Thoughts Arguments and Rants

Announcement

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.

Tuesday

OK, I've officially moved to my new address powered by MT. Not sure how stable the new site will be, but I hope it's permanent enough. Please adjust bookmarks! You'll be redirected to the new site in 5 seconds.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/15/2003 11:24:00 PM

Saturday

I've put up version of an MT based edition of this blog at:
http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Philosophy/tar/
It doesn't have any links up yet, and the template is still an MT standard-order template so it's rather boring looking, and there were issues in transferring files over from Blogger, especially because MT expects every post to have a heading, and because I never followed any consistent formatting conventions here, but anyway if you're interested take a look. I may be migrating there permanently in the next few days. It's a very long address, but I rarely have to give out the address non-electronically anyway, so I'm not sure that matters. (Note that the capitalisation matters in the address.)

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/12/2003 04:09:00 PM

Friday

Tamar Gendler and Zoltan Szabo have just posted webpages with lots and lots of philosophical content. Zoltan's papers page (which will be tracked from now on) is here, and Tamar's CV (which includes a papers page, in effect) is here. Both of them have lots of unpublished papers up, which will be added to tomorrow's papers blog, now at its new MT address.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/11/2003 12:30:00 AM

Thursday

We're in Print!

This is extremely exciting news for TAR. Juan Comesana noted that the new edition of Philosophical Studies contains several papers from last year's Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conferencee. One of those papers is Elizabeth Harman's The Potentiality Problem, which as well as being a good paper contains a reference to this blog!!! Sadly the published version of the paper is not freely available online, so I can't link to it, but I can report that in the footnotes Liz mentions, and responds to, a concern raised about her paper in this post.

The edition of Philosophical Studies has lots of good stuff, and it's a little self-indulgent of me to comment primarily on a small reference to my blog, but it is I think an exciting time to see a reference to my online work appear in a traditional publication.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/10/2003 08:59:00 PM

Paul Neufeld (of ephilosopher fame) has moved the philosophy papers blog to Movable Type. It's new address is:
http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Philosophy/Opp/
I will be tinkering a little with it in the next few days, but for the future this is the home of the philosophy papers blog.

Much thanks to Paul for this - the site should look much better in MT than it does now. I'll probably move TAR over there sometime soon, but I don't want to cut off some of the longer comments threads below just yet. And I want to spend a few days tinkering with the papers blog to get used to MT.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/10/2003 03:43:00 PM

I talk about a need for more electronic journals and one appears! Or at least is revealed to have appeared. The Australasian Journal of Logic went online last week, with papers by Koji Tanaka and Ross Brady. It looks like a great new project, and it deserves lots of support.

I should also have mentioned in my list of online journals yesterday that Psyche has been run out of Monash for 8 years now. Like Philosophers Imprint, it has a fairly small volume, but it seems to have kept up a high quality. And after 8 years it gets about as many hits per month as Crooked Timber got on its first day.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/10/2003 12:41:00 AM

Wednesday

Blogger has been behaving very oddly today. One reason I might end up writing more on Crooked Timber is simply that MT is more fun to use. I just had to delete a post that only looked like it was in draft stage on the screens Blogger showed me. All in a day's annoyance.

I should also note that the post immediately below this does not constitute my volunteering to do any work whatsoever on any new philosophical projects people might come up with. I'm just trying to get some ideas circulating that may spur some more motivated, and creative, people.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/09/2003 09:29:00 PM

Analysis and its Alternatives

Analysis has long been my favourite philosophy journal. Short snappy articles, quick turnaround time on replies, mostly interesting areas covered and, although this isn't a reason that will appeal to everyone, no history. It was very sad when it became malfunctional for a few years in the late 90s, and a very happy day indeed when it returned to publication.

But there are two things that could be improved about Analysis. First, there could be more of it. That would be fun, and it would possibly mean debates could be even longer. Second, there is a real risk in writing for Analysis in that if an article is rejected, and good articles are frequently rejected for spurious reasons, there might not be another place to publish it. It's also something of a problem that there's a bit of a backlog between when papers are accepted and when they are published.

There's a way to solve all these problems at once. What we need is an American equivalent to Analysis. I think it would be great to have a journal published over here that came out monthly, with each edition aiming to be around the size of a current edition of Analysis - approximately 80 to 100 pages. I'd envisage this being a primarily electronic publication, but with a dead-tree version printed for posterity. The Xerox commercials have assured me that digital printing is now really really cheap, though I'm not sure I completely believe this. (I did however send off for a quote for the cost of printing such a journal, just for amusement's sake.)

Of course starting a new journal isn't as easy as it sounds, especially electronically. Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews has been a marvellous success already, but Philosophers Imprint has struggled to get sufficient quantity of high-quality papers. (The quality of the papers they have printed has been high, I think, but four papers a year is hardly enough to really make a splash. Maybe I should start submitting things there though, if I really want to be a cyber-philosopher...)

The real problem, I think, is getting enough of a reputation behind a new journal that people feel comfortable sending it quality material. NDPR solved the problem by having people with superb reputations behind the project, and only publishing book reviews, which most people don't think are being written for posterity in any case. Philosophers Imprint has tried to solve the problem by also having people with superb reputations behind the project and be very selective about what you print. Even if my proposed journal had big names behind it the whole point would be that it was publishing a lot, and hopefully a lot of original research. And it's hard to convince people to turn over their hard-earned ideas to an upstart little e-journal. Still, I think, it should be possible to keep a relatively high quality. The standards for acceptances in good journals nowadays are getting ridiculously high - one could aim to publish 12 to 15 short papers a month and still not be publishing scraps. Or so I think.

