• Wayfarer
    21.2k
    the activities of specifying the meaning of a word and of stating what an object is are essentially the same; and hence each of them has an equal right to be regarded as a form of definition*

    Doesn't this just say that definitions are meaningful because they state what the object in question is? And that knowing what things are is the basis for creating definitions?
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Does a definition tell you how to use a word, or what the thing defined is?

    how are these different?
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    Here is the passage that @Caldwell referred to:

    If I am right, there is more to the idea of real definition than is commonly conceded. For the activities of specifying the meaning of a word and of stating what an object is are essentially the same; and hence each of them has an equal right to be regarded as a form of definition*

    My response is: so what? What is the point?
  • Banno
    23.6k
    My response is, what exactly is the "more", and what exactly is a "real" definition?

    A real definition seems to be one supposedly setting out the thing, not just the word use, and the "more" seems to be somehow transcendent of the words used.

    Which makes me suspicious.
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    I'm trying to understand the point that Kit Fine is making. As you posted the article, I thought you might cast a little light there. I haven't read the whole article but if we could get some clarity around this 'singleton Socrates' (must say, as a New South Welshman, the phrase made me laugh at first) it might help.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Singleton SocratesWayfarer
    :smile:

    It was a nice little place. Not so much anymore.

    The {Socrates} singleton is just a set that has Socrates and only Socrates as a member. The asymmetry between Socrates essentially being a member of {Socrates} and yet being a member of {Socrates} not seeming to be an essential attribute of Socrates shows (according to Fine) that a things essence cannot be exactly its set of necessary attributes.

    Does that seem OK?

    \My issue is with understanding the second part of the article, where apparently he argues that instead of necessity, an essence is given by a definition.
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    It was a nice little place. Not so much anymore.Banno

    My dear other hails from there. She has a number of bearded uncles resident there although none resembling Socrates. Anyway I think I am starting to see the point, thanks.
  • Caldwell
    1.3k
    Doesn't this just say that definitions are meaningful because they state what the object in question is? And that knowing what things are is the basis for creating definitions?Wayfarer
    No. This is only half correct. The quote reads:
    the activities of specifying the meaning of a word and of stating what an object is are essentially the same; and hence each of them has an equal right to be regarded as a form of definition...
    He concedes this much: some things just cannot be defined as what they are in themselves. For example, what's the definition of 2? You can't really define it without implicating the existence of 1 or 3 or both. That's what a definition is when we really can't say the thing in itself. Or, we can say what is a water molecule, and that should suffice as a definition.
    The singleton Socrates could be defined as Socrates in himself or provide a definition of a man. (Obviously, I am not as eloquent in elucidating this point).

    My response is: so what? What is the point?Wayfarer
    The point is, he is arguing against the strict analycity of meaning. He rejects that the derivation of truth in logical statement gives a meaningful definition. Just define what an object is directly. That's meaningful.
  • Wayfarer
    21.2k
    I think I'm starting to get the point (although he lives up to his surname :-)
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    For me, what is salient here is the failure of the modal account of essence.Banno

    I know Fine is influenced by Aristotle, and he makes an allusion to him in the paper, but here are some places where Aristotle says similar things:

    A property is something which does not indicate the essence of a thing, but yet belongs to that thing alone, and is predicated convertibly of it. Thus it is a property of man to be capable of learning grammar; for if he is a man, then he is capable of learning grammar, and if he is capable of learning grammar, he is a man. — Aristotle, Topics I.v (102a17), Tr. W. A. Pickard-Cambridge

    (Not only modal properties, but even convertible properties need not enter into the essence.)

    But the converse of this last statement does not hold; for to show that [two things] are the same is not enough to establish a definition. — Aristotle, Topics I.v (102a14), Tr. W. A. Pickard-Cambridge

    He also talks about the difference in Posterior Analytics, for subtle logical mistakes can occur when one mixes up modal/necessary properties and essential properties.


