Advertising for my department to be. (Original here.)

Young Philosophers Essay Competition

The Sage School of Philosophy and the Philosophical Review are pleased to announce a Young Philosophers Essay Competition in philosophy of language. Full-length articles on any topic in philosophy of language, broadly construed, will be considered. The competition is open to anyone currently enrolled in a Ph.D. program (or equivalent) in philosophy or a related subject, as well as to anyone who did not receive a Ph.D. or equivalent degree before January 1, 2000. Submissions will be judged by members of the Sage School of Philosophy. Provided the number and standard of submissions is sufficiently high, a winner will be chosen to present their article at a symposium to be held at Cornell University. Two specialists in the field will be invited to comment on the winner’s article at the symposium. The winning article will be published as the Young Philosophers Essay Competition winner in the Philosophical Review. The deadline for submission is March 1, 2005.

Special Instructions for Submissions

Submissions to the Young Philosophers Essay Competition should conform to the general requirements for submitting a manuscript for publication in the Philosophical Review. You can find links to manuscript submission instructions and our style sheet in the Information for Contributors section of our website. In addition, the cover letter (whether electronic or hard copy) should clearly identify the manuscript as a submission to the Young Philosophers Essay Competition and should state how you meet the eligibility requirements.

This all seems very exciting except for three things. First, I much prefer entering competitions to judging them, and I shrewdly suspect that I could be doing a little bit of judging for this one. Second, although it doesn’t say so explicitly I bet there’s some clause like members of the Sage School, members of their immediate family and their pets are ineligible to win. Third, there must be something wrong with the eligibility criteria. It’s analytic that Brian’s a young philosopher, yet I don’t meet these requirements. Something will have to be done about this.

More seriously, I hope we see some excellent entries, especially from TAR readers. Good luck everyone! (Thanks to Zolt{a’}n for the link.)

Papers Blog

No papers blog until Monday (at the earliest) because I’m off to Moscow. Unless something got posted after 11.30, there was actually nothing to report from Wednesday, so we would have been skipping that day anyway.

Whether there’s posted here while I’m at the conference depends on how lazy I am. Given my usual practices at conferences, I wouldn’t bet on anything going up, but you never know.

Gender Imbalances

As Brian Leiter notes, there’s a very interesting discussion over at Sappho’s Breathing about the relationship between the relative prominence of certain disciplines within philosophy and how gendered (or otherwise) those disciplines are.

I mostly want to just recommend those discussions, but let me make one distinction that I think is getting blurred over there. The further we get from positivism, the less and less reason there seems to be to view metaphysics and epistemology as anything like a single discipline. Of course there are connections between the two, but really not much more than between any two large fields in philosophy. From where I sit, that looks like it matters to this debate.

(Warning: the following contains generalisations from a ridiculously small sample, and unscientific observation to boot.) Among my peers, there isn’t that much of a gender gap amongst philosophers working in metaphysics, or philosophy of language, or ethics or (I think) philosophy of mind. There is, however, a noticable gender gap in epistemology still, even among the younger generation. Now this could be a sample size phenomena, and it could be due to the fact that I’m looking at a rather non-random sample. If it’s a real phenomena though, it’s kinda surprising, because I would thought that whatever features of logic and philosophy of language and philosophy of science and metaphysics and so on made them gendered male were less prominent in epistemology, rather than more. Of course that’s the kind of question about which I’m absolutely not an expert, so I’ll defer entirely to more learned opinion on it.

INPC Update (Part II)

As mentioned earlier, there has been some tinkering with the program for the INPC. The final program is available here. I am on Saturday afternoon, as advertised, but Dave has been rotated to an earlier spot, so that clash isn’t happening. (Of course that just means there are other clashes.) The program also contains lots of abstracts so you can make a slightly more informed judgment about which sessions to go to.

Hope to see a lot of you there!

Ceteris Paribus Laws

I think the following passage, from John Earman, John Roberts and Sheldon Smith’s paper “Ceteris Paribus Lost” (Erkenntnis 57: 281–301, 2002) is somewhat mistaken.

But the second problem with CP laws, their untestability, is decisive in our view. In order for a hypothesis to be testable, it must lead us to some prediction. The prediction may be statistical in character, and in general it will depend on a set of auxiliary hypotheses. Even when these important qualifications have been added, CP law statements still fail to make any testable predictions. Consider the putative law that CP, all Fs are Gs. The information that x is an F, together with any auxiliary hypotheses you like, fails to entail that x is a G, or even to entail that with probability p, x is a G. For, even given this information, other things could fail to be equal, and we are not even given a way of estimating the probability that they so fail. Two qualifications have to be made. First, our claim is true only if the auxiliary hypotheses don’t entail the prediction all by themselves, in which case the CP law is inessential to the prediction and doesn’t get tested by a check of that prediction. Second, our claim is true only if none of the auxiliary hypotheses is the hypothesis that “other things are equal”, or “there are no interferences”. What if the auxiliaries do include the claim that other things are equal? Then either this auxiliary can be stated in a form that allows us to check whether it is true, or it can’t. If it can, then the original CP law can be turned into a strict law by substituting the testable auxiliary for the CP clause. If it can’t, then the prediction relies on an auxiliary hypothesis that cannot be tested itself. But it is generally, and rightly, presumed that auxiliary hypotheses must be testable in principle if they are to be used in an honest test. Hence, we can’t rely on a putative CP law to make any predictions about what will be observed, or about the probability that something will be observed. If we can’t do that, then it seems that we can’t subject the putative CP law to any kind of empirical test.

They are arguing against the claim that there are any ceteris paribus laws with ineliminable CP clauses. And they claim, plausibly, that if the claim that other things are equal is statable in physical terms then it quite well can be eliminated. So far so good.

