Systems of Measurement

Here is a copy of my 2005 paper Systems of Measurement. I remain quite pleased with this one, and especially with the smedlium case analogy.

It's a bit long, though. Any comments gratefully received.

By the way, if anyone wants a better-formatted version, get in touch (some formatting is lost in this version, which can make it tricky to follow in places)


My primary concern in this paper has been to develop a clearer picture of how the metric system of measurement, and indeed all our systems of measurement, may operate.

With all due respect, I don't think you've succeeded in adding clarity—at least outside the professional philosophical community. You've perhaps added precision.

If you must tie your exposition to Kripke and Wittgenstein, then any attempt to add clarity is, in my amateur opinion, doomed.

There's a much simpler way to distinguish between K-type and W-type measurements, resting on the pragmatic justification of measurement to provide consistency across time and space in this actual world. There's no need to discuss possible worlds, rigid designators or very high-level intuitions about length.
If you'll forgive the presumption, I took a stab at the problem myself:
What is a metre?
Stephen Law said…
Thanks BB - I'll take a look....
Timmo said…
Interesting paper, Stephen. I will have to reflect on it and digest it further before venturing any ambitious comments! Still, I would like to make a comment that has some tangential bearing on your paper.

One of the frustrating points about Kripke's Naming and Necessity is that he sloppy with in the application his own terminology. He says, for example, that natural kinds are rigid designators. However, kind terms are predicates, not designators! Scott Soams devotes an entire chapter of Beyond Rigidity to trying to figure out what it is for a general term to be a rigid designator.

I suspect Kripke has something like this in mind. Let a predicate expression F be rigid just in case there is a property P such that for every possible world w, 'Pc' is true at w iff c has property P. So, to be a rigid designator, a predicate must ascribe the very same property to objects in every possible world. Otherwise, let F be flaccid. Thus, 'has the features every good general has in common' is flaccid: in different worlds, the properties jointly possessed by all of the good generals in that world will be different. In contrast, 'is blue' is rigid (I think!).

The same considerations carry over to 'the length of the Standard Meter bar'. Since the Standard Meter bar (it does not matter in this case whether the description 'the Standard Meter bar' is rigid or not here) could have been longer or shorter, that description is flaccid. The difference, intuitively, is that the Standard Meter bar possesses different properties in different worlds.

I wonder how the changing definitions of 'meter' bears on this topic. Here's a timeline.