« Saturday Night at the Oldies: Fools and Useful Idiots | Main | Trump, Adultery, Morality, and the Alinskyite Left »

Sunday, April 02, 2023

Comments

Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

If I see that some is P, then by the same token I see that some SP exists. But it sounds strange to say that I see the existence of the SP. I think the problems you are having here are the result of treating existence as a property. I agree that ‘exists’ is a predicate, a linguistic item. But it is a predicate without a corresponding property.

But you knew I was going to say that.

This is an interesting post, Bill.

You’re talking about knowledge that, i.e., propositional knowledge. Is your position that propositional knowledge requires epistemic certainty? Or is propositional knowledge consistent with fallible justification? Does the pentad require you to take a position?

I take it that “I know that the tree exists” is not a claim to know what the tree is, but only that it (whatever it is) exists. You are not committing yourself to the claim that the tree exists, say, as a physical object.

Suppose we say knowledge requires epistemic certainty and that if one is epistemically certain that proposition p is the case, then given one’s evidence E for p, one cannot be wrong that p. E supports p at a probability of 1.

How would something like this work?

a) I know that the tree (whatever it is) exists.
b) I know that the tree (whatever it is) exists by seeing that it exists.
c) An individual exists by instantiating the property of existence.
d) If I see that a thing (whatever it is) has a property, then I see the property at the thing.
e) One cannot see or otherwise sense-perceive the property of existence.

Support for (a) and (b): I am directly experiencing a tree (or some parts/aspects of it); I am being appeared-to-treely. I cannot be wrong that this visual experience is occurring, though the experience doesn’t prove what the tree is (say, that the tree is a physical object). I know with epistemic certainty that there is this experience, that is, the visual experience of a tree -- whatever the tree is (for all I know, it might be a physical object; it might be a bundle of experienceable properties or tropes; etc.) Thus, I know via direct experience that there is something that is a tree, although I don’t know what that something is in itself. I don’t know that it is an extra-mental entity, for example.

Support for (d): I am having a visual experience of the property green at the tree. I can’t be wrong that this experience is occurring and that it appears to me to be at the tree. I see (I visually experience) green at the tree (whatever the tree is).

Plausibly, existence is not a (first-order) property. If this is right, (c) is false and (e) is true in the sense that one cannot see the property of existence because there is no such thing -- assuming (c) and (e) are about first-order properties.

Regarding your example of the Sun, perhaps what you experience are the present remnants of a past object that has ceased to exist. Or perhaps the Sun continues to exist because, say, eternalism or growing block theory is true rather than presentism.

Thanks, Elliot. It's getting near bedtime, so I have time for only one comment.

>>I take it that “I know that the tree exists” is not a claim to know what the tree is, but only that it (whatever it is) exists. You are not committing yourself to the claim that the tree exists, say, as a physical object.<<

But surely trees are physical objects, and what I am looking at is a tree. And of course I believe that what I am looking at exists. The question is: how do I know that it exists where knowledge entails objective certainty?

It is important to note that the following fails as an explication of existence: X exists iff X is a physical object. I have no doubt that what I am looking at is a physical object; The question is: how do I know that the physical object I am looking at exists. And of course to exist is to exist in reality, that is, extramentally and extralinguistically.

Suppose that at ontological bottom everything is a physical thing. Even if this were true, which it is not, existence cannot be identified with physical thinghood. Even if everything is physical, it is not in virtue of its being physical that a physical thing exists. This is absolutely crucial, the "beginning of wisdom" in the theory of existence.

To help you appreciate the point, note that 'X exists =df x is a physical thing' is true only x exists. But then the definition is circular, amounting to 'X exists iff x is a physical thing and x exists.'

Just as existence cannot be reduced to any quidditative determination such as treeness, it cannot be reduced to any categorial determination such as physicality , or spatiality or temporality or whatever.

>To help you appreciate the point, note that 'X exists =df x is a physical thing' is true only x exists. But then the definition is circular, amounting to 'X exists iff x is a physical thing and x exists.'<

By equal reasoning, "X is lamb =df x is mutton" entails "X is lamb iff X is lamb and X is mutton". Which is true of course, but does not mean that the definition is circular. A definition gives the meaning of a word whose meaning is not known in terms of a word whose meaning is known.

Of course, if the meaning of 'physical thing' is not known then there is a problem. Is that what you meant?

Hey Elliot, can you explain the point I made @7:30 to Oz?

Bill,

I can give it a shot.

This definition is inadequate because it's circular:

'X exists =df x is a physical thing.'

Why is it circular? Because the definiendum shows up in the definiens. That x is a particular thing (e.g., a physical item) presupposes that x exists. Similarly, that x falls into a category of things (e.g., physical objects) presupposes that x exists. Hence, the existence of x can't be defined in terms of its being a particular thing, whether a physical thing or some other kind of thing, nor can the existence of x be defined in terms of its falling into some category of existing things.

By the way, I didn't intend in my post above to suggest that existence is defined in terms of physicality. If I unintentionally suggested such, I should have been more clear.

