« Popcorn Too? Food Fascists Gone Wild | Main | Saturday Night at the Oldies Deferred: Dick Dale, King of the Surf Guitar »

Sunday, June 17, 2012


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Peter and Bill: Speaking of ignored comments, I too thought the debate was getting bogged down, and I offered a way forward. No one answered the question I asked in that comment.

Bill's original "Why are there any CCBs?" is now apparently being interpreted as "Why is the property of being a CCB instantiated?" That's fine; there's no relevant difference between the two questions. Why are there penguins? There's an empirical answer, and it's the same as the answer to "Why does the actual world have the property of containing penguins?" and "Why is the property of being a penguin actually instantiated?"

You say (in C.4) that the question "Why is the property of being a CCB instantiated?" can't have an empirical answer. Why not? If you object to my invoking only CCBs to answer the question, then I think you're relying on principle GP, which (although true) doesn't support your objection, because (as Bill agrees) 'CCB' doesn't denote a sort. If there's some other principle that supports your objection, I'd love to hear it. I haven't been able to devise one that survives counterexamples.

Steve M.

Before engaging your questions above, I have one:

Do you accept the semantic thesis as stated (or a preferred variant of your choice) or not?


I don't want to dodge any of your comments. I hope to get to the one you link to above. But first I need to respond to your response to my question, Why is A actual? I hope to get to that later in the day. (There is more to life than blogging; there are other phil. projects, not to mention working in the yard, eating, etc.)

Since the present post his Peter's, he should respond to your questions.

But do you agree that Peter has correctly represented your semantic thesis and that this is the nervus probandi of your entire argument?

And do you agree that the argument I gave above in blue is a reasonable objection to your semantic thesis? How would you respond to it?

Let me say what I would consider a successful termination of this discussion: not that I convince you or that you convince me; that is very unlikely to happen. I would be happy if you were to admit that I have good (even if not absolutely compelling) reasons for rejecting your view.

Peter and Bill: First I want an answer to my question from June 15. That question, in my view, gets to the heart of the matter. If it's not GP you're using, then what other principle is it?

OK, Steve, I will do as you request. You wrote:

>>Maybe this will convince you? The general principle you seem to be assuming is this:

(GP) You can't explain why there are any A's at all by invoking only items of kind (or sort) A, even if your explanation goes on forever.

GP is a correct principle, as far as I can see. GP implies that you can't explain why there are any penguins at all just by talking about more penguins, even if you talk forever. Right! But then you seem to move, on the basis of GP, to this conclusion: You can't explain why there are any CCBs at all by invoking only CCBs. If that's your reasoning, then we both know why it's mistaken: 'CCB' doesn't denote a kind (or sort), so you can't use GP to deduce your conclusion about CCBs.


I never made use of any such principle as (GP), nor did Peter. I agree with you that (GP) is true, but it is also too trivial to be of any use.

A naturalistic explanation of why there are penguins would belong under the rubric speciation as that term is used by evolutionary biologists. Species are not fixed and immutable, as you know: they evolve. The members of the new species evolve, but not from nothing. They evolve from the members of other species in definite concrete and conctingent environments. These members and the items in their environments are of course CCBs.

Since I don't invoke (GP), I don't draw any conclusions from it.

What we are saying is not a conclusion from (GP). And I think you understand what we are saying, namely, that one cannot explain why there are any CCBs at all by citing other CCBs.

You have the strange notion that what I just said rests on the assumption that CCBs are a special sort (kind, species) as if in addition to bacteria, fungi, hummingbirds, sequoias, etc. there are also CCBs which would require a separate evolutionary-biological explanation.

But nobody has ever said that, and when I asked you for examples of philosophers who had said that, you remained silent. As I said before, I think you are committing a straw man fallacy.

The problem here is that you are simply assuming the truth of your central theis, but without adequately responding to the objections to it (such as the one in blue near the top of the current main post). That is, you are assuming the truth of the semantic thesis that Peter set forth fairly and accurately above.

But the truth of the semantic thesis is exactly the issue in dispute. We deny, for good reason, that 'CCB' is meaningless unless replaced by a sortal.

Bill: Your last comment doesn't address my question. You wrote, "[O]ne cannot explain why there are any CCBs at all by citing other CCBs." You've said that before, and it's exactly the claim I've been disputing from the get-go. So I'm entitled to ask you why I should accept the claim. It's by no means an obvious claim, so I want to know its justification. I offered GP as a possible justification for it, since you'd offered none at all. If you think I'm committing a straw man fallacy in offering GP, then replace the straw man with your actual justification. Until you do, I see no way for this debate to progress.


I did as you requested, now please do what I and Peter requested: tell us whether you accept the semantic thesis Peter laid out at the top of the main post.

It would also be nice if you responded to the objection in blue at the top of the post. To my mind, that objection refutes the semantic thesis to which you are committed.

I will put my objection in the form of a dilemma that Steve M. faces:

Either he accepts the semantic thesis as the primary premise of his argument or he does not.

(HI) If he opts for the first horn of the dilemma and accepts the semantic thesis as a primary premise, then his argument about the meaninglessness of ‘Why-any?’ questions may be valid, but it is certainly not sound. It is not sound because Steve M’s semantic thesis is clearly false. Bill presented a fairly convincing counter-example to the semantic thesis and so did I in a previous post. Moreover, Steve M’s own paper contains numerous examples of meaningful sentences in which dummy-sortals appear (without any suitable background presupposition).

(HII) If, on the other hand, Steve M rejects the semantic thesis as a premise of his argument, then he cannot use it to justify his claim that questions of the form 'Why any CCBs exist?'? are instances of meaningless questions simply because they violate the semantic thesis.

