Exchange with a Correspondent on God, Soul, Etc., and Logical Positivism


Editorial Note

With some frequency I receive e-mail containing philosophical, political, or historical claims, sometimes stated very sweepingly and militantly, that I consider completely awful, ill informed, or frightening. Sometimes these people argue their ideas so persistently and tenaciously that the only thing to do is to stop answering them. The "Exchange with Ted Keller on Relativism and Marxism" was similar to this in that there was no point in continuing the argument, although Mr. Keller's views were of interest in themselves as paradigmatic representatives of moralistic relativism. The following exchange with a correspondent (name deleted at his request), who never did mention where he was a mathematics teacher (the e-mail address was at AOL), seemed of less value at the time, since the antiquated logical positivist ideas about meaning, by which he rationalized his loss of religion, struck me as more pathetic than as paradigmatic of anything. I was glad to be rid of him, after the e-mails had already added up to more than 60 Kilobytes, and did not consider this exchange worthy of posting in the Proceedings of the Friesian School. Since then, however, the quality of the philosophical correspondence I receive seems to have declined, and this person's views appear at least informed about something and possess the minor dignity of a real basis in the history of philosophy. At the same time, I was recently reminded of his confident assertions, which I characterized as arrogant, that all mathematicians and scientists agree with him, in relation to astronomer Allan Sandage's statement, quoted in the August 1998 Scientific American, that "I am a Platonist," meaning that "the equations of fundamental physics" are all that is real and that "we see only shadows on the wall" (p. 22). The Scientific American article was on the subject of scientists who have found God, as was the contemporary cover story of the July 20 issue of Newsweek magazine, where Sandage was also mentioned. Interestingly, the Newsweek article says, just along the way, "Humans invent abstract mathematics, basically making it up out of their imaginations..." (p. 49). Thus, the Newsweek reporter agreed with this correspondent--indeed, he probably even took this view for granted--while the actual scientist, Allan Sandage, whose views on mathematics only turned up in Scientific American, happens to be a very serious mathematical realist. Now we also have a powerful philosophical vinication of mathematical realism in Jerrold J. Katz's Realistic Rationalism [MIT Press, 1998], the follow-up to his great Metaphysics of Meaning. Consequently, the exchange with this correspondent in retrospect seems of sufficient interest to post, almost a year later, as an artifact in the struggle of actual mathematicians or scientists, or whoever, to find a place in relation to religion and to the philosophical theories that have had something to say about this, however wrong and reductionistic they may be.


Date: Tue, 30 Sep 1997 01:05:49 -0400 (EDT)

Subject: "God", "soul", "spirit" all meaningless to me!

Visited your web site.   The words "God", "spirit", and "soul" are
meaningless to me.  Why?   Because I do not know how to think of
anything to match them -- except just more words which I also do
not know how to think of anything to match.   -- XXXXX XXXXXX


Dear Mr. XXXXXXX,

Since these words have all meant something to people for centuries, I don't think that you are trying very hard. As for "anything to match," you might say much the same thing about the square root of minus one or virtual photons. Since you may have some kind of positivism in mind to dismiss "God," etc., you may need to reflect that positivism doesn't even work for science. Of course, plenty of people now reject science for just such reasons. Perhaps you are one of them.

Kelley Ross


Date: Tue, 30 Sep 1997 17:23:44 -0400 (EDT)

Dear Mr. Ross,

>>Since these words have all meant something to people for centuries,
I don't think that you are trying very hard.>>

I would have said the same thing when I was a Christian.   It
never occurred to me then to question whether the word "God" had a meaning.
I just automatically assumed it did.   The only question that ever occurred
to me was to ask was "Does God exist?"     

But I realize now that all the time I was a Christian, and even
after I became agnostic and even atheist,  it still never occurred to me to
question whether the word "God" had any meaning.   I just assumed it did.
Just like the word "mermaid".  Everyone knows there is no such thing as a
mermaid, but there is no question whatever that the word "mermaid" does have
meaning.   Asking the question "does 'what this word means' exist?" is a far
cry from the question "does this word mean anything?"          

>>As for "anything to match," you might say much the same thing about the
square root of minus one or virtual photons.>>

Mathematics is far from reality.    It is just a tool
useful for approximating some reality.    Numbers are not entities, but
attributes.   That is, numbers are adjectives.  The term "three pens", in
which the adjective "three" modifies the noun "pens", is just short for
saying "a pen and a pen and a pen".   There are no such "things" as numbers,
for adjectives do not stand for entities.

The square root of minus one is a mere construction in
math.   A complex number such as 3 + 4i has the meaning of adding 3 units
in the horizontal direction and 4 units in the vertical direction.  In
other words, the whole "imaginary number thing can be redefined as vectors
(pairs of numbers) and no square roots of negative numbers need ever be
taken.   The "imaginary" thing is a misnomer, as addition in the vertical
direction is not imaginary at all.  I am a math prof, and if you want to
discuss how complex numbers can be reconstructed without taking "square
roots of negative numbers" I'll be glad to show you how "i" (or "j" as
it's called in electronics, can be considered a 1-unit vector in the
direction of the y-axis, and how vector operations need not contain any
imaginary operations. 

As far as particles, scientists do not assert "there are such
things as photons".   All they say is "it works to assume that there are
particles of energy known as photons".  By "it works" I mean it leads to
consistencies in laboratory mesaurements.   Incidentally, it also works to
assume there are no such particles of energy but that light and heat energy
travels in waves instead.  Physicists don't ask "which assumptions are
true?" -- but rather "which assumptions work?"                        

Even electrons are not known to exist! All that is known is
that "it works" to assume there are little tiny objects known as electrons.

>>Since you may have some kind of positivism in mind to dismiss "God," etc.,
you may need to reflect that positivism doesn't even work for science.  Of
course, plenty of people now reject science for just such reasons.  Perhaps
you are one of them.>>

No indeed.  Even if the assumption of the existence of
mermaids were to  be found useful and consistent with scientific findings,
I definitely would use this assumption.   You might say the motto of
scientists is "If it works to assume it, then assume it!  - right or
wrong!"  Scientists are much more interested in getting consistent
results than in 'finding truth'.   This is as it should be!

However whether photons or electrons exist or not, they
certainly do have meaning.   So does a vector quantity measured by 3+4i
units.  (this latter means a vector of 5 units applied in the direction of
arctan( 4/3) or 53.13 with the horizontal. 

My problem is not having any mental image to match the
term "God" or "soul".   I really and truly don't and never did, even when I
was a Christian.  I furthermore believe that if you yourself did, you would
have told me how to have this concept myself. 

I believe this because if you were to tell me you didn't
know how to have a concept to match a certain word, and I knew how to, I'd
waste no time in telling you how to do it.   I would not instead merely say
you haven't tried hard enough -- I'd tell you how to have the concept.  

Thank you very much for being kind enough to reply.  I
did not expect you to.  --  XXXXX XXXXXX


At 05:23 PM 9/30/97 -0400, you wrote:
>Dear Mr. Ross,
>
>>Since these words have all meant something to people for centuries,
>>I don't think that you are trying very hard.>>
>
>I would have said the same thing when I was a Christian.   It
>never occurred to me then to question whether the word "God" had a
>meaning.  I just automatically assumed it did.   The only question that
>ever occurred to me was to ask was "Does God exist?"     
>
>But I realize now that all the time I was a Christian, and even
>after I became agnostic and even atheist,  it still never occurred to
>me to question whether the word "God" had any meaning.

Dear Mr. XXXXXX,

There aren't many theories of meaning left in which such a question is sensible. On Wittgenstein's "meaning as usage" theory, "God" has meaning just because people use it. Only the Logical Positivists got wound up about the idea that ordinary words may not have meaning. Unfortunately, by their Verificationist criterion of meaning, Logical Positivism itself was without meaning. Rather embarrassing. I don't happen to agree with Wittgenstein, but he is the popular guy these days, pretty much nobody else likes to say that words in ordinary usage are "meaningless," and Logical Postitivism is dead as a doornail. You may be a little behind the curve here.

>I just assumed it did.
>Just like the word "mermaid".  Everyone knows there is no such thing as a
>mermaid, but there is no question whatever that the word "mermaid" does
>have meaning.   Asking the question "does 'what this word means' exist?"
>is a far cry from the question "does this word mean anything?"

Which is just the point. The question about meaning and the question about existence are different. This goes all the way back to St. Thomas Aquinas. No one has trouble that the word "mermaid" means something. There is no reason why that would pose any creater problem with "God." Indeed, since God means different things to different people (the God of Spinoza is not the God of Abraham and Issac), it would be impossible to say how they are disagreeing if it were simply laid down that the word is without meaning.

>>As for "anything to match," you might say much the same thing
>>about the square root of minus one or virtual photons.>>
>
>Mathematics is far from reality.  It is just a tool
>useful for approximating some reality.

What Aristotle thought: which condemned science to stagnation through the Middle Ages. Only when the Platonists, the mathematical Realists, came back--Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Einstein--did science get going again. Oh, yes, and of course Einstein said about his physics that he was "knowing the mind of God."

>Numbers are not entities, but
>attributes.

Take it up with Kurt Gödel.

>That is, numbers are adjectives.  The term "three pens", in
>which the adjective "three" modifies the noun "pens", is just short for
>saying "a pen and a pen and a pen".   There are no such "things" as
>numbers, for adjectives do not stand for entities.

Numbers are abstract objects. What kind of existence abstract entities have, even for colors and other such attributes, is a subject of heated and on-going philosophical and meta-mathematical dispute. There is nothing trivially self-evident about it, which is what you seem to think.

>The square root of minus one is a mere construction in
>math.   A complex number such as 3 + 4i has the meaning of adding 3
>units in the horizontal direction and 4 units in the vertical direction.
>In other words, the whole "imaginary number thing can be redefined as
>vectors (pairs of numbers) and no square roots of negative numbers need
>ever be taken.   The "imaginary" thing is a misnomer, as addition in the
>vertical direction is not imaginary at all.  I am a math prof, and if you
>want to discuss how complex numbers can be reconstructed without taking
>"square roots of negative numbers" I'll be glad to show you how "i"
>(or "j" as it's called in electronics, can be considered a 1-unit vector
>in the direction of the y-axis, and how vector operations need not contain
>any imaginary operations. 

Then you can make God into another vector, if that is how you want to deal with such things. But modeling some quantity, imaginary or otherwise, along an geometrical axis simply gives you a model. It doesn't prove anything about the nature of the thing, which is evidently just what you want to say about God. But your attitude here, that everything is just how we construct it, is a pretty serious non-cognitivism. You can propose your Constructivist theory, and find some agreement about it, but you are naive or uninformed to think that you have proven something or that there is anything self-evident about this.

>As far as particles, scientists do not assert "there are such
>things as photons".   All they say is "it works to assume that there are
>particles of energy known as photons".

