Tuesday, July 29, 2008


Grice, Dino-style

From this week's Dinosaur Comics:

HT: Tom


Monday, July 28, 2008


The Mind That Knows Itself

Here's the beautiful 'The Mistress Witch McClure' by Sufjan Stevens, randomly set to shots of Buffalo:

And there's an added bonus for anyone who tries to spot the references in the titles of posts over at the Philosophy Job Market Blog.

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Hawthorne Bleg

I'd be very grateful if someone with a pdf of Hawthorne's 'Reply to Cohen', or with access to 2000's Philosophical Issues which it appeared in, would please email me a copy. UT's access to PI has a gaping hole in it (1999-2002).


Update: A reader kindly sent me a copy of the paper.


Thursday, July 24, 2008


The Dark TA

Lauren and I went to see 'The Dark Knight' last Friday, and I thought it was pretty rubbish. Not in the same league of terribleness as 'Batman Begins', but not very good at all. Anyway, this review from Pharyngula seemed right on the money, and I can't resist quoting this line:

"As a plot mover, the Joker was less an agent of chaos and more like the TA for a freshman philosophy course, leading everyone through twisty little exercises in artificial circumstances that present the poor student with difficult choices."

HT: Colleen

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Monday, July 21, 2008



Here's Fred Neil singing 'Dolphins', just because it's Monday. Enjoy:

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Saturday, July 19, 2008


NYU PhilMath Conference Date Change

As Justin has pointed out, the philosophy of maths conference he and Shieva are organizing has been shifted from October to April 10-12 2009. Check out the website of the conference here.



Wright on Becoming a Philosopher

A while ago I noted that the Synthese volume featuring Crispin Wright's students reflecting on his work had started to filter into the 'Online first' section. Now you can get Crispin's foreword telling the story of how he became a philosopher, his first encounters with Dummett and with Frege's Grundlagen, etc.

HT: Andreas.


Monday, July 14, 2008


Philosopher's Carnival #73

The most recent Philosopher's Carnival is now over at Megan Kime's Beyond Borders. It features one of my recent posts, plus two discussions I've been involved in: one on how to Fitch-Church non-factive operators, and another on minimal-Fregeanism and Kripke puzzles.


Saturday, July 12, 2008


Hawthorne on Closure

I'm nearly done with a draft of a paper on Hawthorne's treatment of Closure, but I'm not quite sure I fully understand how the 'practical environments' idea in chapter 4 is supposed to enable us to respect Closure. Most of the details are clear enough, but some of them require inferences from things Hawthorne has written elsewhere in the book. I don't know how good a job I've done of reconstructing what Hawthorne had in mind, or of presenting the reconstruction. Any comments on the following attempt, lifted from the draft, would be very much appreciated - it's clearly in need of improvement.

According to interest-relative invariantism, in contrast, the interpretation of ‘knows’ and its relatives is invariant across different contexts. Nonetheless its extension can shift in more or less the manner suggested by contextualism because whether one’s true belief counts as knowledge is not determined entirely by truth-conducive factors—such as whether it was formed by a reliable mechanism—but also by factors concerning the subject’s practical interests; the direness of the consequences of the her being mistaken, for instance. We can see how this kind of account of knowledge might help save closure by briefly examining John Hawthorne’s preferred treatment of the lottery paradox. When one needs to consider whether one’s lottery ticket (or a ticket someone is offering you) will win for one’s present practical purposes—one is contemplating whether to sell the ticket for a cent, to take Hawthorne’s favorite example—one does not know what one’s spending power will be after the draw has been announced. However, when the outcome of the lottery isn’t an issue, given one’s practical interests, one can know where the ceiling on one’s spending power after the draw will lie.

So far all that has been suggested is that whether one knows the minor premise of the lottery paradox is sensitive to one's practical environment. We now need to consider three kinds of cases to establish whether such an account of knowledge respects closure. The first kind of case is one in which a subject S knows p, and knows that p entails q, but does not draw the consequences of these pieces of knowledge. Such cases are fully compatible with closure. The closure principle we are working with requires that one actually have made the inference in question, and so there can be no failure of closure when one simply doesn’t make the inference. The second kind of case is one in which a subject knows p, knows that p entails q, and has competently deduced q from p at some point in the past. So suppose again that S is in the bookstore, and the outcome of the draw is the last thing on S’s mind. However, S deduced yesterday that her ticket is a loser from her inability to afford to visit Mauritius in two weeks time. Hawthorne’s discussion seems to suggest that in these cases S knows that her ticket is a loser, though her knowledge is ‘idle’ since it is not of practical relevance to S, and that in some such cases S may even be able to assert that her ticket is a loser. (This, anyway, is how I take Hawthorne’s view of these cases based on 2004: 161 and 183).

