Tuesday, 13 February 2018

Bogus Philosophical Questions: Logic and Metaphysics (3)





Philosophy of Logic

Take this well-known statement from the philosophy of logic. Namely:

(A) The sentence A is not true.

Or:

What I'm now saying is false.

The logical argument here is that we can grammatically assert the sentence above and grammatically apply the predicate “is false” (or “is not true”) to it. Though doesn't that depends on what's meant by the words “we can grammatically assert the sentence”?

Now

This sentence A.

or even:

This sentence.

is surely not grammatically acceptable. After all, the words “is not true” are predicated of the words “The sentence A” (or “The sentence”). Thus, what we are really dealing with is the words “The sentence A” (or even the two words “The sentence”).

This is roughly equivalent to saying

I walk down.

or even

This is.

and leaving the locution there. Surely no teacher of English grammar would accept this sentence on its own.

In other words, what if the logic and the paradoxes don't work if the sentence has no semantic or propositional content? Or, to put that another way, perhaps the paradoxes only arise because the sentence “(A) The sentence A is not true” has no propositional content. (Indeed wouldn't this also apply to the Liar Paradox?)

So perhaps this well-known example from logic is all down to its syntax and not its semantics. And if it's all down to syntax, then one can see why some logicians have seen the sentence as being logically acceptable. That is, it's about the form/syntax of these sentences (as well as the problems/puzzles/paradoxes they create): not their content. Though if that's true, isn't it a sleight of hand to use sentences which appear to have content?

Indeed a “non-cognitivist” position may state the following:

The Liar Paradox isn't about propositional content.

Perhaps the Liar Paradox isn't about propositional content. Though what about the sentence “(A) The sentence A is not true” which doesn't take exactly the same form as the Liar Paradox? And why isn't the Liar Paradox itself also about propositional or semantic content? Or, at the very least, why isn't content seen as being relevant at all?

So let's take another example. Say someone states the following:

I'm lying to you at this very moment in time.

Then a logician can go on to say:

No one will say that the sentence “I'm lying to you at this very moment in time” has no content.

Grammatically speaking, the sentence “I'm lying to you at this very moment in time” is a great sentence - grammatically. We all know what the individual words means and it seems to make sense. However, what is its propositional or semantic content?

The statement “I'm lying to you at this very moment in time” could have propositional or semantic content if the self-accusation of lying refers to other statements the speaker (or liar) had made previously. (Those other sentences would then be false.) However, it's supposed to be a self-referential statement. So what is this man lying about, exactly? He can't be referring to his lying alone because in order to lie, you have to make a claim that's false and also to believe that it's false. Surely the fact is that he's neither lying nor telling the truth.

Mr X is only stating a grammatically-acceptable sentence; though one which has no propositional or semantic content. Therefore he can't be lying or telling the truth.

We can now ask this question:

If the sentence “I'm lying to you at this very moment in time” has no content as such, then why is it seen as still being grammatically acceptable?

Now compare

I'm lying to you at this very moment in time.

with

I'm singing to you at this very moment in time.

The two aren't equivalent. And that's not simply because one is about lying and the other is about singing.

When someone says “I'm singing to you at this very moment in time” he's either lying or telling the truth. (He could be singing those words.) That doesn't work for the sentence “I'm lying to you at this very moment in time”. The sentences have the same grammatical form; though the latter is neither true nor false. The former is either true or false. And even if they have the same grammatical form, one is has a truth-value and the other doesn't. Indeed it can be argued that it's because of this difference that they can't have the same grammatical form.

Again, because the sentences “I'm singing to you at this very moment in time” and “I'm lying to you at this very moment in time” have the same shape (or form), that creates problems. They may well have the same grammatical shape. Though one could be true and the other is neither true nor false. That difference seems to be clear.

Metaphysics

So what about this more philosophical question? Namely:

Why is water H2O?

Or:

Why is the speed of light 186,000 miles per second?

As well as:

Why is the invariant mass of an electron approximately 9.109×10−31 kilograms?

