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Tuesday, February 09, 2016

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>>Strictly speaking, sentences don't say anything; people say things using sentences.

When I wrote the post, I nearly pre-empted that one. Sorry, but this is no less trite than ‘Guns don’t kill people, people do’. Sure, but we are interested in how guns work, too. I know almost nothing of guns but I assume that relevant considerations are the weight of the bullet, the type of explosive used, the rifling or lack of it, whether a shotgun, a rifle, a handgun, an automatic etc. Guns are tools.

So what do I mean by ‘the sentence says that’? As part of my theological qualification I studied textual theory. This is about interpreting a text, i.e. what the text means, using all sorts of stuff about background theories, the narrative that a text is embedded in, the immediate vs the overall context etc. The point is that it’s just trite to say of a biblical text that it doesn’t say anything, that the author said something using the text. Right, but the author is long dead and we usually have no idea who he was. He was writing signs down on a roll, or editing signs from one roll and copying the edited version to another. We can only ask about the mechanics of the text.

I agree that context is all, and that we have to move beyond the literal meaning of the text to what it pragmatically implied, or look beyond the meaning of a sentence in isolation. ‘My father was Tobiel’ does not tell us who the son was. The sentence has to be read in the context of the preceding sentence ‘I am Tobit and this is the story of my life.’ So it’s the preceding sentence that tells us this. You will probably say ‘no, the sentence itself tells us nothing. The author of the sentence tells us thus, using the sentence’. How exactly does this help?

As you know, 'trite' means 'not interesting or effective because of being used too often : not fresh or original.' But of course it is unphilosophical to worry whether an observation is trite or the opposite; the relevant question is whether it is true. And what I said is true.

And then you change the subject. We are not discussing biblical hermeneutics, but the mechanism of reference here and now.

I would say your whole project involves vicious abstraction from what underlies linguistic reference, namely, thinking reference. And then there is the wrong-headed notion that all reference is somehow inter-textual. That is something I would expect from a Continental philosopher.

>>As you know, 'trite' means 'not interesting or effective because of being used too often : not fresh or original.'

How can 'it', i.e. the word 'trite', mean anything, according to you? It is I who mean things!

>>And then you change the subject.

Exactly how changing the subject? You said "Strictly speaking, sentences don't say anything; people say things using sentences,", which you have said many times before. I give an example from Biblical hermeneutics which demonstrates how that observation is useless.

>>the relevant question is whether it is true. And what I said is true.
It is also not true. The opening sentences of the book of Tobit do say something. So you assertion that sentences don't say anything is false. And in a Moorean way.

I will also reassert that the semantics of back-reference apply independently of what the utterer is thinking. Perhaps in writing ‘I am Tobit and this is the story of my life,’ the author meant his son's life, not his own life. But that doesn't matter. What he said was what the sentence said, not what he meant to say.

I have raised this objection many times, and you have always ignored it. My primary thesis is the back-reference is always independent of what the author means to say, and completely dependent on what he wrote down, or uttered. And this is true of language generally. If the meaning of what we utter depended upon our private thoughts and intentions, and were not reflected in the public meaning of our speech acts, language would be impossible. The same utterance, used in the same context, must always mean the same, regardless of what the utterer really meant.

There are several scenarios which make Geach's HobNob sentence true. The simplest might be that both Hob and Nob believe there is a single witch in the village. (There may be multiple witches in existence but their powers are localised, say) Hob thinks that the witch blighted Bob's mare and Nob wonders whether the witch killed Cob's sow.

Hob's thought: ∃x. unique-witch(x) ∧ blighted(x, Bob's mare)
Nob's wondering: ∃x. unique-witch(x) ∧ killed(x, Cob's sow), where
unique-witch(x) ⇔ ∀y. witch(y) → y=x
Geach could faithfully report these two attitudes with the HobNob sentence. The predicate calculus lacks a quotation/disquotation mechanism so though the individual attitudes can be rendered their attribution cannot. English is, of course, more powerful. Is that the problem?

You are just not getting the point at all, Ed. 'Trite' means what it means because people use it a certain way. Given that usage, we can abstract from it and say, to save words, 'Trite' means 'uninteresting.'

