Saturday, November 21, 2009


Causal contact with rabbits seems to be involved in almost exactly the same way in the following two statements:

RH "There's a rabbit"
MP "The mereiological complement of rabbithood is perforated here" (Or, for short: "The Rabcomp is perf")

I mean, light bouncing off rabbits and hitting our eyes would seem to be what causes (assent to) both sentences.

Thus: if we try to say that RH refers to rabbits because assertions of it are typically caused by rabbits, we would (it seems!) also get the false result that MP refers to rabbits.

[Thus causal contact doesn't seem to be what does the work in resolving Quinean reference indetermenacy - which makes things look hopeful for the view that reference in mathematics can be as determinate as reference anywhere else.]


  1. Seems like the glaring error here is the fact that MP does refer to rabbits. MP is nothing more than a fancy way of saying 'that's not not a rabbit'.

    The whole point of reference is that it is a way of identifying the thing being spoken of independent of the way it is described. Thus as long as MP and RH pick out the same things they have the same reference.

    Now maybe you want to pull some weird shit about a rabbit not being equal to the compliment of it's mereological compliment but then this is just a puzzle about mereology and not about reference at all.


    Also in a broader sense this entire line of reasoning seems fruitless. There is nothing to 'resolve' about Quinean reference indetermanacy because there is no such thing. The entire notion rests on a confusion of the object language and the meta language as Carnap devastatingly pointed out (but non-logicians failed to understand).

    I mean just step back and ask what would reference indetermanacy even be? References aren't real features of the world we encounter. References are theoretical constructs we introduce to help us organize and simplify facts about language use. Let me repeat that again to emphasize the point. People just speak words they never engage in the activity of 'referencing' where they somehow objectively pick out the object they are speaking about. We simply describe them as referencing something because it is a useful theoretical model of language use, but like all models it runs into problems if taken too literally.

    The fact that there could be multiple different ways to assign references to speech acts is thus no more troubling than the fact that in classical physics we can add an arbitrary constant to our potential function. Thus there is no more of an indetermanacy of reference problem than there is an indetermanacy of potential problem.

    The error that leads people to believe there is some kind of reference indetermenacy problem (e.g. we can't deploy the notion of analytic sentence) is a foundational one and can only be resolved by going back and clearing up the basic concepts. Trying to grapple with these confused concepts only reinforces the error.

  2. thanks for the response, truepath.

    in re: your first point
    a) MP doesnt say that the complement of the complement of the meriological sum of rabbits is partly located here, it says that the complement of the merio sum of rabbits is perforated here.

    If you take reference (and the general idea that propositions have a true logical form) seriously, this is a real difference. It's like the difference between "There is a person who is wounded" '(Ex) P(x)*W(x)' and "There is a person and a wound, such that the wound belongs to the person" '(Ex)(Ey) Px*W(yx)'. One statement quantifies over and refers just to people, the other quantifies and refers to both people and wounds. People could have whole philosophical debates about whether the second statement (that commits one to wounds) could ever be true.

    b) even if it did, the complement of the complement of the meriological sum of rabbits is a the meriological sum of rabbits, NOT the single rabbit in front of the speaker.