(Predistribution note: Note: At this point, this text should be considered lecture notes rather than a paper. I need feedback from several people to develop it into an actual essay. I can't vouch for the logical ordering of these notes. So none of it should be taken as written in stone, and all of it is open to discussion and development.)
(Post-defense note: Enlightenment ran out of money before this draft could be completed, but its development is resuming slowly. Participants of the Annual Meeting are invited to provide written commentaries for inclusion. All meeting participants are due to submit final drafts for printing by September 1st. The printing and sales of the proceedings will be published as a supplement to the Journal of Objectivity, and should be ready around Christmas 2001.)
I want to try to begin to develop a fully objectivist theory of propositions. Although I am still not dogmatically committed to the conception of entities that I developed with Tom Radcliffe in our recent paper, I do still believe that it is true, and I am interested to see if that position can be extended and produce a workable theory of propositions. If not, that's a strike against the entities theory; if so, then I hope it will be a system that turns out to be useful in other areas of interest to me, including computer programming and artificial intelligence. Knowledge must be represented some way in computer systems, and the more naturally we can describe our own system, the better equipped we'll be to build a new one.
The key to understanding my investigation, as I see it is the understanding that, just as each mind must gather its own data and create its own concepts, each mind must engage in its own act of proposing. Concepts are not given in reality, and propositions are not given in written or spoken sentences.
The problem at issue is how to formalize statements of natural language; how to understand the concept TRUE if not only our concepts but our entities exist only in virtue of our intentional acts; and what to make of some of the things that Rand and Peikoff have said about the correspondence theory of truth.
Since the online conference may be fresh in everyone's mind, I want to draw some parallels and contrasts between Bryan Register's recent paper and my own position. Register argued in his facts paper that facts are what make our statements true, and that this is the minimal requirement for a correspondence theory of truth. Where his theory differs from traditional realist correspondence theories coincides with where he agrees with the Ray-Radcliffe theory of entities: in some sense, an entity is created by an act of consciousness; and since facts are entities in relations, a fact too is in some sense created by an act of consciousness. To put it another way, without minds, there would be no entities, and no facts, but the world wouldn't be any different.
Where Register's theory differs from the Ray-Radcliffe theory of entities (and I am increasingly convinced that this is a merely verbal dispute) is that he doesn't want to say that entities are mind-dependent, whereas we do want to say that. This is, as we have insisted, what objectivity means: everything in the world is some way, and that includes us. When we attend to the world, we don't see it the way it intrinsically is; as David Kelley puts it in The Evidence of the Senses, to say that one can do so would be to say that one can step outside one's consciousness or that one's consciousness has no identity. Nor do we get a merely subjective picture, created by us out of whole cloth and radically unrelated to reality. Rather, we see it objectively, which means that the human perceptual apparatus and conscious processing do have identity and thus mediate how we perceive, but that it is in fact reality that we're perceiving rather than something we create.
Further, Register follows the mainstream tradition of requiring facts "to make our propositions true." In this paper, I reject the purported need for facts as anything over and above the entities that we pick out, though we can pick them out if it suits the purpose. In fact, it is also reasonable to view facts as a subcategory of entities for some contexts, and to view entities as facts for other contexts.
In my dissertation I used what I considered a pretty vague and low-level way of speaking when I talked about mind-independent reality. This was meant to make as few inadvertent assumptions about reality as possible, as seemed appropriate to a non-realist theory of identity. Throughout, I simply said things like "things are some way" or "things are some way rather than no way" or "things are what they are". Here I want to return to that way of speaking, and make a bit more of it, consciously, by way of making my methods as perspicuous as possible. Hopefully, the more explicit I am, the more useful others will find these methods in their own work.
At the risk of calling up all manner of unrelated and confusing notions from the history of philosophy, I'm going to introduce the term 'mode' and speak of 'modes of existence'. Rather than degrees of existence, 'modes of existence' just means 'the way existence is'. Existence is many ways; it exists in many modes.
The Ray-Radcliffe theory of entities holds that the entities are not out there. What is out there is existence. We divide it up according to our purposes. Some divisions are better than others; some won't work at all. Why? Because the world is some way; it is not no way. So there is room for a variety of divisions, but the divisions can't be done randomly. I can, for example, consider a car to be one entity. I can also consider its left door and its sunroof to be entities. I could consider it to be one big conglomerate of metal bits, all of which are entities. But even if I use a very sharp knife, I can't divide a car up into entities that we could classify with living human beings and dogs. There are constraints upon my fanciful edge-drawing; and it is the modes of existence, that set those constraints.
So without making any more ontological commitments than we took on in the "Edges" paper, I can safely talk about modes of existence. Various modes of existence are what allow us to differentiate, perceptually; we have evolved to detect differences between certain modes of existence, but not others.
