Saturday 17 December 2011

Against Quine's Argument in Sect. 31 of Word and Object

ADDED: Here is a followup post from 26 December 2015.
UPDATE (Nov 2019): I have recently published a paper on this topic, 'Quine's Poor Tom', in the European Journal of Analytic Philosophy.

Section 31 of Quine's Word and Object contains an arresting fallacious argument. In 1966, R.C. Sleigh Jr. published an objection to it. In 1977, David Widerker published an objection to Sleigh's objection. More recently, in 2007, Charles Sayward has published a paper where Sleigh's objection is further criticized. (References below.)

I will not engage directly with these three papers, but rather aim to give a clearer objection to Quine's argument.

Here is Sayward's apt description of the argument's point:
To a first approximation, the argument purports to show that if Tom has a certain minimal level of logical acuity—a level many of us possess—then if ‘belief’ has a sense in which it is a transparent operator, then Tom, if he in that sense of the word believes anything, he in that sense of the word believes everything. (Sayward 2007, p. 54.)
Quine assumes that Tom believes at least one true sentence and one false one. In fact, he assumes something much stronger: that Tom believes the true sentence 'Cicero denounced Catiline' and the false sentence 'Tully did not denounce Catiline'. (Cicero is Tully.) That these sentences are are (in a sense) contradictories, and that they are about the same object, is not essential for Quine's argument. These features of Tom were needed for earlier, separate arguments in chapter IV of Word and Object
Here is the argument:
Where ‘p’ represents a sentence, let us write ‘#p’ (following Kronecker) as short for the description: 
     the number x such that ((x = 1) and p) or ((x = 0) and not p). 
[In place of '#', Kronecker and Quine used a different symbol, which I can't easily reproduce here. - TH.] 
We may suppose that poor Tom, whatever his limitations regarding Latin literature and local philanthropies, is enough of a logician to believe a sentence of the form ‘#p = 1’ when and only when he believes the sentence represented by ‘p’. But then we can argue from the transparency of belief that he believes everything. For, by the hypothesis already before us, 
     (3) Tom believes that # (Cicero denounced Catiline) = 1.
But, whenever ‘p’ represents a true sentence, 
     # p = #(Cicero denounced Catiline). 
But then, by (3) and the transparency of belief,
     Tom believes that #p  = 1,
from which it follows, by the hypothesis about Tom’s logical acumen, that 
     (4) Tom believes that p. 
But ‘p’ represented any true sentence. Repeating the argument using the falsehood ‘Tully did not denounce Catiline’ instead of the truth ‘Cicero denounced Catiline’, we establish (4) also where ‘p’ represents any falsehood. Tom ends up believing everything. (Quine 1960, pp. 148–149).
First, to rehearse Quine's definition of referential transparency. (Familiar readers can skip this paragraph.) Quine defines transparency in terms of 'modes of containment ... of singular terms or sentences in singular terms or sentences'. Definite descriptions count here as singular terms. For Quine, a mode of containment M is referentially transparent iff, 'whenever an occurrence of a singular term t is purely referential in a term or sentence C(t), it is purely referential also in the containing term or sentence M(C(t)). ' (p. 144, schematic letters changed). For a singular term t to be purely referential in a term or sentence is for it to occupy a purely referential position there. Quine's 'criterion' for a position's being purely referential is that the position 'must be subject to the substitutivity of identity' (p. 142). That is, to the substitutivity of co-extensive singular terms salva veritate.

Let us begin by simply granting (3) for the sake of argument, ignoring its justification - Quine's 'by the hypothesis already before us'. (After we have identified a later fatal flaw in the argument, we will return to (3)'s justification briefly, since it seems to suffer from essentially the same flaw.)

Now, note that Quine's 'hypothesis about Tom's logical acumen' (hereafter 'the acumen hypothesis') and the steps of his argument are at different semantic levels. The hypothesis is framed in terms of belief in sentences, while in the argument, sentences appear unquoted as the contents of 'that'-clauses. Thus, the acumen hypothesis does not apply directly to 'Tom believes that #p = 1', since that sentence says nothing about Tom's belief in any sentence. Quine is, apparently, suppressing a quotational and a disquotational step here. An expanded version of this part of the argument, in which the acumen hypothesis could be applied directly, would have to run something like:

(i) Tom believes that #p = 1.

(ii) Hence Tom believes the sentence '#p = 1'. (Quotation step.)

(iii) Hence Tom believes the sentence 'p'. (Acumen hypothesis together with (ii).)

(4) Tom believes that p. (Disquotation step.)

Secondly, note that 'believes' in 'Tom believes that #p = 1' is to be taken in a transparent sense, as the piece of reasoning preceding it makes clear. (In case of any residual doubt about this: in the very next sentence after the argument as quoted, Quine summarizes it by saying 'Thus in declaring belief invariably transparent ... we would let in too much.')

Putting these things together, we can see the invalidity of Quine's argument: when (i) is taken in a transparent sense, it does not imply (ii).

To see this, consider that Delia Graff Fara believes (in the transparent sense) that Quine wrote Word and Object. We hereby introduce a new name for Quine, 'G6'. Now, since G6 is Quine - since 'G6' and 'Quine' are co-extensive - we may infer that Delia Graff Fara believes (in the transparent sense) that G6 wrote Word and Object. Plainly, we cannot infer from this that Professor Fara, who knows nothing of my convention (at the time of writing), believes the sentence 'G6 wrote Word and Object'.

The problem with Quine's argument as it stands, then, is in the first instance a use-mention confusion. (None of the papers cited makes anything of this point.) We have now seen that the problem cannot be fixed by expanding the argument to contain a quotational and a disquotational step; the quotational step is invalid. Can it be fixed by rephrasing the acumen hypothesis as a schema containing placeholders for unquoted sentences?

It cannot. Such a schema would run: 'John believes that #p = 1 when and only when he believes that p'. The dilemma here is that, if 'believes' is taken transparently, the schema is not a defensible principle of rationality (even for logicians), and if it is taken opaquely, the principle doesn't apply to Quine's argument.

Finally, to return to the first step of the argument, namely (3)'s justification. The 'hypothesis' Quine cites here is, as far as I can tell, the acumen hypothesis. And so this step is just as invalid as Quine's inference to (4). For the case where 'p' is true, however, (3) will be true anyway, so long as Tom believes that 1 = 1.