Bill, can your reservations about sentences saying something be dissolved by stipulating that what a sentence says is what anyone using it in the conventional, standard way would say by means of it?

'I should say that we should be able to say that a sentence someone uttered said something else than he the guy wanted to say. So we need "objective semantics".

Are you aware of the Transparent Intesional Logic approach to solving such puzzles? It is technically flawless and very powerful; but the question is whether one has to swallow the platonic ontology of abstract entities it is founded upon in order to be able to make use of its virtues. (I still hope one does not have to...)

>>The same utterance, used in the same context, must always mean the same, regardless of what the utterer really meant.

Surely this can't be right: the very act of interpreting a text presupposes A) that text had an author, and B) that author was attempting to communicate (read: trying to convey a meaning) via that text. If it turned out that 1000 monkeys on 1000 typewriters had produced the bible, then presumably we would conclude that, strictly speaking, the text of the bible doesn't mean anything.

Or, perhaps more accurately, biblical exegesis would be reduced to generating a list of possible meanings that some rational communicator might have intended in its use of the various sentences of the text; but there would be nothing that was actually meant by the text in such a situation.

But that is as may be. If I say:

1) Visiting relatives can be annoying.

What have I said? Aren't the semantics of that sentence underdetermined by the syntax? Unless, of course, the "context" of an utterance is defined broadly enough to include the intentions of the utterer.

Reply to Lukas:

>>Bill, can your reservations about sentences saying something be dissolved by stipulating that what a sentence says is what anyone using it in the conventional, standard way would say by means of it?<<

Partially, but there is more to it than that. I am insisting on the primacy of the intentional over the linguistic. This thesis consists of the following subtheses:

1. Words, phrases, clauses, sentences, paragraphs and the like, considered in their physical being as marks on paper or sounds in the air or carvings in stone (etc.) are entirely lacking in any intrinsic referential, representative, semantic, or intentional character. There is nothing in the nature of the mark 'red' that makes it mean red. After all, it doesn't mean red to a speaker of German. It doesn't mean anything to a speaker of German qua speaker of German. In German 'rot' means red while in English the same sign is in use but has a different meaning. Clearly, then, marks on paper, pixels on screen, etc. have no intrinsic sense or reference grounded in their very nature. It s a matter of conventional that they mean what they mean. And that brings minds into the picture.

2. So any sense or reference linguistic signs have must be derivative and relational as opposed to intrinsic: whatever intentionality they have they get from minds that are intrinsically intentional. Mind is the source of all intelligibility. Linguistic signs in and of themselves as mere marks and sounds (etc.) are unintelligible.

3. There can be mind without language, but no language without mind. Laird Addis puts it like this:

Conscious states can and do occur in beings with no language, and in us with no apparent connection to the fact that we are beings with language. Thus we may say that "mind explains language" in a logical or philosophical sense: that while it is perfectly intelligible to suppose the existence of beings who have no language but have much the same kinds of conscious states that we have, including introspections of other conscious states, it is unintelligible to suppose the existence of beings who are using language in all of its representative functions and who are also lacking in conscious states. The very notion of language as a representational system presupposes the notion of mind, but not vice versa. (Natural Signs: A Theory of Intentionality, Temple University Press, 1989, pp. 64-65)

>>'I should say that we should be able to say that a sentence someone uttered said something else than he the guy wanted to say. So we need "objective semantics".<<

There is a well-known distinction between speaker's reference and semantic reference and I don't deny it. One can of course study a language system such as English or Czech while abstracting from speakers and writers and their intentions, etc. My point, however, is that that is an abstraction useful for certain purposes but still an abstraction that can cause trouble if, for example, one thinks that Geach's puzzle above can be reduced in the way Ed thinks it can.

>>Are you aware of the Transparent Intesional Logic approach to solving such puzzles? It is technically flawless and very powerful; but the question is whether one has to swallow the platonic ontology of abstract entities it is founded upon in order to be able to make use of its virtues. (I still hope one does not have to...)<<

I am aware generally of TIL but not in any detail. It would be very helpful if you would explain in some detail how TIL would solve Geach's puzzle about intentional identity.

