Tuesday, January 26, 2010

On Knowing/Saying To

First a question. Does anyone know of any literature (in epistemology or philosophy of language) dealing with sentences like either of the ones below?

1) Tom knows to go to the store.
2) Sara said to go to the bank.

It seems to me that sentence 1 should be of interest to epistemologists because it seems to exhibit something akin to the phenomenon that gets labeled "factivity" in the case of "knows that" ascriptions. By which I mean, just as it only makes sense for someone to utter "Tom knows that the store is open" if they themselves are of the opinion that the store is open, it only makes sense for someone to utter 1 if they stand in the some relevant approval/recommendation relationship to Tom's going to the store.

2 is interesting in the philosophy of language, because it seems to be the relevant way to report an instruction in indirect discourse. For instance, if Sara said, "Go to the bank" (to Jeff), but Jeff didn't hear her, and asked me what she said, I might report her utterance by saying 2. Insofar as some philosophers of language invoke considerations about indirect discourse as evidence for propositions (and/or as evidence about the nature of such propositions), sentences like 2 seem to be just as relevant when we raise questions about the existence/natures of instructions (understood as objects of a similar kind to propositions).

It is an interesting dissimilarity between 1 and 2 that a) only Tom can be the agent of "go to the store", while b) Sara is going to be generally dispreferred as a possible agent of "go to the bank" and c) the agent of "go to the bank" in 2 seems highly context sensitive (that is, there are readings corresponding to "Sara said for us to go to the bank", "Sara said for him to go to the bank", "Sara said for you to go to the bank", etc.)

I don't have any big "a-ha" thoughts on any of this yet, which is partially why I am hoping someone has written something about them. Both constructions seem deserving of attention, though.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Better Statement of the Puzzle for Reid on Color Perception

Here is a much shorter, clearer statement of the puzzle I see for Reid on color perception:

1) A perceiver observing a uniformly blue sphere would only perceive something uniformly blue if one sees the sphere as a 3-dimensional object.
2) An original perceiver observing a uniformly blue sphere would not see the sphere as a 3-dimensional object
3) So, an original perceiver observing a uniformly blue sphere would see something variably colored, rather than uniformly blue.
4) No external object being perceived is variably colored.
5) So, either a) the original perception is of the sphere, but is not correct., or b) the original perception is correct, but not a perception of something external.
6) Reid's direct realist account of perception requires that the original perceptions are correct, so, not (5a).
7) Reid's direct realist account of perception requires that the original perceptions are of external objects, so, not (5b).

Reid is committed to (1)-(3) by the passage I quoted in the previous post.
I don't have a source for (4), but I am not sure what externally existing object is variably colored in a perceptual situation involving a perceiver and a uniformly blue sphere.
(5) follows because the perception is either correct (and therefore not of any external object) or not. If it is incorrect, it may as well be a perception of the sphere.
(6) comes from the veridicality of perception on Reid's picture (he goes to some lengths to argue that the sense do not deceive us), and (7) comes from the fact that Reid is insistent that the objects of perception are external objects (and their qualities).

So, this is the puzzle. Reid can avoid the puzzle when it comes to visible and linear distances, for instance, because there are two different (but related) qualities he can invoke. But there is no such distinction available when it comes to color.

A Puzzle for Reid on Color Perception

Thomas Reid recognizes a distinction between qualities originally perceived by a given sense modality and an expanded range of qualities that can be perceived via that sense modality as the result of nature, custom/habit, or experience. Specific parts of Reid's story generate a puzzle about color perception (though I should add the caveat that I haven't yet looked through the secondary literature carefully to see if this has already been discussed).
Reid includes color on the list of original perceptions of vision, but he also makes the following remarks (all bolding added by me, for emphasis):
"Thus, if a sphere of one uniform color be set before me, I perceive evidently by my eye its spherical figure, and its three dimensions. All the world will acknowledge, that by sight only, without touching it, I may be certain that it is a sphere; yet it is no less certain, that, by the original power of sight, I could not perceive it to be a sphere, and to have three dimensions. The eye originally could perceive only two dimensions, and a gradual variation of colour on the different sides of the object.
It is experience that teaches me that the variation of colour is an effect of spherical convexity, and of the distribution of light and shade. But so rapid is the progress of the thought, from the effect to the cause, that we attend only to the last, and can hardly be persuaded that we do not immediately see the three dimensions of the sphere.
Nay, it may be observed, that, in this case, the acquired perception in a manner effaces the original one; for the sphere is seen to be of one uniform color, though originally there would have appeared a gradual variation of color: But that apparent variation, we learn to interpret as the effect of light and shade falling upon a sphere of one uniform color."

