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. Quiet day - two papers and a book review.
I'm still trying to think of something interesting to say about consequentialism. It's almost getting to the stage where I'd be better off going and doing some research rather than trying to figure everything out on my own. But that's not the blogging way. Or at least it's not my blogging way.
Let's grant as a starting point that prudential norms are concerned in the first instance with expected consequences rather than actual consequences. Paying $1 for a lottery ticket with an expected value of 1 cent is dumb, even if the ticket ends up winning. Dumb luck indeed. The question that arose in two posts by John Quiggin (here and here) was whether the same kind of point applies to ethical norms. Assuming (controversially) that something like consequentialism is the right theory of personal morality, is it actual consequences or expected consequences that matter for morality? And if it's expected consequences, is it expectation according to the agent's beliefs, her society's beliefs, the beliefs it is rational for her to have, or some other beliefs?
I've been trying to think of something useful to say on this, and I haven't. First, a quick sociological note. Contra the impression that may have been created by Walter Sinnott-Armstrong's Stanford entry on consequentialism, a lot of consequentialists think it is expected consequences not actual consequences that matter. Frank Jackson has some papers where it is basically assumed as a premise that it's expected consequences that matter, and that premise is used to try to defuse some challenges to consequentialism. How successful the defusing is is a matter for some debate, but it's clear which side of the actual/expected debate he's on.
Second, three examples that I've been puzzling over while trying to think of something interesting to say. I don't even have commentary on the examples, because I'm just stuck. Well, except to note that one of John Quiggin's points, that philosophy examples are often gratuitously violent, is true and may be confirmed here. And to note that none of the examples bear any intentional resemblance to any person living dead or imaginary.
Ken believes, on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, that he can tell whether a gun is loaded. He thinks he can detect the difference in weight that the extra ammunition provides. This is completely untrue. In fact he's no better at this than random. He thinks the gun he is holding right now is unloaded. In fact he is certain that it is unloaded. So he thinks there is no harm in pointing it at Sharon's foot and pulling the trigger, and some small gain since he very much enjoys 'firing' unloaded guns. He does this, and Sharon gets a bullet in the foot. Was Ken's act of pulling the trigger morally wrong?
Gene has been brought up to hate Rhode Islanders. Filthy irreligous corrupt scum, he thinks. And many other people in his part of Connecticut agree. All of Gene's evidence about Rhode Islanders supports his beliefs. That evidence is all testimonial - he wouldn't actually go into the horrible Rhode Island - but it seems remarkably consistent. One day Gene sees a car with Rhode Island licence plates stop at his father's store and its inhabitants stop at his father's store, and its occupants get out to buy some food and drink. Believing that they are filthy irreligous corrupt scum, Gene launches into a tirade of abuse directed at them, with the intent of making them go away. Underneath his tough exterior, Gene is actually quite worried what these dangerous Rhode Islanders will do if they stay. The Rhode Islanders are quite upset, even shaken, by Gene's outburst and quickly get back in their car and drive away. Was what Gene did in abusing the Rhode Islanders morally wrong?
Jamie is cooking a rather distinctive dish for his dinner guests tonight. The ingredients include two rare herbs, X and Y. (I should make up names for these, but I am a little lazy.) Jamie doesn't know this, in fact no one who hasn't studied a bit of medicine does, but X and Y should never be served in combination. Although each is safe, together they are rather toxic. Although this knowledge is not widespread, Jamie could probably have figured it out if he'd reflected for a bit on this evidence. For he knows that W and Y in combination are toxic, that's why he used X rather than W, and he knew that X and W have very similar effects on humans. He just somehow forgot to put 2 and 2 together here to conclude that X and Y are probably very dangerous also. But he did put X and Y together, and all of his guests ended up being rather sick for the next week. Did Jamie do the wrong thing in preparing a dish with X and Y in it?
As I said, no commentary, just examples to think about.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/31/2003 02:26:00 PM
In a paper cited on the philosophy papers blog today, Alexander Pruss makes the following remarkable claim:Despite the fact that the strength of argument is clearly on the pro-life side—nobody except a handful of academics would question the grave wrongness of abortion were pregnancy never inconvenient—somehow ordinary intelligent people, like our students, often remain unconvinced.As Ayer might have put it, there's a normative claim and a factual claim here. And they're both wrong. I'll leave the discussion of the normative claim to the experts. (Take it away, 617 Bloggers!) But what of the factual claim, that nobody except academics would believe abortion is permissible if it were not for the associated inconvenience? Is this true? Well, Pruss charmingly gives no evidence whatsoever for his claim, so I'll guess it's just basically anecdotal evidence. So I'll offer my competing anecdotal evidence. Anyone who wants to substitute actual evidence should feel free to do so. In my experience, the 'convenience' argument for the permissibility of abortion is more persuasive among men than it is among women. Pro-choice women are more often moved by arguments to do with autonomy. And by this I mean not just arguments to do with bodily autonomy, narrowly construed, but to do with the right to control fundamental aspects of one's life, such as if and when one will procreate. (I seem to recall Liz Harman had some good discussion of this point somewhere, but I can't find the relevant paper online.) You can sort of test for this by getting people's reaction to the use of ectogenesis as an alternative to abortion. I think that many, if not most, pro-choice men think that there would not be a right to abortion if it were possible to (relatively painlessly) remove the foetus and have it grow in an incubator and be nurtured by adoptive parents. My impression is that relatively few pro-choice women (even non-academics!), think this possibility would be a sufficient reason to ban abortion. But if Pruss's assumption were correct, they all should find this a compelling reason to introduce a ban, because given this possibility there need not be the 'inconvenience' of pregnancy. As I said, I don't have the actual data at my fingertips to support all my assertions here, but if anyone knows where to find relevant data, the comments section is open!
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/30/2003 12:19:00 PM
What's in a blog? One of the other points that struck me about John Quiggin's response to the Sinnott-Armstrong's Stanford piece was that it was the first time I could recall someone treating the Stanford Encyclopaedia as a blog. That is, someone (quite properly) treating what it says as contentious rather than authoritative, and responding to it in 'real-time'. This all seemed perfectly natural, as soon as it was done. The Stanford Encyclopaedia is a kind of carefully written (large) group blog. That got me thinking about other sites which could well be regarded as blogs. I seem to recall that a while ago I used to read all sorts of blogs that didn't update regularly, but the updates they had were usually careful and well thought out. Blogs that emphasised quality over quantity. I still read lots of high quality blogs, but mostly they tend to be fairly high quantity as well. (And I read plenty of low quality high quantity blogs. Gotta keep up with the competition.) Maybe, though, I do read the high quality low quantity blogs, I just don't think of them as blogs. For instance, one could well regard Geoffrey Nunberg's home page as a blog, with the entries being the frequent NY Times and Fresh Air pieces he posts. Today's entry is on whether there is a word for 'compromise' in Arabic, and what we might think about those why deny such a word exists. Geoff's entries are not that infrequent. He posts something every week or two, which is helter-skelterish by academic standards, and given that the entries usually involve actual research, it seems reasonable to count it as an exemplar of the quality over quantity blog I was discussing above. Another page like this is Shawn Fitzgibbons's blurbs page. (Shawn is a philosophy grad student at UMass.) I didn't agree with several of Shawn's conclusions, but again it's an example of a site updated reasonably regularly (one entry per week on average this year I guessed) with more careful thought than you'll see on some blogs.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/30/2003 12:01:00 PM
I still haven't got around to writing my intended post on consequentialism (a follow up to John Quiggin's post attacking Walter Sinnott-Armstrong's entry on consequentialism in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy). But I was interested to see that some of the issues at issue here came up in an online debate about the virtues of a trade the Red Sox made yesterday. (Sending over-rated third baseman Shea Hillenbrand to Arizona in exchange for vastly under-rated sidearmer Byung-Hyun Kim.) One of the issues that arose in the on-line discussion of the trade here was what we should conclude about the merits of the respective General Managers involved in the trade if, contrary to everyone's expectations, Hillenbrand outperforms Kim over the next few years. The consensus was for an anti-consequentialist (antecedentalist?) position - what matters for assessing the quality of the decision the two GMs made is the reasonable expectation of their performance, and that if Hillenbrand does outperform Kim, it will be more plausible to conclude that this was due to dumb luck than skill on their part. Of course, it's an internet based discussion board, so the level of discourse soon degenerated to somewhere below the bleachers at Wrigley, but I thought it was cute that philosophical issues could arise so quickly in a baseball discussion. (And I just wanted a chance to gloat about the Red Sox making such a great acquisition.)
