Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Constituency neither is nor requires Parthood

At the Central APA, I attended a presentation by Greg Fowler and Chris Tillman in which they showed the inconsistency of the following claims relating to the mereological sum of absolutely everything, call it 'U', and the proposition that U exists:

1) U is part of the proposition that U exists.
2) The proposition that U exists is part of U.
3) U is not identical to the proposition that U exists.
4) Parthood is anti-symmetric (i.e. if x is part of y, and y is part of x, x=y).

Their discussion was framed (roughly) as an argument against (4), on the basis of (1)-(3), but I think it is more useful to think of it as an inconsistent tetrad.

If we grant that there is such a thing as the mereological sum of absolutely everything, and we grant the existence of propositions, then (2) would be hard to deny. If everything is a part of U, and there is a proposition that U exists, it is part of U. So, the likely culprits are (1), (3) and (4). But, to me at least, (4) seems to be on better footing than the assumption that there is a mereological sum of absolutely everything, so I'm unlikely to give that up to resolve the tension.

As to (3), I find the following to be a reasonably compelling argument against giving it up: U is not truth evaluable, but the proposition that U exists is truth evaluable, so they are not identical. That said, I think fleshing out a denial of (3) would be among the more interesting responses to the puzzle.

At any rate, I am left with a rejection of (2). Now, Chris and Greg argued that giving this up would cause trouble for explaining the structure of structured propositions, but they only considered denying (2) by denying that structured propositions have any (proper) parts whatsoever. This way of denying (2) is pretty strong, since (2) only asserts that one particular thing is a part of the proposition that U exists. In other words, Chris and Greg argued (compellingly) that parthood is needed in the analysis of constituency, but used that as a basis for concluding that the constituents of a proposition are parts of that proposition.

Here is my flippant argument that constituency neither is nor requires parthood (i.e. that being a constituent of something does not entail being a part of it):
DD1) As a resident of Illinois, I am one of Dick Durbin's constituents.
DD2) I am not one of Dick Durbin's parts.
DDC) So, constituency neither is nor requires parthood.

And here is my almost-as-flippant explanation of why this notion of constituency is relevant to our discussion of propositions:
It is in virtue of being one of Dick Durbin's constituents that I am represented by him in the senate. So, the Dick Durbin argument shows that one can explain why something represents its constituents without the constituents being parts of the thing doing the representing.

So, I'm inclined to think that propositional constituents are represented by the parts of propositions, but need not themselves be parts of propositions.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Prospective Student Season

As we approach one of my favorite parts of the academic year (prospective student recruitment season), it seems a good time to let anyone who is considering coming to USC for their Philosophy Ph.D. know that they should feel free to contact me with any questions they have about the nature of the program, about our departmental culture, about graduate student life at USC/in Los Angeles, or whatever else they might be curious about.

Two things I remember from when I was applying to Grad school:
1) There was something very nice about the part of the process where programs that had accepted me were trying to convince me to choose them, as opposed to the earlier part of the process where I was trying to convince them to choose me.
2) There was something very stressful about the part of the process where programs that had accepted me were trying to convince me to choose them, since I didn't know what information I needed to be trying to get in order to make a good decision about where to go.

At any rate, I am here and I am available to answer your questions: lmpowell at-sign usc dot edu.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Actions: Intentional under some description?

This post is subject to an important correction.
I think the origin of talking about actions "under a description" is Donald Davidson's 1963 "Actions, Reasons and Causes". If I am right, Davidson does not so much provide an argument for his thesis, but rather, simply puts it forward:
"I flip the switch, turn on the light, and illuminate the room. Unbeknownst to me I also alert a prowler to the fact that I am at home. Here I need not have done four things, but only one, of which four descriptions have been given.[...]Since reasons may rationalize what someone does when it is described in one way and not when it is described in another, we cannot treat what was done simply as a term in sentences like 'My reason for flipping the switch was that I wanted to turn on the light'; otherwise we would be forced to conclude from the fact that flipping the switch was identical with alerting the prowler, that my reason for alerting the prowler was that I wanted to turn on the light."

It seems that Davidson's view here has two components:
A) My flipping the switch = my turning on the light = my illuminating the room = my alerting the burglar.
B) My flipping the switch was intentional, though my alerting the burglar was not.

Here is a reason to think that if my φing = my ψing, it is not possible that one was intentional and the other not:
1) If my φing = my ψing, then for any property P, if my φing has property P, so does my ψing.
2) Suppose that my φing was intentional but my ψing was not.
3) Then, there is a property P (namely: being intentional) such that my φing has P, but my ψing does not.
4) Then, it is not the case that my φing = my ψing.
5) So, if my φing = my ψing, it is not the case that my φing was intentional while my ψing was not.

Granted, Davidson, it seems, would either deny (1) or the inference to (3) under the supposition of (2). I would have thought that (1) is an uncontroversial instance of Leibniz's law, so I assume it is more likely for one to deny (3). But, at the same time, being intentional seems like a perfectly nice property.

Since I think we should concede component (B) of Davidson's position, I can only assume the motivation to reject (1) or (3) in my argument comes from some good reasons to accept component (A) of Davidson's position, however, it seems like we also have good reason to abandon (A):
1) My flipping the switch could have occurred without the light being turned on.
2) My turning on the light could not have occurred without the light being turned on.
3) So, my flipping the switch is not the same thing as my turning on the light.
(repeat with the necessary alterations for each of the items being identified).

Here's a naive conclusion to draw from my two arguments: My flipping the switch is not the same thing as my alerting the burglar, and thus, we need not appeal to the notion of an action's being "intentional under some description" to explain how my flipping the switch is intentional when my alerting the burglar is not.

But perhaps I am being insufficiently charitable to the Davidsonian position.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

APA Suggestions

I have two simple suggestions for changes to benefit the APA and its members, but I don't actually know how to go about making these suggestions to the people in charge. If anyone does know how ordinary members can officially propose changes like this, please let me know.

Change 1. Adopt an exclusively PDF-based distribution scheme for Proceedings and Addresses, with hard copies of the issues containing Division meeting programs available at the Division meetings. Or, if not, adopt a principally PDF-based distribution scheme, and allow people to opt-in for receipt of paper copies. Or, if not, at least make PDF access available to any member, and make it very easy for individual members to opt out from receiving a paper copy.

I know I am not the only person to think that there must be a better way for the APA to use the resources that go into producing and mailing hard copies out to all of the APA members, but even if, somehow, eliminating the paper copies doesn't save money, it would still enormously less wasteful, right?

Change 2. Allow members to sign up for e-mail notifications/reminders about deadlines for Division meetings. Since the deadlines for APA meetings are usually pretty far in advance of the meetings themselves, it is easy to forget when the deadlines are coming up (for instance, the last Eastern Division meeting occurred less than two months ago, but the submission deadline for next years is in under two weeks). In principle, the cost of setting up such a service would be negligible, so even if it is only moderately helpful for APA members, it still seems like a good idea.

Monday, February 1, 2010