reference.” (24) She makes it clear, however, that she is using 'compositional' in a narrow sense that implies that compositional facts and their constituents are “part[s] of the furniture of the world.” (37) We shall soon see that being in the world involves being real as opposed to being ideal. An example of a compositional fact is the fact of Guido's being hungry. This fact has Guido himself, all 200 lbs of him, as a constituent. An example of a propositional fact is the putative referent of the that-clause in a sentence like 'Guido sees that Francesca is serving spaghetti puttanesca.' This putative referent is the fact that Francesca is serving spaghetti puttanesca. This propositional fact is like a (Fregean) proposition, though it is not a proposition, in that it does not have Francesca herself as a constituent, but rather an abstract surrogate that represents her. (170) (This fact-of vs. fact-that terminology is mine, not Betti's. I got it from Milton Fisk.)
Betti describes in marvellous detail seven features of compositional facts (18) and five of propositional facts (170). I will speak of C-facts and P-facts. Here are some salient differences. C-facts are in the world, and thus suited to play the truthmaking role whereas P-facts are not in the world and hence not fit for truthmaking. To be in the world is to be real where to be real is to exist “through time and in time as causes or effects in a causal chain.” (22) So C-facts are real while P-facts are ideal. The ideality of P-facts, however, is not that of propositions since P-facts are not propositions. Betti is greatly and rightly exercised by the curious in-between status of these “ghostly critters” (114) that are neither truthbearers nor truthmakers and yet are championed by such distinguished philosophers as Roderick Chisholm, Alvin Plantinga, and Kit Fine. These “ghostly critters” are not truthbearers because they are neither true nor false. But while they are not bivalent in terms of truthvalue, they are 'bipolar' (my term): while all exist, some of them obtain while some do not. They are not truthmakers since truthmakers are real and 'monopolar': if they don't exist they are nothing. Thus the fact of Guido's being hungry does not exist at all if Guido is not hungry. Propositional facts are neither fish nor fowl. The conclusion Betti arrives at strikes me as correct: “Propositional facts collapse into true propositions.” (179) Propositional facts are thus not a distinctive category of entity. We need them, she thinks, as little as we need compositional facts. Actually, her position is far more radical than this since she denies that that-clauses are referential parts of speech. So her position is best expressed conditionally by the following quotation: “If there were nominal reference to facts, facts would be true propositions . . . . (113) Her view, if I understand it, is eliminativist not identitarian: she is not saying that there are propositional facts and that what they are are true propositions; she is saying that that there are no propositional facts.
Leaving propositional facts to languish in their ghostly realm, the rest of this article will take issue with Betti's critique of compositional facts, the ones dear to my heart, the facts involved in the flux and shove of the real order. On a personal note, I want to thank Professor Betti for her very close attention to my articles on the topic.
The Case Against Compositional Facts
A compositional fact, as opposed to a propositional fact, is an entity fit to play the role of truthmaker. The truthmaker role may be introduced as follows. Consider the assertive utterance of some such contingent sentence as 'Tom is sad.' If true, this assertively uttered sentence cannot just be true: if true, it is true because or in virtue of something external to it. This use of 'because' is not causal which is why philosophers reach for the weasel phrase 'in virtue of,' which, despite its slipperiness, may well be indispensable for metaphysics. I say it is indispensable. (Or do hedgehogs eat weasels?) Roughly, there has to be something that 'makes' the sentence true. This external something cannot be another declarative sentence, even if true. More generally, a truth is a true truthbearer (a Fregean proposition, say, or perhaps an Aristotelian proposition, see pp. 31-32 for Betti's helpful explanation of the difference) and no true truthbearer is made true by another such item in the specific sense of 'makes true' in play in truthmaker theory. Nor can someone's say-so be what makes true a true truthbearer. The truthmaker has to be something 'in the world,' something extralinguistic and mind-independent in the realm of reference as opposed to the realm of sense. The friends of truthmakers are realists about truth: they are convinced that at least some truths are in need of an ontological ground of their being true.1
Truthmaker maximalists hold that all truths need such grounds, but one needn't be a maximalist to be a truthmaker theorist. As for 'makes true,' this is neither entailment nor causation. Not entailment, because entailment is a relation between propositions, assuming that truthbearers are propositions, whereas truthmaking is a relation between extra-propositional reality and propositions. So if x makes true y, then y is a truthbearer, but x is not. If someone says that the proposition expressed by 'Snow is white' makes true the proposition expressed by 'Something is white,' then that person, while talking sense, is not using 'makes true' in the specific way in which the phrase is used in truthmaker theory. Truthmaking is not causation for a similar reason: causation does not connect the extra-propositional to the propositional whereas truthmaking does. As Armstrong says, truthmaking is “cross-categorial.” (Armstrong 2004b, 5) It links the extra-propositional to the propositional.
