Vagueness and Voluntarism

Everyone who has taken the vagueness test so far has got the
results Kamp and Raffman predict. I would be very pleased to hear
counterevidence, but I doubt there’s going to be much of that. It would be nice
to have a test of this that didn’t involve phenomenal properties, but I can’t
see how to do it in this framework. If I could even come up with a Sorites
series that went from ‘Cars are vehicles’ to ‘Skateboards are vehicles’ to
‘Sheep are vehicles’ to ‘Chairs are vehicles’ we couldn’t run this test,
because the subjects would remember the cases as they were going back down the
scale. Not that inevitable experimental design flaws have stopped me before!

Zangwill suggested a nice variation on the vague picture case below. Instead of having a malicious vandal
change the picture, as I was suggesting doing, just imagine a normal painting
that fades. This will eventually not represent anything at all, but it does not
seem there is a first time when it stops being representational. And this in
turn does not seem to be because of vagueness in the word ‘representational’,
though I admit I don’t have much of an argument for that last claim, and indeed
am prepared to believe it if I don’t have any other choices.

would bridle at this talk of being prepared to believe things. It sounds like I
can just choose what I believe. Well, contrary to what you might have heard, it
is possible to choose what you believe at least some of the time. The other
day, for instance, I decided to believe that voluntarism about belief is true.
I was worried that this was irrational, but it can hardly be irrational to have
self-verifying beliefs.

is a more serious argument for this kind of voluntarism. Sometimes I slip into
believing that p on the basis of manifestly insufficient evidence. For
example, I was tricked into believing that the departing Clintonistas really
did steal all the W keys off White House keyboards. (I actually thought this
was mildly amusing in the circumstances.) As we all know, this didn’t happen,
and I would have been better served to have not believed it. More often, when I
hear stories like this about the greatest president since Truman, I am tempted
to believe them, especially if they are in the New York Times, but I have a
technique for guarding against such belief. I decide to believe that I don’t
have sufficient evidence to believe the anti-Clinton story. It really isn’t too
hard to make such decisions; the practice of becoming a skeptic, in the good
sense of that term, involves remembering to make this decision, not implementing
it, which is really very easy.

Vagueness Test

I was trying desperately to write something
about the Kamp/Raffman/Soames/Graff theory of vagueness, and I noticed that
both Kamp and Raffman note that their theory makes an empirical claim, one that
they are apparently sure is true, but which they have never tested. Well, I
haven’t tested it either, because testing theories costs real money, and my
research fund is lucky to run to a couple of conferences and a few books a
year, let alone real experiments. But I did come up with a way to do an
uncontrolled experiment on the hypothesis in question.

you want to take the experiment yourself, open this file and unzip it. Then
open the Word document in it and answer the onscreen questions until you get a
summary sheet of the results. Take note of the two numbers you are given, they
will be important. I won’t yet tell you what Kamp and Raffman’s prediction is
concerning those two numbers, it might be better (well, less appallingly awful
from the pov of experimental design) if you don’t know that yet. Note that the
test works best if you have your computer set to run in True Colour, and
probably doesn’t work at all if you aren’t running Word 98 or later. (If I
could only learn to program the latter two problems could be fixed – my skill
set is still, sadly, set-sized.)



If you have advanced virus protection you
may have to be quite insistent with your computer or it won’t let you run the
attached macros. Trust me, you won’t catch a virus this way. (Not that I
guarantee anything in case you do :))


Have you taken the test yet? Good, keep
reading. If not, go back and take it you slacker!


The result Kamp and Raffman want is that
the first number is higher than the second number. Essentially, they claim that
among the many technical flaws in our perceptual system is a hysteresis in our
colour perception. If you slowly change a colour from red to purple (they both
use orange, but the experiments are easier I find with purple) then the change
in apparent colour will lag the change in actual colour. So the effect will be
that we judge some colours as red if we have previously been looking at reds,
but we will judge the very same colours as non-reds if we have previously been
looking at non-reds. If this is true, then when you run the experiment, the
second of the two numbers you get at the end should be lower.

what it’s worth, I do get this result when I run the test. I was rather hoping
I would not, so I could quickly refute this theory and go back to working out
the true ‘truer’ theory. If you run the test, let me know the results, and I’ll
keep a very unscientific running tally of the totals. If the test doesn’t work
also let me know. If running the test causes grave computer malfunctions, call
an expert, I’m going to be of no help whatsoever.


