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Re: [ontolog-forum] Fwd: Re: Using controlled natural languages for onto

To: "[ontolog-forum] " <ontolog-forum@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
From: Christopher Menzel <cmenzel@xxxxxxxx>
Date: Fri, 18 Mar 2011 14:26:24 -0500
Message-id: <FB8CF0B6-42A7-4A0D-B12E-6B1852FC5E80@xxxxxxxx>
On Mar 17, 2011, at 4:07 PM, John F. Sowa wrote:
> ...
> I'm willing to delete the final sentence, which I admit gets into
> some purple prose.  But there is some justification for it.  Frege 
> (1879) set out "to break the domination of the word over the human 
> spirit by laying bare the misconceptions that through the use of 
> language often almost unavoidably arise concerning the relations
> between concepts."
> That sounds a lot like a witch hunt.      (01)

Against confusion and unclarity, I'd agree.  Against those holding alternative 
philosophical viewpoints?  I don't see it.    (02)

> And Frege's student, Carnap
> wrote his manifesto against metaphysics in a similar tone.  As an
> antidote to that, I like to quote Peirce's comment about Mach:
>    "Find a scientific man who proposes to get along without any
>    metaphysics... and you have found one whose doctrines are
>    thoroughly vitiated by the crude and uncriticized metaphysics
>    with which they are packed" (CP 1.129).    (03)

Carnap also wrote:     (04)

  "To decree dogmatic prohibitions of certain linguistic
  forms instead of testing them by their success or failure
  in practical use, is worse than futile; it is positively
  harmful because it may obstruct scientific progress....
  Let us grant to those who work in any special field of 
  investigation the freedom to use any form of expression 
  which seems useful to them; the work in the field will 
  sooner or later lead to the elimination of those forms 
  which have no useful function. Let us be cautious in 
  making assertions and critical in examining them, but 
  tolerant in permitting linguistic forms." (Empiricism, 
  Semantics and Ontology, final paragraph).    (05)

This is of course an older and wiser Carnap, but it's a beautiful expression of 
freedom to postulate whatever ontological categories are useful for solving a 
given problem.  (Carnap calls them "linguistic forms", but let's call a spade a 
spade.)  A fine example of personal philosophical evolution.    (06)

But I feel the need to return to your vilification of Quine, which is just so 
wide of the mark. It seems to me that you confuse Quine's preference for a 
sparse ontology and his rigorous attempts to purge as many categories from his 
ontology as possible with a general animus toward metaphysics generally. To the 
contrary, Quine in fact *resurrected* metaphysics from the grave where the 
logical positivists had thought they'd laid it to rest.  Unlike the 
positivists, Quine understood that the apparent ontological commitments of 
sentences that express our ordinary beliefs have to be taken very seriously -- 
for if we believe a given sentence is true, and the truth value of a sentence 
is determined by its correspondence to the world, then we must either accept 
those commitments or find intuitively adequate paraphrases for those sentences 
that enable us to avoid those commitments (the latter being the bulk of his 
work in ontology).  Far from  enslaving of a generation of philosophers, as you 
like to put it, this methodology basically set many of them free from the 
shackles of positivist dogma to pursue metaphysics not only with relish but 
with a logical rigor that had never been seen.    (07)

Far from a villain, Quine (along with Church and, frankly, the later Carnap) is 
one of the heroes -- perhaps the greatest -- in the story of the revival of 
metaphysics in the 20th century.    (08)

Chris Menzel    (09)

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