Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Post APA: Book Purchases

One highlight of APA division meetings is the book display/sale, where inordinately expensive texts are marked down to be merely ordinately expensive. In no particular order (or rather, in a particular order with no especially interesting organizational features), here are the books I picked up.

• Hume's Skeptical Crisis - Robert J. Fogelin
• Relativism and Monadic Truth - Herman Cappelen and John Hawthorne
• The Emergence of Probability (2nd ed.) - Ian Hacking
• Liberty Worth the Name - Gideon Yaffe
• Being For - Mark Schroeder
• Frege on Definitions - John Horty
• Agency and Deontic Logic - John Horty
• The Concept of Law (2nd ed.) - H.L.A. Hart
• Words and Thoughts - Robert J. Stainton
• Justification without Awareness - Michael Bergmann
• Relative Truth - Edited by Manuel García-Carpintero and Max Kölbel
• Saving Truth From Paradox - Hartry Field

(feel free to complain if I nabbed the only copy of a text you had your eye on)

As a side note, I will say that it seems like some presses are just much better about setting reasonable prices to begin with. For instance, I noticed that the actual list price of Mark Balaguer's new book from MIT press ("Free Will as an Open Scientific Problem") was competitive with (if not superior to) the discounted price of similar length monographs at the Oxford table. Since Oxford discounts 50% on the final day, that is a pretty substantive divergence in cost-to-grad-students-and-other-philosophers based on which press one goes with. Don't get me wrong, I love the books Oxford puts out (as my purchases above may well indicate), but maybe they should get some advice from other presses on how to keep costs down (and then, you know, pass the savings along to the consumer).

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Upcoming Travel (and a terminological suggestion)

1. In a couple days I am heading to New York City for the Eastern APA. If anyone has suggestions of exciting looking sessions for me to check out, mention them in the comments.

2. I grew up in Chicago, so I always love an excuse to get back home, so I am also going to the Central APA in Chicago. I am also considering trying to attend the Epistemology shin-dig right before it.

3. A paper of mine was accepted to the upcoming Thomas Reid conference in Aberdeen and Glasgow in March. Those who are curious should feel free to read the abstract for my paper.

4. I already posted about this, but my paper "Toward a Less Confident Cognitivism" was accepted for the Pacific APA in San Francisco in March. The paper argues that Cognitivists about Intention can avoid the commitment that intending to do X involves believing that one will do X without sacrificing the explanatory power of their Cognitivist assumption.

5. I'd be really excited if, in casual conversation, philosophers started using the terms "semantricks" and "pragmagic" to suggest that some phil language shenanigans are going on with respect to a given view. Example uses: "You'd need some serious semantricks in order for that view to get the right truth-conditions." "Even though the semantic value of S is P, defenders of this view claim that an utterance of S pragmagically produces an assertion of Q."

Kit Fine's Denial of Compositionality

In "Semantic Relationism", Kit Fine proposes to solve Frege’s puzzle by including some irreducibly relational semantic facts. Fine argues that this approach permits him to maintain a) a directly referential semantics for proper names, b) the transparency of meaning, and c) semantic compositionality (of a sort). Fine thus takes his view to have a strong advantage over rival Millian proposals, which typically deny (b).

Fine presents the puzzle as the following inconsistent set of claims (concerning the sentences "Cicero = Cicero" and "Cicero = Tully"):
1a Cognitive Difference: The two identity sentences are cognitively different.
1b Cognitive Link: If the sentences are cognitively different, then they are semantically different.
2 Compositionality: If the sentences are semantically different, then the names “Cicero” and “Tully” are semantically different.
3 Referential Link: If the names “Cicero” and “Tully” are semantically different, they are referentially different.
4 Referential Identity: The names “Cicero” and “Tully” are not referentially different.

For some purposes, Fine collapses 1a and 1b into a single claim:
1 Semantic difference: The two identity sentences are semantically different.