    The Medievals who followed Aristotle called this a "proper accident" (proprium accidens):

    Because in every thing, that which pertains to its essence is distinct from its proper accident: thus in man it is one thing that he is a mortal rational animal, and another that he is a risible animal. We must therefore consider that every delight is a proper accident resulting from happiness, or from some part of happiness; since the reason that a man is delighted is that he has some fitting good, either in reality, or in hope, or at least in memory.Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, I.II.Q2.A6

    The idea is that mortality and rationality belong to man's essence, whereas risibility (the ability to laugh) is always found in men but is not an essential property.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Well, I sometimes suspect that the capacity to giggle might be more common than the capacity for rationality.

    I don't have much background in Aristotle, but suspect that logic has come some way since his time.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k


    I find that some of the older philosophers are more interesting than the newer ones. :razz:

    This is really a large discussion, and I think the reason so many contemporaries believe that, say, Hare is superior to Aristotle is because they have not read Aristotle and they hold to a general belief in progress, which is strong in our culture. Yet Hare is no longer taught or recognized much after a couple of decades, whereas Neo-Aristotelianism is quite strong after a couple of millennia. There are lots of reasons for this, and that's for another thread, but I am happy to see Fine challenging the modern paradigm.

    If Anthony Kenny's history of Western philosophy is to be believed, then logic had a strong start with Aristotle, progressed in the middle ages, regressed in the modern period, and progressed in the contemporary period. My concern is that logic after the 14th century began to be divorced from the rest of philosophy, and this is very obvious today. Aristotle keeps things connected and in perspective, which is one of his general merits.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    ...discussion transplanted from "Belief" at Banno's request.

    You must be familiar with Kripke's point, that we do not need to know the essence of some individual in order to refer to that individual?Banno

    I am probably as unfamiliar with Kripke as you are with Aristotle, but I am willing to explain Aristotle if you are willing to explain Kripke. In school we covered some of his contributions, such as rigid designators, but I don't remember covering this idea. Do you have a link or an explanation?
  • Moliere
    4.2k
    Carrying over my response here, though I'm fine with moving it back to "Belief" as well.

    I'm not sure what it would mean to know something without knowing the essence, and I am not sure what people have in mind when they talk about knowing something without an essence.Leontiskos

    My understanding of Aristotle's notion of essence is that it is a given something's definition.

    The first thing that comes to mind is know-how. I know-how to hammer, regardless of what the hammer is pointed at (or even what the hammer is -- animal, vegetable, mineral, or familiar tool). I don't need to know the essence of a thing in order to manipulate it. And a lot of knowledge is at this level of manipulation rather than at a definitional level. The definitions come later when you're trying to put knowledge into some sort of form which can be shared to assist in spreading the knowledge.

    At that point definitions are important. They're a wonderful tool for teaching someone differences that were picked up through practice, but would be much more slowly learned without the definitions.

    But because definitions are developed from practice I'd say that definitions are not necessary. (What is the essence of "thingy" in "Hand me that thingy over there"?) And if it's not necessary we can conclude definitions are not essential to knowing-how.
  • Moliere
    4.2k
    I accept the argument about Socrates and the Singleton Socrates. And I understand the paper to basically be directed towards essentialists (so it's not for me), but rather arguing that this is a better concept of essence than the modal concept, while accepting and explicating their connection.

    But I'm not seeing the conclusion very well.

    So what is an appropriate specification of the meaning? The only satisfactory answer
    appears to be that the specification should make clear what the meaning (essentially) is; it should
    provide us, that is to say, with some account of the meaning's essence.

    I think I'd just say: I got some unsatisfactory answers to your question.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Hmm. Not sure how this is going to work.

    I've written a bit about Kripke elsewhere.

    The article here agrees that there is a distinction to be made between the essence of an object and those properties which are necessarily true of it. It follows that the essence of an object cannot be the properties it necessarily has. I think we can take this as read.

    The article goes on to proffer a view of essence based on definitions. I gather you think this a better approach, whereas I remain unconvinced. It seems to me that we do not need definitions in order to "pick out" individuals - the classic case here being Donnellan's Thales. (Chosen as much because it has some novelty here as that it is appropriate).

