A couple of congratulations, and an announcement.

  • Congratulations first to Vincent Hendricks for winning the Elite Research Prize from the Danish government. See here for more info on the prize, and here for a very cool shot of Vincent receiving the prize from a well known Australian.
  • Congratulations to Leeds for once again making some excellent junior hires. This year they’ve hired Jason Turner, currently at Rutgers, and Pekka Vayrynen, recently of Davis and before that Cornell. Leeds hiring record, especially their junior hiring record, in recent years is quite remarkable.
  • Arche has two new PhD studentships, these attached to the newly funded Intuitions and Methodology project. They also have 6 other studentships currently being advertised. More details here.

Externalism and Updating Credences

I’ve been trying to think through how various puzzles in formal epistemology look from certain externalist perspectives. This is a little harder than I think it should be, because there’s so little written on what formal externalist epistemology might look like. (And I haven’t exactly done a great job of chasing down what has been written I guess.) Tim Williamson has quite a bit, though most of it doesn’t seem to have been absorbed into the formal mainstream.

So what I’m trying to figure out at the first stage is a very simple question. Bayesian epistemology is based around the idea of updating by conditionalising on evidence. So what should count as evidence, in the salient sense, for various kinds of externalists?
Continue reading “Externalism and Updating Credences”

Ought and Context

As Joe Salerno reports, John MacFarlane gave a really nice paper on “ought” (co-written with Nico Kolodny) at the recent Arizona Ontology Conference. In the questions Adam Elga raised a really nice case that I think deserves some thinking about. At the very least it makes me worried about my preferred theories of “ought”.

NB: John’s paper isn’t online yet, so I’m not linking to it, nor directly discussing it. The puzzle raised here is a puzzle for his particular view, but it’s also a puzzle for a view like I like, which is quite unlike John’s.
Continue reading “Ought and Context”


Because we haven’t done these for a while.

  • APA Pacific Schedule.
  • Wo has a really great argument for the halfer solution to the Sleeping Beauty problem. This is one of those nice occasions where a blog post is more philosophically valuable than your average journal article.
  • Brian Leiter has a nice thread going on recommendations for where to start reading about LEMMing philosophy.


I was looking around trying to find flights to the APA Pacific, and I noticed that it is possible to get Continental flights starting at the Lower Manhattan Heliport. They’re a little more expensive than just getting the train (or for that matter a cab) to Newark and flying from there. But not by as much as I expected – I think about $125 each way. And it would be pretty nice to simply fly back into the city after a long trip. Sadly, I’m not sure my research budget covers such little luxuries.


So as many of you will know, Ishani and I recently moved to start new jobs at Rutgers. One of the nice features of the move, which I hadn’t appreciated in advance, was how much more like home it would be. I knew about Little Australia, but I hadn’t quite appreciated how South Asian the area was. One cute sign of this is that the deli across the street from me features (enormous) trophies won in local cricket tournaments. Another was that the bus stop across from the department in New Brunswick is currently festooned with fliers recruiting players for the Rutgers Cricket Club.

If only I was half as good at playing cricket as watching it, I’d have plenty to do around here. As it is, I have to hope that the Indian Premier League will be broadcast on some convenient American TV channel.

How To Win Friends and Influence Philosophers

I’ve just been reading Vincent Hendricks’s slides giving advice to graduate students on how to gain visibility in philosophy.  (Hat tip: Lemmings.)

 While I agree with some of this advice, I myself would advise students differently in some respects. 

I agree that keeping one’s CV and web page up to date is essential.  And, I would add, so is making sure your page makes you look good.  I don’t mean that you need to hire a web designer but that (for instance) you shouldn’t have a section headed ‘publications’ which lists a numbers of things which are not publications (e.g. drafts, unpublished conference talks).  It can come across as if you’re trying to be misleading, and people will notice. 

Also, I disagree with the advice to accept all kinds of invitations including requests to do grunt work.  While it is vital to accept as many invitations of the right sort as possible, it seems to me that students often spend a lot of time doing things which earn them no professional respect (such as taking out the garbage at conferences).  Networking requires you to talk philosophy with people at conferences; you can’t do it if you’re too busy running around cleaning up their lunch wrappings. 

Also, I would have cautioned against accepting certain kinds of invitation to review a book.  A book review takes a long time to write, considering how little weight reviews are given in assessing someone’s research record.  And getting one published in a third-rate journal is not going to get you noticed (worse, it might have a negative, is-that-the-best-(s)he-can-do, type of effect).  Your time would probably be better spent working on getting a paper ready to send to a good journal. 

Basically, I’m saying that being selective matters.  Taking every opportunity to talk at a conference, to help organize one, and to write to/co-operate with big names, etc., is a good idea.  But if you present yourself as someone who’s got nothing better to do than make tea and write book reviews for bad journals, people might think that’s true.

(Don’t get me wrong here: I’m not saying you shouldn’t be a good citizen by helping out at conferences and so on.  I’m just saying you don’t do yourself any favours by accepting all requests to do this sort of thing, at the expense of writing a good dissertation in a reasonable time frame and trying to get work published in good places.)

Finite Quantities in Arizona

My favourite session at the recent Arizona Ontology Conference was on Daniel‘s paper Finite Quantities.

Daniel argues that there is suggestive evidence from science to the effect that certain fundamental quantities are quantized rather than continuous.  That, for Daniel, is to say that not all properties of the form <em>having n units of X</em> are instantiated, for certain fundamental X such as mass, charge or perhaps distance.  Rather, for these X, there is some minimal n such that the property <em>having n units of X</em> is instantiated, and for all other instantiated properties of this form, ‘n’ is replaced with some multiple of this minimum.

It is commendable to get clear about what the quantized hypothesis looks like, and Daniel gets quite a lot clearer about it than most other discussions I know of.

However, having clarified that it is not a claim about the necessity (nomic, metaphysical or otherwise) of this restriction on the instantiation of certain properties, or about the non-existence, unreality or other substandardness of such properties (assuming that properties can exist uninstantiated), the view does not seem so very surprising or controversial. 

It strikes me as a much more modest and palatable claim than the claims that quantizers – including Daniel – often <em>sound</em> like they are making.  It sounds considerably less shocking, for instance, than the claim that ‘there is no such thing as’ (say) 1/2 n units of mass, or that although I may express things like “1/2 n units of mass” in <em>language</em> there is ‘no quantity corresponding to these representations’ and that ‘these quantities are not physically real’ (p. 2).

Moreover, clarity as to the exact nature of the quantizer’s thesis seems to make some of Daniel’s argumentative moves puzzling.

One of Daniel’s main opponents in the paper is someone who says that every time (say) a mass of six units is instantiated, the thing which instantiates the property <em>having six units of mass</em> also instantiates <em>having three units of mass</em> (twice over) and <em>having two units of mass</em> (three times over).
But let’s be clear about two readings of ‘having three units of mass’.  On the first, it means ‘having at least three units of mass’.  On the second, it means ‘having exactly three units of mass (and no more)’.

Now no-one would deny that everything which instantiates <em>having six units of mass</em> also instantiates <em>having at least three units of mass</em>.  That would be silly.  The quantizer, in this (made up) case, must instead be looking at denying that the property of <em>having exactly three units of mass (and no more)</em> is instantiated by anything.

But once we are clear that this is what is meant, the <em>opponent</em>‘s position looks silly.  Obviously something which instantiates <em>having six units of mass</em> does not instantiate <em>having exactly three units of mass (and no more)</em>.

On neither reading, then, does it seem as if a Daniel-style quantizer and the opponent he describes in his paper have a sensible dispute such that they might need to look at the science to resolve it.