Tristan Haze
The University of Sydney


- Quine, W. V. (1960). Word and Object. The MIT Press.
- Charles Sayward (2007). Quine and his Critics on Truth-Functionality and Extensionality. Logic and Logical Philosophy 16:45-63.
- R. C. Sleigh (1966). A note on an argument of Quine's. Philosophical Studies 17 (6):91 - 93.
- David Widerker (1977). Epistemic opacity again. Philosophical Studies 32 (4):355 - 358. 

Monday 12 December 2011

In with the True - An interview with Peter Boghossian

Prof. Boghossian writes,
Love your blog. I think your readers may enjoy this highly controversial piece:
Disclaimer: Sprachlogik is not styling itself here as an atheist blog. Theists and agnostics are most welcome. (My father's a non-churchy theist. I'm all over the place, but basically agnostic.)

Sunday 11 December 2011

Philosophers' Carnival - December 12, 2011

Welcome to the December 12, 2011 edition of Philosophers' Carnival.

There weren't many good submissions this time around, so I went hunting. If you write substantial philosophical blog posts, please consider making a habit of submitting to the Carnival.


Satisficing by Effort - Richard Yetter Chappell of Philosophy et cetera discusses effort-based satisficing consquentialism, a view about ethics.


Reviews of this Blog - a blog, by Brian Rabern, consisting solely of reviews of itself. Inspired by Douglas Hofstadter. (Sorry.)

A Note on Craig's Standard Reply to Mackie on the Kalam Cosmological Argument - by ex-apologist. 

Ruling Out the Ruling Out Principle? - by Dan Lopez de Sa of the blogos, the blog of the LOGOS research group.

Philosophy by Humans, 2: Living Metaphorically - by Luke Meuhlhauser A.K.A. lukeprog of Less Wrong. lukeprog is one of the more brilliant and prominent nerds in the Less Wrong community led by Eliezer Yudkowsky. Like it or not, something is happening there.

Extensionalism & Presentism - by Philippe Chuard of BrainPains. The author is discussing extensionalism and presentism about temporal experiences.
Byrne & Hilbert on Color Physicalism - by Justin Fisher of BrainPains. See comments for a response from Hilbert.

Finally, a Wittgensteinian experiment of mine, Twenty Remarks on Necessitarianism and its Negation.

Thanks for visiting. The next Philosophers' Carnival will be at Cognitive Philosophy.

Tuesday 29 November 2011

Assessing Epistemic Modals

Draft paper, here.

After critically examining contextualism and relativism (MacFarlane's view) about epistemic modals, I propose an approach I call 'the dimensions of assessment approach'. Comments welcome.

Wednesday 23 November 2011

Twenty Remarks on Necessitarianism and its Negation

Disclaimer: the following remarks are highly exploratory and are not to be read as expressing anything final. 

1. What is the status of the claim with which Lewis begins On the Plurality of Worlds? (That there are other ways the world could have been other than the way things are.) We have a tendency to hear it in the wrong key. Imagine someone who had lost a loved one saying 'Things really could have been different'. (There seems something self-deluding in this, although it is no ordinary self-delusion. You don't fix it with negation.)

2. Ayer, Carnap and others wanted to say: the necessities fall out of our linguistic/conceptual scheme. Codify 'the rules of correct English' (cf. Language, Truth and Logic) and you've codified the necessities (or a base from which they may be logically derived). But the Kripkean necessary a posteriori, semantic externalism etc. make it clear that one needs a lot more fine structure than 'rules of correct English', and that some structures are in some sense not correct, in a way which has nothing to do with internal incoherence, but rather to do with inadequacy to an external referent. 

* * *

3. 'I went to X, but could have gone to Y instead.'

How might such a proposition be used? A retrospective epistemic use. Or to point to various facts - e.g. that Y wasn't too far away, or that I was under no compulsion to go to X, or that I was seriously considering going to Y, etc. But what if I say that none of that is quite to the point? 'Sure, those things might be true, but over and above that, I'm saying that I really could have gone to Y. The world could have gone differently here, and my going to X was just how it happened to turn out.' What could this mean? (We can imagine someone being bothered, preoccupied, by the thought that things really could have gone differently.)

4. Consider these propositions:

(1) There are things which could have gone otherwise.

(2) There are contingencies.

When a philosopher asserts (1) or words to that effect, typically the reaction they want is 'of course!'. Now, this would happen sometimes, but more common among non-philosophers might be perplexity - 'what do you mean?' - and skepticism - 'but how do you know?'. (I have some experience of this.)

5. Both in and out of serious philosophy, there is a tendency to take (1) and (2) in what I would call the wrong way. Roughly: as though they described something extremely fundamental and general about reality. And yet that is not an entirely wrong-headed thought, for it is immensely important that we talk and think about non-actual scenarios.

6. It is as though, when someone pushes a statement of counterfactual possibility in a certain way, we take them to be making a very strong claim, quite beyond our ken.

7. When one hears (1) and (2) in an "inflated" way - whatever that comes to - necessitarianism can seem like the antidote: something wrong has been said, and so it should be denied. But then the denial turns out to be just as troublesome, if not more! (Now it is trivially false, instead of trivially true - like Idealism in relation to Realism.)

8. The disease is not fully containable in any one proposition. 

* * *

9. It can be very important to realize that some propositions are necessary - 'One cannot feel another's pain', 'The opium worked (if it worked at all) by means of a dormitative power'. Likewise, contingent - 'There are two sexes', 'We have one body each', 'We use the decimal system to count'. It can be very instructive to get clear about the "modal status" of these things. And of course this does not mean leaving the view that they are contingent (or necessary) and coming over to the other side, but rather: noticing something, which one might have been quite blind to. Think of the conceptual development of children - one cannot truly say that they go through a phase of believing that everyone knows the same as them, but we can see what this is getting at. In the place where we have a fundamental distinction or concept of great importance in adult life, they do not have anything to speak of.

10. So: it can be important to realize the modal status of certain propositions. But - and this is crucial - it does not at all follow from this that it is important, desirable or possible to draw a line which clearly divides all propositions according to modal status.

11. What is the modal status of 'Our conceptual scheme has moving parts'? I.e. how could anything else be a conceptual scheme? (Mind of God.) And yet the proposition easily acquires the flavour of a general fact of nature. Why? Well, lots of important facts lie immediately underneath.

* * *

12. The notion of the mind of God. It can look as though everything is an approach to this ideal, and yet we have absolutely no grip on the ideal. We (i.e. myself and most active philosophers) do not have any positive belief in the mind of God in the old sense, and all the minds we do believe in are completely un-Godly.

13. Our conceptual scheme has moving parts. But if God knows all, he doesn't need any moving parts. (Spinozistic necessitarianism, Leibniz's difficulties.)

14. So now it looks like, in a sense, the ideal conceptual scheme has no moving parts - no need to dance further with experience or reason. And yet we will always need a conceptual scheme with moving parts, and can really make no sense of anything else. Thus how could the mind of God be our ideal?!

15. From this perspective, one could imagine pantheism as a kind of scholastic solution to our present problem. (For it would block the assimilation of our mind with God's.) ('A full, non-redundant model of an object must be a duplicate of the object, or the object itself.')

16. We say things could have been otherwise - I could have walked somewhere else today. But then someone says 'but could that really have happened?' and it's like the stakes are raised somehow. But isn't this a shift to a more specialized modality?

17. "What makes you think things could have really been different, and that this isn't just a function of our ignorance?" - The first thing to say is there's no simple answer here: one can't just point to evidence. The question is symptomatic of something.

18. One pernicious kind of confusion when talking about metaphysical necessity - the modality identified, and separated from other concepts, by Kripke - is to think of it in a manner which would be appropriate for some kind of deep and remote form of retrospective epistemic possibility. This is illustrated by the notion of the Creation as an event. God did something, and it may have been reasonable to expect this to go various ways. It is important for our concerns here that such an idea is natural to some degree.

19. It is possible to feel that any kind of conceptual view of necessity, even if we grant everything to the concepts including external adequacy, somehow makes modality flimsy, shadowy - somehow still overlooks reality in some way. "The way things really could have been, concepts aside." (The notion of an inconceivable object. If such a thing is impossible, how is that not just a piece of luck? Thus it can seem that the conceptualist must rely on some kind of pre-established harmony between possible concepts and possible realities, which would of course be highly suspicious.)

20. There is a strong philosophical tendency to think of knowledge of how things must be as penetrating deeper into the world than mere contingent knowledge. As though we saw how a machine behaved, but then looked into its workings and saw that it had to behave that way. Or, we form a hypothesis about the workings based on, and in order to make sense of, the behaviour. (This gets us into difficulties, but it would be stupid to call it incorrect - or correct for that matter.)

For more on modality see here, here and here.

Tuesday 1 November 2011

Toward an Understanding of De Dicto Subjunctive Necessity (draft paper)

Here. UPDATE March 2013: This document has been completely superseded by An Account of Subjunctive Necessity.

UPDATE March 2014: This latter document will in turn be superseded soon by a forthcoming blog post which will fit together with other posts.

Tuesday 25 October 2011

A Plea for Conceptual Schemes


In 1974, Donalad Davidson published a now famous paper entitled 'On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme', in which he attacked that idea and exhorted the reader to give it up. One reason Davidson set upon this idea was his evident hunch that it lay behind the pernicious, nebulous doctrine of the relativity of truth. Another, perhaps more fundamental, reason, was his desire to see the world and our understanding of it in terms of a metaphysics of sentences and objects, without employing things like concepts and propositions.

I think the idea of a conceptual scheme a highly serviceable one, and that Davidson's attack is confused. I believe that the idea of a conceptual scheme has a good deal of unrealized potential in the philosophy of modality and many other areas. My object here is simply to vouchsafe the idea from Davidson's attack. 

The Problem of Comparison and Neutrality

Early in his paper, Davidson makes this remark, which goes to the essence of his attack:  
[T]here is no chance that someone can take up a vantage point for comparing conceptual schemes by temporarily shedding his own.
(Davidson 1979/1984, p. 185. Page references are to the 1984 version.)
This is true, but misleading. True, because we cannot do anything by temporarily shedding our conceptual scheme - the immediate reason being is that there is no such thing as 'temporarily shedding our conceptual schemes' in the required sense (i.e. while retaining some kind of rationality or sentience). Misleading, because it seems to carry the implication that scheme-shedding would be the way we ought to proceed with a comparison, if only this were possible.

Against this, I want to insist that the only conceivable way we could compare two conceptual schemes is from within our own. We have a conception of the world (surely!). Part of that conception is the idea that there are conceptions - of the world, in the world. We are self-conscious. We think about our thinking and that of others, and when we do this we employ our conception of our own conceptions, and our conception of others' conceptions.

Of course, if we compare our conceptual scheme with another, our ideas of these two schemes will not be on a par epistemologically. This difference cannot be factored out. However, we should try to be as objective as we can, and this means trying to improve our conception of our conceptions, and those of others, and the relations between them.

Davidson, on the other hand, apparently has some idea to the effect that, as long as we are 'stuck' in our own conceptual schemes, comparison will be impossible or at the very least greatly hampered. Indeed, some notion of being stuck seems to lie at the root of this part of the confusion.

'The Dualism of Scheme and Content'

According to Davidson
[the] dualism of scheme and content, of organizing system and something waiting to be organized, cannot be made intelligible and defensible. It is itself a dogma of empiricism, the third dogma. (p. 189.)
Now, I do not want to argue with the claim that no dualism between scheme and content could be made good sense of. Rather, the point is that no notion of a dualism is called for to support the idea of a conceptual scheme.

In our ordinary ideas of 'scheme and content', I should think, it is understood that the scheme itself is potentially part of the content, and parts of this potential content - such as concepts - inhere in the scheme.

Simply put: There is no dualism of scheme and content. A distinction is not a dualism.

The idea of a dualism of scheme and content is bound up with a fundamental misunderstanding of the 'content' part of that idea, arising from a certain picture we possess of the situation, and an attitude toward this picture which most of us, in certain circumstances, are strongly inclined to take. (Cf. the notion of the thing-in-itself.) While this phenomenon is of fundamental importance in parts of philosophy, I maintain that it is not an essential part of our practical understanding of the idea of a conceptual scheme. On the contrary, and as the existence of Davidson's paper shows, it can be an obstacle.

The Problem of 'Uninterpreted Reality'

Davidson wants us to give up 'dependence on the concept of an uninterpreted reality, something outside all schemes and science'. The great unclarity here is: what do the phrases 'uninterpreted reality' and 'something outside all schemes and science' mean in this context?

As suggested in the previous section, the 'content' or 'world' term of the conceptual representation relation need not be thought of as some amorphous fundament, some uninterpreted thing-in-itself. We live in the world - in reality - and we interpret it. Reality, since we are real and interpret it, just is interpreted; there is no reality which, as a whole, is completely uninterpreted.