The reason for this sudden fit of metaphysical speculation is that the issue of predication in language has traditionally been understood as being parallel to (and very often confused with) predication in reality. The problem seems to arise that predication in reality is a matter of a thing's having properties, and the words 'having properties' suddenly seem especially meaningful, and it seems that one must determine how it is that a thing has properties. Is PROPERTY another ontological category along side OBJECT? How does this work? What is a relation, such that objects can be "in" them? How is it all stuck together is such a way as to make our sentences true?
The alternatives are usually presented thus: either you have a (bare) particular with properties that are somehow stuck onto it, or you have a bundle of properties that are the entity. The bundle theory is counterintuitive, since it suggests very vividly the idea that, not only our ideas about existence, but also existence itself is ephemeral, loose, and gathered up. The bare particular theory is counterintuitive because it suggests that properties are separate things despite the fact that we never experience objects as being themselves bare and having qualities attached to them.
Register concluded in his paper on facts, that Rand seems to have held a bundle theory, since she insists that an entity just is all its properties. She certainly denied outright any doctrine of inherence, and scoffs at substance theories.
But bundle/trope theory is unnecessarily extravagant. I interpret Rand's view in this way: An entity is its modes of existence, because you will never point to a mode of existence without pointing to that which exists; even when I use only one concept to describe an object, as in 'This rat's fur is blonde', my act of ostension and predication is still about the whole rat, the whole entity, not just "the blonde part".
There is a third alternative, then, that makes sense of Rand's stated view, avoids the counterintuitiveness of the bundle theory, and eliminates the need for ontological glue to hold bundles of properties together or to make them stick to bare particulars. So I'm going to drop all property talk unless I am comparing the traditional way of speaking to this third alternative. And with this alternative we'll have all that we need for an objectivist theory of propositions, without overpopulating the ontology.
The idea of saturation as used by Frege referred to predication in language. What does Frege mean by this term, and what can we get out of it? A saturated linguistic expression is one that is complete by itself; an unsaturated linguistic expression is one that has a hole in it, one that is waiting to be completed.
Nino Cocchiarella follows this usage (various works) but always reminds us that linguistic symbols represent intentional, or directed, mental acts: linguistic expressions such as 'rat' and 'Raspberry' represent referential or saturated mental concepts, which subsume the individuals; while expressions such as 'is brown', 'was long' or 'went to the store last Friday and never came back' represent predicative or unsaturated concepts, which subsume the properties of the individuals picked out by referential concepts. Predication in language and in thought is then understood in terms of the saturation of predicable concepts by referential concepts. The referential concept can be represented by a name but it can also be a represented by a count noun. 'Carolyn' is a referential concept, as is 'person'. I'm not devoted to the distinction between referential and predicable concepts drawn in just this way, but the distinction has its uses in formal language development.
In reality, there is no such thing as an unsaturated property: to say that there could be such a thing would be to destroy the concept EXISTENCE, for it would be to say that there can be an identity which is not the identity of anything. Moreover, there is no thing that is not some way. If something exists, it exists some way; and for there to be a way of existing, there must be something that exists that way: to say that there could be something that exists in no way would be to destroy the concept IDENTITY. In property terms, there is no property that does not inhere in an object, and there is no object that does not have properties. And to put it in mode-talk, there are modes of existence, not modes in existence or as part of existence; in other words, the world is not categorially structured, such that there are objects and actions and properties as different ontological categories.
The analogy to predication or saturation in extra-mental reality is the principle that in order for an object to exist, it must be some way--it must have identity--and for there to be a mode, it must be the way that some part of existence is. Speaking of either as if it can exist alone is nonsensical. Nevertheless, as Aristotle is careful to point out in the Metaphysics, we can and do separate things from the ways they exist when we think about them, but we mustn't suppose that they are distinct in reality.
It is for this reason that I want to drop property talk altogether. In our thoroughly realist and heavily Platonized language, replete as it is with nominalized predicates that seem to name objects beyond the normal realm of experience, the word 'property' too readily conjures up images of a thing that can exist independently of (though perhaps attached to) something else. In addition, the word 'property' tends to be used in exactly the same way that the word 'concept' is--or rather, that the word for the property is the same as the word for the concept; for example, because we use the word 'red' or the concept RED, we begin to talk about the property red, despite the fact that things only appear red to us when the light, the object, and our eyes are set up in just the right way. This leads to confusion, not the least disastrous result of which is rampant, implicit, unconscious realism.
There's a further useful bit that we can get out of the idea of saturation. The unsaturated nature of concepts might be a good way of expressing why we must concretize, why we cannot simply think of the concept ALYOGYNE without thinking of an example, a unit, a concrete instance: it's because a concept has its being only as a function of a mind-collected group; and if you haven't done the necessary collection either by abstracting from encountered individuals or by understanding the referents of the definition, then you can't do anything with the concept at all. (I purposely pick the concept ALYOGYNE because I know you don't know its referents.)
