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06/24/2014

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Ambrose

In what sense can it be an "empirical fact" that in non-actual worlds "we" use words in this way or that way?

And could that kind of fact be discovered by Kripke's methods? (Could a merely possible Kripke in some other world learn the facts of English usage in 2014 by reflecting on "what we'd say" under this or that imaginary scenario?)

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: Thanks for your comment. I think you're misunderstanding the claim a bit. The claim is not that we use terms as rigid designators *in* all possible worlds (there are of course possible worlds in which we use words very differently). The claim, rather, is that *we*--in this world--apply the terms as rigid designators in *referring* to objects in other possible worlds.

This is standard semantic 2-dimensionalism stuff (I think, if I remember the view correctly). We need to distinguish:

(1) How language users at a world (our world, W) use terms to refer to objects in *other* possible worlds (W*, W**, etc.)

(2) How language users in those other possible worlds (W*, W**, etc.) use *their* language to refer to things in their world and other possible worlds.

(1) is an ordinary empirical fact about how we use language (comprised by, yes, our *dispositions* to respond to Kripke-cases). (2) is a modal fact about how people in other possible worlds use language.

Anthony Carreras

Very interesting post, Marcus. I'm curious what you make of the twin-earth thought experiment, where we are supposed to imagine that the clear stuff that people drink that falls from the sky and comes out of faucets, that everyone calls "water," is actually a chemical substance called XYZ. The big question here is supposed to be something like, "Well, is XYZ *water*, or not?" I never got why that question was supposed to be interesting. I thought to myself, well XYZ is not H2O, so they are different substances. XYZ is what they on twin-earth happen to call "water," H2O is what we on earth happen to call "water". What else is there to say? The question, "But is XYZ *really* water, or not?" seems like it must result from a misunderstanding. It's posed as if there is some deep metaphysical matter at stake when there really is none. Is this sort of along the lines of what you are arguing, Marcus? (Disclaimer - I haven't thought about this stuff in years, so apologies to any experts if I've butchered it!)

Phil H

Hang on...
"First, Kripke discovered...that we use the terms 'water' and 'H2O'"
But we don't. It's exceedingly rare that we "use the term" H2O. More importantly, literally no-one used it before the discovery that water is indeed H2O. I think the water example is fundamentally unlike the morning star/evening star example.

But I do agree that all of this is terrible philosophy, and that Searle was right to call for more attention to linguistics. All of this is only a problem if you believe that words somehow refer directly to things. But linguists have known for more than 100 years that they don't: Words refer to concepts (signifieds, to use the Saussure term). I've been trying to read some mid-20th century analytic philosophy, and I'm starting to believe that quite a lot of their enterprise just disappears in a puff of logic once you drop the stoopid assumption that there is a direct (and necessary) word-world link.

Moti Mizrahi

Hi Marcus,

Thanks for linking to my paper on essentialism. Of course, I agree with you completely.

Ambrose

Hi Marcus,
Thanks for explaining that. You're right, I was confused.

But let me try a different tack. Suppose that, as Kripke claims, we learn about how our language applies to other worlds by reflection on our dispositions in counterfactual scenarios. Then we're learning about our concepts, I take it: learning how we'd use the term "water" on Twin Earth or whatever = learning something about the concept we have in mind when we speak of "water". But in that case, isn't there something self-defeating or incoherent in your view of this discovery?

As I understand it, you're saying something like this: "i. Krikpke discovered that we conceive of water as a substance with this metaphysical nature or essence, i.e., the essence rigidly designated by our concept/use of the term 'water' across worlds. ii. Kripke did not discover the metaphysical nature of water, but merely a fact about our concept/use of the term." That seems Moore-paradoxical. If the speaker really does conceive of water in this way (or thinks it was discovered by someone that we do so conceive it) how can it be coherent for him to then add that this very same conception isn't correct?

Marcus Arvan

Hi everyone: Thanks for all the comments! I'd like to respond to each of them in separate comments, as a single comment would be a big wall of text...

Marcus Arvan

Hi Anthony: Thanks for your comment!

You write: "I'm curious what you make of the twin-earth thought experiment, where we are supposed to imagine that the clear stuff that people drink that falls from the sky and comes out of faucets, that everyone calls "water," is actually a chemical substance called XYZ. The big question here is supposed to be something like, "Well, is XYZ *water*, or not?" I never got why that question was supposed to be interesting."

I reply: I never got why the question was supposed to be interesting. I've always thought it is one enormous red herring. First, I've *never* shared the twin-earth intuition. I think if I found myself transported to Twin Earth, I would call XYZ water. I would say it is a different *kind* of water, just like "heavy" (deuterium) water is a different kind of water on earth. Second, yes, I want to say the question, "Is it *really* water?" is a complete misunderstanding! There is no *metaphysical* fact of the matter. There is only a linguistic fact of the matter, i.e. what we choose to call XYZ--and that people following Kripke and Putnam have mistaken this simple empirical language issue with a metaphysical issue. (This is the main point in my post: it is a MISTAKE to read metaphysics off of language usage).

Marcus Arvan

Phil H: Thanks for your comment!

