Investigating the past

Bill opens a recent piece with this.
On presentism, the present alone exists, and not in the trivial sense that the present alone exists at present, but in the substantive sense that the present alone exists simpliciter.  But if so, then the past is nothing, a realm of sheer nonbeing. But surely the past is not nothing: it happened, and is in some sense 'there' to be investigated by historians and archeologists and paleontologists.  
This extract expresses a key conviction that seems to drive Bill's antipresentism.  Another is the truthmaker objection.  We might squabble over whether the past is nothing or not, but we can certainly agree that it happened.  But is it in any sense 'there' to be investigated?  I don't think it is.  If it were there then history, archeology, and paleontology would not be the difficult disciplines they are.  History would be like journalism.  We would simply go and look to find out about the past.   If there were truth-makers in the present for truths about the past we could just read off those truths from their makers.   But it's not that easy.  Rather,  history, etc, investigate the vestiges (from vestigium, footprint or track) of the past such as documents, artifacts, and fossils that have come down to us.  These are things that existed in the past and still exist in the present, so they are not yet wholly past.  The objective of these disciplines is to construct in the imagination a narrative that's consistent with these vestigia and their reaching us and with nomological truths, and which accounts for them.  Such a narrative may well contain truths but we cannot be sure.  We can't acquaint ourselves with the wholly past.

More recently still he writes,
What ceases to exist becomes nothing. Boston's Scollay Square, which is wholly past, is not nothing.  One can refer to it; there are true statements about it; some have veridical memories of it; there are videos of interviews of people who frequented it; it is an object of ongoing historical research. To dilate a bit on the fifth point:

One cannot learn more and more about what is no longer (temporally) present if it is nothing at all. Only what exists can be studied and its properties ascertained.  But we do learn more and more about Scollay Square. So it must be some definite item.  But, pace Meinong, there are no nonexistent items. Therefore, Scollay Square exists non-presently.  Therefore, what ceases to be present, does not cease to exist. It exists despite being past. It exists tenselessly at times earlier than the present time.  The mere passage of time did not annihilate Scollay Square.
Bill writes as if he takes our ability to refer to Scollay Square, make true statements about it, have veridical memories of it, and so on, to be inconsistent with its being nothing.  I'm afraid I cannot see why the state of Scollay Square has any impact at all on these abilities.  But perhaps Bill would say that his use of 'exists' and 'is' in these paragraphs is tenseless.  He is rarely explicit on this but the appearance of the phrase 'is (not) nothing' is often a clue that one needs to be wary.
But it's debatable that we do learn more and more about Scollay Square.  There's a limited number of vestiges of the square either discovered or yet to be discovered.  All we can do is make more inferences from this evidence and we have no way of knowing if we have arrived at the truth.   And what does Bill mean by 'there are no non-existent items'?  If an 'item' is, loosely, anything we can have an idea of, be it past, future, fictional, merely possible, etc, then there are plenty of items that do no exist. 

Finally, today,
Our penal practices presuppose the reality of the past. But how can presentism uphold the reality of the past?  The past is factual, not fictional; actual, not merely possible; something, not nothing.

The past is an object of historical investigation: we learn more and more about it.  Historical research is discovery, not invention.  We adjust our thinking about the past by what we discover. It is presupposed that what happened in the past is absolutely independent of our present thinking about it.

In sum, historical research presupposes the reality of the past. If there is a tenable presentism, then it must be able to accommodate the reality of the past.  I'd like to know how.  If only the present exists, then the past does not exist, in which case it is nothing, whence it follows that it is no object of investigation. But it is an object of investigation, ergo, etc.
I just don't understand why Bill will speak of (items of) the past in the present tense. Unless he is conflating things of the past with our present ideas of them.  Our idea of Caesar is derived from fact, not fiction.  Somebody was acquainted with Caesar and wrote about him, including Caesar himself! Likewise the characteristics we attribute to Caesar were actualised in Caesar; they did not remain a mere sketch of a Roman general and emperor.  And Caesar was of course something, once, not nothing, always.  I don't see why the past---the things and events now past---cannot be objects of investigation despite their now being nothing.  History is the formulation and revision of our ideas about the past, subject to the constraints imposed by the present vestiges of the past. 

Puzzling Over Puzzling Over Presentism

Bill says,
When Boston's Scollay Square ceased to exist, it did not quit the actual world and become a merely possible object. It became a past actual object.
Hmmm.  When it ceased to exist Scollay Square surely became no kind of object.  Its individuality, its standing out, came to an end and it returned as rubble and dust to the undifferentiated bulk whence it sprang.  Consider, though, the knowledge of Scollay Square in the mind of someone familiar with it.  On learning of the square's demise this knowledge was not erased.  On the contrary, it became enhanced with one last fact:  that Scollay Square was no more.  But this can't be part of the content of the idea of Scollay Square---the properties it possessed, the events it participated in.  It must be a property of the idea itself---that the content applies to no object at all.  Neo-Meinongians will recognise an encoding/exemplifying distinction here.  Yet we still confusingly say that Scollay Square is a past object.  In a later piece Bill quotes Palle Yourgrau on the pictorial representation of the demise of Osama bin Laden,
Time maga­zine had it right when it represented the death of bin Laden, hence his 'nonexistence,' with a picture of him on the cover, crossed out with a big X. If you’re lecturing on the capture and killing of bin Laden, you might draw a picture of him on the blackboard, and then conclude your lecture by drawing, as Time did, a big X across that drawing. That would be the right thing to do. The wrong thing to do would be to simply erase the drawing, to rub it out. A blank blackboard does not represent the death of bin Laden. On the contrary, it represents nothing. Bin Laden, on dying, did not become nothing, just as he did not come from nothing. (Ex nihilo, nihil fit.)
What I think both Bill and Yourgrau miss is that both pictures are appropriate in different ways.  The erased board represents bin Laden himself, now nothing; the crossed out picture our idea of him.  Note how the picture contains a parallel semantic ascent:  there is content---the image of bin Laden, but then this is crossed out. The image remains and the cross is not part of it.  Bill continues, 
There are those who remember Scollay Square. Some of their memories are veridical and some are not. How is this possible if there is nothing that they are remembering?
This is perhaps more easily answered.  No one is remembering Scollay Square as it is now.  They are remembering it as it was when they were acquainted with it. 
What makes the veridical memories veridical? I will assume that we do not want to say that the past exists only in the flickering memories of mortals.  However things stand with the future, the reality of the past is near-datanic.
How can we know which memories are veridical?  Perhaps we can't, memory being less reliable than perception.  But we can be more or less confident depending on consistency among independent witnesses, photographs, documents, and other causal traces. Indeed, the past was.  We remember its being rather than imagine it.

On Ceasing to Exist

I have been reviewing Bill's postings on Time and Change looking at his anti-Presentist arguments.   Some, like this one from March this year, depend on what Bill terms the 'veritas sequitur esse' principle.  Here is the first half of the post.
John F. Kennedy ceased to exist in November of 1963. (Assume no immortality of the soul.) But when a thing ceases to exist, it does not cease to be an object of reference or a subject of predicates. If this were not the case, then it would not be true to say of JFK that he is dead. But it is true, and indeed true now, that JFK is dead. Equivalently, 'dead' is now true of JFK. But this is puzzling: How can a predicate be true of a thing if the thing does not exist? After a thing ceases to exist it is no longer around to support any predicates. What no longer exists, does not still exist: it does not exist.

I am of the metaphilosophical opinion that the canonical form of a philosophical problem is the aporetic polyad. Here is our puzzle rigorously set forth as an aporetic tetrad:
1) Datum: There are predicates that are true of things that no longer exist, e.g., 'dead' and 'famous' and 'fondly remembered' are true of JFK.
2) Veritas sequitur esse: If a predicate is true of an item x, then x exists.
3) Presentism: For any x, x exists iff x is temporally present.
4) The Dead: For any x, if x is dead, then x is temporally non-present.
The limbs of the tetrad are individually plausible but collectively inconsistent. To solve the tetrad, then, we must reject one of the propositions. It can't be (1) since (1) is a datum. And it can't be (4) since it, on the mortalist assumption, is obviously true. (To avoid the mortalist assumption, change the example to an inanimate object.) Of course, if an animal dies, its corpse typically remains present for a time; but an animal and its corpse are not the same. An animal can die; a corpse cannot die because a corpse was never alive.

