Friday, May 30, 2008

Lotteries and the norm of belief

Correct me if I'm wrong. At the very least, try to correct me if you think I'm wrong.

(1) To use lottery propositions to motivate the knowledge account of belief, we have to assume:

(A1) Beliefs in lottery propositions won't constitute knowledge (assuming that the grounds for such beliefs do not include insider's information).
(A2) You oughtn't believe what you don't know.

(2) If you accept single-premise closure, you have to say that overt and covert lottery beliefs share the same epistemic status (i.e., that either both constitute knowledge or neither do). By 'overt lottery belief', I mean a belief in a lottery proposition (e.g., the belief that I'll lose tomorrow's lottery). By 'covert lottery belief', I mean a belief whose truth depends on the outcome of a lottery proposition when this isn't known to the believer (e.g., the belief that I'll not be able to go on safari held by a subject whose friend has just slipped a lottery ticket into his coat pocket).

(3) If you think that safety is necessary for knowledge, you have to say that overt and covert lottery beliefs share the same epistemic status (i.e., that either both constitute knowledge or neither do).

If (1)-(3) are correct, and I think they are, then we ought to ask the further question as to whether (4) is true:

(4) Overt and covert lottery beliefs share the same deontic status (i.e., either beliefs are both types may be permissibly held or neither may).

I take it that if you buy into the knowledge account, (4) is a consequence of (1)-(3). However, I take it that the following goes against our ordinary intuitions:

(5) You ought never believe if the belief that p is a covert lottery belief.

If we reject (5), we can only retain (A2) by rejecting (A1). That undercuts one of the primary motivations for the knowledge account. If we reject (5), we can only accept (4) by rejecting (A1). If we reject (4), we have to reject both (2) and (3) and that comes at a mighty high cost. It's an ad hominem argument, but the main defenders of the knowledge account tend to accept (2) and I think offer (3) as an essential part of their explanation as to why overt lottery beliefs do not constitute knowledge. Myself, I'm happy to accept the disjunction of (4) and (5) and use that as the basis of an attack on the knowledge account.

(Q1) Am I alone in thinking that intuition speaks in favor of (5)?
(Q2) Am I right in thinking that (2) and (3) are true?

They call that "Knowing Less by Knowing More"

From the NYT:
Managers and corporate leaders sometimes lack the essential skill of skepticism because, among other reasons, they do not get the information they need.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

The end of Dr. Barista?

It might be. Today's shift is the last shift I have scheduled and I don't know if I'll keep making coffee after my return from Scotland. I thought I'd outlast Dr. McNinja, but he hasn't stopped. I guess it's a bit sad leaving the service industry. If nothing else, this means I can't tell people on flights that I'm a barista. And this means I'll have to deal with this dreaded exchange:
Some guy: So, what do you do?
Me: I teach.
SG: Where?
Me: At SMU.
SG: What do you teach?
Me: (Bracing for it) Philosophy.
SG: Oh, what's your philosophy?
Me: Revenge is a dish best served cold.

In the old days, it would end with 'I'm a barista'. Now I'll just disappoint strangers with my philosophy. On a sidenote, my philosophy is vastly superior to David Armstrong's. I've heard it told that his was 'A stitch in time saves nine'. Lame. Nobody even knows what that means.

If you live in Dallas and don't like Starbucks, you should check out Gachet. We're located, or, it's located at 2336 Victory Park Lane. Unlike Starbucks, they don't lie about having the best equipment in town and, as an added bonus, I won't be making your drinks. (Directions).

Friday, May 23, 2008

A quick question about reasons

Suppose there's a reason, call him 'Randy', and it speaks in favor of pushing the red button. Suppose there's a reason, call her 'Griselda', and it speaks in favor of pushing the green button. Suppose it's impossible to push both buttons. Question. Does Griselda _also_ speak against pushing the red button? I'm not asking whether it could. I'm asking whether it _must_ simply in virtue of (a) that Griselda speaks in favor of pushing the green button and (b) you cannot push the green and the red.

I'm really not sure what to think. I can see Randy speaking in favor of pushing the red button without thereby speaking against pushing the red button and the same for Griselda. Of course, pushing the red means missing the opportunity to conform to the demands Griselda made. Pushing the green means missing the opportunity to conform to the demands made by Randy.

