Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Abridging Lewis

I'm trying to abridge the first chapter of On the Plurality of Worlds for the new edition of the Blackwell metaphysics anthology. The cuts go pretty deep, because we’re trying to get it down from 95 pages to about 30. Many of you know the chapter (and the literature that has grown up around it) way better than I do -- and perhaps some of you will want to use the anthology in your classes -- so I’d greatly appreciate any feedback you might have on the proposed cuts.

Here’s a link to the pdf (large file): https://netfiles.uiuc.edu/dzkorman/www/LewisOTPW.pdf

Bennett on the Ideological Costs of "Low" Ontologies (Part II: Composition)

In a previous post, I discussed one of the two cases that Karen Bennett focuses on to argue that what one gains in terms of ontological simplicity is (usually?) lost in terms of ideological simplicity. I will now discuss the other case: the debate over composition. In this case, the "low-ontology" side of the dispute is occupied by the mereological nihilist who holds that simples never compose a whole.

Bennett's charge is that the nihilist's "low" ontology comes at the cost of "high" ideology. Here is how she puts her point:

[In order to recapture claims such as 'these paper clips are arranged in a chain', the nihilist] needs to introduce clever techniques that allow him to talk about the very complicated, highly structured ways in which simples can be arranged. On the face of it, however these very complicated predications of simples appear to commit nihilist to the claim that simples collectively instantiate very complicated structured properties. The simples instantiate (((being arranged quarkwise) arranged atomwise) arranged moleculewise) ... At least, the nihilist is committed to the complex structured plural predicates themselves. Here again, the high-ontologist is not committed to any such thing. The believer [who occupies the high-ontology side of this dispute because she believes that there are things whose proper parts are simples] need not countenance either these highly structured plural predicates, nor any properties that answer to them. She does not need to say that the simples themselves directly satisfy any such predicate or instantiate any such property. She can simply say that the simples directly satisfy 'arranged quarkwise'--or whatever the smallest items composed of simples are. Then the quarks satisfy 'arranged atomwise', and so forth up. It is molecules that get arranged into cells. (p.64)

It's not clear to me that Bennett is successful at showing that the ideological price of nihilism is higher than that of "believerism". Bennett concedes that the believer needs predicates such as 'being arranges X-wise' (and possibly the properties that come with them). Her claim, however, is that the nihilist needs the complex structured plural predicates. But her argument for it seems to be based on a premise that it is, say, molecules (not simples!) that get arranged into cells. But, of course, the nihilst would deny this--according to him, there are no molecules, there are only simples arranged moleculewise and simples arranged cellwise and some simples arranged moleculewise are arranged cellwise with other simples arranged moleculewise. So if he wants to say 'These molecules form a cell', he has to say 'These simples that are arranged molculewise (and these simples arranged molculewise and ... and these simples arranged molculewise) are arranged cellwise' but in doing so he does not seem to be using a complex predicate more than someone who is saying 'These children and these children are smart' is (yes 'being a child' is singular and distributive and 'being arranged moleculewise' is neither but Bennett seems to concede that the believer needs plural non-distributive predicates as much as the nihilist).
So, is believerism any cheaper ideologically? What should the believer say of 'These molecules form a cell'? Bennett seems to think that he could just say 'These molecules are arranged cellwise' but for the believer molecules are presumably sums of parts arranged moleculewise, parts which are themselves sums of parts arranged atomwise, etc. So, it's far from clear to me that she is better off ideologically, for the nihilist could just skip all the inbetween levels when she does not need them (after all, pace Bennett, it's ultimately the simples that are arranged atomwise, moleculewise, cellwise, etc.), while the believer would always have to mention that in order for this mereological sum to be a cell, it needs to have parts that are arranged moleculewise, and these parts need to have parts that are arranges atomwise, and these parst need to have parts that are arranged quarkwise, etc.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Bennett on The Ideological Price of "Low" Ontologies (Part I: Constitution)

I'm reading Karen Bennett's 'Composition, Colocation, and Metaontology' (which is published in this book). In it, Bennett draws a number of interesting metaontological morals by considering two ontological disputes--the one about composition and the one about constitution. In each dispute, she identifies a "low-ontology" side and a "high-ontology" side and at a certain point she argues that, in each dispute, what the low-ontologist gains in terms of ontological simplicity may be lost in terms of ideological simplicity. However, I'm not completely convinced by the specific cases she makes. In this post, I will focus on her case against for the ideological costs of the low-ontology side when it comes to constitution and focus on the composition case in another post.

As an example of the low-ontologist side in the constitution case, Bennett considers the Lewisian position that (let me over simplify here) even, if Statue and the Lump are identical, we can truly say that Statue would not survive being squashed into a ball while Lump would not by appealing to the different counterpart relations in which Lump/Statue stands with otherworldly things.

Bennett complains:
The heart of this strategy is to say that the relatively straightforward predicate 'being possibly squashed' in fact hides a multiplicity of more complex predicates that pack in some reference to the kind. (Lewis, of course, will invoke counterpart-theoretical properties like having a squashed counterpart under the lump-counterpart relation) Perhaps this require that the one-thinger [i.e. the one who takes the low-ontologist side in the constitution dispute] postulate a different complicated modal property for each object the multi-thinger [i.e. the one who takes the high-ontology side in the constitution dispute] countenances. Perhaps it just requires that she employ a different complicated modal predicate for each such object. That depends on the broader question about the viability of nominalism. What matters for my purposes is that the multi-thinger need not do either. (p.28)
In other words, what the low-ontologists saves on the cost of her ontology comes at the price of her ideology. Now, I have no sympathy for Lewis' modal realism or his counterpart theory, but Bennett's interpretation of the Lewisian position does not seem to be particularly charitable to me. Let me put aside the issue of nominalism and that of conceptual vs. ontological simplicity and focus on Bennett's interpretation of the Lewisian use of the counterpart relation in this case.

As far as I can see, the Lewisian's reply to Bennett should be that he does not need the complex predicates or the corresponding properties. When saying that 'Lump would survive being squashed' is true and 'Statue would survive being squashed' is not even if 'Lump' and 'Statue' refer to one and only one thing, the Lewisian would not directly appeal to the fact that the same thing has two different modal properties but to the fact that in different contexts the same thing can have different counterparts because the different contexts make different respects of similarirty with otherworldly things relevant. So, for example, when talking of Lump/Statue as 'Lump', we are making the material is made of, its mass, etc. salient, while when talking of it as 'Statue', we are making also its shape and history salient. So, there are things that are counteraprts of Lump/Statue qua lump of clay that are not counterparts of it qua statue (things that resemble it in being made of clay and having a certain mass, etc. but not in having a certain shape etc.) and some of this things are temporal parts of things whose other temporal parts were counterparts of Lump/Statue qua statue but are no longer counterparts of it because they no longer bear the right sort of resemblance to Lump/Statue qua statue because they have been squashed. So, the Lewisian really only needs the property having been squashed and claim that some counterparts of Lump/Staute qua lump of clay have it while some counterparts of it qua statue do not have it. It is only in virute of its counterparts having or not having the property having been squashed that Lump/Statue has or has not (derivatively) the modal property of being possibly squashed. Of course, Bennett could claim that the counterpart theory already comes at too high an ideological cost (I would just say that it is false, but I won't argue for that here), but Lewis and the Lewisians would claim it's a cost worth paying because of the benefit that it brings with it and, in any case, the Lewisian does not seem to need the strange predicates Bennett wants to saddle them with. Am I being too charitable to the Lewisian position or unfair to Bennett's objection?