It is important to note, however, that while truthmakers cannot be Fregean or Aristotelian propositions, and thus must be extra-propositional, they must also be proposition-like on Armstrong's approach. This is a point I think Betti misses. Speaking of compositional facts, she tells us that “facts are neither linguistic nor languagelike entities at the lowest level of reference. (28, emphasis in original) But this is certainly not Armstrong's view, the view that is supposed to be the target of Betti's critique of compositional facts. His view is that the world is a world of states of affairs, a “totality of facts not of things” (Wittgenstein) and “sentence-like rather than list-like.” (Armstrong 2010, 34) If the world is sentence-like, then, pace Betti, it is language-like. Armstrong was profoundly influenced by his teacher in Sydney, the Scots philosopher John Anderson, who held that “reality, while independent of the mind that knows it, has a 'propositional' structure.” (Armstrong 1997, 3) Armstrong goes on to say that “the propositional view of reality which he [Anderson] championed is the facts or states of affairs view of reality.” (Armstrong 1997, 3-4) That Armstrongian facts are proposition-like and thus language-like is fairly obvious when we consider the truthmakers of contingent predications of the form 'a is F.' The truthmaker cannot be a by itself, or F-ness by itself, or the mereological sum a + F-ness. It must be a-instantiating F-ness, which has a proposition-like structure. Armstrongian facts have a logos-like and thus logical articulation contrary to what Betti says in opposition to Kit Fine. (28) But now I am getting ahead of myself.
Suppose you accept the legitimacy of the truthmaker role and the need for some type of entity to play it. It doesn't follow straightaway that the entities needed to play the role must be what Betti calls compositional facts or what David Armstrong calls states of affairs. This is so even if we confine ourselves to the really clear examples of truthbearers in need of truthmakers, namely, synthetic, contingent predications such as 'Guido is hungry' or the propositions expressed by assertive utterances of such sentences. Nevertheless, a powerful argument can be mounted for compositional facts as truthmakers. The argument Armstrong and I consider powerful, however, Betti calls “unsound.” (106) Surprise!
Although she is skeptical of the need for truthmakers, she is willing to grant the need arguendo, insisting only that if we need truthmakers, a certain type of mereological complex can do the job thus rendering Armstrong's facts, as unmereological complexes, unnecessary. (102) This is why she thinks the truthmaker argument for Armstrongian facts is unsound. As she sees it, compositional facts are not givens, but theoretical posits, and unnecessary ones at that. They were invented to solve a problem, the unity problem, that arises only because of certain optional assumptions about relations and properties that one is not bound to make. (94-95) Compositional facts are an ad hoc, indeed a “maximally ad hoc,” solution to a pseudo-problem. (64)
Now let me say something in exposition of Armstrong's argument for facts or states of affairs as truthmakers on the assumption that the truthmaker role is legitimate and needs to be filled by some category of entity or other. I will then consider Betti's counter-proposal.
If it is true that Tom is sad, could the truthmaker of this truth be the item that Betti calls (8) the sentence-subject of 'Tom is sad,' namely, Tom? No, since Tom needn't be sad. So Tom by himself cannot be what makes true 'Tom is sad.' The same goes for the property of being sad. By itself the property cannot be the truthmaker of the sentence in question. (I am assuming, with Armstrong, that properties are immanent universals. Immanent, in that they cannot exist uninstantiated; universal, in that they are repeatable.) Now if Tom exists and sadness exists, then so does the mereological sum Tom + sadness. But this sum cannot be the truthmaker either. For the sum exists whether or not Tom is sad. How so?
Suppose that Tom is not sad, but Shlomo is. If properties are immanent universals, then sadness cannot exist uninstantiated; suppose it exists in virtue of being instantiated by Shlomo. So Tom exists, sadness exists, and their sum exists. But this does not suffice for Tom's being sad. There is a missing ontological ingredient: something to connect sadness to Tom. You might think that the missing ingredient would have to be the worldly correlate of the 'is' of predication. But if you take this correlate to be an exemplification/instantiation relation then you ignite Bradley's relation regress which is unfortunately vicious. Other moves invoking Strawsonian nonrelational ties, Bergmannian nexus, Fregean unsaturated concepts, and benign fact-internal infinite regresses (see Vallicella 2010), are equally unavailing. The unifier of a fact's constituents cannot be a further constituent or anything internal to the fact. This leaves two possibilities: (i) the unifier is external to the fact, which Betti rejects, and (ii) Armstrong's middle-period suggestion that facts are entities in addition to their consituents and it is they who hold fact-appropriate constituents together so that they can exercise the truthmaking function. Betti has mastered the dialectic and considers the least bad solution to be Armstrong's: facts hold their constituents together. Although she doesn't say so, she considers my solution in terms of an external unifier to be the worst. The extant putative solutions to the unity problem of course presuppose that it is a genuine problem. Betti thinks it isn't.
Betti's Dissolution of the Unity Problem
After rejecting the extant putative solutions to the unity problem, Betti proposes to dissolve it by collapsing the distinction between “relations that relate relata and relations that do not: all relations relate relata and carry out their own unifying work.” (95) She means this to apply to properties as well. All properties qualify their bearers and carry out their own qualifying work. Thus there needn't be anything to hold the constituents of a relational or as monadic fact together: nothing internal to the fact, nothing external, and not the fact itself. Betti's point is that there is no need for Armstrongian facts, facts as entities in addition to their constituents. (Cf. Armstrong 1997, 117) Her point is not that there are no facts. There may well be facts; it is just that if there are, they are a special sort of mereological sum. Perhaps we can say that she is an identitarian about compositional facts, not an eliminativist, whereas she is an eliminativist about propositional facts, not an identitarian. More on this in a moment.
