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.


The philosophy papers blog is up, with the most interesting updates being a new issue of Metaphilosophy (subscribers only) with several fascinating looking papers, and John Carroll's entry for the Stanford Encyclopaedia on laws of nature. Unlike some Stanford authors (including I guess me) Carroll does not try to make himself the hero of the piece, and the result is a pretty good survey of the field. I normally try to provide the good survey, but set up in such a way that I'll end up being the hero of the story. It's not clear this is ideal.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/30/2003 08:07:00 AM


Methodology, Movies and Imaginative Resistance

Matthew Yglesias made the following observation about how philosophy gets taught at Harvard, and I suspect what he says is true of lots of other places.

One of the things that's dawned on me as I approach graduation is that for all the hours I've put into listening to lectures and participating in seminars on philosophy, I've never really had anyone speak to me on the topic of how, in practice, philosophy is done. In part, I suppose, this is just because the research methods of a discipline without any facts to research are intrinsically mysterious, but that seems to be all the more reason why a teacher would want to spend some time talking about how one would go about trying to do some original philosophy. Indeed, it would appear that the main advantage of combining the roles of teacher and scholar in one person -- the university professor -- would be that a professor is in a position to impart precisely that sort of knowledge.

As some people noted in the (very interesting) comments thread on that post, the main way one learns to do philosophy, like the way one learns to ride a bike or speak a language or write a blog, is by just doing it. Every comment a professor, or fellow student, provides on what is good or bad philosophy is part of the knowledge one picks up on how to do philosophy. (Here I'm basically echoing what JW said in that comments thread.)

In interests of community service, though, I thought I might make a little bit of that tacit knowledge more explicit.

A lot of what many of us (at least many of my peers) do in philosophical research is apply old ideas to new fields. The danger of this is that a lot of work ends up sounding like the caricature one hears of Hollywood movie pitches. ("It's Full Metal Jacket meets Sleepless in Seattle.") The upside is that when it works we get really interesting new results. A cheesy example of this is my using Goodman's important discovery, that gruelike predicates exist, to make trouble for Nick Bostrom's indifference principle. A more serious example is Ted Sider's using a variant of David Lewis's argument for mereological universalism to argue for the existence of temporal parts. A more recent (and more bloggish) example is Matt's question from yesterday about whether the causal exclusion argument shows that ethical properties are either epiphenomenal or reducible to physical properties.

(Answer: it would if causal exclusion arguments were any good. But they're not so it doesn't. I think the great final drive-a-stake-through-the-heart-of-causal-exclusion-arguments paper is yet to be written, and despite some early delusions to the contrary I'm not the one to write it, but this note by Ted is a pretty good start. Roughly, I think causal exclusion arguments that show there are no baseballs are as good as any other causal exclusion arguments, but there are baseballs, so these causal exclusion arguments are no good, so no causal exclusion arguments are any good.)

And sometimes we do philosophy by having fertile imaginations and catching lucky breaks. In Cleveland I was flipping through the menu at a bar/restaurant when something in one of the music reviews of the regular bar bands there caught my eye. The critic said that they made complicated time signatures sound as easy as 4/4. I was reading this all quickly, it was a music review on a menu after all, so at first I thought it said that they made complicated time signatures sound like 4/4. And I was worried whether that really could be true. In fact, it seemed to be that taken literally it was something that couldn't even be true in a story.

That linked to one of my little obsessions this year, finding out the limits of what can and can't be represented in fiction, and how this relates to the limits on imagination. It seemed, that is, that the following little story should generate imaginative resistance. (Andy Egan provided good advice on each of the following stories - at least on the bits that aren't obviously mistaken.)

The band played Waltzing Matilda twice over, once as a waltz, and the second as a march, and it sounded exactly the same both times. Indeed, later phonological analysis revealed that duplicate sound waves were emitted from the speakers on the two run-throughs.

I think this can't be true, even in the story. If it was a waltz the first time and a march the second, and least one of the sounds better have been different. More evidence I think that imaginative resistance has nothing to do particularly with moral properties, and everything to do with 'higher-level' properties.

The methodological lesson was that I was able to get a philosophical example from a dinner menu. I hope that means I can claim the meal in question as a tax deduction. To continue the story, I was then struck by the ways in which a review of a blues band is like a scouting report on a young pitcher. Reflecting on this, I started working on a similar example, and got roughly this:

Like many of his countrymen, Mardo Petrinez relies on deception to hide which kind of pitch he throws. Many pitchers use the same delivery motion for their fastball and changeup. Petrinez goes several steps further. All four of his pitches - fastball, curveball, sinker, slider - use the same grip, the same arm motion, the same hand motion and are delivered with the same speed and same trajectory. Needless to say, batters have no idea which pitch they are seeing at any one time. Somehow this hasn't prevented a few of them from hitting said pitches very very hard.

Again, this can't even be true in the fiction. I don't want to try and give a reductive analysis of 'curveball' in terms of speed, trajectory etc, but suffice to say that if two pitches are identical from the time the ball goes into the pitching hand to the time it hits the catchers glove (or in this case the bat) then it cannot be true that one's a fastball and the other's a curveball, even in the fiction.

The takehome lesson from all this is that there are philosophical examples everywhere. All one needs is to have a stock of philosophical puzzles in mind, so it is easier to recognise examples when they come up. And being the kind of person who misreads menus doesn't hurt either.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/29/2003 10:51:00 PM

Timothy Burke and Kieran Healy have some interesting posts about specialisation in contemporary academia. Burke is bemoaning the domination of the specialistists, Healy offers some words in their defence. I may have mentioned this before, but right now I'm an interesting little experiment in how far one can go as a non-specialist. How non-specialist you ask? Well, I'm currently affiliated with programs other than my home department (linguistic & cognitive sciences and brain sciences) and even within philosophy this year I've worked on language, literature and logic and perception, probability and politics. So, in helpful contrarian spirit, I hope Burke and Healy are both wrong. Burke about how specialists dominate the top of the profession, and Healy about why they should.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/29/2003 10:29:00 AM

The philosophy papers blog is up, with a new paper by Peter Godfrey-Smith on folk psychology, and new entries in my two most reliable sources, the Stanford Encyclopaedia and the Notre Dame Reviews, today both publishing on ethics.

Some informants tell me that Midwest might be close to an example of a vague term with some sharp boundaries. Close, because these informants say that while Midwest actually has no sharp boundaries, Determinately Midwest does. In particular the Ohio-Pennsylvania border is such a boundary. Everywhere in Ohio is determinately part of the Midwest, and nowhere in Pennsylvania is determinately part of it. Some parts of western Pennsylvania may be penumbral cases, Pittsburgh some say is a paradigm penumbral case, but nowhere is determinately in.

Things might be even more interesting towards the northern edge of that border. Arguably, everywhere in New York is determinately not part of the Midwest, though everywhere in Western Pennsylvania is penumbrally Midwestern. In that case, as I was driving along Highway 90 Sunday, listening to Odysseus's tale of his trip to Hell and back, I crossed two sharp, and knowable, boundaries associated with the vague term Midwest. The first such boundary is the Ohio-Pennsylvania border, where one crosses from the determinate cases to the penumbra, and the second the Pennsylvania-New York border where one crosses from the penumbra to the determinate non-cases.

I suspect this is all exceptionally good news for supervaluational-like theories (like mine!) and bad news for epistemic theories, but I can't quite yet see how that argument is going to run.

UPDATE: I should have thanked Andy Egan for alerting me to the interesting cases here. Er, consider that belatedly done.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/29/2003 09:57:00 AM


In her Carus lectures, Judith Thomson mentioned that ought seems to be ambiguous between a reading meaning, very roughly, probably and a more normative reading. So, for instance, if Jack is a regular party attender, and Jill has promised to attend this party, (1) is true on the first reading, and (2) on the second. But we have an ambiguity here, as evidenced by the fact that (3) is rather odd.
(1) Jack ought to be dropping by soon.
(2) Jill ought to be dropping by soon.
(3) ??Jack and Jill each ought to be dropping by soon.
I thought this was all terribly interesting, and pretty convincing, but I'm told (by Chris Kane) that it has been discussed a bit in the epistemic deontology literature. (Since I heard the Carus lectures, not read them, I haven't seen the footnotes where this is probably mentioned. And it might have been mentioned in the lecture too, but I'm not the most attentive of listeners, especially when trying to listen and deal with a mild case of black death or whatever I was suffering from in Cleveland.) So rather than write up all of my thoughts, which included ripping off some of Thomson's jokes about people falling from the Empire State Building, I just have two quick questions.

First, does anyone have good references on this ambiguity?

