Saturday, September 08, 2007

What Katy Did

Once upon a time, Andy found a caterpillar, called it Katy, and showed it to his friend Bobby. Eventually Katy turned into a butterfly. “That’s Betty,” said Bobby. “No,” said Andy, “that’s Katy.”
......Now, is there a fact of that matter, about whether or not a caterpillar, and the butterfly that it changes into, are the same individual? I don’t see how there could be. On the one hand they have the same genetics, but on the other hand they have very different brains. And consider how, whereas a zygote divides into two cells of the same individual, an amoeba divides into two different amoebas, although maybe it would not be too unreasonable (if a little unnatural, from our human perspective) to regard that division as the original amoeba getting itself a disconnected multicellular body. Et cetera...
......But we’re rushing ahead of ourselves; so let’s return to Andy showing Katy the caterpillar to his friend Bobby. If names refer directly to the named objects, there must have been some definite object there, to be called by that definite name, ‘Katy’. Both Andy and Bobby knew (we may suppose) what caterpillars are (and what butterflies are), so that object was presumably the caterpillar in question—there was, of course, only one caterpillar there, Katy (and only one language being spoken, English), but then, for example, either that individual, Katy, had the property of sometimes having wings, or it did not. In short, either Bobby was wrong about the butterfly, or Andy was (? Although it’s probably just my failure to grasp the concept of direct reference, my intuitions being descriptivistic:)


Tanasije Gjorgoski said...

Maybe in our thoughts, we have to think of things as 'that X' (where X is some general type), so, it is possible that one thinks of 'that caterpillar', or 'that butterfly' while looking at the same thing.

If names (in direct reference) are related to the issue of what, which appears as content of our intentional acts, gets named; (which is the view I'm buying) then Andy and Bobby can differ in their opinion, because Andy thought of 'that butterfly' (in the sense of type of the insect), and Bobby meant 'that caterpillar'.

While in both cases 'Katy' is directly referring to the caterpillar while it is a caterpillar; the metamorphosis changes it to next stage (adult form), so it stops being caterpillar. So, Andy's 'Katy' will still refer to it, but not Bobby's.

Cliff Hill said...

(Cliff from Consistent Caterpillars)

Neat little story, my original inspiration for the title of my blog was from Alice in Wonderland.

Unfortunately, I would answer the question assuming some essentialist's metaphysics. It would seem that if we identify the caterpillar and the butterfly as having the same essential properties (which would make the caterpillar and the butterfly, essentially the same entity) then it would seem that Andy is right. I would think that evidence for such a claim is the fact that we can track which caterpillars turn into which butterflies. We know that Katy the butterfly didn't come from Jane the caterpillar or Janet the caterpillar or... and so on, we know that Katy the butterfly came from Katy the caterpillar. But I will admit, to a certain degree, I have to assume an essentialist's metaphysics to try and answer the question but I think there is good reason to accept it.