One cannot plausibly reject (2) either. To reject (2) is to maintain that a predicate can be true of a thing whether or not the thing exists. This is highly counter-intuitive, to put it mildly. Suppose it is true that Peter smokes. Then 'smokes' is true of Peter. It follows that Peter exists. It seems we should say the same about Kennedy. It is true that Kennedy is dead. So 'dead' is true of Kennedy, whence it follows that Kennedy exists. Of course, he does not exist at present. But if he didn't exist at all, then it could not be true that Kennedy is dead, famous, veridically remembered, and so on. Kennedy must in some sense exist if he is to be the object of successful reference and the subject of true predications.

There remains the Anti-Presentist Solution. Deny (3) by maintaining ...
I have two objections here.  First, in the formulation that Bill gives of VSE it is false.  Take the predicate 'does not exist' and apply it to the mythical creature called 'Pegasus'.  The resulting sentence, 'Pegasus does not exist', is true so Bill's VSE would allow us to conclude that Pegasus does exist.  An immediate contradiction.   Bill's VSE begs the question against the Presentist who would not concede that JFK has to exist in order to be famous or veridically remembered.  'JFK is famous'  does not assert that an extant JFK has the property of 'being famous'.  It says that many people now know his name and can tell you something about his role in US politics.  Indeed, you needn't ever to have existed in order to be famous.  Sherlock Holmes, perhaps.   But you do need to once have existed in order to be veridically remembered.

Second, Bill puts great store on the predicate 'is dead'.   But it seems to give us an immediate counter-example to (2).  For if 'is dead' means 'has ceased to exist' means 'no longer exists', then as BIll himself says at the end of the first paragraph, 'JFK is dead' implies 'JFK does not exist, contradicting VSE.

Bill is fond of characterising the Presentist as saying of something no longer extant that it does not exist at all.  I accept that wording.  I don't think the 'at all' adds or subtracts anything.  But that is not to say that it did not exist at all, that is, ever.   Obviously, if JFK didn't (past tense) exist at all he could not be dead, famous, remembered, etc.  Is Bill being a little loose with tense in the underlined phrase?

Bill says, 'Kennedy must in some sense exist if he is to be the object of successful reference and the subject of true predications'.  Does this reveal an attachment to a certain theory of reference or theory of propositions?

Conclusion added in March 2020

I'm more puzzled by Bill's inconsistent tetrad than by the thought he is trying to capture.  Bill says that it's puzzling that a predicate can be true of a thing that doesn't exist.  But why?  We make past-tensed predications of things that don't exist all the time.  In 1943 Kennedy commanded  PT109, for example.  Neither exists now though they both did in 1943.  This is surely 'datanic', as Bill would say, of how we speak of the past.  The problem is that Bill's tetrad introduces theoretical terms like 'predicate', 'temporal presence', 'tenseless existence', etc, and principles like Veritas Sequitur Esse on which we rightly place less trust than we do on ordinary language.  The philosopher's new-fangled tools need further refinement.

Pain and time

Bill gives us another aporetic triad:
1) A wholly past (felt) pain is not nothing: it is real.
2) For (felt) pains, esse est percipi, to be is to be perceived.
3) Wholly past (felt) pains are not perceived.
Each of these propositions is extremely plausible if not self-evident, according to Bill.   Yet they result in contradiction.  So it would seem that there is something very problematic about our ordinary thinking about pains and other sensations that are stretched out in time, with a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Really?  I can't believe so.  Indeed, it's simple enough to relieve the contradiction whilst retaining the gist of these propositions by rewriting (1) as
1*)  A wholly past (felt) pain was not nothing: it was real. 
Here we are talking about a wholly past thing in the past tense---what I have been calling 'common sense presentism'.  The question becomes, Why does Bill want to talk about a past pain in the present tense?  Here is his justification for his (1):
To say that an item is wholly past is to say that it does not overlap the present. A felt or phenomenal pain is a pain exactly as it is experienced  from the first-person point of view of the one who endures it, with all and only the properties it appears to have from the point of view of the one who endures it.  It is not to be confused with the physical cause of the pain if there is one. Now yesterday's excruciating migraine headache, which is wholly past, is not nothing: it happened.
I have argued elsewhere that to say of a thing that has been and gone that it is 'wholly past'  is a manner of speaking that should not be taken as presently attributing the property 'wholly past' to it, so I shall let the first sentence pass.  We should note though that the 'is not nothing' in the last sentence can be conveyed equally well with 'was not nothing'.   Bill continues,
It is now an object of veridical memory. Since the memory is veridical, its intentional object cannot be unreal.  The pain  is also a subject of presently true past-tensed statements such as 'The pain was awful.' Given that veritas sequitur esse, that no true statement is about what is wholly unreal or nonexistent, yesterday's migraine pain cannot be unreal or nonexistent. The remembered wholly past pain is actual not merely possible; factual not fictional; real not imaginary.  Of course, it is not temporally present. But it is real nonetheless.  It is or exists. It is included in the ontological inventory.  To deny this is to deny the reality of the past. 
With the underlined sentences Bill departs from ordinary language---the 'datanic' we might say---and begins to speak in the terms of a theory.  A very misleading theory, in my view.  But in any case, if the 'intentional object' of today's memory is yesterday's pain, and the memory is veridical, then we can say that yesterday's pain could not have been unreal.  We don't require the present tense here.   So we can paraphrase what Bill says with
Since Bill's memory of yesterday's pain is veridical, the pain must have been real.
Bill no doubt also remembers the pain ceasing to exist.  The pain was awful and then it was gone.   So it's surprising that he makes a narrow interpretation of veritas sequitur esse.  Truly, the pain was awful.  So the pain could not have been unreal or non-existent while truly it was awful.  The pain was actual and was not merely possible.  The pain was factual and not fictional.  The pain was real and not imaginary.  Of course the pain has gone but it was real nevertheless.  This is not to deny the reality of the past.  And can't an inventory be a history?  The point of all this is to show that Bill can say what he wants to say in past-tensed ordinary language.

I conclude that Bill's justification for (1) rests on a narrow present-tensed understanding of VSE.  Later in the piece he says that one might reject (1) by rejecting this too.  He seems to be claiming that rejecting VSE requires a problematic Meinongian move:
...there are truths about beingless items and one can refer to such items.  Even though JFK has ceased to exist, he is still in some sense available to serve as an object of reference and a subject of true statements.
I'd agree that such a move, expressed this way, is probably not sustainable.   What on Earth is a 'beingless item'?  But why do we need some theoretical alternative to narrow VSE when it's a pre-theoretical given that we can make true statements about objects and events that no longer exist?  To back up (1) Bill needs to justify his counter-intuitive interpretation of VSE.

Common Sense Presentism

Bill's position is that philosophical presentism is a substantive thesis: what no longer exists does not exist at all, and what does not yet exist does not exist at all.  Much hinges on the distinction between not existing and not existing at all, which no one seems able to clarify.  Instead I propose 'common sense presentism'.  This is not so much a thesis as a practice.  Namely, the practice of speaking of past things and events using the past tense and eschewing the present.  In his latest piece on this topic Bill says,
Two points. First, what was has an ontological status superior to that which never was -- which has no ontological status at all. Second, what was, though logically contingent at the time of its occurrence, is now in a sense necessary, but without ceasing to be logically contingent. The mere passage of time works a modal promotion, from contingency to necessitas per accidens, accidental necessity. Socrates freely drank the hemlock, hence his drinking was logically contingent. But once past, the deed cannot be undone by god or mortal, chance or fate. Cannot. Under the aspect of eternity, however, the heroic act remains logically contingent.
It strikes me that to speak of a past thing or event using the present tense is to beg the question against the presentist.  It presumes that the thing or event has some sort of present existence.  And just what does Bill mean by assigning an 'ontological status' to a thing or event?  Let's take a concrete instance of Bill's general statement.  For example, 
Julius Caesar has an ontological status superior to that of Sherlock Holmes.
I suspect that the names here are being mentioned not used.  We are not ascribing properties to objects or setting objects in some relation.  There are no such objects.  Instead we are reminding ourselves that 'Julius Caesar' names a long gone historical personage whereas 'Sherlock Holmes' names a character in a work of mere fiction, and the former outranks the latter in 'ontological status'.  Likewise, by ascribing 'accidental necessity' to the event of Socrates drinking the hemlock we remind ourselves of the historicity of this occurrence.  That Holmes played the violin has no such historicity.  To talk of undoing an historical event is to make a category error.  The temporal locus of change and its contingency or necessity is the present and the present alone.  Only ongoing events possess any 'modal status'.  Of course, once an event is no longer ongoing we can refer to the modal status it possessed while ongoing.  But this requires the past tense.  Socrates drinking the hemlock was a contingent event. It isn't now anything, let alone necessary.