My counterexamples
paper was just conditionally accepted at Philosophical Studies. Woo hoo!
The bad news is that the condition is that some fairly extensive changes are
made. The good news is that the suggested changes will make it a much
better paper. Right now parts of it read as being slightly less formal than
this weblog. That’s probably a bad thing. It’s also a sign that my writing was
too chatty even before I started reading internet sites where everyone writes
that way.

All Vagueness is Linguistic?

So I was trying to write something on metaphysical
vagueness, when I came across the following little puzzle. The aim was to turn
the few comments on Trenton
PPR paper in section 8 of my problem of the many paper into a full fledged discussion note. So I
started off by noting that the issue isn’t really whether all vagueness is
linguistic, because any representation, including pictures and (as Merricks
notes) thoughts can be vague. I then went to say that this doesn’t matter, and
that Merricks was right to focus on the linguistic case, when I suddenly had a
rather large fear that it does matter. Here’s why. Merricks spends a lot of
time fretting about whether the fact that (1) is indeterminate when Harry is a
borderline case of baldness.


(1) ‘Bald’
describes Harry.


Merricks claims that this is an instance of
metaphysical vagueness, because it is indeterminate whether a particular
object, the word ‘bald’, has a particular property, describing Harry. Set aside
concerns about whether describing Harry is a real property. There is a
huge issue remaining about just which object indeterminately has this
‘property’. It can’t be the word itself. It is not words themselves, but words
in languages, that describe (or don’t describe) people. So (1) should be ‘Bald’
in X describes Harry
. But it is rather plausible that for every legitimate
substitution instance of X, we get a
sentence that is either determinately true or determinately false. There’s more
of a story to tell about how this avoids sliding into epistemicism, which is
Merricks’s response to a similar move he considers in the paper, but that story
can wait until the paper gets written.

real issue is that we can’t make the same move with pictures, because pictures
don’t represent with respect to a language. So imagine we start with a picture
of George Washington. Let’s start with this one:



This picture represents George Washington.
I could change it into a picture that didn’t represent Washington. The most
dramatic way to do this would be to replace every non-black pixel with a black
one. Let’s assume I did this slowly. (If I get some time this weekend I might
do just this, just to see the results in practice.) So we’d end up with
pictures that had causal origin in Washington, but whether they really were
pictures of Washington, well that would be hard to say. Indeed, whether they
were pictures of anything would be hard to say. Let a be the name for
one of these pictures. My claim is that it might be indeterminate whether $x(Represents(a, x)) is
true. I would have hoped that this wasn’t because of vagueness in ‘Represents’,
but I don’t really see any way out other than that. Any suggestions?

Vagueness Paper

I posted a new
vagueness paper to the vagueness page, and to the new papers page. It is a
short note showing that John Burgess’s recent AJP article arguing against epistemicism has a small bug in it, but
that the bug can be fixed without too much damage to the structure of the

I haven’t been adding much
philosophical content to this site for a bit, but hopefully that will change
soon. I should have some things on disjunctive theories of perception up soon,
and maybe something on voluntarism about belief. In the meantime, I’ve been
thinking of trying to Google Bomb
my own pages up, but I doubt this works. (For more info on what a Google Bomb
is, see the link. The best such bomb is the one attacking the “Church” of Scientology.) Right now my vagueness page is #12 on a Google search for
‘vagueness’ – I’m sure it can go higher than that!

Foreign Aid

This isn’t particularly
philosophical, but I thought it was fairly interesting. This is from a story in
today’s New
York Times
about globalization. “Mr. Chirac and Lionel Jospin, the prime minister,
who is his rival in forthcoming presidential elections, have detailed competing
proposals to tax the profits of globalization to provide aid funds.” So if I
read that right, both major
candidates in France are proposing tax increases
the point of which will be to spend more on foreign aid. The contrast with some other countries (e.g. any
English-speaking country not called ‘New Zealand’) could hardly be starker. I
read somewhere recently a claim that Chirac was to the left of Bill Clinton. At
the time I thought it was ridiculously simplistic, but now I’m not so sure.

Backwards Causation

In the course of a
rather uncollegial attack on Paul Krugman, Ben Stein
makes the following rather striking claim. The Great Depression was caused by
the New Deal. Now the Depression did not start with the stock market crash of
1929. But it was well underway by 1932. And the New Deal did not start getting
implemented until 1933. Now maybe it was exacerbated by the New Deal, but by
most measures the worst of the Depression was before the New Deal came in. What
can we conclude from all this? That Ben Stein has less grasp of history than
we’d expect of the average high-school sophomore. Well, that wouldn’t be a
philosophically interesting conclusion now, would it? Better to conclude that
Ben Stein believes in backwards
. And since Ben Stein is clearly one of the folk, this means that
the folk believe in backwards causation. (What, you think that a game show host
who dabbles in economics is not part of the folk? If he isn’t, who is?) This is
a philosophical bombshell!

