No papers blog or TAR for about a week while I’m at BSPC. Hopefully posting will resume in about a week – though then I’m off to Rutgers for the Mayhem. Well, hopefully regular posting will resume in under two weeks.

Papers Blog – July 29

The papers blog is posted. It isn’t quite complete because I haven’t added all the new pages I’ve been sent. But I’ve been running behind on a few jobs because I’m experiencing all the joys of home ownership. Last night my basement flooded and my hot water heater stopped working. (I imagine these two things are connected, but it’s hard to be sure.) I’ve managed to de-flood the basement, but not to get the hot water going. Little things like responding to emails might also get slowed down while I try and deal with all the problems. Hopefully things will all get fixed shortly, but it’s hard to be sure.

Female-Friendly Philosophy Departments

Julie van Camp has a short paper posted about Female-Friendly [Philosophy] Departments. It’s framed as an evaluation of how sensitive the Gourmet Report is to gender considerations, but that part of the paper was fairly inconclusive in its conclusions, and at some points in its arguments. But towards the end there are several good points raised that seem like worthwhile considerations for people wanting to choose grad departments. The points are framed as considerations that women might take into account before picking graduate departments, but presumably they are more general than that. If the main downside of faculty dating students is that it leads to other students receiving less attention, and (in practice) most such relationships involve male faculty and female students, then that looks like a consideration male students should be equally worried about. Having said that, there are enough actual case studies of this to look at that we shouldn’t have to be quite as hypothetical as Van Camp is in her discussion about what the possible costs of such relationships are.

John Passmore

Brian Leiter passes on the sad news that John Passmore has died. Here is The Australian’s obituary. If any others appear I’ll try to update this post with links to them.

Philosophy in the News

This is sort of a follow up to Brian Leiter’s post on philosophy blogs in Newsweek. And equally belated.

Last week the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article by Paul Davies about the possibility that our universe is a simulation. What was interesting, to me at least, was that the article cited Nick Bostrom’s argument to this effect in The Philosophical Quarterly. (An online version of Bostrom’s paper is here.) It isn’t every day you see a philosophy journal cited in the morning newspaper. Sadly Davies didn’t cite, or even talk about, my refutation of Bostrom’s argument also in The Philosophical Quarterly. So I thought I may as well take the chance to revisit that debate and say what I thought was most important about it. Anyone who wants to write to the SMH making either of the points below is much more than welcome!

(Blog history note: I first found out about Bostrom’s paper through a chain of links starting with Instapundit, which probably makes my paper the first philosophy paper to be the result of a blog entry.)
Continue reading “Philosophy in the News”

How to Lose Friends and Not Influence People

Here’s another use for semantic relativism. In Indicatives and Subjunctives I defended an epistemic account of indicative conditionals. Epistemic accounts have a lot of attractions, but it’s always been a little hard to say just whose knowledge is relevant to the truth of a particular indicative. I hadn’t previously considered that we should make this evaluator-relative, but now I think about it this seems to avoid several problems.

Here are the kind of problems that I never knew how to solve. Andy knows that I’m planning to do a paper on relativism at the conference tomorrow, and knows that most of the audience are not disposed to accept relativist theories. So he utters (1)

(1) If Brian does the paper on relativism he’ll get a pretty hostile reception.

But what Andy doesn’t know is that I’ve arranged for everyone’s drinks tonight to be drugged, so tomorrow they’ll be so happy they’ll accept any crazy theory I put forward. I know that the conjunction (Brian does the paper on relativism AND Brian gets a pretty hostile reception) is false, although I don’t know that I’ll do the paper. (To avoid some complications, say that I end up consuming too many of the drugs in question and spending the day in bed recovering. This is not assumed to be known at the time.) It seems I can say that what Andy said was false.

More generally, whenever an evaluator knows ~(A & C) without knowing ~A, she can evaluate If A then C as false. And she can do this whether or not she was part of the audience of the original comment. (E.g. she can do it when she’s an eavesdropper.)

On the other hand, if the evaluator knows ~(A & ~C) without knowing ~A, i.e. she knows the material conditional A hook C, she will evaluate the conditional If A then C as true. For instance, someone who doesn’t know whether I’ll do the paper but has been told by a reliable oracle that everyone who presents a paper tomorrow will get a hostile reception, will evaluate (1) as true.

