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Quine On What There Is. Quine American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition. Studied and worked at Harvard. June 25, 1908 to December 25,

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Presentation on theme: "Quine On What There Is. Quine American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition. Studied and worked at Harvard. June 25, 1908 to December 25,"— Presentation transcript:

1 Quine On What There Is

2 Quine American philosopher and logician in the analytic tradition. Studied and worked at Harvard. June 25, 1908 to December 25, Analytic philosophers consider him the fifth most important philosopher of the past two centuries. Wrote about logic, language, mathematics, epistemology… During World War II he taught logic in Brazil, in Portuguese. He also spoke French, Spanish and German.

3 The Ontological Problem What is There? People disagree about what there is. Some think properties exist, others that they don’t, some think numbers exist, etc. The question “What is There?” is important for language. It seems that we can only talk about objects that exist. If an object does not exist and yet we have a name for it, what does the name refer to? We usually understand words by looking at what they refer to. This is one view of language: meaning equals reference. The problem is that there are names, such as ‘Pegasus’ that do have meaning even though there isn’t a material object that we can point at to explain what it means. These are called non-referring names. Quine’s problem is going to be: How do we understand these names if they refer to nothing in existence? What can we point at to explain what they mean?

4 McX vs. Quine McX says “Pegasus exists!” Quine says “Pegasus does not exist!” McX can say: there is something Quine and I disagree about, and that thing is Pegasus. Quine cannot say this because that would be to say that Pegasus is something, that Pegasus exists to be disagreed about in the first place. Even to admit that he disagrees with McX about Pegasus, Quine has to agree with McX that Pegasus exists. Quine can neither agree nor disagree. Questions: Can we talk meaningfully about things that do not exist in reality? Do we commit ontologically to all the names of our language? Can we even disagree about what exists and doesn’t exist? Is ontology beyond discussion?

5 In any ontological dispute… Whoever says that X does not exist needs to explain what it is that her opponents disagree with her about, and how the thing can be talked about if it doesn’t exist in the first place. Examples: God exists vs. God does not exist Plato’s Riddle: nonbeing must in some sense be, or else what is it that there is not? But then everything that is and everything that isn’t exists! Too much! Occam’s Razor is the law of economy: whenever we have competing explanations for something, we should pick the simplest one, i.e., the one that makes the fewest assumptions. “Other things being equal, a simpler explanation is better than a more complex one.” William of Occam: English Logician from 14 th century. Quine calls Plato’s riddle of nonbeing “Plato’s beard”: it resists Occam’s Razor, it resists our impulse to think that only what exists exists and yet it is very hard to get rid of it…

6 McX’s solutions: 1) Say that these things actually exist. ‘Pegasus’ has meaning because there really is a flying horse. All names point to actually existent objects: Unicorns, God, etc. 2) Pegasus exists as an idea in the human mind. But if we say: But when we say Pegasus doesn’t exist, we are not saying that the idea of Pegasus doesn’t exist. So ‘Pegasus’ cannot be an idea. When we say Poseidon rode Pegasus, we don’t mean that he rode an idea of the mind. We don’t confuse chair with chair-idea.

7 Wyman A subtler mind with a view more difficult to eradicate. Wyman’s solution: Pegasus exists as an unactualized possible. To say that Pegasus does not exist is to say that it does not have the attribute of actuality, it is not actual. Saying that Pegasus is not actual is like saying that my dress is not red.

8 Quine Wyman ruined the word ‘exist’. Wyman at the same time says that possibles exist just as much as actuals and that only actual things exist. He equivocates. Existence does not require existence in space-time. If Pegasus existed he would be in spacetime because the word ‘Pegasus’ has spatio-temporal connotations and not because existence has spatio-temporal connotations. Pegasus cannot exist as something it is not. ‘Exist’ can only mean one thing at a time. The cube root of 27 exists without being spatio-temporal. We are not using ‘exist’ ambiguously. Wyman’s universe is overpopulated. The only thing that makes this view attractive is the old notion that Pegasus must be otherwise it would be nonsense to say even that he is not.

