"There are none so blind as those who will not see." --

Sunday, August 20, 2006

On Stipulations

I want to consider a few questions here: What are stipulations? Also, what is their function? What exactly is it that they (can hope to) accomplish? In what sense can a stipulation establish synonomy?

It seems there are a few basic candidates for what a stipulation could be:

1. A report, on the part of the stipulator, of their use of the term being defined/introduced.

2. A perscription/reccomendation that the stipulator's audience use the terms flanking the equivalence sign in the same way.

3. A resolution on the part of the stipulator to use the terms/expressions flanking the equivalence sign in the same way.

4. The truthmaker for the claim that the expressions flanking the equivalence sign have the same meaning.

...and so on. Perhaps stipulations have only some of these traits, perhaps only one such trait. Perhaps they have all. Perhaps some have some while others have others, giving the category a kind of "Family Resemblence" structure. I think the cheif puzzle here is how to account for the seemingly magical ability of stipulations to bring about certain semantic facts, the synonomy of different terms, by sheer fiat. After all, I cannot stipulate that water runs uphill and seriously expect it to be so--how is it any more possible to stipulate that a given expression means that water runs uphill? The problem seems to be that such semantic facts would be insulated from usage. According to (1), stipulations will be true or false depending on whether or not the report of the speaker's usage is accurate or not. In this case the status of the stipulation is will indeed be posterior to usage, but since it is merely a report of the speakers usage it will not be able to do the synonomy-establishing work stipulations are normally taken to do . On (2) and (3) stipulations will lack truth value. Yet it is not clear what stipulations, thus viewed, are supposed to accomplish--for perscriptions might not be obeyed, and the speaker might not follow through with their resolution. The terms will only be synonomous for those who use them synonomously. Stipulations would only bring about synonomy in a causal sense. On (4), saying that two terms are synonomous will amount to nothing more than that a certain speech act took place. For if the speech act itself is the truthmaker for the claim that the terms are synonomous, they will remain so despite any subsequent divergence in usage. An odd consequence, if you ask me.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Consciousness by degrees? The Phenomenal and the Sorites

The Sorites is an ancient argument/paradox which derives an apparently absurd conclusion from seeminingly innocuous premises. One version goes like this:

1. A single grain of sand is not a heap.
2. If a collection of n grains of sand is not a heap, a collection of n + 1 grains of sand is not a heap.
3. A collection of one million grains of sand is not a heap.

(The argument works just as well in reverse, in which case we conclude that if a million grains of sand is a heap, and a heap cannot be turned into a non-heap by subtracting a single grain of sand, a single grain of sand counts as a heap)

This general argument, or something like it, can be used to generate similarly interesting conclusions about phenomenal consciousness.

When did "consciousness" appear in our evolutionary history? If we apply a variant of the sorites to consciousness, it seems there are two major possibilities. The first is that there is there a first conscious organism with phenomenal zombies (beings who lack phenomenal consciousness) for parents. Musn't there have been a large saltation if there was a first conscious organism with non-conscious parents? Can we really believe that between two creatures who are as similar as siblings, who share fifty percent of their variable DNA, that one fully enjoys phenomenal consciousness and the other not at all?
The second option is that consciousness became manifest in parts and by degrees. But if consciousness comes in degress, we face another dilemma: are there any minimum requirements for possessing consciousness, or can we not stop until we say that everything is conscious? That seems very radical--but if we don't conclude this, musn't we posit a vast difference between the least phenomenal beings--the ones who possess the minimal degree of phenomenal consciousness-- and "the next ones down", who experience nothing? What physical difference, if any, would account for this? It seems we are caught between two implausible views: On the one hand, that there can be a vast difference in consciousness despite underlying physical continuity, and on the other, that everything down to the level of subatomic particles is conscious to some degree.