The other day I was pleased to receive an e-mail message from Francesco Orilia whom I hadn't heard from in several years. He inquired about some correspondence we engaged in back in the spring of 2004. I thought it had evaporated into the aether, but the Wayback Machine came to the rescue. I reproduce it below, warts and all. But first a demonstration of how Italians speak with their hands. This is from our meeting at a conference on Bradley's Regress in Geneva, Switzerland in December of 2008.
Note to Steven Nemes: Tell me if you find this totally clear, and if not, point out what is unclear. Tell me whether you accept my overall argument.
The day before yesterday in conversation Steven Nemes presented a challenge I am not sure I can meet. I have maintained (in my book, in published articles, and in these pages) that the difference between a fact and its constituents cannot be a brute difference and must therefore have a ground or explanation. But what exactly is my reasoning?
Consider a simple atomic fact of the form, a's being F. This fact has two primary constituents, the individual a, and the monadic property F-ness, which a possesses contingently. But surely there is more to the fact than these two primary constituents, and for at least two reasons. I'll mention just one, which I consider decisive: the constituents can exist without the fact existing. The individual and the property could each exist without the former exemplifying the second. This is so even if we assume that there are no propertyless individuals and no unexemplified properties. Consider a world W which includes the facts Ga and Fb. In W, a is propertied and F-ness is exemplified; hence there is no bar to saying that both exist in W. But Fa does not exist in W. So a fact is more than its primary constituents because they can exist without it existing.
A fact is not its constituents, but those constituents unified in a particular way. Now if you try to secure fact-unity by introducing one or more secondary constituents such an exemplification relation, then you will ignite Bradley's regress. For if the constituents include a, F-ness, and EX, then you still have the problem of their unity since the three can exist without constituting a fact.
So I take it as established that a fact is more than its constituents and therefore different from its constituents. A fact is different from any one of its constituents, and also from all of them taken collectively, as a mereological sum, say. The question is: What is the ontological ground of the difference? What is it that makes them different? That they are different is plain. I want to know what makes them different. It won't do to say that one is a fact while the other is not since that simply underscores that they are different. I'm on the hunt for a difference-maker.
To feel the force of the question consider what makes two different sets different. If S1 and S2 are different sets, then it is reasonable to ask what makes them different, and one would presumably not accept the answer that they are just different, that the difference is a brute difference. Let S1 be my singleton and S2 the set consisting of me and Nemes. It would not do to say that they are just different. We need a difference-maker. In this case it is easy to specify: Nemes. He is what makes S1 different from S2. Both sets contain me, but only one contains him. Generalizing, we can say that for sets at least,
DM. No difference without a difference-maker.
So I could argue that the difference between a fact and (the sum of) its constituents cannot be a brute difference because (i) there is no difference without a difference-maker and (ii) facts, sets, and sums, being complexes, are relevantly similar. (I needn't hold that the numerical difference of two simples needs a difference-maker.) But why accept (DM) in full generality as applying to all types of wholes and parts? Perhaps the principle, while applying to sets, does not apply to facts and their constituents. How do I answer the person who argues that the difference is brute, a factum brutum, and that therefore (DM), taken in full generality, is false? As we say in the trade, one man's modus ponens is another's modus tollens.
Can I show that there is a logical contradiction in maintaining that facts and their constituents just differ? That was my strategy in the book on existence. The strategy is to argue that without an external ground of unity -- an external unifer -- one lands in a contradiction, or rather cannot avoid a contradiction. That the unifier, if there is one, must be external as opposed to internal is established by showing that otherwise a vicious infinite regress ensues of the Bradley-type. I cover this ground in my book and in articles in mind-numbing detail; I cannot go over it again here. But I will refer the reader to my 2010 Dialectica article which discusses a fascinating proposal according to which unity is constituted by an internal infinite, but nonvicious, regress. But for now I assume that the unifier, if there is one, must be external. If there is one, then the difference between a fact and its constituents cannot be brute. But why must there be a unifier?
