Methodology Workshop

I’m hosting a one day workshop on philosophical methodology in the (Rutgers, New Brunswick) department on Friday March 12, from 10am to 6pm. The workshop will feature papers by Joshua Knobe, Elizabeth Harman, Michael Strevens and Jennifer Nado. It will be held in the seminar room in Seminary 3, which is one of the two new department buildings. (It’s on Seminary Place, at George St, two blocks north of the New Brunswick train station.)

The papers by Harman and Strevens will be distributed ahead of time, and their sessions will mostly be Q&A on their papers; the papers by Knobe and Nado will be presented on the day, with questions afterwards. Lunch and refreshments will be provided throughout the day.

The conference has no registration costs, but numbers are limited. As some of you may have seen from the talk last Thursday, the seminar room at Rutgers can get crowded for popular talks. So if you’re interested in coming along to it, could you leave a comment to this post registering your interest? There are about 20 spots left, though that number will shrink if more Rutgers or Arche folks are interested in coming along, since my employers get priority!

I’ll be posting a full schedule, along with the papers that will be distributed in advance, in the next week, but for now I’m just opening registrations. I hope to see many of you here at the workshop!

Philosophy Compass, Volume 5, Issue 2

Aesthetics & Philosophy of Art

Philosophy of Humor (p 112-126)
Joshua Shaw
Published Online: Feb 10 2010 4:56AM
DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00281.x

Abstract  |  References | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 105K)


Kierkegaard’s Conception of God (p 127-135)
Paul K. Moser, Mark L. McCreary
Published Online: Feb 10 2010 4:56AM
DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00276.x

Abstract  |  References | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 74K)

Temporality in Queer Theory and Continental Philosophy (p 136-146)
Shannon Winnubst
Published Online: Feb 10 2010 4:56AM
DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00278.x

Abstract  |  References | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 87K)

History of Philosophy

Frege’s Distinction Between Sense and Reference (p 147-163)
Gideon Makin
Published Online: Feb 10 2010 4:56AM
DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00277.x

Abstract  |  References | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 118K)

Logic & Language

Pejoratives (p 164-185)
Christopher Hom
Published Online: Feb 10 2010 4:56AM
DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00274.x

Abstract  |  References | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 135K)

Mind & Cognitive Science

Philosophical Issues in Neuroimaging (p 186-198)
Colin Klein
Published Online: Feb 10 2010 4:56AM
DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00275.x

Abstract  |  References | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 95K)

Naturalistic Philosophy

Experimental Philosophy and Free Will (p 199-212)
Tamler Sommers
Published Online: Feb 10 2010 4:56AM
DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00273.x

Abstract  |  References | Full Text:   HTML,   PDF (Size: 103K)

Teaching & Learning Guide

Teaching & Learning Guide for: Vagueness: Supervaluationism (p 213-215)
Rosanna Keefe
Published Online: Feb 10 2010 4:56AM
DOI: 10.1111/j.1747-9991.2009.00272.x

Abstract | Full Text:   PDF (Size: 47K)

RuCCS Directorship

Do you want to be my boss – or at least one of my bosses?

The Rutgers Center for Cognitive Science at the New Brunswick Campus of Rutgers University is searching for a new director. We are looking for an outstanding scholar with proven administrative abilities and a vision for the future of cognitive science at Rutgers. Highly desirable is experience in obtaining and administering interdisciplinary, multi-investigator grants. Intellectual breadth—an ability to understand and articulate the contributions from the principal disciplines that compose cognitive science is important, as is the ability to effectively represent the interests of RuCCS inside and outside Rutgers. Fund raising ability and community/industry outreach also desired.

Description of Center
A primary goal of the Center is to foster research on the nature of symbolic processes constitutive of intelligent performance, emphasizing foundational and computational approaches. The goal is to understand such aspects of intelligent performance as perception, language processing, planning, problem solving, reasoning, learning and knowledge formation, in terms of the underlying computational processes. The Center’s mission is essentially multi-disciplinary. It promotes the integration of techniques and knowledge drawn from experimental psychology, computer science, neuroscience, philosophy, linguistics, mathematics, and engineering. The Center offers a Cognitive Science Certificate for graduate students and supports a minor and independent major for undergraduates. RuCCS has 22 jointly appointed faculty members at present. It also has an additional 30 associates housed in various departments who play an active role in the intellectual life of the Center. At the present time the principal contributing disciplines are psychology, computer science, linguistics and philosophy. The policies of the Center are set in consultation with an executive committee which has representation from several participating departments.

