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Tuesday, March 29, 2022


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How does Mach's example differ from where we see the masked Coriscus, thinking "the man in the mask is approaching", but without thinking "Coriscus is approaching"? What role does the first person pronoun play in that example?

Hello Bill. You argue,

Clearly, the thought expressed by 'The man who just boarded is shabby' is distinct from the thought expressed by 'I am shabby.' After all, Mach had the first thought but not the second. So they can't be the same thought. And this despite the fact that the very same property is ascribed to the very same person by both sentences.
May I offer an alternative analysis? Mach is not ascribing shabbiness to the same person (himself) in both sentences. This I think is very clear from the variant example where the property is 'has his fly open': if Mach thought his fly open he would act to button it. Rather, Mach's first thought is better expressed as
A second man has boarded the bus and this man is shabby/has his fly open.
This thought has an existential component,
There is a second man who has just boarded the bus,
which is false. This false existential claim renders the subsequent referring phrase 'this man' empty, since it refers back to the putative 'second man', and there is no such man.

The structure of this example is very close to that of Kripke's 'Paderewski' example in 'A puzzle about belief'. Both hinge on an ambiguity. In this case the phrase 'the man who just boarded' is ambiguous, for Mach, between Mach himself and his putative second man. In Kripke, for his protagonist Peter, 'Paderewski' is ambiguous between two individuals, one a politician, the other a musician. Kripke's puzzle succumbs to an analysis parallel to the one I give above.

Lastly, I am sceptical that your account of the Mach story justifies the exceptionality of 'I'. The puzzle, in your wording, remains even if we replace the 'I' in Mach's later thought with 'Mach'.

"the fact that reality is presented to me in some particular way cannot be part of the way in which it is presented"

This reminds me of one of the key points in my 1986 PhD thesis (which only survives in draft, the University having apparently lost the final copy).

I called it The Paradox of the Observer. Every point in my visual field, i.e. every point that I can see, is 'given' at a certain distance from my eye. Yet the eye is the one thing I cannot see: it is the one component of my visual field that is missing. So that relation to my eye (or rather the bit of me that sees) must be part of the way in which the things in my field of vision are presented. But the things in my field of vision are part of reality: how can that reality contain the fact that it is being presented to me in a certain way?

I remember Mach (and Wittgenstein's take on Mach) formed part of my thinking then.

Gentlemen: I am thinking about your comments. The topic is very difficult. But now I have to see if I can get onto Zoom for Ed's presentation. I have never used it.

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