Three Updates

I’m in St Andrews now, visiting Arche, and while it’s been a lot of fun, and very rewarding intellectually, it’s been hard work! I’d hoped it would be a relaxing break with lots of blogging, but that hasn’t quite worked out. Anyway, here are three things I’ve been working on.

  • I’ve updated Deontology and Descartes’ Demon (Warning: Word Doc) to (a) take account of some objections that were made, and (b) get it into the right form for the Journal of Philosophy. The latter was hard work: they won’t let you use contractions and I can’t write without them! The former was more fun.
  • I’ve written five lectures on probability in philosophy – 1, 2-3, 4-5, and given four of them. I don’t have all my books/papers here, so some of the references to what other people say was from memory. So if I’ve misrepresented you, my apologies in advance. (I mostly got around this shortcoming by not talking about particular people much at all, just making sweeping generalisations about what lots of people think. So there are a few things that could be given better citations.)

  • Various people (most notably Crispin Wright and David Chalmers) have been pressing me on one of the core assumptions in Moderate Rationalism and Bayesian Scepticism, namely that you can’t learn p by getting evidence that decreases its probability. I’d like to have a good response to their worries, and if I did so I’d be putting it here. The worries are specifically about cases where p is a disjunction, and the evidence raises the probability of one disjunct, but decreases the probability of the other. Hopefully soon I’ll have thought of something clever to say here, but for now I don’t have much to say of any use.

This week I’ll be at the Language and Law workshop at the University of Oslo, and I’m hoping to have lots of interesting things to report back from that.

Stephen Finlay, “Four Faces of Moral Realism” and Terence Cuneo, “Recent Faces of Moral Nonnaturalism”

Here is the abstract for Stephen Finlay’s article.

This article explains for a general philosophical audience the central issues and strategies in the contemporary moral realism debate. It critically surveys the contribution of some recent scholarship, representing expressivist and pragmatist nondescriptivism (Mark Timmons, Hilary Putnam), subjectivist and nonsubjectivist naturalism (Michael Smith, Paul Bloomfield, Philippa Foot), nonnaturalism (Russ Shafer-Landau, T. M. Scanlon) and error theory (Richard Joyce). Four different faces of ‘moral realism’ are distinguished: semantic, ontological, metaphysical and normative. The debate is presented as taking shape under dialectical pressure from the demands of (i) capturing the moral appearances; and (ii) reconciling morality with our understanding of the mind and world.

The full article is available here.

Here is the abstract for Terence Cuneo’s article.

Despite having occupied a peripheral position in contemporary metaethics, moral nonnaturalism has recently experienced a revival of sorts. But what is moral nonnaturalism? And what is there to be said in favor of it? In this article, I address these two questions. In the first place, I offer an account of what moral nonnaturalism is. According to the view I propose, nonnaturalism is better viewed not as a position, but as a theoretical stance. And, second, I critically engage with three recent arguments for moral nonnaturalism offered by Russ Shafer-Landau, Kit Fine, and Jean Hampton, respectively.

The full article is available here.

There is also a joint Teaching and Learning Guide for these articles.

This is an open thread on Prof Finlay’s article, Prof Cuneo’s article, and the joint TLG.

Gillian Russell, “The Analytic/Synthetic Distinction”

Here is the abstract for Gillian Russell’s article.

The distinction between analytic and synthetic truths has played a major role in the history of philosophy, but it was challenged by Quine and others in the 20th century, and the distinction’s coherence and importance is now controversial. This article traces the distinction’s historical development and summarises the major arguments against it. Some post-Quinian accounts are discussed, and the article closes with a list of five challenges which any contemporary account of the distinction ought to meet.

The full article is available here.

There is also a Teaching and Learning Guide. The guide concludes with the following focus questions.

  1. What is a necessary truth? What is an a priori truth? What is a logical truth? How is analyticity related to any of these things?
  2. What kind of thing can be analytic? Sentences? Propositions? Rules of implication?
  3. What should a semantic externalist think about analyticity?
  4. Can analytic sentences contain vague expressions?
  5. ‘If there is no such thing as a priori knowledge, then analyticity looses its philosophical interest’ (E. Sober). Why?

This is an open thread on Prof Russell’s article and TLG.

Michael B. Gill, “Moral Rationalism Vs. Moral Sentimentalism: Is Morality More Like Math or Beauty?”

Here is the abstract for Michael B. Gill’s article.

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.

The full article is available here.

There is also a Teaching and Learning Guide. The guide concludes with the following focus questions.

