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Sunday, April 09, 2017

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>>These people are called extreme nominalists. It's a lunatic position in my view valuable only as a foil for the development of a saner view.

Ramsey’s is sometimes called the ‘No truth’ theory of truth, but its final upshot is not sceptical. To say that sentences containing the words ‘proposition’ and ‘fact’ mean no more and no less than sentences which do not contain either those words or other words and phrases equivalent to them, is not to say that such sentences ought not to be used, or are meaningless; on the contrary, it is to say what their meaning is.

Prior 1971 p.12


Likewise, to say that sentences containing the word ‘property’ mean no more and no less than sentences which do not contain either that word or other words and phrases equivalent to them, is not to say that such sentences ought not to be used, or are meaningless; on the contrary, it is to say what their meaning is. Nor does the extreme nominalist have to deny that there is a property corresponding to the predicate ‘red’. X satisfies the predicate ‘is red’ = X has the property red = X is red

The Realist feels that the one‐place predication … left something unexplained, yet all he has done to explain it is offer a two‐place predication (a relational statement).

Michael Devitt ‘Ostrich Nominalism” or “Mirage Realism”?’


Whether this makes the extreme nominalist a moderate nominalist or an eliminativist is a separate and more difficult question.

Hi Bill,
Thanks very much. For the following situation

(S) Dan fears that Sam is dead,

I had described two kinds of assays

(1) Dan, the relation “fears that”, the proposition “Sam is Dead”.
(2) Dan, the proposition “Sam is Dead”, the state “Dan’s fearing that Sam is dead”,

and you raise the question: which kind should we accept? For present purposes I agree that (1)’s relation should be treated as universal. (1) and (2) aren’t the only options. (For example, Armstrong would posit both the relation and a state – at least in some cases.) My main aim isn’t to argue that the sort of view reflected in (1) is better than all alternatives per se, but to defend its (a) coherence and (b) ability to escape proposition 3 in the tetrad on divine simplicity. ((b) would also give *some* reason to think the view true, not just coherent.))

It seems you accept the following sort of truthmaking principle:

(TP) Any true sentence (at least, sentences expressing situations like (S)) is made true by the existence of some entity or entities.

Given TP, I agree, and for the reasons you give, that (1) fails to provide a truthmaker for the (S)-expressing sentence. Your response, I take it, is to posit a further entity that will make the sentence true. Assay (2) does this with the posited state. But another response is to reject TP.

I don’t find TP plausible. I can grant that true sentences (of the relevant form) are not true brutely, but are rather made true. However, TP doesn’t just commit us to that, but imposes a restriction on what the grounds for truth are: they are the (mere) existence of entities. But why can’t a true sentence be made true, not simply by the existence of entities, but by that *along with* what those existents are like (their features)? I’ll illustrate with situation (S). The following view seems plausible to me: the sentence expressing (S) is true because Dan bears the relation “fears that” to the proposition “Sam is dead”. Here, the grounds for truth (expressed to the right of ‘because’) are not simply the existence of Dan, the relation, and the proposition, but rather what those entities are like (how they are related).

But this leads to another potential objection. One might say: in virtue of what are those entities like that (related to each other in that way)? It seems to me that you raise this objection when you say: “We need something to tie together the three items in question” (Dan, the relation, and the proposition). The idea here seems to be that it can’t just be a brute matter that Dan bears the relation to the proposition. Rather, we need to posit some further entity (such as the state in (2)) to account for this relationship amongst the person, relation, and proposition. This objection is distinct from the TP-based objection. TP concerned sentences, but now, I take it, we’re dealing not with grounds for properties of sentences (truth) but rather with with grounds for goings-on “in the world”.

But I don’t see why we need to posit a further entity to “tie together” the three items. First, I don’t feel the intuitive pull of the idea that the relationship amongst the three items must have a further ground; it seems fine to take it as fundamental that certain objects are certain ways (e.g., A has such and such a mass, A and B are such and such a distance apart, etc.). Second, demanding such a further ground seems to lead to vicious regresses. Suppose the ball is red. Do we need to posit a state, “the ball’s being red”, to tie together the ball and the redness? Suppose we do, but now consider the ball and that posited state. The ball is related to that state (it’s a constituent of it). So by the same reasoning, we need to posit a further state to tie together the ball and the initial state. And so on. The regress looks vicious. We start with the idea that some items are related, and the idea is that, to ground that relatedness, we need a further item. So the posited further item isn’t just a necessary *consequence* of the relatedness, but rather (supposedly) something that *underpins* the relatedness. So the regress prohibits us from ever actually achieving the relatedness we start with.

You say:

“[I]f S bears R to p, this implies that R is instantiated by the ordered pair (S, p), and that this relation-instantiation is a state or state of affairs or event. It is clearly something in addition to its constituents inasmuch as it is their truthmaking togetherness.”

I agree that R’s instantiation by (S, p) is “clearly something in addition” to its constituents, in that it’s one thing for the three items to exist, and a further – additional – thing for the items to exist *and* be related in the particular (contingent) way they are. But I don’t agree that R’s instantiation by (S, p) is “clearly something in addition” in the sense of being clearly *some thing* - some entity/item. The basic idea here is that the world’s structure isn’t just exhausted by its ontic structure, by what exists. There are also facts about what those existents are like.

