Sunday, August 01, 2010

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Bill,

Can't I say the following?

1. If there were nothing, there would be no facts, including the fact that there is nothing.

2. But it can still be a fact in the world of something (our world), that if there were nothing, there would be nothing at all, including no facts. This proves that nothing cannot be thought from nothing, but it doesn't seem to exclude thinking about nothing from something.

3. Similarly, if there were no truths, there would be no truth that there are no truths. But, quid est veritas? Suppose we say that truth is the equation of thought and being (Aquinas), then there is no truth in any universe in which being cannot be recapitulated in thought; in other words, any universe without intelligent life. In yet other words, to raise the question of the possibility of truth is to answer it, since such a question can only be raised by an intelligent being. But doesn't that leave open the possibility of a world without out truth? It would just be a world without creatures capable of raising the question.

To add to and then contradict what David had to say: it seems to me that the problem arises because you multiply entities in a wantonly Platonic fashion (forgive me; I’ve wanted to use “wantonly Platonic” for a long time). This is the case when you say:

If there were nothing, then it would be a fact that there is nothing.

At is the case when you say:

[N]othingness is the determinate 'state' of there being nothing at all.

And it would be the case if you were to say, as I believe I recall you have:

If there were nothing, there would still be the null set, the set having no members.

There is no need to so multiply entities. Bringing Quine back into the discussion and assuming that he still exists, there is no need to say:

In addition to and distinct from Quine, there is the fact that Quine exists.

In addition to and distinct from Quine, there is state of Quine’s being.

In addition to and distinct from Quine, there is the set of which Quine is the sole member.

It seems to me that the puzzle you are dealing with disappears if you let go of facts, states, and sets in addition to the existents or beings of which they would be the facts, states, and sets.

I am myself currently puzzling about a related matter, that of Aquinas’s argument, in the “Third Way,” that if at one time there had been nothing, then even now there would be nothing. I’ll reword it: if at one time it had not been the case that there had been something, then even now it would be the case that there was nothing. Whoops! Cases! I’ve multiplied entities. So I’ll reword it again: if at one time it no thing had been, then even now no thing would be. Moreover, of course, it would seem that there would have been and would be no time.

Richard,

"if at one time it no thing had been, then even now no thing would be. Moreover, of course, it would seem that there would have been and would be no time."

The phrase 'no thing' is presumably a quantified phrase: i.e., it means something like "it is not the case that there exists an x..." The trouble is that now you need a domain for the variable 'x' to range over and at least in first-order it is assumed that there is at least one object in the domain of the quantifiers. So clearly we cannot interpret the quoted phrase in first order languages. So I am not sure how to interpret this phrase in order to conform to your intent.

David,

Obviously, only an existing thinker can think. So only an existing thinker can think about the possibility of there being nothing at all.

Beyond that, I'm not sure what you are saying.

Richard,

Thank you for your comment, but I deny that I am 'multiplying entities.'

Note first just how hopelessly vague that phrase is. There are the entities there are, and our job is to recognize them. So one cannot 'multiply' them. Of course, I can make things that do not now exist, but that is not what is intended by Occam's Razor.

So what precise sense can we attach to 'Do not multiply entities beyond necessity'? Note first that it is not individual entities, but TYPES of entity, that we are being enjoined not to multiply. The idea, then, is that in our philosophical explanations we should not posit types of entity beyond what we need to explain the phenomena we are trying to explain.

For example, and connecting up with an earlier thread, if we can adequately explain the semantics of 'Demonstrators are surrounding the building' without positing sets or mereological sums, then we should do so.

One cannot shame a type of entity out of existence by calling it 'Platonic.' For that is just name-calling. There are the entities that thetre are. So if there are abstract entities, then we have to accept them.

The Razor is not very useful since almost everyone accepts it. Don't we all agree that we ought not posit types of entity beyond what is needed for explanatory purposes? Disagreement arises concerning what is needed for explanatory purposes. People on this site are debating whether sets ought to be admitted into our ontology. Presumably, they agree that they should be admitted only if they are needed. What they don't agree on is whether they are needed.

You seem to be saying that my puzzle arises only on the false assumption that there certain abstract entities. But you haven't show that the assumption is false; you merely assume that it is false, coming as you are from an Aristotelian position.

Here is what I wrote above: "If there were nothing, then it would be a fact that there is nothing. And so there would be something, namely, that very fact." Apparently you don't feel the force of that. If you don't, then we probably cannot discuss this particularly topic further. It is a rock-bottom intuition. I have it; I can't shake it; if you don't share it then we have to agree to disagree.

As an intuition, it is something 'datanic' and thus prior to philosophical theorizing. Maybe it does or maybe it doesn't imply the existence of abstract entities. If it does, then I can take the intuition as part of an argument for abstract entities. If you start off by assuming that there cannot be any abstract entities, then you simply beg the question against me.