We can also have the following question:

Why is water wet?

An answer to the last question would presumably tell us about the interaction of H2O molecules and human skin; as well as facts about brains, central nervous systems, sensory receptors, etc. It would also involve a subjective component as to what it is like to experience something wet.

Liquidity (not wetness), on the other hand, can be explained by science and without recourse to “phenomenal feels” (or experience generally).

Thus perhaps we should ask the following question:

Why do H2O molecules give rise to liquidity?

That question doesn't involve an experiential component.

However, let's get back to this question:

Why is water H2O?

Isn't this question necessarily unanswerable or even meaningless?

Perhaps, it's just a brute fact that H2O molecules giving rise to water because they equal water. In other words, this “brute fact” isn't amenable to an explanation.

We can also ask:

Why is water constituted by H2O molecules?

Or:

Why do H2O molecules bring about (or cause) water?

The question

Why does the brain/the physical bring about/cause consciousness?

is similar; though certainly not exactly the same. For one, if we have enough H2O molecules, then we have water and can observe water. We can touch, taste and see water when enough H2O molecules are brought together (or found together). We can also see H2O molecules under and microscope.

When we observe brains, on the other hand, we can't touch, taste, or see consciousness. We can experience or our own consciousness; though only from the inside (as it were). So the H2O-water and brain-consciousness questions are similar; though certainly not the same. Nonetheless, it can still be said that the question is bogus even if consciousness has what John Searle calls a “subjective ontology”; whereas water-H2O clearly doesn't.


Friday, 9 February 2018

Bogus Philosophical Questions: David Chalmers & Kitty Ferguson (2)





David Chalmers' Hard Question

The philosopher David Chalmers is well-known for asking this hard question:


Perhaps this question is similar to the following (which will be covered later):

Why are the laws of physics (or the constants of nature) the way they are?

What if these questions didn't have answers (or solutions)? What if the questions themselves are suspect? Nonetheless, even if a question may not have an answer; reasons or explanations still need to be given as to why that's the case.

Compare the questions above to another possibly unanswerable (if ironic) question raised by Richard Feynman. He recalled:

You know, the most amazing thing happened to me tonight. I saw a car with the license plate ARW 357. Can you imagine? Of all the millions of license plates in the state, what was the chance that I would see that particular one tonight? Amazing!”

This passage from Feynman can be reformulated as this simple question:

Of all the millions of license plates in the state, why did I see that particular one tonight?

Of course this question isn't in the same ballpark as the question “Why do physical states give rise to experience” (or “Why are the laws of physics the way they are?”); though it may be on the borders of that question.

It's not really a surprise that Feynman should have seen that particular number plate. So it may not be such a deep mystery that a physical state (or states) should give rise to an experience or that the laws of physics (or the constants of nature) have some kind of nature (or the nature that they do have).

Moreover, perhaps there's no deep answer - other than mundane facts about probabilities - to the question as to why Feynman should have seen that number plate. Similarly with experience arising from the physical and the laws of physics being the way they are. (Therefore bringing about the universe we observe and know today.) That is, beyond the fact that these things are the way they are, there may be nothing more to say.

Yet David Chalmers himself does seem to be committed to the “principle of sufficient reason” in that he believes that his Hard Question about the physical-consciousness relation can (or must) be answered – even if only “in principle” (or in the future). However, Chalmers doesn't believe that this is the case with all questions.

For example, Chalmers seems to reject this question:

Why is there matter, space-time, gravity, etc. in the first place?

Or, in Chalmers' own words, he tells us that

(n)othing in physics tells us why there is matter in the first place, but we do not count this against theories of matter”.

That means that Chalmers himself may accept an end to questions (hard or soft) when it comes to what he calls “the fundamentals of physical theory”. That is, he argues that the question of “why there is matter in the first place” may be illegitimate - at least from a position within physics (i.e., it may be – or is - a fit subject for philosophy or theology).

In the same vein, can't we reject the need to see the laws of physics or the constants (which underpin spacetime, matter, gravity, etc.) as having either a necessary or accidental/contingent nature? More importantly, can't we question the assumption that these questions can be answered?