Having dealt with predication, the next issue to tackle is what propositions are.
To bring the question "What is a proposition?" onto conceptualist turf, I substitute the question "What gives rise to the concept PROPOSITION?"
Presumably, according to Richard Gayle, we need propositions for one (or both) of two reasons: the theory of intentionality of consciousness, which holds that every mental act must be directed toward some object; and the theory of meaning as naming, which holds that just as the meaning of a word is the thing is names (the meaning of 'dog' is some dog, or all dogs), so the meaning of a sentence is the proposition or thought that it names. So the meaning of the sentence 'There's no dog that I don't like' is the proposition THERE IS NO DOG THAT I DONT LIKE. This is one way the realist might answer the question.
Here's how I'd answer it. The first thing to notice is that 'proposition' is a nominalized predicate: a verb that's been turned into a noun. 'Execution' is the nominalization of the verb 'to execute', which stands for an action. 'Perception' is the nominalized predicate form of the verb 'to perceive', which again stands for an action. To get the word 'proposition' we use a nominalizing transformation of the verb 'to propose'. So to keep this clear and salient, I prefer to use the term 'act of proposing' rather than 'proposition'. And this phrase gets me two things: it calls attention to the conscious subject, because there must be someone who proposes; and it suggests that we should think of propositions not as objects but as actions. This will have clarifying consequences for our views of truth and falsehood. In addition, it begins to move us away from the traditional conception of a proposition as something that can only be expressed by a linguistic entity. I will contend that any purposeful, deliberate action expresses a mental act of proposing, and that the focus on linguistic entities is a mistaken prejudice that interferes with our understanding of conceptual beings.
Propositions, according to the tradition, have to be about something. I will conclude that they are not about facts. So what could acts of proposing be about?
It depends on the act of proposing. More specifically, it depends on the what the conscious subject is attending to, and what concepts the conscious subject employs.
If I propose that rats are social animals, my proposition is about rats and social animals. I can think just about the color red, without calling to mind any particular red things. Having a word for my concept makes this easier; for example, when I first started writing this paragraph, I didn't even bother to get an image of red in my mind at all; having a whole conceptual framework involving objects, attributes, colors, and redness available makes this a trivial exercise for me. It would be much harder with unfamiliar concepts, which is one reason that philosophical examples tend to rely on familiar concepts for illustrative purposes. In fact, mistakes are frequently not revealed, until either the author or some critic takes the trouble to think carefully about the color red and about red things, or even to look at some available red objects.
Using the phrase 'act of proposing' should already begin to make the answer to the question 'Where are the propositions?' seem trivial,but let's spell it out. There are no propositions without minds. This may seem trivially true, but it gets worse.
Sometimes it is said that a nominalized predicate merely "purports to refer" (see, for example, Cocchiarella, various). But that won't be quite accurate in all cases. When I say 'Biking is fun' I don't merely purport to refer to the (non-existent) Platonic object Biking; I refer to a biker, or to bikers. There is no biking without someone who bikes.
So, too, with the word 'proposition'. Propositions are acts of proposing; and an act is not a thing at all--again the word 'act' is a nominalized predicate, a verb that can be used as a noun. To find "an act", one needs to find the actor. If a proposition is an act of proposing, then to find an act of proposing, we must find the proposer. And that will be the conscious subject.
If this analysis is correct, then it should be safe to use the word 'proposition' now with the understanding that it never means a disembodied thought, a being in and of itself, an object belonging to a separate category. There is no such thing, then, as a mind-independent proposition. But it gets still worse. This doesn't just mean that there would be no propositions without minds; it means that there is no proposition now without a mind proposing now. And if that is the case, then an act of proposing can only be said to be true, or false, when it is being performed by a conscious subject. This view will probably be pretty disturbing on first introduction.
What gives rise to the concept MEANING? Conscious subjects propose, and they communicate their propositions to other conscious subjects by via speech acts or other acts of symolic representing. Meaning is not a mind-independent relation, but rather an action performed by a conscious subject. Words and sentences are vehicles whereby a knowing subject can mean, or by means of which a conscious subject can infer what another conscious subject who spoke or wrote the sentence meant. To see how acts of proposing can be conveyed meaningfully between conscious subjects, we have to look at concepts in a social context.
Concepts can be intersubjective. Our concepts can be compared. My concept can be said to be like yours. Comparison is possible through two main means: comparison of the units of a concept, and comparison of definitions. This accounts for how one person can use a word and have another person understand what she meant, despite the fact that they each formed their own concepts independently and in different contexts. For example, suppose that we will be landscaping together, and we begin to talk about various chemicals that are necessary for a complete arsenal of garden pesticides and pest repellents. I could just show you my chemical room; or I could given you a written or a verbal list of chemicals. My list includes chemicals that yours does not, and this indicates that our concepts are not exactly similar.