Here's a little argument that I _think_ is a decent little argument against the view that Griselda _must_ speak against pushing the red button. Changing examples should help. Jones is out for his morning constitutional when he sees a man fall into the river. Seeing that the man was struggling to pull himself out and is in serious danger of being pulled away from the bank, he rushes over to lend a hand. Smith is heading out to meet Jones the next day for lunch when he sees a different man fall into the same river. Seeing that this man was struggling to pull himself out and in danger of being pulled away from the bank, he rushes over to lend a hand knowing full well that his assisting this stranger would prevent him from keeping his appointment with Jones. Now, the strength of the case for Φ-ing is a function of both the reasons to Φ and the reasons to refrain from Φ-ing. It seems that the case for Smith to assist and the case for Jones to assist is equally strong. It follows that the reasons that favored keeping the meeting were not reasons to refrain from helping the man.

Thoughts? I first became interested in this issue when I was trying to explain Ross' view in class and it struck me that I wasn't quite sure whether Ross would say that the reasons associated with each of his prima facie duties _both_ asked us to perform acts of certain types and act against the other duties on the list. (Of course, he believed in real conflict but I don't think it is obvious that believing in real conflict and rejecting the specificationist view on which moral principles 'anticipate' each of the circumstances under which they fail to determine what ought to be done all things considered and treats them as exceptions you have to take a stand one way or the other.)

Monday's Video

It's been ages since I've posted a music video, but here's some Mountain Goats.


Of course, if we're aiming at providing the best you should see this instead:


Yes, I know it's not Monday. It's overdue.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Daily Sabbatical

The Daily Sabbatical. The new link should work. Go and read about the coccyx. Today could be one of those days you learn something.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

What's so funny about peace, love, and maximin?

I've seen data scattered in various places about faculty salaries, but I'm wondering if anyone knows where to get the most reliable data about the salaries offered to philosophy lecturers or instructors. (According to this survey, the median philosophy instructor salary was $39K for the 2007-2008 school year. Is that high? I guess I'd feel slightly better if it was. The egalitarian in me cries out for leveling down.) The offer on the table is $33K to teach 4-4 with just over 180 students each semester to look after. For reasons that are beyond me, the university will not help cover the cost of conference travel and has not provided us with computers. When my laptop dies in the near future, I'll be out of pocket on that. There's no fun little book fund for amazon shopping sprees. Hell, we even have to pay to use the gym now. Factor that in as well. The little bit that I've seen suggests this is a pretty poor compensation package and as a friend pointed out, the $700 raise they are offering isn't really a raise if you take account of inflation. It's just a pay cut that is slightly less bad than it could have been. I'd like to appeal to a dean or the devil or whoever it is one talks to and see about negotiating for a proper raise, but I need numbers. And help would be greatly appreciated.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Good news

The Canadian Journal of Philosophy has just accepted "The Externalist's Demon". That in addition to the revise and resubmit I received from AJP, this has been a pretty good week. It is now my intention to uncork a couple of bottles of wine.

Friday, May 16, 2008

The Daily Sabbatical

Robert Howell has started what will be a must read blog. The Daily Sabbatical. He'll likely make me take the link down, so use your bookmarks people.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

You asked

Victor wrote:
The argument for incompatibilism is really very simple.

1) I am not responsible for the eternal decrees of God (or the laws of nature and the condition of the universe at the big bang).
2) I am not responsible for the fact that, given the decrees of God, I sinned at 2 PM yesterday.
3) Therefore, I am not responsible for the fact that I sinned at 2 PM yesterday.

Or formally:

Not Responsible for A
Not Responsible for If A then B.
Therefore, Not Responsible for B.

How can I be responsible for that which is the modus ponens consequence of that for which I am not responsible?


I don't know. It seems pretty easy to me. Easy. I promise God I'll meet him for lunch. Suppose that God is good enough at reading minds that he knows if I'll go back on the promise. If I were to go back on the promise, he'll zap me so that I instantaneously appear at our lunch date.

