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Monday, January 16, 2017


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Thanks for the post. I think you're spot on regarding Law's question-begging "refutation" of Heraclitus. Would you countenance a further metaphilosophical distinction between "Moorean facts" and something like a quasi-religious philosophical intuition? This is off the top of my head, but I'll try to clarify.

It seems that Moorean facts are marked not only by the fact that they are indemonstrable and "obvious," but also by the fact that they seem to be the objects of convictions that are more or less "neutral" with respect to larger metaphysical programs considered as wholes. For example, the numerical-qualitative distinction seems like it is open to a wide variety of big-picture metaphysical theories.

The quasi-religious philosophical intuitions that I'm thinking of seem similar to Moorean facts in the sense that they are indemonstrable and "obvious," but differ in that they amount to foundational motivations suffusing a metaphysical program in its entirety. For example, one could be a Heraclitean about change not due to some isolated skepticism about the numerical-qualitative distinction, but rather due to some implicit or explicit commitment to the utterly tragic nature of human intellectual striving, or something like that.

I hope this isn't too opaque.

I am reminded here of Aristotle when he says that we may never know what substance is (I cannot for the life of me remember where he said this, but it is in the metaphysics somewhere). For such a man to say a thing like that is, I think, remarkable. But it does get me down sometimes. With so many competing theories and no consensus, what is one to do? Simply pick the one he likes best or the one which aligns most closely with his own convictions? Perhaps, BV, you would agree with Aristotle here that we can only gain as much precision as the subject matter will allow? What is one to do then?

Two objects that are numerically identical are also qualitatively identical (and surely they are one and the same object). By way of consequence, two objects that aren't qualitatively identical aren't numerically identical. So, if R1 (river at first jump) is qualitatively different from R2 (river at second jump), then R1 is numerically different from R2.

You say:

"Law taxes Heraclitus with an illicit inferential slide from

'The river jumped into the second time is not qualitatively the same'


'The river jumped into the second time is not numerically the same'."

But this is perfectly licit as long as we affirm "if A and B are numerically identical, then they share all properties, in which case they are qualitatively identical".

The problem is, of course, as you suggest, that we usually admit that one and the same object can have different qualities at different times. It seems to me that Stephen Law's "solution" is based on a different understanding of the distinction between the two senses of identity (and on this different understanding is primarily based your disaccord). By this understanding, we must admit that two numerically identical objects may be or not be qualitatively identical.


One should not pursue false precision. The Stagirite is right: one cannot expect the precision of mathematics in the field of ethics.

The problem, however, is not that philosophy lacks precision, but that there are no solutions, acceptable to all competent practitioners, to any of its problems.

What philosophy teaches us, above all, are the limits of our understanding and the infirmity of finite, discursive reason. This humbles us, which is good. When we penetrate the depth and insolubility of the problems of philosophy we come to appreciate, among other things, how stupid are the scientistic solutions offered by people like Jerry Coyne and other scientisticists -- to coin an ugly name for an ugly animal.

Law's essay is about scientism.

How does this engage with Law’s claim that ‘philosophical questions are for the most part conceptual rather than scientific or empirical and the methods of philosophy are, broadly speaking, conceptual rather than scientific or empirical’? The Heraclitus example is meant to support that.

Your discussion suggests you have a broader disagreement, yes?

Sorry, just spotted your comment immediately above. Right, so philosophical problems are not like Law's other example, i.e. the 4 people and the family relationships, which he rightly says has a clear solution, although conceptually difficult. You are saying that philosophical problems are essentially of a different nature from these mind-puzzles, I think.

Yes, phil. problems are not like the family relationships puzzle. One reason is that the latter has no specifically philosophical content. A second reason is that it is not clear that puzzles about change and identity over time are conceptual. What is clear is that they are non-empirical. But one can't assume that what is non-empirical must be conceptual.

There are conceptual truths, e.g. 'A triangle is a plane figure but a sphere is not.' The truth -- if it is a truth and I think you will agree that it is -- that nothing can have properties unless it exists is not a conceptual truth, but a substantive truth of metaphysics. After all, there is nothing in the concept of a thing having properties that requires that such things exist! You can't refute Meinong that easily.

Obviously, much depends on what a concept is. Consider the question: What is a concept? That's not an empirical question. Is it a conceptual question? Not obviously.

My working hypothesis is that the problems of phil are genuine but insoluble by us.

So I tested my hypothesis against Law's solution of the Heraclitean puzzle he describes. (By the way, I am not concerned with the historical question of what the Sage of Ephesus actually maintained.) I found Law's sol'n to be no sol'n at all. It is superficially plausible but doesn't stand up to scrutiny.

Valeriu writes,

>>Two objects that are numerically identical are also qualitatively identical (and surely they are one and the same object). By way of consequence, two objects that aren't qualitatively identical aren't numerically identical. So, if R1 (river at first jump) is qualitatively different from R2 (river at second jump), then R1 is numerically different from R2.<<

This is tricky. We have to distinguish the synchronic from the diachronic cases. Your first and second sentences are true. The first is a version of the Indiscernibility of Identicals; the second its contrapositive, the Discernibility of the Diverse.

These principles undoubtedly hold at a time. But what about over time?

Let's consider a simpler example, a nice British example. Apparently, the Brits use pokers to stir up the fires in their 'rooms.' Or at least they used to.

Suppose poker P is hot at t1 but cold (not hot) at t2 later than t1. You may be arguing that Hot Poker (P at t1) is qualitatively different from Cold Poker (P at t2) and that therefore that Hot Poker and Cold Poker are numerically different. But then you have an argument for temporal parts, an argument that supports a quasi-Heraclitean position. P on such a scheme would be a diachronic bundle of temporal parts, each num. distinct from every other one such that there is no one poker that remains numerically self-same over the temporal interval.

Is that what you have in mind?


Thanks for the comment, but you need to be clearer. Are you suggesting that the data of Revelation could be taken as Moorean facts within the purview of say, Christianity?

E.g., that we are fallen beings is not, strictly speaking, a Moorean fact, but it is obvious to many, and a kind of datum, a datum of Revelation which is abundantly confirmed in the horrific events of human history.

Why is this a Brit example? What implement do Americans use to stoke up their fires? And do you not have 'rooms' like us?


Not exactly. What I have in mind is that Law sees the numerical identity as only overlapping the qualitative identity, such that num.id. doesn't imply qual.id. In this understanding, one object can remain the same over time, even if its qualities change.

Dear BV,

I find that interesting that you think the problems of philosophy are genuine but insoluble by us. Do you know of any thinkers of who wrote about this idea, or have you published anything on it? I would love to read more about it.


Benson Mates maintained the thesis, and I am trying to finish a book on the topic. I marshall inductive evidence for the thesis and then try to work out a conception of what philosophy is good for should the thesis be true.

Sorry, Opponent. No offense intended. I was thinking of McTaggart's poker example, and the book *Wittgenstein's Poker* -- yes I know Ludwig was an Austrian -- and L. W.'s brandishing of a poker in his debate with Karl Popper, and the expression which sounds slightly odd to my ears, of say 'visiting so-and-so in his rooms at King's College' whereas we would say 'in his office.'

Ah right! Not an expert on Oxbridge terminology but always thought 'rooms' were what we call a 'flat', US 'apartment', or 'suite'.

A bedroom or two and facilities, plus a living room with a desk and an armchair and a fire. Gilbert Ryle lived most of his life in his college 'rooms'.

I look forward to your upcoming book!

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