    , it seems to me that using definitions in the place of modality does not save essences based on definitions. I don't have satisfactory answers to give you.

    So taking a bit more care, I am going to say that I do not know of a way of talking about essences that is of much use, and that I am quite confident that we do not need to be able to provide an account of a things essence in order to talk about that thing.

    See how that works.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    I should begin by saying that it has been some years since I have worked extensively with Aristotle's primary texts, so a strict Aristotelian may quibble with me on this point or that. Still, I think I will give an accurate account.

    My understanding of Aristotle's notion of essence is that it is a given something's definition.Moliere

    An essence is what something is in virtue of itself, and the definition describes the essence. It will also be useful to note that for Aristotle the standard beings are substances: things which exist of themselves and which possess their own mode of being and acting. So hammering would be an act of a substance, in particular an act of a human substance.

    The first thing that comes to mind is know-how. I know-how to hammer, regardless of what the hammer is pointed at (or even what the hammer is -- animal, vegetable, mineral, or familiar tool). I don't need to know the essence of a thing in order to manipulate it. And a lot of knowledge is at this level of manipulation rather than at a definitional level. The definitions come later when you're trying to put knowledge into some sort of form which can be shared to assist in spreading the knowledge.Moliere

    A hammer is an artifact, not a substance, but be that as it may, we still need to understand what a hammer is before we use it. For Aristotle definition is not restricted to a means by which one shares knowledge. To understand what something is is to have its definition, and to have partial knowledge about what something is is to have a nominal or partial definition.

    So when you approach a hammer for the purpose of manipulation you have already formed a partial definition of it. It is a physical object (which can be manipulated physically). It is graspable by the hand. It possesses a kind of leverage. It has a hard head which can be used to hit things without incurring damage. All of this is part of the definition, and is already implicit in one who manipulates a hammer. For Aristotle it wouldn't make much sense to say that you manipulate a hammer without some understanding of what it is.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    Hmm. Not sure how this is going to work.Banno

    Neither am I, and a crucial point here is that dialogue requires compromise. If you are willing to put in the same amount of effort that you expect of me, then the dialogue will have legs. If you aren't, either because you aren't interested in Aristotelianism or because we are too far apart or for some other reason, then we should cut our losses.

    The article goes on to proffer a view of essence based on definitions. I gather you think this a better approach, whereas I remain unconvinced.Banno

    Are you committed to the modal view that Fine is addressing?

    It seems to me that we do not need definitions in order to "pick out" individuals - the classic case here being Donnellan's Thales.Banno

    I'm not sure what proper names would have to do with definitions. Proper names pick out individuals, whereas (Aristotelian) definitions pick out essences, which belong to species. So naturally a definition of homo sapiens will not help you pick out Socrates from among the species homo sapiens. For an Aristotelian this is uncontroversial.

    Yet we could also use 'definition' in a less strict manner, in which we are talking about descriptions more generally. In that case I think the description will be implicit in the name relation. The name will be attached to a perceptible reality,* and that perceptible reality will be susceptible to a description, particularly when one is trying to communicate the name to another. So in that sense I think the description is implicitly or explicitly needed to "pick out" individuals. If I cannot distinguish one candidate from another then I will not be capable of applying the name in the unique way that it is intended.

    So taking a bit more care, I am going to say that I do not know of a way of talking about essences that is of much use, and that I am quite confident that we do not need to be able to provide an account of a things essence in order to talk about that thing.Banno

    I am going to say that I do not know of a way of talking about a thing that does not implicitly advert to its "essence" (haecceitas - essence in a sort of individual sense). Whenever we talk about an individual we advert to its haecceity and the description thereof. But strictly speaking haecceity is not an Aristotelian notion, and is quite foreign to the Aristotelian tradition.


    * Or in the case of a historical figure like Thales, it will merely be attached to a mental concept.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    ...you aren't interested in Aristotelianism...Leontiskos
    Not beyond a slight historical curiosity, no. As discussed, I think more recent approaches more... interesting.

