Jody Azzouni: Ontology without Borders | Who Shaves the Barber? #50

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Jody Azzouni

An old problem: I say, “Santa Claus is fat”. I am saying something true about Santa Claus. But (content warning) Santa Claus doesn’t exist. So what is it that I am correctly saying is fat? And what – if not its ostensive subject – makes the sentence true?

This problem is at the center of ontology. The most influential approach in the 20th century was offered by W. V. O. Quine, who argued that we’re committedto the existence of any object that we must quantify over in order to state the truths of physics in first-order logic. At first, this seems rather arbitrary. Why first-order logic? What makes quantifiers so special? Why physics? And what does what we’re “committed to” tell us about what actually exists? For roughly the first half of this interview, philosopher Jody Azzouni unpacks the thinking behind Quine’s famous criterion. In the second half, he expounds his own view: he rejects Quine’s criterion, and so sees no problem with referring to that which doesn’t exist. This leaves Azzouni open to embrace a radical nominalism, in which almost none of the objects we typically think of as existing really do. This is because, as Azzouni explains, “ontological borders” are projected. There is nothing “out there” that separates one object from another. The fact that our language is built around distinct objects tells us plenty about our psychology, but nothing about the world itself, which comes with “features” but not individual objects.…

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Michael Hicks: Fiction-Directed Thought | Who Shaves the Barber? #49

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This is a fictional pipe.

I have a (true) thought that Sherlock Holmes lives on Baker Street. But what is this thought about? Is it about Sherlock Holmes? If so, is it about something that doesn’t exist? Can we really have thoughts about non-existent objects? What makes those thoughts true or false, if there is no object for the thought’s content to correspond to?

Philosopher Michael Hicks distinguishes fiction-directed thought from world-directed thought. A fiction-directed thought is knowingly about fiction; it is a kind of pretense. It is crucial that thoughts about fictional entities be fiction-directed. If if I think my “thought” about Sherlock Holmes is about a real person – in other words, if it is world-directed – then I don’t have a thought at all, because the ostensive object of my thought does not exist. According to Hicks, world-directed thought is “environment dependent”. It takes the intentional state and the object of the intentional state to make a thought. If the latter is missing, then there is no thought. Thoughts about fictional entities, as well as about hallucinations and other non-existent objects, must be fiction-directed in order to qualify as thoughts. Put another way, thought about fiction only successfully happens when we play a game of pretense set up by the author.

Be sure to listen to part 1 of this interview first.

If you’re interested in the metaphysics of thought, I discuss higher-order thoughts in this interview with David Rosenthal.…

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Michael Hicks: What Is Thought? | Who Shaves the Barber? #48

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What is a thought? There are two ways to approach the problem, says philosopher Michael Hicks. One is as a question about introspective experience. The other – favored by Hicks – is as asking about the nature of interpersonal understanding. We do understand each other; and this is what constitutes the existence of thoughts. With this approach established, Hicks explains to what extent it does or doesn’t imply an “external” view of mind. We also compare this conception of thought to Gottlob Frege’s, and discuss whether it involves a commitment to a “third realm” of abstract objects.

Next week: Michael Hicks: Fiction-Directed Thought

Audio

Video

Topics discussed

0:20 – Introduction to Michael Hicks
2:42 – What are thoughts?
14:15 – Internal or extended thinking
23:46 – Meta-ontology
35:03 – Frege and abstract objects

Sources

Michael Hicks (homepage)
The Thought” (Gottlob Frege)
The Extended Mind” (Andy Clark, David Chalmers)…

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