Ideas of Nelson Goodman, by Theme

[American, 1906 - 1998, Born in Somerville. Professor at Brandeis University. Also at Harvard University.]

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1. Philosophy / F. Analytic Philosophy / 5. Linguistic Analysis
Without words or other symbols, we have no world
     Full Idea: We can have words without a world but no world without words or other symbols.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.3)
     A reaction: Goodman seems to have a particularly extreme version of the commitment to philosophy as linguistic. Non-human animals have no world, it seems.
3. Truth / A. Truth Problems / 5. Truth Bearers
Truth is irrelevant if no statements are involved
     Full Idea: Truth pertains solely to what is said ...For nonverbal versions and even for verbal versions without statements, truth is irrelevant.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.5)
     A reaction: Goodman is a philosopher of language (like Dummett), but I am a philosopher of thought (like Evans). The test, for me, is whether truth is applicable to the thought of non-human animals. I take it to be obvious that it is applicable.
4. Formal Logic / F. Set Theory ST / 5. Conceptions of Set / a. Sets as existing
Classes are a host of ethereal, platonic, pseudo entities
     Full Idea: I will not willingly use apparatus that peoples the world with a host of ethereal, platonic, pseudo entities.
     From: Nelson Goodman (The Structure of Appearance [1951], II.2), quoted by David Lewis - Parts of Classes 2.1
     A reaction: This represents the big gap that opened up with Goodman's former comrade in arms, Quine. Lewis quotes it in order to ask whether he means ethereal or platonic, as they are very different. I sympathise with Goodman.
4. Formal Logic / F. Set Theory ST / 8. Critique of Set Theory
Two objects can apparently make up quite distinct arrangements in sets
     Full Idea: Goodman argues that the set or class {{a}},{a,b}} is supposed to be distinct from the set or class {{b},{a,b}}, even though both are ultimately constituted from the same a and b.
     From: report of Nelson Goodman (The Structure of Appearance [1951]) by JP Burgess / G Rosen - A Subject with No Object I.A.2.a
     A reaction: I'm with Goodman all the way here, even though it is deeply unfashionable, particularly in the circles I move in. If there are trillion grains of sand on a beach, how many sets are we supposed to be committed to?
4. Formal Logic / G. Formal Mereology / 1. Mereology
The counties of Utah, and the state, and its acres, are in no way different
     Full Idea: A class (counties of Utah) is different neither from the individual (state of Utah) that contains its members, nor from any other class (acres of Utah) whose members exhaust the whole. For nominalists, distinction of entity means distinction of content.
     From: Nelson Goodman (The Structure of Appearance [1951], p.26), quoted by Achille Varzi - Mereology 3.1
     A reaction: This is a nice credo for the nominalist version of mereology. You can still have a mereology that commits you to the wholes as well as the parts. Cf. Lewis in Idea 10660.
5. Theory of Logic / C. Ontology of Logic / 4. Logic by Convention
If the result is bad, we change the rule; if we like the rule, we reject the result
     Full Idea: A rule is amended if it yields an inference we are unwilling to accept; an inference is rejected if it violates a rule we are unwilling to amend.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Fact, Fiction and Forecast (4th ed) [1954], p.64)
     A reaction: This is clearly in tune with Quine's assertion that logic is potentially revisable, and the idea is pragmatist in spirit. It is hard to deny that intuitions about what makes a good argument control our logic. I say the world controls our intuitions.
7. Existence / C. Structure of Existence / 4. Ontological Dependence
Being primitive or prior always depends on a constructional system
     Full Idea: Nothing is primitive or derivationally prior to anything apart from a constructional system.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.4c)
     A reaction: Something may be primitive not just because we can't be bothered to analyse it any further, but because even God couldn't analyse it. Maybe.
7. Existence / C. Structure of Existence / 5. Supervenience / d. Humean supervenience
We don't recognise patterns - we invent them
     Full Idea: Recognising patterns is very much a matter of inventing or imposing them.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.7)
     A reaction: I take this to be false.