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/30/2003 11:07:00 AM
Kai von Fintel just pointed out that I got mentioned in the Chronicle's article on weblogs. I'd like to point out that of all the blogs they discuss, I have by a bit the lowest readership. If I knew I was about to get press coverage I'd have been more careful with some recent posts. I do note in the posts below which entries contain less than the minimum 5% philosophical content required by law to count as a philosophy blog post. Neil Levy alerted me to an error in the papers blog. A little coding mistake had led to the last two days updates not being published. I fixed this, but now there are two posts listed for Thursday, not one. There are ten papers and assorted reviews that I should have linked to in the last two days. Hopefully the links are now active. Sorry for the delay in this.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/29/2003 09:54:00 PM
LanguageHat reports that a computer program has been developed that can tell with 80% accuracy whether a given text is written by a man or a woman. LanguageHat (is that a male or female name, and could the program tell) is impressed by the results, though s/he is rightly very suspicious of the stereotypes the programmers used in building the machine. If the results are good, shouldn't that be enough? Maybe not. I'm always reminded in these cases of Daniel Hausman's little refutation of Friedman's instrumentalism: Why Look Under the Hood?, just about my all-time favourite philosophy paper. Here's a bad way to judge the quality of a used car: drive it around the block a few times and see if anything goes wrong. That's not a useless test. After all, you're testing whether the car does what you eventually want it to do. But we know in practice it's much better to look under the hood, and see how it's doing what it does. (If you disagree, contact Hausman - he's got some great cheap cars to sell you.) Hausman argues that the lesson generalises. Some theories do well for a while by luck, or because they have only been tested in areas for which they were specifically designed. Looking forward, and outward, it's more important to know how they get it right than that they get it right.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/29/2003 04:29:00 PM
The philosophy papers blog is up, with five new papers, three of them from the hard working staff at CAPPE. I think CAPPE needs its own group blog, sort of a cross between Philosophy from the (617) and TAPPED. I managed, while convincing myself I had not missed the bus, to find a better analogy for how voluntary I think beliefs are. It is impossible to sneeze at will. At least, I can't do it. I could at will use external means to induce a sneeze, but that's not the same thing. On the other hand, it is sometimes possible to prevent oneself sneezing more or less at will. It's not always pleasant, but if the alternative is sneezing loudly across a seminar room or a dinner table, it may be the right thing to do in the circumstances. The sometimes is important here - sometimes the relevant parts of the body are not suitably responsive to the will. But sometimes they are, and that's enough to make one (mildly, occasionally) culpable for sneezing loudly while, say, a visitor is presenting a paper. I think beliefs are similar. The standard methods for inducing reasonable sceptical doubt - reminding oneself of the possibility of error and of alternative explanations of the evidence, recalling times when similar evidence was misleading, and so on - sometimes work. They are sometimes enough to stop the body drifting towards the belief it wants to have. And when an agent does not use such methods in a circumstance where they would have been appropriate, s/he may be culpable for the resulting beliefs. The analogy is imperfect in a few ways - it doesn't allow for possibilities like my positively believing against all the evidence that my bus would soon be arriving - but it's close to what I think the most common interaction is between belief and the will. I should have mentioned some credits in last night's post. The link to Charles Murtaugh's "worst. post. ever." was by Matthew Yglesias. The comments on his post have a rather large collection of candidates for worst movie ever. And the link to the Andrew Sullivan fantasy was via Ted Barlow. (I also should have mentioned that one further similarity between Australia and rocky Ithaca - both seem to be good places for raising sheep in very large quantities. I'd go back and add that now, but blogs aren't meant to be edited.) I hadn't quite noticed how self-indulgent some of the 'jokes' were there when reading it. I knew that practically every line was a joking reference to some event or book or theory that would not be obvious to most readers. What I forgot was that several of the jokes were me making fun of something I'd thought earlier in the night. (As noted, I'd managed to go through some moderately spectactular doxastic gymnastics en route to Providence.) Some of those references are transparent enough to be effective, but others are completely obscure. (Well, except to me. And a Ulysses themed post is meant to be self-indulgent a bit.) I guess it's all more evidence that I should stick to my day job.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/29/2003 02:20:00 PM
She was one in a million, so there's five more just in New South Wales
I managed to miss the bus I was meant to catch home tonight from South Station. Things didn't turn out too badly. There was a still later bus I could, and did, catch, so I just got home a little later than expected. I had hoped to write some philosophy for the blog when I got home, but given the time I think I'll have little time to write much more than the story of my trip home.
I don't really know how I managed to miss the bus in question. It was, or I guess it must have been, just a few metres from where I was sitting. I was reading a newspaper and listening to a CD, but I thought that I would have noticed an interstate bus arriving just near where I was. Apparently not, it turns out.
For a while after it was perfectly clear that I'd missed the said bus, I managed by sheer force of will to believe that (a) the bus was somehow running late and (b) all the people who seemed to have been waiting for that bus had caught some other bus, or walked off to get Dunkin' Donuts 'coffee' or had been vaporised by a passing spaceship or something so (c) I hadn't really missed the bus. Obviously that wasn't a state of mind that a reasonable person could maintain forever, so after a few minutes, by which stage it was abundantly perfectly clear I'd missed the said bus, I stopped believing the bus would still arise. But my willpower was still strong enough for me to keep holding it as a live possibility that (a) the bus was somehow running late and (b) all the people who seemed to have been waiting for that bus had caught some other bus, or walked off to get Dunkin' Donuts 'coffee' or had been vaporised by a passing spaceship or something so (c) I hadn't really missed the bus. It was remarkable, if I do say so myself, just how long I was able to maintain this state of mind. Of course at the time I thought it was the most natural thing in the world.
From now on I'm not going to bother seriously arguing for doxastic voluntarism. I'm just going to ostend my period of not believing I'd missed the 1am Providence local, and the even more remarkable period of believing I had not missed it, and point out that if those events existed then doxastic voluntarism is true. And since I was there I'm pretty sure the events did exist. Though, I did manage to miss the nearby presence of an interstate bus, so maybe I'm not the most reliable source about who really was there. So I'd understand if you, dear reader, doubted my account of the events. You'd be wrong, but I'd understand.
It isn't surprising in general that I'd miss a bus from South Station to Providence, especially after midnight. It's not uncommon for me to be catching that bus after a drink or two, and sometimes after a couple of drinks I'm not the most alert person in the world. What is surprising was that tonight was when I missed the bus. It wasn't that I hadn't touched a drop all day, not by any means, but for a temporal part of Brian located in South Station after midnight I was positively sober, as judicious as (a) Hooker. (That joke is awful on so many levels I don't know where to start - ed. In that case you're probably going to dislike the next fifty jokes, because this post is about to turn positively catachlyseimic.)
Why did Brian's situation at the bus station remind him of Bloom?
Both of them had missed an intermodal transfer late at night. In both cases this led to minor inconvenience, but not to any catastrophe.
What were the differences between Bloom's situation and Brian's?
Brian missed an embarkation, Bloom missed disembarking. Bloom was on a train, Brian was meant to be on a bus. Bloom was going to an area of ill-repute, Brian was leaving South Station for Providence. Bloom had been drinking heavily.
Why was Brian pleased to see a comparison between himself and Bloom?
Because Bloom is Everyman, the übermensch for non-English English speakers. Bloom is curious, thoughtful, loyal, principled, industrious. And at the end of the day, he gets the girl.
In what respects was the comparison between Brian and Bloom flawed?
It is essential to Bloom's character that he not see himself as a character in a novel. Such self-comparisons are better suited for one like Bloom's friend Stephen.
What is the relationship between Brian's age and that of Bloom and Stephen?
It is equidistant between Bloom's age and Stephen's. If all three were twice as old as they actually are, Brian's age would be equidistant between Bloom's age and Stephen's. If all three were nine years older than they actually are, Brian's age would be equidistant between Bloom's age and Stephen's.
Before Brian missed the bus, what story was suggested as being suitable for TAR?
A prominent garden statist lover of wisdom self-ascribed authorship of a semanal nominal modal book.
Was the self-ascription correct?
No. It was laughable, inadvertant, accidental, Freudian, forgiveable.
What was the highlight of the show at the Paradise Rock Club on May 28?
A quartet featuring a vibraphone and three players on a glockenspeil.
Could the instrument a trois have been instead a second vibraphone, a xylophone or a camel?
Visual evidence was insufficient to determine whether it was a glockenspeil, a second vibraphone or a xylophone. Auditory evidence would have been sufficient to determine this had circumstances for processing the evidence been ideal and the processor sufficiently knowledgable. Both visual and auditory evidence confirmed that the second instrument was not a camel.
Are temporal parts the right category of thing to be drunk or sober?
No. Only fusions of past and present temporal parts are of the right category to be drunk or sober. A temporal part may be the truthmake for the claim that a particular past-present fusion is drunk or sober. Fusions of past, present and future temporal parts are never drunk or sober, but are sometimes hungover.
What albums did Brian listen to in transit between Boston and Providence?
Sleeping with Ghosts by Placebo. Elephant by White Stripes. Rings Around the World by Super Furry Animals.
How good were these albums?
All were excellent albums, but none were better than earlier works by their respective artists, some critical opinion to the contrary.
What is the worst. blogpost. ever?
Charles Murtagh's post that The Usual Suspects is the worst movie ever.
Is it really worse than Andrew Sullivan's MoDo/Raines post?
There are several perfectly good transcendental arguments that that post could not, and hence does not, exist.
If Brian's short-term journeys resembled Bloom's, which other literary character did Brian's longer-term journeys resemble?
Odysseus. Both keep trying to return home, even when Fate sends them to circumstances that many objective observers would decree better than a simple return to home. Brian has a comfortable, high-pay, low-work, low-stress position at a prestigous university. Odysseus twice lands on islands with beautiful nymphs with lovely braids, the second of whom offers to make him immortal.
What differences are there between Odysseus and Brian?
Odysseus is a war hero, a champion athelete, and crafty. Brian is a philosopher.
What differences between Odysseus's voyage and Brian's?
Providence, RI does not resemble Circe's island, or Calypso's. Australia does not resemble rocky Ithaca. Brian will not be killing any suitors when he returns home. Brian gets to visit home during the voyage.
What are the striking differences between Providence, RI and the islands on which Odysseus stays?
Those islands contain beautiful nymphs with lovely braids. Providence, RI reveals no distinctive sign of supernatural inhabitants.
What are the striking differences between rocky Ithaca and Australia?
Ithaca is largely barren, while Australia is, at least along the seaboard, incredibly fertile. It produces grapes, people and ideas in high quality. (Though some of the people who grow the ideas often have odd, even defective, ideas about personnel. It is unknown whether the people who grow the grapes have a similar shortcoming.)
What are the striking similarities between rocky Ithaca and Australia?
Both are islands. Both are far away from those travelling in distant lands.
Why will Brian not kill any suitors when he returns home?
The moral injunction against killing. The legal codification of that moral injunction. The absence of any suitors.
When will Brian next visit home?
Leaving Monday June 2, arriving Melbourne June 4, leaving Melbourne July 1, returning July 1.
Will the philosophy papers blog be updated in his absence?
Yes. Paul Neufeld, who runs ephilosopher, will run the papers blog while Brian is away.
Will TAR be updated while Brian is away?
Yes, but not as frequently as it is updated while Brian is in America. And there will be fewer links to other sites, since Brian spends less time internetted in Australia than he does in America.
What effect will this have on philosophical productivity around the world?
Several competing models have been advanced in this area. One school of thought is that long interrogative posts on TAR have effectively removed all the audience, so it will have no discernable impact. Another school is that the time freed up from TAR-related procrastination will lead to a huge productivity rise. A third school says that there will be a rise in output, but 120% of the new output will go on other blogs, leading to a net reduction in non-blog philosophising.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/29/2003 05:11:00 AM
I mean to think more about this later, and if I come up with anything write about it, but for now I just want to post a link to John Quiggin's follow-up to his earlier post on consequentialism. A large part of the post consists of criticisms of Walter Sinnott-Armstrong's entry on consequentialism in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy. There's some interesting questions here on the (rather large) boundary between economics and philosophy, which I've long though should be one the most productive areas for interdisciplinary work in philosophy.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/28/2003 04:56:00 PM
The philosophy papers blog is up, with five new papers on metaphysics, the knowledge argument, and legal and political philosophy.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/28/2003 12:31:00 PM
A few notes from around the web while wondering whether the 43 hour long unabridged version of Ulysses is possibly a good idea.
Fritz Warfield sent a link to this story in the NY Times about the standard kilogram slowly shrinking. There's lots of fun philosophical issues that arise. Isn't it a priori that the standard kilogram has a mass of one kilogram, so it couldn't possibly be shrinking?! While we're there, is there as much of a philosophical problem about intertemporal mass comparisons as intertemporal location comparisons? The article also verifies an intuition that several philosophers have shared - you really can't tell whether a perfectly homogenous sphere is spinning. Finally, there's a conditional that should challenge a few theories, if it is meant to be true
If the earth were this round, Mount Everest would be four meters tall
I think that works, as long as 'Mount Everest' is a descriptive name for the tallest mountain.
Chris Bertram links to a story in the Guardian that uses Wittgensteinian rule-following considerations in a discussion of the Enron accountancy shenanigans. It's interesting, if long, but I tend to agree with Matthew Yglesias that the references to Wittgenstein were probably not essential to the story being told.
Kieran Healy has a good post about the growing disconnect between risk and reward in the American economy. Kieran's main point here, that markets are social constructs with enough variable parameters that many outcomes we see are the result of more or less explicit social choice rather than an essential consequence of having a free market economy, shouldn't really be news, but probably will be to too many bloggers.
And Wo has a series of good posts about fiction and fictional objects that I should have linked to earlier. The latest two are on fictional objects (defending the idea that they are just possibilia) and fictional truth operators.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/28/2003 01:15:00 AM
The philosophy papers blog is up. Busier day today, largely thanks to CAPPE. Six papers and a book review posted.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/27/2003 11:19:00 AM
Music and Sorites I recently bought a portable CD player that plays MP3s. Such a thing is obviously useful for someone who (a) travels a lot and (b) is indecisive. Because I can fit 10 times as many MP3s as regular tracks on a CD, the MP3 player means I can carry 250 albums or so in a small-ish CD case. It's all very good. In theory.
The first problem was getting data CDs that stored MP3s in a format that the little player can read. The first 15 or so CDs I tried were mostly incomprehensible to the player. (If anyone needs any coasters, I've got some spare CDs lying around...) Mostly incomprehensible, because 1 of them somehow worked. I was hoping I could use that 1 to tell me just exactly what format a CD needed to be in for the player to read it. Very scientific, I thought. Except when I tried to duplicate the settings I used for the one that worked, the CD player still wasn't happy. At this stage I knew what to do. The difference between the CD that worked and the CD that didn't work could be broken into a series of small steps such that each step was too small to possibly make a difference to whether the CD actually worked. In essence I could march the CD player along a forced march Sorites. This strategy required burning (literally) even more blank CDs to make sure the steps were small enough, but the strategy worked! Who said philosophy is useless! Not even a machine can withstand the forced march Sorites! (I leave the philosophical consequences of this for another day.)
The second problem was figuring out which albums should go with what. Some of it was easy. For several bands it was easy to create one CD with all their albums. But that didn't always work, and wasn't obviously optimal. And I'm an obsessive listmaker. So I decided I had to have one CD with my 10 favourite albums on it. Which required working out what those albums are. So here's the list. (I know, this ceased being a philosophy post long ago.)
Brian's 10 favourite albums (as of May 27, 2003), in approximate chronological order
- Blonde on Blonde (Bob Dylan)
- The Velvet Underground and Nico (The Velvet Underground and Nico)
- Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band (The Beatles)
- Post (Paul Kelly)
- The Queen is Dead (The Smiths)
- Stone Roses (Stone Roses)
- Parklife (Blur)
- The Boy with the Arab Strap (Belle and Sebastian)
- Watching Angels Mend (Alex Lloyd)
- The Strokes (The Strokes)
It's approximate chronological order because in several cases I don't know exactly which album came out before which. I think that's the right order, but I'm very uncertain about the last two, a little uncertain about the Post/Queen is Dead order, and quite uncertain about the Banana/Sgt Peppers order.
If I was a real list maniac I'd order the list by Brian's preferences. But that's too hard. Or I'm trying to cut back on lists. Stone Roses would be at #1, beyond that it'd be a bit random.
I was a bit surprised when making up the list to realise that Watching Angels Mend was (just about) my favourite album of the last few years. It's a kind of boring conventional choice, at least for a young professional Australian type. I'm just a sucker for music that screams I'M A GENIUS while remaining within by now well-established indie-pop boundaries. Especially if it's by an Australian. I'd like there to be more Australian albums there, but most of my favourite Australian acts (Crowded House, Go-Betweens, Nick Cave, You Am I) don't have a real standout album that easily makes the list.
The Strokes album has to be the UK release, not the horrible bastardised version of the album (with dubious cover art) that got released in America. The US version might not be in the top 100.
There's a lot of choices there that are not particularly fashionable. Blonde on Blonde over Highway 61, Sgt Peppers over Revolver, Post over Gossip, anything over anything by Radiohead. Again, my goodness judgments don't necessarily track fashion as well as may be hoped.
I know I said a few days ago that Bringing It all Back Home was the perfect Dylan album. I changed my mind. I could try and save the consistency by saying that there's a difference between being Dylan's best album and being the best Dylan album. The analogy would be those who claim that Let It Bleed is the Stones' best album, but Exile on Main St is the best Stones album. But this is barely coherent at best, and in any case is wrong about the relative quality of Stones records, so I shouldn't rely on it. I just changed my mind. (How did I leave Exile off this list? Don't know. Could be getting late.)
Yes, I am a little embarrassed about having Parklife on the list. It's a little sad I guess, but I have a hopeless nostalgia for the mid-90s in the way that some old lefties have a nostalgia for the late 60s, or some conservatives have a nostalgia for the reign of Henry VIII. Clinton in the White House and Keating in the Lodge; the long (inter)national nightmare of peace and prosperity; good music, good movies, even occasionally good television (pre-Survivor!) and, perhaps not coincidentally, some very good philosophy. I was never the kind of hard partying hard drinking carefree irresponsible friendly anti-social repulsive attractive type that's celebrated on Parklife - and the greyhound on the cover of the album is the closest I've been to the dogs for a very long time - so I don't really have a good excuse for liking it. Maybe it's moments like this that make people like the view that reason is slave of the passions.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/27/2003 03:32:00 AM
Radical Beliefs Reading Neil Levy's very good paper on responsibility for belief reminded me that I've probably never posted here my view about the connection between voluntarism about belief and deontological conceptions of justification. I keep forgetting this, but I do have one extreme philosophical view. (Most of my views are just mundane common sense, which I regret a little, but sometimes the truth is like that.) I'm a fairly extreme voluntarist about belief. I think there are some propositions that you can come to believe more or less at will, at least with a little practice. I don't think this is always easy. Moving your beliefs around at will is like moving your arms around at will when there are heavy weights attached to the ends of them. It can be done, but practice helps.