In particular, he is not entitled to infer the conclusion that ‘Why-any?’ questions are meaningless from any considerations he adduces regarding the 'How many?' question, even if he is completely right about the later. This has been Bill’s objection from the start.

Thus, if Steve M opts for HII, then his argument is either a case by case argument or else an argument by analogy. Steve M did not offer any considerations that are specific to ‘Why any?’ questions and that show that these questions are meaningless. Hence, his argument is not a case by case argument.

Moreover, Steve M did not show that the ‘Why-any?’ question is analogous in the relevant respects to ‘How many?’ questions. Moreover, Bill in particular as well as I offered several arguments to show that the two types of questions are not analogous. Hence, Steve M’s argument is not based on analogy.

Therefore, if he opts for HII, there seems to be no argument to support the conclusion that ‘Why-any?’ questions are meaningless.

Thanks, Peter. If your summary is not the last word, then it is pretty close to it.

If Maitzen accepts the semantic thesis (your A1 above), then he accepts something that is plainly false for the reason I gave on several occasions and repeated above (in blue).

But if M. rejects the semantic thesis, then he has given us no reason for regarding the 'Why any?' question as meaningless. As pointed out above (in blue), he cannot use (a) to justify (b); he cannot validly infer the meaninglessness of the 'Why any?' question from the (admitted) meaninglessness of the 'How many?' question.

On a charitable interpretation, M. is not inferring (b) from (a): he is presupposing the truth of the semantic thesis. That is the lynchpin of his entire argument. There is a valid argument from the semantic thesis to the claim that the 'Why any?' question is meaningless.

The semantic thesis, however, is false. This is why M's argument for the meaninglessness of the modified Leibniz question is unsound.

Peter, you've nailed it!

Ah, so apparently "the semantic thesis" is only clause 1 in the 361-word (!) section that Peter labels "Semantic Thesis"? But clause 1 itself contains three sentences. Is "the semantic thesis" the conjunction of those three sentences?

In any case, if "the semantic thesis" implies that "Cats are CCBs" is meaningless, then I reject the semantic thesis. I don't think I ever said anything that implies the meaninglessness of the sentence "Cats are CCBs." If you can show me where I did, I'll happily retract it.

There. Now, I'd like an answer to the more important question I've asked repeatedly: Why can't the existence of CCBs be explained by invoking only CCBs, even if the explanation goes on forever? The answer isn't self-evident (to me anyway). I wait with bated breath!

Hi Steve M,

>> Why can't the existence of CCBs be explained by invoking only CCBs,
>> even if the explanation goes on forever? The answer isn't self-
>> evident (to me anyway).

Because the explanandum (the existence of CCBs) is contained in the explanans -- how is this not self-evident? Yes, the existence of some particular CCB(s) may be explained by reference to other CCBs; but the existence of CCBs in general, i.e. the existence of any CCBs at all, cannot be explained by reference to CCBs.

Your response to this, it seems, is to claim not to understand what the question means, if by "CCB" is not meant "cat", "dog", etc. But if this is your response, then you evidently do not think "being" (and thus "concrete contingent being") to be an independently meaningful term; it is of itself semantically empty, but it gains semantic content when it is specified within the context of some particular dialog that it will mean "cat", "dog", or whatever -- in other words, you do (contrary to your own testimony) accept the evidently false semantic thesis of A1 above.

If, on the other hand, the term "being" does have meaning on its own, then you cannot claim not to understand what the question, "Why should any contingent concrete being exist at all?" means on the basis of its own meaninglessness. At best, it is due to your own ignorance of the meaning of the English term. What is meant is not cat, dog, boar, or the disjunction of these; what is meant is being, a term which, though it does not denote a kind, is nevertheless meaningful.


I don't think I could put it any more clearly than you do in your first two paragraphs.

I'll paraphrase your first paragraph in different, but equivalent, terms. The explanation that Steve M gives is blatantly circular: it presupposes what it is supposed to explain. What is to be explained is why there are any CCBs at all (why there are any CCBs in general, as you put it). The explanation, however, presupposes that there are CCBs.

I agree with your second para. If Steve M does not accept the semantic thesis A1 above, then I have no ideas what he is doing in his paper. Or does he prefer to fall onto the second horn of Peter's dilemma?

I agree with the third as well, except for the phrase "on the basis of its own meaninglessness." That is unclear, and Peter thinks so too. Delete that phrase and the sentence is clear.

I should point out that you are unnecessarily harsh when you accuse Steve M of being ignorant of the meaning of 'being.' You could have put the point more diplomatically.

Hi Bill,

You are right to point out the harshness of that last sentence. I too have the feeling that a lot of my language during the whole discussion has been unduly bitter and aggressive; for this I apologize. Perhaps I felt a bit threatened by Maitzen's point which I initially did not how know to address, and this materialized in an unfriendly tone of voice. I'm sorry.

I should specify that I especially apologize to Steve, though I do so to everyone else also, since I did not treat him as respectfully as I should have given the differences in our positions (he being a professor, and I a mere student).

Apologies accepted. But in this case the student is right and the professor wrong.

Your annoyance is somewhat justified by Steve M's cavilling and stonewalling with respect to the semantic thesis that Peter correctly ascribes to him.

For a definition of 'cavil' see here: http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/'cavilling

Another point that needs to be made is that the onus probandi is on Maitzen to prove his very interesting and very controversial thesis, a thesis which, if true, would be very significant indeed. The burden is not on us to prove that the well-nigh self-evident minimal thesis that the modified Leibniz question makes sense.

All we need to do is what we did, namely, show that his argument fails.

Strike the first 'that' in the penultimate sentence of the immediately preceding comment.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008



October 2023

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31        
Blog powered by Typepad