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.


Word on the street is that an exciting new Cambridge group philosophy blog is about to appear. (Rumour has it there's a link to it hidden somewhere on this page.) If early indications are true TAR might be losing its (self-proclaimed) mantle as the go-to philosophy blog.

While on Cambridge philosophy, I've been meaning to recommend Carolina Sartorio's paper Causes as Difference-Makers. In it Carolina argues for
CDM: If C caused E, then the absence of C wouldn't have caused E.
If CDM is true it imposes, it turns out, quite a sharp constraint on theories of causation. In the paper it is noted how counterfactual dependence theories and regularity theories are inconsistent with it, for example.

I keep thinking I have counterexamples to CDM, but none of them seem entirely convincing under close reflection, so I thought I shouldn't wait until I could refute the paper before I recommend it.

This isn't the only thing that's been stopping me writing up a counterexample to CDM (there's the lack of said convincing counterexample too), but it hasn't helped that I decided on a principle for presenting counterexamples to theories of causation. Every such counterexample must be presented in dialogue form, and the pattern set out in the counterexample must be exemplified somewhere in the dialogue. So, for example
ODYSSEUS: I think causation is counterfactual dependence.
SCYLLA: But wise Odysseus, causation is transitive and counterfactual dependence is intransitive.
CHARYBDIS: And I think powerful Odysseus is forgetting about overdetermination. If your sword fells a man who the Fates have decided must die, then you cause his death, even though had you not felled him, the Fates would have ensured he died some other way.
ODYSSEUS: You have convinced me, evil monsters of the deep. But must you be so verbose? You had me at transitivity.
I think this can be quite cheesy in some cases, but if one wanted to present four or five different counterexamples, and separated out the section where a particular counterexample was discussed from where it is exemplified, it might work well.

But I don't think my proposed comic masterpiece will get written any time soon. So if you're looking for first-class work on causation, I'd highly recommend reading Carolina's paper rather than waiting for me to attempt to produce anything.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/12/2003 09:47:00 PM

So I can have the morning free to grade, I did the papers blog tonight. There's two very interesting papers up.
Michael Glanzburg, Truth, Disquotation, and Expression (On McGinn's Theory of Truth)

Gideon Rosen and Nicholas Smith, Worldly Indeterminacy: A Rough Guide
The Rosen and Smith paper claims to show that worldly indeterminacy is not incoherent, so that looks like it will be worth reading. (And perhaps responding to...)

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/12/2003 12:48:00 AM


From Kent Bach, a quick follow up to the last post on philosophy of sport. In the May 24 1973 Journal of Philosophy, Joseph Ullian reviewed Paul Weiss's Sport: A Philosophic Inquiry. (The link is to JSTOR, so if you don't have access to that you won't be able to follow the link.)

The review is a classic negative review - I don't think I've ever seen something quite so harsh. The final paragraph is:
He who is fond of either sport or philosophy can save himself a thoroughly distasteful experience by avoiding Weiss's book. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine anyone who might be pleased by it.
To put that in context, some of the examples quoted from the book provide pretty compelling evidence for the conclusion. And some of the awkward constructions in that conclusion are parodies of the kinds of phrases used ad nauseum in the book. The second most charming aspect of the book (as far as I can tell from Ullian's review) is when Weiss says, "A woman is less abstract than a man because her mind is persistently oriented towards bodily problems," and then spends five or six pages drawing out the sporting philosophical consequences of this. The most charming is when Weiss recommends that "Negros" be handicapped in sporting events to make it all somehow fair.

I trust philosophy of sport has improved a touch in the thirty intervening years. Thanks again to Kent Bach for bringing this to my attention.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/11/2003 04:12:00 PM

No papers blog today because there was nothing to report. Maybe I should stop doing the papers blog on weekends.

I've added a new link to the links column on the right - Episteme Links - which is basically a philosophy portal. It seems to be incredibly popular, judging by its stats, and it apparently will soon include a section for philosophy blogs. So maybe we'll be getting more visitors by sooner or later.

One of the things I found via EpistemeLinks was the British Society for the Philosophy of Sport. (The link appears to be down right now, but it was working yesterday, and presumably will be again shortly.) And via that I found that there is a conference on philosophy of sport to be held at Ohio State in a few weeks. Somewhat depressingly, the conference organisers don't seem to have got the point about which features of Columbus, OH will be of most interest to philosophers of sport. Here's what they say about Columbus's attractions:
The weather will surely be warm and pleasant in early June, and Columbus is a wonderful city to explore and a great restaurant town to boot.
Here's what they should have said.
It will be perfect football weather in mid-September and Columbus is home to the National Champion Ohio State Buckeyes.
Of course, that would have required (a) holding the conference on a football weekend, (b) arranging tickets to the Ohio State game for conference participants and (c) fitting the conference schedule around the game, but if they'd done all that they'd have an impressive attendance.