Second, does anyone know how widespread this ambiguity is in other languages? Since it appears twice over in English (for should as well as ought) I wouldn't be surprised if it is widespread. And that would be a neat result I think, since it would undermine a view that is rather widespread in philosophy. The view in question, which is made most explicit in Kripke's response to Donnellan, is that ambiguity is always a matter of coincidence, so we should assume that English ambiguities will not appear in other languages, especially those not closely related to English. (Actually, Kripke isn't very clear on the last qualification, so I'm possibly been generous in stating his view here.)

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/29/2003 12:50:00 AM


This was probably a priori to everyone at MIT, but the picture associated with this NY Times story rather strongly suggests that not all frigid designators are rigid designators, received wisdom notwithstanding.

Actually, the online caption doesn't quite indicate how unKaplanian the sign itself is. The caption from the dead tree version (New England edition) was "A mock pole hints at how the sea ice shifts several miles a day."

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/28/2003 04:18:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up, with lots of new stuff while I was away in Cleveland.

One final note re my self-congratulatory post from last night. There's been some discussion about whether having a blog is a good thing or bad thing from the point of view of getting tenure. (This is relevant because it seems that quite a few academic blogs, by which I don't just mean blogs run by academics, but blogs run by academics focussing on work-related matters, are run by untenured faculty.) Of course, if people can turn blog entries into publications, then they are very good for tenure prospects. I don't know how well this generalises, but in philosophy at least one easy way to fall into a rut is to stop writing. There's so much to read and so many interesting people to talk to that it's very easy to forget to write. Well, it's easy that is unless you have a blog. I do think it's quite good advice for untenured philosophers to be writing quite a lot - even if it just is notes to oneself or to the few the proud who may actually want to read your notes to yourself.

Having said that, blogging may return to light pace the next few days because I managed to agree to three different refereeing tasks in the last week, so I have to go back to spending a little more time (carefully) reading rather than writing. (And I'm pretty sure blogging about papers I'm refereeing is pretty poor form, fun as it may be.)

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/28/2003 09:32:00 AM


Gratuitous Self-Promotion Post

My little, and entirely negative, paper on land disputes was accepted by Analysis. A few more things like this and I really will be able to pretend I'm an Ethicist. For followers of this blog, it is perhaps worth noting that this is the first paper to derive from a post to this blog. (Two other papers derived from posts to the self-managed blog I used to run, but those are no longer even archived, so by internet standards they may as well have not happened.)

The APA Central was fun until I got sick on the last day and spent more of it in bed watching the NFL Draft than watching philosophy papers. Feeling mostly better now, hope I didn't contaminate too many people. A full report will have to wait until I am a little more awake and healthy.

More links to Princeton students, especially since the last link seemed so popular. Antony Eagle has a pretty good website up (as you'd expect from a Melbournian), including a very useful links connection (if not entirely ideologically sound), lots of papers on metaphysics and probability and even original music.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/27/2003 11:57:00 PM


The philosophy papers blog is up, with three new papers (on tropes, truth and a three-dimensionalist account of meaning) headlining.

The last of these papers is by Gillian Russell, who has a new homepage posted. (A homepage that already seems to get more traffic than my homepage.) If you look at her site, try and guess just what is depicted by the pictures without looking up the answer (which can be found by clicking on said pictures).

See you all in Cleveland who'll be in Cleveland.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/23/2003 07:02:00 AM


Blogging may be light the next few days because I'm off to the APA Central. From the looks of things it will be less exciting than the APA Pacific, largely because there will be many fewer people attending. For various reasons, perhaps just the relevant seductiveness of San Francisco and Cleveland, OH, many people from the east and west coasts seem to skip the Central in favour of the Pacific. As they put it in economics, this conference will have many more sweet-water philosophers than salt-water philosophers.

There are some good papers to look forward to. Sadly, the two super-highlights of the program - Frank Jackson's paper on representation and the food fight paper Andy and I will be starting - are on at the same time. The trick I think will be to go to Frank's paper, which is on 2.30-5.30 Friday, for the first two hours, then follow the crowds (or at least the speakers) to our paper at 4.30.

At many sessions the relative thinness of the program means that there's only one "Can't miss" paper on at a given hour, rather than 3 or 4 as is standard at the Pacific. Some may not take this to be a cost. (And the program is still light-years ahead of the average Eastern conference. But going to the Eastern for the philosophy is like reading the Wall Street Journal for the pictures.)

I'll be co-hosting a party at the conference (time and place to be confirmed) and if you're there you're invited, so hopefully that'll be fun. (–But how can I go to the party if I don't know where or when it is? –Er, if you run into me, or Andy Egan or Adam Elga, at the conference, ask any of us for details and we'll provide them. Provided we are organised enough to do so by then.)

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/22/2003 01:52:00 PM

It's raining here in Providence, but a few miles south it sounds like perfect cricket weather. So, naturally, there are Australians there.
There'll always be an Australian

For many from a land down under, coming to this neck of the woods is a sporting dream come true. "This is my first trip outside the country," says Bern from Melbourne. "I've thought about this my whole life and now I'm here. The weather's warm, the beer's cold and there's wonderful cricket in the centre. Does life get any better than this?" Bern's brought along his green-and-gold wig for the occasion. "It's a beauty isn't it?" he says, patting it proudly. "I've been offered a lot of money for it, but it's not coming off my head. It's a kind of cultural-exchange gesture."
The actual games sound pretty good. I rather wish I was down there. It is somewhat disappointing that my cable TV package includes a dedicated golf channel, a dedicated motor sports channel, more dedicated home improvement/cooking/whatever channels than I can imagine, but not a single channel showing cricket. Some young entrepeneur should start up The Cricket Channel.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/22/2003 01:34:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up, with three journals publishing new editions (Ethical Theory and Practice, Journal for General Philosophy of Science, Journal of Medical Ethics) being the only news that's fit to print.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/22/2003 11:57:00 AM

Patrick Greenough has a fairly detailed syllabus up for a summer course on vagueness in Helsinki. Now I take it few TAR readers will be in Helsinki for the summer - I'll be about as far away from it as one can be in marvellous Melbourne. But the syllabus is still worth browsing for the annotated, and opinionated, bibliography. Most of the papers there will be pretty well known (i.e. memorised by heart) by vagueness afficionados. But for those who haven't read them a quick summary might well be useful.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/22/2003 12:10:00 AM


I was stumbling around the Princeton webpage today, much like the proverbial drunk looking for his keys under a lamppost, when I came across the following oddity.

On one page they list the placement records of all their recent PhD candidates. The candidates are not named, but they are referred to by dissertation title. The reason stated for this is:
Names are suppressed for reasons of privacy.
But one can tell quite a bit from the title. For example, one could probably guess who the candidate was who had the following dissertation titles and employment history:
LESS WORK FOR A THEORY OF SENSE. Monash (Australia); ANU (Australia); U Sheffield (UK); U. Edinburgh (UK), Permanent.
especially if one of one's former PhD advisor had a similarly titled dissertation. So the privacy idea isn't that strictly enforced. And actually, it is a little worse than that, because elsewhere on the site, there is a list of all recent PhD's, listing who has graduated and what the title of their dissertation was.

Now in order to keep up the privacy preservation in order, I won't link to the two pages in question, but I did find their proximity (and the ease with which I somewhat accidentally stumbled across them) somewhat odd given the announced privacy concerns.

I should say that in most cases the privacy concerns are not exactly serious. It is trivial to trace where someone works in academia. (Unless they have a particularly common name, they will be the first entry in a Google search, simply because universities still play a central role in the web.) But some PhDs no longer work in academia, even when they've graduated from Princeton, and the privacy concerns there are presumably greater.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/21/2003 05:43:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up, although the little post this morning did announce most of what is happening.

In the semantics group this afternoon, there was an odd divergence of opinion about this sentence.
No kids read seven books each.
Is this sentence somehow defective? My intuition at first (and even at last) is that it's an awful sentence. I could tell what it would mean were it meaningful, but it sounds awful. However, most people there thought that maybe it is just somehow pragmatically defective. This turned out to matter a bit, because if there should be some rule blocking the combination of 'each' with quantifier phrases like 'no kids', it seems that will cause complications elsewhere.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/21/2003 05:18:00 PM

The comments are back! The papers blog will be running a bit late today, but for a little preview, here's John Hawthorne's contribution to the NYU seminar on factually defective discourse Epistemicism and Semantic Plasticity.

And this one isn't new, but it seemed somehow relevant to the blog: Norman Swartz's Philosophy as Blood Sport. Be sure if you read that to read through some of the letters in reply. It's fun to try and predict which of the respondants will agree or disagree with the main conclusions.

