• StreetlightX
    2.9k
    I've been reading Wilfrid Sellars' Naturalism and Ontology recently, which is full of wonderful ideas, but among them is one in particular I want to explore here: the idea that predicates are entirely dispensable. This is a pretty provocative idea to say the least, insofar as entire philosophies are built around the subject-predicate couple (i.e. 'The apple [subject] is red [predicate]'), such that you get classical ontologies built around the substance-accident distinction ('Man is a substance X that has properties Q, W, V'), which quite clearly mirrors the subject-predicate couple of language. The same applies to ontologies built out of first-order predicate logic, with expressions like F(a) (read roughly: 'a is F') sometimes given ontological standing as mirroring, as it were, the structure of the world.

    Sellars makes all sorts of moves to justify the 'dispensability' of predicates, but the one I want to explore is this. Using a made-up language he calls 'jumblese', he says that a statement like 'X is red' can be expressed by using something like a boldface X, as in: X. That is, if plain old 'X' is 'apple', X stands for 'red apple', or 'the apple is red'. The upshot here is of course obvious: X expresses the same thing as 'X is red' without utilizing any predicates. One just has to be versed in jumblese to understand it. He gives another example. Instead of saying 'X is larger than Y', he says jumblese might express this as so:

    X
    Y

    Where the fact that X is above Y conveys that 'X is larger than Y' without using the expression 'is larger than'. The tricky point is this: for Sellars, nothing in the above expression (X placed above Y) does the job of 'is larger than' in the first expression . He is absolutely insistent upon this: "Many philosophers have stared this point in the face and missed it, thus failing to grasp its significance". That is, one may think that X's being above Y is 'doing the job' of 'is larger than', but for Sellars, this is absolutely not the case. So what is happening here according to Sellars?

    For Sellars the fact of there being an 'is larger than' between X and Y, does the job of the fact of X being above Y. In other words, what is at work in both is nothing other than a spatial or conventional relation between graphic objects. On it's own 'is larger than' does not signify anything: only by virtue of it's being spatially positioned between X on the left and Y on the right does it convey any meaning, just as only by X being above Y in the second formulation does the latter convey the any meaning. If we replace 'is larger than' by 'flufflewumps' in another language, we can get the same meaning. In yet other words, it's simply the graphic concatenation of 'X', 'Y' and 'is larger than', in a certain spatial distribution, that gives the phrase meaning.

    This is how Sellars grounds his claim that "not only are predicative expressions dispensable, the very function played by predicates is dispensable". The significance of being able to dispense with predicates is pretty massive: first, the argument commits one to nominalism about attributes insofar as to say 'X is red' no longer entails any ontological commitment to the attribute 'red'. There is no Platonic attribute 'red' apart from red particulars. Second, to dispense with predicates means that propositional form "belongs only in the linguistic and conceptual orders", or, contrapositively, reality does not have propositional form. In other words, just because we think, or rather talk, about the world in a certain manner, does not mean that the world mirrors the manner in which we speak about it. Any ontology modelled on the subject-predicate distinction in language (as per 'substance-accident' ontologies, or even ontologies of 'logical form') is radically undercut by such an approach.

    @Banno is this something up your alley?
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2k

    Well that goes on the reading list, thanks SX. (There was already a vague entry for "all of Sellars" but this still helps.)

    Does he talk about lambdas? Quine, another die-hard nominalist, at some point realized he could use lambdas to get around needing classes (and certainly attributes) as first-class objects for most purposes.

    I feel completely in over my head with that comment about the "linguistic and conceptual orders". You see this sort of Kantian view all over 20th century Anglo-American philosophy, even in Strawson's "descriptive metaphysics" (IIRC, they both wrote books about Kant) and I really have no idea what to make of it yet...
  • gurugeorge
    517
    I don't think the substance/accident ontology is just some notion that we unthinkingly introject because we use words in a certain way, I think it's something that comes from observation of nature - which is the same whether you're American or Chinese. The classical ontology didn't just suddenly appear or mindlessly coalesce, it was built up over hundreds of years of dialogue and argument between notable philosophers right up until about the modern period.