I am not responsible for God's conditional intention. That God has such a conditional intention entails I'll be at our lunch date (one way or another). God never zaps me and I arrive freely. I'm responsible for being there, but it's a modus ponens consequence of something I'm not responsible for. Am I wrong?

Monday, May 12, 2008

Three things

It's the end of the world as we know it (No need to panic. The world as we've known it is a world where ethicists do their thing, epistemologists do their thing, and neither has had to correct the other. That can't go on. So, it's the end of the world as we know it. I feel fine.)

A little something on 'ought' and 'can'

The myth of the false, justified belief (This is the very short version.)

The titles of the first two have been changed. Can't put your real titles on work anymore with googly eyed refs trying to discover the identity of the authors whose work they're looking at.

In other news, Majikthise has posted this little gem.



Why hasn't Rod Parsley come in for the same scrutiny as Jeremiah Wright? I really don't know.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Odds and ends

The semester is over and done with. Not a moment too soon. The grading is finished, but I'll have about a day's worth of paperwork to wrap up before summer proper begins. Do yourself a favor and treat yourself to the new Grampall Jookabox album. I'm pretty sure those guys are mentally ill, but mental illness is musical gold. Good review here. A live clip below. (fyi. I think a lot is lost from the album in the live performance.)

I checked some of the sites where students leave anonymous reviews and found this gem:
Drawbacks
He is unfair and looks for cheaters. If you plan on doing the work be careful even if you did it, he will look at it with a close eye. He failed 13 students in the spring semester of 08 from one class!

The nerve. It's not entirely accurate, but I'm not going to complain if a bit of urban legend scares off the cheaters.

Here's Grampall Jookabox's "Take Me from Diamondhead"

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

I got good news and I got bad news. Update. The new news is that all news is good news.

It was already a long, painful day when I dropped by the office to see what grading was waiting for me. In addition to the grading, two letters were waiting for me. The first was letting me know that I've been rejected from unnamed philosophy conference. The selection was so difficult, you understand. I've been selected out. There was a second letter from the same sender. Oh good, I thought, they're thorough. Maybe they've sent a second rejection just to make sure that the message came across. Maybe this one will bar me from attending altogether. No. It's an acceptance. Same conference. Sent on the same day. Signed 'Sincerely yours' from the same program committee chair. And, no, it's not Graham Priest. (But maybe it is Graham Priest?)

Dear world, please stop messing with me. Either I've learned my lesson or I'm just too thick to ever learn it. Just back off.

Practical question. Should I just show up with a tie on and try to confidence my way through the presentation?

Update
I'll be giving 'The myth of the false, justified belief' at the Eastern in December. I think I'm not the only one who will receive acceptance and rejection letters.

Anyway, in celebration of the bullets I'll be biting in Philly, enjoy.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Are favorers reasons?

I've been toying with a little argument that is supposed to show that normative or guiding reasons require more of us than just that we rationally pursue certain ends or form beliefs. Here it is.

Consider the view that reasons are at least sometimes considerations that favor an action. If asked why we ought to think of reasons as considerations that favor an action, I hope this answer suffices. Reasons are things that figure in reasoning. When I engage in the sort of practical reasoning that has as its upshot an action (or intention to act or believe that I ought to act), the reason certain considerations figure in deliberation and decision making is precisely because they favor the course of action I am contemplating. Considerations that seem to neither favor that action nor favor any alternative simply drop out of the deliberative process. It seems that as a rational agent, I have sufficient expertise to know how to use reasons and to know what it takes for something to be a reason and this pretty much sums up how I sometimes use reasons and sometimes know reasons to be reasons when I see them. It could be that I’m mistaken, but it seems we need really good reasons to think that reasons are not considerations that have ever figured in my reasoning despite the fact that I’m a fully rational agent whose actions are sometimes no less than fully reasonable. It seems we need good reasons to think that while reasons operate as my reasons for an action by favoring some course of action, they work as reasons behind the scenes in some totally different way that does not require favoring. It seems that while I might make occasional mistakes about what I ought to do, what the reasons require of me, and what reasons there are, I am not completely hopeless when it comes to determining how things would have to be for my actions to turn out to be correct, for the best, or right. And, with only this much established, I think we can see why reasons’ demands outstrip the requirements of rationality.

