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Saturday, January 16, 2016

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Thanks for this. A quibble in reply to your quibble. You say “Following Fred Sommers, in traditional formal logic (TFL) as opposed to modern predicate logic (MPL), indefinite noun phrases do refer”. I agree that Sommers does say this. E.g. “the distinctions crucial to MPL between subject expressions like ‘Socrates’ and ‘denoting phrases’ like ‘a senator’ are not crucial in TFL” (ibid p.51).

But where he gets this idea I don’t know. The scholastic logicians followed Aristotle, and Aristotle says (Peri hermenias 17a38) ‘λέγω δὲ καθόλου μὲν ὃ ἐπὶ πλειόνων πέφυκε κατηγορεῖσθαι, καθ’ ἕκαστον δὲ ὃ μή’. ‘By universal I mean what is by nature disposed (πέφυκε) to be predicated of many, by singular what is not [thus disposed]. He gives the example of ‘man’ as universal, and the proper name ‘Callias’ as singular. The Greek terms καθόλου and ἕκαστον were translated by the Latins as universale and singulare respectively, from which we get the corresponding Latin-English terms. Note the ‘by nature disposed’ bit – Greek πέφυκε, Latin natum est. I.e. it’s in the very nature of a common term like ‘man’ to be predicable of more than one individual. But this is not true of a genuinely singular term, i.e. its nature is such as to be predicable only of one.

Aristotle also says (Metaphysics 1040a28) that we cannot define singular terms, and that we should not be misled by the fact that some individual objects have attributes that are unique, like ‘going round the earth’ (= the sun according to his geocentric theory). He points out that more than one thing could go round the earth, or none, so the definite description doesn’t really define ‘sun’ (ἥλιος). ‘But the sun was supposed to be an individual (ἕκαστα), like Cleon or Socrates’. So the ‘nature’ of a genuinely singular term is not just to be predicable of one thing alone, like a uniquely applying description, but to be predicable of that thing in virtue of its very meaning. Is Aristotle anticipating Kripke’s doctrine of the rigidity of reference?

You have also omitted Geach’s challenging objection to indefinite reference. Suppose I say, referring to a meeting I attended ‘a man was shouting’. And suppose the indefinite noun phrase ‘a man’ refers to, i.e. picks out or identifies some man in the crowd, say Frank, or aims to do so. But suppose Frank wasn’t shouting, but Richard was. Then ‘a man was shouting’ is true, because Richard was shouting. Yet I meant to refer to Frank. I meant to say something which is actually false, but which is true because some other person than I meant satisfied the predicate.

>>A second is that it is not clear why Ed says "that's the whole point of them."
I.e. the whole point of indefinite noun phrases is not to refer. Of course, but I suspect you mean something different by ‘refer’. I mean, to identify or pick out. To refer in this sense is to tell you which individual I have in mind. In that sense, ‘a man was shouting’ doesn’t tell you which person satisfied the predicate. It is true just so long as at least one man – it absolutely doesn’t matter which one – was shouting. This contrasts with definite terms, which are true only when the person identified satisfies the predication.

I wonder if when you say ‘refers to’, you mean ‘is satisfied by’?

>> I wonder: could Ed be toying with the idea of using the first four limbs as premises in an argument to the conclusion that all reference is intralinguistic? I hope not.

Not really. I hold that all singular ‘reference’, i.e. telling the audience which individual is said to satisfy the predicate, is intralinguistic, and that there are chains of back-reference which originate in some indefinite noun phrase, e.g. ‘a certain young man’. This originating phrase does not refer in the sense that it ‘tells us which’. Clearly it can be satisfied, i.e. true of some man. But it doesn’t tell us which man it was. For example, some have thought that the man was Mark himself, i.e. the author of the gospel. After all, all the other disciples had fled, so who knew about the man in the linen cloth, apart from the author himself? On the other hand, there were other witnesses present, and the story might have been passed around until Mark heard it, who put it in his account.

You are indeed saying that all reference is intralinguistic, as you use 'reference' and as I use it as well since I agree that there is something fishy about indefinite reference.

But since you bring in satisfaction I may be able to clear you of the charge of an absurd linguistic idealism.

You are not denying that there is an extralinguistic world; you are denying that we ever refer to its members.

>>But since you bring in satisfaction I may be able to clear you of the charge of an absurd linguistic idealism. You are not denying that there is an extralinguistic world; you are denying that we ever refer to its members.<<

Yes, Sorry if that was not clear.

It remains of course to discuss perceptual identification in terms of the intralinguistic theory. Perception seems a prima facie objection to the theory. In perception we are faced with the object, and we can point to it, and it seems as if this is true reference. Gareth Evans says (my emphasis):

[Philosophers] cherish the idea of a more 'intimate', more 'direct' relation in which a subject may stand to an object (a situation in which the subject would be 'en rapport with' with the object), and the idea that when a subject and his audience are both situated vis-a-vis an object in this way, there exists the possibility of using singular terms to refer to, and to talk about, that object in quite a different way - expressing thoughts which would not have been available to be thought and expressed if the object had not existed.
On the intralinguistic theory, by contrast, all identification is reidentification. Now if all facial reidentification were as Evans says, it would be infallible, in which case we could always tell identical twins apart. But this is very hard. Facial perception is descriptive, according to me, but not uniquely descriptive. Peoples’ faces nearly always look different, but the ‘look’ can be qualitatively identical, as with ‘identical’ twins. The twins aren’t numerically identical, of course, they just look that way.

>>Now if all facial reidentification were as Evans says, it would be infallible, in which case we could always tell identical twins apart.<<

Why infallible?

I doubt that it makes sense to say that all perceptual identification is re-identification. There must be an original identification that is not a re-identification if there are to be subsequent re-identifications.

You ask why reidentification would be infallible if it were as Evans says.

One argument might be as follows. We agree that descriptions are ‘repeatable’. The same description, qua description, could apply to more than one object at the same time. As Aristotle says, there could be more than hidden-at-night object going round the earth, i.e. more than one sun. Or different objects could uniquely satisfy the description at different times. There can be only one British Prime Minister at any time, but the Prime Minister at one time doesn’t have to be the same at another time. Blair was such, Cameron is such.

Now the fact that there can be ‘identical’ twins, whose faces and voices are indistinguishable, suggests that the look of a face, or the sound of a voice, is essentially descriptive. Someone else (a twin) could look that way or sound that way. So when I say that the recognition would have to be ‘infallible’, I mean such that my means of identification is not repeatable, either by two people at the same time, or different people in succession.

>> There must be an original identification that is not a re-identification if there are to be subsequent re-identifications.
It’s mysterious what this ‘original identification’ might be, except the perception of a descriptive property (the look of a face or the sound of a voice) that one has never encountered before. But I suspect that is not the sense of ‘identification’ you had in mind, right?

Evans (The Varieties of Reference, chapter 4) talks about discriminating knowledge: ‘the subject must have a capacity to distinguish the object of his judgement from all other things’. I.e. the ‘means of identification’ must be unique. I deny the existence of any such discriminating knowledge or means. It is all descriptive, in my view, and therefore repeatable.

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