Meeting of the Society for Exact Philosophy, 2007

S.E.P. 2007 — Vancouver, Canada. May 17-20, 2007.


The 35th annual meeting of the Society for Exact Philosophy will be held at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, May 17-20, 2007, organized by Prof. Paul Bartha (UBC). Paper submissions pertinent to the conference theme, “Time, Logic, and Exact Philosophy”, are especially encouraged, but papers in all areas of analytic philosophy are welcomed.

Guest Speakers—

  • Richard Healey (U Arizona)
  • Jeff Horty (U Maryland)
  • John Woods (UBC)

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: January 7th, 2007. (Notifications: by Jan 31st.)

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Link City

I’m on the road now (and have been for a while) so access to things like email is a little spotty. Apologies to everyone to whom I’ve been slow in responding. Meanwhile, here are some random things I’ve come across while crying into my beers over the Warne-McGrath retirements.

  • I’m going to a conference on Ryle and Ryle-influenced philosophy at Ryerson University next year. The dates aren’t set, but this looks like it should be very enjoyable.
  • For this holiday giving season, Peter Singer had an interesting article in the NY Times about charitable giving. Singer makes some quite practical suggestions for what high income (and that includes I’m sure some readers of this blog) earners should be giving.
  • PEA Soup has a thread going on notable ethics papers. I’m very grateful to them for putting this up, and following along with interest.
  • The call for papers for next year’s TARK (theoretical aspects of rationality and knowledge) closes relatively soon.

Job Market News

Brian Leiter links to this helpful wiki listing which departments have and haven’t contacted candidates concerning interviews at the APA. The good news is that there are still a lot of schools that seem to be still to make phone calls. So there’s still a lot of interview slots to go around. The not-so-good news is that this state of affairs may only last a day or two more.

Anyway, if anyone has info (i.e. they’ve heard from one of the schools on the ‘waiting for info’ list) feel free to update the wiki. And the rest of us can keep checking it nervously.

Physics and Philosophy

I just saw an interesting post on the Bohm interpretation of quantum mechanics, arguing that it doesn’t really help explain any of the interesting facts of quantum computing. (I think the many-worlds interpretation might help, but I’m no expert.)

However, I think the discussion was particularly interesting because it shows what physicists thinking about philosophical questions think “philosophical” means:

The unfortunate word “interpretation” suggests that foundational work should never impact the ring-fenced portion of the theory and should be confined to something like “finding the right language” for talking about quantum theory in order to avoid the difficulties with measurement, etc. Indeed, many philosophers actually like this distinction, because it makes “interpretation” a purely philosophical question that they can go off and study on their own, safe in the knowledge that they won’t find themselves proved wrong by physicists.

For my own part, I would have thought that this is a distinction that philosophers would want to reject. Isn’t it more appealing to the ambitious philosopher to say that the problem of interpretation is a philosophical question that is important to the physics. Thus, physicists will have to pay attention to us, even if it does mean that on some level we run the risk of being proved wrong by them.

Now, you may regard the “ontology problem” as a pure philosophy problem, to which physics can never supply a unique answer.

Calling a question philosophical is sometimes about the same for me as calling it moot. I agree that physics answers often have philosophical strength. In that sense, the philosophical aesthetic is valuable. But if you call a question philosophical, then you may be saying that if you don’t know if there really is a question.

Again, this seems to be a physicist with misconceptions about what philosophy is. (Though perhaps the fact that I think that just means that I have misconceptions about what philosophy is too.) I would have thought that once the Quine-Duhem problem was noted, it would be clear that “physics can never supply a unique answer” doesn’t mean that a question isn’t part of physics. In fact, the existence of this sort of question, which physicists do seem to find interesting once in a while (never mind their accusations at string theorists and others of engaging in pseudo-science) seems to me to lend strong support for a naturalist position on which there is no solid distinction between philosophical and physical questions, and the answers to either can have impacts on the other.

Anyway, it does seem strange to me that there’s so much discussion of the philosophical aspects of physics on the blogosphere, and so little input from actual philosophers of physics in these debates. It would seem that many of the physicists involved don’t even know that philosophers of physics exist! Is this the sort of case where our profession needs to assert itself a little more, or is it not even worth the attempt to win the hearts and minds of physicists?

Michael Gill on Moral Rationalism and Sentimentalism

Michael Gill, Moral Rationalism vs. Moral Sentimentalism: Is Morality More Like Math or Beauty? in Philosophy Compass.

One of the most significant disputes in early modern philosophy was between the moral rationalists and the moral sentimentalists. The moral rationalists – such as Ralph Cudworth, Samuel Clarke, and John Balguy – held that morality originated in reason alone. The moral sentimentalists – such as Anthony Ashley Cooper, the third Earl of Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson, and David Hume – held that morality originated at least partly in sentiment. In addition to other arguments, the rationalists and sentimentalists developed rich analogies. The most significant analogy the rationalists developed was between morality and mathematics. The most significant analogy the sentimentalists developed was between morality and beauty. These two analogies illustrate well the main ideas, underlying insights, and accounts of moral phenomenology the two positions have to offer. An examination of the two analogies will thus serve as a useful introduction to the debate between moral rationalism and moral sentimentalism as a whole.

