Metaphysical Would-Be(s). Drunken Risibility.


If one were to look at Quine’s commitment to similarity, natural kinds, dispositions, causal statements, etc., it is evident, that it takes him close to Peirce’s conception of Thirdness – even if Quine in an utopian vision imagines that all such concepts in a remote future will dissolve and vanish in favor of purely microstructural descriptions.

A crucial difference remains, however, which becomes evident when one looks at Quine’s brief formula for ontological commitment, the famous idea that ‘to be is to be the value of a bound variable’. For even if this motto is stated exactly to avoid commitment to several different types of being, it immediately prompts the question: the equation, in which the variable is presumably bound, which status does it have? Governing the behavior of existing variable values, is that not in some sense being real?

This will be Peirce’s realist idea – that regularities, tendencies, dispositions, patterns, may possess real existence, independent of any observer. In Peirce, this description of Thirdness is concentrated in the expression ‘real possibility’, and even it may sound exceedingly metaphysical at a first glance, it amounts, at a closer look, to regularities charted by science that are not mere shorthands for collections of single events but do possess reality status. In Peirce, the idea of real possibilities thus springs from his philosophy of science – he observes that science, contrary to philosophy, is spontaneously realist, and is right in being so. Real possibilities are thus counterposed to mere subjective possibilities due to lack of knowledge on the part of the subject speaking: the possibility of ‘not known not to be true’.

In a famous piece of self-critique from his late, realist period, Peirce attacks his earlier arguments (from ‘How to Make Our Ideas Clear’, in the late 1890s considered by himself the birth certificate of pragmatism after James’s reference to Peirce as pragmatism’s inventor). Then, he wrote

let us ask what we mean by calling a thing hard. Evidently that it will not be scratched by many other substances. The whole conception of this quality, as of every other, lies in its conceived effects. There is absolutely no difference between a hard thing and a soft thing so long as they are not brought to the test. Suppose, then, that a diamond could be crystallized in the midst of a cushion of soft cotton, and should remain there until it was finally burned up. Would it be false to say that that diamond was soft? […] Reflection will show that the reply is this: there would be no falsity in such modes of speech.

More than twenty-five years later, however, he attacks this argument as bearing witness to the nominalism of his youth. Now instead he supports the

scholastic doctrine of realism. This is usually defined as the opinion that there are real objects that are general, among the number being the modes of determination of existent singulars, if, indeed, these be not the only such objects. But the belief in this can hardly escape being accompanied by the acknowledgment that there are, besides, real vagues, and especially real possibilities. For possibility being the denial of a necessity, which is a kind of generality, is vague like any other contradiction of a general. Indeed, it is the reality of some possibilities that pragmaticism is most concerned to insist upon. The article of January 1878 endeavored to gloze over this point as unsuited to the exoteric public addressed; or perhaps the writer wavered in his own mind. He said that if a diamond were to be formed in a bed of cotton-wool, and were to be consumed there without ever having been pressed upon by any hard edge or point, it would be merely a question of nomenclature whether that diamond should be said to have been hard or not. No doubt this is true, except for the abominable falsehood in the word MERELY, implying that symbols are unreal. Nomenclature involves classification; and classification is true or false, and the generals to which it refers are either reals in the one case, or figments in the other. For if the reader will turn to the original maxim of pragmaticism at the beginning of this article, he will see that the question is, not what did happen, but whether it would have been well to engage in any line of conduct whose successful issue depended upon whether that diamond would resist an attempt to scratch it, or whether all other logical means of determining how it ought to be classed would lead to the conclusion which, to quote the very words of that article, would be ‘the belief which alone could be the result of investigation carried sufficiently far.’ Pragmaticism makes the ultimate intellectual purport of what you please to consist in conceived conditional resolutions, or their substance; and therefore, the conditional propositions, with their hypothetical antecedents, in which such resolutions consist, being of the ultimate nature of meaning, must be capable of being true, that is, of expressing whatever there be which is such as the proposition expresses, independently of being thought to be so in any judgment, or being represented to be so in any other symbol of any man or men. But that amounts to saying that possibility is sometimes of a real kind. (The Essential Peirce Selected Philosophical Writings, Volume 2)

In the same year, he states, in a letter to the Italian pragmatist Signor Calderoni:

I myself went too far in the direction of nominalism when I said that it was a mere question of the convenience of speech whether we say that a diamond is hard when it is not pressed upon, or whether we say that it is soft until it is pressed upon. I now say that experiment will prove that the diamond is hard, as a positive fact. That is, it is a real fact that it would resist pressure, which amounts to extreme scholastic realism. I deny that pragmaticism as originally defined by me made the intellectual purport of symbols to consist in our conduct. On the contrary, I was most careful to say that it consists in our concept of what our conduct would be upon conceivable occasions. For I had long before declared that absolute individuals were entia rationis, and not realities. A concept determinate in all respects is as fictitious as a concept definite in all respects. I do not think we can ever have a logical right to infer, even as probable, the existence of anything entirely contrary in its nature to all that we can experience or imagine. 

Here lies the core of Peirce’s metaphysical insistence on the reality of ‘would-be’s. Real possibilities, or would-bes, are vague to the extent that they describe certain tendential, conditional behaviors only, while they do not prescribe any other aspect of the single objects they subsume. They are, furthermore, represented in rationally interrelated clusters of concepts: the fact that the diamond is in fact hard, no matter if it scratches anything or not, lies in the fact that the diamond’s carbon structure displays a certain spatial arrangement – so it is an aspect of the very concept of diamond. And this is why the old pragmatic maxim may not work without real possibilities: it is they that the very maxim rests upon, because it is they that provide us with the ‘conceived consequences’ of accepting a concept. The maxim remains a test to weed out empty concepts with no conceived consequences – that is, empty a priori reasoning and superfluous metaphysical assumptions. But what remains after the maxim has been put to use, is real possibilities. Real possibilities thus connect epistemology, expressed in the pragmatic maxim, to ontology: real possibilities are what science may grasp in conditional hypotheses.

The question is whether Peirce’s revision of his old ‘nominalist’ beliefs form part of a more general development in Peirce from nominalism to realism. The locus classicus of this idea is Max Fisch (Peirce, Semeiotic and Pragmatism) where Fisch outlines a development from an initial nominalism (albeit of a strange kind, refusing, as always in Peirce, the existence of individuals determinate in all respects) via a series of steps towards realism, culminating after the turn of the century. Fisch’s first step is then Peirce’s theory of the real as that which reasoning would finally have as its result; the second step his Berkeley review with its anti-nominalism and the idea that the real is what is unaffected by what we may think of it; the third step is his pragmatist idea that beliefs are conceived habits of action, even if he here clings to the idea that the conditionals in which habits are expressed are material implications only – like the definition of ‘hard’; the fourth step his reading of Abbott’s realist Scientific Theism (which later influenced his conception of scientific universals) and his introduction of the index in his theory of signs; the fifth step his acceptance of the reality of continuity; the sixth the introduction of real possibilities, accompanied by the development of existential graphs, topology and Peirce’s changing view of Hegelianism; the seventh, the identification of pragmatism with realism; the eighth ‘his last stronghold, that of Philonian or material implication’. A further realist development exchanging Peirce’s early frequentist idea of probability for a dispositional theory of probability was, according to Fisch, never finished.

