Field Symposium

This month’s edition of Philosophical Studies has a symposium on Truth and the Absence of Fact by Hartry Field that looks like it should be interesting. The contributors are Anil Gupta, José Martínez-Fernández, Barry Loewer and Vann McGee. For various reasons I haven’t had a chance to look it over yet, but if I get a chance I’ll write up some observations.

Long Words are Bothersome

Carrie Jenkins, a philosopher from St Andrews who many of you will know from her participation on various blog discussion boards, now has a blog, and it already has several substantive entries on epistemology and meaning.

Long Words Bother Me

Harry Potter and the Zeugmatic Sentence

While waiting for my English language version of the latest Harry Potter to make its way across the ocean, I’ve been reading the fifth book again. And I’m still amazed at how little happens in so much space. An editor may have helped. But maybe an editor would have insisted on removing sentences like this (page 127 of the English edition.)

Dumbledore was striding serenly across the room wearing long midnight-blue robes and a perfectly calm expression.

That sounds mildly defective doesn’t it? Wearing robes isn’t the same kind of thing as wearing a calm expression.

Gratuitous Self-Promotion

I’m going to be at the conference on Dutch Book arguments in Prague in a few weeks, and I just finished a draft of the paper I’ll be presenting.

Dutch Books and Infinity

The paper probably won’t make a lot of sense to people who aren’t (very) familiar with the relevant literature. Probably between now and the conference I’ll rewrite it to make it somewhat clearer.

I haven’t updated my papers page for a bit, so here’s a list of the papers I’ve posted in recent times.

For the Barcelona conference on Relativising Utterance Truth

I’ve received lots of good feedback on these (not all of which has been incorporated into the papers) and some of them will be sent out for publication sooner or later with much improvement from readers.

Defeaters and Chance

In a paper in today’s issue of Philosophical Quarterly, Michael Bergmann has a discussion of defeaters. Here are the definitions he provides for rebutting and undercutting defeaters.

  • d is a rebutting defeater for b iff d is a defeater for b which is (or is an
  • epistemically appropriate basis for) the belief that b is false

  • d is an undercutting defeater for b iff d is a defeater for b which is (or is an

epistemically appropriate basis for) the belief that one’s actual ground or
reason for b is not indicative of b’s truth.

It seems to me these definitions can’t really get at what was driving the identification of these classes. Two examples about chance show this.

Let d be the belief that the objective chance of b is, right now, 0.2. It seems to me that is a rebutting defeater. But since it isn’t sufficient grounds to conclude that b is false, it has to be taken to be an undercutting defeater. And that’s so even if d is not in any sense about my epistemic practices that led me to believe that b.

Second example. Let d be the belief that the objective chance of b is, right now, 0.8. In some circumstances, that is incompatible with believing that b, so it is a defeater. But it is clearly not a rebutting defeater. And, since it is compatible with thinking the processes that led to belief that b are very reliable, it isn’t really an undercutting defeater either. So on this definition rebutting and undercutting defeaters aren’t exhaustive, which seems bad.

Guest Post: Journals and Conferences

I don’t normally do this, and I don’t plan on repeating it, but this topic seemed interesting enough to warrant a guest post. The following is from Robert May.

Is it appropriate for a journal, as part of the keepers of the scholarly record, to publish articles that cite or discuss material that is not part of the publically accessible, permanent scholarly record?

My interest in opinions about this stems from a recent event in which I was involved. Let me recount.

In spring 2003 I commented on a paper presented at a conference. My remarks were given verbally with slides taken from written, prepared remarks. After the conference, the author and I engaged in an e-mail correspondence about the paper and my response, in the course of which the author suggested that we might submit our papers together to a certain journal. Shortly thereafter, the correspondence ended; I posted my response on my web-page and thought nothing more about it until a few weeks ago, when I received my latest issue of said journal containing the author’s paper. The text of the orally delivered version of the paper carries over in the main intact, containing one subtle but significant change from the original text in response to my comments, noted by the author. But more germanely, the published version has a new section, adding approximately 50% to the length of the paper, devoted exclusively to a critical response to my commentary. This was the first time I had seen this material, neither the author nor the journal having sent me a copy of the revised version of the paper.

Now I think most would agree that the author has at least displayed scholarly bad manners. But I am interested in the more general question of the appropriateness of a journal publishing in the first place a response to an unpublished work, which nevertheless does exist in some sense in the public record, having in this case been presented orally and also posted on the web. (The citation in the author’s paper is only to my oral commentary at the conference; the web version is not referenced.)