What about parts of reality? The particular objects, events and processes which intelligent beings talk and think about are parts of interpreted reality - parts of reality which get interpreted. Thus my desk is part of interpreted reality, as are Denmark, Donald Davidson, Beethoven's Ninth, Saturn and many other things besides.

It is quite commonly believed, in our culture, that other parts of reality are uninterpreted; if some small pebble somewhere has never been apprehended or encountered in any way by an intelligence, then this individual is, in some sense, part of uninterpreted reality. Quite obviously, this is not the sort of thing Davidson means by 'uninterpreted reality'.

We might instead take the phrase 'uninterpreted reality' to mean 'reality considered separately from any interpretational or conceptual apparatus'. Then surely this can include chairs, tables, and the rest of it. ('Considered separately from interpretational or conceptual apparatus' obviously doesn't mean 'considered without recourse to any interpretational or conceptual apparatus'.) So this doesn't seem to be what Davidson means, either.

Regarding the phrase 'something outside all schemes and science': isn't the desk I am working at now outside all schemes and science? Surely my desk is not inside a conceptual scheme, or inside science (whatever that means).
The following passage from Rorty, who enthusiastically embraced Davidson's critique of the idea of conceptual schemes, gives us more to work with:
The notion of 'the world' as used in a phrase like 'different conceptual schemes carve up the world differently' must be the notion of something completely unspecified and unspecifiable - the thing in itself, in fact. A soon as we start thinking of 'the world' as atoms and the void, or sense data and awareness of them, or 'stimuli' of a certain sort brought to bear upon organs of a certain sort, we have changed the name of the game. For we are now well within some particular theory about how the world is.
(Rorty 1982, p. 14.)
I deny the first assertion. The notion works like this: we use our conceptual schemes and understand there to be chairs, tables, numbers, quarks, experiences, concepts and schemes thereof. Then we form an idea of different schemes carving up the world differently. Here, our idea of the world is still our idea of the world, i.e. an idea of something which contains chairs, tables, numbers, quarks, experiences, concepts and schemes (among who knows what else).

In a strange way, Davidson and Rorty seem to make the very mistake they appear to be warning against. In saying queer things about 'uninterpreted reality', they try to identify a thing we can't say anything about. Or: they try to give the content of a notion they want to criticize, but in so doing they only embroil themselves in the confusion which bothers them. It is this confusion, I believe, which leads Davidson and Rorty to loudly and violently reject the idea of a conceptual scheme. They reached for the saw; I suggest we consider a scalpel.

Tristan Haze


Davidson, D. 1974. 'On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme', Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 47, pp. 5-20.

The above reprinted 1984 in Donald Davidson (ed.), Inquiries Into Truth and Interpretation. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Rorty, R. 1982. 'The World Well Lost', Consequences of Pragmatism, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Monday 10 October 2011

Deduction and the Necessary A Posteriori

Consider: There is a cat here, therefore there is an animal here.

Assuming we want to say that this inference is valid in some sense, here are three things we might say about it:

1) It is an elliptical argument, involving an unarticulated premise, namely that cats are animals.

2) It is an enthymematic or gappy argument, involving unarticulated reasoning.

3) It is a complete argument in itself - neither (1) nor (2) is the case.

On the first approach, the deduction is clearly a priori. But this is not the only possible attitude. While the belief that cats are animals could conceivably be overturned by experience, it is arguably not a contingent fact that all the cats around are animals (cf. Kripke 1980). So rather than regarding this as part of the matter being reasoned from, we might regard it as part of the deductive apparatus.

Thus, on the second interpretation, we might regard the move from 'cat' to 'animal' as being licensed by an unarticulated principle of reasoning (which may be expressed in the form of an inference rule, or an axiom such as 'All cats are animals'). Or we might resist even this, and say that nothing is unarticulated - perhaps still allowing that the argument can be justified by the principles of reasoning which are held to be unarticulated on the second interpretation.

Note how natural these latter two approaches are; there does seem to be some sense in which the conclusion follows from the single articulated premise. Note also that the argument by itself satisfies the natural (admittedly problematic) modal characterization of validity, if we take the relevant modality to be subjunctive or metaphysical modality ("what could have been the case") rather than a priori possibility or epistemic modality ("what could be the case"): it could not have been the case that there was a cat here yesterday but no animal here yesterday.

This may suggest that, according to some intuitive and central concept of deduction, some facts about what can be deduced from what are empirical (i.e. not knowable a priori).

However, this flies rather completely in the face of previous philosophical thinking about deduction. It also raises the following puzzle: on one way of thinking about necessity, our holding it to be necessary that all cats are animals means that we have made a certain kind of connection between our cat-concept and our animal-concept (an empirically defeasible connection, held constant when describing counterfactual scenarios). But it is natural to think of this conceptual connection as partly constitutive of the content of thoughts involving these concepts - thoughts such as 'There is a cat here' and 'There is an animal here'. Thus, someone who doesn't have such a connection arguably isn't in a position to have those two thoughts at all: there would appear to be little room for them to have those exact thoughts and yet not be able to work out a priori that one implies the other.

My suggestion is that, when faced with this sort of puzzle, one should try to distinguish different ways of individuating content, some more fine-grained than others. When talking about thoughts in, e.g., the context of communication, a relatively course-grained individuation scheme is often most appropriate. When talking about the epistemology of deduction - and not just the epistemology - a more fine-grained approach is called for. (That is, an approach where what are for many purposes two instances of the same thought get treated as distinct structures.)

Insofar as this is right, the more general moral is perhaps something like: when doing philosophy, be willing to put multiple modes of content-individuation on the table - don't let one obsess you to the exclusion of all others.

Tristan Haze


Saul A. Kripke (1980). Naming and Necessity. Harvard University Press.

Wednesday 21 September 2011

An Analysis of Davidson's Slingshot Argument

There is a peculiar kind of logical fallacy which, ironically, is only committed by people who have an acquaintance with formal logical theory. Fallacies of this kind arise when principles of inference from formal logic are applied inappropriately to arguments carried out in a natural language.

Here I make a case-study of Donald Davidson's famous version of the Slingshot argument against facts. The argument, in its dialectical context, is meant to show that if true statements correspond to facts, then every true statement corresponds to every fact. Davidson tries to demonstrate this conditional in order to motivate us to give up its antecedent (that true statements correspond to facts). Here is the argument:

The confirming argument is this. Let p abbreviate some true sentence. Then surely the statement that p corresponds to the fact that p. But we may substitute for the second p the logically equivalent (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes and p) is identical with (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes). Applying the principle that we may substitute coextensive singular terms, we can substitute q for p in the last quoted sentence, provided q is true. Finally, reversing the first step we conclude that the statement that p corresponds to the fact that q, where p and q are any true sentences. (Davidson 1969, p. 753.)

