Saturday, October 18, 2008

Russell, Berkeley attacking

Russell tells us that it is (was) customary to regard all propositions as having a subject, an immediate this, and a predicate, a general concept attached to it by way of description.

Some people argued:

1. All words stand for ideas having meanings.
2. In every judgement there is something, the true subject of the term, which is not an idea and does not have meaning.

But Russell thinks this notion of meaning confuses logical and psychological elements. It makes sense to argue:

3. Words have meaning, in the simple sense that they are symbols which stand for something other than themselves.

But then this means that:

4. Propositions, unless they are linguistic, do not themselves contain words, only containing entities indicated by words.

And it seems that:

5. Meaning, in the sense which words have meaning, is irrelevant to logic.

So there has to be another sense of meaning:

6. The concept a man is symbolic: it denotes.

This means that when a man occurs in a proposition, the proposition is not about the concept a man.


7. Concepts have meaning in a non-psychologial sense.

This notion of meaning as denotation is more robust, so only those things which denote have meaning. The confusion over meaning is due to the notion that words occur in propositions, which in turn is due to the notion that propositions are essentially mental and are to be identified with cognitions.

I think that this is a good argument against some forms of concept empiricism which do seem to naturally lead to idealism or solipsism. Though, as an interesting side note, Russell seems to get stuck in solipsism with the Given.

If someone were inclined to accept British Empiricist theories of concept acquisition and of meaning, such that basic concepts are abstracted from experience and meaningful concepts originate in experience, it is easy to see how we can get the notion that:

8. Concepts are only meaningful if they have meanings.
9. Meanings are given in experience.
10. So concepts are only meaningful if they are given in experience.

But substance isn't given in experience: so Berkeley says that substance is meaningless. Substance is not an idea, and so doesn't have a meaning.

So a Lockean might have to admit that ideas and concepts are mental, so are meanings mental. Substance being non-mental, is not meaningful. Berkeley things we cannot have ideas which are non-meaningful, and I'm sure Locke or even Russell would appeal to instrumentalism in science to get it in there. (inferential realism.)

But it seems like Berkeley will just run a Benacerraf dilemma. What is good for Jubien in terms of abstract entities will be good for Berkeley in terms of abstract general ideas.

1. For there to be substances, a theory of substance must be true.
2. A theory of substance is either a mathematical theory or an ontological theory).

3. For a mathematical theory to be true, it must either offer a model of what substance is or given a real account of what substance is.

4. If a mathematical theory of substance only provides a model of what substantial existents are, then it has not answered the question of what substance is.
5. If a mathematical theory argues that the model is identical to substance, then they face a Benecerraf dilemma.

6. Therefore a mathematical theory of substance is not true. (4 - 5)

7. An ontological theory of substance has to offer a real account of what substance is.

8. To give a real account of substance, we have to analyze our general idea of substance.

9. A general idea is either a singular idea or an abstract general idea.
10. If our general idea of substance is a singular idea then it is Given in experience.
11. Our idea of substance is not Given in experience.
12. So our idea of substance is not a singular idea. (10 - 11)

13. So our idea of substance is an abstract general idea. (9, 12)

14. Abstract general ideas are contradictions.

15. So an ontological account of substance is a contradiction. (13, 14)

16. Any theory that is a contradiction is false.

17. So the ontological theory of substance is false. (15, 16)

20. Both mathematical and ontological theory is false. (6, 17)

21. So there is no true theory of substance. (2, 20)

22. So there are no substances. (1, 21)

Berkeley will assume:

1. We can only know those things Given in experience.
2. Substance cannot be Given in experience.
3. So we cannot know about substance.

He'll accept Wittgenstein's: "A nothing would do well as a something about which we could say nothing."

If we adopt an instrumentalism or realism for a philosophy of science, Berkeley will say that we are still accepting 1 - 3, so substance is just mental after all.

So both Berkeley and Russell will deny (2):

1. All words stand for ideas having meanings.
2. In every judgement there is something, the true subject of the term, which is not an idea and does not have meaning.

B. will claim that something without a meaning is nothing. But the idea of meaning is correct. R. will claim the notion of meaning is wrong. Substances have denotation.

But I think B. will still run a Benacerraf dilemma. What are we denoting, these non-meaningful things?

B. is a crafty bastard. Our concept a man is clearly originated in experience. But what of mind-independent material thing? What of our concept is a proposition? etc.

There is more to say, but I'm sure that this is enough for now.

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