Sunday, January 28, 2007


Write that in your copybook now

Somehow I missed that fact that MIT just held a Large Number Championship between Adam Elga and devout Mafia player Agustin Rayo. Does anyone know the outcome?

(Hat tip: Sam, who also posts the classic first episode of Look Around You. I can only hope I played some small but significant role in its introduction to Michigan.)

Ps. Is it just me, or does the poster feature Morrissey punching some dude?


Saturday, January 27, 2007


Symmetry and Paradox

In Vagueness and Contradiction, Roy Sorensen discusses the No-No paradox; abstracting away from details we'll review shortly, this is the puzzle that stands to the truth-teller sentence as the Yes-No paradox stands to the liar. So the (strengthened) Liar sentence is:

S1: S1 is not true,

while the following open-pair generates the Yes-No paradox:

S2: S3 is true
S3: S2 is not true.

What groups these together as a family is that there is no consistent assignment of truth-values to these sentences. In contrast there are consistent assignments of truth-values to the truth-teller sentence:

S4: S4 is true,

and to the pair of sentences that give rise to the No-No paradox:

S5: S6 is not true
S6: S5 is not true.

S4 can consistently receive T or F, we're just at a loss to assign one rather than the other. We can't assign S5 and S6 TT or FF, but TF or FT are fine. Problem is, it seems like symmetry considerations seem to compel us to assign matching truth-values to the two sentences. (We can increase the symmetry between the two sentences by presenting the paradox the way Russell does; we have a sheet of white card, with just "The sentence on the other side of this card is not true" printed on each side. The idea is that there's no grounds on which to conjecture that there has been a context-shift or anything that would justify assigning different true-values to the members of the pair.) So although consistency allows TF or FT, symmetry considerations seem to rule those options out.

More recently, in 'A Definite No-No' (In Beall's Liars and Heaps, 2003) Sorensen presents the following pair of sentences:

S7: S8 is not definitely true
S8: S7 is not definitely true.

(Sorensen's presentation attempts to maximize their 'equal-billing' a little more than mine, again to increase the force of symmetry considerations, but that won't matter here; anyone who feels I've loaded the dice against Sorensen can simply look at his presentation on p225 of his paper.)

The assignment FF (or more carefully, assigning not-true to both) looks like it's immediately ruled out by the logic of definiteness; as Sorensen points out, the untruth of one of the pair implies the definite truth of the other. What about the other options? Sorensen writes:

'. . .the symmetry of the two sentences is destabilizing. We have the following feelings: As twins, [S7] and [S8] should have matching truth-values (or should be equally bereft of truth-values). Since we have already ruled out the possibility that both are untruths, we conclude that [S7] and [S8] are both true.

The truth of the pair is no problem in itself. But there is a ironical difficulty in us possessing such a tidy argument [S7] and [S8] are true. The discovery of a proof for a proposition is generally regarded as a sufficient condition for that proposition being definitely true. Since [S7] and [S8] each deny that the other is definitely true, they would each be false if proven true. Strangely, any cogent argument to the effect that both sentences are true must backfire.' (226)

I just don't find this all that plausible. The crucial move in all of this is the equation of 'cogent argument' with 'proof'. The move is particularly clear in the second and third sentences of the quote; Sorensen passes without a ripple from our possession of a 'tidy argument' to the possession of a proof. Now, this might just be written off as a terminological gripe if Sorensen's argument that the only assignment we can make to S7 and S8 is TT really did constitute a proof. But surely that issue turns on the status of the symmetry principle. After all, it's the symmetry principle that rules out the true-untrue and untrue-true assignments.

So what is the status of the symmetry principle? All Sorensen says is that we have a 'feeling' it should hold. I agree; the principle is pretty intuitively compelling, and likewise I find the argument it underwrites that TT is the only available assignment is pretty compelling. But does such an argument have the credentials to constitute a proof, so that it's uncontroversial that possession of this argument suffices to bestow definiteness on its conclusion? I don't see that Sorensen has motivated that at all. So Sorensen needs to provide an argument that the symmetry principle has some more privileged status, or that there's some intimate but hitherto unrecognized link between intuitively cogent philosophical argument and definiteness. Otherwise all he's done is given us really good reason to think that both S7 and S8 are true.