Anyway, I think that the kind of voluntarism we need to defend a deontological conception of justification is actually quite weak, and almost plausible. (It's certainly true, since stronger versions of voluntarism that are definitely not plausible by current standards are also true.) Let's start by noting some fairly obvious truths about the connection between voluntary action and moral responsibility. Today was graduation at Brown, and I had an obligation, of a sort, to attend the departmental graduation ceremony. Despite the torrential rain, I did so. Now I could well have stayed at home, and had the game I'd been watching (Wolverhampton-Sheffield playoff for the last premiership position, if you're keeping score) been any closer or the rain been any heavier, I may well have. Had I done so, I would have been morally culpable. And in part this would have been because it was within my voluntary control to get myself to the graduation ceremony.
Now, I couldn't have reached the graduation ceremony by just clicking my heels and wishing myself there. I would have been a little drier had I been able to do just that, but sadly it was impossible. But there were a series of actions that were within my direct voluntary control (one foot in front of the other, keep the umbrella pointed towards the wind so it doesn't invert, etc.) that resulted in my being at the graduation ceremony. It might not be easy to carry out this series of actions, especially in the rain, but as long as the series exists then my presence or otherwise at the graduation is sufficiently under my voluntary control that it I'm responsible for whether or not it happens.
How does this relate to belief? The most direct way it does is if for some beliefs, the ones for which you are responsible, there is a series of voluntary actions you can take such that you'll end up having that belief. I think that's sometimes possible, but I don't want to try convincing you of that here. And the reason for that is that for present purposes I don't need to. If I could have failed to have a certain belief by performing a series of actions that are under my voluntary control, yet I still have the belief, then that seems like enough for responsibility. And actually it's rather easy to remove beliefs, at least non-perceptual beliefs, by voluntary actions. The good kind of scepticism, the kind that teaches you to doubt charlatans, fraudsters, used car salesmen, magicians, Republican politicians, spammers with Nigerian millions, news that's too good to be true, stories that are too incredible to be fiction, anything said by philosophers and so on, basically consists in an exhortation to doubt everything doubtable. And that kind of exhortation can work, especially when presented the right way. If we do our job in teaching entry level philosophy courses, one of the skills we generate is the ability to doubt at will, and this kind of doubt defeats belief.
Let's try a little thought experiment. Take any claim that you believed at first but later regretted believing. In America this should be easy - unless you disbelieved every factual claim made by the administration in the lead-up to the Iraq war, there's probably something you believed and regretted. (I'm cheating a little here. The adminstration did say things like that Saddam is evil and the Iraqi people would be better off with him removed, which are both true, and even factual on a cognitivist theory of morality. Ignore these claims. I'm sure most readers believed them then, and don't regret believing them now. The claims about the military capacities and threats of the Iraqis are what we care about here. The basic administration line, recall, was that Iraq posed a clear and present danger to the U.S. and that they were so weak militarily that a few thousand soldiers and some smart bombs should see them out. It's the parts of that line that I'm focussing on.) Many people, for example, believed what Colin Powell said at his presentation at the U.N. about Iraq's chemical and biological weapons capacity, and I'm sure some of them regret so doing. I think many of these people could have, if they had tried hard enough, remained sceptical about these claims. They could have retained a sceptical doubt even in the face of apparently sincere assertion by Sec. Powell. If they couldn't have done just this, their regret would be at least a little misplaced. Not entirely, since we can regret things that are outside our voluntary control, but a little I suspect. And I think this kind of situation is one in which we often find ourselves. It's natural to take things at face value, to believe what people say, but we don't have to do this, and we often shouldn't.
That's all we need I think to salvage a deontological conception of justification. We don't need that people can believe at will. We don't even need that people can doubt at will. We just need that there are procedures we can use, the kinds of procedures we teach students in critical reasoning courses, that if properly carried out will lead to doubt and hence not to belief. If the agent could have carried out these procedures, but believes anyway, then s/he is culpable, because her/his belief is in the relevant sense under her/his voluntary control - it was within her/his power to not have that belief.
That much I think is fairly moderate. The radical bit is where I try and turn this into an argument that one can generate beliefs just as easily as one can destroy them. But I might leave that for a different late night blog.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/27/2003 03:32:00 AM
I complain about there being no papers up and I get two emails in a day letting me know about new sites with papers. The CAPPE working papers site has five new papers up, all on issues around applied ethics and political philosophy. I'll officially write up the papers blog report on this tomorrow, but just in case anyone doesn't want to wait until that long, follow that link! UPDATE: I posted before reading the papers, and I might have created a slightly misleading impression about their subject matter. Let me correct that. Three of the papers are about applied ethics and political philosophy broadly construed, the other two aren't, unless we have a very broad construal. So rather than my summary, I'll just copy the abstracts. Both the following papers are by Neil Levy.Responsibility for BeliefIf it wasn't for people prepared to comment on topics without anything like sufficient grounds, making summaries of papers without reading them, drawing conclusions about the philosophical acumen of unknown referees on the basis of apparently dubious recommendations, and so on, blogs would never get written. But we do make mistakes this way sometimes.
Many contemporary philosophers defend a deontological conception of epistemic justification. However, the viability of such a conception seems to depend crucially upon agents being able to exert control over their beliefs. I examine various attempts to show, either that the deontological concept does not require doxastic voluntarism, or that doxastic voluntarism is true. These attempts all fail. I claim that this demonstrates that the range of appropriate ascriptions of responsibility for belief is very limited: epistemic recklessness is the only kind of doxastic responsibility there is. A Dilemma For Libertarians
To the extent that indeterminacy intervenes between our reasons for action and our decisions, intentions and actions, our freedom seems to be reduced, not enhanced. Free will becomes nothing more than the power to choose irrationally. In recognition of this problem, recent libertarians have suggested that free will is paradigmatically manifested only in actions for which we have reasons for both or all the alternatives. In these circumstances, however we choose we choose rationally. Against this kind of account of approach, most fully developed by Robert Kane, critics have pressed the demand for contrastive explanations. Kane has responded by arguing that the demand does not need to be met: responsibility for an action does not require that there is a contrastive explanation of that action. However, this responses proves too much: it implies that agents are responsible not only for the actions they choose, but also for their counterfactual actions which were equally available to them.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/26/2003 10:55:00 PM
No papers blog today because there's nothing to report. Well, except for a strange result where somehow my webtracking program somehow managed to log into Ingenta as an ANU user. I've got no idea how that happened, but if I didn't have in Ingenta account anyway I'd be interested in finding out how. Actually, it's not true that there's no news. The 674 pages I was tracking had nothing to report, but there is a 675th which is worthy of note. Andy Egan, one of the group of 617 bloggers, now has a papers page with papers about pie-throwing and being being green. Be warned - they are Geocities sites so you will want to have popup blockers turned to industrial strength before you visit.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/26/2003 03:43:00 PM
The philosophy papers blog is up. It's a low quantity but (very) high quality day, with new postings by Jay Wallace, John Burgess and Gilbert Harman. Harman's posting is a web-only discussion of why mentalism became so dominant in linguistics in the last 30 odd years, and is well-worth reading for those who need a primer on the history of this area. It strikes me that the reviews of the AJP articles I posted last night were somewhat more negative than I intended. The tone of the discussions of the McArthur and Hand papers, in particular, was not exactly what I intended first time around. I do think McArthur should have compared his position to Quine's, and I think he still makes too big a role for sensations in evidence, even if they constitute evidence rather than being the contents of evidential claims, but there's lots of points in his paper that it is worthwhile to make, including a lot that about the history of the relationship between scepticism and indirect realism that I suspect will be news to several readers. I certainly didn't mean to suggest that he should have referred to unpublished papers by Brown graduate students, even superstar Brown graduate students. When I was writing the note I thought that might be obvious, but on second reading it didn't look as obvious as I intend. And Hand's paper is an interesting solution to the knowability paradox, even if as I think it doesn't give us everything an anti-realist may have wanted. And I've already edited the Varzi entry which was borderline libellous, which I guess was unwarranted, and it's been changed. (Normally the rule is that even mistakes stay on the blog, but I make the rules so I get to make the exceptions to them too.) On that topic, I wonder if it is possible to libel someone you don't know. If I say that the F is G, where being G is some quite disreputable property, and some of my readers know who the F is, could I have thereby libelled the F even if I don't know who s/he is? Assume that the speaker meaning of my utterance is clearly attributive in Donnellan's sense. Does this make a difference? What if I say that all Fs are Gs, not knowing any Fs. Have I libelled all Fs? What if I say that some Fs are Gs and some of the readers know that there is exactly one F? If the official answer to the last question is no while the official answer to the first question is yes, can I use Zoltan Szabo's theory of definite descriptions (that they are semantically but not pragmatically equivalent to indefinite descriptions) as part of my defence?
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 02:26:00 PM
Just for fun I decided to actually read the edition of the AJP in which I have two entries, and see what fun things we can find. And there's quite a bit, as we'll see.