Fine identifies the two major lines of response to this puzzle as the Referentialist response (which denies 1), and the Fregean response (which denies 3). Fine's own response can most naturally be understood as a denial of 2. Fine argues that the problem with Referentialism is the denial of 2, and that the problem with Fregeanism is the denial of 3. Consequently, Fine's view only has an advantage as a solution to Frege's puzzle over Fregeanism or to Referentialism if it avoids the denial of 1 and the denial of 3. However, in order to address all Frege puzzle cases, Fine will have to reject one of those two principles.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

1913 Russell vs. 1899 Meinong

This semester I am sitting in on Jim van Cleve's perception seminar (which is covering theories from Malebranch and Arnauld up through more recent work by Noe and Gupta), and we wound up doing some readings from Bertrand Russell's "Theory of Knowledge" (ToK), a work that was published in 1984 from a 1913 manuscript of Russell's. In that work, Russell contrasts his approach to acquaintance with the equivalent element of Meinong's theory. Both Russell and Meinong seem to be subscribing to a version of intentionalism (at least about acquaintance/presentation). So, as I understand their views, they both think that states of presentation have a subject as well as an object that is (at least sometimes) extra-mental.

Russell and Meinong here conflict on two fronts: i) they conflict on whether the object presented must exist, and ii) they conflict on whether the state possesses content that is distinct from its object and mental.

Meinong permits a mental state's object to be non-existent, while Russell does not, and Meinong thinks that mental states have mental content distinct from their objects.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Liar Family Reunion?

Most philosophers are familiar with the Liar Paradox:

L: This sentence is not true.

If L is true, then things are the way it reports, namely, L is not true.
If L is not true, then thing are not the way it reports, namely, L is true.

So, we seem to be able to conclude that L is true iff L is not true. Paradox.

But let's consider some related sentences:

P: I promise not to fulfill this promise.
C: Do not comply with this command.
Q1: What is an incorrect answer to this question?
Q2: What is not an answer to this question?

Now, P, C, Q1 and Q2 seem to admit of similarly paradoxical results.
An action fulfills the promise made by P just in case it does not fulfill the promise.
An action complies with the command issued by C just in case it does not comply with the command.
Something is the correct answer to Q1 just in case it is not the correct answer to Q1.
Something is an answer to Q2 just in case it is not an answer to Q2.

It is worth mentioning that, like L, each of the above can be reformulated in non-directly self-referential terms (replacing name for the sentence with "the the Nth labeled sentence in such-and-such blog post" and rephrasing slightly).

One thing that I want to note is that, if these are genuinely Liar-like paradoxes, they might be taken to suggest that focusing on "truth" in the Liar paradox is something of a red-herring. Prima facie, none of these invokes the truth-predicate, but seem to be of a piece with the Liar paradox.

One thing I want to ask is whether these paradoxical sentences have been discussed in the literature. I've read a fair amount about the Liar and the truth predicate, but haven't come across any discussion of these sorts of sentences. The closest thing I know of is Markosian's paradox of the question ("What is the pair <Q, A> such that Q is the most useful question, and A is its correct answer?").

Any thoughts?

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Hume on Miracles

I began writing this as a comment on this blog post, but it quickly achieved a length that I am pretty sure would seriously violate blog comment etiquette. So, I am posting it here. But, as it is a reply to the aforelinked post, it may be a good idea to read that before checking out what I have to say.

To very briefly summarize, Andrew Bremmer suggests that perhaps Hume's various claims/positions in "Of Miracles" are contradictory in the sense that Hume equivocates or otherwise alternates between different 'central' theses about miracles. While I think it is fair to charge the discussion with being somewhat slippery, I don't see it as an act of interpretive acrobatics to avoid treating Hume as contradicting himself. And to frame my response in terms of Andrew's central questions: I interpret Hume's argument in "Of Miracles (Part 1)" to be an argument against the possibility of any testimony (no matter how strong) serving to justify belief in a miracle, and also establishing the condition which would need to be met for testimony to justify belief in a miracle: namely, for it to be sufficiently more contrary to one's experience that the testimony is innaccurate than that the attested event occurred. As I read him, Hume clearly does not think that any testimonial evidence for a miracle can be stronger than the experiential evidence against it (evidence one is guaranteed to have in virtue of the event in question being a miracle). Hume then proceeds, in "Of Miracles (Part 2)" to argue that the actual situation for purported miracles is much worse than it may have seemed from the discussion in part 1, since no purported miracle attested in actual human history enjoys testimonial evidence anywhere near as strong as that which was supposed for purposes of part 1. Let me also be clear up front that I am not (at least not in this post) defending the substance of Hume's arguments; I don't intend to defend the principles Hume invokes in offering his argument, but simply to draw out what I take to be his argument.

Frege's Jigsaw Puzzle

I have a friend who makes custom wooden art and toys professionally. I saw that he had done a wooden jigsaw puzzle modeled on the pretty famous Obama "Hope" poster, and it gave me the idea to commission a similarly styled jigsaw portrait of one of the greatest figures in the philosophy of language.

