Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Millikan, Images of Identity: In Search of Modes of Presentation

Strawson's "dot" model of co-referential thinking is anti-Fregean because:

(1) Thinking of an object as the same involves eliminating multiple modes of presentation
(2) A single dot can equivocate in its reference (so sense doesn't determine reference)

Millikan endorses the dot model and argues that Evans's dynamic thoughts are equivalent to the dot model.

Worries about the argument: there are functionally significant reasons for hanging on to multiple modes of presentation for an object, rather than eliminating them when you learn they co-refer. You might, e.g., want to hang on to a variety of modes of presentation for an object because other people refer to the object by way of those modes and don't realize they co-refer.


Charles P. Everitt said...

Your functional reason for retaining talk of modes of presentation just reinforces the sense I get sometimes that modes of presentation are only required because we're stupid. That is, if your functional reason is the only reason for retaining modes of presentation, then if we could teach others what we (who know that the co-referring terms in question co-refer) know, then we could do away with modes of presentation. I, for one, would like to think that there's more to modes of presentation than accounting for our stupidity. But that may just be a prejudice on my part.

Nat Hansen said...

If what you mean by "our stupidity" is that we have a limited point of view on the world, so that it isn't obvious when we're dealing with the same object (over time, through encounters with different parts of the thing, over different sensory modalities, and so on), then it's fair to say that I disagree with you: I think that saying modes of presentation "account for our stupidity" is a good initial characterization of what modes of presentation are for.

But I enjoy the rhetorical force of saying that modes of presentation are required because we're stupid. I would just add the qualification: they're required because we're stupider than an omniscient subject. That softens the blow a little bit.

Another reason for not dispensing with modes of presentation as the "dot" model does would be the possibility of remembering that you once didn't know that Eric Blair is actually George Orwell. That seems like it would pose a problem for the dot model, which involves just erasing one of the two "dots" where information is collected and transferring all of its information to another dot.