UPDATE: And while you're online, check out Geoff Nunberg's Fresh Air piece on The Politics of Polysyndeton. It's brilliant and witty and erudite and the jokes about it practically write themselves and that's important when one is writing under time pressure and one doesn't have an original idea in one's wee little head.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/21/2003 07:48:00 AM


There's a review of Richard Nisbett's The Geography of Thought in the NY Times today. The review isn't very positive, with the main complaint being that the categories Nisbett uses, Western and East Asian are too broad to be interesting. Nisbett's book has already been influential in philosophy, providing some motivation for Nichols, Stich, and Weinberg's, paper Metaskepticism: Meditations in Ethno-Epistemology.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/20/2003 04:14:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up, with one new paper.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/20/2003 08:39:00 AM


If you're particularly interested, I just updated my papers page and my CV to reflect recent work.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/19/2003 03:31:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up. The only new paper is by Henry Stapp on Quantum Approaches to Consciousness. I think I agreed with the first sentence.

Quantum approaches to consciousness are sometimes said to be motivated simply by the idea that consciousness is a mystery, and quantum theory is a mystery, so maybe these two mysteries are related.

I might even say that from time to time. On the other hand, Stapp knows more about QM than I do, so maybe I shouldn't mock him.

I'm feeling somewhat like a logician this week. First I got a request from the Journal of Philosophical Logic to referee a paper. Normally refereeing papers is more like a chore than anything else, but sometimes it is nice to add particular journals to the list of journals for whom one has refereed. Then this morning (these guys must work round the clock) I found my old paper on constructivist probability has been accepted in the Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic. This is pretty exciting - I now have two major papers accepted for the year, and I wrote both of them before I came to America. I could have taken the last four months off and I would still have been improving my CV at a pretty good pace.

For anyone who thinks the sky is the wrong way up around these parts, Virulent Memes has a pretty picture of the Southern Cross up. On an unrelated note, Henry Farrell quotes Dante complaining about staircases that spiral the opposite way to those with which he is familiar. (How would he have coped with cars on the wrong side of the road?) Somehow this is in the context of finding an American store that sells just the right kind of butter, but you'll have to read it to find just what the context is.

For one reason or another I've been thinking about the vagueness book again. I wrote a new draft of the table of contents last night. It now looks like this

Chapter 1 - Prelude

  1. What is vagueness
  2. Puzzles about vagueness
  3. Where my theory lines up
  4. Preview

Chapter 2 - Truer

  1. A standard many-valued theory
  2. Benefits of this theory
  3. Costs of the theory
  4. Using sets rather than numbers
  5. Comparative truth
  6. Explicating truer
  7. Historical connections
  8. Williamson's objection to truer
  9. Truer and Boolean lattices
  10. How much of classical logic is preserved

Chapter 3 - Pragmatics

  1. What is to be explained
  2. Contextualist hypotheses
  3. Conceptualist hypotheses
  4. Gricean hypothesis
  5. Levinson on speaker meaning
  6. The Sorites again

Chapter 4 - Rival Accounts

  1. Many-valued theories
  2. Purely classical Theories
  3. Supervaluational Theories
  4. Nihilist Theories

Chapter 5 - The Many

  1. Schiffer's Problem
  2. McGee and McLaughlin's Problem
  3. The supervaluational solution
  4. How to mimic this using truer
  5. McKinnon's objection
  6. Sorensen's objection
  7. Does Knowledge imply Determinacy

I know what I'm going to say in most sections. I need to do a bit more research for 2.7, but I think that should be easy enough. I need to think a little more about what I'll say in 3.5 in response to King and Stanley's objections to the kind of theory of speaker meaning that I use to explain the allure of Sorites arguments. I haven't really decided what I'm going to stress anywhere in chapter 4, but the material is mostly there. The real problems are in chapter 5. Section 5.7 is planned to be about Cian Dorr's arguments that knowledge does not imply determinacy. I think I'm going to end up agreeing with him, which I probably should have done in the original many paper.

The real problem is 5.4. I assumed all along that this would be easy. Chapter 5 starts with a pair of nice problems, the simpler of which is due to Vann McGee and Brian McLaughlin. The problem is that we want to say that sentences like (1) can be true, even when both the subject and the predicate are vague.

(1) That is a mountain.

The problem is that there are literally billions of possible references for that, and only one of them is in the extension of mountain. The supervaluational solution, if it can be made to work, is to say that there is a penumbral connection between that and mountain so that on every precisification the reference of that is in the extension of mountain. The main point of my many paper was to note that there's a way to do this that is a fair bit prettier than mere stipulation. The idea is that precisifications are what we get when we make stipulations about how to 'fill out' the naturalness property that Lewis uses to solve Kripkensteinian problems. One neat feature of naturalness is that natural objects tend to be those that have natural properties. So if it's the case that m624 is more natural than all the rest of the 'mountains' (either in reality or according to a precisification), and hence is the reference of that, then the set containing m624 will be more natural than the set containing any other 'mountain', so it will be the extension of mountain and so it will be true (either in reality or according to a precisification) that That is a mountain.

This is all incredibly clever, if I do say so, but I don't really know how to cash it out in terms of truer than. I can figure out some technical ways of duplicating the results, but it really just does look like a duplication of the results. And a major theme of 4.3 is that a decent theory of vagueness needs something analytically prior to what the supervaluationists have available. If truer gets defined in terms of precisifications, then the project is not looking particularly attractive. I'm mostly sure this is a small problem, but if it isn't I may have some hard work to do.

I'm going to be driving to the APA Central this week (it's in Cleveland, about a 9,10 hour drive from here, which is nothing by Australian standards). The plan was that it would be relaxing to get away from everything and just be out on the road for a while. (I'm spending chunks of the weekend making up mix tapes, well mix CDs, for the drive.) But if I can't make progress on this puzzle, I might spend most of the drive looking for a way to save my lovely little theory.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/19/2003 12:03:00 PM

The comments board is down, which is annoying for a few reasons. Hopefully it will be back up soon. I'm not even getting an error message when I load the page, which is suspicious. On the other hand, when I try to log in to SquawkBox I get an error message there as well, so I guess these are related.

In the meantime, check out Springtime for Philosophy in Austria, which not only has a comments board, it has posts up for Monday already.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/19/2003 11:56:00 AM


The philosophy papers blog is up, but with the holidays there's not much to report.

Arts & Letters Daily is a useful resource, but it is getting rather tiring how willing they are to apologise for conservatives. Compare the following tag
The looting of the Baghdad Museum was not as complete as first reported. Precious art had been hidden away for fear of bombing...
with this quote from one of the articles that follows the tag
Before the war, Iraq's antiquities' authorities gathered artifacts from around the country and moved them to Baghdad's museum, assuming it would not be bombed, Gibson said.
To be fair, the article does also say that some antique jewelry had been moved to the vaults of the national bank before the war, so not everything that one might have thought was lost was indeed lost. But this looks to me like at best a good news/bad news story, and at worst a story where the bad news outweighs the good. To headline the good news in this context is, well, a little misleading.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/18/2003 08:36:00 AM

Last week I had been thinking about predicates that despite being vague were in a fairly strict sense intolerant, because sometimes a minute change is enough to determinately, clearly, knowably whatever change whether they apply. And yesterday for one reason or another I was thinking about dating, mostly about whether the predicate still applied to two people who were married. (It's rather hard to say actually, whether it does. On the one hand, it's odd to say They stopped dating by getting married and on the other it would be odd to include on a list of, say, professors who are dating grad students the professor who is married to a grad student. Presumably one of these oddities is broadly Gricean and the other is semantic, and at first glance I don't have a clue as to which is which.)

Anyway, I just realised I should have put my thoughts together. For dating is clearly vague. It can be very indeterminate sometimes when two people start dating, when they stop, or whether they have ever started or stopped. But quite often, perhaps more commonly, these things have very sharp boundaries. Generally, it is a very intolerant relation. I was going to run through several of the ways that relationships can end abruptly and determinately, but I'm trying to stay away from the morbid this month. I'm sure you can think of plenty for yourself. These relationships might be distressing for all involved, but they are philosophically marvellous, for they are examples of dating being intolerant.

The only philosophically interesting point here is that unlike the examples I have previously run with (early thirties, small integer, etc) dating is lexically unstructured. For a while I suspected that all the intolerant vague terms would turn out to be structured, but this seems to be false. On the other hand, this is not a counterexample to the suggestion (made independently by Matti Eklund and Matt Weiner in response to my earlier posts) that we can rescue the vagueness=tolerance thesis by defining what it is for a predicate to be tolerant in an interval, and then saying vague predicates are those that are tolerant over some interval some of whose members satisfy the predicate and some of whose members do not. Clearly vagueness does not require tolerance everywhere, but I don't have a conclusive argument against the claim it requires tolerance somewhere.