    Also, our understanding of those terms since modern philosophy is a feeble, truncated thing, relative to what the Aristotelians and Scholastics would have understood. (For example in the classical philosophy, substance and accident are tied up with concepts like actuality and potentiality - there's a whole bundle of closely-related topics in that area, that we don't really understand unless we make a study of the classical philosophy.)

    I'm old enough to remember several attempts at linguistic relativism - and funnily enough, Sellars' argument actually shows why they fail (because there are numerous ways of using symbols to signify the same thing different language users have noticed in reality).
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    Does he talk about lambdas? Quine, another die-hard nominalist, at some point realized he could use lambdas to get around needing classes (and certainly attributes) as first-class objects for most purposes.Srap Tasmaner

    Not lambdas per se, but he does make use of Quine's virtual classes in order to try and conceive of Frege's 'concepts' in a nominalistic manner. That said, with respect to Quine, Sellars argues that he makes an advance over Quine insofar as Sellars manages to provide a theory of reference that was missing in Quine:

    "We are also able to locate an insight of Quine's. He has argued, in "On What There Is" and other places, that predicates are syncategorematic expressions, contributing to the meaning of sentences without having reference. They present the ' ideology' of a language rather than its ontology. They are said to be ' true or objects. 'Red' is true of a just in case a is red. But Quine does not offer a theory of just what it is in which their syncategorematic character consists. He does relate it, however, to inaccessibility to quantification-indeed this seems to be almost its defining trait. My analysis, on the other hand, explains the syncategorematic character of predicates without any reference to quantification. This frees the concept of generalization from the close tie with objects and ontology which was built into classical quantification theory..."

    I feel completely in over my head with that comment about the "linguistic and conceptual orders". You see this sort of Kantian view all over 20th century Anglo-American philosophy, even in Strawson's "descriptive metaphysics" (IIRC, they both wrote books about Kant) and I really have no idea what to make of it yet...Srap Tasmaner

    I have a rough understanding of it, but N&O doesn't address it too much. The basic distinction in which it is used is that between the order of causes and the order of reasons, where the latter is constituted by the normative demands of inference-making. I understand the relation between the two orders as one of asymmetry: while one can't 'read off' reasons from causes, one can read off causes from reasons. I say this only very schematically, as my understanding is mostly second-hand, but it's something I want to familiarize myself with more.
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    I don't think the substance/accident ontology is just some notion that we unthinkingly introject because we use words in a certain way, I think it's something that comes from observation of nature - which is the same whether you're American or Chinese. The classical ontology didn't just suddenly appear or mindlessly coalesce, it was built up over hundreds of years of dialogue and argument between notable philosophers right up until about the modern period.gurugeorge

    I'm not sure sure about this. It seems to me - but I won't press the point too much - that rational thought itself is categorical - i.e. we think in categories and classes, generalizations (genera) and species, on pain of being unable to rationalize at all. This is by no means a 'bad' thing - it's the virtue of reason itself, but the question - Sellars' question, if I understand him correctly - is whether the specificity of reason ought to be taken at face value when approaching questions of ontology.

    Also, our understanding of those terms since modern philosophy is a feeble, truncated thing, relative to what the Aristotelians and Scholastics would have understood. (For example in the classical philosophy, substance and accident are tied up with concepts like actuality and potentiality - there's a whole bundle of closely-related topics in that area, that we don't really understand unless we make a study of the classical philosophy.)gurugeorge

    This I agree with entirely, and I follow Sellars - in this thread anyway - in using 'Platonism' as more of a catch-call for certain tendencies in thought rather than a clearly defined and crisply worked out position.
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    853
    Most of what's in the OP really goes over my head; I don't think I understand what Sellars (through you) tries to say. Although, it brings to my mind Toshiko Izutsu's interpretation of Ibn Sina.

    We constantly use in our daily conversation propositions whose subject is a noun and whose predicate is an adjective: for example: "The flower is white", "This table is brown" etc. On the same model we can easily transform an existential proposition like: "The table is" or "The table exists" into "The table is existent". Thus transformed, "existence" is just an adjective denoting a quality of the table. And the proposition "The table is existent" stands quite on a par with the proposition "The table is brown", for in both cases the subject is a noun denoting a substance called "table", while the predicate is an adjective indicating grammatically a property or accident of the substance.

