Dogmatism Slides

I’m doing my talk on dogmatism at a couple of places next month, so I made up a slides version of it. It is rather condensed in places, but just in case anyone prefers reading a Powerpoint version to a paper version, here it is.

In Defence of a Dogmatist

Two Links

Via Greg Restall, I see that Lloyd Humberstone has posted his 1259 page manuscript The Connectives. We worked through some parts of this in seminars when I was in grad school, and it was incredibly useful and informative in all sorts of ways. I’m certain I would never have been able to write the paper on ‘truer’ without what I learned in those classes for instance, although much of what I learned from them didn’t get explicitly presented in the final paper. Highly recommended.

The latest edition of Philosophical Studies contains papers from the 2004 Bellingham conference. I remember many of those papers as being very good, but I haven’t gone back and read the finished versions. Any reports on the papers would be much appreciated!

101 Teaching

I was talking to Andy Egan the other day about strategies for teaching intro philosophy classes. When putting together a syllabus for an intro class, there seem to be two broad strategies one can follow.

First, one can do a broad but shallow survey of a lot of different topics in philosophy. As far as I can tell, this kind of approach seems like the dominant one that people use, at least where classes with titles like “Introduction to Philosophy” are taught.

Alternatively, one can pick a small number of topics, and focus on them in some depth, hoping that this illustrates what goes on in philosophy.

I’ve been drifting towards more of the alternative strategy, so next year my intro class will largely be on philosophy of religion and philosophy of mind. (Though we’re reading the Meditations for the mind section, so there will be some serious epistemology in there to.) So I’m interested in thinking about the pros and cons of each strategy.

The benefits of the survey approach seem to be:

  1. Students get an idea of the different kinds of subjects they can study in philosophy.
  2. Students don’t get bored if they don’t like a particular topic
  3. There is more chance to really focus on the best accessible philosophical work, you don’t have to try and work everything into a coherent package
  4. Relatedly, you get to at least tell them about many of the best and most interesting ideas of the last few hundred (or thousand) years
  1. The title isn’t misleading; if you want to do an intro philosophy of mind course, you should call it that, not ‘Introduction to Philosophy’.

The benefits of the alternative approach are:

  1. You get to work through things in greater detail
  2. Students might actually learn something about mind, or philosophy of religion, or whatever, rather than just learning that these topics exist
  1. It’s only when working through things in detail that the distinctively philosophical aspects to the methodology come through

Well, I’m sure there are more benefits than this, but those were the immediately apparent ones. What approaches do people here who teach big intro classes take to the subject? Should I be going back to the ‘broad but shallow’ approach that seems reasonably successful?

Monday Message Board

Hopefully the databases driving the blog are getting stable.

Here’s the weekly message board for announcements about conferences, events, papers or anything noteworthy and philosophical. Thanks to everyone who has used it so far!

Counterexamples to Lewis on Value

In “Dispositional Theories of Value”, Lewis endorses the following two claims.

  • Something is valuable iff we value it under circumstances of ideal imaginative acquiantance.
  • We value something iff we desire to desire it.

Here are a couple of counterexamples to this pair of theses. I don’t know whether these are at all original; I’m not very familiar with this literature.

Some people have many thwarted desires; others don’t. I value being one of the ones who does not. Or at least I think it is valuable to not have many thwarted desires, so if Lewis’s first thesis is right then I would value this under ideal circumstances.

But I don’t desire to desire this. To be sure, I do desire to not have thwarted desires. But I don’t regard this status of mine, desiring to not have thwarted desires, as something I have pro-attitudes towards. It seems to me constitutive of having desires that one desire to not have many thwarted desires, since I’m essentially a thing that has desires. So necessarily I desire to not have thwarted desires, so if I desired that I desire to not have thwarted desires, I’d be desiring something that I recognise as a necessary truth. And this seems like a very odd attitude to have. At any rate, I don’t have this attitude.

So this is a value, or at least something valuable, that I don’t desire to desire, and that I wouldn’t desire to desire if my circumstances were more ideal.