The third kind of case, in which one starts off in a practical environment such that one knows that p and then competently deduces q, is a little trickier. Suppose once more that S's practical interests are such that whether her lottery ticket wins or loses is not of practical relevance to S, and so she knows that she will not be able to afford to visit Mauritius in two weeks time. S competently deduces that her lottery ticket is a loser, but upon reaching the conclusion her practical environment shifts such that S no longer knows what she will or will not be able to afford in a couple of weeks; knowing p requires that it be acceptable for one to use p as a premise in one’s practical reasoning (see, e.g., 2004: 176), and S should no longer use the premise that she will not be able to afford to visit Mauritius in two weeks time as a premise in her practical reasoning. S now knows neither the premises nor the conclusion, and so closure is still respected. Parallel to the contextualist resolution of the closure-driven puzzles, what appear to be counterexamples to closure are really just shifts in the subject’s practical environment, bringing shifts in the extension of ‘knows’ in their wake. So understood, both contextualism and Hawthorne’s invariantism are instances of a general strategy of maintaining that ‘the Closure Principle only appears to fail, as the result of an epistemically important switch that takes place in the course of our thinking about the example’ (Vogel 1990: 20).

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Wednesday, July 09, 2008


DeRose on the Tracking Account

While reading back through Keith DeRose's fantastic 'Solving the Skeptical Problem', I came across a claim that I'd previously taken on trust from DeRose, but which came to seem quite puzzling in conversation with John Bengson. In a footnote, DeRose writes:

'I've skipped entirely Nozick's fourth condition, but I believe this fourth condition to be redundant, anyway: It automatically holds whenever true belief is present.' (27fn27)

Now, this redundancy claim might be encouraged by Nozick's presentation of the four conditions of his tracking account of knowledge:

S knows that p iff:

(1) p is true
(2) S believes that p
(3) ~(1) -> not ~(2)
(4) (1) -> (2),

where -> is a subjective conditional, rather than an indicative condition.

But this bare-bones presentation of the account isn't very helpful, and we have to look to Nozick's surrounding discussion to fill it out a bit. What's suggested is that condition (4) should be understood like this:

Were it, in changed circumstances, still the case that p, S would still believe that p.
(Adapted from Wright's 'Keeping Track of Nozick': 135. Wright ignores the needed relativization to methods, and for the purposes of this post I can afford to follow.)

Now, my question is this; why does DeRose think that this condition is redundant given conditions (1) and (2)? For that matter, why isn't the example Nozick used to motivate (4) a counterexample to DeRose's claim that (4) 'automatically holds whenever true belief is present'?

Nozick asks us to imagine a poor envatted subject having his brain manipulated by scientists so that he comes to believe that he is envatted and that scientists are inducing beliefs in him by manipulating his brain. He has a true belief that he's envatted and that scientists are inducing beliefs in him by manipulating his brain. But does this belief satisfy (4)? Nozick argues it doesn't:

'The person in the tank does not satify the subjunctive condition 4. [...] It is not true of him that if he were in the tank he would believe it; for in the close world (or situation) to his own where he is in the tank but they don't give him the belief that he is (much less instill the belief that he isn't) he doesn't believe he is in the tank. Of the person actually in the tank and believing it, it is not true to make the further statement that if he were in the tank he would believe it - so he does not know he is in the tank.'

Even leaving aside Nozick's final claim that the person in the tank doesn't know that they are, the example is a little hard to evaluate since, as usual, claims about the relative closeness of worlds are always somewhat slippery. But it seems plausible enough, and there seem to be other examples of this form readily available. For instance, Nozick mentions Harman's case of the guy who reads about the death of the dictator of his country, but fails to be exposed to the massive cover-up that follows. Structurally similar examples seem to abound.

Any thoughts on what DeRose had in mind? And does the point stand or fall with an analogous complaint against safety (S believes that p -> p)?



Teach the Controversy

I've blogged about Jeremy of Amorphia Apparel before, when he launched his new Science! range. But he's come to realize that he shouldn't let modern science tell its side of the story without extending the same opportunity to other points of view. That's why he's created a new set of designs, which are available on his new Teach the Controversy site. As the site explains, these are:

'Intelligently designed t-shirts urging you to show both sides of every story.'