The puzzle for Reid is that basically all ordinary color perception turns out to be a case where the original perceptions are in conflict with the acquired perceptions, and, what's worse, if we have to choose one as "veridical", it would be the acquired perceptions, not the original ones.

See, Reid takes color to be a real quality of objects. Now, (supposing the sphere in Reid's example to be blue), if being blue is a quality of objects, the "uniformly colored" sphere is either uniformly blue, or it is not uniformly blue. Since Reid introduces the sphere as uniformly colored, let's grant that the sphere is uniformly blue. But, recall that this is an acquired perception of the sphere's color, which means that an unexperienced visual observer would see, as Reid points out, something with gradually varying colors. Note, however, that, ex hypothesi, the sphere is uniformly colored, and so, either original color perceptions are generally not veridical (contra Reid's position on perception) or, the original color perceptions are not of the externally existing object (contra Reid's position on perception). Put another way, Reid's plausible story about acquired perception requires either non-veridical original color perceptions, or non-external objects of original perception. Reid doesn't want either of these, so his view of color perception is in trouble.

So that's the puzzle. My plan now is to see whether there is any way for Reid to wriggle out of this puzzle (or if I am radically misinterpreting him on the status of colors or on perception, or the like).

Reid Conference Program

The annual conference of the British Society for the History of Philosophy this year is a conference in honor of Thomas Reid. The conference, "Thomas Reid: From His Time To Ours", lasts for a whole week (March 21-26), and spans two different universities (Aberdeen and Glasgow).

The program for the conference has now been posted, and my first response is: wow, that is a lot of conference, and my second response is being excited about seeing my name on the program.

Anyway, this looks like it will be a pretty exciting conference, and I am glad my paper got accepted, giving me a pretty good excuse to go all the way to Scotland to attend it.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pacific APA News: Possible Location Change

I just received an e-mail from the APA seeking feedback on an issue arising from a labor dispute between San Francisco's unionized hotel workers and the collection of hotels that employ union workers.

The hotel workers are calling for a boycott because of disputes with management over something to do with their health care packages (I don't have the specifics because the e-mail linked to a survey with more information, but I finished the survey without copying down the info, and I can't re-open the survey after submitting it). It is important to note that the workers are not striking now, and the information provided by the APA suggests it is very unlikely for the workers to go on strike.

The union is calling for a boycott of many of San Francisco's hotels (including the Westin St. Francis where the APA meeting was supposed to be). The poll was aimed at finding out whether people preferred to keep the meeting at the Westin St. Francis (and make arrangements for people who wish to present their work outside the hotel at nearby venues), move the meeting somewhere else in the greater bay area, or move the meeting to another major city entirely. One constraint is the APA policy to use a union hotel for APA meetings (presumably this is part of why there is no discussion of moving to another hotel within San Francisco).

For what it is worth, my survey responses heavily favored the first two options over the last one (in part because I already purchased plane tickets to San Francisco), and I also wound up leaning towards leaving things at the Westin rather than moving to another part of the bay area.

It seems as though participating in the requested boycott would cause serious upheaval for the APA's plans, and for the plans of many individual members of the APA, especially given that the issue may well be resolved before March (though I don't have any information about how likely that is to happen).

I know that, when I was making hotel arrangements, I had considered laying down the money upfront for a non-refundable reservation at a nearby hotel because it was somewhat cheaper than the discounted rate at the Westin. I'd be pretty concerned right now if I had actually gone ahead with that reservation.

I should also note that if the APA was deciding whether to plan future APA meetings in San Francisco (as opposed to deciding whether to change the plans for the upcoming meeting), I'd be much more sympathetic to the boycott request.

