'Supernatural' and 'immaterial' are not "broken concepts"

Gavagai
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'Supernatural' and 'immaterial' are not "broken concepts"

 

Todangst claims that terms like "immaterial" are meaningless. He wants us to believe that such terms are "broken concepts". Why should we believe this? Well, Todangst thinks we can’t positively denote anything with these terms. There’s nothing out there that these terms actually refer to. The terms, says Todangst, “are therefore meaningless, incoherent.”[1] Thus, Todangst’s argument rests on the view that bits of language are meaningful when there is something to which they refer. (The problems that I am about to present for Todangst’s view will take us into some philosophy of language. This area of analytic philosophy may be unfamiliar to some readers. But do not let the jargon intimidate you. If there’s something you don’t understand, PM me and I’ll be happy to explain it for you.)

Todangst's argument is unsound. First, empirical linguistic evidence proves that many bits of language, whether they’re in the form of text or an acoustic blast from the mouth, are meaningful but do not refer to anything, e.g. “hello”, “and”, “on behalf of”, “alas”, etc. It is a fact that English speakers regularly use sentences with these non-referring expressions. Yet it would be absurd to say that none of these English speakers mean anything by what they say when they use such language.

Another, more technical, problem with Todangst's view is that it logically implies that there are no contingent statements that express identity between an object denoted by a proper name and a definite description. (I assume classic identity here: quantifying over any x and y, x = y only if, for any property or feature F, Fx if and only if Fy. This is an uncontroversial assumption. Moreover, a statement is contingent if and only if it expresses a proposition that is true in some possible worlds and false in others; again, uncontroversial.) Assume for reductio that Todangst’s view is true. Then statements like “Socrates = Plato’s teacher” become necessary truths, since “Socrates” and “Plato’s teacher” pick out the same object and therefore have the same meaning. But we know that it was only a contingent truth that Socrates was Plato’s teacher; so there are contingent identity statements. So we must reject Todangst’s view. Reductio complete. There are several other objections to the view. But I’ll leave them aside, since what I’ve said is sufficient to show that Todangst's argument is unsound.

To be clear, reference is important to language. But it’s not what constrains meaning. And nearly all contemporary analytic philosophers of language would reject views like Todangst’s. There are only a few very subtle versions of “referentialism” still around, e.g. theories that rely on intensional classes as the referents. (See e.g. certain entries at logicalsemanticism.wordpress.com) But these theories allow copulas and other apparently non-referring expressions like “sake” and “so on and so forth” to represent a sense or at any rate something that may not exist as a material object. Since they preserve the meaningfulness of terms like “immaterial”, Todangst would presumably not want to endorse them.

What’s worse, Todangst would still have to show that predicates like “immaterial” and “supernatural” don’t have a nonempty extension. I don’t think he’s given us any reason to believe this, but I’ll save this discussion for another time.



[1] Exact quotation: “There's literally nothing left over for these terms to refer to, so there's nothing left over for them to be. The terms are therefore meaningless, incoherent.”

 


Strafio
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Gavagai wrote: Thus,

Gavagai wrote:
Thus, Todangst’s argument rests on the view that bits of language are meaningful when there is something to which they refer.

Although we agree that language in general need not refer, we do not believe that theists use the word 'God' in a non-referential way. If you gave us some examples of a non-referential (but still cognitive) uses of the word God then that would indeed be a serious challenge to our position.

Gavagai wrote:

Everybody else,

I haven't read any of the other new posts in detail. So if you said something to me and were hoping for a response, please be patient. I'll get back to you in a couple days.


Lol! I'll try hold my horses then! Smiling


Gavagai
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Strafio  I think we should

Strafio 

I think we should wait for Todangst to formulate his argument in his next post, with numbered premises and conclusions.

Take care,

Gavagai

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todangst wrote: Can you

todangst wrote:

Can you guys please stop trying to write off arguments by telling me that it either belongs to a school no longer in fashion, or that you cant' find reference to it. Please instead deal with my argument.