The issue of implication concerns the old discussion quoted by Cicero between the Hellenistic logicians Philo and Diodorus. The former formulated what we know today as material implication, while the latter objected on common-sense ground that material implication does not capture implication in everyday language and thought and another implication type should be sought. As is well known, material implication says that p ⇒ q is equivalent to the claim that either p is false or q is true – so that p ⇒ q is false only when p is true and q is false. The problems arise when p is false, for any false p makes the implication true, and this leads to strange possibilities of true inferences. The two parts of the implication have no connection with each other at all, such as would be the spontaneous idea in everyday thought. It is true that Peirce as a logician generally supports material (‘Philonian’) implication – but it is also true that he does express some second thoughts at around the same time as the afterthoughts on the diamond example.

Peirce is a forerunner of the attempts to construct alternatives such as strict implication, and the reason why is, of course, that real possibilities are not adequately depicted by material implication. Peirce is in need of an implication which may somehow picture the causal dependency of q on p. The basic reason for the mature Peirce’s problems with the representation of real possibilities is not primarily logical, however. It is scientific. Peirce realizes that the scientific charting of anything but singular, actual events necessitates the real existence of tendencies and relations connecting singular events. Now, what kinds are those tendencies and relations? The hard diamond example seems to emphasize causality, but this probably depends on the point of view chosen. The ‘conceived consequences’ of the pragmatic maxim may be causal indeed: if we accept gravity as a real concept, then masses will attract one another – but they may all the same be structural: if we accept horse riders as a real concept, then we should expect horses, persons, the taming of horses, etc. to exist, or they may be teleological. In any case, the interpretation of the pragmatic maxim in terms of real possibilities paves the way for a distinction between empty a priori suppositions and real a priori structures.

Carnap, c-notions. Thought of the Day 87.0


A central distinction for Carnap is that between definite and indefinite notions. A definite notion is one that is recursive, such as “is a formula” and “is a proof of φ”. An indefinite notion is one that is non-recursive, such as “is an ω-consequence of PA” and “is true in Vω+ω”. This leads to a distinction between (i) the method of derivation (or d-method), which investigates the semi-definite (recursively enumerable) metamathematical notions, such as demonstrable, derivable, refutable, resoluble, and irresoluble, and (ii) the method of consequence (or c-method), which investigates the (typically) non-recursively enumerable metamathematical notions such as consequence, analytic, contradictory, determinate, and synthetic.

A language for Carnap is what we would today call a formal axiom system. The rules of the formal system are definite (recursive) and Carnap is fully aware that a given language cannot include its own c-notions. The logical syntax of a language is what we would today call metatheory. It is here that one formalizes the c-notions for the (object) language. From among the various c-notions Carnap singles out one as central, namely, the notion of (direct) consequence; from this c-notion all of the other c-notions can be defined in routine fashion.

We now turn to Carnap’s account of his fundamental notions, most notably, the analytic/synthetic distinction and the division of primitive terms into ‘logico-mathematical’ and ‘descriptive’. Carnap actually has two approaches. The first approach occurs in his discussion of specific languages – Languages I and II. Here he starts with a division of primitive terms into ‘logico-mathematical’ and ‘descriptive’ and upon this basis defines the c-notions, in particular the notions of being analytic and synthetic. The second approach occurs in the discussion of general syntax. Here Carnap reverses procedure: he starts with a specific c-notion – namely, the notion of direct consequence – and he uses it to define the other c-notions and draw the division of primitive terms into ‘logico-mathematical’ and ‘descriptive’.

In the first approach Carnap introduces two languages – Language I and Language II. The background languages (in the modern sense) of Language I and Language II are quite general – they include expressions that we would call ‘descriptive’. Carnap starts with a demarcation of primitive terms into ‘logico-mathematical’ and ‘descriptive’. The expressions he classifies as ‘logico-mathematical’ are exactly those included in the modern versions of these systems; the remaining expressions are classified as ‘descriptive’. Language I is a version of Primitive Recursive Arithmetic and Language II is a version of finite type theory built over Peano Arithmetic. The d-notions for these languages are the standard proof-theoretic ones.

For Language I Carnap starts with a consequence relation based on two rules – (i) the rule that allows one to infer φ if T \vdash \!\, φ (where T is some fixed ∑10-complete formal system) and (ii) the ω-rule. It is then easily seen that one has a complete theory for the logico-mathematical fragment, that is, for any logico-mathematical sentence φ, either φ or ¬φ is a consequence of the null set. The other c-notions are then defined in the standard fashion. For example, a sentence is analytic if it is a consequence of the null set; contradictory if its negation is analytic; and so on.

For Language II Carnap starts by defining analyticity. His definition is a notational variant of the Tarskian truth definition with one important difference – namely, it involves an asymmetric treatment of the logico-mathematical and descriptive expressions. For the logico-mathematical expressions his definition really just is a notational variant of the Tarskian truth definition. But descriptive expressions must pass a more stringent test to count as analytic – they must be such that if one replaces all descriptive expressions in them by variables of the appropriate type, then the resulting logico-mathematical expression is analytic, that is, true. In other words, to count as analytic a descriptive expression must be a substitution-instance of a general logico-mathematical truth. With this definition in place the other c-notions are defined in the standard fashion.

The content of a sentence is defined to be the set of its non-analytic consequences. It then follows immediately from the definitions that logico-mathematical sentences (of both Language I and Language II) are analytic or contradictory and (assuming consistency) that analytic sentences are without content.

In the second approach, for a given language, Carnap starts with an arbitrary notion of direct consequence and from this notion he defines the other c-notions in the standard fashion. More importantly, in addition to defining the other c-notion, Carnap also uses the primitive notion of direct consequence (along with the derived c-notions) to effect the classification of terms into ‘logico-mathematical’ and ‘descriptive’. The guiding idea is that “the formally expressible distinguishing peculiarity of logical symbols and expressions [consists] in the fact that each sentence constructed solely from them is determinate”. Howsoever the guiding idea is implemented the actual division between “logico-mathematical” and “descriptive” expressions that one obtains as output is sensitive to the scope of the direct consequence relation with which one starts.

With this basic division in place, Carnap can now draw various derivative divisions, most notably, the division between analytic and synthetic statements: Suppose φ is a consequence of Γ. Then φ is said to be an L-consequence of Γ if either (i) φ and the sentences in Γ are logico-mathematical, or (ii) letting φ’ and Γ’ be the result of unpacking all descriptive symbols, then for every result φ” and Γ” of replacing every (primitive) descriptive symbol by an expression of the same genus, maintaining equal expressions for equal symbols, we have that φ” is a consequence of Γ”. Otherwise φ is a P-consequence of Γ. This division of the notion of consequence into L-consequence and P-consequence induces a division of the notion of demonstrable into L-demonstrable and P-demonstrable and the notion of valid into L-valid and P-valid and likewise for all of the other d-notions and c-notions. The terms ‘analytic’, ‘contradictory’, and ‘synthetic’ are used for ‘L-valid’, ‘L-contravalid’, and ‘L-indeterminate’.

