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29 June, 2003

Canberra

I’ve just got back from a few fun days up in Canberra, so replying to comments on the blog board, email etc will be rather slow. (And tomorrow I’m flying back to Providence, so electronic communication will be non-existent.) Just time for one quick link. John Quiggin links to my imaginative resistance paper, and argues that the kinds of limits on imagination discussed in the literature I mention undercut some intuitive arguments against consequentialism.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 8:35 pm

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24 June, 2003

Comments

I’ve been told that the comments boards here are not integrating well with various browsers. As far as I can tell, some comments are only showing up when the comments page is loaded using the same browser type that was used to post them. I won’t be able to do much about this until I get back to America – and doing something about it might involve moving to MT, but if I don’t respond to your witty clever knockdown counterexample comment, pls don’t feel offended. It might be my browser’s fault.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 8:45 pm

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A Puzzle About Knowledge

I don’t think the evidence that knowledge is simply true belief has been taken seriously enough by many in the philosophical community. So I’m going to try again here to get people to do so. The following example is quite long, but I think that’s necessary to remove some possible distractions. In particular, part of my theory is that stress on the word ‘know’ or its cognate in knowledge claims changes the acceptability of those claims, so a longer story gives us more context and hence more natural stress patterns and hence a better guide to what’s really happening. (I’m much indebted to various conversations with Polly Jacobson, Jeff King and Jason Stanley for getting me to realise the importance of stress in these matters.)


The Virus


A nasty virus has been released at your workplace, and everyone is at risk of infection. The virus isn’t extremely infectious, but it isn’t fun to have, so it’s important to get a clampdown on it as soon as possible. Unfortunately, one of the two tests that people have been using to see whether they have the virus is not very good. The other test is fine, not perfect but pretty good by medical standards.


But the bad test is quite bad. The people using it were told it is 98% accurate. That is a small exaggeration, but in any case it is quite irrelevant. The test is ‘accurate’ because it mostly returns negative results and most people don’t have the virus. So it gets it right with about 95% or so of people. But only about 1/3 of those who get positive test results actually have the virus. So there’s a lot of false positives floating around your workplace.


Here are the numbers so far for various salient groups:

5 people have the virus and believe that they do because they used the good test.
4 people have the virus and believe they they do because they used the bad test.
6 people don’t have the virus but believe they they do because they used the bad test.
8 people have the virus but haven’t taken a test, so don’t think they have it.

Making matters worse, your boss would prefer that news of the virus didn’t get out, thinking it will send a downwards spiral in the company’s share price. He would prefer there’d been no tests at all. Having heard that there’s been more testing, he storms in to your office asking, “HOW MANY people know that they have the virus now?”

What do you answer?


It’s philosophically defensible to say zero, because no one is 100% beyond a shadow of a ghost of a shade of a doubt certain that they have it. But in the circumstances not many bosses would take that to be an acceptable answer.


It’s even more philosophically defensible to say five, because only five have a warranted true belief that they have the virus. (I presume that since the 4 made a false inference from false premises to conclude they have the virus, their belief is not warranted unless warrant is a totally trivial condition.) But again, that doesn’t seem like the most appropriate thing to say in the circumstances.


If your boss knew the underlying facts, the answer he’d expect, I think, is nine. And I think that’s the right answer.


To back up this intuition, consider if the boss continues questioning you the following way. Molly is one of the 4 who believe for bad reasons she has the virus.
BOSS: Does Molly know she has the virus?
YOU: No.
BOSS: Does Molly believe she has the virus?
YOU: Yes.
BOSS: Does Molly have the virus?
You: Yes.
BOSS: Then whatdya mean she doesn’t know she has it?
YOU: Let me tell you about late 20th century epistemology.

The next step, of course, is you being fired. In the circumstances, true belief is enough for knowledge.


But note that nine is the largest answer you could give. You shouldn’t answer fifteen, though the Boss might appreciate it if your answer informed him that another 6 people think they have the virus. That’s probably relevant information, but those people shouldn’t be grouped in with the people who know they have the virus.


And, of course, the eight people who don’t even think they have the virus shouldn’t be considered. It’s clearly wrong to answer seventeen, even though seventeen people do, in fact, have the virus.