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 3. Reality
Reality is largely a matter of habit
     Full Idea: Reality in a world, like realism in a picture, is largely a matter of habit.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.6)
     A reaction: I'm a robust realist, me, but I sort of see what he means. We become steeped in unspoken conventions about how we take our world to be, and filter out anything that conflicts with it.
7. Existence / D. Theories of Reality / 4. Anti-realism
We build our world, and ignore anything that won't fit
     Full Idea: We dismiss as illusory or negligible what cannot be fitted into the architecture of the world we are building.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.4d)
     A reaction: I'm trying to think of an example of this, but can't. Maybe poor people are invisible to the rich?
7. Existence / E. Categories / 5. Category Anti-Realism
A world can be full of variety or not, depending on how we sort it
     Full Idea: A world may be unmanageably heterogeneous or unbearably monotonous according to how events are sorted into kinds.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.4a)
     A reaction: We might expect this from the man who invented 'grue', which allows you to classify things that change colour with things that don't. Could you describe a bird as 'might have been a fish', and classify it with fish? ('Projectible'?)
8. Modes of Existence / C. Powers and Dispositions / 6. Dispositions / a. Dispositions
Dispositions seem more ethereal than behaviour; a non-occult account of them would be nice
     Full Idea: Dispositions of a thing are as important to us as overt behaviour, but they strike us by comparison as rather ethereal. So we are moved to enquire whether we can bring them down to earth, and explain disposition terms without reference to occult powers.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Fact, Fiction and Forecast (4th ed) [1954], II.3)
     A reaction: Mumford quotes this at the start of his book on dispositions, as his agenda. I suspect that the 'occult' aspect crept in because dispositions were based on powers, and the dominant view was that these were the immediate work of God.
8. Modes of Existence / E. Nominalism / 2. Resemblance Nominalism
If all and only red things were round things, we would need to specify the 'respect' of the resemblance
     Full Idea: According to Goodman's 'companionship difficulty', resemblance nominalism has a problem if, say, all and only the red things were the round things, because we cannot distinguish the two different respects in which the things resemble one another.
     From: report of Nelson Goodman (The Structure of Appearance [1951]) by Cynthia Macdonald - Varieties of Things Ch.6
     A reaction: Goodman opts for extreme linguististic nominalism in response to this (Idea 7952), whereas Russell opts for a sort of Platonism (4441). The current idea gives Russell a further problem, of needing a universal of the respect of the resemblance.
Without respects of resemblance, we would collect blue book, blue pen, red pen, red clock together
     Full Idea: Goodman's 'imperfect community' problem for Resemblance Nominalism says that without mention of respects in which things resemble, we end up with a heterogeneous collection with nothing wholly in common (blue book, blue pen, red pen, red clock).
     From: report of Nelson Goodman (The Structure of Appearance [1951]) by Cynthia Macdonald - Varieties of Things Ch.6
     A reaction: This suggests Wittgenstein's 'family' resemblance as a way out (Idea 4141), but a blue book and a red clock seem totally unrelated. Nice objection! At this point we start to think that the tropes resemble, rather than the objects.
8. Modes of Existence / E. Nominalism / 3. Predicate Nominalism
If we apply the same word to different things, it is only because we are willing to do so
     Full Idea: Predicate nominalism is the view that what all things to which the same word applies have in common is simply our willingness to apply the same word to them.
     From: report of Nelson Goodman (The Structure of Appearance [1951], Ch.6) by Cynthia Macdonald - Varieties of Things
     A reaction: This is Goodman's 'extreme nominalist' position. This seems also to be an anti-realist position, as it denies any 'joints' to nature (Idea 7953). It strikes me as daft. WHY are we willing to apply words in certain ways?
9. Objects / F. Identity among Objects / 3. Relative Identity
Things can only be judged the 'same' by citing some respect of sameness
     Full Idea: Identification rests upon organization into entities and kinds. The response to the question 'Same or not the same?' must always be 'Same what?'. ...Identity or constancy in a world is identity with respect to what is within that world as organised.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.4a)
     A reaction: And the gist of his book is that 'organised' is done by us, not by the world. He seems to be committed to the full Geachean relative identity, rather than the mere Wigginsian relative individuation. An unfashionable view!
