Book Club: Scientific Metaphysics, 4, A bestiary of the manifest image
I occasionally like playing chess. I’m not that good at it, and I tend to do it only to pass the time on long transatlantic flights. But I know the rules and even some basic elements of strategy. I didn’t know, until recently, that someone has demonstrated that you cannot checkmate your opponent’s king when only their king and your king and knight are on the board. It’s one of many theorems about chess that have been discovered and logically proven. Cool, because it means that there are universal truths about an invented game. (I assume you aren’t a Platonist about chess.)
There are also meta-truths of chess. For instance, “you can never checkmate with a lone knight and king” is not a truth of chess, but the fact that that statement is not true is a meta-truth, that is, a higher order truth, in chess.
These two examples are found at the beginning of Daniel Dennett’s chapter in Ladyman, Ross, and Kincaid’s Scientific Metaphysics, which I have been sampling as a way to more or less systematically explore an alternative approach to standard analytic metaphysics. (See parts one, two, and three of this series.)
Why on earth is Dennett talking about chess truths and meta-truths? Because he then introduces his famous notion of “chmess.” You see, chmess is just like chess, except that the king can move in any direction by two squares instead of one. As far as both Dennett and I know, nobody plays chmess (though some people, including yours truly, do play the Star Trek-inspired 3D chess). Dennett continues:
“A moment’s reflection reveals that there are exactly as many higher-order a priori truths of chmess as there are of chess, namely, an infinity of them. And no doubt they would be roughly as difficult to discover and to prove as the higher-order truths of chess. There are people who make a living working out the truths of chess and certainly it’s been a big avocation for many other people. But I doubt if anybody yet has spent more than five minutes trying to work out the a priori truths, and the higher-order truths, of chmess.” (p. 96)
Dennett’s suggestion is that analytic metaphysics, the sort of intellectual activity that has given us philosophical zombies and panpsychism, is like chmess: difficult to do and…