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February 22, 2005


Jason Grossman

One of Tom Stoppard's characters in "The Real Inspector Hound" says, " 'Je suis,' it seems to say, 'ergo sum.' ". Using a similar trick gets us the Cogito in Descartes' OWN words of one syllable (since he wrote it in both French and Latin):

Je suis, donc sum.

Neal Tognazzini

An ode to D. K. L.:

Sets? Same part and whole bond as all else.

Worlds? There are lots, and some are not our own. But what's true of you is true all thanks to those who look and act much like you. Why do you stare so?

Time? It is no odd thing to take a trip through it. Just watch out for that peel while you aim your gun -- I think you will slip!

Things through time? There must be a slice for each part of time -- else how do things change? The spoon is bent now but was not bent then -- is it both bent and not bent? I think not. A part of it is bent and a part of it is not bent. Not parts in space, of course, but parts in time.

Cause? Not just "if...then", or "iff". Let's look to "were" and "would" to help us. Just look to see if all the C worlds that are most near are E worlds too.

Clouds? It's true that there are more than one. But the clouds are so close to one that if we say they are one, that's just as good.

V. Alan White

I can think of God as all best things tied up in one thought. But should I try to think that God is not real, then I have not in truth thought of God, for in that case what I take as God lacks one thing that would stop my thought just short of that as God as all best things tied up in one thought. And that is wrong. So to just think of God in the right way is to think of God in my mind and as real too. So God is real. Q. E. D.

Ignacio Prado

What's it like to be a bat? I don't know. Does it know?

I think not,'cause . . . to know what it's like to be an X, you need a self that scans its self and asks its self, "what it's like to be an X?" Ask Fred, he's red.

Or ask Dan. He's at work in the Den at Tufts. He thinks that to know what it's like to be an X is just (i) to have a thought that talks in terms of 'X' in my head, (ii) to use that thought of X to do work in the world, and (iii) to ask “what it's like to be an X?” in words that are as good for you as they are for me. The late Witt said that this must be, at least for there to be a fact that shows what I say. This is so, though Stan says I don't need to mean it that way (and though Saul was last heard of when he said there could be no rule that shows us the fact of what I say).

So at least I've got a self, which I know what it's like to be. You know it as well as me.

That is, as long as my brain is not split. If that is the case, Tom tells me that there could be no fact as to who I am. Par is Fit for this course of thought.

Dell Adams

Here's a link to the Theory of Relativity with a slightly different restriction.

Anthony D'Amato

It’s strange this sage who dare would deign
To change our talk of thoughts we brew
And yet his rage will soon come through
When he shall see that all his work
Would feign leave out his own true name.


An old, wise Greek (he liked to walk!) said: For each thing, there are four kinds of cause that make it be. The first one is just the stuff the thing is made of. Then comes the form the thing has. The third cause is what makes the thing. And the fourth one is the end to which the thing is.
All this was good for some time. But now most of us mean by "cause" just the third of those. We say the two first just tell what and how is the thing, not what is its cause. And we don't think now there is an end for most things, thus there is no fourth cause to seek for. We tend to think of a cause as a kind of blind pull or push.


What is time? If you don't ask me, I know; but if you ask me, I don't know. (This was said just like this! Or sort of. By a saint.)
Does time, in fact, pass? Some say it does, for sure! There is a "now" and things that are not now, are not (though they may have been, or may be still to be).
But some don't think so. They point out that the "now" is like the "here" -it just says which is the time of the talk. No more. Things past and things yet to be are as true as things that are now. Old Al thought so, and taught us to see the world as a four D place. Van Quine and D.K.L. learnt that from him. But it may be that their thought comes first from Ben, that cursed Jew, who said: "Life must be seen from the point of view of the for ever"


Descartes: I think, thus I am.

Berkeley: To be is for god to see me.

Geoff Pynn

An old way to ask what d j c asked way up top:

How do I know that you have a mind?

Well, you might say, when you get bit by a dog, you yelp. When I get bit by a dog, I feel pain, then yelp. The bites are the same; the yelps are the same; so it makes sense to think that the yelp and the bite go with pain in your case, too--just like me. (That's kind of what Mill said.)

Still, that's not such a good proof. Just one case--my own--does not give me good grounds to think that bites--not my own--cause pains, too, and not just yelps. There are lots and lots of bites and yelps that are not my own, and who am I to say that pain comes with those pairs, too? You need a big base to make that kind of call, and just one case is not a big base at all.

So let's say this. "A is in pain" just means "if C is the case, A will act in way B". So if I know what pain means, I know that you can have it, since what it means has got not a jot to do with my own case. And since I know you can feel pain, I know that you have a mind. Now it looks like to ask, "How do I know that you have a mind?" does not make sense at all! If I know what my words mean, I know you have a mind.