Elsewhere in this piece Bill makes much of the apparent conflict between the implications of presentism and
the widespread commonsensical intuition that 'has been' is better than and therefore different from 'never was.' 
But it seems clear from his examples that the intuition in question is that it is better to be able to look back on a life of achievement and incident than otherwise.  This is a matter of human psychology.  How is it relevant to our understanding of time?

Truth and God

Bill offers an argument to the effect that truth requires God.
Among the truths there are necessary truths such as the laws of logic. Now a truth is a true truth-bearer, a true proposition, say. Nothing can have a property unless it exists. (Call this principle Anti-Meinong). So no proposition can have the property of being true unless the proposition exists. A necessary truth is true in every metaphysically possible world. It follows that a necessarily true proposition exists in every possible world including worlds in which there are no finite minds. But a proposition is a thought-accusative that cannot exist except in, or for, a mind. If there is no God, or rather, if there is no necessarily existent mind, every mind is contingent. A contradiction ensues: there is a world W such that, in W, there exists a thought-accusative that is not the thought-accusative of any mind.
Bill suggests four ways of rebutting the argument.  Here is a fifth.  We can deny that the laws of logic are propositions.  A law of logic is more like a function that given a proposition returns a true proposition.  For example:
LEM: p → p ∨ ¬p
In a world without propositions there is nothing for LEM to work on to deliver a true proposition.   Bill's argument does not rule out such a world.

Tense blindness?

Continuing his critique of Ed Feser's defence of presentism,  Here Bill writes,
Bivalence, as a principle of logic, strikes me as pretty solid.  But now consider: could the applicability of a principle of logic depend on when it is applied?  Could the passage of time restrict its application? Take identity: for any x, x = x.  Everything is self-identical. If this is true for temporally present values of 'x,' I should think it would be true also for past values of 'x.'  I am self-identical, but so is Alfonso, who is wholly past. When he ceased to exist, he didn't cease to be self-identical. When I refer to him now, I refer to the same man I referred to when I referred to him when he was alive. And when I cease to exist,  I won't cease to be self-identical.  I won't become self-diverse, or neither self-identical nor self-diverse.  The mere passage of time cannot bring it about that a principle of logic that applies to a thing in the present ceases to apply to that thing when it become past.
I think Bill is expressing the thought that while he exists we truly say, Bill is self-identical, and that after he has ceased to exist we will truly say, Bill was self-identical.  The change of temporal vantage point does not alter Bill's properties.  It changes the tense in which their possession is expressed.  But look at the wording of the underlined sentences.  Bill seems to be saying that after a thing ceases to be it will remain self-identical.  On the face of it this is inconsistent with Bill's assertion here that nothing can have properties unless it exists, assuming self-identity is a property.

Further,
We are being told that wholly past items exist in that their effects in the present exist.  Here is an example, mine, not Feser's. Tom stood outside of Sally's window a few days ago.  That event on presentism does not exist. It is not just that it does not exist now -- which is trivially true -- it does not exist period. For on presentism, only what exists now exists period or simpliciter.  And yet  Tom's standing outside of Sally's window is not nothing: it actually occurred.
Well, Tom's standing wasn't nothing while it was ongoing.  But it is now, and has been ever since Tom ceased his loitering.  I fully appreciate the eternalist's sense of the 'thereness' and fixedness of the past.  But why does he want to speak of it in the present tense?  What's wrong with the past tense?

Only the Present Exists

Bill offers a definition of presentism:
PP:  Only the present present exists: there are (tenselessly) many times, and every time t is such that everything that exists exists (tenselessly) at t.
I'm not sure I understand this.  Especially the underlined phrase.  Bill goes on to say,
(PP) strikes me as problematic. (PP) implies that there are (tenselessly) many different times. But there cannot be (tenselessly) many times if at each time there is only what exists at that time. For if at each time there is only what exists at that time, then at each time there are no times other than that time.  Is there a formulation of presentism that is consistent with its own truth?  I suspect that there isn't.
The conclusion 'at each time there are no times other than that time' seems intuitively right.  Time has time for at most one time at a time, as it were.  But how does this rule out there being (tenselessly) many times?  I don't think it does.  We can rephrase Bill's sentence as
At each time, if there is only what exists at that time, then there are no times other than that time.
It's clear that the 'at each time' tenses the conditional.  It locates it at a particular time.  But the sentence itself is a universal generalisation over all times, and hence tenseless.  Bill seems to want to speak of times as existents within time, just like spatio-temporal particulars and events.  That's a category mistake, surely?

Returning to Bill's definition (PP), I struggle with the phrase 'exists (tenselessly) at t'.  The 'tenselessly' and the 'at t' together are oxymoronic.

Presentism and Truthmakers

Bill runs through the truthmaker objection to presentism:  truths about the past are truths now and hence need present truthmakers yet under presentism there don't seem to be any.  Let's consider a variant of Bill's example: 
S. Kennedy commanded PT109.  
That's true.  But what in the present grounds this truth? On the face of it, that's a rather weird question.  Why should we expect there to be something about the world now that grounds a truth about the past? But Bill has a point I think: we say that S is true, now.  Bill rightly dismisses Ed Feser's half-hearted attempt to reconcile presentism and truthmakerism.  So what should we say about this puzzle?

Consider this sentence:
T.  Kennedy commands PT109.
In 1943 T was true and we may suppose that in 1943 the world was in some way that made it true.  But now in 2019 that way has long since ceased to be and T is no longer true.  How then do we express the way of 1943 from the vantage point of 2019?  We can't just use T as that is false.  Instead, the rules of English, unchanging over the intervening period, tell us to use S, a modification in tense of T.  The past way, once expressed by T is now expressed by S.  S is not a brute truth.  It's a rule-governed transformation of a made truth.

Presentism again

Bill has been posting once more this month on presentism.  His latest takes to task those who would see 'exists' and 'is present' as synonymous. 
One misunderstanding floated in the Facebook Medieval Logic forum is that presentism in the current analytic philosophy of time is the thesis that 'exists' and 'is present' are synonyms.
Well, according to the SEP some discussion of this view, known as Existence Presentism, has appeared in the literature.

But Bill argues against any synonymity.  First, he says that 'exists' applies to God and to abstract objects well enough, but 'is present' does not.  These things are 'out of time'.  I reply that if these things don't present themselves they hardly stand out (ex+sistere) either.  But let's concentrate on concrete objects. Bill goes on,
Now suppose there are no timeless entities and that everything is 'in time.' It would still not be the case that 'exists' and 'is present' have the same meaning or sense. The following questions make sense and are substantive in the sense that they do not have trivial answers:
Is everything that exists present? Or are there things that exist that are not present?
But the following questions have trivial answers:
Is everything present present? Or are there present things that are not present?
The answer to the first question in the second pair is a tautology and thus trivially true. The answer to the second is a contradiction and thus trivially false.

Since the first two questions are substantive, 'exists' and 'is present' are not synonyms.
Perhaps we should grant this. But if not synonymous then at least co-extensive. Here is an analogy: In the world of plane geometry, 'triangle' and 'trilateral' are co-extensive.  Every triangle is a trilateral and vice versa.  And I suspect that if one were to give a really sharp definition of 'triangle' one would have to bring in trilaterality, and vice versa.  The reason for the co-extensiveness is that the two terms focus on different aspects that all figures in an easily understood class must possess.  Something similar may be happening with our understanding of 'exists' and 'is present'.  Bill's question, Are there things that exist that are not present? may be like asking, Are there triangles that aren't trilateral? Here is a suggestion:  just as the concepts 'triangle' and 'trilateral' can be arithmetised, that is, explained in terms of sets of pairs of real numbers, can we so arithmetise 'exists' and 'is present' (at least for concrete objects)?  We might arrive at a kind of four-dimensionalist picture in which the lives of objects are tube-like regions in  space-time.  The location, orientation, and shape of each object at a given moment is given by a cross-section perpendicular to the time axis [this needs a diagram].  What we mean by 'exists' and 'is present' can be explained in the terms of this model.  Of course, the model could be taken to support an eternalistic understanding of 'tenseless existence' too.  One can 'see' the finite tube-like regions that correspond to objects.  But these four-dimensional sets of points aren't the objects themselves, they are more like biographies of objects.  They contain all the geometric information that is to be known of objects over their lifetimes.