Let us go through it bit by bit.

The first apparent inference in the argument is curious. 'Then surely' suggests that reasoning is taking place here, but from what? Apparently:

Let p abbreviate some true sentence.

But that is an instruction, not something we can infer from at all. This shows that what Davidson has supplied is not an argument, so much as a recipe for making one. And since this first step is not an inference, it can't be a fallacious inference. Still, in its slightly confusing use of a technique from logic (in this case, schematization) it gives us a small taste of things to come.

Now, following Davidson's recipe, we shall let 'p' abbreviate 'snow is white'. For perspicuity, we shall not use these abbreviations in our writings-out of the steps of the argument. (Surely this could not affect validity.) Thus our first real premise is:

The statement that snow is white corresponds to the fact that snow is white.

Now we are told we may make a substitution, yielding:

The statement that snow is white corresponds to the fact that (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes and snow is white) is identical with (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes).

The first thing to note about the above is that it doesn't obviously mean anything. This should make us suspicious. After all, we are not supposed to be merely calculating with signs here. This is supposed to be an argument - a reasoned chain of statements leading to a conclusion. How did we get to the above sentence, then? There are two things Davidson needs us to accept if we are to go along with this inference:

(1) That it is valid when arguing in English to substitute, for a sentence, a logically equivalent sentence - even when this sentence is embedded in a larger one.

(2) That 'snow is white' is logically equivalent to '(the x such that x is identical with Diogenes and snow is white) is identical with (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes)'.

In trying to assess these claims, we face a stumbling block: the lack of a clear, agreed upon notion of logical equivalence as a relation between sentences of natural languages. Some would say that 'snow is white' is logically equivalent to 'snow is white and Socrates is either mortal or not mortal'. Others would deny this, on the grounds that Socrates' existence is not implied by the original sentence. Some would say that 'John is a bachelor' is logically equivalent to 'John is an unmarried man', by the logics of bachelorhood, gender and marriage. Others would say these are perhaps analytically, but not logically, equivalent, because the equivalence does not turn on the use of "logical vocabulary".

Having made due note of this difficulty, let us observe that Davidson has no problem bringing in, out of the blue, mention of Diogenes. This gives us some handle on Davidson's intended notion of logical equivalence - enough, I think, to justify us in sweeping the difficulty under the carpet so that we may proceed to ask if (1) might be true.

That the answer is 'no' can be seen from these invalid instances:

(i) It is obvious that snow is white. Therefore, it is obvious that snow is white and [some elaborate and opaque tautology].
(ii) If you assume that the square root of two is rational, it is easy to derive a contradiction. Therefore, if you assume that [some elaborate and opaque logical equivalent to 'the square root of two is rational'], it is easy to derive a contradiction.
(iii) The statement that snow is white involves no semantic concepts. Therefore, the statement that snow is white and "grass" either refers to grass or does not refer to grass, involves no semantic concepts.

(In classical formal logic, the range of possibilities for sentential embedding is far narrower than in natural languages, and therefore no analogous counterexamples arise.)

How about (2)? For a start, can we even understand '(the x such that x is identical with Diogenes and snow is white) is identical with (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes)'? The use of the variables and brackets is, in itself, not a deal-breaker, since we can understand '(the x such that x is identical with grass) is green'. But now: on this understanding, what is the role of that which comes after 'such that' in the bracketed construction? Intuitively, the construction as a whole is a referring term, and after the 'such that' ought to go conditions relating to the variable which are met by exactly one of its possible values, thus determining a unique referent.

But then what happens if, as well as conditions involving 'x', we insert closed sentences like 'snow is white'? Well, on the intuitive idea behind the bracketed construction, this just doesn't make sense. Nevertheless, "appropriate" reference-conditions come to mind: a bracketed 'the' construction refers iff the conditions relating to the variable are met by exactly one object and all constituent closed sentences are true. To complete the semantics, we can stipulate that if such a construction refers, it refers (of course) to the condition-meeting value of the variable.

Thus we can define a new kind of referring construction, albeit a strange one. Also, it does appear that our complicated identity sentence, in light of this definition, is logically equivalent (in some sense) to 'snow is white'. Of course, this is of no use to us, since the principle whose application we wanted the equivalence for is invalid.

Before we move on: the addition of this new referring construction to our language may render previously valid principles invalid, so we must now be extra careful. (If, earlier, we had decided that (1) was true - that the unrestricted substitution of logical equivalents was valid - we would now have to go back and reconsider.)

Now, despite the fact that things aren't going very well for our argument, let us press on. We have gotten as far as:

The statement that snow is white corresponds to the fact that (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes and snow is white) is identical with (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes).

And now, citing the principle that we may substitute coextensive singular terms, Davidson has us substitute some true sentence - let us pick 'grass is green' - for 'snow is white'. (This then yields a new 'singular term', '(the x such that x is identical with Diogenes and grass is green)'.) Thus we get:

The statement that snow is white corresponds to the fact that (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes and grass is green) is identical with (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes).

And now we must ask: does the principle of substitution of coextensive singular terms hold in natural language? Notoriously, and as anyone familiar with twentieth-century philosophy of language will know, it (very arguably) does not; there are numerous contexts where such substitutions (strongly seem to) fail. (Witness the existence of intensional logics.) Here is an example of one kind of invalid instance:

Lois Lane knows that Clark Kent is Clark Kent. Therefore, Lois Lane knows that Clark Kent is Superman.

There are also well-known problems with substitution into modal contexts. Furthermore, and closer to our current context: 'the fact that Clark Kent is Clark Kent' does not obviously have the same reference as 'the fact that Clark Kent is Superman', even though the differing embedded singular terms are coextensive. And certainly the statement that Clark Kent is Clark Kent is not identical to the statement that Clark Kent is Superman. For all these reasons, we can not accept an unrestricted principle of substitution of co-extensive singular terms. Thus our last inference was invalid.

Since the final inference is a reversal of the first substitution, that concludes our step-by-step evaluation.

