Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Dialogue on analogy

[ME] I hear Rome gets busy this time of year.
[YOU] Busy? What do you mean?
[ME] You know, all the hustle and bustle with the tourism season. People going here, people going there, all that stuff. Just like all the crazy hustle and bustle in Chicago over Thanksgiving weekend. People shopping, the sidewalks filled with exponentially more than normal.
[YOU] Ah, I see. What my crazy grandfather likes to call 'Hustley-Bustley'. That's trademarked, by the way.
[ME] You and your crazy grandfather. Always giving things weird labels.
[YOU] That's true. Sometimes he calls his wife 'Big Al'.
[ME] Let's go back to Hustley-Bustley.
[YOU] So you're saying that you think Rome is Hustley-Bustley, and you're thinking of Chicago's Hustley-Bustley when you say that.
[ME] Uh, yeah.
[YOU] But you've never been to Rome yourself, you've never seen it.
[ME] Well, yeah, but I've heard from friends who have visited.
[YOU] So?
[ME] So, I would imagine that Rome's Hustley-Bustley must be like Chicago's Hustley-Bustley.
[YOU] It might be, but it might not be.
[ME] Well, that's true, but I have faith that it is.
[YOU] There's no more reason to believe that it is than to believe that it's not.
[ME] But surely Rome is similar to Chicago in at least some way.
[YOU] Ah, but you've assumed there is something similar between Rome and Chicago. My point would be that you can't compare Chicago to Rome without some similarity between them. And in this case, you don't actually know what Rome is like, so you can't really tell me that you know they're similar.

[ME] Hmm. Can I retract my statement that there's something similar and still compare Chicago and Rome?
[YOU] I don't see any way to do that myself.
[ME] What do you mean?
[YOU] Are you sure you don't want to say there's something similar between Rome and Chicago?
[ME] Yes.
[YOU] Since we both obviously have in our heads similarities between Rome and Chicago and the whole point is to try to work this out without any similarity, let's use a more extreme example. Imagine that I told you they've found a city on one of Saturn's moons, and that we've named the city IHWDANT (short for 'I Hope We Discover Alien Ninjas There'). Everything there is totally different from our cities on earth. The inhabitants, if you can call them that, are different. The buildings, if you can call them that, are different. The whole system, if you can call it that, is different. In fact, it's nothing at all like the cities we know.
[ME] I hope we discover alien Ninjas there.
[YOU] Me too. Anyways, given the difference between Chicago and IHWDANT, would you ever dream of comparing Chicago's Hustley-Bustley and IHWDANT's Hustley-Bustley?
[ME] Why not?
[YOU] Well, on what basis would you make any comparisons?
[ME] I don't know. Let me think. Does it get busy there?
[YOU] What do you mean by 'busy'?
[ME] You know, just regular 'busy'. Lots happening out and about.
[YOU] Well, there's not really any 'out and about', at least not in any sense that we conceive of 'out and about', and there's not really any 'lots happening', or at least not in any sense that we conceive of it. The place is totally different that way.
[ME] Uh, okay, so let's try something else. Are there lots and lots of inhabitants? Maybe I could say that if there are lots and lots of inhabitants, then we could suppose that if they all did something at the same time, that would be like 'busy'.
[YOU] Again, there's not really any 'inhabitants' there, at least not in any sense that we conceive of 'inhabitants'. And further, there's not any number there, at least not in a way that we understand it, so we couldn't say 'lots and lots' in any conceivable way either.
[ME] Okay, I see where you're going with this. To anything which I suggest as a possible similarity between Chicago and IHWDANT, you'll just say that there's nothing in IHWDANT that is like that in any conceivable sense for us.
[YOU] Exactly.
[ME] So what's the point?
[YOU] The point is that Chicago and IHWDANT are so different that if you don't have any similarity to start with, then you have no conceivable way of comparing them.
[ME] How so?
[YOU] Since IHWDANT is so utterly different from Chicago, you don't really know what it means to say there is Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT. All you really understand is the Chicago case. The meaning of Hustley-Bustley for IHWDANT is entirely mysterious. If IHWDANT is truly nothing at all like Chicago, then Hustley-Bustley means utterly different things for Chicago and IHWDANT.
[ME] So when I say Hustley-Bustley for IHWDANT, I have no idea what it means. I only understand what Hustley-Bustley means for Chicago.
[YOU] Right.
[ME] I guess I need a way to explain how I am to understand the meaning of Hustley-Bustley for IHWDANT.
[YOU] Of course, you could just say that Chicago and IHWDANT are not that different, or at least that there is some similarity between them on which you could base your comparisons. But it seems that you want to stick to the idea that Chicago and IHWDANT are totally different.