UPDATE: Oops! This isn't really a case of vagueness without tolerance after all. As Dave Chalmers pointed out to me, what really goes on here is that very large changes can take place in a very short amount of time. I had confused tolerance-with-respect-to-time with tolerance-with-respect-to-underlying-properties. If my legs get chopped off I can go from tall to not-tall in an instant, but that doesn't make tall intolerant. The problem was that I saw what I thought was an example to help my case, noticed that I could have unlimited amusement writing up the illustrations of it, and then didn't stop to check whether the example actually worked. (The puns on tolerant crossed with puns on the names of the characters involved could have been something else.)

I don't normally have to confess that I got something wrong here, at least not this quickly, but I just got this wrong.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/18/2003 12:34:00 AM


One of the things that takes a while getting used to in America is that the place doesn't close down for Easter. Virulent Memes says that Good Friday is the quietest day of the year, and that's a pretty good impression of just how much the country does close down back home. And today (that's still Holy Thursday here) is the busiest travel day of the year in Australia, by far I think, but barely registers in America.

This is strange because by most measures America is a much more religous country than Australia. It would be impossible to have an atheist President here for instance, but it was barely comment-worthy that we had an atheist PM all through the 80s. It's just Christian holidays don't count for as much. It'd be nice to think that's a sign of tolerance towards other religions, and maybe at some deep level it is.

As measure of how active things are still, I have a moral dilemma about which philosophy paper to attend tomorrow, Laurie Paul's metaphysics paper at MIT, or John Simmons's political philosophy paper here. If I didn't have obligations to my own department it would be easy - Laurie's paper will be much more interesting to me than anything in political philosophy. But I suspect I will feel obliged to stay 'home'. (I know this isn't the most pressing moral dilemma ever recorded, but the whole point of blogging is to obsess about the little things. Someone should get Jerry Seinfeld a blog.)

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/17/2003 04:19:00 PM

From an entertaining rant about the Greens by Steve Gilliard over on Daily Kos
The Greens are a party best left to college campuses so grad students and their professor boyfriends have a place to meet which isn't obvious.
This is horrible stereotyping. I'm sure some female professors also date grad students. I can't think of any examples off the top of my head, but I'm sure they exist. (I should add that I've never known a prof who's used Green meetings to meet grad students. That strikes me as fairly appalling behaviour, but that could be because I just don't like the Greens.)

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/17/2003 01:27:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up, with a paper by Yujin Nagasawa on divine omniscience and experience and a review by Richard Fumerton of Max Kölbel's Truth Without Objectivity.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/17/2003 09:42:00 AM

Stephen Choi and Mitu Gulati have a novel proposal for how to avoid partisan bickering over judicial appointments.
We suggest a Tournament of Judges where the reward to the winner is elevation to the Supreme Court. Politics (and ideology) surely has a role to play in the selection of justices. However, the present level of partisan bickering has resulted in delays in judicial appointments as well as undermined the public's confidence in the objectivity of justices selected through such a partisan process. More significantly, much of the politicking is not transparent, often obscured with statements on a particular candidate's "merit"-casting a taint on all those who make their way through the judicial nomination process. We argue that the benefits from introducing more (and objective) competition among judges are potentially significant and the likely damage to judicial independence negligible. Among the criteria that could be used are opinion publication rates, citations of opinions by other courts, citations by the Supreme Court, citations by academics, dissent rates, speed of disposition of cases, reversal rates by en banc panels and the Court, and so on. Where political motivations drive the selection of an alternative candidate, our proposed system of objective criteria will make it more likely that such motivations are made transparent to the public. Just as important, a judicial tournament for selection to the Supreme Court will serve not only to select effective justices, but also to provide incentives to existing judges to exert effort.
I don't think this is going to eliminate partisan bickering as much as relocate it from Congress (where it belongs) to the pages of judicial decisions and legal journals (where it does not). While some of the criteria are somewhat immune to manipulation, many are not. (As has been noted by several learned commentators including most members of the Brown philosophy department, my PhD supervisor, a few guys I was drinking with Monday night, the referees for this journal and every Democratic judicial appointee in Rhode Island since the Lincoln administration.)

UPDATE: Lawrence Solum has a much more detailed entry on this proposal that considers fairly carefully what judicial actions would be rewarded and punished by this kind of tournament. He ends up liking the paper, though definitely not the tournament. He is also much more generous than I, though that could be a matter of style. As he says, "the general style of Legal Theory blog is to be nice." I don't think TAR has a general style, but if it has, nice is not it.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/17/2003 09:32:00 AM


This post by Jacob Levy on the difference between political theory (as practices in poli sci departments) and political philosophy (as practiced in political philosophy departments) has been getting a fair bit of attention in the blogworld, and rightly so. (See this post for some follow up and links to discussions.) If you haven't already, go read it.

I don't know enough about either side to comment on this, but there were a couple of side comments I felt were worth making. First, it's been a common thread through some of these discussions to say that political philosophy, and ethics more generally, is subservient in philosophy departments to (to use Jacob's examples) "philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, and epistemology". By all accounts, this isn't what it feels like from inside the philosophy of language camp. There is a lot of focus within analytic philosophy on what look like fairly linguistic approaches to questions in philosophy of mind, epistemology, metaphysics and even ethics, but that doesn't mean there's much support for philosophy of language as such. One would want to be rather good (or rather lucky) going on the philosophy job market with a dissertation on, say, the syntax/semantics interface. And publications in, say, Linguistics and Philosophy or the Journal of Semantics will not do as much for a tenure case as publications in equally selective publications that concentrate on philosophy.

I was half thinking of trying to mimic Jacob and try and write a post on the differences between the way philosophers of language approach semantic questions and the way linguists approach those questions. But after a little reflection and even less research, I'm inclined to think the differences are not particularly significant. As Jacob notes in the politics case, where one does one's PhD will normally affect what one knows outside one's core area. And you might suspect in the philosophy/linguistics divide, there would be some consequences of this. Since linguists will know more syntax and phonology, they be more sensitive to syntactic and phonological considerations, while philosophers will be more sensitive to metaphysical and epistemological consideration.

That kind of difference in which things one is most sensitive to occasionally crops up, but it isn't as pronounced as it appears to be over in political philosophy/theory. For example, consider how one might react to Davidson's old theory that Jack buttered the toast has as its logical form There is an event e, and e is a buttering and e is by Jack and e is of the toast. One might expect someone with a metaphysics background to worry about the commitment to events here. Surely whether or not the toast gets buttered doesn't depend on ontological questions about events? And one might expect someone with a syntax background to worry about the rather dramatic deviation between the surface structure and the logical form. But my rather slender observation hasn't supported the idea that philosophers are more drawn to the first objection and linguists to the second. So I'm not sure there are enough differences here to write home about.

UPDATE: I edited this slightly to make it clear that I'm not really a philosopher of language - so the second paragraph isn't meant to be about me. I don't, for instance, have papers in L&P or the Journal of Semantics or anything similar. That's not because I don't think philosophy of language (or formal semantics) is interesting, it's just that I've never had particularly many interesting thoughts myself about it. This might seem like splitting hairs, but I think it's important to distinguish in this context between work on the nature of content, or on representation more generally, and work specifically on language. And most of my work falls into the former category. Now the theory of content is an area that's central to philosophy, at least in the sociological sense that one can easily prosper working within it. (To continue the example from the text, a PhD on the language of thought hypothesis, i.e. on the importance of syntactic considerations to the theory of mental representation, will open up a lot more doors in philosophy than one on the importance of syntactic considerations to the theory of linguistic representation.) And as far I as can tell, this focus on representation and content is hardly a new feature of philosophy, in the way that the (apparent) centrality of linguistic concerns is (apparently) new to philosophy in the 20th century. I'm rather ignorant of these things, but from what I'm told theories of representation were fairly central to Locke's and Hume's philosophy, for example.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/16/2003 08:37:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up. Today's entry only has one paper, a defence of conventional implicature by Christopher Potts. Yesterday's has a few interesting entries, including a fascinating suggestion by Ralph Wedgwood on how to break some impasses in meta-ethics by appeal to Fregean accounts of belief.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/16/2003 09:54:00 AM


The papers blog is running late, but I have put the resistance paper up in PDF form. The links, sadly, don't seem to be working - I think it's how I built the PDF. And all the flaws from the HTML version (missing sections, poor writing, unfunny jokes, invalid arguments, false conclusions etc) are retained. (So is the one deliberate spelling error, but that's a feature not a bug. Not a very exciting feature, but a feature.)