What Betti has to do is block a possibility like the following. In the actual world, call it Charley, Tim loves Tina. In a merely possible world w in which Tim and Tina both exist, Tim does not love Tina, but Tim loves Toni. In Charley we have both the relational fact of Tim's loving Tina and the mereological sum Tim + loves + Tina. In w, we have the sum Tim + loves + Tina but not the corresponding fact. This implies that there is more to the fact than the sum of its constituents: the sum can exist without constituting a fact. The something more is that which makes of the constituents a real truthmaking unity. Call it the unifier. Betti thinks that the least bad of the extant proposals as to what the unifier is is Armstrong's: facts hold their constituents together; facts are unmereological complexes over and above their constituents. In short, what Betti needs to do is counter the seductive thought that in an actual relational situation such as that of Tom's loving Tina, the constituents can exist without forming a real truthmaking unity. What she needs to maintain is that, necessarily, if all the constituents exist, then the relatedness exists. If the mere existence of the constituents ensures their connectedness, then there is no need for Armstrongian facts. You would then have real unity on the cheap, real truthmaking unity from mereology alone, or rather from mereology operating upon the right sorts of constituents. The mereological principle of the extensionality of parthood would hold for all complexes. Nice work if you can get it!
Betti can achieve her end if she holds that relations are relata-specific where “A relation is relata-specific if and only if it is in its nature to relate specific relata.” (89) Suppose that the relation loves as it figures in the sum Tom + loves + Tina is necessarily such that, if it exists, then it relates Tom and Tina. Then there would be no distinction in reality between loves as a relating relation and loves as an inert relation that is merely a constituent but not also a unifier of the complex into which it enters.
Betti's contention, then, is that all relations, just in virtue of existing, are relating relations, active ontological ingredients if you will, and none are inert ingredients. A relation cannot exist without actually relating its relata. If so, there cannot be a difference between the mereological sum a + R+ b and the fact of a's standing in R to b. Given the constituents, the fact is given: it is not an ontological extra, something over and above the constituents. There is no possibility of the constituents existing without the fact existing. It follows that there is no need for facts as unmereological compositions, facts as “additions to being,” in a phrase from Armstrong. If a fact just is a mereological complex, then it is an “ontological free lunch,” to employ yet another signature phrase of the late Australian. Of course, not just any old mereological sum is a fact; only those with the right constituents.
And the same goes for properties: all properties, just in virtue of existing, qualify their bearers. There is no need for a tertium quid such as an instantiation relation to tie a property to its bearer. Nor is there any need for monadic facts as entities in addition to their constituents to do this unifying work. There is no difference between the sum a + F-ness and the fact of a's being F. For this to work, all properties have to be “bearer-specific.” “A property is bearer-specific if and only if it is in its nature to be had by specific bearers.” (90) Suppose it is true that Hargle is happy, and that being happy is “bearer-specific.” We can display the property as follows: __(H) being happy. '__' indicates that the property is unsaturated or incomplete or gappy in something like Frege's sense: if it is had by an individual it is had directly without the need of a connector such as an instantiation relation or Strawsonian nonrelational tie or a Bergmannian nexus. '(H)' indicates that the property is bearer-specific or rather bearer-individuated: if the property is had, it is had by Hargle and nothing else. That the property is had follows from its existence: necessarily, if the property exists, then it is had, had by Hargle and nothing else, and had directly without the service of a tertium quid. What this all implies is that the mereological sum Hargle + __(H) being happy suffices as truthmaker of 'Hargle is happy.' There is no need for a fact over and above this sum. Indeed, as Betti points out, the property alone suffices as truthmaker since it cannot exist unless Hargle exists. (101)
Questions and Objections
1. Why is Betti's proposal superior to Armstrong's?
Betti presents us with an alternative way of thinking about truthmaking facts, namely, as mereological sums whose parts include relata-specific relations and bearer-specific properties. Betti's main point is that “mereological complexes are viable as truthmakers; facts are not needed for the role.” (101) When she says that facts are not needed, she means Armstrongian, middle-period facts. She is not denying that there are truthmakers. Nor is she is denying the existence of facts as long as they are assayed as mereological complexes. If a fact is a complex entity that functions as a truthmaker, then her mereological complexes containing relata-specific relations and bearer-dependent properties are facts, though not in Armstrong 's robust sense. She is denying, or rather refusing to countenance on grounds of theoretical economy, facts as unmereological complexes. Her claim is that there is no explanatory need for facts as the middle-period Armstrong conceives of them, namely, as “additions to being.” Betti may bristle at my use of 'facts' in describing her position but surely there is an innocuous and nearly datanic, as opposed to theoretical, use of 'fact' according to which an individual's having a property, or two or more things standing in a relation, is a fact. Indeed, she needs this use of 'fact' just to state her theory, according to which the fact aRb is identical to the sum a + R + b, when R is relata-specific. On her view facts are a proper subset of mereological sums. That is not a denial of facts, but an acceptance of them. Unfortunately, Betti sometimes expresses herself in a misleading way. She tells us, for example, that “the thought that the world is a world without facts – one in which there is no difference between facts and sums – is shown to be perfectly sensible.” (88) This formulation equivocates on 'fact.' What she wants to say is that the world is without Armstrongian facts, not that the world is without truthmaking facts. It is the latter that are no different from sums, namely those sums whose constituents include relata-specific relations and object-dependent properties.