The problem is that they leave out a very easy way in which the CP law could be testable without the CP clause being statable in physical terms. Assume that there is a p such that p entails that other things are equal, but is not entailed by it. Now nothing in what has been said about CP clauses rules out this possibility. Indeed, if CP clauses are infinite disjunctions of physical state descriptions, that situation will be easily possible. Then if p is one of the auxiliary hypothesis, the CP law will be testable even though the CP clause cannot be (finitely) stated.

I don’t have any particular fondness for CP laws, but this argument that they are untestable seems to have a hole here. (We’re bracketing questions about the philosophical importance of testability here by the way. I also have no idea whether this point has been made elsewhere in the literature – this is a diary entry not a quasi-publication.)

Morals in South Park?

I haven’t watched South Park in years, but when I did I tended to agree with the conclusion of this article that it’s too preachy for its own good. Still, the article’s title gives me an idea or two.

South Park and Philosophy could be better than most of the Randomly Chosen Segment of Pop Culture and Philosophy books that are coming out I think. Not that there isn’t still potential for life in the genre. Baseball and Philosophy has been done already, so maybe it’s time for NFL and Philosophy, or WWE and Philosophy, or, one that raises genuine ethical concerns, Joe Millionaire and Philosophy. OK, those are jokes, but I think Real World and Philosophy could be spectacular. And if someone didn’t know what it really was, you could list the book title on the CV without arousing suspicions. Brilliant! (That last sentence, by the way, will be the title of my entry in Guinness and Philosophy.)

I had an idea the other week for a book where every chapter was kinda like a paper for a volume like that, ranging from the somewhat serious (e.g. 24 and Philosophy) to the complete joke (e.g. Teletubbies and Philosophy).

I couldn’t work out the marketing plan for the book though. One thought was that each chapter could be co-written with a different author, a la The 6ths, but I didn’t really see how that would help the marketing. It would be fun to write all those chapters though, particularly if I chose the co-authors correctly.

Another was to basically make it a 101 textbook, with the underlying aim being to cover all the bases for a 101 course, and use the pop culture to draw in the masses. It might work, but it could date fairly quickly. All I need is for it to catch fire on the textbook market one year though and I’d be sorta rich. My reputation for serious philosophy would take such a hit that I’d probably never get offered another academic gig, but since I just landed a 40-year, multi-million dollar contract maybe that isn’t a concern.

Joe Cruz

…a philosophy professor at Williams has a blog. It looks like it’s early days on it, but there’s already a very active discussion board. (I think I went twelve months before I had that many comments!) It also looks like it’s powered by a university-wide blogging system, which is a very nice thing thing for a university to setup.

Larry Horn talk at Brown

Somehow this announcement ended up in my spam tray, when it clearly is not junk at all.

Cognitive and Linguistic Sciences
Colloquium Series
Dr. Larry Horn
of Yale University
“Pragmatics and the Lexicon”
Monday, May 3rd, 2004 at 4:15 p.m.

The silver anniversary of Jim McCawley’s classic paper “Conversational Implicature and the Lexicon” provides a natural springboard for an exploration of the state of the art in lexical pragmatics. A century before McCawley’s investigation of how Gricean inference informs our understanding of the structure and use of lexical items, Hermann Paul (1880) had surveyed a range of constructions whose form and distribution reflect the interplay of two functional principles governing conversation, the tendency to reduce expression (later formulated by G. K. Zipf as the linguistic correlate of a more general Principle of Least Effort) and the contextually determined communicative requirements on sufficiency of information. The descendants of this functional dialectic include the speaker’s vs. hearer’s economies of Zipf and Martinet and the opposed halves of Grice’s Maxim of Quantity (“Make your contribution {as informative as is required/no more informative than is required} for the current purpose of the exchange”), grounded within a general theory of rationality and co-operation. From these Gricean submaxims, in turn, derive the Q and R Principles of Horn 1984 (essentially = “Say enough”/ “Don’t say too much”) and the interplay of effort and effect within Relevance Theory (Sperber & Wilson 1986). While the interaction of the Paul/Grice principles pervades the entire linguistic system—as emerges notably in the minimax between articulatory “laziness” vs. perceptual distinctness in functional phonetics and the corresponding violable constraints in Optimality Theory—it is the consequences of this interaction for the lexicon that provide the focus for this presentation.

Since McCawley’s seminal paper, it has become gradually evident that choices among lexical alternatives is guided to a large extent by pragmatic principles; work by Elizabeth Traugott and others has examined the role of these principles in semantic change. After comparing pragmatic and semantic approaches to asymmetries in lexicalization and the inference from most to not all, I will survey the role of speaker- and hearer-based economy principles in motivating syntagmatic reduction, euphemism and negative strengthening, lexical clones (_No, I wanted a SALAD salad_) and the productive formation of “un-nouns” (from the un-cola to the un-politician). Finally, drawing on the complementary tendencies of Avoid Synonymy and Avoid Homonymy, I will argue that synchronic, diachronic, and developmental aspects of lexical pragmatics provide support for a neo-Gricean view of the division of labor in natural language meaning.

I’ll be getting off a red-eye flight, going to teach a class on G{o”}del, then going to this talk. I might not ask the most enlightened question I suspect.

INPC Update

It’s not online yet, but there’s been a small change to the INPC schedule that affects me, and hence anyone interested in going to my talk. I’m now going to be on Saturday at 12.30, not Sunday at 10.15 as was scheduled. It looks like this puts me up against Dave Chalmers’s session, which is too bad for one or both of us. I’ll post more news about other changes when they are available.