Candidates should be at the Full Professor level. Salary is negotiable. Consideration of applications will begin on March 29, 2010, but applications will be considered until the position is filled. Send a letter of interest that outlines your qualifications for the position as well as a CV to:

Search Committee Staff
Rutgers University
Center for Cognitive Science
152 Frelinghuysen Road, Psychology Building Addition
Piscataway, NJ 08854


Fax: 732-445-6715


Email to:

Mixtures of Conditional Probability Functions

It’s well known that it’s easy to ‘mix’ two unconditional probability functions and produce a third unconditional probability function. So if x ∈ [0, 1], and f1 and f2 are both unconditional probability functions, and for any proposition p in the domain of both f1 and f2, f3(p) = xf1(p) + (1-x)f2(p), then f3 will also be an unconditional probability function. (This is really immediate from the axioms for unconditional probability.) I thought the same kind of thing would work for conditional probability, but I can’t figure out how to do it.

It’s certainly not true that if f1 and f2 are both conditional probability functions, then the function f3 defined by f3(p|q) = xf1(p|q) + (1-x)f2(p|q) will be a conditional probability function. Here’s a counterexample.

  • f1(A | BC) = 0.3
  • f1(B | C) = 0.4
  • f1(AB | C) = 0.12 (a consequence of previous two posits)
  • f2(A | BC) = 0.5
  • f2(B | C) = 0.6
  • f2(AB | C) = 0.3 (again a consequence)
  • x = 0.5

If we just apply the above formula, we get this

  • f3(A | BC) = 0.4
  • f3(B | C) = 0.5
  • f3(AB | C) = 0.21 (inconsistent with previous two lines, if f3 is a probability function)

One natural move is to say that when f1(q) = f2(q) = 1, then f3(p|q) = xf1(p|q) + (1-x)f2(p|q). That will deliver something that is a conditional probability function as far as it goes, but it won’t tell us what f3(p|q) is when f1(q) = f2(q) = 0. And I can’t figure out a sensible way to handle that case that doesn’t run into a version of the inconsistency I just mentioned.

It feels like this is a simple problem that should have a simple solution, but I’m not sure just what it is. There’s a lot of information about mixing probability functions in this paper by David Jehle and Branden Fitelson, but it doesn’t, as far as I can see, touch on just this issue. Any suggestions would be appreciated!


As you probably noticed, the comments section now includes pretty pictures. For some people, that will include their own picture. For most people it includes a randomly generated monster. I kinda like the monsters, but if you would rather not be represented by one, here’s the instructions for creating your own picture.

  1. Go to
  2. Create an account with the same email address as you have on your TAR account
  3. Upload a picture – or take one with your computer’s camera

That picture should then show up as your avatar in TAR, and in other blogs with this feature turned on. I’ve noticed, for instance, that it also works on Feminist Philosophers, and I’m sure it works elsewhere as well.

Congratulations Anders

Two days ago I mentioned that I was impressed by the typesetting that Anders Schoubye has done, which apparently set off a flood of people to download his papers. I thought I should update that post to note that one of these papers, Intuitions in Question has now been accepted for publication at Linguistics and Philosophy. Well done Anders, and I highly recommend getting the paper for both the form and the content!


The faculty in the philosophy department at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, have sent the following letter to the administration at King’s College, London, protesting their proposed firing of three distinguished philosophers.

The members of the Philosophy Department at Rutgers University hereby join the chorus of protest of your actions with regard to the Philosophy Department at King’s College and the outrageous treatment they have received from the College. The damage done to academia, to the Department, to the College, and most of all to the specific colleagues involved, is unconscionable. We urge you to reconsider, so as to contain the damage.

King’s decision seems to be both imprudent and unethical, and it’s in everyone’s best interests for it to be reversed very quickly.

UPDATE: Broken link fixed.

Philosophy in Schools

Barack Obama, from yesterday’s YouTube conference:

And I’m a big believer that the most important thing that a kid can learn in school is how to learn and how to think. If Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, are asking questions, know how to poke holes in an argument, know how to make an argument themselves, know how to evaluate a complicated bunch of data, then I figure that they’re going to be okay regardless of the career path that they’re in. And I think that that requires more than just rote learning — although it certainly requires good habits and discipline in school — it also requires that in the classroom they’re getting the kind of creative teaching that’s so important.

