I’ve been looking back over

I’ve been looking back over the blog entries from the last month or two, and I noticed a disturbing trend. Just as readership is going up, the blog entries are getting more snarky and less well-reasoned. Any one of these, or even any two of these, would be fine. But the three in combination is a disaster. The upshot is that now lots of people read the blog, see that I make cheap cracks at people without, say, reasons to support them, and could well conclude that I’m a jerk. Now if what I cared about was the spread of true beliefs throughout the world, I may or may not care about that. But I don’t. What I care about is how pleasant a place the world is for Brian. And if the Brian is a jerk meme spreads, the world becomes a less pleasant place for Brian. So we’ll be making some improvements around here. No more postings after several beers and midnight for starters.

Onto more serious matters, I’m sitting in this semester on a seminar on focus, run by Polly Jacobson. I’m rather excited to take a course on focus, because last semester I seemed to get into too many debates with Jeff King and/or Jason Stanley that ran this way

BW: Your theory can’t account for the following phenomena. [Insert long description of said phenomena, complete with carefully constructed example to illustrate the exact point at issue, and which has often been the only thing I’ve worked on for the previous 24 to 36 hours.]

JK/S: You’re ignoring focus.

BW: My bad.

At least I won’t make that mistake again after a whole semester on focus.

I might write a long-ish post on focus later, but I was wondering for now whether anyone has intuitions about the following sentence.

(1) Morgan only believes that ALEX and SAM voted for Chris.

Presumably (1) means that for all (salient?) people other than Alex and Sam, Morgan does not believe they voted for Chris. But it’s not easy to see how that follows on Rooth’s ‘alternative semantics’. Roughly, the idea is that every alternative to (1) is false, where alternatives are generated by replacing one or more of the focussed words with an alternative, and dropping ‘only’. So here are a couple of alternatives to (1)

(1a) Morgan believes that Sam and Alex voted for Chris.

(1b) Morgan believes that Sam and Sam voted for Chris.

But presumably each of these could be true, yet (1) is still true. Am I missing something obvious here?

Another negative review in NDPR.

Another negative review in NDPR. This is getting almost out of hand. No real money quote, but this one comes close.

Despite his considerable innovations, however, I believe that much more work is needed to show that Ostrow’s interpretation is correct.

Will we ever see nice reviews again?

David Chalmers noticed that in

David Chalmers noticed that in the December 2002 edition of Ratio there is an article by Michael Brearley on psychoanalysis and the mind-body problem. It’s all rather Wittgensteinian, and there isn’t a lot that is philosophically new, but two things about the article standout.

Nowadays, Brearley is a psychoanalyst, and he has some interesting comments comparing symptoms of patients to views of philosophers. The main message is that the philosophers are not as crazy as you might think. Philosophers have philosophical beliefs that mimic all sorts of conditions that psychologists have to treat, but philosophers don’t let that take over their daily lives. So here is an example of F. H. Bradley being mentally healthy.

In this lecture I have proved that Space does not exist. In next week’s lecture I will show that Time does not exist. Next week’s lecture will be in room 6 at 10 o’clock.

The other point to note is that Michael Brearley the psychoanalyst who writes for Ratio is the same Michael Brearley who was not so long ago captain of the English cricket team, most famously during the 1981 Ashes series, site of possibly the least notorious instance of professional sportsmen openly betting against their own team. And the paper has a few cricketing references, particularly an interesting dream involving Geoff Boycott (and a rather nuanced depiction of Boycott for a dream, I thought) that’s all a symbol for, well I don’t know what it is a symbol for and I suspect Brearley doesn’t either, but it’s all good clean fun.

An earlier draft of the paper was presented at this conference in Brisbane in 2001, and that draft of the paper is available here. Unfortunately that version leaves out some of the most philosophically juicy bits, so if you can track down the version in Ratio, you should.

Thanks again to David Chalmers for spotting this piece.

Heaven and Hell

In light of all the talk about heaven and hell the last few days or so here, I decided to look again at Ted Sider’s paper on hell. Ted, most of you probably know, argued that the following problem poses a serious challenge for several popular theistic theories. On whatever criteria God decides who goes to heaven and who goes to hell, there will be people who just make it over the threshold needed to get into heaven, and people who just miss and get sent to hell. By all accounts, the difference in lifestyle quality between heaven and hell
is quite noticable, and it seems unfair that people who only differ by a small amount, one prayer not said, one small charitable donation not made, could be justly treated in such different manners.

