Thursday, September 25, 2008

Help Quell My Concern

I still am concerned about the Benacerraf Dilemma; that it works.

If we say that there is an entity or a class of entities which are abstract entities or propositions, it seems to me that there has to be a sort of closed criteria to differentiate that single or that single kind of entity. Imagine if we thought that there was such thing as a cat or a kind of thing as cats, but that all sorts of other animals could be identified as cats.

It seems to me like having ten photographs of alleged Sasquatches. Now some true believer wants to say that in any given photo there is a Sasquatch, and in the totality of photos a kind of thing that is a Sasquatch. If the skeptic says: That could be anything in the photo!, can the true believer really get away with saying: Oh well, I guess there is a Sasquatch structure or function which many different things and kinds of things can fill! This seems absurd.

Or imagine finding a dead body. This seems like compelling proof of a murder to the conspiracy theorist. He can construct a theory based on evidence to identify the murderers as Smith or Jones. But the skeptic can point out that the theory is so loose that anyone can fit this role. There are alternative explanation for the dead body for the skeptic. There is no single killer here, nor even a single kind of killer for this body.

If "The dude who wrote Naming and Necessity", "One half of Kripkenstein, the half who isn't Wittgenstein", and "Saul Kripke" are all equally good linguistic representations of Saul Kripke, don't we have to abandon the notion that there is a single linguistic representation of Kripke, or a single kind of linguistic representation of Kripke? I'm not even sure that there is a single type or class of linguistic expressions that pick out Kripke. There are many equally good linguistic representations, many equally good kinds of linguistic representations.

This all seems like a Wittgensteinean move against Universals, with the example of what makes all games games. It seems there is just a family resemblance, a messy cross-section of related but distinct criteria. If we can say that there are cat entities and a kind of entities that are cats, we surely avoid the B.D. If we cannot say that there are proposition entities and a kind of entities that are propositions in the same manner, we should probably drop the notion that they are entities like cats are entities. I don't see this as overly devastating except to Platonism, which is false anyhow.



Dan said...

I'm not sure what the concern is here. Is it that idetifying the structural role as a proposition is an inadequate response?
If so, there's a clear dissanalogy between the proposition case and the sasquatch case. A sasquatch isn't the sort of thing that can be identified as a structure, or a function. If a sasquatch exists, it's a furry mammallian bi-ped, not a function. The same can't be said about propositions.
In the killer case, it seems exactly right to reject the conspiracy theorists theory on BD grounds. However in this case it's more serious because you can either say that he doesn't have a theory, or his theory is unsupported by the evidence. The same cannot be said for a proposition theorist (or if it can, we have no need to bring in BD).
As for there being different linguistic expressions that pick out Kripke, this is surely correct. It's ok to have more than one candidate for a linguistic expression that picks out Kripke because more than one linguistic expression DOES pick out Kripke. Maybe I missed the point here, but I don't see the problem.

Wes McPherson said...

I think the problem is for Platonists. If we avoid the B.D. by moving to a structural account, we are no longer being a realist about AE. Not a nominalist either. We are not being structuralists or functionalists.

If the proposition theorist accepts this, then we have a non-traditional account. If they try to make a theoretical identification move, some could argue that we cannot posit theoretical entities that are propositions, so the analogy does hold here.

But if we accept that there are as many propositions that pick out Kripke as linguistic expressions, then we are also moving to a non-traditional account of propositions.

There are many propositions, let us say, which denote Kripke either directly or indirectly. So there is not a single propositional entity like there is a single Kripke entity.

I don't think you missed the point, as there really doesn't seem to be a problem for a non-traditional account of propositions. A traditional realist or nominalist will bicker about the issue of AEs being entities or names. Both accounts seem unattractive. It's like:

1. Traditional proposition theories are Platonic.
2. Platonism is false.
3. So the traditional proposition theory false. (1,2)

Alright. Traditional proposition theory is false. Now we can give a non-traditional account.

Lastly, consider all the expressions in the actual world which represent redness. We have the French 'rouge', the German 'rot' and the English 'red'. All are •red•s. Now we cannot claim that the dot-quote language is English only, since we face something like a B.D. So we get pragmatic; so there is no one language to put in the dots, since the Englishmen puts *red* in the dots, the Frenchmen puts *rouge* and the German puts *rot*. But these all play the same role!

Now the proposition theorist seems to have to make the same sorts of moves to avoid the B.D. Fine. But this is still a non-traditional account! It is an adequate response to say that propositions are structural roles. But it is not a traditional response.

Dan said...

I don't see that a structuralist account is incompatible with a realist one. In fact, I don't see how a structuralist account can stand alone without realism or nominalism.
A realist would identify a proposition with a certain structure (perhaps involving individuals and properties). They would say that such a structure exists and is the semantic content of declarative sentences. I take it this is the move you were refering to. Why is this not an option?
Also, I must have missunderstood your next point. I thought you said that there can be different linguistic entities that pick out kripke, not semantic entities. If you're talking about semantic content that picks out kripke, a fregian would accept that there are many sense of kripke, and that this is not a problem. A millian would say that the semantic content relevant here is just kripke himself, and he is one, and the only one, which is identical to kripke. Either way, there's an answer.

