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Ideas of Peter Geach, by Text

[British, 1916 - 2013, Married to Elizabeth Anscombe. University of Leeds.]

1957 Mental Acts: their content and their objects
3 p.6 You can't define real mental states in terms of behaviour that never happens
     Full Idea: We can't take a statement that two men, whose overt behaviour was not actually different, were in different states of mind as being really a statement that the behaviour of one man would have been different in hypothetical circumstances that never arose.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 3)
     A reaction: This is the whole problem with trying to define the mind as dispositions. The same might be said of properties, since some properties are active, but others are mere potential or disposition. Hence 'process' looks to me the most promising word for mind.
4 p.8 Beliefs aren't tied to particular behaviours
     Full Idea: Is there any behaviour characteristic of a given belief?
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 4)
     A reaction: Well, yes. Belief that a dog is about to bite you. Belief that this nice food is yours, and you are hungry. But he has a good point. He is pointing out that the mental state is a very different thing from the 'disposition' to behave in a certain way.
5 p.13 If someone has aphasia but can still play chess, they clearly have concepts
     Full Idea: If a man struck with aphasia can still play bridge or chess, I certainly wish to say he still has the concepts involved in the game, although he can no longer exercise them verbally.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 5)
     A reaction: Geach proceeds thereafter to concentrate on language, but this caveat is crucial. To suggest that concepts are entirely verbal has always struck me as ridiculous, and an insult to our inarticulate mammalian cousins.
6 p.18 'Abstractionism' is acquiring a concept by picking out one experience amongst a group
     Full Idea: I call 'abstractionism' the doctrine that a concept is acquired by a process of singling out in attention some one feature given in direct experience - abstracting it - and ignoring the other features simultaneously given - abstracting from them.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 6)
     A reaction: Locke seems to be the best known ancestor of this view, and Geach launches a vigorous attack against it. However, contemporary philosophers still refer to the process, and I think Geach should be crushed and this theory revived.
7 p.23 'Or' and 'not' are not to be found in the sensible world, or even in the world of inner experience
     Full Idea: Nowhere in the sensible world could you find anything to be suitably labelled 'or' or 'not'. So the abstractionist appeals to an 'inner sense', or hesitation for 'or', and of frustration or inhibition for 'not'. Personally I see a threat in 'or else'!
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 7)
     A reaction: This is a key argument of Geach's against abstractionism. As a logician he prefers to discuss connectives rather than, say, colours. I think they might be meta-abstractions, which you create internally once you have picked up the knack.
8 p.28 We can't acquire number-concepts by extracting the number from the things being counted
     Full Idea: The number-concepts just cannot be got by concentrating on the number and abstracting from the kind of things being counted.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 8)
     A reaction: This point is from Frege - that if you 'abstract away' everything apart from the number, you are simply left with nothing in experience. The objection might, I think, be met by viewing it as second-order abstraction, perhaps getting to a pattern first.
8 p.30 Abstractionists can't explain counting, because it must precede experience of objects
     Full Idea: The way counting is learned is wholly contrary to abstractionist preconceptions, because the series of numerals has to be learned before it can be applied.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 8)
     A reaction: You might learn to parrot the names of numbers, but you could hardly know what they meant if you couldn't count anything. See Idea 3907. I would have thought that individuating objects must logically and pedagogically precede counting.
8 p.31 The numbers don't exist in nature, so they cannot have been abstracted from there into our languages
     Full Idea: The pattern of the numeral series that is grasped by a child exists nowhere in nature outside human languages, so the human race cannot possibly have discerned this pattern by abstracting it from some natural context.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 8)
     A reaction: This is a spectacular non sequitur, which begs the question. Abstractionists precisely claim that the process of abstraction brings numerals into human language from the natural context. Structuralism is an attempt to explain the process.
9 p.32 A big flea is a small animal, so 'big' and 'small' cannot be acquired by abstraction
     Full Idea: A big flea or rat is a small animal, and a small elephant is a big animal, so there can be no question of ignoring the kind of thing to which 'big' or 'small' is referred and forming those concepts by abstraction.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 9)
     A reaction: Geach is attacking a caricature of the theory. Abstraction is a neat mental trick which has developed in stages, from big rats relative to us, to big relative to other rats, to the concept of 'relative' (Idea 8776!), to the concept of 'relative bigness'.
9 p.33 We cannot learn relations by abstraction, because their converse must be learned too
     Full Idea: Abstractionists are unaware of the difficulty with relations - that they neither exist nor can be observed apart from the converse relation, the two being indivisible, as in grasping 'to the left of' and 'to the right of'.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 9)
     A reaction: It is hard to see how a rival account such as platonism could help. It seems obvious to me that 'right' and 'left' would be quite meaningless without some experience of things in space, including an orientation to them.
10 p.35 Blind people can use colour words like 'red' perfectly intelligently
     Full Idea: It is not true that men born blind can form no colour-concepts; a man born blind can use the word 'red' with a considerable measure of intelligence; he can show a practical grasp of the logic of the word.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 10)
     A reaction: Weak. It is obvious that they pick up the word 'red' from the usage of sighted people, and the usage of the word doesn't guarantee a grasp of the concept, as when non-mathematicians refer to 'calculus'. Compare Idea 7377 and Idea 7866.
10 p.36 If 'black' and 'cat' can be used in the absence of such objects, how can such usage be abstracted?
     Full Idea: Since we can use the terms 'black' and 'cat' in situations not including any black object or any cat, how could this part of the use be got by abstraction?
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 10)
     A reaction: [He is attacking H.H. Price] It doesn't seem a huge psychological leap to apply the word 'cat' when we remember a cat, and once it is in the mind we can play games with our abstractions. Cats are smaller than dogs.
10 p.37 We can form two different abstract concepts that apply to a single unified experience
     Full Idea: It is impossible to form the concept of 'chromatic colour' by discriminative attention to a feature given in my visual experience. In seeing a red window-pane, I do not have two sensations, one of redness and one of chromatic colour.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 10)
     A reaction: Again Geach begs the question, because abstractionists claim that you can focus on two different 'aspects' of the one experience, as that it is a 'window', or it is 'red', or it is not a wall, or it is not monochrome.
11 p.39 Attributes are functions, not objects; this distinguishes 'square of 2' from 'double of 2'
     Full Idea: Attributes should not be thought of as identifiable objects. It is better to follow Frege and compare them to mathematical functions. 'Square of' and 'double of' x are distinct functions, even though they are not distinguishable in thought when x is 2.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 11)
     A reaction: Attributes are features of the world, of which animals are well aware, and the mathematical model is dubious when dealing with physical properties. The route to arriving at 2 is not the same concept as 2. There are many roads to Rome.
11 p.40 The mind does not lift concepts from experience; it creates them, and then applies them
     Full Idea: Having a concept is not recognizing a feature of experience; the mind makes concepts. We then fit our concepts to experience.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 11)
     A reaction: This seems to imply that we create concepts ex nihilo, which is a rather worse theory than saying that we abstract them from multiple (and multi-level) experiences. That minds create concepts is a truism. How do we do it?
16 p.69 Being 'the same' is meaningless, unless we specify 'the same X'
     Full Idea: "The same" is a fragmentary expression, and has no significance unless we say or mean "the same X", where X represents a general term. ...There is no such thing as being just 'the same'.
     From: Peter Geach (Mental Acts: their content and their objects [1957], 16)
     A reaction: Geach seems oddly unaware of the perfect identity of Hespherus with Phosphorus. His critics don't spot that he was concerned with identity over time (of 'the same man', who ages). Perry's critique emphasises the type/token distinction.
1980 Reference and Generality (3rd ed)
p.16 Leibniz's Law is incomplete, since it includes a non-relativized identity predicate
     Full Idea: Geach rejects the standard formulation of Leibniz's Law as incomplete, since it includes a non-relativized identity predicate.
     From: report of Peter Geach (Reference and Generality (3rd ed) [1980]) by Ryan Wasserman - Material Constitution 6
     A reaction: Not many people accept Geach's premiss that identity is a relative matter. I agree with Wiggins on this, that identity is an absolute (and possibly indefinable). The problem with the Law is what you mean by a 'property'.
p.17 Denial of absolute identity has drastic implications for logic, semantics and set theory
     Full Idea: Geach's denial of absolute identity has drastic implications for logic, semantics and set theory. He must deny the axiom of extensionality in set theory, for example.
     From: comment on Peter Geach (Reference and Generality (3rd ed) [1980]) by Ryan Wasserman - Material Constitution 6
     A reaction: I'm beginning to think we have two entirely different concepts here - the logicians' and mathematicians' notion of when two things are identical, and the ordinary language concept of two things being 'the same'. 'We like the same music'.
p.93 Are 'word token' and 'word type' different sorts of countable objects, or two ways of counting?