So I was thinking of a couple of ways God might deal with the problem. First, He might use lotteries. When each person gets to judgement, he or she is assigned a probability of going to heaven, depending on those features of their life in which we normally think getting to heaven depends upon. Roughly, the better she has been, the higher the probability. God then runs a chance process which has that probability of resulting in ‘success’, and one minus that probability of resulting in ‘failure’. If it turns out to be a success, the judgee goes to heaven, otherwise it’s downstairs.

This avoids Ted’s problem, at least at one level. As far as God’s role in the judgement goes, like cases are treated very much alike. If x and y are very much alike in their heavenly virtues, the probabilities of each of them going to heaven will be very similar. Of course, this doesn’t mean that one of them won’t end up in heaven while the other ends up in hell. For this reason, David Lewis somewhere describes similar (if less dramatic) systems of using lotteries for reward and punishment as being intuitively barbaric. But, you know, this looks a lot like those old librul complaints about the fact that we don’t have equality of outcomes in a just society. For some people, equality of inputs, equality of opportunity if you will, is less important than equality of outputs, or equality of outcomes. And here we have equality of inputs — it’s a great conservative scheme!

A more serious problem, perhaps, is what happens to people at the extremes. Imagine the case of some degenerate sinner who has just enough redeeming features to be awarded a 0.1% probability of winning the lottery actually beating the odds and going up. A little unfair, no? Or some almost perfect person having just one little flaw that means their probability of going to heaven is 99.9% rather than 100% losing the lottery. This seems a little bad. Reminds me of that man-on-the-Clapham-omnibus quote the Onion found after the last election: “You know, they say people get the government they deserve, but I don’t recall knife-raping any retarded nuns.” (The link isn’t to the Onion because they seem to not have complete archives.) Of course here it is afterlife rather than government, but the sentiment carries across.

So perhaps we need another way. My second solution is a little more radical. Traditional versions of the afterlife have everyone going to one or other destination for all of eternity, with perhaps a change of planes in purgatory. But why have this? Perhaps some people deserve some time in heaven and some time in hell. God could just decide that for every day or so, each person will spend a certain amount of time in heaven, and the rest of the day in hell. This way slight differences in the quality of the person’s life will lead to slight differences in the percentage of each day that that person spends in heaven and hell.

Of course, this will mean that hell loses a few of its characteristically nasty features. For one thing, it will hard to feel abandoned by God if he’s flicking you back and forth between the two supernatural realms. For another, the company of the damned won’t be quite so bad in these circumstances. Father Arnall put it this way.

The damned howl and scream at one another, their torture and rage intensified by the presence of beings tortured and raging like themselves. All sense of humanity is forgotten. The yells of the suffering sinners fill the remotest corners of the vast abyss. The mouths of the damned are full of blasphemies against God and of hatred for their fellow sufferers and of curses against those souls which were their accomplices in sin. … They turn upon [their] accomplices and upbraid them and curse them. But they are helpless and hopeless: it is too late now for repentance.

Well, actually on my plan I guess it wouldn’t be. I imagine some of the conversations would be less like the rightfield bleachers at Yankee Stadium and more like this.

  • So how long are you down here for?

  • Twenty minutes a day. And you?

  • Twenty-five.

  • A fair cop?

  • Oh very fair. Very fair. Though I wouldn’t complain if this worm stopped gnawing at my eye.

  • I know what you mean, but it’s only for a while, and what we have to go back to…

  • Ah, yes, just thinking of that almost makes me forget the blistering heat of this here eternal fire.

  • Yes, rather hot that. My skin seems to be peeling off. Good thing they patch us back together every day.

  • So, was it worth the pain for you?

  • Was what worth it?

  • What you did to get here? You know, nudge nudge wink wink.

  • Say no more!

Still, I think there’s something to be said for this solution to Ted’s problem.

