Monday, December 1, 2014

Reply to a Question from Sanjit Chakraborty
In 1976, when I delivered the John Locke Lectures at Oxford, I often spent time with Peter Strawson, and one day at lunch he made a remark I have never been able to forget. He said, "Surely half the pleasure of life is sardonic comment on the passing show".  This blog is devoted to comments, not all of them sardonic, on the passing philosophical show.
Hilary Putnam

SJ: Here the important question is how can be an external event change my belief or result in the death of beliefs?

An internalist can claim that if the non existence of Paris does not effect the belief that "Paris is pretty", then the belief was not tied to the existence of the object.

HP: I am an externalist, but I do think the present existence of the object is not necessary for the term (e.g.,”Paris”) to have meaning and reference. If Paris has ceased to exist, then the tensed belief that Paris is pretty is false, but the term “Paris” tenselessly refers to the Paris that existed between some time in the 3rd century B.C. and whenever it ceased to exist. The false belief is that that object still exists and is pretty. Where the internalist is wrong, according to me, is in denying that the past existence of the object is necessary for the name to have reference [assuming it is a genuine proper name and not a description]. I am in total agreement with Kripke on this.

 So [according to internalism] whether the belief was caused by Paris or by some machination of the deceiver is immaterial to the identity of the belief. 

HP: The internalist is wrong for the reason I just gave.

SJ: But the externalist about singular beliefs need not take the issue diachronically either. An externalist can very well argue that the beliefs remains the same in spite of the vaporizing of the city. The singular belief Externalists dictum "No object no belief, different object different belief" too should not be taken diachronically. The externalists need not say that at the point of time the subject is entertaining the " Paris is pretty" , the city should exist. The point is this: the subject's belief about Paris or his statement of his belief  must be causally linked to the city Paris -- which might well have vaporized later.

HP: You are absolutely right.

SJ: The point will be clear if we contrast the scenario with the scenario where the subject believes that "Atlantis is pretty".
This for the externalist is not a genuine singular belief as it never existed.We probably should think again how to understand the reference of a term that stands for an object/ subject which once existed and now has gone out of existence i.e. PAST OBJECTS.

HP: The status of “past objects” is a controversial metaphysical question, and will doubtless remain so. Believers in “time slices” would say that past objects are just four dimensional objects (three dimensions of space + one time dimension) or parts (“time slices”) of such objects. Neither Kripke nor I like “time slices”.  We would say that referring to a past object is just referring to an object as it was at a past time. 

SJ: With due respect to the subtraction argument it seems to me that when we say " Socrates is wise " or " USSR is beautiful" , we are using the present tense as these sentences are truly about Socrates and USSR , in spite of the fact that they are no more.I think those sentences are as through "tenseless"

HP:  In English one has to say “Socrates was wise” and “The USSR was beautiful”; but a philosopher can write “is” here instead of “was” if s/he explains that she is using “is” tenselessly. But this is technical language.
I see no disagreement between you and me here.


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  2. Dear Gurudev,
    I am extremely honoured to see that you have posted my queries and your gracious reply in your blog. It is my pleasure to see that both we are in the same page and you appreciate my thoughts.
    I think that what happened in physical world carries information about causal properties. But the problem will be how the brain can carry informations about causal properties. As an internalist, one can accept that we should think of ourselves and therefore our minds, as embedded in the world and causally interacting with that world in the way that generate internal states which represent the way the world is. Here, we can use words to tell others about how our states represent things to be. Our concepts allow us to make sense of the world's impact on us. Like Frank Jackson, one can claim that the content of our belief that 'Paris is pretty' is not always true. I don't think that knowledge is inherently conceptual. Even it would be hard for us to know non conceptual content through conceptualising representations. But as an externalist, I believe that we need to take meaning and mind embedded so that it hook a causal referential directness to the reality through the conceptual insight of an agent.
    But I face a genuine problem when I ask myself that 'Are the linguistic utterances intentional in nature?'
    Shall we accept these intentional states that determine certain facts that are extensional?
    Thanks for everything.