    Are you committed to the modal view that Fine is addressing?Leontiskos
    Well, no. I don't see what it does. Why do we need it, if at all?

    I'm not sure what proper names would have to do with definitions.Leontiskos
    Well, I take them as a good place to begin. And so far we don't seem to have a common ground, a stoa in which we might have a decent chat. The logic of individuals informs the logic of predicates, so proper names are at least not irrelevant.

    In that case I think the description will be implicit in the name relation.Leontiskos
    Sounds like descriptivism to my ear. Surely not? Hence my reference to Thales, a simple case I think pretty convincing. Names do not refer in virtue of some description.

    So perhaps you might share what "description will be implicit in the name relation" when we talk of Thales? IS that a way to proceed?
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    Well, no. I don't see what it does. Why do we need it, if at all?Banno

    I don't think the modal view is correct, either. My point is that if you have no stake in either position of the OP, then Fine's argument won't be very interesting. I want to lure you out of that crevice. :razz:

    Sounds like descriptivism to my ear. Surely not? Hence my reference to Thales, a simple case I think pretty convincing. Names do not refer in virtue of some description.

    So perhaps you might share what "description will be implicit in the name relation" when we talk of Thales? IS that a way to proceed?
    Banno

    Sure, so from my last post:

    "Yet we could also use 'definition' in a less strict manner, in which we are talking about descriptions more generally. In that case I think the description will be implicit in the name relation. The name will be attached to a perceptible reality,* and that perceptible reality will be susceptible to a description, particularly when one is trying to communicate the name to another. So in that sense I think the description is implicitly or explicitly needed to "pick out" individuals. If I cannot distinguish one candidate from another then I will not be capable of applying the name in the unique way that it is intended."

    So perhaps my first question is: If names do not require descriptions, then why are descriptions needed to communicate names? How are we to know which candidate a name picks out if not for descriptions?
  • Banno
    23.6k
    If names do not require descriptions, then why are descriptions needed to communicate names?Leontiskos

    I don't see that they are.

    A novice who asks "Who is Thales?" does not have at hand a description of Thales, and yet they are asking about Thales.

    If Thales did none of the things which are attributed to him, that would be a fact about Thales.

    Reference can be successful without being associated with a definite description.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    A novice who asks "Who is Thales?" does not have at hand a description of Thales, and yet they are asking about Thales.Banno

    But the one who inquires about Thales already has some notion of Thales, and this should count as a description.

    [When we learn,] There are two ways in which we must already have knowledge: of some things we must already believe that they are, of others we must grasp what the items spoken about are (and of some things both). — Aristotle, Posterior Analytics, I.i, tr. Barnes

    Contrary to your claim, the novice already has a description of Thales and he wishes it to be filled out. His description involves things like, 'Thales was a man', 'Thales lived a long time ago', etc.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    But the one who inquires about Thales already has some notion of Thales, and this should count as a description.Leontiskos

    So any description will do? even one that is wrong?

    Supose the student thought Thales was a Spanish fisherwoman.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k


    These are two different questions: Do names presuppose descriptions? Do names presuppose correct descriptions? My understanding is that we have been talking about the first question.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    Ok, so names require a description, even if it is a wrong one that does not "pick out" the individual being named.

    Not sure how that would help.

    Again, it is not apparent to me that we need any sort of description to be attached to a name in order for it to function.
  • Leontiskos
    1.7k
    Not sure how that would help.Banno

    Help what? You said, "A novice who asks 'Who is Thales?' does not have at hand a description of Thales..." I explained why that is wrong. Doesn't that help? :grin:

    Again, it is not apparent to me that we need any sort of description to be attached to a name in order for it to function.Banno

    Yes, and you gave an example to demonstrate your claim, and it turned out that your example failed to demonstrate the claim. So now what?

