Immanuel Kant famously turned the empiricism-rationalism debate on its head by proposing that, instead of our mental representations of reality having to conform to objective reality, it is objective reality that must conform to our mental representations (if such objects are to be represented at all). Kant, of course, was steeped in ideas that the categories of understanding, which shape our experience of the external world, issue from some transcendental apperception – essentially a soul, or unique human rationality.
In my most recent post, I argued for the coherence of analyticity by proposing that concepts are things that exist out there in the real world (i.e. are mind independent). I’ve come to rethink this ontology of concepts.
What are the laws of logic, and are they universal? Are the laws of logic something that exists “out there” and our symbolic and syntactical conventions merely a way of describing it? Or do our logical propositions and assertions dictate the truth? This may seem like an easy question to answer, but not everyone agrees.
When we speak of a property or trait instantiated by an object, we take two assumptions into account: the object in question has a property Bo which causes it to interact with the surrounding world in a particular way, and the perceiver has the property Bp which causes them to perceive those interactions in a particular way. This is an asymmetric relationship between perceiver and perceived.
When we say that we possess a table, then we have a tangible idea of what this means: I own an x, such that x is a table, and that specific table present to me now is the referent for the name “table” where x = table. But what about something non-physical, such as love? Or numbers? Or freedom? Or boredom? And so on.
A possible world is a way in which it is logically possible (does not result in contradiction) for reality to exist. There is a possible world in which everything is exactly the same, but it is 1 degree warmer than it is now; there is a possible world in which COVID-19 never existed; there is a possible world in which everything is exactly the same, but there is +1 more person existing right now. What is the nature of these possible worlds, and specifically, what is the nature of my relationship to myself in these possible worlds?
Critical Theory is a methodology of critiquing power relations within society. It takes as axiomatic the new-Marxist analysis of oppressor-oppressed dynamics being inherent in all human relationships. As such, Critical Theory is not about whether such power dynamics exist, but in what ways they manifest. There is little talk about why these dynamics manifest.
The late 19th / early 20th century philosopher and mathematician Gottlob Frege famously came up with the Sense and Reference distinction in order to clarify issues in his logical system. Briefly put, the reference of a word (I’ll use my favorite example of “table”) is the actual object that the word signifies: the referent of the word “table” is the actual, physical table existing out there in the real world. The sense of a word is the way in which it exists as a psychological representation: the sense of “table” is how I conceive the table in my mind. This was important to Frege because examples where we have two (or more) words that signify a single referent can have a different sense, and therefore lead to different inferences, even if the referent is the same. How, though, might we relate these ideas?
When someone utters a word that reaches your ear, the sound gets broken down into component waves via Fourier transform which vibrate within cochlear fluid and cause the movement of mechanoreceptor hair cells at the organ of Corti to produce electrochemical signals in the form of neurotransmitter release whereby the movement of the fluid stimulates the filaments of individual cells receptor cells to become open to receive the potassium-rich endolymph, causing the cell to produce an action potential which is transmitted through the spiral ganglion to the auditory portion of the vestibulo-cochlear nerve to the the brain, which signals to the cortex with new information that is then compared to predictions based on prior experience in a Bayesian fashion to produce the phenomenology of the experience of hearing, interpreting, and understanding the word. But where (and how), in all this, does the phenomenology of meaning arise?
For those who may be paying attention to my recent posts, I am currently reading the collection of essays Metametaphysics, which talks about how metaphysics ought to be done. There is a lot of discussion about whether problems in ontology, such as mereological sums (if there is a tablewise arrangement of atoms, does some “new” object that we call a table come into existence, or is that just a shorthand way we talk about such tablewise arrangements of atoms?), are just semantic. In other words, when I say that a table is nothing more than a tablewise arrangement of atoms, and you say that a table is something above and beyond the tablewise arrangement of atoms, are we simply just using the word “table” in different ways, thus resulting in the differences in how we conceptualize what a table is? Here I am going to discuss (more so than review) the first three essays in this collection.
Metametaphysics, edited by David J. Chalmers, David Manley, and Ryan Wasserman, Copyright 2009, Oxford University Press, 540 pages
Essay 1: “Composition, Colocations, and Metaontology” by Karen Bennett
Essay 2: “Ontological Anti-Realism” by David J. Chalmers
Essay 3: “Carnap and Ontological Pluralism” by Matti Eklund
Ontological indeterminacy is when we don’t have a way to map our conceptual understanding of existence onto actual existence. Or, as Allen Ginsburg defined it: “Ontological indeterminacy (OI) involves incompatible conceptual systems being applicable to a domain with equal empirical adequacy”. But what happens when we don’t have empirical adequacy, such as with quantum field theory and chaos theory?
What is it that makes an object the thing that it is? Is it some kind of substance onto which properties are predicated? Can two (or more) things colocalize (there exists in a single region of spacetime both a thing I call my hand and a thing I call my fist)? In what follows, I am going to riff on some ideas I have for a theory of thingness.