It follows immediately from the definitions that logico-mathematical sentences are analytic or contradictory and that analytic sentences are without content. The trouble with the first approach is that the definitions of analyticity that Carnap gives for Languages I and II are highly sensitive to the original classification of terms into ‘logico-mathematical’ and ‘descriptive’. And the trouble with the second approach is that the division between ‘logico-mathematical’ and ‘descriptive’ expressions (and hence division between ‘analytic’ and ‘synthetic’ truths) is sensitive to the scope of the direct consequence relation with which one starts. This threatens to undermine Carnap’s thesis that logico-mathematical truths are analytic and hence without content. 

In the first approach, the original division of terms into ‘logico-mathematical’ and ‘descriptive’ is made by stipulation and if one alters this division one thereby alters the derivative division between analytic and synthetic sentences. For example, consider the case of Language II. If one calls only the primitive terms of first-order logic ‘logico-mathematical’ and then extends the language by adding the machinery of arithmetic and set theory, then, upon running the definition of ‘analytic’, one will have the result that true statements of first-order logic are without content while (the distinctive) statements of arithmetic and set theory have content. For another example, if one takes the language of arithmetic, calls the primitive terms ‘logico-mathematical’ and then extends the language by adding the machinery of finite type theory, calling the basic terms ‘descriptive’, then, upon running the definition of ‘analytic’, the result will be that statements of first-order arithmetic are analytic or contradictory while (the distinctive) statements of second- and higher-order arithmetic are synthetic and hence have content. In general, by altering the input, one alters the output, and Carnap adjusts the input to achieve his desired output.

In the second approach, there are no constraints on the scope of the direct consequence relation with which one starts and if one alters it one thereby alters the derivative division between ‘logico-mathematical’ and ‘descriptive’ expressions. Logical symbols and expressions have the feature that sentences composed solely of them are determinate. The trouble is that the resulting division of terms into ‘logico-mathematical’ and ‘descriptive’ will be highly sensitive to the scope of the direct consequence relation with which one starts. For example, let S be first-order PA and for the direct consequence relation take “provable in PA”. Under this assignment Fermat’s Last Theorem will be deemed descriptive, synthetic, and to have non-trivial content. For an example at the other extreme, let S be an extension of PA that contains a physical theory and let the notion of direct consequence be given by a Tarskian truth definition for the language. Since in the metalanguage one can prove that every sentence is true or false, every sentence will be either analytic (and so have null content) or contradictory (and so have total content). To overcome such counter-examples and get the classification that Carnap desires one must ensure that the consequence relation is (i) complete for the sublanguage consisting of expressions that one wants to come out as ‘logico-mathematical’ and (ii) not complete for the sublanguage consisting of expressions that one wants to come out as ‘descriptive’. Once again, by altering the input, one alters the output.

Carnap merely provides us with a flexible piece of technical machinery involving free parameters that can be adjusted to yield a variety of outcomes concerning the classifications of analytic/synthetic, contentful/non-contentful, and logico-mathematical/descriptive. In his own case, he has adjusted the parameters in such a way that the output is a formal articulation of his logicist view of mathematics that the truths of mathematics are analytic and without content. And one can adjust them differently to articulate a number of other views, for example, the view that the truths of first-order logic are without content while the truths of arithmetic and set theory have content. The point, however, is that we have been given no reason for fixing the parameters one way rather than another. The distinctions are thus not principled distinctions. It is trivial to prove that mathematics is trivial if one trivializes the claim.

Carnap is perfectly aware that to define c-notions like analyticity one must ascend to a stronger metalanguage. However, there is a distinction that he appears to overlook, namely, the distinction between (i) having a stronger system S that can define ‘analytic in S’ and (ii) having a stronger system S that can, in addition, evaluate a given statement of the form ‘φ is analytic in S’. It is an elementary fact that two systems S1 and S2 can employ the same definition (from an intensional point of view) of ‘analytic in S’ (using either the definition given for Language I or Language II) but differ on their evaluation of ‘φ is analytic in S’ (that is, differ on the extension of ‘analytic in S’). Thus, to determine whether ‘φ is analytic in S’ holds one needs to access much more than the “syntactic design” of φ – in addition to ascending to an essentially richer metalanguage one must move to a sufficiently strong system to evaluate ‘φ is analytic in S’.

In fact, to answer ‘Is φ analytic in Language I?’ is just to answer φ and, in the more general setting, to answer all questions of the form ‘Is φ analytic in S?’ (for various mathematical φ and S), where here ‘analytic’ is defined as Carnap defines it for Language II, just to answer all questions of mathematics. The same, of course, applies to the c-notion of consequence. So, when in first stating the Principle of Tolerance, Carnap tells us that we can choose our system S arbitrarily and that ‘no question of justification arises at all, but only the question of the syntactical consequences to which one or other of the choices leads’, where he means the c-notion of consequence.

Transcendentally Realist Modality. Thought of the Day 78.1


Let us start at the beginning first! Though the fact is not mentioned in Genesis, the first thing God said on the first day of creation was ‘Let there be necessity’. And there was necessity. And God saw necessity, that it was good. And God divided necessity from contingency. And only then did He say ‘Let there be light’. Several days later, Adam and Eve were introducing names for the animals into their language, and during a break between the fish and the birds, introduced also into their language modal auxiliary verbs, or devices that would be translated into English using modal auxiliary verbs, and rules for their use, rules according to which it can be said of some things that they ‘could’ have been otherwise, and of other things that they ‘could not’. In so doing they were merely putting labels on a distinction that was no more their creation than were the fishes of the sea or the beasts of the field or the birds of the air.

And here is the rival view. The failure of Genesis to mention any command ‘Let there be necessity’ is to be explained simply by the fact that no such command was issued. We have no reason to suppose that the language in which God speaks to the angels contains modal auxiliary verbs or any equivalent device. Sometime after the Tower of Babel some tribes found that their purposes would be better served by introducing into their language certain modal auxiliary verbs, and fixing certain rules for their use. When we say that this is necessary while that is contingent, we are applying such rules, rules that are products of human, not divine intelligence.

This theological language would have been the natural way for seventeenth or eighteenth century philosophers, who nearly all were or professed to be theists or deists, to discuss the matter. For many today, such language cannot be literally accepted, and if it is only taken metaphorically, then at least better than those who speak figuratively and frame the question as that of whether the ‘origin’ of necessity lies outside us or within us. So let us drop the theological language, and try again.

Well, here the first view: Ultimately reality as it is in itself, independently of our attempts to conceptualize and comprehend it, contains both facts about what is, and superfacts about what not only is but had to have been. Our modal usages, for instance, the distinction between the simple indicative ‘is’ and the construction ‘had to have been’, simply reflect this fundamental distinction in the world, a distinction that is and from the beginning always was there, independently of us and our concerns.

And here is the second view: We have reasons, connected with our various purposes in life, to use certain words, including ‘would’ and ‘might’, in certain ways, and thereby to make certain distinctions. The distinction between those things in the world that would have been no matter what and those that might have failed to be if only is a projection of the distinctions made in our language. Our saying there were necessities there before us is a retroactive application to the pre-human world of a way of speaking invented and created by human beings in order to solve human problems.

Well, that’s the second try. With it even if one has gotten rid of theology, unfortunately one has not gotten rid of all metaphors. The key remaining metaphor is the optical one: reflection vs projection. Perhaps the attempt should be to get rid of all metaphors, and admit that the two views are not so much philosophical theses or doctrines as ‘metaphilosophical’ attitudes or orientations: a stance that finds the ‘reflection’ metaphor congenial, and the stance that finds the ‘projection’ metaphor congenial. So, lets try a third time to describe the distinction between the two outlooks in literal terms, avoiding optics as well as theology.

