Saturday, 12 January 2008

On the Difference between Talent and Genius

I usually find the pithy phrase generalises too much and ends up being of little value. Schopenhauer's power of metaphor, however, makes light work of profound pith. From volume II of his World as Will and Representation:
Talent is like a marksman who hits a target which others cannot reach; genius is like a marksman who hits a target which others cannot see.

Proust as Philosophical Inspiration

Did Quine read Proust? From The Way by Swann's:
But the fact that M. Vinteuil peraps knew about his daughter's behaviour does not imply that his worship of her would thereby be diminished. Facts do not find their way into the world in which our beliefs reside; they did not produce our beliefs, they do not destroy them; they may inflict on them the most constant refutations without weakening them, and an avalanche of afflictions or ailments succeeding one another without interruption in a family will not make it doubt the goodness of its God or the talent of its doctor.

Wednesday, 9 January 2008

Kripke and Identity Statements

From AC Grayling's An introduction to Philosophical Logic:
In Kripke's view, names are 'rigid designators', that is, terms which refer to the same individual in every possible world in which that individual exists. Because individuals will have different properties in different possible worlds -- their being different possible worlds will turn in in some cases just on the hypothesis that some selected individual answers to different descriptions in those worlds -- it cannot be the case that the name of that individual is synonymous with some set of descriptions. In other possible dispensations of things Aristotle may have been a hoplite, a physician, or whatever; but his name still rigidly designates him in all the worlds in which he exists. He will only possess in all possible worlds such properties as are essential to his being Aristotle. This allows what is surely true, that we can discover of individuals that certain descriptions fail to fit them. For example, suppose it is confirmed that Bacon did indeed write Othello, Hamlet, and the rest; nevertheless the name 'Shakespeare' will not cease to refer because the description 'the author of Hamlet' ceases to apply to that individual. For if we irreversibly identify whoever is designated by 'Shakespeare' with 'the author of Hamlet', it would be impossible to discover that he did not write Hamlet.

This then is the first important feature of the causal theory, that ordinary proper names are rigid designators and not abbreviations for clusters of descriptions. An interesting consequence of this relates to identity statements. It is commonly held that identity statements like 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' are contingent, because the fact that the two are one is something that had to be established a posteriori. But Kripke argues that if 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' is true, thens since both names are rigid designators and refer to the same entity in all possible worlds in which that entity exists, the identity statement is necessarily true. Philosophers had supposed this identity statement to be only contingently true because 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' is not analytic; but a failure to distinguish the metaphysical notion of necessity both from the epistemological notion of apriority and the semantic notion of analyticity makes for the muddle here. On Kripke's view, 'necessarily true' means 'true in all possible worlds'; so although 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' is a posteriori, it is necessary -- and if this is right, it establishes the existence of neceesary a posteriori truths, an exciting result.

Monday, 7 January 2008

The Sports Pages

It's a delicious irony that many of the cognoscenti look down upon those whose interests in a newspaper do not extend much farther than the sports pages when much of the best writing available can be found there.

Case in point: Peter Roebuck writing about the poor umpiring decisions that India suffered against Australia in the recent test in Sydney:
INDIA has been dudded. No-one with the slightest enthusiasm for cricket will take the least satisfaction from the victory secured by the local team in an SCG Test match that entertained spectators at the ground, provided some excellent batting but left a sour taste in the mouth. It was a match that will have been relished only by rabid nationalists and others for whom victory and vengeance are the sole reasons for playing sport. Truth to tell the last day was as bad as the first. It was a rotten contest that singularly failed to elevate the spirit.