10. Modality / B. Possibility / 9. Counterfactuals
Counterfactuals are true if logical or natural laws imply the consequence
     Full Idea: Goodman's central idea was: 'If that match had been scratched, it would have lighted' is true if there are suitable truths from which, with the antecedent, the consequent can be inferred by means of a logical, or more typically natural, law.
     From: report of Nelson Goodman (The Problem of Counterfactual Conditionals [1947]) by Ian McFetridge - Logical Necessity: Some Issues §4
     A reaction: Goodman then discusses the problem of identifying the natural laws, and identifying the suitable truths. I'm inclined to think counterfactuals are vaguer than that; they are plausible if coherent reasons can be offered for the inference.
13. Knowledge Criteria / B. Internal Justification / 5. Coherentism / b. Pro-coherentism
Discovery is often just finding a fit, like a jigsaw puzzle
     Full Idea: Discovery often amounts, as when I place a piece in a jigsaw puzzle, not to arrival at a proposition for declaration or defense, but to finding a fit.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.7)
     A reaction: I find Goodman's views here pretty alien, but I like this bit. Coherence really rocks.
14. Science / B. Scientific Theories / 3. Instrumentalism
Users of digital thermometers recognise no temperatures in the gaps
     Full Idea: To use a digital thermometer with readings in tenths of a degree is to recognise no temperature as lying between 90 and 90.1 degrees.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.4d)
     A reaction: This appears to be nonsense, treating users of digital thermometers as if they were stupid. No one thinks temperatures go up and down in quantum leaps. We all know there is a gap between instrument and world. (Very American, I'm thinking!)
14. Science / B. Scientific Theories / 5. Commensurability
We lack frames of reference to transform physics, biology and psychology into one another
     Full Idea: We have no neat frames of reference, no ready rules for transforming physics, biology and psychology into one another.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.2)
14. Science / C. Induction / 5. Paradoxes of Induction / a. Grue problem
Goodman argued that the confirmation relation can never be formalised
     Full Idea: Goodman constructed arguments that purported to show that a satisfactory syntactic analysis of the confirmation relation can never be found. In response, philosophers of science tried to model it in probabilistic terms.
     From: report of Nelson Goodman (Fact, Fiction and Forecast (4th ed) [1954]) by Horsten,L/Pettigrew,R - Mathematical Methods in Philosophy 4
     A reaction: I take this idea to say that Bayesianism was developed in response to the grue problem. This is an interesting light on 'grue', which never bothered me much. The point is it scuppered formal attempts to model induction.
Goodman showed that every sound inductive argument has an unsound one of the same form
     Full Idea: Goodman has shown that no purely formal criterion can distinguish arguments that are intuitively sound inductive arguments for unsound ones: for every sound one there is an unsound one of the same form. The predicates in the argument make the difference.
     From: report of Nelson Goodman (Fact, Fiction and Forecast (4th ed) [1954]) by Hilary Putnam - Why there isn't a ready-made world 'Causation'
     A reaction: This is to swallow grue whole. I think a bit more chewing is called for. By this date Putnam strikes me as a crazy relativist who has lost his grip on the world. Note the word 'formal' - but Putnam seems to think the argument is important.
Grue and green won't be in the same world, as that would block induction entirely
     Full Idea: Grue cannot be a relevant kind for induction in the same world as green, for that would preclude some of the decisions, right or wrong, that constitute inductive inference.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.4b)
     A reaction: This may make 'grue' less mad than I thought it was. I always assume we are slicing the world as 'green, blue and grue'. I still say 'green' is a basic predicate of experience, but 'grue' is amenable to analysis.
