Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Upcoming conferences

I'll be taking my act on the road. This week I received word that I'll be at RoME in Boulder to give a talk on psychologized conceptions of practical reasons and in December I'll be in New York to give a talk on truth and warranted assertion. And, while I'm not certain this is so, this time I might get to put my tab on someone's bill. Looking forward to seeing lots of folks that I know will be in Colorado and a low stress Eastern.

Coachella isn't Woodstock

Warning: video contains full frontal wizard nudity.

Naked Wizard Tased By Reality from Tracy Anderson on Vimeo.

NSFW (I've learned recently that 'NSFW' means not safe for work). The knee drops and multiple uses of the taser seem a bit excessive.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


I'm about done with a massive pile of grading and half way through the paperwork generated by plagiarism cases, so normal posting won't be back for a little while. In the meantime, is there anything good to read on flu and factory farming? I've seen some discussion of this around the blogosphere (here), but I'm wondering if there's something with more scientific cred on the issue worth reading.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

An argument with very limited appeal!

The following three propositions constitute an inconsistent triad:

1. Foundationalism: All knowledge and justified belief rest ultimately on a foundation of noninferential knowledge or justified belief
2. Knowledge Account: All justified beliefs constitute knowledge.
3. Knowledge from Falsehood: It is possible to derive knowledge from falsehood via inference.

In support of (3), consider:

Cooper’s parents tell him that Santa is going to leave presents under the tree and he believes he will have presents because he believes Santa is bringing them. We can rightly say he knows he will have presents even if we stipulate that given his background beliefs he would only believe he will have presents if he believed Santa was going to bring them.

We should give up Foundationalism.

There you go. The argument with very limited appeal!

Myself, I'd reject the knowledge account, but since I think that there are no false, justified beliefs and think that knowledge entails justification, I'd have to say that some justified beliefs rest on a foundation of unjustified beliefs. Or, something like that.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A quick note on Everitt and Craig

Posting has been light lately because grading has been heavy and taxes and stuff. Thought I'd post a quick note on some material we covered on Friday in class but didn't cover quite as carefully as I had hoped because we ran out of time.

Here's an argument of Craig's:

1. Everything that begins to exist has a cause of its existence (Why? “It is based on the metaphysical intuition that something cannot come out of nothing.”).
2. The universe began to exist (Why? Forget the conceptual arguments, our best science is supposed to show that there was a first moment).
C. The universe has a cause of its existence (“Given the intuitively obvious principle that whatever begins to exist has a cause of its existence, we have been led to conclude that the universe has a cause of its existence. On the basis of our argument, this cause would have to be uncaused, eternal, changeless, timeless, and immaterial. Moreover, it would have to be a personal agent who freely elects to create an effect in time. Therefore, on the basis of the kalam cosmological argument, I conclude that it is rational to believe that God exists.”).

We can worry a bit about the scientific rationale for (2). As noted by Oppy, John Earman claims, “in standard Big Bang models, for every time t there is an earlier time t’, and the state of the universe at t’ is a causal determinant of the state of the universe at t. Thus, it turns out that, even in the standard Big Bang models, there is no ‘absolute beginning’ of the physical universe.” Bracket this. Let's suppose we can place a lot of confidence in the Big Bang Theory and let's suppose that we can say that the theory is properly interpreted in such a way that it posits a first moment. Everitt thinks there's no cause for concern. In The Non-Existence of God he writes:
What about the universe as a whole—could it have a cause? There is a straightforward reason for saying that the universe as a whole could not have a cause. Recall that the phrase ‘the universe’ is here being used to include space and time as well as matter. This means that there could not have been an event preceding the universe and bringing it about, for the simple reason that there was no time before the start of the universe in which that even could have occurred. If per impossible there had been any event before the supposed start of the universe, that would simply show that the universe had in fact begun earlier than we had assumed (70).

But, it seems he's denying (1) and (1) strikes many as being completely obvious. It's as if Everitt is saying that really something can come out of nothing. Let me try to put the point differently, but in a way that I think is very much in the spirit of what Everitt is saying.


Hank Williams (begat) Hank Williams, Jr. (begat) Hank III

This diagram represents time and the Hanks. According to (1), if Hank Williams, Jr. began to exist, he has a cause. We know that Hank Williams, Jr. began to exist because there are times at which he does not exist that precede the times at which he does exist. So far, so good. So, it seems that the principle allows us to infer that there was a cause. In this case, the cause is Hank Williams.

According to (2), the universe began to exist. So, it seems that according to (1), the universe had a cause. Something begat the universe just as something begat Hank III, Hank Williams, Jr., etc…

Note, however, that there are two reasons to say that the Hanks began to exist:
(i) They have existed for a finite duration.
(ii) There were times at which they did not exist prior to the times at which they did exist.

