Contrary to frequent declarations that descriptivism as a theory of how names refer is dead and gone, such a descriptivism is, to all appearances, alive and well. Or rather, a descendent of that doctrine is alive and well. This new version—neo-descriptivism, for short—is supposedly immune from the usual arguments against descriptivism, in large part because it avoids classical descriptivism’s emphasis on salient, first-come-to-mind properties and holds instead that a name’s reference-fixing content is typically given by egocentric properties specified in terms (...) of broadly causal relationships between a speaker and his environment: properties like being the actual individual called ‘Aristotle’ referred to by my informants’ use of the name, being the actual individual called ‘George Bush’ whom I have seen/heard described as the U.S. President who started the second Gulf War, and so on. names is not in contention.) What these neo-descriptivists claim is that the usual modal, semantical, and epistemological arguments against classical descriptivism don’t get much of a foothold against this new version, especially if we don’t insist that speakers be able to state these properties on demand. It is enough that these are properties implicit in the semantic judgments of speakers. Recent attacks notwithstanding, such a neo-descriptivism has struck many philosophers as a credible and worthy successor to classical descriptivism. (shrink)
This is a survey of contemporary work on ‘fictionalism in metaphysics’, a term that is taken to signify both the place of fictionalism as a distinctive anti‐realist metaphysics in which usefulness rather than truth is the norm of acceptance, and the fact that philosophers have given fictionalist treatments of a range of specifically metaphysical notions.
We argue that computation via quantum mechanical processes is irrelevant to explaining how brains produce thought, contrary to the ongoing speculations of many theorists. First, quantum effects do not have the temporal properties required for neural information processing. Second, there are substantial physical obstacles to any organic instantiation of quantum computation. Third, there is no psychological evidence that such mental phenomena as consciousness and mathematical thinking require explanation via quantum theory. We conclude that understanding brain function is unlikely to require (...) quantum computation or similar mechanisms. (shrink)
There are things we routinely say that may strike us as literally false but that we are nonetheless reluctant to give up. This might be something mundane, like the way we talk about the sun setting in the west, or it could be something much deeper, like engaging in talk that is ostensibly about numbers despite believing that numbers do not literally exist. Rather than regard such behaviour as self-defeating, a "fictionalist" is someone who thinks that this kind of discourse (...) is entirely appropriate, even helpful, so long as we treat what is said as a useful fiction, rather than as the sober truth. "Fictionalism" can be broadly understood as a view that uses a notion of pretense or fiction in order to resolve certain puzzles or problems that otherwise do not necessarily have anything to do with literature or fictional creations. Within contemporary analytic philosophy, fictionalism has been on the scene for well over a decade and has matured during that time, growing in popularity. There are now myriad competing views about fictionalism and consequently the discussion has branched out into many more subdisciplines of philosophy. Yet there is widespread disagreement on what philosophical fictionalism actually amounts to and about how precisely it ought to be pursued. This volume aims to guide these discussions, collecting some of the most up-to-date work on fictionalism and tracing the view's development over the past decade. After a detailed discussion in the book's introductory chapter of how philosophers should think of fictionalism and its connection to metaontology more generally, the remaining chapters provide readers with arguments for and against this view from leading scholars in the fields of epistemology, ethics, metaphysics, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, and others. (shrink)
In their recent ‘The ethical case for non-directed postmortem sperm donation’, Hodson and Parker outline and defend the concept of voluntary non-directed postmortem sperm donation, the idea that men should be able to register their desire to donate their sperm after death for use by strangers since this would offer a potential means of increasing the quantity and heterogeneity of donor sperm. In this response, we raise some concerns about their proposal, focusing in particular on the fact that current methodologies (...) do not make for a reliable way of ensuring that sperm retrieved postmortem has a good chance of leading to conception, which is in turn likely to make potential recipients reluctant to use such sperm. These concerns add to the ethical doubts that attend aspects of the proposal, making the prospect of implementation of such a policy unlikely at best. (shrink)
In this paper I argue against the usual interpretation of\nMeinong's argument for nonexistent objects, an\ninterpretation according to which Meinong imported\nnonexistent objects like "the golden mountain" to account\ndirectly for the truth of statements like the golden\nmountain is golden'. I claim instead (using evidence from\nMeinong's "On Assumptions") that his argument really\ninvolves an ineliminable appeal to the notion of pretense.\nThis appeal nearly convinced Meinong at one stage that he\ncould do without nonexistent objects. The reason, I argue,\nwhy he nonetheless embraced an ontology of nonexistents (...) has\nto do with the phenomenology of representation, and not\nwith semantics. (shrink)
This paper provides a new solution to the epistemic paradox of belief-instability, a problem of rational choice which has recently received considerable attention (versions of the problem have been discussed by — among others — Tyler Burge, Earl Conee, and Roy Sorensen). The problem involves an ideally rational agent who has good reason to believe the truth of something of the form:[Ap] p if and only if it is not the case that I accept or believe p.