I didn't mention it the first time it came up, but Matti Eklund's paper on What Vagueness Consists In is well worth reading. Matti has very different views to mine on vagueness. He thinks it would be very bad for a theory of vagueness if it ended up saying Quinean indeterminacy is a kind of vagueness, I think it would be a very bad thing to have to posit many different kinds of indeterminacy to deal with Quine's cases and Kripkenstein's cases and Field's cases and the familiar Sorites cases. But I suspect his views on this matter are more popular (and more convincingly defended) than mine.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/15/2003 01:06:00 PM

It's a good thing that Wo's tree proof generator doesn't use exactly the the same rules for trees as I'm using in my intro logic course, or else I wouldn't be able to in good faith ask the kiddies to build trees for their assignments. (Note that this is because I'm using a strange tree system, not because Wo is.) It is also a good thing that such a generator exists, I might find this useful when I'm trying to quickly decide what's valid and invalid. Sadly, the tree generator doesn't seem to have the capacity to recognise loops, so if you're easily amused you can sit around all day watching it figure out whether everything points to somehing entails everything points to everything.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/15/2003 01:53:00 AM

I'm not particularly happy with it, but I wasn't happy with how long it was taking, so I've posted a draft of the resistance paper here. The prose in the final two sections is turgid at best, and the philosophy is, if anything, worse. And I'm missing the sections on Stephen Yablo's theory. And I haven't finished (in fact I've barely started) the bibliography. And I haven't gone back and removed the duplications, inconsistencies etc that come from writing different sections at different times.

But I like some of the early sections and I think the theory is basically correct and interesting, and I think it's better to get a draft out and then polish rather than try polishing while drafting. So hopefully it will be of some interest to someone even in this form.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/15/2003 01:19:00 AM


Bush vetoes Syria War Plan

Should we be relieved by the fact that the White House is not (now) on board the bus to Damascus, or distressed that senior OSD officials are being asked to draw up "a briefing paper on the case for war against Syria"?

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/14/2003 11:54:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up with papers by David Chalmers and Neil McKinnon being the only changes noted. (And the McKinnon paper is a revised version of a previously posted paper.)

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/14/2003 07:36:00 AM

The following is the first draft of the opening to the final section of the imaginative resistance paper. Don't think that because I'm drafting the final section it's close to being done. The drafting is not exactly chronological. But it is turning out. It's all about the in virtue of relation that does 110% of the philosophical work in the paper, my lame attempts at comic short-stories easily accounting for the other -10%. There aren't many footnotes in other parts of the paper (yet) but somehow we get four in three paragraphs here.

What is virtue?

Since Greek times we have called numbers that equal the sum of their proper factors perfect. Euclid knew that a certain class of numbers were all perfect. These are numbers of the form 2p-1(2p ‑ 1), where 2p ‑ 1 is an odd prime. Call numbers of this form flawless. Euler proved that all even perfect numbers are flawless. It is not known whether there are any odd perfect numbers, but suspicion seems to be that there are not. Let us imagine it is proven in a few years that there are not. The proof, we can be confident, will not be short, else it probably would have been discovered. And imagine that sometime after that, an imaginative underemployed philosopher writes a fictional work in which a philosopher becomes famous for in fact discovering an odd perfect number, despite the existence of this magisterial proof of its non-existence. [1] This looks a lot like a story in which an impossibility, indeed several salient a priori impossibilities are true in the fiction. One such impossibility is that there is a perfect number that is not flawless. [2] Indeed, such stories are sometimes taken to be evidence against the thesis that only possible truths are true in fictions. But note what kind of story we could not have. The young philosopher could not discover an odd number that, although obviously not flawless, does equal the sum of its proper factors and thus conclude that, since all and only flawless numbers are perfect, that some numbers that are the sum of their proper factors are not perfect. That, I think, could not fail to be perfect in the story. [3]

There is something odd about all that. I said, truly, that (3) could be true in a story even though (4) could not be.

(3) Some number that is the sum of its proper factors is not flawless.
(4) Some number that is the sum of its proper factors is not perfect.

The oddity is that this distinction could hold even if it is known that flawless is co-intensional with perfect. There is a natural enough explanation of this in terms of virtue. A number is not flawless (or flawed) in virtue of being the sum of its proper factors (or not). It is flawless in virtue of being of the form 2p-1(2p ‑ 1), where 2p ‑ 1 is an odd prime. But a number is perfect (or not) in virtue of being the sum of its proper factors (or not). Any instantiation of (4) would be an asymmetric compound impossibility, and hence (4) is impossible. [4] I think this is quite good news for the theory that which impossibilities are ruled out should be determined by which have conjuncts that are false in virtue of their other conjuncts.

On the other hand, this is is pretty bad news for an analysis of ‘in virtue of’. For it suggests that this relation is hyper-intensional. If it were an intensional relation, then a number would be flawless (or not) in virtue of the same things in virtue of which it is perfect (or not). So we won’t be able to analyse ‘in virtue of’ in terms of modal locutions, such as counterfactuals. Nor will we be able to analyse it in purely epistemic terms, since in the circumstance imagined it is known that perfect and flawless are co‑intensional.

[1] The young philosopher in question was inspired by a suggestion in Currie (1990) of a story in which Gödel’s incompleteness theorem is disproven.

[2] Byrne (1993) endorses Currie’s claim it really would be true, and not just believed by the fictional characters, in such a story that some actually known mathematical claim is false.

[3] Stephen Yablo pointed out to me one possible possibility in which this might happen - it could be discovered (in the story) that some truly wonderful and hitherto unnamed mathematical natural kind was instantiated by almost, but not quite, all the numbers that are the sum of their proper factors. In that case we might say that perfect is a name for this kind. I will ignore this kind of story in what follows, though it should be clear that its existence would not undermine the general point that I’m getting to.

[4] There are delicate questions here about what relation a statement must stand in to an asymmetric compound impossibility in order to never be true in a fiction. The relation cannot be mere entailment, because any impossibility entails the relevant compounds, along with everything else. Roughly, the idea is that if there is a direct, obvious entailment of an asymmetric compound impossibility, then the statement is ruled out. ‘Direct’ and ‘obvious’ are vague, but this is not problematic because it is vague whether some statements can be true in any fiction.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/14/2003 02:04:00 AM

From today's NY Times:
It's a safe wager that professional poker players aren't very good writers, but it's also better than even money that adept writers are, or could be, cunning poker players, for they come to understand motive and risk and instinctively realize that you can't win if you don't bet. James McManus bet big and won. His ''Positively Fifth Street,'' an exhilarating chronicle of the 2000 World Series of Poker in Las Vegas, will go on the shelf with the classic that inspired it, ''The Biggest Game in Town,'' A. Alvarez's account of the 1981 event.
I seem to recall teaching my logic students that All Fs are not Gs and Some Gs are Fs can't be true together. Maybe it's time to remove that part of the textbook.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/14/2003 01:08:00 AM


I just bought a robot! A very primitive one, that at best vacuums the floor, but it is still a robot. No more manual vacuuming. (And despite this the vacuuming gets done.)

Its bad points include

  • It is rather noisy
  • It is slow
  • It hits walls rather hard, occasionally leaving a mark. (I would not get one of these for a place I owned. But no one ever washed a rental car etc.)
  • It is moderately expensive
  • It doesn't actually vacuum that well

Its good points include

  • It is incredibly cool. A robot! That vacuums! (Sort of!)

I think the good points outweigh the bad points, don't you?

On another note, Nomy Arpaly informs me that has a philosophy song in the March 2002 edition of Utilitas. Unfortunately it seems to be (a) not online and (b) under copyright. But if you can get Utilitas through work, you should.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/13/2003 11:41:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up. Fresh off working out the meaning of life, Allan Hazlett has a paper on how much we should care about evil in other possible worlds.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/13/2003 12:17:00 PM


I was flipping back and forth between the two LA baseball games late last night, the Dodgers at the Giants and the Angels hosting the A's, and the most striking difference (apart from the fact that the Dodgers lost and the Angels won) was the difference in quality between the broadcasters. The Dodgers game had Vin Scully and the Angels had, well I don't know who they had because they were a distinctly unmemorable typical broadcast combination. One announcer, one colour guy who played with the team some time ago. So naturally I spent more time listening to, and occasionally watching, the Dodgers-Giants. And I was struck by this line of Scully's, which I'm not sure I can accurately capture in text. (The camera at the time is focussed on Felipe Alou, the Giants manager.)
Felipe Alou. That’s his name in the United States. But it’s not his name in the Dominican Republic. There he’s called Felipe Al-OH.
Obviously Scully didn't spell out the two different 'names', just used the two different pronunciations. My impression is that Felipe's name is spelled the same way in both countries, it's just a pronunciation difference. I was struck by a couple of things about the line. First, it is interesting how easy it is to do something almost akin to mixing use and mention in the first four words here. The 'that' has to refer to the words just used, individuated as it turns out phonetically not lexically. The 'his' is, I think, anaphoric on those very words. Secondly, despite how natural the line sounded at first, it's moderately difficult I think to come up with a theory of naming on which what Scully said is true. It just isn't true, I think, that names are individuated phonetically.