In other words, the following question may be bogus:

Why are the laws of physics (or constants of nature) the way they are rather than another way?

Thus, just as physics “does not tell us why there is [matter] in the first place”, so it may not be able to tell us why the laws of physics are the way they are. (Or, alternatively, physics can't - or doesn't - tell us why the constants have the strengths, values, etc. which they do have.)

So David Chalmers' position (which is the same as most physicists) is that we must begin with the fundamental laws of nature. Such things are deemed primitive. That is, they can't be “deduced from more basic principles”.

This means that Chalmers has a position on physics that seems to go against his own Hard Question in the philosophy of mind.

Having said all that, Chalmers does indeed concede the possibly that an “epistemically primitive connection between physical states and consciousness” may be a “fundamental law”. So doesn't that basically mean that we can't (or simply may not) be able to explain that connection between the physical and consciousness? Perhaps there's literally nothing to explain because of its very primitiveness.

Alternatively, is this ostensible lack of an explanation of the physical-consciousness relation a result of the fact that, according to John Heil, “our mental and physical concepts are too far apart to be unified under a single theory”? Perhaps the mind-body (or body-mind) relation is just too simple, fundamental or basic to be explained by any theory - mental or physical. Perhaps there's literally nothing to explain. Indeed isn’t this one of the definitions of the words ‘brute fact’?

Brute Facts?

John Heil goes on to say:

Once you reach a basic level, however, explanation runs out: things behave as they do because they are as they are, and things with this nature just do behave in this way. Explanation works, not because all explanation is traceable to self-explaining explainers. Explanation works by reducing the complex to the less complex. At the basic level the behaviour of objects cannot be further explained.”

Indeed when physical explanations do come to an end, then we reach a point when

things behave as they do because they are as they are, and things with this nature just do behave in this way”.

That is, we can't explain or ask questions anymore. However, it's of course the case that nothing can stop us from asking these questions even if they are unanswerable.

In terms of brute facts again.

The acceptance of brute facts in physics may not help us when it comes to the nature of the brain-consciousness relation. J.J.C. Smart, for example, argues against the acceptability of this analogy. In his 'Sensations and Brain Processes' (1959), he wrote:

It is sometimes asked, 'Why can’t there be psycho-physical laws which are of a novel sort, just as the laws of electricity and magnetism were novelties from the standpoint of Newtonian mechanics?' Certainly we are pretty sure in the future to come across ultimate laws of a novel type, but I expect them to relate simple constituents… I cannot believe that the ultimate laws of nature could relate simple constituents to configurations consisting of billions of neurons (and goodness knows how many billions of billions of ultimate particles) all put together for all the word as though their main purpose was to be a negative feedback mechanism of a complicated sort.”

In other words, the arrival (or emergence?) of consciousness would be required to be a relation not between the very simple and the (slightly) less simple; but between the hugely complex (i.e., the brain or its individual parts) and the simple (i.e., a conscious state).

Heil offers a similar argument about the possibility of brute fact(s) when it comes to the physical-consciousness relation. (Though, whereas J.J.C. Smart states a relation between the brain's complexity and a simple mental state/experience; Heil makes a connection between a complex brain state and a “complex qualitative experience”.) Heil writes:

This alleged brute fact differs from brute facts concerning electrons because it connects something complex – a qualitative experience – with something very complex – a brain process, for instance, involving millions (billions?) of particles.”

To conclude. Heil again questions the status of what we may call the Brute Fact Theory of Consciousness:

Perhaps there are such brute facts, but if there are, they are very different from the kinds of brute fact we expect to find in mapping the nature of the material world.”

If they are different (let alone very different), then what right have we to make comparisons between the ostensible physical-consciousness brute fact and those found by particle (or quantumphysicists?

Chalmers, Crick and Koch

Chalmers, on the other hand, does reject any physical-to-consciousness brute facts. In other words, he believes that there are questions about this relation which need to be answered.

