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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

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I can't explain myself very clearly in this, but I won't let that stop me, though perhaps it should--it seems to me we sometimes use our words to refer to things which are not concrete objects, but rather ideas or something abstract like that. So by "Bill", we could be referring to some assemblage of atoms in the universe, or to something else, like "the philosopher who writes on his blog almost daily"--the second option doesn't seem to me to be a thing in the world, but rather an idea, or a description, or concept, or something of that sort.

Here's another example. When I say the word "Superman", I could be referring either to some assemblage of atoms that moves around and saves damsels in distress, or else an idea or concept or description along the lines of "A superhero who saves damsels in distress," the first referent being a concrete object (or assemblage of concrete objects), the second not.

Can't we say that when we refer to persons who no longer exist, we are referring to concepts or ideas, which do not evidently need referents which actually exist in the real world? "Unicorn" is a concept I have, and it is about something which does not exist in the real world, yet we don't have any trouble speaking of unicorns if we understand ourselves to be referring to this abstract thing rather than an object in the real world. So also with words like "Caesar" or "Apostle Paul" or whatever.

I hope you can make some sense of what I've said.

Or we can appeal to immorality and say that all human individuals do still exist (their souls are immortal, after all).

Your theory is that when we refer to Julius Caesar, a person who no longer exists, using a sentence like 'Caesar crossed the Rubicon in 44 B.C.,' we are referring to a concept or idea. But surely when Brutus referred to him he wasn't referring to a concept or an idea in Brutus' or anyone's mind, but to a particular man. Same goes for us. When we talk about Caesar and predicate various properties of him we are not talking about a concept or idea in our minds. Concepts don't cross rivers. Note that 'Caesar no longer exists' is true, while 'The concept of Caesar no longer exists' is false. So in the first sentence we cannot be referring to a concept.

Bill says: "But surely when Brutus referred to him he wasn't referring to a concept or an idea in Brutus' or anyone's mind, but to a particular man. Same goes for us."

I'm not persuaded. Think of a similar line of reasoning involving someone named Clutus in lives in a different possible world:

"But surely when Clutus refers to his pet unicorn, he isn't referring to a concept or an idea in Clutus' or anyone's mind, but to a particular unicorn. Same goes for us."

If you're an actualist, the second "quotation" is false. If you're a presentist, the first is false. And you analyze apparent reference to past individuals the same way you analyze apparent reference to merely possible individuals.

Bradley,

Neither am I persuaded by your response. I would say that the second quotation is true even on actualism. So let's consider a possible world W in which Clutus refers using 'Maynard' to his pet unicorn. We can think of possible worlds as maximal propositions. Were W actual (true), Clutus would refer to Maynard not to his idea of Maynard.

You also seem to be ignoring the crucial difference between past actual individuals such as Brutus and merely possible individuals such as Clutus. Any adequate theory would have to accommodate that difference.

Hi Bill,

I'm not trying to convince you, just to give a plausible story that supports the denial of (2), since I want to accept (1) and (3).

You say, "were w actual, Clutus would refer to Maynard." Agreed. But you and I don't refer to Maynard, since he's a merely possible individual. Further, I would say, for some t such that Brutus and Julius Caesar were alive at t, "were t present, then Brutus would refer to Julius Caesar." But you and I don't refer to Julius Caesar, since he's a merely past individual.

Hi Bradley,

Now your position is clearer. I can easily see how someone could take the view that the solution is to reject (2). I can appreciate the reasons for (1) and (3), and if (1) and (3) are accepted, then (2) must be rejected. I am interested in the problem as a problem, and perhaps as an insoluble problem, a genuine aporia.

What you say follows given that you accept (1) and (3).

Ocham e-mails:

A masterful blog last night, maestro. There is a further limb you could add to your triad.

(1A) Reference is a relation between two things: a referring term and a referent. I.e. reference presupposes that the relata are *things*.

(1B) There are no non-existing things

(1A) and (1B) more or less give your first limb, that reference presupposes the existence of its relata: that the two things related are both *existing* things. However we could possibly resolve your problem by dropping (1B). Does the claim that everything (i.e. every *thing*) exists have "a strong claim on our acceptance"? Possibly not: (1B) is the 'someism' that you have argued against in the past. If it is false, then some things do not exist. Which is perfectly consistent with your third limb: if it is true that past and future items no longer exist, it is true that some things (namely past and future individuals) do not exist. (This is essentially Scotus' position.)

There is more to say, but enough for now.

Ocham

Ocham,

I almost made a tetrad out of it, but to keep it simple I combined your (1A) and (1B). I was wondering, though, whether reference is a triadic relation involving a speaker, an expression, and a referent. In any case, a genuine relation of whatever 'adicity' is such that its obtaining presupposes the existence of its relata. It follows, by the way, that intentionality is not a genuine relation, as Brentano noted in 1874.


I'm anti-Meinongian, so everything (of whatever category) exists. There are no nonexistent objects. Now if presentism is true, it follows that there are no past individuals, in which case one cannot refer to them. But one is not bound to accept presentism.

>>Possibly not: (1B) is the 'someism' that you have argued against in the past.<< No. You never did appreciate the subtlety of my position on existence. There are no nonexistent items. (I use 'item' because it is maximally noncommittal. Not sure what you are packing into 'thing' but since you are a nominalist you must mean 'concrete particular.') But even though there are no nonexistent items, existence does not reduce to someness! But this is not the place to go over that ground.

But you are right: presentism and Meiongianism are consistent. In fact, some argue from presentism to Meinongianism.

How does Scotus explain the difference between a a past individual such as Schopenhauer and a merely possible individual such as his only son, Will?

Note finally the asymmetry between past and future individuals. That has to be accounted for too. Future individuals are less real than past individuals which are less real than present individuals. The talk of 'more or less real' is meant as a provocation. [grin]

>>How does Scotus explain the difference between a a past individual such as Schopenhauer and a merely possible individual such as his only son, Will?

Scotus and many other medieval philosophers (including the real Ockham) were interested in this as it applies to the rule of dici de omni. But this would take us a little off-topic.

>No. You never did appreciate the subtlety of my position on existence.

I'm afraid I never did understand it. Perhaps one more time, one day.

Hello Bill,

In replying to Ocham you say

In any case, a genuine relation of whatever 'adicity' is such that its obtaining presupposes the existence of its relata.

I recall you saying this on more than one occasion and I wonder if you might say a bit more on it. For it would seem to make the archetypical relation, 'is a descendant of' less than a genuine relation

David,

I absolutely must apologize to you for not responding to your last two detailed e-mails which I really should think about. But there is so little time and so much e-mail.

Your objection above is a good one. From the fact that my parents are dead, does it follow that I am not their descendant? Ocham appears to deny that there is reference to past individuals. So I suppose he would also have to say that I am not the descendant of my parents. This should be pursued in a separate post.

I hope you have a happy and productive New Year.

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