Anyway, I'd be interested to know how whether people think there would be a market for such a journal - both in terms of a supply of papers and a demand for them. Even if there is, the technical difficulties with getting a journal off the ground (lack of money, lack of time, lack of motivation, etc.) will probably stop it happening, but it would be interesting to know whether people agree that we'd be better off with more Analysis.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/09/2003 05:05:00 PM

Tuesday

Taking Knowledge Frivolously

We just started a reading group at Brown on Dave Chalmers's book The Conscious Mind. I've never read it straight through, though I suspect I've read every page at different times, so it will be good to have a chance to do that. And of course, I wanted to start by quibbling with the introduction. Dave says that an important part of his project is Taking Consciousness Seriously. Now I don't mind people taking various things seriously. There probably should be more of it. But I think saying that's what you're up to is a fairly cliched way to start. Does anyone ever start a book on X by saying they aren't going to take X seriously?

Then I realised I can change things. If no one else will do this, I can write Taking X Frivolously articles. Then Taking X Seriously won't be contentless, because it will situate ones dialectical position in opposition to my playful frivolity. But perhaps an article is too much. Perhaps we should start with something shorter. A blog entry say.

Here's a perfectly frivolous argument that knowledge equals true belief. (Different to the somewhat by not entirely frivolous argument for that conclusion from a couple of weeks ago.) It starts with a story.

The older man cast a worried glance down the bar.

–Looks like Frank's in no condition to drive imself ome.
–E's not too bad is e? replied his younger friend.
–Yeah, he's that bad, said the barman.
–Well Bob, he's your friend, you better tell im we're taking im ome, said the older man.
–Thanks Doug, grumbled the younger man. Then he had an inspiration.
–Look we don't even need to tell him. He doesn't have a choice in the matter does he? I bet he doesn't even know where his car is.
–How much? asked the barman.
–How much what? asked Bob with surprise.
–How much d'ya bet that he doesn't know where his car is?

Bob was a little shocked by this, but he remembered some pretty wild bets he'd had with this barman before. Still, this was a pretty good shot he thought, staring over while Frank struggled to tell the ashtray from the peanut bowl.

–Fifty.
–You're on, said the barman, and turned to Frank. C'mon y'old drunk. Stop eating the cigarettes and get yirself home.
–I got no home, said Frank.
–Sure you do, said the barman. You moved into it last Monday.
–Good point, said Frank.
They all headed out the door. Doug trying to protect Frank, Bob already counting his winnings, and the barman anxious to give Frank every chance to win the bet for him. His heart sank a little when he overheard some street kids talking about a car they'd stolen for a joyride. He could barely decipher their street lingo - it was a foreign language to his companions - but the car they were describing sounded a lot like Frank's car. And the wheel they were playing with looked like Frank's too.

Meanwhile, Bob was getting happier and happier. Frank was now walking the opposite direction to where he'd left his car three hours ago. Pretty soon he'd give up, and the bet would be won. He thought he could hear the coins jangling already. But the sound wasn't right. More like keys jangling in fact. Car keys. Frank's car keys. Frank's car keys that he was putting into the door of a car. His car.

Bob was too dumbstruck to speak. He simply stared at the fresh tire marks streaking out from behind Frank's car.

–How did you know to find your car here? asked Doug.
–Sha's alwiys parched ere, replied Frank.
–Not tonight, said Doug. There was a parade, we had to park on the other side of town.
–A parad? mumbled Frank.

At this point Doug thought of tackling Frank to stop him driving home, but then he noticed that the car was missing a view vital parts, like a steering wheel. Frank wasn't drunk enough to try driving without a steering wheel. He couldn't quite tell what was missing, but Frank knew something was wrong. Sensing a way out of his troubles, he fell asleep at the wheel-mount.

The barman was grinning with delight. What luck that the kids had left Frank's car right where he always parked it!

–Hand it over.
–Hand what over? asked Bob.
–The fifty.

Bob thought about arguing that Frank didn't really know where his car was, that he'd just walked by it and noticed it. Then he remembered that they'd walked directly here. Frank had hardly looked at the other cars he'd gone past. In fact he'd hardly looked at anything above his own shoelace. If he didn't pay up now there'd have to be a fight.

He turned over the fifty.
The argument now should be obvious. The circumstances demand Bob pay up. If he doesn't pay, he'll get thumped. And not just because someone feels like hitting him. Because he's not paid up when he should have. Given a not excessively violent bettor who has bet that p, if the other party is in danger of violence if he doesn't pay when all the facts are in, then those facts are such as to make it the case that p. Call this the fighting argument for knowledge = true belief.

I think this argument has some merit. Note how natural it is for Doug to ask how Frank knew where his car was. Admittedly in the story Doug and Bob don't know all the details about the kids, but they know something is wrong, yet they don't challenge the barman's knowledge claim - or at least his claim to have won the bet on his knowledge claim. And Doug uses a 'knowledge' locution.

But that's not why I posted this. Rather, I wanted to post a reply to that argument which I owe in its important respects to Andy Egan. Imagine instead of betting on Frank's knowledge, Bob and the barman bet on whether Hydrogen was faster than Hyperion. Both these horses, it turns out, were entered in the 4.15 that afternoon, and the bet was placed at 4.10. In those circumstances, whoever bets on the horse that finishes ahead in the race wins the bet. If they other party doesn't pay up, things could get ugly. But of course the correlation between being faster and finishing ahead is quite loose. One of the horses might be carrying more weight, or get impeded in their run, or just be having a bad day. But for betting purposes those things are ignored.