Consider this aporetic triad:
1. Facts exist. 2. A fact is its constituents taken collectively. 3. A fact is not its constituents taken collectively.
What I want to argue is that facts exist, but that they are contradictory structures in the absence of an external unifier that removes the contradiction. Since Nemes agrees with me about (1), I assume it for present purposes. (The justification is via the truth-maker argument).
Note that (2) and (3) are logical contradictories, and yet each exerts a strong claim on our acceptance. I have already argued for (3). But (2) is also exceedingly plausible. For if you analyze a fact, what will you uncover? Its constituents and nothing besides. The unity of the constituents whereby it is a fact as opposed to a nonfact like a mereological sum eludes analysis. The unity cannot be isolated or located within the fact. For to locate it within the fact you would have to find it as one of the constituents. And that you cannot do.
Note also that unity is not perceivable or in any way empirically detectable. Consider a simple Bergmann-style or 'Iowa' example, a red round spot. The redness and the roundness are perceivable, and the spot is perceivable. But the spot's being red and round is not perceivable. The existence of a fact is the unity of its constituents. So what I am claiming is equivalent to claiming that existence is not perceivable, which seems right: existence is not an empirical feature like redness and roundness.
So when we consider a fact by itself, there seems to be nothing more to it than its constituents.
Each limb of the triad has a strong claim on our acceptance, but they cannot all be true as formulated. The contradiction can be removed if we ascend to a higher point of view and posit an external unifier. What does that mean?
Well, suppose there is a unifier U external to the fact and thus not identifiable with one or more of its primary or secondary constituents. Suppose U brings together the constituents in the fact-making way. U would then be the sought-for ground of the fact's unity. The difference between a fact and its constituents could then be explained by saying that the difference is due to U's 'activity': U operates on the constituents to produce the fact. Our original triad can then be replaced by the following all of whose limbs can be true:
1. Facts exist 2*. A fact, considered analytically, is its constituents taken collectively. 3. A fact is not its constituents taken collectively.
This triad is consistent. The limbs can all be true. And I think we have excellent reason to say that each IS true. The truthmaker argument vouches for (1). (2*) looks to be true by definition. The argumentation I gave for (3) above strikes me as well-night irresistible.
But if you accept the limbs of the modified triad, then you must accept that there is something external to facts which functions as their unifier. Difficult questions about what U is and about whether U is unique and the same for all facts remain; but that U exists is 'fallout' from the modified triad. For if each limb is true, then a fact's being more than its constituents can be accounted for only by appeal to an external unifier.
But how exactly does this show that the difference between a fact and its constituents is not a brute difference? The move from the original to the modified triad is motivated by the laudable desire to avoid contradiction. So my argument boils down to this: If the difference is brute, then we get a logical contradiction. So the difference is not brute.
But it all depends on whether or not there are facts. If facts can be reasonably denied, then my reasoning to a unifer can be reasonably rejected. But that's a whole other can of worms: the truthmaker argument.
Analytically considered, a fact is just its constituents. But holistically considered it is not. Unity eludes analysis, and yet without unities there would be nothing to analyze! Analytic understanding operates under the aegis of two distinctions: whole/part, and complex/simple. Analysis generates insight by reducing wholes to their parts, and complex parts to simpler and simpler parts, and possibly right down to ultimate simples (assuming that complexity does not extend 'all the way down.') But analysis is a onesided epistemic procedure. For again, without unities there would be nothing to analyze. To understand the being-unified of a unity therefore requires that we ascend to a point of view external to the unity under analysis.
I know you're in a bit of a mereology phase at the moment, but I figured I'd shoot this by you.
