Some Dutch Book Arguments

I was recently teaching David Christensen’s 1991 paper “Clever Bookies and Coherent Beliefs”, and I thought there were many good points there that I should have really noticed when I read the paper years ago. My dissertation would have been better if I’d seen all this years ago, but better late than never. Christensen gives a nice method for determining just what particular Dutch Book arguments do and don’t show. I agree with him mostly about how to apply that method to particular cases, as we’ll see below.
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Intuitions and Meanings

A draft of my paper for the Switzerland conference is online. It’s rather scrappy, but it covers most of the ideas I want to cover.

Intuitions and Meanings

There are a few tendentious arguments that Gettier cases are cases of knowledge at the end which I might export here. I sort of got convinced by Tim Williamson that generalised arguments against the reliability of Gettier cases won’t work against Gettier cases. We need more specific arguments. There are four such arguments in the paper, some of which I might put on here if I’m feeling brave.

Gödel Book

Peter Smith is writing a book on Gödel’s Theorems, and he’s been kind enough to make most of it available for download. Thanks to Wo for the link, and interesting comments on the book.

I wanted to quibble with one thing Prof Smith wrote.

You can, for the moment, freely download these draft 16 chapters. However

The deal is that — if you actually read them — you send any comments you have, however brief or general, to comments at godelbook dot net1.

I note — not entirely with surprise but with disappointment — that for the last versions, the ratio of downloaders to those who’ve sent comments seems to be well over 200 to 1. OK, no doubt a good many download in a speculativve way, and find that the book isn’t for them. Still, if that ratio doesn’t improve a bit, I guess I’ll go back to just circulating my friends and relations! :-)))

My ratio of readers to commentators is frequently in the 1000 to 1 range. This kind of thing isn’t unusual. If you really want comments, you should send manuscripts to friends with begs for comments and post things online. I think from the smileys Prof Smith knows this, but I thought it worth pointing out that his situation is not particularly unusual.

1 I’ve replaced a live email link here with a description of the email address because I’m a little afraid this page is scanned regularly by robots looking for spammail addresses, and I thought I’d spare Prof. Smith that pain.

Papers Blog – September 28

The papers blog is up featuring four papers by fellow Monash alum John O’Dea. (They don’t have abstracts because I couldn’t figure out how to cut-and-paste from the PDFs available. This is a common problem I find, and I don’t quite know what to do about it.)

While looking at everyone’s web pages I saw that there’s a new volume of Mind our featuring a 72-page paper on variable grade predicates by Oliver and Smiley. I remember back in the old days (circa 1999) when you had a paper 60 to 90 pages long it was a bit of a disaster because it was too long for a journal and too short for a book. In recent years Mind seems to have taken it upon itself to fill in that niche. (Philosophical Review took some of those papers, though of course it’s very hard to get into, and Philosophers’ Imprint also takes long papers because they aren’t burdened by printing costs.) I’m glad this void is being filled, though I worry this will make Mind either too hard to get into (and it wasn’t easy to start with) or too backlogged. But the good news is that papers that are naturally that length don’t have to be chopped to journal size or padded to book length any more.

NYU Hiring

In a move that might shock some in the philosophical community, NYU is about to commence a hiring campaign.

New York University is on a hiring campaign that it hopes will put its graduate and undergraduate liberal arts programs on sounder footing and give them the stature of some of its most prominent professional schools. Over the next five years, it plans to expand its 625-member arts and science faculty by 125 members, and replace another 125 who are expected to leave. (New York Times)

If hiring Ned Block, Hartry Field, Kit Fine, David Velleman etc etc was what they do in normal times, it could get a little scary to see what they do in an expansionary era.

Andy Egan on Relativism

Andy Egan, Epistemic Modals, Relativism, and Assertion

I advocate a relativist semantics for epistemic modal claims such as “the treasure might be under the palm tree”, according to which such utterances determine a truth value relative to something finer-grained than just a world (or a pair). Others have argued for relativist semantics in other areas. Anyone who is inclined to relativise truth to more than just worlds and times faces a problem about assertion. It’s easy to be puzzled about just what purpose would be served by assertions of this kind, and how to understand what we’d be up to in our use of sentences like “the treasure might be under the palm tree”, if they have such peculiar truth conditions.

