Thoughts Arguments and Rants


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


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


I've put up version of an MT based edition of this blog at:
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


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 Both of them have lots of unpublished papers up, which will be added to tomorrow's papers blog, now at its new MT address.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


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:
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


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


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.

–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

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