You Can Never Be Told Anyone’s Name

Here’s a paradox or riddle that I was confronted with recently – and it’s worth some analysis.  If I remember correctly, it was posed by Anscombe.  It goes like this:

It is impossible to be told anyone’s name.  For if I am told, “that man’s name is ‘Smith'”, his name is mentioned and not used.  I hear the name of his name, but not his name.

So now we have a mystery.  Clearly we can be told someone’s name – this happens all the time (and often, we think, by saying something like, “My name is ‘Smith'”), but how is this possible, if we only ever hear the name of his name?

It is worth distinguishing between use and mention first.  When I say “the cat has a spotted tail” I am using the word “cat” to refer to some object/animal.  When I say “‘cat’ has three letters” I am mentioning the word “cat”, but not using it – I’m referring to the word itself, not the ordinary referent of the word.  When I am told, “that man’s name is ‘Smith'”, ‘Smith’ is mentioned but not used.  This means that I am only hearing the name of his name.  Why is this a problem?  Because if I am only hearing the name of his name, then how can I possibly learn what his name is?  “‘Smith'” isn’t his name, it’s the name of his name – it entails, “‘Smith’ is a way to refer to my name”, but that is not to say what my name actually is.  Also note, we do not say, “‘Smith’ went to the grocery store”; we say “Smith went to the grocery store”.  The former says that a name (‘Smith’) went to the store, the latter says a person (Smith), went to the store.

Now consider the following two sentences.

(1) That man’s name is “Smith”.

 (2) That man’s name is Smith.

If the problem is that in (1) you hear the name of the name, instead of a particular person’s name, then why couldn’t we just write the sentence as (2), remove the quotes and we no longer have to worry about mentioning the name – we just use it?  Unfortunately, constructions like (2) will not help solve the riddle.  Why?  Because in (2) “Smith” and “that man” co-refer.  And now look what happens with a little substitution.

(3) That man’s name is that man.

We have substituted “Smith” for a co-referring term, “that man”, and ended up with (3).  Clearly (3) is absurd, for my name isn’t me – that man’s name isn’t that man; an individual is not identical to his name.

So it looks like we’re going to have to figure some way to make sense of (1), considering (2) and (3) seem fruitless.  But the proposition in (1) names a name, and there doesn’t seem to be any grammatical manipulation we can do (that still preserves the sense/meaning of [1]) to change that.

Here’s the trick.  There is a distinction between the truth-conditions on the utterance insofar as what is uttered (which we will call the explicit truth-conditions), and the truth-conditions  on the utterance which are not explicitly a part of the content of the utterance (which we will call the background truth-conditions).

Let’s look at the explicit truth-conditions of the utterance “that man’s name is ‘Smith'”.  There is (1) “that man’s name” which refers to a name, (2) there is “‘Smith'”, which refers to a name, and (3) there is an identity relation between “that man’s name” and “‘Smith'”.  So the explicit truth condition(s) of the utterance will be: “that man’s name is ‘Smith'” is true if and only if “that man’s name” and “‘Smith'” co-refer to the same name. The problem: the name that (1) and (2) refer to is not used in the utterance, so we haven’t heard that name.

Now let’s look at the background truth-conditions of the utterance “that man’s name is ‘Smith'”.  One trivial background truth-condition might be that: the speaker is speaking English.  For if he was using a different language, then the meanings of the parts of the sentence will change and consequently the explicit truth-conditions of the utterance will be something else.  But another, less trivial, background condition will be: all proper names are reflexive.  This means that a proper name can be used to refer to itself.

So we now know that “that man’s name is ‘Smith'” is true if and only if (1)  “that man’s name” and “‘Smith'” co-refer to the same name, but also that (2) the utterance is in English, and (3) all proper names are reflexive.  Condition (3) tells you that “Smith” is reflexive, which means that you use it to name it.  This gives us another truth-condition (4): “‘Smith'” refers to “Smith” iff “Smith” refers to Smith.  These are all the tools we need to know that we have been told the name.  Let’s explain.

Humans are embedded in contexts – so certain background conditions will apply to various utterances at whatever point in time.  So when we speak to each other, we are not just attuned to the explicit truth-conditions of an utterance, but also to the background conditions.  We hear “that man’s name is ‘Smith'” – but we know that this is true (as per truth-condition [4]) only if “Smith” refers to Smith (the man indicated by the demonstrative ‘that’).  So we know that we have heard Smith’s name, provided that the utterance is true.

If we wish to maintain that “that man’s name is ‘Smith'” tells you the name of “that man”, then we must recognize that background truth-conditions, not just the explicit truth-conditions of the utterance, contribute to the meaning of the utterance.  When analyzing the meaning of an utterance, we should also assess the background truth-conditions to get the most complete picture.


On Russell’s Skepticism of the External World

This paper explains why Russell thinks that real objects, if there are any, are not the same as what we immediately experience in sense-perception.  I explore the debate between different views of what we receive through sense-perception, maintaining that we get more from sense-perception than Russell claims.  By showing how there is more to our perceptual experience than just sense-data, I will show how we can come to (directly) know the real sizes, shapes, and qualities of objects.  This amounts to a denial of Russell’s account.

Click here to read: russell

Thoughts on the Richness of Perception and Moral Judgment

The following outlines some ill-considered thoughts on perceptual experience.  It begins with emphasizing certain important features of our perceptual experience.  The observations made there will be brought to bear on how we come to have beliefs about the unobserved.  Subsequently, I will discuss the perception of ethical properties.

Consider the features of your perceptual experience.  The most salient features are what is immediately detected by the senses.  Touch – whether something is rough or smooth, soft or hard, things feel a certain way.  They also taste and smell a certain way.  Audible sensations, too, have a unique character.  Visual experience gives us a manifold of colors arranged in various ways, which we then try to make sense of.  It is sometimes thought that this is the totality of our immediate awareness.  All else is inference.

But this is not the whole of our perceptual experience.  Note that we also have a certain discriminatory capacity that is characteristic of our perceptual experience.  The ability to pick out objects and see them as objects.  There is more to visual perception than a swirling tapestry of color; our visual field is populated by objects.  Consider your visual experience of a disheveled pile of books.  You can pick out each book distinctly, you are aware of where one book starts and ends, you see each book as an independent object.  And it is difficult to do otherwise.  Try to see two books as a unified object.  If it is not impossible, it is at least difficult; as difficult as looking at a blue wall and trying to imagine it yellow.  The effort runs counter to the perceptual experience – I can’t help but see them as objects.  I am sitting down to write, when a small black dot intrudes upon the periphery of my vision.  My attention is immediately attracted to the movement of the black dot, and now I can track it.  I saw it, picked it out as an object, and now, realizing that it is a gnat, I raise my hand to swat it.  We can pick out and track objects, our attention is drawn toward the movement of objects. 1

Now I’m sitting at home, starting to watch “Pulp Fiction” on Netflix.  The cursor does not disappear as the movie begins to play.  I am irked by the presence of a foreign object on my screen.  So I slide it all the way to the bottom right corner of the screen.  Now just the very tip of the cursor is present, the rest having disappeared “off the screen”, as it were.  I am feeling better, but still the tip is bothering me, even though it is not in the way of my seeing the movie.  Why does the tip still bother me?  Because even though the cursor is off the screen and only shows the tip, I am perceptually aware of the cursor as a whole object.  The presence of the entire cursor is manifested in my perceptual awareness – I get a distinct sense of the cursor as a whole, even though I see just the tip.

