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Tuesday, July 22, 2014


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This comes a bit too soon after yesterday's post IMO. But if you must, clearly (2) is false. For

(A) 'Tom thinks that something = Frodo' does not assert or imply that anything = Frodo.

(B) 'Tom is thinking of Frodo' implies that Tom entertains some proposition of the form 'Frodo is F'

(C) 'Frodo is F' implies that something is F, and that something = Frodo. You can take 'something' as ranging as widely as you like, it doesn't matter.

Which of these could you possible deny?

Would an Idealist have additional options available to him? If all existence is existence-in-the-mind by definition, it seems that the distinction between fictional things that exist (principally?) in finite minds and between 'objective' things gets blurry.


Note the difference between thinking-that and thinking-about. To think about Tom is not to think that Tom. And to think that Tom is tall is not to think about Tom's being tall.

So you are muddying the already troubled waters if you bring in 'that' constructions.

So I ignore (A). I am thinking of you right now but I am not entertaining any proposition of the form 'Ed is F.' So I deny (B). I also don't see why (B) is relevant to (2).

I also don't see how (C) is relevant to (2).


"When we say, with truth, that Frodo does not exist, we mean that he lacks esse reale. But we can still think about him in a manner to satisfy (1)-(3) since he has merely intentional being."

My question is how are we to understand "intentional being" as opposed to "real being" or "esse reale"? So when Ed thinks of Frodo, Ed thinks of an intentional being. Moreover, if we take '...thinks of,,,' here as relational, then the relata must exist in order to satisfy (3). Thus, Frodo exists as an intentional being. But by definition (5) Frodo's existence as an intentional being is extramental and extralinguistic. Thus, Frodo existence as an intentional being is not a mere linguistic or mental existence (infinite minds), nor is it existence in reality. But it is not an abstract object either. So, my questions is, what sort of existence is it? And how do we distinguish two intentional beings?

Correction: In the parenthesis I meant "finite minds".


Your question is a good one. You will notice in (5)the rider 'where the minds in question are finite.' Thus someone who builds a theory around the rejection of (4) can say that while fictional items do not depend for their being on finite minds, they are nevertheless intentional beings relative to transcendental mind. No contradiction.
Lukas Novak had an objection to this, however, but I forgot what it is.

My ultimate thesis, as you know, is that no theory works and that the problem is insoluble.


One problem with my set-up of the puzzle is that I claim that (6) -- Frodo, a purely fictional item, does not exist -- is a datum. But then I remembered that van Inwagen denies it is a datum! See the essay on fictional entities in the book I gave you. I'll have to address this tomorrow.

@Bill "Note the difference between thinking-that and thinking-about. "

OK I will take this as implicitly conceding my argument that you cannot export a quantifier inside a 'thinking that' clause, even when the range is unrestricted.

Then my next point is that a thinking-about claim always implies a thinking-that claim. Why? Because of the long-established principle that thought involves complexity, even if the components of the thought are simple. Suppose I think that Frodo is a hobbit. Then my thought has the components corresponding to the categorematic terms ‘Frodo’ and ‘a hobbit’, and the syncategorematic term ‘is’, the copula. But the component corresponding to ‘Frodo’ cannot be a thought. That is why we cannot ‘think that Frodo’. If there is only the component corresponding to ‘Frodo’, and nothing else, there cannot be a thought at all.

Ergo, if someone is thinking about Frodo, they have a thought about Frodo. And if they have a thought, it must be complex, involving at least two terms joined by the copula. And if so, they must be thinking-that something.

In summary, there is a difference between thinking-that and thinking-about. Of course. But thinking-about implies thinking-that. Ergo etc.

This point may become even clearer if we consider ‘Tom is talking about Frodo’. If Tom just utters the name ‘Frodo’ then he is not talking about anything. He has to utter a complete sentence, e.g. ‘Frodo is a hobbit’, for him to be talking about Frodo. But then he is saying that Frodo is a hobbit, and so he is saying that something is a hobbit. But as we now agree, this does not imply that anything is a hobbit, even when we read ‘anything’ in the widest, most unrestricted sense.


PvI denies a more general thesis; namely, that there are so-called Moorean facts, or any data, in metaphysics. This denial is based upon his (what I call) top-down approach in metaphysics.

Namely, he recommends that one should adopt a certain ontological position or view; state it as clearly as possible; draw as many logical consequences as one is able; and then address apparent tensions with ordinary or common-sense contrary positions by recasting the later so as to conform to the original position taken. Hence, according to PvI, there are no data or Moorean facts that are sacrosanct or immune to altering any way that fits them into the mold of the general picture.

(See the first two essays of the "Existence" book bu PvI you gave me to read.)

I find this approach bold and worth exploring (critically), but I also feel uneasy about it. After all, the quasi-Cartesian methodology recommended by PvI (clear and distinct ideas and so forth) cannot by itself place enough constraints upon metaphysical positions; at least so I feel. The result seems to be that one rejects another proposal simply because it contradicts the one that one prefers or makes more sense to one. Or to put it differently: what are the reasons to adopt the general metaphysical framework in the first place?


