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02/23/2016

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Hi Michael, thanks for taking the time to engage with our (admittedly far too wordy) paper!

With regards to your criticism: I suppose we didn’t really argue for the existence of the property ‘having no body text’ in part because we were implicitly leaning on something like an abundantist conception of properties. However, I take it that there’s plenty of similar properties that most would be willing to readily accept; e.g. ‘accumulates no interest for the first 30 months’, ‘having no body hair’, ‘being sugar-free’, etc. In light of these, our property looks to be in good company (or, to make a bad joke, isn’t so bad).

You also offer the contrast between (1) and (2). The latter has two readings: a wide-scope negation reading (roughly, ‘¬(paper has body text)’), and a narrow-scope negation. To make his point, Tyron needs the narrow-scope. Now, I have to confess that the only sense I can make of the narrow-scope reading is as (1) – that is, as ascribing to the paper the property of having no body text. This certainly might be a conceptual failure on my part (wouldn’t be the first time, and certainly not the last), but, if what that’s right, then the apparent absence just collapses into a property ascription – specifically, an ascription of the property ‘has no body text’. In that sense our response was meant to grant that you can truthfully claim that the paper does not have body text; we just think this is another way to say that the paper has no text.

Regardless, I do think it's funny that there's all this fuss over nothing.

Hi Nathan,

Nice to hear from you! Agreed, this fuss over nothing is rather charming.

In your text there is no argument in favour of the abundantist notion of properties, as you say. That assumption is controversial, so some would deny that the examples you mention above refer to actual properties had by the objects in question. For instance, if it’s true that my drink does not have any sugar, we can explain the fact in virtue of which that’s true without introducing a putative negative property called ‘having no sugar’. What the drink has, let’s assume, is stevia, and because it has stevia, along with a few other features of its chemical composition, we can say that it does not have sugar. But its not having sugar is not obviously an additional property had by that drink, other than its having stevia. More work needs to be done in order to demonstrate that it is.

Given the presence of a title, surely this was just an example of implicature...

Michael. Thanks for this post (expect an email SOON).

You say: "However, and crucial for those interested in causal powers, the demonstrable absence of text does not produce the relevant effects BY ITSELF. The causal power of this absence of text results from the simultaneous operation of multiple causal powers that are working together to produce an effect. Specifically, in this context A PAPER THAT IS ABSENT ANY WRITTEN TEXT HAS THE POWER TO CAUSE REAL CHANGE, DUE TO THAT VERY ABSENCE, by working together with our collective expectations. In particular, it is by thwarting those very real expectations that the absence of text causes real change."

I've capped a few points I'd like to hear more about. I'm curious about your approach to causal selection. Why claim that the paper has the power to cause real change? Why not the authors? Why isn't the relations between authors and readers the things that causes the change? Or, the powers that persons have to interpret the actions or omissions of others that causes the change? I'd say the paper has the POWER to absorb ink, but that power is not what I would select when discussing what role the blank paper may have caused. Why not say the intentional omission of the authors caused the "change"?

Where's Carolina Satorio when you need her?

"Absences" as used in the title--one could argue that the "title" of this paper is not a title but actually itself an untitled text posing as a title--constitutes a covering concept of a not-very-well-ordered large set of plausible instances of descriptive circumstances of absence and the additional use of "cause" as affiliated with an absence as rationally warranted. But that's about all it can claim. There is a huge metaphysical chasm between absences as missing necessary conditions for states of affairs or events and absences as sufficient conditions of explanation for given states of affairs or events. As to the first, lack of oxygen causes death for any being requiring it. As to the second, lack of impressed force is sufficient to explain the relative motion/rest of an inertial object. But whereas the first absence is causal, the second is not. I suspect this particular publication genuinely causes very little, except as a lack of body-text content as a necessary condition for explicit criticism, but it mostly explains a lot about why any criticism has the particular trajectory it takes on it (or, its title).

Thanks for the comment, Justin (and I’m looking forward to that email). Assuming that it’s correct to think of causal powers as simultaneously manifesting together to produce an effect, I think we could say that there are many causal powers at work here, including the author himself, his intentions, beliefs, desires, etc., the paper, its absence of text, and our collective expectations. It seems to me that there is no obvious need to highlight one particular causal power as most relevant, and that would be fine for Goldschmidt's point, so long as the absence of written body text is among the relevant causal powers.

Alan, thanks for your comment, too. As long as this particular absence of body text causes real change, however minimal it might be, I'm happy to take Goldschmidt's point as demonstrated.

Michael--thanks.

I'm going to be a stickler. If the article causes change beyond the fact that the title is a mini-text--which is not itself an absence--then how?

And if the absence of text beyond the title does more than explain why there are comments on that absence beyond the cause the title creates to produce those comments--and thus not an absence--then what cause is there beyond the title?

38$ for the PDF!

Hi Alan, thanks for the reply. The absence of written text in the body of the page thwarts our collective expectations as readers of academic essays published by academic journals. That absence works together with our expectations (among other factors) to cause the relevant effects, such as our writing of these replies, or thinking that it must be some sort of bad joke. The title plays a causal role, too, but that does not preclude the causal role also played by the absence. Or so it seems to me.

Symbols may be interpreted in different ways by different viewers, which thereby causes different viewers to take different actions. In other words, symbols may be modeled as having causal powers. It seems to me that the blank paper is effectively a symbol, and it may be modeled as having causal powers.

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