Let’s say that the cursor now actually disappears.  There is nothing to indicate the object’s presence; I do not have a sense of it.  I am no longer disturbed by its presence.  Suppose instead there is a very tiny crack in the bottom right corner of the screen.  Would this be as disturbing as the cursor?  I do not think so.  This is because it doesn’t impose itself on the screen as an object.2

This is arguably a case of amodal completion.  Amodal completion is a phenomenon that suggests we get a perceptual awareness of an entire object when the entirety of the object is not observable.  A dollar bill is slipped underneath a newspaper, so that only a thumb-length of the bill is visible.  Looking at the newspaper on top of the dollar: you see the newspaper, you see the end of the bill sticking out.  But you also get a sense of the whole dollar.  If you wanted to, you could probably take a pen and draw out the rest of the dollar on top of the newspaper such that it matches the bill beneath, and you do this just from your sense of the object.

This is a somewhat richer sense of perception than some may be used to.  But I think that upon reflection, we really do get more from perception than Russellian sense-data.  I think this richer conception has many consequences in a variety of philosophical subjects and problems, particularly when (1) it comes to the status of causal relations and (2) it comes to the status of ethical judgments.

Hume said that our idea of causal connection comes from constant conjunction, which does not give us reason to believe in a causal connection.  Goodman in Fact, Fiction, and Forecast explains his new riddle of induction in the following way.  Inductive hypotheses based on lawlike correlation are confirmed by their positive instances. 3  Inductive hypotheses based on coincidental correlation are not confirmed by their positive instances.  The trouble is in knowing how to distinguish between hypotheses expressing a lawlike correlation and hypotheses expressing a coincidental correlation.

These mysteries thrive on a restricted view of what we get in perceptual experience.  On a richer picture, these difficulties can be overcome.

First note that we all possess a concept of causation.  How did we achieve this?  Well, how did you acquire other concepts that you possess?  For instance, consider your concept of a chair.  Perhaps you were young, and your mother pointed at a chair and said, “chair”.  You looked to where her finger was pointing, saw the chair, and abstracted the concept of chair from it.  Granted, maybe it took more than one iteration of this process to acquire the concept, but eventually you did, by associating a word with an object in your perceptual experience.  Now consider a pot of boiling water on a flaming stovetop.  You certainly see the pot.  You see the water starting to bubble.  You see the fire and the stovetop.  On an impoverished view of perceptual experience, this is all you get.  But in addition to seeing all these individual isolated elements, you also see the fire boiling the water.  In this way, you see the causal relation between the fire and the water.  You don’t just see a ball moving through the air and then a broken window; you see the ball shattering the window.  You have a perceptual experience of a causal relation.  This is how we get the idea of cause, precisely because we see more than one thing being constantly conjoined to another thing; we see the relation between them.  In seeing the causal relation between them, we acquire the concept of causation.

At this point there are two objections that are worth mentioning.  (1) If we can see a causal relation, then there must be something it looks like.  (2) There are many times we see a causal relation and take it to be coincidental, and vice versa.  I will respond to each of these in turn.

Here is a response to (1).  What should a causal relation look like?  When we say that A caused B, we say A affected B in such-and-such a way.  What would it look like for A to affect B in such-and-such a way?  We see A act on B, and we observe an effect in B.  We see a cause and we see an effect – the two ends of the causal relation.  This wasn’t enough for Hume, who thought that you saw the conjunction of two completely independent events.  What would satisfy Hume?  Some observable unity between the cause and the effect?  But the cause and the effect are fundamentally distinct.  What if there were some sort of strange orangey-glow that appeared around wherever a causal relation is instantiated?  Such an idea is ludicrous.  There is no way to come to associate the glow with a causal relation – this would be nothing more than mere constant conjunction.  You see the cause and you see the effect – that’s all you need to see a causal relation.  One billiard ball is rolling toward another.  You see it strike the second ball, and the second ball moves.  This is what it is to see the one ball striking the other ball, to see the causal relation.  There is nothing that it looks like over and above the observation of the cause and the observation of the effect.  There doesn’t need to be anything in particular that it looks like.

Here is a response to (2).  Consider Jack, who is looking out into the distance.  He turns to his friend, Jill, and says, “Hey, look at that bird way over there”.  Jill looks and says, “That isn’t any bird; that’s a plane!”  And sure enough, it is.  Jack’s judgment of his perception is mistaken.  How is Jill to respond?  One way she won’t respond is by dismissing Jack as a capable perceiver.  She won’t say, “Are you sure you had a caprese sandwich for lunch, too?  If you looked closer, it might have been turkey.”  Later, when Jack tells Jill that he saw two big rigs on the way to work, Jill is not going to doubt him.  In general, Jill will still trust Jack’s reports on his perceptual experience.  Much in the same way, we can be mistaken about our perception of a causal relation.  Sometimes we will be wrong about there being a causal relation.  But then we come to correct it and learn something.

This provides us with a way for distinguishing between lawlike and coincidental hypotheses.  If we can have perceptual awareness of causal relations, then we can come to believe things like A caused B.  Consider Goodman’s use of “grue”.  We do not believe the hypothesis that all emeralds are grue because we do not see a causal connection between emeraldness and grueness. 4 What we see is a connection between emeraldness and greenness.  This explains our belief in green hypothesis over the grue hypothesis.  Moreover, it explains how we come to have beliefs about the unobserved.  We get a sense of which things are causally connected and which aren’t.  If the ascription of causal connection were based merely on inference, then to infer the causal relation would require already having a concept of cause.  To explain how we have this concept antecedently would indeed be mysterious.  If we acquire our concept of cause through perception, then we can better explain how we come to have causal beliefs and beliefs about the unobserved.

Let’s explore some of the other features of our richer conception of perceptual experience.  Notice that we have concepts of things like right or wrong.  These must have been acquired in some way, but how?  It is important to note that these concepts are different from concepts like pleasure or pain.  Getting rolled over by a boulder would be rather painful, but it is neither right nor wrong.  So right and wrong is of a different quality than pleasure and pain.  We do not get rightness or wrongness out of just pain or pleasure.  So there must be some other way that we acquire the concepts.  It is not as though the concepts could simply be taught.  They are too complex and too wide in scope for that.  It is too challenging to give a general definition of right such that a person would be able to consistently apply the concept in a wide variety of circumstances or that the overarching majority of people would assent to.  (I invite you to try.)  You might try to teach the concept of right or wrong through example.  But this, too, has its problems.  Consider showing a child a video of stealing and saying to the child “This is wrong”.  The child could think (1) it is wrong because stealing is something that is wrong (or violates our customs) or (2) it is wrong because it caused the other man harm or distress.  But this is inadequate.  (1) would not teach the child the resources for determining which other actions are wrong.  He only learns that stealing constitutes some sort of violation, but not the reason why.  (2) is problematic because the “causes harm” becomes the criterion that the child will use to evaluate the rightness or wrongness of an action.  But as we have discussed, causing harm is not constitutive of something’s being wrong; there are times when harm is caused but the action was good or neutral.  So we do not come to right or wrong through our pleasures or pains or through the process of education.

In keeping with the theme of this paper, I propose that we acquire our moral concepts through perceptual experience.  We see that an action is right or wrong.  It is my hope that I can make this view a little more plausible.

Consider a peaceful island society with no written history.  Since the formation of the society, there has never been any crime.  The people have no concept of right or wrong because nobody has ever done any wrong on the island.  Hundreds of years pass and they continue to live this way.  But one day, a stranger comes to the island.  He behaves maliciously.  When a citizen of the island addresses him, the stranger responds with great hostility and verbal abuse.  The stranger sets fire to an islander’s crops.  Surely the islanders would think that the stranger has behaved badly.  But I suspect that they will feel something more specific than that.  They won’t just think that his actions are bad.  In witnessing the stranger’s malicious acts, the islanders would see that the action is wrong, and thus acquire the concept of wrong and come to think of the stranger’s actions as wrong.  They will have perceived wrongness for the first time.  And that’s a different sensation than something being bad; there’s a certain revulsion that comes with experiencing wrongness, a distinct-felt quality.  The islanders would feel this revulsion, even though they previously had no concept of it.  They acquired it from their perceptual experience of the stranger’s actions.  Notice the immediacy of this visceral reaction.

When I experience wrongness, I feel it in a certain way distinct from how I experience badness or pain.  There is a unique, felt quality.  And this is a part of my perceptual experience.  It is not as though I come to the conclusion that something is wrong through some operation of reason.  I see a man steal a bike on a university campus.  This is not how the sequence of events works.  I see the theft.  I identify the action as a theft.  I check theft against my favorite moral system.  After performing the necessary deductions in that system, I reason to the conclusion that: that is wrong or morally impermissible or something.  Thus I have come to my moral judgment of the situation.  This is much too unwieldy and long a process to accurately describe how we make moral judgments.  It seems like I see the man steal the bike and feel that it is wrong and so judge it so.  If afterward I wish to rationalize my judgment by inputting the action into my favorite moral system, I may do so.  But I intuited the action as wrong prior to reasoning it to be wrong.  I sensed it before I judged it.  The wrongness of the action is present in my perceptual experience.

I can imagine that there must be several objections at this point.  (1) Some feral children do not have a sense of right or wrong – if wrongness was present in our perceptual experience, then they should be able to have this sense.  (2) There is nothing that a moral property looks like. (3) If we experience moral properties, then how can we account for deviations in ethical judgment?  I will respond to each of these in turn.

That feral children do not have a moral sense is not a problem.  Consider a person born and raised in a dark room.  Such a person would not develop his sense of sight.  Maybe he would see shadows or blurs, but for the most part he is blind.  Because his development was devoid of visual stimuli, he did not develop the sense modality.  Such cases have been known to happen.  Likewise, if a feral child does not have a moral sense, this does not mean that most people do not have a moral sense.  The feral child simply developed in an environment that was devoid of ethical stimuli.  This is especially worth noting if you object to the peaceful island example.  You might reject the intuition that the islanders see the wrong in the stranger’s actions, but this is not a devastating criticism.  The islanders would have developed in a society devoid of ethical properties, and so it is reasonable to think that they would not see the wrong in the stranger’s actions, because their moral sense never adequately developed.

That a moral property doesn’t look like anything is a similar complaint to that discussed earlier, that a causal relation doesn’t look like anything.  A similar strategy will be used here.  Just because something does not look a particular way is not reason to reject the presence of that thing.  Causal relations are one example.  What should a moral property look like?  It is hard to say.  But what would any concept/property look like?  If someone were to ask, “what does the green look like?” it would be difficult to respond.  You might show her a green thing and say, “this is what green looks like”.  But you aren’t showing her greenness, you are showing her an object that is green.  To show someone a concept, you show someone an object bearing the property.  If someone asked, “what does wrongness look like?” I might respond by showing a picture of people being maltreated in an internment camp.  I show an object that bears the property, not the property itself.  There is nothing that greenness qua greenness looks like, just as there is nothing that an ethical property qua ethical property looks like.  Or think about walking through your local farmer’s market.  You see twelve tomatoes, ten kumquats, and eight pears.  But how were you able to see how many?  It is not as though you see some platonic Two instantiated.  There is no “two” that you could point to.  Still, you could count the objects, one, two…  You could see that they were two despite no “two” actually being instantiated. We simply see the wrong just as we saw that one thing causes another.5

We can explain deviations in moral judgment through our notion of moral sense.  An analogy to other senses will be useful.  Let’s consider our sense of smell and a collection of a variety of fine wine.  Wine x and wine y do not have the exact same scent, though it is similar.  I cannot tell the difference, for I have a weak nose.  But suppose there is a wine connoisseur who could.  In fact, this wine connoisseur is so discerning such that he might be labelled “the perfect smeller”.  With ease he distinguishes between x and y.  I disagree with his assessment, but then that’s just attributable to the fact I cannot smell as well as him.  If I could, I would have agreed with him.  The imperfections of my nose affect my judgment.  Deviations in moral judgment work much the same way.  Suppose there is an event p and q, such that they instantiate the moral properties Φ(x) and Ψ(y), respectively.  Perhaps I had the misfortune to not just be born with a poor nose, but also an imperfect moral sense.  It is possible that I (mis)perceive Φ(x) and Ψ(y) to be instantiating the same moral property.  A person with an acute, discerning moral sense would be able to accurately distinguish between Φ(x) and Ψ(y).  So there moral properties are really there to perceive, but due to an imperfect moral sense, like an imperfect nose, we perceive the situations differently.6  There is more or less general agreement on how things smell.  Likewise, there is more or less general agreement on ethical properties.  Stealing is bad, murder is wrong, etc…  The disagreement is usually on the fringes.  There is a sort of general agreement, just like with other senses.

It is worth noting that I do not think we have a distinct faculty of moral sense, like a nose or eyes or some other appendage.  This view does not require that.  What it may require is some view as to how ethical properties are actually instantiated – that is, what constitutes the instantiation of an ethical property.

Ethical properties are instantiated in virtue of instantiating the right psychological and physical properties.  The instantiation of ethical properties will not be a matter of looking toward the physical properties alone.  If a large boulder rolled down a hill and crushed a civilian, that would be unfortunate, but it would not be moral in character.  In contrast, if a large boulder were pushed down a hill by a questionable character with ill-intent, then the event resulting in the civilian being crushed will be moral in character.  We find the questionable character morally responsible for the flattening of the civilian.  The psychological component of the questionable character is necessary for the instantiation of some ethical property.  Were these merely physical events, we would perceive no moral properties.  By the same token, the instantiation of an ethical property is not based only on the instantiation of the right psychological properties.  Should the questionable man form the intention to harm the civilian by pushing the boulder, but he does not actually act on it (that is, lift his arms and push the boulder), then we would not perceive any wrongness in the situation.  So the instantiation of a perceptible ethical property requires the instantiation of both psychological and physical properties.  This has been a rather quick treatment of how ethical properties are instantiated.  A more robust account would take us too far afield, and would be more appropriate as the subject of a future paper.

I will conclude this paper by highlighting some of its key points.  We get more in sense perception than Russellian sense-data suggests.  We have unique capacities like the ability to discriminate between objects, and to be aware of objects that are only partially in view.  We acquire most of our concepts from the world, including our concept of cause, the acquisition of which is made possible by the richness of our perceptual experience.  We acquire ethical concepts from the world in a similar way, by directly perceiving them.  Ethical properties are instantiated in virtue of the instantiation of a certain set of physical and psychological properties.  Like our other sense modalities, we may be wrong but at least there is enough general agreement.  

  1. This is also true of many animals 
  2.  We can predicate x of a crack, which means that the crack is an object in some sense.  But it is not a discrete object.  Suppose there were a rent in the cover of a book.  We can predicate things of the book and the rent separately, but we cannot consider the rent independently of the book.  The rent inheres in the book, in a sense, and is a part of the book. 
  3.  We can take lawlike to mean something like causal or explanatory.  I subscribe to Dretske’s view of scientific law, where a law states conditional relation between properties of objects, e.g. if A-ness then B-ness (not if A then B). 
  4.  It is worth noting that it is difficult to see how we would ever acquire a concept of grue through empirical investigation.  We could only contrive it.  A man, looking at a single emerald, would never acquire the concept of grue, for he could never perceive the temporal feature.  Thus grue is an artificial concept. 
  5.  Moreover, if we see wrongness as a two-place relation (e.g. x wrongs y), then we can also see wrongness as a causal relation, e.g. x wrongs y by way of x producing such-and-such effect in y. 
  6.  As another example, think about the Rorschach Test.  There is little agreement over what any particular image represents.  Each person sees the same inkblot(s).  Yet each person perceives it differently and will have to struggle to see it another way.  So too with ethical properties. 

