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Ideas of Roy Sorensen, by Text

[American, fl. 2002, Professor at Dartmouth College.]

2001 Vagueness and Contradiction
Intro p.1 Vague words have hidden boundaries
     Full Idea: Vague words have hidden boundaries. The subtraction of a single grain of sand might turn a heap into a non-heap.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], Intro)
     A reaction: The first sentence could be the slogan for the epistemic view of vagueness. The opposite view is Sainsbury's - that vague words are those which do not have any boundaries. Sorensen admits his view is highly counterintuitive. I think I prefer Sainsbury.
Intro p.4 The colour bands of the spectrum arise from our biology; they do not exist in the physics
     Full Idea: The bands of colour in a colour spectrum do not correspond to objective discontinuities in light wavelengths. These apparently external bands arise from our biology rather than simple physics.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], Intro)
     A reaction: If any more arguments are needed to endorse the fact that some qualities are clearly secondary (and, to my amazement, such arguments seem to be very much needed), I would take this to be one of the final conclusive pieces of evidence.
Intro p.8 No attempt to deny bivalence has ever been accepted
     Full Idea: The history of deviant logics is without a single success. Bivalence has been denied at least since Aristotle, yet no anti-bivalent theory has ever left the philosophical nursery.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], Intro)
     A reaction: This is part of a claim that nothing in reality is vague - it is just our ignorance of the truth or falsity of some propositions. Personally I don't see why 'Grandad is bald' has to have a determinate truth value.
1.4 p.38 Illusions are not a reason for skepticism, but a source of interesting scientific information
     Full Idea: Philosophers tend to associate illusions with skepticism. But since illusions are signs of modular construction, they are actually reason for scientific hope. Illusions have been very useful in helping us to understand vision.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 1.4)
     A reaction: This is a nice reversal of the usual view. If I see double, it reveals to me that my eyes are not aligned properly. Anyone led to scepticism by illusions should pay more attention to themselves, and less to the reality they hope to know directly.
11.1 p.168 Banning self-reference would outlaw 'This very sentence is in English'
     Full Idea: The old objection to the ban on self-reference is that it is too broad; it bans innocent sentences such as 'This very sentence is in English'.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 11.1)
     A reaction: Tricky. What is the sigificant difference between 'this sentence is in English' and 'this sentence is a lie'? The first concerns context and is partly metalinguistic. The second concerns semantics and truth. Concept and content..
11.2 p.173 If nothing exists, no truthmakers could make 'Nothing exists' true
     Full Idea: If nothing exists, then there are no truthmakers that could make 'Nothing exists' true.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 11.2)
     A reaction: [He cites David Lewis] We may be confusing truth with facts. I take facts to be independent of minds, but truth only makes sense as a concept in the presence of minds which are endeavouring to think well.
11.6 p.183 Which toothbrush is the truthmaker for 'buy one, get one free'?
     Full Idea: If I buy two toothbrushes on a 'buy one, get one free' offer, which one did I buy and which one did I get free? Those who believe that each contingent truth has a truthmaker are forced to believe that 'buy one, get one free' is false.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 11.6)
     A reaction: Nice. There really is no fact of which toothbrush is the free one. The underlying proposition must presumably be 'two for the price of one'. But you could hardly fault the first slogan under the Trades Descriptions Act.
3.2 p.61 God cannot experience unwanted pain, so God cannot understand human beings
     Full Idea: Theologians worry that God may be an alien being. God cannot feel pain since pain is endured against one's will. God is all powerful and suffers nothing against His Will. To understand pain, one must experience pain. So God's power walls him off from us.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 3.2)
     A reaction: I can't think of a good theological reply to this. God, and Jesus too (presumably), can only experience pain if they volunteer for it. It is inconceivable that they could be desperate for it to stop, but were unable to achieve that.
4.3 p.74 We are unable to perceive a nose (on the back of a mask) as concave
     Full Idea: The human perceptual system appears unable to represent a nose as concave rather than convex. If you look at the concave side of a mask, you see the features as convex.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 4.3)
     A reaction: I don't think that is quite true. You wouldn't put a mask on if you thought it was convex. It is usually when seen at a distance with strong cross-lighting that the effect emerges. Nevertheless, it is an important point.
4.3 p.75 Denying problems, or being romantically defeated by them, won't make them go away
     Full Idea: An unsolvable problem is still a problem, despite Wittgenstein's view that there are no genuine philosophical problems, and Kant's romantic defeatism in his treatment of the antinomies of pure reason.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 4.3)
     A reaction: I like the spin put on Kant, that he is a romantic in his defeatism. He certainly seems reluctant to slash at the Gordian knot, e.g. by being a bit more drastically sceptical about free will.
