Stromboli exists!

I was reminded recently of Bill's The Stromboli Puzzle Revisited from February this year.  Here is how it begins.
Here is a little puzzle I call the Stromboli Puzzle. An earlier post on this topic was defective. So I return to the topic. The puzzle brings out some of the issues surrounding existence. Consider the following argument.
Stromboli exists.
Stromboli is an island volcano.
An island volcano exists.
This is a sound argument: the premises are true and the reasoning is correct. It looks to be an instance of Existential Generalization. How can it fail to be valid? But how can it be valid given the equivocation on 'exists'? 'Exists' in the conclusion is a second-level predicate while 'exists' in the initial premise is a first-level predicate. Although Equivocation is standardly classified as an informal fallacy, it induces a formal fallacy. An equivocation on a term in a syllogism induces the dreaded quaternio terminorum, which is a formal fallacy. Thus the above argument appears invalid because it falls afoul of the Four Term Fallacy.

Objection 1. "The argument is valid without the first premise, and as you yourself have pointed out, a valid argument cannot be made invalid by adding a premise. So the argument is valid. What's your problem?"

Reply 1. The argument without the first premise is not valid. For if the singular term in the argument has no existing referent, then the argument is a non sequitur. If 'Stromboli' has no referent at all, or has only a nonexisting Meinongian referent, then Existential Generalization could not be performed, given, as Quine says, that "Existence is what existential quantification expresses."
Bill tables a second objection, which he also rebuts, and then offers his own account of why the argument is valid, which hinges on a distinction between 'first-level' and 'second-level' uses of exists. I won't comment on these because I think Bill's Objection (1) gets things right.  I reject his Reply (1) as follows.  If 'Stromboli' has no existing referent, has no referent at all, or has only a nonexisting Meinongian referent, then there is no such thing as Stromboli and therefore 'Stromboli is an island volcano' is not true.  It may be false or it may be meaningless, but it certainly can't be true.  In which case the argument remains truth-preserving:  It has not been shown to take us from truth to falsehood.  Bill has not demonstrated that it is invalid.

But this talk of non-existing referents is already verging on the absurd and it would be better to reject Bill's Reply as nonsensical.  After all, an invalid argument is unpersuasive, and yet this argument, even without the first premise, is utterly persuasive.  Consider the following dialogues:
A: Stromboli exists.
B: This tells me nothing more than that there is something called 'Stromboli'.
A: Well, Stromboli is an island volcano.
B: OK.  So there is an island volcano?
A: Yes, an island volcano exists.
B: Good. Glad we understand each other.
A: Stromboli is an island volcano.
B: So an island volcano exists?
A: No.
B: What? You just told me Stromboli was one!
A: Yes, but Stromboli doesn't exist.
B: I don't follow you.
A: Stromboli is an island volcano.
B: OK.
A: And Stromboli exists!
B: Yes, I know, you just told me.  It's an island volcano.
Do these not have the ring of truth?  I think they do.  And this point of view is beautifully simple.  Compare it, for example, with Bill's 'two-level' account.  But I clearly need to say more.  Bill, and others, are happy to talk about 'empty' names, names with no referent, names with no existing referent, names with Meinongian referents, and so on.  So-called 'free' logics (there are at least three kinds) have been invented to accommodate the notion.  I need to say something more about what is going on here.

Let's distinguish the meaning of a name from its referent, if any.  The meaning of a name is what has to be understood about it in order for sentences involving the name to make sense.  This is quite independent of any external referent the name may have, as is shown by the fact that fictional sentences are perfectly understandable despite the proper names within them usually lacking real-world referents.  Now, in properly formulated discourse a name has to be introduced before it can be used.  This is how the name gets its meaning.  If, out of the blue, you say to me 'Stromboli exists!' and I have never been introduced to the name 'Stromboli', then what you say has no meaning for me.  I have no information to attach to the name 'Stromboli' and your statement doesn't change my epistemic state.  Asked to say something about Stromboli, I can tell you nothing.  If, on the other hand, you say 'There is an island volcano called Stromboli',  the name 'Stromboli' acquires a meaning.  If asked about it I can reply 'It's an island volcano, isn't it?'  For me, the name now means this island volcano and you can go on to tell me more about it by using the name.  What you say may be complete fiction---there may be no island volcanos at all---but it will be meaningful, nevertheless. Notice that the name is introduced on the back of (literally behind) an existential claim:  'There is an island volcano---and it is called Stromboli', and it is open for this claim to be false.  If, out of the blue, you tell me 'Stromboli is an island volcano', and I have never heard of Stromboli, I have to interpret your sentence as a somewhat compressed existential assertion and name introduction.  This is the style adopted by dictionaries.  A subsequent use of the name, such as 'Stromboli is extinct', which has similar form,  does not carry an implicit existential claim, else we would have two entities in play, an island volcano and an extinct thing, rather than one.  Instead, the name means the same thing as was introduced earlier under the same name. 

All this, of course, is Ed Ockham's theory of  relativity of reference  which I think is spot on.  Where Ed and I differ is that Ed, I think, holds that negative free logic is needed to make inferences from sentences using names understood in this way.  I see this as an unnecessary and counter-intuitive complication to a simple and elegant theory.  Logical inference operates on the meanings of sentences not on the real-world objects and properties they might be about.  We can make inferences within fictional discourse just as easily as we do in discourse about the real world, using classical logic.  In Ed's theory all properly introduced names have meanings  and there are no names that lack meaning.  Hence we have no need to resort to free logics.  Ed may say that in classical logic we have no way of expressing negative singular existentials such as 'Vulcan does not exist'.  I answer that this amounts to a rejection of the explicit or implicit existential claim on the back of which the name 'Vulcan' was introduced. See also this post.

A neurobiological perspective on identity

The neuroscientist Bill Skaggs has an interesting post at Scientia Salon which prompted the following piece, somewhat too large and too late for a SciSal comment.

That the world is divided into objects seems by most philosophers to be taken as a given.  Quite what counts as an object or substance and why is not considered.  I think it's an important question.  Philosophers discuss 'existence' a good deal, which they contrast with 'non-existence'.  But the etymology is ex+sistere---to stand out.  So the contrast should be with that which doesn't stand out, which we might call 'undifferentiated stuff', or 'the bulk', or even 'prime matter', rather than 'nothing'.  However,  I don't think our concern is with the ontology of objects, but rather their epistemology.

The commenters at SciSal had some fun with the science fiction of personal identity and the self.  But I think Bill is right to emphasise the neural basis of our knowledge of objecthood and identity over time for external material objects.  This must surely have appeared earlier in evolutionary history than the self.  If we can get some understanding of how neural structures could represent external objects for a non-self-conscious creature, then we might be able to see a way forward to understanding how a similar architecture could come to represent the creature for itself.  But this definitely comes later.   

It's clear that we have to hypothesise that there are neural surrogates for enduring objects in the environment, and probably more temporary surrogates for objects we encounter from moment to moment to which we direct our attention.  These must arise through sensory contact---in philosophical terms they constitute Russell's knowledge by acquaintance.   Likewise surrogates for the objects of knowledge by description---those things we hear about through language and other representational media, including historical and fictional entities.

If we are prepared to do this, then I think we obtain solutions to several paradoxes in the philosophy of language, including Frege's puzzle of Hesperus and Phosphorus from On Sense and Reference, and Kripke's paradoxes in A Puzzle about Belief.  I think we can say that all these puzzles have a common form:  a failure of the object extraction/surrogate construction process adequately to model the objects.  Ancient astronomers find two celestial bodies, Hesperus the evening star and Phosphorus the morning star, rather than just the one planet, Venus; Pierre finds two cities, London the ugly and Londres the jolie; Peter finds two Paderewskis, one the musician, and one the politician.   Frege's puzzle, if I have understood it, is that if proper names contribute their referents and nothing more to the meaning of a sentence, then 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' should be equally as informative as 'Hesperus is Hesperus', and it clearly is more so.  We can resolve the puzzle by saying that the proper name 'Hesperus' refers indirectly to Venus via the neural surrogate Hesperus* that encodes the information 'rises first in the evening'.  We can imagine that hearing or reading the word 'Hesperus' causes some kind of excitation of the structure Hesperus*.  Hearing 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' must then cause a degree of cognitive dissonance leading to a possible denial.  For we can suppose that the two structures Hesperus* and Phosphorus* are distinguishable at the neural level, that is, some neural signal representing the equality or otherwise  of Hesperus* and Phosphorus* must be available. This may be where Bill's unique identifiers can play a part.  If we are to come to believe that Hesperus really is the same thing as Phosphorus then the neural surrogates Hesperus* and Phosphorus* have somehow to be submerged into a single object surrogate which encodes both 'rises first in the evening' and 'sets last in the morning' and which responds to both proper names.   It seems plausible that this can be achieved by growing new neural interconnections.  