    It is on this level and on this level only, that Avicenna speaks of existence being an "accident" of essence. Otherwise expressed, it is at the level of logical or grammatical analysis of reality that it makes sense to maintain the accidentality of existence. However, neither Averroes nor Thomas Aquinas understood the Avicennian thesis in that way. They thought that "existence" in the thought of Avicenna must be a property inhering in a substance, not only at the level of logical or grammatical analysis of reality but in terms of the very structure of the objective, external reality. That is to say, "existence" according to Avicenna must be a predicamental or categorical accident, understood in the sense of ens in alio, something existing in something else, i.e. a real property qualifying real substances, just in the same way as other ordinary properties, like whiteness existing in a flower, coldness existing in ice, or brownness existing in a table.

    It is clear that the Avicennian position, once understood in such a way, will immediately lead to an absurd conclusion; namely, that the table would have to exist before it becomes existent just as the table must exist before it can be brown, black, etc. This is, in fact, the gist of the criticism of the Avicennian thesis by Averroes and Thomas. Avicenna was well aware of the danger that his thesis might be misinterpreted in this way. He emphasized that we should not confuse " existence " as an accident with ordinary accidents, like "brown", "white", etc

    Is this close to what the OP is saying? Except that it extends Ibn Sina's view to include ordinary properties, besides existence? Izutsu then goes on to discuss the queer Iranian Existentialists:

    They asserted that, in the sphere of external reality, the proposition: "The table is existent" as understood in the sense of substance-accident relationship turns out to be meaningless. For in the realm of external reality there is, to begin with, no self-subsistent substance called table, nor is there a real "accident" called "existence" to come to inhere in the substance. [...] These philosophers do not mean to say simply that the world of reality, as we perceive it in our waking experience is in itself unreal or a dream. Nor do they want to assert that the proposition: "The table is existent" does not refer to any kind of external reality. There certainly is a corresponding piece of reality. The only point they want to make is that the structure of external reality which corresponds to this proposition is totally different from what is normally suggested by the form of the proposition. For in this domain "existence" is the sole reality. "Table" is but an inner modification of this reality, one of its selfdeterminations. Thus in the realm of external reality, the subject and the predicate must exchange their places. The "table" which is the logical or grammatical subject of the proposition: "The table is existent", is in this domain not a subject; rather, it is a predicate. The real subject is "existence", while "table" is but an "accident" determining the subject into a particular thing. In fact all the so-called "essences", like being-a-table, being-a-flower, etc. are in external reality nothing but "accidents" that modify and delimit the one single reality called "existence" into innumerable things.

    Anyway, for fear of being off-topic, I'll stop here!
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    Is this close to what the OP is saying? Except that it extends Ibn Sina's view to include ordinary properties, besides existence?Πετροκότσυφας

    Yeah, this would definitely be kind of close. That said, Sellars actually doesn't address existence as such insofar as he thinks doing so would open a can of worms he'd rather keep a lid on ("the verb 'to exist' is a slippery one and has uses which belong in quite different contexts and raise quite different problems [therefore,]... I shall not draw upon it"). So perhaps we might even go stronger and say that Sellars addresses and seeks to nominalize all predicates except for existence (which is not to say he doesn't want to, just that he keeps it aside for now). But yes, the basic idea is: don't translate grammatical categories into ontological ones - especially predicates.

    What I tried to lay out in the OP - unsuccessfully, it seems! - are the reasons why Sellars thinks this: namely, that was can dispense with predicates altogether in our talk about the world without losing anything in particular. 'Jumblese', a language without predicates, is a way to do this. The OP is mostly a few examples of how Jumelese would work, and why it would be relevant with respect to thinking about predicates. Thanks for the Izutsu essay too, it seems very interesting.