Something like that is what I am alluding to at the end of my entry with talk of Meinongian semantics which also posits intensional items, albeit nonexistent ones.

John,

Your monkeys and typewriters example helps clarify matters.

Suppose deep in some cave somewhere a piece of stone is found bearing the inscription: This cave was once inhabited by humanoid apes. Suppose the highly improbable: the inscription, i.e., the configuration of marks, came about randomly by merely physical processes.

Could someone who came across this inscription and who knew its random origin reasonably take it as providing information about the cave and its inhabitants? As saying something about the cave?

Of course not. But presumably Ed would take the inscription as saying that this cave was once inhabited by humanoid apes.

John,
Can we not say that

Visiting relatives can be annoying
has an unambiguous and unique meaning, viz,
Visiting relatives can be annoying ∨ Visiting relatives can be annoying,
where
Visiting relatives can be annoying → Visiting can be annoying,
Visiting relatives can be annoying → Relatives can be annoying.
Which of the disjuncts we take depends on the context, of course.

Bill,
I think it's true to say that once we have learned to speak and read the meaning of a clearly enunciated utterance or clearly written inscription simply shines through it unbidden. The question you are asking is what credence we should give this meaning. Knowledge of the source and history of the words helps in deciding this. For we know we can be deceived.

>> Unless, of course, the "context" of an utterance is defined broadly enough to include the intentions of the utterer.<<
My point is that we are not telepathic. Even the intentions of the utterer must be determined by context. Contexo: to weave or bind. Contextus: woven together.

>>Bill, can your reservations about sentences saying something be dissolved by stipulating that what a sentence says is what anyone using it in the conventional, standard way would say by means of it?<<

That stipulation would certainly overcome my reservations. Note that if two sentences in language X and Y are identical, we talk about the meaning ‘in X-ish’ or ‘in Y-ish’. See my remarks about the cave example below.

>>Could someone who came across this inscription and who knew its random origin reasonably take it as providing information about the cave and its inhabitants? As saying something about the cave?<<

It says, if a sentence of English, that this cave was once inhabited by humanoid apes. If true, then this cave was once inhabited by humanoid apes. Suppose actually the cave was once inhabited by humanoid apes, but the inscription came about randomly. Isn’t the inscription true?

On the agency theory of meaning generally, should we not avoid saying that the premisses imply the conclusion? I had a few attempts at an agent-orientated formulation, but gave up. You have to bring in stuff like ‘true’ and ‘false’, but you need an agent-orientated formulation of those concepts. You can’t say ‘that sentence is true’, because that implies the predicate ‘is true’ belongs to the sentence on its own, without agency. So I gave up.

David, your formulation is perfectly consistent with Nob wondering whether there is only one witch and whether she killed Cob’s sow, but not believing that any witch has blighted Bob's mare, no?

Bill,

I agree enthusiastically with your primacy thesis. But it seems to me that semantical puzzles like this should be soluble on the "abstraction level", without the need of recourse to the psychological level. In other words, I think there is an "objective aspect" to intentionality, as opposed to the psychological aspect. The semantics of a language has nothing to do with the psychological aspect, but everything to do with the objective aspect. I mean by the "objective aspect", to a first approximation, the object of the given intentional act qua being the object of this act. For example, you can conceive Manny so that you do not consider its individuality. Then you are conceiving it merely qua cat, it is present in your mind according to a certain limited "Art der Gegebenheit", and qua such it is the objective aspect of your thought. Qua such, it, given the semantic conventions of English and German, also plays the role of the meaning of the English word "cat" and the German word "Katze". Therefore, when talking the semantics of English or German, we can "bracket" the psychological machinery thanks to which there is a meaning at all, and deal with the meaning as such, wich is something objective.

Regarding your cave example: I smell an equivocation in the term "saying". Either "says that" means "expresses the meaning that" (1), or it means "communicate a thought" (2).

To express a meaning, in a language, is to be related to that meaning by the semantic conventions of that language. The sentence clearly does express a meaning (in English), which is proved by the fact that it evokes the respective meaning in anyone who can read it and knows his English, that it can be translated, pronounced, believed or disbelieved etc.

