Sunday, July 25, 2004

Imagining that Soames is Tyson

Consider one sense in which I can imagine that Scott Soames is Mike Tyson. Suppose Soames gets into a heated argument with some two-dimensionalist at a conference, and they come to blows. Soames unleashes a barrage of punches and floors the two-dimensionalist with a devastating uppercut. As I watch this, I can imagine that Soames is Tyson. Imagining this consists in seeing his punches as having Tysonian fury and power, and perhaps imagining that he has a Tyson face tattoo. I think of Soames as having Tysonian properties. But I don't imagine that Soames is leading a double life, bulking up and fighting as Tyson, then slimming down and writing books as himself.

However, I do something different when I imagine a possible world in which Scott Soames is Mike Tyson. It's not that I imagine there being a bizarre Soames-Tyson hybrid who has a mixture of their descriptive characteristics (he knows how to box, but he can also use the diamond! sorry). This person won't succeed in being both Soames and Tyson. To imagine that Soames is Tyson, I have to imagine him living a double life. It needs to be a Morning Star - Evening Star kind of case where two seemingly different things are actually one and the same.

Maybe when I imagine that X is Y in the former case, X is taken to designate rigidly, while Y is taken as a descriptive term. In the latter case, both designate rigidly. I'm not sure what the moral of the story is beyond this, although it gives us a weird context in which proper names work as definite descriptions.


Anonymous said...

I love the blog.

As far as "proper names work[ing] as definite descriptions", I like the cases like "more British than the British" where something is said to be more X-like than that which is defined as X. Another example, without proper nouns, is that people rate the face of a [computer] average[d] woman as attractive, but they rate the face of a more womanly woman as more attractive. In this case, "womanliness" is defined mathematically in terms of facial characteristics that differentiate the typical woman from the typical man.


Jeff said...

I have something of a foundational question on possible worlds. Hope that's all right.

In what sense could such a different being as Mike Tyson (in terms of memories, personality, causal history) be posited equivalent to Scott Soames? They're so distinct that I am left incapable of accepting such a world (in which Soames is Tyson) as possible, even for philosophical rumination, because the very idea seems nonsensical/meaningless. It's as if one said "Imagine a possible world in which Scott Soames isn't Scott Soames. Now let's see what this implies about language..."

Is there a preferred solution to this problem, or do you and/or most other possibilists simply assume it is tractable and skip over tracting it to pose these sorts of linguistic conundrums?

Any clarification would be greatly appreciated.

Neil Sinhababu said...

Jeff, when I originally wrote the post, I thought it'd be impossible for there to be a world in which Soames was Tyson. Then I realized that there's a vanishingly small probability that in our world, Soames is Tyson. Maybe Tyson actually is Soames' alter ego, like Spiderman and Peter Parker. Perhaps Soames drinks a potion every now and then which turns him black and muscular and gives him a strange voice but lowers his intelligence. He boxes, and later the potion wears off, and he goes back to being the Soames we all know and love. This is hugely improbable, of course, but it shows you what it would mean for Soames to be Tyson. This is the 'double life' thing I was talking about, and I don't see why it's metaphysically impossible.

Anonymous said...

You have obviously not met Scott Soames.

Soames does not need to "slim down" in order to go from being Tyson back to being Scott Soames. The guy could probably bench Tyson.