This continues, after a break, my series of posts on metametaphysics. The others so far:
Metaphysics, Verbal Disagreement and Talking Past (July 5, 2015.)
Metaphysics and the "Stately" Home (July 10, 2015.)
The Metametaphysical Landscape, Anti-Metaphysicalism, and Not Buying (July 13, 2015.)
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In philosophy, we don't just use all the concepts and language we think of. We put some at arm's length and scrutinize them. And that is what we need to do with a lot of the metaphysical talk being used now.
You could say that this is, at bottom, a practical rather than a theoretical difference.
Which questions do you give straight answers to, and which do you reject, or respond to with something other than a straight answer?
From Chalmers's paper in the 2009 Metametaphysics anthology:
The metaontologist may ask: is there an objective fact of the matter about whether numbers exist? The ontological realist says yes, and the ontological anti-realist says no.
It is uncanny the way questions can almost bully us.
The criterial objection to metaphysics can be resisted by pointing to ordinary, non-metaphysical language games containing moves for which we have no criteria, and yet make. (Ironically, a Wittgensteinian point.)
Again: in the metaphysical game, the parties do contradict each other.
Manley (in the introduction to the 2009 Metametaphysics anthology):
Thus, we need an account of verbal disputes that allows for real disagreement.
(He's talking here about two people quibbling about 'cup', but where, for Putnam-Burge reasons, we don't want to say they're just using the term with different meanings. One is misusing it, perhaps.)
Accounts of semantic deviation, designed to allow speakers to mean the same thing while deviating. Then verbal dispute is precisely that which only arises because of semantic deviation.
Accounts: take each speaker's dispositions etc. and imagine a linguistic community where everyone has them. Objection: Lewis's dispositions in the ontology room couldn't be shared by a whole linguistic community.
Then: Apply this algorithm to one speaker. So, a kind of fine grained idiolect. Now something like that may be quite plausible for the cup dispute. But plainly this is missing something as a form of metaphysical deflationism.
It might be right as far as it goes (I don't know yet), but then there is still the matter of saying what's distinctive about the metaphysical case and why it arises. Because the metaphysical case seems more ineradicable, and perhaps gets into 'what we should mean'.
So that you can't just clear up metaphysical verbal disputes by showing them to be verbal, since there will remain a potentially deep normative disagreement about how symbols ought be used. And this can plunge us into fresh, undiagnosed metaphysical trouble. (Crude example: we ought to use symbols so as to limn reality, OK we both agree with that, but what counts as reality? Or limn the fundaments - OK, but what are the fundaments, and what is fundamentality?)
A project: look for semantic deviance, or verbality of dispute more generally, in the metametaphysical or foundational issues which all the other disputes might lead to, once their non-verbal remainder is revealed to be about how symbol use ought to proceed, and when this is followed up we get the metametaphysical foundations.
So: how should we use 'fundamental', 'ground', 'explain', 'real'.
In Manley's introduction, he doesn't go from verbality to symbol use issues, but treats the latter as a separate account, Carnapian. Also, that one's different since it says that the disputes themselves are actually about how to talk. But my idea planned above was that the disputes are verbal, but conceal disputes about what we should mean.
But once at that point, he makes a point which leads to the point I just made:
Moreover, it is worth noting that even if this sort of deflationism were true, there would remain work for metaphysics to do in judging the various proposals for how to talk, given the goals of metaphysics.
So my point about this itself being subject to verbality and other difficulty is important.
Manley seems quite into this sort of idea. Later on after discussing an elaborate alternative to a quantifier variance deflationism:
But there is a problem with this response, which Matti Eklund raises at one point in his contribution.4² Assuming that Lewis can express all the intensions that van Inwagen can express, but not vice versa, does it not follow that Lewish is in some sense a superior language? If so, there is a loss of parity between the two ontologists (or the two communities), even if they are not disagreeing with each other with the sentences under discussion. For one thing, it would seem that a serious metaphysician like van Inwagen has a significant motivation to abandon his impoverished idiolect in favor of Lewish. But this causes trouble for the deflationist, in that it is hardly in the spirit of deflationism to grant that the Lewis [sic] is better off in his description of the world. For it follows that metaphysics still has an important mission: to identify the best language in which to take inventory of the furniture of reality.
The very idea of this mission - that's what needs criticising. Again, we might get to verbality and deep normative symbol use issues pertaining to the key metametaphysical terms.
The point is delicate. First, it is still a significant concession to deflationism.to grant that van Inwagen and Lewis are not really contradicting each other in the little dispute displayed above; or if they are, it is because at least one of them is misusing English words. And this concession would vindicate the traditional deflationist line that insofar as there is an interesting disagreement in the neighborhood, it is about how we should speak, and its resolution should have an entirely different flavor and methodology than the typical contemporary debate in metaphysics.
But that's not obvious, because it might as indicated above plunge one straight back in. And so lots of metaphysical debates could be argued to turn on some key ones, plausibly for the metaphysician. And these might not be verbal or misquided. But then there is room for a sort of deflationary reconsideration of these... how, or whether at all (in a certain sort of way), to use 'limn', 'ground', etc.