    --

    Also, sorry for not getting back to you in the evolution thread, I was more or less away for three days and by the time I got back it was smashed with comments and I wasn't sure how to go about getting to them.
  • 0 thru 9
    672
    How would one relate the topic at hand to the E-Prime “language”? Seems to be a parallel with E-Prime generally dispensing with the intransitive verb “to be”. A positive effect of this is to avoid assuming the omniscient POV and god-like statements. I don’t follow E-Prime strictly, but it is has had a large effect on how i try to word things. Also, it seems to have influenced psychological practice, for example encouraging people to share their feelings about a person rather than labeling that person. Description rather than proclaimation, perhaps.
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    One thing that's important to Sellars is that he's not advocating that we give up using predicates (how could we?), or indeed, locutions like 'to be' either. All he wants to do is show the limits of thinking in those terms when constructing an ontology. As he puts it: "I have often been asked, what does one gain by abandoning such standard platonic entities as triangularity? .... The answer is, of course, that the above strategy abandons nothing but a picture. Triangularity is not abandoned; rather 'triangularity' is seen for what it is,"
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    853
    All he wants to do is show the limits of thinking in those terms when constructing an ontology.StreetlightX

    I can agree with that, but what confused me in the OP was mainly this...

    This is how Sellars grounds his claim that "not only are predicative expressions dispensable, the very function played by predicates is dispensable".StreetlightX

    ...which seems a stronger claim, especially in regard to the function of the predicate being dispensable. To which I, just like you, thought "how could we"? Unless, of course, I read in this passage something that it does not actually say.
  • apokrisis
    4.2k
    A diagrammic approach to predicate logic would seem to explode this, demonstrating the essential contextuality or holism of such relations as x is larger than y, or A is one of a class of red objects.

    PeirceAlphaGraphs.svg

    Peirce thought his existential graphs were his ultimate and unambiguous clarification of a logic of relations. Speech - being a linear code - does suffer from being less constrained than the geometric reality it describes.

    You can believe in nominalism if you can reduce reality beyond its irreducible spatiotemporal structure. But existential graphs show up that illusion quite neatly I would suggest.
  • andrewk
    1.5k
    Triangularity is not abandoned; rather 'triangularity' is seen for what it is,"StreetlightX
    If the parallels 0 to 9 is seeing with Bourland's E-Prime are relevant - and I feel they might be (I was wondering the same thing before I saw her post) - I wonder if Sellars would rather say that, by abandoning a Platonic interpretation of triangularity, we see triangularity for what it does.
  • Janus
    5.7k


    Is the "is" the essential element of predication?

    If so, then are Sellar's examples 'bold X' and 'X above Y' really any different than if we drop the 'is' to express the same ideas, 'red apple' and 'X larger than Y' respectively?

    (Jumblese seems appropriate given that Sellars was, reportedly, drunk all the time :rofl: ).
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    Is the "is" the essential element of predication?Janus

    I don't think so, at least not for Sellars. He often drops the copula entirely, preferring to use logical notation like 'Fa', or even alternative expressions like 'X stands for Y', 'X exemplifies Yness', or even 'X means Y'. He does note the specificities of each formulation (he leans on some but not others when trying to parse out both meaning and truth), but I don't think it's so relevant when talking about predicates as such. In fact I think the use of so many ways of expression is deliberately meant to show how widely applicable the strategy of 'dropping predicates' is meant to be.

    If so, then are Sellar's examples 'bold X' and 'X above Y' really any different than if we drop the 'is' to express the same ideas, 'red apple' and 'X larger than Y' respectively?Janus

    Depends on what angle you want to look at it - for Sellars the answer is of course, no, they are not really any different at all, but you can only 'say' this if you recognize the essential continuity between bold X and red apple; and doing this in turn should lead one recognize the dispensibility of predicates. The key for Sellars is in understanding that subject-predicate couples do not stand for a relation between non-linguistic facts but between linguistic objects. 'X above Y' are two linguistic objects in a spatial relationship with each other, just and 'X larger than Y' contains three linguistic objects, 'X', 'larger than', and 'Y', in a triadic spatial relation to each other.

    (Jumblese seems appropriate given that Sellars was, reportedly, drunk all the time :rofl: ).Janus

    Didn't know this, lol.
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    I wonder if Sellars would rather say that, by abandoning a Platonic interpretation of triangularity, we see triangularity for what it does.andrewk

    Hah, I think would be a particularly apt way to put it.
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    Unless, of course, I read in this passage something that it does not actually say.Πετροκότσυφας

    I don't think the two claims are as incompatible as they look. As a practical matter, it's true that its simply impossible to drop predicates. But, to use Sellars' expression, it is 'philosophically perspicacious' to consider the fact they they are entirely dispensable, and see how this acknowledgement might change the way we think about ontology.

