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Realism vs. Anti-Realism II: The realist challenge — Guest Post by G. Rodrigues

The one who will not work fits what is written about the virgins of Israel: he gives birth to wind — but the one who will work gives birth to his own father.

— S. Kierkegaard, Fear and Trembling

Fido instantiates himself onto a real leaf
In this second post I will consider the realist position towards universals and related objects such as propositions, relations, etc. For starters, consider the following three statements:

  1. Fido is green.
  2. Rover is green.
  3. Socrates is green.

Statements (1) through (3) predicate green of certain concrete particulars, Fido and Rover, specific lizards that have been so named (this lizard, that lizard), and Socrates, the famous Greek philosopher. The word “green” is both a noun and an adjective. In all three statements it has the latter, adjectival function. But (1) can be rendered in the logically equivalent “greenness characterizes Fido” where greenness is a noun and thus, presumably, it refers to an existing something.

So prima facie, an ordinary language statement like (1) seems to commit us to the existence of an entity, greenness, that makes (1) true. The realist will take this at face value and say that greenness does exist as an extra-mental object; more precisely, that greenness is a universal multiply instantiated, or exemplified, by the many concrete particulars of our sense experience. It is the fact that Fido and Rover instantiate the universal greenness, and thus have the property or attribute of being green, which grounds the truth of sentences (1) and (2) [1].

Similarly, it is the fact that Socrates does not instantiate the universal greenness[2] that grounds the falsity of (3). Furthermore, it is the instantiation of one and the same universal—greenness—that explains unity within plurality; that is, it is because Fido and Rover both instantiate the same universal greenness that they belong to the natural class of green things and why they resemble each other in this one aspect, while the fact that Socrates does not instantiate said universal is what accounts for him not belonging to the natural class of green things and thus not resembling Fido and Rover in the aspect of greenness.

Besides predication and resemblance, or as it has been historically known, the One over Many, the third phenomena that the realist purports to account is that of abstract reference, that is, the fact that universals themselves instantiate universals, stand in relations, etc. Consider the statements:

  1. Greenness is a color.
  2. Greenness resembles blueness more than it resembles yellowness.

The realist has a straightforward, simple, uniform account of the truth of (4): the universal greenness, being an entity in itself, instantiates a universal—the second-order universal color-ness—and it is that fact that grounds the truth of (4). The same simple, uniform account can be applied to (5), namely, that there is relation of resemblance, an objective feature of the fabric of reality, between the universals known as colors, that accounts for and grounds the truth of (5). Moreover, the realist account gives a simple, plausible explanation for why such statements as (4) and (5) are seemingly necessarily, unchanging truths, that hold in all possible worlds[3], by appealing to the de re necessity of the relations between the relevant universals, themselves necessary beings.

The realist accounts of predication, resemblance and abstract reference can be turned into arguments in favor of realism. Let us consider the latter case. To make the argument more forceful it is useful to drop Green Lizards and work instead with mathematical objects, triangles say. The triangles we encounter in reality are imperfect instantiations of the mathematical notion of triangle, for not only they are not perfect triangles, as being en-mattered they cannot have perfect straight sides, but they also have features that no mathematical triangle has, such as being drawn in sand or in paper or in a computer screen, being of this or that color, being at this or that region of space-time, etc. so that the universal triangularity cannot be identified with any particular concrete triangle.

Furthermore, concrete triangles, or even the class or scattered object of all triangles, are contingent, or it could be the case, and if cosmologists are correct it certainly will, that there was no intellect in the universe
to perceive them. It follows that not only is not triangularity reducible to a thought in the mind, but since the (non-tautological) truths about triangularity are necessary rather than contingent, the subject of such truths, the universal triangularity, is itself mind-independent and a necessary rather than contingent being[4].

Before proceeding, some words are in order about the realist ontological commitments. In the traditional[5] realist account a universal like greenness is an abstract object. Both the universal greenness and the relation of instantiation are abstract in the sense that they are not localized in space-time[6]. Greenness is “in” Fido not in the sense of being localized at the space-time location of Fido, but of being an ontological constituent of the substance known as Fido[7]. Furthermore, the relation of instantiation is a primitive one that is not analyzable in terms of more basic or fundamental entities.

A realist of an Aristotelian bent would now add that universals are ontologically dependent on the particulars that instantiate them, and that apart from them and abstracted away by the mind they are mere abstractions, or beings of reason[8]. To be even more specific, the substance Fido, The Lizard, instantiates a certain substantial form that, speaking somewhat loosely, fixes the range of potencies within the being of Fido, namely the potency for being green that on a normal, healthy lizard like Fido is, becomes actual and instantiated or exemplified, as opposed to say, being hundred-legged or composing long tracts on the problem of universals using silly examples with lizards instead of dogs. A realist after Plato would deny this ontological dependence and insist that universals stand over and apart the particulars that instantiate them. In other words, there can be, and surely there are, uninstantiated universals and thus the Platonist is compelled to posit a third realm to house them.

This then is the realist challenge: either accept the reality of universals, or offer a competing, satisfying account of predication, unity within plurality and abstract reference.

There are objections to the realist account that boil down to a restatement of some form of anti-realism; I will get to them in the next post. There are plausible objections directed against realism and I will also address (some of) them in due time. And then there are the clueless objections. The realm of clueless objections is potentially infinite, as vast and infinite as is human clueless-ness (which the reader will observe is the universal exemplified by the clueless, and only the clueless persons). Trying to peer into such an abyss and guesstimate a clueless objection is a vain affectation. It makes one stoop down to the level of the clueless and there is a serious risk of being confused with one. I dare say that one might as well be one. It is a dirty job but someone’s got to do it; so it might as well be me, as I am just as clueless as the next guy.

An envious Socrates wishes he thought of these arguments
Objection no. 1: Fido is green not because he instantiates the universal greenness but because the surface of Fido is such that it reflects photons within a certain energy range, and only those photons, and that is why we perceive Fido as green. Go learn some physics.

Answer to objection no. 1: So you do not know the difference between metaphysics and physics? Read again what I wrote. I did not say that Fido is green because it instantiates the universal greenness, rather, the fact that Fido is green is the same thing as instantiating the universal greenness. There are no explanatory becauses in the realist (or anti-realist) metaphysical account of predication. The causal story you tell while interesting, is completely irrelevant. Furthermore, even if I granted the cogency of such a causal story, such an analysis will necessarily appeal to universals for these are what ground the truth of such predication statements as that photons have energy levels, or that the the surface of Fido has certain reflection properties, etc. and etc.

Objection no. 2: “Greenness is a color” is a tautology, not a necessary truth. It is that way because of how the words “greenness” and “color” are conventionally defined.

Answer to objection no. 2: This objection is in fact a covert appeal to a form of linguistic nominalism, which will be dealt with in the next post. So you do not know the difference between a real and nominal definition? Yes, it is a contingent historical fact that in the English language, the particular word “greenness” has been made to point to, refer, or denote the property of being green. But once we grasp what the key abstract singular terms “greenness” and “color” point to, refer, or denote, we cannot help but give our intellectual assent to the truth of the statement “greenness is a color”, but also come to recognize that there is no possible world in which greenness failed to be a color, for it is a color by virtue of what greenness is, not by virtue of the contingent fact that the word “greenness” points to, refers, denotes greenness.

Objection no. 3: What a load of tosh; these are just dull and boring word-games.

Answer to objection no. 3: I cannot really retort to the charge of dullness and boringness; but no, these are not just “word-games”. Rather, universals are the link between thought and language on the one hand, and reality on the other, since they are what ground the intelligibility and the truth-conditions of statements like (1) to (5). You are certainly free to reject the realist account, but what you cannot do is evade the issue and say it does not matter; for otherwise when you make a predication statement like (1) you are speaking unintelligible gibberish since you have not deigned to clarify what is the meaning of such statements or what their truth conditions are.

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Endnotes:

[1] Some points of terminology: the meaning of universal was already explained, and should be contrasted with that of particulars that are not multiply exemplifiable (there is only one Fido, one Socrates, etc.). A relation is a universal that applies to pairs, or more generally n-tuples, of objects. For example: the spatial relation of taller than. Aristotelians will also introduce further distinctions in the general class of universals: kinds (substantial forms), properties, accidents, etc. These need not concern us, but for the interested reader, D. Oderberg’s Real Essentialism is a modern defense of Aristotelian-Thomistic essentialism. Propositions assert something, and thus are either true or false. Statements (1) to (3) all express propositions. In this series I will concentrate mainly on universals. For the problems anti-realists face when dealing with propositions see for example A. Plantinga Warrant and Proper Function, chapter 6.

