I don’t normally post announcements for conferences, but I’ll be speaking at this one and I got a special request to post a link here on TAR, so, just as an exception:

MAWM Heart Logo

On September 14-15, 2013 the University of Notre Dame will host the second Midwest Annual Workshop in Metaphysics (MAWM). We invite and encourage all interested parties to attend! MAWMs are targeted workshops for Midwestern faculty and graduate students working in metaphysics. Each MAWM features 5-7 invited speakers, the majority of whom come from Midwestern institutions. They provide a venue for sharing new research and building community among metaphysicians in the region. For more information and to register for the workshop, visit the website:


Wow, Geach is great, isn’t he? I’ve just been reading through “Assertion” (Phil Review, vol. 74, no, 4 (Oct 1965)) and my favourite one-liners include:

  • I do not think there is anything in this.
  • this is just an idiotism of idiom
  • ..and this is what Professor Antony Flew has aptly called a conventionalist sulk
I wonder if I can manage to use all of these in my next question session? (Though maybe they won’t buy me dinner if I do.)

Linguistic Anarchy!

I’m one of those people who can often get over an inability to settle down to work by going out to a cafe.  Since I’m in Berkeley now, naturally the cafe I found this afternoon was no ordinary Seattle’s Best, but the Mediterraneum Caffé (Caffé Med) on Telegraph, former haunt of Ginsberg and other Beats, and the place that claims to have invented the latte.  

I asked for a small latte.  The young server paused and said, “would a medium be ok?”  I said “er, sure…” and she said “because technically if it’s in a cup smaller than this one (holding up a cup that would make a perfectly respectable soup bowl) then it’s not called a latte.  Actually, if it’s like a latte but in this cup (holding up a cup that is still generous for a coffee cup) it’s called a macchiato.“   

Having been influenced by old <a href=“”>Language Log</a> <a href=“”>posts</a> on Starbucks’ (you don’t say small you say tall) and Microsoft’s (Microsoft has no genitive) amateurish attempts to regiment language in various ways, I’m never very impressed by this sort of thing.  It’s not that I’m opposed to the regimentation of language in general—-in fact, I usually follow one of my old teachers in recommending that my logic students refrain from using valid in informal senses (valid point of view, valid claim etc.) and reserve the word for its technical senses (which are tricky enough as it is, given that many books reserve one technical use of the word for first order logical truths, as well as allowing the more well-known use on which it is a property of arguments or argument schemata in general.)   So anyway, that sentence got away from me.  It’s not that I’m opposed to the regimentation of language in general, but just that I reject the authority of just about everyone in imposing it, including Starbucks, but also including funky historical local coffee shops. 

So what’s the difference between what they’re doing, and what I feel justified in doing in my classes?  Well, I think it’s just that I have a good justification for the regimentation.  Reserving valid for the technical uses aids communication and understanding of the subject at hand.  A regimentation that makes it impossible to request a coffee like a medium latte, but smaller, by saying “small latte’‘ does not.  In fact, it seems like a snobbish attempt to wield power for the sake of it.  Similarly for the Microsoft and Starbucks examples.  

Am I right?  I can imagine someone defending the Starbucks example by claiming that the justification for having special names for their coffee sizes is artistic.  They want their  customers to have the best, most enjoyable most interesting/mysterious/exotic coffee-drinking experience possible, and what better justification could there be for their decision to name their sizes as they have? But even if that is so, it could only justify their introduction of the new expressions, not the outlawing of the old—-and hence not the regimentation.  

Anyway, though I wasn’t impressed by the no-such-thing-as-a-small-latte claim, neither am I impressed by people who are rude to young service workers, so I tried to make conversation, dredging up some faint memories about what a macchiato actually was:  “That’s interesting.  I thought a macchiato was where you just marked the expresso with foam?”  “Oh no,’‘ she said, “a machiatto is just like a latte but with less milk.”  And I just shut up and smiled and handed over my 4 bucks.   

Maybe Berkeley cafes are going to be more distracting than the ones in St Louis. 

And I’m back. Hello!