You want to know why you need all those extra chemicals when your current set of chemicals kills or repels everything you can think of. I explain the discrepancy to you by pointing out which pest is targeted by each chemical, and it turns out that I am listing various types of weeds and fungi as well as large animals such as deer and dogs, while you had only included insects and rodents under your concept PEST. We have compared our concepts by listing the units, and found that they are not the same list. I might then go on to argue that you should broaden your concept, by telling you that I define the concept PEST to subsume as any undesirable organism that invades a garden; I can point out that your definition, 'any undesirable green plant' is not wrong, but it will result in your being unequipped, when you go to your client's property, to deal with a fungal infestation or foraging by deer. By this means we can either bring our concepts closer together, or, if I can't convince you of the need to broaden your concept, we can at least make each other aware of how we are using the words. Our concepts will still be intersubjective in the sense that, when you tell me that you have checked a garden for pests, I will know that you have only checked for insects and rodents; whereas if I tell you that a garden has several pests requiring management, you'll know why I put deer repellent on the list.
But we were talking about concepts, and now, by introducting definitions, we seem to have lept to propositions. Indeed we have, for a definition is an act of proposing; and by making this transition we begin to see how it is that we can understand each others' proposings.
In order to help another understand the meaning of an assertion. We point to entities, and then explain why we have used those particular words to classify them. Then we find intersubjectively-held concepts that enable us to describe those entities--to predicate of them.
The closer conscious subjects stick to common words, idioms, phrasings, and topics, the more easily others can surmise their meaning; the further they stray from common expressions and topics, the wider the variations in interpretations. This shouldn't be surprising, and I assume that it is a common experience for people with eclectic vocabularies. The important fact to notice is that it suggests that sentences don't have meaning intrinsically; there is not a meaning associated with a sentence, eternally and without regard to context. In fact, if there is no one around to read a sentence, it has no meaning at all. A conscious subject may at any point pick up a book and interpret the sentence and she can then mean (i.e., understand) something by the sentences, and attempt to surmise what the author meant by them.
This bothers some people. They want the propositions represented by linguistic symbols in books in the library to have meaning all by themselves, just as it was bestowed upon them originally by the author. But I think we need only consider the plays of Shakespeare, for example, to see that this belief is naive. To the uninitiated, Shakespeare's plays mean nothing. When I was about 11 years old, I tragically realized that I had come to the end of all the readable books in my sister's collection, and I had little choice but to try my first Shakespeare play. I knew almost all the words, and it seemed to be in English, but I couldn't understand anything from the sentences. My first stab at Aristotle, in high school, was like this as well. To put it another way, reading the linguistic entities on the page inspired no acts of proposing whatever inside my head. I had sentences, but no propositions; there was no understanding on my part, because the meaning was not contained in the pages. And in fact, there are no propositions in books; the authors proposed, but they represented those propositions via visual symbols, so those are what are in the books.
Traditionally, propositions (as mental objects) have been taken to be composed of concepts, or of concepts and proper names. This suggests that, before I can engage in proposing, I have to have formed concepts. But how else might concepts be formed, if not through acts of proposing? It seems that to really get to the bottom of concept-formation, we have to understand proposing.
The connection turns out to be fairly straightforward. We can differentiate, because existence is some way, rather than no way, and because its modes of existence are varied, intrinsically. Differentiations at the perceptual level might strike us as obvious; we will, after all, have evolved to pick up on variations that have contributed to our ancestors' survival to the point of reproduction. The concept ENTITY arises because differentiation is possible. Differentiation of entities against a background is possible because there are various modes of existence, and our perceptual apparatus is able to pick up some (though not all) of those variations. A group is a collection of entities taken as similar relative to some purpose. An individual entity is placed in a group by an act of proposing; and different groups are related to each other, also by an act of proposing.
Israel Rosenfield hypothesizes that consciousness bootstraps itself up from the involuntary random movements of the newborn's limbs, constructing a body-image out of these movements. Robotics engineers demonstrate something similar with machines that teach themselves to walk by trial-and-error. I borrow Rosenfield's theory and take it a bit further. As adults we think of the act of proposing as a sophisticated act involving the ascription of truth and the location of facts; but it is probably just another degree along a continuum from the infant's random, involuntary, trial-and-error movement of the body, actions that one might fancifully represent as indicative of the proposings, "I am here" and "I am not there." (Maybe it is more reasonable to suppose that it is questioning that arises first, and then proposing that follows.) These motions, says Rosenfield, enable the newborn to begin differentiating its own body from the rest of existence, to begin finding the very complex edge of it against the background of the rest of the world. If the newborn can be aware of its own motions and compare one motion to another as against the contrast object of a third, then it will have already begun to form concepts of motion even as it has begun proposing in this very physical way. Then it can begin to relate its own motions and its own body to edges it picks out in the background; or, as John Locke and Ayn Rand would say, it can measure the world, using itself as a standard.
