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Causal Theories. THE ABSURDITY OF FIT The Absurdity of Fit In one sense, all the views weve considered in class so far are views on which meaning is.

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Presentation on theme: "Causal Theories. THE ABSURDITY OF FIT The Absurdity of Fit In one sense, all the views weve considered in class so far are views on which meaning is."— Presentation transcript:

1 Causal Theories


3 The Absurdity of Fit In one sense, all the views weve considered in class so far are views on which meaning is a type of fit. On the idea theory, meanings (connotations) are ideas. Ideas have a certain pre-existing structure: just as in a painting the different parts are related to one another, and colored in various ways, and so forth.

4 Idea Theory and Fit In order to find out what an idea represents, we go out and find the things that best fit the idea, that most closely match its pre-existing structure, that best resemble it. Whatever best fits the pre-existing structure is what the idea represents.

5 Verificationism and Fit While verificationism doesnt have the same little colored pictures view of ideas or the resemblance theory of representation, it too involves a type of fit. In advance, words are associated with specific experiences that are stipulated to verify them. Why does a certain experience verify That is red? Because we said so, thats why. We say in advance what experiences verify which sentences, then we go look and see what experiences we have.

6 Definitions and Fit Similarly, a definitions view is a type of fit as well. We say in advance what the definitions of words are. You dont discover that bachelors are unmarried, you sit down and make it true by fiat.

7 The Absurdity of Fit But theres something terribly wrong with the idea that meanings are specified in advance of our encounters with the world. That before any experience of the world, we sit down and draw up a structural description, or a set of experiences, or a verbal description and say whatever I find thats like this, I will call a dog!

8 The Paradox of Inquiry The worry here is that on any of these models, you cant be radically wrong. If gold is true of what most closely resembles your idea of gold, then most of your beliefs about gold must be true. And the same goes for most of your beliefs about anything. If representation is what fits best with what youve drawn up in advance, in advance of inquiry, you can be pretty sure you already know whats true and what isnt.

9 The Paradox of Inquiry In fact, this problem is as old as Plato, and its called the paradox of inquiry. The paradox is: suppose you want to know, say, the nature of lightning. If you know what lightning is in advance, then you dont need to investigate, because thats what you wanted to know. But if you dont know, how do you know when you discover it, that lightning is X? You find X, but you dont know that its lightning, because you dont know what lightning is!

10 Causal Theories Causal theories of meaning are radically different from the fit views weve been considering. They say (roughly) that a word or a concept represents what causes you to say it or think it. So even if all your beliefs about gold, and all your utterances concerning gold are completely false, those thoughts/ sentences still represent gold so long as gold is responsible for you believing/ saying them.


12 A classic problem in philosophy since before Socrates is: What is knowledge? Whats the difference between believing something and knowing it?

13 A little reflection tells us that if you know something, then it has to be true. So maybe knowledge = true belief.

14 Socrates/ Plato vs. K = TB Suppose there has been a murder, and no eye- witnesses Suppose the jury is superstitious, and I convince them that X is guilty, b/c I dreamed that he was.

15 Socrates/ Plato vs. K = TB No one is inclined to say that the jury knows that X is the killer. But if I was accidentally right, they will have a true belief that X is the killer.

16 True Beliefs, Bad Reasons Here the important point is that a belief that is true, but which you believe for bad reasons, is not really knowledge. If you believe something because you want to, or because your horoscope says it, or because a really unreliable person told it to you, then you dont know it.

17 K = JTB This naturally suggests that for a belief to be knowledge, it not only has to be true, but has to be held for a good reason. This is the classic JTB account: knowledge = justified true belief.

18 Gettier Cases However, in the hyper-classic 1963 paper Is Knowledge Justified True Belief? Edmund Gettier provides reasons for thinking K JTB. Heres an example of a Gettier case.

19 Russells Clock Everyday you (justifiedly) set your watch to the clock. Unbeknownst to you, last night the clock broke at exactly 8pm. You set your watch this morning to 8am, truly and justifiedly. It happens to be 8am.

20 The Causal Account of Knowledge Whats going on here? Well, some philosophers (e.g. Dretske 1981) think that this shows knowledge isnt justified true belief, its true belief thats caused by the fact the belief is about.