Yet this fails too. When I say "I am in pain," I don't mean "if C is the case, I will act in way B"--no way, man! I don't have to check to see how I act when C is the case to know that I am in pain. All I need to know is this: pains are like this, and I've got one! Plus, some guys and gals (like me!) make like they're not in pain when they are: so when C is the case, they don't act in way B, yet they're in pain.

Of course, one might be more sly with this: don't say that's what "pain" means, but that if C is the case you've got real good grounds to think A is in pain. But it's hard to see how to make that work yet not beg what you were to ask in the first place.

So how do I know you have a mind? Could it be that I don't? For all I know you might not feel pain at all? That seems daft. But it's hard to see how to say it's wrong.

(On a side note, I don't think 'iff' counts as a word with just one syll.)

Denis Robinson

It was Dave's idea, god bless him, to put my stuff up here and call for further contributions. I must say I'm enjoying the results. Now here's a thing.

Two scurrilous suggestions have been made to me privately (not by any of my colleagues). Perhaps their conjunction is even more scurrilous. The first is that the better the philosophy, the less difficult it is to render it into monosyllables. The second is that the canonical works of existentialism and postmodernism would be hard to do this with.

Anyone game to give it a go? Lovers of existentialism and postmodernism thus have a double shot at refuting this conjunction. They could refute the second conjuct. Or they could take difficulty in this as refuting the first conjunct.

Peli Grietzer


Is was first, then comes why.

Eddy Nahmias

That we are free
is what we be.

There's no way to prove God;
it's a leap of faith.

God is dead.

(It's the names that can't be put into one syll!)

Geoff Pynn

Sein und Zeit:

There are a bunch of ways to be: you can be a thing, you can be a tool, and you can be in a world. We are in a world, but there's more to it than that. Das Man, who helps to shape the world we're in, makes it seem like each of us is just like all the rest. It looks like there's not one thing that I can do that some guy who's not me can't do as well. But just to be like all the rest is not the real way for you to be. So think: there's one thing no one else can do for you. No one else can die for you. Once you see that you'll know the way you are for real: towards death. But damn if it's not hard to think that all the time! That's why most of us are not as true to what we are for real as we could be.

Ignacio Prado

Two men talk in a French bar.

"There is no thing but text," says Doc Jacque.

"But Doc," says La Vis Nice, "what of this diss ease in my heart that gives rise to my words and the God that gives rise to my diss ease? Are not that God and this diss ease things that are not texts?"

"No," says Doc Jacque, "there is no diss ease out of the text, 'cause there is no God. In 'fact,' there is no diss ease at all, if by that 'you' 'mean' a 'thing.' A text, like life, is but a play of more and more pairs of texts, like 'health' and 'diss ease' are texts, so too are they life. You must make do in life with the play of health and diss ease. The wound is the cure."

"Doc," says La Vis Nice, "I'll just take the bet, like Blaise, that God is out there, just like my diss ease is here in this chest. I am more apt to win that bet than the bet that the texts that talk through your texts make a claim to life."

A chap who is not from France joins them at the bar.

"What's the talk of in this bar?", asks the chap who is not from France.

"God, death, texts, life, diss ease," they say.

"Ah," says the chap not from France, "it's like the pub talk back home. But there the drunks know they are just drunk."


The thing to ask most hard of them all:

Why are there things, if there could have been no things?

(or: Why is there stuff, when there could have been no stuff? or still more short: Why are there things, not no things?)


Prisoner's Dilemma:

Let's say me and a friend of mine are both in jail, for a crime both of us did, and that I can't talk with him. The cops come and say to me:
"Look, we'll give you a chance. Tell us all you did with your pal, and you'll go free, while he stays in jail for ten years. If you both talk you'll stay for five years, and if you both shut up you'll stay for one year. Your friend has been told the same."
I start to think. I don't care for my pal; he may rot in jail! I just want to get out as soon as I can. So let's think with care. If he sings, then I should sing too, for thus I will stay in for five years, not ten. If he shuts up, then once more I should sing, so I leave now and not in one year. So it is clear I must talk.
But, I start to think, my friend is as bright as I am. So he will think just the same, and talk too. So it seems we shall both stay here for five years. But if we were not smart and just shut up, we would stay just for one year!
It seems that to be smart does not pay... Is there some way out of this thought?

Note: I wish I had a better knowledge -or at least some knowledge- of English slang. It could improve this post a lot I think! Suggestions welcome.