Betti thinks her theory is preferable to Armstrong's. I question whether she is justified in this preference. We face a tough choice. Armstrong's theory violates the extensionality of parthood and countenances unmereological complexes. This is a strike against it. Betti's theory avoids unmereological complexes, thereby upholding the extensionality of parthood, but accepts relata-specific relations and bearer-dependent properties. How plausible is it that all relations are relata- specific and all properties bearer-dependent? Are these notions even coherent? Let's consider the coherence question.
2. Against Relata-Specific Relations and Bearer-Dependent Properties
Suppose Argle is two feet from Bargle. There is nothing in the nature of either relatum to necessitate their standing in this external relation. Each can exist apart from the relation. And as I see it, there cannot be anything in the nature of the relation itself to necessitate that it be precisely these two critters that the relation relates. So on my view a relational situation such as Argle's being two feet from Bargle involves a double externality: there is nothing in the nature of the terms to dictate their standing in the external relation in question, and there is nothing in the nature of the external relation to dictate the terms. But as Betti sees it, it is the nature of this relation to relate Argle and Bargle and nothing else: the relation cannot exist/be instantiated without relating precisely these two. This implies that “as soon as” (105) the relation exists, it relates Argle and Bargle. If this conception is coherent, it has the desired consequence of undercutting Bertrand Russell's distinction between actually relating relations and those same relations as inert, and with it the distinction between a fact as a real unity of fact-appropriate constituents and the 'mere' mereological sum of those very same constituents. If this works, it puts paid to Armstrong's commitment to unmereological complexes: mereology suffices for truthmakers provided the parts of the sums include relata-specific relations or bearer-dependent properties.
It seems to me, however, that the notion of relata-specificity reduces to absurdity by way of the following argument in which R is any relata-specific dyadic external relation, and a and b are its individual relata. (See also my critique of D. W. Mertz in Vallicella 2004.) Generalization beyond the dyadic case is straightforward but unnecessary. Betti's definition of 'external relation' is standard and perfectly serviceable: “A relation is external if and only if it is not grounded in corresponding properties of its relata, that is, is an entity over and above its relata.” (89) An internal relation is then one that is grounded in corresponding properties and is not an entity in addition to its relata. Now to the argument:
P1. R is entirely dependent for its existence on both a and b. (Betti's theory of relata-specificity)
This is because (i) R cannot exist without being instantiated and thus cannot exist without actually relating some pair of individuals or other, and (ii) R cannot, as relata-specific, relate any pair of individuals other than a, b. If dyadic R were an immanent universal, then it could not exist without relating some pair or other; but it would not necessarily have to relate the precise pair, a, b. R's existence would then not depend on its relating a and b. But as it is, R is a particular (an unrepeatable), not a universal (a repeatable); it is a non-transferable relational trope. It is as particular as the particulars it relates. Its being or existence is exhausted by its particular occurrence, unlike an immanent universal the being or existence of which is not exhausted by its instantiation in a particular case. So R, as a relational trope, is entirely dependent for its existence on the exact relata it has: its being or existence is exhausted by its relating of those exact relata, the individuals a and b. Therefore,
C1. R is not distinct in reality from the particular relatedness aRb: R = aRb.
Of course, R can be thought of in abstraction from aRb. But R in reality is identical to aRb. You cannot say that they are different because aRb has constituents a, b while R does not. For R exists when and only when it is relating a and b. Apart from them it is nothing at all.
P2. The particular relatedness or relational fact aRb is identical to the mereological sum a + R + b, given that R is relata-specific. (Betti's theory) Therefore,
C2. R is identical to the sum a + R + b. (from C1 and P2 by Transitivity of Identity)
P3. No proper part of a mereological sum having two or more members is identical to the sum of which it is a proper part. (Principle of mereology) Therefore,
C3. R is not identical to the sum a + R + b. (from P3) Therefore,
C4. R is and is not identical to the sum a + R + b. (from C2, C3) Contradiction! Therefore,
C5. Either P1 or P2 is false; either way, Betti's theory fails.
Betti will presumably reject (C1). But how? She tells us that it is the nature of R to relate exactly a and b. Now if it is the nature of R to relate exactly these relata, then it is intrinsic to R that it do so. But then R is intrinsically relational, relational in and of itself. If this is neither contradictory nor magical, then it involves importing mind (intentionality) into the bowels of R. For if it is intrinsic to R that it relate exactly a and b, then R, quite apart from actually relating a and b, 'pre-selects' a and b as its relata. But this is what mind in its intentional states does. Such states are intrinsically relational: it is their nature to be of or about items that need not exist for the states to be of or about them. But surely there is no intentionality within the non-transferable relational trope R!