In what follows I will first present an example of the kind of case that motivates relativism about epistemic modals. (I’ll be talking about ‘might’, but nothing much hangs on this choice of examples. In fact, the intuitions that I’m appealing to are probably stronger for ‘probably’. So if you think I might be wrong about ‘might’, you’ll probably be happier to go along if you think about the parallel argument for ‘probably’ instead.) I’ll then sketch a relativist theory in a bit of detail. I’ll then show why there is a problem, given such a theory, about the role of epistemic modals in assertion and communication, and set out to solve it. Solving this problem will be helpful in several ways: not only does it eliminate an apparently forceful objection to relativism, but the account of the role of such claims in assertion and communication helps to make clear just what the relativist position is, exactly, and why it’s interesting.


No papers blog today because of an administrative snafu. (One of many administrative snafus around TAR headquarters it turns out.)

The spam attack only fully stopped when I found out how to IP block the addresses being used. Thanks to Will in comments for suggesting this. No feedback from, who are hosting the spammers.

When things settle down here, I mean to write something substantive about the paper on moral relativism Jesse Prinz did here on Tuesday. So for now I’ll say two insubstantive things. First, it’s a little disturbing how many hidden indexicals there are meant to be in language these days. (Jesse is really a moral indexicalist, like Jamie Dreier, not a full-blown relativist.) Second, it’s amazing how much work the open question argument (and variants on it) has been thought to do over the last 100 years. It’s like Bow down before me, for I am the Open Question Argument of Doom, and I can be used to derive Every anti-realist conclusion Ever Conceived. That wasn’t quite how Jesse put it, indeed he didn’t describe his argument as a variant on the open question argument, though don’t know if he’d disagree with the claim that he was appealing to (inter alia) something lke the open question argument in his argument for relativism. Six months ago I thought of starting a serious study of Moore in order to have a better grip on what was going on with all these arguments, but it never really happened.

As I said, actual serious substantive comments to follow, because it was a very interesting paper and there’s lots to say.

Comment Spam

We just got an insane amount of spam from someone sending from IP address If someone knows how to notify the internet service provider responsible for that address, and get them to stop hosting spammers, I’d be incredibly grateful.

Another Knowledge Thought Experiment

Most intuition checks in epistemology involve made-up cases rather than found cases. The lottery cases may be an exception, but I think we should have a few more. Here’s my current favourite.

Consider Hamlet as he stands at the end of Act I. Does he know, or if you like know, that his uncle murdered his father? Let’s review the case for and against.

On the pro side, he has testimonial evidence, and the provider of the testimony presumably has first-hand evidence of the murderous act. So there’s a causal chain from the act leading to Hamlet. And that should usually do.

On the other hand, and it’s a big other hand, it’s a ghost. This is not the standard kind of testimony we’re talking about.

There are a couple of textual points that seem relevant. Hamlet seems at least a little familiar with ghosts, which might matter if one thinks, for instance, that internal justification of the evidence matters. On the other hand, it isn’t really made clear in the text just how the King knows how he was murdered. As he says,

Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother’s hand
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch’d:

So maybe the causal chain here doesn’t stretch straight back to the actual killing, but to when (in the afterlife?) the King found out about his method of murder. So it’s all a bit messy.

And if one is a two-dimensionalist about justification it will turn out that Hamlet clearly does not have a justified belief, because lectures from ghosts are not actually a reliable source of evidence.

There’s a Williamsonian point coming behind all this. Possibly it’s a little hard to say whether Hamlet knows at the end of Act I whether his uncle murdered his father. Perhaps he does, perhaps he doesn’t. But the question of whether he does or not is not a distinctively philosophical question, nor even a distinctively conceptual question. We’re just asking what the state of play is at that stage of the story. It’s just the same kind of question as if we ask whether Laertes knows at the end of act IV that Hamlet killed his father. (Yes, I think, though I can sort of imagine an argument to the contrary, what with Claudius having a vested interest in having Laertes come to believe it was Hamlet.) There’s no generalised ground for scepticism about the judgement about Hamlet that doesn’t extend to scepticism about the judgement about Laertes. And that seems preposterous – very often we know exactly what characters in plays do and don’t know. Someone who wants to argue that we could not know, or even have justified beliefs about, whether Hamlet knows how his father died at the end of Act I has to appeal, in some way or other, to facts particular to the case. That’s not a lesson I’ve always followed in the past, and it undermines some of my pro-JTB arguments.