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Wednesday, July 27, 2022


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Bill, thanks for your response. I appreciate the correction about indexicals and demonstratives. You are right that some indexicals are not demonstratives.

I’m also inclined to say that ‘she’ fails to refer. It’s ironic that if this is a case of unsuccessful reference, then those who are pressured to use ‘she’ are pressured into referential failure.

Your argument from the metaphysics of time is interesting. A similar but less concise argument occurred to me two weeks ago, after watching a clip of the exchange between Senator Hawley and Professor Bridges. In the clip, Bridges seems to insist that there’s no relevant difference between a biological man and a trans man.


According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, a trans man is, by definition, a “female-to-male transgender person,” i.e., someone who has “transitioned” from female to male.


There is an evident difference between a trans man and a biological man; namely, the former has undergone a “transition,” a process which might involve alterations of a social, medical, and/or cosmetic nature, changes in apparel, etc. The latter is a man without such “transitioning.” He naturally becomes a man after having been a boy.

It is not possible for a trans man to be a biological man because, for any biological man, there was a time t1 at which he was a boy and there was a time t2 (or maybe a range of times t2 - tn) at which he naturally developed from boy to man. But, given the definition of ‘trans man’ and since the past is unalterable, it’s impossible for the trans man to have been a boy, and given facts about biology, it’s impossible for a trans man to have developed naturally from boy to man in the way that a biological man so develops. Both time and biology rule out such things.

Moreover, by definition, for every trans man there was a time at which the trans man was biologically female and another time at which the trans man “transitioned.” But a biological man cannot have a past in which he was a biological female, and a biological man is a man without having “transitioned.”

In short, the natures of time and biology are such that the differences between a man and a trans man are clear. And more: it’s impossible for a trans man to be a biological man.

"I can no more identify as a woman than I can identify as a cat or a carrot."

Consider the case of Erik Sprague, aka, the Lizardman. Suppose Erik is free to alter his body in the ways one can see in photographs available online. That is, he is free to pretend to be a lizard. It doesn't follow that Erik is an actual lizard, that is, a reptile of the squamata order with scaly skin which sheds, a creature which smells with its tongue, is oviparous, etc. Erik was not hatched from an egg and, given that he wasn't, cannot change that historical fact.

One who is human cannot make oneself into a lizard and thus, in objective reality, achieve a taxonomic switch.

I'd be interested to hear someone provide a principled reason for believing that transitions from male to female or the reverse are successful but that transitions from human to lizard are not successful.


This is strange stuff. I'm glad we agree. One question: why “female-to-male transgender person,” rather than F-M transexual person? Is that a tacit admission that no sex change has occurred?

A second question has to do with this definition from the glossary to which you linked: >> Assigned sex at birth: The sex (male or female) assigned to a child at birth, most often based on the child’s external anatomy. Also referred to as birth sex, natal sex, biological sex or sex.<<

If sex can be assigned at birth, why not vital status, i.e. alive versus stillborn? Can a taxonomic status be assigned? Is birth weight assigned? Or is it measured? And so on.

And who does the assigning? A committee? Is a vote taken?

>>'Mark was late for work because she was caught in traffic.' If I heard that I would ask, "Who was the female in question and what did her getting caught in traffic have to do with Mark's being late for work?"<<

Yes, that statement is confusing. It's an example of why, as I said, these accounts seem strained. Wanting to be charitable to opposing views, I explored what I called the “proper name account” instead. But this account has problems, too.

“the senses of words determines their reference and not the other way around.”

Here are two possible responses from the cultural far left.

First, at least in some cases, the reference of a word determines its sense. We are free to use words however we desire. Hence, one can point to a “male-to-female-transgender person” and say ‘she.’ The pointing combined with the speaker’s intention to refer to the transgender person fixes the sense of ‘she.’

Second, one might argue that 'she' has a sense that is less sexually restrictive than you suggest. In other words, ‘she’ can be used to refer to the distaff side of sexually-polarized human beings and to transgender females. One might claim that the extra-linguistic fact of “transitioning” is sufficient to determine the sense of ‘she.'

A response to first point: The fact that people are free to use language innovatively doesn’t entail that their innovations are sufficient to fix the sense of the word. If Smith enters a geography classroom and starts using ‘leeward’ to refer to the latest dance at the club, it doesn’t follow that ‘leeward’ takes on this new sense.

A response to second point: If so-called “transitioning” is sufficient to determine the sense of a word, then the Lizardman’s bodily alterations are enough for words such as ‘lizard,’ ‘reptile,’ and ‘squamate’ to refer literally to him. But’s that would be absurd.