I hope you agree with all my intuitions here. What should we make of them philosophically?


The most natural explanation of the data, I think, is that knowledge is simply true belief, though sometimes when someone says S knows that p, they speaker mean that S has a warranted, or justified, or certain, or approved by God, belief that p. Semantically, all that they mean is that S truly believes that p. Questions, especially questions by people in authority not concerned with niceties of speaker meaning, tend to bring out semantic meaning, so in your little conversation with Boss, ‘know’ reverts back to its basic meaning of being truly believes. That’s why the right answer is nine, though perhaps if you have a cute enough smile you can get away with five or zero without being fired.


I’m not saying that’s the best explanation of all the data concerned with knowledge talk. But I do think it’s the best explanation of this bit of data. There are two other explanations of the data that people have tried in the past.


One of these I won’t say much about. This is the contextualist approach. I’ve argued against contextualism here before, and I think in general the various objections that Jason Stanley and Ernie Lepore and John Hawthorne have made of contextualism in various places work. But I don’t want to really argue for that here as much as set it aside. My main target is the invariantist who thinks that (non-trivial) warrant is necessary for knowledge.


What can that philosopher say about the appropriateness of nine as an answer to Boss’s question? The response I usually get is an inverse of my response – that although ‘knowledge’ really denotes warranted true belief, sometimes the speaker meaning of a knowledge ascription can be somewhat weaker than this. Here all Boss cares about is true belief, he speaker means “How many people truly believe they have the virus?”, and that’s how you should answer.


PI used to think this answer was incoherent – speaker meaning can only add to the content of a term not subtract from it. But that was probably too quick. The real problem with this response is that it can’t really explain the data. If ‘knowledge’ semantically means warranted true belief, but its speaker meaning can be simply true belief on some occasions, why couldn’t its speaker meaning be simply belief, or simply truth? If we can subtract part of the semantic meaning out, why not the other parts? I don’t think there’s any good explanation for this available to the invariantist who holds that knowledge is warranted true belief. If there’s any explanation for it at all, I suspect it will be very complicated.


Well, this was all rather quick, but I think there’s a somewhat powerful case to be made here that knowledge is simply true belief. Obviously this theory will have to rely on some very heavy duty pragmatics in order to explain most of the cases philosophers have talked about. But since virtually every case considered in epistemology classrooms involves stress (usually comparative stress with an unclear comparison) on ‘know’, I think a good theory of stress can explain a lot of the data apparently inconsistent with the claim that knowledge is simply true belief. Could it, or any other pragmatic theory, explain all of that data? Don’t know, but I’d like to see some clever people argue one way or the other.


Quick acknowledgment at the end. The case here is somewhat modelled on various cases John Hawthorne has used for various purposes, but it does have one or two new touches. In particular, the use of questions to push the knowledge = true belief line is John’s, but the extra point that these cases do not support knowledge = truth or knowledge = belief is, I think, original.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 8:41 pm

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21 June, 2003

Imaginative Resistance

I have drafted a new version of the imaginative resistance paper. Sadly, I lost my instructions for how to upload anything to my main webpage. Happily, I still have blogs to use. So Iíve put the paper on a subpage within this site. It can be found using the following link:

Fictional Furniture Foughts

I had a rather long list of names I tried out for various reasons before settling on the present one. (Which is not, I hasten to add, Fictional Furniture Foughts, as amusing as that may be.) This was what the list on my sketchpad looked like when I was done scribbling with names.
Psycho Semantics

Summer in Winter, Winter in Springtime

Ideas Sleep Furiously

Electric Gaslight

Quickly Standing Still

One Heavy February

The Silence was Deafening

How Not to Tell a Story

Zero Secrets of Successful Authors

Six Secrets of Unsuccessful Authors

Furniture in Fiction and Fictional Furniture

Fictional Errors from Cervantes to Reifenstahl

Furniture of Fictional Universes

The Caretakerís Daughter

Good Morning Good Morning

With a Little Help from my Friends

(A response that stressed the role of fiction in moral education could well be called Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite.)

Did Romeo Love Juliet?

