Thursday, April 3, 2008

Twin Earth and Descriptivism

Some people have expressed interest in the "Twin Earth" objection to descriptivism and Searle's response. It's hard to discern how the objection to descripitivism is supposed to go on the basis of the passage from Searle, however. So I thought I would include this excerpt from Nathan Salmon's book Frege's Puzzle to help clarify how the objection to descriptivism might go:

One compelling argument against identifying the (semantic content) of a (proper) name with its purely conceptual (descriptive) content can be extracted from Hilary Putnam's twin-earth thought experiment. The argument depends on two plausible assumptions. First, it assumes that one's (purely psychological) state of consciousness determines which (purely conceptual or purely qualitative (descriptive)) concepts one is grasping, in the sense that if person A is in the very same (purely psychological) state of consciousness as person B, then, for any (purely conceptual or purely qualitative (descriptive)) concept c, A grasps c if and only if B grasps c. Second, the argument assumes that the information component that corresponds to the individual that a given piece of information is about determines that individual, in the sense that, if a piece of information p is information about an individual x and the component of p corresponding to x is also (appropriately) a component of the piece of information q, then q is also information concerning x. For example, on this assumption, if the (semantic content) of the name 'Socrates' is appropriately part of a piece of information p, then p is information concerning Socrates. Now, suppose that in a far corner of the universe there is a planet on which there is a perfect duplicate of a particular earthly woman. Each lives a life on her own planet qualitatively identical to the others'. Even their mental streams of consciousness are qualitatively identical. Moreover, each has a husband named 'Hubert', and the two Huberts are dead ringers for one another except that the earthly Hubert weighs exactly 165 pounds whereas his alien counterpart weighs exactly 165.000000001 pounds. Now, suppose that both wives simultaneously utter, assertively and sincerely, the string of symbols 'Hubert weighs exactly 165 pounds' in conversation, each talking about her own husband. The speakers are in exactly the same (purely psychological0 state of consciousness. In fact, their very brain matter is in exactly the same configuration, molecule for molecule. Hence, by the first assumption, the purely conceptual (descriptive) content that each associates with her use of the name 'Hubert' is exactly the same. but the information (proposition) encoded by the sentence uttered, as used on the two occasions, is different. This is evident because the information asserted by the earthly woman concerns her husband and is true whereas the information asserted by the alien woman concerns her husband and is strictly false. Hence, by the second assumption, the (semantic content) of the name 'Hubert' as used by the two women is different. The purely conceptual (descriptive) content is the same, but the (semantic content) is different. It follows that the (semantic content) of a (proper) name cannot be simply its purely conceptual (descriptive) content.

Salmon, Nathan. 1986. Frege's Puzzle. Atascadero, CA: Ridgeview Publishing Company. Pp. 66-67.

Please comment on this post with thoughts or questions.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Paul Grice on Conversational Implicatures

I'm posting Grice's "Logic and Conversation" as a recommended reading. We're going over it in some detail in class in connection with Kripke's response to Donnellan, and Kripke's hard enough, so I chose not to require the Grice reading. But it is a classic and Grice's ideas here have been widely influential not just in philosophy but also in linguistics and artificial science.

(The print is ugly in the linked copy; I'm sure with some digging you could find a nicer one if you tried.)


If anyone wants to know how to type the existential quantifier ‘∃’, or the universal quantifier ‘

In MS works, use the font called ‘Lucida Sans Unicode’

∀= Hold Alt and type 8704

∃ = Hold Alt and type 8707

Hope this saves some google-ing time.


Salmon vs Frege

So is Salmon's objection to Frege sound? Why or why not??

Notation and Definitions

Kripke's paper contains some notation and technical terms that are probably unfamiliar to most of you. I didn't mention these earlier since they largely occur in section 2, which should just be skimmed or skipped since he's not really addressing the main issue there (i.e., whether the considerations in Donnellan's paper refute Russell's theory of descriptions). But I thought I'd provide some comments on notation and technical terms here, in case you're interested. (We'll be talking at greater length about some of this later, but it's not very crucial right now.)

First, a familiar one:

Backwards 'E' should be read as 'there exists a' or 'there is a' or 'some'. It is called 'the existential quantifier'.

I also mentioned that sometimes '&' is used for conjunction, and sometimes '^' is used for conjunction. Kripke uses the latter.

Similarly, sometimes '->' is used for a conditional, and sometimes a sideways horseshoe is used. Kripke uses the latter.

Upside down 'A' does not occur in Kripke's paper. It's read as 'for all' or 'all' or 'every'. It is called 'the universal quantifier'. It is sometimes expressed using upside down 'A', and sometimes it is understood without being explicitly written. That's (unfortunately) how Kripke is using it in the first example of notation in his paper.

So look for instance at page 384 under 'Preliminary Considerations'. Go to the parenthetical remark '(I.e., (Ex)(phi!(x)^ psi(x)), where "phi!(x)" abbreviates "phi(x) ^ (y)(phi(y) -> y = x")'. First, a note on the notation: the occurrence of '(y)' to the immediate right of the '^' should be read as 'for all y'. So here the universal quantifier is being understood without being explicitly written. So 'phi!(x)' basically says that there is a unique phi, since what it abbreviates should be read as 'x is phi and for all y, if y is phi then y is identical to x'.

'De dicto' is a Latin expression that is often used in philosophy of language. It means roughly what 'of the proposition' means. 'De re' is Latin too. It means roughly what 'of the object' means. The distinction can be gleaned from Kripke's remarks and we'll talk more about it later so I won't belabor it too much now. But the difference is one of scope, which we talked about in connection with Russell's theory. We pointed out that on Russell's view, descriptions can take different scopes with respect to negation, for example. So contrast (i) and (ii):

(i) It's not the case that the present king of France is bald.
(ii) The present king of France is a non-bald thing.

In (i), the negation has wide (sometimes called 'large') scope over the description, so a proper representation of its logical form should reflect that. We can mark the same distinction by saying that the description has narrow (sometimes called 'small') scope with respect to the negation. In (ii), the description has wide (large) scope over the negation. So in (ii) the negation has small (narrow) scope with respect to the description.

On Russell's view, these scope distinctions make a difference in the truth conditions of the sentences. (i) is true on Russell's view, since it's false that anything is both the unique king of France and bald. (ii) is false on Russell's view since for it to be true there would have to be a unique king of France that belongs to the category of non-bald things.

The notion of scope does not only apply to descriptions and negations, however. We can apply it to other expressions as well. Kripke's doing this when he talks in section 2a about the behaviour of descriptions in modal or intensional contexts. Metaphysical modality has to do with what's possible and what's necessary. Modal expressions include 'necessarily', 'possibly', 'it's possibly the case that', 'it's necessarily the case that', etc. Kripke points out that 'The number of planets is necessarily odd' is subject to a scope distinction: the description can take wide scope with respect to the modal expression, or vice-versa. See Kripke's explanation of the difference.

Similarly, propositional attitude verbs like 'believes' are sometimes said to create intensional contexts. Sentences that contain descriptions along with attitude verbs are likewise subject to scope ambiguities. Consider Kripke's example: 'Jones believes that the richest debutante in Dubuque will marry him'. There are two ways this may be true: Jones may have a belief that he would report in English by saying 'The richest debutante in Dubuque will marry me'. That is, he bears the relation expressed by 'believes' to a proposition that has the property of being the richest debutante in Dubuque as a constituent. This is the de dicto reading; the attitude verb takes wide scope over the description. But the sentence may also be true because he believes of the richest debutante in Dubuque, whether he thinks of her that way or not, whether he knows she is the richest debutante in Dubuque or not, that she will marry him. This is the de re reading; the description takes wide scope over the attitude verb.

If this is confusing, don't worry. We'll talk more about it later. It's not super crucial to our main interests in the Russell-Donnellan-Kripke dispute.