Tell me, how can a term that attempts to refer or denote an entity, such as a 'god' or a 'supernatural realm' have any meaning at all, if

1) You define it only negatively and

2) You rule out any universe of discourse.

Don't tell me that my argument is based on some type of philosophy that is out of favor, don't tell me that you can't find a refererence to my argument, instead, show me how you can assign meaning in such a case - or concede the issue.

 I keep asking for a reference here, Tod, because on it's own this argument is looking like a false dilemma: Either something is defined in positive terms, or it is incoherent.  Even after reading all your essays on the subject, I don't find sufficient justification for this dichotomy, so I'm assuming that I'm missing something in your sources, rather than concluding that you're making a bald assertion about coherence and meaning.

If this is all your own thinking, that's fine.  I'll take it at face value and proceed from that position. 

todangst wrote:
(snip) So the problem isn't just that terms like 'immateriality' and 'supernatural' are solely negative definitions, it is that they rule out any universe of discourse. There's literally nothing left over for these terms to refer to, so there's nothing left over for them to be. The terms are therefore meaningless, incoherent.

 

 I don't agree that discussions of the supernatural rule out a universe of discourse.  I think they only rule out that universe if you artificially restrict the discourse by making the bald assertion "there's literally nothing left over for these terms to refer to." If you expand the universe of discourse, for example, to be "anything that might exist in any fashion including unknown forms of non-material 'existence'" then that leaves something over for the "non-material" to be.

The exact nature of the larger discourse is unkown, but that doesn't mean we can't talk about it.

I think the penny/pencil example in the box is a misleading analogy.  It's possible to discuss a coherent idea of the "not-penny" and not restrict the meaning of that term to just the pencil.  It could include the box, the person holding the box, the universe holding the person... The definition "not-penny" doesn't make the term meaningless. 

todangst wrote:
Quote:

It's a completely alien idea to the realm of post-modern rhetoric,

Do you realize that this is not a response to my argument? Show me the problem with my argument, if you think there is one... So far, the main argument against my essay is that we can supposedly say words like "alas" and "hello" without referentialism. To this I respond "Who cares?" Even if I accept this as true, how does it relate to my argument? My argument holds that there is no way for these terms to denote anything... if you have a way, present it.

It relates to your argument insofar as any claim that a term is "incoherent" or "meaningless" has to address the assertions made since the era when similar/positivist ideas were popular that no organized message is meaningless.  I'm not going to press the point because it's not really material, but it's a standard part of the rhetorical approach to understand the history of a system of meaning in order to be able to better address its persuasiveness.  Forget I asked and let's just deal with the questions in hand.

 

"After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up." -Stephen Colbert


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Here is the starting

Here is the starting assertion, stated probably most clearly in this essay:

todangst wrote:
A basic point in metaphysics (ontology) is that anything defined solely by means of negagtive traits, devoid of any universe of discourse, is incoherent.

Now I agree that, if this starting definition of "incoherent" is true, then the rest of the conclusions in the rest of the essays follow logically.  And I see many explanations, with examples very clearly delineated, that clarify this assertion.  But what I don't see is the support for this starting position.

Now, granted, I don't have a deep background in metaphysics/ontology, so it may well just be something I'm not familiar with.  But if I'm being asked to accept that it's a "basic point," then I think I'm going to need some more backup.

There are many competing versions of ontology that do not hold this assertion to be necessarily true.  For example, from a quick Google search, here is a paper that posits an entirely different ontological schema (sorry that's it's member access only, but you can get the gist from the abstract).  It says, in brief, that any term that describes an immaterial commodity (like "God" would fit) has meaning insofar as it influences the sign-object-iterpretant trichotomy in an economic sense.  This is just one example of a widely-accepted view of meaning and coherence that says something very different from the metaphysics described by Todangst.  There are dozens, maybe hundreds of competing ontologies active in academia today.