As for Quine the man, he died some years back. As for your Quine examples, you are just being dogmatic. If you think there is no difference between Quine and the existence of Quine, then I would say that that is a serious mistake and refer you to my book on existence.

The main thing, though, is to not be dogmatic, but to give arguments. You cannot refute a position by labelling it 'Platonic' - that's just name-calling -- or by saying it 'multiplies entities' -- that's too vague to be helpful. These are ways of DISMISSING a position, which is not the same as REFUTING it.

Bill,

I'm just trying to understand your definitions of "truth" and "fact."

Under Aquinas's definition, the truth puzzle is no puzzle at all. Truth is found in the intellect, as the equation of thought with being, so if there are no intelligent beings, there is no truth, including the truth that there is no truth. No problem. I think a similar analysis would hold with "fact."

So I'm guessing that your definition of "truth" is different than Aquinas's (maybe I'm just missing something), and I'm just wondering what it would be to make the truth puzzle really a puzzle.

Richard,

". . .if at one time no thing had been, then even now no thing would be."

This counterfactual conditional is clearly intelligible. You understand it, hence you understand both the antecedent and the consequent.

The sense of the antecedent is this: There was a time when nothing existed except time itself.

Now how can you fail to see that 'nothing existed except time itself' picks out a state of affairs? Don't let anti-Platonic prejudice prevent you from admitting the obvious. Will you tell me that the referent of the sentence is a primary substance?

I readily say, “Yes, of course,” to most of what you say, e.g., “I can make things that do not now exist, but that is not what is intended by Occam's Razor.” You are, however, “multiplying entities,” though whether or not beyond necessity is open to argument.

I don’t think that we should take the injunction, “Do not multiply entities beyond necessity,” to actually and exclusively mean “Do not multiply types of entities beyond necessity.” It seems to me that we should also avoid multiplying individuals beyond necessity. At any rate, as my comments bearing on your introduction of abstract entities would indicate, I certainly have no trouble at all agreeing that we should not multiply types of entities beyond necessity; I am indeed leery of invoking any types of entities, as distinguished from individuals and their individual parts, powers, and attributes.

You said:

You seem to be saying that my puzzle arises only on the false assumption that there certain abstract entities. But you haven't show that the assumption is false; you merely assume that it is false, coming as you are from an Aristotelian position.

The point that I was trying to make was indeed that your puzzle arises because of the assumption that there are certain abstract entities. I still think that that is the case. I did not, I readily admit, show that your assumption is false.

I absolutely agree with:

One cannot shame a type of entity out of existence by calling it 'Platonic.' For that is just name-calling. There are the entities that there are. So if there are abstract entities, then we have to accept them.

I guess my attempt at being playful about the differences between your version of Platonism and mine of Aristotelianism fell a bit short of its mark.

I find your remarks about intuition very interesting. On the one hand, I am very much inclined to accept intellectual intuition as the first intellectual apprehension we have of things. Above and beyond the role played by sensation, we can only have an intelligent understanding that there are things existing if we have a first intellectual apprehension, i.e., an intellectual intuition, of them. But I don’t “feel the force” of what you consider your intuition of facts or sets. So, while I don’t want to agree to disagree, I do agree that we dodisagree.

By the way, a central question motivating the ponderings I engage in on Gnosis and Noesis is that of whether or not we are capable of an intellection intuition of any non-physical reality, other than our own mind, an intellection intuition, that is, which is not based in sensation. The gnosis to which the “Gnosis” of Gnosis and Noesis points is or would be an immediate intellection intuition of the divine.

Accounting for the semantics of “Demonstrators are surrounding the building” without positing sets or mereological sums is indeed a challenge. At present I am not up to meeting it.

Bill, re the “If at one time no thing had been, then even now no thing would be. Moreover, of course, it would seem that there would have been and would be no time”: it is not my intent that is important here; I’m trying to understand what Aquinas’s intent was.

You’re right about the one trouble, that of the assumption that there needs to be at least one object in the domain over which a variable is to range. I guess, had Gorgias thought himself bound by the dictates of post-Fregean logic, he would have hesitated before saying, “Nothing exists.”

But then there is the other trouble. Since time is, for Aristotle and Aquinas, an accident of a physical being, it follows that there is no time if there are no physical beings. How then can we understand “a time when there was nothing.”

Put a question mark at the end of that last sentence.

Richard,

I have time for just one comment on the term 'intuition.' I was using it in the contemporary as opposed to the classical way. Classically, intuition is direct cognition of an object or state of affairs, cognition not mediated by concepts. A distinction was made between sensible and intellectual intuition. The contemporary sense is hard to explain. If a philosopher speaks of his moral intuitions, he is speaking of his pre-theoretical sense of what is right and wrong. Similarly, I have the pre-theoretical sense that if there were nothing, then that would be the way things are.

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