Friday, December 26, 2014

Ontological Epigrams

Okhamians like Quine (for so I shall refer to him, out of deference to my former professor, so as to avoid the loathsome connotations of Nominalist) are concerned not to clutter up the ontology with extra entities like facts or meanings which parallel and move in unison with statements  without really adding anything useful.  Strawson (a reliable nutshell-stuffer) puts it in a nutshell  thus:

Facts are what statements (when true) state;  they are not what statements are about.
-- P.F.Strawson, “Truth” (1950; often anthologized)

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Quantum superposition is ontological, not epistemological.  It is not that we don’t know what state the cat is in.

(Unfortunately I have forgotten who said this.  Mark Twain?)

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The ontological touchstone for British analytic philosophy, whether of the Idealist or the Empiricist inclination, has ever been the Tree in the Quad.    For several thousand years, this noble oak has been under uninterrupted observation by a rota of pre-Chalcolithic druids, lest it pop out of being, unobserved.  What a shame that would be!  It was such a nice tree!

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The first question of ontology is:  What is there?
The answer to this, as Quine put it: Everything.
(Yet adds the stern proviso:  But no more than that.)

The second is, of each thing:  What is it?
To answer this, we may revise good Bishop Butler thus.
=>  Everything is, what it is  --  along with several other things as well.

Thus: a diamond is:

* A costly gem, proverbial for hardness
* A face-centered cubic crystaline allotrope of carbon
* A girl’s best friend
* Forever.

Given this, the question, What is Being? (überhaupt or tout court), must be categorized as meta-ontological.

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Meinong’s bizarre deviation(**) … was … jenseits von Sein und Nichtsein.  Oddly enough, I find this idea a good one, provided that we bolster it with Bentham’s theory of fictions.  Contextual definition, or what Bentham called paraphrasis, can enable us to talk very considerably and conveniently about putative objects  without footing an ontological bill.  It is a strictly legitimate way of making theories in which there is less than meets the eye.
--- Quine, “Existence and Quantification”

The concluding epigram of that paragraph  is particularly relished by Minimalists.

(** Note:  The reference is to that philosopher’s ontological exuberence,  and not to any possible undue familiarities with capybaras during off-hours.)

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Thus far the apophthegmatic epitome.  If these have whetted your appetite, click here.

[Orthoepic update]  Since folks keep clicking on this post, I'll add this:
The fifty-dollar first word of this essay  refers to the Nominalist, William of Okham.  That last word is pronounced OCK-um.  But the adjective, Okhamian (which I possibly just made up, but on a proper model) would be pronounced ock-HAY-mee-an.
Try to work this into your next singles-bar conversation.  It's guaranteed.

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« Ontology can be saved  with a sufficient ideology. »
-- Saul Kripke, “Is There a Problem about Substitutional Quantification?”,
in: Evans & McDowell, eds., Truth and Meaning (1976), p. 343

Not sure what that means, exactly;  but it has a lilt to it, like “Die Welt ist alles, was der Fall ist”;  of which, perhaps, it is a paraphrase.

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