[2] We have no pictures of Socrates, but I think we can be fairly certain that he was not green. If someone cares to dispute this, let him present his evidence.

[3] Possible worlds, the nature of necessity and contingency and allied problems constitute a huge topic, and currently a very popular one, in metaphysics. Here, I will take a possible world to be a possible state of affairs of the whole of reality, and hide beneath this simple statement a good deal of complicated details. See any good introductory book on metaphysics like E. Lowe A Survey of Metaphysics and references therein.

[4] In The Medieval Problem of Universals, Gyula Klima makes the argument particularly vivid. He goes on to discuss the immediate problems facing “naive” forms of Platonist realism and the fairly sophisticated nominalist controversy going on in medieval times.

[5] I say “traditional” because, obviously enough, there are non-traditional realist accounts of universals. Foremost that of D. M. Armstrong, who, because of his naturalist commitments, is compelled to deny that universals are abstract and the attending axiom of localization. For a critique of Armstrong’s views see J. P. Moreland’s Universals, chapter 4, pg. 83 ff.

[6] This is the ontological sense of abstract. Anti-realists will tend to use the word in an epistemological sense, that is, a feature abstracted away from its concrete instantiations by an act of the mind. For the most part, I will be using “abstract” in the ontological sense, but sometimes I will slip into using it in the epistemological sense; context should make clear when I am using “abstract” in this latter sense, e.g. by the use of such expressions as “abstracted away” or “beings of reason”.

While I am at it, a useful rule-of-thumb for distinguishing realists from anti-realists is that the former will start out from ontology, or reality, and build their epistemology from there, while the latter have their starting point in their epistemological stance and then project it onto reality. I freely admit that this description is a simplification, but it does express something true about the actual state of affairs.

[7] Sub-stance, or that which stands under.

[8] There is a subtle epistemological point lurking here. I will return to it when dealing with the epistemological objection to realism. I will also add that the Thomist has available to him the neo-Platonic move of positing universals as existing ante rem, as the archetypes of creation pre-existing from all eternity in the mind of God. This is one way (but not the only one) of escaping some dilemmas like the flip-flopping dilemma, when a universal is instantiated at one moment in time, becomes uninstantiated at a subsequent moment of time and then instantiated again.

69 thoughts on “Realism vs. Anti-Realism II: The realist challenge — Guest Post by G. Rodrigues Leave a comment

  1. I did not say that Fido is green because it instantiates the universal greenness, rather, the fact that Fido is green is the same thing as instantiating the universal greenness. There are no explanatory becauses in the realist (or anti-realist) metaphysical account of predication. The causal story you tell while interesting, is completely irrelevant.

    The only thing this kind of reasoning teaches us is that language is utterly ambiguous, error-prone and just “easy-doing”. When someone states that Fido “is” green, one is simply not being as rigorous as one could be if someone would instead state “Fido is casting photons in this wavelenght range”.

    I know, you are nodding your head horizontally (what is the proper english word for that?) because again I am invoking a “causal explanation”, but you see, the only reason you are establishing universals is because of the way common people speak in their unrigorous day-to-day language. There’s no such thing as a “Fido” that is “green”. Its greeness is “in the eyes of the beholder” so to speak, for if you did not have a receptor for green in your eyes, he would not be so (and you can’t really establish an universal that is dependent to your eyes can you? – real question).

    So the only “inter-subjective” wording we can adopt here is the wavelenght conversation. And that kind of conversation is inherently causal.

  2. [1] Some points of terminology: the meaning of universal was already explained

    Not by you it seems. I searched for the word “universal” in both parts and I see you using it but not explaining it.

    You keep making statements. Greenness is a universal because, well, it is. Whatever physical attributes causes people to think of green will be likely exist even if there were no people around to say “green” but that hardly means that the concept of “green” has any existence outside of the mind.

    Do you think of 10Mhz electromagnetic waves as a color? If not, why not? If greenness is a universal why is it inextricably tied to a specific range of electromagnetic frequencies? Isn’t it because that’s where humans define it? It’s not clear that “green” has any meaning other than in human minds.

    The same could be said of triangles.


    these are not just “word-games” and yet the Thomist has available to him the neo-Platonic move. Odd to find “moves” in a non-contest.


    let him present his evidence

    Have you been doing this yourself?


    Socrates is green.

    My first thought was not to envision Socrates in the “universal” of greenness. Instead, I was inclined to think him ill.

  3. Luis,
    Describe, in non-realist terms, the phrase “error-prone”.

    Not yet. I’m humbling playing the devil’s advocate. A realist can ask me how I can speak those terms, but in this case it is the realist who is making the case, not me. I’m poking holes.

  4. rembie,

    It’s not the size. It’s the use that counts. If you were to use it to pick your teeth, then size matters.

  5. So back to the subject. I’m still at the dark on why I should adopt the kind of “universals” like “greeness”. What Rodrigues shows us here is a kind of circular reasoning as he almost admits at his second point (but not quite):

    We should adopt universals because we speak as if “Green” is indeed an universal.

    Then he makes a challenge:

    either accept the reality of universals, or offer a competing, satisfying account of predication, unity within plurality and abstract reference.

    Not good enough, I’m sorry. I do not need to come up with a different solution to a problem you yourself came up with in order for my skepticism to be validated.

    What’s even worse is that you yourself deny the validity of one when such one comes up (the causal explanation), so what’s the point of even trying if you are just going to ignore all we have to offer?

    Look, to me, categorizing something as “green” is probably useful, but it is in no way a testament to the existence of something “universal”. It is merely a testament to the shared characteristic of some things to express themselves in my consciousness as being “green”. There’s not even anything remotely like an “exact green”. There’s just “green things”, which can be teal, turquoise, a thousand other things. And it depends on the light, environment, presence of an headache, and so on.

    Is “Teal” Green? Or is it Cyan?

  6. @Luis Dias:

    The only thing this kind of reasoning teaches us is that language is utterly ambiguous, error-prone and just “easy-doing”.

    What do you mean by “language *is* utterly ambiguous”? (emphasis mine). Presumably you will give me an account in linguistic terms, using nouns, predicates, etc. But according to you , all this is “utterly ambiguous”, so it is utterly ambiguous that “language is utterly ambiguous”.

    Really, I would wish you would actually read what people write and also think through what you yourself write; most likely, it would save you the embarrassment of posting Yet Another Clueless Objection and me the trouble of having to point it out.

  7. @Luis
    There is no exact green.
    Do you realize that you can only state this because you have a concept of green, that refers to greenness?

  8. @Rembie

    Of course he has a concept of green. He never denied that. That does not in itself make the concept of green universal or give in existance outside of the realm of human conciousness because different people can have different concepts of what “green” or anything else you care to name is.

  9. I am with Louis on this one. The article makes no argument that a universal greenness or triangleness exists and exists separate from human conciousness except to say it is so and hand wave away all objections.

  10. What do you mean by “language *is* utterly ambiguous”? (emphasis mine). Presumably you will give me an account in linguistic terms, using nouns, predicates, etc. But according to you , all this is “utterly ambiguous”, so it is utterly ambiguous that “language is utterly ambiguous”.

    That’s all very easy to say, but this is your time to shine, not mine, so don’t do the sleazy thing and try to shift the spotlight to me.

    Let’s just say that you picked a terrible example that, if we assume the premise that there is such a thing as “not ambiguous at all”, then this example does not convey such a thing.

    For example, we have this idea inside your post:

    Moreover, the realist account gives a simple, plausible explanation for why such statements as (4) and (5) are seemingly necessarily, unchanging truths, that hold in all possible worlds[3]

    These tentative “universals” are however very dependent on the physical attributes and behaviors of our eye receptors. I’d venture that a daltonic person would not recognize this alledged similarity that you state here. However, you just stated that this was an “universal”, so how is this possible?

    If further we imagine an alien intelligent species for whom the Greenness resembles yellowness more than it resembles blueness, where does that leave the sentence? Again, its truthfulness is dependent upon biological realities, and not any “abstract” universals and so on. Unless you are going to just state that your (5) is absolutely true and any alien that denies it is just a lying bastard.

  11. @Matt
    That is exactly the difference between a true and a false concept: the false concept does not have an existence outside of the realm of human conciousness. Think about it. If we are collectively wrong on everything, at least Matt will be right.

  12. @Rodrigues
    The paragraph starting with “Furthermore,…” and ending with “…contingent being.” is beyond my grasp. Could you shed some light on your corollary here?