But what is the alternative? Will we be told that a and b are constituents of R? But then R is identical to aRb, when it cannot be given that aRb is a + R + b.
Now let's consider bearer-dependent properties. Suppose we grant, along with Armstrong (2004, 49), that some mereological complexes are truthmakers. Is it not also the case that some are not? Suppose that Gargle is lachrymose but Hargle is not. Then the following sum exists: Hargle + __(G)being lachrymose. The sum exists because its two parts exist. But the parts are not connected to form a truthmaker. This implies that on Betti's account there are two sorts of mereological sum: those that are truthmakers and those that are not. It also implies that what makes a mereological sum a truthmaker is not its being a mereological sum. What makes a sum a truthmaker is the nature of its members. Thus what makes Hargle + __(H)being happy a truthmaking sum is its second member.
But this second member has a rather intricate and puzzling structure. It is a bearer-individuated property, a property that exists only if instantiated by Hargle. Hargle can exist without being happy, but the property in question cannot exist unless Hargle exists. It is in the nature of the property to qualify precisely Hargle “as soon as it exists,” (105) i.e., as soon as the property exists. But when does it exist? When Hargle instantiates it. So it is not as if the property has its individuated nature apart from its being instantiated; rather, it receives its individuated nature by being instantiated by Hargle. It is only the existing Hargle that can make the property individuative of precisely Hargle and nothing else. So Hargle supplies the nature that makes the property Hargle-specific, or rather Hargle-individuated.
Does this not smack of absurdity? The nature of an entity is intrinsic to it; it cannot consist in a relation to an item external to it. So it cannot be instantiation by Hargle that gives the property its nature. If, on the other hand, Hargle were a constituent of the property in question, namely, __(H)being happy, then it would make sense to say that it is the nature of the property to be instantiated by Hargle. But Hargle is not a constituent of the property; otherwise the property would not be a property but the fact of Hargle's being happy.
Betti seems to face a dilemma. Either Hargle is not a constituent of the property or he is. If Hargle is not a constituent of the property, then the property has no nature that makes it dependent on precisely Hargle and nothing else. But if Hargle is a constituent of the property, then the property is a fact.
If Betti's account is incoherent, as I have just argued that it is, then it cannot be superior to Armstrong's even if Armstrong's is also incoherent. I should make it clear that I am not defending Armstrong; I admit that his view of facts is problematic. In fact, I argue that it is incoherent in Vallicella 2016. My point is that Betti's theory is not an acceptable replacement for it. Even if her theory is not incoherent, it is problematic as I will now further demonstrate.
3. Digging Deeper: Further Questions about Betti's Theory of Relations
Betti faults me (92-93) for failing to distinguish between externality and relata-unspecificity. A relation is external just in case it is not “grounded in corresponding properties of its relata . . . .” (89) “A rela tion is relata-unspecific if and only if it is not in its nature to relate specific relata.” (90) I fail to distinguish externality from relata-unspecificity in that I hold that, in Betti's words, “A relation is external if and only if it could have related another pair (or triple, quadruple, etc.) of relata.” (93, citing Vallicella 2002, 14-15, 31; 2004, 164). As I see it, no external relation has a nature that dictates that it relate only a particular pair, triple, quadruple, etc. of relata. As against this, Betti envisages the following possibility: an external relation such as being two feet from that holds, if it holds at all, between Argle and Bargle but cannot hold between any other pair of relata. The relation is external in that there is nothing in the natures of the relata that dictates that they stand in the relation in question; the relation is relata-specific in that there is something in the nature of the relation to dictate that, if it holds, it holds only between Argle and Bargle.
Now if Betti's scenario is possible, then I have blundered by conflating externality and relata-unspecificity. But while I grant that Betti's 'possibility' is combinatorially possible given her definitions, it is not metaphysically possible. I gave an argument above. So my conflation of externality and relata-unspecificity strikes me as justified.
I found Betti's theory of relata-specific relations (which draws on the work of her student Jan Willem Wieland) obscure and in need of further development. One intriguing suggestion is that “relata-specific relations can still be universals.” (91) Now there is a wholly uncontroversial sense of 'relata-specific universal' which Betti does not intend. Consider the universal taller than. This is a dyadic relation that is instantiated by ordered pairs of objects, but not just by any old pair. The pairs must be pairs of things having height. Taller than is thus specific to all and only such pairs and not to pairs of numbers or pairs of sets or pairs of propositions or pairs of angels or pairs of acts of thinking. But Betti means something different. She is apparently envisaging the possibility of a relation that is universal but that, say, relates only Guido, Francesca, Giacomo, and Maria in respect of height. Unfortunately, she gives no exemples and I am not sure what she is driving at. She brings this up because she thinks that her solution to the unity problem works whether or not one assays properties as universals or as tropes. (91) But this is all very obscure and here is a lacuna that needs filling.
My interim verdict with respect to compositional facts is that Betti has not provided a viable mereological alternative to the admittedly untenable facts or states of affairs of Armstrong's middle period.