Legally, I have garnered from my university counsel that my response is copyrighted as my intellectual property, and the author’s use of my work falls within the fair use guidelines for copyrighted materials. I was also informed that the courts have been split over whether fair use applies only to published materials, or to unpublished materials as well.

But regardless of the exact legalities, I think there is an issue here that pertains to the customs of the scholarly community. Do we think citation of unpublished materials is appropriate, or should it be discouraged, and if so, how?

My own view is that the custom should be to preclude such use, unless done with permission of the author. My reason is that it is inherently unfair to the author of the unpublished material. The journal in question currently has a policy of allowing critical response to oral commentaries; suppose there were a commentary presented without any supporting written document. Then how would a reader of the published response know whether it is fair to what is being criticized, accurately representing the views that were expressed only orally? Is it fair to criticize when only one side of the story can be reliably accessed? Commentary at a conference has both parties on hand, in front of an audience. Shouldn’t it be the same when the audience is the profession at large? Surely one of the primary purposes of the publically accessible, permanent scholarly record, of which journals are a primary component, is to provide to all interested scholars the materials needed to make such evaluations, and to assess the fairness of the response.

Journals, (and publishers) as main components of the scholarly record, should make it their responsibility to ensure that responses meet a standard of fairness, perhaps by having explicit publication policies that restrict responses to material primarily published in organs of the publically-accessible, permanent public record. Such policies would have to be sufficiently nuanced – for instance, should positive discussion of an unpublished paper be governed by the same covenants as negative discussion – but clearly the central issue in such policies will be their attitude towards electronic self-publishing. Should self-posted web-based materials be treated on a par with articles in journals? Certainly they don’t for the purposes of our records for academic advancement.

I think the issues here are worth some discussion; the customs by which we comport ourselves as an academic community reflects the respect we have for the scholarly enterprise.

Spam Stopping

One of the constant anti-spam measures I take around here is changing the names of files that are used in spam runs. Security by obscurity should be no use at all, but it is surprisingly effective. Normally you don’t see this because the spammers want files like the trackback scripit that you wouldn’t load. But recently they’ve been for no apparent reason repeatedly loading up an old paper, namely this one

Vagueness and Pragmatics

just so they can say that some spammy site linked to it. Very odd. Anyway, the name of the file changed so if you’d linked to it, please change the link.

What do Dutch Book Arguments Prove

It’s sometimes said that probability theory is the logic of partial belief, meaning by that that a person whose credences do not conform to the probability calculus are incoherent in just the same way that a person whose beliefs are logically inconsistent are incoherent. (We’re setting aside for purposes of this post whether logical inconsistency is a major, or even a minor, epistemic failing. The issue is whether not being a probabilist is like being an inconsistent person, however good or bad that is.)

It seems to me that this can’t be right. In particular, it seems that Dutch Book arguments for this cannot succeed. The most we can show by Dutch Book arguments is that the non-probabilist will evaluate sets of bets in such a way that leads to them giving positive evaluation to some bets that provably have negative net value taken collectively. But this is compatible with the agent having no mistaken logical views.

Note that there are lots of kinds of beliefs an agent could have that could not be true that are not logical errors. Here are three interesting categories of such belief.

  • Metaphysical – An agent who believes that water is atomic doesn’t (necessarily) make any logical mistakes even though their belief cannot be true.
  • Philosophical – An agent who believes that it is impossible to do a good deed that doesn’t maximise the excess of pleasure over pain has a belief that is a priori false, but it isn’t a logical mistake.
  • Mathematical – An agent who believes that 37 + 27 is 54 (say because they didn’t carry the 1 when adding) does not make any logical errors, save on strongish forms of logicism.

Which of these errors is the non-probabilist making. It is hard to see how it could be more than the last. Consider someone who engages in the following reasoning.

What should my credence in p v q be? Well, my credence in p is 0.37. And my credence in q is 0.27. And p and q are logically incompatible. So my credence in p v q should be 0.37 plus 0.27, that is, 0.54. That’s is, my credence in p v q is 0.54.

There are no logical errors in this bit of reasoning, just a mathematical error. So having non-probabilistic credences doesn’t imply making any logical mistakes, at most it implies a mathematical mistake.

That’s not to say there are no logical constraints on credences. I think there are, but they are all framed in terms of comparative probabilities, not numerical probabilities. For instance, I think the following is (akin to) a logical constraint, unlike the constraint that credences be probabilities. (C here is the credence function.)

C(p | q) > C(s)
C(p | ~q) > C(s)
So, C(p) > C(s)

A credence function that doesn’t satisfy this constraint is flawed in just the way that inconsistent beliefs are flawed. But this isn’t the way that non-probabilistic credences are flawed.