6.1 p.96 Bayesians build near-certainty from lots of reasonably probable beliefs
     Full Idea: Bayesians demonstrate that a self-correcting agent can build an imposing edifice of near-certain knowledge from numerous beliefs that are only slightly more probable than not.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 6.1)
     A reaction: This strikes me as highly significant for the coherence account of justification, even if one is sceptical about the arithmetical approach to belief of Bayesianism. It seems obvious that lots of quite likely facts build towards certainty, Watson.
6.3 p.99 It is propositional attitudes which can be a priori, not the propositions themselves
     Full Idea: The primary bearer of apriority is the propositional attitude (believing, knowing, guessing and so on) rather than the proposition itself. A proposition could be a priori to homo sapiens but a posteriori to Neandethals.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 6.3)
     A reaction: A putative supreme being is quite useful here, who might even see the necessity of Arsenal beating Manchester United next Saturday. Unlike infants, adults know a priori that square pegs won't fit round holes.
6.3 p.100 Attributing apriority to a proposition is attributing a cognitive ability to someone
     Full Idea: Every attribution of apriority to a proposition is tacitly an attribution of a cognitive ability to some thinker.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 6.3)
     A reaction: The ability would include a range of background knowledge, as well as a sheer power of intellect. If you know all of Euclid's theorems, you will spot facts about geometrical figues quicker than me. His point is important.
6.3 p.100 I can buy any litre of water, but not every litre of water
     Full Idea: I am entitled to buy any litre of water, but I am not entitled to buy every litre of water.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 6.3)
     A reaction: A decent social system must somehow draw a line between buying up all the water and buying up all the paintings of Vermeer. Even the latter seems wicked, but it is hard to pin down the reason.
6.4 p.101 Two long understandable sentences can have an unintelligible conjunction
     Full Idea: If there is an upper bound on the length of understandable sentences, then two understandable sentences can have an unintelligible conjunction.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 6.4)
     A reaction: Not a huge paradox about the use of the word 'and', perhaps, but a nice little warning to be clear about what is being claimed before you cheerfully assert a screamingly obvious law of thought, such as conjunction.
7.2 p.112 An offer of 'free coffee or juice' could slowly shift from exclusive 'or' to inclusive 'or'
     Full Idea: Sometimes an exclusive 'or' gradually develops into an inclusive 'or'. A restaurant offers 'free coffee or juice'. The customers ask for both, and gradually they are given it, first as a courtesy, and eventually as an expectation.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 7.2)
     A reaction: [compressed] A very nice example - of the rot of vagueness even seeping into the basic logical connectives. We don't have to accept it, though. Each instance of usage of 'or', by manager or customer, might be clearly one or the other.
7.7 p.121 Propositions are what settle problems of ambiguity in sentences
     Full Idea: Propositions play the role of dis-ambiguators; they are the things between which utterances are ambiguous.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 7.7)
     A reaction: I have become a great fan of propositions, and I think this is one of the key reasons for believing in them. The proposition is what we attempt to pin down when asked 'what exactly did you mean by what you just said?'
8.1 p.125 The negation of a meaningful sentence must itself be meaningful
     Full Idea: The negation of any meaningful sentence must itself be meaningful.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 8.1)
     A reaction: Nice. Compare 'there is another prime number beyond the highest one we have found' with its negation. The first seems verifiable in principle, but the second one doesn't. So the verificationist must deny Sorensen's idea?
8.4 p.132 We now see that generalizations use variables rather than abstract entities
     Full Idea: As philosophers gradually freed themselves from the assumption that all words are names, ..they realised that generalizations really use variables rather than names of abstract entities.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 8.4)
     A reaction: This looks like a key thought in trying to understand abstraction - though I don't think you can shake it off that easily. (For all x)(x-is-a-bird then x-has-wings) seems to require a generalised concept of a bird to give a value to the variable.
8.5 p.138 The paradox of analysis says that any conceptual analysis must be either trivial or false
     Full Idea: The paradox of analysis says if a conceptual analysis states exactly what the original statement says, then the analysis is trivial; if it says something different from the original, then the analysis is mistaken. All analyses are trivial or false.
     From: Roy Sorensen (Vagueness and Contradiction [2001], 8.5)
     A reaction: [source is G.E. Moore] Good analyses typically give explanations, or necessary and sufficient conditions, or inferential relations. At their most trivial they at least produce a more profound dictionary than your usual lexicographer. Not guilty.