I'm sorry, this is pretty ridiculous. What "scientists" are you talking about? I am sure you can name a few, but Newton, Einstein, Schrodinger, Bohr, etc. will not be among them. You are caught up in some deconstructionist kind of pragmatic nihilism (e.g. Richard Rorty). The best scientist I've seen handle these kinds of issues about knowledge is Stephen J. Gould. I recommend Gould's Time's Arrow Time's Cycle and Wonderful Life. The best examination of the growth of scientific knowledge I know of is The Great Devonian Controversy by Martin J.S. Rudwick. And The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose is a very fine treatment of mathematics and science.

>By "it works" I mean it leads to
>consistencies in laboratory mesaurements.

There is the Pragmatism, even what I have seen called "vulgar pragmatism," since Pierce, James, and Dewey were never so nihilistic.

>Incidentally, it also works to
>assume there are no such particles of energy but that light and heat energy
>travels in waves instead.  Physicists don't ask "which assumptions are
>true?"
>-- but rather "which assumptions work?"

Again, it is quite a leap for you to speak for all "physicists." And quantum mechanics does say that there ARE "such particles of energy"; it just also says that when we are not observing them, they act like waves, and when we do observe them, they appear as particles and the wave effects disappear. Bohr called this "Complementarity," and now it is a well established principle. You seem to think light as waves is some sort of ad hoc formulation that works just as well, for any event, as the idea of particles. That is not true.

>Even electrons are not known to exist! All that is known is
>that "it works" to assume there are little tiny objects known as
>electrons.

Electrons are as well known to exist as anything that cannot be directly observed. If you have some theory of matter that explains the evidence as well as the theory of electrons, then you could probably get a Noble [sic, for "Nobel"] Prize by publishing it. Your "it works" view presupposes the claim that knowledge doesn't exist. Perhaps science is not as popular and respected as it was as late as the 50's because there are people like you telling students that they are not, after all, going to know anything about reality by going into mathematics or science.

>>Since you may have some kind of positivism in mind to dismiss "God,"
>>etc., you may need to reflect that positivism doesn't even work for
>>science.  Of course, plenty of people now reject science for just such
>>reasons.  Perhaps you are one of them.>>
>
>No indeed.  Even if the assumption of the existence of
>mermaids were to  be found useful and consistent with scientific
>findings,  I definitely would use this assumption.   You might say the
>motto of scientists is "If it works to assume it, then assume it!
>- right or wrong!"

Great how you like to speak for "scientists" again, as though every one automatically agrees with you. I am prepared to be arrogant about a number of things, but your arrogance here is impressive.

Consistency is a necessary condition of truth. This is a principle of logic. "Useful" is something else. If a theory is "useful" in explaining the data, this just means that it can account for the data, while perhaps another theory cannot. "Useful," however, can also refer to the USE of science and scientific knowledge itself. That is an important ambiguity. If the ultimate criterion of science is usefullness, it may turn out that science as a whole is not useful. It will all be in terms of what we want, since getting something we don't want is not useful. But with any kind of moral nihilism, what is wanted will simply be what people want, but what people want is actually different ("incommensurable" is the hermeneutic term). Some people want to "Return to the Pleistocene" because human civilization, even Neolithic civilization, is evil. Without truth, there is no way to rationally adjudicate such claims.

This is a lot more complicated than someone simply wanting to know the truth, whether it is expressed as the "mind of God" or not. Our knowledge of the electron is neither unfallible nor incorrigible, but there is simply no other scientific theory about it for the last century.

>Scientists are much more interested in getting consistent results than
>in 'finding truth'.   This is as it should be!

Here we go with "scientists" again. Speak for yourself, John,

>However whether photons or electrons exist or not, they
>certainly do have meaning.   So does a vector quantity measured by 3+4i
>units.  (this latter means a vector of 5 units applied in the direction of
>arctan( 4/3) or 53.13 with the horizontal. 

It is not under dispute that "electrons" have meaning. But if your criterion for meaning is that it is useful to you in science, your spiritual Fathers, like Carnap and Ayer, died a long time ago.

>My problem is not having any mental image to match the
>term "God" or "soul".   I really and truly don't and never did, even when I
>was a Christian.  I furthermore believe that if you yourself did, you would
>have told me how to have this concept myself. 

"Mental image" is the crudest kind of empiricism. Hume discovered that he didn't even have a "mental image" of cause and effect. So not even the Logical Positivists thought that they had to have a "mental image" of anything.

You problem is not that you don't have the concept; the problem is that you have argued yourself into believing that such concepts are "meaningless."

>I believe this because if you were to tell me you didn't
>know how to have a concept to match a certain word, and I knew how to, I'd
>waste no time in telling you how to do it.   I would not instead merely say
>you haven't tried hard enough -- I'd tell you how to have the concept.

It is not my business to explain the obvious to you. Philosophers don't give definitions for non-technical terms in common usage. Those you can find in the dictionary. But when it comes to something unobvious, such that words in common usage are "without meaning," that calls for comment.

>Thank you very much for being kind enough to reply.  I
>did not expect you to.  --  XXXXX XXXXXX

I'm not feeling very kind, since I find your views irritating. Not so much because of what they are, but because you seem to think they are so self-evident, and that all "scientists" naturally share your opinions. I think you would get a better hearing from lit-crit types and philosophers, though scientists themselves don't always have the best idea about what they are doing, as Rudwick examines.

Kelley Ross



Date: Sat, 4 Oct 1997 03:12:35 -0400 (EDT)

In a message dated 97-10-01 19:50:32 EDT, you write:
>>But I realize now that all the time I was a Christian, and 
>>even after I became agnostic and even atheist,  it still never
>>occurred to me to question whether the word "God" had any meaning.
>  
>Dear Mr. XXXXXX,
>  
>There aren't many theories of meaning left in which such a question is
>sensible.

It's not the theory that is not sensible to me, it's the words
given which allegedly define the word "God" I don't find sensible.
Really, what does "God" mean?  I can think of nothing except just
more words.  I have to have a thought of something besides just more
words.  

>On Wittgenstein's "meaning as usage" theory, "God" has meaning
>just because people use it.

Yes, emotive meaning, Ayer puts it, not cognitive
meaning.  Just as "Yaaahhh!" may have emotive meaning since it triggers
emotion, but it has no cognitive meaning.

>Only the Logical Positivists got wound up
>about the idea that ordinary words may not have meaning.
>Unfortunately, by their Verificationist criterion of meaning, Logical
>Positivism itself was without meaning.  Rather embarrassing.

The error of logical positivism was getting the cart before
the horse.  They thought that since truthfulness implies meaningfulness,
they could use truthfulness to determine meaningfulness.   But it
apparently didn't occur to them that meaningfulness is a PREREQUISITE
for truthfulness!

>I don't happen to agree with
>Wittgenstein, but he is the popular guy these days, pretty much
>nobody else likes to say that words in ordinary usage are "meaningless,"
>and Logical Postitivism is dead as a doornail.  You may be a little
>behind the curve here.

No, I've been aware of this flaw for a long time.  If the
Vienna Circle had not had to break up (thanks to Hitler taking over
Austria and Hitler not tolerating such a philosophy) they conceivably
might have corrected it.

However analytic philosophy spang up from logical positivism.
They say a word can only be learned from cases of usage a person has heard
or read - spoken or written by somebody else -- or a case of usage someone
has imagined after reading a dictionary.
  
>>I just assumed it did.
>>Just like the word "mermaid".
>
>Everyone knows there is no such thing as a mermaid, but there is no
>question whatever that the word "mermaid" does have
>meaning.  Asking the question "does 'what this word means' exist?" is a 
>far cry from the question "does this word mean anything?"
>  
>Which is just the point.  The question about meaning and the question
>about existence are different.  This goes all the way back to St. Thomas
>Aquinas.  No one has trouble that the word "mermaid" means something.
>There is no reason why that would pose any creater problem with "God."

I didn't say "mermaid" meaning something would "cause any
creator problems with the word 'God'".   What do you mean by "cause any
creator problems with the word 'God'"?   How can you "cause creator problems
with a word"?   I don't get any meaning even from that.  Causing creator
problems with a word????  No, that doesn't register a thought.  Tell me
what's that supposed to mean.    

>Indeed, since
>God means different things to different people

Well, what does it mean to somebody?  What does it mean to you?
(Please answer with something I can think about, not just more words that
don't register a thought).

>(the God of Spinoza is not
>the God of Abraham and Issac), it would be impossible to say how they are
>disagreeing if it were simply laid down that the word is without meaning.

It doesn't matter what they thought or said.   What matters is
that today almost everyone says "God created the universe" is a necessary
ingredient in the definition of "God".   They all insist on that being in
there.  

You brought up Spinoza.  Spinoza, I think, was an atheist who
didn't want to be known as an atheist because that's considered such a
terrible label by most people.   

So Spinoza pulled a trick!  He came up with this marvelous
idea of assigning to the word "God" the meaning "universe".  Then he
could honestly tell people "I believe in God" and nobody could call
him an atheist, for he believed in "God" because "God" is the universe.
You see, any atheist could pull this trick, because all atheists
believe in the universe!

>>>As for "anything to match," you might say much the same thing about
>>>the square root of minus one or virtual photons.
>
>>Mathematics is far from reality.  It is just a tool
>>useful for approximating some reality.
>  
>What Aristotle thought:  which condemned science to stagnation through the
>Middle Ages.

I said it's useful for approximating reality!!!  It's
WONDERFUL for that!!   It's indispensible for that!!!   You sound as tho you
thought I said it was no good!!!  Heck, we wouldn't be sitting here talking
on a computer if it were not for the help of mathematics.   I simply said
math was a TOOL for approximating reality, and isn't reality itself!   And a
lot of math does not approximate reality at all.  But the math which does,
sure does a good job -- but never a perfect job.
  
>>Numbers are not entities, but
>>attributes.
>  
>Take it up with Kurt Gödel.
 
No I want to take it up with you.
           
>>That is, numbers are adjectives.  The term "three pens", in
>>which the adjective "three" modifies the noun "pens", is just short for
>>saying "a pen and a pen and a pen".   There are no such "things" as
>>numbers, for adjectives do not stand for entities.
>  
>Numbers are abstract objects.

If you call the "two" of "two pens" an "abstract object",
then you have to also call the "soft" of "soft pillow" an "abstract object"
too.   Both "two" and "soft" help describe what I'm holding in my hands if
I'm holding two pens and a soft pillow in my hands.

If you'll think about it I think you''l see there's no
such "abstract thing" as a "two" or a "soft".  These are adjectives to help
describe things.        

>What kind of existence abstract entities
>have, even for colors and other such attributes, is a subject of
>heated on-going philosophical and meta-mathematical dispute.

Not for analytic philosophy, however.