If there be any residual doubt about the invalidity of Davidson's argument (recipe): note that no special properties of the sentence 'The statement that snow is white corresponds to the fact that snow is white', beyond its embedding 'snow is white', are drawn upon in the derivation of 'The statement that snow is white corresponds to the fact that grass is green'. If this were really a valid way of arguing, we would also have to accept the following:

Suppose there is a chameleon, Euclid, who lives in a field of grass. Suppose further that Euclid is green because grass is green. Using Davidson's form of argument. we can infer from this supposition first:

Euclid is green because (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes and grass is green) is identical with (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes).


Euclid is green because (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes and Davidson is the author of 'True to the facts') is identical with (the x such that x is identical with Diogenes).

And finally:

Euclid is green because Davidson is the author of 'True to the facts'.

Tristan Haze


Donald Davidson. True to the facts. The Journal of Philosophy, 66(21):74864, November 1969.

Thursday 8 September 2011

Vote Sprachlogik at 3quarksdaily

Please consider voting for the Sprachlogik post 'Sketch of a Way of Thinking about Modality, pt. 1' at the 3quarksdaily philosophy blog prize.

Vote here.

UPDATE: Voting is now closed. The post got through the voting round and has been selected by the editors for the finals.

Saturday 13 August 2011

Essence, Belief and Epistemic Modality (Part 2 of Sketch)

This is part 2 of a Sketch of a Way of Thinking about Modality. In this part we shall consider:

- Essences and the de re/de dicto distinction,
- The indefiniteness of necessity,
- Intentional contexts ("propositional attitudes"), and
- Epistemic modality.

The first topic is really the main one. What I say about the remaining topics will be very scant - a rough indication of how these issues are to be approached according to the way of thinking being sketched out here, rather than an attempt to really deal with them. (I hope to really deal with them in my book.) They fit quite naturally here, since intentional contexts come into the more substantial discussion of the first topic. If nothing else, the brief discussion here should prevent readers from thinking that I have given no consideration to such issues, or that my account of modality is straightforwardly unable to deal with them.

Three Interpretations of Modal Claims about Individuals

As a preliminary, it should be noted that epistemic modal claims are not counted in this taxonomy. Consider, to begin with, sentences of the form 'a is necessarily F'. I distinguish the following three interpretations of such statements:

(1) The contextual interpretation. The locus classicus for this interpretation is Lewis in On the Plurality of Worlds, who expresses it better than I can:
I suggest that those philosophers who preach that origins are essential are absolutely right - in the context of their own preaching. They make themselves right: their preaching constitutes a context in which de re modality is governed by a way of representing (as I think, by a counterpart relation) that requires match of origins. But if I ask how things would be if Saul Kripke had come from no sperm and egg but had been brought by a stork, that makes equally good sense. I create a context that makes my question make sense, and to do so it has to be a context that makes origins not be essential.' (p. 252)
There is one ruffle here: Lewis (who is notorious for playing fast and loose with ordinary modal language) talks of 'how things would be if Saul Kripke had...', rather than how things would have been. This might suggest a kind of epistemic reading, concerning what it would be like if it turned out that Saul Kripke actually had such-and-such an origin. But the range of possibilities in this sense - the things which could turn out to be true of an individual, for all we know (or all we know a priori) - is something quite different from what we are discussing here. In two-dimensional semantics, this corresponds roughly to the difference between A- and C-intensions.

(2) The "unrestricted" interpretation. In contrast to the above, we are now beginning to enter the realm of what could more legitimately be called 'essence'1, and are looking at proper metaphysical (or subjunctive) modality. On this interpretation, something like the following holds: 'a is necessarily F' is true iff 'a is F' is satisfied by all configurations of the host system of these propositions, and the concepts involved are adequate to their objects with respect to 'a is F'. (This form of account is introduced more generally in part 1.)

Thus, in this case, we might say that the necessity, as opposed to contingent truth, of 'a is F' stems from the nature of the individual concept of a, rather than any contextual restrictions placed on our representations. Why, then, are there scare-quotes around 'unrestricted'? This is because the present way of looking at things may over-dramatize the difference between the contextual restrictions of Lewis's account, and the constitution of concepts in the relevant fine-grained sense. We might think of the nature of these concepts as being at least partly determined by more-or-less invariant restrictions of some more general apparatus. This more general apparatus can be used to understand epistemic modality (and epistemic space).

On this interpretation, to say that a is necessarily F is to say something like: according to the way I think of a - and this way is adequate - it could not have failed to be F. (This isn't meant to be a proper analysis.) But we will probably want to recognize the possibility of slightly different concepts in other systems which have a as their object, and are adequate. Thus while we might think of John in such a way that we may say, intending the present "unrestricted" interpretation, that he is necessarily F, we might recognize that other people might legitimately think of John in such a way that they may say that he is contingently F. (This could be called 'adequacy pluralism about concepts'.)

(3) The generalized "unrestricted" interpretation. Clearly, we will want an interpretation of modal claims about individuals which does not tie their truth to one particular conceptualization (namely, that embodied in the host system of the modal claim). This interpretation gives us that. On this interpretation, something like the following holds: 'a is necessarily F' is true iff all configurations of all systems containing an adequate concept of a represent a as being F. (Another, less natural interpretation would be to substitute 'at least one system' for 'all systems'. This interpretation would be natural for 'a is possibly F'.)

A Simplification

I have simplified the above by concentrating on subject terms and ignoring different construals of the role of the predicate. One might distinguish interpretations analogous to (2) and (3) above, i.e. an evaluation involving a particular F-concept in a system, versus one involving all systems with some concept of the property F. An analogous simplification will be made below in the discussion of ascriptions of intentional content. 

The Indefiniteness of Necessity

The account of necessity given here, based on the notion of all configurations of a conceptual system, may give the impression that I think a sharp boundary can be drawn between necessary and contingent truths. It is important to realize that this is not the case. (I probably should have emphasized this already in part 1.)

One way of responding to this would be to try to modify our picture of modality - instead of picturing a conceptual system as being like a mechanical apparatus which can be put into a definite set of configurations, one might imagine a device with an indefinite set of configurations; one might, for example, imagine growing resistance as one manipulates the apparatus into further out configurations (i.e. further from what we think is actually the case).

This sort of response has its place, but we needn't respond like that. We can also hold on to our simpler, more definite picture, but with due regard to the indefiniteness of its application.

Either way, it is important to note that there are clear cases. Some propositions are clearly necessary, and some are clearly contingent, and the distinction between them is of fundamental importance.

