[hist-analytic] Reply to Aune's "My response"

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Tue Aug 25 12:47:47 EDT 2009


Since some of my answers overlap some of Bruce's questions, I'll 
not be replying to each of his points in order, but instead reply to a 
couple of things he returns to one or more times in the course of his 
enumerated objections. Let me first address nominalism and truth in 
philosophy. 

I mention these two together because, nominalism, illustrates a 
point pertinent to the matter of truth in philosophical theorizing. But 
before I do let's consider the question whether there are other possible 
worlds. Let's take a realist's view of worlds. When such a philosopher 
says there are worlds where some ravens are white he is not uttering 
an assertion that can be verified. This does not mean that it cannot 
be "true" or viable in some sense; or is philosophically unacceptable. 
It is a question of making sense of other things, e.g. about counterfactuals. 
So if I make a philosophical claim, I am claiming that making sense of the 
world requires that we acknowledge other worlds. I am not claiming, 
even if I am a realist, that powerful telescopes reveal worlds. (I think 
Kripke puts it this way, although he is not a realist on worlds, like say Lewis). 
So when I accept a philosophical point of view I am saying that it must 
be accepted in order to make sense of the world. Now this moves the 
issue into territory that first appears to be more murky: "making sense 
of the world." But that is subject for further metaphysical speculation not 
pointer readings on galvanometers etc. What I've just given is a sort of 
conservative answer. Let's look at this position from a different angle. 

Bruce asks what I take nominalism to be. I take it to be the position that a 
metaphysical account of the way the world is need include nothing more 
than individuals. Here I would say that by 'individual' I mean what 
substitutes for bound variables in first order logic; but I could have said 
what subsitutes for variables for first order predicates. The order is not 
so important as whether all entities are of one type. So on one take belief 
in concrete particulars is a form of nominalism, although it recognizes 
entities besides tables and chairs etc. But there is something going on here 
I should mention as to how philosophical issues like truth and nominalism 
are related. 

When I say universals exist, or the idea of a golden mountain, 
perhaps, I am not saying that they exist as does this old can sitting out in 
the back yard. I am not saying that to know it to be true I must look, as I 
would look to see if that old can is still there. In other words 'exists' may 
not be analyzable in terms of the existential quantifier. But this is not the 
main point here. The main point I would make here is that just as there 
may some equivocation over 'exists' the same may be said of 'true'; so 
the truth of nominalism may not be the same as the "truth" of "This is a 
rusty can." Some things are so different that saying that both "exist" 
creates difficulty, such as when I say that number exist or that classes 
exist. 

The situation is not entirely like questions of logical asymmetry. 
What makes a relation asymmetrical? Well, the things in the domain 
are so different (in some way) that we cannot permute the domains 
and the range. This is *analogous* to 'exist' and 'true;' there are some 
facts so different from cans and chairs that to use the same word, 
EVEN if were logically justified in doing so would not clarify matters to 
say that universals "exist" just like this can. Someone says "Objects exist" 
what can such a sentence "mean" and yet it is meaningful and we know 
the meaning of 'meaning' (more or less). This presents another sort of 
philosophical, not linguistic question. If I understand "Objects exist" then 
I should understand "connections between objects exist." But is "exist" 
being used the same way? I'm not so sure of this OR whether to speak 
of existence is philosophically productive any more than the question 
"How does the truth of a philosophical proposal differ from one in, say, 
automechanics." There are other analogies to this this predicament: 
such as using the word 'knowing' to describe knowing how, or knowing 
that, or knowing the meaning of 'how'. 'True' may presents similar 
difficulties. 'True' may turn out to be no more important for philosophy than 
'cause' is to physics in a Russellian ontology. 

Kant had a good idea when he suggested that in a way epistemology 
should be positioned to veto metaphysics. Kant was anti-metaphysical, 
in a way; at least he argues so - as we all know. But once his synthetic 
a priori was rejected we are faced witht three options, going Humean - 
philosophy ultimately becomes a dead end, in my opinion; we reject 
metaphysics, another dead end where we talk about things like the 
Prisoner's Dilemma, e.g.; or we seek an alternative to the idea that 
reason adds nothing to our scientific understanding of nature, where 
'reason' requires detailed discussion I can't enter into in this post. 

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Bruce Aune" <aune at philos.umass.edu> 
To: "hist-analytic" <hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk> 
Sent: Tuesday, August 25, 2009 10:59:30 AM GMT -05:00 US/Canada Eastern 
Subject: My response 



    1. Steve’s latest contribution to our ongoing discussion contained his answer to a question I asked him, namely, “How [in your view], [that is,] by what method or procedure, is the truth of metaphysical propositions ascertained? What shows them to be true?” I have here revised this question slightly, putting “the truth of” in place of the original “are true,” and in view of Danny’s response I should have added “or probably true” to the end of my second sentence. I asked Steve essentially this question because I felt that the issue I raised on my contribution (or memo) of July 29 was becoming lost in the shuffle of subsequent discussion and I was genuinely interested in hearing Steve’s view of how the truth or probable truth of distinctively philosophical assertions, if indeed they have a truth value, could be rationally ascertained. 




2. It appears that Steve was unwilling to answer my question: instead of writing about the truth of “distinctively philosophical assertions,” he spoke about “metaphysical positions” that philosophers take. I would never deny that there are metaphysical “positions,” but I was not concerned with such things. One reason why I was not concerned with such things is that their nature is quite unclear. What is nominalism, as Steve understands it? Is it an assertion about what exists, an assertion that existing things are invariably concrete and particular, or that rationally acceptable discourse ostensibly about abstracta (properties, propositions, and possibly sets) must be equivalent, or reducible, to discourse about linguistically items? Or is nominalism something else entirely? Is it some kind of proposal or resolve to speak in a certain way. Or what? 



3. In my memo of July 29 I was specifically concerned with true assertions of a “distinctively philosophical” kind. [For my use of “distinctively philosophical” see my July 29 memo.] As I observed in a note to another philosopher, the object of this concern was essentially hypothetical, for I was prepared to concede that distinctively philosophical assertions may [= might possibly] never, in fact, be true, or be false. Many empiricists regarded such assertions as cognitively meaningless, and others might consider them proposals or conventions of some kind. 



4. Steve’s response left me in some doubt whether he regards any distinctly philosophical assertions as actually true. He says that nominalism is a “position” that may or may not be “most productive” with respect to “fitting all that needs to be considered in getting the big picture.” Does the big picture he speaks of represent the nature or actual character of reality? Is the big picture propositional? Does it contain or consist of propositions that are actually true? If so, can those propositions be known to be true, probably true, or more likely true than not? Or are they essentially matters of faith, like typical religious claims? It is up to Steve to answer these questions. If he doesn’t, we won’t know what his position actually is. 



5. Steve does make some claims about epistemology, but they are so abstract or high-level that they are hard to deal with. He dismisses the claim that epistemology has “veto power” over metaphysics. But if a philosopher makes a determinate claim that such and such is the case, I would want to know why we should believe him or her. Why should we take such a claim seriously? I would want to evaluate it by reference to reasonable epistemic standards, the sort of standards I defend in my recent book. 



6. There is a lot more to say here, but saying more may not be useful. The discussion needs clarification. I think Roger has made useful remarks on this (I think I am in general agreement with him) but more needs to be said. 



Bruce 

PS: I think this is an appropriate response to Danny, also. 
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