Philosophy Hurts Your Head

The blog of a cranky Philosophy PhD Student from Newcastle, Australia.

Archive for June, 2006

Skepticism, Contextualism and Kripke?

Posted by Sam D on June 30, 2006

Aaron Cotnoir of What is it like to be a blog? , Voices his concerns regrding contextualism in :
Skepticism about the Contextualist response to Skepticism

“Recently, philosophers have suggested that garden-vareity epistemic skepticism can be answered with contextualism. Contextualists argue that standards for correctly asserting that S knows that P can vary. In some contexts, the criteria for knowledge attribution are loose. In other contexts, standards are more rigorous.”

What I’m wondering is if Kripke’s Skeptical Paradox can be correctly characterised as ontological rather than epistemic skepticism, does this solution still work? In some ways I think it might, as contextualism does bear some resemblance to Kripk’e Sceptical Solution. But there seem to be some important differences as well. I’ll talk more about these later when I have a better grasp of ‘contextualism’ as such. The problem (for Aaron at least) is that applying this solution to rule-following commits the position to being contextualist about the truth of what the ‘right’ way of using words is, which he may not want to commit to.


Posted in Philosophy of Language | 21 Comments »

Mind and Meaning- the Sequel.

Posted by Sam D on June 6, 2006

This is a selection of some of the things that have crossed my mind during the past few months of my research. None of this really makes much sense so far, so if it seems disjointed and poorly developed, that is because it is. The setting for these thoughts is a particular problem that has dominated my thinking of late. It is this: Kripke’s Sceptical Solution seems to imply that all there is to our use of the word ‘meaning’ is that if a speaker passes the tests (and keeps passing them) for a word, then we can assert that they are using the word in the ‘right’ way. But this is at odds with the intuitively appealing idea that only certain kinds of things, namely things with Minds, can ‘mean’ anything at all. This was my paradox.

But first some definitions: The main one to keep an eye on is the ‘Functional Isomorph’. I picked this up when reading David Chalmers The Concious Mind. Basically it is a Philosophical Zombie, functioning exactly as we would, with every particle in their being exactly the same as on us, except, they have no phenomenal or subjective experience. There is nothing it is like to be a functional isomorph. For this reason it is not to much of a stretch to say that if such a thing did exist(and I’m not sure that they are even logically possible), that it would not have what we call a Mind.

Consider these examples:

1. Monkeys: Suppose we had an infinite monkey simulator. Now if I talk to it it would usually respond with nonsense. But suppose by freak chance it responds properly, do I consider it a speaker? No. Therefore I don’t consider its words to have meaning.

2. Zombies: Suppose I am talking with my functional isomorph. Being what they are, they respond properly. Do I consider its words meaningful? From a purely functionalist viewpoint, I would have to. But from the viewpoint that only if something is a ‘speaker’ do I even get to the question: “In virtue of what does this speaker mean X by X?”. Speakers must have minds, which are dependant on certain physical structures. Once again Mind arises as a necessary but insufficient factor in meaning X by X. Therefore, I thought, for Kripke’s account of meaning to be correct, it must be compatible with a non-functionalist account of Mind.

I thought about Zombies some more, and found myself pondering the following:

A puzzle: The Meaning Zombie.

Q:Is the following entity logically possible?

A functional isomorph, but more than that, a copy that does have the same phenomenal qualities as myself, but is a Meaning Zombie. That is to say, he passes the usage tests, he has phenomenal experience, he has a mind etc, but, his words, even when they are the same as mine, have no meaning.

A:I would say not. If he satisfies these requirements, and his speech is ‘correct’, then there is no way that we can say he does not mean X by X.

Questions like the two above got me to thinking that there was something wrong with how I had initially approached this whole issue. I suspect I had been a little too impressed by JR Searle’s assertion that it was ludicrous to allow thing with-out minds to ‘mean’ what they said. It did take me a while to get this though, and I spent a fairly sleepless week toying with the idea of some grand metaphysical schema describing meaning as being emergent from the interaction of non-physical phenomenal properties. I thought very naughty things about quantum mechanics and wave collapse, and was generally very weird. But I have given this away for the moment for two reasons. One is that however seductive one might find Chalmers’ property dualism, it does have its problems, or at least a few circularities to sort out. The other is that I began to suspect that there are two issues at hand here, and that the downfall of many defenders of so called ‘straight’ solutions as well as pseudo-sceptical but claiming to be straight ones (I suspect JR Searle’s Background based solution is one of these), has been to confuse, or at least to lump these two issues in together as if they were indivisible.
So I went back to the an earlier question: Under what circumstances would we say that something that has no mind ‘means’ what it says?

To answer this question, we need to break down ‘meaning’. There are two basic things to consider.

One is “Utterance X means X not Y”.

The other is “I mean X not Y by X”.

The first is about the determinacy of rules. The second is about the definition of meaning, it is the idea that ‘meaning’ is connected to there being a subject to ‘mean’ something

Mind is necessary for meaning in the subject-action sense. Therefore in that sense the attribution of Mind is necessary ( but not sufficient) for the attribution of ‘meaning’. ‘Correctness’, for want of a better term is the other necessary but insufficient condition.

This has led me to the position where I’m inclined to say that ‘Meaning’, we have been using the word, is two distinct things.

Clearly under Kripke’s sceptical solution, ‘correctness’ is defined by the language game as the rules a negotiated and re-negotiated. But if this is true then the attribution of Mind (perhaps attribution of ‘Subjectivity’ is probably more applicable, in any case I intend to extend upon this in the future) is a process determined by the language games via either consciously or unconsciously held beliefs, (as Searle of all people seems to imply).

If the rule that governs what we consider/assert to be a ‘Subject’ (or a thing with a mind) is not a rule that is determinate, then there is nothing determinate about meaning, not even about what can ‘mean’ anything by it words, there is just what it is appropriate to assert can ‘mean’ things by it words.

Two questions emerge:

1.Is there any foundation for how we ascribe ‘Mind’ other than the fact that it is just what we do?

And more importantly:

2.Is there any foundation for the assertion that only things with ‘Mind’ can ‘Mean’ what they say other than a similar sort of convention?

The first question is one that I’ll write at length about at a later date. But the second one, on that I’ll just say this: If the rule that governs the use of the word ‘Mean’ is not determinate, then we cannot sustain the logically necessary connection between Subjectivity and Meaning, even if there are very good reasons that it is very unlikely that they could ever become divorced in practice.

That pretty well describes where I’m at at this stage.

Posted in Mind, Philosophy, Philosophy of Language | 2 Comments »