The Pantomime of Ontology | Quine
12-14-2016, 02:01 AM (This post was last modified: 12-14-2016 04:09 AM by Ontical.)
What is the ontological problem?
Willard Van Ormand Quine is a fun read when it comes to the 'ontological problem'. In his book From a logical point of view (1953) he approaches the problem over a few essays within the book, The first, On what there is, comically shows how the hardest question of them all what is there?, is incredibly simple in the way it is asked and the way it is answered: everything! This is merely to say that there is what there is and there is still room for disagreement, so the issue has stayed alive throughout the centuries. It's the age old problem of universals and particulars. This sort of problem is very common when we discuss topics concerning the occult.
Quote:Suppose now that two philosophers McX and I, differ over ontology. Suppose McX maintains there is something which I maintain there is not. [ibid]
The problem always reminded me of pantomime rhetoric between an audience and the actors - Oh yes it is!....Oh no it isn't!, which is why I decided to call it the pantomime of ontology.
Entities, kinds and non-being
The back and forth is over what kinds of entities we say exist, McX can consistently with his own point of view describe the difference of opinion with I - saying that the refusal to recognise certain kinds of entities which are alleged to exist are down to a personal motivation to say that these kinds of entites don't exist, the possibility of them existing is already something that I refuses to accept. It's another way of saying that we choose to stand at odds with certain positions deliberately, but the one who say 'yes it is' leads the negator into a predicament. I can't admit that there are such things, as this leads to a contradiction of the rejection of them. We don't want to exclude possibilities, either.
Quine calls this the riddle of non-being from Plato, that non-being must in some sense be, otherwise what is it that there is not? This riddle is called Plato's beard - frequently dulling the edge of occams razor - the quest for the simplest possible answer with the fewest assumptions and the most predictability.
Quote:It is some such lines of thought that leads philosophers like McX to impute being where they might otherwise be quite content to recognise that there is nothing.
If Pegasus were not, we should not be talking about anything when we use the word; therefore it would be nonsense to even say that Pegasus is not. Pegasus is an idea in the mind of man. The confusion sets in when we concede that there is such an entity, the Pegasus-idea; but this mental entity is not what people are talking about when they deny Pegasus.
We never confuse the Parthenon with the Parthenon-idea - one is made of physical and visible objects and the other is just an idea. But a shift from Parthenon to Pegasus, the confusion sets in - for no other reason that McX would sooner be decieved by the crudest and most fragrant counterfiet than grant Pegasus non-being.
What we are actually saying is that Pegasus 'is' but is an unrealised possible. Quine however sees this as an 'overpopulated universe' of too many possibles.
How many fat men in the doorway?
This view of 'existence' and 'actuality' is a breeding ground for disorderly elements, take for example the possible fat man in the doorway.
Quote:Take the possible fat man in the doorway; and, again, the possible bald man in the doorway. Are they the same possible man, or two possible men? How do we decide? How many possible men are in that doorway? Are there possible thin ones more than possible fat ones? How many are alike? Or would their being alike make them one? Are no two possible things alike? Is this the same as saying that it is impossible for two things to be alike? Or, finally, is the concept of identity simply inapplicable to unactualised possibles?
Quine does not take these issues of modalities of necessity, impossibilities and contingencies as something we should turn our backs to, but we can at least limit the modalities to whole statements. Pegasus must be because it would be nonsense to say even that he is not.
There are many contradictions, meaningless and non object reference in these types of discussions of what there is. There is something, nothing, anything and everything to these statements. This is also known as the infinite regress of particulars requiring more particulars to justify their relevance and existence.
The structure of how we describe a non entity like Pegasus is in the confusion between the alleged named object Pegasus with the meaning of the word 'Pegasus', therefore concluding that Pegasus must be in order for it have meaning. But what sorts of things are meanings?
Quine sees this as moot, because meanings are plausibly explained as ideas in the mind. Therefore Pegasus, intitially confused with meaning, ends up as an idea of the mind. This is how we can avoid referring to Pegasus and non-being as unactualised possibles.
Phenomenology and physiology
All we can do is characterise the statements made by those who affirm what we negate, we have to define what kind of what is we are saying is, before we end up in the age old problem of universals. All we have to do is allow language into our ontology in order to do this.
Disagreement in ontology is over basic disagreement in conceptual schemes, acknowledging this allows us to competently converse in such topics as politics, economics and in particular, language. We should not however treat it as only a linguistic problem, if there is an object reference, then that is a different kind of ontology. There is nothing linguistic about being able to see Naples, for example.
We adopt the simplest conceptual scheme into which we order fragmented elements of raw experience. Ontology is determined once we have fixed upon the over-all conceptual scheme, which parts belong to which. Here in lies multiple, and double standards, simplicity is not unambigious.
Here we have two competeing schemes of concepts - phenomenological and physiological, which should prevail? Each one has advantages, it's own simplicity in it's own way. Each deserves to be developed.
It is because of this co-existence of conceptual schemes that we can't privilege say, science over philosophy. Tolerance and an experimental spirit are essential here.
So next time you are in a pantomime of ontology, remember that methods sometimes lies under the conceptual schemes, they can co-exist with each and simplicity is the guiding principle.
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