  13. Rodrigues,

    I’d like to thank you for these articles. They’re amazing–I really appreciate it.

  14. @rembie

    For the type of concepts the article discusses (greenness, triangleness) they do not gain existance beyond human conciousness by vitute of being true.

    The article provides no reason why they should have existance beyond human conciousness except to flatly state that it is so.

    All objections are rejected not by reasoned argument but by mere hand waving dismissal.

    A concept in general, no mater what the subject of the concept or it’s truth or falseness can have no existance out side of the realm of human conciousness, because that is exactly what a concept is, a construct of human conciousness.

  15. That is exactly the difference between a true and a false concept: the false concept does not have an existence outside of the realm of human consciousness

    I would think a false concept is one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Why should it matter where it is?

  16. The color of a lizard depends on its own skin, the color of light shining on it and the kind of eye the observer has. Shine red light on a lizard and it is black. If its skin also reflects ultraviolet and the observing eye can see in ultraviolet, the lizard’s color won’t be green either.

    Green also means inexperienced in English, AFAIK. It is quite reasonable to assume Socrates in his younger years was inexperienced.

    Anyway, the triangle example is a better example of a universal. But even for triangles it won’t be clearcut. There are Eucledian triangles, but there are also triangles on globes and saddles. A triangle on a globe or a saddle shares the three-corners attribute with the euclidian triangle, but not the sum-of-angles-equalling-180-degrees attribute. On a globe, the sum of angles is bigger than 180 degrees, on a saddle it is less. Now we suddenly have four universals, the three triangle universals on planes, globes and saddles, and the three-angles universal generating these three universals.

    Then, in a flat plane iit is is possible to draw many kinds of shapes with three corners, but with curved lines instread of straight lines. Why not call those shapes triangles? We call them triangles when they are drawn on globes and saddles, and if you project globe- or saddle-triangles on a flat plane, those are the shapes you get.

    Clearly, the are plenty of shapes, universals, that look very much like a triangle, an infinite number of them. So if we draw a triangle, which won’t have exactly the shape of the triangle-universal, there is bound to be one of those almost-triangle-universal shapes that has exactly the same shape as the real triangle we have just drawn. But that means that the triangle-universal is not the generating universal for our real triangle, and our real triangle is not a triangle because its universal is not the triangle-universal, but one of the infinite number of almost-triangle-universals.

  17. @Luis Dias:

    That’s all very easy to say, but this is your time to shine, not mine, so don’t do the sleazy thing and try to shift the spotlight to me.

    Is this your oblique way of admitting that the argument is valid and you spouted nonsense?

    If further we imagine an alien intelligent species for whom the Greenness resembles yellowness more than it resembles blueness, where does that leave the sentence?

    “Imagining” does not an argument make just as “imagining” that 2 + 2 equals 5 does not make it true or “imagining” that the moon is made of green cheese actually makes it of green chase. If you want to sustain your argument, the first thing you have to do is to give an account of predication and resemblance and then show that your scenario is indeed metaphysically possible. Otherwise, you are just spouting empty wind.

    These tentative “universals” are however very dependent on the physical attributes and behaviors of our eye receptors. I’d venture that a daltonic person would not recognize this alledged similarity that you state here. However, you just stated that this was an “universal”, so how is this possible?

    So the existence of Daltonic persons throws doubt on the existence of the universal greenness? Is that your objection?

    You are conflating epistemology with ontology. No one disputes that to come to know greenness, a human must have a properly functioning visual apparatus; for Thomists, all knowledge starts in the senses. But this is not an epistemological question, rather an ontological one. An entity being a universal just means that, at least in principle, it is multiply exemplifiable in reality, so your question just betrays your misunderstanding.

    Again, its truthfulness is dependent upon biological realities, and not any “abstract” universals and so on. Unless you are going to just state that your (5) is absolutely true and any alien that denies it is just a lying bastard.

    Suppose for the sake of argument that I were to grant that you have a point about your causal story. The story is about photons bouncing off the surface of Fido and hitting the retina. It contains several predicate statements and makes appeals to several universals: starting with photon (it is a multiply exemplifiable universal), photons that have energy levels (a multiply exemplifiable property and thus a universal), that the surface has a certain reflecting property (another appeal to a universal) and on and so on. Moreover, how do you *know* that the photons bouncing from Fido’s surface are green? Because you *know* what being green means in the first place and thus you can say that a certain photon with a certain energy level corresponds to the color green. So you are just kicking the problem to another level. Want to get rid of universals? Do the work instead of spouting empty wind.

    I will repeat what I said in my previous response: *read* what I wrote, the answer is right there and you do not even engage it, but you keep making the same clueless objections. Unless you actually engage with it, I am done here.

  18. @rembie:

    “The paragraph starting with “Furthermore,…” and ending with “…contingent being.” is beyond my grasp. Could you shed some light on your corollary here?”

    You mean the argument involving triangularity? It is just pointing out that all the concrete triangles we perceive are not only imperfect instantiations, but also that they are contingent in the sense that they could not have been; the fact that they do exist is a contingent fact, dependent on the causal history of the universe. From this it follows that the class of all concrete triangles is likewise contingent, for it could have more members, less members, or no members at all. The same for the scattered object of all concrete triangles But the truths about triangularity are not contingent, since there is no possible world where they could fail to obtain, as such, it follows that the subject of those truths is a necessary being, and that it is not reducible to a thought in the mind, because it is possible that there were no minds at all in the first place but triangles would still exist, and the truths about them would still be necessary truths.

    I really recommend you follow the link to Gyula Klima’s article on the nominalist controversy in the medieval ages, especially section 2, as the argument is given a particularly crisp form.

  19. @Rodrigues
    Thanks. It then seems that the word order in this sentence is not as intended: It follows that not only is not triangularity reducible to a thought in the mind.

  20. @DAV
    I would think a false concept is one that doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Why should it matter where it is?

    We are not talking of spatial location agreed? What would be interesting is to learn from you the truth conditions you adhere to. If a thought I am having strikes me as true, rather than being just a conjecture or hypothesis, It ceases to concern only me and I regard it to be really so. A good measure for your believe in the truth of your own ideas is therefore the degree to which you feel prompted to act on them.

  21. @Rodrigues

    How about stating why “greenness” would exist outside of a mind?

    “greenness” merely is the name given to a range of electromagnetic spectrum. And a rather arbitrary one at that. The word is a label to communicate a specific range vs. some other range. Why? My answer: is it has more to do with application than recognizing some universal truth. If that range had no practical importance to humans it would not have been given a name just as the wavelength range of 1-3cm has not been given a name (well, that is outside of some possible narrow applications).

    What is the universal concept of 1-3cm wavelengths other than it is not “green”? If people weren’t around, the concept of “greenness” wouldn’t be either.

  22. @Sander Van der Waal:

    The color of a lizard depends on its own skin, the color of light shining on it and the kind of eye the observer has. Shine red light on a lizard and it is black. If its skin also reflects ultraviolet and the observing eye can see in ultraviolet, the lizard’s color won’t be green either.

    If the lizard surface also reflected ultraviolet we would not say that the the lizard is green but something else, and we would be wrong as a matter of fact, that the lizard was green. But this is *irrelevant* to whether universals exist as extra-mental realities or not.

    Green also means inexperienced in English, AFAIK. It is quite reasonable to assume Socrates in his younger years was inexperienced.

    Yes, words can have more than one meaning, and equivocal ones. The point being?

    Now we suddenly have four universals, the three triangle universals on planes, globes and saddles, and the three-angles universal generating these three universals.

    You can define triangles in any Riemannian manifold by using geodesics, and they will be universals because they are multiply exemplifiable. Why do you think this is a problem?

    Then, in a flat plane iit is is possible to draw many kinds of shapes with three corners, but with curved lines instread of straight lines. Why not call those shapes triangles? We call them triangles when they are drawn on globes and saddles, and if you project globe- or saddle-triangles on a flat plane, those are the shapes you get.

    So you do not know the difference between words and their referents.

    Clearly, the are plenty of shapes, universals, that look very much like a triangle, an infinite number of them. So if we draw a triangle, which won’t have exactly the shape of the triangle-universal, there is bound to be one of those almost-triangle-universal shapes that has exactly the same shape as the real triangle we have just drawn. But that means that the triangle-universal is not the generating universal for our real triangle, and our real triangle is not a triangle because its universal is not the triangle-universal, but one of the infinite number of almost-triangle-universals.

