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Tuesday, October 27, 2015


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Your grasp of the issue is excellent, Bill. “[T]he 'semirealism' is more epistemological/referential than ontological” seems to me right; this is why it is semirealism, not realism. But it is logical semirealism: “Logical semirealism differs from both logical antirealism and logical realism much as Kant’s position on causality differed from both antirealism and realism regarding causality, and Wittgenstein’s position on other people’s sensations differed from both antirealism and realism regarding
“other minds” (page 166).

The reason facts are only “semireal” in my view is that they have a logical structure. As you say in your book A Paradigm Theory of Existence: Onto-Theology Vindicated, “facts could be truth-making only if they are “proposition-like,” “structured in a proposition-like way” – only if “a fact has a structure that can mirror the structure of a proposition.” The structure of a proposition is its logical structure. In Part Two of Anthropocentrism in Philosophy I argue against realism regarding logical structure, but I also reject the simplistic antirealism regarding logical structure that says “there is only language.” Surely there are no ands, ors, or iffs in the world. It’s not just that logical objects and structures cannot be perceived or even “said.” Surely words like “and,” “or,” and “if” do not stand for anything physical, mental, or other-worldly. Yet no less surely they are not merely words.

Since facts necessarily, indeed essentially, possess a logical structure, my argument against logical realism applies also to realism regarding facts but, again, I reject the simplistic antirealism regarding facts that says “there is only language.” I wrote: “[T]here is a third way of understanding facts, which is neither realist nor antirealist. It is semirealist. In general, if a proposition is in dispute between realism and antirealism, with the realist asserting and the antirealist denying it, the semirealist would differ from both by holding that it is an improper proposition, perhaps even that there is no such proposition, and thus that both asserting and denying it are improper. There is an analogy
here with sophisticated agnosticism. The theist asserts the proposition “God exists”
and the atheist denies it, but the sophisticated agnostic questions, for varying
reasons we need not consider here, its propriety” (pages 178-9).

I would share your discomfort if a philosopher said “There are facts and there are no facts”( I can’t find the sentence in Anthropocentrism in Philosophy). But I would understand it, just as I understand Frege’s “The concept horse is not a concept,” Meinong’s “there are things of which it is true that there are no such things,” and Wittgenstein’s “some things cannot be said but show themselves.” All four are puzzling. Sometimes we have to content ourselves with truths that puzzle us, make us wonder. But philosophy begins in wonder. We could, of course, invent new terms, perhaps saying that while facts do not exist they subsist, but I doubt that this would lead to better understanding.



Thanks for the response. You never say "There are facts and there are no facts." But it seems to me that you give good arguments for both limbs of this (apparent) contradiction. Because the arguments on both sides are impressive, we have a very interesting, and vexing, problem on our hands, especially if you hold, as I think you do, that there are no true contradictions.

I was under the impression that the doctrine of semirealism (about facts) was supposed to eliminate the contradiction and show it to be merely apparent. It seems to me that if we distinguish between existence and subsistence as two different modes of Being, then we could say that while facts do not exist in the way their constituents do, they are not nothing either -- they don't exist but subsist. This would seem to be a way between the horns of the dilemma. In your brilliant formulation, "There is more to the truth of sentences than the sentences that are true." On the other hand, there are the Strawsonian and other arguments against facts. On this way of looking at things, semirealism comes down to a doctrine of modes of Being.

What I don't understand however, is how this is supposed to square with Wittgenstein's say vs. show distinction.

On p. 76 of Anthropocentrism you refer to the existence-subsistence distinction. But then on p. 77 you say that this distinction is not the same as W's distinction between what can be said and what can only be shown -- though it resembles it in motivation.

So here is my criticism: you are not using 'semirealism' univocally. If a subsistent, a number say, is semireal, then that is clear to me since I myself advocate (against most contemp. anal. phils.) distinctions between modes of Being. But if you say that numbers are semireal in the sense that 'There are numbers' cannot be *said,* that the existence of numbers can only be *shown* by the use of numerals,then that is a quite different use of 'semireal.'