Jennifer McKitrick, A Case for Extrinsic Dispositions
I never understood why people say dispositions have to be intrinsic properties, and McKitrick apparently hasn't either. But she's actually done something about it. She starts with six examples of dispositions that look fairly extrinsic: the power to open a particular door, weight, the disposition to dissolve the contents of my pocket, vulnerability, visibility to humans, recognisability. (I'd been meaning to write something about vulnerability as an example of an extrinsic disposition. I was rather comprehensively beaten to the punch here.) Some of these look fairly artificial, though McKitrick does have arguments that even hackneyed examples of extrinsic dispositions should still be enough to refute the theory that all dispositions are extrinsic.
McKitrick considers several objections to the claim that these are examples of extrinsic dispositions. The strongest response is that although the properties are picked out relationally, they are in fact intrinsic properties. (For more on relational expressions that denote intrinsic properties, see my Stanford entry on intrinsic properties.) It's very important to be aware of this distinction, but it doesn't seem to be relevant here, at least in some cases.
What was most interesting to me about this wasn't whether some dispositions are extrinsic, because I think McKitrick is obviously right, but what we can learn from considering tests for extrinsicness about the content of ordinary terms. So let's assume that Earth, Moon and Travel are all people, and they are all, miraculously, intrinsic duplicates. Earth and Travel live on earth, and Moon on the moon. Earth and Moon are home right now, while Travel is currently holidaying on the moon. Which of the following three sentences seem to be true?
(1) Earth weighs more than Moon.
(2) Earth weighs more than Travel.
(3) Travel weighs more than Moon.
I think my intuitions here are inconsistent - (1) is true but neither (2) nor (3) is true. It's consistent to say (1) is determinately true while neither (2) nor (3) is determinately true, and of course if you don't assume 'weighs' is linear you can just say (1) is true and (2) and (3) are false. But it is hard to work out. I hoped that thinking about these cases would clarify a tricky question. If weight is extrinsic, which I think it is, what is it sensitive to? McKitrick assumes/stipulates, following Yablo, that it is sensitive to where you currently are. I think it's more plausible that it's sensitive to where you normally are. McKitrick's version would have (2) true and (3) false, mine would have (3) true and (2) false. Intuition says, well I think intuition says it wants a holiday.
The vulnerability example really is very strong. If Athens and Olympus are intrinsic duplicates, but Athens is close to the sea and vulnerable to a sea-based attack, while Olympus is in the mountains and only reachable overland, then (4) is very plausible.
(4) Athens is more vulnerable than Olympus.
If Sparta has no plans to attack Olympus, and they have no weapons that can be transported overland to Olympus, and the gods favour Olympus and would instantly smite anyone who dares attack it, then I guess (4) is even more plausible.
There's a really geeky reason, even by philosophical standards, for thinking that dispositions are extrinsic. One might think that a wine glass is fragile in virtue of the intrinsic structure of its chemical bonds or the like. There's a McKitrick style argument for its fragility being extrinsic. Imagine a duplicate of it in rubber-walled room world, where literally all the surfaces are bouncy. Is that glass fragile? Maybe not! But there's also a geeky reason. Consider a large part of the glass that consists of all of it minus a small chip off the base. I think this object (a) exists, (b) is not a glass and (c) is not fragile. I think it's possible that the glass could be the only fragile thing on the table, so parts of the glass are not fragile. But a stand-alone duplicate of the glass, a glass as it were with a chip off the old base, is fragile. Conclusion: fragility is extrinsic.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 01:17:00 AM
David McArthur, McDowell, Scepticism and the 'Veil of Perception'
This was a little less interesting because it was more familiar. Short version: direct realism doesn't refute scepticism because the appeal to sense-data in traditional sceptical arguments was inessential. This story is fairly familiar around these parts, because it's well told by (among others) Juan Comesana. McArthur's retelling of the sceptical argument just relies on the fact that causal processes play a role in our gaining evidence about the world, something the anti-sceptic can hardly deny because it's part of what science - the anti-sceptics best friend - tells us is true. That should sound familiar too; it's how Quine starts Roots of Reference, though Quine doesn't get mentioned in McArthur's paper.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 01:17:00 AM
Achille Varzi, Perdurantism, Universalism and Quantifiers
The other day Kai von Fintel mentioned Geoff Pullum's wonderful book The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, a collection of Pullum's TOPIC...COMMENT columns from NLLT. So naturally I went back and reread all the columns. I think my colleagues thought I was sadistically laughing over the grades I was giving the logic students, when in fact I was just rereading the saga of the Campaign for Typographical Freedom, and the fables about the syntactician who worked on his theory while his colleague tried hitting on cute graduate students. Good times.
Several of the columns are about features that journals should have but often do not. One of the more radical suggestions is that journals should print the names of referees who recommend accepting papers. One of the merits of that is that when you the reader disagree with a decision to publish a paper, you know who to blame.
Varzi's trying to show that the combination of perdurantism (temporal parts everywhere) and universalism about fusions leads to odd semantic results. Now you might suspect this is not going to be a very plausible argument, because neither perdurantism nor universalism are semantic theories, so it is somewhat hard to see how they could lead to any semantic results, let alone odd ones. And you'd be right, but that would be getting ahead of ourselves. The problems arise because (2) is meant to be analysed as (4).
(2) x was/is/will be P
(4) There is a past/present/future time such that the t-part of x exists and is P
(4) leads to problems because of objects such as the current temporal part of Pavarotti and the past temporal parts of a turnip. By (4) this is a tenor. By (4) again it was a turnip. So some tenor was a turnip. But no tenor was a turnip. So perdurantism+universalism (PU for short) is false.
The problem is that, as far as I can tell from a quick survey of the world, no PU theorist accepts (4). Most PU theorists think that being a tenor is a property of fusions of temporal parts, worms as we call them, not of single temporal parts, or stages. It is the fusion of Pavarotti's temporal parts that is a tenor, not any one of his temporal parts.
There's a response to this line of reasoning (or something like it), where Varzi says that it would be very complex to make every predicate 'maximal' in the way that we have to do on this view. Maybe it would be complex, but if you consider the alternative I think you'll agree that English made the right choice in making all of its predicates maximal in this way.
What about those perdurantists (Sider, Hawley, perhaps etc.) who think that properties like being a tenor are properties of individual temporal parts. They might accept the middle third of (4), the part about 'present'. Most PU theorists won't accept even that, but Sider and Hawley do. But they don't accept the bits about the past and the future. They believe something like (4') analyses x was P.
(4') There is a past temporal counterpart of x that is (or perhaps was) P
Since no turnip part is a past temporal counterpart of Pavarotti, we still don't get that some tenors were turnips. So the argument here is only telling against the conjunction of PU with a semantic theory that no PU theorist accepts.UPDATE: When I first wrote this last night it was a little more intemperate in parts, perhaps even impolite. This was probably uncalled for, especially given the relative quality of some of my published work. For some reason papers that confuse metaphysics and semantics, or even seem to possibly instantiate such a confusion, seem to generate reactions in your humble blogger that are normally only caused by John Ashcroft. So in the cold light of day, and after a few friendly suggestions from friends, editors, DHS officers and doctors, I've toned it down a little, and what you see is the edited version.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 01:16:00 AM
Laura and Francois Schroter, A Slim Semantics for Thin Moral Terms?
This is an entirely negative piece. It's just making a couple of objections to Ralph Wedgwood's paper Conceptual Role Semantics for Moral Terms. The main objection seems to be that if (P) and (I) are the right conceptual role rules for 'pain' and 'intend', then Ralph's version of Peacocke's version of conceptual role semantics leads to crazy meaning postulates, in particular meaning postulates for 'pain' and 'intend' that involve normativity. (I'd try and summarise why this is so, but it would take about five pages - and I'd mostly be plagiarising.)
(P) Being in pain commits one to accepting 'I am in pain' (should the question arise).
(I) Intending to do x commits one to accepting 'I intend to do x' (should the question arise).
But neither of these look very plausible to me. Both of these seem to suppose that certain mental states (pain in the first instance, intention in the second) are luminous. And there are very few luminous states, if any. Either that, or they suppose that we are committed to accepting things that we are in no position to know. Neither claim seems right. The broader objection that the Schroters are trying to make, that Wedgwood's theory seems to lead to normativity turning up where it ain't wanted, looks like it could be plausible. But the examples they use don't work to make that point.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 01:16:00 AM
Michael Hand, Knowability and Epistemic Truth
Another paper on the knowability paradox. Hand's theory is that the anti-realist shouldn't be committed to the knowability of p & ~Kp because all anti-realism requires is that "for each truth there must be a procedure, determined by the proposition's structure and properly composed of verificatory steps each of which we can perform." It doesn't require that we can perform each of the steps, and performability doesn't distribute across conjunctions. This seems to avoid the paradox, but the version of anti-realism we are left with is quite weak. It seems impossible, on Hand's view, that All numbers are F could be undecidable even though every instance of Fn is decidable. After all, if Fn is decidable for all n, then there is a procedure, an infinite procedure but a procedure, properly composed (whatever that means) of verificatory steps each of which we can perform. But maybe Hand isn't worried about this kind of anti-realism.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 01:16:00 AM
Andy Hamilton, 'Scottish Commonsense about Memory'
Er, I skipped this one. There's so much stuff about Reid around Brown that I couldn't read another Reid paper. I used to have a ban on reading papers about externalism and self-knowledge, I've dropped that so I need something else to block. Reid it seems is it.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 01:15:00 AM
Alan Baker, Does the Existence of Mathematical Objects Make a Difference?
