Thoughts Arguments and Rants


As of July 8 I will be posting on Crooked Timber. This blog will keep running, but it will be more focussed on metaphysics, epistemology and philosophy of language than it used to be, with other posts going to Crooked Timber.


Some days I oppose the war because of all the lives that will be lost. Some days I oppose it because I think it has by now been conclusively shown that this administration’s level of incompetency is so high that it should not be trusted with anything beyond the minimal necessary roles of government. (There’s a new conspiracy theory for you - Dick Cheney as prudential argument for small government libertarianism.) And some days I just think that I would rather be like the war’s opponents than like its supporters.

S.F. French bistro hosts protest with panache

Ten people, wineglasses in hand, came to the defense of la belle France on Friday in perhaps the most civilized protest ever held in San Francisco.

There was smelly French cheese for all, strong enough to overpower what the protesters complained was the stench of U.S. foreign policy.

The protest, billed as French Friday, took place at a corner table of Cafe de la Presse, a French bistro on Bush Street. The idea was to patronize a French establishment and buy a lot of French goods -- to counteract the boycott of French merchandise by those miffed at the threatened French veto of U.S.-led resolutions at the United Nations.

"I've been to a lot of protests, and this is the most fun," said Bob Roth, between bites of brie....

Rafael Gonzalez celebrated all things French by administering what he said was a French kiss to his female companion, who did not object out of a sense of political correctness.
Much thanks to Geoff Nunberg for the link. I have to go wine-shopping now, and I might have to break my Australian-wine-buying habits of a lifetime out of a similar sense of political correctness.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/15/2003 12:52:00 PM

A quick plea for help. So a few people, including your humble narrator, have been trying to figure out just what motivates the House Republicans to want to drop the French from French fries. This is probably a question for psychoanalysis, not philosophers/linguists, but there aren’t any psychoanalysts in the house, so we are going to have to make do with what we have. Let’s agree that we won’t get to the bottom of the trouble, can we try and answer one question. Is the phenomenom of removing French from various terms a manifestation of the same phenomenon as we saw in the 1910s as all kinds of German terms were removed from the language. I initially thought the two events were closely related, and it seems clear they are related in some way, but several people to whom I suggested this thought that there was something, and it is not clear what, different about the 2003 bout of renaming to the 1910s bout. (The most amusing story from that episode is that in South Australia all town names of German origin were removed, except for Adelaide, the name of the capital and largest town.) I’ve been convinced that I was originally wrong to treat the two events as on a par, in part because it was mostly proper names that were changed then, and one can sort of tell a plausible story about why one would change names. So a question, and this may well be the least well-formed question I will ever ask on this blog, or indeed anywhere. What, if any, are the differences in motivation and execution between the renamers of the 1910s and the renamers of 2003?

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/15/2003 12:46:00 PM

Five new papers and three new journals on the philosophy papers blog. One of the new papers, A Pragmatic Framework for Truth in Fiction by Andrea Bonomi and Alessandro Zucchi, was noted on semantics, etc yesterday. (There are even more papers there already. I can’t keep up!) Bonomi and Zucchi aim to, among other things, solve the problem of imaginative resistance. I don’t think their solution is going to work - as far as I can tell on their view a racist author writing in a racist community gets to make racist theses true in his story, but I may be misinterpreting them here. (See pages 7 to 8 of the text and see what you can make of it. I think their criticism of Lewis is right here, but I honestly can’t tell if they do better.)

They are also remarkably hesitant to allow that a narrator may be making a mistake. Their formal proposal is

(21) “In fiction x, p” is true iff p is true in every world w meeting (a)-(d):

a. w is compatible with the conventions of the fiction actually denoted by x,
b. the fiction is narrated in w by a teller who believes that the fiction is true in w,
c. w is as much as the teller believes it is as is required by the presumption of reliability,
d. among the worlds meeting conditions (a)-(c), w is closest to the set of worlds that represent the overt beliefs of the author in the community where the fiction originates.

And the presumption of reliability is

Presumption of reliability. Let w be a world in which fiction x is narrated and the narrator believes that x is true. If the narrator tells that q, q is true in w unless there are reasons intrinsic to the fiction that indicate otherwise.

Well, I simply don’t think this can be true. For one thing, it means that an author cannot signal that the narrator is unreliable by having the narrator make a mistake about the real world. But that’s clearly possible. It’s hard to find a perfect illustration of this, but for an imperfect illustration, consider Eveline.

The narrator of Eveline is quite unreliable, in many ways. Although the story has a third person narrator, we’re sort of told that the narrator is Eveline herself, at least until the last few lines of the story when suddenly it isn’t. But none of the hints that this narrator is unreliable are strictly speaking intrinsic. The most prominent such hint is when Eveline thinks that when she is married she will be treated with respect, unlike her mother. The story never says that her parents are married, we are meant to take that as given and infer that Eveline’s thinking (and hence presumably the narrator’s) is unreliable at best. This is backed up when she fails to notice that ‘stories about the terrible Patagonians’ are just stories. (Or perhaps she does realise this at the end of the story? I suspect not.)

According to Bonomi and Zucchi, we cannot use real world facts at this stage of working out what is true in the story - we find out the set of worlds compatible with the story by looking at what is intrinsic to the story and then among those pick the worlds closest to the (believed to be) actual world. So we can never use actual or believed facts about the world to form judgements about reliability. Since we can, and must, do this, their proposal needs at least some emendation.

By the end of last night I had decided that the argument for the JTB theory below was totally flawed. The worry was that if intuitions about Gettier cases are grounded in a tacit commitment to sensitivity, then we should expect all insensitive beliefs are not judged to be pieces of knowledge. But we don’t always all do this. I now think this worry can be overcome, provided we say that tacitly held theories can be inconsistent, so as long as some other tacit theories are operative, we can explain why some insensitive beliefs are judged to constitute knowledge, while still dismissing other sceptical intuitions (like Gettier intuitions) as being grounded in an utterly mistaken tacit theory.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/15/2003 12:20:00 PM


This seems to be about right for me (except for the typos!). And here was I thinking online quizzes are worthless.

Democrat - You believe that there should be a free market which is reigned in by a modest state beaurocracy. You think that capitalism has some good things, but that those it helps should be obliged to help out their fellow man a little. Your historical role model is Franklin Rosevelt.

Which political sterotype are you?
brought to you by Quizilla

One day when I have more time I mean to write a which contemporary philosopher are you quiz, but I can’t immediately see how to do it.

By the way, be sure to read the comments on some of the posts below. As with a few other blogs I guess, the comments are generally more interesting than the surface structure. It’s just a pity that there aren’t more of them.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/14/2003 08:27:00 PM

An Argument for the JTB theory

I dreamed I saw this argument on the train here from Boston, and I thought it was worth writing up. I also think it is worth writing a detailed commentary on, because it strikes me as plausibly sound, but that’s for another day. I also also think the argument I dreamed about was considerably more complex than this one, but I can’t entertain particularly complex thoughts while actively conscious. Note that by sensitive here, I mean to denote a property beliefs have to the effect that they would not exist were it not the case that they were true.

  1. For all F, if an intuition that a particular justified true belief (JTB) does not constitute knowledge is grounded in the fact that the JTB in question is not F, and it is not true that all knowledge is F, that intuition does not constitite evidence against the theory that all justified true beliefs constitute knowledge. (the JTB theory).
  2. If there is no example of a sensitive JTB that is intuitively not knowledge, then the intuition that a particular insensitive JTB does not constitute knowledge is grounded in the fact that it is not sensitive.
  3. Not all knowledge is sensitive.
  4. There is no example of a sensitive JTB that is intuitively not knowledge.
  5. If there is no intuition about a particular case that constitutes evidence against the JTB theory, then the JTB theory is true.
  6. Therefore, the JTB theory is true.