  1. What are the main differences between drawing a mathematical conclusion and judging that something is beautiful? Is making a moral judgment more like the former or the latter?
  2. When a person judges that an action is right, will he or she necessarily also possess a motive to perform that action?
  3. Is morality necessarily the same for all people everywhere?
  4. How do we justify our moral judgments to others? Is it more similar to how we justify out mathematical conclusions, or is it more similar to how we justify our aesthetic judgments?
  5. Can two people who agree about all the facts about an action nonetheless disagree about its moral status?

This is an open thread on Prof Gill’s article and TLG.

Philosophy Compass Teaching and Learning Guides

One of the new features that we’re rolling out at Philosophy Compass is teaching and learning guides to accompany our survey articles. The guides provide some background, some reading lists, and some focus questions for people teaching a unit (typically 4-6 weeks long) on the subject of a Compass article.

The teaching and learning guides are freely available, and will remain so. This isn’t just a pilot program! As part of the pilot, however, we’re going to make some of the articles that the early teaching and learning guides are attached to available for free over upcoming months. And throughout this week, I’ll be highlighting these articles here at TAR.

The articles will be

Gillian Russell, “The Analytic/Synthetic Distinction”, article, TLG

Michael B. Gill, “Moral Rationalism vs. Moral Sentimentalism: Is Morality More Like Math or Beauty?”, article, TLG

Stephan Finlay, “Four Faces of Moral Realism” and Terence Cuneo, “Recent Faces of Moral Nonnaturalism”, Finlay article, Cuneo article, Joint TLG

Over the week I’ll be putting up longer posts about each of these, and opening comments threads for each article and their TLG.

NDPR Review of Ordinary Objects: A Clarification

(Guest Post by Amie Thomasson.)

In Ordinary Objects, (OUP 2007) I argue—based on general considerations about reference and existence claims, as well as particular claims about the semantics of ‘object’—that there are problems with trying to formulate ‘deep’ ontological debates, considered as debates about what things or objects exist.

In his recent (5/21/08) NDPR review, Terry Horgan raises what he calls a “daunting regress problem” for the view about reference this argument is supposed to be based on:

…if every singular or general term of our language that successfully refers is governed by frame-level application and co-application conditions that deploy some presupposed category or categories, then terms referring to those very categories must themselves be governed by frame-level application and co-application conditions that deploy some further, yet more general, presupposed category or categories — and so on, ad infinitum. But such an infinite regress of categories, with each category governed by frame-level application and co-application conditions involving yet more general categories, would seem to leave all the terms in our language without reference-grounding

Since many people have emailed me wondering how I reply, I wanted to post a brief response—many thanks to Brian for letting me post it here.

In fact, it’s not a reply so much as a clarification that is needed, since the ‘regress problem’ is based on a misunderstanding of my position. My view isn’t that, for any term to refer, it must be associated with a more general category or sort (or that, as Horgan puts it, that ‘any meaningful existence claim involves implicit restriction of the quantifier by some sortal that is more general than any predicate deployed in the claim itself’). My point was that the reference of nominative terms is only determinate to the extent that they’re associated with application conditions (and co-application conditions), and existence questions are to be addressed by determining whether the application conditions are fulfilled. The conditions might come via association with some fairly high-level category (e.g. of ‘dog’ with ‘animal’), but there’s no requirement that there always be a more general one (‘animal’, e.g., may just have its own application conditions).

The problem I raise in Ordinary Objects for posing ‘deep ontological’ questions such as ‘how many things/objects there are’ is not (as Horgan seems to interpret it) that ‘thing’ and ‘object’ are highest categories (so that we can’t associate them with a higher one). Instead, the problem is that on the serious ontologist’s use, ‘thing’ and ‘object’ aren’t proper sortal or categorial terms at all—they don’t come with application and coapplication conditions that could make existence questions posed using them answerable. (If they are used in ways that do come with application and coapplication conditions, ontological disputes posed using these terms turn out to be merely verbal).

I hope readers of the review will also look back to the argument in the book&0150;while there might be problems to find there, the ‘regress problem’ isn’t one of them, since it rests on a misunderstanding of the argument.

Back Online

I’m currently in St Andrews at the start of my (annual) visiting fellowship here. Due to a combination of spotty email access, travelling a bit, and some pressing deadlines, I’ve been behind on answering email, maintaining this blog (sorry for those whose comments sat in moderation for so long) and writing here. I hope now that things have settled down a bit, at least the first two of those three will be dealt with on a regular basis.