Publications of Ben-Yami, H.

Descartes' Philosophical Revolution: A Reassessment

In this book, Ben-Yami reassesses the way Descartes developed and justified some of his revolutionary philosophical ideas. The first part of the book shows that one of Descartes' most innovative and influential ideas was that of representation without resemblance. Ben-Yami shows how Descartes transfers insights originating in his work on analytic geometry to his theory of perception. The second part shows how Descartes was influenced by the technology of the period, notably clockwork automata, in holding life to be a mechanical phenomenon, reducing the soul to the mind and considering it immaterial. Ben-Yami explores the later role of the digital computer in Turing's criticism of Descartes' ideas. The last part discusses the Meditations: far from starting everything afresh without presupposing anything that can be doubted, Descartes' innovations in the dream argument, the cogito and elsewhere are modifications of old ideas based upon considerations issuing from his separately developed theories, formed under the influence of the technology, mathematics and science of his age.

Causal Order, Temporal Order, and Becoming in Special Relativity

I reconstruct from Rietdijk and Putnam's well-known papers an argument against the applicability of the concept of becoming in Special Relativity, which I think is unaffected by some of the objections found in the literature. I then consider a line of thought found in the discussion of the possible conventionality of simultaneity in Special Relativity, beginning with Reichenbach, and apply it to the debate over becoming. We see that it immediately renders Rietdijk and Putnam's argument unsound. I end by comparing my approach to others found in the literature, primarily Stein's.

Ben-Yami H. Why Rigidity? In: Berg J, editor. Naming, Necessity, and More: Explorations in the Philosophical Work of Saul Kripke. Palgrave Macmillan; 2014. p. 3-21.

Why Rigidity?

In Naming and Necessity Kripke argues ‘intuitively’ that names are rigid. Unlike Kripke, Ben-Yami first introduces and justifies the Principle of the Independence of Reference (PIR), according to which the reference of a name is independent of what is said in the rest of the sentence containing it. Ben-Yami then derives rigidity, or something close to it, from the PIR. Additional aspects of the use of names and other expressions in modal contexts, explained by the PIR but not by the rigidity claim, are then discussed. Ben-Yami next examines a difficulty in accepted definitions of rigidity, stemming from the fact that the same name can be used to name different particulars. This difficulty might force us to adopt a revised form of the rigidity claim.

Bare Quantifiers?

In a series of publications I have claimed that by contrast to standard formal languages, quantifiers in natural language combine with a general term to form a quantified argument, in which the general term’s role is to determine the domain or plurality over which the quantifier ranges. In a recent paper Zoltán Gendler Szabó tried to provide a counterexample to this analysis and derived from it various conclusions concerning quantification in natural language, claiming it is often ‘bare’. I show that Szabó’s example fails, and that even if it were successful his conclusions wouldn’t be supported by it.

The Quantified Argument Calculus

I develop a formal logic in which quantified arguments occur in argument positions of predicates. This logic also incorporates negative predication, anaphora and converse relation terms, namely, additional syntactic features of natural language. In these and additional respects it represents the logic of natural language more adequately than does any version of Frege’s Predicate Calculus. I first introduce the system’s main ideas and familiarise it by means of translations of natural language sentences. I then develop a formal system built on these principles, the Quantified Argument Calculus or Quarc. I provide a truth-value assignment semantics and a proof system for the Quarc. I next demonstrate the system’s power by a variety of proofs; I prove its soundness; and I comment on its completeness. I then extend the system to modal logic, again providing a proof system and a truth-value assignment semantics. I proceed to show how the Quarc versions of the Barcan formulas, of their converses and of necessary existence come out straightforwardly invalid, which I argue is an advantage of the modal Quarc over modal Predicate Logic as a system intended to capture the logic of natural language. I. Introduction

Voluntary action and neural causation

I agree with Nachev and Hacker’s general approach. However, their criticism of claims of covert automaticity can be strengthened. I first say a few words on what voluntary action involves and on the consequent limited relevance of brain research for the determination of voluntariness. I then turn to Nachev and Hacker’s discussion of possible covert automaticity and show why the case for it is weaker than they allow.

Circumcision: What should be done?

I explain why I think that considerations regarding the opposing rights involved in the practice of circumcision—rights of the individual to bodily integrity and rights of the community to practice its religion—would not help us decide on the desirable policy towards this controversial practice. I then suggest a few measures that are not in conflict with either religious or community rights but that can both reduce the harm that circumcision as currently practiced involves and bring about a change in attitude towards the practice, thus further reducing its frequency. These measures are the compulsory administration of anaesthetics; the banning of the metzitzah b’peh; and having an upper age limit of a few months on nontherapeutic circumcision of minors. I conclude with general considerations on why the steps taken towards the reform of circumcision should be moderate.

Higher-Level Plurals versus Articulated Reference, and an Elaboration of Salva Veritate

In recent literature on plurals the claim has often been made that the move from singular to plural expressions can be iterated, generating what are occasionally called higher-level plurals or superplurals, often correlated with superplural predicates. I argue that the idea that the singular-to-plural move can be iterated is questionable. I then show that the examples and arguments intended to establish that some expressions of natural language are in some sense higher-level plurals fail. Next, I argue that these and some other expressions should instead be classified as plurals whose reference is articulated, an idea explained and elaborated in the paper. I also show that the related categories of plural and superplural predicates collapse to that of ordinary predicates. In the process we also see that the law of substitutivity salva veritate should be elaborated for cases involving expressions more complex than singular ones.

