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Monday, January 22, 2007

Arizona 2007


Just returned from the Arizona Ontology Conference (see the announcement here). L.A. Paul did a fantastic job organizing it, and there was plenty of time for horseback riding and beautiful hikes. My horse Scooter had a lot of fun trying to get me off his back, and I had a lot of fun trying to stay on him. The papers were all excellent. There were virtually no talks, except for replies by commentators and Terry Horgan's magic tricks after dinner speech, but that left us with 75 minutes for discussion for each session. I am too tired to summarize all of the papers but let me mention a few.

Delia Graff Fara offered a new solution to the puzzle of contingent identity. The puzzle is to explain why

(1) Goliath is identical to Lumpl
(2) But Goliath might not have been identical to Lumpl

both seem true. Fara suggested that we should treat names as disguised predicates. At the level of logical form 'Delia Graff' functions as the "incomplete" definite description 'the Delia Graff'. As she treats definite descriptions as uniqueness-involving predicate nominals, 'the Delia Graff' naturally functions as a predicate nominal on her view. Treating names as predicates does not by itself solve the puzzle of contingent identity, as predicate names may be rigid. However, Fara assumes that predicate names may be non-rigid.

The logical forms of (1) and (2) may then be represented (informally) as follows.

(1*) [The] Goliath is identical to [the] Lumpl
(2*) It is possible that ([the] Goliath is not [the] Lumpl)

or:

(2**) [The] Goliath is such that it is possible that (it is not [the] Lumpl)

But not:

(2***) [The] Goliath and [the] Lumpl are such that it is possible that (they are not identical).

Since predicate names are non-rigid, contingency puzzles do not arise. Nor do substitution puzzles, as Leibniz’s Law does not apply when the designators involved are non-rigid.

My comments on Fara's paper can be found here.

David Chalmers argued that we should be anti-realists about ontological disputes. On Chalmers' view, there are worlds with micro-physical facts. But worlds do not come equipped with domains of quantification. Instead when we utter a sentence such as 'this is a chair' or 'this is a cup-cup' the context of utterance supplies a funishing function -- a function from worlds to domains. In ordinary contexts the furnishing functions may yield domains with chairs and cups but no cup-cups, and in the ontology room the furnishing functions may yield domains with cup-cups, or alternatively no cups and no chairs. There are various admissibility constraints on the furnishing functions. 'There are unicorns' is inconsistent with a semantically neutral description of the micro-physical level of reality. So, it is not correct in any (actual) context to say that there are unicorns. Jonathan Schaffer replied with various sharp observations. Among other things, he argued that Chalmers' version of quantifier domain restriction could be assimilated to ordinary quantifier domain restriction. My pre-conference questions (and Chalmers' replies) can be found here.

Ted Sider discussed presentism, a Williamsonian passage view and two versions of the growing block view in light of the notion of saturation. Roughly, a proposition is saturated iff its truth (or falsehood) does not depend on any parameters or perspectives. So, for the presentist, the passager, and other A-theorists, the proposition expressed by my current utterance of the sentence 'Brit is sitting' is saturated. Agustin Rayo offered sharp and colorful comments. Among other things, he was wondering whether we should take a reference-first approach (Sider) or a truth-conditions-first approach to language. I tried to argue that the Williamsonian passage-view might require us to index to times. Roughly, on the passage view, 'it was the case that there is a time t which will never be present, and dinosaurs exist at t' entails 'there is an x such that it was the case that x is a time which will never be present and dinosaurs exist at x'. So, if x is a time now, then we have two times: the present time and x. So, how do we avoid indexing?

Kathrin Koslicki rejected moderate composition as identity. Objects, on her view, are not composed of their parts, as part-indiscernible objects can differ in virtue of their structure. Kris McDaniel asked a number of challenging questions, for instance, what are we to say about chair-shaped extended simples? Such unbreakable chairs have no internal structure.

Cian Dorr offered the beginning of a new interpretation of quantum mechanics. It was a difficult paper, and in spite of the fact that Jill North explained the most difficult parts of the paper in her excellent commentary, I do not have the courage to offer a summary here.

There were lots of other very interesting papers and commentaries, including papers by Helen Beebee (comments: Terry Horgan), Carolina Sartorio (comments: Michael Fara), Ned Hall (comments: Antony Eagle), and Sarah McGrath (comments: Mark Heller).

More discussions of papers and pictures from the conference will follow soon, I am sure (UPDATE: Joe Salerno took some pics. They are available here. For more info see the original post).

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