     Full Idea: If we list the words 'bull', 'bull' and 'cow', it is often said that there are three 'word tokens' but only two 'word types', but Geach says there are not two kinds of object to be counted, but two different ways of counting the same object.
     From: report of Peter Geach (Reference and Generality (3rd ed) [1980]) by John Perry - The Same F II
     A reaction: Insofar as the notion that a 'word type' is an 'object', my sympathies are entirely with Geach, to my surprise. Geach's point is that 'bull' and 'bull' are the same meaning, but different actual words. Identity is relative to a concept.
p.111 We should abandon absolute identity, confining it to within some category
     Full Idea: Geach argued that the notion of absolute identity should be abandoned. ..We can only grasp the meaning of a count noun when we associate it with a criterion of identity, expressed by a particular relative identity sortal.
     From: report of Peter Geach (Reference and Generality (3rd ed) [1980]) by John Hawthorne - Identity
     A reaction: In other words, identity needs categorisation. Hawthorne concludes that Geach is wrong. Geach clearly has much common usage on his side. 'What's that?' usually invites a categorisation. Sameness of objects seems to need a 'respect'.
p.39 p.90 Identity is relative. One must not say things are 'the same', but 'the same A as'
     Full Idea: Identity is relative. When one says 'x is identical with y' this is an incomplete expression. It is short for 'x is the same A as y', where 'A' represents some count noun understood from the context of utterance.
     From: Peter Geach (Reference and Generality (3rd ed) [1980], p.39), quoted by John Perry - The Same F I
     A reaction: Perry notes that Geach's view is in conscious opposition to Frege, who had a pure notion of identity. We say 'they are the same insofar as they are animals', but not 'they are the same animal'. Perfect identity involves all possible A's.
1983 Abstraction Reconsidered
p.163 p.163 For abstractionists, concepts are capacities to recognise recurrent features of the world
     Full Idea: For abstractionists, concepts are essentially capacities for recognizing recurrent features of the world.
     From: Peter Geach (Abstraction Reconsidered [1983], p.163)
     A reaction: Recognition certainly strikes me as central to thought (and revelatory of memory, since we continually recognise what we cannot actually recall). Geach dislikes this view, but I see it as crucial to an evolutionary view of thought.
p.164 p.164 If concepts are just recognitional, then general judgements would be impossible
     Full Idea: If concepts were nothing but recognitional capacities, then it is unintelligible that I can judge that cats eat mice when neither of them are present.
     From: Peter Geach (Abstraction Reconsidered [1983], p.164)
     A reaction: Having observed the importance of recognition for the abstractionist (Idea 10731), he then seems to assume that there is nothing more to their concepts. Geach fails to grasp levels of abstraction, and cross-reference, and generalisation.
p.167 p.167 The abstractionist cannot explain 'some' and 'not'
     Full Idea: The abstractionist cannot give a logically coherent account of the features that are supposed to be reached by discriminative attention, corresponding to the words 'some' and 'not'.
     From: Peter Geach (Abstraction Reconsidered [1983], p.167)
     A reaction: I understand 'some' in terms of mereology, because that connects to experience, and 'not' I take to derive more from psychological experience than from the physical world, building on thwarted expectation, which even animals experience.
p.168 p.168 Only a judgement can distinguish 'striking' from 'being struck'
     Full Idea: To understand the verb 'to strike' we must see that 'striking' and 'being struck' are different, but necessarily go together in event and thought; only in the context of a judgment can they be distinguished, when we think of both together.
     From: Peter Geach (Abstraction Reconsidered [1983], p.168)
     A reaction: Geach seems to have a strange notion that judgements are pure events which can precede all experience, and are the only ways we can come to understand experience. He needs to start from animals (or 'brutes', as he still calls them!).
p.170 p.170 Abstraction from objects won't reveal an operation's being performed 'so many times'
     Full Idea: For an understanding of arithmetic the grasp of an operation's being performed 'so many times' is quite indispensable; and abstraction of a feature from groups of nuts cannot give us this grasp.
     From: Peter Geach (Abstraction Reconsidered [1983], p.170)
     A reaction: I end up defending the empirical approach to arithmetic because remarks like this are so patently false. Geach seems to think we arrive ready-made in the world, just raring to get on with some counting. He lacks the evolutionary perspective.