There seems to be a principle here. Unless p is easily verifiable one way or the other, a bet that p will instantly transform itself into a bet on the closest operational approximation of p. It's hard to tell who's really faster - easy to tell who finished in front, so that becomes the bet. In the case of betting that Frank knows where his car is, that gets transformed into a bet on whether he will walk more or less directly to his car. This explains why Bob has to pay up. He might have been right - it wasn't true that Frank knew where his car was. But the best operational approximation to that proposition is true, so he loses.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/08/2003 04:56:00 PM

A New Blog!

A new group blog, Crooked Timber, has just been born. So far the group is Chris Bertram, Henry Farrell, Maria Farrell, Kieran Healy and moi.

There will be others appearing on the scene in the near future - to a first approximation Crooked Timber will be a broad-based leftie academic blog. But we're open-minded about what counts as leftie, and as what counts as academic. To mangle a cliche or two, the party is meant to be more prominent than the party line. It's a very exciting project, and I was rather honoured to be asked to join it.

As far as I know, Chris Bertram did most of the organising work to get the blog running, and Kieran Healy and Henry Farrell have done the technical work to get the blog looking as good as it does. (And it really does look rather good. Go on, take a look.) So much thanks to all of them.

What will this mean for TAAR? I haven't quite worked that out yet. Crooked Timber is meant to be somewhat less of a niche publication than TAAR, so I won't be posting entries there on the intricacies of Lewisian counterpart theory, or on counterexamples to analyses of vagueness. But I will post there some things that I previously posted on TAAR - not just posts not about philosophy but posts about political philosophy, or legal philosophy, or philosophy of economics, or more generally anything that could conceivably be of interest to those not in linguistics and philosophy departments. So the volume of posts here will necessarily decline. On the other hand, there may be slightly more focus to the entries that remain. We'll have to see how this works out in practice, I think, rather than trying to legislate in advance. The papers blog won't be affected, though I probably won't resume the practice of posting links to the daily entries except on days where there is something especially worth noting.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/08/2003 08:28:00 AM

Monday

I was just having a conversation about tenure - not about my tenure but about the concept - and one of the things that came up is how many people would favour the abolition of tenure if it was an option. There are, it was thought, some benefits to abolishing tenure. It could, if managed right, lead to a higher average quality (or at least of performance) at top departments. And it would have individual benefits. There would be more senior vacancies, leading to higher competition for hiring high quality faculty - well beyond the competition for stars we see now. And this should lead to higher salaries in the long run. Of course the losers out of this are those people who did enough to get tenure then coasted the rest of their career. But no one I know is like that, everyone I know publishes frequently in top journals, or if not they are publishing books with top presses or at least chapters in such books. In any case I thought, it's not ever so clear that non-publishers should have a decisive role in setting policy.

But it's harder to publish than one in my position might think, especially if one had a heavy teaching load and/or a family to look after. (Especially hard, I guess, with both. A blogging habit is a much smaller drain on one's time and energy.) How hard, I was wondering? Let's run a few numbers to find out.

I was thinking that on average one article per year in a top 25 journal, or its equivalent in publishing in books (either entire books or chapters) in top quality presses was a reasonable standard to keep up. But it turns out it is practically impossible for a significant percentage of the discipline to maintain that standard, or even anything close to it.

It's hard to estimate how many books come out, but at a guess I'd say at least half of the top quality publishing gets done in journals. (There'll be a few guesses like this along the way. If any enterprising grad student wants to fill in the numbers with slightly more detailed info, they are most welcome.)

The top 25 journals between them publish, I'd guess, around 600 to 700 articles per year. Allowing for some dual authorship (which is actually pretty rare in philosophy) there are about 800 token names appear on the tables of contents of these top journals per year. If that's about half the total of philosophical work that's coming out, then there's about 1600 'chances' to get one's name on something per year.

On the other hand, there are as far as I can tell around 8000 members of the American Philosophical Association. (I got this number by some not very scientific sampling from the APA membership database - it could easily be out by 25% or more in either direction.) Now some of those are student members, but a lot of philosophers around the world, especially outside America, are not members of the APA, so 8000 is probably not a bad estimate for the number of college-employed philosophers out there.

This leads to a pretty staggering mismatch - 1600 publication slots, 8000 philosophers. Remember that several of those slots will be filled by one person many times over. I'm tacitly counting books here as being worth about 5 articles - but of course in a given year they'll be 5 articles by the same person. So in practice I'd be amazed if more than 1000 different people had something equivalent to a top 25 journal article published in a given calendar year.

If anyone really wants to get more specific, the following questions would be interesting to answer:

What percentage of college-employed philosophers had something published in a top 25 journal, or equivalent, in the last year? (My back of envelope calculations above suggest that it's not much about 12%.)

What percentage of college-employed philosophers had something published in a top 25 journal, or equivalent, in the last 5 years?

If the previous number is below 50%, what if any is the smallest n such that more than 50% of college-employed philosophers had something published in a top 25 journal, or equivalent, in the last n years?