I should mention that the solution Ted mentions towards the end of his paper, and attributes to Jesus, doesn’t strike me as particularly bad either. At the very least, it’s a very intersting solution, probably more worthy of consideration than my little proposals. And it’s a better example of Jesus being a philosopher than Douglas Groothuis finds. The Groothuis article is kind of odd actually. He’s trying to defend the chimp’s claim that Jesus was a first-class political philosopher. And he doesn’t mention a single instance of political philosophy in the whole piece. From memory, the most prominent bit of political philosophy in the gospels is the Give Unto Caeser passage. And this passage suggests that the state owns all money in virtue of having its logo on it. This isn’t an unheard of opinion in political philosophy. Hobbes believed something similar, for example, though his reasons were a little more sophisticated. But it’s hard to square it with the GOP policies nowadays. (Amusing challenge: find the second occurrence of the word ‘political’, or any of its cognates in Groothius’s article.)

I’d talked to Ted about his article a bit while it was being drafted, but I hadn’t read the final draft until recently. And when I did what struck me was how much attention was now being paid to views on which whether one gets to Heaven depends on whether one has sufficient faith, rather than on how morally worthy one is. And I guess this is because it was pointed out to Ted that on lots of the theologies that he at least appears to be attacking, whether one gets to heaven really does depend on faithfulness rather than goodness.

This is probably just a consequence of a Catholic upbringing, but I find these theological views very hard to fathom. It’s very hard for me to see what’s praiseworthy about a God who rewards those who believe in Him for believing in Him, and punishes those who do not for not so believing. If God behaved that way it would seem, well, petty. Of course, this is no evidence that such a God doesn’t exist, but it is a reason to not praise such a God. I’m simplifying a lot here, I know, but I don’t see how a faith-based admissions procedure becomes more defensible, let alone praiseworthy, by being tempered with morally salient characteristics.

Of course, even on Catholic teaching good faith is a component of getting to heaven as well as good works. And I think that’s not laudable, but at least it’s better than all faith all the time. (I have a kind of biased view here because the order that ran my high school was even more focussed on good works, particularly education, than most.) And of course this doesn’t mean that the Catholic church has it entirely right about what counts as good works. If I had to bet (and according to some I do) I’d say God is less sex-obsessed than a sixteen year old with a Viagra habit. But maybe I should leave the last word to Joyce’s resident theologians Kernan and Cunningham. (This passage is from Grace.)

—Tell me, Martin, he said, weren’t some of the popes — of course, not our present man, or his predecessor, but some of the old popes — not exactly … you know… up to the knocker?

There was a silence. Mr. Cunningham said,

—O, of course, there were some bad lots… But the astonishing thing is this. Not one of them, not the biggest drunkard, not the most… out-and-out ruffian, not one of them ever preached ex cathedra a word of false doctrine. Now isn’t that an astonishing thing?

How could you not like a church with that track record?

I’ve posted the papers

I’ve posted the papers for the day to the philosophy
papers blog. The main points to note are a couple of papers on contextualism in
Grazer Philosophische Studien,
two papers related to consciousness by (inter alia) Kevin
(who gets to work in Paris, the lucky so-and-so) and a new paper
on the Semantics
by Angelika Kratzer. Actually, it’s an update of a paper first
posted there three months ago, but since we weren’t tracking the semantics
archive then, I’m posting it now. If you haven’t looked at the Semantics
Archive, you should. It’s a great service, both to readers and to writers.
I imagine most people who write on semantics know about it, but if you
don’t you should see if you want to post works in progress there.

It’s smackdown week at NDPR.

It’s smackdown week at NDPR. Do you detect a pattern here?

This is another instance of the first worry that I noted above, viz., the feeling that there is nothing substantially new on offer here, but rather a theory put together out of a selection of what is currently on offer.

What results is a farrago that does not advance the current debate about moral realism and the moral sentiments, and indeed does not even seem to have caught up with it.

Thus it is surprising and disappointing to find a carelessness and ineptness of argument and critical analysis as well as a succession of trivial verbal solutions to serious problems.

And this isn’t biased sampling. (Well, it isn’t very biased sampling!) These are from the last three reviews posted. Heaven knows what I’d have to say if I had to rewrite my Wiggins review to keep up with the trash talking.

Now that the name Mighty Midwestern Metaphysical Mayhem has been retired from the conference circuit, I think it would have been fine to use as the title of the last review.

Thanks to Fritz Warfield for the tip about the last review.