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1It is an interesting question whether one could be an idealist and also a truthmaker theorist. Consider a Kantian who holds that phenomenal objects and events are “empirically real but transcendentally ideal” to employ a signature Kantian phrase. It seems to me that such a philosopher could maintain a need for truthmakers for some truthbearers, namely those synthetic aposteriori, and thus contingent, judgments about empirical objects and events. It seems one could combine realism about empirical truth with transcendental idealism.
When this crazy world is too much with us, we can and should retreat to the inner citadel.
Starting now, I will unplug from this hyperkinetic modern world for a period of a month or longer. How long remains to be seen. I will devote myself to such spiritual exercises as prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, hard-core philosophy and theology pursued for truth as opposed to professional gain, and the exploration of nature.
I will not be checking my e-mail except once a week. The plan is for ordinary operations to resume sometime in August.
I will avoid unnecessary conversations and their near occasion, socializing, newspapers, telephony, radio, television, blogging, facebooking, tweeting, and all non-essential Internet-related activities. In a word: all of the ephemera that most people now take to be the ne plus ultra of reality and importance. (As for Twitter, I am and hope to remain a virgin: I have never had truck with this weapon of mass distraction.)
I ask my valued correspondents to refrain from sending me any links to events of the day or commentary thereon. I am going on a 'news fast' which is even more salutary for the soul than a food fast is for the body.
From time to time we should devote time to be still and listen beyond the human horizon. Modern man, crazed little hustler and self-absorbed chatterbox that he is, needs to enter his depths and listen.
In April of 2011, 60 Minutes had a segment on the monks of Mt. Athos. It was surprisingly sympathetic for such a left-leaning program. What one expects and usually gets from liberals and leftists and the lamestream media is religion-bashing -- unless of course the religion is Islam, the religion of peace -- but the segment in question was refreshingly objective. It was actually too sympathetic for my taste and not critical enough. It didn't raise the underlying questions. Which is why you need my blog.
We know that this world is no dream and is to that extent real. For all we know it may be as real as it gets, though philosophers and sages over the centuries, East and West, have assembled plenty of considerations that speak against its plenary reality. We don't know that there is any world other than this one. We also don't know that there isn't. Now here is an existential question for you: Will you sacrifice life in this world, with its manifold pleasures and satisfactions, for the chance of transcendent happiness in a merely believed-in hinter world? The Here is clear; the Hereafter is not. It is not clear that is is, or that it isn't, or what it is if it is. When I say that the world beyond is merely believed-in, I mean that it is merely believed-in from the point of view of the here and now where knowledge is impossible; I am not saying that there is no world beyond.
Let us be clear what the existential option is. It is not between being a dissolute hedonist or an ascetic, a Bukowski or a Simon of Sylites. It is between being one who lives in an upright and productive way but in such a way as to assign plenary reality and importance to this world, this life, VERSUS one who sees this world as a vanishing quantity that cannot be taken with full seriousness but who takes it as preparatory for what comes after death. (Of course, most adherents of a religion live like ordinary worldlings for the most part but hedge their bets by tacking on some religious observances on the weekend. I am not concerned with these wishy-washy types here.)
The monks of Mount Athos spend their lives preparing for death, writing their ticket to the Beyond, engaging in unseen warfare against Satan and his legions. They pray the Jesus Prayer ceaselessly; they do not surf the Web or engage in competitive eating contests or consort with females -- there are no distaff elements on the Holy Mountain.
Is theirs the highest life possible for a human being? Or is the quest to determine what is the highest life the highest life? The monks think they have the truth, the final truth, the essential and saving truth. Thinking they possess it, their task is not to seek it but to implement it in their lives, to 'existentially appropriate it' as Kierkegaard might say, to knit it into the fabric of their Existenz. There is a definite logic to their position. If you have the truth, then there is no point in wasting time seeking it, or talking about it, or debating scoffers and doubters. The point is to do what is necessary to achieve the transcendent Good the existence of which one does not question.
This logic is of course common to other 'true believers.' Karl Marx in the 11th of his Theses on Feuerbach wrote that "The philosophers have variously interpreted the world, but the point is to change it." Marx and the commies he spawned thought they had the truth, and so the only thing left was to implement it at whatever cost, the glorious end justifying the bloody means. Millions of eggs were broken, though, and no omelet materialized.
Buddha, too, was famously opposed to speculation. If you have been shot with a poisoned arrow, there is no point in speculating as to the trajectory of the arrow, the social class of the archer, or the chemical composition of the poison; the one thing necessary is to extract the arrow. The logic is the same, though the point is different. The point for Buddha was not theosis (deification) as in Eastern Orthodoxy, or the classless society as in Marxism, but Nirvana, the extinguishing of the ego-illusion and final release from the wheel of Samsara.
If you have the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters, then by all means live in accordance with it. Put it into practice. But do you in fact have the truth? For the philosopher this is the question that comes first and cannot be evaded. If the monks of Mt. Athos are right about God and the soul and that the ultimate human goal is theosis, then they are absolutely right to renounce this world of shadows and seemings and ignorance and evil for the sake of true reality and true happiness.
