Aren’t you ashamed

Jean-marc pizano Aren’t you ashamed


of yourself?

I am definitely sensitive to this criticism. For I’m a Realist about doorknobs, I am. I think there are lots of doorknobs, and I wouldn’t consider for a moment holding a metaphysical view which denies that there are. So, one of the mainquestions I want to consider in this chapter is: what, if any, consequences would the (putative) mind-dependence ofdoorknobhood have for issues about Metaphysical Realism? My answer will be ‘none’, and this for two reasons: first,because being mind-dependent is perfectly compatible with being real; and second, and more important, becauseDOORKNOB isn’t the general case. If there are lots of our concepts that express mind-dependent properties, there arealso lots of them that don’t. Something needs to be said about the metaphysics of that kind of concept too.

Doorknobs Are Real Because Minds Are Real

The first of these considerations is entirely banal. Suppose, per hypothesis, that DOORKNOB expresses a property that things have in virtue of their effects on us. Suppose, in particular, that being a doorknob is just having the property thatminds like ours reliably lock to in consequence of experience with typical doorknobs. Well, then, there are doorknobs iff the propertythat minds like ours reliably lock to in consequence of experience with typical doorknobs is instantiated. Which, ofcourse, it is; every doorknob has it, and there are, as previously remarked, lots of doorknobs.

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Look, there is simply nothing wrong with, or ontologically second-rate about, being a property that things have in virtue of their reliable effects on our minds. For we really do have minds, and there really are things whose effects on ourminds are reliable. If you doubt that we do, or that there are, then whatever is the source of your scepticism, it can‘t bemetaphysical considerations of the sort that I’ve been claiming bear on the nature of doorknobhood. Perhaps it’s thatyou’re worried about evil demons?

Fingers, I suppose, are, hand-dependent: if there were no hands, there could be no fingers; if you had your fingers on your feet they’d be your toes. This is all entirely compatible with the rigorous Metaphysical Realism about fingerswhich, surely, common sense demands. For, since there really are hands, such metaphysical conditions for theinstantiation of fingerhood as its hand-dependence imposes are ipso facto satisfied. Since there are hands, the metaphysicaldependence offingers on hands is not an argumentfor there not being fingers. Similarly, mutatis mutandis, for the case of doorknobs.Since there are minds, the ontological conditions which the mind-dependence of doorknobhood imposes on there beingdoorknobs are ipso facto satisfied. The mind-dependence of doorknobhood is not an argument for there not beingdoorknobs.

I wouldn’t be going on about this so, except that it appears to have occasioned much confusion, and some inadvertent comedy, in the cognitive science community. (And in ever so many Departments of English Literature. And in France.)Here, for one example among multitudes, is George Lakoff getting himself into a thorough muddle about Tuesdays:

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If. . . symbols get their meaning only by being associated with things in the world, then weeks must be things in the world. But weeks do not exist in nature . . . Does ‘Tuesday’ refer to an aspect of ‘external reality’—reality external tohuman beings? Obviously not. That reality is constituted by the minds of human beings collectively—it is not an‘external’ reality. [The word] ‘Tuesday’ cannot get its meaning by reference to a reality external to and independentof human minds . . . These realities reside in human minds, not in anything ‘external’. (1988: 135)

I’m unclear exactly what work Lakoff thinks “external” is doing in this passage, and his persistently putting it into shudder-quotes suggests that he is too. But notice the repeated contrast of “constituted by human minds” and the likewith (externally) “real” and the like. The inference that we’re being offered is apparently: constituted by minds and sonot (externally) real.

Now, it’s true, of course, that Tuesdays are mind-dependent in at least the following pretty straightforward sense: whether today is Tuesday depends on what conventions people adhere to; and that people adhere to the conventionsthat they do, or to any conventions at all, depends on their having minds.Jean-marc pizano


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