Ben-Yami H. Natural Kind Terms. In: Hogan PC, editor. The Cambridge encyclopedia of the language sciences. Cambridge ; New York: Cambridge University Press; 2011.

A Wittgensteinian Solution to the Sorites

I develop a solution to the Sorites Paradox, according to which a concatenation of valid arguments need not itself be valid. I specify which chains of valid arguments are those that do not preserve validity: those that pass the vague boundary between cases where the relevant concept applies and cases where that concept does not apply. I also develop various criticisms of this solution, and show why they fail; basically, they all involve a petitio at some stage. I criticize the conviction that if every short argument in a long concatenated argument is valid, so is the long argument: it is, I argue, the result of an unjustified generalization from the case of arguments that do not employ vague concepts (as in mathematics) to arguments that do employ them. My approach is Wittgensteinian in its ‘leaving everything as it is’, in its claiming that the ‘beginning’ has been searched too far back (see paper’s epigraph), and in its claim that the paradox was generated by a misapplication of a partial picture of the behaviour of arguments. I conclude my paper by comparing and contrasting my approach to the few precedents found in the vagueness literature, and by answering a few additional objections that were raised there.

Could Sherlock Holmes Have Existed?

In Naming and Necessity Kripke argued against the possible existence of fictional characters. I show that his argument is invalid, analyse the confusion it involves, and explain why the view that fictional characters could not have existed is implausible.

Plural Quantification Logic: A Critical Appraisal

I first show that most authors who developed Plural Quantification Logic (PQL) argued it could capture various features of natural language better than can other logic systems. I then show that it fails to do so: it radically departs from natural language in two of its essential features; namely, in distinguishing plural from singular quantification and in its use of an ‘is-one-of’ relation. Next, I sketch a different approach that is more adequate than PQL for capturing plural aspects of natural language semantics and logic. I conclude with a criticism of the claim that PQL should replace natural language for specific philosophical or scientific purposes.

Generalized Quantifiers, and Beyond

I show that the contemporary dominant analysis of natural language quantifiers that are one-place determiners by means of binary generalized quantifiers has failed to explain why they are, according to it, conservative. I then present an alternative, Geachean analysis, according to which common nouns in the grammatical subject position are logical subject-terms or plural referring expressions, and show how it does explain that fact. The ability of competing theories of quantification to supply such an explanation is seen as one criterion for deciding between them.

Review of The Old New Logic: Essays on the Philosophy of Fred Sommers

This article reviews the book The Old New Logic: Essays on the Philosophy of Fred Sommers edited by David Oderberg.

Apparent Simultaneity

This article was presented in the 1st Conference of the European Philosophy of Science Association (Madrid, 15-17 November, 2007).

The Impossibility of Backwards Causation

Dummett and others have failed to show that an effect can precede its cause. Dummett claimed that ‘backwards causation’ is unproblematic in agentless worlds, and tried to show under what conditions it is rational to believe that even backwards agent-causation occurs. Relying on considerations originating in discussions of special relativity, I show that the latter conditions actually support the view that backwards agent-causation is impossible. I next show that in Dummett’s agentless worlds explanation does not necessitate backwards causation. I then show why even relative backwards causation is impossible in his and Tooley’s scenarios of parallel processes in which causes apparently act in opposite temporal directions. We thus have good reasons for thinking that backwards causation is impossible.

Causality and Temporal Order in Special Relativity

David Malament tried to show that the causal theory of time leads to a unique determination of simultaneity relative to an inertial observer, namely standard simultaneity. I show that the causal relation Malament uses in his proofs, causal connectibility, should be replaced by a different causal relation, the one used by Reichenbach in his formulation of the theory. I also explain why Malament’s reliance on the assumption that the observer has an eternal inertial history modifies our conception of simultaneity, and I therefore eliminate it. Having made these changes, Malament’s uniqueness result no longer follows, although the conventionality of simultaneity is not reinstated. I contrast my approach with previous criticisms of Malament.

A Critique of Frege on Common Nouns

Frege analyzed the grammatical subject-term ‘S’ in quantified subject-predicate sentences, ‘q S are P’, as being logically predicative. This is in contrast to Aristotelian Logic, according to which it is a logical subject-term, like the proper name ‘a’ in ‘a is P’—albeit a plural one, designating many particulars. I show that Frege’s arguments for his analysis are unsound, and explain how he was misled to his position by the mathematical concept of function. If common nouns in this grammatical subject position are indeed logical subject-terms, this should require a thorough reevaluation of the adequacy of Frege’s predicate calculus as a tool for the analysis of the logic and semantics of natural language.

Ben-Yami H. The Semantics of Kind Terms. Philosophical Studies : An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition. 2001;102(2):155-84.
Ben-Yami H. Attributive Adjectives and the Predicate Calculus. Philosophical Studies : An International Journal for Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition. 1996;83(3):277-89.