Perhaps also we could use such a model to tease out what the eternalist means by 'tenseless existence' or 'existence without presence'  We could ask if the model gives an adequate history of matter.  If it doesn't, what does it omit or where does it go wrong?  If it does, the eternalist ought to be able to explain what he means in the terms of the model.  That would be illuminating.


Propositions solve puzzles

Bill has lately been writing about propositions.  Correspondent Jacques writes that he finds the literature on propositions confusing and frustrating.  Propositions, he feels, have no explanatory value.  But proposition talk seems to make sense to Bill.  At one point he raises Frege's puzzle:
Tom believes that Cicero is a Roman; Cicero is Tully. But Tom does not believe that Tully is a Roman. Is there not a genuine puzzle here the solution to which will involve a theory of propositions?
My thought is that there is a problem here only for certain kinds of theory of the proposition.  Tom's situation is sufficiently common that we ordinarily do not find it puzzling at all.  The explanation is simple:  Tom has heard of a man called 'Cicero' and knows that he is a Roman.  Tom hasn't heard of a man called 'Tully', or if he has then he's heard nothing to suggest that Tully is a Roman.  Tom doesn't know that 'Tully' is another name for Cicero.  Why is it puzzling that he lacks a belief in this Tully's Roman-ness?  Bill has things back to front:  Propositions don't solve this puzzle---they are the source of the puzzle. 

The housing crisis

On his new Strictly website Bill criticises Peter Van Inwagen's denial of composite objects.  Bill asks,
Why does van Inwagen think that a house of blocks is an object radically different from the blocks that compose it? And why does he think that if there are, say, 1000 blocks, then in the place where the house is, there are 1001 objects? Not only do I find these notions repugnant to my philosophical sense, I suspect that it is their extremism that motivates van Inwagen to recoil from them and embrace something equally absurd, namely, that there are no such things as houses of blocks or inanimate concrete partite entities generally.
Bill is not so keen on PVI's claim that the house is an object radically different from the blocks.  But both agree that it's untenable to say that the house is a 1001th object, in addition, as it were, to the blocks. PVI resolves the problem by denying the house's objecthood; Bill by equivocation on 'exists', though he does not quite spell out how his distinction between 'dependent' and 'independent' existence does the job.

Bill says,
First off, it [the house] is not identical to any one of its proper parts. Second, it is not identical to the mereological sum of its parts: the parts exist whether or not the house exists. From this it follows that there is a sense in which the house is 'something more' than its parts. But surely it is not an object "radically different" from, or numerically additional to, its proper parts. If there is a house of 1000 blocks in a place, there are not 1001 objects or entities in that place. After all, the house is composed of the blocks, and of nothing else.
One problem we face is that the term 'the parts' conveys no information as to their configuration.  So the parts can exist stacked on a pallet, say, without the house existing.  And the stack of blocks would seem to be 'radically different' from the house.  Moreover, most configurations of the blocks, if indeed they composed what we would regard as an object rather than a mere sum, would be radically different from the house.  It's only when the blocks are arranged housewise that the question arises whether they are no longer radically different from the house.  I'm inclined to agree with Bill that the terms 'the house' and 'the blocks arranged housewise' are co-referring.  After all, it makes sense to say,
Bob built/lived in/dismantled the house/the blocks arranged housewise.
But is the house 'numerically additional to' the blocks?  If we have 1000 blocks forming a house does the house count as a 1001th object?  Bill says No, but this seems to me to run counter to our ordinary use of the term 'object'.  When Bob assembles his blocks housewise he brings into existence a new object, namely the house.  The number of house objects in the world increases by one, and the number of block objects remains unchanged.  We might ask, How many triangles are in the figure below?
The answer that's usually expected is five, not four.  It's hard to avoid the conclusion that artifacts are systems of 'overlapping' objects.  A production line might take simple parts, build them into sub-assemblies, combine these into larger assemblies, and then compose these assemblies into the finished artifact.  At every step we have tangible objects, and objects can be parts of other objects.  Whether it makes sense to count all these objects rather depends on what we are counting them for.   To find the mass of the final artifact we would add the masses of just the simple parts.  To include the masses of the sub-assemblies would be a 'double-counting'.  But if we wanted to make an annotated diagram showing the assembly process we would probably want to number both the simple parts and the sub-assemblies.  So my conclusion is that Bill's question,  Does the house exist in addition to the blocks? is rather ill-posed.  We have to get clearer as to what we mean by 'in addition to'. 

Arguments for anti-presentism?

Bill has been discussing David Benatar's The Human Predicament. Benatar introduces what he calls the Existence Requirement,
(ER) In order for something to be bad for somebody, that person must exist at the time it is bad for him.
Many people find this self-evident. Bill argues here that the reason for this is a tacit commitment to presentism. Bill explains presentism via a somewhat murky notion of 'existence simpliciter', but I think the gist is captured by the following,
Consider Tom Petty who died recently. On mortalism, he no longer exists. On presentism, what no longer exists (i.e., what existed but does not now exist) does not exist at all. So on presentism, Petty does not exist at all. If so, dead Petty cannot be subject to harms or deprivations.
So if we have grounds for rejecting presentism, we can also reject Benatar's Existence Requirement.  But why would we want to say that ceasing to exist does not imply ceasing to exist at all?  What residuum of existence remains after something has ceased to exist?  Bill says,
We don't want to say that a dead man becomes nothing after death since he remains a particular, completely determinate, dead man distinct from others. If the dead become nothing after death then all the dead would be the same. If your dead father and your dead mother are both nothing, then there is nothing to distinguish them.
It's difficult to know what to make of this.  My guess is that Bill is conflating a thing with the idea of a thing.  First, 'particular' and 'completely determinate' do not denote properties of  concrete objects like men.  One can contrast 'I have in mind a particular man' with 'I have in mind a man' but 'particular' here qualifies not 'man' but rather the way of having in mind.  'Completely determinate' functions in a similar way.  What would 'partially determinate man' denote?  A partially determinate idea of a man makes sense, however;  we know some of his properties but not others.  Second, 'dead' is an alienating adjective.  If a man is a living thing and 'dead' means non-living then a 'dead man' is a somewhat contradictory conception.  Better to think of 'is dead' as 'has died'.  A dead man is one who has passed through that final event that all living things inevitably come to, and has ceased to be.  Third, to speak of 'becoming nothing' on death is misleading.  Death is the end of all becoming.  One has finally begone, as it were. It's not that the dead lack something to distinguish them. Rather, they are not there to be distinguished one from another.  But this is not to say that my parents were indistinguishable as objects.  Nor is it to say that my thoughts about my parents are now indistinguishable.  Surely I can say, My mother was short and my father was tall. 
Nor do we want to say that a person who dies goes from being actual to being merely possible. There is clearly a distinction between an actual past individual and a merely possible past individual.  Schopenhauer is an actual past individual; his only son Willy is a merely possible past individual
Once again I'm afraid I can't regard 'being actual' and 'being merely possible' as denoting properties of individuals. How these predications are to be understood is not an easy question.  Suffice it to say that there is clearly a problem with  'Schopenhauer's only son Willy' when the philosopher's only child was a daughter.
On the 'growing block' theory, dead Petty exists. (This is obviously not a present-tensed use of 'exists.') He does not exist at present, but he exists in the sense that he belongs to the actual world.  Once actual, always actual. Is this wholly clear? No, but it is tolerably clear and plausible. After all, we are making singular reference to Petty, a concrete actual individual, as we speak, and this is a good reason to hold that he exists, not at present of course, but simpliciter.
The 'growing block' theory sounds like a kind of four-dimensionalism deriving from the physicist's notion of spacetime as a four-dimensional manifold.  We trace the world-lines of the particles that were ever part of Petty and we find that they form a densely packed blob within a certain spacetime region.  We are tempted to identify the contents of this region with Petty himself.  If we think of the ensemble of worldlines of all material particles as the actual world itself, then yes, the Petty blob seems indeed to belong to the actual world.  But this is a mistake.  The worldline of a particle represents not so much the particle itself but rather its history.  Likewise the blob we take to be Petty represents his biography, in mind-numbing detail.  We are confusing a thing with the life it lived.  Of course Petty belonged to the world---I don't see quite what 'actual' adds here---it's just that he does not belong to it any more.  Perhaps Bill is emphasising that Petty was a real man, not, say, a character in a fiction like Spinal Tap.  There is more than a hint here that Bill is appealing to a theory of direct reference.  Petty has to exist in order that we may refer to him.

