Sunday 9 December 2012

On the Problems of Reference and Intentionality II

The following remarks were written when I was wrestling with these problems over an extended period. They might act as a stimulus to someone. Part I is here.

Part II

24. What do I mean when I say 'reference is no ordinary relation' in (22)? Perhaps the point would be better put in terms of reference-ascribing propositions.

25. I have long had the feeling that the desire for a classical analysis of reference ('x refers to y iff ...') comes from within a way of looking at things which involves something which might be called a 'transcendental illusion'.

26. For some reason I want to say: remember, in reference-talk, we are, as always, presupposing a connection between our concepts and their objects. But what this means, if anything, is very unclear.

27. There is the urge to say something like: 'Remember, you can't get outside your own mind'. But what the hell kind of reminder is that?! Who would ever think otherwise? (Satisfaction with such remarks belongs to a relatively low level of philosophizing.)

28. I can imagine someone proposing a two-component theory of reference which makes use of a "disquotational base" together with "equivalence criteria". So when I say 'my concept of John is of John' this comes from the base, and so is similar to 'I have a concept of John, who exists'. But I can also say, for example, this name 'X' seems to be refer to John, this being similar to: This word is used in the same way as my 'John'.

29. We might say: Reference is that relation which is presupposed when anything is spoken of.

30. This ignores some complications (e.g. fiction) but is more appropriate, I think, than:

(1) Existence is that property which is presupposed. and
(2) Identity is that relation which is presupposed

because that distorts the logical form of existence and identity propositions. Reference is more properly a relation (i.e. more properly a property-or-relation, i.e. thing which can be ascribed to things).

31. What do I mean by 'more properly a relation' here? Here is one way to explicate this. Imagine a form of representation where objects are represented with dots or boxes, which are then labelled with names (or otherwise made intrinsically unique). Properties can be indicated by labelled lines which have one point of contact with dots or boxes, two-place relations with labelled directed lines which have two points of contact, etc.

With such a technique, an existence property-representation and an identity relation-representation would serve no purpose. Every object would have exactly one point of contact with an existence line, and exactly two points of contact with a single reflexive identity line.

32. This is, of course, a consequence of the way I am imagining this mode of representation to work. There are of course more sophisticated possibilities, where one uses dots and boxes at a higher semantic level, so to speak - as representations of ideas of objects rather than objects themselves. In that case, one can meaningfully use something like existence and identity lines - but then aren't they more properly seen as ascriptions of the property of designating something and the relation of codesignating respectively?

33. Now, what about reference? Here we can start to see that we can sort reference propositions into classes, depending on how they work and get verified. One distinction we can make is between reference propositions which concern expressions belonging to the same language-system, and those which talk about expressions from another language-system. Let us call the former 'intrasystematic' and the latter 'extrasystematic'.

34. Now we may make a further distinction between disquotational intrasystematic reference propositions, and non-disquotational. (Some of the latter can be used to give all kinds of information, e.g. '”The winner of the race” refers to John' can inform someone that John won the race.)

35. Consider what happens when we use the graphical mode of representation described above, and a new (extralinguistic) object comes to our attention. We draw in a new box or dot (let us say "node" from now on).

But in so doing, we bring into existence a new object - one which stands in the reference relation to the original object. We can represent this fact now too. One way of going would be simply to draw in another node, which represents the last node drawn, and then to connect it to that node with a line indicating the reference relation. But of course this procedure can then be repeated for the new node. This procedure corresponds roughly to giving a name its own name in word language.

36. Another way of going, which corresponds roughly to quotation in word language, would be to introduce a kind of operator on points of contact. An unmarked point of contact is the ordinary case, a marked point of contact indicates that the contacted node is representing itself.

37. Consider the first technique, where we start at the bottom level, and then construct nodes to represent those nodes, etc., as required. This process thus "automatically generates" reference propositions. These automatically generated ones are the disquotational intrasystematic ones.

38. Also, among extrasystematic reference propositions, two kinds of verification criteria can be distinguished. Direct comparison with our systems (looking at arithmetic talk for instance), vs. coordination which "involves the object" more. (The field-linguist would be doing both of these things.)

39. There is a close connection here to the Twin-Earthable/Non-Twin-Earthable distinction. (Perhaps it is that the direct comparison verifications yield propositions about the referents of non-Twin-Earthable expressions, and the “object-involving” ones yield propositions about the referents of Twin-Earthable expressions, but that may be an oversimplification.)