Why? Because one could take the say-show line while holding that there are no modes of Being, and vice versa.

So I have two problems. One is that you seem to equivocate on 'semireal.' The other is that W's say-show distinction is not clear to me. So if you explain semirealism in terms of the latter, then we have a case of *obscurum per obscurius.*


Here is another concern of mine.

>>Frege’s “The concept horse is not a concept,” Meinong’s “there are things of which it is true that there are no such things,”<<

You assimilate these to each other. But I see a crucial difference. Meinong employs a paradoxical formulation for literary effect, a formulation that expresses a proposition that is in no way contradictory. All he is saying is that some items are beingless which you will agree is non-contradictory. In other words, the proposition, the thought, that Meinong is expressing by his clever formulation is non-contradictory despite the fact that the verbal formulation he employs is either contradictory (assuming that 'there are' is used univocally) or equivocal.

But what is going on in "The concept *horse* is not a concept" is quite different. What Frege is saying in effect is that we cannot refer to concepts in a way that preserves their predicative function, their unsaturatedness. 'The concept *horse*' is a name, and only objects can be named. So when we try to say anything about a concept we must fail inasmuch as a reference to a concept transforms it into an object thereby destroying its predicative function.

Frege anticipates Wittgenstein in this. I can say '7 is prime' but not 'Primeness is instantiated by 7.'

This is similar to the problem we have with propositions and facts (which have a proposition-like structure).

As you point out, 'Snow is white is true' is ill-formed. But 'That snow is white is true' is false inasmuch as 'That snow is white' is a nominal phrase that picks out an object, and no object can be true.

At his point someone might propose a disquotational-type theory according to which 'true' in 'That snow is white is true' does not express a property of something but merely serves to transform the nominal phrase back into the sentence 'Snow is white.'

What refutes this is your point that "There is more to the truth of sentences than the sentences that are true."

I am answering two posts. As to the one about Anscombe and Geac, I agree completely, Bill. I’ve always marveled that philosophers like Anscombe and Geach were so easily influenced by Russell’s attacks on Meinong. Russell of course did know what Meinong meant and initially even agreed with him but then invented his theory of definite descriptions that allowed him to “analyze away” Meinong’s examples.

Now I come to the other post. I am not sure there is genuine disagreement between us. Regarding existence and subsistence, we might look at Bergmann. He “renounced his earlier distinction between existence and subsistence, subscribing now to the seeming paradox that ‘whatever is thinkable exists.’ Yet he acknowledged that ‘the differences among some of the several existents…are very great indeed…momentous, or enormous,’ thus acknowledging the rationale for the distinction” (page 142 of Anthropocentrism in Philosophy). Whether we “distinguish between existence and subsistence as two different modes of Being” or say that everything (‘thinkable’) exists though the differences among some existents are enormous seems to me a matter of words. I am uneasy about using the phrase “modes of Being” because it has had numerous other applications, e.g., matter and mind, universals and particulars, infinite and fine, and so on.
As to the meaning of “semireal,” let me begin with a quotation from the Introduction: “[I]n the case of metaphysical antirealism, numerous qualifications, distinctions, and explanations are needed. No metaphysical antirealist denies the reality of everything, just as no metaphysical realist asserts the reality of everything, including, say, the Easter Bunny. The solipsist says, ‘Only I exist,’ not ‘Nothing exists.’ Berkeley denied that there are material objects, he called them ‘stupid material substances,’ but he insisted on the existence of minds and their ideas. According to Kant.... material objects are ‘transcendentally ideal,’ dependent on our cognitive faculties, but they are nonetheless ‘empirically real,’ not mere fancy. Bertrand Russell distinguished between existence
and subsistence: some things do not exist, yet they are not nothing – they subsist; for example, material objects exist but universals only subsist. According to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus, some things cannot be “said,” i. e., represented in language,but they “show” themselves in what can be said. Among them, he held, are those that matter most in logic, ethics, and religion” (page 15).