    To expand a bit on why dropping predicates is so inconvenient - for my own sake as much as yours - think a little more about what Sellars proposes that they can be replaced with, with the language he calls jumblese. I'll focus on the bold-face example, because it's easier to deal with. Consider an object X. Now qualify this object as being red. Instead of saying 'X is red', we can say X, where boldface X expresses 'red X'. Now consider if the object is green. Perhaps in jumblese we say X (italics). And if blue, X.

    What is happening here? Basically, language is being 'de-linearized'. We are considering not just the individual letter ('X'), but also the manner in which that letter is inscribed as carrying additional information. I say 'delinarized' because we are now looking at language in two dimensions: we are not just reading it from left to right, but also considering an extra (orthogonal?) dimension. While this is really cool, it is also incredibly inconvenient. It is much easier to memorise a series of base colour names ('red, green blue') and tack them on as qualifiers (predicates) to subjects (X, Red X) than it is to come up with multiple ways of writing 'X' (Apple, apple, apple). And liniearization also allows us to easily subject propositions to logical operators like negation, disjunction, conjunction, and quantification (although, as Apo's diagrams show, we can show such operations diagrammatically as well, even though they are more 'clunky' to work with).

    So the inability to dispense with predicates is a matter of convenience: but Sellars' point is that we ought not to mistake convenience with ground for an ontology.
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    853
    What is happening here?StreetlightX

    I'd say that, indeed, the standard mode of presentation of the predicate is dispensed with here and in this way the predicate is indeed dispensed with. But, it's function isn't. By function I understand the work that the predicate does. We still use the de-linearised trick to accomplish what the predicate (in its original form) was doing. It functions as a predicate; it's just its form that has changed. And this seems to be due to the nature of rational thought itself, as you pointed out earlier. So, I think it's something more than convenience. Convenience seems to be the issue on the formal level, but not on the functional (what do you think of this distinction?). Which is also related to the philosophical implications of all these. I agree that even if language and rational thought are isomorphic, it does not necessarily mean that the structure of language reflects the structure of existence (understood here as ontology). On the other hand, I understand why it can lead to such an idea - just like math, it works too well, so it's tempting.
  • Banno
    3.3k
    Banno is this something up your alley?StreetlightX

    I don't think I understand.

    I don't see why

    X
    Y

    Where the fact that X is above Y conveys that 'X is larger than Y' without using the expression 'is larger than'.
    StreetlightX

    is not just translatable as "X is larger than Y"; but from what you say here:
    ...nothing in the above expression (X placed above Y) does the job of 'is larger than' in the first expressionStreetlightX

    that's not what is being argued.

    Doesn't the position of the two variables indicate the predicate? That is, wouldn't

    Y
    X

    be translated as "Y is larger than X"? You say:

    For Sellars the fact of there being an 'is larger than' between X and Y, does the job of the fact of X being above Y.StreetlightX

    So I don't understand how it is that the predicate is dissipated.


    But there is a way to disappear predicates. Treat them extensionally. The predicate ceases to have any meaning beyond the set of individuals it applies to.

    Treating predicates thus does not cause me any grief. Indeed, I;m sympathetic to Davidson's use of it to clean up meaning.

    A curious thread - Cheers.
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    But, it's function isn't. By function I understand the work that the predicate does. We still use the de-linearised trick to accomplish what the predicate (in its original form) was doing. It functions as a predicate; it's just its form that has changed.Πετροκότσυφας

    This is the crux of the issue and it's important to clarify: what is the 'function' of the predicate? What work is it doing? This is the most delicate part of Sellars' argument: Sellars argues that it is not doing any work insofar as it is a predicate. Instead, it is only doing work insofar as it is a linguistic object (which just so happens to be, in this particular but entirely contingent case, a predicate). This is crucial to understand. The predicate qua predicate isn't doing any kind of job at all; in fact the only reason that it seems that it is doing any work is because it is a linguistic object. Putting it graphically might help, in terms of a hierarchy:

