Starting tomorrow: ANTHROPOLOGY UNBOUND!

MONDAY, MAY 17, 2021

Commitment to our ongoing task: Over the weekend, strange as it seems, we dug out our copy of The Principles of Mathematics, Bertrand Russell's famous text.

We dug out our copy of the book and briefly applied ourselves to it. Our book had been priced at \$2.95. We'd purchased the book while in college!

Why would we dig out our copy of Russell's book?. You're asking an excellent question. It's a question we'll address as the week proceeds.

For today, we'd like to give you a quick look at some of what we found.

As some may know, The Principles of Mathematics (1903) is a separate text from Principia Mathematica, the three-volume work published by Russell and Alfred North Whitehead starting in 1910.

The Principles of Mathematics is the shorter, simpler text. But because it's difficult, at first glance, to know what Lord Russell is, or could be, talking about, we turned to the leading authority on the book for a stab at a quick overview.

We flung ourselves on that account. It started off like this:

The Principles of Mathematics is a 1903 book by Bertrand Russell, in which the author presented his famous paradox and argued his thesis that mathematics and logic are identical.

The book presents a view of the foundations of mathematics and Meinongianism and has become a classic reference. It reported on developments by Giuseppe Peano, Mario Pieri, Richard Dedekind, Georg Cantor, and others.

As we've noted in the past, Russell's "famous paradox" grew out of his tortured ruminations concerning "the set of all sets not members of themselves." For today, we're going to leave that right there.

Meanwhile, is Russell's thesis actually true? Is it true that mathematics and logic are identical?

Full disclosure: We don't have the slightest idea. In truth, don't even know what that statement might mean.

We wouldn't even necessarily swear that the statement means anything at all in the end. We've been in this maze too long!

That said, "Meinongianism!" We'll admit we'd never heard the term, but there it was in print: According to the leading authority, Russell's text "presents a view of the foundations of mathematics and Meinongianism and has become a classic reference."

Meinongianism! Inevitably, we we clicked the link which had been provided. When we did, here's the start of what we found:

Alexius Meinong Ritter von Handschuchsheim (1853 – 1920) was an Austrian philosopher, a realist known for his unique ontology. He also made contributions to philosophy of mind and theory of value.

[...]

Meinong wrote two early essays on David Hume, the first dealing with his theory of abstraction, the second with his theory of relations, and was relatively strongly influenced by British empiricism. He is most noted, however, for his edited book Theory of Objects (full title: Investigations in Theory of Objects and Psychology, 1904), which grew out of his work on intentionality and his belief in the possibility of intending nonexistent objects. Whatever can be the target of a mental act, Meinong calls an "object."

Perhaps as part of his unique ontology, Meinong believed in "the possibility of intending nonexistent objects." Inevitably, we found ourselves being drawn in at this point.

Still, there may have been a bit of fuzz in what we had read so far.  Hungry for knowledge, we continue to read—and this is what we found:

His theory of objects, now known as "Meinongian object theory," is based around the purported empirical observation that it is possible to think about something, such as a golden mountain, even though that object does not exist. Since we can refer to such things, they must have some sort of being. Meinong thus distinguishes the "being" of a thing, in virtue of which it may be an object of thought, from a thing's "existence", which is the substantive ontological status ascribed to—for example—horses but not to unicorns.

Let's start at the beginning of that passage, using slightly simpler language:

According to a "purported empirical observation" which was part of Meinong's "theory of objects," it's possible to think about something—for example, a unicorn—even though it doesn't exist!

That struck us as a somewhat underwhelming "observation." Still though, we were initially intrigued by this:

"Since we can refer to such [imaginary] things, they must have some sort of being!"

At this point, we still felt fairly sure that we were following Meinong's chain of thought. According to Meinong's theory of objects, imaginary entities have some sort of "being" even though they don't exactly "exist!"

To us, it sounded like good, solid stuff! Then we stole a glance at the faces of the youthful analysts who assist, aid and help us in everything we do.

By now, the youngsters were delivering their frozen, thousand-yard stares. They said they'd been through this sort of thing in  their college "philosophy" course—various courses which were imposed on them by various "professors."

The youngsters were recalling the pain of those earlier days. We didn't want them to know the worst, but the leading authority on Meinongianism proceeded to bring it back home::

Historically, Meinong has been treated, especially by Gilbert Ryle, as an eccentric whose theory of objects was allegedly dealt a severe blow in Bertrand Russell's essay "On Denoting" (1905). However, Russell himself thought highly of the vast majority of Meinong's work and, until formulating his theory of descriptions, held similar views about nonexistent objects.

Instructive! Until formulating his "theory of descriptions," Russell had generally agreed with Meinong's "theory of objects." The young analysts tore at their hair.

As we've noted in the past, our favorite books have always been the ones which don't make sense. With respect to the kinds of theories being discussed in the passages we've quoted, the later Wittgenstein dared to suggest that such theories may not exactly make sense.

These "theories" had come from the very top levels of the western world's intellectual establishment. When we see this kind of work coming from our culture's  highest platforms, can we really be surprised by the various forms of incoherence and clatter we encounter even now, every day, in Our Town's most respected top newspapers?