Back to modality: Kripke says that the claim that the actual number of planets (nine) has the property of necessary oddness is true according to "essentialists like him". First, ignore the flap over Pluto. For what it's worth, there are already claims to have discovered a ninth planet under the new definition of 'planet'. But let's just ignore all that. The more important thing is what Kripke means by 'essentialist'. To be an essentialist is to hold that objects have non-trivial necessary properties. So here's a trivial necessary property: being such that if dogs bark, then dogs bark. We all have that property. Everything does. And we couldn't have failed to have it since it is necessarily true that if dogs bark, then dogs bark. The idea here is that 'if dogs bark, then dogs bark' is a logical truth. (It's symbolized in propositonal logic as 'P -> P'. Using truth tables for '->' that we discussed at the beginning of the term you can verify that any sentence of this form must be true.) So trivial necessary properties of things are properties that all things have and that all things must have, as a matter of logic. Non-trivial necessary properties can be defined in terms of this: to be a non-trivial necessary property is to be a necessary property (a property a thing must have) that is not had trivially, as a matter of logic. So consider yourself. You could have been different from the way you are. You could have worn all purple today, for instance. But are there things about you that could not have been different, and not just as a matter of logic? Could you have failed to be human, for instance? Or an organism of some sort? If you think you could not have failed to be an organism, then you are an essentialist: being an organism is, according to you, a non-trivial necessary feature of you. So that's essentialism. (More on that later too.)

On pp. 388 Kripke introduces some semi-formalized sentences to illustrate his point about scope: the sentences labeled '(2a)', (2b)', and '(2c)' on the bottom of the page. Those sentences contain some boxes and diamonds. The box abbreviates 'necessarily' or 'it is necessarily the case that'. The diamond abbreviates 'possibly' or 'it is possibly the case that'.

Annoyingly, Kripke introduces another symbolization for definite descriptions on pp. 389 in the first sentence of section 2b. The upside down iota abbreviates 'the'. So the symbolism in that sentence should be read as 'the x such that x is phi' or 'the phi'. It is common to use upside down iota to formalize definite descriptions. I mentioned this briefly in class.

Next Kripke introduces the notion of a rigid definite description. An expression is rigid if and only if it refers to the same thing in every counterfactual situation in which it refers to anything. So 'the even prime number' is rigid since it denotes the number 2 in any possible world state. Contrast this with 'the tallest student in FPL'. Suppose this actually denotes Travis. Would it still denote Travis if things had worked out differently? Presumably not; it depends on which counterfactual circumstances we consdier. If Shaq had enroled in FPL, it would denote Shaq and not Travis. Or if Travis had dropped, it would not have denoted him. So 'the tallest student in FPL' is not rigid since in some counterfactual situations it would not denote Travis. We'll talk more about this later on as well.

As I said, none of this is crucial to our main interests in Kripke's paper. So don't let this stuff freak you out. No need to master it in order to get the main point. My purpose here was just to introduce some of the notation and technical terms Kripke uses in the event that you're interested in decoding the difficult section 2 of Kripke's paper.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


On the Use-Mention Quiz (9) and (10) should read as follows:

9. T F Winnipeg refers to Winnipeg
10. T F 'Winnipeg' refers to Winnipeg

For more on quotation, see here.

Monday, January 28, 2008

The Objection from Emptiness

1. If Millianism is correct, then if ‘Fin Tutuola’ does not refer, then ‘Fin Tutuola’ is meaningless (has no semantic content).
2. If ‘Fin Tutuola’ is meaningless (has no semantic content), then ‘Fin Tutuola is a detective in SVU’ is meaningless.
3. ‘Fin Tutuola is a detective in SVU’ is not meaningless.
4. ‘Fin Tutuola’ does not refer.
5. So Millianism is incorrect.

Note that we also could have used negative existentials, like ‘Fin Tutuola does not exist’. So it seems that if Millianism is correct, no negative existential is true.

One option we discussed is to abandon Mill's theory and offer another in its place that avoids this sort of problem. Another option we discussed is that seemingly empty names in fact are not empty; they refer to ideas or collections of ideas. This is similar to Mill's own view, stated at the outset of 'Of Names': "All names are names of something, real or imaginary . . ."