40. Consider Idealism here. On Idealism, perhaps all extrasystematic reference criteria can be reduced to system-coordination. A kind of collapse of Twin-Earthability.

41. For example: I see a man point at a rock and say 'N', and I form the hypothesis that 'N' is a name (which is not part of my system) representing the rock I see in front of me. This is a paradigm case, it might seem, of acting on criteria for extrasystematic reference which cannot be reduced to system coordination. I coordinate a part of his system directly with its object, not with a part of my system.

42. An Idealist may insist that this is not so. Rather (they may say), I am correlating my perceptual representation of the rock with something. But it would seem that if we are to be consistent, we can't really say that the perceptual representation of the rock is correlated by us with the name 'N', since 'N' is not part of our system. Mustn't we now say that we correlate our perceptual representation with our representation of the extrasystematic name 'N'?

43. But still, this does not give the Idealist the distinction I want to have between external-object-involving verifications of extrasystematic reference-propositions and verifications of extrasystematic reference propositions which involve "merely internal" comparison of systems. For in the internal case they also have to talk about our representations of some extrasystematic expression.

44. Why is this interesting? Not 'in case Idealism is true'!

45. When '”A” refers to B' is not disquotational, it seems that for practical purposes it means the same as the statement that 'A' and 'B' codesignate, and can therefore be understood as being verified by correlation of (aspects of) the role of two signs.

46. x refers to y iff x codesignates with 'y' iff x's referent = y.

47. But not all reference propositions which look like disquotational ones are such. For example: '”N” refers to N in German too'. Or when setting up a new language, as in formal Peano arithmetic: '"0" refers to 0'.

48. We should take note of the singularity of a truly disquotational reference-thought.

49. In philosophy, we think: 'N' refers to N. Then we think: how?

50. Now, that first thought is a thought to the effect that a certain symbol stands in the reference relation to a certain object. That much is clearly true to say.

51. Compare the thought, as had by an English speaker, that 'Deutschland' refers to Germany. This too can be truly said to be a thought to the effect that a certain symbol stands in the reference relation to a certain object. Likewise the thought that 'John' refers to the man I met yesterday.

52. But clearly the first, disquotational thought is a very different beast from the latter ones. What worries me is the effect of their assimilation under the rubric: reporting a reference relation between symbol and object. Reference propositions are propositions which report such relations (connections), reference thoughts are thoughts that such relations hold.

53. We might want to say that the disquotational reference propositions and thoughts are a subset of all reference propositions and thoughts, characterized by the fact that the symbol which the thought is about is also used to represent the related object. And now we may ignore this subset and concentrate instead on the non-disquotational subset.

54. There is a problem with this formulation, however. For example, suppose we are told that someone used a certain expression which itself is named E, but one does not know which expression E is. One may learn something about E, namely that it refers to Venus. Suppose E is actually 'Venus', the same word used in the same sort of language system. In that case, on my formulation above, the thought that E refers to Venus would be classed as disquotational, even when the thinker doesn't know that E is the name 'Venus'.

53. So it seems what we really wanted is: the disquotational subset is characterized by the fact that the same symbol is used twice over – to specify the referer, and the referent. But even this doesn't quite work, for '”The bearer of 'N'” refers to N' fulfills that condition.

54. The difference between disquotational and other reference statements is reminsicent of the difference between trivial (repetitive) and informative identities. However, the problem is in a sense inverted: the naive relational view of identity statements makes all instances look trivial, including the nontrivial ones, whereas the naive relational view of reference statements makes all instances look nontrivial, including the trivial ones. (This use of 'trivial' may not be fully warranted, but suffices for making the point.)

55. It is instructive to compare ' "N" refers to N ' with 'The word "N" has reference, and it is used in the way it is used.' Or even just: 'The word "N" has reference, and it refers to the object which does in fact refer to'.

56. What looks like (and in some sense is) a tautologous appendage changes the modal profile radically.

57. It certainly seems that having purely disquotational reference propositions in the mix can blind us to how the rest work, owing to the special direct way the former are verified. But would it be right to discount these as degenerate?

58. 'London' refers to London. This fact could have an interesting historical explanation. (Contrast 'London is London'.)

Part III coming soon.