You write: "First, Kripke discovered...that we use the terms 'water' and 'H2O'"
But we don't. It's exceedingly rare that we "use the term" H2O."

I reply: Where I come from, it's not rare at all! I've regularly heard people say, in colloquial language when thirsty, things like, "I really need some H2O!"

You then write: "More importantly, literally no-one used it before the discovery that water is indeed H2O. I think the water example is fundamentally unlike the morning star/evening star example."

I reply: I don't see why this is at all important. All it shows is that something empirical had to happen before we started to use the term 'H2O'. But this is totally irrelevant to my argument. For in that case, whereas Kripke merely discovered (or invoke) TWO ordinary empirical facts plus a law of logic for "Hesperus" and "Phosphorous", he invoked THREE ordinary empirical facts plus the law of identity in the H2O case (the additional empirical fact being that we did not use 'H2O' until we discovered the structure of particular molecule). None of this alters my argument in this least!

Finally, you write: "But I do agree that all of this is terrible philosophy, and that Searle was right to call for more attention to linguistics. All of this is only a problem if you believe that words somehow refer directly to things. But linguists have known for more than 100 years that they don't: Words refer to concepts (signifieds, to use the Saussure term). I've been trying to read some mid-20th century analytic philosophy, and I'm starting to believe that quite a lot of their enterprise just disappears in a puff of logic once you drop the stoopid assumption that there is a direct (and necessary) word-world link."

I reply: Well, I sort of agree. As I've written before on this blog, I think philosophy of language is predicated upon a mistake--that there must be "a meaning" for expressions (proper names, etc.), whereas Quine and Wittgenstein showed that we can use *any* word (name or otherwise) however we damn well like: as rigid designators, definite descriptions, predicates, etc. And I agree with you that modern linguistics shows this, as well as emerging X-Phi studies.

I also agree that, in a sense, once we appreciate all this, *some* of contemporary philosophy goes up in a puff of smoke. For instance, it has always irked me that Kripke's "discovery of a posteriori necessity" has been held up by some as a monumental discovery of sorts. If my analysis in this post is correct, it doesn't look so monumental, does it? After all, if I am right, all Kripke discovered was ONE simple empirical fact (we can use names as rigid designators), which, when combined with another simple empirical fact (we had to discover water's molecular structure empirically) plus the law of identity, results in "a posteriori necessities" (the latter of which I have also argued in this post isn't quite right. Kripke's necessities are simultaneously *partially* a prior and a posteriori). Anyway, looked at anew, this isn't exactly mindblowing stuff. The fact that we use names as rigid designators sometimes is interesting--but, if my analysis is right, none of the "mindblowing" metaphysical implications of Kripke's finding hold up.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Ambrose: Thanks for your reply!

You write: "But let me try a different tack. Suppose that, as Kripke claims, we learn about how our language applies to other worlds by reflection on our dispositions in counterfactual scenarios. Then we're learning about our concepts, I take it: learning how we'd use the term "water" on Twin Earth or whatever = learning something about the concept we have in mind when we speak of "water". But in that case, isn't there something self-defeating or incoherent in your view of this discovery?"

I reply: I have to confess that I don't understand what you're saying is self-defeating or incoherent. You've just said that by reflecting on counterfactual scenarios, we learn about our concepts. But this is exactly what I've said! We learn an ordinary *empirical* fact: that we are disposed to deploy names thus-and-so in counterfactual instances. What's incoherent?

You then write: "As I understand it, you're saying something like this: "i. Krikpke discovered that we conceive of water as a substance with this metaphysical nature or essence, i.e., the essence rigidly designated by our concept/use of the term 'water' across worlds. ii. Kripke did not discover the metaphysical nature of water, but merely a fact about our concept/use of the term." That seems Moore-paradoxical. If the speaker really does conceive of water in this way (or thinks it was discovered by someone that we do so conceive it) how can it be coherent for him to then add that this very same conception isn't correct?"

I reply: Your line of thought in this comment strikes me as confused. There is nothing incoherent about saying that our *concept* of water attributes a metaphysical essence to water, and that water does not have such an essence *except-as-defined-by-arbitrary-language-usage*. It is this last point that I think you--and people who think we can do metaphysics on the basis of conceptual analysis--are failing to understand. My claim is NOT that water "has no essence"; it is that its "essence" is MERELY something we construct through language-usage, not a metaphysical fact about the world outside of us! When we look at the PHENOMENA, all there is a molecule (H2O). That molecule happens to be self-identical (as all things are, by logic!), and hence necessarily self-identical. There is NOTHING metaphysically interesting about any of this. Things only begin to "look" metaphysically interesting once we start reflecting on how we deploy concepts like "water" and "H2O" in counterfactual cases. But then this is simply an EMPIRICAL fact about how we use language: we IMPOSE essences on things. The essences aren't "there is nature"; they're an artifact of language usage and our psychological dispositions. That's all. This is my point, and it's Moti's point. There is a metaphysical issue here...but it's not an issue with WATER/XYZ/etc. It's an issue of how we use CONCEPTS to refer to those things (we are "psychological essentialists", to use Moti's term).