But do they have the truth or does one throw one's life away when one flees to a monastery? Does one toss aside the only reality there is for a bunch of illusions? There is of course a secular analog. I would say that all the earnest and idealistic and highly talented individuals who served the cause of Communism in the 20th century sacrificed their lives on the altar of illusions. They threw their lives away pursuing the impossible. Ethel and Julius Rosenberg, for example, who went to the electric chair as atomic spies. Such true believers wasted their lives and ended up enablers of great evil. In the end they were played for fools by an evil ideology.
So isn't the philosopher's life the highest possible life for a human being? For only the philosopher pursues the ultimate questions without dogmatism, without blind belief, in freedom, critically, autonomously. I am not saying that the ultimate good for a human being is endless inquiry. The highest goal cannot be endless inquiry into truth, but a resting in it. But that can't come this side of the Great Divide. Here and now is not the place or time to dogmatize. We can rest in dogma on the far side, although there we won't need it, seeing having replaced believing.
My Athenian thesis -- that the life of the philosopher is the highest life possible for a human being -- won't play very well in Jerusalem. And I myself have serious doubts about it. But all such doubts are themselves part and parcel of the philosophical enterprise. For if nothing is immune from being hauled before the bench of Reason, there to be rudely interrogated, then fair Philosophia herself must also answer to that tribunal.
Philosophy is reason's search for the ultimate truth about the ultimate matters. But reason is not reason unless it strives mightily beyond itself to sources of truth that transcend it. So the true philosopher must be open to divine revelation. If it is the truth the philosopher seeks, then he cannot confine himself to the truth accessible to discursive reason.
A Facebook user told me he left it because it had become for him an impediment to spiritual growth. I concur and generalize: inordinate consumption of any and all mass communications media militates against spiritual health for all of us. Mass media content is a bit like whisky: a little, from time to time, will not hurt you, and my even do some good; but more is not better!
But why, exactly? Here is one answer. The attainment of mental quiet is a very high and choice-worthy goal of human striving. Anything that scatters or dis-tracts (literally: pulls apart) the mind makes it impossible to attain mental quiet as well as such lower attainments as ordinary concentration. Now the mass media have the tendency to scatter and distract. Therefore, if you value the attainment of mental quiet and such cognate states as tranquillitas animi, ataraxia, peace of mind, samadhi, concentration, 'personal presence,' etc., then you are well-advised to limit consumption of media dreck and cultivate the disciplines that lead to these states.
Of course, the quick answer I just gave presupposes a metaphysics, a philosophical anthopology and a soteriology that cannot be laid out briefly. So here are some links to related posts that fill in some of the details.
I have been reading Cesare Pavese (1908-1950), This Business of Living, Diaries 1935-1950, Transaction Publishers, 2009. I gather that Pavese was obsessed life-long with the thought of suicide. Entry of 8 January 1938:
There is nothing ridiculous or absurd about a man who is thinking of killing himself being afraid of falling under a car or catching a fatal disease. Quite apart from the degree of suffering involved, the fact remains that to want to kill oneself is to want one's death to be significant, a supreme choice, a deed that cannot be misunderstood. So it is natural that no would-be suicide can endure the thought of anything so meaningless as being run over or dying of pneumonia. So beware of draughts and street corners. (71)
From the entry of 16 January 1938:
Here's the difficulty about suicide: it is an act of ambition that can be committed only when one has passed beyond ambition. (73)
The last line of his journal, 18 August 1950:
Not words. An act. I won't write any more. (350)
Nine days later Pavese killed himself in a Turin hotel room with an overdose of sleeping pills. Apparently because of the ending of his relationship with the American actress, Constance Dowling.
Who among us has not been played for a fool by the illusions of romantic love?
Our restless hearts seek from the finite what the finite cannot provide.
To paint a massive brushstroke, I assume the difference between Europe and America is that in the former the government is seen as a facilitator and provider of peace and security, whereas in the US it seems the individual and the government are at loggerheads, hence the right to bear arms in the Constitution.
Here is the way I see it.
We too think of government as a provider of peace and security. It exists primarily, but not solely, to secure the Lockean triad of life, liberty, and property. Government is necessary to do certain jobs that we cannot do by ourselves either individually or in small groups. National defense from foreign aggressors is one such job of the central government as is the securing of the nation's borders. Government at federal, state, and local levels is also legitimately tasked with the domestic defense of the citizenry against the criminal element. And of course there are other legitimate functions of government.
So we Americans also think of government as facilitating and providing for peace and security. We are not anti-government. We are not anarchists. We believe in limited government. Patently, to believe in limited government is to believe in government. But we are aware that government is coercive by its very nature and therefore that there cannot fail to be a certain tension between individuals and groups of individuals, on the one hand, and the government on the other. If you want to say that individual and government are "at loggerheads" you can say this as long as you make it clear that this is true for everyone, American or not, who belongs to a state. And who doesn't?
Liberals like to say that the government is us. President Obama recently trotted out the line to quell the fears of gun owners:
You hear some of these quotes: ‘I need a gun to protect myself from the government.’ ‘We can’t do background checks because the government is going to come take my guns away,’ Obama said. “Well, the government is us. These officials are elected by you. They are elected by you. I am elected by you. I am constrained, as they are constrained, by a system that our Founders put in place. It’s a government of and by and for the people.
