Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Universe is Contingent (And Therefore Needs an Explanation)

One common fallacy is the fallacy of composition, where one argues from the fact that each part of a thing has a certain feature to the conclusion that the whole thing has that feature. For instance, one could argue that every brick of the house is cube-shaped, therefore the house is cube-shaped. Or one could argue that each part of one's brain is unconscious, therefore the whole brain is unconscious. These inferences are fallacious.

However, I think it is worth noting that not all inferences from properties of parts to properties of the whole are invalid. If each part of a wall is made entirely of stone, then the whole wall is made entirely of stone. Similarly, if each part of the ball is entirely red, then the whole ball is entirely red. And so on.

Contingency seems to be like this, at least in this case. So here's an argument that the universe must be contingent:

Friday, August 29, 2014

Quantifier Variance and the Semantics of Quantifiers

In my previous post I explained the basic idea behind quantifier variance. Now I want to criticize it. In particular, I said I want to point out some problems with the quantifier variantist's simultaneously affirming the following two statements:

(i) the different quantifiers behave the same logically; and

(ii) the different quantifiers have different meanings.

Let's do a little basic semantics. Let's define the truth function τ[ψ]U,g relative to models U and g for the cases of quantified formulas ψ as follows. The following definitions are true for all models M, all variable assignments s, all variables x, and all formulas φ. If a formula is not assigned to T it is assigned to F:

τ : {<ψ,U,g>|ψ is a formula, U a model, g a var. assign.} → {T,F}
  • (τ-)τ[∀xφ]M,s = T ⇔ for all variable assignments s′, if for all variables v, s(v) ≠ s′(v) ⇒ v = x, then τ[φ]M,s′ = 
  • (τ-)τ[∃xφ]M,s = T ⇔ for some variable assignment s′, for all variables v, s(v) ≠ s′(v) ⇒ v = x, and τ[φ]M,s = 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Basics of Quantifier Variance

When I say that there are tables is it unambiguous what I'm saying? Quantifier variantists say no. Or at least they would say that in certain contexts it is not. In particular, the sentence is ambiguous when we are engaging in metaphysical debate about the existence of the table, as in the following case.

Consider the debate between what I will call compositionalism and anti-compositionalism. Compositionalism is the thesis that there are composite material objects, while anti-compositionalism is the thesis that there are not. Take the case of a world with just a table and its parts, and suppose we are considering a form of compositionalism which says there are tables. Assume further that there are exactly n atoms which, according to this form of compositionalism, are proper parts of the table. Note that we are using a philosophical definition of 'atom', according to which an atom is a material object which has no proper parts. Anti-compositionalism says there is no table; there are just the n atoms. 

In essence, compositionalism says (A) there are n+1 distinct things (viz. the n atoms, plus the table), while anti-compositionalism says (B) there are n things and there are no more than n things. Note that (A) and (B) can be adequately translated into a quantified language which only contains variables, quantifiers, sentential connectives, and the identity sign with the usual interpretation. For example, (A) would be translated as follows:

∃x1∃x2...∃xn((x1≠x∧ ... ∧ x1≠xn+1) ∧ (x2≠x3 ∧ ...  x2≠xn+1) ∧ ... ∧ (xn≠xn+1))

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Pure Actuality

Many scholastic theologians, most notably Aquinas, make the claim that God is "pure actuality." This is supposed to do a lot of philosophical and theological "work"; it is by showing that there exists a being which is pure actuality that Aquinas is able to deduce many of the divine attributes. However, it is not immediately clear what this even means if one is not familiar with the metaphysical context of medieval philosophy.

A charitable interpreter who has read some medieval philosophy may be able to see how scholastics use this claim and identify certain inferences from this claim as being valid and others not. But it'd be nice if we had a more precise characterization of what it means to say God is 'pure actuality', so that we can see if all that Aquinas says follows actually does follow from this claim. Moreover, once we have a precise characterization of what Aquinas is even asserting, we can begin to more clearly assess the plausibility of the claim itself and whether Aquinas has established it. I propose the following definition:

  • x is pure actuality if and only if for all (intrinsic) P, if x is P then x is actually P.

For completeness and wider scope of application, I also propose the following definitions of a thing's being 'composed of' or 'having' actuality and potentiality:

  • x is composed of potentiality if and only if for some (intrinsic) P, x is P and x is potentially P
  • x is composed of actuality if and only if for some (intrinsic) P, x is P and x is actually P.