Decision Theory Textbooks

I’m teaching a decision theory course in the Fall, and I’m trying to figure out what, if any, textbook to use. There are a couple of older books by Michael Resnik and Richard Jeffrey, but does anyone know if there’s anything more up-to-date?

There are many game theory textbooks, though these are often written for a more mathematically oriented audience. Of course, most of those books include many claims that are vulnerable to Stalnaker’s critiques of various game-theoretic techniques, so I’d have to be a little careful teaching from them. But I’m not sure what there is, if anything, in decision theory that’s particularly up-to-date. Any suggestions would be much appreciated!

Moral Relativism, Beliefs and Knowledge

I’m going to offer an argument here that any kind of contextualism, whether orthodox or heterodox, about moral terms, especially “wrong”, does not fit our usage of those terms. The argument is going to be that in order to offer a contextualist-friendly account of the behaviour of “wrong” in belief ascriptions and knowledge ascriptions, we have to suppose that it behaves quite differently in those two settings. But other context-sensitive terms do not behave that way, and we have good theoretical reasons to believe that this is not in general how context-sensitive terms behave. So “wrong” is not context-sensitive, either to contexts of usage or assessment.
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Factive verbs and ‘might’

In CIA Leaks, Kai von Fintel and Thony Gillies raise a problem for heterodox theories about ‘might’. (Actually they raise several, but I’m only going to deal with one of them here.) Their primary target is what I called ~ (T) theories, but the argument they raise is interesting to consider from all heterodox perspectives.

The problem concerns embedding of ‘might’-clauses under factive attitude verbs. They argue as follows:

  1. S realises that p presupposes that p.
  2. This presupposition is carried over when the sentence is used as the antecedent of a conditional. So, for instance, If S realises that p, then q presupposes that p.
  3. But, on standard heterodox propopsals, we can properly say If S realises that it might be that p, then q, even though it isn’t true that it might be that p.
  4. So heterodox proposals are false.

Continue reading “Factive verbs and ‘might’”

Two Dogmas of Contextualism

There has been a lot of terminological confusion involving debates about contextualism and relativism in recent years. At various times I’ve tried to help clear this up, though I’ve probably only ever succeeded in further muddying the waters. Here is a slightly different version of the things I say in Conditionals and Indexical Relativism.

Traditional versions of contextualism, or at least the kind of contextualist theories that were mainstream views when I was in college, accepted the following two theses.

(U) The content of what is said by an utterance is the same relative to any assessors
(T) The truth value of something that is the content of an utterance is the same relative to any assessors

The first thesis says that whatever I say relative to assessor A1, I say relative to A2. The second thesis says that if I say that p, then whatever truth value p has relative to A1, it has relative to A2. Neither thesis was uniformly accepted – indeed Kaplan at times seems happy to ditch each of them – but they did, I think constitute a kind of mainstream view about context-sensitivity. So much so that I’ll call them the two dogmas of orthodox contextualism.

One of the great advances of John MacFarlane’s paper Non-Indexical Contextualism was noting that the two dogmas are indeed two. We can make this clear by looking at two different models for content, each of them taken from papers by Andy Egan.

The first is the centred worlds model for content. This is the idea that for some utterance types, any token of that type expresses the same content. But that content is a set of centred worlds, that is true at some centres and false at other centres in the same world. So we might think that the content of “Beer is tasty” is, roughly, the set of possibilia who have pro-attitudes to the taste of beer. More precisely, it is the set of world-centre pairs such that the agent at (or perhaps closest to) the centre has pro-attitudes towards the taste of beer. On this view, (U) will be maintained – what an utterance of “Beer is tasty” says is invariant across assessors. (Actually on the model I’ve sketched, it’s invariant across different utterances too, but that’s a separate point.) But (T) will fail, since whether that content is true for A1 and A2 will depend on what their attitudes are towards beer.

This kind of centred worlds model for content is what Andy has developed in these three papers.

The second model lets assessors get into the content-fixing mechanism, but says the content that is fixed is a familiar proposition whose truth is not assessor relative. This is easiest to explain with an example involving second-person pronouns. For some utterances of “Obama loves you”, the content of that utterance, relative to x, is that Obama loves x. Now whether Obama loves x is a simple factual question, and whether it is true isn’t assessor relative. But (if Obama loves some people and not others) whether the utterance is true or false depends on who is assessing it. So (U) fails, while (T) is true.

This is a view Andy has defended and that Josh Parsons has defended the possibility of.

In Conditionals and Indexical Relativism, I called the position that held onto (T) while rejecting (U) “indexical relativism”, and defended such a view about indicative conditionals. I called something similar to the view that rejected (U) while accepting (T) “non-indexical contextualism”. Following MacFarlane, I used that phrase for the combination of (T), ~ (U) and the view that whether a speaker’s utterance is true (relative to an assessor) is a matter of whether the proposition they express is true relative to their context.