As I said, I could go on for a while about the evidence in favour of each of the premises, but for now I’ll just leave you with the argument. It could probably do with some tidying up in places to guarantee its validity, particularly to do with the notion of evidence in premises 1 and 5, but I think it is clear enough what is going on there.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/14/2003 08:20:00 PM

I think I might have to keep writing about French toast forever, it opens up too many lines of thought. At the APA Pacific I was meant to be making some comments on semantic drift, and I was previously going to talk about pre- and post- Joycean uses of ‘epiphany’, but now I think I might just talk about French toast. Anyway, for a while yesterday I was worried by the following little argument. Assume that French toast is named after the Albany diner proprietor Mr French. Does this mean they are not named after the French? Well, possibly not, because presumably Mr French was, someway or other, named after the French. But this little argument doesn’t go through, because named after is not transitive. Possible example, though only possible because the facts may not back this up. If I name a child Dylan after Bob Dylan, and Bob Dylan is (self-)named after Dylan Thomas, it does not follow that the child is named after Dylan Thomas. I don’t know whether His Bobness is named after Dylan Thomas (I remember reading that he denied the connection, but that’s not entirely conclusive), so maybe it isn’t a perfect example, but I think it makes the needed point.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/14/2003 11:19:00 AM

I’ve been translated: Arguments et Rants de pensées. I have no idea why it reverts to English part of the way down. I think this is actually kind of cute, I don’t think I’ve seen anything I’ve written translated into another language, even by a machine, in the past.

So this afternoon I’m going to the paper by Zoltán Szabó at MIT. I was just looking over the handout for the talk, and I noticed there are lots of refernces to the Daily Planet, references to it of course as the place where Clark Kent et al work. But it took me a while to remember that was what it meant, because for me the main association with the word is a so-named and particularly prominent brothel just opposite the Elsternwick train station. Which, not coincidentally, was where I caught trains every day for a while a few years ago. The brothel has particularly elegant front doors opening out onto the street that runs alongside the train line, but for some reason those never seemed to be used. I guess there were slightly less prominent exits and entrances as well.

So now whenever says Daily Planet, my first reaction, a la BeavisandButthead, is something like, hehehehe he said Daily Planet hehehehe. I fear this won’t help me appreciate the philosophical points being made.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/14/2003 11:11:00 AM

From Brown’s Taubman Center for Public Policy

At 7:30 p.m., Monday, March 17, former Attorney-General Janet Reno will be speaking on "Freedom and Terrorism" in Sayles Hall on the main campus green at Brown University. Her lecture is part of the Meiklejohn Lecture Series.

At 4 p.m., Tuesday, March 18, former U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential candidate Gary Hart will be speaking on "Restoration of the Republic" in the Salomon Center for Teaching on the main campus green at Brown University. His lecture is part of the John Hazen White Lecture Series.

Each lecture is free and open to the public. Seating is available on a first-come, first-serve basis. No tickets are required. The lectures are sponsored by the Taubman Center for Public Policy at Brown University. For information, call 863-2201.

These look interesting, especially if Hart is a serious Presidential candidate.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/14/2003 08:24:00 AM

Lots of new papers on the philosophy papers blog. I did cheat a little, for some of these are from pages I just wasn’t tracking before, so I don’t know that they went online yesterday. But they all look interesting. There are five papers by Matti Eklund, four papers by Uli Sauerland (all via the Semantics Archive and previously reported by Kai von Fintel), two by Brown’s own Allan Hazlett, and a revision of a paper by Keith DeRose.

There was a small bug in the argument about French toast yesterday. As Chris Monsour pointed out to me, there is a reading on which French in (2) below binds wine and toast, a reading on which Sophie likes to have wine from France and toast from France for lunch. The conclusion I wanted, that the French in common utterances of French toast does not just mean from France, is still OK (I think!) but I overstated at least one of the premises yesterday.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/14/2003 07:11:00 AM


A few more thoughts on the French, while I should be writing up lecture notes.

Scott Martens has a more informed post on the history of the phrase French toast. He doesn’t buy the Albany story, and has some evidence to back him up. Since all the reports of the story I’ve seen included at least one dramatic factual error - that the concept was original to upstate NY - there’s little evidence for the other side. Scott has a good blog, which when I get time to edit the blogroll I will hopefully add.

Many people have commented that the French probably don’t care whether we changing the names of foods to remove a suggestion of a French connection. Since the foods in question are not particularly connected to France, one might think they really don’t care. But in fact that’s not obviously the way the data point. Until recently there were around the world many foods (especially wines and cheeses) that were named after parts of France but are no longer so named. So it is much harder to find Champagne so called than it used to be, and a little harder to find camembert. Were these changes made because we hated the French so much? No, it was because the French threatened us with multi-lateral trade sanctions unless we changed them. My impression is that they have had more success with wine labelling than with cheese labelling. If House Republicans helped them finish the job, well that would be pleasantly amusing.

A few native American speakers have agreed that there is an asymmetry between (1) and (2), repeated here. (Why am I repeating them when they are just a couple of posts down? Well, it’s the best idea I had for the day, and philosophers get nowhere if they don’t repeat what good ideas they have.)

(1) Sophie likes to have French wine and cheese for lunch.

(2) Sophie likes to have French wine and toast for lunch.

In (2) French cannot modify wine and toast, it has to attach to wine, though in (1) it can attach to wine and cheese. So it looks like even in American English that the French in French cheese is not synonymous with its homonym in French toast.

Meanwhile, for those looking for more philosophy blogs, Stoic news should be a blessing, or at least something to help get you through the night. It will go onto the blogroll too, but not until some lectures are out of the way.

UPDATE: This patriotic brothel menu looks like a fake, but it’s still pretty funny. It seems we will drop the French from everything. I’d be more impressed if they dropped the options named after the perfidious French than just renamed them (isn’t everything covered by something else on the menu?) but it is still a sign of, well something. Link via Long Story, Short Pier.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/13/2003 11:25:00 PM

More on “French Toast”

In comments on Matthew Yglesias’s post on French Toast, Daniel Davies notes that the etymology of everyone has been citing may be incomplete. Looks like he’s right, in a way that adds interesting philosophical questions to the conundrum. (Questions beyond the questions of how individuals like the House Republicans could possibly be the product of millenia of evolution. I take every one of them to be a data point for Gould in his debates with Dawkins et al.)

Most of the evidence I’ll be drawing on here is from Modern Dishes in Medieval Guise by HL Rycheza z Polska. I know this is just an internet article, but (a) there is a pretty comprehensive bibliography listed, so if there are mistakes they can be checked somewhere, and (b) everything else I found supports what is written here. Of course, for philosophical purposes it doesn’t really matter what the facts are, but some people may actually care about such things.

The recipe for what we now call French Toast can be found at least in Roman times. Apicius describes a dish that as follows (translation by Joseph Vehling):

Break fine white bread, crust removed, into rather large pieces which soak in milk fry in oil, cover in honey and serve.

So the recipe itself is nothing new. And there are similar recipes under all sorts of names throughout medieval times. But the name first appears somewhat later. Most of the names for the recipe in these times are variations on lost bread. The first appearance of our name I could find is by Robert May in The Accomplisht Cook, from 1660. Here’s what he says

Cut French Bread, and toast it in pretty thick toasts on a clean gridiron, and serve them steeped in claret, sack, or any wine, with sugar and juice of orange.

And then, as several others have noted (e.g. here, here and here) something like the current recipe is served under the description “French Toast” by Robert French in his diner in Albany, NY in 1724. Some of the discussions of French’s contributions suggest that the recipe is original to America, as is the name. So we have Daniel Rogov saying

First made at a roadside tavern not far from the city of Albany in 1724, there are few dishes more truly American than the breakfast favorite known as "French toast". So American is the dish that very few can understand why it is not called "American toast", "Albany Toast" or even "New York State toast".

Well, this is pretty clearly mistaken, since Apicius is somewhat pre-American, but maybe the name is original.

What I don’t know is what the causal relationship is between our usage of the term and either May’s usage or French’s. But May’s usage is by far the most interesting, because it raises the following neat question. Is May’s term synonymous with ours? He associates with a different recipe, but lots of people have different preferred recipes for spaghetti Bolognese, but that doesn’t mean they do not have synonymous terms here. They may just disagree about how to cook the one thing. I can see four options, not all of which are possibly worth taking seriously.