Anyway, that was more interesting than the anonymous Angels broadcasters. The most interesting line there came from the anonymous colour guy talking about Terry Francona, who is now the A's bench coach, but apparently was the colour guy's manager in Philadephia.
I respect him a lot for treating me like a smart player when I wasn’t.
Not a theory of respect you'll see in many philosophical contexts I'd bet. Finally, for those of you who think that moving sporting teams provide more interesting identity puzzles than brain swaps etc, what should we make of this sentence.
With a win Sunday, Kansas City would be the first team since the 1987 Milwaukee Brewers to open 10-0. In any case, the Royals are the AL's first 9-0 team since the 1984 Detroit Tigers.
Ignore the wild improbability of the Royals being 9-0. (At what point does one's prior probability that every news organisation is lying to me become higher than my prior probability that the Royals will be n-0 for n>0?) What to make of the second sentence? In a sense it is true: no team now in the AL has opened 10-0 since 1984. But when the Brewers opened 10-0 in 1987, they played in the AL. (They moved to the NL in 1998.) So in 1987 an AL team opened 10-0, but no AL team has opened 10-0 since 1984. I can see a way to get the scope of the tense operators to work so that this is true, but it isn't how English works is it?

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/12/2003 05:21:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up with new history entries at both Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews and the Stanford Encyclopaedia.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/12/2003 10:33:00 AM


I was just flicking through the counters for the Stanford Encyclopaedia, and I was struck by a couple of things. First, despite this being a fairly high traffic week here at TAR, we still got less traffic than the Nietzche entry gets by just being there. If I didn't update for three months, I wouldn't be getting 500-600 hits per day. Secondly, the Turing machine entry, number 19 on last week's charts, is fairly short by SEP standards. The abstract is longer than the rest of the article. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, it means the entry gets to the point in a way that some entries (well, mine at least) arguably don't. But for something with that much traffic, it may be worthwhile to write more about the connections between Turing machines and philosophy of mind and computation. Sadly, I don't know enough to write the imagined better entry, but maybe someone reading this does.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/11/2003 02:55:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is belatedly up. The only new paper is Allan's meaning of life paper already noted. There also a new entry in the Stanford Encyclopedia on Alcmaeon.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/11/2003 02:43:00 PM

Allan Hazlett has just posted a paper on the meaning of life. I try and steer clear of the big picture questions, the whole vision thing thing, but it might be a good thing that someone is considering it. He concludes that his life at least is not meaningful. When I've figured out how to teach a class on the meaning of 'horse', and why it doesn't mean horse or horsey cow, I might come back to the meaning of life. But that could take a whiles.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/11/2003 11:13:00 AM


Via Smiling Politely, this is a transcript of a hearing in the High Court of Australia (our equivalent of the Supreme Court, for American readers) allegedly about an electoral irregularity. Here is a sample of how much fun it must have been:

MR ROUT: Yes, okay, what I am showing is that there is a conspiracy to deny me any credit or recognition and it relates to the stealing of the fusion technology. Data showing the proof of that on 8 August and in the "Catalyst" program in late August, suspect data from a suspect source, being a quasar, was published. But my data, that has been proven, is not published. So we have the evidence of a conspiracy. Now, I have made a contribution to the legal system - and, of course, there is no money in it for me - I have proven that everything is relative to its foundations which means that legislation does not begin and end with legislation. It is subject to its foundations being - it is based upon adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying. It is such - - -

KIRBY J: That is true in the law too. You have to have a foundation in law that gives you a footing to come into a court of law. But what do you have to do with these issues? Nothing.

MR ROUT: But it does, because dividing and multiplying by zero, there is two sets. Now, Bob McMullan had the opportunity and the people in Parliament to understand that peer review ceased to exist after three years. I mean, they had an enormous time and they did not respond to it and they have refused to do so. So it was politicised and it became a criminal legal matter because I am being denied the remuneration from my work, I am being denied credit recognition of my work with the conspiracy to steal it and I come into this Court and the Judges of the Court should accept that peer review does not exist, so stop pushing it out there and expecting this peer review to take place. So I am saying to you that here we have - the suspect data is published here and if you have a look at this other data here, mine is about fusing of four hydrogen atoms and I have had it proved. Everything, each and every inch of the way, here we have here practical fusion on the second-last page:

Practical Route to Fusion Power

Small underground nuclear explosions could supply the world's electricity -

I mean, that is public.

KIRBY J: Mr Rout, the document you have tendered to be filed in the Court is called an electoral petition.


KIRBY J: It appears to challenge the election to the Australian Capital Territory seat of Fraser.

This continues for quite a while. Mr Rout was not successful in his challenge.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/10/2003 02:31:00 PM

Very busy week at Brown coming up. We have the following events scheduled:

On Monday, Greg Carlson from University of Rochester (linguistics) will be speaking in the linguistics and cognitive sciences department.

On Tuesday, Juan Comesana from Brown and lately Wisconsin (philosophy) will be defending his (excellent) dissertation in the philosophy department.

On Thursday, Tony Long from Berkeley (classics) will be speaking also in the philosophy department. (This is a joint meeting with classics, and is part of the Boston Area Colloquium in Ancient Philosophy.)

And on Friday, John Simmons from Virginia (law) will be speaking in the philosophy department on Consent Theory for Libertarians. (Note this is not on Tuesday, as listed on our events page, but on Friday.)

All events are, I believe, at 4pm and all are open to all visitors.

UPDATE: I was wrong. Anthony Long's talk is at 7.30pm on Thursday. Which means it clashes with a Sox game...

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/10/2003 02:12:00 PM

On my Microsoft-dominated machine, the colours on the current page look OK. (Assuming you think greens and blues with a very soft touch of yellow behind the main text is OK.) If they look awful on some other setup, let me know. I'm glad the orange has gone away though.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/10/2003 01:57:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up, and it is very long. I decided to start including abstracts for all papers, using the first paragraph or two of papers if no abstract could be found. (Thanks to Wo for the suggestion to use opening paragraphs here, which I think helps.) Doing this slows down the load time for the pages, and it slows down the construction of the daily reports, but I think it is a good thing all things considered. But if it makes the page unusable for any reason, I'll revert back to the way things used to be done.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/10/2003 01:31:00 PM

I was doing some reading while writing the philosophy papers blog entry, and I came across the following very surprising fact, via Armin von Stechow. In Amharic, the personal pronoun, the translation of I, in indirect speech reports can refer to the reportee, not to the reporter. So a sentence literally translated as John said that I am a hero can mean (not must mean, but can mean) that John said that he is a hero. Obviously it is possible to have a language like this, in some weak sense of possible, but I never knew there was a natural language that behaved this way.

The discussion is in Binding by Verbs: Tense, Person and Mood Under Attitudes, especially around pages 8 and 9.

UPDATE: I should note that these observations are not original to von Stechow, and he does not claim that they are. He credits Phillipe Schelnker, whose paper on monsters recently appeared in Linguistics and Philosophy. (That paper does not appear to be freely available online.) Apologies for the misleadingness of the original post.

FURTHER UPDATE: Via Kai von Fintel, in the comments, Phillipe's monsters paper is available via Institute Jean Nicod, here. Apologies for the above mistake. I hope all the corrections needed are now made...

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/10/2003 01:23:00 PM


The Battleground God post triggered a whole stream of comments across the blogworld, which I would link to if I weren't so lazy/rushed right now. Two questions about divine omnipotence came up.

First, even if we assume that quantifier domain restriction is entirely a pragmatic affair, is it true that making 1+1=72 is in the domain of the quantifier of God can do anything. I think the things there are possible actions, and not because I think that's some kind of pragmatic intrusion into the semantics, I think that in some pretty good sense that's all the actions there are. So I think that God could be omnipotent, be literally able to do anything, and not be able to make 1+1=72. Battleground God apparently says this is inconsistent, but I'm not so sure that they are right here.

Secondly, I was struck by this story that Brad DeLong quotes in part in response to worries about logically limited omnipotence:
I don't recommend playing with God. It isn't that he cheats, exactly. But the other night we were in the middle of a game, I was about thirty points up, and He emptied out his rack. ZWEEGHB. Double word score and the fifty-point bonus.