Obviously the numbers here could be radically out, and the conclusions I've been hinting at could be flawed in even more ways. It could be that there's really much more publication done via books than via journals. It could be that I'm way out in the number of philosophers around, or the number of journal articles there are. It could be that there are more than 25 journals that should be counted as top journals, in which case there could be more people putting out top quality work than I'm allowing for. On the last point, here's my first-pass list at what I'd take the top 25 journals to be, noting this list is heavily biased towards journals that publish philosophy of language papers and journals that publish electronically:
Analysis, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Canadian Journal of Philosophy, Ethics, Journal of Philosophical Logic, Journal of Philosophy, Journal of Symbolic Logic, Linguistics and Philosophy, Mind, Mind and Language, Monist, Nous, Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Perspectives, Philosophical Quarterly, Philosophical Review, Philosophical Studies, Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Philosophy and Public Affairs, Philosophy of Science, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Studia Logica, Synthese.
History journals, and ethics journals, are rather underrepresented on that list. (In history I think that's in part because books are much more important than they are elsewhere in philosophy, so there just aren't that many really important journals. It's hard to get tenure without a book in history, not so hard outside it. This might mean my guess that half the good work is in journals might be an over-estimate, even though it looks absurdly low to me.) But not all the journals there are exactly blockbusters. So I think we could correct for my biases and come up with a list of 25 such that you would expect good work would appear in them. If not, it might be interesting to answer the above questions with top 25 replaced by top 50.

The upshot of all this is that unless I've made several large mistakes in the methodology here, then it's just impossible to have it be the case that most people maintain what I was thinking was a reasonable average standard. Perhaps my standards are just plain wrong.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/07/2003 12:43:00 PM

Sunday

I was thinking about Wo's comments in the post below about Laurie Paul's paper on contextualism, and I realised I'd overlooked some options for Lewis. Rather than the five options I present, there are at least seven. One more is saying that the predicate is context-sensitive. This won't really do. Lewis says that the semantic values of (ordinary) predicates are sets of world-bound individuals, and which set is picked out by, say, 'was brought by a stork' won't be sensitive to modal context in the right way.

The seventh option is more interesting. Lewis could say that changes in context change the composition rules. At the time I wrote the post I thought this would violate compositionality. What I realised on reading Wo's comments is that this need not be so. We can say that which proposition is denoted by 'a is F' is sensitive to the contextually determined counterpart relation without violating compositionality, because within a given context the proposition picked out by 'a is F' just is a function of the semantic value of 'a' and the semantic value of 'is F'. It almost goes without saying that this option leads to an utterly bizarre semantic theory. If I had a choice between Laurie's theory that context changes the semantic value of names and the theory that context changes the semantics of predication generally I'd pick Laurie's theory every day of the week and twice on Sundays. But I think Lewis really is committed to the latter theory.

Consider two contexts such that in the first a has no counterparts that are F, and in the second it does have some. In the first, 'a is F' expresses the necessarily false proposition. In the second, it expresses a contingent proposition. By hypothesis, 'a' does not change its content between the contexts, and neither does 'is F'. But the proposition expressed changes. Unless we just abandon compositionality altogether, we have to say that the function that takes a subject and a predicate as input and delivers a proposition as output changes between contexts. I don't think this is very plausible, but it looks at least consistent.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/06/2003 10:57:00 PM

Saturday

A few days ago, Andy Egan noted on the 617 blog that what happens in Matrix 3 will determine, in part, the aesthetic qualities of Matrix 1. (Permalinks bloggered, but right now it's the second post from the top.) In this case the connection was because what happens in Matrix 3 (partially) determines what is true in Matrix 1, and the relevant fictional facts are relevant to the aesthetic value of the whole.

[Warning: What follows contains spoilers about Matrix 2, the first season of 24, Ulysses and possibly the Iliad, depending on what I feel like writing about.]

When can a later story determine what is true in an earlier story? This turned out to be harder than I expected to figure out. Let's start with one case where it does make a difference, and another case where it does not make a difference. Both are fictional, though they could be close to real cases.

Martian Leopold
Joyce survived his illnesses in 1941, but this wasn't obviously for the greater good of literary creation. Deciding that the future was in sci-fi, he decided to write the story of June 17, 1904, where it was revealed that Bloom was really a Martian, and that the Circe episode was not hallucinatory, as everyone had previously suspected, but a literal representation of what happened in Nighttown.

24 by Committee
As in the real-world 24, it is revealed towards the end of the first series that Nina is a traitor, and has been throughout the show. This changes what we think about the earlier episodes, including I think their aesthetic qualities. As in the real-world show, it was not decided until the early episodes had been completed, and even screened, that Nina would be made to have been a traitor all along. Unlike, I think, the real-world version, 24 was written by a very fluid committee. Although there was some continuity from week to week, the committee of writers who made Nina treasonous had no members in common with the committee that wrote the early episodes.

I hope you agree that even if Ulysses Part 2 is written, in Ulysses Leopold is human not Martian, and Circe is a hallucination (or perhaps several hallucinations). And I hope you agree that changing the writing structure of 24 in this way does not affect the truth value of claims about the early episodes. To really make trouble, I need a slightly harder case.

Intended Martian Leopold
Joyce survived his illnesses in 1941, which gave him the chance to write the sequel to Ulysses he'd always planned: the story of June 17, 1904, where it is revealed that Bloom was really a Martian, and that the Circe episode was not hallucinatory, as everyone had previously suspected, but a literal representation of what happened in Nighttown.