In the article, Fiction and Alienans Adjectives, I discuss this and related matters with Bill.

Dion and Theon

Bill has a post out on the puzzle of Dion and Theon.  Here is his introduction:
Yesterday, Dion was a whole man, but today he had his left foot successfully amputated. Yesterday, 'Theon' was introduced as a name for that proper part of Dion that consisted of the whole of Dion except his left foot. (To keep the formulation of the puzzle simple, let us assume that dualism is false and that Dion is just a living human organism.) It is clear that yesterday Dion and Theon were numerically distinct individuals, the reason being that yesterday Theon was a proper part of Dion.  (By definition of 'proper part,' if x is a proper part of y, then x is not identical to y.  And if x and y are not identical, then x and y are distinct.  Two items can be distinct without being wholly distinct.)  Now the question is which of the following is true today, after the amputation:
A. Both Dion and Theon exist.
B. Neither Dion nor Theon exist.
C. Dion exists but Theon does not.
D. Theon exists but Dion does not.
The problem is to justify one of these answers. If none of the answers can be rationally justified, then we have a tetralemma which might be taken to suggest that there is something deeply problematic about our ordinary talk and thought about material particulars and their persistence. Given my conception of philosophy as at once both aporetic and revisionist, this would be a welcome result if I could support it.
Bill has arguments against all four limbs.  Against (A) he says,
Because Dion and Theon both existed yesterday, you might think they both exist today. There is, however, a reason to think that it cannot be true that both Dion and Theon exist today after the amputation. The reason is that it is impossible both that (i) Dion and Theon be numerically distinct and that (ii) Dion and Theon occupy exactly the same place and be composed of exactly the same matter arranged in exactly the same way, as is the case today after the amputation.
If Dion and Theon were numerically distinct objects then I'd have to agree with Bill that it's difficult to see how one could so change as to occupy exactly the same space, etc, etc.  However, we can resolve the puzzle by taking Theon to be not an object but to be a parcel of matter.  The two concepts are related but in a sense orthogonal.  We can say that at some moment a certain parcel of matter constitutes an object.  But as time passes the object, especially if it's a living thing, will lose some matter and gain other matter.  Thus at different times it may be constituted by different parcels.  This is to see an object as a process through which matter flows.  But a parcel, by definition,  always contains the same matter.  And while at any moment the matter of an object occupies a connected region of space, a parcel of matter can find itself distributed over multiple disconnected regions of space.  So we can say that yesterday two disjoint parcels of matter jointly constituted Dion:  Theon, as defined above, and the matter of Dion's left foot, Pedro, say.  Today, Pedro has become detached and Theon alone constitutes Dion.  There is no problem with Dion and Theon occupying the same space.  That is what it means for a parcel of matter instantaneously to constitute an object.  Bill continues,
Could we say that Dion and Theon both survived the operation but are now one and the same? This is impossible given the Indiscernibility of Identicals. For today, after the operation, something is true of Dion which is not true of Theon, namely, that he, Dion, once had two feet. So Dion and Theon cannot be or have become identical.
We do not have to say that today Dion and Theon are the same, only that Theon alone now constitutes Dion.  There is no problem with an object and the parcel of matter that currently constitutes it having distinct pasts and distinct futures. 

Does Deflationism Rule Out Relativism?

Bill thinks so.  He summarises:
No deflationary theory of truth is a substantive theory of truth.  All relativistic theories are substantive theories.  Ergo, no deflationary theory of truth is a relativistic theory of truth.
Yet it seems to me that to arrive at this dichotomy both the deflationist and the relativist have 'factored out' the most significant relativistic aspect of all this.  Namely that the truth of 'snow is white', 'grass is green', and the rest, is relative to, or at least dependent upon, the existence of speakers of English.  This becomes obvious if we render
'Snow is white' is true
not as the bald
Snow is white
but as
The stuff we English speakers call 'snow' is the colour we call 'white'.
It's as if the deflationist, having forgotten this, is happy with an empty theory of truth.  The relativist has also forgotten this but isn't happy with the result, and scouts around for an idea to fill the vacant space.

Perhaps another way of putting this is to say that if we are looking for a truthmaker for 'snow is white', then we need to look beyond snow and beyond white and include, as part of what makes 'snow is white' true, we English speakers ourselves.

Again, Bill says,
One version of deflationism is Quine's disquotationalism according to which the function of the truth-predicate is to remove the quotation marks from a quoted sentence. Thus "'Snow is white' is true" says exactly what 'Snow is white' says, namely, that snow is white. And "'Grass is green' is true" says exactly what 'Grass is green' says, namely, that grass is green. And so on. There is nothing common to these sentences in virtue of which they are true. 'True' is just a device of disquotation; it does not pick out a genuine property.
But we can render these sentences as
The stuff we English speakers call 'snow' is the colour we call 'white',
The stuff we English speakers call 'grass' is the colour we call 'green',
and it's apparent that these sentences have a common form in which the correct word for a certain colour property and the correct name for a certain stuff are used to assert that the stuff has that property, and it does. Is this irrelevant? Naive correspondence?


Expressing 'Something exists'

Bill returns to the limitations of language and logic.  He offers the following 'surely valid and sound' argument,
1. Stromboli exists,
Ergo
2. Something exists,
and shows that the attempt to render this using the so-called Quine formula for 'exists'  results in a 'murky travesty of the original luminous argument'.

I agree that he ends with a murky travesty.  But he doesn't start with a valid argument.  The name 'Stromboli' is plucked out of the sky without introduction.  This can lead to even murkier depths.  See Bill's piece Deducing John McCain from the Principle of Identity and especially the comment thread which dives deep into the mud at the bottom.  Interestingly, Bill correctly diagnoses the problem, namely that a supplementary premise is needed:
1.5 'Stromboli' refers to something that exists.
Putting this back in at the beginning we get
1. 'Stromboli' refers to something that exists.
2. Stromboli exists.
3. Something exists.
Substituting the equivalent Anglo-Saxon for the Latinate 'refers' and 'exists' in (1) we get
1. There is something called 'Stromboli'.
2. Stromboli exists.
3. Something exists.
That's now valid.  (2) is seen to be redundant and (3) is seen to be contained in (1). To render this in the language of the predicate calculus we first prise apart 'something' as 'some thing':
1. There is some thing called 'Stromboli'.
2. Stromboli exists.
3. Some thing exists.
This is equivalent to
1. ∃x.Thing(x)
2. Thing(Stromboli)
3. ∃x.Thing(x).
(2) is Existential elimination from (1) and (3) could be seen as Existential Introduction (aka generalisation) from (2).

The murky travesty suggests to Bill that
What I am getting at is that standard logic cannot state its own presuppositions.  It presupposes that everything exists (that there are no non-existent objects) and that something exists.  But it lacks the expressive resources to state these presuppositions.  The attempt to state them results either in  nonsense -- e.g. 'for some x, x' -- or a proposition other than the one that needs expressing.
Well, I'm not so sure about all that.  If Bill could let go of the bette noire of the Quine formula he would see that the predicate calculus language does better than he allows.  But he could still attack the murkiness of the predicate Thing().  [He does somewhere---I'll look it up],  As I use it here it's equivalent to Object() or Individual(), all candidates for the concept at the root of the Porphyrean Tree.  If Bill seeks the presuppositions  that cannot be expressed in the logical language, he might consider whether discrete individuals with discrete properties can indeed coherently be separated from the Bulk, ideas which do seem integral with the structure of the language.  But the existence of said individuals can be expressed.  That, as Quine says, is what the existential quantifier does.

Existence, the Bulk, and the Discursive Framework

Bill’s recent theological discussions have taken an interesting turn.  God is temporarily out of the picture while we delve into the limitations inherent in the Discursive Framework.  This, if I understand Bill, refers to the nexus of everyday language and logic, the thought that can take place within that structure, and by extension those aspects of reality that can be grasped within it.