My objective is not to provide an evolutionary or even a developmental account; the above descriptions are not intended as arguments for how conceptualization and proposing do arise, but rather are meant to show that one may consider conscious subjects to display a continuum of action, from random involuntary bodily motions to involuntary proposing to voluntary bodily acts and mental acts of proposing to philosophical inquiry. And by this route it is perhaps easier to suppose that, even in philosophical adults, this continuum persists. This is by way of saying that a proposition need not be just like a mental sentence, although many of them might be. A proposing may simply be the movement of a hand toward a cup of tea.
The ultimate effect of viewing mental and physical actions as being various points along a single dimension is that what we already know about the body's ability to harbor knowledge combines with what objectivists are developing in the area of concept- and proposition-analysis, to deliver another damaging blow to the mind-body dichotomy. We propose with our whole selves, not an artificially-separated part of ourselves.
According to, for example, Bryan Register's analysis, facts are entities in relationships, and facts are what are picked out by propositions. If the structure of the fact matches the structure of the proposition, then the fact makes the proposition true. For example, to determine whether the statement 'Ficus trees require bright light' is true, Register would have us look in the world for the fact that ficus trees require bright light.
This analysis makes me uncomfortable, for several reasons.
One, it doesn't seem to do any work for me. I don't know how to look for the fact that ficus trees require bright light, unless I have some facility with the words being used, the concepts they express, how to find the referents of the concepts, and how to characterize relationships between all those referents; by the time I've done all that, looking for a fact seems superfluous.
Two, I know how to look for entities, but I don't know how to look for facts, or how to recognize one if I find it.
Three, the sentence in question is a universal affirmative; in order to determine whether it is true, I need to do many tests under varying circumstances, and at the very least it looks as though I'm going to have to find many facts, some of which will be describable by statements that look nothing like the original (for example, 'Ficus trees wilt in hot sun' and 'Ficus trees loose their leaves in deep shade').
Four, it seems to give importance to facts as something over and above entities; given the propensity of human beings to hunt for the "things" behind names, it's a bad idea to introduce the concept, especially when the most that can be said of them is that facts and sentences matche because they were made for each other.
Five, if there had to be a fact, as a real thing in the world, to give a proposition meaning, then we couldn't write fiction, or make mistakes. We would have to say instead that there are facts that are real and facts that aren't real. I usually don't oppose non-standard usages but this one seems to be liable to lead to huge confusions, especially once we turn to the issue of truth.
So let's go about it another way. Here are some acts of assertion, expressed via visual linguistic symbols:
My Rat, Raspberry, is blonde.
Ficus trees require bright light.
I tried to rebuild my carbeurator, the parts of which are still scattered around my garage one year later.
He described his dream about a giant, yellow-toothed worm that ate the neighborhood cats.
By the first sentence I mean that my pet (whose name is 'Raspberry') has blonde fur--or, to put it more awkwardly so as to make my mental action more perspicuous, I mean that my pet can be categorized under the concept BLONDE.
By the second sentence I mean that anything that can be subsumed under the concept FICUS is something that needs bright light. And by 'something that needs bright light' I mean rather a lot. For one thing, the concept LIFE or LIVING THING is involved, because when I say that bright light is needed, I mean that it is required to sustain the ficus' life; this is different from what I would mean if I'd said something about what grade of cement a post needs to keep it erect. So I've also implied that the referents of FICUS are also referents of the concept LIVING THING. And I've implied that the light has to be a certain way: it has to be bright; or, to put it another way, I've used the concept LIGHT, and noted that only instances of light that can be classified under the subcategory BRIGHT will do for ficuses.
Let's entertain for the moment that picking out the fact that Raspberry is blonde picks out something over and above Raspberry. But what? We are talking about Raspberry, and we can classify him in certain ways--as a blonde thing, for example. The reason that we are supposed to need facts, is that 'Raspberry' picks out a rat, but the statement 'Raspberry is blonde' seems to pick out something bigger than just Raspberry. I contend that it doesn't. Facts as an ontological category adds unnecessary baggage. I'll return to this in the discussion of fiction.
