Saturday, March 31, 2007


Most important philosophy books, 1980-

Exactly as the title says. Let's include collections of single(ish)-authored collections of papers too. So, to give you the idea, were we (counterfactually!) to include the 70's too, I'd have Dummett's Truth and Other Enigmas in there, but not Evans and McDowell's Truth and Meaning.

Please still feel free to contribute to the earlier thread as well.

Here are some of my (idiosyncratic and incomplete, of course) suggestions, just to kick things off:

George Boolos (1998), Logic, Logic, and Logic, Harvard
Alberto Coffa (1991), The Semantic Tradition from Kant to Carnap, Cambridge
Donald Davidson (1984), Inquiries into Truth & Interpretation, OUP
Gareth Evans (1982), The Varieties of Reference, OUP
Saul Kripke (1980), Naming and Necessity, Blackwell
-- (1982), Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language, Blackwell
David Lewis (1986), On the Plurality of Worlds, Blackwell
John McDowell (1994), Mind and World, Harvard
Robert Nozick (1981), Philosophical Explanations, Harvard
Mark Sainsbury (2005), Reference Without Referents, OUP
T.M. Scanlon (1998), What We Owe to Each Other, Harvard
John Rawls (1993), Political Liberalism, Columbia
Tim Williamson (1994), Vagueness, Routledge
Crispin Wright (1983), Frege's Conception of Numbers as Objects, Aberdeen
-- (1992), Truth & Objectivity, Harvard
-- (1993), Realism, Meaning & Truth (2nd Ed), Blackwell

Update: Please see the disclaimer I've added to the original post.


Thursday, March 29, 2007


Mind the Gaps

I'll rerun the thread below for papers between 1980 and 1989 and for books from 1980 onwards sometime soon, as people have suggested. In the meantime, thanks for the contributions below.

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Sunday, March 25, 2007


Most important philosophy articles of the past couple of decades

Disclaimer: Since I first posted this, a number of readers have commented that my list seems very idiosyncratic, not merely in being restricted somewhat to my AOIs (notice the total absence of phil-mind, for example), but also in having its basis more or less entirely in my personal opinions rather than in any more objective measure. I should have been clearer about my aims. I intended this to have no pretenses to objectivity. I hope its still of some value, but I always envisaged such value to be primarily in providing some entertainment, rather than to provide any kind of genuine stats on these topics. I invite people to contribute to the discussion thread in this spirit.

A while back Dan posted a list of what he regarded as the most important philosophy articles published between 1950 and 1979. I thought it might be interesting to see what readers thought were more recent articles of potentially the same importance. Of course, to a certain extent which ideas are significant is something we learn with hindsight, but even bearing that in mind, people should be able to make some suggestions. So what do you guys think are the most important papers published since 1990?

Let's stick to papers for now, and leave out monographs (papers in volumes rather than journals are to be included). Let's not restrict the topic at all.

Here's are some of my own suggestions (I intend to add to this list when I have more time):

Tyler Burge (1993), 'Content Preservation', Philosophical Review.

Darwall, Gibbard and Railton (1992), 'Toward Fin de siecle Ethics', Philosophical Review.

Keith DeRose (1992), 'Solving the Skeptical Problem', Philosophical Review.

Tom Hurka (2003), 'Moore in the Middle', Ethics.

Jim Pryor (2000) , 'The Sceptic and the Dogmatist', Nous.

Diana Raffman (1994), 'Vagueness Without Paradox', Philosophical Review.

Mark Sainsbury (1990), 'Concepts Without Boundaries'.

Tim Williamson (1992), 'Vagueness and Ignorance', Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.

Crispin Wright (2001), 'On Being in a Quandary', Mind.

Crispin Wright (2004), 'Warrant for Nothing (and Foundations for Free?), Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society.

Steve Yablo (1993), 'Paradox Without Self-Reference', Analysis.

: In addition to the suggestions in the discussion thread, Sam has a list here.


Friday, March 23, 2007


Barnes & Ignoble

Over at Metaphysical Values, Ross and Elizabeth offer a translation manual from journal rejection letter to Dear John letters. It all has a horrible ring of truth to it......

Ps. Sorry for the title, Ross - I couldn't resist.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007


Philosophy TAing

Lewis hits the nail on the head.


Tuesday, March 13, 2007


Akrasia of Belief and Rational Dialetheism

I'm currently reading R. Jay Wallace's 'Normativity, Commitment, and Instrumental Reason', and he discusses some issues which reminded me of some tricky issues Bryan Frances raised a while ago in this interesting post. In a discussion of disanalogies between practical and theoretical reason, Wallace raises the question of whether there can be 'strong akrasia of belief' (12); that is, cases in which 'one judges that a given conclusion--say, p--is true, and yet one consciously and without self-deception believes that not-p'. As Wallace notes, Scanlon argues in What We Owe to Each Other that this is a pretty common phenomena, but he's not convinced by Scanlon's purported examples. In fact, Wallace takes strong akrasia of belief to be ruled out (13).

Whether or not akrasia of belief is commonplace, given the way Wallace has described the phenomena, it looks like he has to say that Graham Priest doesn't have the range of beliefs concerning the Liar sentence (etc.) that he claims to have. I don't how on Earth we might begin to settle the question of what beliefs to ascribe to dialetheists, but let me make a couple of observations. Firstly, it's hard not to feel Wallace hasn't quite managed to put his finger on the phenomena in question; intuitively, even if we do attribute clear-eyed inconsistent beliefs to Graham, this isn't a case of strong akrasia of belief (update: what seems to be missing is something like the belief that these are incompatible attitudes). Yet it counts as such given the above characterization. So let us assume for the moment that akrasia of belief is a somewhat different phenomena to mere clear-eyed judging that p is true while believing not-p. My second observation is this; even under this assumption, it seems like it's going to be very hard to find arguments which rule out the possibility of akrasia of belief but which leave open the possibility that one might while clear-eyed judge that p is true while believing not-p. That is, although these seems like different phenomena, one has to wonder if they aren't sufficiently similar to make it extremely difficult to offer considerations which discriminately tell against the possibility of one but not the other.