With The Two Opposites of 'Nothing' and the Logical Irreducibility of Being he returns, in part, to his attack on the 'Thin theory of Existence'.  For Bill, existence is 'thick'---there is much that we can and must say about it.  But for Bill, the thin theory is exhausted by a certain formula of Quine's, viz,
y is/exists =df for some x, y = x,
which seems to reduce existence to the logic of identity.

We can agree that Quine's attempt at a definition of 'exists', if that is what it is, is useless.  But do we then have to agree with Bill when he says,
I find it self-evident that the existence of a concrete individual is an intrinsic determination that makes it be as opposed to not be?
Far from finding this self-evident, I'm having trouble attaching any sense at all to it.  If asked, What makes a concrete (material) individual be? I'd have to say something like this.

First of all there is an undifferentiated mass of stuff I call the Bulk.  Bits of stuff break away from the Bulk and adhere together.  When enough stuff sticks together for long enough we say there is a discrete individual, though we know that the most interesting individuals are also continuously swapping their stuff with the Bulk, though remaining broadly the same.  And we also know that the ways of stuff are such that every individual eventually loses its coherence, its stuff subsides back into the Bulk, and it ceases to exist. What I find interesting about this is that our best ideas about stuff aren't couched in terms of individuals at all, though our everyday language reflects the centrality of individuals and their properties to our lives.  If Bill's notion of the Discursive Framework is restricted to what can be said in the language of individuals then I can agree with him that it has limited reach.  But he hasn't quite said that.

Ask me about the existence of the Bulk and I simply say that it is a necessary being.  Without it we could not exist and the question could not be asked.  Beyond it we cannot go.

Intrinsic character?

Ed Feser finds some sticks in Nietzsche with which to beat the liberalism of New Atheists.  I was more interested in some of Nietzsche's comments on science.  Following some animadversions on the etymology of the term 'law of nature' Ed summarises,
A major theme of The Will to Power’s treatment of science is the idea that, despite having largely stripped from our notion of nature that which reflects the contingent perspective of the observer, physics still -- insofar as it rests on sensory evidence -- inevitably reflects that perspective to some extent.  Of course, to remedy this, physics tries to frame its description of nature in the abstract language of mathematics.  But Nietzsche anticipates Bertrand Russell’s theme (to which I have often called attention) that insofar as physics gives us only knowledge of the physical world’s mathematical structure, it does not give us knowledge of the intrinsic character of that which has that structure, and thus actually tells us relatively little about objective reality.
He concludes that one would be
hopelessly naïve in supposing that [] and that science gives us much in the way of objective knowledge.
This I find puzzling.  What does Ed mean by the 'intrinsic character' of, presumably, the physical world, and what does he think possessing knowledge of this would be like?  There is a clue in a Nietzsche quote:
The calculability of the world, the expressibility of all events in formulas -- is this really "comprehension"? How much of a piece of music has been understood when that in it which is calculable and can be reduced to formulas has been reckoned up?
The performance of a piece of music can be a complex business, as can our response to it.  Maybe there's not much more to comprehend in an electron other than its mass, charge, and spin?  Nietzsche and Ed seem to think that there is:  that the world might be knowable in a way analogous to the way a piece of music or perhaps a person can be known.  A rather romantic idea, I think.

Nietzsche also says,
It is an illusion that something is known when we possess a mathematical formula for an event: it is only designated, described; nothing more!

Mechanistic theory can… only describe processes, not explain them.
Perhaps, in the end, description is all we can achieve, in any domain.  I could be content with that.


Max Black exists!

No, not the philosopher.   Bill V. is fond of demonstrating his notion of 'singular existence' by reference to one of his cats.  'Max exists!' he exclaims, and his readers can imagine the accompanying thump on the table.  I've said many times now that this statement is true but uninformative, given that Bill must already have told us 'I have a cat named 'Max Black'', or some such.  I guess it behoves me to explain why our language has such constructions.  For if we think that language evolves by the elimination of the uninformative and the redundant, then surely such locutions should vanish?

Firstly, a singular existential claim like 'Max exists!' serves to emphasise and reinforce a general existence claim.  If Bill informs me that he has a cat called 'Max', that Max is such-and-such and has done so-and-so, and I am looking somewhat quizzical, Bill may say 'But Max really exists!' in order to urge on me the truth of what he is telling me. 

A second use for the singular existential occurs when knowledge by description turns into knowledge by acquaintance.  I know Max only by the descriptions Bill writes in his blog.  All knowledge from description is held but tentatively, at least at first.  We all know that what we read in the papers and what people tell us can be false, wilfully or mistakenly.  If I were to travel to Arizona and meet Max in the flesh I would come to know him by acquaintance.  I might well exclaim 'So Max really exists!'  Though I have no doubt that what Bill has told us about Max is true, nevertheless I am reassured when knowledge by description is confirmed by acquaintance.  Being the co-operative social creatures that we are this phenomenon lies deep in our psychology.  We are obliged to rely on information from others but are aware that we can be deceived.  So we are constantly on our guard.

Univocity of 'exists(s)'?

Bill is much exercised by an argument of Peter van Inwagen that he summarises thus:
a. Number-words are univocal.
b. 'Exist(s)' is a number-word.
Therefore
c. 'Exist(s)' is univocal.
He explains that
(b) captures the Fregean claim that ". . . existence is analogous to number. Affirmation of existence is in fact nothing but denial of the number nought." (Foundations of Arithmetic, p. 65)
He goes on,
Consider my cat Max Black. I exclaim, 'Max exists!' My exclamation expresses a truth. Contrast the singular 'Max exists' with the general 'Cats exist.' I agree with van Inwagen that the general 'Cats exist' is equivalent to 'The number of cats is one or more.' But it is perfectly plain that the singular 'Max exists' is not equivalent to 'The number of Max is one or more.' For the right-hand-side of the equivalence is nonsense, hence necessarily neither true nor false.
So Bill thinks that 'exist(s)' in 'Max exists' has a different meaning to 'exist' in 'Cats exist', and he denies PVI's univocity claim.  After some more argumentation he concludes,
So if you want to maintain the univocity of 'exist(s)' across general and singular existentials, you must either conflate the 'is' of identity' with the 'is' of predication, or embrace haecceity properties.
Bill has always maintained that there is an important distinction to be drawn between what he calls 'singular existence', exemplified by such as 'Max exists', and 'general existence', as in 'Cats exist'.   For all the ten years or so I have been reading him I have yet to understand what he is getting at.  For suppose that Bill's cat Max is the only cat there is. Then Max is our 'witness' that there is at least one cat. That Max exists shows that cats exist.  And if cats exist then there is at least one cat, in this case exactly one, and Bill has chosen to call him 'Max'.  I can't see how the verb 'to exist' is being used differently in the two cases.

Unfortunately, PVI's argument weighing in on the side of this univocity thesis gives Bill a hostage.  For it allows him to come up with 'the number of Max is one or more' as a paraphrase of 'Max exists'.  Besides being ungrammatical English, Bill can argue that any attempt to make sense of this leads to unacceptable conclusions.  So PVI has scored an own-goal.

I argue for the univocity thesis as follows.  Observe what Bill says,
Consider my cat Max Black. I exclaim, 'Max exists!'
He says that his exclamation expresses a truth.  Indeed it does.  We can see it's true because his first sentence, which is actually imperative, tells us that Bill has a cat whom he calls 'Max'.  In other words, some cat, in fact the one Bill calls 'Max', exists.  Bill's exclamation merely confirms, or emphasises, what we know already, namely, that there is a cat and that Bill calls him 'Max'.  But this is a general existential claim. The singular claim 'Max exists' is really a disguised general claim.  I say that all existential claims are in fact general and the question of univocity does not arise.

Deducing John McCain?