>There is nothing
>trivially self-evident about it, which is what you seem to think.
> 
>>The square root of minus one is a mere construction in
>>math.  A complex number such as 3 + 4i has the meaning of adding 3 units
>>in the horizontal direction and 4 units in the vertical direction.  In
>>other words, the whole "imaginary number thing can be redefined as
>>vectors (pairs of numbers) and no square roots of negative numbers
>>need ever be taken.
>  
>The "imaginary" thing is a misnomer, as addition in the vertical
>direction is not imaginary at all.
>
>>I am a math prof, and if you want to discuss how complex
>>numbers can be reconstructed without taking "square roots of negative
>>numbers" I'll be glad to show you how "i" (or "j" as it's called in
>>electronics, can be considered a 1-unit vector in the direction of the
>>y-axis, and how vector operations need not contain any imaginary
>>operations.
>  
>Then you can make God into another vector.

A vector is a man-made mathematical tool for approximating
reality -- I don't think you want me to equate "God" with something
man-made.

>, if that is how you want to deal
>with such things.  But modeling some quantity, imaginary or otherwise,
>along an geometrical axis simply gives you a model.

Yes.

>It doesn't prove anything about the nature of the thing,

Exactly what I said about mathematics!   It only helps
approximate measurements.
      
>which is evidently just what you want to say about God.

"Say about God"?    I don't "say about God".   Please remember, I
don't use the word "God".  How can I "say about God" if I don't
know anything to think of for "God" to mean?  I can't!  Don't know how.

>But your attitude here, that everything is just how we construct it, is
>a pretty serious non-cognitivism.

You have to have a MENTAL construct -- not just a WORD
construct, not just a FEELING construct.    You have to have something
besides words to speak and write and hear and read, and besides the 
emotional feelings you have as you encounter the words.

>You can propose your Constructivist theory, and find some agreement
>about it, but you are naive or uninformed to think that you have proven
>something or that there is anything self-evident about this.

I don't have any "constructivist theory", just the knowledge
that when I close my eyes and try to "think of God" or "think of soul",
all I can do is draw a blank.   That's not true of any other entity
nouns I know of.     

>>As far as particles, scientists do not assert "there are such
>>things as photons".   All they say is "it works to assume that there are
>>particles of energy known as photons".
>  
>I'm sorry, this is pretty ridiculous.  What "scientists" are you talking
>about?

All of them.    No electrons have been detected.  Ask any scientist.
It's still called the electron theory, not the electron law.  
 
>I am sure you can name a few, but Newton, Einstein, Schrödinger,
>Bohr, etc. will not be among them.

These may have talked as if they know there are
electrons, but if you could have confronted any of these, they'd
tell you the same as I just told you.  Ask any physics prof if I'm
not right.

>You are caught up in some
>deconstructionist kind of pragmatic nihilism (e.g. Richard Rorty).  The
>best scientist I've seen handle these kinds of issues about knowledge is
>Stephen J. Gould.  I recommend Gould's Time's Arrow Time's Cycle
>and Wonderful Life.  The best examination of the
>growth of scientific knowledge I know of is The Great Devonian
>Controversy by Martin J.S. Rudwick.  And The Emperor's New Mind
>by Roger Penrose is a very fine treatment of mathematics and science.
>  
>>By "it works" I mean it leads to
>>consistencies in laboratory mesaurements.
>  
>There is the Pragmatism, even what I have seen called "vulgar
>pragmatism," since Pierce, James, and Dewey were never so nihilistic.
>  
>>Incidentally, it also works to
>>assume there are no such particles of energy but that light and heat
>>energy travels in waves instead.  Physicists don't ask "which
>>assumptions are true?" -- but rather "which assumptions work?"
>  
>Again, it is quite a leap for you to speak for all "physicists."

I've known quite a few physicists.   I know none who won't
agree.   Find some and I'll stand corrected.   At first alchemists started
out with the postulate that everything was either fire, air, water and
earth.  That assumption worked fairly well for a spell before they got
sophisticated enough with their work that inconsistencies started showing
up, and they had to change this.

>And quantum mechanics does say that there ARE "such particles of energy";
>it just also says that when we are not observing them, they act like
>waves, and when we do observe them, they appear as particles and the wave
>effects disappear.  Bohr called this "Complementarity," and now it is a
>well established principle.  You seem to think light as waves is some
>sort of ad hoc formulation that works just as well, for any event, as
>the idea of particles.  That is not true.
>  
>>Even electrons are not known to exist! All that is known is
>>that "it works" to assume there are little tiny objects known as
>>electrons.
>  
>Electrons are as well known to exist as anything that cannot be directly
>observed.

Nope.  Just that it works to assume them.  Nobody has
detected any.

>If you have some theory of matter that explains the evidence as
>well as the theory of electrons, then you could probably get a
>Noble [sic] Prize by publishing it.

Since when did I say I had one better????   It's very good, and
probably very true.

>Your "it works" view presupposes the claim that
>knowledge doesn't exist.  Perhaps science is not as popular and respected
>as it was as late as the 50's because there are people like you telling
>students that they are not, after all, going to know anything about
>reality by going into mathematics or science.<<

Who would dare tell them they can't use such useful tools as
mathematics to approximate reality??   Not I.   Why do you read all this
stuff I don't say into my words??

>>>Since you may have some kind of positivism in mind to dismiss "God,"
>>>etc., you may need to reflect that positivism doesn't even work for
>>>science.  Of course, plenty of people now reject science for just
>>>such reasons. Perhaps you are one of them.
>
>>No indeed.  Even if the assumption of the existence of
>>mermaids were to be found useful and consistent with scientific
>>findings, I definitely would use this assumption.   You might say
>>the motto of scientists is "If it works to assume it, then assume it!
>> - right or wrong!"
>  
>Great how you like to speak for "scientists" again, as though every one
>automatically agrees with you.

You don't think about what you say when you write.  Go back and
read that again!!!  I said "If it works to assume it, then assume it!"  Do
you think they AREN'T going to assume something if it WORKS to assume it and
DOESN'T WORK not to?
  
Think about it.  A scientist would be a fool not to use what
works!!!!  

>I am prepared to be arrogant about a number
>of things, but your arrogance here is impressive.
  

Arrogance is immaterial in an argument.  Only reason
counts.
  
>"Mental image" is the crudest kind of empiricism.  Hume discovered that
>he didn't even have a "mental image" of cause and effect.

That's silly.  A bird builds a nest.  The bird caused the nest.
Anybody can have a mental image of that, and a mental image of a potter
causing some pottery, etc, etc.   Plenty of mental images of causing and
effecting.

>So not even the
>Logical Positivists thought that they had to have a "mental image" of
>anything.

Yes they did.   

>You problem is not that you don't have the concept; the problem is that
>you have argued yourself into believing that such concepts are
>"meaningless."

Then why don't I remember ever having any concept?   And why
aren't you telling me HOW to have a concept instead of just telling me I
already have one.

>>I believe this because if you were to tell me you didn't
>>know how to have a concept to match a certain word, and I knew how
>>to, I'd waste no time in telling you how to do it.   I would not
>>instead merely say you haven't tried hard enough -- I'd tell you how to
>>have the concept.  
>  
>It is not my business to explain the obvious to you.

But I'd be kind enough to explain even the obvious to you
if you didn't see it.  I'd do it even if it were "not my business to".

>Philosophers don't
>give definitions for non-technical terms in common usage.  Those you can
>find in the dictionary.  But when it comes to something unobvious, such
>that words in common usage are "without meaning," that calls for comment.
>  
>>Thank you very much for being kind enough to reply.
>>I did not expect you to.  --  XXXXX XXXXXX
>  
>I'm not feeling very kind, since I find your views irritating.  Not so
>much because of what they are, but because you seem to think they are so
>self-evident, and that all "scientists" naturally share your opinions.

If you find some scientists who don't you could tell me why
they don't.  And please attack the REASONS I give for my "opinions",
not just my "opinions".  -- XXXXX


At 03:12 AM 10/4/97 -0400, you wrote:
>It's not the theory that is not sensible to me, it's the words
>given which allegedly define the word "God" I don't find sensible.
>Really, what does "God" mean?  I can think of nothing except just more
>words.  I have to have a thought of something besides just more
>words.

As I said, you are then confused about the nature of meaning, since the fact that ordinary language uses words means that they have meaning. Words are defined with words. It would be hard to have a dictionary otherwise. If you want "something besides words," then you are talking about something besides meaning. You may want some kind of obstensive definition, where the reference of the word is indicated. But I think Wittgenstein can be credited with showing that reference is not the same thing as meaning and that ostensive definitions presuppose the meaning that they are supposed to define.

>>On Wittgenstein's "meaning as usage" theory, "God" has meaning
>>just because people use it.
>
>Yes, emotive meaning, Ayer puts it, not cognitive
>meaning.  Just as "Yaaahhh!" may have emotive meaning since it triggers
>emotion, but it has no cognitive meaning.

Glad you mentioned Ayer, since this indicates that your objections are theory-laden: with the discredited theories of logical positivism. Emotion is not meaning, and its use by the Positivists was a desperate expedient, since they had not otherwise provided for the meaning of value statements. Unfortunately, their their theory turns upon itself, since they had not provided for the meaning of the statements expressing Logical Positivism. (And since "God" is a metaphysical rather than a value term, it would not even be covered by the "emotive theory of meaning.")

>The error of logical positivism was getting the cart before
>the horse.  They thought that since truthfulness implies meaningfulness,
>they could use truthfulness to determine meaningfulness.   But it
>apparently didn't occur to them that meaningfulness is a PREREQUISITE
>for truthfulness!

It occured to them, since that is what everyone had always thought. They just disagreed with it. But that was only part of their problem. Their verificationism, the idea that something must be verifiable to be meaningful, was based on their confidence in empiricism and logical induction. Since they all liked Hume, it is a little surprising they didn't notice that Hume had shown that indication could never "verify" anything. Hume also showed that empiricism is too impoverished to account for anything like scientific knowledge. As Hume said, "We shall never know what it is about bread that suits it for nutrition." Surprise. It was Wittgeinstein who can then be credited with showing that empiricism and induction were then too impoverished to account for and kind of meaning. The problems with Wittgenstein you can then see in Katz's <>.

If you want to make a career defending Logical Positivism, that is your choice. But, believe me, it is as dead as a doornail. For very good reasons.

>No, I've been aware of this flaw for a long time.  If the
>Vienna Circle had not had to break up (thanks to Hitler taking over Austria
>and Hitler not tolerating such a philosophy) they conceivably might have
>corrected it.

A little strange. The Vienna Circle simply moved to UCLA. Everyone kept at it, but they could not overcome the failures and incoherence of Logical Positivism.

>However analytic philosophy spang up from logical positivism.
>They say a word can only be learned from cases of usage a person has heard
>or read - spoken or written by somebody else -- or a case of usage someone
>has imagined after reading a dictionary.