What is a Number? On Frege’s Foundations of Arithmetic

Click here to read: On Frege

This paper explains Frege’s reasoning for why numbers are objects, as opposed to concepts or subjective ideas.  After explaining the gist of his reasoning, it raises two related, plausible objections to a construal of numbers as objects and shows why Frege dismisses them.  Toward the end, I raise a problem with his view, showing on his view that if numbers are objects then colors are also objects (a proposition Frege would like to avoid).  I then show one way that Frege might respond to this problem.

Explaining Frege’s Notion of Identity

Click to read: OnFrege

In this paper I will explain Frege’s reasons for initially supporting the view that identity statements express a relation between signs, rather than expressing a relation between objects.  Subsequently, I will reconstruct Frege’s argument against this view.  Finally, I will explain how this argument supports the view that identity statements express a relation between objects.

Initially, Frege is attracted to the thesis that identity statements express a relation between signs.  The first reason he presents is that statements of a=a and a=b are of “differing cognitive value” (35).  There seems to be an important distinction to be made between saying “Batman is Batman” and “Batman is Bruce Wayne” — namely that they are of different cognitive value.  The way that the value differs is that the former is true a priori and analytic, whereas the latter is not true a priori and serves to extend our knowledge of Batman, rather than just analyze it (35).  But if identity statements expressed a relation between objects, then the statements of a=a and a=b would be of the same cognitive value (35).  This is because the relation that is being drawn is one between objects referred to, rather than the signs.  But since the relation is that of identity, it is going to be a relation between the object and itself and nothing else (35).  And so a=a and a=b, if both true, will never mean anything over and above “an object is the same as itself”.  As in this way mean they same thing, for one thought is the same as the other, so they are of the same cognitive value.

But the statements are of different cognitive value, for we could hold a=a true and a=b false.  For example, a person can know that Hesperus is Hesperus without believing that it is also Phosphorous.  And when we say a=b we take ourselves to be saying that the signs “a” and “b” designate the same thing (35), not that an object is the same as itself.  Thus the relation concerns signs, and not the actual object.  So, if the identity relation were between objects these statements would be of the same cognitive value.  But these statements are not of the same cognitive value.  Thus, Frege initially supports the thesis that identity statements are relations between signs.

But Frege comes to reject this thesis.  Consider the fact that the identity relation between signs holds only insofar as the signs designate something (35).   For if a sign did not designate something, then there would be no common element between the signs that allow them to be identified with each other or be connected (35).  But the connection between a sign and its object is arbitrary, for anyone can use an arbitrary object as a sign for something (35).  This creates a problem where identity statements do not “express genuine knowledge” (35), namely that identity statements become linguistic artifacts.

In this way, “Hesperus is Phosphorous” is no longer about either Hesperus or Phosphorous, but rather a relation between arbitrarily chosen names, and so cannot express genuine knowledge; for genuine knowledge should be about the object of inquiry.  When we want to know if Hesperus is Phosphorous, we want to know whether that particular celestial body in the sky is the same as that other particular celestial body in the sky — we are concerned about the object.  We are not asking about the name (though we are using it).  The name serves to pick out the object we want to identify, but we do not identify the name.  A name’s connection to its object is something arbitrary, but an object’s connection to itself is not.  If the knowledge we obtain is about the equation of arbitrarily chosen names, then we have arrived at empty, not genuine, knowledge.  For suppose a=b.  Now I stipulate that a=c.  I conclude that b=c.  Now I stipulate that a=d.  I conclude that c=d.  The conclusion is empty.  If I needed to find out something, or solve a problem about, a, the knowledge that c=d is of no use, for the cognitive value of a=b and c=d is the same.  But this is exactly the sort of knowledge we get if statements of identity are about signs rather than objects.  Because if an identity statement expresses a relation between signs, no genuine knowledge is expressed, Frege thus rejects the thesis that identity statements are a relation between signs.

Frege argues that in order for the cognitive value of a=a and a=b to differ, there must be a difference in the “mode of presentation” (35) of the object.  This is like the way of thinking about an object and constitutes a sort of definite description.  The sense of Batman differs from that of Bruce Wayne, even though they are the same.  A person could believe that Bruce Wayne is Bruce Wayne without believing that Batman is Bruce Wayne, so each expression corresponds to a different thought.  In this way, the cognitive value of Batman differs from that of Bruce Wayne.

We might ask whether Frege’s reasons for rejecting the thesis that identity statements express a relation between signs provide sufficient support for his final view that they express a relation between objects.  There are two items that identity statements could express a relation between, viz. sign and object.  In arguing that it cannot express a relation between signs, Frege leaves only one possibility, viz. object.  If it can’t be sign, then it must be object.

But Frege had raised worries against identity being between objects, namely that the cognitive value of a=a and a=b is the same.  How does this worry disappear?  Frege’s notion of sense must come into play.  A name is associated with a sense, not an object, though connection between name and sense will be arbitrary (as discussed in the problem between name and object).  Sense, however, corresponds to an object in a nonarbitrary way.  For instance “the smallest natural number” is the sense of 1 — 1 could never be associated with the sense “the greatest natural number”, for that does not describe 1, thus it is not arbitrary.  This explains how a=a and a=b can be about the objects but still differ in cognitive value.  Because sign is connected to sense, not object, the sense of a differs from b and so the cognitive value of the statements (the way of thinking about them) differs.  But both senses still correspond to the same object (nonarbitrarily), so there is an identity with respect to the object (which is to say that the identity relation exists between objects).  In this way, the statements are of different cognitive value while the identity between the objects is preserved, and so Frege’s initial worry is avoided and his argument provides support for the thesis that identity statements express a relation between objects.

Intentions, Suggestions, and Meaning in Grice

Click here to read: OnGrice

In this paper I will explain and give an account of Grice’s notion of non-natural meaning.  In doing so, I will show how Grice distinguishes between genuine cases of “telling” and cases of merely “deliberately and openly letting someone know” by appealing to the intentions of the speaker.  Finally, I will assess the adequacy of this account by considering an objection that aims to show that on Grice’s picture, a speaker can mean anything by an utterance.

To explain non-natural meaning, we should distinguish it from natural meaning.  Natural meaning involves a notion of entailment.  For instance, the kettle whistling means that the water is boiling.  Or, the low water level in a reservoir means there is a drought.  One state-of-affairs means another state-of-affairs if the presence of the first indicates the presence of the second.  This is to say that one fact means another if that fact entails the other fact (285).  For if the water was not boiling, then the kettle would not be whistling.  Likewise if there was not a drought, then the water level would not be low.  Non-natural meaning is usually found in linguistic acts and, in contrast, does not involve the same notion of entailment (285).  To say, “we are in a drought” does not actually entail the fact that we are in a drought.  When I say “I will go to the store today”, I may mean that I will go to the store today, but I could be stopped (perhaps due to inclement weather).  So with non-natural meaning there is no entailment of the state-of-affairs meant.  In this way, we can think of non-natural meaning as being imported onto some sign, whereas natural meaning is something intrinsic to the relevant states-of-affairs.

