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Thursday, October 08, 2015


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Professor Butchvarov kindly sent me the following comments by e-mail, which I reproduce here.

Dear Bill,

I read your piece with great interest and often with much

The sort of case you mention with your example of pointing to
Peter and saying “He smokes cigarettes” is important and I had not thought of it. As you say, it involves an indexical use of 'he' but requires no antecedent to secure the reference.

You are right that “What Butchvarov ..... really
means by a dangling pronoun is not one without a noun antecedent, but a pronoun which cannot be replaced salva veritate in any sentence in which it occurs with a noun.” Your distinction between anchors and antecedents seems to me novel and important. I should have said that a dangling pronoun is one that is unanchored
rather than one that lacks an antecedent. I wish I had thought of it.

Your suggestion that 'I am thinking . . . .' means ''There is thinking going on . ...' invites the question “Which, whose, thinking?” and takes us back to the initial question, as I argue on page 38. The same can be said about your suggestion that “the primary reference of the indexical 'I' is to a thinking
thing, a res cogitans, a metaphysical self, a transcendental ego.” Which thinking thing? PB’s, BV’s, Obama’s....?

Your distinction between an indexical and a quantificational use of “I” seems to me also novel and important. You say, “if the actual world is a (nonoptical) view, then it ....has to be someone's view. There can be a view from nowhere since not every view
is optical, but I balk at a view by no one.” You are right that “someone's view” is an alternative to my “view by no one,” which I should have considered.

But, I must ask, how is “someone” in that quotation to be
understood? The use of it is a use of generality, of a general statement. I am worried about generality as much as about selfhood, and would hesitate to rely on the former in order to deal with the latter. If we agree with Frege and Russell (see chapter six of Anthropocentrism in Philosophy) that universal statements are not the conjunctions, and particular (“existential”) statements
not the disjunctions, of the singular statements that instantiate them, we are faced with the need to allow that general statements are irreducible.

In chapter seven I discuss what Wittgenstein and Bergmann held on the topic and express my agreement with them. I call the position “semirealism” because according to it, while (e.g.) “someone” does not refer to you or me or any one or anything, it does involve generality, what the quantifiers express but of course do not name.
It’s the hardest chapter in the book (because Wittgenstein and Bergmann are hard), but my point here is that the problem of self-reference is not easily resolved by replacing “I” with “someone.”

None of this shows, of course, that
I am right in holding that the uses of first-person singular pronouns are
impersonal and refer to the world. Nor does it show that you are wrong in what
you hold in your piece.

I should mention that what I hold is that strictly
speaking the pronouns refer to views, cognitions. I speak of the world only
because my topic is realism/antirealism about the world.

You say that “it is
the very nature of the ultimate subject of thought and experience to be unobjectifiable.” I am unclear about what you mean by “unobjectifiable.” It could be understood so that I agree.

You say, “if Manny, Moe, and Jack each
assertively utter (3), they express the same proposition, (4).” Well, perhaps the same proposition, but not necessarily the same views, cognitions, states of mind. All three disapprove of leaving children unattended in a car, but there may be differences in degree, motivation, justification, etc.

I agree that “truth conceived out of all relation to any mind is an incoherent notion,” but much depends on what is understood by “mind.”

You are right that “The mystery is how the words 'I' and 'think' which have clear ordinary uses are appropriate to express the unity of experience when these words used philosophically cannot
designate any items IN experience or OUT of experience,” and that the mystery is essentially Kantian. I look forward to reading what you will say in the promised subsequent post.



Dear Butch,

Thanks so much for these friendly comments. You point about generality in connection with a view's being someone's view was not noticed by me, so that looks to be a weak point in my critique.

You're right, the chapter on Semirealism is the hardest and I have comments on it that I will post later.

I will probably write a number of further posts on your book, starting with one on the paradox of antirealism and how you solve it.

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