(1) For many of the actions we consider performing, the considerations that speak in favor of their performance are facts about our situations represented by the beliefs that figure in deliberation rather than facts about our minds or states of our minds.
(2) It is possible to be fully rational in deciding to Φ even on those occasions where each of the beliefs that figure in the deliberative processes that leads to the decision to Φ is false.
(3) On these occasions, however, we often do not correctly respond to the considerations we would identify as those that make Φ-ing favorable.
(4) Thus, on these occasions if doing what the reasons required only required responding in ways properly described as being rational, we would be systematically wrong about what reasons are or how they ought to be used.
(5) However, it is implausible to charge us with such error.
(6) Hence, these are occasions where we might act rationally without thereby doing as the reasons required.

The case for (1) is straightforward. If you think about the considerations that favor offering assistance to another, it seems it is not the belief that they need your help that generates the reason to help or serves as that reason’s ground but the fact that they need your assistance that generates the reason or serves as its ground.

The case for (2) is straightforward. Those who hold that judgments about the rationality of a decision ought to take account of the agent’s perspective will say that the fact that the subject’s perspective is not faithful to how things truly are is a fact wholly obscure to the subject. Such facts cannot undermine the claim that the subject’s decisions are rational.

As for (3), the idea is something like this. While believing that someone needs help, we might face a situation where the facts suggest that not only is there nothing that speaks in favor of offering help, there are good reasons to refrain from offering this person help (e.g., they wish to be left alone, offering help would only be patronizing, etc…). So, while one might be no less than fully reasonable in offering help believing that such an offer is called for and being moved by perfectly moral motives, there might literally be nothing that favored the decision to make such an offer. And it is at this point where the problem arises. The justification for (1) stems from two observations. The first is simply that we ordinarily judge that the considerations that really favor actions pertain to the situation outside us rather than states of our own mind. The second is that the considerations that figure in reasoning do so precisely because the agent takes them to be considerations that favor a potential course of action. If we insist that because the decision to offer help was rational the decision to offer help was a decision there really was reason to make or the thing that there was overall reason to do, either the subject is just mistaken in thinking that what determines whether something spoke in favor of the decision to offer help are facts about the potential beneficiary and her needs or mistaken in thinking that in determining whether considerations ought to play the role of operative reasons it is sometimes crucial to ask whether those considerations favor the action they eventually lead us to perform. If you opt for the former, you charge ordinary subjects with serious error. They thought that the duty to render aid was about someone else, it really is all about them. If you opt for the latter, you charge ordinary subjects with serious error. They thought that what is determinative for making a reason a reason is that it stands in the sorts of relations such as favoring that they themselves would have thought were necessary for reasons to be reasons for the kinds of actions they seem to be reasons for.

So, whereas it seems that practical reasons are at least sometimes facts about the external situation rather than facts about us, adherence to the view that meeting the demands reasons make is merely a matter of seeing to it that one’s actions and attitudes are rational forces us to say that they are never external considerations. Here is why. In the case where the subject is systematically deluded about the nature of the external situation, the subject’s rationally responding by coming to a decision is not a response that takes account of how things are but only account of how things seem. So, on some such occasions at least the only things we could think of as things that make demands on the agent are facts about the agent’s own mind. Now, suppose we move from the ‘bad’ case to the ‘good’. We think that in doing so, the subject is no more rational or reasonable as a result. If we said that in such situations the facts believed and the beliefs themselves each provided their own reasons, we would have to think of the subject’s response as fully rational only insofar as the subject successfully did what both sets of reasons demanded. If the subject were to do that, we would intuitively think of the subject’s response as a double success, but this seems to be an odd sort of double counting. Surely there were not two things going for the subject’s decision to Φ in the good case if there could be only one thing going for that decision in the bad case. So, it seems to follow that good or bad, a subject’s reasons involve no more than their mental states or facts about such states. And that forces us to charge ordinary subjects with systematic error, something we have no good reason to do.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Who stole the APA!?!

Maybe one of the Brians can get to the bottom of this?

Sorry, I don't know what the Brian-signal is or how it's activated. That's the best I can do.

Update
Apparently the site wasn't stolen. It was misplaced or taking a well earned vacation.