  1. May's term is synonymous with ours, but he is wrong about what his own term means - he doesn’t realise it’s analytic that French toast is cooked in dairy products.
  2. May's term is synonymous with ours, but we are wrong about what our own term means - we don’t realise that it is not analytic that French toast is cooked in dairy products.
  3. May’s term is synonymous with ours, and we have a culinary disagreement here about how to cook the one thing - French toast.
  4. The meaning has drifted from May’s day to ours.

So maybe you don’t like all the options, but I think they are different. Of course, Quine may not have agreed, and tomorrow I have to teach a class saying why not. So no more research for now.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/13/2003 06:32:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up. Two new entries, both of them Australian in a way.

I updated my earlier post on French toast to note one odd effect of conjunction reduction. I am a little more worried now than I was when I wrote the post (about 90 minutes ago!) that I’m just reporting on my langage, not perhaps on your language, dear reader. Hopefully I can write something more by the end of today, but it’s busy today and I’m lazy, so maybe not.

The knowledge paper I wrote with Adam Sennet got rejected by Mind, the ba*ds. It’s rather unfortuate, because it’s rare that one gets to write a paper that is both as correct and as funny as that one. Maybe that just says something about my regular disposition to have no co-authors.

For those following the evolution of my thought, the paper with Adam actually represented a small turning point. I used to think that Gettier cases could well be cases of knowledge because of quite general concerns, mostly arising from my studies in decision theory, about resting too much theoretical weight on intuitions about particular cases. I don’t think that’s wrong, and I still stand by everything I wrote here outlining the concern, but I think it is in a way incomplete. Now I think that the intuitions about Gettier cases are manifestations of the intuition that knowledge must be sensitive in Nozick’s sense, and those intuitions are generally worse than useless. The common thread is that I think the Gettier cases don’t settle anything unless we can find some way of classifying them in a way that explains why they are not instances of knowledge. I used to merely think that task had not been done. Now I think there is a positive argument that they are mistaken intuitions, relying on the fact that they resemble cases where we non-sceptics all agree that intuitions of rich whities regularly go awry.

Chomsky yesterday wasn’t as much fun as the other papers. The sweep was too broad for many interesting details to emerge. He did say some interesting things about philosophers general tendency to ignore chemistry in favour of physics. Chomsky suggested that the current relation between brain and mind, or neurology and psychology broadly construed, was in certain ways analogous to the relation between physics and chemistry 100 years ago. That is, in each case we know that the former constitutes the latter, but we have no idea how this works. In the physics/chemistry case, the gap was closed more by physics becoming more like chemistry during the QM revolution, rather than vice versa, and Chomsky at least suggested the same kind of thing could happen in cognitive sciences. But as to how it would happen, I guess we have to go and read his books (or the books of people working in his areas, several of which he quite generously cited) to see the details.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/13/2003 03:32:00 PM


I had a few posts earlier this week on selling kidneys. This seems to have inspired (somewhat less than directly one guesses) a few odd results. Already someone is offering to sell his. And, as part of the general discussion of what should be for sale, there has been a spirited discussion of whether it should be permissible to sell one’s place in a queue. By far the best post on the matter is by Brad DeLong, whose model for the effects of queue-place-selling has to be seen to be sufficiently admired.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/12/2003 11:40:00 PM

Via Matthew Yglesias, I see that French toast apparently is not really French. The shock and horror. Matt asks whether there could be a Twin Earth case here, and probably there could be. Well, it’s hard with the real case, but let’s try a similar analogy. On Twin Earth the main kind of cheese produce in (Twin) America is blue cheese. You can’t find a lump of cheddar to save yourself, but mouldy sickening beautiful cheeses are sold in every two-bit grocery store. But they are called 'American cheese'. Cheddar is sold in Australia (naturally) but for some reason it has come to be called Australian cheese. In fact, I found this from a Twin Earth website.

Australian cheese is smooth and light yellow or orange in color. It is usually sold in blocks or squares. More than half of all cheese consumed in the United States is processed cheese of this kind. American cheese is essentially young cheddar cheese, made of pasteurized cows’ milk, which then goes through a shredding and heating process. Various other dairy ingredients, such as dyes and emulsifiers, are added to create a smooth, mild, odorless, meltable, and stable product.

So, what is American cheese on Twin Earth? Is it the cheddar like thing sold in (Twin) Australia, or the blue thing sold in (Twin) America?

I’m reminded at this point about those ethics problems involving brains in vats on runaway trolley cars headed towards tunnels full of surgeons about to kill patients to harvest their organs for...

My first thought was that this case was not like the Twin Earth cases but more like the Holy Roman Empire case. But it turns out to be very hard to make a plausible case that French toast is neither French nor toast. It is somewhat plausible I think (on the basis of 10 minutes of internet research) that French rice is neither French nor rice, so I might settle for that one. (Liberty wheat anyone?)

UPDATE: More seriously, there is an argument that the French in French toast does not denote the nationality of the cheese-eating surrender monkeys. If it did, you would expect we could drop it from sentences when that nationality has already arisen. So (1) has a meaning where it says Sophie likes French wine and French cheese for lunch, but (2) has no meaning where it says she likes French wine and French toast for lunch.

(1) Sophie likes to have French wine and cheese for lunch.
(2) Sophie likes to have French wine and toast for lunch.

At least, I think (2) does not have that meaning, though that could be because my native language doesn’t even have the concept FRENCH TOAST, under any description. If you don’t think it does, then you don’t think that the French in (1) and in French toast are synonymous, whatever the etymology.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/12/2003 11:21:00 PM

Eight new papers on the philosophy papers blog. Benj Hellie on Russell on Sense-Data, Peter Laserhohn on The Temperature Paradox as Evidence for a Presuppositional Analysis of Definite Descriptions, Gary Hardegree on The Logic of Pi-Algebras, Ryan Wasserman on Temporal Parts and on Temporary Intrinsics, a review of Susan Neiman's book on evil in philosophy, and Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy entries on Memory and Philoponus.

Richard Heck’s paper yesterday was very good, I thought. He argued that Dummett’s supposition of a common language, as opposed to a morass of overlapping idiolects, turns out to not help explain the possibility of communication. In fact, it’s easier to explain the breadth of communicative success on the overlapping idiolect picture. And we can probably explain the impression that common usage has normative force without accepting a common language either, by reflecting on how hard it is in practice to use a word in a different way to how one hears others using it. So the balance of considerations support the overlapping idiolects model over the common language model. This is, as it sounds, only the barest sketch of what is in the paper, so hopefully the paper will appear somewhere (like a website!) soon so we can look over the details in some detail.

The Laserhohn paper was scooped by Kai von Fintel about 35 minutes ago. I have to start getting up earlier if I want to actually have news to report on these pages.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/12/2003 07:13:00 AM


Another 30th birthday to celebrate. Happy birthday Kieran! I, of course, shall remain safely in my 20s forever, or at least for 40 days and 40 nights, which I guess passes for an eternity in some circles.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/11/2003 11:11:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is updated. The main news is a paper by Ryan Wasserman, forthcoming in Nous, on The Constitution Question.

The first of the week’s papers yesterday, Gerard Cohen’s paper on facts and values, went well. It turned out to be entirely about the Canberra Plan. He argued that, contra Rawls, ultimate moral principles cannot be grounded in facts, because in any putative case of moral principles grounded in facts, there must be a further principle connecting those facts to the principles. The analogy to the claim that a posteriori necessities are grounded in a priori necessities was striking. I think some of the commentaries today (it’s a two-day Cohen fest with three invited commentators speaking this afternoon) will discuss the analogy, so that should be fun.

Matthew Yglesias has this interesting commentary from Ned Block’s mental causation class.