Ambrose

Hi Marcus.

It sounds funny to me (if not incoherent, maybe) to say something of the following form:

"(1) I think there is x. (2) As I conceive of x, it is F. (3) It is not the case that x really objectively is F, i.e., apart from my conception of x."

I realize that might not sound so funny for some instances of "F" -- for example, if "F" is replaced by "something that I have thought about". But in this case it does (to me) sound very funny:

"I think there is water. As I think of water, it is essentially H2O. But water isn't really objectively essentially H2O, i.e., apart from my conception of it."

It sounds to me as if the last part puts pressure on the speaker to reject his conception of water.

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: Thanks for your reply.

It is one thing to say that something "sounds funny" or is incoherent, and another thing for it to *be* funny or incoherent. I think this kind of appeal to intuitions is a bad way to do philosophy, for precisely the reasons I point out in my previous posts. *SCIENCE* tells us there is nothing "funny" or "incoherent" about it. For let's take a scientific look at the phenomena in question here. Science tells us, first, that:

(1) There is a certain molecule in the world, H2O.

This is a plain old empirical fact about the world, no more no less.

Science then tells us that:

(2) *We* use the terms 'water' and 'H2O' as rigid designators to refer to that molecule in counterpossible worlds.

This too is just an empirical fact--a fact about how we are disposed to apply the terms.

But now if (1) and (2) are true, there is nothing incoherent or funny about putting them together to get (3) (which is just the conjunction of (1) and (2)):

(3) There is a substance in our world, H2O, that we CALL 'water' and 'H2O' in a rigid-designator manner across possible worlds.

This is a consistent--and, I have argued, empirically justified-- proposition. Yet (3) entails that so-called "essences" are just linguistic constructions--things that *follow* from how we use words (as rigid-designators plus the law of identity).

(3) entails, in other words--and again, (3) is supported by our empirical evidence--that the three propositions you think are "funny" are TRUE:

"I think there is X"
"As I conceive of x, it is F."
"It is not the case that x really objectively is F, i.e. apart from my conception of x."

You can say that these three things "sound funny" all you like (though they never sounded funny to me at all). The point is: (1) and (2) entail (3), and (3) entails that these "funny" things aren't funny. They are true.

Marcus Arvan

Moti: Of course! Of course you agree with me. We're right! ;)

Ambrose

Hi Marcus.

I didn't mean to present my intuition (of funniness or seeming incoherence) as a knock-down refutation. But I do think that intuitions count for something. At any rate, I don't understand two things that you're saying: first, I don't know why you say that "science" teaches us that we use the word "water" as a rigid designator. That appears to have been the conclusion of a bare appeal to intuition, for Kripke and his followers: it just seems to them that xyz wouldn't count as (something we'd call) water, etc. Is that science? If so, why isn't my appeal to "funniness" also a scientific argument?

But in any case I don't see that your claims 3, above, entails that all three of the disputed claims are true. Claim 3 = "There is a substance in our world, H2O, that we CALL 'water' and 'H2O' in a rigid-designator manner across possible worlds". It seems obvious to me (?) that 3 is consistent with the theory that H2O is the metaphysical essence of water, i.e., that the semantic or conceptual facts are explained by deeper metaphysical facts of the kind you're denying.

If you could show me some well-confirmed scientific claims that really do entail the three "funny" claims I'll be happy to agree to all three. (I don't think intuitions count for _that_ much.) But I don't yet see that there are such claims.

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: Thanks for your reply!

You write: "I didn't mean to present my intuition (of funniness or seeming incoherence) as a knock-down refutation. But I do think that intuitions count for something."

I reply: I don't think they count for *anything* (see e.g. http://philpapers.org/rec/MIZIM , http://philpapers.org/rec/MIZMIM , http://philpapers.org/rec/MIZDBT , and http://philpapers.org/rec/MIZDTM-2).

I believe that the idea that intuitions count for something is one of the very worst features in all of contemporary analytic philosophy. Philosophers had a good excuse for basing philosophy on how things "seemed" to them in Plato', Aristotle's, Leibniz's, and even Kant's day. We didn't know basic stuff about the physical world or human brain then. There is *no* excuse for philosophers to do this anymore. What seems "funny" to you doesn't seem "funny" to me. What seems "intuitive" to Chalmers doesn't seem "intuitive" to Dennett. This is no way to do philosophy, not in today's day and age. We have scientific means at our disposal to *explain* why things "seem" these ways to people, and philosophy should deal with those explanations. And let me explain how this works in this case (i.e. our discussion).

My argument is that the *simplest* empirical explanation of Kripke's "finding" is that there aren't metaphysical essences, but that its "seeming" that there are is a simple result of (1) certain semantic dispositions, plus (2) a law of logic. Allow me to explain how this addresses your other point.

You write: "At any rate, I don't understand two things that you're saying: first, I don't know why you say that "science" teaches us that we use the word "water" as a rigid designator. That appears to have been the conclusion of a bare appeal to intuition, for Kripke and his followers: it just seems to them that xyz wouldn't count as (something we'd call) water, etc. Is that science? If so, why isn't my appeal to "funniness" also a scientific argument?"

