[hist-analytic] Response to Steve's Latest

Bruce Aune aune at philos.umass.edu
Wed Jan 6 08:29:16 EST 2010

Steve obviously spent a lot of time writing up his “Preliminary  
Remarks on the ‘Two Color Problem’,” and because many of his  
remarks are directed specifically to me, I have a strong inclination  
to say something about it. But I have a contrary inclination as well.  
Steve takes up many things in his document that I have already  
addressed at length in previous contributions to our ongoing  
exchanges, and since Steve appears simply to disregard much of what I  
have said, I wonder if there is any point in saying more. Our  
interchanges have been a lot like a conversation with a person who  
listens politely to what you say but then goes on speaking as if you  
haven’t said anything yourself. What you do say seems to go in one  
ear of your interlocutor and out the other. Well, I have a free  
afternoon. I’ll say a few things in the hope that Steve will actually  
consider them, though he doesn’t have to respond. Our  
“discussion” of the color-issue has probably gone on long enough.

        1. My first remarks concern what Steve says at the beginning  
of his paper about Putnam and meaning postulates. Intending to expose  
an error he thinks Putnam makes in introducing meaning postulates for  
a solution to the red/green color problem, Steve asks us to consider  
“how a relation can
under one set of circumstances be transitive but under another
not.” I am not sure what error Steve thinks Putnam made (he doesn’t  
clearly identify it), but Steve makes a gross error in setting forth  
his example. If there is a single case in which, for a relation R,  
there are individuals a, b, and c such that aRb, bRc, and not-aRc,  
then the relation R is simply not transitive. To be transitive, R must  
be such that for all x, y, and z, if xRy and yRz, then xRz. Steve also  
errs in specifying the details of his example. If his relation is that  
of having the same hammer, then if x does have the same hammer as y  
and y does have the same hammer as z, then x and z would have to have  
the same hammer. If the relation is otherwise—if, say, it is that of  
being a co-owner of a (=some) hammer—it need not be transitive, but  
Steve would have to say just what the relation is.

As I explain in my ch 3, meaning postulates (the label is Carnap’s)  
are supposed to be specifications of meaning for descriptive  
expressions, either partial or complete, in the context of a sentence.  
(They are complete or partial contextual definitions.) For reasons  
that I explain, Carnap regarded such specifications as essentially  
stipulative rather than descriptive. If I stipulate that I am using  
“R” to represent a reflexive relation, then if my stipulation is  
properly introduced (as I put it in my appendix 4), no empirical  
considerations could possibly falsify it. E.g. if I stipulate that I  
am using “R*” to represent a symmetrical relation, then anyone  
having evidence that not-(bR*a) (in the intended sense of “xR*y” )  
can only conclude that “aR*b” is false). It is possible, of course,  
that no pair of objects may stand in the relation R*, but this would  
not invalidate my stipulation either. Quine, in his original “Two  
Dogmas…,” made the unfortunate claim that the progress of quantum  
mechanics might induce us to “revise” the law of excluded middle;  
his claim was unfortunate because too many of his readers read him as  
meaning that quantum-mechanical facts might falsify the law. This  
would not be possible, because the law holds only for statements  
satisfying bi-valence, and no such statement, no matter what its  
subject matter or truth-value, could undermine the law. (Truth tables  
show this.) Revising the law would amount to amending the meaning of  
the truth-functional “or.” This of course could be done; there is  
no a priori objection to that.

Putnam, in attempting to show by reference to certain meaning  
postulates that certain vernacular statements are analytically true  
(or true solely by virtue of their meaning) no doubt thought of the  
ones he gave as descriptive for informed discourse about colors. Since  
philosophers of most stripes agree that the same part of a thing’s  
surface could not possibly possess two different color-shades at the  
same time, it is not unreasonable to suppose that this incompatibility  
may have a basis in the meaning they attach to color words. This  
supposition could, of course, be false, but that is something Steve  
would have to show.  If the postulates Putnam introduced do represent  
meaning connections implicit in his or others’ talk, his claim that  
the assertions of incompatibility he is concerned are analytically  
true deserves to be accepted as holding true for those language-users.

  As I explained in an earlier post, I don‘t think of analyticity as  
Putnam did, or does, and I would not accept his version of the “two  
color” problem. I do believe, as I said in my book, that conceptually  
sophisticated speakers of English, the speakers Wittgenstein commonly  
referred to as “we,” do generally conceive of specific visible  
colors as being identical just when they are appropriately  
indiscernible (not when they can’t be distinguished under special  
conditions, e.g., the sort of conditions that Danny described in his  
controversy with me). Because they generally conceive of colors this  
way, they generally use their determinate color predicates to  
represent properties having this identity condition. The fact that  
they do use color words this way is not crucial to my position on  
analyticity, however. People need not speak the way I do or in the way  
I recommend. As I explain in my book (see pp. 101-105), the notion of  
analytic truth should ideally be relativized to particular language- 
users or thinkers in specified contexts of speech or thought.

