Wednesday, February 19, 2020

On Further Radicalizing Radical Noneism

As I have adumbrated in previous posts, I am a firm Radical Noneist. Radical Noneism, for those who don't know, is a philosophical theory originally formulated by Richard Sylvan that combines Noneism with Dialetheism. Radical Noneism is the closest thing we have to a true theory of everything, and is certainly superior in many respects to all the other such theories on offer, but the version that Sylvan originally presented was incomplete. This is because Sylvan had never managed to solve the Characterization Problem; which, to put it very briefly, is the problem of how to provide a Characterization Postulate for objects that is both epistemologically adequate, while at the same time avoiding any metaphysically untoward consequences (such as providing Ontological Arguments for the existence of round squares, etc.).

However, Graham Priest in his masterwork Towards Non-Being was finally able to put together the last pieces of the puzzle, for he was able to formulate an Unrestricted Characterization Postulate which solves the Characterization Problem. This was previously thought impossible, hence the reason why the previous Characterization Postulates on offer were all restricted in various ways and appealed to either differences in property-types or differences in predication of properties. Priest, however, was able to provide us with a successful Unrestricted Characterization Postulate by relativizing all characterizing descriptions to worlds.

I think that this was a massive step in the right direction, but I still do not think that Priest has quite gone far enough. The main reason has to do with a central feature of his version of Radical Noneism: namely, existence-entailments. On Priest's Radical Noneist theory, existence-entailments function much like meaning-postulates in Carnap's semantics; namely, from the fact that a certain property or set of properties appears in an objects characterizing description, we can infer that said object must exist (at some world or other). The properties which ground such existence-entailments are what Priest calls "existence-entailing properties". Just which properties are existence-entailing is a question that Priest leaves open (as it is not central in the formal semantics), but he believes that all causal properties are existence-entailing.

My worry here is that the very notion of existence-entailing properties seems very likely to undercut the primary motivation one would have to be a Noneist. This is because it is the Ontological Assumption itself that underlies idea of existence-entailments. So I worry that if we take this feature on-board in our semantics, then we come dangerously close to falling back again into the Reference Theory, which is precisely what Noneism is designed to overthrow.

Indeed, with his notion of existence-entailments, Priest has at least partially rejected the Independence Thesis. To recap, the Independence Thesis is the idea that objects can possess properties independently of their existential status. This gives rise to the key Meinongian claim that nonexistent objects can truly possess properties. Priest indeed thinks that nonexistent objects can possess properties, but he generally relegates these properties to a rather small class; prime examples of these being logical properties, status properties, and being the object of intentional properties.

So, in contradistinction to existence-entailments, I suggest that we follow a proposal by Richard Sylvan in his late essay entitled "Re-Exploring Item Theory". In essence, Sylvan was gesturing towards a theory wherein we have two different Characterization Postulates; namely, a restricted CP for all the actual worlds, and an unrestricted CP for all the worlds in toto. Thus at all the actual worlds, we apply essentially the CP which is restricted to Characterizing Properties, while we continue using the unrestricted CP when considering all the worlds as a whole. In effect, this gives us the best of both worlds; for we can have the power of the unrestricted CP at our disposal, while at the same time holding forth to the Independence Thesis.

So how might this look? I believe the answer is quite simple; namely if we have a description consisting only of characterizing properties, then we can conclude that some object exemplifies all of these properties in some actual world. But, if a description contains some non-characterizing properties, then we conclude that some object possess all of these properties in some non-actual world.

The idea is simple enough, but one might worry about a possible issue regarding identity. For imagine that we have the following description, viz. "The existent round square". It follows on this theory that some object possesses all of these properties in some non-actual world. But what properties does this object possess in all the actual worlds? For we also have another description to consider; namely "The round square". On our theory it follows that some object possesses these properties in some actual world. So what should we say about the existent round square in this circumstance?

Well, there are at least two moves we can make here. Firstly, we could just use some kind of variable-domain semantics, and say that the existent round square is not in the domains of any of the actual worlds. This would no doubt solve the problem, but one might legitimately wonder why nonexistent objects should not appear in the domains of actual worlds. Thus, we can also make another move; namely, we can hold on to a constant-domain semantics, but we can affirm that, if an object's concomitant description contains non-characterizing predicates, then the object possesses only the characterizing predicates in said description at actual worlds. More concretely expressed, this would mean that the object described by "The existent round square" possesses only the properties of roundness and squareness at actual worlds.

Now, those who hold to a Neo-Lockean variant of Meinongianism will object to this and claim that this notion makes The Round Square and The Existent Round square identical at all the actual worlds, but Radical Noneism does not define identity on Leibnizian grounds, so this is not a problem for us. Indeed, since The Round Square and The Existent Round Square do not possess the same properties at all the same worlds, they are not identical.

As a final criticism of this view, some might say that the theory propounded lacks the theoretical simplicity of Priest's Noneism, since we have 2 characterization postulates at work here. This is undoubtedly true, but I believe that the loss of simplicity is more than made up for by our adhering to the Independence Postulate, which I take to be an absolutely fundamental logico-metaphysical truth.

So all in all, I believe that the Routleyan Noneist theory we have advocated in this essay will prove to be more fruitful than Priest's Noneism. Indeed, by having 2 characterization postulates at our disposal, the theory is not only more richly expressive, but it has the further benefit of holding onto to the most distinctive Meinongian theses; viz. Unrestricted Characterization, Unrestricted Freedom of Assumption, and a truly substantive Independence Thesis.

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