The result is my very own Frege Puzzle:

Metaethical Accessories: advice model wrist band

On some metaethical views, normative questions about what an agent should do turn on features of some fully rational counterpart of that agent. An important distinction among such views, credited to Peter Railton and Michael Smith, is the difference between the "example model" versions of such views and the "advice model" versions. Rather than positing, as the example model does, that normative facts about an agent turn on how their fully rational self would behave in similar situations, the advice model posits that the normative facts about an on an agent turn on how they would, were they fully rational, prefer that they behave in their actual circumstances.

In the spirit of these views, I present a wristband that asks: "What would my fully rational self want me to do in my actual circumstances?"

I ordered 10 of these initially, all of which have been distributed. I could order more if there is sufficient interest in another batch.

Bayesian Blues: Possibilities with Probability 0

If my read of the landscape is correct (and it may not be), Bayesian views (relatively broadly construed) enjoy a certain dominance in formal epistemology. No doubt this is because the various explorations into Bayesian formalisms have provided philosophers with rich theoretical resources and aided in the development of many significant advances in formal epistemology. However, despite whatever virtues they have, these approaches wind up saddled with some results that are, prima facie, highly counter-intuitive. The specific counter-intuitive result that I've been thinking about recently has to do with possibilities that get assigned a probability of 0.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A Brief Objection to the Conjunction of Schaffer's Contrastivisms

To begin, I want to consider a sentence that I think I understand.

S. Jones knows that Suzy’s throwing the rock caused the window to break.

By claiming to understand this sentence, I do not mean to suggest I have complete and fully worked out views providing informative analyses of knowledge or causation. I simply claim that the sentence makes sense to me. A helpful comparison is to a sentence like this:

S’. Jones knows that Suzy’s throwing rather than tossing the rock caused the window to break rather than shatter, rather than that Billy’s throwing rather than tossing the rock caused the window to break rather than shatter.

While I don't claim that I am outright unable to parse such a sentence, S seems comprehensible to me in a way that S' does not. And this is the basis of one concern I have surrounding the conjunction of Jonathan Schaffer's contrastivisms.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Ross's Paradox, "ought", and "wants"

Ross's Paradox is a problem arising in Standard Deontic Logic. On the SDL interpretation of "ought", obligations survive weakening, in the sense that, if P entails Q, and it ought to be that P, then it follows that it ought to be that Q. Ross's paradox involves an instance of this commitment.

1) Jones ought to mail the letter.
2) Jones ought to mail the letter or burn the letter.

According to SDL, (1) entails (2), but, intuitively, (2) seems false in situations where (1) is true. Intuitively, (2) suggests that it is permissible to either mail the letter or to burn it, while (1) would seem to rule out the permissibility of burning the letter (it being assumed that you cannot both mail it and burn it).

I recently noticed a parallel between (2) and the following sentence:*

3) Jones wants a dog or a cat.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Pacific APA (2010)

I just got word this past weekend that my submission to the upcoming Pacific APA was accepted. I had already been planning to attend the Eastern APA this year (having received the advice that it is a good idea to see what it is like before one is actually on the job market), and am up in the air about attending the Central (since I grew up outside Chicago and my parents still live there, it is fairly easy and relatively inexpensive for me to make it to that one).

This will be my first time attending an APA meeting as a presenter, so I am pretty excited to be on the program. Here is a brief description of my paper, "Toward a Less Confident Cognitivism":

Friday, July 24, 2009

A Service the APA should offer

Here's a simple idea that would be, I think, really good: A week or so before the submission deadlines for the three division meetings, the American Philosophical Association should send out e-mail notices (maybe as an opt-in mailing list rather than automatically), so that people remember deadlines with enough lead time to maybe clean something up beforehand.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

About the Author

Name: Lewis Powell (web site)

Description: II completed my Ph.D. in philosophy at the University of Southern California. My dissertation pursued a limited defense of David Hume's attempt to reductively analyze all cognitive activities as manners of conception in the Treatise. I argue that the prospects for Hume's account are generally much stronger than has been appreciated, by showing how Hume's account avoids or addresses the most central/fundamental sources of concern.

Historical Interests:
°David Hume
°John Locke
°Thomas Reid
°Lady Mary Shepherd
°John Stuart Mill (esp. his System of Logic)

Contemporary Interests:
°philosophy of language
°philosophy of mind
°action theory and free will
°epistemology (incl. formal epistemology)