Philosophy of Language Papers

Two sites with lots of good philosophy of language papers came to my attention in the last 24 hours.

Robert May, whose book on Indices and Identity (co-authored with Robert Fiengo) I was praising yesterday, has a bunch of papers on identity statements, on Frege and on all sorts of related issues here:

And Cara Spencer, a recent MIT grad now teaching at Howard, has several papers on belief, indexicals, two-dimensionalism and folk psychology here:

Thanks to Robert for pointing me to his site, and to Dave Chalmers for the link to Cara’s site.

If I wasn’t going away to the Wild Wild West for the next week, I might spend the time reading through several of those papers and writing up notes. But as it is I’ll be frolicking with philosophers instead. Sometimes it’s very hard being an academic.

Ambiguity Resolutions

If you were following the discussion about ambiguity in elided phrases here, or even if you weren’t, let me highly recommend the book that is discussed there: Indices and Identity by Robert Fiengo and Robert May. It turns out the problem I half stumbled on is much harder than I realised, and they do a very good job of setting the problem out clearly, showing how it relates to other problems, showing that none of the (very many) pre-1994 solutions work, and then setting out an interesting solution of their own. I now have to figure out whether I agree with their solution, but that probably invovles reading all of the book, not just the sections on this puzzle.

What Good are Counterexamples?

has just come out in Philosophical Studies. It’s not a great paper. I wrote it all when still in grad school, so it’s hardly my final opinion on anything, and some of the arguments are sophistical even by my standards. But it’s a fun idea to kick around, and one of my few attempts to actually carve out a new position in philosophical move space rather than just adding epicycles to existing theories.

Now that it’s appeared, I’m in the unusual position of having more journal articles in print than forthcoming (8 out, 6 forthcoming, if you’re keeping score). I don’t think I’ve ever been in this state before, though I could be wrong. There’s no distinctive qualia associated with it, in case you were wondering.

One detail about this paper’s publication surprised me. It ended up being the first article in its number of Philosophical Studies. Does anyone know if there’s any method to the order articles appear in a journal? I always assumed it was something arbitrary like alphabetical ordering (that horribly biased system) or date the article was received, or the order the articles are drawn out of a (metaphorical) hat, but I really have no idea. I know Analysis sometimes will put related articles alongside one another, but beyond that it seems fairly random to me.

Causation of Omissions

There’s been lots of good stuff written recently on causation by omission. Does anyone know any equally good work on causation of omissions? Here’s two puzzle cases that I’d like to know what to think about.

Killing a Would-be Stranger

Smith is planning to disappear from his community. He has the tickets to fly away, the false passport and documentation to start life in his new country, and even a job lined up in his new home. He’s sent all of his belongings on ahead to his new home. As he’s heading out to the airport to fly away, Jones kills him and throws his body into the sea where it’s never found.

Question: Is Jones’s killing Smith the cause of his not being in his old community.

Argument for yes: Jones’s killing Smith is a cause of his being at the bottom of the sea. His being at the bottom of the sea is a cause of his not being in his old community.

Argument for no: No counterfactual dependence of his not being around on his being shot by Jones. The second causal claim might be false. (Transitivity of causation is dubious.)

Slacking Off

I am meant to teach a class at 3. Instead I decide to go watch an afternoon baseball game. The game starts at 1, so I leave home at 12.30 to go to the game. I’m not in my class at 3. I think it’s pretty clear that my deciding to go to the ballgame is a cause of my not being in my class at 3.

Question schema: Is my being in the ballpark at t a cause of my not being in my class at 3.

I think the answer is pretty clearly no for t = 3, since then my being at the ballpark constitutes, rather than causes, my not being in class. But what about for t = 2:59? If I hadn’t been in the ballpark then, I probably would have been teaching. But wait! That looks like a backtracker conditional – if I hadn’t been in the ballpark then it probably would have been because I wouldn’t have decided to go to the game. If I hadn’t been in the ballpark at 2:59, it probably would have been because I had to leave on an emergency just before then. (Maybe I had a heart attack and was whisked away in an ambulance.) So I don’t know whether the relevant causal counterfactuals are true.

Philosophy Papers

Two of the papers up today on the philosophy papers blog are relevant to stuff I’ve been working on. And they’re both very good papers.

Neil Levy argues that the kind of non-moral cases of imaginative resistance that Yablo and I have discussed undermine an empirical argument for moral objectivism. He argues that the moral/conventional distinction that experimenters found in young children is a manifestation of a general authority-dependent/authority-independent distinction, and that distinction doesn’t have much to do with moral objectivism, since aesthetic concepts, and shape concepts, and furniture concepts can be authority-independent.

Nick Smith has a paper forthcoming in Journal of Philosophical Logic defending a theory of vagueness where the truth values are not linearly ordered. I think his theory has some rather unattractive features, which I might go into in a later post, but I think it’s an interesting theory, and certainly an important alternative to the more familiar theories of vagueness.

Ambiguity Confusions

I was doing some contextualist bashing over on Crooked Timber when I noticed that I hadn’t realised before. The explanation for this is probably completely obvious, and it’s just revealing my own ignorance that I don’t know the explanation, but I couldn’t figure out why (1) is three-way ambiguous, when by rights it should be four-way ambiguous.

(1) Bill said that he loves his mother. So did Tom.

Continue reading “Ambiguity Confusions”

Moral Subjectivism

(Also posted at Crooked Timber)

Over at Crescat Sententia, Will Baude has been defending subjectivism about morality. Will doesn’t defend the traditional positivist view that "Murder is wrong" means (roughly) "Boo for murder!", but rather that it means "I disapprove of murder". Freespace’s Timothy Sandefur responds to Will with several moral and legal arguments. This seems to me to be a mistake. Will’s making a metaphysical and semantic claim, and the right responses will be based on metaphysics or semantics. Fortunately, there are plenty of the latter kind of argument.
Continue reading “Moral Subjectivism”

Luminous Margins

My paper Luminous Margins just got accepted by the AJP. Woo hoo! I’m starting to think I should care more about the quality of my papers than their quantity, but I haven’t reached that point yet.

Taking Philosophy Seriously

I only just saw the acknowledgments page on Tamar Gendler and John Hawthorne’s Fake Barns paper.

For comments and encouragement, we are grateful to Stewart Cohen and Alvin Goldman. Special thanks are due to Agent Brown (Brian Weatherson) and Agent Causation (Jonathan Schaffer), who provided careful comments on an earlier draft of this memo.

If people keep writing like that I’m going to end up writing philosophy papers with nothing but (attempted) jokes in them. Oh wait, perhaps I already did. On the other hand I haven’t come up with a pun quite like Agent Causation yet, so maybe I need to keep trying.