I’ve been so quiet around here for so long that you’ve probably stopped wondering what my name is doing in the panel on the top left.  But no more.  By invoking the magic words pre-tenure sabbatical I have found myself (more or less) settled at the University of California, Berkeley, with no teaching duties. It’s the beginning of the semester, Branden Fitelson and John MacFarlane are both teaching great looking seminars (though I’m going to be a little bit cautious about blogging their contents – not everyone wants what-I-said-in-seminar-today broadcast to the world) and it turns out that Berkeley serves coffee and cookies in the break during their colloquia. So the stars are pretty much all aligned. Stay tuned…

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

Previous Attempts to Define Analyticity

From Nathan Salmon’s “Analyticity and A priority“ (J-store access required for the link):

A number of definitions or explications of analyticity have been proposed. My favourite is a proposal by Hilary Putnam. In an exposition of W. V. Quine’s famous (if little understood) attack on the analytic/synthetic distinction, Putnam suggests that a sentence may be termed ‘analytic’ if it is deducible from the sentences in a finite list at the top of which someone who bears the ancestral of the graduate-student relation to Carnap has printed the words ‘Meaning Postulate’. This definition not only acknowledges the central importance of Carnap’s contribution to the role of the analytic-synthetic distinction in analytic philosophy, but it has the additional virtue that it accords to those few among us who bear this special relationship to Carnap and authority that strikes me as only fitting.

Who’d have thought that an additional virtue of Josh Dever’s Philosophical Family Tree is that it can help one to determine the extension of the word ‘analytic’?

Wustl Graduation

If you’ve been paying attention to the news recently you might have noticed that the university where I work – Washington University in St Louis – has decided to give an honourary doctorate to Phyllis Schalfly. I, like many people here, hadn’t heard of Ms Schlafly, but having read some of her columns and having learned of her work against the Equal Rights Amendment, I’ve signed the letter from the Association of Women Faculty protesting the decision. It’s hard to see how our university can support someone whose life work has been to undermine the legal and social status of so many of its students and colleagues.

But enough about Schlafly. Those more familiar with her will provide a better rapsheet. D’s description of the up-coming ceremony as the worst graduation ever made me try to remember who had been honoured at my own undergraduate graduation ceremony. And the person who sticks out most in my mind is the actress Helen Mirren, who was then famous for playing Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison in the TV-series Prime Suspect. And I remember, not just because my dad was rather awed to see Mirren in real life, but because of the speech one of the St Andrews officials gave to introduce her. He talked about how, when he had been growing up, and a girl his own age had been asked what she wanted to be when she grew up she had usually replied with one of the few professions that were thought of as suitable to women at the time: nurse, air-hostess, etc. But last week when he asked his own young daughter what she wanted to be, she’d replied, to his surprise: “Detective Chief Inspector”.

I wonder what my students will remember about their graduation ceremonies this year.

Shazeen Samad

My first ever book has just come out, and is now available world-wide. Here’s what it looks like:

Cover Gill’s Book  Cover Proof Gill’s book 

It’s called Truth in Virtue of Meaning and it’s basically a new account of the analytic-synthetic distinction (one which is designed to fit better with phenomena like contextualism and semantic externalism than pre-Quine conceptions of the distinction did), and a defence of that distinction against about 7-zillion arguments (ok, maybe more like 15 arguments) against analyticity.

I’m going to post a bit more about the content of the book later in the week, but what I thought I’d do right now is tell you a bit about the photograph on the cover. The photo is by a Maldivian photographer called Shazeen Samad. He has a beautiful website and some of my favourite images of his are here, here, here and here. If you are looking to procrastinate while you should be grading/writing that final paper, and you won’t be depressed by images of incredibly beautiful people hanging out in what appears to be the most beautiful place on earth, then the site comes highly recommended.

The photo that Shazeen very kindly let me use is called “Maldavian Reflection” and it is an image of the ocean at sunset, when the water is so still that the entire sky (which has lots of cool clouds) is reflected in it. A couple of people have remarked that the picture is beautiful, but doesn’t have much to do with the topic of the book. But to those people I say two things: first, off, what did you want? pictures of bachelors? of one concept containing another? and second: not so! when you first look at the photograph it can seem pretty chaotic and hard to work out what it is a picture of. But then you look harder, and you realise that it is in two halves, with the horizon down the middle and that everything below the horizon is water, and everything above it is sky. What could be more appropriate?