Skip to main content.
27 April, 2007

Epistemic Conservatism

Daniel and I have been talking a lot about conservatism lately (Daniel’s been writing a book chapter on it), and we’re considering writing a joint paper on the topic. Here’s one of the things we’ve noticed that we’d like to write about.

A few importantly different kinds of epistemic conservatism seem to be floating around in the literature, not remarked upon nor clearly separated from one another, although it is far from obvious how they are related.

Some versions are about how to update your beliefs (e.g. Quineans, Bayesians), others about how to evaluate beliefs at a time. Let’s call these ‘update-evaluating conservatism’ and ‘state-evaluating conservatism’ respectively. In the latter category, there are some versions which say that what matters is your belief state at an earlier time than the time which is being evaluated (e.g. Sklar), others which say that what matters is your belief state at that very time (e.g. Chisholm). Let’s call these ‘diachronic state-evaluating’ and ‘synchronic state-evaluating’ conservatism respectively. Here are some examples from each category:

Update-evaluating (always diachronic): The best updating strategy involves minimal change to your belief and credence structure.

Synchronic and state-evaluating: The fact that you believe p at t1 gives a positive boost to the epistemic valuation of your belief in p at t1.

Diachronic and state-evaluating: The fact that you believe p at t1 gives a positive boost to the epistemic valuation of your belief in p at t2.

Now, the interesting question: does believing one of these principles commit you to any or all of the others? In this paper by McGrath – one of the few I know of that talks about this stuff – it is assumed that the core of conservatism is an update-evaluating kind, but that this is equivalent in truth-value to a corresponding synchronic state-evaluating kind of conservatism.

But here’s one reason to doubt things are that simple. Suppose I have a belief at t1 that is so epistemically bad that there is nothing to be said in its favour. Suppose I retain that belief at t2, with no new evidence, purely through inertia. One might wish to approve of the update qua update-evaluating conservative, but not wish to proffer any corresponding (diachronic or synchronic) state-evaluating approval of the belief at t2 – which, after all, is still held for really bad reasons.

Comments, pointers to good things to read, etc. warmly invited.

Posted by Carrie Jenkins at 11:13 pm


25 April, 2007

Testing Realism?

Wo links to this article in the most recent issue of Nature.

An experimental test of non-local realism

Most working scientists hold fast to the concept of ‘realism‘—a viewpoint according to which an external reality exists independent of observation. But quantum physics has shattered some of our cornerstone beliefs. According to Bell’s theorem, any theory that is based on the joint assumption of realism and locality (meaning that local events cannot be affected by actions in space-like separated regions) is at variance with certain quantum predictions. Experiments with entangled pairs of particles have amply confirmed these quantum predictions, thus rendering local realistic theories untenable. Maintaining realism as a fundamental concept would therefore necessitate the introduction of ‘spooky’ actions that defy locality. Here we show by both theory and experiment that a broad and rather reasonable class of such non-local realistic theories is incompatible with experimentally observable quantum correlations. In the experiment, we measure previously untested correlations between two entangled photons, and show that these correlations violate an inequality proposed by Leggett for non-local realistic theories. Our result suggests that giving up the concept of locality is not sufficient to be consistent with quantum experiments, unless certain intuitive features of realism are abandoned.

I’ve only ever read philosophers (like Tim Maudlin) on the Bell inequalities, and I don’t think I’ve ever read about the Leggett inequalities. So I shouldn’t be too snarky. But really, these judgments about comparative spookiness can’t be left to stand. They find non-local relations, of the kind we need to posit to give a realistic explanation of Bell inequalities, “spooky”. (I wonder if they find spatiotemporal relations spooky too.) But the thought that there isn’t really a world out there to perceive, and that our impressions of the world are to be explained in some way other than as the perception of a mind independent reality. That’s apparently not spooky at all. This doesn’t strike me as particularly plausible.

Comments from anyone who knows more about Leggett’s inequalities, or who wants to mock my fear of anti-realism, more than welcome.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 9:15 am


Some Compass Articles

It’s a bit late, since these have been online for a while. But this is my fault qua blogger, not my fault qua editor. As always, clicking on the title will get you the abstract. To get the full article, you need a subscription.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 12:32 am

No Comments »

24 April, 2007

Women in Philosophy

This is just a link to Brit’s report. Here are a couple of highlights.

21% of employed philosophers are women (Kathryn Norlock)

2004 US Department of Education estimates 41% of those employed in the humanities are women.

Philosophy PhDs awarded: 27% (and stuck there for the last ten years or so, with a spike to 33.3% in 2004, 25.1% in 2005).

Survey of Degrees Awarded (SED) 2005 figures. History 41%, Astronomy and physics 26%, Economics: 30%, Political Science 39%.

I was worried we were as bad as engineering in terms of percentage of PhDs who are women. (I read enginnering was at 18%.) It seems we are between physics and economics. I suspect that restricting attention to analytic philosophy makes our position look much worse, maybe as bad as engineering…

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 9:15 pm


20 April, 2007

R&R question

Someone asked me an interesting question about revise and resubmits the other day. If a philosopher, call them X, submits a paper to journal Y, and the editors return a revise & resubmit assessment, what obligations is X under. Obviously X doesn’t have to resubmit the paper to Y. But should X regard the paper as still under submission at Y? If so, X is obliged to either formally withdraw the paper from Y or not submit the paper elsewhere.