Consider the following question, directly quoted from Baker's paper
Surely it is obvious that mathematical objectsif acausal and non-spatio-temporalmake no difference to the arrangement of the concrete world?
What position would you say is supported by someone who answers 'no' to that question? Baker thinks it is the view that mathematical objects make no difference to the world. Or at least that's what I think he thinks. None of this matters to the overall theme of the paper, which is better construed as looking at 'yes' and 'no' answers to its titular question. Baker thinks none of the arguments for either answer to this question are any good.
The first argument for 'no' is a direct appeal to what would happen if mathematical objects went away. This is fairly obviously question-begging. It isn't obviously coherent either. If mathematical objects are non-spatio-temporal, how could they just go away at a particular time.
The second argument is Mark Balauger's argument that mathematical objects make no causal difference to the world so they make no difference to the world. But there's little argument for why causal difference is the only kind of difference that can make a difference.
Cheyne and Pigden argue for the 'yes' answer by using 'mixed mathematical facts' like There are three cigarette butts in the ashtray. But this doesn't really show what we cared about, which is whether pure mathematical facts, like 2+3=5, could make a difference to the world.
Baker argues that the right answer to the question may depend on whether mathematical objects are indispensible for science. If they are dispensible, then by Lewis's theory of world-similarity, the nearest world in which there are no mathematical objects will probably be just like this world in its 'concrete' aspects. In that case, it is reasonable to say mathematical objects don't make a difference. But if they are dispensible, then there may be no fact of the matter about which is the 'closest' possible world in which there are no numbers, hence there is no fact of the matter about what things would be like if there were no numbers, hence there is no fact of the matter about whether the world would be different without mathematical objects. So the principle that mathematical objects make no difference to the world cannot be relied upon without a prior argument for dispensibility, which is bad news for those nominalists who want to so use it without proving dispensibility first.
I don't know the background literature here that well, and I was a little sceptical about using Lewis's theory of counterfactuals so far from the cases for which it was designed, but this seemed like a pretty good paper all in all.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 01:15:00 AM
Kris McDaniel, Against Maxcon Simples
UMass Amherst has a pretty good recent record of turning out metaphysicians, and McDaniel is the next potential star coming off the assembly line. This paper is an argument against Ned Markosian's view that a physical object is a simple iff it is spatio-temporally continuous and maximal. (That is, there is no larger region spatio-temporal region that contains the object and is entirely occupied.) This looks like a pretty wild view. Surely my television has parts - the screen, the box, the controls etc - even though it is spatio-temporally continuous. Or at least I think it's continuous. Defining what this comes to in a quantum world is non-trivial I guess.
McDaniel has some more serious arguments against Markosian's position. The arguments are quite detailed, so I won't detail them all here. Some of the arguments involve complications involve relativity. Others involve getting clear on just how complicated constitution must be if Markosian's view is right. And finally he notes that there's a problem of spatial intrinsics for Markosian's view, so Markosian must sometimes make ordinary predication relative to spatial location in the way that some endurantists make it relative to temporal location. All good stuff, and a worthwhile paper. I suspect when McDaniel gets to writing his positive papers, which will be defending a brutalist view of simples, the arguments will also be very good.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 01:15:00 AM
Brian Weatherson, Endurantism, Parasites and Vague Names
What more can I say?!
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 01:14:00 AM
Well, I didn't read all of them, but here are the highlights.
David Armstrong positively reviews Resemblance Nominalism - A Solution to the Problem of Universals by Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra. I have a memory of reading a brutally bad review of this book, which I was hoping to find somewhere to compare it to Armstrong's positive review, but it doesn't appear to be anywhere online. Or if it is I couldn't find it with Google. I wonder if this is good evidence or just weak evidence that the review never existed. Anyone who remembers a similar review should let me know. Anyway, today's news is that Armstrong liked Rodriguez-Pereyra's book which is a non-trivial endorsement.
Ryan Wasserman reviewed Katherine Hawley's How Things Persist. He thought Hawley was unfair in her characterisation of (non-stage-theorist) perdurantists. I think Hawley's way of dividing up the territory into endurantists, perdurantists and stage theorists is misleading, because the dispute between the endurantist and the other two is metaphysical and the dispute between stage theorists and (what she calls) perdurantists is semantic, and metaphysical debates and semantic debates are not really very similar. (I may have said that somewhere before.) Anyway, Wasserman makes an odd claim, one a little too close to (4) above I think. He says that proper temporal parts of tennis balls are themselves tennis balls, because they fill most of the tennis ball functional role. This is a mistake, since it blocks one from making the most natural response to the problem of the many. So I think some of Wasserman's criticisms of Hawley's criticisms of what, as far as I can tell, is the correct view are misguided. Hawley has, I think, isolated some odd features of the correct view. Still, she hasn't given us any reason to think the correct view is not, at the end of the day, correct.
Graham Nerlich 'warmly recommends' Ted Sider's prize-winning Four Dimensionalism. He doesn't quite agree with Ted about the relative plausibility of the nine arguments for perdurantism that Ted surveys, nor with the claim that the last three are entirely original (I suspect Ted didn't cite Nerlich as much as some reviewer(s) thought he should) but he still thinks it is an excellent book overall.
I review Roy Sorensen's Vagueness and Contradiction. The review is my usual mealy-mouthed it has some good features but why doesn't the author agree more with my view how could they not see how clever and good it is kind of review. The book has some good features but I think Roy should agree with my view on more issues.
Jim Edwards reviews two new introductory(ish) books about Michael Dummett, and clearly prefers Bernard Weiss's over Karen Green's, largely because Weiss's is more often just about Dummett. Green's book does have the nice advantage of at least having a complete Dummett bibliography though.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/25/2003 01:14:00 AM
I just found out (via Pekka Väyrynen) that Ethics is available online. The latest edition prints the proceedings of the Moore conference at Georgia State last year, and the papers look very interesting. I didn't previously know that Ethics was online, so I didn't report on this on the papers blog when it appeared. So for all the people out there who only know about journals because I report them, this edition now exists. Thanks to Pekka for the tip on this.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/24/2003 07:06:00 PM
The philosophy papers blog is up. I misread the reports last night. In fact there were only two new journals, Bioethics and the AJP.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/24/2003 03:00:00 PM
This is a first - I've got two things in one issue of a journal. The latest AJP has a little note on one of the (many) difficulties epistemicism has with vague names, and my review of Sorensen's Vagueness and Contradiction is also there. Many journals seem to have appeared yesterday, but it's still sort of the middle of the night so I won't try reporting on them all now. (–So why were you up at all? –Super 12 Final. Sport from the home part of the world is always on at wacky times over here.)
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/24/2003 05:43:00 AM
I updated by reply to Patrick Greenough's Mind article on vagueness. The current version owes quite a bit to conversations with Matti Eklund, and more than a bit to Cian Dorr's excellent paper Vagueness without Ignorance. I'm not sure I haven't infringed on any copyrights between the amount I've borrowed from the two of them. Anyway, the paper makes a little more sense now than it did. The 'arguments' are at least arranged in some kind of order, in the previous draft they sort of fell on top of each other.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/23/2003 03:31:00 PM
Daniel Davies's summary of recent rightwing political philosophy.As I've posted earlier, the single most sensible thing said in political philosophy in the twentieth century was JK Galbraith's aphorism that the quest of conservative thought throughout the ages has been "the search for a higher moral justification for selfishness". Some rightwingers are not hypocrites because they admit that their basic moral principle is "what I have, I keep". Some rightwingers are hypocrites because they pretend that "what I have, I keep" is always and everywhere the best way to express a general unparticularised love for all sentient things. Then there are the tricky cases where the rightwingers happen to be on the right side because we haven't yet discovered a better form of social organisation than private property for solving several important classes of optimisation problem. But at base, the test of someone's politics is simple; if their political aim is to advance all of humanity, they're on our side, while if they have an overriding constraint that the current owners of property must always be satisfied first, they're playing for the opposition. Hypocrisy doesn't really enter into the equation with rightwing politics; you don't (or shouldn't) get any extra points for being sincere about being selfish.That seems unfair, inflammatory, simplistic and, on the whole, true.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/23/2003 01:47:00 PM
Congratulations to Ted Sider on winning the 2003 APA Book Prize for his excellent book Four-Dimensionalism: An Ontology of Persistence and Time. Well done Ted!