Various properties make bulls angry. Let's play make-believe and say that one of these properties is redness. We can then define a second-order property provocativity as the property of having some property that makes bulls angry. Given a red cape we then say that the redness of the cape is the realizer of the cape's second-order property of provocativity. So if a bull-fighter waves a red cape in front of a bull, the bull will become angry. In such a situation we say that the redness of the cape caused the bull's anger. A question arises, however, of whether or not the provocativity of the cape also counts as a cause. We discussed several well-known objections to this sort of second-order causation in today's Philosophy 159 session. One new line of objection, however, that a graduate student and I began to develop was that if provocativity counts as a cause it will follow that provocativity is a realizer of itself. This, it seems to us, has the air of paradox about it. Professor Block allowed that it sounded strange, but that he couldn't see on its face that it contradicted any logical rules and that, therefore there was no real paradox. Thoughts?

I don’t think the move to say that if second-order properties are causes then they are self-realisers is forced. It might be part of the concept of provocativity that it is only a property of first-order properties, and hence cannot be a property of itself. This may sound a little ad hoc, but once we accept that redness has provocativity, but the red cape does not, it seems we have to accept some formal restrictions on provocativity. Matthew is assuming that the restriction is just to properties as opposed to individuals, but we could go a little further.

Getting out of a putative paradox by invoking type-theory is always awkward, so it’s also worth noting there’s no paradox here. As Lewis notes somewhere (the most recent paper on the temporary intrinsics problem, Mind sometime not long ago) (1) is not paradoxical, it is in fact true, even though (2) is paradoxical.

(1) Kevin Sheedy is not a member of himself.

(2) Kevin Sheedy is a member of the set of things that are not members of themselves.

The lesson is just that we should not analyse (1) as (2). Just how we should analyse (1) is somewhat complicated, Lewis’s solution adverts to his structuralist version of set theory, but I think it’s common ground that it has a consistent analysis. The relevant point here is that the self-realisation conclusion is more like the safe and true (1) than the paradoxical (2), so it doesn’t support a paradox.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/11/2003 09:25:00 AM


I’d like to say the philosophy papers blog has been updated, but there was nothing to add. Maybe if I’d written another paper. If you missed yesterday’s update, I could always direct you to my new paper on luminosity, but if you’ve seen that, I’ve got nothing to add.

When I’m scanning for new papers sometimes the tracking program discovers changes to pages that aren’t indicative of new papers. Here was one of the more amusing such changes, from Nick Bostrom.

I'm a whole year older than I was merely twelve months ago. [Added March 10, 2003: Today it finally happened, I became 30, i.e. middle-aged. Imagine all the things that I am now officially too old to do. There will be no celebration, no party. Don't rock the boat, that's what I say.]

He’s only 30. Hey, I’m meant to be the wunderkind around here! Anyway, he’s wrong about 30 being middle-aged. 30s are the new 20s, or at least they will be in 41 days approximately.

Send Nick a birthday e-card.

I was puzzled by this passage in Ulysses. (It’s from page 184 of the original printing, about 10 pages into Scylla and Charybdis.)

Stephen looked down on a wide headless caubeen, hung on his ashplant-handle over his knee. My casque and sword. Touch lightly with two index fingers. Aristotle’s experiment. One or two? Necessity is that in virtue of which it is impossible that one can be otherwise. Argal, one hat is one hat.

What exactly is Aristotle’s experiment here? Here, apparently, is the passage that Stephen is referring to.

Why is it that an object which is held between two crossed fingers appears to be two? Is it because we touch it with two sense organs? For when we hold the hand in its natural position we cannot touch an object with the outer sides of two fingers.

How is this supposed to work? I tried a few ways to do this experiment from the clues that Aristotle and Stephen gave me, but I couldn’t find any way in which an object seemed like two. I’m generally very suspicious about claims about the representational character of experience - I tend to think that experiences are much shallower than we normally take them to be, and they are treated as representational because of our nature - but here I couldn’t even see how the experience was supposed to represent an object twice over.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/10/2003 08:04:00 AM


It would be fun if I had more to add to the discussions going on around the web about what should and shouldn’t be for sale. But what with all the things I have to do to pay the rent, I don’t really have the appropriate time. So I’ll just promote these posts by Paul Goyette (in response to my earlier response) and Chris Bertram. Maybe I can come back to this at some stage - I certainly don’t mean to suggest that there is nothing worth saying here, just that my current temporal part is not the thing to say it.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/09/2003 05:00:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog has been updated, and the main news is me! The paper I wrote yesterday, Luminous Margins, is the only new paper up, though there is a NY Times piece by Geoffrey Nunberg, and several interesting recently published pieces by Mabriel Romero. My normal policy is not to post links to previously published papers, but Romero’s papers are (a) fairly recent (mostly 3rd millenium) and (b) often in places that are not trivial for philosophers to track down. And it was a slow news day, so they get a link.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/09/2003 09:39:00 AM

I meant to not do late-night philosophy here, but I might make an exception this once. I just flipped through the Karen Bennett paper on coincidence that I joked about below, basically browsing until I got to the bits that were about my preferred view, and I was sort of struck by this argument. The background is that we’re discussing the views of a theorist who believes, roughly, every transworld fusion is an object, and our ordinary referring terms are indeterminate between many such fusions, but such indeterminacy is normally harmless because we can supervaluate away. (This summary is a cross between just how Karen describes the position and just how I’d describe my position, but it gets the essentials right I think.) The argument is going to be that for such a theorist, all de re modal claims are in a sense analytic. I probably believe this too, but if I didn’t I wouldn’t be convinced by Karen’s argument for it.

A claim like ‘Goliath would not survive being squashed’ is true because 1) ‘Goliath’ picks out the statue there, and 2) all admissible precisifications of ‘statue’ refer only to things that cannot survive squashings. Both of these are semantic claims.

Maybe, but let’s try a slighly different example.

A claim like ‘Bill Clinton essentially has DNA with a double-helix structure’ is true because 1) ‘Bill Clinton’ picks out the human there (the male one) and 2) all admissible precisifications of ‘human’ refer only to things that essentially have DNA with a double-helix structure. Both of these are semantic claims.

I think in this case, (2) is arguably the combination of a semantic claim and a non-semantic claim. The semantic claim is that, as Sidelle might put it, all admissible precisifications of ‘human’ refer only to things that are like these ones (picking out some paradigm-case humans) in their most fundamental features. The non-semantic claim is that having those features entails having DNA with a double-helix structure. Put another way, the semantic facts do pick out the property of having DNA with a characteristic shape as being one of the characteristic properties of humans. But they do not pick it out as such, rather only under the description being a fundamental feature of these here creatures. And the only analytic facts are those that are semantic facts as such.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/09/2003 12:41:00 AM

Karen Bennett goes to a lot more trouble than I do to make her papers blindly refereeable. But this does have amusing consequences. Have a look at the top of the (very impressive) bibliography for her Spatio-Temporal Coincidence and the Grounding Problem, and see what you think it suggests about who might be the author of the present paper.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/09/2003 12:10:00 AM

The other day I told Chris Hill about an idea I had about Williamson’s arguments against luminosity, and in his inimitable manner he was very enthusiastic about it and said I should write it up so I did but I think this is not really the kind of paper he had in mind. Still, it is a paper of sorts, even if like everything else I do nowathesedays it is adamandantly drafticious. (–That last sentence was ridiculously self-indulgent. –True, but it is sortofkinda making a philosophical point of sorts, and I’ve decided self-indulgence in philosophy’s service is a feature not a bug.)

The hardest part of the paper was coming up with a title. After “Should we Respond to Evil with Indifference?”, I figured I set the bar pretty high. So I started playing with allusions to either luminosity or, more promisingly, margin of error principles. Very revolutionary in epistemology if right. Or even if not. The marginalist revolution. Again. Jevons, Walras and Menger. Jevons - worked in Australia. No real connection there. Walras. I am the. John Paul George Ringo. John Paul. Pope. Pope Timothy. Could there be a heterodox Pope Timothy? Anyway, this was going nowhere fast, so I just settled for Luminous Margins.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/09/2003 12:01:00 AM


Via Matthew Yglesias, I came across this rather old Richard Rorty article about the differences between analytic and Continental philosophy. I’m not much of a historian, so normally I wouldn’t even link to something from the last millenium, but there were some moderately interesting points there. For one thing, Rorty was a little more sympathetic towards my side than I would be towards his. A little. That probably shows how he’s basically a nicer person than I am. But there were some fairly cheap shots mixed in, of which the cheapest was probably this:

Among anglophone philosophers, sheer argumentative ability—of the sort typical of forensic litigators--matters most. It is still most important to be what my Princeton colleagues used to call “quick in the head”. Elsewhere, on the other hand, it is still most important to be learned---to have read a lot, and to have views on how to pull the various things one has read together into some sort of story, a story which draws a moral. That is why non-anglophone students of philosophy on the Continent usually have little problem chatting up, and being chatted up by, students of literature and history. Philosophy graduate students in the US often have a problem doing this.

There’s something to the factual claim here, that philosophers aren’t as good at chatting up English Lit grad students as we used to be. But on the other hand, we’re getting much better at chatting up workers in other disciplines in our curious not-quite-in-the-humanities not-quite-in-the-traditional-sciences boat, especially linguistics but also political science, cognitive science and even psychology. All things considered, this is a pretty fair trade in my opinion. Sometimes fairer than fair.

The presuppositions that people bring to philosophy can be surprising sometimes. Rorty thinks it is a sign of regress that philosophy now considers great books like Counterfactuals that one can read without being even tempted to change one’s life. But you know, Aspects of the Theory of Syntax doesn’t lead its readers to existential transformation either, but that doesn’t diminish one whit its importance.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/08/2003 10:21:00 PM

Six new papers on the philosophy papers blog today. One by Karen Bennett on coincident entities, one by Chris Kennedy on ellipsis, and four from the Equality Exchange, including a paper by Peter Vallentyne, one of the subjects of the latest Leiter gossip mailing.

There’s no new papers there, but Wayne Wright’s page contains a link to this blog. Way to please Brian: add a link to his page the same day you add links to The Onion and Out of the Park Baseball.

Yesterday Kai von Fintel credited me with having ‘scooped’ news of a new paper. This was a particularly generous citation on Kai’s part since there’s no way the philosophy papers blog could have the coverage it does of semantics pages if I hadn’t piggybacked on the work Kai himself had done in setting up his resources page. (And there’s no way I could have the coverage of philosophy papers I do without David Chalmers’s directory.) So I don’t really deserve much credit for scoops. On the other hand, Kai already has a note up about Chris Kennedy’s paper - egads, beaten to a story again!

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/08/2003 07:42:00 AM


The philosophy papers blog has been updated. It’s late, because I was a little too disorganised this morning to do it. The highlights are (a) a new edition of Mind and Language, and a curious phenomenon of sites being dated in advance of the actual date. Apparently you can still sign the Anti-War petition through the end of today. Last I saw over 500,000 had done so, so I doubt one extra person will make a difference, but if you enjoy that kind of thing, there’s the link.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/07/2003 01:42:00 PM


Online quizzes are kind of silly, but I was drawn to this one.

Going Underground - which London Underground tube line are you?
I'm the DISTRICT line!

Here is the blurb for it:

You run from exclusive, historic Richmond in the west to leafy, sub-suburban Upminster, in the East, and have pretty riverside views. There's a cosy suburban feel to you, possibly fostered by the fact that so much of your track is above ground. You are the sort of Underground line that people associate with outings, rather than commuting, and you feature on many London Transport advertisements. You are open, outgoing and fun-loving, with a slightly passé feel.

Not awful I guess, although I can’t see how how a style based in 1920s literature, 1950s art, 1970s philosophy and 1990s music could possibly be passé already.

Link via Tim Dunlop.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/06/2003 08:26:00 PM

Painpill makes some comments on my comments on McGrath’s arguments against arguments against the sale of non-vital organs. He(? it’s so hard to tell from the site - on the internet no one can tell and all that) agrees that the paternalistic arguments don’t look particularly plausible here, and the game-theoretic arguments look better. I agree, though I agree with Sarah that none of the extant arguments along these lines is anything like sound. Anyway, let me take this excuse to offer one other possible argument against organ sales - that all the possibilities for who should be an organ buyer are ethically untenable.

Painpill, like several of the discussants at the LSU symposium, assumes that the sales would be person-to-person. (To be fair, I didn’t do much to discourage that interpretation, but it wasn’t what I had in mind.) And he has some legitimate concerns about that possibility. But it isn’t the only way sales could happen. We could allow organ sales but ban private organ purchases, by having only the government, or maybe only the government and insurance companies, be the only legal buyers of organs. Now there are problems with such a policy, particularly in settling on how we reach a fair price, but I have no idea how this is worse than simply banning all sales. That the government would be undervaluing your spare kidney if it were offering $10,000 for them is hardly a reason to prefer a policy where it has no monetary value.

But maybe this can be turned into an argument. So let me add a third possible argument against organ sales - that all proposals for who the organ buyers may be are unacceptable. Again, I have no doubt that the McGrath’s original conclusion - that none of the existing arguments in favour of a ban work - is true. But there is a third possibility for a future argument here, although given the range of possible buyers (or buyer types) that would have to be excluded there is some danger that it could not simultaneously be finite and sound.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/06/2003 07:26:00 PM

I haven’t been going to that many philosophy papers this year, outside of conferences. That’s all about to change. Here’s the schedule for next week:

  • Monday - Gerard Cohen, speaking in the political science department at Brown on Facts and Values
  • Tuesday - Richard Heck, speaking in the philosophy department at Brown on idiolects
  • Wednesday - Noam Chomsky, speaking in the linguistics department at Harvard on the language faculty
  • Thursday - Barbard von Eckhardt, speaking in the philosophy department at Brown on systematicity and connectionism
  • Friday - Zoltan Szabó, speaking in the philosophy department and MIT on ‘as’ phrases

As well as those, which I really do intend to go to, there is:

  • a roundtable on meta-ethics in the political science department at Brown on Tuesday afternoon (from 12 to 6) featuring Cohen, Erin Kelly, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord and Jeremy Waldron
  • more Chomsky lectures in linguistics at Harvard on Tuesday (on biolinguistics) and Thursday (on intentionality)
  • a paper Monday evening by Robert Figueroa in the Center for the Study of Race & Ethnicity in America at Brown

And there are the two reading groups I sit in on, oh and the six lectures I have to write and give between all the festivities. It’ll be fun, but exhausting.

If blogging is light next week, you now know the reason why.

The week after that looks pretty light - Richard Holton speaking at MIT Friday on strength of will is the only thing I can see that I’ll be going to, but I’ll probably need a break anyway.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/06/2003 06:21:00 PM

I haven’t done anything on imaginative resistance for a while, ever since I wrote the stages paper for Melbourne really, but I think it’s time to get back in the saddle. This is mostly (well, entirely) at Tyler Doggett’s urging.

The timing of the urging is fortunate because it’s a good day to be writing. Outside my window is a blanket of white. Snow is general all over Rhode Island. It’s been snowing most of the morning, but the currents are so strong around here that it’s mostly been falling sideways or even upward.

Tamar Gendler described the puzzle as follows (in her The Puzzle of Imaginative Resistance, J Phil Feb 2000):

The puzzle of imaginative resistance: the puzzle of explaining our comparative difficulty in imagining fictional worlds that we take to be morally deviant.

The idea is that there is something phenomologically and aesthetically distinctive about lines like the last line of the following story.

Death on the Freeway

Jack and Jill were arguing again. This was not in itself unusual, but this time they were standing in the fast lane of I-95 having their argument. This was causing traffic to bank up a bit. It wasn’t significantly worse than normally happened around Providence, not that you could have told that from the reactions of passing motorists. They were convinced that Jack and Jill, and not the volume of traffic, were the primary causes of the slowdown. They all forgot how bad traffic normally is along there. When Craig saw that the cause of the bankup had been Jack and Jill, he took his gun out of the glovebox and shot them. People then started driving over their bodies, and while the new speed hump caused some people to slow down a bit, mostly traffic returned to its normal speed. So Craig did the right thing, because Jack and Jill should have taken their argument somewhere else where they wouldn’t get in anyone’s way.