I reply: I actually *don't* think Kripke taught us exactly that. I think his thought experiments demonstrate what empirical (X-Phi) investigation shows--namely, that we are *sometimes* disposed to treat names as rigid designators. Kripke's thought-experiments were empirical evidence of that because they *displayed* a disposition--a disposition that science can then explain. Your judgments about "funniness" are *also* empirical evidence, but ONLY evidence about what you are disposed to find "funny." Science may account for *that* disposition as well. And indeed, I say, the three propositions I've adduced -- (1)-(3) -- explain *why* things seem "funny" to you. As it turns out "a posteriori necessities" are rather complex things. They are composed of three things: (i) semantic dispositions, (ii) physical facts about water, and (iii) a law of identity. *Your* semantic dispositions may be far more essentialist than mine. And indeed, I suspect they are. I've NEVER found any of the Kripke cases or Twin-Earth Cases the *least* bit persuasive. I do NOT have the essentialist dispositions some other philosophers have. Further, X-Phi studies show many people are like me (*some* people are disposed to treat names like rigid designators, whereas others treat them as definite descriptions). Notice, too, that *this* is a fact that needs explaining. Why is it that only *some* people have "essentialist" intuitions whereas others don't? Here's the simplest answer--one that doesn't appeal damn essentialist magic: some people treat names more like rigid designators (which give the *appearance* of essential properties), whereas others are descriptivists (which *don't* give the appearance of essential properties). As such, science can explain *why* what seems "funny" to you doesn't seem "funny" to me. The simplest explanation is that there AREN'T metaphysical essences, but rather (1) some people are disposed to use names in essentialist ways, and (2) others aren't.

This also addresses your final point, which was: But in any case I don't see that your claims 3, above, entails that all three of the disputed claims are true. Claim 3 = "There is a substance in our world, H2O, that we CALL 'water' and 'H2O' in a rigid-designator manner across possible worlds". It seems obvious to me (?) that 3 is consistent with the theory that H2O is the metaphysical essence of water, i.e., that the semantic or conceptual facts are explained by deeper metaphysical facts of the kind you're denying."

I reply: You've heard of the "underdetermination problem" in philosophy of science, right? Any set of observations is, strictly speaking, consistent with an *infinite* set of theories. All of our observations, for instance, are strictly-speaking consistent with invisible garden gnomes causing the ocean tides to go in and out. But, although this is consistent with observation, no one takes it seriously. Why? Answer: because there's a simpler explanation that explains all the data (moon + gravity). By a similar token, my propositions (1)-(3) do not strictly entail that there are no metaphysical essences. They do entail, however, that the simplest explanation is an ordinary physical one: again, that some people are disposed to use names as rigid designators--a psychological disposition which gives certain sentences the *appearance* of expressing metaphysical essences. Thus, I say, just as you don't belief in garden gnomes causing ocean tides, nor should you believe in essences. The simplest explanation in both cases that no such magic exists.

Ambrose

Hi Marcus

It's hard for me to keep track of so many different points of disagreement.

I mentioned that your position seemed funny to me because of what you said earlier -- that you didn't see what I was talking about in alleging incoherence. So I was trying to explain the alleged incoherence (in terms a bit more modest than "incoherent").

Let me try again, without mentioning how things "seem" to me: The statement "I believe it's raining but it's not true that it's raining" involves some kind of irrationality. The same irrationality is involved in the statement "I conceive of London as rainy but London isn't really/objectively rainy" (at least when added to "and I think London really exists"). It's incoherent to _apply_ a concept C to an object o while denying that o really/objectively has the features criterial for the correct application of the concept. (Again with a few weird exceptions irrelevant here.)

I suppose I'm implicitly appealing here to "how things seem to me". I don't really understand how it would be possible to make any argument about anything without doing that on some level. For instance you are appealing to the assumption that "simple" explanations are better than others, or better ceteris paribus -- or whatever. Surely you don't think that methodological principle (or the assumption that it takes priority over some other, e.g., the principle of phenomenal conservatism) is itself based in "science" without any appeal to "intuition" or "how things seem" to people? Or what about your implicit assumption that science is a more reliable guide to semantic or conceptual facts than pure reason or intuition? How could that have been rationally established by science?

In any case, apart from the metaphilosophical issues I still think there's something Moore-paradoxical in your position that isn't resolved by any scientific facts. If you really think that metaphysical essences are just linguistic artefacts, you should stop believing in them -- they're just not the kinds of things that can _be_ what they're supposed to be if they're not objectively real. (Just as the person who claims to believe in God and defines God as a comforting myth should probably just stop believing in God (or stop thinking God is a myth).)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Ambrose: Thanks for your reply!

You write: "It's incoherent to _apply_ a concept C to an object while denying that it really/objectively has the features criterial for the correct application of the concept."