I think introducing some aspects of philosophy via sport potentially can be very effective pedagogically. It seems Cornell is already ahead of the game on this. They already have a course on the philosophy of sport. Maybe if my freshman seminar this year goes well next year I can do a freshman course on philosophy of sport. On second thoughts, that probably is not the best way to start addressing the male/female imbalance in undergrad philosophy classes. On third thought, doing a course with a large sci-fi component as I am this year - my freshman seminar is on time travel - probably isn't much better in this regard. And the Cornell philosophy of sport class does have a discussion of Title IX, which is more than can be said for my time travel course.

More seriously, I guess, I also found through EpistemeLinks a hypertext version of the Tractatus. Use wisely.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/11/2003 12:04:00 PM

Like a few other bloggers, I've been noticing a few hits coming from Google searches that look designed to be 'research' for term papers. This one could well be one of my favourites. You'll have to click through to appreciate the full irony of it all.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/11/2003 01:50:00 AM


Via Matthew Yglesias, there is an article in Scientific American on the support for multiverse hypotheses in cosmology. The most striking feature of the article is the claim that the multiverse hypothesis (allegedly) corresponding to Lewisian modal realism has testable consequences. I think this is either a misuse of 'testable' or a philosophical mistake akin to the argument that modal realism leads to inductive scepticism. But whatever the causes, it is nice to see Lewisian metaphysics being taken seriously.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/10/2003 07:56:00 PM

Midwest Yet Again

I was reading through Jobs for Philosophers today, and I noticed that the APA has opinions on which parts of the country are in the Midwest. According to their classifications, the Midwest consists of Illinois, Indiana, Minnestoa, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin. That doesn't exactly match up with the consensus around here that Ohio is Midwestern. Maybe that goes to show you shouldn't trust philosophers' linguistic intuitions.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/10/2003 07:49:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up, with new papers on epistemology and on practical reasoning.

John Quiggin and Kieran Healy have further posts on gender segregation in academia. John points out that some of the effects can be traced to high school where (at least in Australia, and at least to a first generalisation) boys tend to end up focussing on mathematics and girls on language. Kieran agrees that this is part of the story, though he notes that we still have to explain why there is not as significant a gender gap in newer fields that require significant mathematical ability.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias has more, suggesting that I've been underestimating the effect of having a male-dominated professoriate on the makeup of undergraduate classes.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/10/2003 10:46:00 AM

Kieran Healy posts a very good follow-up to (among other things) my earlier post on why there aren't more women in philosophy. I think a lot of the points he makes are correct, but I'm still not sure it gets to the heart of the matter. Kieran notes a number of reasons why some academic fields, particularly well-established academic fields, might be less friendly than they think they are towards women coming into the profession. Those are presumably among the causes of there being so few women in philosophy. But they aren't I think the only causes.

At least from my occasional observations, the gender split in philosophy is already present in undergraduate classes. (Remember class, the plural of anecdote is data.) And while that may be caused in part by there being so few women in the professorship, I'd be surprised if it's the only reason.

I'd be more surprised if the reason was something particularly to with the subject matter of philosophy. Kieran gives one (pretty conclusive) batch of reasons for thinking this is not the root cause, let me add another. Much of analytic philosophy is very close, in subject matter and approach, to theoretical work in linguistic and cognitive sciences. And those fields do not, as far as I can tell, have anything like as striking a gender gap, even within the more theoretically oriented sub-fields. Some areas of analytic philosophy, notably ethics and history, are not like cognitive science, but those are the areas that do best at attracting and keeping women. The idea that there is some distinctive characteristic of analytic metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind and philosophy of language that is not shared by either analytic ethics or philosophical history, or by formal semantics or theoretical cognitive science, and it's this characteristic that drives women from the profession, is not highly plausible.