The two of you make some solid points, but not the main one: pronoun use is primarily a political issue, not a linguistic or philosophical problem. It is the imposition of a political position that is explicitly grounded in a metaphysical and ontological set of beliefs that defy any common sense notion of reality. What makes it a political issue is that they do not try to persuade anyone to use the adopted pronouns, but instead try to force us to use them, through shame or some form of consequences. This puts us squarely in the position of having to defend our rights of free speech and conscience, in order to uphold our devotion to the truth and to our own inner integrity. This is the reason, I believe, that Jordan Peterson first resisted and launched himself into an international conversation about these and other matters.

And all this is doubly true where, as here, the pronoun issue is linked to a wider political program to devalue a woman's uniqueness qua woman in our society, e.g. allowing biological men to compete in women's sports, and the forced conscription of women into the armed forces.

Compare: if no one else in the world had a pronoun issue, but one troubled co-worker did. Out of charity and compassion, I think most of us would accommodate him. But since it is a political movement in this country, that makes it important that we resist the pressure to acquiesce in an obvious lie.

“And who does the assigning? A committee? Is a vote taken?”

Who assigned the assigners? Is it committees all the way down?

Tom writes, >>The two of you make some solid points, but not the main one: pronoun use is primarily a political issue, not a linguistic or philosophical problem.<<

You are right if 'main' means: hot-button, of burning concern to non-philosophers. But Elliot and I have both a theoretical interest in pronouns and how they function in general and in relation to classical philosophical questions pertaining to the self, e.g, How is 'ego' functioning in *Ego cogito ergo sum*? and a practical-political interest.

Above, Elliot and I are mixing these two interests.

But the rest of what you say, I agree with, and I think Elliot does as well.


I say resist the language abusers. Don't play their game. Break your contacts with 'woke' folk. Easy for me to say! I've made mine. But let's say you have a family to support and need your job. Then you are in a very tough spot. If you acquiesce in the madness I won't blame you.

As Tom suggests, it's a fee speech issue. But 'liberals' have abandoned their trad. commitment to free speech. Just look at how the ACLU has changed over the last decade or so.

There's a bad moon risin' and trouble's on the way.

Tom, you're right to be concerned about the political and moral issues you raised. Freedom of speech is especially important. But as Bill noted, we were primarily addressing issues in the philosophy of language and metaphysics.

For example, analytic philosophers generally agree that sense determines reference. But the wokist view of language seems to involve a denial of this claim. It seems the wokist wants to say that reference determines sense. This assertion seems clearly false because two terms or phrases can have the same reference but different senses.

Important issues are at stake here with respect to our use of language to discuss reality. These issues are not merely theoretical; they have practical influence, as we are now seeing.

Hi, Bill. I’ve been thinking more about this topic.

I read Robert May’s Frege on Indexicals (2006, prior to the popularity of 'preferred pronouns). May argues that sense determines reference and can do so in two ways, since sense comes “in two varieties; those that contain modes of presentation and those that do not.” (491) The former category concerns those senses that determine reference by presenting (i.e., describing) it. Indexicals fall into the latter category. The sense of an indexical determines its reference by “constraining” it. (491) May writes: “The senses of indexicals and demonstratives are constraining senses; what is required for such senses is that they contain enough information to connect the present reference to the thought expressed, such that it can be determined in context whether it is a true or false thought.” (491-92)

The idea here, I take it, is roughly that an indexical has a sense that, despite the context-dependent quality of the indexical, restricts the scope of its use, excluding some information and requiring other information. May continues: “So, for example, the sense of “he” must contain at least the information that the present reference is male, unitary, and neither the speaker nor addressee.” (492)

If May is correct, then it seems that:

(a) so-called 'preferred pronouns' cannot operate as proper names, since pronouns (including preferred ones) are context-dependent and refer by constraint while proper names generally are context-independent and refer by presentation, and

(b) like other pronouns, “preferred pronouns” have senses which determine their reference by requiring specific information and excluding other information. Pronouns are, by nature, not inclusive of all information. Pronouns are quite exclusive. (Note the irony of people trying to be ‘inclusive’ by using words that are not inclusive.) Consider: ‘he’ requires that the referent is male, one and only one person, and neither the speaker nor the addressee; ‘she’ requires that the referent is female, one and only one person, and neither the speaker nor the addressee; etc.

Now, if pronouns don’t refer by constraint, then they don’t refer at all. Hence, sentences which contain pronouns which fail to refer are non-referring sentences and thus false.

Suppose, then, that an employer forces employees to use the ‘preferred pronouns’ of colleagues and others although such pronouns don't align with the biological sex of the 'preferrers.' Given May’s argument, it seems that such an employer would be forcing employees to make false (because non-referring) statements.


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