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Re: [ontac-forum] Theories, Models, Reasoning, Language, and Truth

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "Smith, Barry" <phismith@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 16 Dec 2005 21:00:10 -0500
Message-id: <>
At 08:52 PM 12/16/2005, you wrote:
>I spoke precisely:
>JS> ... everything I see is a sign, everything I feel is
> > a sign, everything I think is a sign, and everything I
> > say is a sign.  It's all signs all the way down.
>AA> Actually, not every thing is a sign, rather 'every
> > sign is also a thing'.
>A thing is not a sign until it is perceived by some sentient
>being -- which could be as lowly as a bacterium.  But every
>thing that is perceived is perceived by means of a sign,
>which may be just a sign of itself.  But more likely it is
>a sign of just some aspect of the thing, such as an image,
>a feeling, a change in temperature, pressure, sweetness,
>salinity, etc.
>What we are fundamentally dealing with are signs.  There is no question
>that there does exist something independent of our minds, but what it is
>can only be experienced through signs, analyzed by means of signs, and
>classified by means of signs.
>John    (01)

This reminds me of David Stove's 'gem' (see e.g. 
http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim/worst.pdf)    (02)

We can know things only
    * as they are related to us
    * under our forms of perception and understanding
    * insofar as they fall under our conceptual schemes,
etc.    (03)

So,    (04)

we cannot know things as they are in themselves.    (05)

Stove himself was most concerned with this 
argument as it occurred in classical idealism. 
Berkeley argued `the mind … is deluded to think 
it can and does conceive of bodies existing 
unthought of, or without the mind, though at the 
same time they are apprehended by, or exist in, 
itself.’ (Berkeley, par 23). That is, `you cannot 
have trees-without-the mind in mind, without 
having them in mind. Therefore, you cannot have 
trees-without-the-mind in mind.’ (Stove, 1991, 
139) This argument, which Stove called `the Gem’, 
is a version of the `Worst Argument’ because it 
argues from the fact that we can know physical 
things only under our own mental forms to the 
impossibility of knowing physical things at all. 
Stove finds this argument in many later 
idealists. Fascinating as High Victorian idealism 
is, its hold over modern thought is not what it 
was, so let us leave that topic aside ­ except to 
mention Stove’s complaints about the extra 
pomposity added to the argument as each 
successive stage: `Thus you never say, for 
example, "things as they are," and still less, 
"things". You say "things as they are in 
themselves," or better still, "things and their 
properties as they exist both in and for 
themselves."’ Then you can construct a seriously heavyweight argument, like:    (06)

We can eat oysters only insofar as they are 
brought under the physiological and chemical 
conditions which are the presuppositions of the possibility of being eaten.    (07)

Therefore,    (08)

We cannot eat oysters as they are in themselves.    (09)

BS    (010)

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