Saturday 20 September 2014

Modality and 'Epistemic' a preview of forthcoming analyses of a priority and analyticity.

This is a correspondence-inspired followup to 'Two Concepts of Metaphysical Modality'.

What I there called 'metaphysical modality in the broad sense' should probably be thought of as including what David Chalmers calls the logical or epistemic modality (also sometimes the 'indicative' modality), tied to what is a priori consistent. This despite my characterizing it in part with the term 'non-epistemic'.

What's going on? It may look like there is some disagreement between me and Chalmers about whether some modality has some status which we both call 'epistemic'.

I don't think this is so, however. It seems there are just different uses of 'epistemic' at work here. Chalmers doesn't think that what he calls the logical or epistemic modality depends upon our knowledge or conventions (any more than logic does). Whereas I was using 'epistemic' in 'non-epistemic' (and tend to use it elsewhere) to mean something like 'depending on or having to do with knowledge'.

This also connects with a bit in Chalmers's short piece on the tyranny of the subjunctive, where he fields the objection 'But indicative necessity is epistemic!' and says 'So?'.

For me that always seemed like a bullet that really didn't have to be bitten - in fact, on that ought not to have been. But this is probably because I was reading 'epistemic' to mean something like 'depending on, or having to do with, knowledge'. I now suspect I was reading it contrary to Chalmers's intention. One moral: take care using and interpreting overworked philosophical words!

Now for the preview...

For my part, I think the core notion behind the a priori/a posteriori distinction in propositional typology - which distinction is tied to what Chalmers calls the logical, epistemic or indicative modality - isn't really 'epistemic' in the sense that I tend to give that word. 'A priori' could of course be stipulated to be about knowability without experience or whatever, but what underlies and explains that knowability has to do with the nature of the proposition itself.

I'm working on cashing that out in terms of the internal meaning determining the truth value. And that sounds like analyticity, but to that I reply that it's the full internal meaning in question here, which need not be fully grasped in order to pass as understanding the proposition in question. To define analyticity, I want to use a notion of a 'meaning-radical' - something like a bit of conceptual structure such that having it on board suffices for you to count as understanding the proposition in question - and say that a proposition is analytic iff its meaning-radical determines its truth value. Or one of its meaning-radicals, if there can be more than one. (Meaning-radical/analyticity are pretty vague notions, I think.)

This also provides a nice pithy answer to Kant's big question; the synthetic a priori is possible because full internal meaning can outrun meaning-radicals. This connects to the idea of the linguistic division of labour, and Wittgensteinian points about the widely-scatteredness of the determinants of meaning.

Monday 8 September 2014

Metaphysical Realism and Conceptual Relativity: An Application of Granularity

This is another instalment in the 'Applications of Granularity' series I introduced in the last post. To learn what is going on here, have a look at the first paragraphs of that, and the original post on Kripke's puzzle and semantic granularity.

Let us characterize metaphysical realism as the view that there is exactly one true and complete description of the world, and let us characterize conceptual relativity as the denial of that claim.

These two opposing views, at least in name, come from Putnam's discussions in, among other places, the books cited at the end of this post, and have since been discussed by many philosophers. It is not clear to me whether Putnam ever took the characterizations I have given as full characterizations, but they have certainly been for him at least part of what is involved in the two views.

Putnam used different characterizations at different times, and plenty of people have worked at sorting that out a bit. I'm not getting into any of that. I just want to stipulate the above characterizations, and briefly indicate how the doctrine of semantic granularity can dissolve the appearance of a hard- or impossible-to-resolve philosophical disagreement here.

It can do this as follows. If a complete description of a domain D is a set of propositions such that every proposition which says something true about D means the same as one of the propositions in the set (or a conjunction of them), then whether we say a description of the world is complete depends on the granularity we are operating at. Conceptual relativity may hold at a certain granularity, but once you make the granularity finer, it may collapse into metaphysical realism.

Seen in this way, where one claim, conceptual relativism, holds at one granularity or set thereof and the other, metaphysical realism, holds at another (finer) one or set thereof, they are not inconsistent with each other, and each has its own point.

Conceptual relativity as it were emphasizes the possibility of attaining the same or similar goals by different cognitive and linguistic means. Metaphysical realism on the oher hand emphasizes what we might call the sovereignty, the special individuality, of the different ways of doing things.

Relevant Works

Putnam, Hilary (1978). Meaning and the Moral Sciences, Routledge & K. Paul.

Putnam, Hilary (1981). Reason, Truth and History, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Putnam, Hilary (1985). Realism and Reason, volume 3 of Philosophical Papers, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Putnam, Hilary (1990). Realism with a Human Face, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Not to mention the innumerable writings by others dealing with Putnam's philosophy.