Saturday, June 28, 2008

Michelle's Philosopher's Challenge, Part 1

It's a big thing to say, "Well, today I'm gonna write out all my philosophical commitments in metaphysics, next week I'll do epistemology, etc. etc."

So I'm not going to take up your challenge directly, D. But I will take it up. Just in my own way. Because I'm not sure what I think about everything. I just know that doing this will help me to get at least some of what I think straight.

None of this gives any justification. This is a mere description of what I think. I figure that parsing out what I mean and getting down to what background concepts I hold to can be done in the comments and in future posts (I anticipate several will be needed). In other words, it's kind of folky for a philosopher. It's what I think not strapped up to principles and concepts. But I think I need to know what I think as part of the equation in figuring out what I should think. So, without further ado:

Today's post mostly focuses on ontology, experience and objects.

I believe in a universe, and all that that entails. (Believe and think are not used interchangeably here.) This universe has a world, where humans live. I think there is no such thing as what-it-is to have the objective experience of any given object or event, except for that of personal experience, because there is necessarily just one person doing that. The objective experience implies mind-independence, and we are all mind-dependent. Now, follow me closely here. Does the mind-independent experience exist? No. Do mind-independent objects exist? Yes.

I suppose that means that I'm an error theorist about objectivity broadly construed, with the possible exception of first-person experience. However, even that threatens to slip away with the dangers of routine. I think that the personal experience of the self is created through thought and action. Thought may come in the following formats: the formation of reasoning, the formation of belief, and the formation of desire. Thought does not consist in the reiteration of previously formed reasoning, belief, or desire. Thinking requires a synthesis of ideas. But when we repeat ourselves, this is memory recovery or the miming of previous thought action. It is possible, through the lack of new thought and the comfort of routine, to lose the robust first-person experience for an amount of time. But I believe such an amount of time would be miniscule. Perhaps it is better for me to say that I think our first-person experience may be more or less robust, as on a spectrum. Sometimes I definitely feel more conscious than other times, and I don't see any other way to explain such an experience other than positing consciousness to be on a spectrum.

How to define these mind-independent objects? I don't agree with functionalist definitions of objects, because hooker boots are not slippers, and if slippers are to escape being defined by hooker boots, the resulting definition would be gerrymandered into oblivion. To explain a bit further, some of us were discussing how hooker books are slippers for hookers, because they wear them in the bedroom, often right before getting into bed. Plus, functionalist definitions make it impossible to integrate features like the phenomenal experience of color into definitions. Plus, functionalist definitions are anthropocentric. But then, without functionalism, I don't think a reasonable definition is possible -- if anything, we might be able to point to some marks of what-it-is to be a mind-independent object, but I don't think we can have knowledge about them.

Next time, knowledge, justification, and rationality.

Monday, June 9, 2008


I knew I forgot something yesterday! OK, here's a link for now, I'll get a fully formatted version over here tonight.

Monday, June 2, 2008

The Philosopher's Challenge

It's summer, we're philosophers, so let's get to doing some philosophy. I heard some tales a while ago about a group of heroic young philosophers who sat down and decided to write out what they thought about everything. Well, not about literally everything, but about every major discipline of philosophy: metaphysics, ethics, metaethics, aesthetics, epistemology, logic, philosophy of science, philosophy of law, and so forth.

I want to do this. And I want to do this with other people. Here's what I propose: each week, each of us writes a brief essay explaining our position in one discipline and post it here. Y'know, metaphysics week, ethics week, etc. We post on Sunday, all ritual-like, it'll be great! Then we have all week to read others' work and comment on it, as well as compose our next piece. As Socrates said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." The point of this is not to discover any ultimate Truth, but to figure out just what the hell we believe (or at least make something up) in order to get it out there, get the question raised, and then start examining and refining those beliefs, opinions, and reasoning processes. And if you don't have a well-thought-out opinion on something, then write out your poorly-thought-out one, and then you can browse the opinions of others and even start looking into the subject more deeply - in other words, be not afraid of thinking stupid thoughts, but of letting them remain stupid.

The goal at the end will be to have a little piece of paper which, in principle, may be framed and hung above one's desk/bed/sink/etc. - in much the same fashion that an embroidered aphorism might be hung in more plebeian households - and whenever a tenet of your philosophy is altered, you update that little piece of paper. So who's with me? C'mon, everybody! It'll be fun! I promise!

Week 1: Metaphysics.
Due-or-Die date:
June 8th.

Let's rock!