The following analogies from Wittgenstein are very helpful in connection with this theme:
The use of the words 'proposition', 'language', etc. has the haziness of the normal use of concept-words in our language. To think this makes them unusable, or ill-adapted to their purpose, would be like wanting to say 'the warmth this stove gives is no use, because you can't feel where it begins and where it ends'.
from Philosophical Grammar, Part 1. p. 120.
It is essential to logic to draw boundaries, but no such boundaries are drawn in the language we speak. But this doesn’t mean that logic represents language incorrectly, or that it represents an ideal language. Its task is to portray a colourful, blurred reality as a pen-and-ink drawing.
from The Big Typescript, p. 144.

The De Re/De Dicto Distinction(s)

This is widely acknowledged to be a confusing topic. The pair of terms 'de re' and 'de dicto' appear to get employed in philosophy to mark several important distinctions (or sorts of distinction). Complete clarification of this will have to wait for another time, but for now I want to characterize two basic sorts of distinction for which these terms can be used:

(1) De re: Generalization (universal or existential) over dicta involving a particular object vs. De dicto: specification of a particular dictum. (Dicta here are contents, propositions - something like that.) The distinction above between the "unrestricted" and generalized "unrestricted" interpretations of modal claims about individuals is an instance of this. It echoes, at least in part, Quine's distinction between believes-notional and believes relational.

In intentional contexts (for example, belief-reports), the distinction appears in the following way. The name 'Hesperus' in a belief report like:

(A) Ralph believes that Hesperus is F.

can be read as doing two things at once. (1) specifying the object of Ralph's belief, and (2) specifying the concept (or mode of presentation) via which he has it. On such a reading, (1) could be expanded to:

(B) Ralph believes, of Hesperus, via his Hesperus-concept, that it is F.

(A similar thing could be done for the 'F'.) Some belief reports, on the other hand - purely de re belief-reports - may be read as only specifying the object. (A) read this way could be expanded to:

(C) Ralph believes, of Hesperus, via some concept(s), that it is F.

(Cases such as 'John believes that Santa Claus exists' suggest that there are also readings where the name just functions to indicate an individual concept or intension involved in the propositional attitude, i.e. does not specify any real extension.)

Substitution of co-referring terms salva veritate (i.e. without change in truth-value) will fail in modal and intentional contexts which are de dicto in this sense.

(2) De re: Involvement of a dictum featuring a rigid (or rigidified) designator vs. De dicto: Involvement of a dictum featuring a non-rigid, unrigidified designator. This distinction most clearly makes its appearance with definite descriptions.

To illustrate: as a result of these two distinctions together, a sentence like 'The winner could have been shot' - once we rule out salient epistemic readings and Lewis-style contextually restricted readings - still has three readings left:

De dicto in both senses (1) and (2): true iff the non-rigid dictum 'The winner was shot' is satisfied by at least one configuration of the host system. (In this configuration (so to speak), the winner might be someone else.)

De dicto in sense (1) and de re in sense (2): using 'The winner' to indicate an individual concept - the concept of the actual winner, that very person - i.e. as a rigidified description, and true iff that dictum is satisfied by at least one configuration of its host system.

De re in sense (1) and therefore neither de re nor de dicto in sense (2): using 'The winner' purely to indicate a particular object, and then making a claim about all dicta which are rigidly about that object and which fulfil certain conditions (in this case: saying that the object was shot, or saying that the object was shot using some particular concept of being shot). It is only on this sort of reading, I submit, that substitution of co-referring terms salva veritate will be valid.

Clarifying and separating these distinctions helps to clarify Quine's skepticism about de re modality, and Kripke's famous arguments against Quine's attitude, as well as making it clearer why this debate is so confusing. Below is a lengthy quote of an important passage of Naming and Necessity. The above discussion can help us disambiguate the ensuing talk of particulars having modal properties independently of how they are described: this may be indicating de re-ness of the second kind (involvement of an individual concept rather than a non-rigid, unrigidified designator), or the first (generalizing over concepts of a particular object, rather than fixing on a particular concept).
Some philosophers have distinguished between essentialism, the belief in modality de re, and a mere advocacy of necessity, the belief in modality de dicto. Now, some people say: Let's give you the concept of necessity. A much worse thing, something creating great additional problems, is whether we can say of any particular that it has necessary or contingent properties, even make the distinction between necessary and contingent properties. Look, it's only a statement or a state of affairs that can be either necessary or contingent! Whether a particular necessarily or contingently has a certain property depends on the way it's described. This is perhaps closely related to the view that the way we refer to particular things is by a description. What is Quine's famous example? If we consider the number 9, does it have the property of necessary oddness? Has that number got to be odd in all possible worlds? Certainly it's true in all possible worlds, let's say, it couldn't have been otherwise, that nine is odd. Of course, 9 could also be equally well picked out as the number of planets. It is not necessary, not true in all possible worlds, that the number of planets is odd. For example if there had been eight planets, the number of planets would not have been odd. And so it's thought: Was it necessary or contingent that Nixon won the election? (It might seem contingent, unless one has some view of some inexorable processes....) But this is a contingent property of Nixon only relative to our referring to him as 'Nixon' (assuming 'Nixon' doesn't mean 'the man who won the election at such and such a time'). But if we designate Nixon as 'the man who won the election in 1968', then it will be a necessary truth, of course, that the man who won the election in 1968, won the election in 1968. Similarly, whether an object has the same property in all possible worlds depends not just on the object itself, but on how it is described. So it's argued.

It is even suggested in the literature, that though a notion of necessity may have some sort of intuition behind it (we do think some things could have been otherwise; other things we don't think could have been otherwise), this notion [of a distinction between necessary and contingent properties] is just a doctrine made up by some bad philosopher, who (I guess) didn't realize that there are several ways of referring to the same thing. I don't know if some philosophers have not realized this; but at any rate it is very far from being true that this idea [that a property can meaningfully be held to be essential or accidental to an object independently of its description] is a notion which has no intuitive content, which means nothing to the ordinary man. Suppose that someone said, pointing to Nixon, 'That's the guy who might have lost'. Someone else says 'Oh no, if you describe him as "Nixon", then he might have lost; but, of course, describing him as the winner, then it is not true that he might have lost'. Now which one is being the philosopher, here, the unintuitive man? It seems to me obviously to be the second. The second man has a philosophical theory. The first man would say, and with great conviction 'Well, of course, the winner of the election might have been someone else. The actual winner, had the course of the campaigner been different, might have been the loser, and someone else the winner; or there might have been no election at all. So such terms as "the winner" and "the loser" don't designate the same objects in all possible worlds. On the other hand, the term "Nixon" is just a name of this man. When you ask whether it is necessary or contingent that Nixon won the election, you are asking the intuitive question whether in some counterfactual situation, this man would in fact have lost the election. (Kripke, Naming and Necessity, first lecture.)
Epistemic Modality and Ascriptions of Intentional Content

For the purposes of understanding metaphysical or subjunctive modality, I have been talking about conceptual systems in a fine-grained sense such that changing one's mind about an empirical identity statement involving individual concepts, for example, constitutes a change in the system itself. Since we believe that Hesperus is Phosphorus, there is no configuration of our fine-grained system which satisfies 'Hesperus is not Phosphorus'. And yet we can truly say things like 'It could turn out that Hesperus is not Phosphorus after all', and even (despite worries of Kripke's) 'It could have turned out that Hesperus was not Phosphorus'.