I reply: This misunderstands my argument. I did not assert that objects don't have "essences." I asserted that their essences are *constructed* by linguistic behavior (i.e. our using terms as rigid designators plus the law of identity. My claim isn't that there are no "essences"; it is that the essences *aren't* metaphysical (they are *simply* a product of language usage). So, I'm not saying anything incoherent. I'm saying that one *cannot* validly infer that "essences" have reality *beyond* our linguistic "imposing" them on objects. This is the crucial point. The traditional Kripke-metaphysician took his arguments to establish essences *in* the stuff (i.e. water is *essentially* H2O). My argument is that this "essence" is simply an artifact of language usage, not anything special about water (H20=H20 and we use 'water' and 'H2O' to refer to it, end of story!).

So, no, there isn't anything Moore-paradoxical in my view. There aren't any unicorns, but our concept of them imposes "having a horn" as the essence of one. This isn't to say that unicorn *have* essences, at least not in any deep metaphysical sense. It's simply to say that we *impose" the "having a horn essence" on it through concept usage. My point is that it's really important not to confuse these things--conceptual analysis and metaphysics.

Ambrose

Hi Marcus. Thanks to you too for an interesting debate.

I'm not sure that I'm misunderstanding your argument on this point so much as (implicitly) challenging a key premise or assumption. But it seems we're now zeroing in on the specific philosophical as opposed to metaphilosophical issue: you think it makes sense to hold that (i) essences exist, that things in the real world have essences, but (ii) these essences are created by our conceptualizing the world. I think (and it seems to me that) claims (i) and (ii) are at least in some kind of serious tension.

Now I certainly wouldn't want to say that there are _no_ true instances of "x is real but x is an artefact of our conceptual activity" but I do think the schema's false if "x" is replaced by "the essence of water" (for example). Consider an example that I assume we'll agree on: it's irrational to assert (iii) water exists and (iv) water is just an artefact of our conceptual activity. That's irrational because, in claim (iii), the speaker is talking about _water_ which simply isn't the kind of thing that could be an artefact of our conceptual activity. Maybe there is no water, but if there is any such thing it's not brought into being by people thinking of water (or thinking of it in this or that way).

Isn't the same true for essences, if there are any? The essence of water, if there is any such thing, is something that inheres metaphysically somehow in water. It's what water just is, in any possible world, regardless of how anyone thinks of it. (Does that make no sense? Fine, then essence concepts don't make sense.) As you say, we have to distinguish conceptual analysis and metaphysics.

qwerty

Marcus, IMHO the best work defending roughly your type of view is by Alan Sidelle. (In the book 'Necessity, essence and individuation' (1989), also see the paper 'Rigidity, ontology and semantic structure' (1992). I bet you will love the paper.)

Daniel Polowetzky

Kripke's views on so-called a posteriori analytic truths occurred in the context of refuting a certain notion of contingent identity. In the area of the philosophy of mind, the Identity Theory in particular, there was the idea that although mental states are identical to brain states such identity is contingent rather than necessary.

If 'Bill DeBlasio is the Mayor of New York' is true but continent, then similarly, 'Mental State A=Brain State B' may be true but contingently so. This view allowed for the coherence of the truth of the Identity Theory and simultaneous intuitions that one can imagine oneself as a disembodied mind. Although conceivable, the latter state of affairs is not the case.

Kripke's contribution was that he demonstrated that if terms referring to mental states and brain states are rigid designators, and mental states are identical to brain states, then the identities will be necessary and not contingent and the intuition to the contrary is false.

This is part of the metaphysical import of Kripke's notion of a posteriori analytic truths.

Marcus Arvan

Ambrose: Thanks to you too!

You write: "Now I certainly wouldn't want to say that there are _no_ true instances of "x is real but x is an artefact of our conceptual activity" but I do think the schema's false if "x" is replaced by "the essence of water" (for example). Consider an example that I assume we'll agree on: it's irrational to assert (iii) water exists and (iv) water is just an artefact of our conceptual activity. That's irrational because, in claim (iii), the speaker is talking about _water_ which simply isn't the kind of thing that could be an artefact of our conceptual activity. Maybe there is no water, but if there is any such thing it's not brought into being by people thinking of water (or thinking of it in this or that way)."

I reply: Yes, of course, the stuff we refer to by 'water' is not artifact of language. But--and this is my point--the *proposition* expressed by "water is H2O" IS partly an artifact of language. The proposition (1) REFERS to stuff in the world (a molecule), but also (2) BY WAY of two terms that we use as rigid designators. (1) is not an artifact of language. (2) is! And so it is a *mistake* to take the proposition water is H2O as *merely* about the stuff in the world. It a referential aspect (referring to stuff), but also a *conventional* aspect. It is the conventional aspect PLUS the referential aspect PLUS the law of identity that gives the appearance (to some) of "essence." But now we can see, plainly, that the essence is a PRODUCT of how we use terms (as rigid designators) plus the law of self-identity. The essence is therefore not "out there." It is an artifact of language.

Marcus Arvan

qwerty: Thanks for the Sidelle reference! I haven't read that book or article, so I will definitely check them out. I read one of Sidelle's later books on modality (I think) a long time ago, and recall initially being very taken by it, but then changing my mind and thinking he was wrong to try to reduce all of modality to convention--but maybe I'm misremembering. In any case, I'll check those things out!