Before the week is done, we'll show you Lord Russell's elaborate proof of the claim that 1 plus 1 equals 2. As our society slides toward the sea, is it possible that work of that type carries a substantial type of anthropological significance?

Major experts say it does. Extending our great anthropological project, we'll examine their claim all week.

He proved that 1 plus 1 equals 2! No, we aren't making that up.

Tomorrow: Whatever may seem to come next

1. "According to a "purported empirical observation" which was part of Meinong's "theory of objects," it's possible to think about something—for example, a unicorn—even though it doesn't exist!

That struck us as a somewhat underwhelming "observation."

If you are devising a theory or system, you must account for all cases, even if some might be trivial or "underwhelming." Meinong is being thorough and complete.

Unicorns may not exist in the world, but they have reality in people's imaginations, where they exist as thoughts. Thoughts have reality and they clearly influence both other thoughts and human actions (speech and other behavior, decision making, goals, relations with others).

What characterizes human thinking is the ability to consider situations that are not immediately present or perhaps nonexistent. This has been very important to our survival as a species. It is what allows us to plan, to anticipate contingencies, to think about people and things not in front of us but in another time and location, to think about both a future and an idealized outcome or best self. It is essential to abstract thought, generalization, that we be able to consider nonexistent things, since the prototype of a category may not exist in reality.

Notice that the title of Meinong's book has the word psychology in it. That's because he is not only talking philosophically but about what must be the case in order to enable human beings to think as they do.

Somerby describes the young analysts as tearing their hair, but he doesn't explain why, what he considers problematic. He says this doesn't make sense but never explains that either. Then he generalizes from philosophic incoherence to everyone else, including Our Town and the press. But he has laid no foundation whatsoever for his criticism.

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2. "He proved that 1 plus 1 equals 2! No, we aren't making that up."

Harvard University did a horrible job if it failed to teach Somerby, a philosophy major, why formalism is important, what mathematical proofs and logic are for, why they are needed.

If you wanted to assert that logic and mathematics are identical, might not you start with a statement that is simple and straightforward, so as not to introduce complications that might be inherent in a more complex equation? The interest is not in the sum, but in proving that logic and mathematics are identical.

3. Why does Somerby return so obsessively to books he was assigned in college, trying to demonstrate that knowledge, texts and professors are all incoherent? What shock to his ego or intellectual trauma did he suffer that has motivated this vendetta against learning?

4. Bertrand Russel's reputation actually relies on his popular writings, which are generally quite comprehensible. Also on his anti-war activities. The general public may have paid attention to him more because he was a Lord, than for his technical accomplishments, which have little to do with practical science or math (nobody really care much about philosophy anymore). His popular books are much more cogent and readable.

5. "According to Meinong's theory of objects, imaginary entities have some sort of "being" even though they don't exactly "exist!""

But of course, dear Bob. And it doesn't sound like a 'theory' to us, but a rather trivial observation.

Think of those "social constructs", like (your favorite) 'race', of various deities, for example. They don't exists, and yet these non-existent, imaginary entities most certainly do have some sort of "being", as they affect us in many different ways.

Someone could (God forbid) kill you, because their imaginary 'deity' told them to. Or because they're compelled to advance their imaginary 'race'. You see, dear Bob?

6. What doesn't make Bob stronger is chasing after nonsense like this until it kills him.

7. Do any of the commenters above know anything about the nature and reception of Wittgenstein’s later work? If so, they should easily have followed Bob’s thoughts in today’s post, which might have spared us today’s dose of their empty, addled sanctimony.

1. Being "able to follow Bob's thoughts" and agreeing with them are two different things. I can understand you calling today's comments "addled" but I don't see any "sanctimony." That makes me suspect you are just calling names. Somerby considers Wittgenstein right, but please keep in mind that others here may not agree. Somerby doesn't appear to have read anything beyond Wittgenstein, anything recent. It is also a mistake to assume that someone who disagrees with Wittgenstein doesn't understand him.

2. Definition of sanctimony:

"the action or practice of acting as if one were morally superior to other people"

We are discussing philosophy. Where does morality come into things?

8. I think Meinong should have caveated his statement on descriptions by saying that the realism they possess is solely within the context of their facility to illustrate truth.

9. I think Meinong should have caveated his statement on descriptions by saying that the realism they possess is solely within the context of their facility to illustrate truth.

1. Is there no "truth" to the concept of a unicorn despite its non-existence in reality? If I ask "Is a pony a unicorn?" you can easily tell me yes or no and one of those answers is right (true) and the other is incorrect (false). And the word "solely" in your comment is problematic.

2. There shouldn’t be a problem in the word “illustrate” as in illustrating truth.

Which is what myths generally do.

10. Why does Somerby call this report "Anthropology Unbound" when it only discusses philosophers such as Meinong, Wittgenstein and Bertrand Russell? Is it possible that Somerby doesn't know the difference between a philosopher and an anthropologist?

11. 'As we've noted in the past, our favorite books have always been the ones which don't make sense.'

Certainly your favorite book 'The Art of the Deal' makes no sense to anyone other than Trumptards like Somerby

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