Hornsby on Actions And Activity: Summary

Is the raising of someone’s arm one event or two? Is the event `I raised my arm’ identical to the event `my arm rose’? Resolving this question should throw light on what an action is. We also need to know whether an event which goes on for a period is going on during all instants of that period, for the same reason.

There is a distinction between `A stroll was going on at t’ and `strolling was going on at t’. The former at least seems to require an agent – but Hornsby’s point is that the latter does not seem to rely on any particular event (a ‘stroll’) taking place. Strolling is an activity – it must have a duration, as must `raising one’s arm’.

Actions are like stuffs. Saying `there is beer in the fridge’ does not refer to any particular can of beer or any particular beer atoms. There just has to be some in there, if the claim is to be true. Likewise, a stroll can be taking place without any particular event of strolling being necessary – distinguish this carefully from the very similar appearing but completely different claim that a stroll can be taking place without any event of strolling being necessary.

Q: Hornsby also seems to want to remain open to the possibility of the latter claim. Does she need this? Is it plausible?

This brings in the agent. There can be no strolling by Sebastian unless there is an activity of strolling being done by Sebastian. Note again that there need be no event of strolling by Sebastian going on, on Hornsby’s line.

Hornsby claims that “just as beer pervades any volume of space occupied by beer, so strolling pervades any interval of time occupied by strolling”.

Q: these claims do indeed appear to stand or fall together, but both are highly questionable from a physics/chemistry perspective. There are no beer atoms, but even if there were, what would we say about the space between the atoms? – should such a space be a coherent idea. Similarly, time quantisation at micro-intervals may make it difficult to talk about anything pervading them. Does anyone stroll during an interval in which light would travel a billionth of the diameter of a proton? Does that make any sense?

There is a useful distinction between accomplishments and achievements, due to Mourelatos. The latter are punctate: Mary’s finding the book ceases when she finds it. It would not become the case that she was finding the book until she finds it, when there is something a little like backwards causation – it becomes the case now that what she was doing then was finding the book – if she finds it. Accomplishments do not have this character: strolling can have its character as strolling from the point it begins and it continues until it ceases. Achievements are not composed of activity but accomplishments are. It does not take any time for John to win the sprint.

Q: really? Not even a 100 billionth of a second?

Fodor on The Metaphysics of Reference: Summary

A) Central Question: can we construct a naturalised, causal theory of reference?

Only matter has causal powers; thought has causal powers; therefore only matter can think – the Physicalist Thesis (“PT”)

Some mental states are about things (they refer) – Intentionality (“I”)

Motivation: Fodor wants to square PT and I in answering the Central Question. How can atoms or their constructs be about something? – ‘make science out of content’

Plan: make Six Assumptions (A); set out Three Objections (B) to the possibility of the project; provide prima facie answers to the Three Objections; be satisfied that the project can be completed; do so by triangulation (C) using the Six Assumptions; posit in consequence (D) Eleven Articles which are, allegedly, explanatory and plausible

Major Background Items: there is a Language of Thought (“LOT”) called mentalese. It shares some properties with public languages viz. productivity and systematicity but is not itself a public language. LOT is a species of the Representational Theory of Mind (“RTM”), which holds that tokens of mental states are tokens of relations between thinkers and their mental representations. RTM is (at least a species of) Computational Theory of Mind (“CTM”). LOT is not (need not be) a natural language; it is though, productive and systematic. Maybe like a programming language.

The Six Assumptions

1. Language meaning determined by thought meaning, when the language expresses the thought
2. Reference is compositional: the reference of wholes is composed of reference of the parts
3. Referentialism is true: reference alone determines content (of concepts, thoughts)
4. There are only two kinds of reference: to individuals and to properties
5. Causal Theory of Reference (“CTR”) is true: the later uses of a name refer to the original object so named via a causal chain from that original naming
6. A theory of perceptual representations will provide a theory of reference that squares PT + I

Assumption 3 represents Fodor’s opposition to Inferential Role Semantics (“IRS”). It also expresses Fodor’s atomism about concepts, and so is related to his nativism about concepts (I think). Assumption 5 is Kripke. A CTR formulation: ‘A’ means A iff. all and only A’s cause ‘A’s. All actual horses cause tokenings of the symbol `horse’; nothing else does.

B) The Three Objections to the project claim that the Central Question cannot be answered.

B1. Normativity Problem

Statement of problem: Content includes referential content and the latter unavoidably involves conventions and norms, etc.; this suggests that CTR can only be shown to be true if all intentionality is shown to be capable of naturalisation

Correctness criteria for reference/content set by convention; reference/content cannot reduce to causation because causation is not right or wrong, it just is

Response: position is committed to LOT thesis; this is a system of representations; it also does not have correctness criteria. You don’t use thoughts, you have them. So Fodor does not need norms

Q1: Can’t representations be wrong? (Maybe not, if they are merely demonstrative.)

B2. Disjunction Problem

Statement of problem: CTR says that everything a thought refers to is something that caused that thought. If a thing X caused your thought, then a (thing X or thing Y) did.

Example: Under poor visual conditions, you think you see a cow when it is really a cat. To what do you refer when you think/speak about the animal? A cat? A cow? A cow-or-cat?

Response: if you didn’t have CAT but you did have COW, you could still have referred to the cat as a cow by using COW. Therefore you didn’t use COW-OR-CAT.

B3. Link Selection Problem

This is the most important objection, because Fodor’s response to it is in fact the Main Project.

Statement of problem: Under CTR, there is a causal chain of events ending in your referential thought. Which link do we select as the most significant one, the one doing the work? Which event is causing your thought? All events are caused by the big bang, in a sense – but we aren’t all thinking about that, all the time. Response:

C) The Main Project

The project will be conducted using triangulation, an idea due to Davidson.

Preamble: Radical Interpretation (“RI”): someone starting from scratch and observing only behaviour and utterances could eventually translate fully a previously completely unknown language

P1: Languages can be learned

P2: Languages can be learned only if RI

Conclude: RI

How would RI work in practice​? A snake emerges. Adam – to be translated – says “gavagai!”. I say “snake!” Conclude: “gavagai” means “snake”. (Incidental worry: snake or snake parts or animal or moving thing or sudden appearance of something…)

Triangulation is the fix to the ‘which link?’ problem. There are a large number of events between the snake and me and between the big bang and the snake. Which one are we talking about?

p. 209: “a causal chain that runs from the perceptual horizon to my utterance would intersect a causal chain that runs from the perceptual horizon to Adam’s utterance, and […] it would do so at the snake”

Why would this work? Because I am assuming that my reactions to events parallel Adam’s. (Principle of charity issues here…?) I have information about my reactions which is quite detailed. But empirically it seems that there is a lot of tricky to handle ambiguity here. (How often do we get the wrong end of the stick even between native speakers…? But to invert Wittgenstein, something can only be counted wrong if there is something that counts as it being right…)

Davidson’s position, and Fodor’s, is that this has to work because otherwise we can’t learn languages. (St Augustine says we can learn terms this way – ostensively – and Wittgenstein (the slabs, `bring me a red flower’, says we can’t.) So Fodor’s position has intuitive appeal since it just looks empirically convincing that I know what a duck is because once someone pointed at one and said “duck”. Or twice. I triangulated between separate occurrences and eliminated the possibilities that they meant green-blue (the colour of the duck) or `animal’.

Q2: Davidson vs. Wittgenstein. Which way?

This makes language essentially social, but Fodor thinks he (“patently”) can’t have that because it is incompatible with CTM.

Q3: Why not? How bad is this for Fodor? Cf. Article 2.

Iteration is a key part of triangulation, with the significant power of repeated negative feedback for calibration.

Fodor differs from Davidson in that Fodor allows the interpreter to be counterfactual – no actual interpreter is needed to fix meanings. The referent of term X is considered by what someone saying X would be referring to under certain circumstances.

How to construct the triangulation diagram.