When Armchairs Attack

I doubt many of those are actually amusing, but all of them seemed like good ideas at the time, even the ones that were taken in their entirety from song titles. I would like to use the first name for a paper on representation in fiction sometime, but maybe Iíll save it for a paper about representation in film.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 9:08 pm

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19 June, 2003

Grokking, Wokking and Locking


I’ve been having another crack at my imaginative resistance paper, and this time I’m trying not to make the sections on Stephen Yablo’s views a bracketed to be included section. (For details of Yablo’s views, see sections 14 and 21 of Coulda, Woulda, Shoulda. I think what Yablo says is intriguing, but too short to be a full solution.


It’s a bit hard for me to get my head around Yablo’s solution, because officially I think it’s incoherent. He things imaginative resistance is closely linked to what he calls response-enabled concepts, or grokking concepts. These are introduced by examples, particularly by the example ‘oval’.


Here are meant to be some platitudes about OVAL. It is a shape concept – any two objects in any two worlds, indeed in any two parts of the old 2D matrix, that have the same shape are alike in whether they are ovals. But which shape concept it is is picked out by our reactions. They are the shapes that strike us as being egg-like, or a bit more geekily, like the shape of all ellipse whose length/width ratio is the golden ratio. (Hmmm…golden ratios…Hmmm.) In this way it’s meant to be distinguished on the one hand from, say, PRIME NUMBER, which is entirely independent of us, and from WATER, which would have picked out a different chemical substance had our reactions to various chemicals been different. Note that what ‘prime number’ picks out is determined by us, like all semantic facts are. So the move space into which OVAL is meant to fit is quite tiny. We matter to its extension, but not the way we matter to ‘prime number’ (or we don’t matter to PRIME NUMBER), and not the way we matter to ‘water’. Officially, I think there’s no move space here to move in, so I think positing such concepts is incoherent. Yablo’s terms for grokking concepts strike me as words that have associated egocentric descriptions that fix their reference without having egocentric reference fixing descriptions, and I find it hard to believe such words exist. But my official views are very intolerant, so I’ll pretend for now that I understand what Yablo is saying.


The important point for fiction about grokking concepts is that we matter, in a non-constitutive way, for their extension. Not we as we might have been, or we as we are in a story, but us. So an author can’t say, in the story squares looked egg-shaped to the people, so in the story squares are ovals, because we get to say what’s an oval, not some fictional character. Here’s how Yablo puts it:
Why should resistance and grokkingnes be connected in this way? It’s a feature of grokking concepts that their extension in a situation depends on how the situation does or would strike us. ‘Does or would strike us’ as we are: how we are represented as reacting, or invited to react, has nothing to do with it. Resistance is the natural consequence. If we insist on judging the extension ourselves, it stands to reason that any seeming intelligence coming from elsewhere is automatically suspect. This applies in particular to being ‘told’ about the extension by an as-if knowledgeable narrator.

As I said, I think this is all incredibly interesting (if incoherent) and not a million miles from my view. But I don’t think it works, at least as a complete solution.


My old Don Quixote story might look like a counterexample to Yablo’s position here. After all, the concept that seems to generate resistance there is TELEVISION, and that isn’t anything like his examples of grokking concepts. (The examples, apar from evaluative concepts, are all shape concepts.) On the other hand, if there are any grokking concepts, perhaps it is plausible that TELEVISION should be one of them. Let’s think of some platitudes about TELEVISION. (The following few lines are mostly me reciting from memory some of what Fodor says in Concepts, with televisual references replacing doorknobular ones.)


Three platitudes about TELEVISION stand out. One is that it’s very hard to define just what a television is. (Go on – try it and see how far you get.) Second is that there’s a striking correlation between people who have the concept TELEVISION and people who have been acquainted with a television. Not a correlation of 1 – some infants have acquaintance with televisions but not as such, and some people acquire TELEVISION by description – but still high. Third is that conversations about televisions are rarely at cross purposes, consisting of people literally talking different languages. TELEVISION is a shared concept.