In the course of Bill's recent discussion on the Univocity of 'Exist(s)', I recalled a much earlier posting where a lack of what we might call 'logical hygiene' leads to much confusion.  This is especially evident in the comments.  Bill offers the following conundrum:
1. (x)(x = x) (Principle of Identity)
Therefore
2. John McCain = John McCain (From 1 by Universal Instantiation)
Therefore
3. (Ex)(x = John McCain) (From 2 by Existential Generalization)
Therefore
4. John McCain exists. (From 3 by translation into ordinary idiom)
Correctly, in my view, Bill identifies the trouble in the move from (1) to (2), though he tables a couple of other panaceas that he says are 'essentially equivalent'.  He says that we need a supplementary premise, namely,
1.5 'John McCain' refers to something that exists.
I would not put it quite that way myself.  The notion of 'reference' is a big topic that we have discussed endlessly at Maverick Philosopher, and the 'something that exists' seems to leave open the possibility that there might be something that doesn't exist, and we will be on the road to Meinongia.  So for simplicity I prefer to replace Bill's (1.5) with my own variant,
DB. There is something named 'John McCain'.
I call this the mention before use rule for proper names. This is just as effective as Bill's proposal for removing the rabbit out of a hat result that the existence of the contingent John McCain 'is validly deducible from an a priori knowable necessary truth of logic', as Bill puts it.  But in this response to my suggestion, Bill seems to reject the idea, saying that I 'seem to be denying the very possibility of coherent fictional discourse' and that he doesn't see the need for my brand of logical hygiene.  We await with interest.

Reference: do we agree?

Bill offers us some distinctions for our consideration.

A. Referring terms versus non-referring terms. 'London' is presumably a referring term as is 'Scollay Square.' 'And,' 'or' and other logical words are presumably not referring terms. Surely not every bit of language plays a referential role. Some terms are syncategorematical or synsemantic.

OK.

B. Purported reference versus successful reference. Asserting 'Scollay Square is in Boston,' I purport to refer to Scollay Square. But I fail: the square no longer exists. But if I say 'Trafalgar Square is in London,' I succeed in referring to Trafalgar Square.

I think there is room for some notion of unsuccessful reference but it isn't what Bill is getting at here.  If I say to you out of the blue, 'I am having dinner with Jane tonight', and you have no idea who Jane is because I haven't introduced the name 'Jane' into the conversation, then I think I have made an unsuccessful reference (or maybe no reference at all).  But Scollay Square was a well-known square that used to be in Boston, so the name 'Scollay Square' hardly fails to refer in this sense. 

C. Guaranteed successful reference versus contingent successful reference. It is not obvious that the first-personal singular pronoun is a referring term. Elizabeth Anscombe, following Wittgenstein, denies that it is. But I say that 'I' is a referring term. Suppose it is. Then it is guaranteed against reference failure: a correct use of 'I' cannot fail to have a referent and it cannot fail to have the right referent. The cooperation of the world is not needed for success in this instance. If I try to make a reference using 'I' I will succeed every time. But the cooperation of the world is needed for successful reference via proper names such as 'Scollay Square.' If I try to make a reference using a proper name I can fail if the name has no (existing) bearer, or if I get hold of the wrong (existing) bearer.

Consider: 'I am Ozymandias, King of Kings.  Look upon my works ye mighty, and despair.'  Is this a case of guaranteed successful reference?

D. Reference versus referents. The referent of a term is not to be confused with its reference. 'Scollay Square' is a referring term and it has a reference, but it has no referent. Not all reference is successful reference.

I don't get the distinction Bill is making here.

E. Mental reference versus linguistic reference. Necessarily, to think is to think of or about. Thinking is object-directed. Thinking is essentially and intrinsically referential. It can occur wordlessly. It is arguably at the basis of all reference, including reference via language. Just as guns don't kill people, but people kill people using guns; words don't refer to things, but people refer to things using words.

Agree with the last clause.  Disagree with the rest, which I think is back to front.

F. Extralinguistic versus purely intralinguistic reference. Consider the following sentence from a piece of pure fiction: 'Tom's wife left him.' The antecedent of the pronoun 'him' is Tom.' This back reference is purely intralinguistic. It is plausible to maintain that the only reference exhibited by 'him' is back reference, and that 'him' does not pick up the extralinguistic reference of 'Tom,' there being no such reference to pick up. Then we would have case of purely intralinguistic reference.

Yes, but 'Tom' could be an intra-linguistic back reference to the indefinite 'a chap' in 'I met a chap called Tom in the pub last night.  Tom's wife has left him'.  And this could all be made up.  Then what?  We need to clarify what extra-linguistic reference is.

G. Extralinguistic per se reference versus extralinguistic per alium reference. 'Max' names (is the name of) one of my two black cats; 'Manny' names (is the name of) the other. These are cases of extralinguistic per se reference. But 'he' in the following sentence, while it refers extralinguistically, refers per alium, 'through another':
Max is sick because he ate too much.
The extralinguistic reference of the pronoun piggy-backs on the the extralinguistic reference of its antecedent. The pronoun has no extralinguistic referential contribution of its own to make.

Leave out 'extralinguistic' and it still makes sense.  'Max' links back to the indefinite 'one of my cats' in the second sentence where the name is introduced.

H. Grammatical pronouns can function pronominally, indexically, and quantificationally. Consider first a sentence featuring a pronoun that has an antecedent:
Peter always calls before he visits.
In this sentence, 'Peter' is the antecedent of the third-person singular pronoun 'he.' It is worth noting that an antecedent needn't come before the term for which it is the antecedent:
After he got home, Peter poured himself a drink.
In this sentence 'Peter' is the antecedent of 'he' despite occurring after 'he' in the order of reading. The antecedency is referential rather than temporal. In both of these cases, the reference of 'he' is supplied by the antecedent. The burden of reference is borne by the antecedent. So there is a clear sense in which the reference of 'he' in both cases is not direct, but mediated by the antecedent. The antecedent is referentially prior to to the pronoun for which it is the antecedent. But suppose I point to Peter and say
He smokes cigarettes.
This is an indexical use of 'he.' Part of what makes it an indexical use is that its reference depends on the context of utterance: I utter a token of 'he' while pointing at Peter, or nodding in his direction. Another part of what makes it an indexical is that it refers directly, not just in the sense that the reference is not routed through a description or sense associated with the use of the pronoun, but also in that there is no need for an antecedent to secure the reference. Now suppose I say
I smoke cigars.
This use of 'I' is clearly indexical, although it is a purely indexical (D. Kaplan) inasmuch as there is no need for a demonstration: I don't need to point to myself when I say 'I smoke cigars.' And like the immediately preceding example, there is no need for an antecedent to nail down the reference of 'I.' Not every pronoun needs an antecedent to do a referential job.

In fact, it seems that no indexical expression, used indexically, has or could have an antecedent. Hector-Neri Castaneda puts it like this:
Whether in oratio recta or in oratio obliqua, (genuine) indicators have no antecedents. ("Indicators and Quasi-Indicators" reprinted in The Phenomeno-Logic of the I, p. 67)
For a quantificational use of a grammatical pronoun, consider
He who hesitates is lost.
(One can imagine Yogi Berra asking, 'You mean Peter?') Clearly, 'he' does not function here pronominally -- there is no antecedent -- not does it function indexically. It functions like the bound variable in
For any person x, if x hesitates, then x is lost.
I am tempted to say that indexical uses have implicit antecedents.  If Bill points to Peter in my presence and says, 'This is Peter. He smokes', then I can perform for myself the introduction, 'There is a man called Peter'. More needs to be said on this.

I. Reference via names, via definite descriptions, via indefinite descriptions. 'Socrates,' 'the wisest Greek philosopher,' 'a famous Greek philosopher of antiquity.' Do they all refer? Or only the first two? Or only the first?

As words none of them refers in Bill's 'extralinguistic' sense.  But I think Bill's distinction between words and uses of words may be useful.  For we could say that Bill refers to Socrates by using these words in certain contexts. I'd like to see this idea developed more.  The key point is that BIll's 'extra-linguistic reference' is something that we can achieve by using words in the real world.  It's not something inherent in the words themselves.

J. Successful reference to the nonexistent versus failed reference to the existent. Does 'Pegasus' fail to refer to something that exists or succeed in referring to what does not exist? Meinongian semantics cannot be dismissed out of hand!

I reject Bill's notion of 'successful/failed reference' and hence the question too.

K. Speaker's reference versus semantic reference. 'The man in the corner drinking champagne is the new dean.' Suppose there is exactly one man in the corner drinking water out of a champagne glass. Has the speaker of the mentioned sentence succeeded in referring to the man in the corner? Presumably yes despite the man's not satisfying the definite description in subject position. Here speaker's reference and semantic reference come apart. This connects up with distinction (E) above. 

I think it connects up with (I).

