A morning-glory at my window satisfies me more than the metaphysics of books.
— Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself” #24
In recent months, my online acquaintance Stephen Lovatt and I have exchanged correspondence, mostly on Facebook, about the Ontological Argument for the existence of God. He defends a version of the OA that he has developed, but I think that the argument doesn’t work. Our discussion was making little progress when it was happily interrupted by a vacation to Costa Rica, a land of great natural beauty and cost-ineffective Internet access. So naturally, the way I spent my time was on developing my views of metaphysics. In the mornings, while my friends and fellow travelers slept the calm hours away, or on the beach, while they slept in the sunlight, I sat sipping locally-grown coffee or an even-more-locally-grown coconut, gazing out at views like this
and thought about what it was that I ought to mean by existence, things, objects, subjects, qualia, properties, descriptions, definitions, necessity, possibility, causation, worlds, and so on. If I taboo one of those words, how could the concept be explained? If my concepts were vague, could they be clarified? Could the clarified concepts still be used in standard ways? The following are the explanations I settled on; I make no mention here of the potential explanations that I rejected nor the path by which I arrived at these explanations.
A description is any phrase in a natural language or technical language. The idea behind a description is the set of objective brain states and/or subjective mental states that arise in a person (1) due to coming up with that description and/or (2) due to considering that description. Multiple ideas may match a single description, and multiple descriptions may match a single idea. If a description makes no impact on a person, it may match no idea at all; and if an idea is inexpressible or merely unexpressed, it may match no description. A definition is a description that matches a single idea. A statement (or proposition) is a description that people may consider true or false.
A statement is true for a person if and only if the idea it matches is useful for the person, meaning their acceptance of the idea increases their achievable utility. A statement is false for a person if and only if the idea it matches is worse than useless for the person, meaning their acceptance of the idea decreases their achievable utility. A statement is neither true nor false for a person if and only if the idea it matches is useless for the person, meaning their acceptance of the idea neither increases nor decreases their achievable utility. A statement is simply true if it is true for some persons and not false for any persons. A statement is simply false if it is false for some persons and not true for any persons. A statement is simply neither true nor false if it is neither true nor false for all persons. A statement is both true and false if it is true for some persons and false for some persons. A statement is truer the more it increases achievable utility and falser the more it decreases achievable utility. (So we may say that science advances by replacing true statements about the world with truer statements.)
An idea is possible if and only if every statement about the idea evaluates to either true or false (but not both or neither). A thing is a possible idea; things [noun] are real [adjective] and they exist [verb]. A statement about an idea is necessary if and only if the idea is possible assuming the statement is true but not possible assuming the statement is false. A statement about a thing is sufficient if and only if, assuming the statement is true, all other statements about the thing are necessary. A statement about a thing may be both necessary and sufficient. A property is an idea that matches what a statement says about a thing, and the ideas that match what is said about a thing by the statements that are true about the thing are the properties it possesses.
Qualia is the property of being simultaneously aware of something and aware of being aware of it. A subject is a thing that has qualia. An object is a thing that does not have qualia, or anything considered without regard for whether it has qualia. A world is a causal structure containing at least one subject. A causal structure is one where, for every nonempty proper subset of the structure, true statements about that subset can be inductively inferred from its complement. A physical object is an object in a causal structure for which the truest statement of the structure’s regularities refers only to objects and not to subjects.
When I got this far in my thoughts on the beach, I stood up, stretched, and ran out to meet the warm ocean waves, splashed water as high into the sky as I could, and dove beneath the crashing surf. So it must be a fine place to stop for now. The way the words are assigned here is to match my preferences, which may be non-standard. In discussions with Stephen on his Facebook pages, all these terms are changed out for different ones to match the usages that he prefers, but the structure of them is unchanged despite the different labels.
Comments are enabled in case anyone ever stumbles across this and wants to tell me why I’m wrong.