[ME] What if I just said that there is Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT. I could grant that I don't really understand what it is for there to be Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT, but I do understand what it is for there to be Hustley-Bustley in Chicago, and so I could say there is Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT, and know that I'm definitely referring to something in IHWDANT, but I don't really understand at all what it is. If I can use a little terminology from Frege, I could say that there is reference, but not sense.
[YOU] Sure, you could say that.
[ME] But?
[YOU] But it would seem to me a strange thing to do.
[ME] Why?
[YOU] Well, in the first place, how would you know that Hustley-Bustley has reference for IHWDANT if you don't understand what it means for there to be Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT?
[ME] I'm not sure I see why it's a problem.
[YOU] Well, it seems obvious that reference depends on the sense. Let me give you an example. I know that you own a baseball with Don Mattingly's signature on it, and I know that you're putting it up for sale. I also know that you are selling tickets to a fantastic New Year's Eve ball sponsored by the volunteer organization you work for. Given that, suppose I said to you, 'I'm interested in the ball'. What is the reference of 'the ball'?
[ME] That would depend on what you mean. If you mean the baseball, then 'the ball' would refer to my Don Mattingly baseball, but if you mean the New Year's Eve ball, then 'the ball' would refer to that.
[YOU] So the reference depends on the meaning, and meaning is just another word for the sense of the term.
[ME] Okay, I see the point. Reference depends on sense.

[YOU] So the question is: if you don't have the sense of Hustley-Bustley for IHWDANT, how would you know it has reference?
[ME] Suppose that IHWDANT sent us a tour guide.
[YOU] What do you mean?
[ME] Well, I presume that we don't understand the language of IHWDANT, since in IHWDANT, there's nothing like there is in Chicago which we understand.
[YOU] Correct.
[ME] But suppose they understand our language.
[YOU] How do you mean?
[ME] Although we don't understand anything about their world, suppose they understand ours. They would then understand everything, their world and ours, and we would just understand ours.
[YOU] Okay, sure.
[ME] So with their comprehensive knowledge, they put together a brilliant marketing team to prepare a tour guide and send it to us. They write the guide in our language, for us, and they use words like Hustley-Bustley, knowing that although we don't have any idea what Hustley-Bustley is in IHWDANT, we do know what Hustley-Bustley is in Chicago, so the word would have some identifiable meaning for us when we used it and thus it would be useful. Further, even though we don't know what Hustley-Bustley is in IHWDANT, they do, so the word Hustley-Bustley does actually refer to Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT.
[YOU] Okay.
[ME] Wouldn't that give me reference without sense?
[YOU] Perhaps.
[ME] Wouldn't that establish my case?

[YOU] It depends on the truth of the story about the tour guide. Hustley-Bustley would only refer (without sense) to Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT if IHWDANT actually prepares a tour guide and sends it to us as you have described. If somebody from Chicago just made up the tour guide and convinced us all that it came from IHWDANT, then Hustley-Bustley would certainly not refer (with or without sense) to Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT.
[ME] Okay, but suppose the story is true.
[YOU] Well, you'd still have to believe it. Let's suppose that IHWDANT do in fact prepare and send the tour guide to us as you have described. Even still, I'd have to use the word Hustley-Bustley with reference to IHWDANT. After all, I could simply reject your story of the tour guide as pure fantasy about IHWDANT. In that case, I would conclude that Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT doesn't exist at all. But that doesn't mean I would stop using Hustley-Bustley with reference to Chicago. And every time I, or anyone else for that matter, used Hustley-Bustley with reference to Chicago, Hustley-Bustley would have both sense and reference for the Chicago case.
[ME] But nobody is questioning whether Hustley-Bustley has reference (or sense) with respect to Chicago.
[YOU] We are asking about the reference of Hustley-Bustley with respect to IHWDANT. And that requires that somebody actually uses the term Hustley-Bustley with reference to IHWDANT. There can be no reference (even without sense) to IHWDANT if the term Hustley-Bustley is never used with respect to IHWDANT. And using Hustley-Bustley with respect to IHWDANT requires that I at least believe that I can use the word with respect to IHWDANT. Otherwise, it'd never occur to me to use the word of IHWDANT. So you still have to believe the story before you can even use Hustley-Bustley with respect to IHWDANT.