2.  I have things to say about almost every paragraph of Steve’s  
discussion, but I must restrict myself to the most significant ones.  
In his section G he includes some quotations from Wittgenstein, which  
he thinks are contrary to my views. But he is simply wrong about this.  
None of W’s claims is problematic for me. Steve seems to have  
forgotten my story about Tom, Mary, and Harry (see ch 2, pp. 64ff and  
ch 3, pp. 102f). Here we have three people who classify an unusual  
color in three different ways and whose concepts of green and yellow  
partly diverge, though they overlap for most other cases. My claim,  
remember, is that there is actually no metaphysical or conceptual  
compatibility between red and green or any other generic color  
qualities. Specific shades of color (determinate color qualities) are  
conceptually incompatible, but shades disjoint on the color wheel  
could conceivably be classifiable together under a common generic  
color. And of course we can always speak of colored things with  
varying degrees of strictness.

In his section G Steve also says, “Sometimes it seems to me that  
Bruce thinks you can

solve certain problems, the ones under discussion having to do with  
defining, etc. “determinate colors” by simply going to the paint  
store and asking to view a color wheel.”  It should not seem this way  
to him if he remembers why I spoke of going to a paint store.  I was  
making an objection to a bad argument he introduced to show that there  
are no determinate (or discrete, a word he also used) colors. As I  
said in my response to his Nov. 10 post, “Steve, holding fast to the  
continuity idea …, thinks that the existence of humanly imperceptible  
color differences (which he accepts) shows that there are no  
“discrete colors”.  As he puts it, “if it is always the case that  
between any two colors there is a third, and if the discrimination of  
individuals is limited, then there will be no discrete colors for  
these individuals.”  But if discrete colors are recognizable colors,  
this contention is absurd; it involves the logical howler I accused  
him of [in an earlier post]. From the fact (if it is a fact) that  
there are differences between shades of red that I cannot recognize,  
it hardly follows that I cannot distinguish any shades of red at all-- 
dark shades from a light shades, or a shades of red from a shade of  
green. The analogy I drew [in the earlier post] between real numbers  
ordered by SMALLER THAN and shades of color ordered by the supposedly  
dense relation Steve seems to have in mind is, in fact, sound. In both  
cases we have a conditional assertion, “(x)(y)(xRy ® there is a z  
such that xRz & zRy),” and to infer from this that some minimal term  
z’ possesses a special minimal vale, we need a premise of the form  
“aRb” that we can know to be true. For this premise, the value of  
“a” and “b” need not [in fact, can’t] be minimal at all.”

        In an earlier post concerned with the same argument I  
mentioned going into a paint store.  Here is what I said: “I think  
Steve has gone around the bend talking about color being a continuum.  
Suppose I go to a paint store and buy a can of Forest Green paint. I  
use it to plaint a lawn chair. (I have actually done this many times.)  
Isn’t the chair I painted now Forest Green in color?  And isn’t  
that a definite color? (It is in fact another example of what I call a  
determinate color.)  Where is the color that is continuous with the  
color of this chair? If you can find it for me, show me the color that  
is between the two—and so on and so on and so on….  What reason is  
there for believing that the colors we see belong to a color  
continuum, a continuum of visible (seeable) colors?  I certainly  
can’t make infinite discriminations.  My computer monitor is capable  
of displaying “millions of colors,” but not infinitely many of  
them.  Am I supposed to be capable of discriminating more colors than  
my computer can display?”

        3. Steve has some odd things to say about identity.  He says  
he doesn’t believe that the identity relation applicable to objects  
of visual awareness is transitive.  He supports his belief this way:  
“Suppose two things are the same color (I am looking at them). But  
there is a third thing that is identical in color to the second but  
not the first.  Then it would appear that I have at least three  
colors, although only two are distinguishable.” Why do we have three  
colors? If the first two are identical in color, there is one color  
that they both have. If the third thing is not identical in color to  
the second thing, then we have two colors, not three. But how is this  
supposed to be possible? Let the three things be A, B, and C, and let  
“C(X)” mean “the color of X.” If C(A) = C(B), how can C(B)  
possibly = C(D) but C(D) not = C(A)? If identity is not transitive,  
what is? Steve can’t cast doubt on the transitivity of identity  
merely by supposing that transitivity fails for the colors of three  
particular objects.