And since "god" has been in use for a long time, you don't have any excuse not to be familiar with its meaning.

>>There is no reason why that would pose any creater [sic] problem
>>with "God."
>
>I didn't say "mermaid" meaning something would "cause any
>creator problems with the word 'God'".   What do you mean by "cause any
>creator problems with the word 'God'"?   How can you "cause creator
>problems with a word"?   I don't get any meaning even from that.
>Causing creator problems with a word????  No, that doesn't register a
>thought.  Tell me what's that supposed to mean.

That's because there is a typo. "Mermaid" does not pose any GREATER problem than "God." You compound the typo by quoting the word as "creator." You must have been thinking of God as the Creator, which is funny, since you say that the word "God" doesn't have any meaning for you, but your association is clearly with part of the common meaning of "God," which is as the Creator.

Well, what does it mean to somebody?  What does it mean to you?
>(Please answer with something I can think about, not just more words that
>don't register a thought).

I'm not going to play this game with you. Especially when it is going to be your Logical Positivist game. You have already asked for something besides words anyway. I can't send anything but words, or images, by email. If words are good enough, go to the dictionary. If words are not good enough, an email message won't help.

>It doesn't matter what they thought or said.   What matters is
>that today almost everyone says "God created the universe" is a necessary
>ingredient in the definition of "God".   They all insist on that being in
>there.

"They all"? I'm sure that is common enough. Even Stephen Hawking talks that way. But historically there are other ideas. So what? Haven't you already decided that God as the Creator is "meaningless" according to your theory about meaning?

>You brought up Spinoza.  Spinoza, I think, was an atheist who
>didn't want to be known as an atheist because that's considered such a
>terrible label by most people.

I don't think you've read much Spinoza if you think Spinoza was an atheist. It is not for nothing that Spinoza is called the "God intoxicated man." An atheist doesn't have quite as much to be intoxicated with.

>So Spinoza pulled a trick!  He came up with this marvelous
>idea of assigning to the word "God" the meaning "universe".
>Then he could honestly tell people "I believe in God" and nobody could
>call him an atheist, for he believed in "God" because "God" is the
>universe.   You see, any atheist could pull this trick, because all
>atheists believe in the universe!

But the universe is only the body of God. It is not the mind of God, or any of the INFINITE other attributes that God has. Read the text, man. But then there is almost nothing Spinoza says that would be "meaningful" to you.

>I said it's useful for approximating reality!!!  It's
>WONDERFUL for that!!   It's indispensible for that!!!   You sound as tho
>you thought I said it was no good!!!  Heck, we wouldn't be sitting here
>talking on a computer if it were not for the help of mathematics.   I
>simply said math was a TOOL for approximating reality, and isn't reality
>itself!   And a lot of math does not approximate reality at all.  But the
>math which does, sure does a good job -- but never a perfect job.

And my answer was: that to Pythagoras, Plato, Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Gödel, etc., mathematics WAS reality itself. Einstein and Hawking simply say "the mind of God." This is a very different attitude than your pragmatism. And if a lot of math "does not approximate reality at all," this may be so much the worse for "reality," by which I suppose you mean empirical or physical reality. Right there on <> a few years ago, they said: "Most practicing mathematicians are Platonists."

>>> Numbers are not entities, but attributes.
>  
>>Take it up with Kurt Gödel.  
> 
>No I want to take it up with you.

I don't have the time to get into this with you when there is plenty of other stuff you can read, and when there is really not much point in arguing with you when you are hung up in a non-starter like Logical Positivism.

I recommend The Metaphysics of Meaning by Jerrold Katz [MIT Press]. It is excellent, and Katz currently has a book on mathematical Realism in press.

>If you call the "two" of "two pens" an "abstract object",
>then you have to also call the "soft" of "soft pillow" an "abstract object"
>too.   Both "two" and "soft" help describe what I'm holding in my hands if
>I'm holding two pens and a soft pillow in my hands.

Yes, "soft" is an abstract object also.

>If you'll think about it I think you''l see there's no
>such "abstract thing" as a "two" or a "soft".  These are adjectives to
>help describe things.

Kind of circular. "Adjective" is, as you like to say, just a word. What adjectives name, according to Frege, are "concepts" or predicates, which are abstract objects. Even Russell didn't know quite how to get around that, despite its Platonic implications. The Positivists tried to avoid the issue, since it didn't fit in with their empiricism. So it was just another of the straws that brought down their camel. Wittgenstein gets around it by saying that all meaning is usage and that there is, in effect, no reference, but then that would be cold comfort to your complains about "God" or to your positivist ideas about meaning.

>>What kind of existence abstract entities
>>have, even for colors and other such attributes, is a subject of heated
>>and on-going philosophical and meta-mathematical dispute.
>
>Not for analytic philosophy, however.

Meaning what "analytic philosophy"? Wittgenstein? I have aleady noted the direction he pursued, which doesn't help you much. And a non-Wittgensteinian analytic philosophy now, with people like John Searl, is back to being a lot more Realistic than positivism was. Much sexier these days is the "post-modernist" stuff, like Richard Rorty. They don't give a shit about mathematics or science, since it is all "socially constructed" by "power relationships." You're not going to get your ticket punched there: mathematics, logic, and science are just the means by which white capitalist males oppress women and minorites.

>>Then you can make God into another vector
>
>A vector is a man-made mathematical tool for approximating
>reality -- I don't think you want me to equate "God" with something
>man-made.

The interesting thing about your discussion of imaginary numbers is your argument that we don't have to worry about what "i" MEANS. We just turn it into a vector. But if "i" doesn't have to mean anything, it is just a word, a word that you use for something (a mathematical dimension). If the word "God" is then used for anything, which it is ("Be good, or God will put you in Hell"), then that takes care of your meaning problem. As for being "man-made," any word is going to be "man-made." But if imaginary numbers are actually about something in reality, which you are presumably trying to approximate, then they must refer to something that is not man-made. And if you want to deny that there is any reality out there, I might wonder what it is that you are trying to "approximate."

>"Say about God"?    I don't "say about God".   Please remember, I
>don't use the word "God".  How can I "say about God" if I don't know
>anything to think of for "God" to mean?  I can't!  Don't know how.

Oh, excuuuse me. So YOU don't "use" the word "God"!

>>But your attitude here, that everything is just how we construct
>>it, is a pretty serious non-cognitivism.
>
>You have to have a MENTAL construct -- not just a WORD
>construct, not just a FEELING construct.    You have to have something
>besides words to speak and write and hear and read, and besides the
>emotional feelings you have as you encounter the words.

You are correct. But it is not possible to have something that is just "a WORD construct" without having a nonsense sentence, like "Waladun saghiirun." Those are "just words"--unless you speak some Arabic. But what you mean is NOT "a MENTAL construct," but "a definition that satisifies some kind of Logical Positivist or empiricist [Humean] criterion of meaning." Since you have decided that ordinary meanings are not meanings, then you actually want something more than the real mental component of meaning. After redefining your terms, then you can say that "God" is "just a word." That is stacking the deck, or, as logicians say, begging the question.

>>>You can propose your Constructivist theory, and find some
>>>agreement about it, but you are naive or uninformed to think that you
>>>have proven something or that there is anything self-evident
>>>about this.
>
>I don't have any "constructivist theory", just the knowledge
>that when I close my eyes and try to "think of God" or "think of soul",
>all I can do is draw a blank.   That's not true of any other entity
>nouns I know of.

You "draw a blank" because of your positivism. No ordinary person has to close their eyes to know the meanings of words. You are looking for some kind of empiricist image. Such an impoverished theory of meaning can only lead you into a constructivist theory of truth, as it evidently does.

>>>As far as particles, scientists do not assert "there are such
>>>things as photons".   All they say is "it works to assume that there are
>>>particles of energy known as photons".
>  
>>I'm sorry, this is pretty ridiculous.  What "scientists" are you talking
>>about?
>
>All of them.    No electrons have been detected.  Ask any scientist.
>It's still called the electron theory, not the electron law.

Sorry. You are in no position to speak for "all of them." What Stephen Weinberg says is that electrons were discovered by Thomson in 1897. It would be hard to discover electrons without detecting them, which Thomson did. Your view here is precisely the kind of non-cognitivism or constructivism that I was talking about.

Whatever you think you mean about the difference between an "electron theory" and an "electron law," you don't say. If it is the difference between uncertainty and certainty, that we only have a "law" with certainty, then there are no kinds of "laws" whatsoever, since knowledge is fallible. I even find all kinds of fallibility in the laws of logic, as least in so far as they are used by my logic students. Do I "detect" a computer in front of me? Descartes wasn't quite sure of that. But then if there is uncertainty in all knowledge, there is no good reason to deny that electrons have been "detected," when there is no serious doubt in science about electrons. I think Ernst Mach was the last person who had a serious problem with whether small objects like atoms had been "detected" or not.

>>I am sure you can name a few, but Newton, Einstein, Schrodinger,
>>Bohr, etc. will not be among them.
>
>These may have talked as if they know there are
>electrons, but if you could have confronted any of these, they'd tell
>you the same as I just told you.  Ask any physics prof if I'm not
>right.

Nonsense. Ask any physics prof who has the same kind of nihilistic indoctrination that you do. Perhaps you have a lot of friends like that, but the great physicists think that knowledge actually is knowledge, about the structure of reality.

>I've known quite a few physicists.

Good for you.

>I know none who won't agree.

What a shame.

>Find some and I'll stand corrected.

In my last email I gave you a list of books. If you forgot them, I'll list them again: "The best scientist I've seen handle these kinds of issues about knowledge is Stephen J. Gould. I recommend Gould's Time's Arrow Time's Cycle and Wonderful Life. The best examination of the growth of scientific knowledge I know of is The Great Devonian Controversy by Martin J.S. Rudwick. And The Emperor's New Mind by Roger Penrose is a very fine treatment of mathematics and science." For philosophy of science, there is of course Popper's Objective Knowledge, which pretty much the opposite of the kind of thing you are peddling.

>>Electrons are as well known to exist as anything that cannot be directly
>>observed.
>
>Nope.  Just that it works to assume them.  Nobody has
>detected any.
>
>>If you have some theory of matter that explains the evidence as
>>well as the theory of electrons, then you could probably get a
>>Noble [sic] Prize by publishing it.
>
>Since when did I say I had one better????   It's very good, and
>probably very true.

I think, again, you may be equating "detection" with "absolute certainty," and so are confusing the idea that science only works by falsification, according to Popper, with the idea that we don't have ANY certainty and so have "detected" nothing. All you need is a more sophisticated idea of scientific knowledge than what you got from A.J. Ayer.

>Who would dare tell them they can't use such useful tools as
>mathematics to approximate reality??   Not I.   Why do you read all this
>stuff I don't say into my words??