Likewise, we can also take some of the sting out of Kripke's paradoxes.  Kripke insists that the question Does Pierre believe London is pretty? must have a definite answer.  For Pierre assents to 'London is not pretty' and also to  'Londres est jolie' and London and Londres refer to the same city, don't they?  But we can resist this insistence.  We can say that Kripke is reporting Pierre's belief in terms of his own assay of cities, in which London and Londres are one, rather than in terms of Pierre's mistaken assay in which London and Londres are two.  If Pierre and Kripke cannot agree on what cities there are and how to name them, then how can we expect them to agree on the properties of cities?

I should emphasise that this is not just a non-Millian theory of reference.  It's also non-descriptive.  It doesn't substitute a description for 'Hesperus' at the level of sentences.  The usual arguments against descriptivism assume just this.  Instead, it proposes intermediaries between language and objects through which external reference is mediated.

Truth-making facts?

I have been reviewing Bill's Facts category.  Bill is a friend of facts, seen as 'truth-makers'.
2. Now what is the nature of this external truth-maker? It can't be Al by himself, and it can't be fatness by itself. Nor can it be the pair of the two. For it could be that Al exists and fatness exists, but the first does not instantiate the second. What's needed, apparently, is the fact of Al's being fat. So it seems we must add the category of fact to our ontology, to our categorial inventory. Veritas sequitur esse is not enough. It is not enough that 'Al' and 'Fat' have worldly referents; the sentence as a whole needs a worldly referent. Truth-makers cannot be 'things' or collections of same, but must be entities of a different categorial sort. (Or at least this is so for the simple predications we are now considering.) [here]
3. The argument I have just sketched, the truth-maker argument for facts, is very powerful, but it gives rises to puzzles and protests. There is the Strawsonian protest that facts are merely hypostatized sentences, shadows genuine sentences cast upon the world. Butchvarov quotes Strawson's seminal 1950 discussion: "If you prise the sentences off the world, you prise the facts off it too. . . ." ("Facts," 73-74) Strawson again: "The only plausible candidate for what (in the world) makes a sentence true is the fact it states; but the fact it states is not something in the world." Why aren't facts in the world? [here]
Could Tom by himself be the truth-maker of 'Tom is tired'? No. For if he were, then he would also be the truth-maker of 'Tom is manic' -- which is absurd. [here]
Bill's reasoning here seems to be that 'Tom exists' entails neither 'Tom is tired' nor 'Tom is manic'. That's right, but it is not the question at issue. The insight of those who would say that Tom is the truth-maker of 'Tom is tired' is that we need look no further than Tom himself to verify that Tom is indeed tired. The statement is about Tom and nothing else. Sometimes Bill seems to require some object or entity that we can label 'Tom's tiredness' within Tom. We might identify this with the high level of lactic acid in Tom's muscles. But we can't see this directly. What we can see is Tom's sluggishness of movement and yawning which is caused by the lactic acid. So perhaps we can say that Tom's sluggishness is the truth-maker for 'Tom is tired'. Let's ignore the possibility that this is feigned. We can observe Tom's slowness of movement and if necessary measure it objectively. The question is then, How do we get from the sluggishness to the words 'Tom is tired' and the judgement that this statement is true? Perhaps that is what the truth-making puzzle is about. One answer might be that there is a causal chain running from Tom's slowness, through our observation of it, and our having learned that 'Tom is tired' is the kind of thing one thinks and says in these circumstances. But this may be thought too behaviouristic an understanding of truth-making. And the causal connections vastly too complicated to verify. Nevertheless, it can't be denied that on seeing Tom's movements the thought expressed as 'Ah, poor Tom is tired', is likely to occur to us involuntarily, though it may not be said.  This causal chain must surely be part of what makes 'Tom is tired' true when Tom is tired.  But Bill never considers this, as far as I can see.
And if there are no facts, then how do we explain the truth of contingently true sentences such as 'The cat is on the mat'? There is more to the truth of this sentence than the sentence that is true. The sentence is not just true; it is true because of something external to it. And what could that be? It can't be the cat by itself, or the mat by itself, or the pair of the two. For the pair would exist if the sentence were false. 'The cat is not on the mat' is about the cat and the mat and requires their existence just as much as 'The cat is on the mat.' The truth-maker, then, must have a proposition-like structure, and the natural candidate is the fact of the cat''s being on the mat. This is a powerful argument for the admission of facts into the categorial inventory.[here]
I don't understand why explaining the truth of 'the cat is on the mat' is any more problematic than explaining the truth of  'the cat exists'. After all, the latter involves seeing that the cat's head is on the cat's shoulders. To see disconnected cat parts is to not see the cat and hence to deny the cat's existence.  To put this the other way round, if seeing the cat on the mat is seeing a fact, then seeing the cat's head on its shoulders is also seeing a fact.  But seeing this fact has somehow been absorbed into seeing the cat.  So maybe there are no objects and it's 'facts all the way down'.  With my apologies for the grizzliness of the example.

Perhaps properties and relations are what's left over once we have 'factored out' objects from the world. This is a mathematical idea and one that is hard to explain in an everyday context.

Arguing over ficta

In a piece titled Arguing with Brightly over Ficta Bill responded at length to a comment of mine on an earlier post, offered a counter proposal and asked me if and why I rejected it.  The discussion in that thread rather ran into the sands of mutual incomprehension, so here I'd like to respond at greater length to Bill's suggestion.  Here are Bill's concluding paragraphs.
I think Brightly and I can agree that a purely fictional man is not a man, and that a purely fictional alcoholic is not an alcoholic. And yet Bone is at least as real as the novel of which he is the main character. After all, there is the character Bone but no character, Son of Bone. In keeping with Brightly's notion that there is an equivocation on 'purely fictional item,' we could say the following. 'Bone' in the internal sentence 'Bone is an alcoholic' doesn't refer to anything, while 'Bone' in the external sentence 'Bone is a purely fictional character' refers to an abstract object.

We can then reconcile (1) and (2) by replacing the original dyad with
1* There are no purely fictional concreta
2* There are some purely fictional abstracta.
The abstract artifact theory allows us to accommodate our three datanic or near-datanic points. The first was that Bone does not exist. We accommodate it by saying that there is no concretum, Bone. The second was that Bone is a creature of a novelist's creativity. We accommodate that by saying that what Hamilton created was the abstract artifact, Bone*, which exists. Bone does not exist, but the abstract surrogate Bone* does. The third point was that there are truths about Bone that nevertheless do not entail his existence. We can accommodate this by saying that while Bone does not exemplify such properties as being human and being an alcoholic, he encodes them. (To employ terminology from Ed Zalta.) This requires a distinction between two different ways for an item to have a property.

I do not endorse the above solution. But I would like to hear why Brightly rejects it, if he does.

I do reject Bill's proposal.  I don't think Bill grasps the extent to which I reject the language in which Bill couches his solution.  My view is that the term  purely fictional carries risks if used too freely.  I can countenance its use in 'Emma' is a purely fictional literary work but not in Emma Woodhouse is a purely fictional young woman.   There are clearly fictional works and non-fictional works, as a visit to a public library demonstrates.  The purely fictional young women do not form a subset of the young women.  Hence purely fictional in this context  is alienating rather than non-alienating.  What then is a purely fictional young woman?  It's not at all clear to me what this phrase means and I much prefer to avoid it.  I see it as a problem in the philosophy of fiction to explain this usage.  So for me, Bill's account sets off on the wrong foot.  He then says,
And yet Bone is at least as real as the novel of which he is the main character. After all, there is the character Bone but no character, Son of Bone.
I dispute this.  Your telling me all about your mother-in-law may be real enough, but the lady herself may not.  And your not mentioning her daughter has no bearing on the matter.

Bill characterises my position as one of claiming that there is equivocation in the use of purely fictional.  That is not quite right.  It suggests that I think that the phrase has at least two distinct senses.   I agree that it makes sense when applied to books and films,  but have serious reservations that it makes sense when applied to anything else.  Whether the latter usage does make sense is what we are trying to elucidate.  Bill suggests the following distinction,
'Bone' in the internal sentence 'Bone is an alcoholic' doesn't refer to anything  [1], while 'Bone' in the external sentence 'Bone is a purely fictional character' refers to an abstract object [2].
As an adherent of Ed Ockham's 'story-relative' theory of reference I'd have to disagree with (1).  Within Hangover Square 'Bone' refers to Bone, else the story utterly lacks cohesion.  (2) tells us that an abstract object can be an instance of purely fictional character, if there is such a concept. This looks to be along the right lines because it takes fictional characters out of the realm of the concrete.  However, although I think there is room for a Zaltaian abstract object in this view of things, I don't think it's Bone himself.   Rather it's the idea of Bone that reading Hamilton's novel invokes in us. Let's call this idea Bone*.  We can say with Zalta that Bone* encodes exactly those properties that Hamilton tells us Bone possesses (if we read attentively).  And we can say that Bone* exemplifies Van Inwagen creature of fiction properties such as acquired through reading 'Hangover Square' in 2014.  Also, with respect to the properties it encodes, Bone* is incomplete.  If Hamilton doesn't tell us then we have no information as to Bone's birthday, say.  So Bone* has one of the essential characteristics of a Vallicellan intentional object.