1) Draw a line representing the causal chain from the token of Adam’s representation through all the events in its causal chain to Adam’s perceptual horizon.

(One of the helpful uses of RTM is to substitute representation for utterance here – this eliminates the risk that utterance linkages with manifold beliefs entails holism)

2) Assume a counterfactual Adam2 located three feet to the right with the appropriate parallax shift.

3) Draw another line to the token of Adam2’s representation which is what the causal chain would have been.

4) Solve for the referent of both tokens

All of the counterfactual Adam’s must have been able to token the same representation and make the same utterance

Fodor thinks that his modification of Davidson’s proposal allows him to contend that people think in a private language and this is a strength of his account because he thinks they do

Conclude: this triangulation of causal chains is the correct account of the metaphysics of reference

D) The Eleven Articles

1. Reference is ontologically prior to truth
2. Reference is not social
3. Allowing semantic properties to mental representations does not threaten a homuncular regress
4. The content of expressions in public languages is not metaphysically prior to the content of propositional attitudes
5. The content/reference of a mental representation is not related to its inferential role
6. The content of concepts is not determined by the possessor’s behavioural capacities
7. Cognitive development does not come in stages
8. What you can think about is not limited by your public language but by your mentalese
9. Demonstration does not presuppose conceptualisation
10. Picture is consistent with FINSTs, Pylyshyn’s Fingers of Instantiation
11. English may not have semantics, because the semantics may happen at the level of mentalese

Q3: Wasn’t (5) assumed? Isn’t it a restatement of the assumed falsity of IRS?

Q4: Isn’t (7) in conflict with a lot of empirical psychology? (Maxi and the false belief tests etc.)

Q5: On (8), do we think that (possibly apocryphal) tribes discovered by anthropologists with no numbers larger than three have the concept of `ten’? Specifically? Can they distinguish it from `11’ and from `many’? Do they have a different mentalese to us? (That way out is available to Fodor.)

Millikan on Are There Mental Indexicals And Demonstratives: Summary

Some signs stand for themselves. Example: the `word’ for tongue in American Sign Language is the gesture of pointing to the tongue.

Q: Is this possible? Is it not the case that this is not a word at all, but a suggestion that one consider the indicated item? If I point at the sun, is my action identical with saying the word `sun’? Is it coherent at all for something to be a sign if the signified is the sign? Must it not refer elsewhere? Does a sign labelled `this is a sign’ tell us more than a sign shaped piece of wood?

To be a word requires a certain context. Example: the shape `spinach’ formed randomly in the clouds does not constitute the word `spinach’. Putting a can on a piece of paper with `spinach’ written on it, by contrast, does instantiate a communicative act. So the can of spinach becomes part of the symbol for itself.

Q: What if the can contains beans? Why does the symbol `spinach’ combined with the can indicate only the can and not the can + paper complex?

The `you’ in `would you please go?’ is anaphoric: it applies to whoever is being addressed in the same way that pointing a finger at the addressee functions in ASL. It is not indexical. It is a `sign for itself’; a part of the environment – the interlocutor – is used to refer to itself.

Q: Why isn’t it still an indexical?

Everyone may have their own version of a particular concept because everyone has different experiences. This is recognised by the introduction of the term `unicept’.

There are no indexical or demonstrative thoughts because indexicals and demonstratives involve self-signs and there can be no external objects in the mind.

O’Shaughnessy on The Anatomy of Consciousness: Summary

There is only one way of being undiseased: not having any diseases. If there were only one disease, there would be only one state of being ill: it would be having that disease. In reality, there are many diseases and therefore many ways of being ill. Is the pair consciousness/unconsciousness more like diseased/undiseased in a world with one disease or many? In other words, are their ways of being conscious in the same way as there are ways of being unconscious? It seems there are. So what are the states of consciousness?

All the states of unconsciousness are privative derivatives of consciousness i.e. they lack consciousness entirely.