Bill,
You write that you have a palo verde tree in your backyard. On this basis alone I do not know that you have such a tree. If I visit your backyard I will see the tree and I will then know that you have such a tree. I will say to myself, 'Bill's palo verde exists'. To formulate this corroboration without using the verb 'to exist' is clumsy. 'There is such a tree of which Bill writes', perhaps, or 'There is such a written-of-by-Bill tree. So 'to exist' plays a role in expressing verification by acquaintance of an existence claim given by description. It's part of the language around the corroboration of descriptive existence claims. In the clumsy 'there is...' formulations there is explicit linguistic ascent, viz, reference to something written by Bill. If the 'there is...' and the '...exists' formulations are synonymous they must both contain linguistic ascent. So any noun phrase governing 'exists' has to be thought of as a reference to an earlier existence claim, possibly implicit, which the reader/listener may reasonably be holding in doubt. This may go some way towards explaining the difficulty of defining 'exists'.

The standard understanding of 'knowledge' leaves out an important psychological factor. When we acquire knowledge by acquaintance we move from a state of ignorance or reasonable doubt to a state of relative confidence in a claim, typically sufficient for appropriate action. You mention a number of factors that can diminish confidence:

1. finite propagation speed of light, sound, smell from distant events
2. perceptual error and dreaming
3. deliberate deception
4. brain in vat scenario
5. metaphysical undermining
We live each day with (1)--(3) and guard against them. We encounter (4) and (5) only when philosophising. For (1)--(3) we can readily demarcate between circumstances in which they may and may not occur, and we have precautionary or corrective measures against them. We can hedge our claims with reference to signal travel time intervals, say, ensure adequate illumination, dismiss dreamed experience, be suspicious and careful, use multiple senses, and so on. We are not 'in the dark', as it were, with respect to perceptual mistakes. Putting these out-of-the-ordinary situations to one side we are left with common sense knowledge acquired through the senses. (4) and (5), however, can be utterly undermining of common sense. We are left feeling that we do not understand the meaning of 'know'. But if, in the ordinary world, after due care I see the palo verde in your backyard, then I know there is a palo verde in your backyard. This is just understanding how to use the word 'know'.

Elliot,

You get my point. But why doesn't Oz get it?

You wrote, >>You are not committing yourself to the claim that the tree exists, say, as a physical object.<<

You have since clarified your position, but this suggested to me that you are sharing Oz's view that if my tree does not exist, then it is not a physical object.

Thanks for the comment, David. If I don't answer all your comments or e-mail that is because I am pressed for time.

>>If the 'there is...' and the '...exists' formulations are synonymous they must both contain linguistic ascent. So any noun phrase governing 'exists' has to be thought of as a reference to an earlier existence claim, possibly implicit, which the reader/listener may reasonably be holding in doubt.<<

The two formulations are only sometimes synonymous. 'There is an honest man' and 'An honest man exists' are synonymous. They are both general existence claims, general existentials. 'Aristides exists,' however, is a singular existential. I have given several arguments to show that singular existentials cannot be reduced to general existentials.

Suppose I give my tree the name 'Pal.' 'Pal' is a proper name, not a noun phrase. and it does not, contrary to what you say, have to be thought of as referring to an earlier claim, existential or not. I see Pal. I say 'Pal is in bloom.' Then I THINK: if if Pal is in bloom, then Pal exists, And then I wonder: how do I know that Pal exists?

The rest of what you say, David, is very commonsensical and adequate for all practical purposes. And of course we all know how to use 'know' in the commonsense way. But these commonsense points leave the epistemological question untouched.

If I may elaborate, there’s a difference between the pragmatic semantics of ‘knowledge’ and the epistemological investigation into the nature of knowledge. Discussion of how folks use ‘know’ in various contexts leaves untouched the epistemological question of what knowledge is. This is one of the problems with epistemic contextualism (EC) – or so it seems to me. EC is a semantic thesis about what people mean by ‘knowledge’ in different linguistic contexts. EC does not directly address the dispute between skeptics and anti-skeptics regarding the nature of knowledge (the thing itself, not the word). Skeptics and anti-skeptics are concerned with what knowledge is, and not so much with what words such as ‘knowledge’ and ‘know’ mean in different linguistic contexts.

People use words with varying degrees of precision in different situations. For example, I might say that Florida is flat. In ordinary language, the point is understandable. But of course, Florida is not precisely flat, and I am not addressing the nature of flatness if I say that Florida is flat. Similarly, people use ‘know’ in multifarious ways -- some more precise, and some far less precise -- but that fact doesn’t tell us much about what knowledge is in itself.

Thank you for the reply, Bill. I confess I struggle to see a problem here. The meanings of 'existing', 'seeing (sensing)', and 'knowing' seem to me to form an interrelated nexus that cannot be further decomposed. How do you know that Pal exists? You see(sense) it. What other answer could there be?

Elliot,

I agree with your comment.

David writes, >>How do you know that Pal exists? You see(sense) it. What other answer could there be?<<

You are assuming that one cannot see something that does not exist. I grant that 'see' is standardly used as a verb of success, i.e., necessarily, if S sees x, then x exists. On this use of 'see' it is impossible to see something that doesw not exist. But there is also a phenomenological use of 'see' that does not entail existence.

I don't know about you, but I see things in my dreams. No vat needed!

Bill, my visual experience during dreams is highly impoverished compared with my waking experience. Since childhood I have always been able to tell dreaming from waking, and I have never had anything approaching your cat dream experience. Hence I think that real and illusory visual experiences are well separated.

The comments to this entry are closed.

My Photo
Blog powered by Typepad
Member since 10/2008

Categories

Categories

June 2024

Sun Mon Tue Wed Thu Fri Sat
            1
2 3 4 5 6 7 8
9 10 11 12 13 14 15
16 17 18 19 20 21 22
23 24 25 26 27 28 29
30            
Blog powered by Typepad