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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Hi Aidan,
can you say something more about the 'hard environment to be taken seriously in'? you mean that students are not listened to and made fun of?
your remarks sound scary to me...
Hi Aidan,
I am fond of what one of my old professors said about Minimal Semantics. To quote: "Cappelen and Lepore are wrong, but they are wrong in interesting ways." There is definitely something to the thought. I've fond it very fruitful to work out what I think is wrong with some of the arguments they make. That class ended, and others began, so that line of thought got put on hold though. One thing they say throughout the book but make clear at the end (I think that is where) is that they don't think that you can draw metaphysical conclusions from semantic arguments. They don't argue for that position much, but it is definitely provacative to figure out why one might or might not want to think that. I'd recommend John MacFarlane's "Semantic Minimalism and Nonindexical Contextualism" which he has online. Also, Ken Taylor's "A Little Sensitivity Goes A Long Way" is also quite good, as well as online. They both go a ways towards explaining what is right and wrong with the semantic minimalism idea.

I have those thoughts that I need to be doing more work to prepare myself for whatever it is that I'm supposed to be preparing myself for. They usually come in waves when I read about someone else doing something neat or hear a good talk. I'm sure had I gone to the APA Eastern I would be having panic attacks about my miserable state of unpreparedness and ignorance. Luckily, distracting myself with DVDs takes the sting out of those worries. But, now that you mention it, there must be more Dummett and Prawitz to read...

Time spent watching the Sopranos is clearly time well spent. Even I think that overrides Dummett and Prawitz...
On the last day of his seminar last term, Brandom gave everyone some advice on doing philosophy and writing a dissertation. It was kind of daunting, so I thought I'd mention it here since it definitely inspired the "Oh my god, so much to do..." feeling. He said that if you arne't prepared to write 5 pages a day about what you've read or been thinking about lately, you aren't ready to be a philosopher. While I'm sure there is a lot to this idea, it is somewhat panic inducing. Not nearly at that point right now. So it goes. Maybe in a few years...

Brandom said we should be prepared to write 5 pages *a week*, not *a day*. otherwise, do you think I would be still enrolled into the program?
Hi Aidan,
No apology necessary, especially when you go on to say such nice things! (I feel like a grand old dame...let me tell you, young man, in my day things weren't easy the way the are now...tsk, decadence, bad-manners in young people...etc)
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