The concepts TRUE and FALSE arise to mark a distinction between acts of proposing. Some acts of proposing classify entities in ways that result in effective methods for getting around in the world, and some don't. Let's say that I have differentiated from their background and subsequently eaten some objects (which I've named 'corn'), and I felt pretty good afterward. Then I tried the same thing with other objects (which I've named 'pebbles'), and I broke some teeth and felt pretty bad afterward. I run this scenario a few times (except that I don't bother with the rocks again). I could classify the proposing 'Corn is nutritous' as a true act of proposing, and I could classify the proposing 'Rocks are nutritious' as a false act of proposing.
'Corn is nutritious' 'Rocks are nutritious'
What about sentences stored away in books? We commonly talk of a book as containing "truths" or true statements. Any philosopher worthy of her degree is trained to think of truth and falsehood as properties of sentences, or of propositions, and many formal systems of logic seem to depend on this notion: term logic, propositional logic, predicate calculus, all take the basic unit of proof to be the proposition, and take truth and falsehood to be properties.
While there is nothing terrible about continuing to talk this way, I don't think that we should depend on such expressions to give us much insight into what truth and falsehood are. Truth and falsehood as properties of propositions is a highly sophisticated and abstract notion, far removed from the circumstances under which the concepts TRUE and FALSE arise in the first place, and far removed from how we use the terms on a daily basis. When Farsam tells me on the phone, "I dyed my hair pink today, just for you!" and I retort, "That's not true! You're putting me on!" what I mean is that I think he's lying or joking. When he says "Women naturally figure in power and earning potential when they choose a mate; that's just how we have evolved," and I say "That's not true!" what I mean is that I think he is mistaken and I think I have good evidence to prove it. It doesn't really occur to me to assign the properties Truth or Falsehood to Farsam's propositions, or to mine. In other words, loosely speaking, I see Farsam as being mistaken or as joking; I ascribe something to him.
And there's something more. When I say, "That's not true!" I'm not so much focused on the sentence as I am on the world; the common translation of 'that's not true' is something like 'the world isn't like that'. Thus again the correspondence theory of truth raises its head. But with the framework developed here, it shouldn't be puzzling anymore wherein this correspondence consists. I have some purpose--say, weeding the garden--which causes me to look at reality's modes of existence in a certain way, and to draw edges around entities suitable to that purpose; in the case of weeding, I'd be picking out plants as individuals (rather than picking out a meadow, or the entire garden. I begin pulling up that big grassy-looking stuff, because grass is a weed in this region of the yard; but my partner yells at me. I explain that I've found clumps of the biggest grass I've ever seen. And she says: "Those are the gladiolus that we planted there in the spring, not weeds!" Pulling up the wrong plants thinking that they are weeds, and stating of gladiolus 'These are weeds' are related. We commonly say that the physical action was wrong, and the statement was false. We might do better to say that I proposed that gladiolus are weeds, and be done with it. My act of proposing was false, because reality (including the purpose of the garden) wasn't like that. The statement of the false act of proposing was just icing.
The benefit of thinking of of TRUE and FALSE as being concepts that sort mental acts is that all manner of paradoxes disappear.
What happens to knowledge as justified true belief, though? That's the traditional way of understanding knowledge, and it is useful in making distinctions between my incorrect beliefs on the one hand, and true statements on the other. That view holds that there are things that are very like linguistic sentences that are inside my head, that I have attitudes toward those things, and that my attitudesThe view being developed here blurs that distinction. Traditionally, a view like this has been considered problematic because it means that there is no truth without belief. And how will we distinguish between opinion and knowledge? What about the fact that my partner knew (had justified true belief) that those were gladiolus, while I merely believed that they were grass?
I think we can still make these distinctions. An act of proposing counts as knowledge if it makes, in the conscious subject's entire conceptual context and with evidence collected from reality, distinctions that serve its purposes. I could propose that pebbles are a ready source of food, but my broken teeth and stomach cramps will demonstrate that I was wrong to so categorize, that reality wasn't like that, that my act of proposing was false and that I acted on ill-supported opinion rather than knowledge. Justified true belief is one species of knowledge, but because there are all sorts of other knowledge, the view that knowledge is justified true belief is an impoverished one.
Facts as the referents of propositions also make dealing with fiction difficult. There is an ironic adult cartoon call "Space Ghost Coast to Coast," in which a superhero has his own talk show. What is the meaning of 'Space Ghost is a talk show host'? Is it the fact that Space Ghost is a talk show host? And is it this same fact that makes the proposition true?
What gives rise to the concept LIE? Sometimes conscious subjects use linguistic entities to misrepresent their acts of proposing with the intention of misleading other conceptual beings. Lies work because groups of conscious subjects come to agreement on the ways that they will use various linguistic entities to convey their meaning, and because the liar can in many cases depend upon the hearer interpreting those linguistic entities in particular ways. Suppose I do know the difference between grass and gladiolus. I start pulling up the gladiolus in order to irk my landscaping partner. When she discovers what I'm doing, I lie to avoid her wrath, saying that I thought they were grass. What the liar really means is complicated. I have engaged in several acts of proposing: I propose to irk my partner. I propose to pull up valuable plants. I propose to act as though I do not propose to pull up valuable plants or irk my partner. I propose to deceive my partner.