Can we put these into a theory of the concept TELEVISION? Here’s a try. (Warning: Non-reductive analysis ahead.) Televisions are those things that strike us, people in general, as being sufficiently like the televisions we’ve seen, in a televisual kind of way. This isn’t part of the meaning of television – there’s no reference to us in the dictionary entry for ‘television’, and rightly so. But it sort of latches on to the right thing, in roughly the only way one could. The epistemic necessity of having a paradigm television to use as a basis for similarity judgments explains the striking correlation between televisual acquaintance and concept possession. The fact that the only way of picking out the extension uses something that is not constitutive of the concept, namely our reactions to televisions, explains why we can’t define the concept. And the use of people’s reactions in general rather than idiosyncratic reactions explains why its a common concept. This all seems remarkably clever to me, I do wish I had thought of it all first, and it doesn’t seem that far from what Yablo had in mind. So I’m fairly comfortable with the idea that (if any concept is grokking) TELEVISION is a grokking concept and my Quixote example is not a counterexample to Yablo’s little theory.


Still, I have three quibbles.


First, there’s a missing antecedent in a key sentence in his account, and I have no idea how to fill it in. What does he mean when he says ‘how the situation does or would strike us’? Does or would strike us if what? If we were there? But we don’t know where there is. There is a place where televisions look like knifes and forks. If all the non-grokking descriptions were accurate? Maybe, but I think there’s a worry now that most concepts will be grokking – Fodor intended his account of DOORKNOB to be quite general. Not universal, but quite general. If we take out all the grokking concepts, there may not be much left.


Second, despite that I’m still rather unsure that mental concepts, and content concepts, are grokking. LOVE might be, BELIEVING THAT THERE ARE SPACE ALIENS probably is not. But in the paper I argued that these concepts can generate resistance too. Maybe these are grokking as well (if anything is) so I don’t want to stress this.


Finally, I think this slightly over-generalises. Here’s a sketch of a counter-example. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to fill it in. Imagine a time-travelling story told the following way. DQ and his buddy SP leave DQ’s apartment at midday Tuesday, leaving a well-arranged lounge suite and home theatre unit. They travel back to Monday, where DQ has some rather strange and unexpected adventures. He intended to correct something that happened yesterday, that had gone all wrong the first time around, and by the time they leave for Tuesday (via that old fashioned time travel route of drinking until they pass out and waking up in the future) he’s sure it’s all been sorted. When DQ and his buddy SP get back to his apartment midday Tuesday, it looks for all the world like there’s nothing there except a knife and fork. As I said, the details need some filling in, but I think you get the idea. Now that story doesn’t, I think, generate imaginative resistance. But a grokking concept, TELEVISION, is used in a way inconsistent with the underlying facts.


One might ask at this point whether Brian’s own theory also over-generates, predicting imaginative resistance at this point when none is to be found. The answer to that is that it doesn’t, though the epicycle to prevent that prediction may or may not have been added to the official story yet.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 10:21 pm

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The Age sadly continues its

The Age sadly continues its slow slide into mediocrity. This is too bad, because it used to be a world-class newspaper, but it now seems to think that a couple of pages of originally sourced news, a few (largely predictable) opinion columns and several pages of wire stories a good newspaper make.


Today they decided to reprint Robert Kagan’s WaPo OpEd from a week or so ago, already torn to shreds by Brown’s own Josh Marshall, arguing that claims that Bush, Blair and Howard lied about Iraq’s WMD capacity are a giant ‘conspiracy theory’. Kagan’s argument relies on the premise that critics of the unholy trinity are saying that not only they lied, but so did the UN weapon inspectors. And that would be, not to put to fine a point on it, a lie. I’d go into greater detail about where Kagan is wrong, but I’d basically just be repeating what Josh said, so if you care mightily about these matters, go read his reply.


If The Age has to find old foreign right-wing opinion pieces to reprint, they could at least try to find half-way decent ones. But really I’m not sure why they bother. There should be some kind of political balance on the opinion pages, but there’s no reason why they can’t find domestic right-wingers to write original pieces in defence of the war. For all their flaws, Australian conservatives will usually display more intellectual honesty than their American bretheren. (Well, perhaps that’s why they had to import a column defending pre-war WMD claims.)


In better news, The Age does feature a cool extended interview with the Go-Betweens. The Go-Betweens are playing in Richmond next week and it should be a fun time. “I’ve got tickets, to the best show in town…”

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 10:20 pm

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16 June, 2003

I was thinking a little

I was thinking a little about quantifiers for various reasons last night, and I ended up being so confused I had to write a blog entry about it.


