Go to Grad School!

It’s around the time of year when undergraduates start thinking about graduate school, so naturally it’s the time of year for overheated blog posts on why going to grad school is meant to be a Very Bad Idea. The latest of these is from Dean Dad, who wants to Stop the Cycle of Abuse, i.e. stop people going to grad school. The reasons given are all fairly standard factoids – it’s a huge opportunity cost, it takes forever, and the job market is awful. None of these are good reasons, and it would be an awful decision to not apply to graduate schools because of posts like these.

Now it is true that going to grad school does block you off from doing many other things with your 20s, such as being a professional athelete. But for many people grad school days are some of the most enjoyable of their lives, so the fact they last a while is hardly a major cost. And the job market is, at least for a lot of grad students, much better than the horror stories you’ll find on blogs suggest. Here, for instance, are the placement records for recent years of the philosophy departments at Princeton, Rutgers, NYU and MIT, four of the best East Coast philosophy programs. Note that these are the complete records – they include everyone who graduated, not just those who got headline jobs.
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Something New

What Kinds of Things Are Natural

This is a short note arguing that the Lewisian picture works much more smoothly if you take the things that are more or less natural to be functions from objects to magnitudes rather than properties. It’s indebted heavily to soon to be published work of John Hawthorne’s. Daniel Nolan tells me that Jack Smart has a similar view somewhere, but I haven’t been able to chase down the reference for that yet. So this probably isn’t an original view, but then again I’m much happier defending views of Smart’s than original views of my own!


Ishani was discussing the following kind of example, and I wanted to get feedback from others who might have clearer intuitions than I.

Billy lives in a house that is painted red on the outside, but every room is painted bright yellow. To get a sense of how yellow, imagine every room looks like this

except without Dizzee Rascal, and with yellow floors. His house is yellow.

Suzy lives in a house that has a perfectly normal, white walls brown wooden floors interior, but every part of the outside is yellow. When driving down the street, people often look out and say That house is yellow.

No other house on the street has a yellow exterior or a yellow interior.

Question: How many yellow houses are there on the street?
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Van Tuong Nguyen

Next Friday, Singapore plans to hang Van Tuong Nguyen, a 25 year old man from Glen Waverley, the Melbourne suburb where I grew up. Nguyen’s crime against the state of Singapore was to change planes in Singapore while en route from Cambodia to Australia carrying 396 grams of heroin. I can see, dimly, how doing this kind of thing could be a crime against Cambodia, and a crime against Australia, but I can’t see how this kind of action could justifiably be punished by Singapore, when he hadn’t even passed through passport control into Singapore and clearly had no intention of doing so.

And of course even if we do think Singapore is justified in punishing Nguyen for his crimes, the idea that hanging is the appropriate punishment for attempting to sell heroin would be laughable if the stakes weren’t so high. Either Singapore should hang people for putting together plans to commit murder, or they are implying that drug trading is worse than murder. Either option is nonsensical.

Anyway, at this stage the important thing isn’t to debate just how absurd Singapore’s position is, but to do something. Amnesty International Australia has a number of links for writing to the salient Singaporese ministers to beg for them to change their minds. The very least one could expect our government to be doing is not doing more favours for the Singapore government while they plan to murder an Australian, but that seems too much for John Howard, even when proposed by one of his own MPs.

Schaffer on Contextualism and Knows-wh

In the latest Philosophical Studies, Jonathan Schaffer launches a series of objections to Interest Relative Invariantism. I suspect most of these will end up being clashes of intuitions, though maybe I’ll write something more about them later. What I want to focus on here are Jonathan’s arguments concerning knowledge claims involving embedded questions. Jonathan claims these support contextualism, but I don’t really understand how that could be true. What he does seem to raise is a problem about how to understand embedded questions.
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SEP 2006

The 2006 Social for Exact Philosophy conference is in San Diego next May, and it has a nice website here. I won’t be going because I’ll be happily grading 101 exams at the time, but it should be fun. Just one question: wouldn’t it be utility maximising to have San Diego-located conferences in winter?


After a rather long journey, with delays caused by the wonderful Sydney luggage handling system leading to our spending the last 2 nights on planes, Ishani and I are back in Syracuse. I have about 20 emails to respond to from while I was out of email contact, so if I owe you an email, hopefully I’ll write it tomorrow, after returning to normal body clock routine.