To communicate a thought, be it what it may, certainly involves having that thought in the first place. So in this sense, only people are capable of saying something.

So, the archaeologist certainly won't think that the sentence communicates a piece of information to him, since he knows it is not used to that purpose by any mind - and so he will not take it to say(2) something. But he will be very surprized by the improbability that mere physical processes produced an English sentence that actually says(1) something intelligible.

As for the Geach's puzzle and TIL: having thought twice about it, I now think that the problem does not need the specific tools of TIL, although it can be done in TIL. My take on it is this:
First, "a witch" either means "one or more witches", or it means "exactly one witch". In the former case the sentence is ill-formed, since you cannot refer back to "one or more witches" by means of "she". So let us take it that it means "exactly one witch". Then it cannot be formalized by means of existential quantifier; you can make use of various circumscriptions in PL1, or you can use some more expressive language (for example, with "extended quantifiers" like "for one single x...", "for most x's..." etc.). Once you have guaranteed the uniqueness in the first clause, you can translate the "she" by means of a definite description: "the witch Hob thinks has blighted Bob’s mare" (which is precisely what the "she" stands for in the latter sentence). It will remain "opaque" in standard extensional analysis, but TIL has the means to "penetrate" this opacity and express syntactically e.g. the fact that the "she", or the description it is a shorthand of, supposits de dicto, and so the existence of the referent is not presupposed for truth. However, my knowledge of TIL is too superficial for me to be able to provide any actual formalization with confidence. But I can ask prof. Materna, the "Saint Paul" of the TIL sect :-), how he would tackle it.

I am reading Bill’s point above where he appears to accept the concept of semantic reference. How about:

(1) A witch has blighted Bob’s mare.
(2) She killed Cob’s sow.
(3) Anyone using sentence (1) as a sentence of English used in the conventional, standard way would say that a witch has blighted Bob’s mare.
(4) Anyone using sentence (2) as a sentence of English used in the conventional, standard way would say that she (or the witch) has killed Cob’s sow.

My thesis is that the problem is exactly the same as the problem involving different thoughts. But we now don’t have to worry about thoughts in individual minds. It’s a more general problem about what is said, when sentences of a language are used in the conventional, standard way.

Ed,
Yes, I think Geach's sentence and my formulation are consistent with both Nob knowing about Bob's mare (and telling Geach or not telling Geach) and with Nob's not knowing about her sorry state. If he did know and wondered if the witch was responsible and he told Geach his misgivings then Geach might have said

Hob thinks that a witch has blighted Bob’s mare, and Nob wonders whether she killed Cob’s sow too.
There are many scenarios to which Geach's sentence is faithful.

LN writes, >>Therefore, when talking the semantics of English or German, we can "bracket" the psychological machinery thanks to which there is a meaning at all, and deal with the meaning as such, wich is something objective.<<

I am not sure we have any deep disagreement. We can abstract from or 'bracket' the psychological machinery. 'Cat' in English means what 'Katze' means in German. We don't have to say that what English speakers mean by 'cat' is what German speakers mean by 'Katze.' For we are assuming that we are concerned with standard English and standard German and not with idiolects. We are also assuming that there are people who use and understand these languages.

But suppose all conscious beings in the universe are wiped out but there remain books and recordings in various languages. Would the German 'Stein' and the English 'stone' still have the same meaning, and still denote stones? Would there be a meaning M and a semantic relation of expression R such that both the inscription 'Stein' and the inscription 'stone' stand in R to M?

You might say yes: there are all the meanings there might have been, and they are stored up in Plato's topos ouranos: they are 'abstract' or ideal objects, necessary beings, and they are actually expressed by physical marks and sounds whether or not there are any conscious beings, any original Sinn-ers, if you catch my Fregean pun.

I am not sure you want to say this, because you write, "the psychological machinery thanks to which there is a meaning at all." That implies that all meaning has a subjective source, which is what I am maintaining.