Friday, January 26, 2007


Math is hard. Let's do maths!

I was out with Scots tonight to celebrate Robert Burns' birthday, and received a telling off for using 'math' on this blog. I'll try not to let it happen again.

(In general, regular readers might have noticed a slide into increasingly Americanized spelling. There's a very simple reason for this. A few months ago I installed a new edition of Firefox, and it automatically spell-checks every piece of text I enter. Since I'd rather compromise my cultural and linguistic heritage than have my screen covered with squiggly red lines under all of my words, it's less hassle to use American spellings.)

Ps. If anyone's confused by the title of this post, it's based on the snowclone.

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Tuesday, January 23, 2007


Final CFP

Last reminder I'm going to post here that submissions for the 2007 UT Austin Graduate Conference are due on the 1st of next month. To inspire people, here's a quote I just found from the preface to Coady's Testimony:

'A good proportion of current philosophical work is highly technical, and its results accessible only to sibling practitioners or to some who operate in closely related areas (as results in logic are available to mathematicians.) To some degree this is inevitable; philosophy as a discipline involves a commitment to theorizing and this commitment necessitates some involvement in technical terminology and internal debates. Values like precision and rigour are well served by this tendency. None the less, precision and rigour are instrumental values, and when they develop a life of their own, they can become detached from truth, importance, and wisdom. I have some sympathy with those who think that contemporary analytical philosophy has become too scholastic (though I think the point applies even more to much contemporary French and German philosophy.) If philosophical concerns are not, at certain points, turned outwards to the broader community and its intellectual condition, they lose focus and nourishment, and if the community has no access to the reflections of philosophers, it is deprived of valuable insights and self-understanding.'

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Thursday, January 18, 2007


Let's talk about sets, baby

A while ago, I wrote a paper exploring the late great George Boolos' suggestion that our pre-axiomatic conception of set might be a combination of the standard iterative conception and the limitation of size conception. Boolos' project, as I understand it, was to try to justify the axioms of ZFC by codifying these pre-axiomatic conceptions (into the stage theory and New V respectively), then proving the axioms of ZFC from the codifications. Or that's the shape Boolos' project would have taken ideally; rather he was trying to show the limits of this kind of approach by showing that neither IC or LOS could justify all of the axioms of ZFC in this manner. IC failed to imply extensionality, choice and replacement, while LOS failed to imply power set and infinity, and in fact implied ~union. The suggestion, I take it, was that some hybrid conception of set formed out of IC and LOS might imply all of the axioms.

There are a couple of immediate obstacles to be overcome. First of all, IC implies union, while LOS implies ~union. Secondly, take a collection t such that t = {t}. t isn't part of the iterative hierarchy, and so isn't a set by the lights of IC, but t obviously is a set if your characterization of set-hood is simply being of sufficiently small cardinality, as it will be if one adopts LOS. I argued that we should be very pessimistic about the prospects for solving these problems in a manner that allowed for the success of the general project; that of justifying the axioms of ZFC with appeal to something recognizable as (a codification of) our pre-axiomatic conception of set.

There are a number of responses one might have. One might just dismiss this as a wrong-headed way of approaching the epistemology of set theory. Or one might wonder why the fixation with ZFC (see here for some discussion of related issues). These are important questions, but my project was just to see how far such an epistemology of ZFC could fly.

In conversation, my friend Nikolaj Pedersen suggested that I'd simply overstated the difficulties in formulating the hybrid conception of set. Sadly, he never gave me any idea of what he had in mind. Do any of the more mathematically minded among you have any idea what kind of strategy might work here? (I could just email Nikolaj, but where's the fun in that?)

