Gavagai again again

A new version of my discussion of Quine’s “argument from below” is now up online (shorter! punchier! better!) Turns out it was all to do with counterpart theory all along.

Here’s the blurb: Gavagai gets discussed all the time. But (unless I’m missing something in the literature) I’ve never seen an advocate of gavagai-style indeterminacy spell out in detail what exactly the deviant interpretations or translations are, that incorporating the different ways of dividing reference (over rabbits, rabbit-stages or undetached rabbit-parts). And without this it is to say the least, a bit hard to evaluate the supposed counterexamples to such interpretations! So the main job of the paper is to spell out, for a significant fragment of language, what the rival accounts of reference-division amount to.

One audience for the paper (who might not realize they are an audience for it initially) are folks interested in the stage theory/worm theory debate in the philosophy of persistence. The neuvo-Gavagai guy, according to me, is claiming that there’s no fact of the matter whether our semantics is stage-theoretic or worm-theoretic. I think there’s a reasonable chance that that he’s right.

Stronger than this: so long as there are both 4D worms and instantaneous temporal parts thereof around (even if they’re “dependent entities” or “rabbit histories” or “mere sums” as opposed to Real Objects), the Gavagai guy asks you to explain why our words don’t refer to those worms or stages rather than whatever entity you think *really are* rabbits (say, enduring objects wholly present at each time).

By the way, even if these semantic indeterminacy results were right, I don’t think that this forecloses the metaphysical debate about which of endurance, perdurance or exdurance is the right account of *persistence*. But I do think that it forces us to think hard about what the difference is between semantic and metaphysical claims, and what sort of reasons we might offer for either.

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One response to “Gavagai again again

  1. “Turns out it was all to do with counterpart theory all along.”

    Well, most things are you know.

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