The Ethics of Choosing a Team

In the latest issue of the Journal
of Applied Philosophy
, Nicholas Dixon discusses the ethics of
supporting various sporting teams. The main thesis was that it is (a) morally
acceptable to pick a team for arbitrary reasons and stick to them through at
least some turmoil (that is, to be a partisan
fan), and that (b) this is morally preferable to picking a property F of teams and supporting whatever team
is F (that is, being a puritan fan). The qualification to (a)
was that if the team starts to engage in indefensible practices, then you
should stop supporting the team. Well, I suppose this is right: you shouldn’t
defend the indefensible!

main argument for both (a) and (b) was an analogy between supporting a sporting
team and being in love. I guess there are some
analogies here; though as a Red Sox fan I’m not too sure I want to stress them.
The point is meant to be that (a) it is morally permissible to love a
particular person for somewhat arbitrary reasons and (b) this is preferable to
picking some property F and loving
whatever person you know best instantiates that property. So the analogy is
meant to ground both the permissibility of arbitrariness in team selection, and
the impermissibility of being principled in a certain way about changing teams.
It is also meant to ground the kinds of considerations that lead to justifiably
abandoning (dumping?) teams, though here things get a little murky.

analogy is a little strained in one pretty important dimension. If supporting a
team is like being in love, it is like being in love with someone who doesn’t
love you in return, and who indeed does not know of your existence, and whom
you know does not love you in return, or even know of your existence. The team
does know about, and even care about, a class of people to which you belong in
virtue of supporting the team, but if the analogy here is romantic love, then I
don’t think that’s much of a consolation. Given that important disanalogy, we
might wonder how much of the argument falls apart.

main argument that disappears is the argument for (b). It is not, I think,
impermissible to abandon a love that is so dramatically unrequited if the
initial basis for the love disappears. Anyone who organised their human
relationships this way would lack a crucial virtue. But the important point
here is that there is no relationship with
the team, since the team does not even know of your existence, or care about
you de re. (Since most teams care about their fans de dicto, this qualification is needed.)
So why keep loving them once they cease to be lovable?

have a little interest in this because in some sports, particularly American
football, I am somewhat of a puritan fan. I don’t really understand American
football, so when I watch it I really want to see two things: trick plays and
long passes. And I will quite happily support a team that promises lots of
those plays and then cease supporting them when they cease providing. I’m
probably missing out on something here, the special kind of qualia one gets
from genuinely being committed to a team, but I get quite enough of that as a
Red Sox fan to go on with. So I think purism is morally defensible, and feel
perfectly happy being a purist about the strange game they call ‘football’ in
this country.

another stage, Dixon compares supporting a team to supporting certain artistic
performers. But here any kind of partisan behaviour is absurd. I mean, I liked
Kevin Spacey’s mid-90s work about as much as I liked any artistic work in that
time period. But that doesn’t mean I’m going to even pretend to like his more
recent work. The purist can jump to the next good actor to come along, the
partisan is stuck watching K-Pax all the way to the hidden scenes.

a different point, but I also didn’t like the grounds Dixon endorsed for
abandoning teams as a partisan. Without going into too much detail, he
basically held that the grounds for this should be the on-field behaviour of a
team. He even said that you should dump a team that engages in ‘verbal
intimidation’. I don’t buy this. I wouldn’t like the Australian cricket team
near as much as I do if they didn’t engage in a little verbal intimidation from
time to time. I think a much better ground for abandoning a team is the off
field behaviour of their players. Or, a little more generally, it is the kind
of off-field behaviour that they endorse in virtue of who they sign. So I think
the otherwise superlative season the Seattle Mariners had last year was
tarnished by the fact that they signed Al Martin just after he’d been indicted
on charges of assaulting one of his wives. And whatever the Cubbies do this
year will be tarnished by their using their first draft pick on alleged human Ben Christensen. (See link
for the gruesome details.) Aside that, the odd gratuitous foul or questioning
of one’s opponent’s parentage is entirely acceptable.

was one amusing error in the article: Michael Jordan did play for the Chicago
White Sox (and I guess the Bulls too), but not the Cubbies!

and the Red Sox just beat the Rangers despite an A-Rod home run.