To begin with, both sides grant that there is a correspondence or parallelism between two items. On the one hand, there are facts about the contrast between what is necessary and what is contingent. On the other hand, there are facts about our usage of modal auxiliary verbs such as ‘would’ and ‘might’, and these include, for instance, the fact that we have no use for questions of the form ‘Would 29 still have been a prime number if such-and- such?’ but may have use for questions of the form ‘Would 29 still have been the number of years it takes for Saturn to orbit the sun if such-and-such?’ The difference between the two sides concerns the order of explanation of the relation between the two parallel ranges of facts.

And what is meant by that? Well, both sides grant that ‘29 is necessarily prime’, for instance, is a proper thing to say, but they differ in the explanation why it is a proper thing to say. Asked why, the first side will say that ultimately it is simply because 29 is necessarily prime. That makes the proposition that 29 is necessarily prime true, and since the sentence ‘29 is necessarily prime’ expresses that proposition, it is true also, and a proper thing to say. The second side will say instead that ‘29 is necessarily prime’ is a proper thing to say because there is a rule of our language according to which it is a proper thing to say. This formulation of the difference between the two sides gets rid of metaphor, though it does put an awful lot of weight on the perhaps fragile ‘why’ and ‘because’.

Note that the adherents of the second view need not deny that 29 is necessarily prime. On the contrary, having said that the sentence ‘29 is necessarily prime’ is, per rules of our language, a proper thing to say, they will go on to say it. Nor need the adherents of the first view deny that recognition of the propriety of saying ‘29 is necessarily prime’ is enshrined in a rule of our language. The adherents of the first view need not even deny that proximately, as individuals, we learn that ‘29 is necessarily prime’ is a proper thing to say by picking up the pertinent rule in the course of learning our language. But the adherents of the first view will maintain that the rule itself is only proper because collectively, as the creators of the language, we or our remote answers have, in setting up the rule, managed to achieve correspondence with a pre-existing fact, or rather, a pre-existing superfact, the superfact that 29 is necessarily prime. The difference between the two views is, in the order of explanation.

The adherents regarding labels for the two sides, or ‘metaphilosophical’ stances, rather than inventing new ones, will simply take two of the most overworked terms in the philosophical lexicon and give them one more job to do, calling the reflection view ‘realism’ about modality, and the projection view ‘pragmatism’. That at least will be easy to remember, since ‘realism’ and ‘reflection’ begin with the same first two letters, as do ‘pragmatism’ and ‘projection’. The realist/pragmatist distinction has bearing across a range of issues and problems, and above all it has bearing on the meta-issue of which issues are significant. For the two sides will, or ought to, recognize quite different questions as the central unsolved problems in the theory of modality.

For those on the realist side, the old problem of the ultimate source of our knowledge of modality remains, even if it is granted that the proximate source lies in knowledge of linguistic conventions. For knowledge of linguistic conventions constitutes knowledge of a reality independent of us only insofar as our linguistic conventions reflect, at least to some degree, such an ultimate reality. So for the realist the problem remains of explaining how such degree of correspondence as there is between distinctions in language and distinctions in the world comes about. If the distinction in the world is something primary and independent, and not a mere projection of the distinction in language, then how the distinction in language comes to be even imperfectly aligned with the distinction in the world remains to be explained. For it cannot be said that we have faculties responsive to modal facts independent of us – not in any sense of ‘responsive’ implying that if the facts had been different, then our language would have been different, since modal facts couldn’t have been different. What then is the explanation? This is the problem of the epistemology of modality as it confronts the realist, and addressing it is or ought to be at the top of the realist agenda.

As for the pragmatist side, a chief argument of thinkers from Kant to Ayer and Strawson and beyond for their anti-realist stance has been precisely that if the distinction we perceive in reality is taken to be merely a projection of a distinction created by ourselves, then the epistemological problem dissolves. That seems more like a reason for hoping the Kantian or Ayerite or Strawsonian view is the right one, than for believing that it is; but in any case, even supposing the pragmatist view is the right one, and the problems of the epistemology of modality are dissolved, still the pragmatist side has an important unanswered question of its own to address. The pragmatist account, begins by saying that we have certain reasons, connected with our various purposes in life, to use certain words, including ‘would’ and ‘might’, in certain ways, and thereby to make certain distinctions. What the pragmatist owes us is an account of what these purposes are, and how the rules of our language help us to achieve them. Addressing that issue is or ought to be at the top of the pragmatists’ to-do list.

While the positivist Ayer dismisses all metaphysics, the ordinary-language philosopher Strawson distinguishes good metaphysics, which he calls ‘descriptive’, from bad metaphysics, which he calls ‘revisionary’, but which rather be called ‘transcendental’ (without intending any specifically Kantian connotations). Descriptive metaphysics aims to provide an explicit account of our ‘conceptual scheme’, of the most general categories of commonsense thought, as embodied in ordinary language. Transcendental metaphysics aims to get beyond or behind all merely human conceptual schemes and representations to ultimate reality as it is in itself, an aim that Ayer and Strawson agree is infeasible and probably unintelligible. The descriptive/transcendental divide in metaphysics is a paradigmatically ‘metaphilosophical’ issue, one about what philosophy is about. Realists about modality are paradigmatic transcendental metaphysicians. Pragmatists must in the first instance be descriptive metaphysicians, since we must to begin with understand much better than we currently do how our modal distinctions work and what work they do for us, before proposing any revisions or reforms. And so the difference between realists and pragmatists goes beyond the question of what issue should come first on the philosopher’s agenda, being as it is an issue about what philosophical agendas are about.

The Mystery of Modality. Thought of the Day 78.0


The ‘metaphysical’ notion of what would have been no matter what (the necessary) was conflated with the epistemological notion of what independently of sense-experience can be known to be (the a priori), which in turn was identified with the semantical notion of what is true by virtue of meaning (the analytic), which in turn was reduced to a mere product of human convention. And what motivated these reductions?

The mystery of modality, for early modern philosophers, was how we can have any knowledge of it. Here is how the question arises. We think that when things are some way, in some cases they could have been otherwise, and in other cases they couldn’t. That is the modal distinction between the contingent and the necessary.

How do we know that the examples are examples of that of which they are supposed to be examples? And why should this question be considered a difficult problem, a kind of mystery? Well, that is because, on the one hand, when we ask about most other items of purported knowledge how it is we can know them, sense-experience seems to be the source, or anyhow the chief source of our knowledge, but, on the other hand, sense-experience seems able only to provide knowledge about what is or isn’t, not what could have been or couldn’t have been. How do we bridge the gap between ‘is’ and ‘could’? The classic statement of the problem was given by Immanuel Kant, in the introduction to the second or B edition of his first critique, The Critique of Pure Reason: ‘Experience teaches us that a thing is so, but not that it cannot be otherwise.’