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/23/2003 12:13:00 PM
The philosophy papers blog is up. Lots of people seem to be using the end of semester to make updates to papers, or to proofread their webpages, so there's lots of pages reporting as having changed, and not that many new papers. I hope I didn't miss any in the scan through.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/23/2003 12:09:00 PM
The philosophy papers blog is up with just a couple of papers to note. The blog has been quiet for a few days for a couple of reasons. First, I've been, er, relaxing a bit more than usual now that semester is over. Second, my non-relaxing time has mostly been spent refereeing, which doesn't exactly lend itself to bloggable material. Some of my reports read a lot like blog entries I fear, but that doesn't mean I can use them on the blog. Hopefully normal service will resume shortly. What won't be resuming any time soon is the RSS feed, which seems to have just crashed. I'll have to find a better way to get an RSS feed. Maybe Blogger Pro is the answer. UPDATE: The RSS feed still seems to be working, though I'm not sure for how long that will continue. The problem with using technology you don't understand is that you don't know when things are about to go wrong.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/22/2003 05:09:00 PM
The philosophy papers blog is up. Lots of good stuff today: philosophy of mathematics, quantifiers in variable-free semantics, Byzantine philosophy (or the lack thereof), and two good Stanford entries on moral philosophy.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/21/2003 02:06:00 PM
Around the Blogs
Some columnists have been known to refer to letters columns, where they print reader letters and their reaction to them, as the 'cripple stick'. Now we couldn't use a term like that in these PC days and get away with it, and I don't get enough blog related mail to really have a letters column, but I can do the next best thing - a long post entirely about other people's posts.
Wo has posted the second part of his review of Fiction and Metaphysics. He has lots of good arguments against the idea that there are dependent objects in Thomasson's sense. One of those good arguments is a bare-faced denial of the necessity of origin. Woo hoo!
Philosophers Imprint has posted a new paper. (Finally!) It's by Timothy Schroder. Here's the abstract.
Donald Davidson's theory of mind is widely regarded as a normative theory. This is a something of a confusion. Once a distinction has been made between the categorisation scheme of a norm and the norm's force-maker, it becomes clear that a Davidsonian theory of mind is not a normative theory after all. Making clear the distinction, applying it to Davidson's theory of mind, and showing its significance are the main purposes of this paper. In the concluding paragraphs, a sketch is given of how a truly normative Davidsonian theory of mind might be formulated.
I like internet publishing, but I wish PI was (a) more voluminous and (b) easier to navigate. (Does anyone anyone disagree with (b). I've heard nothing but complaints about the site design. I think people at Michigan must be better at navigating complex web pages that we plebians.)
Kai von Fintel discusses the Schock Prize in logic and philosophy, a sort of Nobel Prize for philosophers without the attendant prestige, prize money or, it seems, fame. This was very exciting, although it would be nice if more people knew of it.
(By the way, the Geoff Pullum article he mentions is in The Great Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, although I can't find it online either. If you haven't read about the Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, or about the debates over Chomskian grammar in cell block D of the Santa Cruz County Prison, I highly recommend this little book. If I could write that well, I probably wouldn't be writing so much for free here.)
Blogosophy (great name - even better than Gavagai I'm afraid) links to this summary of the history of philosophy as told through the works of Monty Python. It's a talk by Gary Hardcastle, and while it is incredibly amusing, I couldn't really understand the plot line. Roughly, the history of the 20th century goes like this. First there were bad metaphysicians. Then the positivists came in and killed all the metaphysicians with their invincible verification theory of meaning. Then some fool went and hit the self-destruct button on the weapon. But ignore that. Then Quine showed that if meaning was verification conditions, then meaning holism followed. So we concluded that meaning was not verification conditions, and that holism about meaning was true. The last step is what I didn't get. I know the old modus ponens/modus tollens choice can be hard in practice, but (outside Australia) it's never an option to pick BOTH. Still, it's all very funny.
Finally, Invisible Adjuct discusses (without endorsing!) a proposal to solve the job market crisis in academic history by cutting entry-level salaries. Apparently entry level salaries in history are around $40,000, which strikes me as pretty low already. It's a lot less than I get, for example, and if you ask me I'm underpaid by half.
From my very limited knowledge of the data, I think what's most striking about entry level salaries isn't their level, but their lack of spread. I'm told that the salary of a superstar full professor at a top department will often be double or more the salary of a mediocre, but perfectly competent, full professor at a mid-major department. I'm not told, and I doubt it's true, that the salaries of superstar new hires are double or more the median starting salary. There could be good explanations for this, but I suspect in terms of their marginal value the superstar new PhD adds is well above their cost of hiring.
One explanation for this could be that there is much more uncertainty about the quality of newly minted PhDs than there is of established stars. If that were true it would justify the salary structure. It would be bad, after all, to pay megabucks to someone who didn't end up publishing as much as a well-written blog entry in their career. But I really doubt the underlying premise here, that we don't have enough evidence to know how well junior faculty will do. If you look at the junior faculty hired by, say, Princeton or NYU the last few years, or for that matter look down the roster of the 617 blog, it is hard to believe that they will be flameouts anytime soon. It's more likely that a senior person will start to rest on their laurels, to basically republish their old ideas, or just quit publishing at all, than that a 'can't-miss' propsect will not work out. That's especially true if the prospect is from a program that encourages being very philosophically active, and writing and publishing from a young age. This is one of Brown's strengths as a PhD program I think, but in this respect it isn't unusual among New England schools - MIT and UMass are fairly similar. But now I'm discussing philosophy prospects as if they were power-hitting shortstops for a Red Sox farm team again, so I better go back to doing some real work.UPDATE: I had included here a link to an entry by Sam Quigley on the importance of internet publishing in academia these days, but that post has had to be removed for various reasons (good reasons on Sam's part, I hasten to add) so I've deleted the link to it. The summary of it (i.e. my link, not Sam's post) was that in my position as editor of the philosophy papers blog I would soon become a Very Important Philosopher because of the rising importance of being cited in high-traffic web spheres. Some have suggested that I would be more powerful, in this role, than the editorial board of the Philosophical Review. Others have suggested, more plausibly, that I'd be more powerful than the faculty of the Sage School. Anyway, the entire evidential support for these claims has now vanished into the e-ther, so you shouldn't take them seriously. I can't reconstruct how I managed to do it the first time around, but I had somehow worked a link to my paper on Williamson's anti-luminosity argument into the original entry without it seeming entirely gratuitous. Consider that done here.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/20/2003 03:21:00 PM
The philosophy papers blog is up, featuring papers by Greg Restall and Ed Zalta.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/20/2003 10:49:00 AM
The 617 blog seems to have gone quiet after a noisy beginning, so let's try to resolve one of the puzzles they left us with last week. The issue is, roughly, What is a group? Groups are identified by examples, e.g. the group of people writing the 617 blog, and we are left to figure out their metaphysical status.
The problem arises because groups are neither fusions of their members nor sets of their members. There's a good argument and a bad argument for each of these conclusions. Fortunately one good argument is enough in each case.
Groups are not fusions. The bad argument is that fusions have their parts essentially while groups could gain and lose members. The problem with this is that the premise, that fusions have their parts essentially, has some weaknesses. It is rather controversial, for one thing. For another, it is false. The good argument is that not all parts of the fusion are parts of the group. As they say, Sarah's nose is part of the fusion of 617 bloggers, it is not part of the group of 617 bloggers.
Groups are not sets. Again, the bad argument relies on essentialism about membership, and I won't describe it in detail. The good argument is that sets are extensional, while groups are intensional. If the 617 bloggers, all 10 of them, form a nudist a capella group, call it the Bare Plurals, that would be a different group to the group of 617 bloggers, even if they are co-extensional. The group of bloggers could survive all of its members catching permanent laryngitis, the Bare Plurals could not.
The two arguments put some interesting restrictions on what groups must be. The way they are constructed out of their parts must be set-like, not fusion-like, so Sarah is a distinctive part of the group in the way that Sarah's nose is not. But the group cannot just be a set, because it has certain modal properties that are not recoverable merely from the membership list.
The way forward is to note that even though groups are intensional rather than extensional, two groups could actually have the same members, there is no reason to think groups are hyper-intensional. That is, there is no reason to think that two different groups could have the same members in all possible worlds. So there is nothing stopping us identifying groups with functions from worlds to sets of individuals. If the group of 617 bloggers is a function f, we solve the problem of Sarah's nose by noting that Sarah is an element of f(@), while Sarah's nose is not. And we solve the problem of the Bare Plurals by noting that there could be a distinct function g such that f(@)=g(@). In short, functions from worlds to sets of individuals lets us say that groups are in some way constructed out of their (actual and possible) members and are not new mysterious entities without falling into the problems associated with saying groups are either fusions or sets.
Now these functions should seem familiar. Andy Egan has argued in a few places (but not, to the best of someone's knowledge, online) that properties are functions from worlds to sets of individuals. Putting it all together, we get the conclusion that groups are properties.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/19/2003 09:05:00 PM
Some days I think it would be nice to work somewhere where I could travel between home and work without being treated like a criminal suspect en route. Sadly, this is not possible as long as one works in America.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/19/2003 12:57:00 PM
The philosophy papers blog is up, 24 hours or more late and with all the entries being by semanticists. One of the entries, Christopher Potts's dissertation on conventional implicature, looks particularly exciting. (It was even more exciting when Kai von Fintel announced it was up.) Potts argues that some terms do carry conventional implicatures, but but, therefore and most of the terms which you usually suspect of having conventional implicatures are not amongst them. The main examples he uses are terms with 'expressive' content. I remember Stephen Barker arguing for something like this about moral terms and conventional implicature a few years ago, but I can't find a reference to that online somewhere. All of you who are struggling to write up a dissertation probably shouldn't read the first paragraph of Potts's dissertation. He says that the dissertation grew out of a discussion in a seminar in Spring 2002. That's not much over 12 months ago, and the dissertation is 330 pages long!