"Zweeghb?" I said.

"Is that a challenge?"

"Well..." If you challenge God and you're wrong, you lose the points and get turned into a pillar of salt.

"Look outside," He said. So I did. Sure enough, there was a zweeghb out there, eating the rosebushes, like Thurber's unicorn.

"I thought you rested from creating stuff."

"Eighth day, I did. Now I'm fresh as a daisy. You going to pass or play?"
The quote is from John M. Ford's story, "Scrabble with God" (in John M. Ford (1997), From the End of the Twentieth Century (Framingham, MA: NESFA Press: 0915368730)).

Getting back from God to something much more pressing, truth in fiction, is it true in the fiction that God created a zweeghb. I should add that I think if it were said in the story that God created a square circle, then I would say it is true in the story that God created a square circle. (I've never been too impressed with that as an example of a logical contradiction, for probably familiar reasons.) I might even say, following Tamar's suggestion in her imaginative resistance paper, that if the story said God made it true that 7+5 did not equal 12, then it would be true in the story that 7+5 did not equal 12. But did He really create a zweeghb. I'm inclined to say no. This could be evidence that I have a very flat footed response to fiction.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/09/2003 06:52:00 PM

No philosophy papers blog today because there were no papers to report. The most notable new addition to a website was that Jason Stanley now has a page dedicated to the Men's Basketball 2003 National Champions.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/09/2003 01:26:00 PM

A few months ago I wrote a short argument against Stephen Yablo's definition of a priority as truth that could be recognised in virtue of understanding. Less wordilly, S is a priori iff understanding S is sufficient for recognising S as true. The objection turned on Pierce's Law:

(1) ((p -> q) -> p) -> p

I said that Yablo couldn't have all the following things. First, this is a logical truth. Second, all logical truths are a priori. Third, his account of what it is to be a priori. Fourth, that the meaning of the -> is its introduction/elimination rules in a single-conclusion natural-deduction system. He can't have them all because the rules for -> alone don't let you prove (1), you also need the rules for ~.

You might think I'm being fussy here in saying that he needs rules for some other connective. But actually that amount of fussiness was completely in the spirit of Yablo's definition. The definition was designed to get the result that the a priori is not closed under logical consequence, for just the reason that A might be a priori, and If A then B might be a priori in part in virtue of the meanings of the terms in A, while B is not a priori. It might be, that is, that once you understand the terms in A you will realise that B is true, but just understanding the terms in B might not be enough to show you that B is true. The non-closure of the a priori would be VERY BAD NEWS for we small band of two-dimensionalists, so I thought I was making a small blow for freedom with this little argument.

Partial disclosure: Just how much of a two-dimensionalist I am is not entirely clear. I'm at least a fellow-traveller, but saying more would require me feeling less one-thirty-in-the-morningish.

Second partial disclosure: It wasn't very clear in the original post just what the argument was. It was partially an ad hominem, since I suspected Yablo believed the other three horns of the quadrilemma. And it was partially a plausibility argument against his account of the a priori, because I suspected most readers would think his account of the a priori was the weakest of the four claims. But that was sort of in bad faith, because it isn't what I believe. Precisely what I believed may become clear below.

Anyway, I just realised going over the argument again tonight was that it seems to cause just as many problems for views I hold as it does for Yablo's position. (Think of this as the philosophical logical version of blowback.) Roughly, I want to hold all of the following theses.

(2) All logical truths are analytic.
(3) All analytic truths are true in virtue of the meanings of their terms.
(4) If (2) and (3) are true, then if all instances of a particular schema are logical truths, they must all be true in virtue of the meanings of the logical connectives.
(5) The meaning of the -> is given by the introduction/elimination rules for it in a single-conclusion natural-deduction system (i.e. the deduction theorem and modus ponens).

Accepting (2) to (5) means giving up that (1) is a logical truth. That's OK I think. I actually think (2) through (5) constitute a pretty plausible argument for the claim that (1) is not a logical truth. The problems start arising soon after that.

(6) The meaning of ~ is given by its introduction/elimination rules in a classical single-conclusion natural-deduction system (i.e. reductio ad absurdum and double negation elimination).
(7) If A is true in virtue of the meanings of its logical connectives, then it is a logical truth.
(8) If If A then B is a logical truth, and A is a logical truth, then B is a logical truth.

And here things start to go badly wrong for me. Because (6) and (7) commit me to (9) and (10) being logical truths, so (8) commits me to (1) also being a logical truth.

(9) ~~[((p -> q) -> p) -> p]
(10) [~~[((p -> q) -> p) -> p]] -> [((p -> q) -> p) -> p]

And now I'm stuck in a contradiction. I have to give up one of (2) through (8). (Ever been in a heptalemma before? It's kinda neat in a screwy way.) There's little to recommend giving up (4) or (7), which seem fairly unobtrusive steps in the argument. And (3) looks definitional.

I could sort of understand giving up (2). I think it's the position that most naturally fits with what Yablo says about the a priori. And I'm somewhat tempted by it actually. Say the intuitionists are sort of right about analyticity, so (1) is not analytic. But they are wrong about logical truth. Logical truth is not truth in virtue of logical constants, its being a consequence of something(s) true in virtue of logical constants. So (1) is a logical truth because (9) and (10) are, not because it is true in virtue of its logical constants.

Dummett, of course, recommends giving up (6). Deep down, I suspect that's the most sane option available. But even if I'm right, in philosophy that is not always the most telling of considerations.

Stephen Read in some recent work has recommended giving up (5). The meaning of -> is given by its in/elim rules in multiple-conclusion natural-deduction systems. In those systems (1) can be deduced from the meaning of -> alone. I'm going to be in print sort of endorsing this position soon, which may not be wise. (It's a throwaway comment in the Problem of the Many paper. And strictly I say only that this is the best response to certain arguments of Dummett's, of which (2) to (5) is a loose paraphrase. But it's probably still too strong.)

Anyway, the bold late night conjecture here is that (8) could be the culprit. Perhaps logical truth is not closed under modus ponens. That would be exciting!

There's a few take-home lessons from this. I'll just mention two. First, the argument for intuitionism from (2) to (5) is a little less compelling than it first appears, because accepting it requires giving up (6), (7) or (8). This is probably obvious to everyone who thinks about the matter for more than two seconds, but it was only working through Yablo's definition of a priority that made me realise it. Secondly, once you start giving up closure for various things, life gets pretty interesting...

What triggered all this off was that Steve Yablo was at Brown today to give a talk on two-dimensionalism. It covered a lot of ground and there's no way I could do justice to the points made in this format, or at this hour. But when Beyond Rigidification appears on a website near you, I highly recommend checking it out.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/09/2003 02:14:00 AM


Some blog entries write themselves. Or at least other people write them for me.

Geoff Nunberg sent a link to this story about some German linguists trying to get one back for the French in retaliation for "Freedom Fries"

GERMANY: LINGUISTS URGE FRENCH OVER ENGLISH Recalling the American tactic of renaming French fries as freedom fries in retaliation for France's opposition to the war in Irag, a linguists' group called on Germans to replace commonly used English words with their French equivalents. Armin Burkhardt, chairman of the group, Language in Politics, said English words like ticket and O.K. should be replaced by billet and d'accord. Another word his group says ought to be replaced is T-shirt, by tricot.

It isn't a philosophy song, but Kent Bach noted that Tom Lehrer's song consisting of little more than the periodic table is available online. The tune is also Modern Major-General, which must be popular at Harvard.

Ted Sider noted that Max Cresswell uses the following as examples of ambiguity in his Logics and Languages. Apparently these really were newspaper headlines. Some subbie had too much time on his hands.

Women lay observers at Vatican Council
Eighth Army push bottles up Germans

I should not be sent examples like that as I am trying to write translation exercises for my intro logic students.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/08/2003 11:07:00 PM

This philosophy song-writing is getting out of hand. Now via Matthew Yglesias we have Warren Goldfarb’s tribute in verse to Quine. All these songs of course are to rather verbose tunes. The blogger version would be an attempt at a serious philosophical song to the tune of, say, Louie Louie.

By the way, I toned down the orange a little, but it is still I think hideous. Maybe black and white tomorrow.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/08/2003 02:22:00 PM

Via Greg Goelzhauser I found this fun philosophy game: Battleground God. The game tries to trick you into giving inconsistent answers to various questions about religion, epistemology and ethics. It’s moderately fun, but not too hard to find one’s way through the thicket to a consistent world-view. (Well, it isn’t as long as you read the questions carefully enough, which I almost failed to do on a couple of occasions.) Apparently people who take the quiz endorse, on average, 1.37 contradictions, which must make the dialethicists very happy.