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Blackburn interview

I've long thought it a pity that Simon Blackburn turned so much towards the popular book market, and away from research. It's not that I don't think such efforts can be very worthwhile, especially when done by someone so competent and clear. Rather, it's always seemed like something of a loss to more focused academic philosophy.

In any case, Leiter links to an interview with Blackburn where he discusses some of his motivations for this "change of emphasis", plus raises some issues which have come up several times in the recent debate over Jason Stanley's "Wittgenstein Fallacy". Interestingly, Blackburn criticises the system in the UK, and holds up the systems in place here and in Australia as models of what should be happening in the UK. It's a very good, interesting interview, and well worth reading.


Friday, January 12, 2007


68 + 57 = 5

The debate over Stanley's Wittgenstein Fallacy rolls on, but it's hard not to feel we're missing the really interesting question: would Kripkenstein get tenure in a math department?


Thursday, January 11, 2007


Eastern APA 2006

I've had a staggeringly unproductive day today, so let me try to redress that a little by writing up some thoughts about the Eastern APA in DC a couple of weeks ago.

I had a very positive experience overall. I got to see some really interesting talks, and met some interesting people. Let me start with the talks. I've blogged about Adam Elga's talk on disagreement already. I particularly enjoyed hearing Jason Stanley's response to a talk by Charles Wallis. Wallis was attacking the intellectualist line on know-how defended by Jason and Tim Williamson in their 'Knowing How'. In his response, Jason stressed that one of the main aims of their paper had been to dispute Ryle's account of propositional knowledge, so that the claim wasn't that knowledge-how is a species of knowledge-that as Ryle conceived of the latter, but rather that once we were conceiving of propositional knowledge in the right way, knowledge-how is naturally regarded as a species of knowledge-that. Jason suggested that likewise his disagreement with Wallis was best seen as predominantly over the nature of propositional knowledge. I thought this was an intriguing perspective on the debate, and I have to admit it's one I hadn't really picked up on reading S&W's paper, so I was glad Jason laid that aspect of their project out so nicely in his response.

I also saw Jason and Herman Cappenlen give talks on the so-called problem of shared content that's coming up in recent debates about context-sensitivity. Cappenlen was keen to stress that there are really a cluster of problems here, and he focused on one aspect; speakers' willingness to disquote when reporting others' speech despite a shift in context. Cappenlen utters "I am hungry". I obviously don't accurately report what he said if I tell you that he said I am hungry. Conversely, if these kinds of disquotational indirect reports aren't blocked even when there's been a shift in context, we're meant to get strong evidence that the relevant terms aren't context-sensitive. Cappenlen now acknowledges that this doesn't straightforwardly test for context-sensitivity in the manner just suggested, and so doesn't as neatly as was previously thought provide material for an anti-contextualist argument, so he explored some options for tweaking the test. His talk was about the 60th reminder of 2006 that I really need to read Insensitive Semantics. Jason argued that the problems of shared content weren't really as big as the anti-contextualists make out, and that it wasn't clear semantic minimalism, in positing a minimal proposition expressed by an utterance, was better equipped to handle those problems. All in all, a very enjoyable session.

Philosophy aside, I got to catch up with a number of people from St Andrews, USC, CUNY and elsewhere that I hadn't seen for a while (in particular my friend Roy Cook). I also got to meet some people I'd really hoped to meet while I was there, usually by randomly pouncing on them as they walked by (it's not my usual method of meeting people, I assure you, but it seemed the only one likely to be effective under the circumstances). So I finally met Brit Brogaard and Joe Salerno in person; most readers of this blog will know that I've been interacting relatively regularly with them both since they started blogging last year. I also briefly introduced myself to Karen Bennett, one of our two keynotes at the UT grad conference taking place this coming April. And lastly, I introduced myself at last to Gillian Russell. I have to take the opportunity to apologise to Gillian, who I pounced on at a particularly bad time (right before she was about to give her response to Williamson's 'Conceptual Truth' paper). Gillian was at St Andrews as an undergrad years before I was, and then she went on to pursue graduate studies in the States. So when myself and others came to make a similar move, we heard a lot of good things about Gillian from our professors at St Andrews; she really set the bar high for those of us who followed somewhat in her footsteps. Given this connection, I thought it would be nice to finally get to meet her while we were both in the same place. So my introduction was poorly timed, but well-intentioned.