Perception and Justification

Before I got to Syracuse I never thought
about temporal parts. Now I have drafted a couple of papers
on them. Before I got to Brown I never seriously thought about ‘core’
epistemology. I never thought philosophy of science was philosophy enough, but
I guess I suspected it was epistemology enough. Anyway, I’m at Brown, so now I
think about epistemology. And I’ve been thinking about perceptual
justification. I’m a little closer to the skeptical position than seems to be
popular these days, in part because of the following example. (The example is
an obvious ripoff of Bonjour’s Clairvoyant Claire.)

Blind Belinda has been blind since birth. Her blindness is caused by a genetic
disorder; in fact, all of her family is blind, and they mostly mix with other
blind families. So at age 7, when our story takes place, Belinda doesn’t really
know that there is such a thing as sight.

night of the story, Belinda is kidnapped by the BLA, who think blind children
should be integrated into the wider community. She is drugged and carried off,
not blindfolded, of course, while the rest of the family sleeps.

being carried out, Belinda gets a rather fateful bump in her head. It turns out
the reason the disorder caused blindness was just that it caused two parts of
the visual system to not ‘line up’, a good bump and they would be together and
everything would work. (Rather like my car stereo, I’m afraid to say.) So when
Belinda wakes from her little adventure, in a rather strange room, she can see
her surroundings.

BLA, despite allegedly having the blind children’s best interests at heart,
treat their new captives like, well, captives. So when Belinda wakes she is
tied down on a chair, in a soundproof room. The soundproofing is achieved by
having the walls covered in egg-carton like sound mufflers. The bulk of
Belinda’s new visual field is taken up by these things. It looks nothing like a
wall to her – walls she knows about, at least inside walls, are smooth, and
this looks like it would be very rough. She cannot feel this wall, to see if it
really is not smooth (let’s use ‘rough’ for this property, although this isn’t
exactly right to describe the wall in question).

my main intuition is that Belinda’s visual perception that the wall is rough
does not provide her with justification for believing that the wall really is
rough. In general, until Belinda can verify that her new visual perceptions
integrate well with the perceptions provided by sight and sound, something she
can do pretty quickly once the ties are removed, and that she can do to some
degree while tied down, I doubt her visual perception provides much by way of
evidence for anything much. I sort of think, and think Belinda would think this
too while she reflects on her predicament, that she should have the same
attitude towards her visual perceptions that Clairvoyant Claire has towards her
clairvoyant states.

that I don’t say that we need to defeat the skeptic to rely on perceptual
evidence. I think Belinda can trust her visual perceptions once she verifies
them using other perceptual systems. And I don’t think vision is particularly
special here. If Belinda was deaf until the incident, or lacked a sense of
touch, she could also use those new senses to gain justified beliefs, once she
verifies their coherence with her other senses. The main intuition I have here
is that Belinda can trust what she starts with, in this case primarily sound
and touch, and must validate anything else. So skeptics are right that
perception does not lead automatically to justification, Belinda perceives,
even reliably perceives, a rough wall but would not be justified in believing
that the wall is rough. But they are wrong that this matters for us, because we
can justifiably rely on innately functioning sensory equipment.

thoughts anyone has about this case, or about anything else, I’d be happy to hear.

A Puzzle About Determinacy

Which of the premises in this argument is

P1. Everest is determinately a mountain

P2. Something is Everest

C. So, something is determinately a


There must be a false premise, since the
argument is valid, even if ‘Everest’ is a description rather than a proper
name, and the conclusion is obviously false. There is no thing such that it
rather than one of its mereological siblings is determinately a mountain. So
which is it?


It has to be P1, right? But isn’t it
determinately true that Everest is a mountain? Yes, but that doesn’t imply P1.
P0 does not imply P1, as we can tell by noting that P0 is true and P1 false.


P0. Determinately,
Everest is a mountain

P1. Everest
is determinately a mountain


Interesting to note how this compares to K0
and K1


K0. Jack
knows that Everest is a mountain

K1. Everest
is such that Jack knows it is a mountain


It is either an argument for or a
consequence of the theory that names are directly referential that K0 does entail
K1. (It could be both an argument for the theory and a consequence of it.)
Assuming there is a connection between ‘determinately’ and ‘knows that’ (a
connection that everyone on the ‘conservative’ end of the vagueness spectrum
endorses) then the failure of P0 to entail P1 suggests that perhaps K0 does not
entail K1.