I think that even here, it is not true in Ulysses that Bloom is a Martian. I guess this is a contentious intuition, but there's a way to back it up, sort of. Imagine that Joyce intended to write this sequel, but really did die before he had a chance to write it. In this case I think the complete absence of textual clues means that Bloom really isn't Martian, authorial intention be damned. I know this is an unfashionably fashionable view for an analytic philosophy blog, but I think it's correct. Call me crazy, call me Derridian, call me a sellout. (Just don't call me late for breakfast.) I don't think that in that case Joyce's intentions matter, and I don't think his writing out those intentions in a later work matters either.

What makes the difference between these cases? At first glance one might think that a later work matters to what's true in an earlier work if (a) the later work is written by the same author as the earlier work, and (b) it carries out the intentions the author had in describing what was happening in the first work. But these are neither necessary nor sufficient conditions, as our cases above illustrate. Or at least, so I think they illustrate. One might argue that the later episodes of 24 do have the same author as the earlier episodes, since the author in each case is a committee, and the same committee writes each episode, even if it has different members at the different times. (Mereological essentialism is not true of writing committees, you see.) But I don't think that will do. Make the earlier episodes written by a single person, who gradually adds co-authors, then gradually drifts out of the process. The later episodes still matter. (Or do they?) And it's hard to say that we have the same author. (Or is it? My intuitions have quit for the day.)

So what does make the difference? Beats me. It's easy to say that the later work matters iff it is part of the same story, or narrative, as the first work. This seems true, but the problem is now analysing the concept of being part of the same story. And I have no idea how this will be done.

For anyone who likes more and more absurd examples, it's fun to play with variations of the 24 case where one of two co-authors stays on, and writes out her intentions for the back story behind what they co-wrote. Or, even better, completely changes her mind about the back story, and instead writes a story that meshes perfectly with what her co-author thought the back-story was, even though she was ignorant of her co-author's wild views.

Looks like I didn't get around to spoiling the Iliad. Maybe tomorrow.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/05/2003 05:59:00 PM

Friday

I wanted to write something systematic about Laurie Paul's paper on contextualism and essentialism, but doing the metaphysics full justice would require that I either be better informed, or smarter, or less lazy, so I can't really say anything too comprehensive. But the points I wanted to make didn't have much to do with the metaphysics anyway, so let's try the following plan. I'll start with a relatively crude caricature of Laurie's position, make a few criticisms of the caricature, silently bet that filling in the details of the metaphysics won't make much difference to the objections, then go on to a puzzle for Lewis that Laurie's paper raises. Then I'll turn over to watching television.

Here's the puzzle. In some contexts we feel happy assenting to essentialist claims like "Queen Elizabeth II (QE2 for short) could not have been brought by a stork". Call these the Kripkean contexts. For definiteness, imagine the Kripkean context to be a seminar on essentialism run by Kripke, in particular a time in that seminar when Kripke has just said "QE2 could not have been brought by a stork" in a particularly authoritative fashion. But in other contexts, the contrary assertion "QE2 could have been brought by a stork" sounds fine. Call these the Lewisian contexts. For definiteness, imagine the Lewisian context to be a seminar on counterpart theory run by Lewis immediately after that Kripkean seminar, in particular a time in Lewis's seminar when he has just said "QE2 could have been brought by a stork" in a particularly convivial fashion. How can we explain what is going on here?

Laurie's solution is that in the two contexts, 'QE2' names different objects. For definiteness (and here I'm really caricaturing) we can imagine that in each context QE2 names a trans-world fusion, a modal continuant as Lewis calls it ("Postscript to Counterpart Theory", pg. 40-42), but it names different modal continuants in different contexts. In the Kripkean context it names a fusion every one of whose modal parts is born of human parents. (Germanic royals as it turns out). In the Lewisian context it names a much larger fusion, some of whose modal parts were brought into the world by a stork. Now we have it that both Kripke and Lewis speak truly in their respective contexts.

This isn't a million miles from Lewis's own solution, as Laurie acknowledges. Lewis also favoured a contextualist solution to the puzzle. But for Lewis the contextualism seems to reside in the modal terms, not in the names. (It's a slightly tricky matter of interpretation determining whether Lewis is committed to this. But I think Laurie's right that he is, for reasons that should become clear in what follows. Laurie argues that it is an improvement to have the contextual variability in the name rather than the modal terms. I think she's right - Lewis's position here is I think inconsistent. But that doesn't mean contextualism here of any kind is a good idea.

I think some fairly simple considerations about speech reports pose pretty desperate problems for the contextualist theory. A few years ago I noticed that contextualist theories had problems with indirect speech reports. (I wasn't the only one to notice this, and I probably wasn't the first. But it was an original thought on my part at the time.) We can illustrate this fairly well with the seminars above. Imagine a student responds to Lewis's convivial statement with (1).

(1) Professor Kripke said that QE2 could not have been brought by a stork.

Our intuition is that what the student said is true. Kripke did say just that. But if the student is still in the Lewisian context - and since she's still in the Lewisian classroom she probably is - then 'QE2' in her mouth does not denote the modal continuant that Kripke was talking about. And we can hardly report Kripke's speech by talking about a thing that he did not even denote. Even worse, it's hard to see how the 'that'-clause in (1) fails to name a false proposition in the context, so (1) reports Kripke as having expressed a false proposition. Yet the contextualist thinks Kripke spoke truly.

(It should be clear enough how to extend this kind of criticism to contextualism about knowledge, or truth, or ethics, or victory. The last would be amusing - it would be nice to know that after the game we could always find a context in which we can truly say "We won.")