If you listened to what some philosophers, yours truly included, taught their undergraduates, you’d think we spoke a language in which (1) and (2) were synonymous.
(1) Some cat is beautiful

(2) *Some beautiful is cat.

Some days it is amazing that philosophers can make any useful contribution to linguistics.


So let’s try and get a little clearer about just what role ‘some’ plays. It isn’t a quantifier, as philosophers normally think of that term. Rather, it’s a determiner, which combines with an NP (or other phrases?) to form a quantifier phrase. The quantifier in (1) is the phrase ‘some cat’. And the QP, as is widely known, can be treated as being the same type as a name – a function from predicates to truth-values.


So is there any such thing as unrestricted quantification? Possibly yes, in one sense, and possibly no, in another. The yes sense first.


None of the dogmatic assertions in the previous sentence were meant to be inconsistent with the idea that (1) is an unrestricted quantification over cats. For all I asserted, an utterance (1) could be true just in case some cat somewhere in the universe is beautiful. It’s agreed on all sides (I think!) that this is rarely the speaker meaning of (1). The speaker meaning of (1) is usually that some salient cat is beautiful. When pushed I usually agree with those who say this is also part of the semantic meaning, but for present purposes I want to bracket that issue. Let’s agree with those who say that the semantic meaning of (1) is just that some cat is beautiful. (That looks so plausible written like that!) It’s still the case that the quantifier in (1) is restricted to cats. All cats now, but still cats. The question is could there be an utterly unrestricted quantifier?


Some may think that the quantifier in (3) is such a quantifier, but I doubt it. The problem is that (3) is too similar to (4), and (4) looks like it is restricted to quantification over things, and I rather doubt that ‘thing’ in English is an utterly trivial noun.
(3) Something is beautiful.

(4) Some thing is beautiful.

So I conclude, somewhat hastily, that quantifier phrases in subject position are always restricted. This is hardly a new conclusion, which is why I feel safe moving at such speed. What though of QPs in subject position, as in (5)?
(5) There is a cat who can play the piano.

To start with, this ‘there is’ construction is very hard to get a handle on. Here’s a relatively simple question about it that I don’t know if anyone has solved. (I don’t know if anyone’s noticed it before, though I suspect they have. As I may have mentioned, I’m away from my books right now.) I assume for now that the prepositional phrase ‘who can play the piano’ is part of the quantifier phrase. We will come back to that below.


We can make all kinds of sentences using the construction ‘There’ + copula + QP. Focus for now on such sentences where the QP has ‘no’ at its head. In some of these sentences the copula is most naturally singular. In others it is most naturally plural. For example, (6) is more natural than (7), but (9) is more natural than (8).
(6) There is no way to rescue the princess.

(7) ?There are no ways to rescue the princess


(8) ??There is no Bengals supporter in Sydney.

(9) There are no Bengals supporters in Sydney.

I have no idea why this would be so. Here was one thought I had that doesn’t seem to work. Imagine an atheist using the problem of evil to argue against the existence of any gods. She would probably use (10) when addressing a monotheist, but (11) when addressing a polytheist. (Bracket for now concerns about the problem of evil as an argument against multiple gods.)
(10) The famine in Africa is yet more proof that there is no god.

(11) The famine in Africa is yet more proof that there are no gods.

So, I thought to myself, maybe the difference is that we use ‘is’ when the audience expects that if there is any, there is one, and ‘are’ when they expect that if there is any, there are many. But this can’t be right. American football fans are thin on the ground in Sydney, and Bengals fans are thin on the ground wherever one looks. If there are any there, there is probably just one. And if there is one way to rescue the princess, it wouldn’t be surprising at all if there is some relatively minor alternative to that plan. So I don’t really know what to make of this. Any suggestions would be most appreciated. Philosophers are notoriously weak on issues to do with plurality in language, so I might leave this one to the experts.


What I was originally interested in was whether the ‘There’ + copula + QP construction could be used to get an utterly unrestricted quantifier. At first glance, it is plausible that (5) contains an utterly unrestricted quantifier – it says the world contains a cat that is capable of playing the piano. As we might put it in formalese:
(12) Ex (Cat(x) & Can-play-the-piano(x))

But if that’s right, then (13) should be a fine sentence, and at least in discourse-initial position it is very odd.
(13) There is a cat.