See also: Ficta and Impossibilia

On Golden Mountain

Browsing once more through Bill's back catalogue of posts on existence---it's a bit like worrying a loose tooth---I came across this one from May 2012.  I think this brings out the difference between the London view and the Phoenix view quite clearly.

Bill and Ed (and I) are agreed that
1. ‘Island volcanos exist’ is logically equivalent to ‘Some volcano is an island.’ 
But Bill goes on to make a qualification:
2. This equivalence, however, rests on the assumption that the domain of quantification is a domain of existing individuals. 
Ed disagrees strongly, and I'm with Ed on this. I'm tempted to ask, What other kind of individuals are there?  'Individual' and 'existent' (that which stands out) are equivalent, and one does not need to delve into the apparatus of the predicate calculus (talk of 'domain of quantification') to see this.  Bill explains:
Now there is nothing in the nature of logic to stop us from quantifying over nonexistent individuals. So suppose we have a domain populated by nonexistent individuals only. Supppose a golden mountain is one of these individuals. We can then say, relative to this domain, that some mountain is golden. But surely 'Some mountain is golden' does not entail 'A golden mountain exists.' The second sentence entails the first, but the first does not entail the second. Therefore, they are not logically equivalent.

To enforce equivalence you must stipulate that the domain is a domain of existing individuals only. If 'some' ranges over existing individuals, then 'Some mountain is golden' does entail 'A golden mountain exists.' In other words, you must stipulate that the domain be such that, if there are any individuals in it, then they be existent individuals, as opposed to (Meinongian) nonexistent individuals. The stipulation allows for empty domains; what it rules out, however, are domains the occupants of which are nonexistent individuals in Meinong's sense.
What to say?  Of course 'some mountain is golden' entails 'a golden mountain exists', and without qualification.  Imagine that you meet a travel-stained fellow in the ale-house.  He tells you of his adventures in distant lands.  In the remote region of Utopistan, he says, one of the mountains is golden, and he shows you a nugget.  So, you think, some mountain really is golden.  Yes, he says, a golden mountain really exists.

Let's be firm:  talk of nonexistent individuals is nonsense.  But Bill and Meinong are, I think, getting at something real in thought and language, even if the language they use is confused and leads us into absurdities.  The question is, What is really going on here?  Bill's view is that he is on the track of ontological profundities.  I think we are encountering the machinery of thought.  That may be going a bit far for Ed.

Of course there are individuals, objects, existents, call them what you will.  There is simply no need to make room for them by prising open a space between 'some' and 'exists'.

Kripke on existence

Bill has been reading Saul Kripke's  Reference and Existence and he has a quibble or two.  The first quibble is that Kripke endorses the Frege-Russell notion that existence is not a first level predicate, applicable to individuals (rather it is second level, applicable to concepts, where it is equivalent to instantiation) while also claiming that, since everything exists, one isn't saying anything meaningful or significant in saying that some particular individual exists.  I think Bill's point is that if one holds that the existence predicate is purely second level then it's a performative inconsistency to say that everything exists, since this clearly applies the predicate to individuals.  On the face of it this does look daft. But I think we can rescue Kripke by pointing out that any predicate ϕ(x) that's true at all values of x is redundant and can be eliminated from any expression in which it is found. So a first level existence predicate drops out.

Bill's second objection is that Kripke allows that the definition
ϕ(x) ⇔ (Ǝy)(x = y)
does give us a first level existence predicate and consequently sees the Frege-Russell position as inconsistent.  Bill's strongly held view is that ϕ comes nowhere near to capturing the notion of singular existence.  He claims that Kripke misses this.  He gives a modal argument for this (appropriate in a comment on Kripke, I guess) which I do not follow.  The argument involves the predicate 'possibly nonexistent', which Bill claims is first level.  I have written before that I cannot see 'existent' as a predicate, let alone 'nonexistent'.  Nor do I think one can qualify bona fide predicates with the likes of 'possible' and 'past' and others without falling into nonsense.

Browsing through Bill's 'Existence' category I came across this post from November 2009. Bill says,
2. But my wonder at the sheer existence of things in general -- at their being as opposed to their nonbeing -- is not a wonder at the being-instantiated of some concept or property or natural kind or cognate item. For existing things are not instances of some concept or property or natural kind called 'existence.' There is no such concept or property or natural kind.
Whereas, a year before to the day, in a reply to a comment of mine in which I claimed it was otiose to treat existence as a property, Bill said,
There are many existing individuals, and they all have something in common, namely their existence. Does this not suffice to show that there is a property of existence in a suitably broad sense of 'property'?  Since there are many existents, but they have one thing in common, their existence, this one thing they have in common cannot be identical to any one of them or to each of them. Existence is one to their many. Does this not show that, in a broad sense of 'property,' existence is a property?
This leaves me confused. 

Meinong for beginners

Encapsulating Meinong's theory of objects, Bill  writes,
Some objects exist and some do not. Thus horses exist while unicorns do not. Among the objects that do not exist, some subsist and some do not. Subsistents include properties, mathematical objects and states of affairs. Thus there are two modes of being, existence and subsistence. Spatiotemporal items exist while ideal/abstract objects subsist.
Now I appreciate that this is a very brief summary, but the first two sentences read rather strangely.  Is the second intended to illustrate the first?  Or is there an argument hidden in here:
Unicorns do not exist,
Unicorns are objects,
Ergo, Some objects do not exist.
And are we back to treating 'exists' as a predicate?  Or is 'object' to be interpreted more widely as 'object of thought', so that together the sentences say something like
We can think of horses and there are such things,
We can think of unicorns but there are no such things.
Ergo, Some things we can think about exist and some things we can think about do not.
Is this problematic?  Is this what Bill's summary means? And is that what Meinong was saying?


No, not the existentialist concept.  Bill and I are engaged (or not!) in a comment thread discussion about the word 'fictional'.   We seem to be agreed that in phrases such as 'fictional alcoholic' or 'fictional man' (our canonical example is George Harvey Bone in Patrick Hamilton's Hangover Square) the word 'fictional' is alienating.  That is, a fictional man is not a man.  Bill seems to hold that 'fictional man' is a concept term, possibly a kind term, but my view is that this is incoherent and we need some other way of elucidating the phrase.

We touched on this topic briefly once before, here.  Bill offered some examples.
  • former wife
  • decoy duck
  • negative growth
  • faux marble
  • ex-priest
  • putative father
  • artificial leather
  • legally dead
  • male chauvinist
  • generational chauvinist
  • quondam inamorata
  • socially contagious
'Former wife', 'ex-priest', and 'quondam inamorata' all involve a tense shift.  These are examples of an important class of alienating formations that I claim involve disguised semantic ascent.  'Decoy duck', 'faux marble, and 'artificial leather' are examples from another class where visual similarity or 'looking like' is a common feature.  The key idea here is that of a representation.  A decoy duck is a model of a duck, and a model is a representation.  Faux marble is a paint effect that resembles or represents marble, and artificial leather is a material that resembles leather in appearance and some physical properties like elasticity and flexibility.  This puts 'decoy duck' et al in the same class as 'fictional', I think.  We have a representation of a duck, albeit in material form, alongside a representation of a man, this time in words.  Neither representation need be of a particular real duck or man.

Possible problems

My thesis is that the terms 'fictional', 'possible', 'past', 'intentional, and others, can be used grammatically as adjectives, appearing to qualify some concept word, and to make true statements, such as
Sherlock Holmes is a fictional detective,
but that logically they are sentential operators, as in
Fictionally [or in fiction], Sherlock Holmes is a detective.
As adjectives, they are thus powerfully alienating.  In this piece I want to highlight the logical difficulties we get into if we take these terms seriously as concept words.  By this I mean that it makes sense to talk about their extension---the set of things that instantiate the concept.  If A and B are concept words with extensions A* and B* then AB is a concept term with extension A*⋂B*.

Here Bill responds to a comment of mine which presents the beginnings of this idea. He says,
Is a (purely) fictional man a man? You might be tempted to say yes: Hamlet is fictional and Hamlet is a man, so Hamlet is a fictional man. But the drift of what I have been arguing over the last few days is that a fictional man is not a man, and that therefore 'fictional' functions as an alienans adjective. But I am comfortable with the idea that a merely possible man is a man. What is the difference?

There might have been a man distinct from every man that exists. (Think of the actual world with all the human beings in it, n human beings. There could have been n + 1.) God is contemplating this extra man, and indeed the possible world or maximal consistent state of affairs in which he figures, but hasn't and will not ever actualize him or it. What God has before his mind is a completely determinate merely possible individual man[*]. There is only one 'thing' this man lacks: actual existence. Property-wise, he is fully determinate in respect of essential properties, accidental properties, and relational properties. Property-wise the merely possible extra man and the actual extra man are exactly the same. Their quidditative content is identical. There is no difference in Sosein; the only difference is Sein, and Sosein is indifferent to Sein as Aquinas, Kant, and Meinong would all agree despite their differences. As Kant famously maintained, Sein is not a quidditative determination, or in his jargon 'reales Praedikat.'

For this reason a merely possible (complete) man is a man. They are identical in terms of essence or nature or quiddity or Sosein, these terms taken broadly. If God actualizes the extra man, his so doing does not alter the extra man in any quidditative respect. Otherwise, he ould not be the same man God had been contemplating.
If a [merely] possible man is a man then the extension of possible man is a subset of the extension of man.  Conversely, by analogy with p ⊢ possibly p, presumably a man is a possible man, and the extension of man is a subset of the extension of possible man.  Hence man and possible man are equal in extension.  This would render 'possible' otiose, and surely cannot be what Bill intends.

* As an aside, for consistency with other statements Bill has made elsewhere involving 'having before the mind' this should read,
What God has before his mind is a completely determinate merely possible individual intentional man.
But 'intentional' is another of this class of powerfully alienating terms.

Ficta and impossibilia

Continuing the discussion of the problems of fiction, Bill has an older post in which he says,
Purely fictional objects are most plausibly viewed as made up, or constructed, by novelists, playwrights, et al. It may be that they are constructed from elements that are not themselves constructed, elements such as properties or Castaneda's ontological guises. Or perhaps fictional objects are constructed ex nihilo. Either way, they have no being at all prior to their creation or construction. There was no Captain Ahab before Melville 'cooked him up.' But if Ahab were a merely possible individual, then one could not temporally index his coming to be; he would not come to be, but be before, during, and after Melville's writing down his description.

The issue could be framed as follows. Are novels, plays, etc. which feature logically consistent pure ficta, something like telescopes that allow us to peer from the realm of the actual into the realm of the merely possible, both realms being realms of the real? Or are novels, etc. more like mixing bowls or ovens in which ficta are 'cooked up'? I say the latter. If you want, you can say that Melville is describing something when he writes about Ahab, but what he is describing is something he has made up: a merely intentional object that cannot exist apart from the acts of mind trained upon it. He is not describing something that has ontological status apart from his mind and the minds of his readers. He is also not describing some real feature or part of himself as subject. So we could say that in describing Ahab he is describing an item that is objectively but not subjectively mind-dependent.
He then offers an argument to the conclusion that,
Ahab is not a merely possible human being, but a fictional human being where 'fictional' unlike 'merely possible' functions as an alienans adjective.
In this piece I want to try to get at just what I think has gone wrong in this.  My chief difficulty is that it's hard to know where to begin.  Bill couches the whole piece in language with which I am not comfortable.   He talks about 'fictional objects', 'impossible objects',  'intentional objects', 'incomplete objects', and so on, confident that these terms are meaningful and refer to something or things.  To engage him at all is to concede a good deal.   But here goes.

Bill says that Melville 'cooked up' Ahab.  What Melville cooked up was a description, a certain form of words, that he gives us in Moby Dick. On reading the novel, we cook up our own idea of a whaling captain from Melville's words.  Bill says, 'Melville is describing something when he writes about Ahab, but what he is describing is something he has made up'.  I demur.  Melville isn't describing anything.  He is transcribing his own idea of Ahab into words.  But this does not imply that he has not produced a description.  Perhaps this diagram helps.

At top left we have concrete people, past and present.  On the right we have concrete descriptions of some of these people, sentences thought up and written down or spoken by individuals attempting to say what certain people are or were like.  In the end these are combinations of words having a certain form that we recognise as descriptive.  But clearly there can be many more combinations than there are people, past and present. Such a combination, written or spoken, that does not arise from an attempt to describe a person, we can call a fictional description.  Now a problem arises.  In general, there is no way of telling from its words alone whether a given description is genuine or fictional. Of course, some descriptions will be sufficiently outlandish that we can be confident that they are fictional, but not all.  Again, some descriptions come wrapped in covers labelled 'Emma: A Novel' so we can be confident they too are fictional.    Nevertheless, on reading such a description we inevitably 'cook up' an idea of a person.  We need to be careful with this last term.  There is no implication that this is an idea of a particular person, one of the people in the upper left of the diagram.  In fact, I'm not sure one can have an idea that attaches to an external object in any way, but this opens questions about intentionality that I don't want to enter.  Rather, it's just a 'person-shaped' idea.  If asked to describe this person we just reiterate the description we have just read.  And, after all, this is how Melville got started, with a person-shaped idea for Captain Ahab.

This, I think, is about as far as we can go.   Bill would go further.  He wants to say either that this idea is an 'intentional object' in its own right, or that there is something it is an idea of, and this something he calls an intentional object.  I've never been clear on this, though I suspect the latter.  This strikes me as a theoretical postulate, rather than a given.  Bill thinks the phenomenology justifies it, and I do not.  Since the theory seems to run into trouble I'd rather do without its postulates. 

At bottom, the problem is that Bill makes a move from
Melville imagines a whaling captain
There is an imagined-by-Melville whaling captain
and hence to
There is an imaginary whaling captain,
and this 'imaginary whaling captain' Bill regards as an 'intentional object'.  This is exactly the move that Ed Ockham always objects to and which gives rise to the problematic terms 'imagined-by-Melville' and 'imaginary', which elsewhere I have been calling 'pseudo concepts'.

Is this a picture of an impossible object?
Of course not! Impossible objects are, well, impossible.  There can't be any, so we can't have a picture of one, surely?  What we have is a representation, or, better, a specification, that cannot be realised.  Just as 'round square' and 'married bachelor' are descriptions that cannot describe or predicates that cannot predicate, this is a representation that cannot represent.  Note the element of semantic ascent which is crucial to all of this.  In each case, something ontologically unexceptional, such as a bunch of words or marks on screen or paper has to be understood as a representation.  And sometimes it doesn't or cannot represent anything.  That's where the trouble starts.  For the temptation is to say that it represents a fictional person or an impossible object, and now we are on the slope to perdition.

Here is the argument that Bill offers in the cited post.
1. Pure ficta are made up or constructed via the mental acts and actions of novelists, playwrights, et al.
2. Ahab is a pure fictum.
3. Ahab came into being via the mental activity of a novelist or playwright. (from 1,2)
4. No human being comes into being via the mental activity of novelists, et al., but via the uniting of human sperm and human egg.
5. Ahab is not a human being. (from 3, 4)
6. A merely possible human being is a human being, indeed a flesh-and-blood human being, though not an actual flesh-and-blood human being.
7. Ahab is not a merely possible human being, but a fictional human being where 'fictional' unlike 'merely possible' functions as an alienans adjective.
Bill writes as if he finds the underlined terms transparent and unproblematic, functioning as ordinary concept terms.  Over the years he has come up with many aporia in which they appear.  My contention is that the source of paradox lies within these terms.  They are neither transparent nor unproblematic.  How to convince Bill of this?

Fictional conundra

Bill says,
As I see it, the central problem in the philosophy of fiction is to find a solution to the following aporetic dyad:
1. There are no purely fictional items.
2. There are some purely fictional items.
The problem is that while the limbs of the dyad cannot both be true, there is reason to think that each is true.  (1) looks to be an analytic truth: by definition, what is purely fictional is not, i.e., does not exist.  George Harvey Bone, the main character in Patrick Hamilton's 1941 booze novel Hangover Square, does not now and never did exist.  He is not a real alcoholic like his creator, Patrick Hamilton, who was a real alcoholic.  What is true is that
3. Bone is a purely fictional alcoholic.
That (3) is true is clear from the fact that if a student wrote on a test that Bone was a teetotaler, his answer  would be marked wrong.  But if (3) is true, then, given that nothing can satisfy a predicate unless it exists, it follows that
4. Bone exists
and, given the validity of Existential Generalization, it follows that
5. There is a purely fictional alcoholic.
But  if (5) is true, then so is (2).
Bill suggests a number of responses to this aporia.  My choice is
E.  Dissolutionism.  Somehow argue that the problem as posed above is a pseudoproblem that doesn't need solving but dissolving.  One might perhaps argue that one or the other of the dyad's limbs has not even a prima facie claim on our acceptance.
The puzzle hinges on what we mean by ‘a fictional X’, for some concept term X.  Is this itself a concept term? It’s not clear.  I think we can be mislead into thinking that it is a concept term, and this gives rise to Bill’s paradox.

The usual way of understanding 'a Y X' involves a conjunction of the concepts X and Y.  The extension of Y X is thus a subset of the extension of X.  Example: X=Roman, Y=female.  But this goes wrong for Y=fictional.  When we list the alcoholics we don’t count the fictional ones, whatever they may be.  If we must interpret ‘fictional alcoholic’ in this way we must conclude that its extension is the empty set.  Similarly 'fictional X' for any concept term X.  Hence we are lead to Bill’s (1):  There are no [purely] fictional items.