David,
You are right, and you have hit upon a very difficult issue which caused me trouble years ago. Too complex and difficult to discuss here. Briefly:

Hob: a witch has blighted Bob’s mare
Nob: there is no such witch.
I believe that what Nob says can be true, even if a witch has blighted Bob’s mare. Thus what Hob and Nob say could both be true. It could be the case that some witch has blighted Bob’s mare, and so Hob’s statement is true, but Nob’s claim is also true, because the witch that Hob is talking about is not the one that blighted Bob’s mare.

That will strike everyone as odd, I think. That's what I am here for.

>>But suppose all conscious beings in the universe are wiped out but there remain books and recordings in various languages. Would the German 'Stein' and the English 'stone' still have the same meaning, and still denote stones? <<

If all conscious beings in the universe are wiped out, then the word 'Stein' in German and the word 'stone' in English would still have the same meaning. And they would still be languages, although dead ones.

Lukas,

Regarding the inscription in the cave that came about randomly, you say it does not communicate a thought. But why not? If it expresses a meaning, then it communicates a thought, which is just a propositional meaning.

Ed,

I guess I don't understand how Geach's puzzle survives your translation.

(1) A witch has blighted Bob’s mare.
(2) She killed Cob’s sow.

The conjunction of these two presents no difficulty. 'She' back refers to whichever witch blighted Bob's mare. What's the problem?

The original puzzle, however, is puzzling because it is not clear whether the witch before Hob's mind is the same or different from the witch before Nob's mind.

Ed writes, >> Suppose actually the cave was once inhabited by humanoid apes, but the inscription came about randomly. Isn’t the inscription true?<<

One question here is whether a string of physical marks could be a truth-bearer or truth-vehicle. I would say no. What is true is the proposition understood by one who reads and understands the sentence.

Do premise-inscriptions imply a conclusion-inscription? No, but propositions do.

Bill >>The conjunction of these two presents no difficulty. 'She' back refers to whichever witch blighted Bob's mare. What's the problem?<<

This is a problem and I shall post separately at my site.

Bill,

why an inscription cannot communicate a thought: because to communicate a thought is to make someone else aware of my own thought. Sentences do not have thoughts, they just express them.

By "communication" I mean discourse, an interaction of minds. You point out that the inscription does not provide information. I retort that this is not because the sentence does not express a meaning, but because it is not used by an intelligent communicator to provide information. Geach's sentence about witches also does not provide information about Nob, Cob etc., but it has a meaning. You only have a reason to believe that a sentence "says" something to you in the sense of "providing information" if you have reason to believe that it is used to this purpose by an intelligent communicator.

(What about computer error messages etc.? Either you take them as communications originating from the authors of the software, and in this sense they do (or better, are used to) communicate information, or else you can only say that you can deduce certain information from the fact that an error message of such and such meaning has been issued, just like you can deduce information from observing any other phenomenon: when you see smoke escaping from your oven, you can infer that your cake is being burnt; but the smoke does not "provide that information" in the proper sense of it.)

Lukas,

>>Sentences do not have thoughts, they just express them.<<

But sentences do not express thoughts (Fregean Gedanken, propositions)on their own power. Again you are involved in a sort of abstraction that could be misleading. A person expresses a thought by tokening a sentence either by uttering or writing it, or if he reads a sentence or understands a spoken sentence, he takes a standard expression as expressing a thought.

If you think that a sentence-token can express a thought apart from any mind, then I think you are involved in some sort of 'Platonic' view.

Lwet me put it to you bluntly. Suppose there had never been any language-users. Might there still have been languages?

Bill asks:

suppose all conscious beings in the universe are wiped out but there remain books and recordings in various languages. Would the German 'Stein' and the English 'stone' still have the same meaning, and still denote stones? Would there be a meaning M and a semantic relation of expression R such that both the inscription 'Stein' and the inscription 'stone' stand in R to M?

I agree there is no grat difference between us. I think this is largely a quaestio de nomine. I don't believe in senses as abstract objects (and Frege should not, too, if he wishes to keep his ingenious notion of "Art der Gegebenheit). I don't think real existence is a sine qua non of objective valence.

You can stipulate broader or stricter criteria on meningfulness:

  • "A word W has a meaning M iff there is a semantic convention among some actually existing community of speakers connecting W to M"

    or

  • "A word W has a meaning M iff there has been a semantic convention sometime in the history in a community of speakers connecting W to M"

or perhaps you can specify the conditions even more precisely.