Consider predicates like 'is a fictional character' and 'is a mythical object'. Since their ascription entails a corresponding Negative Existential claim, call these 'NE-characterizing predicates'. Objectualists such as Parsons, Sylvan, van Inwagen, and Zalta think that NE-characterizing properties are genuine properties of genuinely non-existent objects. But how, then, to make room for statements like 'Vulcan is a failed posit' and 'that little green man is a trick of the light'? The predicates involved seem equally NE-characterizing yet on the surface fail (...) to mark a genuine property o f things. Instead, the truth of such predications strongly supervenes on types of referential failure. Kendall Walton's anti-objectualist account of talk about fiction provides a neat solution to this supervenience problem by invoking special games of make-believe. The present paper claims that while Walton's view thereby gains an important advantage over objectualism, the solution faces problems of its own. The rest of the paper desribes another solution, one that assigns a large role to the idea of metaphor. (shrink)
This paper suggests that quantified negative existentials about fiction—statements of the form “There are some / many / etc. Fs in work W who don't exist”—offer a serious challenge to the theorist of fiction: more serious, in a number of ways, that singular negative existentials. I argue that the temptation to think that only a realist semantics of such statements is plausible should be resisted. There are numerous quantified negative existentials found in other areas that seem equally “true” but where (...) a realist semantics imports ontological commitments that few would want to embrace. In the final part of the paper I sketch an alternative pretense account of one such quantified negative existential, and suggest that the account gives us some reason to believe that quantified negative existentials in general, including quantified negative existentials about fiction, can also be understood in pretense terms. (shrink)
Mill is a detractor of the view that proper names have meanings, defending in its place the view that names are nothing more than (meaningless) marks. Because of this, Mill is often regarded as someone who anticipated the theory of direct reference for names: the view that the only contribution a name makes to propositions expressed through its use is the name's referent. In this paper I argue that the association is unfair. With some gentle interpretation, Mill can be portrayed (...) as someone who is a Millian in the sense he most cares about (names are meaningless marks) but a descriptivist in so far as he takes the determinants of reference to be properties in the possession of speakers. I contend that this view is not only one that Mill comes close to holding, but, in light of the reasons that (nearly) led him to such a view, one that is worth taking seriously on its own terms. (shrink)
In his 'Why We Need A-Intensions', Frank Jackson argues that "representational content [is] how things are represented to be by a sentence in the communicative role it possesses in virtue of what it means," a type of content Jackson takes to be broadly descriptive. I think Jackson overstates his case. Even if we agree that such representational properties play a crucial reference-fixing role, it is much harder to argue the case for a crucial communicative role. I articulate my doubts about (...) Jackson's views on this point by contrasting them with the views of John Stuart Mill, usually regarded as an early believer in something like a direct reference account of content for names, but someone who, on my reading, teaches us a salutary lesson about the importance of separating the question of how reference is determined from the question of how we succeed in communicating. (shrink)
Kant's distinction between things in themselves and things as they appear, or appearances, is commonly attacked on the ground that it delivers a radical and incoherent ‘two world’ picture of what there is. I attempt to deflect this attack by questioning these terms of dismissal. Distinctions of the kind Kant draws on are in fact legion, and they make perfectly good sense. The way to make sense of them, however, is not by buying into a profligate ontology but by using (...) some rather different tools – surprisingly enough, tools first developed in the area of aesthetics. Once this is done, much of what Kant says begins to look perfectly coherent. In the final part of the paper, I point out that none the less all is not well. Kant's Critical doctrines make it hard for us to accept Kant's own version of this otherwise coherent distinction. (shrink)