Ernie Lepore and Herman Cappelen (in thus far unpublished work) have noted that contextualism also makes a mess of direct speech reports. This is actually a much stronger argument against contextualism than the argument from indirect speech reports just mentioned, since it relies on fewer theoretical overheads. On the contextualist view, the student instead of saying (1) could have truly said (2).

(2) When Professor Kripke said, "QE2 could not have been brought by a stork" he spoke truly, even though QE2 could have been brought by a stork.

But this sentence could not possibly be true. Note that this is not because we cannot contradict what appears inside quote marks in the rest of the sentence. When there really are contextually sensitive terms in what is quoted, this is perfectly possible, as in (3).

(3) When Professor Kripke said, "I wrote Naming and Necessity" he spoke truly, even though I did not write Naming and Necessity.

If 'QE2' is context sensitive, just like 'I', then (2) should sound just as plausible as (3). But it doesn't - it sounds awful.

We can put these two complaints together. On the contextualist theory the student could also say (4), which also sounds very bad.

(4) When Professor Kripke said, "QE2 could not have been brought by a stork" he did not say that QE2 could not have been brought by a stork.

Contextualists have a response to these arguments, though I don't think it's a very persuasive one. They can just say that we should attribute mass error to people about direct and indirect speech reports. People they just ain't no good - at producing reports containing terms with hidden contextual sensitivity. I think this is more plausible for the indirect speech reports than for the direct speech reports, which is why I think Lepore and Cappelen's argument is better than the one I first came up with. (The Lepore and Cappelen paper was presented at the Central APA this year, so hopefully it shouldn't be too far from publication.)

This isn't meant to be a particular criticism of Laurie. I think her contextualist theory is much more plausible than the majority of contextualist theories floating around these days - as far as I can tell it isn't vulnerable to any particular criticisms, just these general criticisms of contextualist theories. And everyone except Kent Bach is probably vulnerable to Lepore and Cappelen's criticism somewhere. (To pick a non-random example, my views on conditionals don't look very good in light of this argument.) The main reason I wanted to work through this here was because it provides a nice way of illustrating the problems contextualisms have with reports.

And I do think that if we must go contextualist, Laurie's version of contextualism is better than Lewis's, which looks inconsistent to me. The problem is that I think Lewis is committed to the following five theses, which look inconsistent.

  • Meaning is compositional
  • Contextualism about de re modal statements is true
  • Modal locutions in ordinary language are operators not quantifiers
  • Propositions are unstructured
  • Names are not contextually variable (or at least they do not vary between the Kripkean and Lewisian contexts)

Here's the argument that these are inconsistent. Assume that (5) is uttered in a context such that it is true.

(5) Possibly, a is F.

Assume it is later uttered in a context where it is false. That is (5') we will assume is false.

(5') Possibly, a is F.

It will be helpful to have the following two sentences to compare with (5) and (5'), the first uttered in the context of (5), the second uttered in the context of (5').

(6) Possibly, 2+2=5
(6') Possibly, 2+2=5

By contextualism, it is possible that (5) and (5') exist. Note that (6) and (6') are false no matter what we know about the context. If 'possibly' is an operator, then the logical form of each of these sentences is OS, where O is a sentence-sentence operator and S a sentence. That sentence denotes a proposition, or something of the sort. Note that this is an unstructured entity, a function from something (possible worlds or possibilia probably) to truth values. By the assumption that the name is not contextually variable (and I assume we pick an F that is also not contextually variable) we get that the content of S is the same in both (5) and (5'). So hence the content of 'possibly' must be different in the two cases. But now note that in the (5') context, the content of a is F is the constant function that maps everything to false, the same as the content of '2+2=5' in (6) and (6'). Since the content of the name and the predicate don't change between contexts, that is still the content of S in (5). So in (5) 'possibly' denotes an operator that maps the constant false function into a true proposition. Hence (6), which consists of the very same operator followed by a sentence denoting the constant false function is true, which is absurd.

There's lots of ways out of this. Possibly being more careful than I've been about what kinds of functions are the contents of sentences will help, though I can't really see how it could. The argument appeals to compositionality several times and one could deny that, though Lewis does not. See, I think, General Semantics. One could give up the contextualism, which I think one should, though again Lewis does not. See chapter 4 of Plurality. One could deny that 'possibly' here is an operator. I might write a bit more on this next week, because it's a more plausible position than I realised. But again Lewis does not. See Index, Context and Content. (Note that the point here is not whether the truth conditions for modal sentences should be stated using operators or objectual quantification over worlds. The point rather is whether English contains modal operators or its apparent modal operators really are objectual quantifiers.) One could accept structured propositions, as Jeff King and others have argued, but Lewis does not. I'm not sure where he explicitly says this, but it's implicit in almost every paper on philosophy of language that he wrote. I guess there's an explicit acceptance of unstructured propositions somewhere in Plurality. This move would fit quite nicely with the counterpart theory I think - it's good to give the modal operators, if there are any, something in the propositions they operate on to bite into. And finally one could adopt Laurie's position and say that the variation is in the content of the name. This position has the nice virtue of being consistent, unlike what I take Lewis's position to be.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/04/2003 09:13:00 PM

The philosophy papers blog has been updated. I should have done this this morning, but my computer started seizing up, so things went fairly slowly today. Hopefully the problems have been fixed now.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/04/2003 08:38:00 PM

