Truth and the Absence of Fact

I bought this book about four years ago, because it was cheap in Galloway and Porter in Cambridge. It then sat in my pile of “things I will get around to reading” for quite a long time, partly because it got left in England when I came out to Japan. Anyway, I finally got around to reading it. It’s a technical work of academic philosophy, primarily concerned with the philosophy of language. I thought quite a lot of it was very interesting, so this post is also likely to get a bit technical.

Hartry Field, the author, is (or, at least, was in 2001 when this book was published) a proponent of the disquotational theory of truth. This holds that there is nothing more to truth than sentences of the form “”Snow is white” is true if and only if snow is white”. It’s called “disquotational” because all you really do is remove the quotation marks.

One of the odd things is that he, and other proponents of this theory, occasionally talk as if proponents of other theories of truth are committed to sometimes violating the disquotational formula. They can’t really mean this, because it’s obvious that no theory of truth can actually violate the formula; the terms “snow” and “white” means the same both inside and outside the quotes (if they don’t, disquotation is wrong), which means that the equivalence must hold no matter what makes the statements true.

Disquotationalism is also applied to reference, the theory of how words refer to things in the world. The worry raised for other theories is “how do we know that “snow” refers to all the snow, and only to snow?”. However, this is also obviously an empty worry. Snow is the stuff that “snow” refers to, no matter what the theory of reference. If there are cases of small, agglomerated ice crystals falling as precipitation that are not referred to by “snow”, then they are not snow. I’m not quite sure what they would be; some variety of sleet or hail, perhaps.

There are genuine problems quite close to this one, however. The example that Field uses is the pre-relativity use of “mass”. According to relativity theory, there are two quantities, rest mass and relativistic mass, each of which has some of the properties attributed to “mass”, but neither of which has all of them. There is a real problem as to what we should say about mass when we discover this. There are several options. We can say that there is no such thing as mass, and adopt different terms for the relativistic quantities. Or we can say that we had false beliefs about mass, and there are several choices for which beliefs were false. Finally, we can say that our usage of mass was fundamentally ambiguous, with indeterminate reference.

I’m not sure that there is a right answer to these questions. I think we can choose, to a great extent, because language is something that we create. (Of course, we can’t normally choose as individuals; language is socially created, so we have to go along with other speakers of the language if we want to communicate.)

One thing I am sure of, however, is that disquotationalism doesn’t advance the discussion. It is remarkable how much you can do without worrying about the deeper issues, but I still think the deeper issues are real issues, and that philosophers should be trying to solve them.

English as Decoration

Japanese companies often use English words and phrases as decorative motifs on products. They do not worry too much about what they mean, or whether they are actually English, because they are simply decoration. This can lead to a certain degree of incongruity for English speakers; anyone who has visited Japan will have encountered at least a couple of examples.

In the TV listings magazine this week there is an example that goes a bit beyond incongruity. It’s an advert for an idol DVD. This is a genre I’ve not noticed in the west, although it may exist. One or more attractive women pose in bikinis, underwear, or revealing outfits, over the course of a one hour DVD. They do not generally, I believe, include nude scenes.

Anyway, this DVD features a model called Kawamura Yukie. The English strap line is clearly derived from her name.

“Silky body, Yuckey”

Promethean: the Created

This is the latest in White Wolf’s new World of Darkness series. Each game covers a monster type, and this time, it’s the turn of Frankenstein’s monster. I have to confess that I wasn’t particularly enthused by the concept, and basically bought the book because, as I’m writing for the new WoD, I feel that I ought to be at least generally familiar with all the major elements of it.

However, the game looks a lot better than I thought. Characters have a fixed goal: become human. The chronicle is of finite length, and is built around achieving that goal. This isn’t like Vampire: the Requiem, where it may be possible to become human again, or may not. It is definitely possible for the created to become human again, and some of those who have done so are around, and may help or hinder those who still seek it. This is, generally, brought off very well, both in the flavour text and in the rule systems.

One of the things that helps is Disquiet, which means that Prometheans draw the hostility of humans, and corrupt the land if they stay in one place for too long. This gives them a good reason to seek humanity, even though that means they will lose their kewl powaz. This is, however, one of the few problems in the book. The description of Disquiet given in much of the text is a lot like The Gift in Ars Magica, creating suspicion and hostility in those who deal with the Promethean in person. However, in the section on Disquiet itself, the description is completely different. Personally, I’d just combine the two, but it was a little disturbing.

A lot of the structure of the book will be familiar to anyone who’s read World of Darkness games. There are five types of Promethean, and five philosophical factions, for a basic total of twenty five possible character types. There are kewl powaz unique to Prometheans (called Transmutations). And there are enemies for Prometheans, in this case Pandorans: the creatures that result when an attempt to create a Promethean goes wrong.

It looks like it would be a fun chronicle to play, and the publishing model is similarly different. After the main rules, the supplements will be published over a single year, and may, in fact, already all be out. This is something that White Wolf have done before, but it does seem particularly well-suited to this game’s concept.

In short, this game appealed to me a lot more than I initially expected. Recommended.