More technically, Chalmers says that

Crick and Koch’s theory gains its purchase by assuming a connection between binding and experience, and so can do nothing to explain that link”.

So let's reformulate Chalmers' words as a simple question:

What is the connection (or link) between binding and experience?

What does Chalmers mean by the word “explain” (as used in the quote above)? What kind of explanation would make him happy? Is there even a possible (or hypothetical) explanation which could be conjured up (care-of speculative philosophy/metaphysics) which would make him happy or satisfied? Let's think about it. Think about any possible argument or set of data which could explain the link between the physical and experience. What would it look like? What could it look like?

Chalmers – elsewhere - makes much of "conceivability" leading to "metaphysical possibility". This means that if we can conceive of such a link between the physical and experience, then that link would be metaphysically possible. So, go ahead, conceive of such a link. What, precisely, have you conceived?

Does Chalmers (kind of) admit that such a link can't be found because it can't even be conceived of in the first place? It's hard to say. However, he does quote Christoph Koch saying the following:

'Well, let’s first forget about the really difficult aspects, like subjective feelings, for they may not have a scientific solution.'”

Sure, Koch refers to a “scientific solution” - not a philosophical or metaphysical one. However, would a philosophical or metaphysical solution be any more forthcoming than a scientific one? What would it look like?

So is the question

Why do the oscillations give rise to experience?

even a good question? Is there an answer to this - even in principle? What kind of answer is Chalmers looking for?

He isn't asking the following question:

How do oscillations in the brain give rise to experience?

That question could be answered in physical or causal terms. Though this too is problematic in that, for a start, we'd need to be clear about the word 'how'. In addition, don't at least some how-questions presuppose at least some why-questions? Similarly, don't at least some why-questions also presuppose at least some how-questions?

As for Chalmers' own why-question (rather than his how-question), perhaps there isn't an answer.

More Hard Questions?

To help matters here, let's tackle some questions which can't be answered. For example, the question

Why is water H20?

This is really the same as this question:

Why is H20 actually H2O? (Or: Why is water actually water?)

However, that's not true of this Chalmers-like question:

Why is physical x identical to mental y?

In terms of causality, we can't ask

Why does a collection of H20 molecules cause (or bring about) water?

because they're one and the same thing. However, a question can be asked about the physical bringing about - or causing - the mental.

Then again, take this different kind of question about water:

Why is water H20 and not something else?

This question may be bogus. That is, we can now reply:

If water were something else (say, O3Z), then it wouldn't be water.

Then again, the phenomenal properties of O3Z could be the same as water; though it wouldn't be water as it's scientifically known to us. (Nonetheless, what if phenomenal properties matter – or matter more than molecular structure? Why is molecular structure paramount?)

In addition, what if one is an identity theorist? Or what if one is a conceptual pluralist and ontological monist who believes that the mental and the physical are two aspects of the same thing/substance? Then the question

Why does the physical bring about (or cause) the mental?

would be as nonsensical as asking

Why does H2O bring about (or cause) water?

So, to summarize.

When Chalmers asks,

Why do the oscillations give rise to experience?”

we can reply:

Why does anything give rise to experience?

Indeed it can be said that whatever someone posits as an explanation or an answer, Chalmers could ask the very same question. Could a neuroscientist, physicist or philosopher cite any fact about the physical (or the brain) which would make Chalmers happy? In other words, Chalmers could ask his question no matter what anyone says about the brain or the physical. Therefore the question

Why does physical x give rise to experience?

can always be asked. Indeed Chalmers may keep on asking his Hard Question.


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Kitty Ferguson's Hard Questions

So what about those earlier questions about the the laws of physics (or the constants of nature)?

Take Kitty Ferguson's questions about the constants (as found in her book The Fire in the Equations). She asks us why the “fundamental forces” are the way they are. (This question also ties in with other questions about their necessary or contingent nature.) Namely:

... no scientific theory we have at present can tell us why the speed of light and the strengths of the fundamental forces of nature are what they are.”

