Sunday, November 2, 2008

King: The Objection from Origins.

This strikes me as also being The Problem of Emergence.

The question is: How did propositions come to be?

The objector wants to stick King on his non-Platonic account of propositions.

1. On King's view, the facts that are propositions came into existence in part as a result of lexical items acquiring semantic values and syntactic relations coming to encode certain functions.
2. But when we attempt to explain how our proto-linguistic ancestors brought it about that words had semantic values and sentential relations encoded certain functions, we will appeal to the beliefs and intentions they had.
3. On King's view, prior to the existence of language there were no propositions, which are the objects of attitudes like intending and believing.
4. But propositions must exist in order for creatures to have propositional attitudes.
5. So King's account of how propositions came into existence will have to presuppose that creatures had propositional attitudes prior to propositions existing. (1 - 5)
6. So King's view is contradictory and should be rejected.

King will want to deny (5). "The fundamental thought behind the present view of structured propositions is that the vehicle by means of which propositions are expressed consist of entities standing in relations and that these very relations provide all of the significant structure to the propositions expressed by those vehicles."

If, for example, "mental sentences" exist, these too will count as vehicles for the expression of propositions. This gives reason to deny (3), since "there may be propositions even in the absence of any public language."

While this would make someone like Sellars upset, it would make someone like Chisholm happy. Sellars thinks that intentionality primarily dwells in language, whereas Chisholm think that intentionality primarily dwells in thought. (Roughly.)

King might argue:

7. Mental sentences exist and encode propositions.
8. Propositional attitudes only exist if there are propositions.
9. Mental sentences can exist independently of any public language.
10. So Propositions and propositional attitudes can exist in the absence of any public language. (7 - 9)

Therefore, King can reply: "If there is a language of thought, and if our proto-lingusitic ancestors thought in it, propositions could have existed, and our ancestors could have had attitudes towards them, prior to the existence of public language."

While this might make someone like Chisholm happy, it does not make King happy: "I am not happy resting my response here on the claim that there is a langauge of thought and our proto-linguistic ancestors though in it."

King would rather assume that the claim in (7) is false. Let us deny that there is a language of thought.

11. If our pre-linguistic ancestors had propositional attitudes, propositions must have existed.
12. For propositions to have existed, our pre-liniguistic ancestors must have either had a public language or a language of thought.
13. Our pre-linguistic ancestors could have had neither a public language or a language of thought.
14. So our pre-linguistic ancestors had no propositional attitudes. (11 - 13)

This would make someone like Chisholm unhappy, someone like Sellars happy. King is happy too: "We must say that strictly speaking our proto-linguistic ancestors did not have propositional attitudes, hence propositions didn't exist then."

King appeals that our proto-linguistic ancestors "had some 'proto-intentional' states: proto-beliefs and proto-intentions." He adds that this should not be so strange, since: "it seems to me likely that many animals currently have only states of this sort and so it wouldn't be surprising that in our pre- and proto-linguistic stages we were rather like them in this respect."

We can make a Sellarsian appeal to back King up here. As I had noted before, Sellars says that there are two senses of 'meaningless utterance': "(1) Those utterances which are meaningless if they do not token a properly formed expression in a language. (2) Those utterances which are uttered parrotingly by one who does not know the language."

We might construe the following as an example of (1):

frettk taete34t ln4wti4j6a46

and the following as an example of (2):

When it is 5:00pm my computer says: "It is five o'clock."

Proto-intentional states would seem to not be of the first kind, but of the second. Let us assume that there are inner as well as outer linguistic utterances. Perhaps in a proto-intentional state, one utters in one's mind •it is five o'clock• or utters aloud •it is five o'clock•. Now to the person in question, the utterances here are meaningless. We might take them to be •it is five o'clock•s, but it is impossible that the proto-utterer does so.

A true in / true at distinction here would seem to help. But in any case, for King: "The idea would be that these proto-intentional states were enough to begin to attach lexical items to semantic values and more generally to do what had to be done to bring propositions into existence." That is, the inner our outer utterances would shift from proto- to full-blooded when agents attached semantic values to them. Agents have to move from Humean Representational Systems (stimulus-reponse / inductive systems), to Aristotlean Representational Systems (material inferential / deductive systems), to use the Sellarsian lingo.

King can use this reasoning to deny (5): "So propositions and real intentional states with propositional content came into existence together." There is no need to presuppose that propositional attitudes had to exist prior to propositions at all! "It is enough to suppose that they had proto-intentional states not too different in kind from those had by many animals today."

Again, along Sellarsian lines we can argue that animals have 'meaningless inner utterances' and 'meaningless outer utterances'. Human beings simply developed a level of complexity which led to our having 'meaningful inner utterances' and 'meaningful outer utterances.'

In King's terminology, I think that the above is a paraphrase of: "animals have proto-intentional states. Human beings simply developed a level of complexity which led to our having intentional states."

Finally, against someone like Chisholm who wants to be a Platonist about propsitions, King argues:

15. If propositions exist eternally, then there was a time at which no creatures had mental states with propositional content.
16. So then some account must be given of how creatures managed to get into cognitive contact with propositions.
17. So some account must be given of how some creatures came to have propositional attitudes.
18. So it seems that one could still have to invoke proto-intentional and proto-intentional action.
19. So in this respect, King's view is not in any worse shape than an account on which propositions are eternal.

I think that this little aside from King is rather weak, as the friend of Chisholm will perhaps object to (15) on the grounds that we intuit propositions, we do not have mental states which have propositional content. Mental states are going to turn out to be something like abstract entities, or graspings of abstract entities.

Maybe that objection doesn't amount to much, but against (16) we can deny that there is any need for our getting into contact with propositions to be cognitive. We might have some primitive pre-cognitive, direct access to them. (17) might be denied by appealing to an unstructured account of propositions which has all creatures having propositional attitudes, at least with Given propositions. So (18) can be objected to because intentional states are all or nothing. Perhaps all creatures have them; perhaps all minded creatures have them. So there is no need to appeal to proto-intentional states or actions.

So the friend of Chilsholm will argue that King's view is in much worse shape. But the friend of King will point out that King's view is sensible. So the further the eternalist moves from King, the further they move from being sensible.

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