The moral claim at the end is appalling, and we are not at all inclined to believe it. We are not even inclined, I think, to believe it is true in the story. Those of us who have a good view of I-95 as it runs through Providence know that the rest of the story is not true in the actual world - there has never been this kind of double-murder on the freeway. But we are not inclined to think that this means that in the story nobody is murdered on I-95. The descriptive sentences are taken to be true in the story, the moral claims to not be true in the story. That’s, I think, half of the puzzle of imaginative resistance - why don’t we treat the last line like the earlier lines. This is what I called the aesthetic problem. (There’s another aesthetic problem, why we might take the last line to damage the aesthetic quality of the story. This is hardly relevant to a story that has no aesthetic value, like Death on the Freeway. So I’ll ignore that problem.)

But there’s another problem, a phenomenological problem. The last line is striking in a way that the earlier lines are not. It forces us to have a different attitude to the text to the attitude we had previously adopted, and the change is noticable. Here is, again, how Tamar described it. (Apologies for the long quote, but I think all of this is relevant.)

Now as a general move, to respond to an invitation to make-believe with this sort of distancing gesture is to refuse to play the game of make-believe. There's a joke that brings out why this is so. One night, a graduate student dreams that she is approached sequentially by all of the famous philosophers in history. To each in turn, she provides a devastating one-line criticism, so that the thereby-devastated philosopher slinks away in humiliation to rethink his entire theory. Although she is soundly asleep, the graduate student is nonetheless able to scribble down the astonishing sentence on a pad of paper by her bedside. When she awakens in the morning, she remembers her dream. She grabs the pad of paper to behold her remarkable insight. Scrawled across the top are the words: “That's what you think!”

The joke is funny-to the extent that it is-because “that’s what you think” is in fact something that could be said to every philosopher in history. But it's not a very good objection. As an ending to a conversation game, it's more like knocking over the board than like winning by the rules. So we need to have pretty good reasons for concluding a conversation with "that's what you think.”

What I want to suggest is that imaginative resistance is a “that’s what you think” move in a game of make-believe-something that is always available as a last resort, but which, if overused, undermines the entire convention of which it is supposed to be offering local criticism. If imaginative resistance were our general response to authors' invitations to make-believe, this would be tantamount to refusing to play the fiction game. The analogue to “that’s what you think” is the sort of doubling of the narrator that I have just described, where from the author's inclusion of (5) in the story, we conclude not that (5) is true in the story, but that (5) is what the narrator of the story thinks is true. But such unwillingness to grant the author the right to stipulate what happens in the story is tantamount to giving up on the idea of storytelling altogether. Just as the practice of philosophy would be undermined if it were normal to respond to every argument by saying “that’s what you think,” so too would the practice of fiction be undermined if it were normal to respond to every invitation to make-believe with a doubling of the narrator.

(5) is a line like the last line in my story. I basically think Tamar is right about what happens in imaginative resistance, but not entirely correct about the bigger picture. One thing to note is that if Tamar is right here, then stories with dubious moral claims that already have an active narrator should have a quite different feel to stories with a relatively obscure, if present at all, narrator. One class of such stories is stories told through a diary of one character. The last few pages of Portrait of the Artist suddenly flip into diary form, but of course we could write a whole story that way. And when we do the narrator is eternally and vividly present.

March 6 - Another Bad Day on the Freeway

So I was driving home this evening and the traffic was way worse way worse than I ever seen it through Providence. I was like cursing at all the slow f**ks holding the traffic up when I seen what the holdup was. These two idiots standing in the f***ing fast lane arguing about some overdue videos or something. I don’t know if it were that it were stupid whatever thing it was. I thought I can speed up the traffic for everyone else by just getting them off the road. So I shoot them both and damn if people didn’t start just driving right over them serve them right. Everyone was honking their horns in celebration those jokers weren’t holding up traffic any more. Some cops came by to remove the corpses and help the traffic move again. Everyone always says I never do anything for anyone, but that there was my good deed for the decade - anyone who knows right from wrong would have done what I did.

If Tamar’s right, there should not be a distinctive kind of reaction to the last line of that story. We certainly have to give it a “that’s what you think” interpretation, but we are forced to interpret every sentence in the story that way, because Craig’s voice, with all its idiosyncracies and flaws, is omnipresent. I think that Tamar is right, and the last sentences of the two stories do have quite different feels. But anyone who does not find them noticably different should, I think, reject the claim that ‘doubling the narrator’ is essential to explaining the phenomenal feel of imaginative resistance.

(This story is a little complicated because I can’t quite get the feel I want in the last sentence. Any way I try and draft it, it feels like Craig is trying to justify to an unseen reader what he did. Any sentence I’ve tried there either feels defensive or unnatural. Maybe someone can figure out how to make the story end.)

Anyway, that’s what I think Tamar is right about. What I think she’s not so clearly right about is what would happen to fiction if we always double the narrator. I always do this when I read, good modernist that I am, and while it means I get a different experience to someone who reads in a more traditional manner, I don’t think it means I can’t engage in the practice of fiction. It isn’t hard to find stories where we should be having the “that’s what you think” reaction to every line, but we can still play along with the fiction. For example, here are the opening paragraphs of “Clay

THE matron had given her leave to go out as soon as the women's tea was over and Maria looked forward to her evening out. The kitchen was spick and span: the cook said you could see yourself in the big copper boilers. The fire was nice and bright and on one of the side-tables were four very big barmbracks. These barmbracks seemed uncut; but if you went closer you would see that they had been cut into long thick even slices and were ready to be handed round at tea. Maria had cut them herself.

Maria was a very, very small person indeed but she had a very long nose and a very long chin. She talked a little through her nose, always soothingly: “Yes, my dear,”and “No, my dear.” She was always sent for when the women quarrelled over their tubs and always succeeded in making peace. One day the matron had said to her:

—Maria, you are a veritable peace-maker!

And the sub-matron and two of the Board ladies had heard the compliment. And Ginger Mooney was always saying what she wouldn’t do to the dummy who had charge of the irons if it wasn't for Maria. Everyone was so fond of Maria.

There are no distinctively moral claims in here, but there are a few claims to which the only possible response is (an unvoiced) “that’s what you think”.

But to end on a positive note, Tamar’s theory predicts that people like me who see narrators like Maria everywhere, should find the aesthetic problem of imaginative resistance more striking than the phenomenological problem. And I think that prediction is also true. As for what this all means for a positive theory of imaginative resistance, I don’t have much to add to the stages paper. But maybe I can come up with something better in the near future.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/06/2003 02:59:00 PM

The APA Central Division program is up. Fortunately, the pranksters are on late in the afternoon, so hopefully the audience will have had a few drinks over lunch and the jokes will get more laughs than last time. I still refuse to believe that the lack of laughs last time was from poor writing or delivery, you see.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/06/2003 10:23:00 AM

The philosophy papers blog has been updated. More excitingly, I have found a comments system that appears to be working. I have no idea how long it could possibly last, but for now it seems we have comments again.

I was alerted to this comments system by Chris Bertram, who also notes that Amitai Etzioni now has a blog.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/06/2003 09:07:00 AM


The philosophy papers blog has been updated. And I added a link in the template to the Anti-War petition. I really doubt how effective any such petitions are, but it can’t hurt much to support it.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/05/2003 07:53:00 AM


A quick report on the Mardi Gras ethics conference.

The pranks paper went well, I thought. There really was a food fight, of sorts, in the session. And every one of the questions touched on one of the areas of ethics that either Andy or I knew something in particular about. So I think we came across as fairly knowledgable, which was a nice touch.

Sarah McGrath did a paper arguing that existing arguments in favour of the ban on the sale of non-vital organs are, to put it bluntly, awful. The audience didn’t do a much better job of convincing one that there is a decent argument here. The overall impression I had was that the only way one could find something interesting to discuss in pro-ban arguments was by spotting one or two premises that were clearly false, and arguing about the premises that were only probably false. This is fun and all, but it hardly encourages the thought that there might be a cogent argument behind the ban. I’m probably just mean, but I don’t think Some things shouldn’t be for sale is really an argument. And it certainly isn’t an argument that grounds an infringement on personal liberty.