Note that this formulation allows that experience can teach us that a necessary truth is true; what it is not supposed to be able to teach is that it is necessary. The problem becomes more vivid if one adopts the language that was once used by Leibniz, and much later re-popularized by Saul Kripke in his famous work on model theory for formal modal systems, the usage according to which the necessary is that which is ‘true in all possible worlds’. In these terms the problem is that the senses only show us this world, the world we live in, the actual world as it is called, whereas when we claim to know about what could or couldn’t have been, we are claiming knowledge of what is going on in some or all other worlds. For that kind of knowledge, it seems, we would need a kind of sixth sense, or extrasensory perception, or nonperceptual mode of apprehension, to see beyond the world in which we live to these various other worlds.

Kant concludes, that our knowledge of necessity must be what he calls a priori knowledge or knowledge that is ‘prior to’ or before or independent of experience, rather than what he calls a posteriori knowledge or knowledge that is ‘posterior to’ or after or dependant on experience. And so the problem of the origin of our knowledge of necessity becomes for Kant the problem of the origin of our a priori knowledge.

Well, that is not quite the right way to describe Kant’s position, since there is one special class of cases where Kant thinks it isn’t really so hard to understand how we can have a priori knowledge. He doesn’t think all of our a priori knowledge is mysterious, but only most of it. He distinguishes what he calls analytic from what he calls synthetic judgments, and holds that a priori knowledge of the former is unproblematic, since it is not really knowledge of external objects, but only knowledge of the content of our own concepts, a form of self-knowledge.

We can generate any number of examples of analytic truths by the following three-step process. First, take a simple logical truth of the form ‘Anything that is both an A and a B is a B’, for instance, ‘Anyone who is both a man and unmarried is unmarried’. Second, find a synonym C for the phrase ‘thing that is both an A and a B’, for instance, ‘bachelor’ for ‘one who is both a man and unmarried’. Third, substitute the shorter synonym for the longer phrase in the original logical truth to get the truth ‘Any C is a B’, or in our example, the truth ‘Any bachelor is unmarried’. Our knowledge of such a truth seems unproblematic because it seems to reduce to our knowledge of the meanings of our own words.

So the problem for Kant is not exactly how knowledge a priori is possible, but more precisely how synthetic knowledge a priori is possible. Kant thought we do have examples of such knowledge. Arithmetic, according to Kant, was supposed to be synthetic a priori, and geometry, too – all of pure mathematics. In his Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics, Kant listed ‘How is pure mathematics possible?’ as the first question for metaphysics, for the branch of philosophy concerned with space, time, substance, cause, and other grand general concepts – including modality.

Kant offered an elaborate explanation of how synthetic a priori knowledge is supposed to be possible, an explanation reducing it to a form of self-knowledge, but later philosophers questioned whether there really were any examples of the synthetic a priori. Geometry, so far as it is about the physical space in which we live and move – and that was the original conception, and the one still prevailing in Kant’s day – came to be seen as, not synthetic a priori, but rather a posteriori. The mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauß had already come to suspect that geometry is a posteriori, like the rest of physics. Since the time of Einstein in the early twentieth century the a posteriori character of physical geometry has been the received view (whence the need for border-crossing from mathematics into physics if one is to pursue the original aim of geometry).

As for arithmetic, the logician Gottlob Frege in the late nineteenth century claimed that it was not synthetic a priori, but analytic – of the same status as ‘Any bachelor is unmarried’, except that to obtain something like ‘29 is a prime number’ one needs to substitute synonyms in a logical truth of a form much more complicated than ‘Anything that is both an A and a B is a B’. This view was subsequently adopted by many philosophers in the analytic tradition of which Frege was a forerunner, whether or not they immersed themselves in the details of Frege’s program for the reduction of arithmetic to logic.

Once Kant’s synthetic a priori has been rejected, the question of how we have knowledge of necessity reduces to the question of how we have knowledge of analyticity, which in turn resolves into a pair of questions: On the one hand, how do we have knowledge of synonymy, which is to say, how do we have knowledge of meaning? On the other hand how do we have knowledge of logical truths? As to the first question, presumably we acquire knowledge, explicit or implicit, conscious or unconscious, of meaning as we learn to speak, by the time we are able to ask the question whether this is a synonym of that, we have the answer. But what about knowledge of logic? That question didn’t loom large in Kant’s day, when only a very rudimentary logic existed, but after Frege vastly expanded the realm of logic – only by doing so could he find any prospect of reducing arithmetic to logic – the question loomed larger.

Many philosophers, however, convinced themselves that knowledge of logic also reduces to knowledge of meaning, namely, of the meanings of logical particles, words like ‘not’ and ‘and’ and ‘or’ and ‘all’ and ‘some’. To be sure, there are infinitely many logical truths, in Frege’s expanded logic. But they all follow from or are generated by a finite list of logical rules, and philosophers were tempted to identify knowledge of the meanings of logical particles with knowledge of rules for using them: Knowing the meaning of ‘or’, for instance, would be knowing that ‘A or B’ follows from A and follows from B, and that anything that follows both from A and from B follows from ‘A or B’. So in the end, knowledge of necessity reduces to conscious or unconscious knowledge of explicit or implicit semantical rules or linguistics conventions or whatever.

Such is the sort of picture that had become the received wisdom in philosophy departments in the English speaking world by the middle decades of the last century. For instance, A. J. Ayer, the notorious logical positivist, and P. F. Strawson, the notorious ordinary-language philosopher, disagreed with each other across a whole range of issues, and for many mid-century analytic philosophers such disagreements were considered the main issues in philosophy (though some observers would speak of the ‘narcissism of small differences’ here). And people like Ayer and Strawson in the 1920s through 1960s would sometimes go on to speak as if linguistic convention were the source not only of our knowledge of modality, but of modality itself, and go on further to speak of the source of language lying in ourselves. Individually, as children growing up in a linguistic community, or foreigners seeking to enter one, we must consciously or unconsciously learn the explicit or implicit rules of the communal language as something with a source outside us to which we must conform. But by contrast, collectively, as a speech community, we do not so much learn as create the language with its rules. And so if the origin of modality, of necessity and its distinction from contingency, lies in language, it therefore lies in a creation of ours, and so in us. ‘We, the makers and users of language’ are the ground and source and origin of necessity. Well, this is not a literal quotation from any one philosophical writer of the last century, but a pastiche of paraphrases of several.



During his attempt to axiomatize the category of all categories, Lawvere says

Our intuition tells us that whenever two categories exist in our world, then so does the corresponding category of all natural transformations between the functors from the first category to the second (The Category of Categories as a Foundation).

However, if one tries to reduce categorial constructions to set theory, one faces some serious problems in the case of a category of functors. Lawvere (who, according to his aim of axiomatization, is not concerned by such a reduction) relies here on “intuition” to stress that those working with categorial concepts despite these problems have the feeling that the envisaged construction is clear, meaningful and legitimate. Not the reducibility to set theory, but an “intuition” to be specified answers for clarity, meaningfulness and legitimacy of a construction emerging in a mathematical working situation. In particular, Lawvere relies on a collective intuition, a common sense – for he explicitly says “our intuition”. Further, one obviously has to deal here with common sense on a technical level, for the “we” can only extend to a community used to the work with the concepts concerned.

In the tradition of philosophy, “intuition” means immediate, i.e., not conceptually mediated cognition. The use of the term in the context of validity (immediate insight in the truth of a proposition) is to be thoroughly distinguished from its use in the sensual context (the German Anschauung). Now, language is a manner of representation, too, but contrary to language, in the context of images the concept of validity is meaningless.

Obviously, the aspect of cognition guiding is touched on here. Especially the sensual intuition can take the guiding (or heuristic) function. There have been many working situations in history of mathematics in which making the objects of investigation accessible to a sensual intuition (by providing a Veranschaulichung) yielded considerable progress in the development of the knowledge concerning these objects. As an example, take the following account by Emil Artin of Emmy Noether’s contribution to the theory of algebras:

Emmy Noether introduced the concept of representation space – a vector space upon which the elements of the algebra operate as linear transformations, the composition of the linear transformation reflecting the multiplication in the algebra. By doing so she enables us to use our geometric intuition.

Similarly, Fréchet thinks to have really “powered” research in the theory of functions and functionals by the introduction of a “geometrical” terminology:

One can [ …] consider the numbers of the sequence [of coefficients of a Taylor series] as coordinates of a point in a space [ …] of infinitely many dimensions. There are several advantages to proceeding thus, for instance the advantage which is always present when geometrical language is employed, since this language is so appropriate to intuition due to the analogies it gives birth to.

Mathematical terminology often stems from a current language usage whose (intuitive, sensual) connotation is welcomed and serves to give the user an “intuition” of what is intended. While Category Theory is often classified as a highly abstract matter quite remote from intuition, in reality it yields, together with its applications, a multitude of examples for the role of current language in mathematical conceptualization.

This notwithstanding, there is naturally also a tendency in contemporary mathematics to eliminate as much as possible commitments to (sensual) intuition in the erection of a theory. It seems that algebraic geometry fulfills only in the language of schemes that essential requirement of all contemporary mathematics: to state its definitions and theorems in their natural abstract and formal setting in which they can be considered independent of geometric intuition (Mumford D., Fogarty J. Geometric Invariant Theory).

In the pragmatist approach, intuition is seen as a relation. This means: one uses a piece of language in an intuitive manner (or not); intuitive use depends on the situation of utterance, and it can be learned and transformed. The reason for this relational point of view, consists in the pragmatist conviction that each cognition of an object depends on the means of cognition employed – this means that for pragmatism there is no intuitive (in the sense of “immediate”) cognition; the term “intuitive” has to be given a new meaning.

What does it mean to use something intuitively? Heinzmann makes the following proposal: one uses language intuitively if one does not even have the idea to question validity. Hence, the term intuition in the Heinzmannian reading of pragmatism takes a different meaning, no longer signifies an immediate grasp. However, it is yet to be explained what it means for objects in general (and not only for propositions) to “question the validity of a use”. One uses an object intuitively, if one is not concerned with how the rules of constitution of the object have been arrived at, if one does not focus the materialization of these rules but only the benefits of an application of the object in the present context. “In principle”, the cognition of an object is determined by another cognition, and this determination finds its expression in the “rules of constitution”; one uses it intuitively (one does not bother about the being determined of its cognition), if one does not question the rules of constitution (does not focus the cognition which determines it). This is precisely what one does when using an object as a tool – because in doing so, one does not (yet) ask which cognition determines the object. When something is used as a tool, this constitutes an intuitive use, whereas the use of something as an object does not (this defines tool and object). Here, each concept in principle can play both roles; among two concepts, one may happen to be used intuitively before and the other after the progress of insight. Note that with respect to a given cognition, Peirce when saying “the cognition which determines it” always thinks of a previous cognition because he thinks of a determination of a cognition in our thought by previous thoughts. In conceptual history of mathematics, however, one most often introduced an object first as a tool and only after having done so did it come to one’s mind to ask for “the cognition which determines the cognition of this object” (that means, to ask how the use of this object can be legitimized).

The idea that it could depend on the situation whether validity is questioned or not has formerly been overlooked, perhaps because one always looked for a reductionist epistemology where the capacity called intuition is used exclusively at the last level of regression; in a pragmatist epistemology, to the contrary, intuition is used at every level in form of the not thematized tools. In classical systems, intuition was not simply conceived as a capacity; it was actually conceived as a capacity common to all human beings. “But the power of intuitively distinguishing intuitions from other cognitions has not prevented men from disputing very warmly as to which cognitions are intuitive”. Moreover, Peirce criticises strongly cartesian individualism (which has it that the individual has the capacity to find the truth). We could sum up this philosophy thus: we cannot reach definite truth, only provisional; significant progress is not made individually but only collectively; one cannot pretend that the history of thought did not take place and start from scratch, but every cognition is determined by a previous cognition (maybe by other individuals); one cannot uncover the ultimate foundation of our cognitions; rather, the fact that we sometimes reach a new level of insight, “deeper” than those thought of as fundamental before, merely indicates that there is no “deepest” level. The feeling that something is “intuitive” indicates a prejudice which can be philosophically criticised (even if this does not occur to us at the beginning).

In our approach, intuitive use is collectively determined: it depends on the particular usage of the community of users whether validity criteria are or are not questioned in a given situation of language use. However, it is acknowledged that for example scientific communities develop usages making them communities of language users on their own. Hence, situations of language use are not only partitioned into those where it comes to the users’ mind to question validity criteria and those where it does not, but moreover this partition is specific to a particular community (actually, the community of language users is established partly through a peculiar partition; this is a definition of the term “community of language users”). The existence of different communities with different common senses can lead to the following situation: something is used intuitively by one group, not intuitively by another. In this case, discussions inside the discipline occur; one has to cope with competing common senses (which are therefore not really “common”). This constitutes a task for the historian.

Metaphysics of the Semantics of HoTT. Thought of the Day 73.0


Types and tokens are interpreted as concepts (rather than spaces, as in the homotopy interpretation). In particular, a type is interpreted as a general mathematical concept, while a token of a given type is interpreted as a more specific mathematical concept qua instance of the general concept. This accords with the fact that each token belongs to exactly one type. Since ‘concept’ is a pre-mathematical notion, this interpretation is admissible as part of an autonomous foundation for mathematics.

Expressions in the language are the names of types and tokens. Those naming types correspond to propositions. A proposition is ‘true’ just if the corresponding type is inhabited (i.e. there is a token of that type, which we call a ‘certificate’ to the proposition). There is no way in the language of HoTT to express the absence or non-existence of a token. The negation of a proposition P is represented by the type P → 0, where P is the type corresponding to proposition P and 0 is a type that by definition has no token constructors (corresponding to a contradiction). The logic of HoTT is not bivalent, since the inability to construct a token of P does not guarantee that a token of P → 0 can be constructed, and vice versa.

The rules governing the formation of types are understood as ways of composing concepts to form more complex concepts, or as ways of combining propositions to form more complex propositions. They follow from the Curry-Howard correspondence between logical operations and operations on types. However, we depart slightly from the standard presentation of the Curry-Howard correspondence, in that the tokens of types are not to be thought of as ‘proofs’ of the corresponding propositions but rather as certificates to their truth. A proof of a proposition is the construction of a certificate to that proposition by a sequence of applications of the token construction rules. Two different such processes can result in construction of the same token, and so proofs and tokens are not in one-to-one correspondence.

When we work formally in HoTT we construct expressions in the language according to the formal rules. These expressions are taken to be the names of tokens and types of the theory. The rules are chosen such that if a construction process begins with non-contradictory expressions that all name tokens (i.e. none of the expressions are ‘empty names’) then the result will also name a token (i.e. the rules preserve non-emptiness of names).