[ME] But we've granted that the story is true. Hustley-Bustley would then refer to IHWDANT even if nobody believes it.
[YOU] Not really. There might be something in IHWDANT to which the term Hustley-Bustley can refer. But that something is different from its name. I (or the authors of our tour guide) can give it the name Hustley-Bustley, but we could give it any name. We could call it 'widget' just as easily. The point is that even if there is this something, we still can't refer to it unless we use a name to refer to it. Unless someone uses a name, for example Hustley-Bustley, to refer to this something, we can't refer to it at all. So yes, supposing that the story is true, there is a something to which Hustley-Bustley can refer, but that doesn't mean that the particular term 'Hustley-Bustley' refers to it. Somebody has to use the term 'Hustley-Bustley' to refer to it, and that requires that someone believes they can use the term 'Hustley-Bustley' to refer to it.
[ME] I'm not sure I totally understand.
[YOU] It's true that there are cats in our world, right?
[ME] Right.
[YOU] Our word 'cat' refers to particular cats, right?
[ME] Right.
[YOU] Does the word 'plinklet' refer to cats?
[ME] Of course not.
[YOU] Would you grant that God knows all the possible words we could use to refer to cats?
[ME] Sure.
[YOU] So God knows that the word 'plinklet' could refer to cats.
[ME] Okay.
[YOU] But does that mean that 'plinklet' does refer to cats?
[ME] I guess not.
[YOU] Why not?
[ME] Because nobody uses it to refer to cats. It's a word that we could use to refer to cats, but we don't use it to refer to cats. We use the word 'cats' to refer to cats. In order for 'plinklet' to refer to cats, someone would have to actually use it to refer to cats.
[YOU] Right. So reference depends on actual use, not possible use.
[ME] We're distinguishing between possible reference and actual reference.
[YOU] Suppose my cat Felix hasn't given birth to Felix Jr. Would you say Felix Jr. exists?
[ME] Of course not. Felix Jr. could exist, but Felix Jr. doesn't exist now.
[YOU] Reference is the same way. There could be reference for Hustley-Bustley with respect to IHWDANT, but that's pretty much irrelevant. What matters is real, actual reference. What matters is the actual use of words.
[ME] Okay, I'll buy that.
[YOU] Coming back to the story then, do you agree that although there may be something in IHWDANT that Hustley-Bustley could refer to, the actual term 'Hustley-Bustley' doesn't refer to it until someone actually uses Hustley-Bustley to refer to that something?
[ME] Yes.
[YOU] And do you also agree that in order for someone to actually use Hustley-Bustley to refer to IHWDANT, they would have to actually believe the story about the tour guide?
[ME] Yes. If they didn't believe the story about the tour guide, it would never occur to them to use the term 'Hustley-Bustley' to refer to IHWDANT, and then 'Hustley-Bustley' wouldn't refer to Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT.
[YOU] Right. So explaining the reference (without sense) of Hustley-Bustley to IHWDANT by appealing to your story about the tour guide requires first that the story is true, and second that someone believes it so as to put 'Hustley-Bustley' to use with respect to IHWDANT.
[ME] Agreed.