We can say that in the middle of a conversation. Imagine we are looking through the normal directories for animal pianists. After I’ve ruled out all the monkeys, whales, giraffes, pandas and antelopes, you might say ‘There is a cat’, (speaker) meaning (5). But it would be odd to start a conversation.


Now there are good pragmatic explanations for why this would be odd. But in the spirit of early morning experimentation, let me propose a (bad?) semantic explanation. I suggest (13), despite being a somewhat well-formed sentence, does not express a complete proposition. Rather, I think, the proposition expressed by a sentence ‘There’ + copula + QP + PP is generated by replacing the ‘there’ in subject position by the QP, and dropping the copula and the head of the PP. So (5) expresses exactly the same proposition as (14).
(14) A cat can play the piano.

And (13) expresses the same proposition as (15).
(15) A cat.

What advantages does this have? Well, not many, but it does explain why (13) is odd in discourse-initial position, and after all we have to try and find some way of writing a semantic entry for these ‘There is’ sentences. There are also some disadvantages – including some potential counterexamples hidden on this page – but for now that’s my morning suggestion.


I would try and write more, including about the differences between using ‘there’ as a null subject and ‘there’ as a demonstrative – the stress patterns in the two are notably different I think – but I’ve probably made enough blunders for one entry.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 9:35 pm

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n

I knew I should have been spending more time web-surfing if I wanted philosophical ideas.


Wo has a post up defending the impossible solution to the puzzle of imaginative resistance. It’s a good post, and I mostly want to just recommend you go read it, assuming like me you’ve been irrationally not checking his page. But I did have four supplementary comments to make.


1. Tyler Doggett pointed out to me that my preferred solution really is a lot closer to the impossible solution than I suggest in the paper. Tyler’s right about this, and I need to correct my existing draft to make it clear that I’m in the same area as the impossible solution. I think my little Quixote story is a pretty powerful argument for something like that solution.


2. There’s an odd asymmetry in the premises I use to argue for my solution. I think my Quixote example is an example of the same kind of phenomenon as the paradigm imaginative resistance cases. But I don’t think the continuity errors that Wo mentions, or the disagreement with reality errors that I mention (e.g. the Conolly Norman example) are the same kind of phenomenon. When I say this is a premise, that’s to say I don’t have an argument for the asymmetry here. I think I probably need one.


3. I’m not really as confident in my judgments about Tamar’s Tower of Goldbach case as I sound in my paper. What I think is most striking is that intelligent people, most prominently now Wo and Tamar, can differ so radically on the case. I’d be more interested in having an explanation of that than actually having a firm judgment about the case. I’ve tried a few ideas for explaining the disagreement, mostly trying to link it to possible disagreements about the metaphysics of mathematics, but nothing is sounding very plausible.


4. After reading Wo’s defense I’m a little more convinced that the impossible solution is compatible with most of the alleged counterexamples (singing snowmen, parentless children, etc) but I still think the science fiction cases, especially the time travel cases, defeat it. It seems to me there are fairly obvious impossibilities in some time travel stories that just don’t matter. These are the hardest cases to explain if you think impossibility is at the heart of imaginative resistance, and I still think they defeat that solution. But maybe I’m being stubborn here.


On this fictional note, happy (belated for some) Bloomsday!


UPDATE: JW pointed out in the comments that the paper on imaginative resistance I keep referring to here isn’t exactly easy to find, since I forgot to add it to my papers page. So I’ll put the link here: Virtuous Resistance.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 9:32 pm

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15 June, 2003

One of the things I’ve

One of the things I’ve noticed while on holidays is how much I depend on other people’s work for having philosophical ideas. Without being attached at the eye to an internet terminal, preferably with open links to many of the sites highlighted on the philosophy papers blog, I struggle to come up with new ideas to talk about. So instead I’ll recycle an old idea.


Inspired a little by this post on the 617 blog, I was discussing at a party the other night whether Neo should have taken seriously the possibility that he’s in a second-level matrix. There was some consensus that this would be a reasonable worry for him to have, when next he gets the chance to think about it.