But that doesn't get to the heart of explaining why our undergrad classes are so imbalanced, especially compared to all nearby fields. I'd be disappointed if the suggestions Kieran makes, that women are held to a higher standard, that the profession is just displaying a familiar tendency towards homogeny, and so forth, turned out to be major parts of the explanation of this phenomenon. But when it comes to social sciences the argument Brian would be disappointed by p therefore not-p is not exactly valid.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/10/2003 01:50:00 AM


The philosophy papers blog is up.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/09/2003 08:25:00 AM

While congratulating Steve Levitt for winning the John Bates Clark medal for being the best young (i.e. sub-40) economist in the world, Brad DeLong posts a list of the previous 27 winners of the award. The prize has been awarded every two years since 1947 except, for some reason, in 1953. It's not quite best under 40, because by rule no one gets awarded it twice. So it's best non-winner under 40. Two things about the list stand out.

First, Levitt is in pretty good company. Samuelson, Friedman, Tobin, Arrow, Solow, Becker, Stiglitz, Krugman, Summers, just to name a few. For those who are unfamiliar with these scholars' work, Brad goes into some detail about their many, no many many, virtues. I wonder if we had a similar prize in philosophy we'd be able to look back at the list after 50 years and be pleased with the list, or whether it would contain a large number of flame-outs who never lived up to potential, and gaps for people who rose to prominence after 40.

Second, the list is all male. Analytic philosophy has done a very poor job over the years in attracting and keeping bright women. This failing is especially galling since the disciplines closest to ours, non-analytic philosophy on one end and linguistic and cognitive sciences on the other, do not have a similar shortcoming. As far as I can tell, the trouble starts as early as the undergraduate years. I wonder how many analytic programs have more female than male concentrators. I suspect (though I don't have the data at hand to verify this) not a lot, even at schools where there are many more female than male undergraduates. And things get progressively worse in graduate schools and in the profession. It was particularly noticable at the Rutgers Epistemology conference how few women there are in epistemology, though I think that's a particularly bad area. Conferences that are less focussed on a single area, or generally have a younger crew (or, like this one, both) tend to be more balanced. Still, having said all that, I'd like to think that had we had a similar prize in philosophy after 50 years the list of winners wouldn't be all male. Would it? We're not as bad, in this respect, as the economists. Are we?

Apropos of approximately nothing said above, I think it's pretty neat that one can be a prize-winning scholar in part in virtue of having written papers on corruption in sumo wrestling and violence in hockey. Sadly, Levitt's papers on these topics (cited here) are not available online, so I can't find some snappy violent sumo hockey quotes to show what a fine scholar he is.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/09/2003 12:26:00 AM


Earlier today I linked to Kieran Healy's post on plagiarism. The comments board attached to it has a very lively discussion of some plagiaristic horror stories. It is well worth checking out just for the messages. If you have any juicy stories to add, please do! This all feels close to home because I just had my first "Why did you turn in identical assignments?" meeting with students since I got to Brown. Not good times.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/08/2003 11:54:00 PM

I need new categories for the blogroll. Or at least, I need a category for blogs by philosophers that are not, or at least do not aim to be, philosophical blogs. Until I add that category, you might like to read Diachronic Agency by Ted Hinchman and Dan Jacobson. At least one of the authors insists it is not meant to be a philosophical blog, though just how many general-interest blogs have posts on Non-Constitutive Existence Internalism is presumably not that open a question.

From the other direction, The Infinite Loop is announced to be by an "irate and sardonic student of neuroscience at an east coast university", but seems to be largely about philosophy of mind. I think posts on Kim, Fodor, functionalism and multiple realizability are all great things, but I'm not sure how far it gets one in a neuroscience program.

UPDATE: In the comments section, Ted Hinchman politely requests that if you do visit his and Dan's site, it not be to "gawk". I think that's only fair, though I don't think they've got much to worry about, especially compared to some of the disaster posts that have cropped up here from time to time to time. If you want to look at Ted's more polished thoughts, his Nous paper from March, Trust and Diachronic Agency, is available via that link. The paper looks pretty good, as you'd expect from a paper published in the finest journal in philosophy, but I can't make a definitive judgment since it's about a million miles from my areas of 'expertise'.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/08/2003 10:04:00 PM

Chris Bertram notes that the Times (of London) has produced rankings for many of the philosophy programs in Britain. (And for many other disciplines not identical with sociology.)

The rankings are hopelessly unreliable, for much the reasons Chris notes. That Edinburgh is ranked 22, with some pretty ordinary departments above it, is just absurd. Edinburgh has lost some good people recently, and I haven't agreed with all their hiring decisions, but it's still a very good department. If anything, St Andrews at 18 is even worse - it's probably one of the best 17 departments in the world, but the Times doesn't think it's in the best 17 in Britain. I was also a little surprised to see Cambridge number 1, but maybe if one ranks philosophy of science heavily enough that makes sense.