Marcus Arvan

Hi Daniel: Thanks for pointing that out! I agree. I don't think contingent identity makes a lick of sense, and it's good that Kripke used this stuff to show it (though it's hard for me to believe how anyone believed in contingent identity in the first place!). Even so, his story of why "contingent identities" are actually necessary is totally consistent with my story that "a priori necessities" simply result from three ordinary facts: (1) a fact of rigid-designator-ish language usage, (2) facts about how referents of rigid designators come to be known, and (3) the law of identity.

Ambrose

Marcus, you write that (i) It is the conventional aspect PLUS the referential aspect PLUS the law of identity that gives the appearance (to some) of "essence" and (ii) this essence is "a product of how we use terms" and (iii) therefore the essence is "not 'out there'".

Well I'm willing to take very seriously ALL of this, and I think it's quite interesting. What I still don't understand is how someone who believes i-iii can also believe that essences are objectively real things, e.g, that (in some sense) water is essentially H2O.

An essence that is just an artefact of language, that doesn't exist "out there" in the objective extra-linguistic world, just IS NOT an essence. Or, more precisely, it's not an essence of x whenever x is something other than a linguistic or mental entity.

For example, we agree that WATER is out there. But how can the essence of something like that -- something perfectly objective, independent of our thoughts or conceptions of it -- nevertheless have an ESSENCE that is dependent on us, non-objective? That makes no sense (it seems to me). Given the kind of thing that water is -- mind-independently real -- it can't be that the essential nature of that thing is mind-dependent.

So I think you are really just denying that there are essences (or essences of things other than concepts). Which may well be correct!

Ambrose

Oops -- I realized I mischaracterized my own puzzlement just now. I said:

"What I still don't understand is how someone who believes i-iii can also believe that essences are objectively real things"

But what I really meant (and should have said) was this:

"I don't understand how someone who believes i-iii can also believe (coherently) that essences EXIST"

Or, more precisely:

"I don't understand how someone who believes i-iii can also believe (coherently) that water is essentially H2O"

What I said earlier implies that you think the essence of water is "objectively real" but of course that's what you're denying (and the denial paired with i-iii is what I take to imply anti-realism about the essence of water).

As if this could get more confusing. I hope you see what I mean, anyway :)

Daniel Polowetzky

Marcus:
I agree! It is difficult to think anyone actually believed in contingent identity in the first place! I remember reading Kripke and asking myself who his audience was.
Similarly, I thought the same thing when reading Russell's On Denoting! Whatever the semantics of 'The present king of France is bald' may be, did anyone actually believe the sentence presented a metaphysical problem?

Lewis Carroll used an example of Alice seeing "nobody" on the road as a bit of humor in Alice in Wonderland, anticipating? such an issue or simply realizing that it was a joke and not a piece of metaphysical profundity.

Marcus Arvan

Hi Ambrose: Thanks again for your comment.

You write: "So I think you are really just denying that there are essences (or essences of things other than concepts). Which may well be correct!"

I reply: yep. :)

Ambrose

Hi Marcus.

In your 8:50 post however you did say "This misunderstands my argument. I did not assert that objects don't have 'essences'."

But I guess what you meant was that you don't deny they have 'essences' while denying that they have essences?

If that's your position, would you then agree that water could have been xyz rather than H2O?

Marcus Arvan

Hi Ambrose: I'm still a bit uncomfortable with the use/mention stuff here (viz. 'essences' vs. essences). I want to say that some people use the term 'water' in an essentialist manner--*imputing* essences to things. Thus, when a term is used this way, it follows that water has an *essence*, but that this "essence" is partially constructed by language usage. You had a problem with this, since you think it's obvious that for something to have an essence, the essence must *be* in the object. I don' think this is right. I think the PHENOMENON in the world simply exists, and we CONCEPTUALIZE it in a way that imputes an "essence" to it. So, in a way, it is right to not only say water has an 'essence' (mention), but that it has an *essence*. You just don't like the kind of "constructed essence" I'm talking about here, but I say it follows from the right way of understanding language (propositions such as are comprised SIMULTANEOUSLY by a substance out there in the world and a purely psychological way of thinking about it--which brings me back to the a priori/a posteriori-mixing point). You want to "draw a line" between what's in the head (meanings, which attribute essences) and what's outside of the head (H2O, which has an essence). I think this wrong. But here we are getting in the weeds again...so why don't just say that, yes, I think objects have 'essences' but not *essences* (in your manner of speaking). ;) :P

Anyway, on to your last question. You write: "If that's your position, would you then agree that water could have been xyz rather than H2O?"

I reply: This might come as a bit of a surprise, but when I started out my grad career at Syracuse and then moved to Arizona, I was a philosopher of language! However, as I went along, something rather unfortunate happened. When I came across the Twin Earth cases, Kripke-cases (Godel/Schmidt, etc.), I found that I simply didn't share ANY of the dominant intuitions. As I mentioned above, I have ALWAYS been disposed to say not merely that water could have been XYZ, but that XYZ (even if it were in our world!) would have simply been a new *type* of water.

Here's what happened next. When I told people I didn't share the intuitions and said to them, "How can all of you simply proceed on the basis of intuitions I don't share at all?", I was basically told, "Sorry, your intuitions are wrong. These are the intuitions everyone has. Kripke established such-and-such. Putnam established that XYZ wouldn't be water. Etc."

I got so frustrated with this that I basically picked up my toys and went home. I said to myself, "I don't like how the philosophy of language is proceeding. None of my intuitions matter. And every time I try to argue for them people simply say I have the wrong intuitions."

Because I had no idea then how to fight this fight (but I think I have a better idea now!), I just decided to move onto something else: moral and political philosophy!

Here, then, is what I will say--and this is speculating a bit. I think some (if not all) of the "discoveries" that have been made in the philosophy of language over the past several decades have been a sociological phenomenon. Some majority of philosophers of language had the Kripke/Putnam intuitions, and everyone who didn't (i.e. people like me) was "priced out" of the market. As I've said before, I think the "intuition-mongering" approach to philosophy of language is all wrong. There isn't "a meaning of proper names"...there are lots of *possible* meanings of proper names, and we can use them however we like (as rigid designators, non-rigid designators, etc.). In my view, the basic error of contemporary philosophy of language is to arbitrarily privilege some uses of names (etc.) over others, where the empirical *reality* is what Quine and Wittgenstein thought: there are no determinate "single meanings" to *any* expression in natural language, just a plurality of language games.

Obviously, from this comment section and my recent posts, I think this is the only empirically sensible way to think about language and meaning, and that philosophy of language has mostly ignored it in favor of an overly simplistic (but more "fun" to argue over) view that expressions have "a" meaning.

Clayton

"Rather, I want to say, first, that Kripke only discovered (1) a couple of ordinary empirical facts which, when combined with (2) a simple a priori law (the law of identity), results in "a posteriori necessities." As such, I want to say that when looked at carefully, "a posteriori necessities" aren't very metaphysically interesting. They are nothing more than a couple of ordinary emprical facts combined with an ordinary a priori law of logic."

A few points. I'm not up on this literature really, so this is all based on some hazy recollections from graduate school, but this line looks a lot like Sidelle's line (as mentioned above) and I think there's a nice review by Yablo that captures some worries about this way of thinking of Kripke's results: http://www.jstor.org/stable/2185945

I share some of Yablo's worries, but let me add one that I think is worth considering. The deflationary reading is (a) supposed to support the claim that aposteriori necessities aren't metaphysically interesting and (b) it's supposed to support that because the aposteriori necessities are really just the upshot of some empirical stuff and some logical stuff.

With respect to (a), I guess I don't think ANs are supposed to be _metaphysically_ interesting, but philosophically interesting and interesting to people interested in metaphysics. As Kripke was at pains to stress, the notions of apriority and aposteriority are epistemological notions, not metaphysical ones. It's just not a metaphysical thesis that the class of necessities can be divided up into two non-empty, non-overlapping sets characterised in epistemological terms. It's a really interesting philosophical discovery that the epistemological and the metaphysical part company and one that has very surprising implications for the way that metaphysics is done.

With respect to (b), a few things. First, the necessity of identity isn't regarded as trivial in all quarters. If the necessity of identity is itself a non-trivial claim, that suggests that Kripke's results (or 'results') aren't quite as trivial as the deflationary reading would have us believe. There are people who argue (to this day? Don't know, maybe not) that there are genuine cases of temporary identity, for example. Think about Gibbard's discussion of Lumpl and Goliath. Second, the deflationary reading doesn't cover all the relevant cases. The necessity of natural kind membership or the necessity of origins has nothing to do with the necessity of identity and I doubt that there's some relatively uncontroversial logical principle that could, when combined with some empirical stuff, deliver the results that you couldn't have been an egg or that you couldn't have been George Bush's twin brother. (I'm assuming, of course, that you're not!)

Marcus Arvan

Hi Clayton: Thanks for your comment, and for the link to the Yablo paper. I have to check it out!

You write: "With respect to (a), I guess I don't think ANs are supposed to be _metaphysically_ interesting, but philosophically interesting and interesting to people interested in metaphysics. As Kripke was at pains to stress, the notions of apriority and aposteriority are epistemological notions, not metaphysical ones."

I answer: But my point was the that the epistemological and metaphysical part *don't* part company--that all that is going on here, both metaphysically and epistemologically, is 2 empirical facts (rigid designation + empirical discovery of substances/etc.) plus a single ordinary logical fact (the law of identity).

Another way to put this is--if Kripke is right--all we really learned from him is this:

(1) We came to know that names function as rigid designators. (An ordinary epistemological fact)
(2) The referents of names can only be known through empirical investigation. (Another ordinary epistemological fact).
(3) When we combine (1) and (2) with an ordinary a priori logical fact, it turns out that necessary truths require empirical research to be known. (An epistemological and metaphysical fact).

Now, I don't disagree that (3) is metaphysically and epistemologically interesting. What I do deny is that it is interesting for the *reasons* may have seemingly thought it interesting (viz. "My goodness. The epistemological and metaphysical come apart!", and, "Substances have essences!").