    {Linguistic object(predicate)}

    Where predicate is a 'species' of the genera 'lingustic object'. The work is being done by the fact of it's being a linguistic object, not by the fact of it being a predicate. The trick is to recognise that there are other linguistic objects than predicates, and that it is at this more general level where the work 'takes place'. Thus, boldface X, X is doing 'meaning work' by the fact of it's graphical difference, in it's capacity as a graphic object, and not because it does the work done by the predicate. This might seem a minor and even obscure difference, but the upshot is that it diffuses the tendency to abstract predicates as conceptual properties or metaphysical attributes. I quote Ray Brassier's gloss on this:

    "The predicative role should not be reified and turned into an abstract entity called a “property” that exists independently of sentential contexts. Still less should the conceptual property supposedly expressed by the predicate be hypostatized and turned into an ontological attribute that exists not only independently of language — as conceptual properties are alleged to — but also independently of thought. As Sellars puts it, “The extralinguistic domain consists of objects, not facts. To put it bluntly, propositional form belongs only in the linguistic and conceptual orders” (Brassier, Nominalism, Naturalism, and Materialism).

    @Banno I hope the above also clarifies why X being above Y does not indicate the predicate, but rather indicates the general function which the predicate contingently happens to fulfil.
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    But there is a way to disappear predicates. Treat them extensionally. The predicate ceases to have any meaning beyond the set of individuals it applies to.Banno

    Sellars speaks of this strategy in terms of 'unsaturated' propositions, but says that it doesn't do enough to diffuse the 'temptation' to treat particulars as universals:

    "We must avoid that picture according to which the connection between 'a is red' and the non-linguistic domain is a composition function of a connection between 'a' and a and a connection of 'red' with red objects. For it is this picture which generates the perennial temptation to assimilate the semantical function of 'red' to that of 'a,' and hence to think of 'red' as referring either to an object (redness) or a non-object () is red The result in either case is a metaphysics which construes red things as particulars which, in the one case, are tied by 'exemplify' to the attribute redness and which, in the other, "saturate" the gappy (predicative) entity, () is red."
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    853
    The predicate qua predicate isn't doing any kind of job at all; in fact the only reason that it seems that it is doing any work is because it is a linguistic object.StreetlightX

    Does this make sense though? If that's true of the predicate, then it's true of every linguistic object, no? And if it's true of all our linguistic objects, then where does meaning come from?

    The trick is to recognise that there are other linguistic objects than predicates, and that it is at this more general level where the work 'takes place'. Thus, boldface X, X is doing 'meaning work' by the fact of it's graphical difference, in it's capacity as a graphic object, and not because it does the work done by the predicate.StreetlightX

    Hm, what's that general level? If I understand right, linguistic objects (either predicates or boldfaces) by themselves are not doing any kind of "meaning work", it's their formal use in relation to each other (and more generally in language as a self-contained system of differences?) that does this? Is this the more general level (meaning comes from syntax)? This seems compatible with Wittgenstein's notion that "We must distinguish between a necessity in the system and a necessity of the whole system", right? Also, with his notion that mathematical propositions are not true propositions, rather they're necessary rules within an arbitrary system. Compatible, thus, in the sense that grammar is ultimately arbitrary. But I'd like you to clarify something, if you can. Here, Sellars seems more radical than W., since W. at least acknowledged that genuine propositions are referring to the world (even if their relationship is one of imposition and not one of reflection), whereas Sellars seems to completely sever the ties between language and the world. Or no? And doesn't ontology become impossible under this view?
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    If I understand right, linguistic objects (either predicates or boldfaces) by themselves are not doing any kind of "meaning work", it's their formal use in relation to each other (and more generally in language as a self-contained system of differences?) that does this?Πετροκότσυφας

    I think this is right, although I'm more conceptually unsteady here than with respect to predicates. Basically, Sellars develops an account of meaning in which the meaning of anything is given by it's 'functional role' in (a) language. He has quite a complicated account which involves sortals and metalinguistic levels and other philosophical sprockets and gears, but the idea is broadly Wittgensteinian in that a word (or phrase, or whatever) is what one can do with it: to know (a) meaning is to have a certain 'know how' regarding how that word can function in a system of inferential patterns (saying certain things commits one to saying, or even doing, certain other things. This network of commitments is 'what language is', and meaning is making a commitment in that network, and understanding the ramifications of that commitment; to say 'here is an apple' while holding up an orange is to misunderstand what one is committed to by saying 'here is an apple').