So let's reformulate that passage as a simple question:

Why is the speed of light, the strengths of the fundamental forces of nature, etc. the way they are?

Can we say that these values and strengths just are the values and strengths that they are (as David Chalmers did earlier)? They have to be of some value and strength. The fact that they have the values and strengths that they have is entirely contingent. However, if the values and strengths were necessary, then perhaps there would be answers to Kitty Ferguson's questions. (Of course all her questions are tangentially – as well as tacitly - linked to the anthropic principle.)

Take this more specific question:

Why is the speed of light 186,000 miles per second?

The speed of light is 186,000 miles per second because if it were slightly less (it can't be more), then it wouldn't be light. It would be something else. That is, if the speed of light were something else, it wouldn't be the light being discussed.

Now take this question:

Why does gravity have the strength and value that it has on earth and elsewhere?

Gravity has the strength and value that it has because it wouldn't be gravity if it had a different strength and value. It would be something else. The same goes for this question:

Why is the charge of an electron -1.6 x 10-19 and its mass 9.11 x 10-31 ?

The mass and force of an electron is is x and y because if it weren't that mass and force, it wouldn't be an electron. It would be something else.

Ferguson says the same kind of thing when it comes to symmetry. She writes:

... we might ask whether there are underlying reasons why this symmetry and not another should be the one to apply in our universe.”

We can also rephrase the passage as a simple question:

What are the underlying reasons why this symmetry and not another one should be the one which applies in our universe?

Again, there had to be some kind of symmetry – that is, if there's symmetry in the first place. Sure, other kinds of symmetry might have been instantiated. They weren't. (Again on the anthropic view, we can say that this question couldn't have been asked without the given symmetries.) Thus perhaps the question is whether or not there was something before our symmetries; something responsible for our symmetries; or something more basic than our symmetries.

Finally, Ferguson asks similar questions about mathematical logic:

It's a question of profound importance whether mathematical consistency required an Inventor. I've heard it asked at the end of public lectures on physics: 'Is mathematical consistency as we know it the only way it COULD be – or is it conceivable it could be something different?...' If the lecturer is a scientist or mathematician, he or she may answer that mathematical consistency just is.”

This too can be put as a simple question (though this time using Ferguson's own words):

Is mathematical consistency as we know it the only way it COULD be – or is it conceivable it could be something different?”

The idea that mathematical consistency would need an inventor may strike some/many as ridiculous. Nonetheless, it may still be a good (or legitimate) question. 

As for the possibility of alternative mathematics. 

Some say that even the question can't be constructed without begging the question. (This, of course, doesn't rule out rival mathematical systems, incompleteness, inconsistency, etc.)

As for logic. 

If we must start with the basic building blocks of logic (first forcefully stated as long ago as Aristotle), then the very idea of truly independent logics is rejected by some/many logicians and philosophers - even by by some of those whom accept paraconsistent and dialethic logics. Or as the logician and philosopher Dale Jacquette puts it:

Even paraconsistent logics that tolerate logical inconsistencies without inferential explosion, that accommodate contradictions but do not authorize the logically valid deduction of any and every proposition, do so according to strict rules, as strict as the rules that govern Aristotle's syllogisms.”

*) See my 'Bogus Philosophical Questions: G.P. Baker (1)'

**) See my 'Bogus Philosophical Questions: Logic and Metaphysics (3)'.


Thursday, 1 February 2018

Bogus Philosophical Questions: G.P. Baker (1)




What I'll attempt to do in the following is summed up very well by the American-English philosopher Gordon Park Baker. In his 'φιλοσοφια: εικων και ειδος' (which can be found in Philosophy in Britain Today), Baker wrote:

We should... make serious efforts at raising questions about the questions commonly viewed as being genuinely philosophical. Perhaps the proper answers to such questions are often, even if not always, further questions!”

All sorts of questions have been deemed to be profound, deep and worthy of serious thought. However, perhaps it's just as important - and indeed philosophical - to ask questions about these questions. Or as Gordon Baker puts it:

The unexamined question is not worth answering.”