Grice’s fundamental notion for his theory of meaning is that meaning must be explained in terms of what a speaker meant by a particular utterance on a particular occasion.  A speaker at a particular place and time determines the meaning of his utterance

This notion puts the focus squarely on the speaker, and so speaker meaning will be primarily a matter of the intentions of a speaker.  The following three intentions will serve as the necessary and sufficient conditions for an utterance to be meaningful (288).  The primary intention is (1) the speaker intends to produce a certain effect in his audience (e.g. to inculcate a belief that p).  For to ask what a person meant is to ask for the specification of the intended effect (289), e.g. to ask what I meant by “hello” yields an answer: to greet the audience, or that the audience be greeted.  (2) The speaker intends for the audience to recognize his intent to produce a certain effect.  (3) The speaker intends to produce the effect in the audience at least partly on the basis of the audience’s recognition of his [the speaker’s] intention.  When I say “Phil 133 is in 30 Wheeler”, I must have three intentions for it to be meaningful.  (a) I intend for you to come to believe that Phil 133 is in 30 Wheeler.  (b) I intend for you to recognize my intention to inculcate this belief.  (c) I intend for you to believe that Phil 133 is in 30 Wheeler on the basis of my telling you so.  If I lacked one of these intentions, then I would not have meant that Phil 133 is in 30 Wheeler by my utterance.  For instance, if I had not intended for you to acquire the belief on the basis of my telling you, then that would suggest that I intended for you to come to the belief by some way other than my utterance, so I couldn’t have genuinely meant anything by my utterance.

The third intention is crucial for distinguishing between cases of “telling” (that is, issuing a meaningful utterance) and “deliberately and openly letting someone know” (where something is communicated, but not by way of a meaningful utterance); it creates a dependency between the first and second intentions.  This dependency is critical, for if the first and second intentions were independent of each other, then cases of “deliberately and openly letting someone know” could qualify as meaningful utterances.  In the following examples, we will show how this is the case.

Consider the following two cases (288).  Case A: I show Tim a photograph of John showing “undue familiarity” with Jane (Tim’s wife).  Case B: I draw a picture of John showing undue familiarity with Jane and show it to Tim.  Case A is a case of deliberately and openly letting someone know, whereas case B is a case of telling.  To see why this is the case, we will need to analyze my intentions in each case.  It is clear in case A that I intend for Tim to acquire the belief that John and Jane are unduly familiar, or else I would not have showed him the picture.  Moreover, I may very well intend for Tim to recognize that I am trying to inculcate that belief.  Note, however, that I do not necessarily intend for him to acquire the belief on the basis of my showing him the photograph, but rather his just seeing the picture.

In case B, I intend for Tim to acquire the belief that John and Jane are unduly familiar, or else I would not have drawn the picture.  It is reasonable that I also intend for Tim to recognize that I am trying to inculcate that belief.  So far, this is consistent with case A.  Here is the crucial difference between the two cases.  In case B, I intend for Tim to acquire that belief on the basis of my drawing the picture; this does not happen in case A.  In case A, I do not intend for Tim to acquire the belief on the basis of my presenting to him the photograph – or, at least, the act of my presenting him the photograph is irrelevant to his acquisition of the belief (288).  For if I had merely left the photograph where Tim would find it, instead of actually showing it to him, Tim would still have acquired the belief.  In this way, my act of presenting the photograph is immaterial to the case.  Thus, I have not told Tim anything, but rather openly let him know something.  But in case B, when I draw the picture for Tim, he sees that I am actually trying to inform him of something – that is, tell him.  It is through my act of drawing that Tim is supposed to believe that John and Jane are unduly familiar (satisfying the necessary third intention for a meaningful utterance).  In case A, regardless of whether I present the photograph or Tim stumbles across it, Tim will come to believe that John and Jane are unduly familiar – his reaction is the same, it seems like they mean the same thing.  But in case B, whether I draw the picture or Tim stumbles across it affects Tim’s response.  If I draw it, then he takes me to be informing him about John and Jane.  If he stumbles across it, he might mistake it for some uninformative bit of artwork (288) – and the drawing would not seem meaningful.  In this way, we see the importance of the third intention, that the audience recognize the intention to produce an effect by way of the actual utterance.  In case A, this was not so; in case B, it was.

So Grice has reduced a meaningful utterance to a matter of having three specific intentions.  We may be suspicious because, prima facie, it seems that a person could utter anything and have it be meaningful, provided that they had the right intentions in place.  It is conceivable that someone could intend to greet someone, have the right intentions in place, but end up uttering some nonsense like “rurruh”.  But because they had the right intentions in place, on Grice’s account this utterance counts as meaningful.  No audience could hope to come to know what he was trying to communicate, so it seems intuitive to say that the utterance was not meaningful.  In this way, it seems that Grice does not provide an adequate model of why utterances of linguistic expressions are meaningful.

A Gricean might respond to this by noting that while such a scenario is conceivable, it is not possible.  One couldn’t just utter nonsense and have it be meaningful.  I couldn’t possibly utter “rurruh” expecting you to realize that it was supposed to be a greeting or to understand what I was saying.  As such, I couldn’t form the intention to get you to believe that I was greeting you.  Because if I intend to get you to understand my greeting, then I am going to utter something that could be construed as a greeting (or at least not nonsense) – something that you could hope to understand.  “Rurruh” does not qualify.  So I could not intend to greet you with such a word.  In this way, it is not the case that one could utter anything and have it be meaningful.

But then consider the following case.  Ralph is suffering from a severe psychiatric illness, experiencing delusions and speaking in word salad.  A man asks how Ralph’s day is, and Ralph begins to reply with “‘Twas brillig, and the slithy toves…”.  He intends to inculcate the belief in the man that his day is going well.  Because he is delusional and speaking in word salad, he thinks that what he utters will inculcate this belief, despite the fact that it is really nonsense.  So here is a case where someone really can have the intentions in place but nevertheless seems to utter nonsense.  On Grice’s account, this is meaningful.

And it is difficult to see how he has the resources to reply.  For Grice can only appeal to the realistic intentions of the speaker, and has no means by which he can appeal to something like linguistic convention in order to respond to Ralph’s case.  Grice may just have to bite the bullet, and admit that such utterances do turn out to be meaningful on his account.  But this is not a devastating problem.  In some important sense, one can see how Ralph’s utterance could have been meaningful.  After all, Ralph clearly means something by it.  A failure to communicate does not necessarily constitute an absence of meaning.  There are many times, via misspeaking or otherwise, that we fail to communicate.  But it does not seem that in such instances there is always an absence of meaning, or, at least, it doesn’t seem there is reason to suppose there is.  Should the fact that Grice’s account admits such utterances mean that his theory is inadequate?  In some sense, yes it does.  Grice admits some expressions contrary to our intuitions, and this is problematic for any account of meaning.  But this does not mean the end for intention-based accounts of meaning.  Grice’s theory has served as a basis for more promising accounts of intentional meaning, so there must be something adequate about it.

Qualia’s Quined but Dualism Still Has Its Teeth

Click to read: OnDennett

This paper will explain what qualia are and why Dennett thinks that it is a confused concept without a referent.  Subsequently, it will spell out how Dennett substitutes qualia for public, extrinsic properties that relate to one’s certain internal states and acts; this sounds curiously like direct realism.  This paper will conclude by explaining that Dennett’s argument provides good reasons to take direct realism seriously, but that it does not support the materialism in eliminative materialism and so does not dissuade us from most forms of dualism.