If anyone has a link to something a bit more official on all this, please post it in the comments.

Telescopes and the Role of Language in Philosophy

John Stuart Mill and Timothy Williamson both analogize the role of language in philophical inquiry to the role of telescopes in astronomical inquiry. I don't know that I have anything particularly illuminating to say about this shared analogy, but I thought I would reproduce the relevant passages here.

First, here are the first two paragraphs from chapter one of Mill's System of Logic (titled: "Of the Necessity of Commencing with an Analysis of Language"):

"It is so much the established practice of writers on logic to commence their treatises by a few general observations (in most cases, it is true, rather meagre) on Terms and their varieties, that it will, perhaps, scarcely be required from me in merely following the common usage, to be as particular in assigning my reasons, as it is usually expected those who deviate from it.

The practice, indeed, is recommended by considerations far too obvious to require a formal justification. Logic is a portion of the Art of Thinking: Language is evidently, and by the admission of all philosophers, one of the principal instruments or helps of thought; and any imperfection in the instrument, or in the mode of employing it, is confessedly liable, still more than in almost any other art, to confuse and impede the process, and destroy all ground of confidence in the result. For a mind not previously versed in the meaning and right use of the various kinds of words, to attempt the study of methods of philosophizing, would be as if some one should attempt to become an astronomical observer, having never learned to adjust the focal distance of his optical instruments so as to see distinctly."

And here is Williamson's way of putting a very similar point, in "Must Do Better":
"Philosophers who refuse to bother about semantics, on the grounds that they want to study the non-linguistic world, not our talk about that world, resemble astronomers who refuse to bother about the theory of telescopes, on the grounds that they want to study the stars, not our observation of them. Such an attitude may be good enough for amateurs; applied to more advanced inquiries, it produces crude errors. Those metaphysicians who ignore language in order not to project it onto the world are the very ones most likely to fall into just that fallacy, because the validity of their reasoning depends on unexamined assumptions about the structure of the language in which they reason."

Note that, despite the importance both place on questions of language, neither philosopher is adopting the position that philosophical inquiry is fundamentally inquiry about language. In fact, as revealed by the telescope analogy, both seem to be committed to the view that philosophical inquiry is often not about language.

Intrinsicness and the Duplication Account

Last Friday, Maya Eddon presented a paper ("Intrinsicality and Hyperintensionality") arguing against the adequacy of the duplication account of intrinsicality (where, intuitively, intrinsic properties are those that objects possess solely in virtue of the way the objects themselves are).

Granting, for purposes of spelling out a duplication account, that there is a privileged set of (perfectly) natural properties, we can define what it is to be a duplicate: an object x is a duplicate of object y if and only if x is like y with respect to the instantiation of all perfectly natural properties.

So, the duplication account of instrinsicality is:
DUP: A property P is intrinsic if and only if it never divides duplicates.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Philosopher's Carnival #102

Welcome to Philosopher's Carnival #102. The Philosopher's Carnival is a round-up of recent philosophy blog posts. I'm going to include my own recommendations alongside the submitted posts, and if there is something good I've missed, be sure to mention it in the comments. All links are after the jump.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Thomas Reid and Acquired Perception

In his Essays on the Intellectual Powers of Man Thomas Reid maintains that experience can allow us to improve on our original perceptions, expanding the information available to us by way of our senses. In this category, Reid includes things from our ability to visually perceive tangible sizes and distances of objects (instead of simply the apparent sizes and distances of objects), to things like hearing the size of a bell and a butcher's ability to (visually) see how heavy some quantity of beef is. Reid labels this phenomenon "acquired perception", and takes the position that instances of it do not involve an act of reasoning, but he also indicates that he is not particularly concerned to argue that it is literally a form of perception — "Whether we call it judgment or acquired perception is a verbal difference" (EIP II.14, paragraph 37). Reid indicates that he is calling it "perception" simply to accord with what he regards as common usage of the term (EIP II.22, paragraph 31).