    At the very least a name identifies an object, and makes the identification of that object communicable to others. But in order to know which object is being identified, we must have a description of the object. A name is not a description in itself, but it depends upon and presupposes a description, and this is why the act of naming and the act of communicating a name require description.

    ...I see you edited your post:

    Supose the student thought Thales was a Spanish fisherwoman.Banno

    Then his description is partially right and partially wrong, and can be refined and corrected. But note that the novice still has a description. If someone has no description at all then they cannot use the name, for they will have no knowledge that there exists any object to be named.
  • Banno
    23.6k
    it turned out that your example failed...Leontiskos
    This...?

    Contrary to your claim, the novice already has a description of Thales and he wishes it to be filled out. His description involves things like, 'Thales was a man', 'Thales lived a long time ago', etc.Leontiskos
    Sure, he has a description. That description fails to pick Thales from all the other men who lived a long time ago. So I don't see how it helps choose between them, in such a way that the student is talking about Thales... which I had taken to be the point of having a description handy.

    But in order to know which object is being identified, we must have a description of the object.Leontiskos
    I think I've shown that this is not the case. Further, you seem now to be saying that we can know which object is being identified from any description, and not just a definite description, which I find quite enigmatic. As if "The fish nearest to Corinth" were adequate to give the essence of Thales.

    No, I'm not following your argument here at all.

    Names can just refer, sans description.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    Names can just refer, sans description.Banno


    Sounds like Kripke. As long as the laws of causality and identity remain in play across all possible worlds, then the name that was dubbed for an individual will be "rigidly designated" for that individual across all possible worlds.

    Of course, why the laws of causality or identity would have to obtain across all possible worlds would then have to be justified as well for that to be the source of how the individual is necessarily tied to that name (or if it is changed or mistaken, the name as it historically developed for that person).
  • Banno
    23.6k
    By way of background, I'm pointing to the issue of definite descriptions, claiming that the arguments to the effects that one does not need a definite description in order for reference to function are pretty convincing.

    One view is that a definite description sets out the essence of the individual involved. The individual just is that which satisfies the definite description. But if we do not need definite descriptions in order for proper names to work, then we do not need such essences, either.

    Yes, , Kripke expresses arguments along these lines, but his emphasis, for obvious reasons, is on modality. Proper names are rigid designators that pick out an individual in any possible world in which it occurs, and regardless of it's attributes. The therefore do not rely on definite descriptions.

    I decided to go back to Donnellan because it seemed to me that his, earlier, approach might cover both modal cases and Fine's use of definitions.
  • schopenhauer1
    10.3k
    One view is that a definite description sets out the essence of the individual involved. The individual just is that which satisfies the definite description. But if we do not need definite descriptions in order for proper names to work, then we do not need such essences, either.Banno

    Yes, which I thought it appropriate to bring up ideas of Kripke's modal approach, as that is exactly what his theory is arguing against. He didn't like Russell's idea of a definite description as the basis for how names work. The main reason was the notion of contingency (opposite of necessity). That is to say, there could be some possible worlds where that definite description simply doesn't hold true. However, what would work across all possible worlds is that there was an event where that name picked out that person across all possible worlds.

    My main point though against that, was not an aside or anything, but a legitimate questioning of this move. That is to say, if the definite description doesn't hold because it can't make it past "the test" of all possible worlds, why should the laws of causality (presumably the foundation for the original dubbing event of the named person), hold true either?

    I decided to go back to Donnellan because it seemed to me that his, earlier, approach might cover both modal cases and Fine's use of definitions.Banno

    So I find a lot of these debates about reference come about because of oddly sticking to this idea of language pointing out individual entities. It is seen in Russell's On Denoting (there exists a unique x such that x is...). It seems to be in early Wittgenstein. I don't get why this emphasis on having to pick out a unique set of properties in an individual and it not just being a class (like it seems Donnellan allows for in attributive notions of reference). Can it just be that this is just debates on wrong initial premises causing confusion? Is there good reason Russell made this move to care for picking out individuals in the world? Is there reason to keep correcting this if that assumption is not even a good basis for names to begin with?
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