        4.  In spite of all I have said in response to Steve’s  
worries about determinate colors, he is fundamentally confused about  
it.  I have said (nearly a dozen times) that I use “determinate” as  
a contrast to “generic” or (to use W.E. Johnson’s favored term)  
“determinable.” I was never unclear about this, and I have never  
understood what Steve’s problem is. Isn’t the distinction between  
the generic and the specific (or determinate) elementary?  Could a  
thing be a mammal without being a dog or a cat or a snake or some  
other kind of mammal?  Obviously not. And could it be a mammal of a  
certain kind without being a particular instance of that kind?   
Obviously not. Well, could something be colored without being red or  
blue or green or some other generic color?  Obviously not.  And could  
it be red without being some shade of red—vermillion, scarlet, red  
madder?  Of course not. If scarlet is not itself generic—if it is not  
exemplified by things different shades of scarlet—it is determinate;  
if it is generic, things possess it only by virtue of possessing  
specific color-features appropriate to that genus.

5. Steve extracts from Putnam an interesting example that brings out  
an important fact about indistinguishability as a criterion for  
sameness of determinate colors, a fact that I have not yet commented  
on: Groups of colored objects can be so similar to one another in  
color that if they are compared in a certain order, their color- 
differences will be pairwise indiscernible. As an example, consider  
objects A, B, and D. If A is compared with B, even the keenest human  
viewers will be unable to discern a color-difference between them. The  
same is true of B and D. But if A is compared with D, a color  
difference will be apparent. Does this show that the principle I  
defended, “C(x)= C(y) iff IND[C(x), C(y)],” is false? I think not.  
What it does show is that the discernibility of color differences may  
be direct as well as indirect. I say this because in the case I  
described, we discover the difference between C(A) and C(D) by their  
distinguishability. This difference, together with the principle of  
transitivity for color-identity, permits us to infer that either C(A)  
does not = C(B )or C(B) does not = C(D).  So we know that one of the  
pairs we cannot directly see to be different in color is different  
nevertheless. We know this indirectly—by inference from a difference  
we know directly. The criterion for color-sameness that I have  
defended should therefore be understood to be indistinguishability  
both direct and indirect. If a difference cannot be discerned either  
directly or indirectly, the relevant colors are the same.

6. In his section “On The Significance of the ‘Two color  
Problem’,” Steve considers what we should say if “we take” the  
two-color proposition to be synthetic. What we should say should  
depend, I think, on what we regard as true. The proposition contains a  
modal auxiliary, “can,” together with “no,” which adds up to  
the idea of impossibility. What kind of possibility is this supposed  
to be? In my book I mentioned that, owing to the structure of our  
eyes, it appears to be physically impossible for anything to be seen  
as both red and green. So if the relevant “cannot” is understood as  
connoting physical impossibility, the two-color proposition may well  
be synthetic and true. But philosophers who think it is true do not  
base their assessment on scientific evidence; they think of the  
relevant “cannot” as representing a kind of possibility that can be  
known a priori. Steve himself views it this way; he thinks of the  
proposition so understood as representing an item of a priori  
knowledge. Empiricists would not agree with this opinion; they do not  
believe that this kind of knowledge is possible (to use Kant’s  
language). Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason was explicitly concerned to  
show how such knowledge is possible (in the three areas where Kant  
thought we had such knowledge), but Kant’s efforts were pretty  
clearly a failure. (I have taught the Critique at least twenty times,  
and I have no doubt about this matter.) I also devoted the second  
chapter of my book to criticizing contemporary attempts to defend the  
existence of such knowledge. So I am convinced that it is not  
“possible.” But I did think I could show that the two-color  
proposition, qualified to apply to specific rather than generic  
colors, can reasonably be regarded as analytic. That, I believe, is an  
important result; it solves a problem that has been around for a very  
long time.

7.  A final point. In his section “EPISTEMOLOGY vs. ONTOLOGY” Steve  
comments on the relative priority of epistemology and ontology. For me  
the issue is clear: epistemology is the fundamental part of  
philosophy. Why do I say this? Because I think philosophy (at least if  
it is a worthwhile subject) is a critical subject: its tenets are not  
matters of faith, like some religion, but conclusions resting on  
evidence. Epistemology, as  see it, is primarily concerned with the  
nature of knowledge and evidence. For that reason alone, it is the  
fundamental part of philosophy. I might add that I have written a long  
book on metaphysics, so my views on ontology are well considered  
rather than impressionistic. I might also say, since Steve speaks of  
certain crowds in philosophy, that I have never aspired to be a member  
in good standing of some philosophical crowd. When one of my students  
or another philosopher begins to speak about what “we” believe in  
philosophy, I always get nervous. I don’t want to be a fellow  
believer in some philosophical creed.

Bruce Aune

January 6, 2010
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