So my question, asked in various different but less coherent ways throughout this thread, is why the view that "anything defined solely by means of negagtive traits, devoid of any universe of discourse, is incoherent" should be privileged over other competing views of what makes meaning and coherence?

 

"After Jesus was born, the Old Testament basically became a way for Bible publishers to keep their word count up." -Stephen Colbert


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Gavagai wrote: Other than

Gavagai wrote:

Other than that, I still haven't seen any contradiction (a schema of the form p and ~p) in the concept of immaterial object.

Hmmm... and I still haven't seen any reason to include the concept of the immaterial object along material ones in my epistmology.  Or are you simply wanting us to consider your god to be like ghosts or Sauron, 'existing' merely within hypothetical/literary conventions?   

What are you wanting us to care about here?  What's your core claim?

 

 

 


Gavagai
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Wyzaard, My core claim:

Wyzaard,

My core claim: Todangst hasn't shown that 'immaterial' and 'supernatural' are "broken concepts". If you don't care, easy: don't participate in the discussion.

Cheers,

Gavagai

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Strafio
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Gavagai wrote: Strafio I

Gavagai wrote:

Strafio

I think we should wait for Todangst to formulate his argument in his next post, with numbered premises and conclusions.

Take care,

Gavagai


Tell you what, how about we just add this premise to it:
The words 'supernatural being' are used in the context of referring to something.

That leaves us with:
1) The words 'supernatural being' are supposed to refer to something.
2) They cannot refer to anything without an ontology.
3) The definition of supernatural rules out an ontology.
c) The term 'supernatural' is incoherent.

This seems to answer your objection.
The first premise was assumed in Todangst's post as the idea that the word God is supposed to refer to something is uncontroversial. That God is meant to 'exist' in the same way that tables and chairs exist is usually a given in most theologies.

Any fresh objections?


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Strafio,Sounds good. Let's

Strafio,

Sounds good. Let's see what Todangst says.

Take care,

Gavagai


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Gavagai wrote: Wyzaard, My

Gavagai wrote:

Wyzaard,

My core claim: Todangst hasn't shown that 'immaterial' and 'supernatural' are "broken concepts

And your core claim is based on a basic blunder: these terms are terms that attempt to make a refernce, ergo your response is both a non sequitur and a failure to actually provide an  ontology for these terms.

 

I can't fathom why you're still unable to grasp this. 

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todangst
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Gavagai wrote:

Gavagai wrote:

Tod,

Thanks for getting back to me. I'll have to be somewhat brief for now. But I'll have more to say later.

Quote:
Quote:

There’s nothing out there that these terms actually refer to. The terms, says Todangst, “are therefore meaningless, incoherent.”[1] Thus, Todangst’s argument rests on the view that bits of language are meaningful when there is something to which they refer.

No.

Then I suppose we can stop right here.

I wish you would, as it would save me time. However, one correction to the above post: I never argue that all terms require a referent for coherence, merely that terms that attempt to make a reference must make a reference or be incoherent. 

So unless you want to say that the term 'supernatural' means 'as for as' your comments are a non sequitur. 

Quote:

 

If I've misinterpreted your argument,

You've managed to do this in every response to all of my arguments.

Quote:

So what exactly is your argument?

Aren't you reading it? Terms like 'supernatural' are attempts to make a REFERENCE. Hence saying 'words can have meaning without making a reference' has no bearing at all on this discussion.

Furthermore, your response, already a non sequitur, does NOTHING to provide an ontology for a failed reference.

 


Quote:
My argument relates specifically to terms used as predicates in arguments, not to all possible words, ergo your response is a red herring.

Quote:

OK, I'll wait for you to formulate the argument

I already have. Your response has no relevance here, at all, because these terms are terms that attempt to make a reference.

Why are you still confused?

 

 

Quote:
You assert the basics of modal logic, but you don't give me the specifics as to what you call 'contingent identity statements'. Please tell me more about 'contingent identity statements". I think you're making a mistake here.

 

Quote:

No, I haven't

Yes, you asserted some basic points in modal logic.

You seem to be picking and choosing things from an internet site, or a text book that you only half understand.

Those who know the good, do the good. - Socrates

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todangst
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Gavagai wrote:

Gavagai wrote:

Crimson Edge,

Quote:
On to immaterial. The problem with this concept is the absence of anything.

Rather, I think nothingness is the word that best connotes "the absence of anything". Immateriality doesn't seem to have this same connotation.

It does, seeing as the term is an attempt to make a reference that fails to make a reference.

 

Quote:

I can easily conceive of possible worlds in which things like unoccupied regions of 3-dimensional substantival space,

If you are talking about spacetime, you are talking about something.

If you are talking about 'unoccupied' regions, you are using 'nothing' as a contradistinctive.

Quote:

abstracta, cartesian egos, etc. exist and yet in which no material objects exist.

Oh, really?

So far, you've told me that things 'seem' to be a certain way to you, and that you can 'easily imagine' them. These are not arguments.

People tend to confuse their feelings for a justification. My arguments demonstrate that these feelings are unjustified: attempts to make a reference to something other than nature fail, because these terms are ontologically bankrupt: negative definitions that rule out any universe of discourse, leading to universal eliminative terms.... what you think you are imagining must steal from naturalism....

 

Here is precisely why cartesian dualism has been dead since the 40s:  

 

1) Can you show that anything exists other than matter or energy? What are its "properties" - i.e. is it something natural? If not, how can we 'know" or "infer" anything about it. If we can't, what use is your 'hypothesis"? If it has no use, then why are we having this conversation?

Helpful guide: The most common error at this point is for the theist to respond by just asserting that something is immaterial. Please read the above refutation of this clumsy 'argument'.

2) How does something that is neither matter nor energy interact with our natural world?

Don't just assert that it 'does', provide a detailed positive account of how this occurs, without stealing from naturalism.

3) How do you avoid violating the principle of conservation of energy? If no physical energy or mass is associated with "immaterial things", then there is a serious problem: a fundamental principle of physics is that any change in any physical entity is an acceleration requiring the expenditure of energy - but if these things have no matter or energy, where does the energy come from? what you have here is something akin to the impossibility of perpetual motion - energy from nowhere. Dan Dennet states that these questions represent the fatal flaw in any dualistic argument (i.e. to immateriality) (- 1990 Consciousness Explained.)

Don't just assert that it works just like 'naturalism', in other words, don't steal from naturalism. Don't just glibly accept that it violates physics either.

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I also don't see you coping

I also don't see you coping to this error: 

 

todangst wrote:
Cernunnos wrote:

I think the idea is

the assertion (call this p)

implies

that there are no contingent statements that express identity between an object denoted by a proper name and a definite description (call this q)

If we accept p implies q to be true, then IF q is false p is false.

Gavagai then gives evidence to why q is false.

Concluding that supernatural and immaterial have meaning.

However I am not sure how q is a consequence of p, or that q is false.

While I've already spoken on this above, thank you for succintly identifying his formal logic error.

Fallacy of denying the antecedent

p > q

~p
~q

 

 

 

The name given to this thread indicates that you've fallen for this error..... 

Those who know the good, do the good. - Socrates

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Wyzaard
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Gavagai wrote: My core

Gavagai wrote:

My core claim: Todangst hasn't shown that 'immaterial' and 'supernatural' are "broken concepts".

Within our epistmologies, they aren't meaningful; only natural and material entitites/forces are admitted.   If you wish for us to admit them into our epistmology, you need to show us why we should do... until then, they 'exist' only so far as literary/belief conventions frame them, but not in the phenominal world which is modelled by our epistmology.