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!