It seems to me that the broader definition is natural: we can say, thus, about an inscription in an unknown prehistoric language, that it has a meaning but noone will ever be able to decipher it. So it seems to me that it is more natural to say that even if all conscious beings in the universe were wiped out, inscriptions would still have meaning - i.e. would have the capacity to evoke their meanings in anyone who would e.g. pop up into existence, miraculously knowing the semantics of the given language.

I am leaving aside another complication: if you include God among the "conscious beings" wiped out, then the scenario is impossible, not simply because God exists necessarily, but because God's existence and knowledge is, IMO, a necessary presupposition of any intelligibility whatsoever, and so of any meaningfulness - so in that case even if per impossibile a conscious being popped up into existence, it could not be conscious of anything. And if you exclude God, then you still have one actual knower of all the required semantics etc.

We need more reception-based approach and less transmission based. We 'express' a thought, as though expelling some immaterial substance from our mind.

What about 'impressed' thoughts? Stuff that is emitted from the utterance, and is implanted in the mind of the hearer or reader.

Does the random inscription not impress a thought?

Lukas writes,

>>I don't believe in senses as abstract objects (and Frege should not, too, if he wishes to keep his ingenious notion of "Art der Gegebenheit).<<

That's a very good insight, Lukas. Frege also uses Darstellungsweise, mode of presentation, which makes it sound as if at least some senses are not insulated from the causal order and in Plato's heaven, but somehow ingredient in physical things like Venus (Cf. Castaneda's ontological guises) or else as mediating items similar to Husserl's noemata.

Is existence a necessary condition of objective validity? A difficult question. I am inclined to say the following: A proposition cannot be true or false unless it exists (since nothing can have a property unless it exists); no proposition exists in itself; ergo propositions are divine accusatives and so have a mode of existence. In fact I would make an argument for God from this, and have done so somewhere on this blog.

I recall that you have a subtle argument contra. You are a kind of Meinongian: some items have no Being at all. (Is this already in Ibn Sina?)

I was including God among the conscious beings since he is after all, at at least analogically, conscious.

We may in the end be very close in views. Would you agree with this: All meaning and intelligibility have a subjective source, and in the end, this is God. You can speak of the Sinn of a traffic sign or an incription, but that is derivative from original Sinn (The pun is from M. Dummett and a most excellent pun it is).

So we are original Sinn-ers, original meaners, whose original intentionality is yet grounded in divine original intentionality.

>>"A word W has a meaning M iff there has been a semantic convention sometime in the history in a community of speakers connecting W to M"<<

Latin is said to be a dead language, but it is really only moribund: there are people who speak it and write it both to communicate with others and to communicate with themselves in a private journal, say.

Suppose Latin were really dead: not used by anyone for communication, but just studied. Or perhaps not even studied, just available to be studied.

Do you want to say that a word has meaning NOW because there WAS a community of speakers?

How about a counterfactual theory? Suppose all conscious beings cease to exist, but there are still books and recordings, etc.

A word or phrase W of language L actually expresses meaning M =df Had there been a speaker of L on the scene, then he would have understood W to have meaning M.

I think CF theories like this are hopeless but that takes further arguing.

>> We need more reception-based approach and less transmission based. We 'express' a thought, as though expelling some immaterial substance from our mind.

What about 'impressed' thoughts? Stuff that is emitted from the utterance, and is implanted in the mind of the hearer or reader.

Does the random inscription not impress a thought? <<

Are you perhaps being misled by etymology? How about this metaphor: we 'clothe' a thought in a sentence in order to make it presentable in public for purposes of communication. Thoughts are not in the mind and then pushed out of the mind; thoughts are before the mind. To communicate them, and also to store them, we need to materialize them.

So maybe a third analogy/metaphor is best: the thought is to its sentential expression as soul is to body. St Augustine I recall played with this analogy a while back.


What do you mean by an utterance: an event of uttering sounds, or the sounds uttered? Neither can emit or implant a thought.


Suppose the following (what you see on your monitor) came about randomly

Snow is white.

