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Wednesday, January 23, 2019

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Bill, I hope you'll forgive me for jumping in with this:

I'll gladly grant you derived intentionality for the fire-alarm, but this sort of thing always brings me back to my old question to you: is there intentionality of any sort in the food-dance of a bee?

OK, so we now agree that words have meaning by imposition, i.e. have a conventional meaning. So we must therefore distinguish such conventional meaning from personal meaning. Suppose you utter ‘grass is green’, by which you mean that hamburgers are delicious. That is your personal meaning. But the conventional meaning is that grass is green. My point, when I claimed that telepathy is impossible, was that we cannot communicate personal meaning except through conventional meaning. However much you want to say that hamburgers are delicious, you cannot express this, as an English speaker, except through the words ‘hamburgers are delicious’. ‘Grass is green’ expresses something else.

This has always been my position.

Now we turn to assertion. When you say ‘asserting is something that people do’, what exactly do you mean by that? Do you mean that assertion is a matter of personal meaning? Or do you now agree with me that it is a matter of conventional meaning?

On your final point that it is propositions that are the primary truth-bearers, I agree, but I also hold that propositions are a kind of sentence, unlike you. More later on that.

Where do I ever deny what you say in your opening paragraph?

Now please re-read my post, very carefully, and try to engage with what I actually say.

Malcolm,

The Bee dance looks to be a case of intentionality below the level of mind, or self-conscious mind. It seems natural to say that the bee's gyrations mean something, and that that meaning gets conveyed to other bees.

It is plausible that there is a proto-intentionality and proto-teleology in nature below the level of conscious mind.

I explore some aspects of this here:

https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher/2017/01/intentionality-potentiality-and-dispositionality-some-points-of-analogy.html

>>Where do I ever deny what you say in your opening paragraph?

I am thinking of our email correspondence from a while ago. I will try and find it.

Otherwise (having carefully read your post from the outset) I agree broadly with everything you say here.

And also please read carefully what I say. I said

When you say ‘asserting is something that people do’, what exactly do you mean by that? Do you mean that assertion is a matter of personal meaning? Or do you now agree with me that it is a matter of conventional meaning?

Thank you.

How would you characterize the distinction between intentionality and "proto-intentionality"? Is it only that one involves conscious awareness, and the other doesn't? If so, couldn't that be seen as just a way to say that intentionality is better understood as something independent of consciousness?

My point all along (in our conversations over the years) has been to focus on the raw "aboutness" of intentionality, and to pry it apart from consciousness. A bee's dance is clearly "about" food, though I wouldn't impute consciousness to a bee; likewise, I believe that we ourselves are chock-full of unconscious "aboutness". (The very idea of a human "subconscious" presupposes this.)

I realize that this is a bit of a digression from the topic at hand, and understand if you think it might better be taken up elsewhere.

The linked post concluded:

Now here is a tough question: are dispositionality and intentionality merely analogous, or can we take it a step further and say that utimately there is no difference between dispositionality and intentionality? If that case could be made, then Brentano would be shown to be wrong in his claim that intentionality is the mark of the mental. For if the three characteristics of intentionality mentioned above are found below the level of mind in the physical world, then it looks as if intentionality cannot be the mark of the mental. Or should we stay instead that, since intentionality is the mark of the mental, and intentionality is found in nature below the level of mind, that there is something mind-like about all of nature?

These are just (half-formulated) questions.

BEE STINGS OSTRICH?

Does Malcolm's bee sting the Bad Ostrich? It is plausible to say that the dance of the bee communicates to other bees certain information about the proximity of food, water, pollen, etc. Now that complicated figure-8 dance that bees do is a natural sign, not a conventional sign. So if the Ostrich is saying that all signifying is by conventional signs then the bee example may be a counterexample.

Laird Addis wrote a book *Natural Signs* in which he argues that original intentionality in us is a natural sign.

Ostrich,

You say you "agree broadly" with what I say in the above entry? I think you are papering over real disagreement. Suppose you leave your office for two hours. You tape a note to the door which is signed and dated. It reads,'I will be back at 4 PM.' Those words have a conventional meaning in the context of the English language. If you want to communicate to a potential visitor you must use these words as they are used by English speakers. So what's with this silly talk of personal meaning? That's a red herring.