Q: Why should we not say instead that all states of consciousness are privative derivatives of unconsciousness? More plausibly, could not unconsciousness come in degrees instead of consciousness coming in degrees? Could we not generate states of consciousness by adding several powers – experience, reason etc. – to the zero state of unconsciousness rather than in the direction of deleting powers, as O’Shaughnessy suggests?

There are three negative properties of consciousness. Firstly, it has no object. This is shown by the contrast between `he was conscious’ and `he was conscious of a faint rustling’. Only in the latter usage is there an object. Consciousness proper figures only in the former usage and there it is more the arena for experience.

Secondly, it does not have mental origins. Consciousness arises in the brain and whether it is present or not is decided by the brain and not by us or our judgment – since we have no choice about whether we become awake or not, short of setting an alarm clock. We may likewise have some choice about whether we become unconscious in that we can try to stay awake, but only for a limited period. O’Shaughnessy uses this to argue against consciousness having mental origins, presumably because he thinks that the mental is the location of our choice and judgment, and because he thinks that the mental is not the brain.

Thirdly, consciousness is not an experience – for similar reasons to those used to argue that it has no object. This is true despite the fact that consciousness may inevitably be accompanied by experience.

What can we learn about consciousness by asking what are its minimal requirements? Consider the simplest possible conscious animal. It does not seem to need any motor or perceptual capacities in order to be conscious; all the requirements for consciousness are internal. There must however be attentive experience which generates beliefs about the environment. We do not need to ask how this could occur without perceptual systems, because the key criterion for consciousness is cognitive sensitivity to perceptual experience. This means something can be conscious if it would respond to perceptual input about the environment in the right way, were there to be any. While this looks implausible, it must be true unless we wish to deny that persons in sensory-deprivation tanks are conscious.

There is a contrast between the normal state of consciousness and that which obtains when dreaming. O’Shaughnessy diagnoses this as relating essentially to awareness of time. In particular, normal consciousness requires the capacity to perceive events across time.

Shoemaker on Functionalism and Qualia: Summary

Functionalism is the claim that mental states are individuated by what they do and not by how they are instantiated, or what their `substrate’ is. Shoemaker is responding to an objection from Block and Fodor to the effect that functionalism cannot accommodate qualia, viz.: what it is like to be in a particular mental state. There are links here to Chalmers’ `hard question’: why is it like that, or indeed, why is it like anything at all to be in a particular mental state. The motivation for the objection is that some mental states may be individuated by what it is like to be in them.

The objection proceeds by considering the possibilities of inverted qualia and absent qualia. The first means that it may be different for me when I am in the same mental state as you. The second means that it may be different for me in that there is nothing it is like for me to in the same mental state as you even though that state does indeed have phenomenological character for you. Both possibilities would be fatal for functionalism, since there would be finer grained distinctions between my mental state and yours which moreover, are differentiated by phenomenological characteristics and not functional ones.

Shoemaker asks whether it is plausible to suggest that the phenomenological character of mental states could be unrelated to their functional role in terms of what inputs, outputs and connections to other mental states it has. Presumably a mental state associated with the phenomenological character of `intense pain’ is connected to a strong desire to move into a mental state without that phenomenological character. That desire would be lessened if the `intense pain’ state had no phenomenological character, or could be eliminated entirely if what I feel as pain is what you feel as pleasure. This seems to comport poorly with the idea that we are in the same mental state at all, if that question is decided on functionalist grounds.

Q: Do qualia exist?

Shoemaker allows for the possibility of inverted qualia by describing a possible case where we could detect that someone’s qualia had shifted. The argument depends on the idea that we sometimes have difficulty distinguishing closely related pairs of shades where they are, perhaps, on the blue/green boundary. If someone’s phenomenological experience on seeing blue became exchanged with what previously they had experienced when seeing orange, then they would now find it easier to distinguish shades on what is still, in the world and for the rest of us, on the hard to pick out blue/green boundary. If this thought experiment is coherent, it eliminates the Wittgenstein problem that qualia inversion would be undetetectable from behaviour and thus a meaningless claim. Thus Shoemaker gives the objection its maximum force by admitting that inverted qualia are possible.