This is connected with the idea of 'two spaces of possible worlds' in other approaches. (Cf. Chalmers' 'The Nature of Epistemic Space'.) When we say that it could be that Hesperus isn't Phosphorus, we are not considering a configuration of our existing system in the sense we have been talking about, but are rather considering a change in our system. But in another sense, of course, making this change would constitute a reconfiguration of some "wider" system - the system relevant to epistemic modality. Making various abstractions and idealizations, we can imagine a space of possible ways things could be for all we know a priori - epistemic space. Moving from that to the space of ways things could have been involves getting rid of epistemic possibilities which are not metaphysically possible (the lesson of the necessary a posteriori), but also adding epistemic impossibilities which are metaphysically possible (the lesson of the contingent a priori), i.e. things which couldn't be the case, but could have been, such as this room being bigger than it is. (This latter thing will occupy us in part 3.)

So, we can configure our systems in the wide sense to represent ways things might be, and the way we think things are. But, speaking roughly, such a configuration of the wide system yields a system in the fine-grained sense, of ways things could have been. Sometimes, when we change our beliefs, this can be understood as simply moving to another configuration in the fine-grained system (and thus not directly changing any of our metaphysical modal judgements), whereas other times this must be regarded as involving change of the fine-grained system itself (e.g. going from believing that Hesperus is not Phosphorus to believing that it is).

(Note that I am not saying that the ways things really could be all have corresponding configurations in some system of ours, nor that the ways things really could have been all have corresponding configurations in our fine-grained system - not only may we be wrong, there will be possibilities we haven't dreamt of. Clearly much more needs saying here about these notions of 'the ways'. Some speculations can be found here.)

The Metaphysical Possibility of Metaphysically Impossible Thoughts

Hesperus could be distinct from Phosphorus after all, if we're radically deceived, but given that it is Phosphorus, it could not have been distinct from Phosphorus. So 'Hesperus is not Phosphorus' is not satisfied by any configurations of our fine-grained system. And yet 'John believes that Hesperus is not Phosphorus' is metaphysically possible, is satisfied by configurations of our fine-grained system.

This may be quite puzzling given a certain way of visualizing the fine-grained system and its relation to the wider epistemic system which gives rise to it. For a while it seemed like a real problem to me, and I called it 'the containment problem'. The bothersome thing is the way in which epistemic modal space seems to be contained in metaphysical modal space via our machinery for ascribing intentional states and propositional attitudes - our machinery for representing the thoughts and representations of others - despite epistemic modal space outrunning the metaphysical in the well-known Kripkean way.

It is very tempting to try to "fix" this "problem" by going metalinguistic. I.e. saying something like: 'When we say that John believes that Hesperus is not Phosphorus, we aren't really simulating, constructing, or dealing directly with a thought that Hesperus is not Phosphorus. Rather, we are simply employing our concepts of Hesperus, the Hesperus-concept and the Phosphorus-concept, and forming an idea of a proposition in another system which has the relevant properties.' That may be a good view of what we do sometimes (especially with very foreign thoughts), but it seems wrong - gratuitous, even - to suppose that this is always how we do it. After all, we naturally and frequently envisage epistemic possibilities which fall outside our current fine-grained system. We step outside it all the time. So, when we think something like 'John believes that Hesperus is not Phosphorus', we can think of this as employing - in tandem - our fine-grained system together with a configuration of our wider system which falls outside it, but which is "pointed to": to give ourselves the thing John believes, we step outside our fine-grained system and construct the thought directly, so to speak - and all of this in a sense just constitutes a configuration of our fine-grained system, but of a special kind.

Compare Russell's treatment in the Logical Atomism lectures of 'propositions with more than one verb', and his remark about Wittgenstein's 'discovery' that propositions like 'A believes that p' are 'a new beast for our zoo' (p. 226, Logic and Knowledge).

A Desultory Postscript about Water

Contrary to plan, I haven't included a proper section on 'Water is H20' and related examples (or apparent examples) of the necessary a posteriori. I don't have much to say about such examples for now, except that it is very difficult to avoid dogmatism when treating them; specifically, in the move from the fact that water is H20 - something we've all learned - to a particular interpretation and logical explication of 'Water is H20'.

One might regard this sentence as expressing a 'theoretical identity' as in Kripke. Scott Soames critically examines this way of going in detail in his book Beyond Rigidity. Alternatively, one might regard the 'is' here as being "the 'is' of constitution", and this in turn might be construed as a (non-symmetric) relation. Or one might simply interpret 'is H20' as a predicate. On the 'water' side, one may construe this as being tied to a concept of water in the Kripke-Putnam way (i.e. such that 'Water is H20' is necessary), or it may be construed functionally or phenomenologically, such that 'Water is H20' is contingent.

All these contents seem to exist, so to speak, and all seem like natural ways of interpreting 'Water is H20'. So we must be wary not to fall into holding views which might implicitly suggest otherwise; we can and should develop simplified, systematic, abstract views of logic and language, but we hinder and discredit this very development if we neglect the underlying variety of language use. Among other things, this may give the false appearance that the whole logico-philosophical enterprise depends on there not being this variety.

(Part 1, recently edited, is here.) 

(See this paper for a newer presentation of the basic ideas of part 1.)

1. For present purposes, I pass over Kit Fine's contention that not all necessary properties are essential in an intuitive sense (roughly because they are not all intrinsic to the thing in question). The classic example of a necessary property which is arguably not an essential property is Socrates' membership in his singleton set {Socrates}. There may be something important which distinguishes the essential properties from the merely necessary ones, but they will still be necessary properties, and hence will be amenable to my view.