At the same time, one of the many interesting things that I think we can find in Reid's discussion of this topic is a decent way to defend his substantive underlying position (namely that beliefs arising from acquired perception are importantly different from both our original perceptions and from beliefs formed on the basis of reasoning). When Reid is concerned to show that many purported 'fallacies of the senses' are not really fallacies of the senses, he points out that when our acquired perceptions lead us astray, (for example, if one believes that there is a spherical object in front of them on the basis of seeing a really well-done painting of a sphere), we would not fault their faculty of vision (Reid's discussion of this point is from II.22. paragraph 31).

I think Reid could marshall this test in support of his position that acquired perception is not a product of reasoning. I am just as disinclined to consider someone who is taken in by a trompe l'oeil painting or the like a bad reasoner as I am to consider them someone with faulty vision. However, limiting our attention to this case might be considered stacking the deck in favor of Reid's position, since not all of his opponents would group visual perception of 3d shapes and distances as the same sort of acquired perceptions as a butcher's ability to estimate beef weight, or the like.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Fictions about Real Things

I am on the plane from New York back to Los Angeles (currently over Omaha), and since Google was good enough to sponsor free in-flight wifi for all Virgin America flights, I figured I'd take this opportunity to write up a blog post.

I would think that it is utterly uncontroversial that there are some fictions about real people. but, it is often the case that things I take to be utterly uncontroversial are subjects of heated philosophical dispute.

Start with this fiction (which, admittedly, has little aesthetic value):
One day, during his exile on the isle of Elba, Napoleon met a surprisingly friendly group of vampires. After a brief conversation, they parted ways and Napoleon made a mental note not to prejudge vampires. The end.

Here are a couple things I think we should all accept about that story (call it "Vampires on Elba").
1) "Vampires on Elba" is a story about Napoleon
2) The occurrences of "Napoleon" in "Vampires on Elba" refer to Napoleon.

Here is a potential worry for accepting 1 and 2:

It seems to follow from 1 and 2 that:
3) The Napoleon of "Vampires on Elba" is Napoleon.
And, intuitively we would want to accept:
4) The Napoleon of "Vampires on Elba" met some vampires.

But, now we have a contradiction, since:
5) It is not the case that Napoleon met some vampires.

So, 3, 4, and 5 form an inconsistent triad.

Let's take it for granted that 5 is beyond reproach.

We either need to deny 3, deny 4, or argue that there is equivocation going on. And if we deny 3, we will need to figure out whether to reject 1 and 2, or whether 3 doesn't really follow from them at all.

It seems to be the best strategy for rejecting 4 is to argue that it is literally false, but can be used to convey the truth:
4*) According to the fiction "Vampires on Elba", Napoleon met some vampires.

This is somewhat unsatisfying, but does allow us to cleanly preserve 3.

On the other hand, it seems to me that the best strategy for rejecting 3 involves treating "the n of S" (where 'n' is a name and 'S' is the title of a story) as a function that takes one from the referent of n to some other object. I'm going to call this approach the "Cadillac of Minivans" approach. In essence, we reject 3 because it is an identity claim, but the definite description doesn't pick out the object named by 'n', rather, it picks out some relevant counterpart of that object. Note that this is compatible with (and almost requires) treating 'n' as it occurs in 3, as retaining its ordinary reference. Just as "Cadillac" retains its ordinary reference in the phrase "The Cadillac of minivans".

I am not sure whether this strategy is compatible with accepting 1 or 2 (I am more worried about 1, I guess, than about 2).

I am currently inclined to accept 3, and to either maintain that 4 is false, but can be used to make claims about what is true according to the fiction, or maintain that 4 is ambiguous between the false reading and a reading on which it literally makes a claim about what is true according to the fiction.

I'm mostly curious as to whether there is some way to maintain natural readings of 1 and 2, while denying 3. Any thoughts?

Friday, January 1, 2010

Post APA: Sessions I Saw

I wound up attending quite a few sessions at the APA this year, so I thought I'd take an opportunity to recap what I saw before I forget too much of what went on. I hope to have a couple of posts about some of the things that really grabbed my attention/interest from the talks I saw, but for now, here is a list of the talks I made it to. As always, some talks I wanted to see were scheduled at conflicting times, and sometimes the practical necessities of getting a meal prevented me from attending as many sessions as I'd have liked to: