Quantifier – Ontological Commitment: The Case for an Agnostic. Note Quote.


What about the mathematical objects that, according to the platonist, exist independently of any description one may offer of them in terms of comprehension principles? Do these objects exist on the fictionalist view? Now, the fictionalist is not committed to the existence of such mathematical objects, although this doesn’t mean that the fictionalist is committed to the non-existence of these objects. The fictionalist is ultimately agnostic about the issue. Here is why.

There are two types of commitment: quantifier commitment and ontological commitment. We incur quantifier commitment to the objects that are in the range of our quantifiers. We incur ontological commitment when we are committed to the existence of certain objects. However, despite Quine’s view, quantifier commitment doesn’t entail ontological commitment. Fictional discourse (e.g. in literature) and mathematical discourse illustrate that. Suppose that there’s no way of making sense of our practice with fiction but to quantify over fictional objects. Still, people would strongly resist the claim that they are therefore committed to the existence of these objects. The same point applies to mathematical objects.

This move can also be made by invoking a distinction between partial quantifiers and the existence predicate. The idea here is to resist reading the existential quantifier as carrying any ontological commitment. Rather, the existential quantifier only indicates that the objects that fall under a concept (or have certain properties) are less than the whole domain of discourse. To indicate that the whole domain is invoked (e.g. that every object in the domain have a certain property), we use a universal quantifier. So, two different functions are clumped together in the traditional, Quinean reading of the existential quantifier: (i) to assert the existence of something, on the one hand, and (ii) to indicate that not the whole domain of quantification is considered, on the other. These functions are best kept apart. We should use a partial quantifier (that is, an existential quantifier free of ontological commitment) to convey that only some of the objects in the domain are referred to, and introduce an existence predicate in the language in order to express existence claims.

By distinguishing these two roles of the quantifier, we also gain expressive resources. Consider, for instance, the sentence:

(∗) Some fictional detectives don’t exist.

Can this expression be translated in the usual formalism of classical first-order logic with the Quinean interpretation of the existential quantifier? Prima facie, that doesn’t seem to be possible. The sentence would be contradictory! It would state that ∃ fictional detectives who don’t exist. The obvious consistent translation here would be: ¬∃x Fx, where F is the predicate is a fictional detective. But this states that fictional detectives don’t exist. Clearly, this is a different claim from the one expressed in (∗). By declaring that some fictional detectives don’t exist, (∗) is still compatible with the existence of some fictional detectives. The regimented sentence denies this possibility.

However, it’s perfectly straightforward to express (∗) using the resources of partial quantification and the existence predicate. Suppose that “∃” stands for the partial quantifier and “E” stands for the existence predicate. In this case, we have: ∃x (Fx ∧¬Ex), which expresses precisely what we need to state.

Now, under what conditions is the fictionalist entitled to conclude that certain objects exist? In order to avoid begging the question against the platonist, the fictionalist cannot insist that only objects that we can causally interact with exist. So, the fictionalist only offers sufficient conditions for us to be entitled to conclude that certain objects exist. Conditions such as the following seem to be uncontroversial. Suppose we have access to certain objects that is such that (i) it’s robust (e.g. we blink, we move away, and the objects are still there); (ii) the access to these objects can be refined (e.g. we can get closer for a better look); (iii) the access allows us to track the objects in space and time; and (iv) the access is such that if the objects weren’t there, we wouldn’t believe that they were. In this case, having this form of access to these objects gives us good grounds to claim that these objects exist. In fact, it’s in virtue of conditions of this sort that we believe that tables, chairs, and so many observable entities exist.

But recall that these are only sufficient, and not necessary, conditions. Thus, the resulting view turns out to be agnostic about the existence of the mathematical entities the platonist takes to exist – independently of any description. The fact that mathematical objects fail to satisfy some of these conditions doesn’t entail that these objects don’t exist. Perhaps these entities do exist after all; perhaps they don’t. What matters for the fictionalist is that it’s possible to make sense of significant features of mathematics without settling this issue.

Now what would happen if the agnostic fictionalist used the partial quantifier in the context of comprehension principles? Suppose that a vector space is introduced via suitable principles, and that we establish that there are vectors satisfying certain conditions. Would this entail that we are now committed to the existence of these vectors? It would if the vectors in question satisfied the existence predicate. Otherwise, the issue would remain open, given that the existence predicate only provides sufficient, but not necessary, conditions for us to believe that the vectors in question exist. As a result, the fictionalist would then remain agnostic about the existence of even the objects introduced via comprehension principles!

Rhizomatic Topology and Global Politics. A Flirtatious Relationship.