I try to explain Wittgenstein’s distinction between saying and showing as follows: “The distinction has a straightforward, noncontroversial application even to ordinary pictures, say, paintings and photographs, indeed to representations generally. And the [associated] picture theory [of meaning] is merely a subtler version of the traditional theory of meaning and thought, which was unabashedly representational, ‘pictorial’: thought involves ‘ideas,’ often explicitly understood as mental images or pictures, and the meaning of an expression is what it stands for” (page 67).”

“In a painting, much is shown that is not and cannot be pictured by the painting or any part of it. For example, the painting may represent a tree next to a
barn, each represented by a part of the painting, and the spatial relation between
the parts of the painting that represent the tree and the barn would represent
their relation of being next to each other. But nothing in the painting represents
that relation’s being a relation, nothing ‘says’ that their being next to each other
is a relation (rather than, say, a shape or color). Yet the painting shows this, indeed
must show it in order to represent what it does represent. What it shows
cannot be denied as one might deny, for example, that the painting is a portrait
of Churchill. The absence from the painting of what it only shows would not be
like Churchill’s absence. Of course, paintings do not consist of words, and sentences
are only ‘logical’ pictures. But like all pictures, physical or mental, paintings
are logical pictures, though not all logical pictures are paintings” (page 68).
You write, “What I don't understand however, is how this [the distinction between real and semireal] is supposed to square with Wittgenstein's say vs. show distinction.” My concern is with logical semirealism, and Wittgenstein applied his distinction mainly to logical expressions. If some things cannot be said but show themselves, neither calling them real nor calling them unreal would be quite right. So I opted for calling them semireal. Of course, nothing of philosophical importance hangs on what word is chosen.
You write, “if you say that numbers are semireal in the sense that 'There are numbers' cannot be *said,* that the existence of numbers can only be *shown* by the use of numerals, then that is a quite different use of 'semireal.'” I have offered no view about numbers, though Wittgenstein did include “number” in his list of formal concepts: “’Object,’ ‘complex,’ ‘fact,’ ‘function,’ ‘number’ signify formal concepts, represented in logical notation by variables, for example, the pseudo-concept object by the variable ‘x’ (Tractatus 4.1272). The properties they appear to stand for are formal, internal, such that it is unthinkable that what they are attributed to should not possess them (4.123). For this reason it would be just as nonsensical to assert that something has a formal property as to deny it (4.124).” But Wittgenstein was aware that the status of numbers is far too complicated an issue to be resolved by just saying that “There are numbers” cannot be “said.” Much later he wrote his Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics.

Please forgive me for resorting to such lengthy quotations. I tried to avoid them but found what I was writing inferior to what I had already written.

Please excuse my intrusion into this absolutely fascinating exchange.

Dr. Butchvarov,

Regarding your appeal to Wittgenstein's saying vs. showing:

1. I find it interesting that when one wants to give a discursive example of something that cannot be said but only shown one inevitably must, well, say that which cannot be said, but only shown. I suppose the idea is that even when we must assert that which can only be shown the assertions fail to have a truth-value. But why is that? After all, if A says "positive whole numbers do not exist", then B can refute such a claim by giving an example of a number, say, seven. And surely if seven is a number and seven exists, then numbers exist.

2. Could we reinterpret Wittgenstein's distinction between saying and showing in terms of what is said explicitly and what is presupposed by what is said explicitly? Of course, if so, then there is no reason to maintain that what is presupposed by what is said explicitly fails to have a truth value on account of it being merely presupposed.

3. The idea that concepts such as 'number', 'object', 'thing', 'exist', 'reality', 'property', etc., are "logical" concepts analogous perhaps to the logical connectives (and, thus, are syncategorematic, in Quine's terminology) and therefore cannot be used to assert true or false claims about reality is not viable, in my opinion, for the example of number shows that such terms are not strictly analogous to the logical connectives.

(Just some thoughts!)

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