    Finally, a decent argument. Putting it in syllogistic form what you are saying is:

    1. The triangles we draw are imperfect triangles — call them imperfect-triangles.

    2. According to the realist, it would seem that imperfect triangles instantiate a universal, imperfect-triangularity.

    3. But this means that the imperfect-triangle does not instantiate triangularity.

    4. Since all triangles we meet are actually imperfect-triangles, triangularity is never instantiated.

    5. So we have no reason to believe in such a thing as triangularity.

    Starting with (1), why do you call them “imperfect-triangles”? Presumably because you have an idea of what a triangle *is* and such imperfect-triangles *resemble* a triangle. But if you assert that there is no such thing as triangularity where did you get the idea of a triangle in the first place? How can you say that a triangle is imperfect if you do not know what a triangle is? And if you do call them imperfect-triangle you are just saying that it is an imperfect instantiation of the universal triangularity. One more point. All your examples of figures will always instantiate the more general universal three-sided figure where by sides I mean any curve. But this does *not* preclude the instantiation of the more *specific* triangularity universal, because universals are arranged in a tree-like hierarchy like biological species. Where exactly we put such and such a concrete particular in the classification tree is a matter depending on all sorts of considerations; what the realist will claims is that it is somewhere in the classificatory tree, even if as a matter of practical fact, we may not know exactly where.

  23. @rembie

    We seem to be talking past each other. When you said, That is exactly the difference between a true and a false concept: the false concept does not have an existence outside of the realm of human consciousness, I originally read it as meaning the distinction between a true and false concept is that existence only in the mind implies falsehood. I later realized you likely meant a false concept can only exist in the mind.

    If a thought I am having strikes me as true, rather than being just a conjecture or hypothesis, It ceases to concern only me …

    Really? Why is that? Your beliefs are important to me only in so far as they affect me in some way.

  24. Let’s take the example of “blue” (or “blau” for the Germans). In Russian, this one word would be rendered as either голубой (light blue) or синий (dark blue). But that does not mean that the Anglo-German speaker fails to note that they are two distinct shades, nor that the Russian speaker fails to note that they are two different shades that are closely related. It’s a simple matter of word-categories; but it would not be correct to say that even one says “light blue” another says “hellblau” and a third says “голубой” that the sky has no color or that the three see different colors. The sky would not cease being blue if all the Anglo-German speakers were to disappear tomorrow. And it would not cease presenting “blueness” in whatever language if there were no people at all to perceive and name it.

    “Blueness” as typically used (i.e., not as “sadness” or “depression.”) includes azure, hyacinth, caerulean, and so on. Or Prussian blue, Navy blue, etc. But all these are instantly recognized as within the proximity set of “blue.” Just as when one is asked to think of a “dog,” one must imagine a specific kind of dog, when asked to imagine “green” we must imagine a particular shade of green; but it is still the case that it is a shade of green or a breed of dog.

  25. YOS,

    The sky would not cease being blue if all the Anglo-German speakers were to disappear tomorrow. And it would not cease presenting “blueness” in whatever language if there were no people at all to perceive and name it.

    Only if “blueness” means a specific range of EM wavelengths. Wouldn’t that make it a physical attribute and less of a concept? Or is “blueness” the thing in your mind that corresponds to that range?

    And while we’re at it: the sky isn’t blue; it’s the stuff in it that is. The sky seen from the moon isn’t blue. Colors are also relative depending upon the light source. Working with cameras makes this very obvious. Sander Van der Waal pointed this out and Rodrigues evaded the issue. That we can see the same color under differing light conditions implies we see what we expect and not some universal truth.

  26. @G. Rodrigue,

    “But this is *irrelevant* to whether universals exist as extra-mental realities or not.”

    Except you have given not one reason as to why they should or could exist as extra-mental realites.

    Further, all of your rejections of objections to this have been not reasoned arguments but mere hand waving dismissals.

  27. @YOS
    I see a difference between dogs and triangles in the following way. The triangle can be understood in a way that enables us to see that no incorporation of a triangle is really perfect, it is only approximately a triangle. This is because the concept of the triangle can be grasped as a pure form apart from matter. With dog I find this hard. I would not be able to say what the pure form of the dog amounts to, or any particular kind of dog for that matter. I do feel it exists, but I cannot come up with an adequate expression for it. Form and matter are inseparable it seems. Therefore my concept of a dog is sort of incomplete. For the most part it is simply referring to the sense experience of a dog or a mental picture I am having.

  28. @Matt:

    “Except you have given not one reason as to why they should or could exist as extra-mental realites.”

    That you obviously have reading comprehension troubles is your problem not mine. To quote Dr. Johnson, I found you an argument, I am not under the obligation to find you an understanding.

  29. @DAV
    Blueness involves a very elementary concept relative to “EM wavelength” and “physical attribute” Those are really complicated concepts. Those who propound the physical world as the real world always seem to overlook that it appears real by virtue of the conceptual framework connected to it.

  30. @rembie

    Blueness involves a very elementary concept relative to “EM wavelength” and “physical attribute” Those are really complicated concepts.

    If blueness just “is” even if no one can witness it then I don’t see any way around not relying on physical attributes. What other way could it be said the blueness is there regardless of the presence of an observer? Well, GR has one way: just say it’s true.

    What does complexity have to do with it?

    I also pointed out that “blueness” is a subjective quality to the observer. The sky for instance is blue only under certain circumstances not the least is the time of day. If you have no idea of the “true” (whatever that is) color of an object and view it under a complementary light it will appear black and you will believe it to be black. Where is this universal quality of specific color attribute then?

    Using color for illustration of “existence of an entity” was likely a misjudgment.

  31. Rodrigues, your snark tone really puts me off, come on why be so unchristian. I think I made a valid criticism and that if I can imagine a being who senses “green” in a different manner because there is a biological reason for it, I really fail to see how this is suddenly rendered metaphysically implausible in any “possible world”.

    Suppose for the sake of argument that I were to grant that you have a point about your causal story. The story is about photons bouncing off the surface of Fido and hitting the retina. It contains several predicate statements and makes appeals to several universals: starting with photon (it is a multiply exemplifiable universal), photons that have energy levels (a multiply exemplifiable property and thus a universal), that the surface has a certain reflecting property (another appeal to a universal) and on and so on. Moreover, how do you *know* that the photons bouncing from Fido’s surface are green?

    Now this is the path that I wanted the discussion to follow on, and not the snarkiness that I can do without. Now to get something out of the window here: you really did say that (5) was absolutely true in every possible world. Will you admit the example you have given is a bad one, since I came up with an easy counter-example?

    I really need for this issue to be settled before I go on, because it is fulcral for the continuation of my devil’s advocacy here. The relationship between “blueness”, “yellowness” and “greeness” is obviously dependent (other things being equal) to the sensory devices and the “qualia” experience of the being who will judge which of those is more “similar” or “dissimilar”.

    If this is the case, stating your (5) as an absolute is thus unjustifiable, unless you can prove that your own sensory experience is the ultimate reference of the universe.

    Can we agree on that point?

    I say all this because you do raise very important issues to which I really wanted the discussion to follow up to.

    Here’s the thing. All the predicate statements that are included in the biological reality that I alluded to are as fundamentally flawed as stating your (5), precisely because no one has ever produced a proof that the physical description of the universe we have is the final absolute truth of it. In fact, the scientific method and all its theory and practice denies this ability.

    This means that, while much more useful, measurable, inter-subjective, rigorous (and so on) such a scientific description can be, its relation to an “absolute true predicate statement” that is actually able to produce the Universals you are so fond of (and not flawed ones like “greeness” and so on) can be as distant (or even more!) as the difference between the scientific description and “that’s green”.

    If we can agree that “that’s green” is not good enough to establish universals, then we must agree too that the scientific description *may* (most probably) be equally as flawed.

    So, again I ask, where are these Universals? I can’t find them anywhere.

  32. @G. Rodrigues

    The comprehension problem if there is one is yours. You have stated the realist position and explained how it works but that does nothing to say why it should be accepted.

  33. @Luis Dias:

    your snark tone really puts me off, come on why be so unchristian.

    This thread is about thirty-something posts; I have not read them all, but only Sander Wan der Waal came up with an articulate argument. I have no patience for people who are not willing to put up the effort to understand what is being said, that say that no arguments have been presented, or that write the first nonsense that comes to their head, without even thinking through what they are writing. You dislike the snark; I can understand and even sympathize with that. And smug ignorance and cluelessness *really* irks me. There you have it.

    you really did say that (5) was absolutely true in every possible world. Will you admit the example you have given is a bad one, since I came up with an easy counter-example?

    No, you did not come up with “an easy counter-example”. I explained to you what you have to do to convince me that (5) does not hold in every possible world. You are not willing to do the work, so no, I do not concede that it is a bad example.

    Several times I have showed where you contradict yourself, misunderstand what is being said or are simply wrong. Should I try to arm-wrestle a confession out of you?

    The relationship between “blueness”, “yellowness” and “greeness” is obviously dependent (other things being equal) to the sensory devices and the “qualia” experience of the being who will judge which of those is more “similar” or “dissimilar”.

    The statement (5) has nothing to do with qualia. It is not a statement about first-person experience or phenomenology, but rather a statement about the resemblance relation between colors, which is an internal relation grounded on what greenness, blueness and yellowness are. You do not understand what is being said. Incidentally, this is also one reason why your imaginary alien scenario does not work. Once again, it is rather telling that you latch on to greenness and forget the other major example I gave; if you had turned to it instead, you would quickly realize that qualia or talk about sensory devices is largely irrelevant.

    Suppose for the moment that (5) is indeed wrong, and that my claim that it is a necessary truth is wrong. What exactly do you expect to prove by that? All you managed to prove is that I got one modal claim about the color resemblance relation wrong. And? You are getting yourself be dragged by what are meant to be illustrative examples. I stick by my statements, but proving that a *specific* claim is wrong does nothing to prove realism is wrong. Claims about specific universals (greenness, blueness, etc.) and the specific relations they enter in (resemblance) can be wrong without endangering the realist claims.

    From “here’s the thing” onward, I have difficulties parsing what you are trying to say. If you care to rephrase it, I will try to respond to it.

  34. @ G. Rodrigues

    You state:

    “It follows that not only is not triangularity reducible to a thought in the mind, but since the (non-tautological) truths about triangularity are necessary rather than contingent, the subject of such truths, the universal triangularity, is itself mind-independent and a necessary rather than contingent being.”

    This is a circular argument. It follows thus only if realism is true. If realism is not true this statement is pure nonsense. This offers no argument for accepting realism.

    You further state:

    “This then is the realist challenge: either accept the reality of universals, or offer a competing, satisfying account of predication, unity within plurality and abstract reference.”

    This is simply shifting the burden of proof. It isn’t my responsibilty to disprove your argument. I can reject it safely if you don’t present sufficent evidence without needing to offer a counter solution.

    You have not described anything about these things that requires acounting for in the first place

    You have not offered any logically valid argument in favor of realism.

  35. @G. Rodrigues

    The point is this. The things we see as triangles are supposed to be derived from the triangle universal, and the reason that they are not exactly like the universal triangle is because instantiation of the universal doesn’t create perfect instantiations. This argument is later used to reason that God must exist.

    But if there is an almost-triangle universal that has the exact shape of our triangle instantiation, then particulars can be perfect instantiations of universals. Being a perfect instantiation of a universal is then nothing special. Happens all the time, actually.

    It gets worse. The whole reason for there being triangle universals was to explain triangle-ness, all triangle-looking things were instantiated from that universal. But if there always is a universal that is exactly the same shape as a particular triangle instantiation, that that universal is instantiating that particular triangle, and the triangle universal does not ever instantiate a triangle. Which means that in the real world triangles do not exist, as they are not instantiations of the triangle-universal.

  36. @DAV
    It is all about understanding what we bring to the world of sense from within so to speak. We bring the understanding of greenness to the experience of green things. It is here we will find we agree. The sense experience of green is not exactly the same for me and you. It does not matter. Do you agree that red is a warm and active color so to speak, coming towards you, where blue is cool, quiet and retreats? Considering these qualities, among other things, will bring us to the universals of red and blue in the end. In normal life we are only anticipating the concept, we have it, but sort of unconsciously. You have to study color as something that involves both the object and the subject, it extends from the surface of objects to the inner qualities experienced within the subject. Your ontology is simply a mismatch in this case. If you say color is a range of EM waves, you have simply changed the subject. What color is simply cannot be objectified in the way you seem to demand. But the fact that color only makes sense within the relationship of a subject to an object, does not mean that it does not exist in a meaningful way. I am a part of the world as a subject, just as much as the object. Does this make sense to you even remotely?

  37. @rembie

    Do you agree that red is a warm and active color so to speak, coming towards you, where blue is cool, quiet and retreats?

    No. Not to me, anyway. This is likely an association of shades experienced by viewing ice and fires.

    You have to study color as something that involves both the object and the subject, it extends from the surface of objects to the inner qualities experienced within the subject.

    I left that stuff behind when I gave up my hippie ways.

    If you say color is a range of EM waves, you have simply changed the subject.

    If that’s so then how is it I can get you to name specific (well, generic) colors when I shine lights of corresponding wavelengths onto a white card?

    What color is simply cannot be objectified in the way you seem to demand. But the fact that color only makes sense within the relationship of a subject to an object, does not mean that it does not exist in a meaningful way. I am a part of the world as a subject, just as much as the object. Does this make sense to you even remotely?

    Actually, no, and particularly so if colors are supposed to have some “real” existence. You seem to be making an argument for subjective internal manifestations.

    My point is that what we see as the color of an object is sometimes invariant even under changing light conditions and environments. For example, look at this photograph.

    http://i50.tinypic.com/e6ofio.jpg

    What would you say is the color of the handle paring knife on the left? If you are like most people, you would likely say it’s more orange than green. You might even say it’s more orange than red.

    This photo was taken under fluorescent lighting. Under sunlight it is (to me) a deep red. So what is its color? Orange or red? When I took the photo, I saw it as a deep red. The camera saw something quite different. No amount of fiddling with the color balance can change it into the color I saw without severely changing the colors of the surrounding objects. The camera used here has a special imaging sensor with a well-known wavelength response so I’m inclined to believe the picture.

    What I saw wasn’t even present. The color was only in my mind and I imposed it on the handle. I can only imagine this is because it was the color I expected to see.

    This happens with everybody. The colors you think you experience often are deduced and many times incorrectly (assuming sunlight to be the standard for light temperature). Their relationship with the object being viewed is imposed by you during the process of deducing the color value. It is not an inherent property.

    The perceived colors can change if the surrounding objects change. Apparently, part of the color balancing in humans uses localized references.

    This whole business of the “reality” of colors completely flies in the face of evidence that perceived colors are entirely subjective. It’s not just a case of what you think is blue differs from what I think is blue. It’s a case of what you alone think is blue changes under differing conditions for the same object.

  38. All,

    This is one of those moments that makes me proud to be a blog owner. I have just read DAV’s comment, “Actually, no, and particularly so if colors are supposed to have some ‘real’ existence. You seem to be making an argument for subjective internal manifestations” and Luis’s strikingly similar, almost word-for-word, entry, “I think I made a valid criticism and that if I can imagine a being who senses ‘green’ in a different manner because there is a biological reason for it, I really fail to see how this is suddenly rendered metaphysically implausible in any ‘possible world’.”

    I knew we’d convert these guys in the end to the realist view! Perseverance is, as the old saying goes, the best medicine. Thomas Aquinas is surely doing a heavenly jig. My heart soars like a hawk. I can’t stop grinning!

    Welcome to the fold, guys!

  39. @Matt:

    This is a circular argument. It follows thus only if realism is true. If realism is not true this statement is pure nonsense.”

    To quote myself:

    Furthermore, concrete triangles, or even the class or scattered object of all triangles, are contingent or it could be the case, and if cosmologists are correct it certainly will, that there was no intellect in the universe to perceive them.

    There is nothing circular in the argument here. The argument is simply:

    1. The truths about triangularity are necessary truths.

    2. Truths are always truths about *something*. If the truths are necessary, that is, they hold in all possible worlds, the subject of those truths is a necessary being.

    3. If triangularity is a necessary being it cannot fail to exist. Since we humans are contingent beings, triangularity’s necessary existence is independent of human beings.

    If you want to dispose of the argument, you have to attack premises 1. and 2. So either you have to deny that mathematical truths are not necessary (good luck), or that they are not truths about the universal triangularity. If you go this second route, then you have to explain what mathematical truths are about — this will lead you to some form of nominalism or conceptualism. In the next post I will deal with it.

    This is simply shifting the burden of proof. It isn’t my responsibilty to disprove your argument. I can reject it safely if you don’t present sufficent evidence without needing to offer a counter solution.

    Clueless objection no. 3.