Austinites can expect to see me sporting the turtle design, in the interests of keeping an open mind of course, in the new Semester.

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Sunday, July 06, 2008


What Computer Proofs Don't Tell Us

Kenny has an interesting post over at Antimeta on an old paper of Tyler Burge's on apriority and computer proofs, and there's an interesting exchange with Carrie Jenkins in the comment thread. I've never got around to reading that paper, though it seems of a piece with 'Content Preservation' and other papers of that period.

But what I want to know is why my map of the world shower curtain, which uses six colours to represent political regions, has Chile and Peru both orange.

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Thursday, July 03, 2008


CMM Graduate Conference

As Ross noted in the comments to my earlier post, the CMM Graduate conference in Leeds is taking place on the 4th of September, not the 5th to the 7th as I'd originally written. The excellent-looking Perspectives on Ontology Conference takes place in Leeds from the 5th to the 7th, which presumably explains my confusion.



Grice and Doxastic Voluntarism

It's generally seen as an objectionable consequence of an account that it entail a robust form of doxastic voluntarism. For instance, take epistemic deontologicalism, which has it that we should understand epistemic justification in deontic terms such as 'requirement', 'blame' and 'obligation'. This view has been criticized on the grounds that it is committed to the appropriateness of assessments of beliefs in these terms, even though such assessments seem to presuppose that we are responsible for our beliefs - that we have voluntary control over what we believe. It is taken as pretty obvious that we have no such control.

Feldman, Heironymi, and others have offered a partial response to this argument by questioning whether the appropriateness of assessing beliefs in deontic terms really does commit us to doxastic volutarism. My concern here is not with this dialectic, however, but with a parallel issue that arises once one adopts certain aspects of Grice's philosophy of language. In 'Meaning', Grice writes:

'Suppose I discovered some person so constituted that, when I told him that whenever I grunted in a special way I wanted him to blush or to incur some physical malady, thereafter whenever he recognized the grunt (and with it my intention), he did blush or incur the malady. Should we then want to say that the grunt meant(nn) something? I do not think so. This points to the fact that for x to have meaning(nn), the intended effect must be something which in some sense is within the control of the audience, or that in some sense of "reason" the recognition of the intention behind x is for the audience a reason and not merely a cause. [...] It looks, then as if the intended effect must be something within the control of the audience, or at least the sort of thing which is within its control.'
(p221 in Studies in the Way of Words)

Now, Grice's account of imperatives looks okay here; the view he comes to in the William James Lectures is that the intended effect should be that one's audience forms a particular kind of intention, and a sufficiently robust voluntarism about intention-formation doesn't seem problematic. But in the case of 'informative' utterances, Grice suggests the intended effect is that a particular belief is induced in one's audience. So, assuming that doxastic voluntarism really is a bad consequence, we seem to have a straightforward objection to Grice on our hands.

Some contemporary Griceans have suggested weakening the intended result in the case of informative utterances to the following: one intends one's audience to entertain a particular thought, rather than to form a particular belief. (For example, see Ray Buchanan and Gary Ostertag's contribution to the Mind volume celebrating the centenary of 'On Denoting'.) Here again a sufficiently robust voluntarism doesn't seem too objectionable - at the very least, the weakening seems to do better with respect to the problem I've sketched than Grice's original suggestion, so some progress seems to have been made.

But the problem still seems to remain for Gricean accounts of assertion. Consider Bach and Harnish's familiar Grice-inspired proposal (Linguistic Communication and Speech Acts: 42):

In uttering e, S asserts that p if S expresses:

1. the belief that p, and

2. the intention that her audience believe that p.

For the purposes of Gricean accounts of meaning, saying and communicating, it might be satisfactory to suggest that the intended result is that one's audience entertain a particular thought. But I'm worried that an attempt to amend Bach and Harnish's (2) along these lines is too weak - that something of the force of assertion, in contrast to mere saying, gets lost. Clearly some work needs to be done clarifying and defending this last point, but hopefully the basic idea is clear enough for now.

Additionally, if this inchoate line of thought is to be developed into an objection to Gricean accounts of assertion, Grice had better be right that the intended result must be under the audience's voluntary control, and doxastic voluntarism had better be genuinely problematic. So there are a lot of interesting issues to be considered before the force of the objection I'm trying to mount can be properly assessed.

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