Tuesday, November 11, 2008

'Elementary' trouble with King

In chapter 7, King lays out his version of philosophical analysis. I'm going to briefly go over it until I run into some problems that I'd like to talk about.

King major claim is: There is such a thing as philosophical analysis, and my model can answer the five questions that (I think) a good theory of analysis should be able to answer (see chp 7 for these 5 questions).

For his theory of analysis to work, King requires that we accept three 'elements':

1st element: That "one must accept an account of propositions on which complex predicates contribute to propositions complex sub-propositional constituents that have properties and relations at their terminal nodes and that represent other properties".

2nd element: That "some properties and relations are complex, and have other properties and relations as components".

Here, King likes to use the example of the word "bachelor". He says that "bachelor" might be built up out of 1) being adult, 2) being male, and 3) being unmarried; and these are all in the conjuction relation. He also notes that properties can be built in ways other than conjunction (and he gives an example). Lastly on this point, he notes two more things:

1) That he does not have to explain how properties like this combine to make other properties, just as long as he can say it is part of a properties nature to be made up of combined properties like this.

2) That he is not necessarily committed to their being 'simple properties' (but he thinks there are - pg 200).

I think the latter of these two would make for some interesting discussion and controversy, but that would seem a little besides-the-point right now. Instead I would like to focus more on the 3rd element.

3rd element: That "there are three categories of words such that the words in a given category are all governed by the same standards of linguistic competence; but words in different categories are governed by different standards of linguistic competence".
Category #1) Linguistic competence: "one must be able to specify the componets of the property or relation expressed by the word and how those components are combined in the property expressed by the word".

Category #2) Linguistic competence: "one be able to reliably determine whether a given entity possesses the property expressed by e and to thereby know whether e applies to the entity or not"

At this point he notes that a category 1 word cannot be a category 2 word as well.

Category #3) Linguistic competence: He doesn't say what the linguistic competence is of category 3 words, just that they are "natural kind terms like water, tiger, aluminum...". These are words that fail to be governed by the standards of competence of C1 +C2.

I have problems with King's three categories. I think that category 2 words are not as distinct from category 1 words as King says they are. The linguistic competence for C1 words is that someone knows what properties they are 'built up out of', and the linguistic competence for C2 words is that someone knows everything (has sufficient information) about an entity so that they know whether it possesses a certain property or not. It seems to me that if you know exactly what a word is built up of (including the relations it has - something King conveniently leaves out of his discussion on purpose), then you should also have sufficient information to know whether it has a certain property or not. In fact, the 'sufficient information' would be precisely the properties and relations that you had to know for C1 words. In this respect, C2 linguistic competence would supervene on C1 linguistic competence, making the two categories really one and the same.

Without the ability to distinguish between category 1 and category 2 words (we don't even have to look at category 3 words now), King loses the ability to answer some of the questions he said an account should be able to.

I guess more formally:

1) If King's 3 word categories lose their distinction, element 3 must be rejected.

2) King's 3 word categories lose their distinction

3) 1 +2, therefore element 3 must be rejected

4) If King's theory of philosophical analysis is correct, then all 3 elements must be accepted

5) element 3 is not accepted

6) 4 + 5, therefore King's theory of philosophical analysis is not correct.

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