In Reference without Referents, Mark Sainsbury aims to provide an account of reference that honours the common-sense view that sentences containing empty names like "Vulcan" and "Santa Claus" are entirely intelligible, and that many such sentences -"Vulcan doesn't exist", "Many children believe that Santa Claus will give them presents at Christmas", etc.- are literally true. Sainsbury's account endorses the Davidsonian program in the theory of meaning, and combines this with a commitment to Negative Free Logic, which holds that all simple (...) sentences containing empty names are false. In this critical review, we pose a number of problems for this account. In particular, we question the ability of Negative Free Logic to make appropriate sense of the truth of familiar sentences containing empty names, including negative existential claims like "Vulcan doesn't exist". /// En Reference without Referents, Mark Sainsbury se propone ofrecer una explicación de la referencia que respete la idea de sentido común de que las oraciones con nombres vacíos como "Vulcano" y "Santa Claus" son completamente inteligibles, y que muchas de oraciones de este tipo -"Vulcano no existe", "Muchos niños creen que Santa Claus les traerá regalos en Navidad", y demás- son literalmente verdaderas. La propuesta de Sainsbury se inscribe dentro del programa davidsoniano en teoría del significado, y combina éste con un compromiso con la Lógica Libre Negativa, según la cual todas las oraciones simples que contienen nombres vacíos son falsas. En este estudio crítico, presentamos varios problemas de esta explicación. En particular, ponemos en duda la habilidad de la Lógica Libre Negativa de entender de manera apropiada la verdad de oraciones conocidas que contienen nombres vacíos, incluidas negaciones de existencia como "Vulcano no existe". (shrink)
The question of the role of theory in the determination of reference of theoretical terms continues to be a controversial one. In the present paper I assess a number of responses to this question (including variations on David Lewis’s appeal to Ramsification), before describing an alternative, epistemically oriented account of the reference-determination of such terms. The paper concludes by discussing some implications of the account for our understanding of both realism and such competitors of realism as constructive empiricism.
Brentano famously changed his mind about intentionality between the 1874 and 1911 editions of Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint (PES). The 1911 edition repudiates the 1874 view that to think about something is to stand in a relation to something that is within in the mind, and holds instead that intentionality is only like a relation (it is ‘quasi-relational’). Despite this, Brentano still insists that mental activity involves ‘the reference to something as an object’, much as he did in the (...) 1874 edition of PES. The question is what Brentano might have meant by this, given that he rejects a relational account of intentionality. The present paper suggests an answer. It draws on recent work on pretence theory to provide a model of Brentano’s notion of the quasi-relational nature of mental phenomena, as well as of the notion of mental reference to an object, and argues that the model helps to explain why Brentano might have been able discern a clear continuity between the views of the 1874 and 1911 editions of PES, despite the differences. (shrink)
I'll begin this paper with an autobiographical example — an instance of a common enough kind of case involving agents who are faced with making a choice they strongly care about, but who have tendencies that incline them towards choosing an option they prefer not to choose. Later in the paper, I apply some of the general lessons learned from this case to a philosophically more familiar example of a hard-to-make choice, and to the well-known problem the example generates for (...) the idea of rational agency: Gregory Kavka's toxin puzzle.Some time ago I did a bungy jump. Nothing remarkable in that. (shrink)
It is sometimes claimed that kripke's work in "naming and necessity" has demonstrated that kant was "right" in his acceptance of the synthetic "a priori", Even though perhaps "wrong" in his choice of examples. This article disputes such a claim by showing that, In accepting the identification of the empirically necessary and the "a priori", Kant's position is incompatible with an acceptance of the kripkean synthetic "a priori" (as well as the kripkean necessary "a posteriori").