  40. I forgot to close the first blockquote in the previous post. Appologies; hopefully, the meaning still gets across.

  41. @Sander van der Wal:

    The point is this. The things we see as triangles are supposed to be derived from the triangle universal, and the reason that they are not exactly like the universal triangle is because instantiation of the universal doesn’t create perfect instantiations. This argument is later used to reason that God must exist.

    1. Triangles are not “derived” from the universal triangle, not even from the universal triangularity (which is probably what you meant).

    2. Instantiation of a universal is not creation in any sense of the word. *How* the universal comes to be instantiated (say, how Fido comes to be green) is a case of actualizing potencies in the Thomistic jargon, which may or may not involve creation as usually conceived.

    3. “This argument is later used to reason that God must exist.” Woa, calm down, no one is making *that* much of a leap of logic. To argue to the existence of God from realism alone is not possible, you must add something else to the mix. Something *like* Platonic realism does get us close, but further argumentation is needed. But since I am not a Platonist, you will not be hearing it from me.

    But if there is an almost-triangle universal that has the exact shape of our triangle instantiation, then particulars can be perfect instantiations of universals. Being a perfect instantiation of a universal is then nothing special. Happens all the time, actually.

    As far as I can understand you, not an easy task, what exactly is the problem with perfect instantiations? How much a given particular conforms to the perfect Form it instantiates (to slip into Platonic language for a second, for the sake of simplicity) is a matter of degree. By the way, suitably interpreted, *this* does lead to an argument to the existence of God, the Fourth Way, but there are some extra premises in there.

    The whole reason for there being triangle universals was to explain triangle-ness, all triangle-looking things were instantiated from that universal. But if there always is a universal that is exactly the same shape as a particular triangle instantiation, that that universal is instantiating that particular triangle, and the triangle universal does not ever instantiate a triangle. Which means that in the real world triangles do not exist, as they are not instantiations of the triangle-universal.

    This is the same argument you made before. It continues to be wrong. From the fact that an imperfect-triangle instantiates a universal it does *not* follow that it does *not* instantiate triangularity. In fact, saying it is an imperfect-triangle is just saying that it imperfectly instantiates triangularity. From the fact “triangle universal does not ever instantiate a triangle” (you inadvertently swapped the universal and the particular) it does not follow “in the real world triangles do not exist, as they are not instantiations of the triangle-universal”. Same mistake in different words.

  42. @DAV

    I am well aware of the complexities that exist in color perception. I once participated in a color constancy modeling setup for a phd treatise. It is very interesting. However I do not think it has any bearing on the question of universals with respect to colors. We actively perceive. We are not just passively receptive like cameras. This should convince you that with color we must involve the subject when investigating. But let’s leave that aside.
    …..
    If that’s so then how is it I can get you to name specific (well, generic) colors when I shine lights of corresponding wavelengths onto a white card?
    …..
    That is actually an argument in favor of realism, You describe the conditions by which you reliably generate a certain color perception. Physics only deals with the quantitative aspect, the qualitative perception of color can only be done by a subject. Is it therefore subjective and not an inherent property of the object? Consider that the qualitative aspect of pressure force can also only be recognized by a subject. Do you want to do away with that too as an inherent property? I can reliably generate the perception of force much in the same way as color, but this time by putting something in your hand. And of course the subjective impression of lightness or heaviness is relative. Still the fact that lead is heavy is an objective quality and determines how we think of lead relative to aluminum. I regard the utterance Lead is grey and heavy as objectively true. Do you?

  43. @G. Rodrigues

    “If you want to dispose of the argument, you have to attack premises 1. and 2. So either you have to deny that mathematical truths are not necessary (good luck), or that they are not truths about the universal triangularity. If you go this second route, then you have to explain what mathematical truths are about — this will lead you to some form of nominalism or conceptualism. In the next post I will deal with it.”

    No, I don’t have to do either of those things. I am asking you to prove your premises.

    1. What truths about triangles are necessary? What makes them necessary?

    2. Yes, a truth must be about something but why can’t that something be a mental construct.

  44. ME: if that’s so then how is it I can get you to name specific (well, generic) colors when I shine lights of corresponding wavelengths onto a white card?

    YOU: That is actually an argument in favor of realism

    Let me see if I got this straight.

    YOS says: [The sky] would not cease presenting “blueness” in whatever language if there were no people at all to perceive and name it.

    I say: Only if “blueness” means a specific range of EM wavelengths.

    And you seemingly object: If you say color is a range of EM waves, you have simply changed the subject.

    Kindly make up your mind.

    I can go along with the wavelength definition of “real” but it makes colors physical. I even sometimes use it myself for color references (against standards). But I also said at the time that it depends upon circumstances. Perceived colors don’t always correspond to the wavelengths present (also supported by my previous post). The EM spectrum plays a part but is not the whole picture. To me these are clear indications that what people call color is entirely subjective and colors (as people see them) don’t actually exist outside of people.

    What are you trying to say: are colors real or not?

  45. @G. Rodrigues

    A circle universal is the universal of all circles, and a triangle universal is the universal for all triangles. Circles are clearly different from triangles, and circle universals are clearly different from triangle universals.

    A polygon with four points is not a triangle, and a polygon with four points universal is not a trianlgle universal. But it is possible to construct 4 point polygons that look a lot like a triangle: construct a triangle and push one of the lines a bit. A tiny bit, like 10^-50 meters. This creates a 4 point polygon, which is by definition an instantiation of a 4 point polygon universal. And is is also clearly almost a triangle. So it should have been an imperfect instantiation of a triangle universal.

    So, either I do not understand the mechanism by which triangle universals create imperfect actual triangles that are not actuals of different universals, or triangle universals do in fact instantiate perfect actual triangles, like a specific 4point polygon universal instantiates perfect specific 4 point polygon actuals, or generally Npoint polygon universals instantiate perfect Npoint polygon actuals.

    Or does the triangle universal enlist the help of one of the Npoint universals to create an actual triangle that is in fact an actual and therefore specific Npoint polygon?

    Or the concept of universals doesn’t work very well, it is obvious for simple shapes like Triangles and circles, but not for Npoint polygons. There is just one circle shape and just one euclidic triangle definition possible, but there are an infinite number of Npolygons possible, and Npoint polygons are capable of being identical to a failed triangle. And also to some failed circles.

  46. @Matt:

    “1. What truths about triangles are necessary? What makes them necessary?”

    All mathematical truths are necessary truths as there is no possible world in which they could fail to obtain. That the internal angles of a triangle (intended model: Euclidean geometry. Make the necessary alterations for other geometries) sum 180 degrees is a necessary truth about triangles. That 2 + 2 equals 4 is a necessary truth about addition of naturals numbers, etc. These truths are not the sort of contingent facts that could fail to obtain in some possible world.

    I could expand this to the point of pedantry, but honestly, I am not particularly inclined to. It is the near-unanimous consensus in philosophy (I have vague recollections of some philosopher trying to argue against it). If you can successfully argue otherwise, you will gain worldwide fame overnight.

    “2. Yes, a truth must be about something but why can’t that something be a mental construct.”

    By the fact that the truths are necessary.

  47. Sander Wan der Waal:

    “So, either I do not understand the mechanism by which triangle universals create imperfect actual triangles that are not actuals of different universals, or triangle universals do in fact instantiate perfect actual triangles, like a specific 4point polygon universal instantiates perfect specific 4 point polygon actuals, or generally Npoint polygon universals instantiate perfect Npoint polygon actuals.”

    If you conceive of instantiation as a “mechanism” of “creation” no wonder you are confused.

    The specific cases you present are confused and contain several imprecisions. Instead of going over them in details, I will just say that your objection seems to amount to an epistemological objection: the fact that there seem to be cases where we do not know where to pigeonhole a given object, then no classification is possible and thus, no universals. Non-sequitur.

  48. @Matt:

    My appologies; on second thought, Quine and those influenced by him reject the modal claim about mathematics.

    I will see if I can scrounge a reference that deals with the problem.

  49. @DAV
    Make up your mind huh?
    I will try. If I hear a tone, you might say that it is a compression wave. I would say: you change the subject. Other things are predicable of tones than of waves. But at the same time: if you say: by generating these compression waves I can let you hear a tone, I would say the compression wave is just the tone expressed in a medium that can only respond to tones by forming compression waves. So is a tone a compression wave? In air it is, but not for me. Similarly, my telephone conversation with you would be a whatever the conductor of my phone to your phone allows to travel back and forth trough it. Yet I am speaking to you and you to me. So color and EM waves are both the same and a different thing. Between me and a green object you may measure a certain range of EM waves. Does this mean that there is only EM waves? Only if you favor your instrument over me. So Color is real if you ask me.Yet as you noted there are also some rather mysterious sides to color perception like the calculating eye.