Wes McPherson said...

I think that the structuralist, realist and nominalist are all different in their positions. They all have different approaches. Maybe they are compatible in some sense. Sure. But a realist about numbers has a distinct position from a structuralist about numbers. And it seems different from a nominalist position.

(Realists and nominalists historically largely agree, they just place the things is different regions of logical space.)

If a Fregean really wants to have billions and billions of senses and senses of senses, this seems just as absurd to me as holding that there would only be one sense. But in any case, it is not introducing theoretical entities that is the problem, it's how we should ever be able to know about them. And how we should be able to theoretically identify them.

It's fine to tinker with what makes a realist a realist, and to give new moves for a realist to make. Fine. But historically there are positions out there that don't make these new moves, and it seems that historically the B.D. was directed against these positions, not new positions created in response to the B.D. attack on the historical positions.

There are always answers to give to criticisms, but I think that the B.D. is a criticism against a position, and that we are talking about the original thesis which is being criticized.

Dan said...

If in fact structuralism is a view independant of realism or nominalism, can you say a little more about how the view is supposed to work? What sorts of things distinguish it? Does it commit you to realism about structures, or nominalism about structures, or something new entirely? Does it identify the ontological category in question with structures?
Proposition theory itself is not a theory, it's a category of theories. This is true of platonism about propositions as well. Any theory in which a platonic entity is identified as a proposition is a platonistic view of propositions. So if a structuralist about propositions wants to identify propositions with certain structures, whether or not that supports platonism or goes against it depends on what structures are.
It may force any of the specific historic platonist theories to slightly modify their views, but as long as they have the option to remain platonist theories this is not a major threat to the platonist. New considerations are constantly forcing people to revise their views, nobody considers an objection powerful if a slight modification (that retains the spirit of the view) can overcome it. This is obvious just by looking at the vast history of discarded and modified theories.

Wes McPherson said...

It just seems to me that the traditional debate is between realism and nominalism regarding AE. A more middle ground position is something like a structuralism. I'm more familiar with the mind-body problem, so let us consider that.

Dualists think that there are minds and bodies. Two different substances, two different qualities. The easy opposite move is monism. One substance, one kind of qualities. A functionalism can move into the middle ground and say that there is one sort of substance by two sorts of qualities.

So in an overly general manner we can say that functionalism can accept that there are minds and mental qualities, without being a dualist. They can also not be a dualist without being a monist. They have a middle position.

So it seems that a functionalist in the mind-body problem can be a realist about minds like a dualist. But they are not necessarily easily identified with a monist.

So sure a structuralist can accept that AEs are real, that structures are real. Sure. I think that the Government of Canada and the United Nations are real. But they aren't entities like cats are. Maybe they are 'entities' in a broad sense, or 'beings' or 'things' or whatever.

But if a Platonist wants to hold that there is a Universal with instances, such that all propositions are an instantiation of a Universal. (Thus my analogy to Sasquatches in photos to the Sasquatch Type.) Now if we move towards a theory whereby AEs are no longer simply Universals, but structural roles or whatever, it seems we have migrated from the notion that entities instantiate AEs and that structures do.

Presumably the Universal Tableness gets instantiated in tables. Tables are tables because they instantiate Tableness. (The nominalist: all tables are called 'table'.) But if we end up saying that what makes a table is how something is used, we seem to be moving away from a flat-out instantiated table requirement, and towards a structural requirement. Tables are what play the table role, etc.

Maybe we can say that a structure instantiates an AE, or we could say that the structure is the AE. So of course the Platonist has to update his views. He too is building a ship at sea.

So the way that things have been set up seem to indicate that the naive view of proposition theory commits us to AEs. The naive rejection of proposition theory commits us to the denial of AEs. So the BD is designed with these naive positions in mind. So even if proposition theory just needs to be committed some-how some-way to propositions existing, it seems that naive proposition theory is the common starting point of realists of the AE sort, and a denial of naive proposition theory as a common starting point of realists of the scientific sort.

Maybe I'm just thinking in too general terms. I am frankly more interested in the history and the historical contexts of proposition theory. So of course we can tinker with the old theories, pour new wine into old bottles as Sellars says.

I also suppose that I look at things in terms of the 'big picture' and just find the general picture pushed by Platonists to be faulty and misleading. So even if the Platonist modifies here and there, it seems that the more we push things towards a middle position the more the Platonist loses.

The whole structure / entity debate may be something like the event / thing debate. We probably need both and shouldn't confuse the two. But Platonic entities are supposed to exist, exist outside of space and time, etc. Do structures? Seems not. Perhaps then structures instantiate Platonic entities or something. I guess this is still a good old fashioned Platonism of sorts.

But the BD still seems to be a problem. I still find it compelling for the reasons I've tried to say, even if in principle the Platonist can make moves. I just think there are very many problems with the basic picture of Platonism.

Wes McPherson said...

It has occurred to me that I am perhaps fixating on the notion that realists are identical to Platonists, and that if Platonism has to have representation as an internal feature, all realists must. But perhaps realists can get by with external representation.