    To speak of commitments in this way provides, I hope, a clue as to why it's not the case that Sellars severs the tie between language and world. While it's true that on Sellars' account, predicates are intra-linguistic objects and not emblems of extra-linguistic facts, what matters is the larger network of commitments in which the mobilisation of those objects in relation to each other function in. Which is a very round-about way to say that all saying is a kind of doing. Brassier, again, puts it better than I can:

    "Meaning is not a relation [between word and thing]: meaning statements establish metalinguistic correlations between words and other words rather than a metaphysical relation between words and things. ... Words do not depict reality because of what they mean but because of physical connections between the semantic regularities obeyed by speakers and the physical patterns in which these semantic regularities are embodied ... These uniformities are incarnated in phonetic, graphic, or haptic patterns, as well as behavioral ones. They are exhibited in the uniformities of performance that constitute pattern-governed linguistic behavior. But these patterns reflect espousals of principle that constitute linguistic competence".

    In yet other words, the connection between language and world is in the performance of 'languaging' (which ties together words, behaviours, and patterns of commitment), and not in the fact that words stand for things in one-to-one relations. It is, to use an apt phrase, 'representation without mirrors'. Anyway, this is a bit far removed from the question of predicates, although it flows directly out of what it would mean to 'dispense' with them. But seriously good questions though, really helping me think some of this through.
  • Πετροκότσυφας
    853


    Nice exposition, thanks! This is close to what I understand to be W.'s view of math. I'll try to check out the relevant works by Sellars and Brassier.
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.3k
    I think this is right, although I'm more conceptually unsteady here than with respect to predicates. Basically, Sellars develops an account of meaning in which the meaning of anything is given by it's 'functional role' in (a) language.StreetlightX

    There is a much easier, and more efficient way of dealing with the function of the predicate, and that is to make it completely subjective, an imaginary object, entirely within the subject's mind. This is completely distinct, to what you propose, as giving the predicate a functional role in something independent from the mind, called "language".

    What the predicate is doing, is then seen as what the mind is doing with the predicate. It's really the proper way of looking at this issue, because the predicate is just a passive thing, an object which is not doing anything other than what it is made to do by the mind. So the mind is really the active agent which is doing something with the predicate, and the predicate is purely imaginary. Once we see the predicate in this way, it may be dissolved and replaced with "activity of the mind".

    But that is the only way to actually get rid of the predicate, to replace it with activity of the mind. Allocating it to "language" doesn't do this, and therefore this is fated to failure in any attempt to understand the predicate. Attempting to understand what the predicate is doing, without reference to the mind which is doing something with the predicate is just a futile exercise.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2k

    Just chiming in to say I think "commitment" is the magic word here. This is exactly the word I was about to reach for over in the "Belief" thread to explain my sense of beliefs as something like rules or norms you follow in thinking and acting.

    And I think of commitment as placing your bet, or running your experiment. There's a strong current of pragmatism running beneath all this that I find increasingly appealing.
  • gurugeorge
    517
    Sellars' question, if I understand him correctly - is whether the specificity of reason ought to be taken at face value when approaching questions of ontology.StreetlightX

    Yeah, I think I grasp what the problem is, and it's really difficult. The way I've thought of it in the past is how our categorical thinking seems to "overlay" a world that's happily describable ontologically in terms of mechanistic laws that have no room for meaning or value. Another way of thinking of it is in terms of Sellars' distinction between the manifest and scientific images. How the hell do you marry that dull, mechanistic ontology with the grandeur of the variously-populated world revealed by thought?

    I think there's probably a complex "tear" (as in paper) line between the two - some everyday categorical concepts do overlap with highly "chunked" parts of that simplistically-described baseline ontology, and some don't, some are just arbitrary ways of chunking events, perhaps developed in the meandering process of cultural evolution, with functions in evol psych terms, but not any real truth to them. (I'm thinking here of an analogy: the difference between the simple rules of Conway's Game of Life, and the larger regular structures and super-structures those simple rules produce as being things in themselves. Are those large patterns that grow from such simple seeds really things? Well, sure, they're big recurring patterns that you can name and that have a describable "fuzzy" logic of their own, quite different from the crisp, super-simple logic of the game rules. But at the same time, in a different sense, they're not really things in themselves, for they only exist only insofar as they are generated by the rules, the rules are prior, they have a deeper underlying reality.)