  50. @rembie
    If I hear a tone, you might say that it is a compression wave. I would say: you change the subject.

    How is it changing the subject? Like the old conundrum: if a tree falls with no one around to hear it fall does it make a sound**?

    The answer depends upon the definition of “sound”. If it is only a compression wave then the answer is yes but if “sound” can only be perceived by an observer the answer is no. How would stating the first definition be a change pf subject?

    So Color is real if you ask me.

    Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way how do you figure? So far, you’ve said nothing that couldn’t jut as easily be explained by totally subjective mental activity.

    I’ve given you my reasons but I don’t think you have. For starters, what would be there even if you weren’t? Just Something but you’re not sure what?

    ** Often followed by: … and if a bear is Catholic would the Pope crap in the woods?

  51. @Matt:

    On a first search, all the references I have come up are hard to digest (criticisms of Quine by Kripke and Plantings, essays on modal logic, etc.) and are not bound to be very helpful.

    Let us assume then that a certain mathematical statement P is not a necessary truth. If P is a mathematical truth it is because is deductively valid from a set of axioms A. Push the axioms into the premises of an if-then conditional, to obtain an equivalent statement Q that is true as a pure matter of logic, that is, it is a tautology. So if said mathematical truth P is not a necessary truth, there is a possible world in which said tautology is not true. You do know the meaning of tautology, don’t you? Now tell me, what possible state of affairs is there in which a *tautology* is not true?

  52. @DAV
    because I do not hear compression waves, I hear tones.
    Color constancy is not really an argument against colors being real. If I have a yellow banana made of transparent yellow paper and I hold it in front of the window, I see a yellow banana. Now I take a blue transparent paper and cover the banana. It should now appear green, but instead what we see is another shade of yellow. Apparently there is a intelligent activity going on in the eye as one researcher noted. If we cover the blue paper but leave an opening that shows only the banana, we see it green. I fail to see how this makes colors subjective. In order to satisfy your approach to color Rodrigues should not say: Fido is green, but he should say Fido is green in normal daylight conditions. Whenever something green is viewed in daylight conditions, it will appear green. That is then the inherent property of being green. Indeed, if there would not be any light and the universe would be dark, this property would be hidden and things would not show there difference in this respect. Fido is green does not make sense in a dark universe, but DAV is heavy does not make sense either when we would be living in interstellar space.
    And kindly give a purely subjective account of color whereby you show how a certain range of EM waves generates a color perception in me, so I can respond to it. And if that cannot be done and everything about color is declared subjective, I do not see how we could discuss it at all.

  53. @rembie

    You didn’t answer the question. I asked: what is present when you are not? If the colors are real, they are there whether or not you are. If your presence is required to see the colors then I maintain it is your mind inferring the color.

    The same with tones.

    In fact, it is the same with shapes like triangles and circles. It’s your mind imposing order upon the world.

    And kindly give a purely subjective account of color whereby you show how a certain range of EM waves generates a color perception in me, so I can respond to it.

    For one, I’m not sure quite what that means. But as a guess: your eye differentiates energy in the EM spectrum. (see: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/0/04/Cone-fundamentals-with-srgb-spectrum.svg/220px-Cone-fundamentals-with-srgb-spectrum.svg.png). Your brain infers the color of the receiving light by using the relative powers of the sensor ranges. The inference apparently also takes into account the supposed colors of the surrounding environment effectively allowing the scene to provide its own color standards.

    Hearing is essentially the same. There are small hairs in your ear that move in response to incoming pressure waves. You infer the sound from their motion.

    Actually, you could fake the incoming information by stimulating the corresponding nerves. I have tinnitus. I constantly hear a very loud squeal. I realized it wasn’t outside of my head because the frequency is around that of a television horizontal sweep (between 15 and 16 kHz). I haven’t been able to hear that for quite a long time. It’s also equally loud in both ears. It’s related to blood pressure as well. I think I am hearing the blood going through a vein that is lying up against the hearing center of my brain. The squeal isn’t there, it’s my interpretation of the incoming stimuli.

  54. @DAV
    We are in complete agreement here:
    It’s your mind imposing order upon the world.
    The only difference is that this imposition to me is not randomly subjective, but is the very essence of the world. That is my realism. A triangle is not made up to impose order, It is part of the fabric of the world as is our mind itself.
    I could not resist this, although it is not an argument. I am glad you brought this up because I was fearing we were digressing from universals, you brought the discussion right back on track with this remark.
    I thought I had answered your question, so I will repeat it here in other words. Where is color when I do not see it? It is there in the object. If the object is exposed to the right light source and I am present, it shows what I call it’s color. If am not present color experience is just a possibility, but there is an objective basis for it in the object. I suppose you do not deny that.

    Now you will probably say that this objective basis is not itself colorful, but something else. At least that Is what I was inviting you to come up with: an account of how color arises from not color, from something else. Now I find it hard to imagine how you could take your own explanation seriously without being a realist with regard to EM waves. Although clearly, and I agree with that fully, EM waves is just an imposition of order by us to come to terms with certain observations. Why would you favor EM waves to be in the object and not color? I can think of a number of reasons, but that will lead us towards a discussion of primary and secondary qualities, digressing from universals. Let me only say this: there is a difference between primary and secondary qualities, but the difference is not that one is in the subject and the other in the object.

    You wrote:
    If your presence is required to see the colors then I maintain it is your mind inferring the color.

    Of course, but that goes for anything. My presence is required for triangles as well, as you noted. We are part of what is explanatory of the world. How the world presents itself to the subject is THE way to learn about the world. We ascribe color to the world, do we do so without justification?

    Let us assume we do and proceed.

    I fully agree with the first part of the sentence. In fact it is hard to *see* how color could be seen without being present to someone. The second part is more problematic. It only follows in a setting whereby subject and object belong to different worlds. In such a situation we must identify with the subject and the world of object is just the sum of inferences we externalize. Since we have no direct access to the world of object, unmediated by the subject, this externalization will always remain a guess. Your worldview is just a guess in other words.

    I think the situation is more simple. If I had been blind I would need another person to tell me about the color of things. In the same way we have detectors, like photographic plates, sensitive to forms of radiation we cannot perceive, but learn to understand. Subjects are simply the most refined instruments available, they have some particularities which you must know about (like color balancing), but they tell us something about the world which you could not know otherwise.
    Without normal subjects I would not know there are tones associated with compression waves, if by coincidence I would be sensitive to them, but not to tones. The same goes for color and all the other things we perceive or can learn to understand.

    My epistemological point of view is different from yours, which accounts for our difference of opinion with regard to these matters. perhaps it will surface again in a next exchange.

  55. @G. Rodrigues

    If universals were “just” a classification scheme, it would not be the subject of the kind of debate it is subject to.

    Let’s try again. A triangle is

    – three points in space
    – three straight line segments connecting the points. A segment starts in one point and ends at the other point.
    – one point cannot be on a line connecting the two other points.
    – the three points cannot be at the same spot.

    The last two statements are there to prevent line segments and points being triangles.

    So, to check whether a certain figure is a triangle, one counts the number of points and the number of straight line segments connecting the points. If you see tree points and see three line segments, you got yourself a triangle. If the number of points is not three, or if at least one line segment is not straight, you do not have a triangle.

    Seeing three points is easy if the points are far enough from each other, but if one point is very close to a line segment, at some distance you will not be able to check whether the point is on the line, or not. So some people with good eyesight, or good tools like a microscope will see the point not on the line. Other people will see the point on the line, and say they have a line segment, and not a point.

    Then same with the connecting line segments. Some segment will clearly not be straight, for other it will be hard to tell whether it is straight. Some people might need a triangle with perfectly straight lines (for a machine, maybe), for other people, approximately straight is good enough (people making children’s toys of wood).

    So, a classification scheme then. Depending on one’s measurement capabilities, you will say that a figure is a triangle, or looks like one if you do not look too closely.

    The good thing about classification schemes is that you can create as many as you want, and according to your own and some other people’s needs. If you were creating children’s toys, you would have triangles and circles and squares. And if you were creating a fast graphics processor you would just have N-polygons. With some convenience functions for creating triangles, if for some reason a triangle was used often enough to warrant the expense.

  56. @rembie

    The only information available when you view a scene is the light spectra of the various parts of the scene. There is indeed “something” there that reflects the available light toward you. However, if the colors you see were truly objective they would map to the wavelength spectra at (nearly) a one to one basis — but they don’t. The colors you perceive correspond to what the spectra would have been under different circumstances which is an assumption of the observer. This makes colors, as humans see them, subjective.