Compare this more complex situation with the simpler one in which I am genuinely confused, and think I am pulling grass. I propose to pull weeds. I propose that grass is a weed for my purposes in this area. Reality isn't like that, but And this is what it means to say that a person lacks integrity: instead of having one view, one purpose, and one act of proposing, there are several contradictory ones, and it helps to illustrate why being dishonest is contrary to reality--or, at least, why it makes life much more complicated and hard to keep track of. _______________________________________________________________________________
OBJECTION: When we believe, we believe something. That's what a proposition is. This is what is marked by the 'that' clause, as in 'I believe that god exists'. 'God exists' is the proposition that I believe; and further, I believe that proposition to be true. This is the way everyone has always talked about it.
REPLY: That may be the way many people have talked about it, but it seems to me to lead to confusions. There are many ways of expressing our categorizations. When I assert 'God exists', I'm talking about a being and contending that He is real; my BELIEF that this is the case is implicit in the assertion form of the sentence, depending on the context. (The context could be different; I could be assigned, in a debate, to argue that god exists, and I'll say things like that even though I don't believe them. Implicit in my statements will be that I don't believe them but am merely stating them for the sake of argument.) When I assert 'I believe that God exists', all I've done is make my belief more explicit than 'God exists' makes it. My belief is in GOD, not in the proposition about God. I think that this objection is based on a confusion over idiomatic expressions and synonymous linguistic ways of expressing the same thought.
OBJECTION: Why do we have terms like 'the fact that' and 'it is true that' if they don't add anything to an assertion, as in "It's true that my car passed the smog test," and if ther is no need for facts?
REPLY: Before giving my replies, I remind anyone who takes this objection seriously to ask the questions, "What gives rise to the concept FACT?" and "To what in reality does the concept FACT refer?" Focusing on these questions may in itself make the objection seem trivial. I have two ways of replying to the objection.
(1) I think that this is an instance of the realist fallacy: we've got this phrase, 'it is a fact that', and so one might think that one must be able to find a special, separate referent for it. I see no reason to think so, any more than there is reason to think that our ability to use the word 'dogness' with facility means that there is an object, distinct from the dogs themselves, that is the referent of this word. The concept FACT does not arise so that we can have an additional referent or object "to make our propositions true"; it arises because we distinguish between the propositions of reality and those of fiction.
(2) A little regress argument: Let's suppose that adding 'it is a fact that' or 'it is true that' to a sentence adds something over and above simply focusing attention on the act of proposing itself, and over and above emphasis. So these two sentences,
'My car passed the smog test.'
'It is a fact that my car passed the smog test'
say something different--and still a different proposition is expressed by
'It is true that my car passed the smog test'
What then shall we do with a sentence like this:
'It is true that it is a fact that my car passed the smog test'
'It is a fact that it is true that it is a fact that my car passed the smog test'
If adding these phrases onto the front of a sentence really changes the proposition expressed such that we need to look for additional referents (such as a metaphysical fact), then we now have an unreasonably bloated ontology. The world may be as complicated and infinite as it wants to be, but without more than linguistic evidence there doesn't seem to be any reason to admit all these extra items into our classifications of it. I don't see any of these extra things lying around in the world.
OBJECTION: How does the process of dimension-construction ever get started, if dimensions aren't real universals?
REPLY: By differentiating two things from their background and comparing them. Really, any two things can be compared: a herring and a shrubbery can be distinguished from their backgrounds and then compared for some purpose, and similarities can be found. I contend that, when an infant begins to see, it is not locating the Real Dimensions and measuring along them. Rather, then infant creates the dimensions as it distinguishes and compares.
Appendix For The Conceptually-Challenged
The views in this paper may seem a little odd if conceptualism, or objectivism, are unfamiliar systems of thought. Here's a little background.
Let's start from the bottom. We have existence, and it is some way, rather than no way. One might say, there are various modes of existence. To say that an object is some way is to say that it exists in some mode(s). Reality, independent of minds, is the intrinsic, and that's about all we can say of mind-independent reality. The rest of what I will say here, and elsewhere, assumes the conscious subject and its role in conceptualization and proposing.