[YOU] Good. Now you've got your story of the tour guide which gives you the word 'Hustley-Bustley' to refer to the Hustley-Bustley in IHWDANT, but the reference depends on the fact that the story is true and that you believe it.
[ME] Fine. The story is true, and I believe it. Wouldn't I then have reference without sense?
[YOU] You sound like a Christian.
[ME] Is there any other reason why I shouldn't continue holding to my story about the tour guide?
[YOU] There is.
[ME] And what's that?
[YOU] You may believe that the story is true, but how do you know that it's true?
[ME] I don't have to know that it's true. I just have to believe that it's true. I thought we'd agreed on that much.
[YOU] Not exactly. You have reference (without sense) only if the story is true. Merely believing in something isn't enough to make it true. I can believe that Felix Jr. exists and walk around calling out 'Felix Jr.', but that doesn't mean the name 'Felix Jr.' refers to Felix Jr. On the contrary, the name 'Felix Jr.' doesn't refer to Felix Jr. because Felix Jr. doesn't exist.
[ME] Of course.
[YOU] We have reference only if the story is true, and there's nothing in your story to guarantee that it is in fact true. You just have to work on the belief that it is true.
[ME] Fair enough.
[YOU] So you're a fideist about this.
[ME] Sure.
[YOU] Okay, I should just point out that belief may be enough for you, but it may not be enough for others.
[ME] I'll accept that.

[YOU] And I will too. We're both in the fideist camp then. Even so, I'm still uncomfortable with reference and no sense.
[ME] How so?
[YOU] If you go around bandering Hustley-Bustley with respect to IHWDANT, you have no idea what you're talking about. Let's even suppose that we only use Hustley-Bustley with respect to IHWDANT in circles of people who believe the tour guide story. They all believe it, so they all believe that Hustley-Bustley has reference with respect to IHWDANT, but nobody here knows what you're talking about. We just know the word 'Hustley-Bustley', but we don't have any notion of what that's supposed to mean. Essentially, we end up talking about IHWDANT in a way that leaves us with no understand of IHWDANT at all.
[ME] I think I see your concern.
[YOU] Imagine that I build a new room in my house and fill it with various objects. Before you've seen it, I come to you and say, 'You should see my new room. It's incredible'. You say, 'Tell me about it. What sort of things did you put in it?' I tell you that my new room contains a gartnick, a qwinky, and poppeltop (I made these names up, you see, instead of using the objects' common names). You would naturally ask, 'what the hell is a gartnick, a qwinky, and whatever the last one you said was?'
[ME] Naturally.
[YOU] I would just tell you not to worry, because those words have reference to real objects in my new room.
[ME] Please never actually describe objects to me in this way.
[YOU] Now, it seems clear enough that you have a way of talking about the objects in my new room, because you have some names which have reference. Unfortunately, these names don't have any sense. You have no idea what it means for there to be a 'gartnick' in my new room.
[ME] Indeed, I have no idea.
[YOU] So what would you do with this information? Would you run off and tell your friends about the objects in my new room?
[ME] Only if I was a psycho.
[YOU] You can see that it just seems pointless to talk about something if our language has reference but not sense.
[ME] I do see that.
[YOU] On a practical level, what's the point of having reference but no sense if I want to talk about IHWDANT?
[ME] That doesn't seem to be a very productive way of talking about things. At the very least, I certainly wouldn't acquire much understanding of IHWDANT if my words for IHWDANT had reference but no sense.

[YOU] There's more.
[ME] Oh?
[YOU] Not only would you not understand what gartnick, qwinky, and poppeltop mean, you also wouldn't understand how to talk about those things in relation to each other. Could you meaningfully say that in the design of my new room, the gartnick helps to balance the feel of the qwinky?
[ME] Of course not. I don't know what the qwinky is like, so I wouldn't know how it needs to be balanced, and I don't know what a gartnick is, so I wouldn't know how it would balance the qwinky.
[YOU] Right. You wouldn't be able to talk about the garntick in relation to the qwinky or the poppeltop in any meaningful way. Likewise, you couldn't form any syllogisms from the terms gartnick or qwinky.
[ME] Why would I want to form a syllogism from things in your room?
[YOU] You wouldn't, but you might if this was just a big analogy for some other topic.
[ME] Okay, this is getting weird again. The irony is not lost on me, by the way.
[YOU] In any case, my point is, you couldn't meaningfully reason from gartnicks to qwinkys or talk about how they interrelate in any meaningful way if you had reference but no sense.
[ME] Of course, but I still don't see why I would want to.
[YOU] Never mind that. We agree that it seems counter intuitive to try and talk about something with reference but no sense. If I try to describe IHWDANT with terms like Hustley-Bustley which have reference but no sense, I end up with a pretty empty description. I might as well just talk about IHWDANT with words like 'gartnick' and 'qwinky'.

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