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/19/2003 11:54:00 AM
Wo has a very good review posted of Amie Thomasson's Fiction and Metaphysics. He is rather clear about a few of the worries I have been rather unclear about here the last week or two. In particular, I think the examples of sentences he gives that are neither 'fictional' nor 'serious' in Thomasson's sense are a problem for the theory. And I worry a lot about the indeterminate existence point he makes at the end. Portrait of the Artist has lots of examples of 'characters' who might or might not be real people. If they are not real, they are closely modelled on real people - but I take it that's consistent with actually being a character in Thomasson's sense.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/19/2003 11:33:00 AM
This feels a little dated now (it's from last Tuesday), but Daniel Davies has an excellent and long-ish post about data mining. (Permalinks are outdated, you'll have to scroll down to An Impudent Suggestion.) It's impossible to do it justice in a short summary, so I'll just note one point that might be especially relevant to this audience. (I think philosophers should all care about the finer points of econometrics, but I expect few readers agree.) It turns out philosophers of science get paid some attention by econometricians. Davies links to Hsiang-Ke Chao's paper Professor Hendry’s Econometric Methodology Reconsidered: Congruence and Structural Empiricism, which argues that "the LSE methodology [a particular approach to econometric modelling]... is compatible with the “structural empiricism” of van Fraassen." Who knew that people who get paid serious money to model the economy actually read philosophers, let alone care whether their approaches are consistent with pronouncements of said philosophers? Who knew? I think I've just found another topic for my philosophy of economics seminar next Spring...
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/18/2003 01:15:00 PM
One of the perils of having a CD Jukebox is that CDs occasionally get lost. I thought my copies of Rubber Soul and Bringing It all Back Home were gone forever, and I'd even started scrounging around for cheap replacements, until they turned up out of order in an obscure part of the collection. Good times. Bringing It all Back Home is just about the perfect Dylan album. The lyrics are a treasure trove of incredible images and familiar if noteworthy truths.Well, I wish I was on someI'd say it was the best Dylan album, but Shaun Carney's gentle mockery of making lists like that, or even starting them, has convinced me otherwise. Carney's piece is great, but he can't possibly be right about Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head, I hope. (You'll have to read the article to find out what he's hopefully wrong about - it's too disturbing to repeat here and this is family website.) But there's more to Bringing It all Back Home than its list-topping virtues. I've been wondering, as part of my ongoing concern about fictional realism, just what it takes for a character in a song to be real. I presume that if novels can really contain characters, so can songs, especially explicitly fictional songs. Frankee Lee and Judas Priest are just as real as Neo and Zaphod Beeblebrox. But what does it take for a character in a song to exist. I won't include all the lyrics here, but read through Bob Dylan's 115th Dream and see how many characters you think exist in virtue of that song's existence. Does reality include Captain Arab and is he also a character in Moby Dick? Does it include
Australian mountain range.
Oh, I wish I was on some
Australian mountain range.
I got no reason to be there, but I
Imagine it would be some kind of change.The cop?My little self-waged campaign to embarrass myself out of believing in fictional objects is starting to work I fear.
The Gurnsey cow?
The people carrying signs around?
The waitress (sic)?
The bank staff?
The girl from France?
His newly-acquired boots?
The proto-Bentsenite limb-tearer?
The Fabulous Englishman?
The funeral director?
The bowling ball?
The pay phone?
The coastguard boat?
The parking ticket?
The Pope of Eruke?
The deputy sherriff of the jail?
His (or her) Cetacean spouse?
And, last but not least, Columbus?
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/18/2003 01:04:00 AM
This is a history post. So those of you with no interest in history of philosophy, or with no confidence in my abilities as a historian might want to skip to the next post. In my Problem of the Many article in the Stanford Encyclopaedia I said that the problem could be traced to two sources: the third edition of Geach's Reference and Generality and Unger's article The Problem of the Many, both from 1980. I was somewhat surprised to learn when doing the research for this that the problem was not in earlier versions of Reference and Generality, so Geach doesn't get a clear claim to priority over Unger. At the time I was fairly confident that these were the earliest versions of the problem. All the contemporary articles seemed to trace the problem back to Geach and/or Unger, and no one cited anything earlier than that. And I certainly hadn't found anything earlier than 1980, though one wouldn't want to rest too much weight on my historical acumen. I think, though I haven't checked this with the principals, that the problem was independently discovered by Unger and by Geach. In any case, I have no reason to suspect otherwise, and since both versions came out roundabout the same time and neither cites the other it seems reasonable to conclude that this was a process of simultaneous independent discovery. I now think that there's an earlier statement of the problem, in more or less its modern form. And I also think, contra what I said in the Stanford article, that the over-population solution to the Problem of the Many has been seriously defended. (Hud Hudson attributes this solution to David Lewis, but I think he's being too charitable there.) Both conclusions derive from this passage from a 1976 article by Jaegwon Kim. The context is that Kim is trying to deflect the objection that his theory of events leads to too many events. His response is, roughly, that all sorts of plausible philosophical theories lead to implausible counting results.The analogy with tables and other sundry physical objects may still help us here. We normally count this as one table; and there are just so many (a fixed number of) tables in this room. However, if you beleve in the calculus of individuals, you will see that included in this table ia another table - in fact, there are indefinitely many tables each of which is aprper part of this table. For consider the table with one micrometer of its top removed; that is a table difference from this table; and so on. It would be absurd to say that for this reason we must say that there are in fact indefinitely many tables in this room. What I am suggesting is merely that the sense in which, under the structured complex view of events, there are indefinitely many strolls strolled by Sebastian may be just as harmless as the sense in which there are indefinitely many tables in this room.I think that's pretty much exactly the problem of the many. Note that despite the talk of 'removing' one micrometer of the top of the table, the reference to the calculus of individuals makes it clear that Kim just cares about what objects are here now, not what objects could be here. What he's assuming, falsely I now think, is that table is an intrinsic property so the fact that if we did shave off a micrometer we'd clearly have still a table means that the mereological difference between the table now and the bits of wood that would, in that case, be so shaved is also a table. And he's inferring, I think, that since it would be absurd to give up our ordinary practice of talking as if there's exactly one table here because of these metaphysical speculations, there must be some pragmatic mechanism that makes this talk acceptable. Note in this context the exact wording of the first sentence of the second quoted paragraph. He doesn't say that this is an absurd reason to think there are indefinitely many tables here. It is really, but he thinks it's actually quite a good reason. He thinks it is an absurd reason to say that there are indefinitely many tables here. Presumably pragmatics must be doing a fair bit of work to bridge the gap between truth and assertion. Kim's paper Events as Property Abstractions was first published in Action Theory, edited by Myles Brand and Douglas Walton, Reidel 1976, pp 159-77. That volume was a collection of papers presented at the Winnipeg Conference on Human Action, held at Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, 9-11 May 1975. The quote is from page 172. (I think - I'm writing this from notes which are a little hazy.) So I think it's a pretty clear claim to priority. I still think Geach and Unger independently discovered the problem, but I now think they independently rediscovered it, rather than being simultaneous initial discoverers. Unless I find good reason to change my mind on that, I'll alter the Stanford entry to credit Kim with the initial discovery.
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/17/2003 08:39:00 PM
I noted yesterday that the Gavagai had noted my disposition to generalise wildly about the gender balance of the profession on the basis of little data. But I hadn't meant to be referring to this:Which is exactly the sort of reason why a study of the issue should be taken from a reasonable statistical point of view: between the anecdotal whinging of philosophers and the "oooh!" tone of this Business Week article, it's hard to discern the truth of the matter.The Business Week article notes that girls are outperforming boys in high schools across the country, and now easily outnumber boys on most college campuses. The ratio is apparently approaching 3:2 in some major universities. I don't think Brown is quite at that level, but I imagine it does have more women than men amongst its undergraduate population. So are our discussions about so few women being in philosophy classes just 'anecdotal whinging'? Well, maybe. So I ran some numbers. The following is the percentage of women in various undergrad philosophy classes at Brown this semester (i.e. Spring 2003).Overall: 35% In classes taught by women: 34%Now there are obviously some common causes here. The fact that we have a largely male faculty (9 men, 2 women) could be playing a role here. But there's a pattern to the numbers here. I'm not familiar enough with various statistical approaches to know exactly how likely it is that a student body that is 55% (or more) female could produce these kinds of numbers by chance, but I'm sure it is miniscule. (There were over 400 students between all these classes, so it's a significant sample.) None of the 13 classes we offered this semester had a female majority - all were 57% or more male. This is only one campus one semester, so it's not exactly the most compelling data. But it is a little information beyond just my anecdotal observation. One interesting point is that we don't really seem to be losing women along the way - the numbers at the three levels are all within the range you'd expect through random noise. Another is that it's not because we had only men teach freshman classes that we're turning people away. We just aren't getting the enrollments to start with. This was spring, so maybe I should go back and look at Fall classes for a comparison to that.
In classes taught by men: 36% In freshman classes: 35%
In mid-level classes: 37%
In upper-level classes: 32% In freshman classes taught by women: 30%
posted by Brian Weatherson 5/17/2003 01:37:00 PM