Qualia can be thought of as the immediate properties of phenomenal experience.  Nothing is more ordinary than qualia; it is the way that something appears to you (226), the way that the letters look as you read this paper.  It is the pain you feel when that first sip of coffee burns the roof of your mouth.  According to Dennett, qualia are characterized by four features (229):  


  1. Qualia are directly or immediately apprehensible in consciousness.  This means that through introspection I can apprehend that I’m seeing some yellowish over there, some bluish over here – for it is just evident in my conscious experience.  I am directly aware of the state of my qualia.
  2. Qualia are private.  This is to say that my experiences and qualia cannot be compared with others, for any comparison must rely on intersubjective report and there is no “machine” that we could check our qualia against for objective comparison (for no machine could detect what we mean by qualia) (228).
  3. Qualia are intrinsic.  This means that they are atomic and unanalyzable (229); you cannot break down and analyze a unit of qualia.  There are no further constituent properties that can be used to describe qualia; they are simple.
  4. Qualia are ineffable, partly in virtue of their intrinsicality.  To say they are ineffable is to say that one cannot describe precisely what the state of one’s qualia is, no matter how fanciful and determined a description.  For instance, you could never adequately characterize what red is, and the experience of seeing it, to a colorblind person, no matter how much describing you do.  (Indeed, you could never adequately describe red to anyone.  For even if they agreed to your description, you still couldn’t know whether your red was their red as opposed to their green, for we all came to learn and use color words the same way.)


Dennett will argue that this conception of qualia is empty and confused and that, in fact, there are no qualia at all.  Here’s part of Dennett’s motivation.  He characterizes his position on qualia as that of “eliminative materialism” (244), an alternative to reductive materialism.  Accounting for qualia is the typical stumbling block for materialism (229).  If there are no qualia, then this is no longer an issue for the materialist; materialism should enjoy more success and dualism should fall into disrepute.  Dennett argues for this through a series of intuition pumps aimed to show that the immediate properties of our experience, our qualia, are not directly apprehensible, private, intrinsic, or ineffable.


Section 1.  How Dennett quines qualia.


1.1  The argument that qualia are not directly apprehensible.

Consider the following (231).  An evil neurosurgeon performs an operation on your brain in your sleep.  When you wake up, you see that the grass is red, the sky is yellow, etc.  Initially upon introspection, it seems as though you have undergone qualia inversion.  But this is not necessarily so, for there are two ways that the neurosurgeon could have inverted your experience.  (1) The inversion process occurs in a “qualia-producing” channel, like your optic nerve.  (Presumably, the qualia “comes after” light striking your eye.  With the eye inverted, the qualia produced from it are inverted.)  Or, (2) the inversion process does not occur in a qualia-producing channel, but rather in your memory access pathways.  (Such that qualia are not inverted, but memory-anchored dispositions to react to them are.  You remember a different spectrum of qualia; even though there has been no change in your qualia, it seems as though there is when you check against your memory.)  Noticing a difference in your conscious experience, therefore, does not entail a difference in qualia (231).  So I cannot know the state of my qualia through introspection, because I will never be able to determine whether the shift in my conscious experience is the result of qualia inversion or memory inversion.  So the state of my own qualia is as unknowable to me as it is to any other observer.  But if I cannot determine the state of my own qualia, then how is it that my qualia can be directly apprehensible to me?  It seems that they can’t.  Or consider: am I running a fever or just feeling feverish (or some combination thereof [236])?  I can’t tell by introspection.  Perhaps I could consult a thermometer to determine the state of my qualia, but then I cannot say that my qualia were directly apprehensible to me as I must conduct some empirical test.  (And empirical tests have their own challenges, as will be discussed in 1.2)

1.2 The argument that qualia are not private.

Recall that the state of your own qualia is as unknowable to you as it is to some observer.  Presumably, we have privileged access to those things of ours that are private.  But in what sense do we have privileged access to our own qualia, if we cannot know the state of it?  We have no more privileged access to our qualia than anyone else, so it seems strange that we would characterize that thing as somehow private to us.  The properties of qualia, its constancies and changes, are either entirely beyond our knowledge or inferable from third-person examination (236).  We cannot tell whether our qualia have changed, have stayed constant while our reactive attitudes toward the qualia have changed, or some combination thereof.  Empirical methods may be able to determine between one extreme version or the other.  For instance, if I can reliably match my qualia to an object and re-identify (e.g. I perform well in blind tastings), then that indirectly supports the hypothesis that my dispositions to react to the qualia have remained constant and it must be my qualia that have shifted.  So in some sense, in some cases, the state of my qualia is amenable to third-person examination.  But suppose both my qualia and my dispositions to react to them have shifted.  Empirical methods will not be able to determine the proportions by which they shifted, for what it measures is always the resultant of both the qualia change and the change in reactive attitudes.  If they are entirely beyond our knowledge, then it does not make sense to call them private, for no one has any access to them.  But if they are inferable from third-person examination, then they cannot be private, for others have access to them.  So there is no circumstance in which qualia are private.

1.3 The argument that qualia are not intrinsic.

Properties can seem intrinsic, but on closer inspection are actually extrinsic and relational.  Dennett asks us to consider the worldwide eugenics experiment (237).  Consider substance X, which tastes bitter to three-fourths of humanity and tastes like water to the rest.  The way X tastes is a genetically transmitted trait.  So we could prevent the water-tasters from breeding and after a few generations X will be unequivocally bitter.  Or, alternatively, we could commit mass eugenics and prevent the bitter-tasters from breeding and after a few generations X just will be uncontroversially tasteless.  So X may seem to be intrinsically tasteless, but really how it tastes is a relational, extrinsic property, for the property changes depending on the class of tasters.  Or, consider that there is a certain intrinsic, felt quality about the value of a ten-dollar bill (237).  But the value of a ten-dollar bill must depend on the willingness of others to accept it as payment, which makes it clearly an extrinsic, relational property.

Moreover, the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction itself is poorly defined (240).  Here’s as good a candidate as you’ll get for an intrinsic property: think of the redness of Suzie’s ball.  Public redness, like the ball, however, must really be an extrinsic, relational property –  for the same reasons that the taste of substance X, a secondary quality like color, was an extrinsic, relational property.  To be publicly red is just to be the sort of thing that affects people in such a way that they make a red-identification.  Public properties are relational, and no intrinsic property could count as a public property, for public properties do not require the supposition of anything but the person’s disposition to react behaviorally (241).  We can specify the effect a public property produces just by specifying the relevant reactive behavioral dispositions, e.g. the value of a dollar is established by establishing how people are disposed to react to it.  This fact will be useful later.

1.4 The argument that qualia are not ineffable.

Dennett notes that it seems as though qualia are ineffable, but then suggests that they are merely practically ineffable (241).  Consider an osprey cry (241).  Here’s a true, accurate, poetically evocative description of the cry, “a series of short, sharp, cheeping whistles, cheep cheep or chewk chewk, [and so forth]; sounds annoyed” (241).  With this we can rule out many bird calls that may or have been heard, but there are still many potential cries which could satisfy this description, and so we cannot uniquely pick out the osprey cry.  So the cry is ineffable, but only practically so, for we can still rule out many other potential cries.  But suppose I see an osprey cry and hear it and see that the sound is coming from it.  I think, “that’s what an osprey sounds like” (the sound is recognized as S).  But from this single experience I cannot know which physical variations and constancies in stimuli would produce an indistinguishable experience, nor can I know whether I would react the same or have the same experience if I were presented with a re-stimulation identical to the first, for I cannot know the effect that variations in either my mind or body have on my experience (241).  So when I hear the osprey cry, I am just acquainted with some sort of property detector, and I cannot tell what property the property detector actually detects.  This is to say that I hear the osprey cry, but I do not know on the basis of that experience what actually qualifies as an osprey cry (e.g. what other pitch-ranges and patterns count); I have picked up on and tagged a property (in virtue of my property-detector), but I cannot say anything about the property I have just detected.  Indeed, the only way that I can refer to the property detected is by referring to that property which was detected by the property detector in some event.  That I am able to refer to the property in this way amounts to a new way of thinking about the property.  That I have a new way of thinking about the property means that I can mentally access it in a unique way, viz. by thinking of that property that was detected in that event (242).