I was very glad I got a taste of the Eastern before I hit the job-market. That side of things was a little daunting to say the least. It's convinced me that I need to start working a whole lot harder than I have been; there's a lot of things I should know by the time I hit the market which I currently don't, and it's time I started seriously addressing that. It seems like a very hard environment to get taken seriously in. But this seems like a good point at which to learn this.

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Wednesday, January 10, 2007


Dummett on "Completion Rates"

I've been able to go check my copy of Dummett's Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics to see what he actually wrote, rather than just relying on my all too fallible memory. In light of this, I need to reconsider somewhat Dummett's intentions. But once the remark is set in its proper context, I submit Dummett is clearly not making the "Wittgenstein Fallacy". Here's the quote in full, since it's worth taking in its entirety:

'For those who think in terms of completion rates, mine is disgraceful. 'Completion rates' - the very phrase is like a bell. British universities are in the course of being transformed by idealogues who misunderstand everything about academic work. The transformation is of course merely part of a transformation of society as a whole. The official stance of the idealogues is that they do not believe that there is any such thing as society; in point of fact, however, they do not believe in anything else. They are concerned, for example, with the performance of 'the economy': not with whether individual people are propering, but with the economy as a distinguishable system of its own. The successful performance of the economy will grossly enrich some, and deprice others of all hope or comfort: but the aim, if one is not to take a cynical view of it, cannot be either to reward those who scramble to the top of the economic mountain or to punish those who are cast on to the scrapheap. The vision which the idealogues have of the successful functioning of the economy or of any other social mechanism is that it works well only if operated by human beings engaged in ruthless biting and clawing their way to the top, where they will be able to obtain a disproportionate share of limited rewards. For this purpose, the people so competing with one another should not be encouraged to believe in the good of anything but themselves as individuals; if they were to believe in society as a whole, they might form ideas about protecting the weak or unfortunate that would clog the efficiency of the system. A glance at the universities as they used to be revealed a social sector not functioning in this manner; it therefore obviously could not be functioning efficiently, or justifying the money spent on it, and hence must be transformed in accordance with the model decreed by ideology.

The plan of the idealogues is to increase academic productivity by creating conditions of intense competition. Those who compose what is known, in today's unlovely jargon, as academic and academic-related staff are now to be lured by the hope of gaining, and goaded by the shame of missing, extra payments and newly invented titular status. Their output is monitored by the use of performance indicators, measuring the number of words published per year. Wittgenstein, who died in 1951 having published only one short article after the Tractatus of 1922, would plainly not have survived such a system. Those most savagely affected by the new regime are, as always, the ones on the bottom rung of the ladder: the graduate students working for their doctorates. The degree of Ph.D (in Oxford, D.Phil.) fitted rather awkwardly into the system of doctorates as it had evolved in Britain out of the medieval one, and was originally instituted here to satisfy the needs of foreign students, for whom it was a necessary professional qualification. Only in recent years has it become an indispensable minimum qualification for British academic posts in arts subjects: candidates for them stand little chance if they cannot also show, at the start of their careers, an impressive list of publications. Relentless pressure is applied to students and their universities by the Government and its agencies - the research councils and the British Academy - to force them to complete their doctoral theses within three years of graduating; but it is hardly needed. Nervously conscious from the start that they must jostle one another for the diminished number of posts, they are anxious to jump the first hurdle of the Ph.D degree as quickly as possible, and then rush to submit their unrevised theses for publishers to turn into books.