One problem for the Millian proposal is that it seems to avoid the first problem only at the expense of a second; it gives us an account of how sentences that contain apparently non-referring names are meaningful, but at the expense of the consequence that there are no true negative existentials. Let's call Millianism plus (a) 'Modified Millianism':

(a) The referent of an apparently empty name is an imaginary object.

We can state the objection to Modified Millianism as follows:

6. If Modified Millianism is correct, then no negative existential sentence is ever true.
7. It's false that no negative existential sentence is ever true.
8. So Modified Millianism is incorrect.

- What's the best reply a proponent of Modified Millianism can offer to (6-8)?
- Are there any other replies available to the Millian other than Modified Millianism? (Hint: Think about whether any other premise in (1-5) can be plausibly denied by the Millian.)
- If (1-5) is sound, Millianism is false. If that's so, what theory should we offer in its place?

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Objection from Cognitive Significance

Here's the objection:

1. If Millianism is true, and ‘Ice-T’ and ‘Tracy Lauren Marrow’ co-refer, then (i) and (ii) encode the same proposition:
(i) Ice-T is Ice-T
(ii) Ice-T is Tracy Lauren Marrow.
2. The proposition encoded by (i) is uninformative, true in virtue of meaning (analytic) (like ‘all bachelors are unmarried males’), is knowable without empirical investigation (a priori), cannot be rationally disbelieved, and the proposition encoded by (ii) is not (any of those things).
3. If (2), then it’s not the case that (i) and (ii) encode the same proposition.
4. So it’s not the case that (i) and (ii) encode the same proposition.
5. So Millianism is false or ‘Ice-T’ and ‘Tracy Lauren Marrow’ don’t co-refer.
6. ‘Ice-T’ and ‘Tracy Lauren Marrow’ co-refer.
7. So Millianism is false.

Is this argument sound? If not, which premise might a Millian reject? If it is sound, then Millianism is incorrect and we need a different account of the propositions encoded in (i) and (ii). More generally, we'll need an account of the semantic content of proper names that is not vulnerable to this problem.


Friday, January 18, 2008

Locke on Modes and Mixed Modes

Locke uses the expressions 'mode' and 'mixed mode' as technical terms. Below are the relevant passages from Book II where he introduces the terms. See other referenced passages from Book II for more on modes and mixed modes if you're interested. (Their roles in his thought about language stem from his somewhat idiosyncratic views about knowledge and metaphysics.)

Book II

Chapter xiii: Modes
1. I have often mentioned simple ideas, the materials of all our knowledge, focusing on how they come into the mind. Now I shall discuss some of them with a different focus: this time it will be on how they relate to ideas that are more compounded, looking into the different modifications of the same idea - modifications that the mind either finds in real things or makes up on its own initiative. [A ‘modification’ of a quality is a special case of it, so squareness is a modification of rectangularity (see viii.23); and by a natural extension of that usage, the idea of squareness can be called a modification of the idea of rectangularity.]

Those modifications of a single simple idea (which I call simple modes) are as perfectly different and distinct ideas in the mind as those that are utterly unalike or even contrary to one another. For the idea of two is as distinct from that of one as blueness is from heat or as either of those is from any number; yet it is made up only of repetitions of the simple idea of a unit. Repetitions of this kind joined together make the distinct simple modes of a dozen, a gross, a million.

Chapter xxii: Mixed modes
1. In the foregoing chapters •xiii-xxi• I have discussed simple modes, showing through examples of some of the most important of them what they are and how we come by them. Now I am ready to consider the ideas that we call mixed modes. Examples are the complex ideas of obligation, drunkenness, a lie, etc., which I call mixed modes because they consist of combinations of simple ideas of different kinds, unlike the more simple modes, which consist of simple ideas all of the same kind. These mixed modes are distinguished from the complex ideas of substances by the fact that they are not looked upon to be typical marks of any real beings that have a steady existence, and are only scattered and independent ideas put together by the mind.

2. Experience shows us that the mind gets its simple ideas in a wholly passive manner, receiving them all from the existence and operations of things presented to us by sensation and reflection; we can’t make such an idea for ourselves. But mixed modes - our present topic - are quite different in their origin. The mind often exercises an active power in making these several combinations: once it has some simple ideas, it can assemble them into various complexes, thus making a variety of complex ideas, without examining whether they exist together in that way in nature. I think that is why these ideas are called notions, implying that they have their origin and their constant existence more in the thoughts of men than in the reality of things. To form such ideas it sufficed that the mind puts the parts of them together, and that they were consistent in the understanding, without considering whether they had any real being; though I don’t deny that some of them might be taken from observation. The man who first formed the idea of hypocrisy might either have taken it at first from observing someone who made a show of good qualities that he didn’t really have, or else have formed that idea in his mind without having any such pattern to fashion it by. •There must be cases of the latter sort•. For it is evident that in the beginning of languages and societies of men, some of their complex ideas . . . . must have been in men’s minds before they existed anywhere else; and that many names standing for such complex ideas were in use before the combinations they stood for ever existed.

(Translations by Jonathan Bennett)

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Note on Attendance

I thought I'd post a comment on class attendance since some questions have come up. According to the syllabus, participation can help you but cannot hurt you. It is of course difficult to participate in class if you're not there. But you can participate on this blog. Attendance, however, is not a course requirement so people will not be punished directly for not attending.

That said, there is a penalty for not attending class. Apart from the intrinsic value of attending a class you're paying for and learning stuff, blah, blah, blah, there's the pragmatic point that what we're doing in class is highly relevant to the paper assignments that will come later. I can assure you that you'll have a hard time on the assignments if you don't come to class and understand what we're talking about there. Additionally, a lot of the stuff that we talk about in class that does not occur explicitly in the readings. There is no assigned intro to philosophy of language book that neatly recaps the theories and arguments we cover in class. Nor does one exist. So that material is material you can only get by coming to class or by getting notes off of someone who takes really good notes and is kind enough to share them with you. I will not give notes to people who missed nor will I post them anywhere. Getting notes is your responsibility.

Most people have been good about showing up so far and I know things just happen sometimes that prevent people from attending. Not a big deal. The point of this post is just to put to rest concerns about the role of attendance in this class.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Locke "Of Words"

Our next reading will be from John Locke's An Essay Concerning Human Understanding. It will be chapters 1-3 of Book III. Hard copies of the book are available in the library and are dirt cheap to purchase. Here are two online sources:

John Locke, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, Book III: Chapter 1.

There is a link at the bottom of the above to subsequent chapters. Remember that you only need to read the first three.

One notable feature of the above is that it is in the language of the original, i.e., English circa 1690. If, like me, you find philosophy difficult enough to read without also contending with the language barrier, you may appreciate the following link:

Locke translated by Jonathan Bennett.

Jonathan Bennett, a philosophy professor emeritus from Syracuse University, has kindly translated English texts by early modern philosophers into immanently readable contemporary English. Reading either version is acceptable; like I said, the first is the original and the second is easier (for me). And remember, you only need to read the first three chapters.

Reading Philosophy

Reading philosophy is hard. Here are some links to help you:

James Pryor's Introduction to Philosophical Terms and Methods
James Pryor's Guide to Reading Philosophy

I know these amount to more reading, but I can assure you that taking a few moments to read over them and follow the advice will be well rewarded.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Saturday, January 5, 2008


This weblog is for course announcements, readings, reading questions, and updates. But the main purpose of this blog is to advance discussion of topics raised in the readings and in class. Often people who are shy find it difficult to contribute in class and even more often you may think of a point or a question after class is over or after we have moved on to a different topic. This blog is the place to raise that point or question. In fact, additional credit is available for substantive blog posts and for substantive comments on blog posts. If you so choose, your identity on the blog will be unknown to anyone but me. So feel free to ask or discuss whatever (course-related) is on your mind!