I think the answer is no, that once the editors have returned a submission, the paper is no longer under submission. X may resubmit the paper to that journal, but that would be a new submission. (As the wording ‘resubmission’ suggests.) So it’s OK to send the paper to a new journal without informing Y. But I can see a counter. At some journals (including, perhaps, one or two that I edit), R&R’s are such a crucial part of the editorial process, that one could regard them as moves in the process of considering a paper. In that case, the submission would still be active, and X would be obliged to not submit the paper elsewhere without formally withdrawing it from Y.

What do you think?

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 4:42 pm


Musical Links

This is a bit off-topic, but I thought some readers would be amused by some stuff I found on YouTube. The highlight is a song Paul Kelly wrote about Shane Warne, and released for free on YouTube.

A couple more Australian songs below the fold. Read the rest of this entry »

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 12:25 pm

No Comments »

14 April, 2007

Weekend Edition

I just got back from a very enjoyable trip to UMass to deliver a talk. I’ll write much more on the talk (and the feedback) after taxes, grading, etc are done, but in the meantime here are some links, comments etc for your enjoyment.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 7:36 pm


11 April, 2007

Women in Philosophy

Part n of an m part series, I guess. I was intrigued by these comments by Ross Cameron.

As I understand it, women are under-represented in the major journals (I mean, even given their under-representation in the profession – that is, woman are even more under-represented in the journals than you’d expect them to be, given how many women there are in the profession). Why is this? Well, we’d need a study on this, but the following seems likely to me. Since women are under-represented in the profession it is very likely, for every paper sent to a journal, that it will be refereed by a man. Men and women vary in their styles of writing and arguing. So while when a man submits a paper it is likely that it will be reveiwed by someone who writes and argues in a broadly similar style, with women this is very unlikely. Hence, women face a disadvantage in trying to get papers published.

Okay – it’s hardly likely to be that simple. But I bet there’s something to this. And if there’s some truth to this then there’s a good case to be made, it seems to me, for journals implementing the rule that papers by women should, other things being equal, be reveiwed by women. (The ‘other things’ packs in a lot, because it seems far more important that papers be reveiwed by experts in the subject.) Is there a good reason why this shouldn’t happen?

I don’t have any off-the-cuff opinions on this, but I thought it should be shared with a wider audience. I’m not really sure it is true that women are under-represented in the major journals relative to their distribution in the profession. My rough idea (and boy will this be embarrassing if I’m wrong) is that the overwhelming bulk of submissions to Phil Review are by men, and that the gender balance of what’s published roughly equals the gender balance of what’s submitted. (We referee papers blind, but we learn the identity of authors after a decision is made, so I have some sense of who has been sending stuff in, if not the current submissions.) But if it is true (and it wouldn’t surprise me if it is) then is Ross’s proposal worth adopting?

UPDATE – Asta notes in the comments that Sally Haslanger will be presenting some research at the Central APA showing that women are indeed under-represented in the major journals, even relative to their representation in the leading departments.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 10:12 am


3 April, 2007

Google Scholar

Jason writes that he approves of using Google Scholar to assess which papers are making much of an impact. This does seem like fun, and I wish I had more time to procrastinate with it. A couple of quick observations to add to what Jason said.

Here is a largely complete list= of David Lewis’s presence on Google Scholar. (It leaves off ‘General Semantics’, among other papers classified as mathematics, which is widely cited.) This list really brings out how much more prominent books are than articles. By far Lewis’s three most cited pieces are (in order) Convention, Counterfactuals and On the Plurality of Worlds. The most cited paper, ‘Scorekeeping in a Language Game’ has not much more than half the citations of Convention, and (apart from ‘General Semantics’) no other papers have even a third as many citations.

As Jason notes, some papers are highly cited because people love to tee off on them. Coincidentally, on my citation list the top run scorer is ‘Epistemic Modals in Context’.

Surprisingly, that’s also the most highly cited paper on John Hawthorne’s list, though he has a couple of books that are ahead of it (well ahead in the case of Knowledge and Lotteries) and several other papers published under his old name. Some of John’s papers have slipped under the radar a bit, but hopefully with their republication in his Metaphysical Essays, they will get a little more attention.

Anyway, feel free to chime in in comments with any other interesting results from Google Scholar.

UPDATE: This comment by Michael Kremer in Jason’s thread is really interesting, and possibly the best researched comment ever left on a blog.

Posted by Brian Weatherson at 1:31 pm

1 Comment »

2 April, 2007

Continuous Motion?

In the new issue of Analysis that Brian just mentioned, there’s an article by Hud Hudson called “How to Part Ways Smoothly”. He describes two point-objects that are colocated at every time before 100, but then are at a different location at that time, although both move continuously. The way this works is that both rotate around a clock face doubling their speed after each rotation, so that they go around infinitely many times before 100, and that at 100 one of them is at the 3 on the clock face and the other is at the 9.

I don’t understand why he is justified to claim that “neither character ever moves discontinuously”. It’s true as he says that no matter how small an interval you look at before time 100, there are time-slices of each character that are arbitrarily close to their destination. However, I normally think of continuity as being characterized by a different set of quantifiers – for every spatial distance, there is some temporal duration such that all time-slices within that duration are within that distance of the destination.

Because their trajectories satisfy Hudson’s definition of continuity but not mine, the space-time trajectories are said to be “connected, but not path-connected”, and curves like this are standard counterexamples in topology. But is there any reason why metaphysicians might adopt Hudson’s account of continuous motion and not mine? If not, then an example like his could be constructed whereby a particle traces out successive approximations to a Peano space-filling curve with constantly doubling speed, so that in the limit every point in space could be the result of “continuous” motion.

Posted by Kenny Easwaran at 2:33 pm


« Previous Entries  Next Page »