As far as I can tell, the Times rankings have a worse fit to reality than the RAE rankings, which is pretty damning.

It's noteworthy I think to compare these rankings to the Leiter rankings for American (and worldwide) departments. The Leiter rankings may not be perfect, but there are no howlers like Edinburgh at 22 or St Andrews at 18. (Or Brighton, which doesn't even have a standalone philosophy department as far as I can tell, at 5.)

UPDATE: I previously had a longer paragraph here arguing that some of the evidence from recent times showed that one of the other common complaints against the Leiter report, that it is too influential in determining where students go to grad school, was misguided. But I'm a bit worried that the longer post went into too much detail about choices various students were made by way of supporting that claim, and that possibly some of the information I was relying on wasn't public knowledge. So I've deleted that, and if I had revealed things that shouldn't be public I seriously hope Google hasn't cached it somewhere. (Or that too many people read it in the short time I had it posted.) Instead I'll just make an assertion unbacked by evidence: I don't think students are choosing schools based on their being one or two places higher than alternative schools in Leiter. And I think that's a very good thing.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/08/2003 02:41:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up.

Kieran Healy has a nice post up about cheaters, along with some tips for increasing blog traffic every May. He seems to enjoy catching cheaters somewhat more than I do.

Another little puzzle about truth in fiction to think about, this one indirectly related to the puzzle for Walton's view discussd below. Some books end, rather annoyingly, with an 'it was all a dream' scene. The Alice in Wonderland books are prime examples of this. What is true in such a story? We normally say, unreflectively, that it is true in the Alice in Wonderland stories that the Queen of Hearts she baked some tarts, and that the White Rabbit is late for a very important date, and that Humpty Dumpty thought he could make words mean just what he wanted them to mean. But a more literalist theory of truth in fiction, such as the theory given by David Lewis in his paper Truth in Fiction, would presumably entail that it's merely true in the story that Alice dreamed that the Queen of Hearts she baked some tarts, and that the White Rabbit is late for a very important date, and that Humpty Dumpty thought he could make words mean just what he wanted them to mean.

This isn't a matter for philosophical theory to decide, since we presumably should be testing theories against what they say about this case, rather than having theories tell us what to say. (The question is, who is to be the master, that's all.) I'm inclined to think the unreflective practice here is right. The Alice in Wonderland books are the stories of Alice's dreams, and so it is true in the book, as in the dream, that the Queen of Hearts she baked some tarts. And this, I think, is some good news for Walton's theory that truth in fiction is grounded in prescriptions to imagine, because there clearly is a prescription for the reader to imagine that the Queen of Hearts she baked some tarts. Well, at least I think it's good news. Perhaps when I find out how Walton is to solve the problem of figurative language in fiction I'll see that according to his theory it really isn't true in the story that the Queen of Hearts she baked some tarts. Perhaps, that is, whatever makes it the case that it isn't true in Ulysses that Bloom is an Arthurian knight, the prescription to imagine that notwithstanding, will also make it the case that it isn't true in the Alice in Wonderland stories that the Queen of Hearts she baked some tarts, the prescription to imagine that notwithstanding. To be continued...

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/08/2003 10:44:00 AM


I've been very slack in adding names to the list of tracked pages on the papers blog. So the sidebar there is horribly out of date. One of the names I hadn't added was Jonathan Sutton. This was too bad, because he's got lots of fun stuff on his webpage. Better late than never. The most exciting thing (apart from the enormous wedding pizza) is a paper on knowledge and justification arguing, in Jonathan's words...
I argue (at some length) for the admittedly rather surprising claim that S has a justified belief that p iff S knows that p, in all important senses of 'justified'. In particular, there are no false justified beliefs.
Makes my paper on knowledge look tame doesn't it!

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/07/2003 09:28:00 PM

One of the (many) nice features of the Rutgers Epistemology Conference is that they have a prize for the best essay by a Young Epistemologist. The capital Y on Young is needed, because the stipulative definition of young (less than 10 years since PhD) definitely is not folk usage. But it's a good idea nonetheless. And I hope that when the Rutgers Epistemology Conference becomes the Rutgers Metaphysics Conference, as it will every other year in the future, they will keep running the prize. (That is, I hope they will have a Young Metaphysician Prize when it's a metaphysics conference, though a Young Epistemologist Prize at a metaphysics conference could be amusing for all sorts of reasons.)