Why then is Bill’s argument for (2) rather compelling?  I suggest that we are inclined to read
n is a [merely] fictional X
as a surface transformation of
[merely] fictionally, n is an X,
And this we take as
[merely] in some piece of fiction, n is an X.
Thus 'Bone is a fictional alcoholic' becomes 'fictionally, Bone is an alcoholic', which is understood as 'In some piece of fiction it says that Bone is an alcoholic', and this we take to be true by virtue of Hamilton's works.  This kind of transformation can be seen elsewhere. Compare
n is a [merely] fictional X   <--->  [merely] fictionally, n is an X
n is a possible X   <--->  possibly, n is an X
n is a past X   <--->  pastly, n is an X
n is a real X   <--->  really, n is an X
n is a false X   <--->  falsely, n is an X
On the right, sentential operators; on the left, pseudo concept terms.

Thus the inference from 'n is a fictional X' to 'there is a fictional X' is not valid unless the latter is read as 'fictionally, there is an X'.  That is, 'Some piece of fiction says there is an X'.

The interpretation of 'fictional' as a disguised sentential operator fits nicely with a phenomenon that Bill notes parenthetically: 
As Kripke and others have noted, there are fictional fictions, fictional plays for example, such as a fictional play referenced within a play.
A female female Roman is just a female Roman.  Doubling up the qualifier 'female' tells us nothing more.  But 'n is a fictional fictional character' can be seen as 'fictionally, fictionally, n is a character'.  That is, in some story there is a story in which n is a character.  This alone tells us that there is something odd about 'fictional' as a concept term.
None of this says anything as to the existence or otherwise of van Inwagen 'creatures of fiction'.

In an earlier  post  Bill claims to have refuted this kind of approach to the puzzle.  He says that in the 'story operator' solution,
4. Sherlock Holmes is a detective
5. Sherlock Holmes is fictional
are elliptical for, respectively,
6. In the Conan Doyle stories, Sherlock Holmes is a detective
7. In the Conan Doyle stories, Sherlock Holmes is fictional.
but (7) is clearly false.  I reply, of course, that 'fictional' is a pseudo concept term and that (5) makes an assertion 'outside' the Conan Doyle stories.  The move from (5) to (7) is invalid.  Bill  says that the argument can be made with other 'extranuclear' terms such as 'merely possible' and 'mythological.'  Indeed it can, and these turn out to be pseudo concepts also.

See also Actualism and Presentism.

I should add that there is, of course, a perfectly valid use of 'fictional' as a concept term, and that is in sentences such as 'Jane Austen's Emma is fictional', where we are referring to the novel and not the young woman it is about.  To apply 'fictional' to anything other than a representation is to make a category mistake.  More on how representations  come into this in Ficta and impossibilia

Fictional characters

Arizona Bill has been discussing the metaphysics of fiction (again) with adversary London Ed.  This time we seem to have got a little further than before.  See here for the latest.  One question we have is How are we to understand
1. Frodo is a purely fictional character?
In particular, does it licence the inference to
2. There are purely fictional characters?
My reply is No and Yes.  There are two distinct but related meanings embedded in (1).  To bring this out,  let me simplify the context considerably.  Consider the following tiny dialogue:
Al: I met this chap called Soc in the pub last night.  Soc is a philosopher.
Beth: I don't believe you.  Soc is a purely fictional character.
Al is making an existential assertion:  There is a philosopher called Soc.  Beth is denying this.  She is not attributing the property of fictional characterhood to the entity Soc.  Her utterance, 'Soc is a purely fictional character' is not intended indicatively and does not supply information about Soc.  It simply rejects Al's existential assertion. Hence it does not licence the inference to (2). Moreover,  it shouldn't be seen as a continuation of Al's text about Soc, to be made sense of as part of his story.  It can't be.  It contradicts Al's story!  There is no point in trying to formulate a logical language in which Al's assertion and Beth's can be seen together as an integrated whole.  They are fundamentally antagonistic.

Suppose now that Al is, objectively, a fabulist.  He has a history of inventing personages met in pubs.  The dialogue might then go like this:
Al: I met this chap called Soc in the pub last night.  Soc is a philosopher.
Beth: Honestly, Al. Soc is just another of your purely fictional characters.
This time Beth's statement is intended indicatively.  In the larger context of Al's repeated story-telling Beth sees Soc as a van Inwagen creature of fiction.  To get this view we must stand back from Al's utterance.  We must see it not only for its meaning but also for itself as an act of speech.  To  the exasperated Beth it's just another fabulation in a long series of such.  So Beth is attending to Al's speech as one of a series of meaning-laden acts or events.  She is making a semantic ascent.  At this level Al's Soc is indeed a purely fictional character and the inference (2) that there are such things is justified.

Ed Feser responds to Sean Carroll

Ed Feser has a recent piece here.  I reproduce it below with comments interpolated.

People have been asking me to comment on the remarks about causation made by atheist physicist SeanCarroll during his recent debate with William Lane Craig on the topic of “God and Cosmology.”  (You’ll find Craig’s own post-debate remarks here.)  It’s only fair to acknowledge at the outset that Carroll cannot justly be accused of the anti-philosophical philistinism one finds in recent remarks by physicists Stephen Hawking, Lawrence Krauss, and Neil deGrasse Tyson.  Indeed, Carroll has recently criticized these fellow physicists pretty harshly, and made some useful remarks about the role of philosophy vis-à-vis physics in the course of doing so.
It is also only fair to note that, while I have enormous respect for Craig, I don’t myself think that it is a good idea to approach arguments for a First Cause by way of scientific cosmology.  I think that muddies the waters by inadvertently reinforcing scientism, blurring the distinction between primary (divine) causality and secondary (natural) causality, and perpetuating the false assumption that arguments for a divine First Cause are essentially arguments for a “god of the gaps.”  As I have argued many times, what are in my view the chief arguments of natural theology (i.e. Aristotelian, Neo-Platonic, Thomistic and other Scholastic arguments) rest on premises derived from metaphysics rather than natural science, and in particular on metaphysical premises that any possible natural science must presuppose.  For that reason, they are more certain than anything science itself could in principle ever either support or refute.  Arguments like Aquinas’s Five Ways, when properly understood (as, these days, they usually are not), no more stand or fall with the current state of play in scientific cosmology than they stand or fall with current gastroenterology or polymer research.  (See chapter 3 of Aquinas, my ACPQ article “Existential Inertia and the Five Ways,” my Midwest Studies in Philosophy article “The New Atheists and the Cosmological Argument,” and many other articles and blog posts.  Or, since we’re linking to YouTube, see my lectures “An Aristotelian Proof of the Existence of God” and “Natural Theology Must Be Grounded in the Philosophy of Nature, Not Natural Science.” )

Carroll’s remarks are largely directed at the question of whether scientific cosmologists should regard theism as a good explanation for the sorts of phenomena they are interested in, given the standard criteria by which models in physics are judged.  Since I don’t find that a terribly interesting or important question, I have nothing to say about his criticisms of Craig on that score.

Having said all that, Carroll’s remarks, where they touch on philosophical matters, are pretty shallow, and he does clearly think that what he has to say somehow poses a serious challenge to theism in general, not just theistic arguments grounded in scientific cosmology.  So those remarks are worth a response.  The key passage concerns Carroll’s criticism of Craig’s claim that “If the universe began to exist, then there is a transcendent cause which brought the universe into existence.”  Carroll says:

The real problem is that these are not the right vocabulary words to be using when we discuss fundamental physics and cosmology. This kind of Aristotelian analysis of causation was cutting edge stuff 2,500 years ago. Today we know better. Our metaphysics must follow our physics. That’s what the word “metaphysics” means. And in modern physics, you open a quantum field theory textbook or a general relativity textbook, you will not find the words “transcendent cause” anywhere. What you find are differential equations. This reflects the fact that the way physics is known to work these days is in terms of patterns, unbreakable rules, laws of nature. Given the world at one point in time we will tell you what happens next. There is no need for any extra metaphysical baggage, like transcendent causes, on top of that. It’s precisely the wrong way to think about how the fundamental reality works.  The question you should be asking is, “What is the best model of the universe that science can come up with?” By a model I mean a formal mathematical system that purports to match on to what we observe. So if you want to know whether something is possible in cosmology or physics you ask, “Can I build a model?”

End quote.  Now, it would take a book to explain everything that’s wrong with this.  And as it happens, I’ve written such a book; it’s called Scholastic Metaphysics: A Contemporary Introduction.  Since I’ve already said so much about these issues both in that book and elsewhere, I’m not going to repeat myself at length.  Let me just call attention to the key begged questions, missed points, and non sequiturs in Carroll’s remarks.

Well, of course this is 'wrong' from Ed's Aristotelian point of view.  But there is hardly any point in his saying it.  Carroll simply has a rival metaphysics.  The only sensible criticisms of a metaphysics are internal ones, from consistency, say, or external ones from relative explanatory power, say.  I will try to bring this out as we go through the post.  But it enables Ed to get in a neat puff for his latest book. 