21 Right Direction The causal account has its problems (cant we know things about the future even though causation doesnt go from future to past?), but to many it seemed like the right direction. To know something is to have your beliefs based on the facts, where based on is some sort of causal notion.

22 The Success of Causal Theories Knowledge (Dretske): X knows proposition P = the information that P causes X to believe P. Action (Goldman): X performs action A = Xs beliefs and desires cause A. Perception (Grice): X perceives object O = O causes an experience in X. Representation?


24 Motivations But why think that causation has anything to do with representation?

25 Motivations Why think causation has anything to do with mental representation?

26 The Mirror Universe

27 Secondary Qualities

28 Causation has the Right Structure? RepresentationResemblanceCausation Non-reflexiveReflexiveIrreflexive AsymmetricSymmetricAntisymmetric IntransitiveTransitive

29 Structure Notice importantly that cases that show representation is non-reflexive rather than irreflexive, and asymmetric rather than antisymmetric include the semantic paradoxes: 1.This sentence is false. 2.Sentence #3 is false. 3.Sentence #2 is true.

30 Possibility of Massive Error

31 Coordination across Theories A related upshot is that two people with radically different theories can nevertheless be talking about the same thing, and hence be meaningfully disagreeing with one another.


33 Saul Kripke, 1940- Published first completeness proof for modal logic at 18. Highly influential in philosophy of language and mind. Developed the causal- historical theory of meaning

34 Saul Kripke, 1940- Kripkes account is developed in his Naming and Necessity. The background is that hes arguing against views on which the meanings of names are descriptions or definitions.

35 Against Descriptivism Kripke argues that for any name N, there is no description D that we associate with N such that: 1.If x satisfies the description, N = x. 2.If N = x, then x must satisfy the description.

36 Ignorance & Error He argues against each claim as follows: Against #1: Arguments from ignorance. Sometimes lots of things satisfy the descriptions we associate with N, but only one is N. Against #2: Arguments from Error. Sometimes nothing satisfies the descriptions we associate with N (or some non-x does), but N still = x.

37 Ignorance: Feynman What people know: Hes a physicist Hes famous Hes dead He worked on quantum mechanics

38 Ignorance: Feynman But Bohr: Hes a physicist Hes famous Hes dead He worked on quantum mechanics

39 Ignorance: Feynman its not true that Feynman means Bohr and its not true that it means nothing. How is that possible for the descriptivist?

40 Error: Einstein Who is Albert Einstein? What people believe: Einstein is the inventor of the atomic bomb.

41 Error: Einstein But the inventor of the nuclear bomb cant be the meaning of Einstein because then Einstein would refer to Leo Szilard (or whoever).

42 Kripkes Picture Someone, lets say, a baby, is born; his parents call him by a certain name. They talk about him to their friends, other people meet him. Through various sorts of talk the name is spread from link to link as if by a chain…

43 Kripkes Picture A speaker who is on the far end of this chain, who has heard about, say Richard Feynman, in the market place or elsewhere, may be referring to Richard Feynman even though he cant remember from whom he first heard of Feynman or from whom he ever heard of Feynman.

44 Kripkes Picture A rough statement of a theory might be the following: An initial baptism takes place. Here the object may be named by ostension, or the reference of the name may be fixed by a description…

45 Kripkes Picture When the name is passed from link to link, the receiver of the name must, I think, intend when he learns it to use it with the same reference as the man from whom he heard it.

46 The Causal-Historical Theory Lets call that baby Feynman Feynman

47 The Causal-Historical Theory Lets call that baby Feynman Feynman Historical Chain of Transmission

48 The Causal-Historical Theory Denotation Feynman

49 No Connotations The causal-historical theory, unlike the other theories weve considered so far, does not use a connotation (idea, experience, definition) to determine the denotation. Denotations are determined by non-mental facts.

50 Natural Kinds Kripke and another philosopher Hilary Putnam wanted to generalize what was true of names to natural kind terms (a phrase introduced by Quine).

51 Natural Kinds Kripke and another philosopher Hilary Putnam wanted to generalize what was true of names to natural kind terms (a phrase introduced by Quine).


