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Sunday, 25 May 2014

Doubts and determinations

It was nice to visit Cris (Borgoni) and her new department at Graz. I gave a talk on the ontology of doubts as I am beginning to work on chapter 4 of my book which approaches contingency not to facticity but to the absence of facts (see slides in the last post). Mariam David has brought up precisely the issue of the two ways to understand the absence of fact: i. the Quine/Hartry Field sense in which there are no facts but the snow is white, the grass is green, 4 is the smallest non-prime etc and ii. my sense in which the quarrel is not really with the ontological status of things like snow is white, I'm happy to consider that they would be facts if they were true, but none of them are. To be sure, there are two strengths of ontology of doubts. The one that takes facts to be non-existent (hinge propositions could then be a façon de parler, or a useful fiction so that they don't have to be true to be good. This is the strong one, anti-realist about facts. It is, by contrast, realist about indeterminations (the non-determinate content-cum-attitude that I associate to doubts). The weaker version is realist about both doubts and facts, both determinations and indeterminations. Both versions can be formulated in terms of a possible ontological content to doubts - as beliefs are sometimes thought to have a possible ontological content as they can reach all the way to facts in the world, as identity theories of truth are prone to point out. Both versions are argued for using the traditional skeptic arguments and I take the tension between Aenesidemus and Sextus to be exemplary of the kind of dispute that takes place in the confrontation. The ontologist of doubt plagues on skeptical arguments. It is the counterpart of Neopyrronism, as of all related positions, in the same way that one could ascribe not only skepticism but also a metaphysics to Hume. The skeptic hits back claiming that such ontology is dogma. The ontologist of doubt counters that the skeptic has been dogmatic about the existence of determinations - or facts - in the world. Realism about determinations is a substantial thesis and, as such, it should command suspension of belief.

Some of the discussion turned around the way I characterize doubts (and determinations). I used the expression "attitude-cum-content" above and it is really flimsy. In the talk I had troubles committing to either the thesis that beliefs and doubts differ in attitude but can share the same content (a simple application of the idea of propositional attitude) and the contrasting one that contents differ. Almost surely, I can embrace the first less controversial thesis. However, I want to be able to draw on things like the identity theory of truth to say that doubts have the content of indeterminations in the world. My flimsy expression, "attitude-cum-content" means something like: a content (that could be the same of the one in a belief) that commands an attitude. That is, a content associated to some unsettled state that is out there. It is not simply an attitude for if it is realism about doubt could be understood merely as realism about the content of a doubt. I don't really know the way out. I rehearsed the idea that doubts have different contents because they at least implicitly deal in disjunction ("the snow is white or the snow is not white", say). This is a way to make clear that it is the indetermination that the ontologist of doubt is realist about , and not the determinate proposition one doubts.

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