The universities have no option but to co-operate in organising the squalid scramble that graduate study has become, in introducing the new 'incentives' for their professors and lecturers and in supplying the data for the evaluation process. The question is to what extent they will absorb the values of their overlords and jettison those they used to have. Once more, it is the graduate students who are the most at risk, for they are in effect being taught that the rat-race operates as ferociously in the academic as in the commercial world, and that what matters is not the quality of what you write but the speed at which you write it and get it into print. It is obviously as objectionable in a capitalist as in a communist country that politicians should decide how the universities are to be run; but it is catastrophic when those politicians display total ignorance of the need to judge academic productivity on principles quite different from those applicable to industry. Our masters show some small awareness that, as in industry, quality is relevant as well as quantity: their performance indicators are sometimes modified by the use of more sophisticated criteria, such as counting the number of references made by other writers to a given article. Frege would never have survived such a test: his writings were very seldom referred to in his lifetime. It is not, however, that quantity is not the only criterion, but that it is positively harmful. The reason is that overproduction defeats the very purpose of academic publication. It long ago became impossible to keep pace with the spate of books and of professional journals, whose number increases every year; once this happens, their production becomes an irrelevance to the working academic, save for the occasional book or article he happens to stumble on. This applies particularly to philosophy. Historians may be able to ignore much of their colleagues' work as irrelevant to their periods; but philosophers are seldom so specialised that there is anything they can afford to disregard in virtue of its subject-matter. Given their need for time to teach, to study the classics of philosophy and to think, they cannot afford to plough through the plethora of not bad, not good books and articles in the hope of hitting the one that will truly cast light upon the problems with which they are grappling; hence, if they are sensible, they ignore them altogether.'
(Dummett, M. 1991. Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics. Duckworth: pp. viii-x)

Several things are clear from these paragraphs. Firstly, Dummett didn't commit the "Wittgenstein fallacy"; the claim is restricted to how Wittgenstein might have fared under a system which takes number of words as its performance indicator, rather than being a general claim about how he would fare in something like the present climate. (Something similar should be said about the later remark about Frege.) Secondly, Dummett's concerns are probably more narrow than myself and others have tended to present them; he's talking about a specific place and time, and a particular system. That said, I think the passages still raise more general worries one might have: about the pressure on graduate students and others at the beginning of their careers to publish (even if that's nowhere near as bad as Dummett perceived it to be in Britain during the 80's); about the quantity of material being published and its effects on the profession, and so on. I'm sure most of us, Jason no doubt included, will want to take a much more positive perspective on these issues than Dummett did, but I think there are at least questions being raised here which are recognizably worth discussing.

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Stanley on the "Wittgenstein Fallacy"

I can't resist saying something in response to Jason's suggestion that Dummett commits what he calls the "Wittgenstein Fallacy". I cited Dummett's famous remark from the preface to Frege: Philosophy of Mathematics where he suggests that Wittgenstein wouldn't have fared too well in the current philosophical climate given the demands placed on philosophers to publish.

Jason suggests that Wittgenstein would do just fine, and so it's a fallacy to criticize the existing climate on the grounds that he wouldn't gain recognition or employment. Jason writes:

'Is the claim really that a modern day Wittgenstein wouldn't have tenure somewhere really quite respectable?'

I want to suggest that's not really the claim. I took it Dummett intends the point, as I did in citing it, as purely a piece of rhetoric. I seem to remember that Moore was asked to write a recommendation for Wittgenstein when he had been proposed as Moore's successor to the chair at Cambridge which Simon Blackburn now holds. As I recall, Moore wrote that to deny a professorship of philosophy to Wittgenstein would be like denying a chair in physics to Einstein. The suggestion can't seriously be that Wittgenstein wouldn't be able to make a career in contemporary academic philosophy, even having published just the Tractatus and 'Some Remarks on Logical Form'; surely Jason's right that the profession is not so enamored with publishing that it would fail to recognize such talent, or fail to be impressed by such a recommendation. But I find it hard to believe that Dummett is best read as making a serious suggestion otherwise.