If that hunch is correct, the upshot is that denying the possibility of akrasia of belief might be very difficult indeed, since it might involve getting mired in a debate concerning what beliefs we can/should attribute a self-confessed dialetheist. At any rate, the going will have to be slower than Wallace seems to envisage.

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Monday, March 12, 2007


What is the Brain?


Wednesday, March 07, 2007


Michigan Grad Blog

Sam Liao's blog Go Grue has just been reinvented as a group blog for the graduate students at Michigan, Ann Arbor. There are already posts up on metaphysics and political philosophy, so check it out.


Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Anti-realism and Prichard's Dilemma

I'd really like to write a paper on the matters I'm going to discuss in this post. Since I have no idea where to begin writing said (non-existent) paper, or whether the ideas it would contain are even worth pursuing, I thought I'd air them here. To set the scene, I'll post here something I wrote as a comment over at Duncan's Epistemic Value:

A question I got interested in a while ago is whether there is worrying analogue of Prichard's dilemma in epistemology. Scanlon presents the original version as a dilemma facing any account of what makes an action wrong. We want to know why the fact (assuming for now that it is one) that an act is wrong gives us reason not to do it. The worry is that we'll either end up giving an uninformative answer like 'Because it's wrong!', or we'll end up citing some feature of the act which supposedly substantively explains why we have reason not to perform it which intuitively has no connection to its wrongness (that performing the act would lead to social ostracism, for example); as Scanlon notes, it is not such features of the act which we'd expect 'a moral person first and foremost to be moved by'.

In his critical study of Scanlon, David Sosa suggests that there's no worrying theoretical analogue of Prichard's dilemma - that when we ask 'why does the fact that p is false give us reason not to believe that p?', we can be satisfied with the answer 'Because p is false!' - and that this should make us suspect that trivial answers should be satisfactory in the ethical case too. I'm inclined to think Prichard's dilemma bites in both cases.

David writes of the 'Because p is false!' response:

'Is this not the kind of answer that is wanted? Ultimately (if not sooner), it is truth in which at least one sort of theoretical rationality is grounded. Any intermediate theoretical purpose that might be served by not believing the proposition could function as a reason only derivatively through its own relation to the truth. And to whatever extent that relation is not necessary, then we will feel that the alternative lacks the right sort of modal force.' ('A Big Good Thing': 374)

I want to suggest that in certain cases, we can do quite a bit better here that David is suggesting we can. Take mathematical statements for example. If one asks why some set-theoretical statement s being false gives one reason not to believe that s, can we do better than to simply point out that s is false? Surely we can; usually we will be able to prove that ~s follows from some mutually shared set of axioms. This may not always be the case, given that these axioms will fail to settle some statements about the set-theoretic universe which we may nonetheless take ourselves to have good reason not to believe (CH and its relatives, for example). In general though, we take provability to be precisely the kind of thing counting in favor of a particular mathematical statement that a rational agent considering which mathematical statements to believe would be 'first and foremost' moved by. And it's more informative than simply saying that the statement is true or false, since it appeals to the implications of some mutually accepted set of statements, often thought to have some privileged epistemic status.

So it seems clear that proof has the right kind of close connection to truth. Is it the case, as David suggests, that that fact that a statement's negation is provable is only a reason to believe it derivatively because of that close connection to truth? That's an enormous question, but I don't see any immediate grounds for a positive answer. In fact, I see lots of room to explore in defense of a negative answer.

Let's imagine there's something to all this, i.e. that we can't be satisfied with trivial answers to the theoretical analogue of Prichard's dilemma, and that a satisfactory epistemology of mathematics vindicates my suggestion that provability is just the right kind of notion to invoke in a satisfactory non-trivial response to Prichard's dilemma targeted at mathematical statements. What follows?

Well, nothing probably. But the seductive thought is the following. Firstly, that realist (bivalent, potentially verification-transcendent) truth doesn't connect up in the right way to provability to allow the above response to Prichard's dilemma to be given; the relationship of truth to proof on that picture 'lacks the right sort of modal force' to borrow David's expression from the quote above. In contrast, the anti-realist's conceptions of truth and proof gel in just way we want (of course, some anti-realists identify truth with proof. I'll bracket such potential complications here, since I'm already quite muddled enough). More generally, that an anti-realist will have some notion that connects up in the right way to truth to allow him to offer a satisfying substantive general response to the theoretical version of Prichard's dilemma; I'm imagining this to be some notion which, like Crispin Wright's notion of superassertability, is built out of the notion of warranted assertability but which mimics the notion of proof in crucial respects (see 'Can a Davidsonian Theory of Meaning.....' in Crispin's Realism, Meaning, & Truth). The contention, of course, would be that the realist has put any such notion well beyond her reach.

This is obviously ludicrously sketchy and overambitious, holding out hostages in the epistemology of mathematics, both the theoretical and the practical domains of normative theory, plus it inherits general worries about the possibility of the formulation of an anti-realistic notion that applies to non-mathematical statements but which possesses the requisite proof-like qualities, plus an argument is wanting that realist truth creates special difficulties here. But anyway, you'll all see why I don't know how to write this paper. Maybe that's for the best - I'll remain agnostic for now.

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