My first point is that once we understand (1)-(3) properly, metaphysics and epistemology don't come apart here at all. "A posteriori necessities" don't drive *any* kind of wedge between epistemology and metaphysics. Allow me to explain.

You write: "It's just not a metaphysical thesis that the class of necessities can be divided up into two non-empty, non-overlapping sets characterised in epistemological terms. It's a really interesting philosophical discovery that the epistemological and the metaphysical part company and one that has very surprising implications for the way that metaphysics is done."

I answer: First, on my analysis, the class of necessities *cannot* be divided into two non-overlapping sets characterized in epistemological terms. As I explained in the post, "a posteriori necessities" aren't a posteriori; they're a *blend* of a priori (the law of identity) and a posteriori (rigid-designator language usage). Second, on my analysis, it follows that they do *not* have surprising implications for how metaphysics should be done. For, on my analysis, they are simply two ordinary empirical facts plus a logical fact--facts that, as a set, do not have (as far as I can tell) surprising implications for metaphysics. [Question: can you spell out how claims (1)-(3) on my analysis--that is, the three facts I think "a posteriori necessities" consist in--have surprising metaphysical implications?]

You write: "With respect to (b), a few things. First, the necessity of identity isn't regarded as trivial in all quarters. If the necessity of identity is itself a non-trivial claim, that suggests that Kripke's results (or 'results') aren't quite as trivial as the deflationary reading would have us believe. There are people who argue (to this day? Don't know, maybe not) that there are genuine cases of temporary identity, for example. Think about Gibbard's discussion of Lumpl and Goliath."

I answer: Look, I know some people don't think the necessity of identity is trivial, but that's only because I think they misunderstand identity (Lumpl and Goliath were never a case of *identity* to begin with!).

You write: "Second, the deflationary reading doesn't cover all the relevant cases. The necessity of natural kind membership or the necessity of origins has nothing to do with the necessity of identity and I doubt that there's some relatively uncontroversial logical principle that could, when combined with some empirical stuff, deliver the results that you couldn't have been an egg or that you couldn't have been George Bush's twin brother. (I'm assuming, of course, that you're not!)"

I reply: It has to do with rigid-designator-ish language usage, which on my analysis is just an ordinary empirical fact.

Marcus Arvan

Hi again Clayton: So I just read the Yablo piece you linked to, and I think the line of argument Yablo runs is unsound.

Yablo writes: "[W]hat prevents someone from construing Sidelle's a priori modal principles as metaphysically substantive and so capable of boosting the factual content of his nonmodal auxiliary premises? Such a person might accept (something like) Sidelle's epistemolog-
ical thesis (A) while dissenting from (B), its supposed metaphysical upshot. True, she would say, once we have achieved determinate reference, it is no longer an open question what the modal properties of [the] thing are-for we must settle upon them, by our choice of referential intentions, in order to achieve such reference (109), still it was only because the thing antecedently had those properties that our referential intention found its mark."

I reply: The line of argument here is absurd, and for reasons I give in response to Ambrose above.

Nothing *prevents* us from saying that we use 'water' in an essentialist way *because* water has an essence (as opposed to the other way around, i.e. us simply use 'water' in an essentialist manner when water has no mind-independent essence).

But of course nothing *prevents* us from saying that garden gnomes cause the ocean tides to go in and out, either. My argument--in the OP, and in the comment section--is that the metaphysical view Yablo's saying "nothing prevents us from adopting" is horribly underdetermined by the empirical facts. When we look at the world empirically--at word usage, molecules, etc.--there are no apparent essences. It is only when we gaze propositions such as "Water is H2O" that we begin to have essentialist ideas...but in that case, I say, the simplest explanation is simply that we use terms as rigid designators, imposing essences. This is simpler and more true to empirical observation just as the gravity theory of ocean tides is simpler than the garden gnome theory.

We should not believe in metaphysical magic, particularly if (as I claim) we have a simple, non-magical empirical story of how things "appear" to have essences.

Richard Yetter Chappell

Hi Marcus, in addition to Sidelle, I think you'd find Frank Jackson's work on this topic very congenial. (See, e.g., the passage in From Metaphysics to Ethics that I quote in this old blog post.)

Richard Yetter Chappell

html removed from previous comment? Here's the link, then:

http://www.philosophyetc.net/2006/04/misusing-kripke-misdescribing-worlds.html

Ambrose

"When we look at the world empirically--at word usage, molecules, etc.--there are no apparent essences."

If so then why is it that (as you say above) non-philosophers use words and concepts in such a way as to "impute" essences? Isn't that striking fact about how words are used best explained by the hypothesis that there appear to be essences.

For that matter, why is "word usage" an "empirical matter"? If you're speaking of how words are used _semantically_ and _conceptually_ then the facts about "use" are not obviously "empirical". Or not in the way of facts about molecules, etc. On the other hand, if you mean "usage" in some other more obviously empirical sense -- e.g., Quine's quasi-behavioristic sense -- then it's clear that essences won't be apparent in that kind of fact. But then it's equally obvious that almost nothing of any philosophical interest is observable in that class of facts. From that point of view, you'll also find there are no truths, no meanings, no values, no norms, no minds or persons, no causes, etc.

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