Now, that leaves quite open the issue which I'm suggesting the "Wittgenstein Fallacy" is meant to dramatize; whether there's undue pressure stemming from universities for their academics to aim for quantity rather than quality when publishing. It's my own impression that such pressure does sometimes exist, though naturally I'll have to defer to those who have a better perspective on such matters. Jason has used his platform at Leiter Reports largely to promote a much more upbeat view of contemporary academic philosophy than one often finds elsewhere, both from people outside the profession and sometimes from those within it. I'm sympathetic to most of the points Jason has raised in his series of posts on these and related matters, but I do think there's a issue here that's at least worth discussing, and while the "Wittgenstein fallacy" may be a distracting rhetorical flourish, it does serve to highlight that issue.

Update: I've written a followup to this post, quoting and discussing Dummett's actual words, here. Jason has opened comments on his original post over at Leiter Reports.

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Friday, January 05, 2007


Dummett's incredulous stare

Continuing the trend, started by Shawn, of posting random quotes from Dummett's The Logical Basis of Metaphysics, here's my favorite so far:

'The principle objection to the Duhem-Quine thesis, as applied globally, is simply the difficulty of believing it.' (232)



Another problem for ideal language theorists

Good point.




UT Grad Conferences

This seems a good point to remind people that the deadline for submitting papers to the 2007 Graduate Conference is the 1st of February. The CFP is here.

We're having what's becoming an annual mini internal grad conference here, organized by Mark Sainsbury, on the 15th of January. If you want to get a flavor of what the so-called core M&E UT grad students have been working on recently, check out the website here. The conference has been titled 'Mind, Language and Reality', presumably a nod to last year's main grad conference here, Thoughts, Words and Objects, though it's got something of a McDowellian flavor to it. Not sure if that's intended.

I actually got slightly worried when I saw the title - there's a lot of mind talks, but I was worried that meant someone was expecting me to talk about both language and reality. Fortunately, I realized that Nora's talk will deal with reality, so I can just frictionlessly spin in the void talking about language.


Wednesday, January 03, 2007


Robert Solomon

Leiter has just reported the sad news given to the department yesterday - that Bob Solomon died on January 2nd while in Zurich: In Memoriam: Robert C. Solomon (1942-2007)

Our thoughts are with Kathleen Higgins and his friends and family at this time.

Monday, January 01, 2007


Elga on Disagreement

Happy new year to everyone!

The Eastern APA finished on Saturday, and I'd like to post about my impressions at some point soon. Joe Salerno, who I finally got to meet at the APA, already has a long post up on Knowability about some of the talks about modality that went on. What I want to talk about here is Adam Elga's interesting talk 'Reflection and Disagreement' that took place on Saturday morning - I had a question I wanted to ask, but unfortunately we ran out of time before I could ask it.

I should say first off that I haven't read the full-paper, so my apologies if this issue is discussed there.

Elga's talk had two main purposes. Firstly, he wanted to persuade us of the equal weight view of peer disagreement, and secondly to argue that the equal weight view doesn't entail 'spinelessness', that is, that rationality demands sitting on the fence about almost every issue.

Peer disagreement occurs when you and someone you regard as your epistemic peer come to opposing verdicts about some factual claim despite having just as good access to the evidence relevant for assessing the claim in question. You count someone as your epistemic peer if 'conditional on the two of you disagreeing, you think it is just as likely that you will be mistaken as that your friend will be'. The equal weight view simply says in peer disagreement, you should give both verdicts (yours and that of your peer) equal weight.

