Philosophers on Wikipedia

It’s interesting to see who does, and doesn’t, get covered in any detail on Wikipedia. To take some important Sydney-based examples, compare the entries for David Armstrong, John Mackie, and David Stove. I doubt even Stove would have claimed he was ten times more important than Mackie and Armstrong combined, yet for some reason his entry is ten times the length of theirs put together. It would be worthwhile for someone noble to sit down and extend the Mackie and Armstrong entries, to say nothing of many other worthwhile philosophers.

Religious Disagreement and Equal Weight

I was in Barnes and Noble the other day flicking through the new books, and I saw this book by a local religious figure, Timothy Keller called The Reason for God. It’s meant to be a response to all sorts of arguments for religious scepticism. I was only skimming, as you do in bookstores, and most of the points seemed fairly familiar, but I was struck by the following short passage on arguments from disagreement.

The noted religion scholar John Hick has written that once you become aware that there are many other equally intelligent and good people in the world who hold differente beliefs from you and that you will not be able to convince them otherwise, then it is arrogant for you to continue to try to convert them or to hold your view to be the superior truth.

Once again there is an inherent contradiction. Most people in the world don’t hold to John Hick’s view that all religions are equally valid, and many of them are equallty good and intelligent as he is, and unlikely to change their views. This would make the statement “all religious claims to have a better view of things are arrogant and wrong” to be, on its own terms, arrogant and wrong.

This seems related to my argument against Equal Weight (EW) views on disagreement, views that say you should give equal weight to your own judgment and the judgment of epistemic peers. I argue in this unpublished note that such views are self-defeating, because given the fact that not everyone you should regard as an epistemic peer has the EW view, holding it implies that you shouldn’t hold it. So I was worried I’d been gazumped in print.

On closer reading this seems not to be the case. I was deriving a problem by applying EW to an epistemic principle. Keller seems to be making one of the following two arguments, the first of which seems pretty bad to me, the second a little better.

The first argument seems to be that since most people don’t have some kind of ‘balanced’ view about religion, assigning some credence to different theistic views and some credence to atheistic views, taking others’ judgment seriously requires that you don’t do this either. But I don’t think this is plausible as a refutation. People who put forward the EW position are well aware that they might end up with a position different, at least in its credal weighting, to everyone else, and I don’t see why the fact that they do so is an objection.

The second argument, and this is more interesting, seems to be that we get an odd result if we apply the EW principle itself to the position that lots of other folks, theists and atheists alike, are our epistemic peers. You only get an argument for religious agnositicism from EW if you assume that lots of other people, both theists and atheists, are your peers. But those other people don’t seem to regard you (the agnostic) as an epistemic peer in the relevant sense. So by EW you should not give full credence to the assumption that they are peers.

This does seem like an interesting point to me. It isn’t at all obvious whether it is possible to use EW to derive any interesting agnostic conclusions without some strong assumptions about peerhood. And it isn’t clear that holding on to those assumptions is consistent with EW. So it isn’t clear what the real world consequences of EW exactly are.

Perhaps Keller goes too far in saying, given the reasons he adduces, that EW is inconsistent. But he might have raised an interesting kind of self-defeat challenge.

Moderate Rationalism and Bayesian Scepticism

I just uploaded a very drafty version of a short paper I’m working on for a workshop in Edinburgh on scepticism.

Moderate Rationalism and Bayesian Scepticism

The paper is an argument against any theorist who holds (a) that we can know substantive facts about the nature of epistemic justification a priori, but (b) we can’t know deeply contingent truths a priori. The example used in the paper is someone who holds that we can know a priori that process reliabilism is the right theory of epistemic justification, but who also holds that there is no deeply contingent a priori. The argument is that the (by now familiar) Bayesian objection to dogmatism, although not a good objection to dogmatism, is a good objection to such a view.

The paper is extremely choppy right now, and hopefully I’ll flesh out some of the arguments. But I thought it was worth posting the very drafty version in case it doesn’t get improved before the workshop!

Time Zones

I only recently noticed that the version of WordPress that I’m running doesn’t automatically adjust for daylight savings. So some posts might have seemed to appear at a time other than they were written. I’ve adjusted it now, and the time zone on posts should be U.S. Eastern Daylight Time.

As you may have noticed, I’m trying to have my posts appear once a day at midday. Sometimes these are fairly trivial posts (like this one) but hopefully we’ll have some content some of the time. Other bloggers here will keep on posting whenever (and whatever) they like. Thanks to the magic of being able to schedule posts in advance, this will hopefully mean that the blog keeps on ticking along even when other things are taking up lots of time, and I can’t personally be on the blog.

New Blog

Rob Wilson is involved in a new blog. He writes: The What Sorts of People blog is now up and running: check it out. This is the blog for the What Sorts of People Should There Be? network, a collaborative blog with regular contributions from around 10 team members. Short, recent posts are available on double-amputee Oscar Pistorius’s bid to compete Olympically, and on a so-recent-it’s-still-forthcoming piece by Steve Pinker in The New Republic on the concept of dignity and its use in a recent President’s Council on Bioethics report. Biella Coleman, who was a Killam Postdoc at Alberta last year and now teaches at NYU, has just posted a tempered rant on the blog on medical genetics and eugenics. You can also search for other blog pieces by category and review the archives of the blog from the site. If you like what you see:

  • add it to your blogfeeds, or otherwise check it out regularly
  • tell your friends
  • blog about it and direct folks from your own blog
  • send it on to other folks who might do any of the above

Analyticity and Intuitionism

Here’s a little argument that was inspired by some things Williamson says in chapter 3 of “The Philosophy of Philosophy”. It’s not at all the way Williamson intended his arguments to be used I guess.

  1. Any logical truth is true in virtue of meaning facts alone.
  2. Timothy Williamson is a philosopher is not true in virtue of meaning facts alone.
  3. Any disjunction with exactly one true disjunct is true in virtue of whatever the true disjunct is true in virtue of.
  4. So, Timothy Williamson is a philosopher or Timothy Williamson is not a philosopher is not a logical truth.

The premises could use being tidied up a little bit, but I think there’s something close to this in Williamson. Of course, he rejects (4), so he’s more interested in the argument from (2), (3) and the negation of (4) to the negation of (1). (Not that he would be quite as cavalier in the formulation of the argument as I’ve been.) Still, I think it’s a pretty interesting argument this way.

When I first saw this in Williamson, I thought, wow there’s a nice argument against the law of excluded middle. But now I’m worried that a structurally similar argument could, in principle, be run against the law of non-contradiction. I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to figure out the best way such an argument would go. I’m leaving it as an exercise in part because I’m not quite happy with any of my attempts, and in part because I’m too lazy. But unless I’m confident that no such argument could be used to reject LNC, I’m not going to be using this argument against LEM. And as of now, I’m certainly not confident of that.

Andy Egan to Rutgers

Great news for Rutgers. Andy Egan has accepted a tenured position in the philosophy department, starting in Fall 2009. As well as making Rutgers stronger in metaphysics, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, aesthetics, ethics etc etc, it will be a lot of fun to have Andy around the area. Good times for TAR, for Rutgers, for NY area philosophy, and, we hope, for Andy!

Attitudes and Relativism

I’ve turned some of my blog posts on propositional attitude reports and how they bear on issues about relativism/contextualism into a short paper, called Attitudes and Relativism. It’s very drafty, and the references, thanks etc are barely started, let alone completed. But I hope it has some interesting points in it.

Comments more than welcome.