A quick announcement, since I apparently do think that the tree makes a sound.
I’ve been hosting Who Shaves the Barber? as a weekly podcast for nearly a year now (I just released Episode 50 today). It’s been a lovely and fruitful experiment. Alas, you can only do a weekly in-depth podcast for so long while still having a full-time job and attacking other ambitious projects. So I’m officially calling the end of the weekly release. I’m still releasing episodes, but not on any regular schedule.
There are two episodes I expect to release in August that I’m super excited about. One is with David Ripley about Curry’s paradox. I’ve wanted to do a primer on Curry since the inception of the podcast, but it has always seemed daunting since it is something of a technical paradox (though fairly broad and fundamental issues lie at its heart). So I’m super stoked to talk to Dave Ripley himself about it.
The other is with a good friend of mine, Kazi Reza. This will be unlike any other interview in that I don’t expect it to focus on any one topic. Rather, I’ll be trying out how a casual, mostly undirected philosophical conversation works as a Barber episode. This may be excellent, it may not work at all – we’ll find out shortly. I also hope during that interview to talk about some of the new projects that have me stepping away from the podcast.
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.…
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.