Since we interpret tokens and types as concepts, the only metaphysical commitment required is to the existence of concepts. That human thought involves concepts is an uncontroversial position, and our interpretation does not require that concepts have any greater metaphysical status than is commonly attributed to them. Just as the existence of a concept such as ‘unicorn’ does not require the existence of actual unicorns, likewise our interpretation of tokens and types as mathematical concepts does not require the existence of mathematical objects. However, it is compatible with such beliefs. Thus a Platonist can take the concept, say, ‘equilateral triangle’ to be the concept corresponding to the abstract equilateral triangle (after filling in some account of how we come to know about these abstract objects in a way that lets us form the corresponding concepts). Even without invoking mathematical objects to be the ‘targets’ of mathematical concepts, one could still maintain that concepts have a mind-independent status, i.e. that the concept ‘triangle’ continues to exist even while no-one is thinking about triangles, and that the concept ‘elliptic curve’ did not come into existence at the moment someone first gave the definition. However, this is not a necessary part of the interpretation, and we could instead take concepts to be mind-dependent, with corresponding implications for the status of mathematics itself.

Tarski, Wittgenstein and Undecidable Sentences in Affine Relation to Gödel’s. Thought of the Day 65.0


I imagine someone asking my advice; he says: “I have constructed a proposition (I will use ‘P’ to designate it) in Russell’s symbolism, and by means of certain definitions and transformations it can be so interpreted that it says: ‘P is not provable in Russell’s system.’ Must I not say that this proposition on the one hand is true, and on the other hand is unprovable? For suppose it were false; then it is true that it is provable. And that surely cannot be! And if it is proved, then it is proved that it is not provable. Thus it can only be true, but unprovable.” — Wittgenstein

Any language of such a set, say Peano Arithmetic PA (or Russell and Whitehead’s Principia Mathematica, or ZFC), expresses – in a finite, unambiguous, and communicable manner – relations between concepts that are external to the language PA (or to Principia, or to ZFC). Each such language is, thus, essentially two-valued, since a relation either holds or does not hold externally (relative to the language).

Further, a selected, finite, number of primitive formal assertions about a finite set of selected primitive relations of, say, PA are defined as axiomatically PA-provable; all other assertions about relations that can be effectively defined in terms of the primitive relations are termed as PA-provable if, and only if, there is a finite sequence of assertions of PA, each of which is either a primitive assertion, or which can effectively be determined in a finite number of steps as an immediate consequence of any two assertions preceding it in the sequence by a finite set of rules of consequence.

The philosophical dimensions of this emerges if we take M as the standard, arithmetical, interpretation of PA, where:

(a)  the set of non-negative integers is the domain,

(b)  the integer 0 is the interpretation of the symbol “0” of PA,

(c)  the successor operation (addition of 1) is the interpretation of the “ ‘ ” function,

(d)  ordinary addition and multiplication are the interpretations of “+” and “.“,

(e) the interpretation of the predicate letter “=” is the equality relation.

Now, post-Gödel, the standard interpretation of classical theory seems to be that:

(f) PA can, indeed, be interpreted in M;

(g) assertions in M are decidable by Tarski’s definitions of satisfiability and truth;

(h) Tarskian truth and satisfiability are, however, not effectively verifiable in M.

Tarski made clear his indebtedness to Gödel’s methods,

We owe the method used here to Gödel who employed it for other purposes in his recently published work Gödel. This exceedingly important and interesting article is not directly connected with the theme of our work it deals with strictly methodological problems the consistency and completeness of deductive systems, nevertheless we shall be able to use the methods and in part also the results of Gödel’s investigations for our purpose.

On the other hand Tarski strongly emphasized the fact that his results were obtained independently, even though Tarski’s theorem on the undefinability of truth implies the existence of undecidable sentences, and hence Gödel’s first incompleteness theorem. Shifting gears here, how far was the Wittgensteinian quote really close to Gödel’s? However, the question, implicit in Wittgenstein’s argument regarding the possibility of a semantic contradiction in Gödel’s reasoning, then arises: How can we assert that a PA-assertion (whether such an assertion is PA-provable or not) is true under interpretation in M, so long as such truth remains effectively unverifiable in M? Since the issue is not resolved unambiguously by Gödel in his paper (nor, apparently, by subsequent standard interpretations of his formal reasoning and conclusions), Wittgenstein’s quote can be taken to argue that, although we may validly draw various conclusions from Gödel’s formal reasoning and conclusions, the existence of a true or false assertion of M cannot be amongst them.

Orgies of the Atheistic Materialism: Barthes Contra Sade. Drunken Risibility.

The language and style of Justine are inextricably tied to sexual pleasure. Sade makes it impossible for the reader to ignore this aspect of the text. Roland Barthes, whose essays in Sade, Fourier, Loyola describe the innovative language of each author, underscores the importance of pleasure when discussing the Sadian voyage:

If the Sadian novel is excluded from our literature, it is because in it novelistic peregrination is never a quest for the Unique (temporal essence, truth, happiness), but a repetition of pleasure; Sadian errancy is unseemly, not because it is vicious and criminal, but because it is dull and somehow insignificant, withdrawn from transcendency, void of term: it does not re­veal, does not transform, does not develop, does not edu­cate, does not sublimate, does not accomplish, recuperates nothing, save for the present itself, cut up, glittering, repeated; no patience, no experience; everything is carried immediately to the acme of knowledge, of power, of ejacula­tion; time does not arrange or derange it, it repeats, recalls, recommences, there is no scansion other than that which al­ternates the formation and the expenditure of sperm.

Barthes’s observation reflects La Mettrie’s influence on Sade, whose libertine characters parrot in both speech and action the philosopher’s view that the pursuit of pleasure is man’s raison d’être. Sexuality permeates a great many linguistic and stylistic features of Justine, for example, names of characters (onomastics), literal and figurative language, grammatical structures, cultural and class references, dramatic effects, repetition and exaggeration, and use of parody and caricature. Justine is traditionally the name of a female domestic (soubrette), connoting a person of the lower classes, who falls prey to promiscuous behavior. Near the beginning of Justine, Sade renames the heroine the moment she accepts employment at the home of the miserly Monsieur Du Harpin, surname evocative of Molière’s Harpagon. Sophie, the wise example of womanly Christian virtue in the first version, becomes Thérèse, the anti- philosophe in the second, who chooses to ignore the brutally realistic counsel of her libertine persecutors. Sade’s Thérèse recalls the heroine of Thérèse philosophe who, unlike his protagonist, profited from an erotic lifestyle.

Sade may manipulate language to enhance erotic description but he also relies upon his observation of everyday life and class division of the ancien régime to provide him with models for his libertine characters, their mores, and their lifestyles. In Justine, he presents a socio-cultural microcosm of France during the reign of Louis XV. The power brokers of Sade’s youth who, for the most part, enriched themselves in his Majesty’s wars by means of corruption and influence, resurface in print as Justine’s exploiters. The noblemen, the financiers, the legal and medical professionals, the clergymen, and the thieves-robber barons representative of each social class-sexually maneuver their subjects to establish control. While we learn what the classes of mid-eighteenth-century France ate, how they dressed, where they lived, we also witness the ongoing struggle between victim and victimizer, the former personified by Justine, an ordinary bourgeois individual who can never vanquish the tyrant who maintains authority through sexual prowess rather than through wealth.