Just in case anyone reading this wants to argue for a ban on organ sales, here’s a quick hint, one that if followed will improve your argument immensely. (From hearing Sarah’s paper, I’d imagine that any argument that merely acknowledged the following distinction would be the best available argument for a ban.) There are two kinds of arguments for banning a course of action that people might have wanted to take. First, there is the flatly paternalistic argument that the ban prevents individuals doing things that they want to do, but which are really not in their interests. This is the Government as the ropes around Ulysses model, and it only works if you assume you know more about what is in individual’s interest than they do. Secondly, there is the game-theoretic argument that taking some options out of play will mean that the decisions made by all players lead to an outcome that is preferable for all. Here the role of government is to rule out, by fiat, defections in Prisoners Dilemmas.

Now it is possible that one or other kind of argument could work here. But it is hardly plausible that both could work at once. For the first kind of argument rests crucially on the irrationality of the citizenry, and the second kind on their rationality. So when someone tries to make an argument for the ban by sliding back and forth between the first kind of argument and the second, it is a strong sign that they are looking for any argument they can find for the ban. And that in turn is a sign that they don’t really take the argument seriously - they have already decided on the conclusion and are now looking to justify it.

Patrick Hopkins argued that technology could help solve the abortion controversies. The idea, which didn’t seem particularly novel, was that if we could move the time at which foetuses were viable back earlier and earlier, then we could just remove the foetus from any woman who didn’t want to be pregnant and grow it artificially up to a time it could be adopted out. This apparently will make all sides happy, because no foetuses get destroyed (making the pro-lifers happy) and no woman is forced by law to remain pregnant (making, allegedly, the pro-choicers happy). As became clear in the discussion period, this only works if one assumes that the only motivation for pro-choicers is that women should be able to determine whether they remain pregnant or not. If the idea is that women should be able to determine whether they become parents or not without interference by the state, then this will look like a complete capitulation to the pro-life side. And, as Leslie Cannold has suggested in her research on women’s attitudes towards abortion, that idea is what motivates many, perhaps most, pro-choice women.

Patrick’s argument also rested an unfortunate amount of weight on the actions of pro-life terrorists. He seemed to argue, and I could be unfairly paraphrasing here, that one reason we should look for a ‘compromise’ solution to the abortion controversies was the damage the very existence of the controversy was doing to the polity. But this damage seemed to consist largely in the existence of pro-lifers who are prepared to bomb clinics and murder doctors in support of their moral views. Whatever the merits of the moral case, I’m certainly not inclined to give more weight to a side because some of its adherents are prepared to murder in support of it. In this debate, like many others, count me in as preferring the option of treating criminals as criminals before we get to addressing ‘root causes’.

The most philosophically interesting (to me at least!) paper was Liz Harman’s paper on the potentiality problem. Liz wanted to reconcile the following two intuitions:

  • How harmful a certain action is might depend, in part, on the potential for flourishing of the thing that is harmed.
  • Killing an embryo is not a morally significant harm.

(I don’t have my notes for the talk - so I’m paraphrasing a bit here. These summaries feel a little sloppy, but I hope you get the idea.) The worry is that since embryos have quite a bit of potential, destroying them counts as a very significant harm, if potential matters to harm. But then it seems like the question of whether embryos may be destroyed becomes very morally significant.

(Note that the discussion here is, for now, all about early embryos. We’ll see in a bit how this carried across to foetuses.)

One frequent concern with using potential as a measure of harm is that it seems to lead to some odd conclusions. It suggests that whether or not someone else is primed to kill you affects how much I might harm you by killing you. This I think is true on Liz’s theory, but not so counterintuitive. What would be bad is if the harm becomes vanishingly small the more likely, and the more quickly, the other guy is to kill you if I do not. If lost potential is the only measure of harm, then that would follow. But I think on the view where lost potential is only one factor that goes into judging harm, it need not be. And I don’t think Liz is committed to anything like that - it is consistent with the first intuition that other factors determine how harmful a harm is.

The solution is to agree that destroying an embryo harms it, and in fact harms it quite severely, but this does not matter, because only harms to creatures that have moral status are morally significant. And the only creatures that have moral status are those that (a) are ever conscious, and (b) are now alive. This means many foetuses have moral status, but embryos that are destroyed do not, since they never become conscious. This is a very clever solution, and I think that at least in broad outlines it is probably right. If so the details matter, so I want to look at one of the details.

One alternative that came up in discussion is that we add to the conditions on moral status a condition that the thing in question ever have an independent existence, which means, in practice, that it is ever born. (The commentator suggested that Liz’s arguments suggested this move, and this was a reductio of Liz’s position. I certainly disagree with the second part.) Liz said she didn’t like that move because whether or not someone is born is an extrinsic property of them, and moral status should rest as much as possible on intrinsic properties.

So I, naturally, turned this into a debate about intrinsic properties. (You knew this would all come back to me, didn’t you.) I said that we had to focus on extrinsic properties some of the time because we didn’t want to say that proper parts of a person, like their torso, or their brain, have moral status. If you punch me in the head you harm my brain, and my upper body, and me, but only the third of those harms counts morally. Counting the others would be double, or triple, counting. Moreover, if I had my legs amputated, my upper body would have moral status, because it would be me, so whether or not it has moral status is very much dependent on whether it has the extrinsic property being attached to two legs.

The interest here isn’t really in what we say about the moral status of the upper body. It could be that some special extrinsic properties matter for moral status, but not many do. I think it will be hard work to delineate those ones that do matter, but if smart people work on it I trust it can be solved. The real interest is in whether we can use this case directly to tell us something about the moral status of foetuses. If (a) undetached proper parts of a thing with moral status do not have moral status, which is what the above cases suggest, and (b) a foetus is an undetached proper part of a thing with moral status, then a foetus does not have moral status. Both (a) and (b) here are questionable, but neither is obviously wrong, and there might be a quite strong pro-choice argument to be made by pushing along these lines. At this stage, however, I’m prepared to turn it over to the experts. (If you do write up a paper using that argument, please send me a copy - preferably with a credit to this blog!)

Overall, I thought the conference was a great success. The organisers, especially James Stacey Taylor, did a fantastic job. Now all I need is another ethical thought to turn into a paper for next year’s conference...

One last nugget from actually reading the print version of the Times last week. I meant to write this earlier, but I forgot. This is from an article about gay adoption.

Gay people are the only group categorically restricted from adopting children in Florida. Even people who have abused drugs and alcohol or people who have a history of domestic violence may adopt under some circumstances.

State courts have upheld the law, with a state appeals court ruling in 1993 that the ban could be justified because homosexual parents are unlikely to be able to give heterosexual children sound dating advice.

I’m almost speechless. What about the dating advice that gay children might want? And what about the fact that a rather substantial number of people in the world have absolutely no ‘sound dating advice’ to offer anyone? Well, at least no positive advice. Advice like When I did this it was a complete disaster doesn’t really count. Anecdotal evidence, or perhaps just induction on a small sample size, suggests this group is well represented in the blogoworld. Should they be barred from adoption too? And does this mean heterosexual no-longer-children should never turn to gays for dating advice?

One of the surprising things about the conference was how the non-philosophers would use Courts have ruled that p as a reason to believe p. This is never a step philosophers would take, and you know I think we’re right about this one.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/04/2003 10:49:00 PM

Kai von Fintel has been noting lots of updates to linguistics papers on his blog. I don’t have a very good coverage of linguistics papers yet. Partially that’s by choice - I think the philosophy papers blog is more valuable if I stick to areas that at least some people recognise as philosophy. But partially it’s because my tracking systems aren’t as efficient as Kai’s. So if the philosophy papers blog is not providing you with enough resources, semantics etc is the place to be.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/04/2003 06:36:00 PM

I updated the Dr Evil paper, but curb your enthusiasm, only the jokes, and not the philosophy, have been updated. Some critics might say that the jokes are so old that they don’t really count as updates, but that would be unfair.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/04/2003 06:31:00 PM

If you’re going to San Francisco...