Deleuze and Guattari see concepts as rhizomes, biological entities endowed with unique properties. They see concepts as spatially representable, where the representation contains principles of connection and heterogeneity: any point of a rhizome must be connected to any other. Deleuze and Guattari list the possible benefits of spatial representation of concepts, including the ability to represent complex multiplicity, the potential to free a concept from foundationalism, and the ability to show both breadth and depth. In this view, geometric interpretations move away from the insidious understanding of the world in terms of dualisms, dichotomies, and lines, to understand conceptual relations in terms of space and shapes. The ontology of concepts is thus, in their view, appropriately geometric, a multiplicity defined not by its elements, nor by a center of unification and comprehension and instead measured by its dimensionality and its heterogeneity. The conceptual multiplicity, is already composed of heterogeneous terms in symbiosis, and is continually transforming itself such that it is possible to follow, and map, not only the relationships between ideas but how they change over time. In fact, the authors claim that there are further benefits to geometric interpretations of understanding concepts which are unavailable in other frames of reference. They outline the unique contribution of geometric models to the understanding of contingent structure:

Principle of cartography and decalcomania: a rhizome is not amenable to any structural or generative model. It is a stranger to any idea of genetic axis or deep structure. A genetic axis is like an objective pivotal unity upon which successive stages are organized; deep structure is more like a base sequence that can be broken down into immediate constituents, while the unity of the product passes into another, transformational and subjective, dimension. (Deleuze and Guattari)

The word that Deleuze and Guattari use for ‘multiplicities’ can also be translated to the topological term ‘manifold.’ If we thought about their multiplicities as manifolds, there are a virtually unlimited number of things one could come to know, in geometric terms, about (and with) our object of study, abstractly speaking. Among those unlimited things we could learn are properties of groups (homological, cohomological, and homeomorphic), complex directionality (maps, morphisms, isomorphisms, and orientability), dimensionality (codimensionality, structure, embeddedness), partiality (differentiation, commutativity, simultaneity), and shifting representation (factorization, ideal classes, reciprocity). Each of these functions allows for a different, creative, and potentially critical representation of global political concepts, events, groupings, and relationships. This is how concepts are to be looked at: as manifolds. With such a dimensional understanding of concept-formation, it is possible to deal with complex interactions of like entities, and interactions of unlike entities. Critical theorists have emphasized the importance of such complexity in representation a number of times, speaking about it in terms compatible with mathematical methods if not mathematically. For example, Foucault’s declaration that: practicing criticism is a matter of making facile gestures difficult both reflects and is reflected in many critical theorists projects of revealing the complexity in (apparently simple) concepts deployed both in global politics.  This leads to a shift in the concept of danger as well, where danger is not an objective condition but “an effect of interpretation”. Critical thinking about how-possible questions reveals a complexity to the concept of the state which is often overlooked in traditional analyses, sending a wave of added complexity through other concepts as well. This work seeking complexity serves one of the major underlying functions of critical theorizing: finding invisible injustices in (modernist, linear, structuralist) givens in the operation and analysis of global politics.

In a geometric sense, this complexity could be thought about as multidimensional mapping. In theoretical geometry, the process of mapping conceptual spaces is not primarily empirical, but for the purpose of representing and reading the relationships between information, including identification, similarity, differentiation, and distance. The reason for defining topological spaces in math, the essence of the definition, is that there is no absolute scale for describing the distance or relation between certain points, yet it makes sense to say that an (infinite) sequence of points approaches some other (but again, no way to describe how quickly or from what direction one might be approaching). This seemingly weak relationship, which is defined purely ‘locally’, i.e., in a small locale around each point, is often surprisingly powerful: using only the relationship of approaching parts, one can distinguish between, say, a balloon, a sheet of paper, a circle, and a dot.

To each delineated concept, one should distinguish and associate a topological space, in a (necessarily) non-explicit yet definite manner. Whenever one has a relationship between concepts (here we think of the primary relationship as being that of constitution, but not restrictively, we ‘specify’ a function (or inclusion, or relation) between the topological spaces associated to the concepts). In these terms, a conceptual space is in essence a multidimensional space in which the dimensions represent qualities or features of that which is being represented. Such an approach can be leveraged for thinking about conceptual components, dimensionality, and structure. In these terms, dimensions can be thought of as properties or qualities, each with their own (often-multidimensional) properties or qualities. A key goal of the modeling of conceptual space being representation means that a key (mathematical and theoretical) goal of concept space mapping is

associationism, where associations between different kinds of information elements carry the main burden of representation. (Conceptual_Spaces_as_a_Framework_for_Knowledge_Representation)

To this end,

objects in conceptual space are represented by points, in each domain, that characterize their dimensional values. A concept geometry for conceptual spaces

These dimensional values can be arranged in relation to each other, as Gardenfors explains that

distances represent degrees of similarity between objects represented in space and therefore conceptual spaces are “suitable for representing different kinds of similarity relation. Concept

These similarity relationships can be explored across ideas of a concept and across contexts, but also over time, since “with the aid of a topological structure, we can speak about continuity, e.g., a continuous change” a possibility which can be found only in treating concepts as topological structures and not in linguistic descriptions or set theoretic representations.