What follows are some ideas from London Ed about a book he is writing. He solicits comments. Mine are in blue.
The logical form thing was entertaining but rather off-topic re the fictional names thing. On which, Peter requested some more.
Let’s step right back. I want to kick off the book with an observation about how illusion impedes the progress of science. It looks as though the sun is going round the earth, so early theories of the universe had the earth standing still. It seems as though objects are continuously solid, and so science rejected the atomists’ theory and adopted Aristotle’s theory for more than a millenium.
A final example from the psychology of perception: in 1638, Descartes takes a eye of a bull and shows how images are projected onto the retina. He finally disproves the ‘emissive theory of sight’. The emissive theory is the naturally occurring idea that eyesight is emitted from your eye and travels to and hits the distant object you are looking at. If you ask a young child why you can’t see when your eyes are shut, he replies (‘because the eyesight can’t get out’).
Scientific progress is [often] about rejecting theories based on what our cognitive and perceptual framework suggests to us, and adopting theories based on diligent observation and logic.
We reject ‘eyebeams’. We reject the natural idea that the mental or sensitive faculty can act at a distance. When we look at the moon, science rejects the idea that a little ethereal piece of us is travelling a quarter of a million miles into space. Yet – turning to the main subject of the book – some philosophers think that objects themselves somehow enter our thoughts. Russell writes to Frege, saying “I believe that in spite of all its snowfields Mont Blanc itself is a component part of what is actually asserted in the proposition ‘Mont Blanc is more than 4,000 metres high”. Kaplan mentions, with apparent approval, the idea that the proposition ‘John is tall’ has two components: the property expressed by the predicate ‘is tall’, and the individual John. “That’s right, John himself, right there, trapped in a proposition”. The dominant theory in modern philosophical logic is ‘direct reference’, or object-dependent theories of semantics: a proper name has no meaning except its bearer, and so the meaning of ‘John is tall’ has precisely the components that Kaplan describes.
BV: I too find the notion that there are Russellian (as opposed to Fregean) propositions very hard to swallow. If belief is a propositional attitude, and I believe that Peter is now doing his grades, it is surely not Peter himself, intestinal contents and all, who is a constituent of the proposition that is the accusative of my act of belief. The subject constituent of the proposition cannot be that infinitely propertied gnarly chunk of external reality, but must be a thinner sort of object, one manageable by a finite mind, something along the lines of a Fregean sense.
The purpose of the proposed book is to advance science by showing how such object-dependent theories are deeply mistaken, and also to explain why they are so compelling, because of their basis on a cognitive illusion as powerful as the illusions that underlie the geocentric theory, or the emissive theory of sight.
What is the illusion? The argument for object dependence is roughly as follows
(1) We can have so-called ‘singular thoughts’, such as when we think that John is tall, i.e. when we have thoughts expressable [expressible] by propositions [sentences, not propositions] whose subject term is a proper name or some other non-descriptive singular term.
(2) A singular term tells us which individual the proposition is about, without telling us anything about it. I.e. singular terms, proper names, demonstratives, etc. are non-descriptive. They are ‘bare individuators’.
BV: This is not quite right. Consider the the first-person singular pronoun, 'I.' This is an indexical expression. If BV says, 'I am hungry,' he refers to BV; if PL says 'I am hungry,' he refers to PL. Either way, something is conveyed about the nature of the referent, namely, that it is a person or a self. So what Ed said is false as it stands. A use of 'I' does tell us something about the individual the sentence containing 'I' is about.
Examples are easily multiplied. Apart from the innovations of the Pee Cee, 'she' tells us that the individual referred to is female. 'Here' tells us that the item denoted is a place, typically. 'Now' picks out times. And there are other examples.
There are no bare items. Hence there cannot be reference to bare items. All reference conveys some property of the thing referred to. But variables may be a counterexample. Consider 'For any x, x = x.' One could perhaps uses variables in such a way that there is no restriction on what they range over. But it might be best to stay away from this labyrinth.
One criticism, then, is that there are no bare individuators. A second is that it is not a singular term, but a use of a singular term that individuates. Thus 'I' individuates nothing. It is PL's use of 'I' that picks out PL.
(3) If a singular term is non-descriptive, its meaning is the individual it individuates. A singular term cannot tell us which individual the proposition is about, unless there exists such an individual.
The course of the book is then to show why we don’t have to be forced into assumption (3). There doesn’t have to be (or to exist) an individual that is individuated. The theory of non-descriptive singular terms is then developed in the way I suggested in my earlier posts. Consider the inference
Frodo is a hobbit
Frodo has large feet
Some hobbit has large feet
I want to argue that the semantics of ‘Frodo’ is purely inferential. I.e. to understand the meaning of ‘Frodo’ in that argument, it is enough to understand the inference that it generates. That is all.
BV: 'Frodo' doesn't generate anything. What you want to say is that the meaning of 'Frodo' is exhausted by the inferential role this term plays in the (valid) argument depicted. Sorry to be such a linguistic prick.
What you are saying is that 'Frodo,' though empty, has a meaning, but this meaning is wholly reducible to the purely syntactical role it plays in the above argument. (So you are not an eliminativist about the meanings of empty names.) But if the role is purely syntactical, then the role of 'Frodo' is the same as the role of the arbitrary individual constant 'f' in the following valid schema:
(Ex)(Hx & Lx).
But then what distinguishes the meaning of 'Frodo' from that of 'Gandalf'?
Meinongian nonentities are out. Fregean senses are out. There are no referents in the cases of empty names. And yet they have meaning. So the meaning is purely syntactical. Well, I don't see how you can squeeze meaning out of bare syntax. Again, what distinguishes the meaning of the empty names just cited? The obviously differ in meaning, despite lacking both Sinn and Bedeutung.
We don’t need an object-dependent semantics to explain such inferences, and hence we don’t need object-dependence to explain the semantics of proper names. If an inferential semantics is sufficient, then the Razor tells us it is necesssary: Frustra fit per plura, quod potest fieri per pauciora.
BV: You should state explicitly that you intend your inferential semantics to hold both for empty and nonempty names.
And now we see the illusion. The proposition
John is thinking of Obama (or Frodo, or whomever)
has a relational form: “—is thinking of –”. But it does not express a relation. The illusion consists in the way that the relation of the language so strongly suggests a relation in reality. It is the illusion that causes us “to multiply the things principally signified by terms in accordance with the multiplication of the terms”.
That’s the main idea. Obviously a lot of middle terms have been left out. Have at it.
BV: So I suppose what you are saying is that belief in the intentionality of thought is as illusory as the belief in the emissive theory of sight. Just as the the eye does not emit an ethereal something that travels to the moon, e.g., the mind or the 'I' of the mind -- all puns intended! -- does not shoot out a ray of intentionality that gloms onto some Meinongian object, or some Thomistic merely intentional object, or some really existent object.
You face two main hurdles. The first I already mentioned. You have to explain how to squeeze semantics from mere syntax. The second is that there are theoretical alternatives to the view that intentionality is a relation other than yours. To mention just one: there are adverbial theories of intentionality that avoid an act-object analysis of mental reference.