Sunday, August 31, 2014

Propositional Signs

In the Tractatus, Wittgenstein says that propositional signs are signs through which we express thoughts (Prop. 3.12). Does this mean that we need propositional signs in order to express our thoughts, and that such signs constitute a language (or medium of expression) of thought? Are all thoughts propositional in nature? Do propositional signs express or signify thoughts only insofar as those thoughts are propositional? Are there non-propositional signs that express or signify non-propositional thoughts? Do propositional signs themselves constitute propositions or do they merely stand for or signify propositions? Do all propositions consist of propositional signs? Are propositional signs the basic elements or fundamental constituents of all propositions? Is there a proposition wherever there is a propositional sign, and is there a propositional sign wherever there is a proposition? Does every propositional sign have some symbolic purpose or function, and are all propositions symbolic in one way or another?

Friday, July 4, 2014

Márta Ujvári’s The Trope Bundle Theory of Substance

Márta Ujvári’s The Trope Bundle Theory of Substance: Change, Individuation and Individual Essence (2013) is a metaphysical analysis of the nature of individual substances as basic building blocks of reality. According to Ujvári’s formulation of the trope bundle theory, individual substances are bundles of qualitative features (tropes). Tropes are individuated via their bearer substances, but substances are individuated via their foundation as bearers of qualitative manifolds qua qualitative manifolds and via their occupation of unique spatiotemporal locations. Thus, the individuation of substances is independent of the fact that each of their constituent tropes is a qualitative feature of them.
      This more complex and sophisticated version of the trope bundle theory contrasts with the simple or classical trope bundle theory, which regards an individual substance as “nothing but” a bundle of tropes.1 Ujvári argues that the latter theory fails to account for the unity and concreteness of substances,2 and that it also has the disadvantage of presenting a circular view of individuation, according to which the tropes of an individual substance and the substance itself mutually individuate each other.3
       According to Ujvári, tropes are neither particularized properties nor instantiated universals. They are abstract particulars predicable of concrete particulars,4 and they are property particulars belonging to individual substances. Thus, they are not transferable from substance to substance. Each trope depends for its existence on the individual substance to which it belongs.
      This version of the trope bundle theory avoids the dilemmas posed by the “strong” version of the Principle of Identity of Indiscernibles (PII), since it does not view tropes as sharable properties.5 Ujvári describes the “strong” version of the PII as the principle that it is impossible for numerically distinct concrete particulars to share all their pure (intrinsic) properties in common,6 while she describes the “weak” version of the PII as the principle that it is impossible for numerically distinct concrete particulars to share all their pure (intrinsic) and impure (spatiotemporal) properties in common.7 She explains that one of the dilemmas posed by the “strong” version of the PII is that property identity is assumed to imply numerical identity.8 This assumption may be false if only intrinsic and not spatiotemporal properties are considered as sharable properties.
      Each substance is a bundle of property particulars, rather than a bundle of particular properties or exemplified universals. In contrast to Aristotle’s view of substances as unanalyzable entities, Ujvári views substances as having distinct qualitative features.9
      According to the “two-tier modal trope bundle theory,” tropes may be essential or accidental to the identity of an individual substance. Thus, change in an individual substance is possible, because the substance can remain identifiable over time, even if changes occur in some of its tropes.10
      Ujvári emphasizes that acceptance of the trope bundle theory does not imply acceptance of a monistic, one-category ontology in which tropes are the basic building blocks of all reality, including entities such as polyadic properties and relations.11
      She describes the bundling relation as one of “concurrence” or “compresence” of tropes.12 The internal relations between the tropes of a bundle may be essential or accidental to that particular bundle.13 Since concurrence or compresence cannot logically be an internal relation, it must be a contingent external relation.14
      Tropes are constituents of individual substances (continuants), but they may also be events (occurrents). They may also be abstract components of events. Thus, a concrete event may include all the tropes of the particular substance it involves, but the substance may also exist in its own right as a continuant.15