Mereology is the theory of parts and wholes. Now propositions, whether Fregean or Russellian, are wholes of parts. So mereology is not irrelevant to questions about the nature and existence of propositions. The relevance, though, appears to be negative: propositions are unmereological compositions, unmereological wholes. That is to say, wholes that cannot be understood in terms of classical mereology. They cannot be understood in these terms because of the problem of the unity of the proposition. The problem is to specify what it is about a proposition that distinguishes it from a mere aggregate of its constituents and enables it to be either true or false. No constituent of an atomic proposition is either true or false, and neither the mathematical set, nor the mereological sum, of the constituents of any such proposition is true or false; so what is it that makes a proposition a truth-bearer? If you say that a special unifying constituent within propositions does the job,then you ignite Bradley's regress. Whether or not it is vicious is a further question. Richard Gaskin maintains the surprising view that Bradley's regress is "the metaphysical ground of the unity of the proposition." Far from being vicious, Bradley's regress is precisely that which "guarantees our ability to say anything at all."
For more on this topic, see my "Gaskin on the Unity of the Proposition," Dialectica vol. 64, no. 2 (June 2010), 265-277. It is part of a five article symposium on the topic.
I am not sure if you believe in Fregean propositions or not. As for myself, I don't look favorably upon the idea of Fregean propositions because of the problem of Bradley's regress. (I am assuming propositions would be composite structured entities, built out of ontologically more basic parts, maybe the senses of the individual terms of the sentences that expresses it, so that the proposition expressed by "Minerva is irate" is a structured entity composed of the senses of "Minvera", "irate", etc.)
I provisionally accept, but ultimately reject, Fregean propositions. What the devil does that mean? It means that I think the arguments for them are quite powerful, but that if our system contains an absolute mind, then we can and must reduce Fregean propositions to contents or accuusatives of said mind. Doing so allows us to solve the problem of the unity of the proposition.
By the way, what you say in parentheses is accurate and lucid.
In your book, you offer a theistic strategy for solving the problem of Bradley's regress as applied to facts. I don't know that a theistic solution to the problem as applied to propositions works as smoothly because of the queer sort of things senses of individual terms of sentences are supposed to be. The building blocks of facts are universals, which are somewhat familiar entities; but the building blocks of propositions are senses like "Minerva" which are murky and mysterious things indeed. What the hell kind of a thing is a sense anyway?
A sense is a semantic intermediary, an abstract 'third-world' object neither in the mind nor in the realm of concreta, posited to explain certain linguistic phenomena. One is the phenomenon of informative identity statements. How are they possible? 'George Orwell is Eric Blair' is an informative identity statement, unlike 'George Orwell is George Orwell.' How can the first be informative, how can it have what Frege calls cognitive value (Erkenntniswert), when it appears to be of the form a = b, a form all of the substitution-instances of which are false? Long story short, Frege distinguishes between the sense and the referent of expressions. Accordingly, 'George Orwell' and 'Eric Blair' differ in sense but have the same referent. The difference in sense explains the informativeness of the identity statement while the sameness of referent explains its truth.
Further, propositions are supposed to be necessarily existent; hence the individual building blocks of the propositions must also exist necessarily. But how could the senses expressed by "Minerva" or "Heidegger's wife", for instance, exist when those individuals do not? (This is the same sort of argument you give against haecceity properties conceived of as non-qualitative thisnesses.)
If proper names such as 'Heidegger' have irreducibly singular Fregean senses, then, as you well appreciate, my arguments against haecceity properties (nonqualitative thisnesses) kick in. It is particularly difficult to understand how a proper name could express an irreducibly singular Fregean sense when the name in question lacks a referent. For if irreducibly singular, then the sense is not constructible from general senses by an analog of propositional conjunction. So one is forced to say that the sense of 'Minerva' is the property of being identical to Minerva. But since there is no such individual, there is no such property. Identity-with-Minerva collapses into Identity-with- . . . nothing! Pace Plantinga, of course.