This year the prize was won by Michael Bergmann for his paper Epistemic Circularity: Malignant and Benign, which is well worth reading.

The prize is pretty good as is. A place in the conference proceedings, all expenses paid to the conference, paper published in PPR, and $1000 cash prize. There's only one thing missing: a trophy.

Some of the grad students here (who for some reason want to remain anonymous on this one) suggested a trophy be part of the prize. This is obviously right. Indeed, it seems so obviously right as to be beyond enlightened argument. The only issue was what the trophy should look like. The best suggestions so far are that the metaphysics trophy should be a tailless kangaroo, fallen over, and the epistemology trophy should be a speckled hen with an indeterminate number of speckles. If you have better suggestions, feel free to leave them in the comments box. If not, it's over to the Rutgers organisers to make the trophies happen.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/07/2003 04:36:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/07/2003 08:53:00 AM


Many people liked the quotes board from the APA Pacific, so I should try to provide a similar service for other conferences that I attend. Unfortunately I neither tape papers I'm at, nor take them down in shorthand. So I have to do things from memory. I can only remember two notable quotes from the Rutgers Epistemology Conference. (In neither case do I vouch for the literal accuracy of the quotes, but I will stand by their approximate accuracy.)
Jonathan Vogel: Grue is hard.

Timothy Williamson: We need to recover a philosophical innocence so we can see that the phenomenal conception of evidence is laughable.
Whatever else was in the Williamson quote, the words 'philosophical innocence' and 'laughable' were memorably used. This is really rather a strong claim. It's very intuitive to a lot of people, even non-philosophers, that how things seem to us is our evidence about how things are, and so we could have the same evidence as we actually have while being a brain in a vat. In my two anti-indifference papers (here and here) I had to point out that the theorists I was responding to simply assumed that phenomenal states constituted evidence. They thought, not unreasonably I guess, that such a conception of evidence could be simply assumed.

But I don't want to defend the 'laughable' theory here. What I do want to point out are some ways in which Williamson's response goes well beyond what might be a natural reaction against the phenomenal conception. I was reminded of this a bit by reading Quine's Roots of Reference, which starts by basically dismissing the phenomenal conception of evidence as being based in a faulty metaphysics of mind, but then quickly insists that evidence is still a 'local' matter, being constituted by sensory irritations. For Williamson locality goes with phenomenality. He thinks our evidence is just what we know.

At the conference, John Hawthorne noted that Williamson said some odd things about the following three cases. (I had previously discussed something similar here - I can't remember whether I got the important example from John or somehow else.)
1. I hallucinate a gas guage showing a full tank.
2. I see a well-functioning gas guage showing a full tank.
3. I see a mis-functioning gas guage showing a full tank, but the tank is in fact empty.
On the phenomenal conception, in all 3 cases we have the same evidence. John noted that even if that isn't plausible, it is very plausible that we have the same evidence in 2 and 3. At the conference, Williamson replied that sometimes we presumably could use the fact that the tank was full in our evidence. But presumably we could also do that sometimes in case 4 (which John didn't discuss).
4. I see a mis-functioning gas guage showing a full tank. By coincidence, the tank is in fact full, but the guage would have said this even if it were empty.
Williamson is committed to the claim that we have different evidence in case 2 to case 4. And that's very hard to motivate.

The idea that evidence is local can be motivated further by a case that Stephen Yablo used at the conference.
Knowing that the mine contains gold, you keep digging until you find it ... [Y]ou would not have known the mine contained gold if some misleading testimony given in Carson City -- testimony you should have been aware of but weren't -- had not been refuted by court records in Reno -- with you again unaware of the fact. The court records in Reno play no role in your continued digging here. But they are a factor in your knowing.
If the Reno judge had been on a bender last night and the court had not opened, the documents refuting the Carson City testimony would not have been entered into the court records. If that had happened, and those documents had not become part of the public record some other way (which we'll assume they would not have) then you would not have known the mine contained gold. In short, what you know about the mine turns on how much the Reno judge drank last night. But if you're far enough from Reno, if you are in fact down the mine digging, what evidence you have really does not depend on how much the Reno judge drank. This is pretty bad for the equation of evidence with knowledge I think, especially if we are to follow Yablo and tradition on the influence of social factors on knowledge.