1Márta Ujvári, The Trope Bundle Theory of Substance: Change, Individuation and Individual Essence (Frankfurt: Onto Verlag, 2013), p. 25.
2Ibid., p. 127
3Ibid., p. 25.
4Ibid., pp. 16-18.
5Ibid., p. 58.
6Ibid., p. 53
7Ibid., p. 52.
8Ibid., p. 51.
9Ibid., p. 25.
10Ibid., p. 20.
11Ibid., pp. 15-16.
12Ibid., p. 157.
13Ibid., p. 158.
14Ibid., p. 161.
15Ibid., pp. 67-68.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

One and the Same

The expression “one and the same” must be used carefully in order to avoid blurring the distinction between numerical and qualitative identity. Although two things may be qualitatively identical (identical in the sense of sharing all the same qualities), they cannot be numerically identical (identical in the sense of being the same thing) unless they are in fact only one thing and not two separate things. To say that two things are one and the same is therefore to say not only that there is no difference between them, but also that they are in fact only one thing and not two separate things. Thus, for example, Los Angeles and the largest city in California are one and the same, because the name “Los Angeles" and the description “the largest city in California” refer to the same thing (the name and the description have qualitatively and numerically identical referents). For two things to be one and the same, they must be devoid of not only any qualitative, but also any numerical difference or distinction.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Racial Integration of Academic Philosophy Departments

How is it that a philosophy department at an American university can perceive itself as racially integrated when it has no African-American faculty members or graduate students and when the only African-Americans it employs are administrative assistants or support personnel?
      Philosophy departments that have no African-Americans on faculty may claim that there is a scarcity of African-American scholars available for hiring or recruitment (a claim sometimes easy to make, but often difficult to substantiate). Such departments may assert that since only a small percentage of contemporary academic philosophers are African-Americans, the available cohort of potential candidates for faculty positions is limited. They may assert that the absence of African-American faculty members in their departments is unfortunate, but a situation that cannot be easily remedied. They may assert that because there are so many (untenured, underemployed) philosophers (who happen to be white) who are looking for permanent faculty positions, there is intense competition for a limited number of available positions.
      A multitude of possible excuses for having no African-Americans on faculty may, in fact, be offered by a particular philosophy department. The department may assert that there are university-wide constraints on hiring and recruitment, due to budgetary considerations. The department may also assert that, as a matter simply of geographical setting or cultural circumstance, there happen to be few African-American students and faculty at that particular university. 
      A particular philosophy department may also have a (mistaken) perception of conflict between "meritocracy" and "affirmative action" in faculty hiring. A department may be reluctant to be perceived as having hired a "token black" faculty member, both from the standpoint of other academic institutions and from the standpoint of members of its own community. A department may also be reluctant to potentially change the prevailing atmosphere or academic culture within that given department. It may not perceive a need to have a faculty member who is competent in such fields as Africana philosophy, philosophy of race, or black feminist philosophy. It may not perceive a need to expand or diversify beyond its traditional core commitments and fields of expertise and to hire faculty members who might offer new perspectives on, or take new approaches to, those traditional core commitments and fields of expertise. 
      On the other hand, there may also be (intentional or unintentional) bias by a particular department against African-Americans as potential faculty members. African-Americans may be interviewed for faculty positions by a department simply for the sake of its need to appear to comply with equal employment opportunity guidelines, while it may actually make no serious or committed effort to attract African-Americans as faculty members. A particular department may (intentionally or unintentionally) make itself inhospitable and uninviting to African-Americans.
      Generalizations about academic philosophy departments are difficult (and perhaps even unfair) to make (particularly for someone like myself, who is an outsider), because academic departments individually and as a whole are not monolithic. Each department has its own distinctive set of teaching and research commitments. Perhaps I am unqualified to make any meaningful judgments about the current state of American academic philosophy. But there seems to be a blindness on the part of some philosophy departments to just how "white" they are, and not merely in terms of their own composition, but also in terms of their ability to recognize and acknowledge "nonwhite" philosophical perspectives. Thus, the encouragement of cultural diversity within academic philosophy departments may help to broaden and enrich the field of philosophy as a whole.