Thursday

The philosophy papers blog has been updated to reflect a paper that I missed this morning. (I'd been looking at the wrong page it seems. My bad.) Jim Pryor has posted a new paper on non-inferential justification which looks rather interesting. (Actually, it's a new version of a paper that's been up on his site for a while, but I missed the old versions too because, as said, I was looking at the wrong page.) Here's the abstract for the paper.
[This paper] articulates a notion of immediate or "non-inferential" justification, cites some apparent examples of it, and then examines at length a familiar coherentist argument against the possibility of such justification. That argument was traditionally employed against "the Given Theory"; but it threatens to have much broader scope. It is driven by a principle I call the "Premise Principle," which says that a belief in P cannot be justified except by other representational states whose contents are premises that inferentially support P. One can accept that Principle and still be a foundationalist, but many foundationalists will want to reject it. I argue that the Premise Principle is unmotivated.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/03/2003 01:21:00 PM

I come back to the philosophy papers blog and there's only one paper to report. Maybe better luck tomorrow.

To make up for it, there's a draft paper on imaginative resistance by blogger John Holbo that I should have linked yesterday. John looks at a quite different angle to me, looking at the connection between resistance and the aesthetic quality of fictional works. I'm not sure I agree with all of his conclusions, in particular I think there's a tighter correlation between imaginability and aesthetic quality than Holbo allows. But he's right I think that a distasteful underlying moral message is not enough to generate imaginative resistance - we don't treat The Taming of the Shrew or The Merchant of Venice as being like the toy examples of resistance even though in each case the intended moral message is pretty clear, and pretty obnoxious.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/03/2003 07:14:00 AM

A few random notes while I get back to coping with sunset being at 9 not 5.

There's a couple of pages I should have linked to a while ago. H. E. Baber has papers up on welfare, theology and several other issues, as well as very well-developed websites for her courses on Logic and The Economics and Ethics of Gender in the Developing World. Carsten Korfmacher has an extensive webpage, with a blog on the home page, and a papers page. Both of these papers pages have been added to the list of pages being tracked on the papers blog.

Peter Milne has a newer and more dramatic version of Lewis's triviality proof up on the Analysis site.

Before I started this blog I wrote about Marc Lange's "Baseball, Pessimistic Inductions, and the Turnover Fallacy". (I can't find either my comment or Lange's paper online, which sort of spoils the story to follow.) Lange pointed out that the Pessimistic Induction - All science has been wrong in the past, so probably it is wrong in the present - fails to note that current science is not exactly a random sample. Bad theories have a tendency to be refuted, and hence cease to be current. By way of illustration, he noted that while most managers in major league history have sub-.500 records, at any one time most managers have career above -.500 records. The analogy, obviously enough, is that even if most scientific theories are losers, even very weak selective pressure suggests that current theories may well be winners. It's a neat idea, and you'd expect to find it applied not just to managers, but to players. And it seems that it does, even with the very poor decision making by some baseball administrators. Nate Silver shows that over the period 1973-1992, the correlation between quality and playing time holds up quite well, and makes the right statistical/philosophical point.

As Bill James pointed out during his Abstract days, the talent distribution in baseball is asymmetrical; the vast majority of players who appear at some point on a major league roster turn in a below-average performance, but the above-average players receive so much more playing time that the equilibrium is maintained.

Of course, scepticism about current science might be justified for slightly less crude reasons than inductive scepticism. On StarStuff, ABC NewsRadio's Science Show, Brian Boyle noted that the cosmological constant is (a) not known to be constant, and (b) larger than theoretical calculations say it should be by 120 orders of magnitude. It's very hard to imagine what it is to be out by 120 orders of magnitude, even the Bush budget estimates are not normally that bad. The interview is here, and starts about 8 minutes in. Before that is a story even more designed to make one worry about science - the ongoing and so far unsuccessful searches for the Higgs Boson particle, which unlike dark energy is predicted to exist by best theories, and also unlike dark energy do not show up very clearly in experimental results. (If all my physics is off in this paragraph, I blame the ABC, not my reliance on pop science sources.)

Negative polarity (in the linguistic, not the physical) sense is one of my favourite topics, but sadly there are few lock-solid examples of negative polarity in English. In modern English 'ever' is about the best example we have, as illustrated by the difference between these two cases.

No one has ever defeated Kasparov in a tournament.
*Someone has ever defeated Kasparov in a tournament.

In older dialects of English, 'ever' could be used to mean 'always'. I think it is used in Shakespeare this way sometimes, but I'm a bit too lazy to look that up. But I was a little shocked to see it used in a modern-day sports story.

David Beckham has revealed he had offers from four clubs when it became clear that he was set to leave Manchester United this summer, but insists he was ever interested in joining Real Madrid.

I think that's an error, maybe missing 'only' before 'ever', but if not it's a very bizarre usage.

On bizarre facts, I thought I had a copy of the Harry Potter book waiting for me when I got back to the States, but in fact there were two copies. I don't remember ordering two copies, but I suppose there are several things I've done that I don't remember doing. Or perhaps Amazon messed up. Perhaps.

posted by Brian Weatherson 7/03/2003 01:11:00 AM

Wednesday

Happy (belated) New Year's Day.

It's belated because I just got home from a rather long, and slightly eventful flight. I managed to spend the end of the first day of the new year at Boston's South Station, which seemed somewhat appropriate since I ended so many days last year there too.