Carroll tells us that explanation in physics proceeds by way of building a “model” that describes a “mathematical system” reflecting “patterns, unbreakable rules, laws of nature.”  Fine and dandy; I’ve pointed this out many times myself.  If Carroll’s point were merely that, to the extent that theism can’t be formulated in such mathematical terms, it just isn’t the sort of thing the physicist will find a useful explanation for the specific sorts of phenomena he’s interested in, then I wouldn’t necessarily have any problem with that.  That’s not what classical theism, properly understood, is all about in the first place.

But Carroll goes beyond that.  When he says that once you’ve hit upon the best mathematical model, whatever it turns out to be, “there is no need for any extra metaphysical baggage… on top of that,” he evidently means not just that you don’t need anything more for the purposes of physics, specifically, but that you don’t need anything more than that, period.  For he says that asking for more is “precisely the wrong way to think about how the fundamental reality works” and that “our metaphysics must follow our physics.”  The idea seems to be that once you’ve answered all the questions in physics, you’ve answered all the questions that can be answered, including all the metaphysical questions.  There’s nothing more to be done, not just nothing more for the physicist to do.

Now, why should anyone believe that claim (which is essentially just a version of scientism)?  Carroll gives no argument for it at all; he just asserts it with confidence.  This is a step down from Alex Rosenberg, who in The Atheist’s Guide to Reality did give an argument for a similar claim -- an argument which, as we saw, is extremely bad, but is at least still an argument. 

I'm not sure Carroll is being scientistic here at all.  It's just that as physics has developed over the past three hundred years, and as it has investigated the behaviour of matter on smaller and smaller scales, the concept of cause has disappeared from the subject.  In its place came, as Carroll says, differential equations.  These merely describe, in a general way, how matter behaves at small scale.  Taking such descriptions as axiomatic, we infer the behaviour of matter at macroscopic scales.  This is now seen as explanatory of macroscopic behaviour and replaces the common sense notion of causation.  The physics of the early twentieth century taught us that the behaviour of matter at the atomic scale simply cannot be understood by projecting the behaviour of macroscopic bodies onto smaller and smaller pieces of matter.  The atomic world is not the everyday world writ very small.  We cannot understand the small in terms of the large.  But we can understand the large in terms of the small.  So physics has abandoned causes.  The metaphysics of cause, central to an earlier Aristotelianism, is redundant.  All that is left is a ghost of formal causation to be found in the differential equations.

Nor could there be a good argument for Carroll’s scientism, because scientism is demonstrably false.  For one thing, “scientism” is more poorly defined than Carroll claims theism is.  However we tighten up our definition of notions like “science,” “physics,” and the like, the resulting scientism is going to be either self-refuting (since it will turn out that scientism cannot itself be established via the methods of physics or any other natural science), or completely trivial (since, to avoid the self-refutation charge, “science,” “physics,” etc. will have to be defined so broadly that even the metaphysical notions Carroll wants to dismiss will count as “scientific”). 

This is not the place to discuss that all-weather put-down,  'scientism'.  I do not concede that Carroll is being scientistic.  In any case, nobody is going to advance a 'demonstrably false' thesis.  That which is demonstrably false is not that which those accused of scientism are advocating.  A topic for another post perhaps. 

For another thing, to suppose that since physics confines itself to mathematical models, it follows that there is nothing more to reality than is captured by such models, is fallaciously to draw a metaphysical conclusion from a mere methodological stipulation.  The problem is not just that, if there are features of reality which cannot be captured in terms of a mathematical model, then the methods of physics are guaranteed not to capture them (though that is bad enough).  It is that there must in fact be more to reality than is captured by those methods, in part because (as Bertrand Russell noted) physics gives us only structure, and structure presupposes something which has the structure and which a purely structural description will of necessity fail to capture. 

This is interesting.  But Ed does not say what aspects of reality he has in mind, so we can't form a judgement as to whether this is relevant to physics or cosmology.  We can think of physics as the dynamics of matter in the small and cosmology as dynamics of matter at the very largest of scales.  If dynamics is the study of where the matter is over time, then it seems ripe for mathematical treatment.  What's the problem?

I develop these points in detail in Chapter 0 of Scholastic Metaphysics.  I also show, in that chapter and throughout the book, that the appeal to “laws of nature” so routinely and glibly made by naturalists like Carroll, simply does not and cannot do the work they suppose it does, and papers over a mountain of begged metaphysical questions.  In fact the very notion is fraught with philosophical difficulty, as writers like Nancy Cartwright and Stephen Mumford have shown.  As I have noted many times, the notion of a “law of nature” was originally (in thinkers like Descartes and Newton) explicitly theological, connoting the decree of a divine lawmaker.  Later scientists would regard this as a metaphor, but a metaphor for what?  Most contemporary scientists who pontificate about philosophical matters not only do not have an answer but have forgotten the question.

Allow me to pontificate.  Whatever 'law of nature' may have meant in the past, the phrase now, if it is used at all, merely refers to the differential equations which are thought to encode the patterns of possible motions.  They thus have the status of axioms.  One can ask, I guess, philosophical questions about axiomatic mathematical and physical theories, but I don't see how the concept of 'divine lawmaker' possibly fits into this, nor do I see a 'mountain of begged metaphysical questions'.  Such questions only arise against a background of metaphysical assumptions such as Ed's Aristotelianism.  Quite sensibly, in my view, Carroll simply refuses to talk this language.

One contemporary scientist who does see the problem is physicist Paul Davies, who, in his essay “Universe from Bit” (in Paul Davies and Niels Henrik Gregersen, eds. Information and the Nature of Reality: From Physics to Metaphysics), writes:

The orthodox view of the nature of the laws of physics contains a long list of tacitly assumed properties.  The laws are regarded, for example, as immutable, eternal, infinitely precise mathematical relationships that transcend the physical universe, and were imprinted on it at the moment of its birth from “outside,” like a maker’s mark, and have remained unchanging ever since… In addition, it is assumed that the physical world is affected by the laws, but the laws are completely impervious to what happens in the universe… It is not hard to discover where this picture of physical laws comes from: it is inherited directly from monotheism, which asserts that a rational being designed the universe according to a set of perfect laws.  And the asymmetry between immutable laws and contingent states mirrors the asymmetry between God and nature: the universe depends utterly on God for its existence, whereas God’s existence does not depend on the universe…

Clearly, then, the orthodox concept of laws of physics derives directly from theology.  It is remarkable that this view has remained largely unchallenged after 300 years of secular science.  Indeed, the “theological model” of the laws of physics is so ingrained in scientific thinking that it is taken for granted.  The hidden assumptions behind the concept of physical laws, and their theological provenance, are simply ignored by almost all except historians of science and theologians.  From the scientific standpoint, however, this uncritical acceptance of the theological model of laws leaves a lot to be desired… (pp. 70-1)

Now the naïve atheist reading this blog for the first time may suppose that at this point I am going to exclaim triumphantly that there cannot be law without a lawgiver and proclaim victory for theism.  But in fact, like Davies I don’t accept the theological account of laws.  I think it is bad metaphysics and bad theology (insofar as it tends toward occasionalism).  I want rather to make the following two points.  First, when scientists like Carroll confidently proclaim that we can explain such-and-such in terms of the laws of physics rather than God, what they are saying, without realizing it, is: “The explanation isn’t God, it’s rather the laws of physics, where ‘law of physics’ originally meant ‘a decree of God’ and where I don’t have any worked-out alternative account of what it means.”  Hence the “alternative” explanation, when unpacked, is really either a tacit appeal to God or a non-explanation.  In short, either it isn’t alternative, or it’s not an explanation.  The utter cluelessness of this stock naturalistic “alternative explanation” would make of it an object of ridicule if it were not so routinely and confidently put forward by otherwise highly intelligent, educated, and widely esteemed people.

Well, I do have an account of what 'law of physics' means.  It means a mathematical description of the behaviour of the simplest constituents of matter.  Just what Galileo sought in his experiments with inclined planes.  Together with principles of composition, such descriptions are explanatory of the behaviour of complex organisations of matter by means of deductive inference.  What, pray, is ridiculous about this?

Second, the original, explicitly theological Cartesian-Newtonian notion of “laws of nature” was intended precisely as a replacement for the Aristotelian-Scholastic metaphysics of nature.  The Scholastics held that the regularities in the behavior of natural phenomena derived from their immanent essences or substantial forms, and the directedness-toward-an-end or immanent teleology that followed upon their having those forms.  In other words, regularities reflected the formal and final causes of things.  The early moderns wanted to get rid of formal and final causes as immanent features of nature, and thus replaced them with the notion of “laws of nature” conceived of as externally imposed divine decrees.  To keep talk of “laws of nature” while throwing out God is thus not to offer an alternative to the Aristotelian-Scholastic view at all, but merely to peddle an uncashed metaphor.  So, whereas Carroll glibly asserts that “now we know better” than the Aristotelians did, what is in fact that case is that Carroll and other contemporary naturalists have not only chucked out Aristotelian metaphysics but have also chucked out the early moderns’ initial proposed replacement for Aristotelian metaphysics, and have offered nothing new in its place.  This is hardly a problem for the Aristotelian; on the contrary, it is a problem for anyone who wants to dismiss Aristotelian metaphysics.