That page has a bunch of other philosophy games here.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/08/2003 01:14:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up. The lead story is a paper on legal philosophy (the foundations of tort law to be more precise) by John Gardner.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/08/2003 01:02:00 PM

I was thinking of messing with the colours on this page for a couple of reasons. First, I got an email complaining about the contrast. (I suspect it's my preference for spindly fonts that is really the villain here, but still.) Secondly, We Are The Champions. Well, actually they are the champions, but I think spending two winters in Syracuse entitles me to a little vicarious celebration when their sporting teams succeed. Hence it is orange day here at TAR.

Rest assured, the orange is just a temporary step on the path to the real final colour of the blog. It is fairly hideous. But be grateful that my current employer, that would be Brown University, did not just win something equally momentous.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/08/2003 10:59:00 AM

When I was a grad student I visited ANU for a while, at which time there were as smart a collection of grad students there as you are likely to find in a philosophy program at any given point in time. (You can see where some of them have moved on to here, here, here and here.) While the grad students there had for the most part relatively orthodox views about the content of philosophical papers (albeit with original argumnts for that content) they could often hold strange views about their form. Thus it became that the department there became the second important philosophical movement to have a credo. And so it became that Henry Fitzgerald wrote up a short note on what nominalists do and don’t believe in, to the tune of a Richard Rogers song. And now, to their credit, Analysis has published said song. (I briefly considered writing a paper in the form of a catechism, both as homage to this sylistic idiosyncracy and to get the whole Joyce kick that’s been influencing my recent papers, and which I suppose goes to absurd lengths in the to-be-published fiction paper, over and done with, but I thought better of it. For now.)

When I saw that Analysis I saw Henry had a paper called “Nominalist Things” in the latest Analysis I just assumed that the song I remembered from grad school days had somehow morphed into a traditional paper. So it was still on my ever-growing to-be-read pile. Hence I got beaten to the citation of it by Chris Bertram. (And I was beaten to the citation of it by Eve Tushnet on his comments board.) Much thanks then to Chris for alerting us all to this gem. And again much thanks to Analysis for publishing it. Philosophy can be many things, but among other things it should be fun. And when you can make some points in the process of having fun, as I sort of think Henry’s ditty does, all the better.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/08/2003 01:09:00 AM


I inspired a blog!

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/07/2003 11:39:00 PM

I was tracing through my incoming links, trying to figure out why the weakest weekend’s posts in recent memory had led to sudden stream of hits, when I found I’m listed on Jorn Barger’s Robotwisdom as “A sort of portal for philosophy blogs”. I think this is coincidental, but I was spending a fair bit of time yesterday cruising around his James Joyce page, which is not only one of the best Joyce sites on the web (probably the best though I’m hardly in a position to make expert commentary) but has some fairly interesting stuff on web design. Is it a good thing or a bad thing if I’m a portal?

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/07/2003 08:56:00 PM

In the semantics reading group at Brown we were going over this paper by Joost Zwarts and Yoad Winter. It has lots of interesting ideas about the nature of locative prepositions in natural languages, including some neat hypotheses about why we have just the hypotheses we do. But it seems that it contains at least one false claim. Consider the attached picture. The picture seems to refute one or other of Zwarts and Winter’s claim. But I wasn’t entirely sure which one. So I was wondering what you thought about this picture. Here are some questions about the picture.

  1. Is the small circle above the square A?
  2. Is the small circle above the rectangle B?
  3. Is the small circle above the square C?

If you want to answer the questions before you read what Zwarts and Winter say, you might want to answer before reading on.

Got an answer yet?


The example, by the way, was mostly due to Polly Jacobson. I came up with the picture to try and prove a separate point, but managed to not notice that it had just this consequence. Things could be worse, I might have contributed nothing at all, but I also might have noticed the consequences of my own example...

The problem for Zwarts and Winter is that they say the following four things. First, the circle is above A. Secondly, the circle is not above B, it is to the left of it. Thirdly, the circle is above A. Fourthly, if something is above A and C, and B is between A and C, then it is above B. So these can’t all be true. Everyone in the reading group (except perhaps me) was convinced the first three claims were true and the generalisation was false. Does everyone here agree?

UPDATE: Sadly I used a Windows-only format for the picture. I've now changed it to be a GIF, which I hope is readable on all computers. Apologies for that. Some days I fear it is people like me that make some non Windows users dislike Windows so much.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/07/2003 08:22:00 PM

No philosophy papers blog today, because there was nothing to report. The most amusing thing was that Gregory Chaitin updated his quotes board. It’s pretty funny to actually have a quotes board on one’s webpage in the first place, unless it is like the one that John Quiggin has. But Chaitin’s has some special qualities. Here was the quote from Simon Singh, reproduced exactly as on Chaitin’s page.
"That was Greg Chaitin. The intensity in his voice betrays his genius---because he is without doubt one of the world's greatest mathematicians, the mathematical equivalent of David Beckham [a soccer/football star]."
There’s a corollary, or perhaps a codicil, to the Never Explain Jokes principle lurking here somewhere.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/07/2003 11:19:00 AM

An entire post about Australian music would be of interest to roughly 0% of the readers of this blog, so it’s probably a bit self-indulgent. But then the whole point of blogs is self-indulgence.

Salon’s feature CD this weekend is the newish Go-Betweens album Bright Yellow, Bright Orange. They like it a lot more than Rachel Worth, but then they didn’t like Rachel Worth that much. I thought it was a pretty good album actually, though I got the impression that not many people agreed with me. In any case, the more publicity the Go-Betweens get the better.

For a while last year I thought the Go-Betweens Botany Sessions were as good as the Basement Tapes. This may have been misplaced patriotism, though they are pretty good. (By the way, does anyone have the Tree with Roots version of the Basement Tapes yet?)

Two Australian bands are in the Cambridge are this week. On Wednesday the Dirty Three play the Middle East Club, and on Saturday the Waifs play the Somerville Theatre. Someone could get a very odd impression of what Australian music is like from seeing these two.

Just to get the pop culture references out of the system, I finally saw the newish BBC ‘comedy’ The Office. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen anything quite so disturbing. Office life in all its glory. Of course, it was absolutely riveting, in a car crash kind of way. I am so grateful that I get to work in academia some days.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/07/2003 01:28:00 AM


Question for probability theorists out there. On my logic quiz this week, the students had to guess/figure out which of 9 arguments were valid. As it turned out, 5 of them were valid. Though surprisingly many thought that All philosophers are academics, no academics are ghosts, so some ghosts are not philosophers was also valid. I thought this was a pretty good example of why you don’t want Aristotle’s version of existential import. I also thought that examples of arguments that actually have true premises and false conclusions would be softball questions. Not so it seems.

The scoring worked as follows. For each of the 5 valid arguments that the students recognised as such, they got 2 points, for a maximum of 10. For each of the 4 invalid arguments they marked as valid, they were deducted 2 points, with the exception that the lowest possible score is 0. So a student who said that 1 of the valid arguments and 3 of the invalid arguments were valid would get a score of 0, not of -4.

Now let’s assume that a student does just guess. (I hope this was true of some of them.) What is his (or her) expected score? If I don’t have the zero minimum rule, this is an easy question. The answer is 1. But with the minimum in, it does not seem so easy. I could just compute all 512 possible answers and add up the scores from them, but that would be tedious. Is there an easy way to compute this?

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/06/2003 09:52:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up. Two new papers, including one arguing that something like this blog, indeed physically indistinguishable from it, will be written no matter what I do. This is very hard to imagine, especially if I start running off random words. Agate hemming. Agreement ghee thy. Laurate whims. Bed loll mom poor A erewhiles hitter ninth A sandblaster goff swoons. I think I might stop before this game starts getting childish.

I was trying to set up the section of the Greenough paper on the seductiveness of Sorites arguments, and it was very tempting to compare the Sorites argument to Gerty MacDowell, but two things intervened. First, I realised that everyone who got the reference would be offended by it. Secondly, and perhaps this wasn’t coincidental, I couldn’t find a way of filling out the reference that I didn’t find somewhat offensive. The analogy looks good at first, the Sorites as initially attractive but flawed on further inspection, but ultimately I think it won’t run. It would be nice to have some kind of analogy for the Sorites. This shouldn’t be too hard. It’s not like literature isn’t full of examples of the initially attractive but ultimately flawed. Even without leaving Ulysses there are the Sirens, but they seem too obvious to use. Alternatively, I could just try and make sure the philosophy is plausible and leave the analogies for the more talented.

posted by Brian Weatherson 4/06/2003 01:25:00 PM

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My random philosophical musings, more often in premise-conclusion form than is normal for this media


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