By Peter Damian
Andreas Kolbe’s piece on Wikipedia versus Britannica went down pretty well, except for one commentator, who objected that “The projects in the science, logic, mathematics, and music are islands of sanity”.
Really? My own specialism is in the history of logic, particularly medieval logic. It’s a disaster area. I wrote last year about some vandalism to the article on the 13th century logician Duns Scotus, which said that in 2011 Scotus received an honour from the University of Oxford, “together with Lawrence of Arabia, Oscar Wilde, J.R.R. Tolkien and living University members Rupert Murdoch, Bill Clinton, Stephen Hawking and Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck”. When I wrote that, nearly a year ago, I thought it would be immediately removed. Yet it’s still there. I also mentioned vandalism to the article on William Vorilong. That was removed, but there was more added quite recently, including the bizarre claim that Vorilong studied Japanese medieval philosophy, physics and astronomy. It’s still there, and see also the article on the Chinese Da Ming Hun Yi Tu map.
It can be speculated that one of the first people in Europe who consulted the map was William Vorilong, noted philosopher from England, who was shown the map while travelling with japanese visitor Yoshimitsu Kage.
OK, you object that this is merely boring history, which no one cares about. The real stuff, on modern science and logic and mathematics and so on, is totally reliable. So let’s take a look at some of the articles on logic, starting with the flagship article. Right there in the introduction it says “Avicenna revived the study of logic and developed relationship between temporalis and the implication”. What does that mean? And is it really true that “Avicenna revived the study of logic”? That edit was more than a year ago, by an IP which has since been blocked.
Further down, it mentions ‘retrodeductive inference’. What is that?
Some authors suggest that this mode of inference can be used within social theorizing to postulate social structures/mechanisms that explain the way that social outcomes arise in social life—and that in turn indicates that these structures or mechanisms are alterable with sufficient social will (and envisioning of alternatives). In other words, this logic is specifically liberative in that it can be used to point to transformative potential in our way of organizing our social existence by our re-examining/exploring the deep structures that generate outcomes (and life chances for people). In her book on New Racism (2010) Norma Romm offers an account of various interpretations of what can be said to be involved in retroduction as a form of inference and how this can also be seen to be linked to a style of theorizing (and caring) where processes of knowing (which she sees as dialogically rooted) are linked to social justice projects.
I was intrigued by the article Intensional Statement. ‘Intensional context’ is well known, but intensional statement? I wrote to a professor of logic at Syracuse, who replied “I agree that the article on “Intensional statement” is a conceptual mess and should just be off Wikipedia. I submitted a suitably negative report to Wikipedia, now that I have seen it”. His ‘negative report’ was the article feedback tool, which does not seem to have worked – hardly surprisingly, as it was a promotional exercise by the Wikimedia Foundation designed to attract more editors, such as Syracuse professors.
Horribly clumsy, horribly wrong
The distinction between de dicto and de re is one of the more important in logic. What does Wikipedia make of it?
De dicto and de re are two phrases used to mark important distinctions in intensional statements, associated with the intensional operators in many such statements. The distinctions are most recognized in philosophy of language and metaphysics.The literal translation of the phrase “de dicto” is “of (the) word”, whereas de re translates to “of (the) thing”. The original meaning of the Latin locutions is useful for understanding the living meaning of the phrases, in the distinctions they mark. The distinction is best understood by examples of intensional contexts of which we will consider three: a context of thought, a context of desire, and a context of modality.
But some of it is plain wrong. As pointed out above, the standard use of the term ‘intensional’ qualifies not a statement but a context. The distinction itself is a distinction in reading or sense, which the introduction does not explain properly. Thus there is a de re reading of a particular sentence, or a de dicto reading. As for the Latin ‘original meaning’, ‘de dicto’ does not mean ‘of the word’. ‘Dictum’ in Latin is a participle which simply means ‘what is/was said’. This is not really different from the internet slang ‘what she said’, meaning ‘I agree with (or add my voice to) what she said’. So it doesn’t mean a word, not even a bunch of words, but rather what the words say. So ‘de dicto’ means about what was said, rather than about reality (de re). In no way does it mean a word, as Wikipedia says, possibly confusing it with ‘dictio’ which can mean a word, or an expression. There is a similar confusion about etymology in the article Existence.
The word “existence” comes from the Latin word exsistere meaning “to appear”, “to arise”, “to become”, or “to be”, but literally, it means “to stand out” (ex- being the Latin prefix for “out” added to the Latin verb stare, meaning “to stand”).
But don’t fix it!
I could go on. Why don’t I fix it? As it happens I can’t, as I was banned from Wikipedia five years ago, for a disagreement that had nothing to do with article content. The person who made the original ‘islands of sanity’ objection was also banned more recently (again, for nothing to do with the quality of contributions). And this user, a mathematician who has made many contributions to the project, is not allowed even to ask other people to make corrections to articles. As reported here, he resorted to sending emails to suggest edits to the article Mutation (algebra). This is the horrible crime known as ‘proxying for a banned user’, and he should have known better.
The language on WP:PROXYING prevents anyone from adding material at the direction of a banned editor. So if you posted any advice, people would be forbidden to act on it. Thank you, EdJohnston (talk) 05:52, 10 February 2014 (UTC)
Image credits: Flickr/Lexe-I, Wikimedia ~ licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic