I’m starting to feel like a real blogger. Wo mentions that he got a flood (by
philosophy blog standards) of hits because of the link from my page. I’m not
exactly Instapundit yet, but it’s
nice to see I’m having some effect!
I’ve made a couple of changes to the site
recently. I updated the sidebar to include some more philosophically oriented
weblogs. There aren’t a lot on the web, and I can’t really vouch for the
quality of all of them. The existentialist site seems to be run by conservatives
who take Sartre as their hero, a rather bizarre state of affairs. I have tried
to restrict the list to blogs that update relatively frequently, but obviously
that’s something that can change rather rapidly.
I also made some amendments to my paper
on John Burgess’s argument against Williamson’s various attempts to avoid
objections to epistemicism on the grounds that it requires an implausible view
about the metaphysics of content. The cause for the update is that the paper
got accepted to the Australasian
Journal of Philosophy, after a short delay brought on my the change of
management there. When one is untenured, every little publication in a major
journal, even a discussion note, is a cause for small celebration. From the
getting tenure perspective, this has been a pretty good year publication wise.
Three things in major journals, another paper conditionally accepted, and a
bunch of other things either accepted or commissioned in various places. Short
of actually writing the vagueness book, it’s about as good as could have been
expected at the start of the year, and hopefully the next few years will be
I wanted to mention, and promise that I’ll
soon add to the links on the side, a couple of other philosophical blogs. Sadly, there don’t seem to be an outpouring of
philosophical blogs, although there are several
political/economic blogs that do often touch on
philosophical issues. Philosophical
Investigations is where “Christopher Robinson & Joseph Duemer” read “Philosophical Investigations”. Closer in
spirit to this blog, and frequently much more
interesting, is Wo’s
Weblog. There’s recently been a long discussion
on Adam Rieger’s Analysis
article on Frege, as well as a bunch of things on metaphysics and paradoxes,
and I highly recommend checking it out.
I’ve been interested on and off in the issue
of which argument forms involving natural language conditionals are reasonable
to use in everyday contexts. The importance of the everydayness is that we want
argument forms that not only preserve certain truth, but which don’t take us
from almost certainly true (or acceptable) premises to almost certainly false (or
unacceptable) conclusions. From that perspective, I’ve often wondered whether
all instances of this argument are good:
(1) All Fs
(2) So, if a
is an F, then a is a G.
Most instances of this sound pretty good to
me. But something came up today that made me wonder about it. Take the
following instance of the argument.
(3) The Brown football team have won every
game they’ve played this year.
(4) So, if the Brown football team have played
Notre Dame, they’ve beaten Notre Dame.
There’s some presuppositions involved in
saying that this is an instance of the form, roughly to the effect that if they
played Notre Dame and won the game, then they beat Notre Dame, but I guess that
is right. And, to put the example in context, Brown is not in the same division
as Notre Dame (they are Div I-AA and Notre Dame are Div I-A) but since teams do
play outside division from time to time, it is not out of the range of
possibility that Brown played Notre Dame. But you’d expect that if the teams
had played, Notre Dame would have won.
Anyway, the argument seems pretty good to
me, but maybe it isn’t. Maybe I could imagine coming to more or less accept (3)
and still be hesitant about (4). I don’t think I would – I think if I accepted
(3) I would also believe (4) and conclude on the basis of it that Brown hadn’t
played Notre Dame. But maybe I could accept (3) and reject (4).
What reminded me of this was a different kind
of argument, one used by V. H. Dudman in a 1994
paper. I’ve amended Dudman’s example a little bit.
Compare the following three arguments. (Background: it is extremely unlikely
that anyone will present a paper on pie-throwing at an APA. Indeed, for any
particular person, it is unlikely that they’d present a paper on pie-throwing
at a randomly selected APA.)
(5) Someone presented a paper on pie-throwing
at the last APA.
(6) So, if Brian didn’t present a paper on
pie-throwing at the last APA, someone else did.
(7) Someone presented a paper on pie-throwing
at the last APA.
(8) So, if Brian hadn’t presented a paper on
pie-throwing at the last APA, someone else would have.
(9) Someone will present a paper on
pie-throwing at the next APA.
(10) So, if Brian doesn’t present a paper on
pie-throwing at the next APA, someone else will.
Everyone agrees that the argument from (5)
to (6) is good, and the argument from (7) to (8) is bad. And everyone agrees
that this is the basis for positing some kind of difference between the kind of
conditional found in (6) (regularly called ‘indicative’) and the kind of
conditional found in (8) (regularly called ‘subjunctive’).
But what do we say about the argument from
(9) to (10)? Dudman thinks it’s bad. If you believe
(9), but believe it on the basis of evidence that some particular person will
present a paper on pie-throwing, and you have reason to believe that person is
me, and believe, as per the background assumptions that no one else is likely
to do this, he thinks you’ll still reject (10).
I’m not so sure. On the other hand, that it
doesn’t seem clearly good does seem
evidence for Dudman’s claim that future tense ‘indicatives’
like (10) do fall into the same logico-grammatical
category as past-tense ‘indicatives’ like (6). But on the third hand (or is it
fourth by now) that it doesn’t seem clearly
bad seems evidence against Dudman’s claim that there
is a natural class of conditionals, what he calls ‘projectives’
which includes both subjunctives like (8) and so-called future indicatives like
(10). After all, the argument from (7) to (8) is a howler, but the argument
from (9) to (10) is more problematic.
I don’t know what to make of all this, but the
issues seem murkier than I remember, and much murkier than I’d like them to be.
Much thanks (of a distinctively philosophical thought) to Chris Kane for
reminding me how confused I am about all this.
I’m glad to see I got a few links from John Quiggin’s blog. Welcome all,
and don’t be too scared off by the logicy stuff to keep coming back. (I might
even post more stuff on politics to get the hits up ;))
While on that stuff, I’m still trying to
write the Problem of the Many article, and getting stuck at just exactly what
the key argument is meant to be. So let o1, o2,
…, on be cloud-like fusions of water molecules, cloud*s in
Ted Sider’s useful phrase. There’s meant to be an argument from the
non-arbitrariness of language (or something like that) that runs the following
some j, oj is a cloud.
2. If oj is a cloud and ok is
not, then there must be something that makes it the case that oj
is a cloud and ok is not.
3. There is nothing that could make it the case that oj
is a cloud and ok is not.
C. ok is a cloud.
So the conclusion is that if one of the o’s
is a cloud, then they all are. Anyway, two things that I was wondering about
that anyone who just might know something about the Problem of the Many could
perchance help me with. First, is that really meant to be the argument
from the fact that there’s no ‘selection principle’ that selects oj
rather than ok than Unger occasionally appeals to (and that Vann
McGee and Brian McLaughlin think actually works if you’re not a
supervaluationist). Secondly, couldn’t we make this all a bit more rigorous? I
have no idea, for instance, what kind of things the ‘something’ in 2 is meant
to be a quantifier over. Anyway, for now the plan is to say that is the
argument, and say why the idea that ‘cloud’ is vague gives us a reason to reject
The writing has been very distracting because
I’m stopping every few words to check the election results. If the GOP gets a
Senate majority then I’m really going to start looking for work in any country
but here. Ireland looks good this time of year, as does New Zealand. I seem to be developing an odd taste for small countries, which is odd given how much I like big cities. Maybe I just really want to live in Dublin.
As I mentioned earlier, the paper Andy Egan and I wrote for the Central APA got accepted. And I just accepted an invitation to be on a vagueness symposium at the Pacific APA. So I’ll be doing the whole rounds of APAs next spring. San Francisco in March seems more pleasant than Cleveland in April, but we’ll have to see how they all turn out. I guess I don’t get to use rude words or throw pies at people in the vagueness symposium, so maybe Cleveland will be more fun. In the meantime blogging will be a little light while I frantically try and write my Problem of the Many paper. I used to be able to write more quickly than this, but old age, or at least not being twenty-two any more, seems to have caught up with me.
As I mentioned below, last week Kit Fine
presented the Blackwell/Brown lectures. These are intended to be an annual
lecture series by leading philosophers, just like the Locke lectures at Oxford
or the James lectures at Harvard. Since Brown isn’t Oxford or Harvard we might
have some difficulty competing with the likes of those series, but we will try!
And if all the subsequent lectures are of the quality of Fine’s, we at least
will match the quality of the Locke or James lectures, even if we can’t
match their reputation.
The lectures defended what Fine calls
semantic relationalism. He thinks that as well as having intrinsic semantic
properties, words have irreducibly relational semantic properties. In
particular, some words are ‘co-ordinated’, so it is a semantic fact that they
have the same denotation. Other words that are not co-ordinated may, because of
the non-semantic facts, turn out to have the same denotation, but it is not a
semantic fact that they do. So if ‘Jonesy’ is a nickname for Jones, then it is
a semantic fact that ‘Jonesy’ and ‘Jones’ co-refer, but it is not a semantic
fact that, for example, ‘Mark Twain’ and ‘Samuel Clemens’ co-refer. So it is a
semantic fact that (1) is true, but it is not a semantic fact that (2) is true.
Clemens is Mark Twain
This explains why (1) might be a priori,
while (2) is a posteriori. And it does so without directly attributing
something like a sense to any of the names involved. The only intrinsic
semantic property that names have is that they refer to who they refer to. The
difference between (1) and (2) is explained in terms of the fact that the two
names in (1) instantiate a particular semantic relation, being strictly
co-referential, while the names in (2) do not instantiate that relation.
There are a few issues that one might
immediately raise. First, one might worry that it will be possible to ‘reconstruct’
senses within this framework. For example, since the only semantic relation is
this relation of strict co-reference, and this is an equivalence relation, we
can find a relation like being in such-and-such an equivalence class with
respect to strict co-reference that might play the role of a sense. Then we’d
be back to saying that ‘Jones’ and ‘Jonesy’ have the same sense, and ‘Samuel
Clemens’ and ‘Mark Twain’ do not. Fine thinks that this won’t work because (roughly)
the only plausible way to specify the relevant equivalence class is by
mentioning the names involved, and it is implausible that the meaning of the
names is metalinguistic.
Secondly, one might worry what this does to
compositionality. Fine’s semantics is not compositional, in a sense. The intrinsic
semantic properties of whole sentences are not functions of the intrinsic semantic
properties of their parts. Fine bites the bullet here (proclaiming, I think
with respect to this point, “It’s not a bullet, it’s a donut”), but we need a
story to explain the kind of data that compositionality was meant to explain.
One small step towards writing that story: since the only semantic relation is being
strictly co-referential, and since this is symmetric, we wouldn’t expect
the failures of compositionality here to lead to violations of systematicity in
linguistic understanding. If, like Fodor, you think it’s systematicity not
productivity that stands most in need of explanation, Fine’s semantics might be
compositional enough to explain that.
Unfortunately the lectures are not yet on
Fine’s website, but hopefully they will be appearing soon. The lectures were
incredibly well received. I don’t think I’ve heard quite as sustained an
ovation at the end of a philosophy paper as there was at the end of the third
lecture. It was sad that there weren’t more people from outside Rhode Island
attending. We did a reasonable job, I think, advertising to other Rhode Island
schools, and to other departments in Brown, but no one from Yale or either of
the Cambridge departments attended. The long hard struggle to put Brown on the
New England philosophy map continues …
I was looking around for various sites to
link to, and I found this quite amazing picture. I’d heard the story of this
event several times, but never seen a picture of it. A larger picture, and
details of the background, is available here.
I ended up feeling a bit self-conscious
about putting together the links list. I’m sure this analogy has been made
before, but links lists feel like the mix-tapes of the 21st century.
Except I don’t just make it for me, or for one particular person, but for everyone.
Very disturbing. I was thinking of putting something gratuitously offensive on
the list as a kind of ironically ironic statement, but I figured linking to the
Prize homepage would be a strong enough statement.
I’m trying to write my Problem of the Many
paper for the Stanford Encyclopaedia of
Philosophy and, well, it’s going slowly. But here are some thoughts on
The Encyclopaedia is much more widely circulated
than I realised. In the last five weeks my article on intrinsic
properties was viewed 730 times. This is more often than any of my papers
on my website would be viewed in a year. I should take a little care with which
jokes I allow into the paper…
Frank Artzenius’s and Tim Maudlin’s paper on
looks very good, at least to a scientifically illiterate person like me.
I’ve been learning a lot from paying closer
attention to Hud Hudson’s book
on the Problem of the Many and related issues to do with the metaphysics of
humans. Hud takes seriously the option that there really are millions of people
everywhere where we think there is just one. He refers to these people as
‘brothers’, at least when they are all male. At first this sounds like the
right thing to say, because they each have the same parents. But on reflection,
maybe it isn’t right. Maybe each of the people sitting in this chair has a
different mother and father from each of the others. As long as we apply the
‘there are lots more people than you think there are’ solution across the
board, we know there are enough possible parents around for this to be true.
And saying this makes some intuitively true claims, like “I have two brothers” true,
which should count as a reason to believe it to be true.
Hud also mentions, as an ‘argument’, that if
this ‘solution’ to the Problem of the Many is true, it will be impossible to
live up to vows of monogamy. But of course this isn’t right. It will be hard to
produce any more children while living up to vows of monogamy. But given how
overpopulated the world is – we thought things were bad with 6 billion people,
and now we find out there are 1037 people – that’s probably a good
Tentatively, I plan to set up the puzzle by
noting that there are good reasons to believe each of the following eight
claims, but they are inconsistent. In what follows, F is any regular
are some xs and some ys such that at least one of the xs
is not one of the ys, or vice versa, and we cannot tell whether the xs
form an F, and we cannot tell whether the ys form an F.
1 There is an F
2 There is at most one F
3 There are objects o1
and o2 such that the xs compose o1
and the ys compose o2
4 If one of the xs is not among the
ys, or vice versa, then o1 is not identical with o2
5 If o1 is an F,
and o2 is an F, and o1 is not
identical with o2, then there are two Fs
6 If the xs compose an F,
then the ys compose an F
F is composed of at some atoms
being a bit lazy with the formalism here, because I’ve used variables in later
sentences that are bound by earlier sentences. I think this is easy enough to
understand, so I’m tempted to leave it like that. And in his (very good) Blackwell/Brown
Fine argued that this kind of thing was perfectly acceptable anyway for
deep theoretical reasons. It seems to me that all of the solutions are denials
of one of 1 through 7, and rarely do distinct solutions deny the same premise.
The only exceptions might be that supervaluationist and epistemicist solutions
both deny 6, but we’d expect them in this case to agree on more or less where
the flaw lies, and a few non-Leibnizian solutions deny 4, but it’d be painful
to set up the argument so every one of them denied a different premise.