The upshot is that if evidence isn't constituted by phenomenal states, I think it's best to go with Quine and say that it's constituted by sensory irritations. John suggested that we go with something slightly more external, say what is perceived, but either way it's important to make evidence be closer to home than Williamson does.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/06/2003 08:33:00 PM

I've been rereading Kendall Walton's Mimesis as Make-Believe, and I think that figurative language in fiction poses a problem for his view. Maybe he solves this problem in later parts of the book that I'm not back to yet, or there's a solution in the literature, but I couldn't tell immediately how to solve it.

Walton's main idea is that a work makes a proposition fictional by prescribing that you imagine it. But many things other than fiction as traditionally conceived contain prescriptions to imagine. Figurative language, for instance, is also meant to be understood as containing prescriptions to imagine certain things. So what happens when figurative language gets used in fiction?

For instance, in the 'Oxen of the Sun' episode of Ulysses Bloom is variously described in many different ways, with the descriptions being intended to recall many different genres. In the first of these he is described as a knight in a parody of Mallory's Arthurian tales. It seems clear that (a) the reader is at this point meant to imagine Bloom as an Arthurian knight and (b) it is not fictional in Ulysses that Bloom is an Arthurian knight.

I think Walton's solution to this puzzle is to say that there are several fictional games going on here, and it is not part of the Ulysses game, or perhaps of the core Ulysses game, that one must imagine Bloom as an Arthurian knight. But neither of those moves looks very good. If we take the first option, that this prescription is not part of the Ulysses game, it is unclear what game it is a part of. If we take the second that this prescription is not part of the core Ulysses game, we have to define, somehow, what are core and non-core prescriptions, and I don't see a way to do that.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/06/2003 02:31:00 PM

Welcome to all the visitors from the Leiter report! While you are here, please stop by the philosophy papers blog, which is a site dedicated to reporting on new philosophical papers as they appear on the internet.

And if you aren't familiar with them, also check out some of the other blogs in the blogroll, especially those by Chris Bertram, Greg Restall, Wolfgang Schwarz and (though he seems to be on hiatus right now) Tom Stoneham.

Or if you wanted to learn more about me, you could look at my home page, my papers page or my cv.

UPDATE: Matthew Yglesias comments disparagingly on Leiter's link, and on the quality of booze served around Harvard Square.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/06/2003 01:36:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog is up.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/06/2003 10:34:00 AM


Midwest Again

My previous speculation about the Midwest, that it determinately excluded all of New York, seems to have been conclusively mistaken. The speculation I reported (due to Andy Egan) that the Ohio-Penn border may be a sharp boundary between the determinately Midwestern and the not determinately Midwestern, has received more support. Let me try one other speculation.

I suspect that everywhere in Missouri is determinately part of the Midwest. And I suspect that everywhere in Tennessee is determinately not part of the Midwest. But those states share a (relatively short) border constituted by the Mississippi river. And I think (or at least I think I think) that it's a sharp boundary around the Midwest at that point.

Note that this doesn't prove that some vague terms can have sharp boundaries. (I owe the following suggestion to David Sosa. Unless I'm getting what he thought all confused, in which case I owe it I guess to the Fates.) We might take it to be constitutive of vagueness that it always percolate all the way up. More plausibly, we might think that vagueness is really a property of boundaries, rather than of terms. The Midwest has some vague boundaries (though just where they are is a matter of some dispute) and some sharp boundaries. The Mississippi river is, for a while, a sharp boundary. We could, derivatively, talk about terms being vague when some of their boundaries are vague, or when all of their boundaries are vague, but primarily vagueness is a property of boundaries. And what the Midwest shows is that once we think this way, whether we require that vague terms have all vague boundaries or merely some makes a difference.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/05/2003 11:22:00 PM

Ought Again

Last week I ran through some arguments that ought might be ambiguous between a deontological and an epistemic meaning. It turns out this issue has been the subject of some sustained research within formal semantics, and the best arguments seem to be on the side of there not being an ambiguity. See, for instance, Anna Papafragou's paper Inference and word meaning: The case of modal auxiliaries. The most serious problems with the ambiguity theory are that (a) the alleged ambiguity is spread across so many words and languages that it needs explanation and none of the explanations provided seem to do the trick, and (b) it's too easy to find uses where it is unclear which of the two meanings is meant, while it's notoriously hard to do this with uncontroversially ambiguous words like bat and ball.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/05/2003 08:31:00 PM

Matthew Yglesias has a post up on how hard it is to generate imaginative resistance in movies. I used to think this was a very important feature of imaginative resistance, and indeed my first paper on imaginative resistance turned on this, but now I think this isn't the most central thing. What is central is that imaginative resistance arises when the authors tries to show us one thing and say another. Since it's both hard and inadvisable to really say something rather than show it in a movie (save the use of voiceovers and the like) imaginative resistance doesn't arise.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/05/2003 06:59:00 PM

Via Atrios, it seems Syracuse great Etan Thomas is also a budding poet. Go Etan!