    I have a big beard that has a recognizable gestalt shape of its own. That shape was somehow "latent" in the simple growing rules for the hairs on my face, but the shape of it is not represented or described in those simple rules. There's no plan for George's beard anywhere, and yet there it is - every time I stop shaving more or less the same "thing" sprouts.

    This also speaks to the Hegelian/Marxian idea of dialectic, the organic development of concepts, etc., I think. Concepts (or for Marx, various social relations) are "latent in" and grow out of other concepts - but without having a represented plan within the original concept.
  • csalisbury
    1.4k
    I like Sellars' account.

    If we discard a mapping relationship (such that certain words are somehow 'tied' to their referent) then it seems like we have two patterns: Linguistic (qua behavior -- language as a game that is played) and the world itself, as it unfolds. In discarding correspondence, we still, right, believe that some relationship obtains? The pattern of linguistic gameplaying is somehow linked up with the pattern of the world unfolding.

    So if it's a matter of two patterns that aren't isomorphic (i.e there's no 1-1 semantic correspondence, or syntactic isomorphism) then what we have, instead, is basically a kind of (linguistic) behaviorial ecosystem thats linked up to a bigger system. It's not independent of what its linked up to, but neither is it a carbon copy. It's the pattern that works.

    Is that fair? I really like this, but I'm trying to link it to your recent trend toward ecosystems and forces.
  • csalisbury
    1.4k
    tldr: how does Sellars envision the relation between language and the world, having discarded correspondence models?
  • Nagase
    76
    I don't understand this argument. We can also devise languages (see Quine's predicate functor logic) which dispense entirely with individual variables or constants and thus have only predicates. Does that show that objects are dispensable and only properties have ontological standing? Perhaps we can even "dispense" with both written and oral language and communicate using only a rudimentary sign language. Does that mean that neither properties nor objects have any ontological standing?

    Notice also that the translation goes both ways: we can "translate" 'X is larger than Y' with your spatial arrangement, but we can also "translate" your spatial arrangement by 'X is larger than Y'. So why is one translation preferable to the other?
  • StreetlightX
    2.9k
    Just chiming in to say I think "commitment" is the magic word here. This is exactly the word I was about to reach for over in the "Belief" thread to explain my sense of beliefs as something like rules or norms you follow in thinking and acting.

    And I think of commitment as placing your bet, or running your experiment. There's a strong current of pragmatism running beneath all this that I find increasingly appealing.
    Srap Tasmaner

    Yeah, thinking of language in terms of what it commits one to really is the key here. That said, I borrowed the vocabulary of commitment not from Sellars (who prefers to talk of 'uniformity of behaviour' and 'patterns of inference') but from Robert Brandom, who more or less takes Sellars' 'inferentialist semantics' and develops it. Brandom actually says that there are two modes of inference at work when using language, one of which is commitment and the other is entitlement. Saying things commits you to inferring or being able to say/do other things; and commitment in turn entitles you to saying/doing other things (If I am entitled to 'it is raining' then I am entitled to 'the streets are wet'; also, if you commit to 'it is raining', I am entitled to asking for reasons why you think so). It's a way of seeing language as a kind of contract that comes with rights (entitlements) and responsibilities (commitments).

    Again, this is something I'm only roughly familiar with, but I like it very much.
  • Srap Tasmaner
    2k

    Yeah, commitment and entitlement make a nice pair of terms, because there are natural points of contact with your speech community there: what you've committed to and what you're entitled to are clearly not entirely up to you but negotiated, so to speak, and over longer and shorter terms, with other members of your speech community (which I've come to think of also as your epistemic community). All of that fits nicely too with the game theory analysis we get from Lewis of reciprocal expectations, which is where the "contract" comes in. Good stuff.
bold
italic
underline
strike
code
quote
ulist
image
url
mention
reveal
youtube
tweet
Add a Comment

Welcome to The Philosophy Forum!

Get involved in philosophical discussions about knowledge, truth, language, consciousness, science, politics, religion, logic and mathematics, art, history, and lots more. No ads, no clutter, and very little agreement — just fascinating conversations.