I think the two things that could do the most to promote this aim are (a) a really good statistics course, to give people a feel for working with data, and (b) a really good critical thinking course, of the kind the best philosophy teachers deliver to college freshmen. If those courses were integral parts of the high school curriculum, then we’d see many more people who can make and evaluate arguments, especially arguments based around numerical data.

There have been intermittent attempts to bring philosophy in high school in various Australian states, but it would be great to see something similar attempted in America.

UPDATE: Via Larvatus Prodeo, I just saw this link to an article about teaching philosophy in schools in Queensland. It seems there is much more philosophy going on in pre-tertiary education than I’d realised.

Sensitivity and Evidence Quality

Here’s a puzzle for the E=K (i.e. all and only knowledge is evidence) theory.

Jack is inspecting a new kind of balance made by Acme Corporation. He thoroughly inspects the first 10 (out of a batch of 1,000,000) that come off the assembly line. And each of them passes the inspection with flying colours. Each of them is more accurate than any balance Jack had tested before that day. So Acme is making good balances. He knows, by observation, that the first 10 balances are reliable. He also knows, by induction, that the next balance will be reliable. It’s not obvious that he knows the next one will be phenomenal, like the ones he has tested, but he knows it will be good enough for its intended usage. But he doesn’t know they all will be that good. Surprisingly, it will turn out that every balance made in this assembly line will be reliable. But you’d expect, given what we know about assembly lines, for there to be a badly made machine turn up somewhere along the way.

So Jack knows the first 11 are reliable, and doesn’t know the first 1,000,000 are reliable. Let n be the largest number such that Jack knows the first n are reliable. (I’m assuming such an n exists; those who want to hold on to E=K by giving up the least number theorem are free to ignore everything that follows.) For any x, let R(x) be the proposition that the first x are reliable. So Jack knows R(n). Hence by E=K R(x) is part of his evidence. But he doesn’t know R(x+1). This is extremely odd. After all, R(x) is excellent evidence for R(x+1), assuming it is part of his evidence. And R(x+1) is true. Indeed, by many measures it is safely true. So why doesn’t Jack know it?

It seems to me there is a mystery here that, given E=K, we can’t explain. If we have a more restrictive theory of evidence, then it is easy to explain what’s going on. If, for instance, evidence is perceptual knowledge, then Jack’s evidence is simply R(10). And it might well be true, given the correct theory of what hypotheses are supported by what evidence, that R(10) supports R(84) but not R(85). That explanation isn’t available to the E=K theorist. And we might well wonder what explanation could be available.

I have one idea that saves the letter of E=K, though at some cost I think to the spirit of it. Let’s say that evidence can be of better or worse quality. If you don’t know p, then p is of no evidential use to you. But even if you do know it, how much evidential use is might depend on how you know it. For instance, if you infallibly know p, then p is extremely useful evidence. More relevantly for today’s purposes, if you have sensitive knowledge that p, then p is more useful than if you have insensitive knowledge that p.

Let’s go through how this plays out in Jack’s case. Although he knows R(11), this knowledge is insensitive. If R(11) were false, he would still believe it. Had the production system malfunctioned when making the 11th balance, for instance, then the 11th machine would have been unreliable, but Jack would have still believed it. The only sensitive evidence he has is R(11). By the time he gets to R(n), his knowledge is extremely insensitive. There are all sorts of ways that R(n) could have been false, in many fairly near worlds, and yet he would still have believed it.

So here’s a hypothesis. The more insensitive your evidence is, the less inductive knowledge it grounds. If Jack had sensitive knowledge that R(n), he would be in a position to infer, and thereby know R(n+1). The reason he can’t know R(n+1) is not that he doesn’t have enough evidence, but rather that the evidence he has is not of a high enough quality. That’s an explanation for why Jack can’t infer R(n+1) that neither leads to inductive scepticism, nor violates the letter of E=K. I’m not sure that E=K was meant to go along with the view that how you know something is evidentially relevant, not just whether you know it, so I don’t think this keeps the spirit of E=K. But perhaps the letter of E=K is more defensible than the spirit of it.