Then technically it is not even an inscription since an inscription requires an inscriber, a writer, with intentions, etc. It is just a random string of marks. But I recognize this string as materially the same as an English sentence which we conventionally associate with the thought that snow is white. So the string is a material stimulus to the arisal of the thought before my mind.

Bill,

I consider meanings to be objective but not real. IMO there are many kinds of items of this sort. For example, the property of "being seen". It is an objective fact that x is being seen, but x's "being seen" makes no real difference in x. Such items are called entia rationis by the scholastics.

A special subclass of entia rationis, or perhaps another similar class, are the so-called entia moralia which do not depend (merely?) on the intellect but (also?) on the will. These are all the social constructs like relations of ownership and other kinds of legal titles, treaties, etc.

Suppose you have an aunt who loves your blog and decides to bequeath to you 1 million dollars deposit in a Swiss bank. In the moment she dies, you become the owner of the deposit, even if noone is aware of it yet. And you become truly and objectively the owner of that deposit despite the fact that no metaphysical x-ray would descry any real change in yourself at the moment of your auntie's death; i.e. your newly acquired property "millionaire" has no reality at all, despite its being objectively there. It is sufficient that there really occured (a properly expressed) act of will on your aunt's part.

It is the same with meanings, IMO. Once there really has been a properly conducted act of "imposition" (the scholastic term), i.e. of assigning a meaning to a word, the word does have, objectively, that meaning, even if noone were (any more) aware of it. Such an act of imposition could even be done entirely privately (I have never actually got Wittgenstein's "private language" argument) - for example, Tolkienologists speculate what this or that word or phrase in Quenya, jotted down in in the margin of one of his notebooks, might mean. Sometimes they find the answer by further research, sometimes not. But it is out there. :-) So I say that words have meanings NOW because there HAS BEEN a successful act of imposition (whether that involves a community of speakers or not).

I agree that a counterfactual theory would be no good - because it would not assign meanings unequivocally. Counterfactually, any expression might mean anything.

>> To communicate them, and also to store them, we need to materialize them.<<

I like that. The thought is the form, the inscription the matter.

PS I discuss your Studia Neoaristotelica piece here. It is almost entirely a summary of what I think you are saying. Let me know if I have misinterpreted you.

>>So the string is a material stimulus to the arisal of the thought before my mind. <<

This is different from the matter/form conception. According the latter, the thought is 'out there' for everyone to see (if the thought is the form of an inscription), or to hear (if the thought is the form of an utterance). Analogy: the smiley face icon :) has matter consisting of two dots (colon) and part of a circle (closing bracket). That is the matter. The smiliness which all humans can see is the form, and it is embedded in the matter. You can't have the smiliness without the matter.


The 'material stimulus' account, by contrast, is more by analogy with light radiation striking the eye, causing stimulus of retinal cells, leading to stimulation of optic fibre etc. On this account, the matter (radiation) and the colour (understood as mental content) are in a sense separate, unlike the smiliness and the colon-bracket matter.


Lukas,

So jentaculum has the meaning assigned to it by the ancient Romans, and would continue to have that meaning were all conscious being to cease to exist?

Some words change their meaning. Do you explain that in terms of later acts of 'imposition'?

Would the smiley face still be smiley if the rocks fell that way in a landslide, before life evolved on earth? Would the sky still have looked blue? This is pretty well-trodden ground isn't it?

Ed,

What I was suggesting is that a sentence has a 'soul' and a 'body.' The soul is the thought or propositional sense, the body is the materialization via uttered sounds or inscribed marks. Since we cannot communicate mind-to-mind, we need to produce and consume, send and receive material signs and signals. I suppose I am a dyed-in-the-wool Platonist: sounds and marks are objects of sense perception; but the thought can only be grasped by the mind.

>>This is different from the matter/form conception. According to the latter, the thought is 'out there' for everyone to see (if the thought is the form of an inscription), or to hear (if the thought is the form of an utterance). Analogy: the smiley face icon :) has matter consisting of two dots (colon) and part of a circle (closing bracket). That is the matter. The smiliness which all humans can see is the form, and it is embedded in the matter. You can't have the smiliness without the matter.<<

You are right, my conception or rather analogy is different, if 'form' means, as it usually does, visible form. (When Aquinas says, anima forma corporis, he doesn't want to imply that a man's soul is visible; form is some sort of inner principle itself invisible.)