Perhaps there is a gap in that argument. I said it is essential to me that I desire not to have many thwarted desires. But I only have that property if I exist, and I might not exist. (Indeed, barring a dramatic medical revolution I won’t exist one of these centuries.) Maybe my desire to exist is a desire to desire that I not have many thwarted desires. I don’t really think it is. When I introspect I don’t see any second-order desire to desire to not have thwarted desires, but maybe I’m just not looking closely enough.

Still, considerations of existence and non-existence suggest a second counterexample to Lewis’s theory. Poor Billy is slowly and painfully dying. He belives (rightly or wrongly) that this protracted death is an affront to his dignity, and because he so values his dignity he wishes he were already dead.

Does Billy desire to desire dignity? No. He does desire dignity, but he wishes that he didn’t desire it, because he wishes that he had no desires at all. So Billy values something he doesn’t desire to desire.

Note that I’m not saying that anyone who desires not to exist thereby cannot reasonably desire anything that entails existence. That would be a most implausible claim about desire. (Or so I say; there are some who deny this, or something slightly weaker than it.) Rather, I’m just making it a condition of the case that Billy’s state is so deplorable by his own lights that as a matter of fact he does not desire anything that entails living, such as desiring dignity. That seems to me compatible with valuing dignity, so the second-order desire analysis of valuing fails.

Conditionals Conference

Last weekend I was at the very successful workshop on conditionals organised by the graduate students at the University of Connecticut. The aim of the workshop was to bring together philosophers and linguists with very different methodologies together. I think the interaction was useful. Kai von Fintel told the philosophers that from a semantic point of view, the problem is that philosophers don’t read enough David Lewis. Or, perhaps more precisely, they don’t read the right David Lewis, especially “Adverbs of Quantification”.

I did a version of Conditionals and Relativism, and got some valuable feedback from it. (Note though that the version I did isn’t a lot like that version. I’ll hopefully write something here soon about the differences.)

There are more comments about the conference by Kai and at the new UConn gradblog.

Congrats again to the organisers (Franklin Scott and Brian Leahy) for a very successful workshop.

Workshop at Cornell

The Sage School of Philosophy and the Philosophical Review are pleased to announce a Workshop organized around J. Robert G. Williams’s ‘Eligibility and Inscrutability’, the winner of the 2006 Young Philosopher’s Essay Competition prize. This year the competition was in philosophy of language – fifty-five submissions were reviewed. The final version of the paper will be published in the Philosophical Review. Everyone interested is welcome to attend.

Location: Lincoln Hall, Room B-21, Saturday, April 22, 10:00 am – 1:30 pm


9:45 Slow gathering (coffee, bagels, etc. available)
10:00 Robert Williams (University of Leeds): Synopsis of ‘Eligibility and Inscrutability’
10:20 Timothy Bays (Notre Dame University): Comments
11:00 Short break
11:05 John Hawthorne (Rutgers University): Comments
11:45 Long break (coffee, bagels, etc. once again)
12:00 Robert Williams (Leeds University): Responses
12:20 General discussion
1:30 Slow dispersing

Abstract of ‘Eligibility and Inscrutability’

Inscrutability arguments threaten to reduce interpretationist metasemantic theories to absurdity. Can we find some way to block the arguments? A highly influential proposal in this regard is David Lewis’ ‘eligibility’ response: some theories are better than others, not because the fit the data better, but because they are framed in terms of more natural properties. The purposes of this paper are (1) to outline the nature of the eligibility proposal, making the case that it is not ad hoc, but instead flows naturally from three independently motivated elements; and (2) to show that severe limitations afflict the proposal. In conclusion, I pick out the element of the eligibility response that is responsible for the limitations: future work in this area should therefore concentrate on amending this aspect of the overall theory.

Blog Odd

There have been a few oddities with the blog database over the last couple of days. So a couple of posts, and several comments, have been lost. Sorry if this has happened to your comments. I don’t exactly know what the problem is, but I hope it’s fixed shortly.

I have a few thanks to make to various hosts for their hospitality over the last little while, but I might wait until I know the posts will survive to make them…