Bill Fish

Ayer's exposition of the Argument from Illusion:

When a man sees a ball and there is a ball in the world, there is a thing that he sees. We think it is the ball in the world. Yet when a man thinks he sees a ball though there is no ball there, there is not a ball in the world for him to see. But there is still a thing that he sees. What is this thing? It is a ball of the mind, or what we may call a ball of sense.

What does this tell us? So far, just that when we get things wrong, what we see is not a thing of the world, but a thing of sense. But now think on
three things.

First, when we see a ball of the world, what it is like for us is just the same as when we see a ball of sense. If what we see when we see a ball of the world and what we see when we see a ball of sense were not the same kind of thing, we should think we could tell. But as this shows, we can not. This gives us cause to think that what we see when we see a ball in the world is in fact a ball of sense.

But there is more. If we see a ball in the world from close, what we see is red and round. And, let us say, the ball in the world is in fact red and round. But if we see this ball in the world from far, what we see is faint and flat. But the ball in the world is not faint and flat. So when we look at a red, round ball from close and move to look at the same ball from far, what we see must change from a ball in the world to a ball of sense. But we see no such change! This gives us more cause to think that what we see when we see a ball in the world is in fact a ball of sense.

But there is still more. When I think I see a ball, but there is no ball in the world, my brain does some things. This is what makes me see a ball of sense. But when I see a ball in the world, my brain does the same things. As this makes me see a ball of sense when there is no ball in the world, it should make me see a ball of sense in this case too. This gives us yet more cause to think that what we see when we see a ball in the world is in fact a ball of sense.

And so we sum up. If we see a ball in the world, or just think we see a ball when there is no ball there, what we see in fact is the same in each case - it is a ball of sense.

Denis Robinson

Some say it’s all just text and what it means must be as may be, no neat or sharp thoughts or claims which mean just what they say, no grand tales we can know to be true, just a mix of words which shift as we look at them or speak them or hear them some way or not, say “yes” or “no” to them, or play our word games with them just as we play our life games, fight our word wars with them as we fight our life wars, and so on and on and all this and that. If it takes text to say what text means, and then yet more text to say what that text means, and so on, how can it end but in text? At least in France.

But I say this. You can think of words as like tools.

So let’s think of tools for a bit. Stone age folks had a few rough tools, which would do a few rough jobs – split a rock, or a tree, or a skull, crush a nut, spear or skin a fish or a deer, store an egg or some seeds, light a fire, but all no more than fair for what few things they had to do. You might think a lot of rough tools could just make more rough tools at best. Not so. We now have lots of good fine sharp tools, which cut and draw and rule straight and true, we can make a neat screw bolt with a nut to fit tight on it, we can weigh a small wee bit of an ounce or a gram, we can build a plane or a ship or a great big house or mall or hall or bridge, we can see things much too small for the eye to see on its own, we can make small hard drives which store gigs and gigs of stuff, we can surf the net and phone some place on the far side of the world while still on line. We have tools which each do their own jobs well, just as we wish them to, more or less, and each new lot of tools lets us make the next lot yet more fine and use them for yet more things.

I say, so it went with words. It may be that once we had just rough blunt words as tools to speak our speech and think our thoughts. It may be that back then our thoughts, or at least our words and what they meant, were vague, not clear, a mix, like things seen in dreams. Our words would not add all that much to our ways of life, just help us share a bit, work a bit, play a bit, each with each, but all vague, each like a broad dim patch, not a bright spot or dot in the great field of things we might think or mean. But just as you can start with blunt tools and make tools that are sharp, you can start with dim thoughts and make thoughts that are clear, start with vague words and make words that mean things sharp and true, words that do well to state just what you mean and such that each one who knows those words knows what you mean when you say them. That’s where we are now, when we want to be. We can still play with broad brush strokes in our own tongues, we can paint strange half thoughts with odd strings of text which might mean all or none of what they make us think or half think. But that’s not the whole thing. When the time is right and the need is there we can say what we mean and mean what we say. Which is damn good. At least, it makes me glad.

And just as a world of nowt but tools would be but a part world - for from what would the tools be made, and for what, and how, would we use them? – so a world just of text would be less than a dream not dreamt or a thought not thought, it would be no world at all. We shake the air or scratch the slate: we make texts from sounds and marks, with our chins and teeth and tongues and lips and lungs, and our pens and black and white boards and all such things. There could have been no texts till there had been such things. And we use words to help us do things to and say things of all the bits of the world we live in (not just the words). It’s true we say things of, and think thoughts of, things not of the real world, too. But it’s not all like that: no world but text means no text, and no work for text to do. It’s not all text. Praise the word!


yay, finally English decides to become as chinese... :-P

Bob Stalnaker

I must say I am stunned (and pleased) that so much can be said, and said so well, in words of (as we have learned to say) just one sound. The best, I think, is the bit on texts and tools, but that's not all I like. Thanks to D. R., and Dave, et al, and to my late friend George, who was the first to do it.