Because you are not saying enough to make any sense. Your whole idea of our ability to "approximate reality" falls apart with the kind of semantics and epistemology that you advocate. Skeptics can easily come back at you and ask, as Hume himself did, how you know there is a "reality" to "approximate"? If you can't answer that question, which you can't with your impoverished positivism, then the skeptics are justified in taking the next popular step of saying that your mathematics and science are just your "useful tools" of enforcing white male capitalist power.

>You don't think about what you say when you write.  Go back and
>read that again!!!  I said "If it works to assume it, then assume it!"  Do
>you think they AREN'T going to assume something if it WORKS to assume it
>and DOESN'T WORK not to?

The question is about what it means that something "works." If you mean that it "works" to approximate reality, then you must be able to account for how we know that there is a reality and how we know that we are approximating it; but your kind of pragmatism is precisely the desire to avoid those kinds of questions. If we still have not "detected" electrons after 100 years in a way that is cognitively satisfying to you, then it is clear we are never going to detect them, and the question about "what works" becomes a question about the purpose and use of science, which are moral and political questions, not mathematical or scientific ones. If you do not want to make strong claims about truth, you pass the buck to those who will, and whose purposes are very different from an understanding of nature or reality.

>Think about it.  A scientist would be a fool not to use what
>works!!!!

The problem with a pragmatic criterion of truth is that then the post-modernist response to you is that it "works" to reinforce the white male patriarchy. And if you try to argue with that, the response can be that logic itself is something that you use to oppress others. But truth is independent of what "works," what our purposes are, or what we want--unless we just want the truth, which is what has motivated most people in the history of science, if not your physicist friends.

>>I am prepared to be arrogant about a number
>>of things, but your arrogance here is impressive. 
>
>Arrogance is immaterial in an argument.  Only reason
>counts.

When you want to invoke "all scientists" as agreeing with you, this is both arrogant and material indeed, since you cannot possibily speak for "all scientists" and must overlook the attitudes of the greatest scientists whose views we can read.

In the Tractatus Wittgenstein, still essentially a positivist, said that anything that was not a statement of science was without meaning. Then he realized that the Tractatus was not a statement of science, so it was actually without meaning. But when Einstein said, "God is subtle but not malicious," is that a statement of science? By one criterion, that statements of science are statements made by scientists, it is more a statement of science than anything YOU, or your physicist friends, could say, since Einstein was a greater scientist than any of you are likely to be. But you must say that Einstein was talking nonsense, since you don't have a meaning for "God." A shame you couldn't have walked with him and Gödel down Mercer Street, some day in the late 40's, to the Institute for Advanced Study.

>>"Mental image" is the crudest kind of empiricism.  Hume
>>discovered that he didn't even have a "mental image" of cause and
>>effect.
>
>That's silly.  A bird builds a nest.  The bird caused the nest.
>Anybody can have a mental image of that, and a mental image of a potter
>causing some pottery, etc, etc.   Plenty of mental images of causing and
>effecting.

So you are not even as sophisticated as Hume. Or the Logical Positivists--who did not disagree with Hume about this. I recommend Hume's Equiry Concerning Human Understanding, or Part One of his Treatise of Human Nature. You are not going to impress A.J. Ayer by saying that Hume is "silly."

>Then why don't I remember ever having any concept?   And why
>aren't you telling me HOW to have a concept instead of just telling me I
>already have one.

If, as a Christian, you used the word "God," you had a concept. What you have done is changed your mind about what a "concept" is. And, again, I don't have to tell you anything that you can find in a dictionary. And, again, your request is paradoxical, since I can only send words over the Internet, and you are evidently asking for "more" than words.

>But I'd be kind enough to explain even the obvious to you
>if you didn't see it.  I'd do it even if it were "not my business
>to".

I would be happy to explain anything to you if it did not involve playing along with your little game. If you were seriously concerned about metaphysical questions or the possible nature of God, I would be happy to write about it at length. But that is not what you are about. You are in the perverse business, because of a discredited theory of meaning, of claiming not to have a meaning for a word that everyone, even an atheist, uses and that you can find in the dictionary. Indeed, if "God" really has no meaning, then the word "atheist" ("no-god") also means nothing, as though an atheist said, "I am an atheist because I don't believe in the existence of XXXXXX."

>If you find some scientists who don't you could tell me why
>they don't.  And please attack the REASONS I give for my "opinions",
>not just my "opinions".  -- XXXXX

I have cited many good books on science, epistemology, and semantics, many by scientists and mathematicians (Gould, Penrose, Hawking). I have also indicated why logical positivist ideas about meaning and science have been discredited. This time, you seem more obviously to rely on those ideas but are, if anything, more stubborn and arrogant is maintaining, not just their truth, but their universal (!) acceptance in the scientific community. Yet you even dismiss Hume's discovery about causality, which is the basis of all subsequent philosophy, including that of your positivists and "analytic philosophy," as "silly." Astonishing.

Thus, I hope that you will not write to me again. It has taken me about four hours, just this time, to respond to you, and I have other things I must do. Your problem is not anything I can correct through this venue. If you actually think that all scientists agree with you, the only way this can be corrected is if you read more by scientists and by philosophers of science than you evidently have--starting with somewhat more up to date works than by Ayer or Hans Reichenbach--though the other side of your problem is not even understanding the philosophical background of modern epistemological problems in someone like Hume.

The postivists had a fun time dismissing many of the traditional problems of philosophy as pseudo-problems. Well, your problem with the meaning of "God" is a pseudo-problem, whether we are talking about common sense or about recent philosophers as disparate, and as otherwise opposed to each other, as Popper and Wittgenstein. The only philosophical comfort you can have for your strange inability comes from the Logical Positivists, whose views were actually so incoherent and impoverished that it has been tough finding anyone in philosophy to defend them for about 30 years. But you are still using their language.

I am more than happy to explain things to someone who really wants to understand, or to argue with someone who seems to be informed about the history of philosophy and science. But you are actually someone who has made up their mind, is not very well informed, and has an axe to grind. It not a matter of explaining things to you but of undoing a mish mash of false philosophical ideas, which, indeed, is what the positivists themselves used to say they were doing. I think that is something more in the nature of a thing that you should be doing for yourself, especially when you have decided that just "all scientists" actually agree with you. So I hope you will now, for the time being at least, leave me alone.

Farewell,
Kelley Ross


[Further e-mail received from Mr. XXXXX XXXXXX, left unread.]


Dear Sir:

I asked you, for the time being, not to write to me again. Your email is unread and unanswered. Please catch up on the UNIVERSAL critiques of your logical postivist theory of meaning, and on sensible philosophy of science (like Karl Popper), before you write again. I am not running a free college classroom for people who actually are not interested in my advice, let alone in the Project of the Friesian School.

But, if you want to be more up to date with as sterile, scientistic, and impoverished an analytic philosophical system as possible, I would recommend you study Willard Van Orman Quine. He is still alive, and you would probably like him. Just don't bother me with it.

With friends like you, mathematics and science don't need enemies.

Kelley Ross


Editorial Note

The previous exchange occured in 1997. A further e-mail was received from the positivist correspondent in April 1999, requesting space for a "rebuttal" and complaining about the presence of his name on the internet. He was offered a link to any webpage where he might like to write his rebuttal, or anything else, but he didn't have such a page or, apparently, any intention to make one. In the absence of such a link, the correspondent's name was removed from this page. He did finally identify himself as a mathematics teacher at a college in South Carolina, but also continued to send long, unsolicited tracts with his familiar arguments for logical positivism. When I again took the trouble to point out the logical fallacies and unsupported assumptions in his arguments, he complained that I was "irrational" and must be blinded by emotion not to be persuaded by him. He never did ask, of course, whether I believed in God or not, so it is not clear just what emotional blindness would be involved. His determination not to continue appealing to one so irrational, however, didn't even survive one day, and a further lengthy disputation has been received, against my expressed wishes and instruction. The original logical positivists were narrow-minded and obsessive enough, but I fear that this correspondent, in whom bad manners and bad reasoning contend for supremacy, is obsessive and self-absorbed to an abnormal, even mentally abnormal, degree. Hopefully if he gets the last word, he will not continue his harassment. The exchange, nevertheless, is added to this page as follows, since, whatever the merits of the disagreement may be, I do not wish to be accused of refusing to expose such an exchange of philosophical claims, for what they are worth, to disinterested examination.


Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999 10:00:12 EDT
Subject: (no subject)

Will you print my rebuttal if I write it?  -- XXXXX XXXXXXX


At 10:00 AM 4/27/99 EDT, you wrote: >Will you print my rebuttal if I write it? -- XXXXX XXXXXXX >

Rebuttal of what? I think you had your say. It is beating a dead horse at this point. Certainly there are other sites or journals that would welcome your brand of positivism. Or you could start your own website. If your "rebuttal" is thus posted elsewhere, I will put in a link to it.

Kelley Ross


Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999 14:36:42 EDT
Subject: Re: (no subject)

In a message dated 4/27/99 1:48:14 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
kross@friesian.com writes:

[[ Rebuttal of what?  I think you had your say. ]]

Yes, I had my say before you said things like this (I only cite one thing, 
but there are many others):

You said: >(the God of Spinoza is not
>the God of Abraham and Issac), it would be impossible to say how they are
>disagreeing if it were simply laid down that the word is without meaning.>>

Spinoza was a pantheist.  Pantheists say "God" = "universe".  If that is the 
case then every atheist in the world believes in God!!!!  Why?  Because every 
atheist in the world believes in the universe.  Do you allow this 
contradiction that every atheist is a theist?

There are not enough English speakers who are pantheists to cause the word 
"God" to mean "universe" in the standard English language.  The English 
language I speak is the one where "God" is believed to mean what all 
dictionaries say or imply, i.e., "creator (or originator) of the universe".  
[If you refer to a dictionary, be sure to observe the difference between the 
lower case "god" and the capitalized "God".  I agree that "god" is 
meaningful, and the ancient Greeks defined all their gods well.]

If I spoke the language of Spinoza and the pantheists, then I would of course 
say "I believe in God".  

XXXXX XXXXXXX


Dear Mr. XXXXXXX,

>If I spoke the language of Spinoza and the pantheists, then I would of course 
>say "I believe in God".

This is the kind of problem we have: You don't know your Spinoza. What you mean by "the universe" is not what Spinoza meant. The physical universe encompasses one attribute, out of an infinite number of attributes, of Spinoza's God. But then, since you don't know what "God" means, whether Spinoza has a good theory or not can hardly be dealt with. And since I doubt that metaphysics has any "cash" value for you, what Spinoza actually meant must be so much nonsense.


Date: Tue, 27 Apr 1999 15:59:12 EDT
Subject: Re: Spinoza

In a message dated 4/27/99 3:04:35 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
kross@friesian.com writes:

I said [[If I spoke the language of Spinoza and the pantheists, then I 
would of course say "I believe in God".  
 