Later that night I was having some odd but not too remarkable dream, somehow not at all about The Matrix. The only noteworthy features were some outbreaks of prettier than expected singing, and for no apparent reason a shower of purple tinsel/confetti, that provided some fairly spectacular eye candy. Metaphorically speaking. When I woke up I was trying to explain this dream to some friends, but they didn’t seem too interested, largely because my explanations seemed so incoherent. They were much more interested in getting me to see the blue glow reflected off the edge of a flower, that you could only see if you looked just the right way. Of course I couldn’t get the angle right, and it looked like a pretty ordinary flower to me, which led to some frustration. And at that point I woke up again.


And here I started to have real philosophical worries. If I can be in a state that feels for all world like waking from a dream (or almost feels this way – see below) and it still be another dream, do I have a special reason for having sceptical worries at just that moment? It certainly seemed at the time that scepticism then would have been much more defensible than a general philosophical scepticism.


As it turns out, I was awake, so my rather insistent involuntary belief that I was awake was true. (Or if it wasn’t it’s been a very complicated dream since.) But was it knowledge? Or, if you think if it’s a different question, if I’d said at the time “I know I’m awake” would I have spoken truly? For a very different question, try running through a few popular accounts of knowledge to see whether on those theories my belief that I’m awake constitutes knowledge. I suspect there’s a few ways of reading the safety requirement on knowledge such that it doesn’t.


What really convinced me that I was awake was that I was having tactile sensations. I think, though I don’t really know how to confirm this, that I don’t have tactile sensations in dreams. I’m not even sure that I have auditory sensations in dreams. Certainly my memory of dreams doesn’t contain vivid audial representation in the way it contains vivid visual representation. I end up knowing that the auditory surroundings are one way rather than another, but it often seems as if this is by an unmediated, unaccompanied, direct awareness of someone speaking or singing or whatever. In the real world such awareness is constituted by, or at least accompanied by, sensations. I think this isn’t the case in my dreams, so I think I now have a good way of testing whether I’m awake or not – hitting myself in the head and seeing whether I hear or feel it. Scepticism refuted using folk science!


Maybe I shouldn’t need other philosophers to provide philosophical ideas. Maybe I should be able to get ideas from my environment. But it’s not that easy to do that, I’ve found. Ideally I’d get more philosophical inspiration from other creative works. But that hasn’t been working. I’ve seen two bands since I got here – Machine Translations and Architects in Helsinki – and while both were very good, neither exactly encouraged distinctively philosophical ideas. (Aesthetics question: Is it a good thing or a bad thing that both of these bands sounded exactly the same on stage as on their recordings? I was a little bit disappointed by this, but only a little since their recordings sound very good. But maybe I was being unreasonable, and it’s perfectly acceptable to reproduce the recording studio on a pub stage.) I saw an excellent performance of Hamlet, but while that does raise philosophical questions I think I’ve considered most of them previously at some time or other previously. (Economics question: how well would a book on philosophical issues in Shakespeare sell? It could be used as a textbook for particularly precocious, not to mention precious, young philosophy students. And it could be fun to write.) And I saw some recent Aboriginal paintings, and was again convinced that Australian Aboriginal art is the best art of the past thirty years. When I’m feeling particularly ungenerous I can almost be convinced it’s the only worthwhile art of the past thirty years, but that’s probably a slight exaggeration. Still, that doesn’t raise distinctively philosophical issues either, so I’m still a little lacking in inspiration. Maybe it’s just a side-effect of too much holidaying and too little work!

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 9:39 pm

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11 June, 2003

I’m not getting a chance

I’m not getting a chance to post much here because I’m spending more time holidaying than philosophising while in Australia. But it seems in this respect, like so many others, I’m being unfashionable. The philosophy papers blog is more active than I ever remember it being, with several new interesting papers posted each day. (Much thanks to Paul Neufeld for keeping it running while I’m down under.) And despite Squawkbox’s rather irregular behaviour, there’s a long comments thread below in my (poorly referenced) post on conditionals and disjunction. I’d been hoping a long and interesting comments thread would develop at some stage; maybe I should go on holidays more often.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 9:37 pm

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