If the thought were the visible form of an inscription, then the thought would be literally visible, which I deny. Nothing literally visible is true or false; the thought is true or false; ergo, etc.

A sentence is not a list of its constituent words. The unity of the sentence which attracts a TV and makes the sentence a sentence as opposed to a string of marks is invisible.

:) :(

The smiliness/frowniness is at best a relational property, one of Lukas' entia rationis. The first emoticon is not intrinsically smily but is interpreted as resembling a smile by most in our culture. So I doubt one could day that the the smiliness is the form of the first emoticon.

>>Let me know if I have misinterpreted you.<<

The last few sentences are unclear. A word or two seems to have been omitted.

You could be maintaining that you reject PvI haecceity properties because you reject all PvI properties.

You need to say more about what a predicate is. Do predicates for you have both sense and denotation?

Bill,

So jentaculum has the meaning assigned to it by the ancient Romans, and would continue to have that meaning were all conscious being to cease to exist?

Yes, I should say so: this is how we would normally understand the meaning of "meaning". The fact that that a convention has been adopted cannot be wiped out.

Some words change their meaning. Do you explain that in terms of later acts of 'imposition'?

Roughly speaking yes: in fact, I take "the act of imposition" to be a simple theoretical approximation of the actual quite complicated process (in the way simple physical equations approximate the actual more complicated processess). No doubt there are phaenomena like continuous meaning shifts, fuzzines etc. to be taken into account. Meanings are language- (dialect-; idiolect-...) relative; "language" being defined, among other things, by a set of semantic conventions. Just as the same word can mean something else in English and in German ("gift"), it can mean something else in classical and philosophical Latin, for example. Again, by changing a meaning of a word you do not wipe out the fact of the previous convention having been adopted, you just create another convention; the previous one continues to be available in principle for anyone wishing to invoke it.

>>The last few sentences are unclear
Indeed, thanks for spotting that. I have updated the post, hopefully makes more sense now.

>>You need to say more about what a predicate is. <<
For present purposes, a predicate is a grammatical item that is conjoined with a subject.

>>Do predicates for you have both sense and denotation?<<

That is the crux of it, and 'more later'.

I suspect you will want to say that if a predicate has a denotation, then there must be grounds in reality for it to have that denotation. For example, if 'is wise' denotes all wise individuals, and if it denotes any individual at all, say Socrates, then there must be something in reality that makes this so, namely a property of Socrates. And then how could there be predicates without corresponding properties?

I am guessing at your direction of thought here, but am I right?

PS If I am right about your implicit challenge, this article would be useful to kick off the next step of discussion.

As P. T. Geach (1969) noted, the fact that some object a is not F before an event occurs but is F after that event occurs does not mean that the event constitutes, in any deep sense, a change in a. To use a well-worn example, at the time of Socrates's death Xanthippe became a widow; that is, she was not a widow before the event of her husband's death, but she was a widow when it ended. Still, though that event constituted (or perhaps was constituted by) a change in Socrates, it did not in itself constitute a change in Xanthippe. Geach noted that we can distinguish between real changes, such as what occurs in Socrates when he dies, from mere changes in which predicates one satisfies, such as occurs in Xanthippe when Socrates dies. The latter he termed ‘mere Cambridge’ change. There is something of a consensus that an object undergoes real change in an event iff there is some intrinsic property they satisfied before the event but not afterwards.
Emphasis mine. The reference is to Geach, P. T. (1969), God and the Soul, London: Routledge. No page number referenced.

PPS I see we have already discussed this at least once before, for example here in September 2010.

The comments by ‘William’ are I think mine.

Exactly right.

And I should think that what holds for 'wise' also holds for such predicates as 'is identical to Socrates' or 'is Socrates.'

PPPS And you were discussing it more than ten years ago in your old blog here. You point out the distinction between mere Cambridge changes, and real changes, which are a subset of Cambridge changes.

Time to begin some new threads.

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