Consider the word 'will' in the above example. It's ambiguous (future tense vs expression of intention), but it can't mean any old bloody thing. If you assign an idiosyncratic meaning to it in the idiolect you share with an imaginary friend, then you won't succeed in communicating.

The issue, however, is whether those marks on paper have any meaning by themselves apart from language users and their mental life. I say they don't; you say they do. I affirm the primacy of the intentional over the linguistic -- did you read that post? -- you deny it.

Do you agree that that's what we are disagreeing about?

>>Do you mean that assertion is a matter of personal meaning? Or do you now agree with me that it is a matter of conventional meaning?<<

Neither! You are not getting my point at all. And the things you say or imply strike me as preposterous. It is preposterous to say that a fire alarm makes an assertion, if you are using your words strictly and literally.

>>So what's with this silly talk of personal meaning? That's a red herring.

Of course it is, but I had thought for a long time that, in endlessly repeating the slogan ‘people make assertions’, that your point was about ‘personal meaning’. Part of my reason for thinking this was your failure to reply to certain emails of mine, which emails I am still trying to find. I just emailed you about this (but you failed to reply, meaning that I have to make further inferences about your real position). I have made points more recently about ‘literal meaning’ which you failed to address. All this led me to construct a theory about what you believe based on hints, failure to reply to direct questions etc.

>>Consider the word 'will' in the above example. It's ambiguous (future tense vs expression of intention), but it can't mean any old bloody thing. If you assign an idiosyncratic meaning to it in the idiolect you share with an imaginary friend, then you won't succeed in communicating.

Yes, agree absolutely. But many things you have said in the past, as well as things you have failed to say, suggested you disagreed with this.

>>And the things you say or imply strike me as preposterous. It is preposterous to say that a fire alarm makes an assertion, if you are using your words strictly and literally.

Of course it is preposterous. My point, again is that there is a difference in meaning between

(1) ‘that grass is green’
and
(2) ‘grass is green’

The conventional meanings are different. Likewise, although it is silly to say that a fire alarm ‘asserts’ anything, because ‘assertion’ connotes someone making some kind of utterance, nonetheless a fire alarm expresses the proposition that there is a fire.

Another reason for my confusion is your apparent appeal to occurrent rather than dispositional semantics. You say ‘people make assertions’, or ‘it is people who assert’. But making an assertion is precisely what an individual does, rather than an community of users, and the making of it is occurrent, rather than dispositional. If I assert the proposition that grass is green then (for example) I utter the words ‘grass is green’, so there is a time before I make that utterance, and a time after, and the assertion happens precisely between those times. I.e. before I utter that sentence I have not yet asserted that grass is green, and just afterwards I have asserted that proposition. Assertion is an occurrence.

By contrast, if I say that ‘grass’ means grass, the verb ‘means’ is signalling the disposition of the word ‘grass’ to mean grass (with respect to a community of users, of course). There is no particular time that ‘grass’ means grass. Rather, it is permanently disposed to have a certain semantic effect on users of the word, enabling them to communicate in certain ways.

Now if I say that the sentence ‘grass is green’ expresses the proposition that grass is green, does the verb ‘express’ signify an occurrence or a disposition?

I say: a disposition.

You seem to be backtracking when you say, >>Of course it is preposterous. << I quoted you at the top of my post. You said, "So asserting is not just something people do." You were implying in that context that fire alarms make assertions. And now you are agreeing with me that that is a preposterous thing to say??

>> Likewise, although it is silly to say that a fire alarm ‘asserts’ anything, because ‘assertion’ connotes someone making some kind of utterance, nonetheless a fire alarm expresses the proposition that there is a fire.<<

You need to be precise. Not the fire alarm, but the sounding of the fire alarm. The sounding of a fire alarm is not always caused by a fire. It can be caused by a malfunction in the device (it shorted out perhaps) or by prankster. Consider a properly functioning smoke detector. I want to cause trouble. I blow smoke from a big cigar at the device while very close to it on a ladder. What proposition does the sounduing of the smoke detector express? That there is a fire in the building? No. That some jerk pulled a prank? Suppose that the smoke detector malfunctions. What proposition does the sounding of the device express in this case? Surely not that there's a fire,

I rather doubt that the sounding of a fire alarm or a smoke detector expresses a proposition. More later.