9 What about the round square? Must we concede that unless the round square cupola on Berkeley College were it would be nonsense to say that it is not? But the round square cannot be admitted as an unactualized possible, because a round square is impossible! And yet we talk about it. Wyman: ‘round square’ is nonsense, it is meaningless, like saying ‘blablabla’. The doctrine of the meaninglessness of contradictions.

10 Russell Theory of singular descriptions: shows how we can meaningfully use names without supposing that the things named exist. The theory applies to complex descriptions: ‘the present King of France’, ‘the author of Waverly’, etc. Russell explains ‘the author of Waverly was a poet’ like this: ‘Someone wrote Waverly, and was a poet and nobody else wrote Waverly’. The advantage: there isn’t one NAME that points to one ENTITY, but the meaning is preserved. ‘The author of Waverly’ does NOT demand objective reference in order to be meaningful at all. Russell gets rid of names, putting bound variables in their place (‘something’, ‘nothing’, ‘everything’). Bound variables are not names; they refer to entities in general, with an ambiguity peculiar to them. These variables are meaningful IN CONTEXT. We exchange objective reference as the source of meaning for context as the source of meaning. ‘Something’ can be meaningful without presupposing the author of Waverly or the round square or any object Russell defeats the old notion that statements of nonbeing defeat themselves. The meaningfulness of statements can no longer be thought to presuppose that there exist certain entities.

11 Pegasus Before Russell: either Pegasus is or the word ‘Pegasus’ is meaningless. Can we apply Russell to ‘Pegasus’? ‘Pegasus’ is a word, not a phrase… We must rephrase ‘Pegasus’ as a description in order to apply Russell to it. We can say ‘The winged horse that was captured by Bellerophon’. Then we can analyze the statement ‘Pegasus is’ according to Russell’s formula. We don’t even need to know anything about Pegasus. We can just change it for ‘the thing that is-Pegasus’ or ‘the thing that pegasizes’.

12 McX and Wyman “We cannot say that X is not without saying that X is.” But with Russell’s theory we can! We can meaningfully say that X is not without having to say that X is. But meaning here comes from context, not from reference. Thanks to Russell, we can say that things are NOT without committing to an ontology. We only commit to an ontology when we say something IS. This preserves our initial intuition about the verb ‘exist’. Singular terms don’t have to name things to be significant.

13 Quine There is a gulf between meaning and naming. Some names refer to different things while naming the same object: example ‘Evening Star’ and ‘Morning Star’. These two expressions have different meanings but they refer to the same object. Thus, meaning cannot be reference. We should not confuse meaning and naming. McX made this confusion when he said that the thing that Pegasus names must exist in order for the word ‘Pegasus’ to have meaning. One thing is the actual flying horse; another is the meaning of the word Pegasus.

14 What is meaning? McX: the “having” of some abstract entity which he calls meaning. Quine: the fact that an utterance is meaningful or SIGNIFICANT is an ultimate and irreducible matter of fact. People react to meaningfulness differently than they do to meaninglessness. We can say things are meaningful without having to say that there are “meanings”. Names are immaterial to the ontological problem; they can be converted to descriptions which can then be eliminated. We can have a language completely without names! TO BE ASSUMED AS AN ENTITY IS SIMPLY TO BE RECKONED AS THE VALUE OF A VARIABLE. TO BE IS TO BE IN THE RANGE OF REFERENCE OF A PRONOUN. Pronouns are the basic media of reference. Nouns might have been called propronouns. A theory is committed to those and only those entities to which the bound variables of the theory must be capable of referring in order that the affirmations made in the theory be true. MUCH OF THE CONTROVERSY OVER ONTOLOGY IS IN FACT CONTROVERSY OVER LANGUAGE. But what there is does not depend on words.

15 Summary Some argue that Pegasus must be because otherwise it would be nonsense to say even that Pegasus is not. Russell frees us from this ontological commitment. Still, he does not tell us which ontology to adopt.


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