"Then my next point is that a thinking-about claim always implies a thinking-that claim."

That can't be right. Consider a Quinean example:

(a) The shortest spy is such that John believes of him that he is not a spy.

(a) is a de-re construal and it captures what you call thinking-about. If your principle above would have been correct, then the following absurdity would be entailed by (a):

(b) John believes that the shortest spy is not a spy.

But surely, (a) could be true of John without saddling him with the absurdity of (b). Hence, de-re (thinking-about) does not entail de-dicto (thinking-that).


There is clearly this difference:

DE RE: John believes of the shortest spy that he is not a spy.

DE DICTO: John believes that the shortest spy is not a spy.

As you point out, these are not the same.

But this may be a different distinction than the one I was getting at. Compare

1. Bill is thinking of Ed
2. Bill is thinking that Ed is now back in London.

It seems to me that I can think of Ed without thinking of him as having any properties, though of course he cannot exist without having properties. Right now I am thinking of Ed via a memory image. That seems to me to be a case of thinking-of (thinking-about) that is not also a thinking-that.

And can't I see Ed without seeing that he is, say, the first to arrive?

It seems that 'seeing' can take both a propositional and a nonpropositional accusative.

'I see that Janis is wearing her boa' versus 'I see Janis.'

'The dean's wife is such that Bill sees her and sees that she is naked.'

>>Hence, according to PvI, there are no data or Moorean facts that are sacrosanct or immune to altering . . . <<

But few of us believe this.

In your comment you shifted from saying that for PvI there are no data to saying that for PvI there are no sacrosanct data.

@Peter "That can't be right. Consider a Quinean example"

I think you are mixing up two distinctions. Clearly John does not believe the proposition "the shortest spy is not a spy". But he must believe a proposition whose predicate is "not a spy" and whose subject is a different description, e.g "Fred", thus "Fred is not a spy". But then he thinks that Fred is not a spy, ergo etc.

“Right now I am thinking of Ed via a memory image”

I was waiting for that. Is there a sort of picture or image in your mind of me? But how is it ‘of me’. Are you thinking ‘this is Ed’ or ‘this represents Ed’ or some similar proposition? Are you aware of it as an image, i.e. do you think it is an image, or do you think it is me? Either way, you are ‘thinking that’.

Cf Thomas Reid, On the Intellectual Powers, Essay IV c.1 “of simple apprehension”.

I suddenly think of you via a mental image. But I don't think that this image is of Ed. I am not reflecting on the image. I am just aware of you via the image. (I can also think of you without any imagery.)

I say there is nothing propositional here.

Suppose we are waiting for you to show up. You round the corner and I say, 'I see Ed!' There is nothing propositional about the object seen.

>>I suddenly think of you via a mental image. But I don't think that this image is of Ed.

How do you do you know it is of Ed, then? Do you recognise it as being Ed, or representing him? If not, how can you claim to be thinking of me? If so, then you recognise the image as being of Ed, i.e. you recognise that it is of him. Or you might judge that it resembles him.

>> Suppose we are waiting for you to show up. You round the corner and I say, 'I see Ed!'

This is because you recognise that I am Ed.

But how much hangs on this, given your reluctance to confirm the other two principles in dispute? We have

1. Whether not all propositions of the grammatical form ‘aRb’ also have that logical form. You hinted that you agreed with me on this, i.e. that some propositions don’t have that logical form.

2. Whether ‘Tom thinks there is such a thing[n] as Frodo’ implies ‘there is such a thing[w] as Frodo’. (You have already conceded that it doesn’t imply ‘there is such a thing[n] as Frodo’).

What is your position?

All I was trying to do was set forth the problem. So before proceeding, you should tell me whether you accept my formulation.

>>before proceeding, you should tell me whether you accept my formulation.

I broadly accept your formulation, although I quibble with "2. Thinking about (thinking of) is a relation the relata of which are a subject who thinks and an object thought of. "

The reason I quibble is that every formulation should be set out in a topic-neutral way. But by saying "Thinking about (thinking of) is a relation" there is a slight presumption that there is any such thing as thinking-about. I would put it as the question whether expressions of the form "-- is thinking about --" express a relation or not.

But this is just a quibble.

On your claim that "no theory works and that the problem, though genuine, is insoluble", this seems preposterous. It is blindingly obvious that the 'problem' is one caused by ambiguities in language and the tendency of grammatical form to mislead.

BTW you haven't discussed my other point, about 'Tom is talking about Frodo'. I don’t see how you can ‘talk about’ X without using a whole sentence.

If you concede this, you concede everything under the ‘exception principle’. The principle is that if you find even one exception to a supposed universal law, then it is not a universal law, and the onus is for the defender of the law to explain why the exception is an exception, and why the non-exceptions are not exceptions. The explanation has to avoid ad-hocery and ‘no true Scotsman’ type objections. If you accept that ‘Tom is talking about Frodo’ is an exception, you have to explain why ‘Tom is thinking about Frodo’ is not an exception, in a way that invokes general principles or reasons.

In short, the idea that logical form always follows grammatical form is extremely weak, and is one reason for supposing that there is a simple solution to your supposedly intractable problem.

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