In the case of identity-with-Heidegger, surely this property, if it exists at all, exists iff Heidegger does. Given that Heidegger is a contingent being, his haecceity is as well. And that conflicts with the notion that propositions are necessary beings. Well, I suppose one could try the idea the some propositions are contingent beings.
Are there any solutions to the former problem (which you've blogged and written about before!) you think are promising? Further, what do you think of the second problem?
Perhaps you think the second problem can be sidestepped by saying that "Heidegger's wife" is just shorthand for some longer description, e.g. "the woman who was married to the man who wrote a book that began with the sentence '...'". I don't know that it is so easy, because that sentence itself makes reference to things that are contingently existent (women, men, books, sentences, marriage...).
Yes,all those things are contingent. But that by itself does not cause a problem. The problem is with the notion that proper names are definite descriptions in disguise. If the very sense of 'Ben Franklin' is supplied by 'the inventor of bifocals' (to use Kripke's example), then the true 'Ben Franklin might not have invented bifocals' boils down to the necessarily false 'The inventor of bifocals might not have invented bifocals.' (But note the ambiguity of the preceding sentence; I mean the definite description to be taken attributively not referentially.)
The following is my contribution to a symposium on Richard Gaskin's The Unity of the Proposition. The symposium, together with Gaskin's replies, is scheduled to appear in the December 2009 issue of Dialectica.
GASKIN ON THE UNITY OF THE PROPOSITION
William F. Vallicella
While studying Richard Gaskin’s The Unity of the Proposition (Oxford 2008), the word ‘magisterial’came repeatedly to mind. Gaskin’s mastery of the history, literature, and dialectical intricacies of the problem of the unity of the proposition in all its ramifications is in evidence on every page. More than a treatment of a particular problem, Gaskin’s book is a systematic treatise in the philosophy of language organized around a particular but centrally important problem. To my knowledge, it is the most thorough and penetrating discussion of the unity of the proposition ever to appear. The fact that Gaskin’s solution to the unity problem is set within a systematic philosophy of language contributes to the book’s depth and richness, but also makes the task of the critic difficult. In a few pages, the critic cannot properly convey the systematic underpinnings of Gaskin’s formulation of the problem and his solution to it. And when the critic evaluates, he is forced to acknowledge that he is evaluating a solution embedded in a far-flung system whose ideas are mutually reinforcing. His critical points may then appear as ‘dialectical potshots’ if he cannot, as he cannot in a few pages, bring a competing system of mutually reinforcing ideas onto the field. These caveats having been registered, I proceed to sketch Gaskin’s project and raise some questions about his formulation of the unity problem. After conceding that Gaskin has solved the problem as he understands it, I will suggest that the problem lies deeper than he recognizes, and that the linguistic idealism in which he embeds his solution is problematic.
The following quotations are from A. E. Taylor's "F. H. Bradley" which is an account of his relation with the great philosopher, an account published in Mind, vol. XXXIV, no. 133 (January 1925), pp. 1-12. A. E. Taylor is an important philosopher in his own right whose works, unfortunately, are little read nowadays.
Bradley as a Religious Man
I am confident that no one who knew Bradley personally at any time would have supposed him to be anything but what he actually was, an intensely religious man, in the sense of a man whose whole life and thought was permeated by a conviction of the reality of unseen things and a supreme devotion to them.
Bradley on Bibliolatry
In the last conversation I had with him . . . He spoke bitterly of the Christian Church in our country, chiefly on the charge of an alleged 'idolatry' of the text of the Bible, a fault not, I think, really common among Anglicans at the present. He commended the Roman Church for its discouragement of promiscuous Bible-reading, but held that it did not go far enough. He would have the Church, he said, cease to appeal to any literature from the past and insist directly upon its own inherent authority as the living voice of the divine Spirit.
