Dark Bilious Vapors

But how could I deny that I possess these hands and this body, and withal escape being classed with persons in a state of insanity, whose brains are so disordered and clouded by dark bilious vapors....
--Rene Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy: Meditation I

Home » Archives » March 2005 » Imaginary Friends

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03/01/2005: Imaginary Friends

Warning: this post is for philosophy geeks only.

Over at Crooked Timber and Thoughts, Arguments, and Rants, Prof. Brian Weatherson poses a puzzle for Quineans:

If you’re a good Quinean, you want to believe the following two theses.

1. The things that best scientific theory quantifies over exist
2. Among the things that exist, there do not exist spooks or souls or certainly not imaginary friends

So it would be a little troubling if best scientific theory started quantifying over imaginary friends. But some say that’s what will happen. The Quineans will have to find some way to paraphrase away the imaginary friends without paraphrasing away the benefits, should the benefits be genuine!

Well, I'm a good neo-Quinean, so I need an answer to this puzzle. I suggest that the answer is to be found through Kendall Walton’s theory of fiction in Mimesis as Make-Believe. (Walton need not be right in all details, just right in the general outline.)

Roughly, we should paraphrase “Brock as a child had an imaginary friend, a pegasus named Peter” as something like “It is to be imagined that Brock as a child had a pegasus named Peter as a friend.”

The odd thing about the sentential operator “It is to be imagined that” is that it is only partially opaque, to use Quine’s terminology. We might call it “translucent.”

That is to say, I can quantify into some of the places, but not others. There was a boy for whom it is to be imagined that he had a pegasus named Peter for a friend. But there has never been a pegasus named Peter of whom it is to be imagined that Brock had him for a friend.

Unless there’s something deeply objectionable about translucent sentential operators (and I admit they are rather odd), this seems to be the sort of solution a Quinean should accept.

Brock on 03.01.05 @ 06:51 PM CST

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