One puzzle is that it seems neither of these evaluators is making a mistake, given their evidence. Moreover, it isn’t clear that adding more evidence will move them towards the objective truth. (So far this should look like Gibbard’s Sly Pete case – it seems some days that every puzzle about indicatives ends up looking a bit like the Sly Pete case.) Another puzzle is that Andy’s knowledge, or even Andy’s audience’s knowledge, seems irrelevant to these evaluators.

Semantic relativism to the rescue! In the old paper I said that A → C is true in a context if there is some S such that some person in that context knows S, and A and S together entail C. At the time I was thinking of contexts as being like the things that fix references of indexicals. So I thought that the people ‘in the context’ were the speaker, the (intended) hearer(s) and whatever other individuals are salient. But the eavesdropper cases suggest this won’t work. What we should say is that the contexts are contexts of evaluation, and who is ‘in’ the context can vary from one context of evaluation to another.

Obviously there would need to be a lot of work on the pros and cons of this view before we accepted or rejected it, but I think that if we take epistemic theories of indicative conditionals seriously, and I for one very much do so, then we should take relative truth accounts of these conditionals seriously.

I imagine this is already covered in something or other John MacFarlane has written, but if not this can go down as another contribution of mine to the ‘post-modernization’ of analytic philosophy.

Sets and Parts

I’m off to Bellingham next week for the 5th annual Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference. Sadly not all of the papers are freely available online, but I thought I’d link to a very interesting one that I just read and is available.

It is Gabriel Uzquiano’s fine paper The Price of Universality. Gabriel noticed that if we accept some things that metaphysicians standardly accept about mereology, and some things mathematicians standardly accept about set theory, and unrestricted quantification, then we get a paradox. The paradox is that we can deduce from these assumptions that the size of the universe must be an accessible cardinal and that it must be an inaccessible cardinal, so there’s some hard going here, but it seems to me like a very interesting problem to worry about.

I was going to try and write something substantive on Gabriel’s paper but I noticed half-way through writing it up that the idea I had contained a fatal technical error, so I’ll spare you my ignorance.

Papers Blog – July 26

The papers blog is posted for the weekend’s update. I think from now on unless there’s some dramatic reason to do otherwise I’m not going to do weekend updates. The site readership is pretty low on the weekend, and it’s just as easy to do everything on Monday. There will also be a few site outages over August while I’m away at a bunch of conferences, but we’ll always catch up when I get back.

Recent History

Over on Certain Doubts, Jon Kvanvig posed the following question

[W]hat are the three most important developments in epistemology over the last quarter century?

Jon framed that as a party-question, and it’s one party-question we could ask. But here at TAR we set out sights even more abstractly. As in questions like

What are the three most important developments in philosophy over the last quarter century?

Perhaps that’s a reasonable question to ask, but even I think it’s a little broad. So what about instead.

[W]hat are the three most important developments in metaphysics&epistemology (broadly construed to include mind and language) over the last quarter century?

I actually have reasons for asking, as well as (weakly held) opinions on what some of the answers should be. But I might follow Jon’s lead and hold off on saying these until there’s a bit of a discussion thread going.

Peacocke Review

Here’s a very early draft of my review of Christopher Peacocke’s The Realm of Reason. Comments, criticism, etc welcomed!

The Realm of Reason review

UPDATES: Three things I didn’t mention in the first pass through this note.

  • This is for the Times Literary Supplement, which might explain some of the stylistic and content choices. (Or might not.)
  • Much of the material on moral beliefs at the end is due to conversations with Sarah McGrath and Ralph Wedgwood. In a different format those would have been credited, but I don’t think the TLS does ‘thanks’ footnotes!
  • Gilbert Harman also has a review of Peacocke’s book online. It is available here.

SECOND UPDATE: As Martin Lin pointed out in comments, I got Descartes all wrong in the first draft of this. I’ve now updated the draft to make the suggestions Martin suggested. (If his comments don’t look like they match the draft currently online, this is why – the version he commented on really made the mistake he said it did.)