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/05/2003 06:51:00 PM


Kieran Healy has an excellent post up from a few days ago defending sociology from a few intemperate sociology bashers. It's worth reading, along with the somewhat rambling comments thread.

One rather familiar question crops up frequently in the discussion. Is sociology a science? I don't really know, but I think asking questions like that is so, like, twentieth century. The real question in these post-positivist times is whether sociology contributes to what we know about the world. (Or, if you have other interests, does syntax contribute to knowledge, does developmental psychology, does comparative literature, and so on.) And there's no way to tell whether that is true except by bearing down and reading cutting-edge sociology (or whatever), and comparing one's epistemic situation afterwards to what it was like before. Since one never precisely knows what one knows, this won't be an infallible guide to whether sociology contributes to knowledge. But it will be a much better guide than just asking whether sociology would have satisfied enough formal constraints to be let dine at high table in the Popperian academy.

It's surprising how persuasive Popper persists in being. The little theory of justification I've been working on recent starts by saying, more or less in these words, that I'm assuming everything that everything Fodor believes about modularity is correct. Since Fodor's hypotheses are testable and if Fodor's theories are refuted then so is my little theory of justification, it turns out that epistemology as I do it is a science if Popper is right. Should we apply modus ponens or modus tollens here? We report...

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/04/2003 10:05:00 PM

One of my favourite pastimes is finding sporting examples that are philosophically relevant. In that spirit, I wonder if any reader knows the answer to this question about the laws of cricket (or if not knows how I could easily find out the answer). It's an old question, so I'm sure the answer is widely posted. (Those unfamiliar with cricket may as well skip to the next post - rather than quintuple the size of the blog by explaining the background about cricket necessary to follow along I decided to dive in with jargon. 'Tis I think best with sporting examples. If you are feeling resentful, feel free to use examples in your work of areas about which I'm ignorant, like opera or NASCAR, or operatic NASCAR.)

The situation is that there's an off-spin bowler and a right-hand batsman. The ball is pitched up just in line with off-stump. It turns a bit, not much but enough to trick the batsman. It may or may not hit the bat, which is propped just next to the left pad. It does catch a lot of that pad, which is all that stops it clattering into middle and leg stumps. It then pops up in the air where it is comfortably caught by the short leg. The bowler and fielders, understandably, appeal.

The umpire is in a quandry. If the ball hit the bat, he's out caught. And if it didn't hit the bat, he's out leg before. But if the ball didn't hit the bat, he isn't out caught. And if it did hit the bat, he's not out leg before. And the umpire doesn't know which is true. Question: How should the umpire rule? And if the decision is that the batsman is out, how should it be scored?

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/04/2003 09:32:00 PM

Just back from the epistemology conference, which was fun. I'm not sure how much epistemology I learned, but I had lots of fun and useful conversations with people there about non-epistemology topics so that was worthwhile. A few ideas for revising the imaginative resistance paper came up, which hopefully I'll try and incorporate into a newer, and shorter, draft over the next few weeks.

A late weekend edition of the philosophy papers blog is up, with five new journals being the bulk of the news.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/04/2003 09:04:00 PM


The philosophy papers blog is up. There'll be no papers blog tomorrow because I'll be at Rutgers for the epistemology conference. Hopefully I'll still be able to get some regular blogging done over that time.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/01/2003 10:53:00 AM


One of the striking differences between linguists/philosophers of language on the one hand, and philosophers who write about language on the other, is that the regular philosophers use remarkably few examples of defective sentences. For various reasons (sometimes because they aren't relevant) there will be few examples of syntactically well formed sentences. But there often won't even be many examples of false sentences.

For example, and I'm just using this because it's an illustration, in Judith Thomson's Carus lectures at the APA last week, there were dozens and dozens of good sentences involving evaluative terms given as examples, and used to motivate some theories about how widely some of these terms could be used, and no examples whatsoever of defective sentences. This doesn't seem particularly unusual outside philosophy of language. So my example below, *Jack and Jill ought to be dropping by soon, had to be added because it wasn't there.

