mercredi, juillet 06, 2005


Here is an interesting work collected from the Online Papers in Philosophy. It is a paper about whether artworks exist and/or can be destroyed:

The Destruction Problem

By Mark G. Barber and Ben Caplan

[...]The question of whether repeatable artworks can be destroyed has been neglected in favor of the question of whether repeatable artworks can be created. For example, Realists who are both Abstractionists and Creationists face a problem, which—following Harry Deutsch (1991)—we call The Creation Problem. But, we argue, Realists who are both Abstractionists and Destructionists face a parallel problem, which we call The Destruction Problem; and, athough much has been said about The Creation Problem, little has been said about The Destruction Problem. This neglect, we think, is unfortunate. For, given the parallels between The Creation Problem and The Destruction Problem, it would be preferable to provide parallel solutions to the problems. And it turns out that the kind of solution to The Creation Problem that Deutsch offers doesn’t carry over to The Destruction Problem. So, we think, that kind of solution to The Creation Problem suffers as a result. [...]

With all due respect, it is mainly a question of how to formalise something we already know empirically. We know, for instance, that Aeschylos has written more than 70 works, but only 7 have survived to these days. The existence of the seven aforementioned artworks is a fact and cannot be denied. The destruction of the other plays by Aeschylo is also a fact and cannot be denied. The problem is then of how do we formally spell out how do we know such fact. It is an important problem, but our lack of understanding of this cannot cancel such facts.

Furthermore, I would like to highlight and specifically comment on two key passages.

•→ First:

(3) An object can be created only if it can come into existence.

An object x comes into existence only if there is a time t at which x comes into existence; x comes into existence at t only if x exists at t; and x exists at t only if x is temporally located. So x comes into existence only if x is temporally located.

If we ignored one of the most important scientific revolutions, called Quantum Physics, together with Temporal Mechanics, such claims would be plain common sense. But given the current state of the art, Scientists can easily challenge or, with relative effort, discard a claim like (3) above. Can we always determine the exact location of just anything? Can we at the same time find the precise position of a particle and its precise momentum? The answer is no. And if we detect the presence of a particle by making it collide against a plate, we determine its existence at the moment it is destroyed. Moreover, the manner the authors understand an assertion like (3) (an object comes into existence only if it is temporally located) entails that time somehow pre-existed when the Universe came into existence. Stephen Hawking in his Brief History of Time, a divulgation book, explains that this is exactly one of the problems behind Kant's antinomies about the formation of the Universe. Accordingly, time is a property of the Universe and does not pre-exist it.
Indeed, (3) could only be an absolute truth if one considers a possible world w, such as the Physics of w is entirely classical.

•→ Second:

Abstract objects, it is often thought, are neither spatially nor temporally located.

The text remits the argument for this claim to works like Katz 1998 Jerrold J. Katz’ (1998) Realistic Rationalism: Representation and Mind (Bradford, Cambridge, MA: MIT). The problem is that such kind of claim only works if a pure transcendental point of view is adopted. Philosophers and Scientists alike have already adopted emanating points of view and substituted materialism for former kinds of spiritualism. Thus, abstract entities are seen as emanating from a material reality (such as a practice, genetic programming, historical evolution, etc.), and as such may have a point of origin in time. Even earlier Religious systems admitted that souls could have an origin at time. So, there is no strong a priori Philosophical reason to believe that we cannot distinguish between different kinds of abstract objects, and that all abstract objects are of the same sempiternal or atemporal kind in such sense.

Methinks the most important Philosophical question the authors somehow touch is the implementation of the Accessibility View, whereby x comes into existence when it becomes cognitively accessible. Accordingly, concrete cases like that of a particle that become cognitively accessible when they are destroyed (e.g. when they collide against a plate) are much more crucial and problematic and relevant. This is something I would like to see discussed.