Richard Heck has put together what should become one of the coolest philosophy sites on the internet – a searchable database of online papers.


There isn’t much up there yet because individuals with papers have to register and deposit their own papers. (Which you should do. Right Now!) But this will in time be a phenomenal resource for philosophers, and we should all be very grateful to Richard for putting together such a wonderful site. Continue reading “PhOnline”

True Believers

I was looking around for stuff by other heretics in the knowledge debate so I googled Crispin Sartwell and found his webpage. Despite not containing much epistemology, it is a lot of fun. I rather liked (despite not at all agreeing with) his ranking of major philosophers on a 1-10 scale. On that note, yet another argument that knowledge is justified true belief is below the fold. (Exercise for the readers – find where if anywhere I’ve appealed to justification in this argument.) Continue reading “True Believers”

Free Will Thoughts

Three random thoughts on agent causation.

First, a lot of the writers on agent causation seem to assume without as far as I can see any argument whatsoever that agents can’t be effects. Now I can think of some syntactic arguments that agents can’t be effects (arguments of the kind Gil Harman refers to here) but since those arguments are just as strong as arguments for the claim that agents can’t be causes, the agent causation folks can’t endorse them. So is there any argument that agents can’t be effects that doesn’t also show agents can’t be causes.

For the record, I think it’s more plausible that agents are effects than that they are causes. One of the effects, the causal effects one might think, of sex is an agent. (Or in rare cases multiple agents.) I don’t think that’s a very serious argument, but it’s enough to sustain the comparative judgment.

Second, whatever the force of the intuition that totally caused decisions are not free, it’s worth remembering from time to time that there’s remarkably little force to the intuition that partially caused decisions are not free. One’s good upbringing is a (partial) cause of one’s freely choosing the good over the bad. If it isn’t it’s hard to see what the point of good upbringing, as opposed to good indoctrination, really is. (I know this will be obvious to most people, but I’m just recording a fact for possible future reference.)

Third, I thought this claim by Tim O’Connor is rather implausible. (And I’m writing this up despite it being a very bad NFL day.)

What of the limiting case—total conscious ignorance of one’s intention in acting? Here, I think, the agency theorist must say—what is independently plausible—that one does not act freely. I, at any rate, am unable to conceive an agent’s directly controlling his own activity without any awareness of what is motivating him.

Consider a running back who makes an instantaneous decision to cut left rather than right. He doesn’t have to consciously reflect on his decision in order for it to be a free decision. In particular, he doesn’t have to even have time to consciously reflect on his decision in order for it to be praiseworthy or blameworthy. (Note how differently we judge a back who fails to score because he chooses the wrong lane to one who fails to score because once he gets into the open he can’t outrun the safeties. The first is blameworthy, the second is just not quick enough.)

In these cases the running directly and freely controls his own activity through subconscious mechanisms. And he has to do so, because there’s no time for the very slow conscious processes to operate. So free choice can be unconscious.

Red Sox Win!

We make our own destination. (Loosely attributed to Manny Ramirez 27/10/04)

Go Sox! Go Sox!! Boston is Champion of the World!!! (But don’t burn down too much of Boston in celebrating this fact – we’d miss it.)

How to Vote

There are a lot of sites currently set up to provide information on how to vote either on or before election day. These kinds of sites might be particularly useful to college students enrolled back home. Here are two that seem useful.

Declare Yourself

Cornell is smack in the middle of one of the biggest and bluest of states, but lots of students here are from Ohio, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and other swing states, so this info could be very relevant to them.

Red Sox

I couldn’t get through a night without at least one Red Sox post.

Kai von Fintel posts about his family’s (very close!) connection to the Red Sox. I’ve just increased my credence in all of Kai’s semantic theories by 10%.

Via Kai’s trackbacks I ran into Boston Common which is a nice blog about all things Boston. Right now roughly 99% of posts are about the Sox.

Fodor on Analytic Philosophy

The Red Sox have caused a dearth of posting here – though we’re somehow still setting daily records for visits. (Is correlation causation? Does content drive away readers?) In any case the blog isn’t looking anywhere near as sickly as my email box (or my diet or sleep patterns or blood pressure etc) so maybe it shouldn’t be the priority. But I did want to post one thing in response to something Jerry Fodor wrote to Brian Leiter Continue reading “Fodor on Analytic Philosophy”

Philosophy as Debate

It’s a common device in philosophy (one I use excessively) to turn philosophical investigation into an imagined debate between advocates for the salient positions on the table. Sometimes this is a helpful stylistic device, because it lets the reader keep track of the dialectic more easily than the alternatives. But sometimes it has costs.

Consider a philosopher trying to find out whether there are representations who thinks to herself as follows.

Let’s imagine a debate between proponents of the two positions, the representationalist who says that there are representations, and the anti-representationalist who says that there are not. The anti-representationalist’s position is obviously incoherent, since she cannot state her position if it is true. So the representationalist has to win this debate. So there are representations.

Now I think there are representations (it wouldn’t be worth writing this blog if there weren’t) but I think this is a lousy way of arguing for them. It’s a lousy argument because it’s obviously a contingent fact about the world that it contains representations, but no step of the argument relies on contingent premises. So the argument proves more than we could hope to prove, since it seems to prove that representationalism is true everywhere.

From this I infer (perhaps incorrectly) that we should be very careful in arguments from the loss of the anti-p-ist in a debate to the truth of p. David Lewis noted long ago that by many debate rules the anti-dialethist would lose debates because they begged questions against the dialethist. He denied that implied anything about whether dialethism is actually true, in fact it is false though there are no non-question-begging arguments to that effect.

More pertinently, a large chunk of Tim Williamson’s paper on Everything seems to turn on an argument from the incoherence of generality-relativism to the truth of generality-absolutism, with the argument going via the embarrassment of the generality-relativist at being unable to state her position. I don’t think this is much help to the generality-absolutist, because it isn’t a conclusive argument that her position is true, even if her opponent’s position is unstatable. To be fair, Williamson acknowledges that the difficulty for the relativist isn’t conclusive, the absolutist still needs to quantify over everything, but I think he still puts too much weight on the incoherence objection.