Presentation on theme: "A linguistic turn of 360º Taking the complexity of predicates ontologically seriously Hilan Bensusan (Brasilia) Manuel de Pinedo (Granada)"— Presentation transcript:
A linguistic turn of 360º Taking the complexity of predicates ontologically seriously Hilan Bensusan (Brasilia) Manuel de Pinedo (Granada)
Predicates and properties Predicates are items of language whereas properties are features of items in the world. Isomorphism: we’re interested in finding out when predicates of our languages correspond to properties of the world. A linguistic way to say what metaphysics is about: an enquiry into when predicates are more than mere predicates.
Predicates come in many flavours Some of them are easily definable in terms of other predicates, like “liquid”, “material” or “dissolved”. Some are only defined with the help of modal language, like “soluble”, “perceptible” or “correct”. Others reflect a family resemblance between their instances of application, like “is a game”, “exercise” or “mental”. Others still, seem thoroughly and explicitly indexical, like “is nearby”, “heavy” or “in the future”.
The philosophy of predicates (i) It has been argued that predicates are hardly defined in terms of other predicates in all contexts of use. Further, it is not straightforward to distinguish without appeal to contexts when predicates are used for description and which are used for other purposes. (This is part of the main semantic thrusts of Wittgenstein’s work on language and thought.) Many predicates have modality built into them. Even predicates like “material”, “dark” or “round” cannot be understood in all their uses without appeal to modal language. It has been pointed out that predicates are often implicitly indexical and are only understood in a de re manner (Kaplan, Perry).
The philosophy of predicates (ii) Predicates are often used in relation to their contexts; previous knowledge about the predicate usage can prove insufficient and even unnecessary for correct interpretation. Davidson has argued that interpretation of terms of a language can rely on no more than passing theories about what is being conveyed. Davidson (and Quine) also argues for a great deal of predicate holism. Meanings are often interdependent as the acquisition of new predicates can change the understanding of previously acquired ones. The relevance of the appeal to contexts and the awareness of the de re nature of predicate use have triggered heated debates concerning whether there is any level of meaning which is unaffected by contextual information (Recanati, Stojanovic, Villanueva). Fixed, literal and context-independent meanings for predicates are under threat. The threat, however, should be taken together with a measure of ontological seriousness.
Can metaphysics accommodate all that? Three alternatives: 1. To find a way to consider properties without taking predicates into account (do metaphysics without words, or, arguably, without the complexities and niceties of vernacular languages); 2. To ignore all that and say that only clear-cut and easily definable (uses of) predicates are metaphysically relevant; 3. To look for metaphysical toolboxes that can accommodate these findings and incorporate (at least some of) the complexities of languages into the image of the world.
Metaphysical toolboxes 1 In a metaphysics of powers, there are ways to accommodate the holistic nature of the relations between predicates (not only explicitly dispositional predicates). Incidentally, predicate holism, as a doctrine in the philosophy of language, can itself benefit from commitment to dispositions to solve problems such as that of accounting for external relations.
Metaphysical toolboxes 2 A-ism about time makes room to accommodate (some) indexical predicates (like “passé”, “contemporary”, “current”). Predicate-types can be seen as pointing at relations of similitude between properties – their different uses can be put together by (Wittgensteinian) family resemblance relations – and in that case could be part of what one needs to be acquainted in order to identify different (less than universal) properties.
Metaphysical toolboxes 3 If metaphysics involve a fixed set of natural kinds, we will have problems making room for the explanatory of predicates like the one we were introduced to this morning, “nearcat”. It would be better to have a metaphysics were either everything is potentially a natural kind (and whether they are or not will depend on further facts about the world) or we understand kinds as similarities between tropes that can be captured by predicates.
Metaphysical toolboxes and philosophy of language Metaphysics cannot be independent of a view of predicates. There is no way to avoid metaphysics by deciding in a metaphysically-neutral way which and when predicates are metaphysically relevant. One can test metaphysical positions by considering their linkage to positions in the philosophy of language.