Baker adds:

To accept a question as making good sense and embark on building a philosophical theory to answer it is already to make the decisive step in the whole investigation.”

At the outset, however, it must be noted that what follows isn't a defence of a position that's similar to that which was once held by Russell, Wittgenstein or by the logical positivists. Nor is it a defence of some of the positions advanced by “ordinary-language philosophers” in the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s.

That is, it's not being argued that many everyday - and indeed philosophical - statements have a “logical” or “philosophical grammar” which somehow hides deep underneath them. Or at least it isn't part of my argument that the logical grammar of (possibly) bogus questions is hidden.

On the other hand, neither do argue that, as the late Wittgenstein put, “nothing is hidden”.

It's also the case that I don't have a problem with poetic philosophical statements. Take this two examples from Friedrich Nietzsche (both from Beyond Good and Evil):

I obviously do everything to be 'hard to understand' myself.”

The text has disappeared under the interpretation.”

Those sentences, as they stand, aren't meant to be philosophical arguments. They're poetic and/or cultural statements. Nonetheless, philosophical arguments or positions are still embedded within them and can easily be eased out.

Ironically, Wittgenstein himself certainly did see Nietzsche as a philosopher. Indeed it can be said (it often has been said) that many of the Wittgenstein's own statements or questions are poetic, gnomic or “mystical” in nature.

In addition, there's no need to use the word “nonsense” about most (or indeed any) of the questions or statements considered in the following piece. (Despite saying that, the word 'nonsense' wasn't used – by philosophers – in its everyday sense: it usually had a precise technical or philosophical meaning/usage.) For example, saying that a particular question simply assumes that there's an answer (or that a question can't be answered at all) doesn't seem to be a point about logical grammar or about nonsense... Or does it?

There's an equivocation here because in Wittgenstein's Culture and Value (a selection from the philosopher's personal notes), he wrote the following:

"As long as there continues to be a verb 'to be' that looks as if it functions in the same way as 'to eat' ... people will keep stumbling over the same puzzling difficulties.”

Now who can have a problem with that? That position may not be entirely acceptable (as it stands); or it may simply be partial. However, if the question

What is it like to be?”

is asked partly (or indirectly) because questions like

What is it like to eat Heinz Beanz?”

are also asked, then there may well be a problem.

Bogus Philosophical Questions?

All sorts of questions can be asked. And two fundamental things are assumed when a question is asked:

i) That the question makes sense. (This use of the word 'sense' is meant in a loose non-philosophical sense.)
ii) That the question must (or does) have an answer.

In addition, another problem is summed up (again) by Gordon Baker:

Questions, just as much as assertions, carry presuppositions.”

This is especially true in philosophy. The type of questions I primarily have in mind here are the following.

i) “Why does the physical give rise to consciousness?” (Or in David Chalmers' words: “How do physical processes give rise to experience?” )

ii) “Why are the constants of nature the way they are?” (Or: “Why do the laws of physics have the numerical values they do have?”)

Just because a question is grammatical and even makes (some kind of) sense, that doesn't mean that it's a philosophically (or otherwise) legitimate question.

So firstly let's take an extreme question:

Why does the number 6 have such a poor sense of humour?”

Now that's a perfectly grammatical sentence. It even makes some kind of sense. (It does so – at least in part - precisely because it is grammatical.) However, in a philosophical and even commonsensical sense, it doesn't make... well, sense.

To back this up, let's use Noam Chomsky's well-known sentence; though not itself a question. Namely:


All the words (as well as their concepts) in the question are “transparent” when taken individually. (That is, if words can ever be taken individually or outside of the “Fregean context” of a whole sentence.) More relevantly, the sentence itself is grammatically correct – and it may even be logically correct. (Chomsky said that it is “semantically nonsensical”.) However, isn't it also empirically, scientifically and even metaphysically nonsensical and even false? (Hence Chomsky's semantic position.) Nonetheless, can't we still understand that statement?