This way of thinking is practically ineffable for two reasons.  (1) It has an untested profile in response to perceptual circumstances.  This means that I haven’t detected the property in enough cases to be able to give it an adequate characterization.  I sensed S and detected it as a certain property p, but I do not know whether sensations R and Q also count as detecting p.  (2) It is a highly informative way of thinking because it uniquely picks out a perception, representing it with a richness and complexity that cannot be captured by description (and only too many other

properties could satisfy any description).  As such, it seems that any description of it could never be as informative, making it appear practically ineffable.  But because we have that unique way of referring to the property, it is not actually ineffable.  

Or consider a guitar string (243).  Pluck a single string – how does it sound?  Is the sound describable, or does it sound ineffably guitarish?  It seems more intuitive or natural to suggest the latter.  But should you pluck the string and another to create a harmonic, a new sound is heard.  And this harmonic overtone one can hear distinctly, the ineffability of the first plucking is gone, replaced by a duality that is more clearly describable.  There was a difference between the first and second plucking, viz. there was a complexity to the second plucking which we could discriminate and respond to, whereas the first plucking seemed simple, unanalyzable, and ineffable.  But upon reflection, it seems that there was actually the same complexity in the first plucking as the second plucking.  For consider, it was by the first complex patterns of harmonic overtones that you could recognize the sound as that of a guitar, as opposed to a sitar or a mandolin.  The subjective experience between the first and second plucking may be strikingly different, but in each case you were responding to a highly informative complex property that in many ways cannot be described.

Dennett introduces the horizon of distinguishability which determines the simple or atomic properties that one consciously experiences (244).  In this way, it sets the limit to our capacity to describe things, for, as we showed earlier, atomic properties are unanalyzable and indescribable, which means that our descriptions of our experience must bottom out at the atoms.  So the horizon of distinguishability limits our capacity to describe.  But that there is this limit does not mean that there are absolutely indescribable features in our experience.  For the experience was either more or less describable in the first or second plucking, depending on what our horizon of distinguishability was.  In the first case, there wasn’t much for us to distinguish between.  In the second case, with the overtones, there were more ways we could distinguish between the sounds because there were more sounds, more tones, that were present for comparison and could bring out the relevant features.  So qualia are not absolutely ineffable.

1.5 A breather.

What has been shown thus far?  Qualia were defined as directly apprehensible, private, intrinsic, and ineffable.  But Dennett has shown that this is a confused and empty definition.  Qualia cannot be directly apprehensible, for we cannot determine the state of our own qualia through any amount of introspection.  Moreover, should we determine the state of our qualia through elaborate empirical means, then it they cannot be directly apprehensible.  Nor can qualia be private, for they are either beyond our knowledge and thus inaccessible to anyone (and thus not private to anyone), or they are verifiable through empirical testing, but then they are accessible to everyone (and thus not private to anyone, for no one has privileged access).  Furthermore, qualia cannot be intrinsic.  There is no adequate characterization of the intrinsic/extrinsic distinction – it is not clear what an intrinsic quality could even be.  And in addition, we showed how public properties like taste can seem to be intrinsic, but that actually they are extrinsic and relational.  And lastly we showed that qualia cannot be absolutely ineffable, for we do in fact have a way of directly referring to them, and the fact that there are limits to our ability to describe qualia does not make them ineffable, for they can still be more or less describable (depending on the horizon of distinguishability).  So the term “qualia”, as defined, cannot actually refer to anything.  There is no referent picked out by the description, “directly aprehensible, private, intrinsic, and ineffable”.  The term is empty.


Section 2. Dualism’s teeth.

But if there are no qualia that we are acquainted with, how should we make sense of the phenomenal quality of our experience?  It seemed as if there were qualia, but if there are not, then what are we actually talking about when try to talk about the things that qualia were meant to characterize?  Well, we know that whatever properties they are, they are public, extrinsic, relational properties (as was established in the substance-X example).  We know that we can refer to these properties by reference to that property detected by our property-detectors.  The reference to our property-detectors is private, but only in the sense that it is idiosyncratic, meaning whatever our personal behavioral response is, so it will not be private per se.  If we want to talk about states within us of a certain type, we can only do so by talking about relational, extrinsic properties, e.g. how my internal state a can provoke an act of apparent re-identification.  So these are the characteristics of the properties we were trying to capture with qualia.

What’s the takeaway supposed to be?  Dennett’s position on qualia is supposed to be an instance of “eliminative materialism” (244).  Qualia were supposed to be one of the dualist’s last defenses against growing support for materialism.  For as long as there are qualia, the materialist must be able to account for them.  And this seems unlikely, as qualia are just the sort of thing that evade materialist explanation, as they were intrinsic, private, and so forth.  But Dennett has shown that qualia don’t actually exist, so the materialist need not account for them.  Thus we proclaim that a victory has been won for materialism and that dualism has been defanged.

Or has it?  I will argue that, though qualia have indeed been quined, this in no way supports the materialism in eliminative materialism, nor does it defang dualism.  Instead, Dennett’s conclusions provide good reasons to support the direct realist’s thesis: that objects exist independently of observation and that we have direct epistemic access to these objects.

It is important to clarify part of the motivation for dualism (including nonreductive materialism).  A dualist is not a dualist because she has noticed qualia and thinks that there is something irreducible about it.  A dualist is a dualist because apart from acknowledging all the physical and neurophysiological facts in the universe, she acknowledges that the world also appears in her conscious experience.  My conscious experience has an undeniable phenomenal character.  I am not “mentally dark”, so to speak.  This is the mystery that motivates dualism.  Qualia are invoked only as a way to characterize and talk about this apparent phenomenal character of conscious experience.  The dualist’s challenge isn’t “why should there be qualia?”, but rather, “why should there be conscious experience?”

Perhaps there are no qualia, no mystical, internal, phenomenal properties.  But nevertheless, I feel a pain when I stub my toe – and so do you.  There is something that it is like to stub my toe, to feel that pain, meaning that there is something (maybe not qualia) phenomenal about the experience.  It is a fact about the world that we have experience of pains, tastes, smells and the like.  If that is not qualia, then what could it be?  It clearly is the sort of mysterious thing that calls for explanation.  In “Quining Qualia”, Dennett has offered no solutions to this problem.  His suggestion is that “insofar as we wish to cling to our subjective authority about the occurrence within us of states of certain types or with certain properties, we can have some authority…only if we restrict ourselves to relational, extrinsic properties like the power of certain internal states of ours to provoke acts of apparent re-identification” (244).  But there is more to conscious experience than our internal states provoking acts of apparent re-identification.  For consider at the means by which you apparently re-identify; in what does this apparent re-identification consist?

There is something that it is like to apparently re-identify.  I tend to identify one past experience with another when I judge that the phenomenal character of the past experience is sufficiently similar to the other.  Upon what basis do I make this judgment?  It seems as though I remember something of the phenomenal character of the past experience, but I also am acquainted with the phenomenal character of another experience.  By way of memory, I make the identification between the phenomenal character of each experience, provided that the phenomenal character of each experience is sufficiently similar.  Dennett successfully shows that we cannot trust our memory in such instances, however.  For memory-access pathways can be inverted such that I judge that one past experience matches the phenomenal character of another, even when their phenomenal character at the time of my experiencing was actually quite different (such was the cunning of the evil neurosurgeon).  This is the sense in which acts of re-identification can only be apparent.  We cannot reliably, authoritatively re-identify.  But though the phenomenal character of each experience may be different, contrary to our judgment, there is still a phenomenal character to each experience, regardless of whether or not we are able to authoritatively identify them – there is still something that it is like to undergo each experience.  This is an important fact to recognize; Dennett is not showing that there is nothing that it is like to undergo a particular episode of conscious experience.  So the eliminative materialist must still show how phenomenal, conscious experience is reducible to wholly material constituents, even as he has shown that there are no qualia.  Because this hasn’t been accomplished, eliminative materialism will not provide an attractive alternative to reductive materialism, or improve upon it in any significant way.  Therefore, dualism remains a viable approach to consciousness and mental life, for the dualist will have the resources to talk about the phenomenal character of our experience while the materialist will not.