Denis Robinson

Hi Bob! Glad you liked the texts and tools.

I hear that the phrase "words of one peak" might be thought right by those who know stuff to do with the sounds of speech.

Nirvana G.H.

Realism: things REALLY are Real... Really!!

Anti-Realism: REALLY? Things are REALLY real? You must be dreaming man!

Alan Hájek


You give some chance to p: it is the price that you would pay for a bet that pays a pound if p is true and nought if p is false. You give some chance to q: it is the price that you would pay for a bet that pays a pound if q is true and nought if q is false. And so on. Now, if you failed to live up to the laws of chance, then you would face a dire end. A guy - let's make him Dutch - could make a set of bets with you, each fair by your lights, yet at the end of the day you would lose, come what may. What a fool you would be! Do not tempt this fate. Be sure, then, to think and to bet in line with the laws of chance!

Bob Meyer

Today's email to Denis and Dave (near enough):
SUBJECT: The Chalmers-Robinson doctrine OutWitted
In the post just above, Al Hajek wrote in accordance with your most attractive doctrine-that every philosophical issue worth its salt should be expressed (or at least be expressible) in words of one syllable. I call this the Chalmers-Robinson Doctrine (CRD, to be pronounced CaRD or CoRD, as you like; I think I rather go for CuRD.) Thus Alan's hero is constrained by CRD to bet a pound, since dollar has too many syllables. (By the time he has truly returned to his roots, the bet should be six bob; or maybe a quid.)
But gee, guys, let's see a bit more economy. Wasn't it Wittgenstein who insisted that every philosophical problem should be reduced to words of no syllables? And will not the WRD trump the CRD?
I submit these matters for your earnest consideration.
All my love,
Robert K Meyer
Maximum Leader
Logicians Liberation League

Ingeborg S. Nordén

Bob K: Al's friend could still bet a 'buck', if slang words with one beat don't break the rules.


The Tragedy of the Commons, in words of one syllable:

The Fate of the Shared Thing

There is a shared field, which all men can use to breed beasts. The field is large, but has bounds.

Since the men will kill, poach, and die from poor health, this could work for a long time. But at some time the men will join and make peace, and not kill.

Each man seeks to gain as much as he can. Thus he will think, "Will it help me to add one more beast to my herd?"

He will note that this choice has a good side and a bad side:

1. It is good in that he gets more wealth from this new beast.
2. It is bad in that the beast will graze and thus need grass.

But this new strain on the stock of grass is shared by all the men, so the bad he gets does not match the good he gets.

So he will see that he should add one more beast; it is the smart thing to do.

But if this is true (and if at least most of the men are smart), all the men will reach the same choice, and add more and more and more...

The field will be used up, and all the men will have a source of food and wealth no more.

And this bad fate will meet all such shared things. When men are free to use a shared thing in all ways, the whole will be hurt in the end.

Ben Coggins


What is time?
(A)Some think it is a change that takes place in events; that is, from events being 'not yet' to being 'now', then to being 'past'. If there is this change in events, then there must be a thing that makes this change. This thing they call the ‘now’, which makes events change from being 'not yet' to being 'now', then to being 'past'. So time is a change in events due to the ‘now’ that moves along events in order, and from this, makes a change in them.

(B)Others say that time isn't a change in events at all, but that it is an order of events that is static and does not move or ever change. When we talk of an event being 'not yet' or being 'now', or being 'past', they say that what we mean is that the point on the scale where that event is, is either the same or not the same point as the point at which we talk about it. That is, the point on the scale where the event is, is either 'not yet' or ‘the same as’, or 'past' the point that we talk about. So the thing that has this change is the point on the scale where our talk about an event is, and not the event that we talk about. So time is an order of events that never have change, while our talk about them can have change. But this is only in that our words can be said at more than one point on the scale.


Can one at all do all things? One who could should make a rock so small he can't see it. Right? And he could make one plus one be six or make a square be round.

One thing I think we miss when we ask this and say no one can do all things is... one who can do all things can still just do what he wants to do. This man can't fail with what he wants. He can see only rocks wich he wants to see. If he don't want to see a rock at what size it may be, then of course he can't see it. He still can do all things.

And to make a round square... what is that? If you know what that is, then he can make it, but just if he wants to. Else he can't but still... he can do all things. If he do what he don't want to do, then he don't be one who can do all things.

David C. Braun

"Did I dream I was that cute moth's coz,
Or did cute moth's coz dream it was I?"
So quoth the Han;
Now tell me, San,
How can one say the things that one does
To end that big quest, and why?

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