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Frege's Got Zero Reference

An expression of the form ‘the F’ where ‘F’ is a predicate defining any range of the unique properties of a variable, should be read as ‘the unique x satisfying F’ and symbolized as the term ’(ix)(Fx)’. Frege considers the term ‘(ix)(Fx)’ to be synonymous with a proper name. In a logical expression of the form ‘a=(ix)(Fx)’, where the term ‘a’ is a constant interpreted as a proper name, Frege considers ‘a’ and ‘(ix)(Fx)’ to be not only interchangeable, but to be synonymous when translated as meaningful linguistic expressions. So consider the term ‘a’ to be interpreted as the proper name ‘Alan’ and the term ‘(ix)(Fx)’ to be interpreted as ‘the only French person in this room’. Under these conditions, the logical expression ‘a=(ix)(Fx)’ in English would be read as ‘Alan is the unique French person in this room’.
There are notable limitations to this framework. The variable ‘x’ and the constant ‘a’ in the expression ‘a=(ix)(Fx)’ must refer to objects in the domain of all existing objects. Furthermore, all existing objects that are discussed by competent speakers have a unique description such that, that object is secured by an expression of the form ‘the F’. But not all proper names secure a referent, some proper names are found wanting of a referent – they are bearerless or empty. That is to say, there is no bearer for that name (e.g. it does not refer to an object in the domain). In such a case Frege adopts the convention that the referent of the name will be the number zero, and sentences containing bearer-less names will not express a thought that has a truth-value. Given this, the conditions for determining truth-value for any sentence f containing a proper name, of either the form ‘a’ or ’(ix)(Fx)’, is as follows:
i. If ‘a’ or ‘(ix)(Fx)’ occur in a well formed sentence f then f is true or false, if and only if ‘a’ or ‘(ix)(Fx)’ secure a referent.
ii. If ‘a’ or ‘(ix)(Fx)’ occur in a well formed sentence f, and ‘a’ or ‘(ix)(Fx)’ do not secure a referent then f has no truth-value.
To see how odd the zero convention is, consider the following sentences:
1 Santa Claus is zero.
2 Unicorns are the sum of 1 and -1.
Both 1 and 2 are true by this convention. So Frege should reject the convention that sentences containing bearerless names lack a truth value. But he cannot adopt a convention that such sentences express a false thought, while maintaining that the referent of a bearerless name is zero. This is a terrible consequence and issues of direct reference, rigidity, pronouns, and indexicals aside – this single convention appears to cripple Frege’s semantic framework. But intuitively, we do assign a truth value to:
3 Santa Claus is the bum that lives at the North Pole, only working once a year.
4 Santa Claus is fat and jolly.
This said, is there a way to resolve this issue for Frege, while maintaining the sense-reference distinction?

Note 1.
For a copy of "On Sense and Reference" use jstor, but the Geach and Black translation is best. Avoid the version with the title translated "On Sense and Nominatum" (near the end when Frege discusses conversational implicature - the but and and distinction - the Nominatum version translates a sentence as claiming that but and and have no sense.) My adobe acrobat is failing to work currently, otherwise I'd post the stable URL from jstor.
Note 2.
The 'i' above is supposed to be the iota operator. Contra the russellian elimination of the iota operator, I try to avoid equating Frege and Russell.

Welcome to THINK Forum: a Normal approach to philosophical dialogue!

So the title is kind of lame. Understandable. Normal, get it? Ha. Ha. So, if anyone has any brilliant creative strokes of genius, title-wise, let me know in the comments.

Anyway, the blog is meant to serve as a central database for the problems, dilemmas, and discourses we currently participate in, in many disparate forums of communication. Instead of having to explain the same problem or question to five different people in IM windows, you can write it here and direct people to the comments area for discussion/further exposition.

This is not meant to serve as a substitute for face-to-face communication -- rather, it's a supplement, especially for those I see already making lengthy posts on their own blogs, journals, and facebooks, and those I've talked with in AIM, etc. It's never clear that these posts will be read by those we want to read them -- namely, philosophy students who might actually be interested and motivated enough to read these posts and provide helpful feedback and discussion. Plus, once it's posted, it's there, so if someone is too busy to listen to you now, they can read your ideas later, instead of dropping the subject.

I'm sending out invites to become "authors" on the blog -- this gives you posting rights. Unfortunately, there's no way to enable anonymous posting, but signing up is a small hump, as you can create a blogger account through any Google account you have. So if you have Gmail, you're set already. If you want rights and I haven't sent you one, e-mail me at causallyirrelevant at gmail dot com (spelled out to avoid spam bots) and let me know who you are.

I'm not inviting any teachers, simply cause I think it'd be awkie (to borrow from Andrew). I think we should have the opportunity to develop and mature with other students, and not feel afraid to make mistakes -- a fear that often makes students tentative about expressing their opinions and ideas aloud during classes, etc. Then we can argue against them all better, heh.

As with any blogger blog, you can opt to subscribe by RSS to THINK, which gives you a feed (in firefox, you can use live bookmarks, which gives titles of all recent posts when you mouseover the site -- or there are numerous RSS readers out there). I recommend it as an easy way to see new posts. It's a good timesaver.

When you go to post, there's a title box, a body text area, and a box for "labels for this post". It's a tag box. I tagged this post "metablogging, philosophy, Michelle" (without quotes). Say you're doing a post on metaethics - specifically, the Open Question Argument. You could tag it "metaethics, Moore, nonnaturalism, OQA", etc. Whatever you think would be helpful in classifying the post. Then if you do a series of posts on the same topic, and tag them the same way, people can helpfully access them by clicking your tag. Or... well, there's a million uses for tags. If I tag my name to every post, then people can just check out my posts. And so on. Go wild.

Feel free to use the place as your philosophical soapbox, talk about methodology, whatever -- but let's not bring personal attacks on other students, faculty, departments, or universities here. Keep that to your personal pages and such.

Whew. I think maybe that's it. Here goes nothing. :)