I am busy working on multiple projects -- whch is why I can't reply promptly to everything you send me.

I was referring to emails some time in the past, which suggested that you rejected the idea of conventional meaning. But never mind. We agree that there is conventional meaning, and we agree that, except loosely, fire alarms do not assert. This is a great step forward.

Even if the fire alarm has malfunctioned, it has still expressed the proposition, or signifies that a fire is in the building.

My question remains: if I say that the sentence ‘grass is green’ expresses the proposition that grass is green, does the verb ‘express’ signify an occurrence or a disposition?

I don't think it makes sense to say that a sentence has dispositions. But one could say that a sentence can be used to express a thought or proposition, and when it is so used by someone then the sentence occurrently expresses a proposition.


My view is that a sentence expresses a proposition only when it is tokened, only when it is used by someone to express a proposition. Furthermore, which proposition it expresses depends on contextual factors.

'I am happy' expresses no proposition until someone tokens it by utterance or inscription or whatever. And which proposition it expresses depends on who tokens it.

>> My view is that a sentence expresses a proposition only when it is tokened, only when it is used by someone to express a proposition.

OK let’s consider some examples.

(1) John asserted that grass is green

If (1) is true, it is true at some particular time. I think we agree with that.

(2) The German word ‘Gras’ means grass

Are saying that (2) is true only when ‘Gras’ is tokened? But (2) is timelessly true. Would you say that ‘2+2=4’ is true only when tokened?

(3) The German sentence ‘Gras ist grün’ says that that grass is green

Are you saying that (3) is true only when tokened? Surely that is not right. Again, timelessly true.

>>'I am happy' expresses no proposition until someone tokens it by utterance or inscription or whatever.

Aha. So it does express a proposition when someone tokens it. So you agree that this is true:

(4) ‘Gras ist grün’ expresses the proposition that grass is green when tokened.

Is (4) timelessly true or not? Isn’t it a bit like ‘gas explodes if a flame is present’? The explosion is occurrent, and occurs at a particular time. But the sentence ‘gas explodes if a flame is present’ while true, is not just true at a particular time.

>>Would you say that ‘2+2=4’ is true only when tokened?<<

Yes. For the sentence type expresses a proposition only when tokened, and propositions are the primary vehicles of the truth values.

Note that '2 + 2 = 4' (base 10) expresses the same proposition as '1 + 1 = 10' (base 2) when either is tokened.

>>(3) The German sentence ‘Gras ist grün’ says that that grass is green

Are you saying that (3) is true only when tokened? Surely that is not right. Again, timelessly true.<<

The proposition is tenselessly true, but the sentence expresses this proposition only when it is tokened.

'I am happy' is an instructive example because it forces a distinction between the conventional linguistic meaning of the sentence (type) and its representational content(i.e., the proposition it expresses)on a given use-occasion. Ask yourself: Is 'I am happy' true or false? Neither. To have a TV, the sentence must be tokened, and which TV it has depends on who tokens it. This example forces you to dismount from your semantic high horse onto the rough ground of pragmatics.

'I am happy' has a standing, stable, conventional meaning within the language system, English, though not in Turkish, German, and so on, whether or not any particular person tokens it. But it has representational content only when tokened.

Therefore you must distinguish between sentence meaning and representational content.

Is (4) tenselessly true? Yes. You are confusing timelessness with tenselessness.

>>'I am happy' has a standing, stable, conventional meaning within the language system, English, though not in Turkish, German, and so on,
<<

OK so we agree that

(*) ‘I am happy’ has a standing, stable, conventional meaning within the language system, English’ etc

is true now even though no one is expressing [the proposition] that they are happy, or asserting such a thing, and it will be true in an hour’s time etc.

That’s all for now. We need to get back to where this began, namely excluded middle, presupposition, Geach’s objection etc.

(One advance we have made is that I now understand you are not denying conventional meaning, literal meaning etc. I thought for a long time that you were. Resolving arguments is about clearing up confusion).

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