I wonder if it’s socially acceptable to use a blog as a form of mass mailing. I hope so.

To anyone who is (a) reading this, (b) going to the APA Pacific and (c) would like to go to a baseball game while there.

I got some tickets to the Friday night exhibition game b/w the Giants and the Texas Rangers at PacBell park. They’re fairly cheap centrefield seats, but the outfield bleachers are probably the best feature of PacBell, so I don’t regret sitting out there. The only reason I’m telling you all this is because I bought some extra tickets on the assumption that there would be other philosophers interested in coming along to the game. If you’re one of them, email me.

Exhibition games featuring the Giants are fun because there is so little motivation for the opposing side to intentionally walk Barry Bonds. The only Giants game I’ve seen live, he ended up 0-for-1 with 4 walks. Hopefully we can get to see him swing the bat this time. The seats I got are very close to where one of the fights broke out over a home run ball, so we know he can hit them there. But I doubt there will be fights over home run balls in the exhibition season.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/04/2003 05:01:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog has also been updated, with three new journals being the only new news. The template still does not seem to be updating, which is irritating.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/04/2003 09:45:00 AM

One of the nice side-effects of being on the road is that one has an excuse to read the print version of the New York Times. This is an especially nice luxury when travelling on Sunday, even if it means paying $4.75 for a newspaper. But it’s nice from time to time to see and feel articles in print, rather than always just on screen. And it’s nice to browse through articles, in a way that I never seem able to do with online papers. That could be a shortcoming of mine, rather than the medium’s, but until it’s fixed one way or t’other, I’ll have to occasionally pay for the print version.

This is all a rather roundabout way to note that one of the Times’s frequent contributors, one of the contributors I was reading yesterday between gumbo in Baton Rouge and simultaneous equations in coach class, Stanford prof Geoffrey Nunberg, has added this humble blog to his links list. So I cannot but return the favour. His site contains a mix of research papers and popular pieces, all of which are rewarding reading. There are few academic sites I could more strongly recommend.

And Painpill, formerly ‘counterfactual’ has added me to his blogroll. He says that he is not by nature an argumentative type, so maybe this isn’t the right place to be linking to, but linking it seems he is.

The philosophy papers blog has also been updated. I haven’t settled on a normal schedule since the Mardi Gras festivities, but maybe by tomorrow we will be back to normal.

UPDATE: If the links to these pages are not in the sidebar, it is Blogger’s fault, not mine - for some reason the template does not seem to be updating.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/04/2003 12:56:00 AM


The comments seemed to again stop working, so I’m not using them any longer. Sooner or later this will switch to Movable Type I guess, at which stage I can use some slightly more sophisticated commenting system. Feel free to email me with questions/comments, and note if you want something posted to the site.

From Dave Chalmers, here is a list of many variants on Sleeping Beauty.

I have another, which has some slightly odd characteristics. There is an atom in an opaque box. It has a half-life of one hour. If it decays within the next hour, an epistemic duplicate of you shall be created at that moment, and kept in a state of being an epistemic duplicate of you until the hour is up. You shall not know of the duplicate’s existence, nor, naturally, it of yours.

Let p be the proposition that the atom decays within this hour (where that last phrase is a demonstrative, not a description, so p is a de dicto, not a de se, proposition).

According to the ‘thirder’ solution to Sleeping Beauty, you should (a) now have credence 1/3 in p, (b) have credence 2/3 in p at the end of the hour, and (c) have a constantly increasing credence in p as the hour progresses. This does seem odd.

I spent the flight from Atlanta to Boston working out what happens when there are two atoms in the box, with a duplicate to be created whenever a decay occurs. During the hour, there are 10 de se propositions that you need to keep track of in order to work out the credences in propositions like p, and to figure them out you have to solve 10 simultaneous equations. That is the kind of thing that I imagine is much easier to do in business class than coach.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/03/2003 02:17:00 PM


Back from Mardi Gras, and the first thing I did (relative to a fairly gruesome quantifier domain) was to update the philosophy papers blog. The conference was lots of fun, and there will be plenty to write about soon, but if I don’t write some lectures first my students might kill me. Duty does not always have the most melodic of calls.

posted by Brian Weatherson 3/02/2003 11:11:00 PM


The philosophy papers blog is updated. There won’t be any more updates to either blog until Sunday because I’m going to the Mardi Gras Ethics Conference. This should be fun, even if I have to get up at 4 in the morning to get there.

posted by Brian Weatherson 2/27/2003 03:50:00 AM


I haven’t been mentioning it all the time, but the philosophy papers blog has been featuring several new reviews from Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. This is already one of the best sources for free philosophy on the internet, and these days seems to updated even more frequently than the Stanford Encyclopaedia. Hopefully in a few years there will be many sources of free philosophy, and in a way the 600 or so personal websites that contain free papers (linked in the sidebar of the philosophy papers blog) should count as extra sources. But for now NDPR and Stanford Encyclopaedia are the best high volume sources of philosophy, with Philosopher’s Imprint also notable if you want a more upmarket publication.

posted by Brian Weatherson 2/26/2003 02:04:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is updated.

posted by Brian Weatherson 2/26/2003 06:48:00 AM

I produced yet another version of the Truer paper. It is somewhat less polished than previous versions in terms of style, but it is I think an improvement in terms of structure. I prefer to think of it as the tenth first draft of the paper than as the tenth draft, not least because tenth drafts should look more polished than this. My confidence in my theories of vagueness never wavers, but I can never seem to find the right way to express them. Maybe we’re getting closer to a solution with this draft though.

posted by Brian Weatherson 2/26/2003 01:03:00 AM

Comments seem to be down again, which is sad. Since the Haloscan website is also down, this could be a fairly serious problem. If you have anything you particularly want posted, some advice for poor Farrington, email me and I’ll try posting it manually.

posted by Brian Weatherson 2/26/2003 12:07:00 AM


Matthew Yglesias wants to know

Is there any reason at all for me to take G.E. Moore’s “open question”argument seriously in light of the collapse of the analytic/synthetic distinction and the rise of a posteriori necessity? There really doesn't seem to be, but I have a hard time understanding why I was assigned the paper unless there is.

Against all my better judgement, I left my first thoughts on the matter on his comments board, and you should too.

posted by Brian Weatherson 2/25/2003 12:53:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is updated. Two new papers, one on colour and one on two-dimensionalism, straight from someone else’s computer to your desktop.

posted by Brian Weatherson 2/25/2003 08:49:00 AM


How many people think that the following two sentences have different implicatures with respect to Jack’s beer drinking?

(1) Jack drank the whiskey or some of the beers

(2) Jack drank the whiskey or all of the beers

Now there is one difference between them in terms of implicature. (1) implicates Jack did not drink both beer and whiskey, while (2) does not. It merely implicates that he did not drink the whiskey and all of the beer. But is there a difference that’s solely about beer, and in particular about whether Jack drank all of it? If you do think there’s a difference, try saying exactly what it is. And then try deriving it from anything like a plausible theory of implicature generation. And then, if you’re anything like me, you’ll probably need a drink.

Seriously, I would like feedback about whether (1) and (2) produce different implicatures. Unfortunately, last I checked Haloscan was down (again) so unless things improve the feedback will have to be through some of the comments.

For some more detailed thoughts than mine on the puzzle, try this paper by Uli Sauerland.

UPDATE: It’s common ground that (3) implicates that Jack did not have both whiskey and gin. What, precisely, does (4) implicate? That he did not have more than one of the drinks? That he had all three?

(3) Jack drank whiskey or gin

(4) Jack drank whiskey, gin or vodka

This may be relevant to Sauerland’s proposal for solving the original pizzle, if I understand that solution correctly.

FURTHER UPDATE: I messed up the original description of the case, and I’ve now tinkered with it a bit. That’s been happening a lot today.

posted by Brian Weatherson 2/24/2003 08:39:00 PM

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