    How that is done is complex but suffice it to say it’s using what the observer brings to the table and nothing inherent in the object itself.

    This is all well and good enough for color which relies on reflective properties which could be said to be physically objective. But when you get to abstract structures, it gets more problematic.

    The only information present to the observer is the location of objects. You might say shapes but consider that the eye actually renders the scene in pixels which are effectively individual objects. To see the shape requires assuming a connection between the appropriate pixels.

    Sander has touched on my view on triangles. My point is: how much of the triangle must be present for it to be called a triangle? If the triangle is incomplete (say only the vertices or partial line segments), finishing it is solely in the mind of the observer. It’s not really there but assumed by the observer.

    Other questions: how much of a departure from a straight line can the segments make before the triangle is no longer seen? Why don’t people see triangles everywhere?

    Not to mention that the triangles may just be coincidental to the viewpoint and not some inherent property at all. Do they just pop in and out of reality?

    People see things in clouds that remind them of other things. Would you say those things are there? If the connections made in cloud images are mental vs. real, why would you say the connections made in other views are more more real?

  57. @Sander Wan der Waal:

    If universals were “just” a classification scheme, it would not be the subject of the kind of debate it is subject to.

    I did not say that.

    Seeing three points is easy if the points are far enough from each other, but if one point is very close to a line segment, at some distance you will not be able to check whether the point is on the line, or not. So some people with good eyesight, or good tools like a microscope will see the point not on the line. Other people will see the point on the line, and say they have a line segment, and not a point.

    You are repeating the same epistemological objection that I have already dealt with.

    The good thing about classification schemes is that you can create as many as you want, and according to your own and some other people’s needs.

    The same tired epistemological objection. Again. So? The fact that arbitrary classification schemes can be created at the drop of a hat, implies that no objective classification based on the essential nature of things is possible? Non-sequitur. In fact, why do we view some classificatory schemes as arbitrary? Precisely because they do not “match” to the nature of the things, but are a reflection of personal interests, biases, etc. Are you really trying to convince me that the distinction between green and blue, the distinction between triangles and quadrilaterals, the distinction between fermions and bosons, the distinction between fish and mammals are all arbitrary and not founded on what the things themselves are?

  58. @G. Rodrigues

    Sory for the long wait for a reply, I didn’t check on this thread on Sunday.

    For the triangle truth you mention (sum of angles = 180degrees) I would answer that this truth must obtain for all physical instances of triangles no matter how imperfect (if it doesn’t they are not triagles at all) there for this truth does not require some universal entity that is neither phisical nor mental.

    For your 2 + 2 = 4 argument this is actually contingent. It is contingent on the numeric base being > 4. In a base four system 2 + 2 = 10, in base 3, 2 + 2 = 11, in base 2 it is meaningless but 10 + 10 = 100.

    There is one more premise unstated that needs proving. That human intelect is contingent. There is strong metaphisical evidence that the human mind is not strictly a product of the physical brain so what makes it contingent?

    Even if human intelect is contingent these truths should not need individual exta-mental entities to exist, all they need is a single non-contingent intelect (God) for all these truths to be universal.

  59. @MattS:

    For the sake of simplicity I will merge your two posts in the two different threads and respond everything here:

    For your 2 + 2 = 4 argument this is actually contingent. It is contingent on the numeric base being > 4. In a base four system 2 + 2 = 10, in base 3, 2 + 2 = 11, in base 2 it is meaningless but 10 + 10 = 100.

    You are confusing numbers with the particular strings of characters denoting them in a specific representation.

    There is one more premise unstated that needs proving. That human intelect is contingent. There is strong metaphisical evidence that the human mind is not strictly a product of the physical brain so what makes it contingent?

    Whether or not the human intellect has an immaterial component (which in fact I agree it has) is irrelevant for whether it is contingent or not. A contingent being just means that it is metaphysically possible for it not to come into existence, and that is certainly true of every human being.

    Even if human intelect is contingent these truths should not need individual exta-mental entities to exist, all they need is a single non-contingent intelect (God) for all these truths to be universal.

    This depends on the specific branch of realism you espouse, but a realist of Thomistic persuasion will tell you that, yes, universals *do exist* in the intellects. God has an intellect, but only in an analogical sense. The universals exist in Him *ante rem*, literally *before the thing*, and they are the archetypes of creation pre-existing from all eternity in His mind. But this fact does not imply that they do not exist *in re*, literally *in the thing*. In fact they better exist that way, or otherwise true human knowledge would be impossible without some sort of divine illumination a la St. Augustine. Maybe you will want to wait until the next post, as I will adumbrate on this issue, and it might make things clearer.

    The whole realist argument rests on the premise that the universal truths must exist as extra-mental entities because human intelect is contingent.

    First, it is not a premise, it is a conclusion. Second, it is far from being the “whole argument”, it is in fact only one argument, although in my judgment a particularly strong one. Third, let me ask you, do you understand why mathematical truths are necessary? And you understand why their being necessary implies that they cannot be reduced to a thought in the human mind?

    all they need is a single non-contingent intelect (God) for all these truths to be universal.

    What do you mean by “universal truths”?

  60. @MattS:

    Ack, disregard above response. I meant to post in the part III thread but messed up the tabs in the browser — respond in that there if you please.

  61. @DAV
    I am not sure if you read what I though I wrote.

    I regard a view that puts color in the subject and EM waves in the object as inconsistent. That they do not match exactly does not matter at all, since even if they would have matched I would have rejected the objectivity of color based on the supposed objectivity of EM waves.

    Color is objective even if we establish it.If it is entirely objective of objects, physical things so to speak, is another matter. As you noted the color of a thing might appear differently under different conditions. However that green or another color is seen is not really in doubt. (It could be, but that is another matter).

    The perceived color of an object is a mix of what is contributed to the color from the surface of the object and what contributes to the color from the light source or the atmosphere. Color balancing is precisely that we take these effects into account. It hints much more to objectivity than to subjectivity. In fact, we are so object oriented that we annul, if possible, what contributes to the color from other sources!

    The same facts, opposite conclusion.

  62. @rembie

    I regard a view that puts color in the subject and EM waves in the object as inconsistent.

    Then I guess I’m confused. You earlier said So Color is real if you ask me. I mostly use “real” to mean external to the mind — entirely non-mental unless I’m talking about the processes involved in thinking.

    It boils down to what is meant by “real”.

    The subject of vision entails both mental and non-mental. Just so you know: I count all vision processing as mental even when located in the eye or on a path between the eye and the brain. We have moved a lot of processing into the brain but some animals perform some (like edge detection) in the eye itself.

    The experience of color is a shared experience but the actual colors may not be. The sharing may have more to do with the way we are built because of our lineage. We share a way of looking at something and that way may convey an advantage. It predisposes us to make certain assumptions. That doesn’t mean the assumptions are necessarily conscious. That it works most of the time probably follows from evolution.

    The argument that a lot of people have common experience is not an argument for extra-mental reality. Nor is it necessarily an argument for reality. We may be just prone to considering the experience real and/or use probability of reality as a working guide and act accordingly.

    The perceived color of an object is a mix of what is contributed to the color from the surface of the object and what contributes to the color from the light source or the atmosphere.

    It seems to be more than that. The supposed colors of nearby objects are apparently also used as a reference and the “usual” color as well. We expect to see green leaves so we tend to see some shade of green when viewing them when there unless it has a lower probability than something else. We do see red and brown ones at times.

  63. @DAV
    you wrote:
    Then I guess I’m confused. You earlier said So Color is real if you ask me. I mostly use “real” to mean external to the mind — entirely non-mental unless I’m talking about the processes involved in thinking.

    There is no way to conceive of the world external to the mind, without involving the mind. I have *real* IN mind when I deem something to be independent of my mind. I have unreal in mind when I conceive of an external state which is only in my mind (or someone else’s).

    I imagine the condition DAV loves me, to be only in my mind for instance.

    How can we conceive of the entirely non-mental? I will answer that one: because we can think and thoughts are not just mental objects. For if they were, *real* could not possibly refer to something extra mental. The referent of the concept would then be as mental as its appearance within my consciousness. Perhaps one could suggest that real means that something is not merely thought, but can also be seen. But since we both agree that with regard to sense perception it cannot be immediately determined what is real or unreal (other than by thinking about it), there is no way out.
    You have just made a strong case for realism…:)

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