I wasn't meant to be in Boston today, but my flight plans were re-routed while I was airborne between Sydney and LA. The new plan left roughly 50 minutes between landing in LA and taking off for Washington. This seemed to be a surprising, even touching, display of confidence by United Airlines in the efficiency of the immigration officials (vindicated), their baggage handlers (not vindicated), customs officials and security staff (both retrospectively vindicated). I hadn't got my bags before my plane to Washington took off, though I did make it through the next two steps in about 2 minutes flat. I then managed to get myself re-rerouted to Boston. Where, naturally, my baggage did not end up. I was a little miffed about this at first - especially because while waiting for my bags to not turn up I missed a bus back to Providence. On the other hand, this way the bags will get delivered to my door. (If they arrive.) And on the third hand, the missing bag contains little apart from dirty laundry. Still, maybe not so dirty that I wouldn't have wanted to wear some of the said clothes tomorrow. But that's probably autobiography not philosophy.

So why, I hear you ask, New Year's Day? Well, it dawned on me that the actual calendar years aren't that relevant to academics. What are more relevant are academic years. So we need years that revolve around those. This underdetermines when we should start and finish years a little, since any time between graduation and the start of Fall would do. So the solstice might work, but I don't want to think too hard about solstices. (I've had 11 winter solstices since my last summer solstice. And I'm not sure that I've spelled solstice correctly once here.) As the tax year in Australia goes from July 1 to June 30 for no apparent reason, that seemed a crucial consideration. So around 11.30 last night, I decided July 1 it was, as it had been for most of the past 37 and a half hours.

It being New Year's then, it's time for some New Year's Resolutions. Serious ones, ones that will last at least six days, provided we're allowed to skip a day here or there, yeah?

  1. Read more non-philosophy books
    I've been finding that reading things other than philosophy is (a) entertaining and (b) useful for writing philosophy. So I should do more of it. The problem is knowing exactly what counts as non-philosophy. Not much when I get started. After all, I wrote two chapters of my dissertation (in philosophy) on the General Theory. But I think we'll find something.
  2. Finish my book
    Since the book made negative progress last year, this one could be hard, but we'll try. And it's such a typical New Year's Resolution I had to include it.
  3. Stop caring so much about philosophical status reports
    It worried me to discover that I could recall the details of the latest Leiter rankings better than I could recall the periodic table. Not that I have any use for the periodic table in my work or anything, but this seems to be the wrong way around. And I'm not going to go learning any chemistry to fix it.
  4. Get and keep to a timetable
    I was thinking something like the following:
    Wake-10am: Papers blog, read newspapers, eat breakfast, clear overnight mail tray, etc. (At home)
    10am-5pm: All work - class preparation, grading, writing, editing, research, etc. (At office)
    5pm-7pm: Non-philosophy reading (At home or pub)
    7pm-10pm: Dinner and watching baseball (At home or baseball park)
    10pm-lights out: Open season (Anywhere)
    If I insisted the reading be at a pub I might improve on resolution 1, but only at the cost of the permanent tacit resolution that I won't drink so much this year. And I've have to find a pub in Providence to drink in. And I'd have to allow for exceptions as soon as the timetable became operational. But it might be a way to make sure I get actual work done, as well as fitting in other stuff I want to do.
  5. Stop cheating on my wife
    This one is made up. To keep it, I'd have to (a) get married, (b) start an affair and (c) end that affair. And that's too much activity for one year. Or at least, that would I think count as keeping the resolution. But it's somewhat odd. It only makes sense if we take the resolution to be bounded by a tacit existential quantifier over times in the upcoming year, which seems reasonable, and if we take the description 'my wife' to have narrow scope with respect to the tacit quantifier. The latter is odd. It isn't, I think, what we do in resolution 2. If I give up on vagueness, and instead write a book on demonstratives, I don't think I would keep resolution 2, even though there would be a t such that I'd have completed the thing that would have been, at t, my book. I don't know why the difference here, or whether we should even expect a decent explanation of the difference.

I started making progress on point 1 over the flight here, reading White Teeth by Zadie Smith. It was, as the second wave of reviews suggested, as good as the hype indicated. And as always there's lots of potential philosophical points to make. But it's getting late so I'll just make one. The narrator of the story knows a lot more about the world of the story than any particular character. At one point, at least, her knowledge is limited to what is known by some (other) character or other knows, but clearly she would have fairly amazing epistemological powers if she knows all she purports to know. I think I've previously endorsed Alex Byrne's argument that in these cases we should say there is no narrator, at least no narrator in the world of the story. But it's pretty clear here there is a narrator, for she often will say things that relate more to her (and our relationship with her) than to any character. So she'll think out loud about what to say next, let us know that some mystery will be cleared up down the road, and occasionally offer commentary on how the characters are going through their trials. All this suggests a narrator, even one in the world of Archie and Samad and Clara and Irie and everyone, but such a narrator would be magical, and we don't have much of a sense that there's any magic in this world. (Except in one scene involving a fairly improbable coin toss.) The best explanation of what's happening here is roughly Kendall Walton's. The question of how the narrator knows all she knows simply doesn't arise. If she were to say something wildly inappropriate, then it might arise, but as it stands asking how she knows these things is like asking how Othello gets to be such a good poet. It simply isn't playing the game the right way to push on those aspects of the make-believe in just that way. This might all require rewriting some of the sections about the phenomenological puzzle in the imaginative resistance paper.


posted by Brian Weatherson 7/02/2003 03:03:00 AM

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