21. Aesthetics / B. Nature of Art / 1. Defining Art
Art is a referential activity, hence indefinable, but it has a set of symptoms
     Full Idea: No definition of art is possible (since it is a referential activity), …but the symptoms of art are syntactic density, semantic density, syntactic repleteness, exemplificationality, and multiple and complex reference.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Languages of Art (2nd edn) [1968], p.22-255), quoted by Alessandro Giovannelli - Nelson Goodman (aesthetics) 4
     A reaction: I wish these labels were more self-explanatory. Goodman seems to want to assimilate art to his earlier interests in linguistic anti-realism and mereology. I wouldn't have thought he now had many followers.
21. Aesthetics / B. Nature of Art / 5. Art as Language
Artistic symbols are judged by the fruitfulness of their classifications
     Full Idea: Artistic symbols are to be judged for the classifications they bring about, for how novel and insightful those classifications are, for how they change our world perceptions and relations.
     From: report of Nelson Goodman (Languages of Art (2nd edn) [1968]) by Alessandro Giovannelli - Nelson Goodman (aesthetics) 4
     A reaction: This seems to be an awfully long way from our normal experience of art. I understand 'symbols' in early Flemish art, but not in Mondriaan, or even Rembrandt.
Art is like understanding a natural language, and needs a grasp of a symbol system
     Full Idea: In Goodman's account, knowing what a painting represents is logically like understanding a sentence in a natural language. It requires a grasp of the 'symbol system' to which the painting belongs.
     From: report of Nelson Goodman (The Languages of Art [1976]) by Sebastian Gardner - Aesthetics 2.3.2
     A reaction: This may fit some pictures well (e.g. early Flemish painting, with its complex iconography), but others hardly at all. You can enjoy a first experience of (say) ballet long before you get the hang of the 'symbol system' involved.
21. Aesthetics / B. Nature of Art / 7. Ontology of Art
A performance is only an instance of a work if there is not a single error
     Full Idea: The most miserable performance without actual mistakes does count as an instance of a work, …but the most brilliant performance with a single wrong note does not.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Languages of Art (2nd edn) [1968], p.186), quoted by Alessandro Giovannelli - Nelson Goodman (aesthetics)
     A reaction: Mereological essentialism applied to art! You need to be a highly theoretical and technical philosopher (which Goodman was) to maintain such a weird and contrary-usage proposal.
21. Aesthetics / C. Artistic Issues / 2. Copies of Art
A copy only becomes an 'instance' of an artwork if there is a system of notation
     Full Idea: Paintings and sculptures do not work within a notation; hence, there is no copying of an original that would preserve its originality. A copy of a painting is a copy, not an instance of the original.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Languages of Art (2nd edn) [1968], p.212), quoted by Alessandro Giovannelli - Nelson Goodman (aesthetics) 2
     A reaction: Sounds conclusive, but isn't. Is a poetry manuscript a 'notation' or an original? Why is an etching plate a notation, but painting on canvas is an original? Can I create a painting specifically so that it can be copied (by my students)? Intention matters.
26. Natural Theory / A. Speculations on Nature / 1. Nature
If the world is one it has many aspects, and if there are many worlds they will collect into one
     Full Idea: If there is but one world, it embraces a multiplicity of contrasting aspects; if there are many worlds, the collection of them all is one. One world may be taken as many, or many worlds taken as one; whether one or many depends on the way of taking.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Ways of Worldmaking [1978], 1.2)
     A reaction: He cites 'The Pluralistic Universe' by William James for this idea. The idea is that the distinction 'evaporates under analysis'. Parmenides seems to have thought that no features could be distinguished in the true One.
26. Natural Theory / D. Laws of Nature / 3. Laws and Generalities
We don't use laws to make predictions, we call things laws if we make predictions with them
     Full Idea: Rather than a sentence being used for prediction because it is a law, it is called a law because it is used for prediction.
     From: Nelson Goodman (Fact, Fiction and Forecast (4th ed) [1954], p.21), quoted by Stathis Psillos - Causation and Explanation §5.4
     A reaction: This smacks of dodgy pragmatism, and sounds deeply wrong. The perception of a law has to be prior to making the prediction. Why do we make the prediction, if we haven't spotted a law. Goodman is mesmerised by language instead of reality.