The argument for the equal weight view is also gratifyingly simple - as Elga stresses it's a version of the familiar bootstrapping arguments commonly wielded against reliablism and, more recently, dogmatism. Prior to the disagreement, you regard it as just as likely that you would be mistaken if such disagreement were to arise as it is that your peer is the mistaken one. Suppose you then in fact reach different verdicts about some factual claim (but that you haven't yet been able to check with some third party who is right). If it were reasonable for you to invest greater confidence in your own verdict than in your peer's, then 'you would have gotten some evidence that you are a better judge than your friend, since you would have gotten some evidence that you judged this race correctly, while she misjudged it. But that is absurd.' So you should think it's just as likely that your peer is correct regarding this claim as it is that you are.

The worry is that we're likely to disagree with people we regard as peers on most interesting issues: philosophical and non-philosophical. If these people all take opposing positions, as happens all the time in philosophical debates, it looks like the equal weight view entails a spineless suspension of judgment on all of such issues, since it requires that you regard each participant in the debate who you regard as a peer as just as likely to be correct about the claim in question as you are.

Elga's suggestion is that in these 'messy real-world cases' it's in fact very unlikely that we'll regard all these people as genuine epistemic peers, even if we recognize and admire their intelligence, competence to judge the claim in question, relevant education, and so on. Elga imagines two people with views lying at opposing ends of the political spectrum arguing about whether abortion is morally permissible. Although Ann admires Beth's intelligence, education, knowledge of the facts and literature concerning that issue and so on, is it likely that Ann regards it as just as likely that Beth has judged this issue correctly? That seems pretty far-fetched. So while the equal-weight view gives just the right verdict when we are restricting our attention to disagreements with someone one genuinely regards as an epistemic peer, other people's verdicts about most interesting claims are so tied up with their verdicts about related matters that you are unlikely to regard them as just as likely as you to have gotten things right concerning this particular claim, given the frequently massive amounts of background disagreement between you and them. That's not wonderfully clear, so let me quote Elga himself (21-22 of the online version of the paper):

'...consider Ann and Beth, two friends who stand at opposite ends of the political spectrum. Consider the claim that abortion is morally permissible. Does Ann consider Beth a peer with respect to this claim? That is: setting aside her own reasoning about the abortion claim (and Beth's contrary views about it), does Ann think Beth would be just as likely as her to get things right?

The answer is "no". For (let us suppose) Ann and Beth have discussed claims closely linked to the abortion claim. They have discussed, for example, whether human beings have souls, whether it is permissible to withhold treatment from certain terminally ill infants, and whether rights figure prominently in a correct ethical theory. By Ann's lights, Beth has reached wrong conclusions about most of these closely related questions. As a result, even setting aside her own reasoning about the abortion claim, Ann thinks it unlikely that Beth would be right in case the two of them disagree about abortion.'

So the basic idea is that in disagreements concerning most interesting claims, the attitude one adopts to those one is disagreeing with is shaped by more widespread disagreement, making it unlikely that one will regard lots of those who have reached verdicts that conflict with one's own as epistemic peers. Thus the equal weight view doesn't entail spinelessness.

I'm worried we get spinelessness back as soon as we consider disagreement between one's epistemic superiors. Let's take an example. I've thought pretty hard about vagueness over the last while, and I'm reasonably up on the relevant literature. But I'm inferior to both Crispin Wright and Tim Williamson in terms of intelligence, relevant education and training, familiarity with the literature, etc. According to Elga's proposed solution to the problem of spinelessness, each of those guys is rational in regarding the other as mistaken and themselves as correct, given that they won't regard each other as peers in the relevant sense (perhaps because of background disagreement about logical revisionism, realism/anti-realism, etc). But prior to there being some revelation about the correct theory of vagueness (I know, I know), what attitude should I take towards such claims? The worry is that faced with my epistemic superiors taking a variety of conflicting stances concerning some claim, I should just suspend judgment (since the kinds of reasons that Elga suggests legitimize Wright and Williamson each believing the other to be mistaken wouldn't legitimize my regarding either as more likely to be right than the other). If there's anything in this line of thought, we get spinelessness back on a pretty wide scale despite Elga's attempt to avoid it.


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