Shoemaker’s defence of functionalism is suggested by the problematic disconnect discussed above between phenomenological character of mental states and their function. He admits that for the defence to be successful, phenomenological characters must be integrated with the functional framework i.e. phenomenology must have a function.

Finally, Shoemaker’s argument devolves to the following. There can be a qualitative belief that one is in a state having some propositional content, which content quantifies over qualitative states but does not refer to particular qualitative states. Such qualitative beliefs are functionally definable.

Anscombe on Intentionality of Sensation: Summary

The term `intentional object’ is introduced to refer to objects of thought which may or may not exist beyond thought in the actual world. There is a third type of reference to intentional objects beyond reference to the actually existent and the actually non-existent. This third type is to refer to an actual object with the reference to a property that the object does not have. For example, in `X worshipped the moon’, X does indeed worship something that exists, because the moon exists. However, X does not have the property – of divinity – that X venerates.

There is a distinction between two understandings of the direct object of a sentence. In `A gave B a book’, the direct object could be the term `a book’ – in modern usage – meaning a linguistic item. It could also mean – in older usage – the actual book itself. Anscombe wishes to retain the older usage for the purpose of analysis. One thing is clear: an actual book is not a piece of language. The term `intentional object’ can refer to either the actual book or a piece of language but this fact of co-reference does not suffice to make the actual book identical to a piece of language. Anscombe argues that we must avoid the ambiguity by denying that the intentional object is the book and denying that it is a piece of language; an intentional object is a description under which.

The distinction between descriptions recalls Austin’s distinction between by mistake and by accident
when one has shot a donkey. If I intend to shoot my donkey but realise too late that the donkey I
aimed at was in fact your donkey, I have shot your donkey by mistake. If I intend to shoot my donkey but yours gets in the way at the last moment, I have shot your donkey by accident. The difference is the description under which I shot your donkey. The parallel with shooting is apt since Anscombe herself recalls the archery-related etymology of intention.

In the second part of the paper, Anscombe aims to apply this apparatus to sensation. The process she uses is to supply a number of examples which parallel the three reference types given above. An object of sensation, like an intentional object, may exist, may not exist, or be referred to under a description which it may or may not satisfy, if it does exist. (One assumes here pace Meinong that non-existent objects have no properties.)

Q: can parallels in usage establish the degree of similarity Anscombe requires? After all, she was earlier denying that parallels in usage could establish the identity of the book and the piece of language.

Putnam on Functionalism: Summary

Putnam: “Brains and Behaviour”

Putnam sets out his functionalist manifesto by attacking the three prior alternatives: dualism, materialism and (logical) behaviourism. Functionalism is the doctrine that mental states are differentiated by what they do and not by what they are made of. Putnam takes it as read that behaviourism, and its motivations, have done enough to show that the first two options are unsatisfactory. This leads him to focus on challenging behaviourism in order to clear the way for his functionalist alternative.

The challenge to logical behaviourism starts from Wittgenstein-type points around the impossibility of private languages in the ‘beetle in the box’ variant. There can be no security, on this line, that my pain and Jones’s pain or my pain at different times, are type-identical or even similar. So I cannot learn `pain’ or other mental words by ostension. How then do I know the intension of `pain’, and what is it?

Correlations between pain and `pain-behaviour’ are unreliable and in any case, a correlation is not a definition. Similarly, even if some brain events cause pain behaviour, the brain events are not identical with pain behaviour or pain. There is an analogy between mind words and disease names, in that while diseases normally but not invariably produce a characteristic set of symptoms, the existence of pain may normally but not invariably produce a characteristic set of behaviours.

What if super-Spartans were possible who could suppress all external expression of pain-behaviour?
We cannot do that, but this shows nothing about other possible worlds. Do these super-Spartans still feel pain? If so, then behaviourism is false, since there is pain which does not ever, let alone normally, issue in behaviour. Therefore pain is not translatable into pain behaviour.