Purely Fictional Objects

It looks as if Bill's musings on 'same God' have led him back to What Problem Does Literary Fiction Pose?,
a reworking of an earlier post that we have already discussed.  He offers the following aporia:
  1. Purely fictional objects do not exist.
  2. There are true  sentences about purely fictional objects, e.g., 'Sherlock Holmes is a detective' and 'Sherlock Holmes is purely fictional.'
  3. If a sentence of the form Fa is true, then there exists an x such that 'a' refers to x.
For me, alarm bells were ringing before I reached (3). If we conjoin (1) and (2) we get
There are no PFOs yet there are true sentences about them,
and we should ask what the them refers to. Compare with
There are no leprechauns but there are true sentences about them.
So we can reject (1) and (2) without worrying too deeply about what it means to be a PFO.  I have claimed earlier that 'purely fictional', like 'mythological', 'past', 'intentional', and others, are not adjectives in the ordinary sense.

The Same God?

Bill has been running a series of posts recently asking whether the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim gods are the same god, whether Christians, Jews, and Muslims believe in or worship the same god, and so on.  Earliest post here and work forward.

Bill seems to think the answer depends on one's theory of reference, and in particular on a notion of 'successful (or otherwise) reference'.  I'm not so sure.

This has been a large discussion ranging over multiple postings and indeed websites, so I may well have overlooked something.  But all contributors so far seem to be using the phrase 'the same X' as if it were transparent and unproblematic.  If only it were so.  It seems to me that 'the same X' is ambiguous between what we might call a 'de re' sense and a 'de dicto' sense.  If I say,
It looks identical but this is not the same car as the one involved in the accident,
then I'm clearly using the de re sense.  There are two distinct individuals in play.  If I say,
He wasn't the same man after the accident, 
then I'm using the de dicto sense.   There is just one individual in play but two distinct descriptions or conceptions of it.

Everyone agrees that the Christian, Jewish, and Muslim conceptions of God/Yahweh/Allah are divergent, so they cannot be the same, de dicto.  Could they be the same in the de re sense?  This seems to be where the concerns with reference come in.  But I think the answer here is quite simple. If the founding scriptures of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are true, then God, Yahweh, and Allah are different names for the one god.  If, in particular, there is a unique creator of the world, called God by Christians, Yahweh by Jews, and Allah by Muslims, then these names refer to a single individual.  This much seems inescapable.  But these are big ifs.

And no theorising about reference in sight, to boot.

James Dean

  1. James Dean no longer exists.
  2. Somebody no longer exists.
  3. There is somebody who no longer exists.
  4. There exists somebody who no longer exists.
  5. There exists x such that x does not exist.
(1) is undoubtedly true.  Each statement seems to follow from its predecessor.  But (5) can't be right.  Where do we go wrong?

God and the world

Bill has been discussing the relation, if it is one, between God and the world.  He offers Gilson's account in terms of 'participation'.  But he finds it problematic.  He says,
I exist, but contingently. My Being is not my own, but received from another, from God, who is Being itself. So my Being is God's Being. But I am not God or anything else. So I have my own Being that distinguishes me numerically from everything else. So I am and am not that in which I participate.

Gilson does not show a convincing way around this contradiction.
Somewhat to my surprise, I don't find this problematic at all.  Suppose a wave could speak. It might say,
I exist, but contingently.  My Waviness is not my own, but received from another, from Ocean, who is Waviness itself.  So my Waviness is Ocean's Waviness.  But I am not Ocean or anything else.  So I have my own Waviness that distinguishes me numerically from everything else.  So I am and am not that in which I participate.
There is a reading of the wave's speech that makes it utterly unproblematic and indeed obvious and could not be otherwise.  And to this extent Bill's 'contradiction' is unproblematic too.  But we mustn't read it too literally.  There is a temptation to see Waviness as an entity in itself.  Especially as it may be 'received from another', as a gift, as it were.  And also because it supposedly 'distinguishes me numerically from everything else'.  If Bill's version is contradictory I say it is so to the extent that it hypostasises Being.  This is where Bill and I part company.  For I can't see Being as a gift or distinguishing principle.  Without Being I am nothing so to whom is the gift?  Likewise, in what sense was I undistinguished from all else before Being was granted me?  I can give an answer to these questions, but pace Bill's intentions in writing this piece, it's a profoundly materialistic one.


On Rossian physical indeterminacy

Further to understanding what Ross(*) means by 'the indeterminacy of the physical'.  Here is the operation table of a three-bit wide adder.  I have arbitrarily labelled the inputs and outputs.

abcdefghi
aidbdfcdag
bdddddddbd
cbdddgddcd
dddddddddd
efdgdaibec
fcdddigdfb
gddddbddgd
habcdefghi
igdadcbdid

This does not, prima facie, look like addition.  However, symmetry about the main diagonal shows that ⊕ is commutative.  Much laborious checking reveals that ⊕ is also associative.  More obviously, the element h under ⊕ behaves as an identity element:  h⊕x=x and x⊕h=x, for every x.  Further, the element d under ⊕ acts as an absorbing element: d⊕x=d and x⊕d=d, for every x.   Reordering the table with h first and d last gives us this table.

h a b c e f g i d
h
h a b c e f g i d
a
a i d b f c d g d
b
b d d d d d d d d
c
c b d d g d d d d
e
e f d g a i b c d
f
f c d d i g d b d
g
g d d d b d d d d
i
i g d d c b d d d
d
d d d d d d d d d

Perhaps the next thing to note is that the element d crops up a good deal.  Why this is will emerge shortly.  But note that, in combination under ⊕ with the other elements, h produces one d, e produces two ds, a three ds, f four ds, i five ds, c six ds, g seven ds, and b eight ds.  Re-arranging the table in order of increasing 'd-productivity' gives us the following.

h e a f i c g b d
h
h e a f i c g b d
e
e a f i c g b d d
a
a f i c g b d d d
f
f i c g b d d d d
i
i c g b d d d d d
c
c g b d d d d d d
g
g b d d d d d d d
b
b d d d d d d d d
d
d d d d d d d d d

Some structure is starting to emerge.  Note now that
a=e⊕e,
a⊕e=e⊕e⊕e=f,
f⊕e=e⊕e⊕e⊕e=i,
i⊕e=e⊕e⊕e⊕e⊕e=c.
c⊕e=e⊕e⊕e⊕e⊕e⊕e=g,
g⊕e=e⊕e⊕e⊕e⊕e⊕e⊕e=b,
b⊕e=e⊕e⊕e⊕e⊕e⊕e⊕e⊕e,
so we might relabel a as 2e, f as 3e, i as 4e, and so on. We can also relabel h as Z, e as 1U, and d as ⟂.  This gives us a final version of the combination table for ⊕ as this:

 ⊕ Z 1U 2U 3U 4U 5U 6U 7U
Z
Z 1U 2U 3U 4U 5U 6U 7U
1U 1U 2U 3U 4U 5U 6U 7U
2U
2U 3U 4U 5U 6U 7U
3U
3U 4U 5U 6U 7U
4U
4U 5U 6U 7U
5U
5U 6U 7U
6U
6U 7U
7U
7U


We can see now that the table is generated by the elements Z and 1U.  Any non-Z element can be reached by combining a number of 1Us with ⊕, and in general, nU⊕mU=(n+m)U, unless n+m >7, in which case the result is ⟂.    Compare now the table for ⊕ with that of addition, +, shown below.

+ 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ...
0 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 ...
1 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 ...
2
2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 ...
3 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 ...
4 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 ...
5 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 ...
6 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 ...
7 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 ...
: : : : : : : : :
But for a relabelling of the elements the tables are identical in the top left corner.  There are, however, two significant differences between them,
  • the ⊕ table is finite whereas the + table is infinite, as indicated by the ellipses,
  • the ⊕ table contains mysterious ⟂ entries in certain places.
It should be clear that ⟂ is the adder's signal that it can't give an answer because the correct result requires more than the adder's three bits for its encoding.  This is the equivalent of the human calculator running out of paper while doing a sum.  That the + table is infinite may be the source of Ross's notion of indeterminacy.  For it would seem that the ⊕ table could be extended in infinitely many ways that are not compatible with +.  There appears to be an unanswerable question, Which of these extensions is the ⊕ table 'really' a small part of?      




(*)  Immaterial Aspects of Thought, The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 89, No. 3, (Mar., 1992), pp. 136-150 (available at http://www.jstor.org/stable/2026790)