Liberals need to think about the following.
If the government is us, and the government lies to us about Benghazi or anything else, then we must be lying to ourselves. Right?
If the government is us, and the government uses the IRS to harass certain groups of citizens whose political views the administration opposes, then we must be harassing ourselves.
I could continue in this vein, but you get the drift. "The government is us" is blather. It is on a par with Paul Krugman's silly notion that we owe the national debt to ourselves. (See Left, Right, and Debt.)
It is true that some, but not all, of those who have power over us are elected. But that truth cannot be expressed by the literally false, if not meaningless, 'The government is us.' Anyone who uses this sentence is either mendacious or foolish.
The government is not us. It is an entity distinct from most of us, and opposed to many of us, run by a relatively small number of us. Among the latter are some decent people but also plenty of power-hungry individuals who may have started out with good intentions but who were soon suborned by the power, perquisites, and pelf of high office, people for whom a government position is a hustle like any hustle, a hustle in the service of personal ambition. Government, like any entity, likes power and likes to expand its power, and can be counted on to come up with plenty of rationalizations for the maintenance and extension of its power. It must be kept in check by us, who are not part of the government, just as big corporations need to be kept in check by government regulators.
If you value liberty you must cultivate a healthy skepticism about government. To do so is not anti-government.
My reader suggests that the constitutionally guaranteed right to keep and bear arms reflects the fact that in the U.S. government and citizens are "at loggerheads." My counter-suggestion is that it reflects the American love of liberty and self-reliance.
By what right does the the government deny me the means of defending myself, my family, my property, my community, against a range of malefactors running from criminals to terrorists to rogue government agents?
What you believe, or claim to believe or say you believe—not what you do or how you act or what the results of your actions may be—defines you as a person and makes you “good.” It is how your life will be judged by others and by yourself. In 19th-century France, the gastronome Jean Brillat-Savarin told us that “You are what you eat.” In 21st-century America, almost all of us seem to have concluded that “you are what you say you are. You are what you proclaim your values to be, irrespective of their consequences.” That is moral narcissism.
So George Will has proclaimed himself to be free and above the Republican Party -- most specifically the Republican Party whose current standard bearer by millions of votes is Donald Trump, a man Will obviously abhors. As the columnist said in his speech, Republicans should “make sure he loses. Grit their teeth for four years and win the White House.”
I understand why Will loathes Trump, but Will is more the quisling than the conservative when he advocates against Trump and therefore for Hillary.
I won't repeat what I said yesterday about the folly of putting up with Hillary and her crew for four years and then winning the White House.
Here is perhaps the deepest connection, the subterranean link, between the decidedly strange bedfellows, Leftism and Islamism: both deny the absoluteness of truth and both make it subservient to power and arbitrary will.
But how is it that Islamists attack objective truth? Aren't they theists? Don't they believe in an absolute source and ground of being and truth? Yes indeed. But their God is unlimited Power. Their God is all-powerful to the max: there are no truths of logic, nor any necessary truths, that limit his power. The Muslim God is pure, omnipotent will. (See Pope Benedict's Regensurg Speech and Muslim Oversensitivity.)
So we who form the Coalition of the Sane and Decent have our work cut out for us. It is a war on two fronts: against radical Islam and against their leftist enablers such as Barack Hussein Obama and Hillary 'Milhous' Clinton.
If you refuse to vote for Donald Trump because he is in several ways a loathsome individual, then I pronounce you a fool in point of the political. You don't understand that politics is a practical struggle, not a gentlemanly conversation. It is not about perfection or ideological purity or choosing the Good over the Bad. It's about better or worse in the ugly concrete circumstances in which we presently find ourselves.
The argument of George Will and others of the 'bow-tie brigade' is patently lame, as lame as can be. They will do what they can to stop Trump the vulgarian know-nothing. In so doing they support Hillary. When this is pointed out, the response is that after four years of Hillary, we will elect a 'true' conservative to the White House.
This ignores the fact that after four years of Hillary it may be too late. Four more years of illegal immigration from the south; four more years of largely unvetted Muslim immigration, including Syrian refugees; four more years of erosion of First and Second Amendment rights; four years in which Hillary can make 2-5 Supreme Court appointments; four more years of attacks on civil society, the buffer space between the individual and the state apparatus; four more years of sanctuary cities and the flouting of the rule of law; four more years of assaults on the likes of the Little Sisters of the Poor and others who stand in the way of the pro-abortion agenda; and more.
Here is another question for George and Bill Kristol and the rest of the bow-tie boys: who will be your candidate? David French? Lindsey Graham? Jeb!?
You boys live in Cloud Cuckoo Land. You are expecting the resurrection of Ronald Reagan. It ain't gonna happen.
Given the preternatural crapaciousness of the bow-tie arguments, I am permitted to psychologize.
What Will and the boys fear is the loss of their Ps: their power, position, perquisites, and pelf. They want the status quo in which they can continue to yap and scribble as before and enjoy the high life. They understand that a third term of Obama in the guise of Hillary is a better bet for them than a populist coup.