Bradley on Purgatory
Possibly some of my readers who know Bradley only from his books may be surprised at a remark called from him by a passing reference in the same conversation to Purgatory. "But what do you mean by Purgatory? Does it mean that when I die I shall go somewhere where I shall be made better by discipline? If so, that is what I very much hope." In another mood, no doubt, he might have dwelt on the intellectual difficulties in the way of such a hope, but it was characteristic, or at least I thought so, that he evidently clung to it.
Bradley a Mystic
Bradley's own personal religion was of a strongly marked mystical type, in fact of the specific type common to the Christian mystics. Religion meant to him, as to Plotinus or to Newman, direct personal contact with the Supreme and Ineffable, unmediated through any forms of ceremonial prayer, or ritual, and like all mystics in whom this passion for direct access to God is not moderated by the the habit of organised communal worship, he was inclined to set little store on the historical and institutional element in the great religions.
Bradley on the Incarnation
Thus while the conception of the meeting of the divine and the human in one 'by unity of person' lay at the very heart of his philosophy, he was wholly indifferent to the question whether the ideal of the God-Man has or has not been actually realised in flesh and blood in a definite historical person. Like Hegel, he thought it the significant thing about Christianity that it had believed in the incarnation of God in a definite person, but also, like Hegel, he seemed to think it a matter of small importance that the person in which the 'hypostatic union' was believed to have been accomplished should be Jesus the Nazarene rather than any other, and again whether or not the belief was strictly true to fact. The important thing, to his mind, was that the belief stimulates to the attempt to the achievement of 'deiformity' in our own personality.
at length for the non-intentionality of some conscious states. None of the opposing comments made on the various posts inclined me to modify my view. The agreement of Peter Lupu, however, fortified me in my adherence to it. I was especially pleased recently to stumble upon a passage by the great F. H. Bradley in support of the non-intentionality of some experiences. Please note that the intentionality of my being PLEASED to find the supporting Bradley passage has no tendency to show that PLEASURE is an intentional state, as 'pleasure' is used below. No doubt one can be pleased by such-and-such or pained at this-or-that, but these facts are consistent with there being non-intentional pleasures and pains. The passage infra is from Bradley's magisterial "Pleasure for Pleasure's Sake" (Ethical Studies (Selected Essays), LLA, 1951, p. 37, bolding added):
Having recently returned from the Geneva conference on Bradley's regress, I have much to ruminate upon and digest. I'll start my ruminations with some comments on Richard Gaskin's work.
In an earlier post I suggested that we ought to make a tripartite distinction among vicious, benign (harmless), and virtuous (helpful) infinite regresses. To put it crudely, a vicious regress prevents an explanatory job from getting done; a benign regress does not prevent an explanatory job from getting done; and a virtuous regress makes a positive contribution to an explanatory job's getting done. I gave an example of a putative virtuous regress in the earlier post which example I will not repeat here. In this post I draw your attention to a second putative example from the work of Richard Gaskin, whom I was happy to meet at the Geneva conference on Bradley's Regress. Gaskin's proposal is that "Bradley's regress is, contrary to to the tradition, so far from being harmful that it is even the availability of the regress which guarantees our ability to say anything at all. Bradley's regress is the metaphysical ground of the unity of the proposition." ("Bradley's Regress, the Copula, and the Unity of the Proposition," The Philosophical Quarterly, vol. 45, no. 179, April 1995, p. 176) In terms of my schema above, Gaskin is claiming that Bradley's regress is positively virtuous (not merely benign) in that it plays a positive explanatory role: it explains (metaphysically grounds) the unity of the proposition.
I will now attempt to summarize and evaluate Gaskin's position on the basis of two papers of his that I have read, and on the basis of his presentation in Geneva. (I should say that he has just published a book, The Unity of the Proposition, which I have not yet secured, so the following remarks may need revision in light of his later work.)