You said [[ This is the kind of problem we have:  You don't know your 
Spinoza.  What you mean by "the universe" is not what Spinoza meant.  The 
physical universe encompasses one attribute, out of an infinite number of
 attributes, of Spinoza's God.  But then, since you don't know what "God"
 means, whether Spinoza has a good theory or not can hardly be dealt with.
 And since I doubt that metaphysics has any "cash" value for you, what
 Spinoza actually meant must be so much nonsense. ]]

OK.  But I am right in saying that the "God" of Spinoza, whatever that is if 
anything, is not the "God" of the majority of English speakers.  So when I 
say "God" is undefined, I am talking about "God" in the language determined 
by the majority of English speakers.  That is the English I speak.  

Your beef was that I said God is defined as "creator of the universe", and I 
showed that to be meaningless.  You said "God" did not have to be "creator of 
the universe", and brought up Spinoza as an example to show that it did not.  
 But it DOES have to be "creator of the universe" in the language determined 
by the majority of English speakers.   That is the ONLY language I say "God" 
is meaningless in.  And -- it is the ONLY language I speak.  -- XXXXX


At 03:59 PM 4/27/99 EDT, you wrote: >Your beef was that I said God is defined as "creator of the universe", and I >showed that to be meaningless.

Sir:

You did not "show" anything of the sort. All you have done is reiterate the lamest theory of meaning in 20th century philosophy, if not in all philosophy.

Why you are bothering me, I do not know. You are not interested in the philosophy of the Friesian School. Your problem is not with God, it is with common sense. I have never been interesting in helping you fight your way out of that paper bag. If you had sincere questions, that would be one thing, but you simply have an axe to grind. I do not find this interesting or edifying. Please find a more suitable forum for your views.


Date: Wed, 28 Apr 1999 01:53:06 EDT
Subject: Fwd: Spinoza

In a message dated 4/27/99 8:26:30 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
kross@friesian.com writes:

[[>Your beef was that I said God is defined as "creator of the universe", 
>and I showed that to be meaningless. 
 
 Sir:
 
>You did not "show" anything of the sort.]]

Yes, I did. You can't tell how you could possibly teach somebody to use 
"creator" except from cases of usage of 

(1) "____ was the creator of ___"

when it was exactly synonymous with 

(2)  "The part of the universe known as ___ was the creator of the part of 
the universe known as _____"

So when a person who has learned (1) synonymous with (2) hears 

(3) "God created the universe"

he can only hear it as

(4) The part of the universe known as God was the creator of the part of the 
universe known as the universe"

Which is pure gibberish and you know it.  You cannot refute this argument.  
All you can do is get mad and raise hell with me.  But refute it?  No way!

You tried to tell me Spinoza's definition of "God" was used by enough people 
for it to be standard English.  You know this is false. 

[[ All you have done is reiterate
 the lamest theory of meaning in 20th century philosophy, if not in all
 philosophy.]]

Even if I did, you can't refute it.  You prove that be default.  All you can 
do is poo poo it.
 
[[Why you are bothering me, I do not know.]]

Because you got me plastered all over your web page with all kinds of ad 
hominems and I don't like it one bit.  You didn't get my permission to put 
that there for the world to see.  I thought that was a private 
correspondence.  

[[ You are not interested in the
 philosophy of the Friesian School.  Your problem is not with God,]]

That doesn't say anything because it contains a meaningless word. 

[[ it is with common sense.]]

Common sense?  Why don't you get enough of it to realize the difference 
between a positive assertion and a negative one?  A negative assertion is one 
of a nonexistence or nonoccurrence.  A positive assertion is one of an 
existence or of an occurrence.

I call your bluff.  When poker player A calls player B's bluff, player B must 
turn over his cards.  Player B cannot sit there without showing them and say 
to player A "It's up to you to prove I don't have a winning hand here.  I 
don't have to show you my cards.  I win automatically if you can't prove I 
don't have two aces under here."

You see, player A is making a negative assertion that player B does not have 
a winning hand.  Player B is making a positive assertion.  Nothing is wrong 
with a positive or negative assertion, but the burden of demonstration is 
always upon the shoulders of the positive asserter, not upon the negative 
asserter.

You are the positive asserter, that the words (1) can be taught from examples 
not synonymous with (2).  But you know better.  I call your bluff to be able 
to tell me how.  If someone learned (1) this way, the only way they can 
interpret (3) is as (4).  That's a negative assertion I make.  You assert the 
existence of another way.  I assert the nonexistence of another way.  So you 
have to "turn over your cards", not sit there holding them insisting that I 
prove you don't have a winning combination.   

<<  I have never been interesting in helping you fight your
 way out of that paper bag.>>

What?? With all those nasty things you say about me on your web page, why 
would you possibly think I thought you were interested in helping me do 
anything?  Make sense, please! 

[[  If you had sincere questions, that would be one
 thing, but you simply have an axe to grind.  I do not find this interesting
 or edifying.  Please find a more suitable forum for your views ]]

You take that off your webpage pronto or you will hear from my attorney.  

XXXXX XXXXXXX


Sir:

You are a sophist playing word games. The theory of meaning that you promote has been exploded many times over, and I will not take the time to play your game by making more of an effort than I did in the original correspondence. I have cited an excellent source, Katz's book, you can examine. I notice that your "rebuttal" now is simply to repeat the same false principles with which you began. You exhausted my patience a long time ago.

If your ideas are as widely accepted as you think they are, then you will have no trouble finding a suitable venue for them. Or perhaps you could write to Allan Sandage, who says that he now believes in God, and straighten him out with your "all scientists believe in this" line. I'm sure he would appreciate it.

Correspondence to the Proceedings of the Friesian School is accepted under the condition that it may be posted. The homepage has said so for some time. You wrote "letters to the editor." Since you object to your name being linked on the internet to your *unedited* statements, it is now removed. As I have said, if you have your "rebuttal" posted elsewhere, a link will be installed to it (and your name restored at your request), and you can say whatever you like in defense of your statements or doctrine.

At the same time, I note that you have never extended the courtesy of actually saying who are you are, apart from your name.


Date: Thu, 29 Apr 1999 09:32:52 EDT
Subject: Exposing word games is my game

In a message dated 4/28/99 6:50:54 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
kross@friesian.com writes:

[[ You are a sophist playing word games. ]]

I'll address that in a minute.  


Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism 

The above internet link correctly describes my position as a noncognitist.   
However even the author of this thinks it can be escaped by defining the word 
"God" different from the way it is "defined" by the majority of English 
speakers.  I agree with this also, for if "God" can be defined as "universe," 
"rock", or "pencil" then it will have meaning. Hwever, it still won't have 
meaning in standard English.

[[ You are a sophist playing word games. ]]

No, I expose word games, but never play them  That's the whole aim of 
analytic philosophy -- exposing word games.  I am exposing the word game 
which has led so many to believing they can play the following word game, and 
believe they are not playing one:

WORD GAME:: "now that we have established a meaning for the word 'beyond', 
relating parts of the physical universe to each other, we can now speak it 
with 'universe' to say 'beyond the universe'  and it will automatically give 
meaning to 'beyond the universe'".

The preceding word game, which has many different forms, is the one and only 
thing I try to expose.   "Creator of the universe" is but one of many 
implications of the automatically assumed meaningfulness of  "beyond the 
universe

[[ The theory of meaning that you promote has been exploded many times over,]]

You think you can continue to just say "that's logical positivism" and 
logical positivism has been exploded -- and that will refute the above.  The 
verification principle of logical positivism has been defeated, true.   That, 
however, has nothing to do with the fact that the teaching and learning of 
words is always accomplished from citing or speaking of examples of usage.

[[ and I will not take the time to play your game by making more of an effort 
than I did in the original correspondence.]]

It's not that you "will not take time", it's that you cannot defeat the above 
exposure of the mentioned word game.  Words must be taught and learned by 
examples of usage, and these examples are always within the universe, and 
cannot be extended "beyond the universe" since the word "beyond" itself (and 
similar words "outside of", "more than"", "exterior to", themselves) can only 
be defined to relate parts of the universe. 

[[  I have cited an excellent source, Katz's book, you can examine.]]

But it is not going to explain how you can "extend" words by making 
constructions like "beyond the universe" when the word "beyond" itself can 
only be defined "in-universe".

[[  I notice that your "rebuttal" now is simply to repeat the same
 false principles with which you began.]]

Yes.  I repeat what you never refuted.  You apparently think poo-pooing it by 
saying they are "the same false principles with which you began" somehow 
makes it ok to extend the word "beyond" to "past where it can be defined".

[[  You exhausted my patience a long time ago.]]

Makes no difference about your patience, the word "beyond" still cannot 
"extend beyond" where it can be defined.

[[ If your ideas are as widely accepted as you think they are, then you will
 have no trouble finding a suitable venue for them.]]

There are many analytic philosophers and noncognitivists.   What they reveal 
is not popular, but is ironclad, irrefutable.

[[  Or perhaps you could write to Allan Sandage, who says that he now 
believes in God,]]

Nobody does anything called "believe in God".  All people can do is believe 
that it is possible for them to do something called "believe in God" and then 
trick themselves into believing they are accomplishing something for the 
words "believe in God" to describe.

[[ and straighten him out with your "all scientists believe in this" line.  
I'm
 sure he would appreciate it.]]

No, my immediate mission is not to straighten out theists, but to straighten 
out atheists and agnostics.   To be sure, my long range goal is to eventually 
straighten theists out also, but this can never be accomplished until 
atheists and agnostics really understand what theism really is -- a big word 
game -- not a belief (except the belief that a word game is not a word game).
 
[[ Correspondence to the Proceedings of the Friesian School is accepted
under the condition that it may be posted.  The homepage has said so for some
 time.  You wrote "letters to the editor."  Since you object to your name
 being linked on the internet to your *unedited* statements, it is now
 removed.  As I have said, if you have your "rebuttal" posted elsewhere, a
 link will be installed to it (and your name restored at your request), and
 you can say whatever you like in defense of your statements or doctrine.]]

I do not have a webpage at present. 

[[ At the same time, I note that you have never extended the courtesy of
 actually saying who are you are, apart from your name.]]

I am a professor of mathematics at XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXX College, XXXXXXXX SC, 
62 years old.

XXXXX XXXXXXX


>I am a professor of mathematics at XXXXXXXX XXXXXXXXX College, XXXXXXXX SC, >62 years old.

Thank you, Mr. XXXXXXX. I will take the time to respond to your letter.

At 09:32 AM 4/29/99 EDT, you wrote:
>I do not have a webpage at present. 
>

You can get a personal webpage quite easily at AOL. Then you can peddle your views on the web, like the rest of us. I will install a link to your page when you have one. I have removed your name from the "correspondence" pages of the Proceedings of the Friesian School. If you wish to have a link installed, it would be appropriate to restore your name to those pages.