Sometimes this means philosophers miss nice arguments for their own positions. But often it means they don't check that all the things that should be defective on their accounts really are defective, or that all the things they claim are non-defective are really non-defective. For instance, I hypothesised below (following Thomson) that there's an epistemic sense of 'ought', meaning something like probably. But it's very hard to see how to paraphrase (1) using 'ought'. Certainly not as (2) or (3).

(1) Oswald probably shot Kennedy.
(2) *Oswald ought to have shot Kennedy.
(3) *Oswald ought shot Kennedy.

Maybe there is an epistemic sense of 'ought' that can't be used to paraphrase (1), or maybe I'm just missing an obvious paraphrase, but it would, I think be nice to know just what's going on here.

The opposite problem came up in the session on the metaphysics of fiction. Amie Thomasson, following among others Peter van Inwagen, has been arguing that reflection on 'critical' statements about fiction, like (4), shows us we're committed to believing in fictional characters.

(4) Some of the characters in the Odyssey are drawn with more detail than any character in O Brother Where Art Thou.

There's a lot to be said on this topic, especially on the issue of just outlandish this kind of ontological commitment might be. (Thomasson has done quite a bit of work on this, arguing that it's no more outlandish than most of our everyday real-life ontological commitments, such as our commitment to the existence of socially constructed abstracta like marriages and mortgages, and those look like interesting arguments to me whether or not they are ultimately right. At the conference Mark Richard made some good points suggesting the analogies might not be as close as Thomasson has argued. Some smart young metaphysician should sort all this out I think!) But I want to stress a different point here.

Thomasson, like van Inwagen, doesn't think that we get ontological commitments from sentences like (5).

(5) Scylla was a six-headed monster.

In particular, we don't get ontologically committed to six-headed monsters, of which I'm pretty sure there are none. Nevertheless, it's true that Scylla was a six-headed monster. Why no commitment? Because when we assent to (5), what we really mean is something like In the Odyssey, Scylla was a six-headed monster. There's a difference between claims which we accept because they are true in the fiction, like (5), and claims we accept because they are true about fictions, like (4). The latter are meant to be interpreted literally, so they carry ontological commitment. To use a more familiar illustration, (6) is meant to be a literal truth, while (7) is only something we take to be true in the fiction.

(6) Sherlock Holmes was created by Arthur Conan Doyle.
(7) Sherlock Holmes was a clever detective.

Now if these two uses of 'Sherlock Holmes' are meant to be quite different, one might well expect that we couldn't easily conjoin these sentences. And I think that's sort of right, though not all informants agree. I think, that is, that (8) is at least questionable.

(8) ?Sherlock Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous creation, was a clever detective.

But I'm not sure this generalises. I'm not sure, that is, that English recognises the smooth distinction between critical claims (like (4)) and fictional claims (like (5)) that Thomasson and van Inwagen need. So (9) for instance sounds perfectly fine to me, whereas it should sound at best like a cheap pun if Thomasson and van Inwagen are correct.

(9) Odysseus is the craftiest character in the Western Canon.

The point is that (9) is saying that Odysseus the guy is crafty, indeed a crafty character, not that Odysseus the character in the poem is a crafty construction. We're attributing a certain kind of guile here to Odysseues, not to Homer. But (9) also says that Odysseus is in the Canon, and hence presumably is fictional. The overall form of (9) is the same as (10), which is unambiguously critical by these lights. (And I guess false, but that's no importance here.)

(10) Odysseus is the most influential character in the Western Canon.

The kind of influence here is the influence that Robinson Crusoe, the fictional character, has in abundance (think of how many Crusoe references you've heard around the traps) and not the influence that Robinson Crusoe, the washed up and mostly lonely sailor, lacks. So is (9) meant to be literally true, or something that should be paraphrased away? I've got no idea, and I suspect until and unless there's a good answer to this, the argument that (4) should be paraphrased away just like (5) will look more plausible than perhaps it ought.

I don't mean to be too critical here. I'm rather partial to the van Inwagen line on fictional characters, and I'm pleased that Thomasson has done all this good work on making that line more plausible. But I think there's still some underinvestigated assumptions being used to prop up the theory, and they wouldn't be so underinvestigated if philosophers were all in the habit of looking for defective sentences, rather than just leaving this to the philosophers of language.

posted by Brian Weatherson 5/01/2003 03:10:00 AM


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

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