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

To: ONTAC-WG General Discussion <ontac-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: "John F. Sowa" <sowa@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Date: Sat, 17 Dec 2005 10:21:10 -0500
Message-id: <43A42CE6.7060208@xxxxxxxxxxx>
Azamat,    (01)

I agree that there are strong similarities:    (02)

 > I don't see any irreconcilable differences in our
 > positions. Moreover, your interpretation and views
 > well complement the traditional theory of signs
 > (Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Lock, ... well, Peirce
 > also); namely, there are natural signs (factual entities)
 > related as cause and effect; mental or cognitive signs
 > (the content and processes of the mind); and conventional
 > signs (symbols), where the levels are interconnected
 > by meaningful relationships such as interpretation,
 > representation, description, denotation, reference, and truth.    (03)

In fact, one important reason why Peirce was so far advanced
compared to his contemporaries, Frege and Husserl, is that
he did his homework.  He once boasted that he had the largest
collection of medieval manuscripts on logic in the Boston
area -- which includes Harvard University.  In the 1870s,
when he was doing his pioneering research on relations,
Peirce had given a series of lectures at Harvard on the
logic of Duns Scotus, Ockham, and others.    (04)

There are similarities with Franz Brentano, who was also
familiar with Scholastic logic -- in fact both Peirce and
Brentano adopted the word "intention" from them, but with
somewhat different applications.  There are parallels
between Peirce's work and Husserl's, which may have been
influenced by Husserl's studies with Brentano.    (05)

The most unfortunate influence of Frege and Russell was
their strong antipathy toward natural language.  In the
_Begriffsschrift_, Frege explicitly said that he intended
"to break the domination of the word over the human spirit
by laying bare the misconceptions that through the use of
language often almost unavoidably arise concerning the
relations between concepts."  Russell, Carnap, and others
were trying to develop a "purified language" of logic that
would replace the "degraded" natural language.    (06)

For more about the limitations of 20th-century analytic
philosophy, I recommend the following book by Hao Wang, who
earned his PhD with Quine and who spent many years working
as an assistant to Kurt Gödel at Princeton:    (07)

    Wang, Hao (1986) _Beyond Analytic Philosophy:  Doing
    Justice to What We Know_, MIT Press, Cambridge, MA.    (08)

In that book, Wang quotes the following passage from a
personal letter by Clarence Irving Lewis, the founder of
the modern systems of modal logic and a former professor
at Harvard, who had engaged in a long-standing feud with
the young professor Quine:    (09)

    It is so easy... to get impressive 'results' by replacing
    the vaguer concepts which convey real meaning by virtue of
    common usage by pseudo precise concepts which are manipulable
    by 'exact' methods — the trouble being that nobody any longer
    knows whether anything actual or of practical import is being
    discussed. (p. 116)    (010)

This is also my major criticism of much of the work on so-called
"objective" methods in ontology, which throw out the meaning with
the bathwater.  Wang also criticizes his former thesis adviser,
whom he characterizes as the founder of "logical negativism":    (011)

    Quine merrily reduces mind to body, physical objects to
    (some of) the place-times, place-times to sets of sets of
    numbers, and numbers to sets. Hence, we arrive at a purified
    ontology which consists of sets only.... I believe I am not
    alone in feeling uncomfortable about these reductions.  What
    common and garden consequences can we draw from such grand
    reductions?  What hitherto concealed information do we get
    from them?  Rather than being overwhelmed by the result,
    one is inclined to question the significance of the enterprise
    itself. (p. 146)    (012)

Wang was not rejecting logic -- a subject of which he was a master.
But he was criticizing the trend started by Russell and Carnap of
replacing natural concepts with arid abstractions that only capture
a fraction of the meaning.  (The early Wittgenstein fell under the
spell cast by Frege and Russell, and he spent the second half of
his life explaining the errors of his earlier ways.)    (013)

And by the way, in an earlier note, I cited a paper by John Deely
on zoosemiotics.  I'd also like to recommend one of his books,
in which he makes a lengthy comparison of modern semiotics and
Scholastic realism:    (014)

    Deely, John (2003) _The Impact on Philosophy of Semiotics_,
    St. Augustine's Press, South Bend, IN.    (015)

Note the title:  Deely admits that semiotics did not have much
influence on 20th-century analytic philosophy, but he believes
that it should have a major impact on the 21st.  That coincides
very nicely with Susan Haack's views (and mine).    (016)

John    (017)

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