>"http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/theodore_drange/definition.html"
>Atheism, Agnosticism, Noncognitivism 
>
>The above internet link correctly describes my position as a noncognitist.

A little problem. If you are a non-cognitivist, then you cannot know that you views are correct. Unless you have some other definition of non-cognitivism than the common one, that we do not know things. I see that your argument for a formalistic treatment of "i" is essentially a non-cognitivist treatment. However, you should be aware that Gödel's Proof refutes formalistic systems (like Hilbert's) of mathematics, since every formal deductive system must have propositions that are true but cannot be proven on the basis of the axioms of the system. I recommend Penrose's popular *The Emperor's New Mind* for its discussion of this point.

>No, I expose word games, but never play them  That's the whole aim of 
>analytic philosophy -- exposing word games.

Unfortunately, your "exposure" is on the basis of implicit assumptions which seem to be considered self-evident by you. That makes what you do a word game, since you do not examine your own assumptions and make bizarre statements ("I don't know what the word 'God' means") that other people are expected to take seriously. There is no good reason why they should.

>I am exposing the word game 
>which has led so many to believing they can play the following word game, and 
>believe they are not playing one:
>
>WORD GAME:: "now that we have established a meaning for the word 'beyond',

This is a false start. "We" (meaning you, I take it) do not "establish" meanings for words, unless we want to define our own technical vocabulary. The meanings for common words are "found." Those meanings can be clarified, but deciding that a commonly meaningful word is suddenly "meaningless" is inherently paradoxical. You are using a constructivist notion of meaning, which is fine, but you seem to think this is some obvious and non-problematic starting point, which it is not. You can play your own game to your heart's content, but this is neither a reason nor an argument why others need to. Much of Analytic Philosophy, which you seem to think you personally represent, after Wittgenstein has expressed its scepticism more over the technical vocabulary of philosophy, which you are using, rather than over words in ordinary language.

>relating parts of the physical universe to each other, we can now speak it 
>with 'universe' to say 'beyond the universe'  and it will automatically give 
>meaning to 'beyond the universe'".

This is the most eggregious move in your presentation. To say that the meanings that "we establish" serve to relate "parts of the physical universe to each other" presupposes the assumption that language only refers to the physical universe, because the physical universe is all that exists and language only refers to what exists (or, see the language learning questions below). This is to sneak your metaphysics into a system that you probably want to maintain is not metaphysical at all. You beg the question. There is nothing in the meaning of the word "beyond" that says anything for or against the universe being all that exists, or that our knowledge is confined to the physical universe.

>The preceding word game, which has many different forms, is the one and only 
>thing I try to expose.

Yours is the word game, played with your implicit assumptions.

>You think you can continue to just say "that's logical positivism" and 
>logical positivism has been exploded -- and that will refute the above.  The 
>verification principle of logical positivism has been defeated, true.   That, 
>however, has nothing to do with the fact that the teaching and learning of 
>words is always accomplished from citing or speaking of examples of usage.

So what? Usage of language is to use language. Statements in language refer. To say that language ONLY refers to the physical universe is to attach a theory about language. That theory may be true or false, but it is NOT an argument for it to say that "the teaching and learning of words is always accomplished from citing or speaking of examples of usage." The later Wittgenstein reached very different conclusions than you from identical observations.

>It's not that you "will not take time", it's that you cannot defeat the above 
>exposure of the mentioned word game.

It is that I spent a fair amount of time responding to your original e-mails, and am doing so again. But you fail to see the point and continue to repeat claims that are either non-sequiturs or simply false.

>Words must be taught and learned by 
>examples of usage, and these examples are always within the universe,

The usage may be within the universe, if we accept the premise that we are within the universe (which is not true on some views), but this still doesn't prove anything because it is not RELEVANT to your conclusion, which denies that usage could REFER to anything outside of the universe. That is a claim, and you can make it if you like, but no one need take it seriously as an ARGUMENT or as a non-controversial premise.

>and 
>cannot be extended "beyond the universe" since the word "beyond" itself (and 
>similar words "outside of", "more than"", "exterior to", themselves) can only 
>be defined to relate parts of the universe. 

Again, this does not follow. Words "can only be definied to relate parts of the universe" because you assume that words can only be defined to relate parts of the universe. That is your assumption, not a conclusion.

This was always the trick in Logical Positivism: "We are only going to use language this way," and then it is "discovered": "Oh my God (or something)! This means we can only use language this way!" Pretty pathetic.

>But it is not going to explain how you can "extend" words by making 
>constructions like "beyond the universe" when the word "beyond" itself can 
>only be defined "in-universe".

The problem of "extending" words is your problem, because of your assumptions. If YOU define "beyond" as only applicable "in-universe," then, SURPRISE, it will only be applicable "in-universe"! This is an elementary logical fallacy, not an argument that anyone else need take seriously.

>Yes.  I repeat what you never refuted.

You repeat what you THINK was not refuted, but when the errors of your reasoning (mainly begging the question) are pointed out again and again, and again and again you insist that all is well, then, if you were student, you would simply get an "F" at the end of the semester.

>You apparently think poo-pooing it by 
>saying they are "the same false principles with which you began" somehow 
>makes it ok to extend the word "beyond" to "past where it can be defined".

You must be dismissed as incapable of understanding when you think that someone else needs to accept your own assumptions that something is being "extended" when ordinary words are used in ordinary ways. When Einstein said, "God does not play dice with the universe," few people had a problem understanding what he meant, even the physicist who told him, "Stop telling God what to do." YOU pick a nit with that because of your question-begging positivist theory of meaning -- a theory that evidently never troubled Einstein, who must have heard plenty about it from the 30's on.

But a large part of your argument was that "all scientists" agree with you. But when I cited scientists and mathematicians who clearly do not agree with you, you simply ignored that point. And when I said that you were arrogant for presuming to speak for all scientists, you said loftily that only truth counts, not arrogance. But the truth is that you were using an "argument from authority," with your "all scientists" (where the "practice of science" was an important criterion of truth for positivists); but it was a very poor argument from authority, as arguments from authority go, since you had to ignore the authorities I cited as counterexamples. This earns you an "F" in logic, and it means that you are mentally not willing to consider evidence that falsifies your claims.

>[[You exhausted my patience a long time ago.]]
>
>Makes no difference about your patience, the word "beyond" still cannot 
>"extend beyond" where it can be defined.

And you cannot arbitarily define language, in any way that others need take seriously, to be confined within the limits that you think are sensible. This, again, begs the question.

>[[If your ideas are as widely accepted as you think they are, then you will
> have no trouble finding a suitable venue for them.]]
>
>There are many analytic philosophers and noncognitivists.   What they reveal 
>is not popular, but is ironclad, irrefutable.

There are certainly analytic philosophers; and naturalism, not positivism, is still popular. But non-cognitivism has the hopeless paradox of its own self-referential inconsistency. It cannot be known to be true without self-contradiction. There is certainly nothing irrefutable about either that or any kind of naturalism. Repeating questionable and question-begging claims over and over again does not make them "ironclad" or "irrefutable." It makes them tedious and stupid.

>[[  Or perhaps you could write to Allan Sandage, who says that he now 
>believes in God,]]
>
>Nobody does anything called "believe in God".

So you can write Sandage and tell him that.

>All people can do is believe 
>that it is possible for them to do something called "believe in God" and then 
>trick themselves into believing they are accomplishing something for the 
>words "believe in God" to describe.

And what you can do is trick yourself into believing that this is an argument. "Believing in God" is to believe that "God exists" is true. Before the truth of a sentence can be determined, it must be understood. Your claim is that "God exists" cannot be understood because "God" doesn't mean anything, and you say that "God" doesn't mean anything because language cannot refer to objects outside the physical universe. However, you can only make this claim because your theory about language and meaning contains the claim "language can only refer to objects in the physical universe," which is made on the basis of the claims that "language is learned only by referring to objects in the physical universe" and "language can only refer to objects that were the ones it referred to during language learning," both of which beg the question, are evidently offered as *a priori* true, and are false.

>No, my immediate mission is not to straighten out theists, but to straighten 
>out atheists and agnostics.

A theist who is a scientist or mathematician is a counterexample to your argument from authority.

***

Now, I have responded to your claims and pointed out your errors of reasoning. This is not my job. Nor is it my pleasure, since you clearly have no interest whatsoever in the contents of the Friesian School site, nor are you genuinely interesting in the truth, since you think you know the truth (non-cognitively) already. Instead, you have fixated on one of the worst and most worthless theories in the history of philosophy, and you even have the gall to claim that this is universally accepted by scientists. This makes it difficult to take you seriously.

Since I get e-mail with some frequency from people with goofy ideas, and many of them are too dense to understand the bizarre nature of their claims, they quickly go into the "nut" drawer. You have one foot, and more, in that drawer. I posted our correspondence because it was philosophically more interesting than most of the stuff I get and, as you may notice, I like posting disputes that occur in my editorial correspondence. An argument over positivism, however, is of very limited value, since there is no point in piling on refutations of something that most people don't take seriously anyway, and shouldn't. You seem to be the kind of person who cannot stop to reflect but automatically responds to everything, at length, by mainly saying over again what you have already said. The type is familiar on the internet. I was the same way when I was in my twenties. Now I consider it rude. I do not need this, and, as I said, I already lost patience with you a long time ago.

Now I have taken the trouble to answer you again; and if you were a polite person, you would at least take some time to reflect and formulate a more concise reponse than you have in the past. I am pretty sure that, mentally or tempermentally, you will not be able to do this, so: Your theory is your problem, not mine, and I want you to confine your correspondence to informing me when I can install a link to your webpage where you can "refute" your enemies *ad infinitum*. I am not your friend or your teacher. Your approach was unfriendly from the outset, since you started with a stupid question and then began ranting about your unsolicited enthusiasm. I find you irritating, infuriating, and arrogant. If you find me the same, then, of course, you don't want to have anything more to do with me. I will be glad.


Date: Thu, 29 Apr 1999 20:36:45 EDT
Subject: negative assertions versus positive assertions

At present, you are too much a non-thinker to talk to.  Your emotions don't 
allow you to think properly.  This shows mainly in your failure to understand 
the difference between a positive assertion and a negative assertion. 

I do not assert the existence of any meaning of any word which you yourself 
do not assert.  Therefore you must realize that you assert an existence of a 
definition which I do not assert.

Thus you are the positive asserter and I the negative asserter.

It is as if you were a man carrying a violin case claiming to be a virtuoso 
violinist, but will not play for me or anybody else.  You say you only play 
alone in locked soundproof rooms.  My assertion (a negative one) is that you 
really are not a virtuoso violinist at all.  Your positive assertion is that 
you are.  