Section 3. “Quining Qualia” as an argument for scientific realism.

So if Dennett’s argument does not provide us with good reasons for materialism, what does his argument provide good reasons for?  What does the elimination of qualia actually motivate us to think?  In this section, I will argue that Dennett’s argument actually amounts to an argument in favor of direct realism.  First, we should further specify the features of direct realism.  Most broadly, direct realism is the thesis that objects like tables, coffee mugs, and your mother’s favorite frying pan, exist independently of their being perceived and that, moreover, we directly engage with these objects – there is no intermediary (e.g. sense-data).  In naive realism, these objects have all the properties we perceive them to have, e.g. warmth, blueness, figure.  In contrast, scientific realism maintains that only some of the properties an object is perceived to have exist independently of a perceiver and that an unperceived object will not have certain (secondary) properties, like blueness.  This is because secondary qualities exist only in virtue of their relation to the perceiver – an object will not be blue apart from a subject perceiving it as such.  Dennett’s argument lends support to scientific realism (but not naive realism).

Recall that sense-data are the objects of perception and that qualia are their properties.  The thought is that sense-data serve as an intermediary between us and the external world.  We are given sense-data in perception and become acquainted with their qualia.  On this basis, we make an inference to the presence of some real, external object.  From the way things appear to me, I infer what must be so.

But Dennett has shown that there are no qualia.  If there are no qualia, then sense-data have no properties, for qualia are the properties of sense-data.  But an object cannot exist without any corresponding properties.  So if sense-data have no properties, then sense-data simply do not exist.  This means that there is no intermediary between us and the world, entailing that we must be directly acquainted with the world, for nothing mystical comes in between.  Note that this is one of the features of scientific realism.

Reconsider some of Dennett’s conclusions.  Instead of qualia, we have practically ineffable public properties, to which our internal states respond and provoke acts of re-identification.  Bitterness is not an intrinsic property, but a public property, for recall that the taste of substance X was determined by the reference class of normal detectors.  The properties of our sensory experience are therefore relational.  Substance X was bitter in virtue of a set of perceivers perceiving it as bitter.  Dennett asserts, however, that you are epistemically justified in reporting that the relation between your tasting activity and your judging activity has changed.  For instance, if you order a tasty americano from Caffe Strada everyday, but then after enough time find that you no longer think the americano tasty, you are justified in saying that the relation between your drinking Strada americanos and your enjoyment of them has changed.  What you are not justified in saying is that either the taste of the americano has changed or your reactive-attitudes have changed (or some combination thereof), for this is not knowable by introspection (as was shown).  This highlights the fact that secondary properties like taste are relational.  The taste of the americano is contingent upon the taster.  This echoes scientific realism, that the secondary property of an object is contingent upon there being a perceiver to which the object is related.

Furthermore, Dennett observes that “the properties of the ‘thing experienced’ are not to be confused with the property of the event that realizes the experiencing” (243).  For example, the difference between someone’s imagining a green reindeer and as opposed to a purple reindeer might just be a particular physical difference, e.g. the presence or absence of a particular zero or one in a “brain register” (243).  This sort of difference is sufficient for generating the dispositional differences between imagining a green reindeer and a purple reindeer in response to some intrinsic fact – that is, qualia a may dispose one to either imagine a green reindeer or imagine a purple reindeer depending on the minutiae of one’s physical brain state.  This means that one’s disposition to respond to qualia a (by way of imagining a green or purple reindeer), was actually dependent on some external, physical fact (one’s brain state), as opposed to the capricious flow of some spiritual goo (e.g. qualia).  The properties of the event that realizes the experiencing (the brain register state), are different from the properties of the object of experience (whatever was picked out by qualia a).  This further underscores the relationship between the extrinsic properties of the object and the state of a perceiver’s perceptual apparatus – a relationship emphasized on a scientific realist picture.

We have shown how Dennett thinks that we have direct epistemic access to objects and how the secondary qualities of objects, those sensory qualities, are relational and dependent upon a perceiver.  Thus we have shown that Dennett’s “Quining Qualia” has provided an argument against intermediary sense-data and in support of scientific realism.


Section 4. The compatibility of direct realism and dualism.

But here’s an important observation: direct or scientific realism is not incompatible with dualism.  This is why Dennett is not able to support the materialism in eliminative materialism nor is he able to defang dualism.  This section briefly notes some conceptions of dualism that are compatible with direct realism.

One example is provided by David Chalmers in his essay “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness”.  After a thorough discussion of the hard problem of consciousness and why it evades material explanation, Chalmers proposes some speculative solutions.  One proposal is the double-aspect theory of information.  Information consists in information states embedded in an information space.  An information space is a structure of difference relations between elements (without having to specify what those relations or elements are).  Information can be physically embodied in a space of distinct physical states – this would constitute an information space.  Chalmers observes that there is an isomorphism between physical information spaces and phenomenal information spaces – that is, there is an isomorphism between the physical world and our phenomenal experience of the world.  This leads to the idea that information has two aspects, viz. a phenomenal aspect and a physical aspect.  It is possible to describe the laws of physics purely in terms of information, by expressing the relations between certain states and the effects they have on other states without ever saturating those states with meaning.  So it may be that it is information that is truly fundamental to the world, and that it corresponds to both the physical and the phenomenal.  If information has both a physical and a phenomenal aspect, then the objects we are acquainted with by perception just are the phenomenal aspect of physical information.  Perceptual objects and objects-in-the-world are the very same thing – just two different aspects of it.  Thus, in perception we can still maintain that we are directly acquainted with objects, we can continue our acknowledgement of the phenomenal character of experience without invoking a confusing and empty concept like qualia.  In this way, we can keep our dualism without sacrificing direct realism.

Another example is present in the work of Umrao Sethi.  In “Hallucination Defanged: Perception and the Dual Nature of Its Objects”, she maintains that we are directly acquainted with the world and that the particular appearances of objects are objective, even though they are qualitative in character and may have mind-dependent instantiations – objects have appearances that are independent of our experience.  This is a direct realist line that acknowledges the phenomenal character of our experience and even the phenomenal character of things outside our experience.  So it is also something of a dualist view.  So we see that direct realism is compatible with the idea of objective phenomenal information.  Thus direct realism is compatible with dualism.

I will conclude by briefly summarizing the happenings of this paper.  We showed how Dennett quines qualia, revealing it to be a confused concept without a referent.  We argued, however, that Dennett’s paper only succeeds in eliminating sense-data and supporting scientific realism.  It was then shown that dualism is compatible with direct realism.  Therefore, Dennett’s argument does not decide between dualism and eliminative materialism.  So the dualist is not compelled to become a materialist.


Works Cited


Chalmers, David J. “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness.” N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.

Dennett, Daniel. “Quining Qualia.” Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings. By David John Chalmers. New York: Oxford UP, 2002. 226-45. Print.

Sethi, Umrao. “Hallucination Defanged: Perception and the Dual Nature of Its Objects.” Umrao Sethi. N.p., n.d. Web. 17 Apr. 2016.