This is an addendum to Trope Theory Meets Bradley's Regress. In that paper I touched upon the question whether the compresence relation is dyadic or not, but did not delve into the matter in any depth. Now I will say a little more with the help of George Molnar's excellent discussion in Powers: A Study in Metaphysics (Oxford 2003), pp. 48-51. Molnar draws upon Peter Simons, "Particulars in Particular Clothing: Three Trope Theories of Substance (Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, September 1994, 553-575), which I have also consulted.
This is the paper Iam scheduled to present at the Bradley Conference at the University of Geneva in early December, warts and all. No doubt it needs more work. So comments and criticism are welcome.
Trope Theory Meets Bradley's Regress
William F. Vallicella
One of the perennial tasks of ontology is that of analyzing a thing’s having of properties. That things have properties is a datum consistent with different theories as to what properties are, what the things are that have the properties, and how best the having is to be understood. Any theory will have to provide a three-fold answer to this three-fold question. In so doing, it must show how the elements it distinguishes fit together to form the unified phenomenon of a thing having properties. Analysis is not enough for understanding; synthesis is also needed to show how the elements separated out by analysis form a unity. One of the criteria of adequacy for any theory is whether or not it can avoid the threat to unity known as Bradley’s regress.
This paper argues that trope theory may have trouble passing the Bradley test. In particular, what it argues is that (i) trope theory requires a compresence relation to account for the difference between a unified thing and its disparate property-constituents; (ii) the compresence relation is external and therefore open to Bradleyan challenge; (iii) the various attempts to defuse Bradley’s regress are unsuccessful; hence, (iv) Bradley’s vicious infinite regress is unavoidable and trope theory in its current versions may be untenable.
At Metaphysics Zeta (Book VII, Chapter 17, Bekker 1041b10-30), there is a clear anticipation of Bradley's Regress and an interesting formulation of what may well count as the fundamental problem of metaphysics, the problem of unity. What follows is the W. D. Ross translation of the passage. It is a mess presumably because the underlying Greek text is a mess. The Montgomery Furth and Richard Hope translations are not much better. But the meaning is to me quite clear, and I will explain it after I cite the passage:
In Part I of this series I provided a preliminary description of the problem that exercises Orilia and me and a partial list of assumptions we share. One of these assumptions is that there are truth-making facts. We also both appreciate that Bradley's Regress ('the Regress') threatens the existence of facts. Why should this be so? Well, the existence of a fact is the unity of its constitutents: when they are unified in the peculiar fact-constituting manner, then the fact exists. But this unity needs an explanation, which cannot be empirical-causal, but must be ontological. The existence of facts cannot be taken as a brute ontological fact. But when we cast about for an explanation, we bang into the Regress. Let me now try to clarify this a bit further. We distinguish between an internal Regress and an external Regress, and in both cases we must investigate whether it is vicious or benign.
I was invited to attend a workshop on Bradley's Regress at the University of Geneva this December. Francesco Orilia will also be in attendance. He and I corresponded about Bradley and facts four or so years ago. He has read some of my work and I have read some of his. This series of posts is a new attempt at understanding his position and differentiating it from mine. It is based on his "States of Affairs: Bradley vs. Meinong" in Venanzio Raspa, ed., Meinongian Issues in Contemporary Italian Philosophy, Ontos Verlag, 2006, pp. 213-238.
1. The Problem in a First Rough Formulation
A fact or state of affairs (STOA) is a contingent unity of certain ontological constituents, for example, a (thin) particular and a universal. It is this unity that is responsible for a fact's being a truth-maker, as opposed to a mere collection of entities. Obviously, it is Al’s being fat, rather than the mere collection of Al and fatness, that makes true the proposition that Al is fat. We take as given the difference between a fact and its constituents, between a's being F, on the one hand, and the set or sum consisting of a and F-ness, on the other. The difference is clear if one notes that, for example, Al and fatness can exist without it being the case that Al is fat. (The converse of course does not hold.) There is more to Al's being fat than Al and fatness. The problem is to give an account of this 'more.' What is it that makes a fact more than its constituents?