Take these questions about Chomsky's sentence:

i) Can we conceive of that statement being true? (The word 'conceive' is often used by philosophers who make use of modal notions.)
ii) Do we need to conceive the statement's truth-conditions in order to understand the statement?
iii) Can we even conceive of a situation in which colorless green ideas sleep furiously?

Here it seems that grammatical (or even logical) correctness runs free of conceivability - not only of Chomsky's semantics. In other words, perhaps we don't - and can't - actually conceive of colorless green ideas sleeping furiously at all. Nonetheless, the sentence can still be understood simply because it's grammatical. Though all that, of course, depends on precisely what's meant by the word 'understand'!

So let's take a slightly less extreme question:

Why does everyone simply adore Anton Webern's Symphony Op. 21?”

That question is also perfectly grammatical. And it's certainly not surreal like the first question. However, the question is somewhat bogus because it simply assumes that everyone does love Webern's Symphony Op. 21. (Of course it's possible that they do.) So this is very much like this well-known question:

When did you stop beating your wife?”

In other words, both questions beg the question (i.e., they "assume the [an] initial point").

So the first question is rightfully deemed to be ridiculous. And the second question begs the question.

G.P. Baker's Wittgensteinian Position

So perhaps these questions about questions are partly Wittgensteinian in nature. That is, I certainly appreciate Gordon Baker's Wittgensteinian points made in the following:


... to suppose that the answers to philosophical questions await discovery is to presuppose that the questions themselves make sense and stand in need of answers (not already available). Why should this not be a fit subject for philosophical scrutiny?”

Indeed Wittgenstein did have things to say on the nature of many philosophical questions (both in his “early” and “late” periods). His position is partly summed up in this passage from Robert W. Angelo. (It contains a quote from Wittgenstein himself.) Thus:

... nonsense in the form of a question is still nonsense. Which is to say that the question-sign... can only be rejected, not answered: 'What is undefined is without meaning; this is a grammatical remark.'...”

In other words, any question can be asked. And any question may be taken to be legitimate simply because it is grammatical and also because it makes a modicum of sense (i.e., though if only that last word is used very loosely). All the examples given so far may fit these categories.

So take this question:

Why is water H2 O?”

Or what about this well-respected (i.e., by logicians and philosophers) statement? -

A: This statement [A] is false.

Another good way of summing up the problem with these possibly-bogus questions (or statements) is also cited by Gordon Baker. He writes:

Questions, just as much as assertions, carry presuppositions. To pose a particular question is to take things for granted, to put some things beyond question or doubt, to treat some things as matters of course...”

As stated before, one obvious “presupposition” to a question is that there's an answer to it; or at least a possible answer.

Now take a seemingly silly question which was first mentioned by Bertrand Russell. (This question is sometimes used to flesh-out issues within the realism/anti-realism debate.) Here's my (very slight) paraphrase of the question:

Is there a china teapot between the Earth and Mars which is revolving about the sun in an elliptical orbit?”

The presupposition here might have been that we - even if only in principle - could discover the truth or falsity of this statement. (Though this wasn't Russell's point.) Does that also work for Chomsky's earlier statement (i.e., “Colorless green ideas sleep furiously”)?

It's possible that we could at least attempt to find an answer to this tea-pot question. However (to state the obvious), we'd quickly find out there are no green ideas. Therefore the question as to whether or not green ideas “sleep furiously” can't (or shouldn't) even arise. In other words, what's being presupposed here is there are green ideas.

Now what's being presupposed here? -

Why is water H2O?”

Can the same question also be asked of this question from David Chalmers? Namely:

Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all?”

To repeat: a (possible) answer is being presupposed in both cases. That is, the very asking of these questions means that the questioners must assume that there are answers – at least answers in principle.

To use the words of Baker again. Aren't these questioners “taking certain things for granted”? That is, aren't they primarily taking for granted that their questions are legitimate and that there are answers? Moreover, aren't these questioners also “put[ting] some things beyond question or doubt”; as well as “treat[ing] some things as matters of course”?

[All the possibly-bogus questions just mentioned will be tackled in greater detail in the later parts of this piece.]

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