Attempts to analyze negative existential statements face the following familiar problem. If a negative existential statement—say, “Hamlet does not exist” or “the golden mountain does not exist”—is true, its subject term must lack an object of reference. But, absent such an object, it seems that nothing true or false can be said about “it.” In particular, if there is no Hamlet to talk about, we surely cannot truthfully say that “he” does not exist. Hence, the truth of true negative existentials—and (...) there are many—seems to preclude their truth and falsity. Call this “the negative existential problem.”. (shrink)
This article argues for a certain picture of the rational formation of conditional intentions, in particular deterrent intentions, that stands in sharp contrast to accounts on which rational agents are often not able to form such intentions because of what these enjoin should their conditions be realized. By considering the case of worthwhile but hard-to-form deterrent intentions (the threat to leave a cheating partner, say), the article argues that rational agents may be able to form such intentions by first simulating (...) psychological states in which they have successfully formed them and then bootstrapping themselves into actually forming them. The article also discusses certain limits imposed by this model. In particular, given the special nature of deterrent intentions (e.g. the ones supposedly involved in nuclear deterrence), there is good reason to think that these must remain inaccessible to fully rational and moral agents. (shrink)
Roderick Chisholm’s Essay looks beguilingly simple. It is a short work, written in a simple, unaffected style. There is, of course, the usual crop of technical definitions, but these should not daunt the reader. Chisholm makes it easy enough, for the most part, to see what motivates his formulations, and he makes it easy for his readers to see how his concerns and solutions compare with those of some other important philosophers.
Chapter V attempts to provide the elements of a solution to the problem of how terms in theoretical sciences acquire their reference. Its proposal is that a theory of reference-acquisition for theoretical terms should acknowledge the fact that what fixes the reference of a theoretical term is typically the embedding theory as a whole, not an austere causal description like 'the item causally responsible for event E.' It is argued that there are epistemic reasons for the existence of this phenomenon, (...) and an attempt is made to show how, by appealing to these reasons, it is nonetheless possible to understand the reference-determining role of theories in such a way that occurrences of a term embedded in incompatible theoretical frameworks can often be interpreted as co-referential. ;Chapter IV is an interlude. It argues for the relevance of the theory of reference to the topic of intertheoretic reduction. It does this by attempting to demonstrate that intertheoretic reduction in the natural sciences requires intertheoretic identities involving theoretical terms, and that making sense of such identities demands a theory of reference-acquisition for theoretical terms. The chapter also argues that the problem of how mathematical terms secure their reference precludes an obvious extension of this model to examples of reduction in mathematics. It further criticizes attempts to make sense of mathematical reductions in terms of concepts of ontological reduction, and it suggests that much recent work on ontological reduction, especially the attempt to exclude all-out 'Pythagorean' reductions, is flawed through its failure to take referential semantics seriously. ;Chapter II contains exposition and criticism of both the descriptivist account of reference and Kripke's version of the 'causal' account of reference. The latter account is represented as a recursive account, with a base clause specifying how terms initially acquire their reference and a recursion clause specifying how the ability to use a term with a certain reference is transmitted to other users . It is argued that the Kripkean formulation of referential intentions at the reference-transmission stage is flawed, in part because the formulation makes his account unable to capture the dynamics of the way in which a person's use of a term may undergo reference-shifts without these shifts in reference being intended. ;The third chapter suggests an alternative account. It motivates and sketches a mixed causal-descriptivist theory speaker's reference, formulated in terms of first-order referential intentions, and then uses this theory to sketch aspects of a mixed causal-descriptivist account of term reference, formulated in terms of second-order intentions to intend the 'right' object . It is argued that such an account provides a plausible solution to a number of problems confronting Kripke's account, including that of unintended reference-shifts. ;This dissertation consists of five chapters whose unifying theme is the theory of term-reference. The first chapter offers an overview and critical comparison of two opposing approaches to the topic of reference: the semantic holism of Quine-Davidson, and the semantic atomism of those who treat reference as a relation that grounds the assignment of truth-conditions to sentences. The chapter argues that the apparent theoretical importance of referential intentions, emphasised in Saul Kripke's work on reference and argued for in detail in chapter III of the dissertation, provides strong support for semantic atomism, since such intentions are used to explain reference-assignments and, indirectly, truth-conditions. (shrink)