53 The Causal-Historical Theory Lets call that thing a tiger. TIGER

54 Ignorance: Water In Hilary Putnams classic The Meaning of Meaning he argues that meaning just aint in the head. In particular, he presents his famous Twin Earth thought experiment, which is intended to show that what the word water is true of is not determined by what we know or believe about water.

55 Twin Earth Twin Earth is a planet on the other side of the galaxy. In most ways, it is just like Earth, down to the smallest detail. You have a twin on Twin Earth whos just like you, I have a twin whos just like me, theyre sitting in a twin classroom, and my twin is giving a lecture just like this one to your twin. And so on and so forth.

56 EarthTwin Earth

57 There is however one difference between Earth and Twin Earth. On Earth, all the watery stuff is H 2 O. On Twin Earth, the watery stuff is composed of a complicated chemical compound we can abbreviate XYZ. H 2 O and XYZ look and behave exactly the same. They taste the same, they boil at the same temperatures at the same distance above sea level, their conductance is the same, etc.

58 Twin Earth Consider two twins, Arnold on Earth and Twin Arnold on Twin Earth. Neither knows any chemistry. What they know/ believe about the stuff they call water is the same. Q: Would it be true for Arnold to call the stuff on Twin Earth water?

59 Twin Earth The intuition is supposed to be that, no, Arnolds word water is true of all an only H 2 O, whereas Twin Arnolds word water is true of all and only XYZ

60 The Moral The conclusion Kripke and Putnam draw from such cases is that we fix the referent of water by a description like the stuff around here in lakes and rivers and streams that falls from the sky and quenches thirst. But this description only fixes the referent. If you replaced all the H 2 O on Earth with XYZ, there wouldnt be any more water here.

61 Error: Gold Neither Kripke nor Putnam present any real cases where, through error, our beliefs about X are completely false of X, yet X still means X (like the Einstein case). (Theres probably lots of cases in contemporary physics.) But Kripke presents some imagined ones. Kant thought that the definition of gold was yellow metal. Kripke then asks, Could we discover that gold was not in fact yellow? p. 118.

62 Imagine Golds Not Yellow Kripke argues that we could. He asks us to suppose that something is weird about the air in places where gold is most prevalent. This strange air makes it appear that gold is yellow, but when we isolate gold in normal air, its obviously blue. Since this is clearly conceivable, it cant be that gold means yellow metal, because if X means Y, then anything that is X is Y.

63 Error: Tigers Heres a case from Paul Ziff in Semantic Analysis (referenced in Kripke p. 119 of 1980 edition). The Shorter OED has the tiger is a large quadrupedal feline, tawny yellow in color, with blackish transverse stripes and a white belly. Ziff argues that this cant be what tiger means, because if someone said I just saw a three- legged tiger, that wouldnt be a contradiction.

64 Kripke goes on to argue that we could discover that something with none of the characteristics in the definition might still be a tiger. All previous zoologists who handled tigers were incompetent: theyre really lizards, they just look like felines. Their skin isnt orange, because of optical illusions familiar from the gold case. Etc. The point is not that this is very likely. Its that its conceivable, and it shouldnt be (if definitions are meanings).

65 The Moral The moral of the story is that often our reference-fixing goes on in the absence of any true descriptions. Tigers are those things over there, the dangerous ones that you dont want to stand by. We later discover that those things are felines, and have four legs, etc. But thats not known in advance, as part of the meaning of tiger. Tiger applies to those things we initially baptized tigers whatever they are.

66 The Epistemic Argument Kripke had two other arguments against description theories (which he took to support his own account). First, suppose someone says Aristotle means the last great philosopher of antiquity. It is true that if x is named Aristotle then x was the last great philosopher of antiquity and vice versa. So this is not a Feynman or an Einstein case.

67 The Epistemic Argument However, it still seems as though you dont have the same sort of epistemic access to this fact as to other clearer cases of definition like bachelors are unmarried men. You dont know for sure that Aristotle was the last great philosopher of antiquity. It could turn out false. It could turn out that Aristotle was just a medieval forgery. If it were a definition, you should know for sure. But you dont.

68 The Modal Argument Finally, Kripke argues that the modal properties of names are different from those of definitions: FALSE: If things had gone differently, Aristotle might not have been Aristotle. TRUE: If things had gone differently, Aristotle might not have been the last great philosopher of antiquity.

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