Roy Sorensen (2001)
says the club Secretary Liberation, as defined by Charles Chihara (1979)
couldn’t exist. Secretary Liberation has as its defining rule that membership
is open to all and only those secretaries who are not allowed to belong to
clubs of which they are secretary. There’s obviously going to be a problem if
Secretary Liberation hires a secretary – we cannot consistently say that he is
allowed to join, or that he is not. Sorensen concludes, “the existence of such
a club would imply a contradiction, that is that there could be a secretary of
Secretary Liberation.” (76).
reasoning here is fallacious. True, if Secretary Liberation hires a secretary,
then a contradiction will be true. But all we can conclude from that is that
Secretary Liberation cannot hire a secretary, not that it could not exist.
In this respect, Secretary Liberation is ontologically no worse off that
Secretary Equalisation, whose constitutive constitution explicitly bars the
club members from hiring a secretary. If either club hires a secretary, it will
follow that a clause in that club’s constitution is false, and hence that the
club ceases to exist. Remember these constitutions are constitutive of the
club. But that’s all consistent with either club existing at least until the
secretary is hired. And we all agree that Secretary Equalisation could exist,
just as Secretary Fraternisation, whose constitution requires that the club
always have a secretary, could exist. At least for a while.
settled that Secretary Liberation could exist, let’s pretend that it does, and
see what happens when they try and hire a secretary. One thing that may happen
is that the club may cease to exist. It may, to use an old phrase, vanish in a
puff of logic. But this is unlikely. For one thing, clubs do not cease existing
that easily. For another, Timothy Williamson (1999) has provided an argument
from plausible principles of quantified tense logic that nothing ever ceases
existing. What logic threatened to take away, logic has returned. It follows
that whomever is hired will simply not be the secretary. The poor chap can do
all the filing, mailing and general organising he likes, but logic dictates
that he won’t be a secretary. This is presumably bad news for a functionalist
account of secretariness. Which is sad, since if a functional analysis was
going to work anywhere, you’d think it would work here. (Certainly you’d
think that if anything was going to work in philosophy ever, it would be in the
aside worries about the death of functionalism, because we can turn this all
around to quite good use. Just as Secretary Liberation could exist, so could
Fat Secretary Liberation. As the name implies, membership is open to all and
only fat secretaries who are not allowed to be members of the club of which
they are secretary. And Fat Secretary Liberation could hire a secretary, though
he better not be fat. In fact, once he was hired, he could, in principle, not
become fat. Nice work, if you can get it. Inventing words like we’re inventing
clubs, say someone is beamerless if they are not currently in possession
of a BMW. Importantly, renting a BMW, even for a day, gives you possession in
the relevant, stipulated, sense, so you are not beamerless. Now here’s the get
rich quick strategy.
Step one: Rent a BMW.
Step two: Found Beamerless Secretary Liberation, whose membership shall be
open to all and only beamerless secretaries who are not allowed to join clubs
of which they are secretary.
Step three: Appoint yourself secretary.
BMW is now yours for life, since logic forbids you from returning it. To be sure, whomever you rented the BMW from
may well sue for its return, especially if they do not quite understand the
situation, but since returning it would result in a contradiction being true,
and courts never enforce contradictions (outside Australia) this suit would be
BMW here was arbitrary, so variants on that strategy can be used to get
anything you ever wanted for a minimal price. Your material wellbeing is
assured. And when you are next asked what use is philosophy, point to the
yacht, the mansion, the shiny cars and say, “Without philosophy, none of this
would be mine.”
PS: If you want the
references cited above, perhaps so you can implement this great plan, email me.
PPS: If you do implement this
plan, and get away with it, really email me. For one thing, I’ll
want some royalties. For another, I’ll be so amazed that I’ll probably drop
dead with shock, and you’ll be able to stop feeling guilty about not sending me