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Monday, 1 October 2012

A (Quinean) flat ontology of thought

Last week in my metaphysics classes I was on about physical intentionality and virtuality. I tried to explain the contrast in terms of what is internal and what is external - dispositions being internal and virtuality external. Incidentally, or not quise so, connectedness through dispositions leans towards internal relations and the kind of connectedness of things that Schaffer finds indicative of monism. Dispositions place tendencies (or inclinations) inside things - this is why Molnar´s use of Brentano´s notion of intentionality seems so suitable. Dispositions are properties and, only as such, they can be such that water (to which soluble sugar is disposed) could prefigured inside sugar. It does look like mental intentionality. It points towards the world inside - towards the dark quarters of a monad. Surely, dispositions depend on the rest of the world to be triggered, they can find antidotes, they can never be actualised and something can carry finkish ones for ever in its wake. On the other hand, if there is nothing inside things, they act only through external alliances. Nothing internal - things are possible because they are virtual. It is like an occasionalism where everything needs to interfere for sugar to disolve in water.

Harman, in his book on Latour, makes a fruitful comparison between occasionalism and Humean suspicion of necessary connections. Hume´s suspicion concerning what is going to take place tomorrow can be taken as deriving from atomism concerning events. The rise of the sun tomorrow depends on too many things - including everything that sponsors the coming to being of tomorrow. There is an interesting connection between being and thinking here. I cannot think: I don´t know of anything concerning tomorrow, because if I think that, tomorrow itself loses its meaning. One can remark that both thinking and being work in critical masses. It is a Davidsonian remark - and one based on a Davidsonian strategy to overcome correlationism. As such, it is a Quinean remark: all beliefs move in a flat surface, a flat ontology of thought. Everything is outside, nothing is like a meaning locked inside the dark quarters. My belief concerning tomorrow cannot, on its own, find a reference - it is, in this sense, not a thought. The point is not really the critical mass remark, but rather a process ontology of thought. Thought deals in virtualities. If there is nothing inside me about tomorrow (no meaning, no intentional internal object) then my beliefs about tomorrow depend on tomorrow (and what makes tomorrow happen). And some of my beliefs about tomorrow have to stand - otherwise, there is no meaning of tomorrow to which I can recoil.


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  2. I have doubts, and I think your entry points in the same direction, that the very distinction between internal and external relations makes sense. Proper externalist positions regarding thought have no room for any form of narrow, internal content; proper contextualist positions in philosophy of language make the notion of literal meaning nonsensical. Similarly, highlighting, as you do, varieties of external relations forces the idea of something intrinsic, essential or internal either into part of our conception of external relations (global occasionalism, as you present it, or an extrinsic conception of dispositions are examples at hand) or makes the idea nonsensical (at the hands of the standard Humean-distinctness' Hume).

    (Holism without externalism is similarly problematic: no intelligible whole can grow disconnected from the all, not even the whole whole.)

    As for a conception of (external) relations flavoured with features traditionally ascribed to internal relations, if we think that dispositions are the world's roommates of a holistic conception of thought and language, they have to be extrinsic.

  3. Dispositions extrinsic, yes. Like you used to say: dispositionals cannot be seen as properties. What about seeing them as configurations of the rest of the world? This is the virtuality take, as I understand it.