I like the name “indexical relativism”, so I plan to keep using it. But I’m not sure what the best labels are for the various views that reject (T). I’m inclined to just describe them. After all (T) + ~ (U) and ~ (T) + ~ (U) aren’t much harder to write than “non-indexical contextualism”, “radical relativism” or whatever other names we might come up with. And they’re much easier to remember!

This was all basically set up for a couple of posts that are about to come on moral relativism and on epistemic modals, but it’s still necessary to go through this kind of scene-setting in order to locate various positions we might want to take.

Examples of Examples

I’ve been reading Timothy Williamson’s The Philosophy of Philosophy over the break. Hopefully I’ll have some serious posts on it to follow. This isn’t one such post. But I was interested in this remark.

The canonical example in the literature on philosophical thought experiments is Edmund Gettier’s use of them to refute the traditional analysis of knowledge as justified true belief. (179)

Is this really the canonical example? If so, how did it become so. I know that I discussed it at some length in What Good are Counterexamples?, but I don’t think that’s enough to make it canonical.

In any case, if it is canonical, that’s probably a bad thing as far as I’m concerned. What’s striking about the Gettier case is that it seems so easy to generalise. It’s not too controversial whether a particular example is a “Gettier example” or not. So it isn’t clear how much our intuitions/judgments about this particular case are driving the argument. I think it would be much better to have more methodological attention paid to examples like the one Socrates uses at the start of The Republic to convince Cephalus that justice does not always consist in paying your debts. That example has the disutility of being not fully spelled out. But it’s nice as an example of the power of examples because we can all agree that it supports the conclusion Socrates draws even if we couldn’t state what general principle is driving the example, nor know how to generalise the particular example. In that respect, it really shows the philosophical power of examples in a way that it isn’t clear the Gettier case does.

Compass Updates

Blackwell and Wiley have merged, so Philosophy Compass is now published by Wiley/Blackwell. They are currently offering free two month trials to any institution who requests one. Compass now has well over 100 articles online, and we are hoping to have 100 more this year, so now might be a good time to recommend to your university/college’s library that they subscribe.

Compass is also thinking of starting a user review site for philosophy anthologies/textbooks, sort of a Trip Advisor for textbooks. The idea is that we’ll maintain a database of books that are used at least somewhat widely in philosophy, and we’ll give you the chance to review the books, and to read other people’s reviews. This will be linked to Compass, but freely available whether you subscribe or not.

If we do this, which books would you like to see us include? We’ll make a list of the obvious ones (i.e. the big anthologies from the major presses) but are there any that might not be so obvious that you think we should include?

Around the Web

A few links I noticed over the last few days.

  • “Snow is white” is a blog by at St Andrews grad student, Tom Hodgson. (Note I had Tom’s name wrong when I first wrote this. My apologies!)

Unmanifestable Dispositions

This morning I’ve been thinking about dispositions that cannot be manifested: that is, dispositions to¬†phi under circumstances C, where either phi-ing or circumstances C are metaphysically impossible.

One thing I’m interested in is whether there are any such dispositions. Another is whether anything has such a disposition. Prima facie, there are some reasons to answer yes to both questions. I think, for instance, that I have a disposition to be puzzled when presented with a round square object.

In response to this suggestion, however, Daniel pointed out that a certain amount of coarse-graining about dispositions would enable us to accommodate that disposition without believing in dispositions which cannot be manifested. My disposition to be puzzled when presented with a round square object may be identical to my disposition to be puzzled when presented with an interesting and surprising object that I didn’t think existed, and this disposition can of course be manifested.

Lewis’s counterfactual account of dispositions in ‘Finkish Dispositions’, combined with his view that counterpossible conditionals are trivially true, delivers that everything has every¬†disposition to phi in circumstances C for impossible C. But this does not by itself entail that there are any dispositions which cannot be manifested, since these trivial dispositions may for all we’ve said so far be identical to more familiar, manifestable, ones.

Nevertheless, for those of us inclined to be abundant with our dispositions, I think there is some reason to believe in unmanifestable dispositions (and instantiations thereof). And I don’t see any special reason why there shouldn’t be such things, given that dispositions don’t need to be manifested in order to be instantiated.

Link City

I’ve been reading John Burgess’s book Fixing Frege, and I have to say, it’s one of the best books I’ve read in ages. Burgess’s subject is recent attempts to rescue from the inconsistent theory Frege proposed, theories that are consistent and strong enough in which to do serious mathematics. Burgess is somewhat sceptical of the project’s ultimate success, but the main aim here is to set out the state of play. And I would never have thought it was possible to do it as clearly as Burgess does. It’s quite hard, for instance, to give novice readers an approximate guide to what someone is saying, and to say quite clearly in what respects you are approximating. Usually if you can do that, you can state the non-approximate statement just as clearly. But Burgess does this kind of thing with apparent ease. Really highly recommended if you want to know what’s been going on in this field.

In other news, Vincent Hendricks’ new philosophy show on prime-time Danish TV has started, and you can see episodes here. And you can see pictures of him receiving the Elite Science Prize from a famous Australian here.