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.