As for divine simplicity, here are the 1st and 3rd propositions in your tetrad:

“1. God is simple: there is nothing intrinsic to God that is distinct from God.

3. Necessarily, if God knows some truth t, then (i) there an item intrinsic to God such as a mental act or a belief state (ii) whereby God knows t.”

I take 1 to imply that there is *no thing* (entity, item, etc.) intrinsic to God that’s distinct from God. So, any item intrinsic to God just is (identical with) God. Suppose God believes that Sam is dead, a contingent truth. This is a fact about what God, the relation (belief), and the proposition, are like: the first bears the second to the third. But suppose we do *not* posit the existence of a further thing (entity, etc.), the state of God’s believing that Sam is dead. Then we can reject 3, specifically because there is no *item* intrinsic to God…etc. So 1 doesn’t lead to problems: we can say that any item intrinsic to God is indeed identical with God, because God’s believing things about contingent matters are not themselves bona fide items. Rather, these sorts of facts just consist in what certain items (God, etc.) are like.

Thanks for the response, Dan.

I don't accept (TP) since it is a statement of truthmaker maximalism, as Armstrong calls it. See here: http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2010/03/truthmaker-maximalism-questioned.html

But I do hold that some truthbearers need truthmakers.

>>The following view seems plausible to me: the sentence expressing (S) is true because Dan bears the relation “fears that” to the proposition “Sam is dead”. Here, the grounds for truth (expressed to the right of ‘because’) are not simply the existence of Dan, the relation, and the proposition, but rather what those entities are like (how they are related).<<

That's very close to what I am saying. Take a very simple example, 'Al is fat.' That can't just be true. It needs a truthmaker. Could it be Al? No. Could it be fatness? No. Could it be the sum Al + fatness? No. Could it be the set {A, fatness}? No. Could it be the ordered pair of the two? No. Whatever the truthmaker is, it has to have a proposition-like structure. One candidate, but not the only one, is the state of affairs, Al's being fat.

The same goes for 'S fears that p.' The truthmaker cannot be the mereological sum (S + fears that + p).

Perhaps we agree on this. If so, we can proceed.

I get the impression you may be an ostrich realist like van Inwagen. Please clarify. See here and scroll down to the section on ostrich realism. http://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2015/03/pre-print-peter-van-inwagen-existence-essays-in-ontology.html

Hi Bill,
Thanks again, and sorry for the belated reply. Discussing a puzzle about divine simplicity has led us to the metaphysics of truthmaking; I'll just focus on the latter for now - but the broader dialectic is this: I was thinking that a particular view about truthmaking can help us with that puzzle about simplicity.

Take your sentence 'Al is fat', and suppose it's true. I agree it must be somehow *made* true, and I agree it can't be made true by Al, or fatness, or the sum or set of the two.

I suspect that we disagree about the following question: Must the sentence be made true by an item (entity, etc.)? If we answer "yes", then the natural proposal is to posit an entity with, as you say, a proposition-like structure, such as a state of affairs of Al's being fat. But suppose we answer "no": though 'Al is fat' must, if true, be made true, it needn't be made true by an item. How could it be made true without being made true by an item? Well suppose we express its being made true as follows:

(*) The sentence 'Al is fat' is true because Al is fat.

That is, the sentence (a linguistic item) is true because Al (a man) is fat. The sentence to the right of 'because' in (*) expresses what it is about the world in virtue of which the sentence 'Al is fat' is true. But (*) nowhere refers to an *item* of Al's being fat. The only referring term appearing to the right of 'because' is 'Al'.

You said you "get the impression [I] may be an ostrich realist like van Inwagen", and you gave a link to another post of yours. Based on reading some of that post, I do think I count as an "ostrich" of *some* sort. Let me respond to two excerpts from that post.

[begin quote]
Suppose Max is black. What explains the predicate's being true of Max? According to the ostrich nominalist, nothing does...[W]e may also ask: what is the ontological ground of the truth of 'Max is black'? The ostrich reply will be: nothing. The sentence is just true. There is no need for a truth-maker.
[end quote]

Just as with 'Al is fat', I agree that the sentence 'Max is black' can't just be true; it must be made true. So I'm not the kind of ostrich that denies the need for the sentence to be made true. I want to say:

(**) The sentence 'Max is black' is true because Max is black.

Of course, that may then raise the question: in virtue of what is Max black? Here, we're asking for an explanation of what appears to the right of 'because' in (**). And in this case, I'm inclined to say: nothing. Max is just black. So I take it this commits me to being an ostrich in some sense. (Actually, when it comes to features of medium-sized objects, such as the color or furriness of cats, there presumably is a further explanation for the object's having the relevant feature. For example, we might appeal to "more fundamental" features of the parts of the cat.)

[begin quote]
The ostrich realist/platonist says something very similar except that in place of predicates he puts abstract properties, and in place of sentences he puts abstract propositions. In virtue of what does Max instantiate blackness? In virtue of nothing. He just instantiates it.
[end quote]

Let's grant that there is a property, blackness, that Max instantiates. The kind of ostrich position I described above says that, though Max is black, he isn't black in virtue of anything. But if we have a property of blackness, we might say:

(***) Max is black because Max instantiates blackness.

But this then raises the question: in virtue of what does Max instantiate blackness? And I'm inclined to say: nothing. He just instantiates it.

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