LeBuffe on Hobbes

Michael LeBuffe, Hobbes’s Reply to the Fool in Philosophy Compass.

The objection Hobbes raises in the voice of the Fool against his own argument is, apparently, that it is sometimes rational to break covenant. Hobbes’s answer is puzzling, both because it seems implausible and also because it seems at odds with some of his own views. This article reviews several strategies critics have taken in trying to show that Hobbes’s answer is more plausible than it seems and one attempt to show that the Fool’s objection concerns the action of breaking covenant only indirectly.

Philosopher’s Annual

As Keith DeRose notes, the Philosopher’s Annual seems to have died. The job of the Annual was to collect the best 10 or so articles in any given year. The articles would get reprinted, but I think this wasn’t a huge part of the point. (I never remember seeing, for instance, a print version.) The main job was to recognise, in real time, the best articles that were coming out.

Now it is sad that the Annual has died, but it is the kind of thing that the philosophy blog world should be able to do something about. If the aim is to find a list of the best 10 articles in a given 12 month period, as chosen by a broad cross-section of the profession, this looks like a job that it will be easier to do in a blogging age than before.

Now TAR has been, as you’ll have noticed, not the most active blog in human history later. And that’s largely because we’re all rather busy with other projects, like teaching and grading. (At least those of us not at ANU are so engaged!) But I’m sure we could help out if Certain Doubts, or Pea Soup, or one of the other big blogs wanted to organise something to follow up on the Philosophers’ Annual.


Many of you will have seen this before, but I rather liked the Unsuggestor. It’s meant to be the opposite of the tool you see on Amazon and elsewhere that tells you which books are bought by people who bought a particular book. This tells you which pairs of books are not jointly owned. By the Amazon logic, if you like one, you’ll hate the other.

They have a list of books that don’t go well together on the side of the page. The top one is Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Sophie Kinsella’s Confessions of a Shopaholic. The third is Augustine’s Confessions and Sherrilyn Kenyon’s Night Pleasures. Here are some other pairings.

Austin, How to Do Things With Words – E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web
Descartes, Meditations on First Philosophy – Janet Evanovich, Two for the dough
Ryle, The Concept of Mind – David Sedaris, Me Talk Pretty One Day
Russell, History of Western Philosophy – Emma McLaughlin, The Nanny Diaries

Feel free to add more in comments!

Category Mistakes

Here is the text of the Wikipedia entry on category mistake.

A category mistake, or category error is a semantic or ontological error by which a property is ascribed to a thing that could not possibly have that property. For example, the statement “the business of the book sleeps eternally” is syntactically correct, but it is meaningless or nonsense or, at the very most, metaphorical, because it incorrectly ascribes the property, sleeps eternally, to business, and incorrectly ascribes the property, business, to the token, the book.

The term “category mistake” was introduced by Gilbert Ryle in his book The Concept of Mind to remove what he argued to be a confusion over the nature of mind born from Cartesian metaphysics. It was alleged to be a mistake to treat the mind as an object made of an immaterial substance because predications of substance are not meaningful for a collection of dispositions and capacities.

This seems to be quite misleading to me in several ways.

As Ishani just pointed out to me, that a is necessarily not F doesn’t mean that saying a is F is a category mistake. If I said that 3 was half of 5, I’d be ascribing to 5 a property it necessarily doesn’t have, but the mistake is arithmetic, not mathematical.

And it isn’t clear that predication is at all central to category mistakes. Ryle’s introduction of the concept largely involves people asking mistaken questions, not making mistaken assertions.

The last sentence is also odd. It is a little tricky to say just what Ryle’s argument is here against Descartes. On the one hand, Ryle does end up concluding that to have a mind just is to have the right kinds of dispositions. And he does say that we shouldn’t identify the having of those dispositions with any kind of substance, either physical or non-physical. But is that how he argues against Descartes? I would have thought that the identification of the mind with the dispositional properties was after the conclusion that Descartes had made a category mistake, so this wasn’t Ryle’s argument that Descartes had indeed made a category mistake. But what then is the argument against Descartes here?

Ryle at times in chapter one of Concept of Mind says that he is outlining his argument, not making it, so maybe I’m going wrong in reading the order of Ryle’s conclusions. Perhaps, that is, he really does conclude first that mental talk is talk about dispositions, and from that infer that Descartes made a subtle category mistake.

I think this is all rather interesting, because even those philosophers who are neither Rylean nor Cartesian (i.e. most philosophers) should still be interested in Ryle’s claim about logical grammar. Is Ryle right that Descartes makes a category mistake in treating the mind as a substance? Jack Smart thought he was not – if the mind is the brain then the mind is a substance. So the question cuts across physicalism/dualism lines to some extent. Perhaps some property dualists could agree that Ryle is right to accuse Descartes of a category error, while insisting that mental properties are distinctive. (Actually, Ryle’s relation to property dualism is complicated I think, because of his avowed anti-reductionism. But that’s for another post or two.)

Anyway, it would be good if all this stuff about category mistakes could be sorted out, then we could fix the Wikipedia entry!