Aristotle has a shallow physics and a deep metaphysics.  We moderns have the reverse.  The sense in which 'we now know better' is that our experience of the world is wider.  Telescopes can see to the ends of the universe and particle accelerators can look inside nucleons.  Neither space, time, nor matter are what they seem to the naked eye.  In one sense contemporary physics is itself a replacement for Aristotle's metaphysics.  For another way, see below.

Like other contemporary Aristotelians, I would say that the right way to interpret a “law of nature” is as a shorthand description of the way a thing tends to operate given its nature or substantial form.  That is to say, “laws of nature” actually presuppose, and thus cannot replace, an Aristotelian metaphysics of nature.  (Again see the discussion of the metaphysics of laws of nature in Scholastic Metaphysics.)  There are other accounts of laws, such as Platonic accounts and Humean accounts, but these are seriously problematic.  Platonic accounts, which treat laws of nature as abstract entities in a Platonic heaven, push the problem back a stage.  To appeal to such-and-such Platonic laws as an explanation of what happens in the world only raises the further problems of explaining why it is those laws rather than some others that govern the world, and what makes it the case that any laws at all come to be instantiated.  Humean accounts, meanwhile, interpret a law as a statement that such-and-such a regularity holds, or would have held under the right conditions.  But in that case an appeal to laws doesn’t really explain anything, but only re-describes it in a different jargon. 

Consider, in light of these points, what Carroll says about causation later on in the debate:

Why should we expect that there are causes or explanations or a reason why in the universe in which we live? It’s because the physical world inside of which we’re embedded has two important features. There are unbreakable patterns, laws of physics -- things don’t just happen, they obey the laws -- and there is an arrow of time stretching from the past to the future. The entropy was lower in the past and increases towards the future. Therefore, when you find some event or state of affairs B today, we can very often trace it back in time to one or a couple of possible predecessor events that we therefore call the cause of that, which leads to B according to the laws of physics.  But crucially, both of these features of the universe that allow us to speak the language of causes and effects are completely absent when we talk about the universe as a whole.  We don’t think that our universe is part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws.  Even if it’s part of the multiverse, the multiverse is not part of a bigger ensemble that obeys laws.  Therefore, nothing gives us the right to demand some kind of external cause.

End quote.  Now in fact it is Carroll who has said absolutely nothing to establish his right to dismiss the demand for a cause as confidently as he does.  For he has simply begged all the important questions and completely missed the point of the main traditional classical theistic arguments (whether or not he has missed Craig’s point -- again, I’m not addressing that here).  One problem here is that, like so many physicists, Carroll has taken what is really just one species of causation (the sort which involves a causal relation between temporally separated events) and identified it with causation as such.  But in fact, the Aristotelian argues, event causation is not only not the only kind of causation but is parasitic on substance causation.

Carroll's remarks strike me as sensible.  They form, perhaps, the basis of an inchoate theory which sees (efficient) causation as just one way in which humans have attempted to conceptualise relations between objects and events.  A consequence, perhaps, of our evolved capacity to find pattern in the stream of sense data we each receive.  It is thus an element of the manifest but not the scientific image.  The case for seeing final causation this way is much more obviously made.  Material causation is readily assimilable to the scientific image, and so, as I suggest above, is formal causation.  Indeed, we can think of science as a vast elaboration of the notion of formal cause.  The diverse origins of material, efficient, formal and final cause under this view, suggest that they do not fall under a unified concept.

But put that aside, because the deeper problem is that Carroll supposes that causation is to be explained in terms of laws of nature, whereas the Aristotelian view is that this has things precisely backwards.  Since a “law of nature” is just a shorthand description of the ways a thing will operate -- that is to say, what sorts of effects it will tend to have -- given its nature or substantial form, in fact the notion of “laws of nature” metaphysically presupposes causation. 

Only within the Aristotelian metaphysical system.  Under the alternative system---which I guess counts as a metaphysics as it tries to explain why we think about the world along certain lines---the remaining three of the four causes are indeed subsumed under a version of formal causation.

Furthermore, what “allows us to speak the language of causes and effects” has nothing essentially to do with tracing series of events backwards in time.  Here again Carroll is just begging the question.  On the Aristotelian-Scholastic analysis, questions about causation are raised wherever we have potentialities that need actualization, or a thing’s being metaphysically composite and thus in need of a principle that accounts for the composition of its parts, or there being a distinction in a thing between its essence or nature on the one and its existence on the other, or a thing’s being contingent.  The universe, however physics and scientific cosmology end up describing it -- even if it turned out to be a universe without a temporal beginning, even if it is a four-dimensional block universe, even if Hawking’s closed universe model turned out to be correct, even if we should really think in terms of a multiverse rather than a single universe -- will, the Aristotelian argues, necessarily exhibit just these features (potentialities needing actualization, composition, contingency, etc.).  And thus it will, as a matter of metaphysical necessity, require a cause outside it.  And only that which is pure actuality devoid of potentiality, only what is utterly simple or non-composite, only something whose essence or nature just is existence itself, only what is therefore in no way contingent but utterly necessary -- only that, the classical theist maintains, could in principle be the ultimate terminus of explanation, whatever the specific scientific details turn out to be. 

We have come full circle.  From Ed's perspective Aristotelian metaphysical principles must indeed be presupposed by any possible natural science.  But we can equally well start from another point and see such principles as plausible modes of thought.  It is, perhaps, a matter of taste.

Carroll has not only not answered these sorts of arguments (which, again, I’ve only alluded to here -- see the various sources cited above for detailed defense).  He doesn’t even seem to be aware that this is where the issues really lie, and that they have nothing essentially to do with scientific cosmology.  But that’s not entirely his fault.  As I have indicated, in my view too many people (and not just Craig) put way too much emphasis on scientific cosmology where the debate between theism and atheism is concerned.  That just opens the door to objections like Carroll’s, since it makes it sound (wrongly, but understandably) like theism as such is essentially in competition with the sorts of models Carroll pits against Craig.

It seems to me that Ed can not or will not think outside the Aristotelian box.  He is just not open to the possibility of a new metaphysics that subsumes his own. 

That is not, by the way, to knock the kalām cosmological argument.  For (as Craig himself has emphasized) that argument need not appeal to scientific cosmology, but can be defended instead by way of appeal to more fundamental metaphysical premises.  (I have not had much to say about that argument myself because it is in my view less fundamental than the arguments I have focused on -- such as the Five Ways -- and there are, in any case, already many people writing about it.  If you’re looking for a Thomist’s defense of the kalām argument, you can’t do better than the relevant articles on the subject by David Oderberg.)

On Ostrich Nominalism

In Against Ostrich Nominalism  of 14 January 2013 Bill opens with
As magnificent a subject as philosophy is, grappling as it does with the ultimate concerns of human existence, and thus surpassing in nobility any other human pursuit, it is also miserable in that nothing goes uncontested, and nothing ever gets established to the satisfaction of all competent practitioners. (This is true of other disciplines as well, but in philosophy it is true in excelsis.) Suppose I say, as I have in various places:
That things have properties and stand in relations I take to be a plain Moorean fact beyond the reach of reasonable controversy. After all, my cat is black and he is sleeping next to my blue coffee cup. ‘Black’ picks out a property, an extralinguistic feature of my cat. 
Is that obvious? Not to some. Not to the ornery and recalcitrant critter known as the ostrich nominalist. My cat, Max Black, is black. That, surely, is a Moorean fact. Now consider the following biconditional and consider whether it too is a Moorean fact: 
1. Max is black iff Max has the property of being black. 
As I see it, there are three main ways of construing a biconditional such as (1):

