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Wednesday, September 22, 2021

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>We disagree about whether there are singular concepts. You say that there are and I say that there aren't.

Before we get to the meat, let’s be clear where we agree, and where not. We both agree (1) that there are general terms and that there are singular terms. (2) that both have senses. So if we define ‘concept’ as just another word for ‘sense’ (which is consistent with Aristotelian/scholastic doctrine), it turns out that we both agree there are concepts expressed by singular terms.

Where we differ is that you think the sense of a singular term is repeatable. Yes? It’s important to agree which proposition we disagree on.

More later.

>>Where we differ is that you think the sense of a singular term is repeatable.<< I agree that this is the bone of contention or the locus of disagreement.

But it depends on what each of us means by 'sense.' I understand by 'sense' what Frege meant by Sinn, or something very close to that.

Another issue is what all counts as a singular term. Proper names, no doubt. Do you also include demonstratives and non-demonstrative indexicals such as the first-person singular pronoun? 'This' and 'I' may have senses, but these senses are not reference-determining.

To make my thesis more precise and limited: the sense of a proper name as used by a person is the same as the sense of the definite description(s) in terms of which the person thinks of the bearer of the name, and the senses of those descriptions are always general/repeatable.

So when I say, "Boris Johnson appears not to own a comb," I am thinking about this man via the sense of the definite description 'the man who alone in 2021 is the prime minister of the U.K.' and this sense is general.


so in "Boris Johnson is the man who alone in 2021 is the prime minister of the U.K, but Boris Johnson might not have been the man who alone in 2021 was the prime minister of the U.K", the name "Boris Johnson" appears twice.

Do both tokens have the same sense? i would say so. and yet, according to you, in the second case we are still thinking about this man via the sense of the definite description 'the man who alone in 2021 is the prime minister of the U.K."

Bill >> A concept of an individual, then, would have to be a mental grasping of what makes that individual be the very individual it is and not some other actual or possible individual.

Would it, though? If I am told,

There is an individual called 'Socrates' and another individual called 'Plato',
I learn nothing of these individuals apart from their names and that they are distinct. Yet I can distinguish them in my mind and learn more. I can say 'Tell me first about Socrates, what kind of thing is it?' and expect my idea of this individual to become elaborated by the responses. At no time do I need to grasp what makes that individual be the very individual it is. Quite the contrary. All I need to grasp is that an individual is a locus of instantiation of general concepts, not a mere cluster of concepts, that individuals are countable, that two individuals can instantiate the same general concepts yet be distinct, and so on.

>> We agree that a first-level singular concept C, if instantiated, is instantiated by exactly one individual in the actual world and by the very same individual in every merely possible world in which C is instantiated.

I suspect that 'instantiation' here is misleading. A singular concept is more akin to a representation of an instance. If my example above makes sense there can be singular concepts with nil general conceptual content. Far from uniquely instantiable!

Singular concepts appear to be very different animals from general concepts.

Turning to Bill’s argument starting at “I say that every concept is a mental grasping …”, most of it is question begging, i.e. repeating the conclusion he is arguing for. E.g.

“But [a singular concept] is what minds of our type cannot grasp.”
“Every concept we deploy is a general concept”
“All of our concepts are mental representations of the repeatable features of things” (my emphasis).
“If there were an individual concept of the one sphere [in Black’s example], then it would also be an individual concept of the other.”

The only support I can find for these claims is that “A concept of an individual … would have to be a mental grasping of what makes that individual be the very individual it is and not some other actual or possible individual.” But that presumes, and here I agree with Brightly, that we need to grasp “what makes that individual be the very individual it is”. Why? I have a concept of Moses that I acquired from reading the Hebrew Bible, Exodus 2. “Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son.” Then we are told that Pharoah’s daughter named him ‘Moses’, saying, “I drew him out of the water.” Then we are told all sorts of things about Moses, which we accept to be true, but which we don’t have to accept as true. We can coherently and without contradiction deny that Moses was any of the things he was said to be. We could even deny he was called ‘Moses’!

Brightly: “I suspect that 'instantiation' here is misleading.” I don’t think so. An individual instantiates the concept *Moses* if and only if that individual is no other than Moses. Note my claim earlier that ‘other than Moses’ signifies a repeatable concept, thus ‘no other than Moses’ signifies an unrepeatable concept. This follows from my definition of repeatable. A concept *F* is repeatable iff we can without contradiction maintain that there is an F, and there is another F. It follows logically that *no other than Moses* is not repeatable. Otherwise there could be someone other than Moses who was no other than Moses, which is contradictory.

Thanks, Ed, that makes sense. It's the individual concept that's unrepeatable, not any greater or lesser cluster of descriptive concepts forming part of its content.

Perhaps the only way forward at this point would be to move from the question Are there singular concepts? to the logically prior question What is a concept?

Otherwise it is a standoff.

https://maverickphilosopher.typepad.com/maverick_philosopher_stri/2018/03/the-concept-of-standoff-in-philosophy.html

>Perhaps the only way forward at this point would be to move from the question Are there singular concepts? to the logically prior question What is a concept?

Quite, and I suggested this a while back.

It might help to start with the traditional, er, conception.

http://www.logicmuseum.com/wiki/Authors/Ockham/Summa_Logicae/Book_I/Chapter_1

The word 'concept' is from conceptus, pp of concipio. "That which is conceived."

Ockham "A conceived term is an intention or affection of the soul naturally signifying or co-signifying something, suited to be a part of a mental proposition and suited to supposit for the same thing. Hence these conceived terms and the propositions put together from them are the "mental words" that the blessed Augustine says belongs to no language because they remain only in the mind and cannot be uttered outwardly, although utterances are pronounced outwardly as though signs subordinated to them."

We don't have to accept this framework, but it's a good starting point given that the vocabulary of Western philosophy is taken from the scholastic Latin.

Even so, Bill, you need to bite the bullet on the term 'other than N'. If it signifies a concept, then so does 'no other than N', et habeo propositum. If it does not signify a concept, then no impure concept can be a concept. E.g. “the man who shot Leon Trotsky”, “grandchild of Queen Victoria”, “Londoner” etc etc.

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