The irrationality of your position is that you think it is my place to prove 
that you are not the virtuoso violinist you claim to be, and that my 
assumption that you are not is dogmatic.  You do not realize that the burden 
of proof that you are a virtuoso violinist lies on your shoulders, and your 
default in doing so is sufficient evidence that you are not.  I am not 
irrational for believing you not to be.  I would only be irrational to 
believe you were.

Do you really not see that my assertion is a negative one, and that you 
disagreement with it is a positive one?  You see, I assert an absence of a 
definition for "God", not the presence of one.   I assert the absence of your 
ability as a virtuoso violinist.   

Think about the difference between negative assertions and positive ones.   
The negative asserter is calling the positive asserter's bluff.  The positive 
asserter is the one who must turn over his cards.  It is not the place of the 
negative asserter to prove that the positive asserter does not have aces 
behind the cards he's holding without him turning them over.  Think. man!  
Don't feel as though you're thinking, and trick yourself into thinking you're 
thinking!    -- Sincerely, XXXXX XXXXXXX 


At 08:36 PM 4/29/99 EDT, you wrote: >At present, you are too much a non-thinker to talk to.

Thank God if you're not going to talk to me anymore. But you are confused.

>Your emotions don't 
>allow you to think properly.

I suspect that you are obsessed with a hatred of religion. This persuades you of the arbitrary and discredited principles of logical positivism.

> This shows mainly in your failure to understand 
>the difference between a positive assertion and a negative assertion. 
>
>I do not assert the existence of any meaning of any word which you yourself 
>do not assert.  Therefore you must realize that you assert an existence of a 
>definition which I do not assert.

You have said over and over again that the word "God" is without meaning, and you began your assaults with a challenge to tell you what the word "God" means, as though you didn't know or couldn't look it up in a dictionary. Now you are playing some trick with that. You seem to be a disturbed and irrational person.

At least you didn't inflict another of your endless and tedious reponses on me again -- though I fear this reponse may encourage you to do so.


Date: Sat, 1 May 1999 02:08:28 EDT
Subject: "Creator of the universe" can have no meaning. I wish it could!
To: kross@friesian.com

In a message dated 4/30/99 8:04:05 PM Eastern Daylight Time, 
kross@friesian.com writes:

>At present, you are too much a non-thinker to talk to.
 
[[Thank God if you're not going to talk to me anymore.  But you are 
confused.]]
 
No, you are.  The world is.

>Your emotions don't 
>allow you to think properly.
 

No, I am obsessed with a hatred for foolish ignorance.  Religion just happens 
to be one of the big places foolish ignorance shows.  Atheists are foolishly 
ignorant and so are agnostics.      

Theists have put together words and think they have defined something to 
worship, and then they think they worship something for it to mean.

Atheists and agnostics also believe the words they put together mean 
something and think they mean something which doesn't exist, when it mean 
nothing at all.  There is a big difference between a mermaid and a square 
circle.  I can easily think of something for "mermaid" to refer to but there 
is no way to think of anything for "God" to mean because you cannot have 
learned the word "creator" except from cases of usage when it meant "creator 
within the universe". 

[[ This persuades
 you of the arbitrary and discredited principles of logical positivism.]]

No, that was discarded because of the verification principle.  The same 
things they said were meaningless are meaningless.  They just gave a flawed 
reason why they were meaningless.  Words are defined by the way you would 
teach somebody to use them.  They are not meaningless "because there is no 
method to show what it would be for them to true or false".   

> This shows mainly in your failure to understand 
>the difference between a positive assertion and a negative assertion. 
>
>I do not assert the existence of any meaning of any word which you yourself 
>do not assert.  Therefore you must realize that you assert an existence of 
a 
>definition which I do not assert.
 
[[ You have said over and over again that the word "God" is without meaning,]]

That's an understatement.  Tell the whole thing.  Not only have I said it.  I 
have showed you exactly why I have to say it.  The words "creator of the 
universe" cannot mean anything because you cannot teach anybody to use the 
word "creator" except from cases of "creators WITHIN the universe".  "Creator 
within the universe of the universe" just babbles nothing at all.

[[ and you began your assaults with a challenge to tell you what the word
 "God" means,]]

Yep, the majority of English speakers say it means "creator of the universe".

[[ as though you didn't know or couldn't look it up in a
 dictionary.]]

The lexicographers who wrote the dictionary also babble "creator of the 
universe" in there.  They are tricked too.  (If you look it up in the 
dictionary make sure you get the definition for "God" with a capital "G", not 
little "g".  The word "god" with a little "g" is meaningful.  The ancient 
Greeks, etc. defined their gods as well as the man Jesus is defined.  

[[ Now you are playing some trick with that.]]

No trick at all.  I realized one day there was no thought of anything in my 
head to match the word "God".  I had been tricked by the fact that I could 
think a thought of Jesus.  But that's thinking of a finite man.  Thinking of 
a flesh and blood fine material man Jesus is NOT thinking of anything named 
"God".

Since I cannot think a thought of God, I checked to see why.  I found that it 
had no definition.  It was just a construction of words.  Logical positivists 
had noticed they couldn't think of anything for "God" to stand for either.  
But they did not know why.  They screwed their reason they gave.  It didn't 
occur to them that a word is learned by examples of usage and every word can 
only be learned in terms off and part of the physical universe. 

[[ You seem to be a disturbed and irrational person.]]

Yes it disturbs me greatly that the great majority of people are so deceived 
by meaningless words.
 
[[At least you didn't inflict another of your endless and tedious reponses on
 me again -- though I fear this reponse may encourage you to do so.]]

Yes, but you cannot refute me.  They are tedious because it is difficult to 
speak of words using words.  It's easy to be speaking along about words and 
suddenly trick yourself into thinking you are talking about a meaning for a 
meaningless word.

I am sorry you got all huffy with me.  But I'm used to it.  I cannot help it 
because there is no thought in my head to match the word "God" because it is 
defined in the English language as "creator of the universe" and "creator" 
cannot be taught or learned except from cases of usage of creators within the 
universe such as "Edison created the light bulb".  It just isn't my fault 
that it is the case that there is no way anybody can go from having learned 
"creator" that way to getting any sense out of "creator of the universe".

I wish it weren't that way.  I wish I had never discovered it.  But it's a 
fact.  There is no denial of the fact that it can't be taught or learned from 
anything other than uses when it means "creator WITHIN the universe".  You 
think I'm happy because I know that?  No.  It separates me from most of the 
rest of society.  Life would be so much simpler if I could forget what I've 
discovered.  My family members would all be so much more accepting of me.  
But there is no going back.  I am right and I'm going to fight ignorance.  I 
hate ignorance.  Yet I wish I were ignorant again.  Oxymoron?  Yep.   

Sincerely,   XXXXX XXXXXXX


Editorial Note

Since this correspondent, although inflicting another long and unwelcome e-mail, still never responded to the accusations of question begging, non-sequiturs, and counterexamples for his argument from authority (perhaps he considers this the "more concise" response I requested), I think one may say that they stand unchallenged. The talk about "positive" and "negative" assertions seems to be that the burden of proof is on everyone else to refute the correspondent's theory about language learning or meaning; but since his claims contradict common practice, ordinary language, and common sense, one would think that the burden of proof would be on him. This is rather like Hume shifting the burden of proof.

The correspondent's theory is indeed rather like Hume's, since the meaningfulness of a term depends on its empirical derivation. Although the correspondent says that he has given up logical positivist verificationism, he is really still using it. He says, "Words are defined by the way you would teach somebody to use them," which implies that all words are defined by reference to empirical objects and that it is illegitimate to define words using words rather than empirical objects ("in universe"). This involves a number of the unexamined assumptions of the theory, as pointed out to him previously. Not even a word like "dog" can be learned just by indicating particular dogs. Such a procedure was called "ostensive definition" by the logical positivists. But a few dogs, individuals, are not the meaning of "dog," which is a universal. Only a few examples, which is all that is needed for learning about dogs, underdetermines the use of "dog," a point that was made by Wittgenstein:  "An ostensive definition can be variously interpreted in every case" (Philosophical Investigations, 28).

Aristotle already understood that the meaning was abstracted from the individual dogs, not from some collection of dogs, though this gets us into the problem of universals, since there would have to be something, non-individual, in the dogs to be abstracted. When Chomsky realized that the rules of languages are abstracted by children from very small examples of usage, and that many grammatical words (e.g. "the") don't refer to objects at all, he concluded that the Rationalists had been right and that we possess innate knowledge, or at least innate knowledge of grammar. Wittgenstein's conclusion was that the language (the "language game") more than the objects determines the use of the words. The word must be understood before the ostensive definition is understood (Philosophical Investigations, 29) -- a view that would have been entirely agreeable to Plato. This makes it possible for Wittgensteinians to talk about God, since God is part of the language games of ordinary language and its use is determined by the rules of the game, not by reference to external objects. And it also makes possible further theories (Kuhnian philosophy of science, deconstruction, etc.) where truth is not determined by objects at all but only by social power relationships. In fact, the positivist "ostensive definition" procedure simply breaks down on the Problem of Induction, already understood by Hume:  that no number of individuals, short of every one, can logically imply a universal like "dog."

The correspondent's arbitrary postulate, like Hume's, is that meaning legitimately only occurs on the empirical basis of reference to objects in experience ("in universe" -- where one might have some concern that "universe" is not really an empirical concept), because presumably only such objects are available for ostensive definitions in the course of language learning. There is no reason why any disinterested person should accept this postulate. This would, indeed, make much or all of mathematics meaningless -- since neither numbers nor much else in mathematics are empirical objects -- which the correspondent, as a non-cognitivist and formalist, appears willing to accept. Non-cognitivism and formalism in mathematics, however, was decisively refuted by Gödel. The correspondent was evidently unwilling to consider how this might or might not be so, which is of a piece with his avoidance of points upon which his theory is endangered.

This correspondence, again, has been posted only because it involves a controversy that is of greater philosophical interest than most of the e-mails that the Proceedings of the Friesian School receives. The advocates of more popular recent theories, the deconstructionists, the post-modernists, and the many non-cognitivist theories that are altogether hostile to science and mathematics (e.g. as dismal Marxist expressions of white, male, capitalist, imperialist power), have not bothered to argue their views to the Proceedings. I fear that the positivist correspondent has persisted only because his obsessive conviction prevents him from imagining that his theory is wrong, so that he impulsively harasses his correspondents in the expectation that the truth will dawn upon them with perhaps the next tedious claim that he makes. This is a folly of youth, forgivable to them, but rather less forgivable in one who says that he is 62 years old. Nota Bene:  It is folly to think such a thing, not to mention bad manners to do it, even if one has some irrefutable way of knowing that one does have the truth.

After this last exchange, my question is the one of Lizzy to her father in Pride and Prejudice, "Can he be a sensible man, sir?" As her father says, "I think not."


Correspondence

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