A. Ostrich Nominalism. The right-hand side (RHS) says exactly what the left-hand side (LHS) says, but in a verbose and high-falutin' and dispensable way. Thus the use of 'property' on the RHS does not commit one ontologically to properties beyond predicates. (By definition, predicates are linguistic items while properties are extralinguistic and extramental.) Predication is primitive and in need of no philosophical explanation. On this approach, (1) is trivially true. One needn't posit properties, and in consequence one needn't worry about the nature of property-possession. (Is Max related to his blackness, or does Max have his blackness quasi-mereologically by having it as an ontological constituent of him?)
Bill then goes on to define two further construals of (1) which he calls ostrich realism and non-ostrich realism.  So far I'm an ostrich nominalist.  I can't better Bill's characterisation of the RHS of (1) as verbose, high-falutin, and dispensable.  However, he then says
On (A) there are neither properties, nor do properties enter into any explanation of predication. Predication is primitive and in need of no explanation. In virtue of what does 'black' correctly apply to Max? In virtue of nothing. It just applies to him and does so correctly. Max is black, but there is no feature of reality that explains why 'black' is true of Max, or why 'Max is black' is true. It is just true! There is nothing in reality that serves as the ontological ground of this contingent truth. Nothing 'makes' it true. There are no truth-makers and no need for any. 
Bill finds this preposterous.  But does it follow from (A)?  Can we hang on to the better part of (A)---avoiding the descent into the quagmire of the ontology of properties---yet escape the vacuity Bill finds?  I think so.  Let's change the example a little.  Suppose Max has his hind legs bent at the knee, his haunches on the floor supporting his weight, his spine inclined, and his forelegs straight and near vertical.  In these circumstances we would truly say 'Max is sitting' because 'sitting' is the right word to describe Max's attitude and the disposition of his limbs.  Would Bill want to say, Yes, Max is sitting, but there is no feature of reality that explains why 'sitting' is true of Max or why 'Max is sitting' is true?  I guess it depends on what kind of 'feature of reality' we are looking for.  If it has to be 'thing-like' then perhaps, yes, he would.  But it seems to me that we cannot capture reality by simply piling up things, despite the pressure language puts upon us to talk in terms of 'things'.  Is the problem that we can't analyse 'black' analogously to the analysis of 'sitting'?  Well, we could say that 'black' is the right word to describe the sensation caused in us by the light, or rather the paucity of light, reaching our eyes from Max.  But this clearly opens up a whole new realm of questions.  My inclination is to see this as a puzzle about language, not a puzzle about reality.

Searle's Rationality in Action

Just recently I came across a paper by William Hasker that cites a 2001 book by John Searle that I was unaware of.   Hasker quotes enough of Searle to seriously whet my appetite.  It should be arriving shortly.  In the meantime let me quote a big chunk from Hasker to explain my interest in Searle.

The anti-reductivism of most interest to us here is found in Searle’s recent book, Rationality in Action. Much of the argument of that book revolves around the notion of “the gap” that exists in all cases of rational action.  According to Searle, “‘The gap’ is the general name that I have introduced for the phenomenon that we do not normally experience the stages of our deliberations and voluntary actions as having causally sufficient conditions or as setting causally sufficient conditions for the next stage” (2001, p. 50). He also says, “The operation of rationality presupposes that there is a gap between the set of intentional states on the basis of which I make my decision, and the actual making of the decision” (p. 13). This gap is crossed by the activity of a “non-Humean self.” (“You cannot account for the rational self just in terms of a Humean bundle of disconnected perceptions” (p. 289).) The gap, according to Searle, is an obvious feature of everyday experience. Suppose you have gone to a restaurant, and the waiter asks for your order. You can’t just say, “Look, I am a determinist, che sarà, sarà. I will just wait and see what I order! I will wait and see what my beliefs and desires cause!” Searle continues, “This refusal to exercise my freedom is itself only intelligible to you as an exercise of freedom” (p. 14). Searle’s point here serves to underscore the failure of psychological determinism, as noted in the previous section of this essay. Important questions arise, however, when we attempt to combine this psychological account of human action with the neurobiological account. Searle queries, “There is no doubt that the gap is psychologically real, but is it otherwise empirically real? Is it neurobiologically real? If human freedom really exists, it must be a feature of brain function” (p. 269). Searle’s analysis of this question can be illustrated by a pair of diagrams. The first diagram illustrates the situation in which it is assumed that the agent’s reasons, consisting of her desires and beliefs, constitute a sufficient cause of the decision:
               deliberation on reasons           →                   decision

                       ↑  C&R                                                   ↑ C&R
                 neuron firings                      →                neuron firings                                  

One set of neuron firings “causes and realizes” (C&R) the deliberation, another set causes and realizes the decision, and the whole process is regarded as entirely deterministic. This way of conceptualizing the situation is quite similar to Kim’s supervenient causation, though Searle does not employ the language of supervenience. When we add the gap, however, the diagram must be altered:

                                                  causes with gaps    
               deliberation on reasons             →                  decision

                      ↑ C&R                                                      ↑ C&R
                neuron firings                    →                 neuron firings

Now the assumption is that “the indeterminacy at the psychological level is matched by a completely deterministic system at the neurobiological level” (p. 283). In Searle’s view, some distinctly uncomfortable conclusions emerge from this way of understanding action:
This result . . . is intellectually very unsatisfying because, in a word, it is a modified form of epiphenomenalism. It says that the psychological processes of rational decision making do not really matter. The entire system is deterministic at the bottom level, and the idea that the top level has an element of freedom is simply a systematic illusion. It seems to me at t1 that I have a choice between the Burgundy and the Bordeaux and that the causes operating on me are not sufficient to determine the choice. But I am mistaken. The total state of my brain at t1 is entirely sufficient to determine every bodily movement as well as every thought process from t1 to t2 to t3 . . . and the only thing we can say about psychological indeterminism at the higher level is that it gives us a systematic illusion of free will” (p. 285).
In addition to undermining our lived experience of free will, Searle states that
the hypothesis seems to me to run against everything we know about evolution. It would have the consequence that the incredibly elaborate, complex, sensitive, and – above all – biologically expensive system of human and animal conscious rational decision making would actually make no difference whatever to the life and survival of the organisms. (p.286).
Given these unwelcome consequences of the hypothesis of “psychological libertarianism with neurobiological determinism,” the situation is ripe for the emergence of a competing hypothesis, which takes the form of “system causation with consciousness and indeterminacy.” On this view, “the absence of causally sufficient conditions at the psychological level is matched by a parallel lack of causally sufficient conditions at the neurobiological level” (p. 286). But this in turn forces us to
examine critically the assumptions built into our diagrammatic representation with its metaphors of ‘bottom-up,’ ‘top-down,’ ‘levels of description,’ etc. . . . The problem is this: the idea that consciousness is a higher-level or surface feature of the brain gives us a picture of consciousness as like the paint on the surface of the table. . . . All of that is wrong. Consciousness is no more on the surface of the brain than liquidity is on the surface of the water. Rather the idea we are trying to express is that consciousness is a system feature. . . . What we have to suppose, if we believe that our conscious experience of freedom is not a complete illusion, is that the whole system moves forward toward the decision making, and toward the implementing of the decision in actual actions; that the conscious rationality at the top level is realized all the way down, and that means that the whole system moves in a way that is causal, but not based on causally sufficient conditions. (p. 287)
 Clearly, this second hypothesis involves extremely difficult metaphysical questions, which cannot be pursued further here. What is remarkable is that Searle has even proposed such a hypothesis, one which challenges the foundations of most contemporary thinking about the mind and the brain. Nevertheless, Searle himself is troubled by its implications, and states, “Frankly, I do not find either hypothesis intellectually attractive” (p. 296); he is unwilling to decide definitely between them. The problem he finds with the second hypothesis “is to see how the consciousness of the system could give it a causal efficacy that is not deterministic. And it is not enough help to be told that we could accept the randomness of quantum mechanical accounts that are not deterministic. Conscious rationality is not supposed to inherit the randomness of quantum mechanics.  Rather, conscious rationality is supposed to be a causal mechanism that proceeds causally, though not on the basis of antecedently sufficient causal conditions” (pp. 297- 98). Searle himself would be the first to admit that his non-reductivism is a work still in progress.

One possible cause of Searle's discomfort with the first of these viewpoints ('psychological libertarianism with neurobiological determinism')  is that he takes a realist position with regard to his 'reasons'.  I'm not sure that this is quite right.  Suppose we agree that the ordinary objects of the manifest image---trees and houses and people---are appearances arising in me from information arriving at my sense organs from the underlying elements---molecules and photons---of the scientific image.  Then it also makes sense to say that what we call 'reasons' are also appearances in me arising from my own brain's sensing of neurobiological activity within itself.  It is as if my mind looks simultaneously outwards on the world via my senses and inwards at itself and its own activity.  If the outer gaze can give rise to appearances which are in some sense 'approximations' or 'integrations'---I see small numbers of  continuously solid macroscopic objects rather than myriads of discrete particles---then so can the inner gaze integrate reasons from neural activity.  Certainly our reasons, whatever they may be neurobiologically, appear to us in the form of sentences.  I ask myself what reason I have for some act and I get a sentence.  Similarly with belief.  Searle's 'gap' may then arise in two ways.  Firstly, the neurological activity that bridges the gap may be taking place somewhere inaccessible to the inward gaze.  The internal sense organ receives no information from it just as the visual cortex knows nothing of the distribution of infra-red and ultra-violet incident upon me.  Secondly,  the many-one 'clumping' process that renders neurobiological activity into sentences may simply be inherently gappy.  There may be no way of learning how to map such activity onto the words of a shared language.  When I ask myself  how I decided beween reasons,  no sentence is forthcoming.