Barthes tells us that Sade’s passion was not erotic but theatrical. The marquis’s infatuation with the theater was inspired early on by the lavish productions staged by the Jesuits during his three and a half years at the Collège Louis-le-Grand. Later, his romantic dalliances with actresses and his own involvements in acting, writing, and production attest to his enormous attraction to the theater. In his libertine works, Sade incorporates theatricality, especially in his orgiastic scenes; in his own way, he creates the necessary horror and suspense to first seduce the reader and then to maintain his/her attention. Like a spectator in the audience, the reader observes well-rehearsed productions whose decor, script, and players have been predetermined, and where they are shown her various props in the form of “sadistic” paraphernalia.

Sade makes certain that the lesson given by her libertine victimizers following her forced participation in their orgies is not forgotten. Once again, Sade relies on man’s innate need for sexual pleasure to intellectualize the universe in a manner similar to his own. By using sexual desire as a ploy, Sade inculcates the atheistic materialism he so strongly proclaims into both an attentive Justine and reader. Justine cooperates with her depraved persecutors but refuses to adopt their way of thinking and thus continues to suffer at the hands of society’s exploiters. Sade, however, seizes the opportunity to convince his invisible readership that his concept of the universe is the right one. No matter how monotonous it may seem, repetition, whether in the form of licentious behavior or pseudo-philosophical diatribe, serves as a time-tested, powerful didactic tool.

Sellarsian Intentionality. Thought of the Day 59.0


Sellars developed a theory of intentionality that seems calculated to so construe intentional phenomena as to make them compatible with developments in the sciences.

Now if thoughts are items which are conceived in terms of the roles they play, then there is no barrier in principle to the identification of conceptual thinking with neurophysiological process. There would be no “qualitative” remainder to be accounted for. The identification, curiously enough, would be even more straightforward than the identification of the physical things in the manifest image with complex systems of physical particles. And in this key, if not decisive, respect, the respect in which both images are concerned with conceptual thinking (which is the distinctive trait of man), the manifest and scientific images could merge without clash in the synoptic view. (Philosophy and the Scientific Image of Man).

The first thing to notice is that Sellars maintains that intentionality is irreducible in the sense that we cannot define in any of the vocabularies of the natural sciences concepts equivalent to the concepts of intentionality. The language of intentionality is introduced as an autonomous explanatory vocabulary tied, of course, to the vocabulary of empirical behavior, but not reducible to that language. The autonomy of mentalistic discourse surely commits us to a new ideology, a new set of basic predicates, above and beyond what can be constructed in the vocabularies of the natural sciences. What we get from the sciences can be the whole truth about the world, including intentional phenomena, then, only if there is some way to construct, using proper scientific methodology, concepts in the scientific image that are legitimate successors to the concepts of intentionality present in the manifest image. That there is such a rigorous construction of successors to the concepts of intentionality is, a clear commitment on Sellars’s part. The only real alternative is some form of eliminativism, an alternative that some of his students adopted and some of his critics thought Sellars was committed to, but which never held any real attraction for Sellars.

The second thing to notice is that the concepts of intentionality, especially the concepts of agency, differ in some significant ways from the normal concepts of the natural sciences. Sellars puts it this way:

To say that a certain person desired to do A, thought it his duty to do B but was forced to do C, is not to describe him as one might describe a scientific specimen. One does, indeed, describe him, but one does something more. And it is this something more which is the irreducible core of the framework of persons.

Here the focus is explicitly on the language of agency, but the point is fundamentally the same as in Sellars’s well-known dictum from Empiricism and Philosophy of Mind:

in characterizing an episode or a state as that of knowing, we are not giving an empirical description of that episode or state; we are placing it in the logical space of reasons, of justifying and being able to justify what one says.

In both epistemic and agential language something extra-descriptive is going on. In order to accommodate this important aspect of such phenomena, Sellars tells us, we must add to the purely descriptive/explanatory vocabulary of the sciences “the language of individual and community intentions”. He points to intentions here because the point is that epistemic and agential language – mentalistic language in general – is ineluctably normative; it always contains a prescriptive, action-oriented dimension and engages in direct or indirect assessment against normative standards. In Sellars’s own theory, norms are grounded in the structure of intentions, particularly community intentions, so any truly complete image must contain the language of intentions.


Being Mediatized: How 3 Realms and 8 Dimensions Explain ‘Being’ by Peter Blank.


Experience of Reflection: ‘Self itself is an empty word’
Leary – The neuroatomic winner: “In the province of the mind, what is believed true is true, or becomes true within limits to be learned by experience and experiment.” (Dr. John Lilly)

Media theory had noted the shoring up or even annihilation of the subject due to technologies that were used to reconfigure oneself and to see oneself as what one was: pictures, screens. Depersonalization was an often observed, reflective state of being that stood for the experience of anxiety dueto watching a ‘movie of one’s own life’ or experiencing a malfunction or anomaly in one’s self-awareness.

To look at one’s scaffolded media identity meant in some ways to look at the redactionary product of an extreme introspective process. Questioning what one interpreted oneself to be doing in shaping one’s media identities enhanced endogenous viewpoints and experience, similar to focusing on what made a car move instead of deciding whether it should stay on the paved road or drive across a field. This enabled the individual to see the formation of identity from the ‘engine perspective’.

Experience of the Hyperreal: ‘I am (my own) God’
Leary – The metaprogramming winner: “I make my own coincidences, synchronities, luck, and Destiny.”

Meta-analysis of distinctions – seeing a bird fly by, then seeing oneself seeing a bird fly by, then thinking the self that thought that – becomes routine in hyperreality. Media represent the opposite: a humongous distraction from Heidegger’s goal of the search for ‘Thinking’: capturing at present the most alarming of what occupies the mind. Hyperreal experiences could not be traced back to a person’s ‘real’ identities behind their aliases. The most questionable therefore related to dismantled privacy: a privacy that only existed because all aliases were constituting a false privacy realm. There was nothing personal about the conversations, no facts that led back to any person, no real change achieved, no political influence asserted.

From there it led to the difference between networked relations and other relations, call these other relations ‘single’ relations, or relations that remained solemnly silent. They were relations that could not be disclosed against their will because they were either too vague, absent, depressing, shifty, or dangerous to make the effort worthwhile to outsiders.

The privacy of hyperreal being became the ability to hide itself from being sensed by others through channels of information (sight, touch, hearing), but also to hide more private other selves, stored away in different, more private networks from others in more open social networks.

Choosing ‘true’ privacy, then, was throwing away distinctions one experienced between several identities. As identities were space the meaning of time became the capacity for introspection. The hyperreal being’s overall identity to the inside as lived history attained an extra meaning – indeed: as alter- or hyper-ego. With Nietzsche, the physical body within its materiality occasioned a performance that subjected its own subjectivity. Then and only then could it become its own freedom.

With Foucault one could say that the body was not so much subjected but still there functioning on its own premises. Therefore the sensitory systems lived the body’s life in connection with (not separated from) a language based in a mediated faraway from the body. If language and our sensitory systems were inseparable, beings and God may as well be.

Being Mediatized