What gives rise to the concept MODE OF EXISTENCE? It is the modes of existence that allow a conscious subject to make differentiations. Differentiation makes comparison possible. Comparison makes a standard possible. Measurement occurs relative to some standard, and the standard is chosen relative to the purpose of some conscious mind. Dimensions arise because discrete measurements can be considered together as forming a continuum. This means that there are no dimensions without the minds that first distinguish, then compare, then create standards, then measure, then group measurements. And if that's true, the last hope for the realist--real, mind-independent dimensions--is gone.
act of proposing, RD: a mental act of predication (categorization) which can be expressed as a speech at or by means of a visible symbol. I use this term instead of 'proposition' to bring out the fact that it is an action, not a thing. (see also 'proposition')
dimension, RD: a series of measurements which has its being only in the totality of measurements along it. In other words, a dimension is nothing over and above or distinct from the individual measurements, considered together and as a continuum, even if only discrete measurements have ever been made.
fact, RD: The concept FACT arises to distinguish between that which is real and that which is not, according to Rand; this seems right to me.
false, IC: a way of categorizing a mental act that fails to classify entities in any useful manner, given the conscious subject's contextual purpose. There is no falsehood (or truth) with propositions, and there are no propositions without the minds in which they occur.
fiction, IC: a proposition of fiction is the relation of (1) entities with no basis in existence (gods, Santa) to other such entities; (2) entities based on existence to enties not based on existence,; (3) entities classified under concepts that have no basis in existence. Fictional acts of proposing are distinguished from delusions with reference to other propositions held by the proposer: a fiction writer also proposes that key propositions in her work are not true, while a delusional person actually believes the fictional propositions. Compare the way I read the Bible with the way Christians read it.
impredicative concept: a concept defined in terms of the totatlity to which it belongs. The concept CONCEPT should be an uncontroversial example of an impredicative concept. Russell militated against impredicative concepts because improperly formed ones lead to paradoxes, such as the barber who shaves all and only those people who do not shave themselves.
intentionality, RD: the "aboutness" or "directedness" of thought.
intersubjectivity of concepts, IC: refers to the fact that though each person forms his or her own concepts, we can nevertheless understand each other when our concepts are formed with regard to reality and in more or less the same manner. This is not quite the same as, but is dependent upon the fact of, the objectivity of concepts, which refers to the fact that concepts are mind-dependent and result from a relationship between a knowing subject and reality.
mean (to mean), RD: To mean is to use words or concepts to refer or predicate. EX: I can say a word without meaning anything by it; EG: 'I think he studies hermeneutics' (I don't know what hermeneutics is, so I'm merely repeating what I heard him say he studies.) To mean is the apposite of to understand.
meaning, RD: a relationship between a conscious subject, a word (or a concept or a proposition), and a (grammatical) object. EX: Words and propositions by themselves don't mean anything; meaning is objective, and occurs in the mind of the user of the word. This should be obvious from the fact that we so often have difficulty understanding each other despite using the same word-tokens.
mode of existence, IC: the way that a portion of reality is, intrinsically and independent of any knowing consciousness, that is responsible for the differentiations that a conscious mind is able to make.
nominalizing transformation, IC: the conversion, in language, of a predicate term into a noun term or name. EG, 'Being a woman has its advantages'. The realist fallacy is often committed because of dropping of the transformation process and attempting to find an entity to be the referent of 'being a woman'. I'm tempted to argue that 'truth' and 'falsehood' are nominalized transformation but haven't quite gotten around to that yet. Input appreciated.
ostension, RD: the act of pointing to an object of attention, whether in language or by bodily gestures. I could point my finger at a rat to show it to you, or I could say 'Rat!' No description is offered; an act of ostension merely picks out the existence of a thing. Ostension is the apposite of predication.
predication, RD: the characterization of a subject in thought or language. Predication is the apposite of ostension. Predication offers a description of a thing by applying general concepts to it.
proposition, RD: A mental act of predication (or categorization), which can be expressed as a physical act, including but not limited to a speech act, or by means of a visible symbol (a written sentence). I use the word 'proposing' because 'proposition' is the result of a nominalizing transformation, rather than a count noun itself. Other nonspeech acts that can express mental acts of proposing are, for example, removing a weed from a garden, driving a car--any deliberate, purposeful act. A proposition is not a thing but an action.
realist fallacy, IC: The conclusion that there is a piece of intrinsic, mind-independent existence for any given word.
saturation, RD: the satisfaction of a predicate formula of language with a subject term.
sentence, RD: a visible or audible linguistic representation of an act of proposing (proposition).
true, IC: a classification of mental acts of predication that express classification of entities in a manner that is in accordance with both reality and the conscious subject's contextual purpose. (For contrast, other ways of classifying propositions might be interesting/not-interesting, clever/not-clever, creative/not-creative, valuable/not-valuable, scientific/not-scientific.)
understand, RD: in the context of propositions, understanding is an act of proposing brought on by the sentence spoken or written by another conscious subject who means something by that sentence, such that the understander can relate the concepts used to familiar referents, real or fictional. There are degrees of understanding.