There is, however, at most only one reason to say that 'the universe' began to exist. So as to avoid any potential confusion, let’s distinguish two senses of ‘beginning to exist’. If something has existed for a finite duration, let’s say it had a ‘beginning-1’. If something is such that there are times at which it did not exist that precede the times at which it does, let’s say it had a ‘begnning-2’.

(Q) In what sense should we say that the universe had a beginning? Beginning-1? Beginning-2? Both?
(Q2) In what sense should we say that everything that begins to exist has a cause? Beginning-1? Beginning-2? Both?

Here is Craig’s motivation for the principle that everything that begins to exist has a cause: it is based on the intuition that, “something cannot come out of nothing”. That sounds like he’s concerned with beginning-2. Supposing that there is a first moment, in what sense does our best scientific theory (allegedly) show that the universe had a beginning? That sounds like beginning-1. I take it that Everitt’s point is that if we read the metaphysical principle as applying to things that began-1 but did not begin-2, the principle is false. If that’s not what it means and it applies only to things that begin-1, it doesn’t apply.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Belief & Desire

Boghossian raises an interesting question. Can we think of a person who has desires but no beliefs? His answer is contained in this curious passage from Content and Justification:

It's hard to imagine. The reason is that we think that someone can want p at some time t only if he either believes it to be not p at t or is unsure whether it is p at t. You cannot want p at a given time, if at that time you already believe that p has occurred. You can be glad ... but you cannot want it to occur (105).

If you're unsure as to whether p, it doesn't follow that you believe p or its negation. It does follow that either you believe p or are unsure as to whether p. So, even if that disjunctive condition obtains whenever someone desires, I don't see how this shows that if you imagine someone who desires something you thereby imagine someone who believes something. The reason this matters is that Boghossian thinks that he can establish the normativity of content by establishing that belief is normative (in the sense that belief ascriptions commit you to certain ought judgments) and establishing that we understand the notion of content only by understanding the notion of belief. There are questions we can raise at each step, but this seems like a very simple and superficial mistake that he's made. It could be that I'm missing something obvious.

First they came for the Massachusetts parent helplessly watching public schools teach her son that gay marriage is okay

... and I didn't speak up because I am not a Massachusetts parent helplessly watching public schools teach my son that gay marriage is okay.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Coming soon...

Received word last night that Acta Analytica has accepted my paper on the coherence of spectrum inversion, "On the coherence of spectrum inversion". We all have reason to celebrate tonight! The gist is that some recent arguments for the impossibility of a certain kind of behaviorally undetectable spectrum inversion are, inter alia, arguments against the possibility of color blindness. Since I don't think that all color blind people are lazy or lying (okay, there are a few...), I think these arguments can't show what they purport to. After the funny business, I get down to the serious business of showing where these arguments go wrong.

Knowledge, Certainty, and Possibility

It's been ages since I've thought about this, but I spent this morning jotting down some ideas about epistemic modals that I thought I'd post here. It's nothing revolutionary. Heck, it's not particularly interesting. But, here goes.

Recall that Rysiew wanted to show that CKAs such as (1) can express true propositions, a point he was keen to defend because he though that this captured the fallibilist's view:

(1) I know that Harry is a zebra, but it might be that he's a cleverly disguised mule.

Rysiew gave the fallibilists something they wanted by giving a pragmatic explanation as to why (1) sounds contradictory but, as Stanley pointed out, he didn't give the fallibilists what they needed. He didn't explain how (1) could be true. Indeed, it seems (1) couldn't be true given a standard treatment of epistemic modals:

(EPk) p is epistemically possible for S iff ~p isn’t obviously entailed by something S knows.

Given (EPk), (1) entails:

(4) I know that Harry is a zebra, but I don’t know that Harry isn’t a painted mule and thus a painted non-zebra.

But, (4) couldn't be true unless said by someone who is incredibly dense.

Dougherty and Rysiew recommend replacing (EPk) with (EPe):

(EPe) p is epistemically possible for S iff ~p isn’t entailed by S’s evidence.

The problem, however, is that CKAs turn out to be contradictory when p is known non-inferentially if we add:

(IKSE) Non-inferential knowledge that p suffices for p's inclusion in your evidence.

Note that a similar problem arises for Stanley’s (2005) defense of fallibilism. If we introduce some sceptical hypothesis (e.g., Cartesian demons or BIVs), it seems not improper to concede that it might be that there are no hands. It seems that Stanley can only say that (5) expresses a true proposition if (6) is true:

(5) It might be that there are no hands.
(6) My evidence doesn’t include the proposition that I have a hand.

Stanley’s fallibilist, you’ll recall, accepts (3) while rejecting (1):

(3) I know that Harry is a zebra, but the evidence I have to believe that this is so does not logically entail that Harry is not just a painted mule.

Stanley’s fallibilist thinks that the concessions are appropriate when the speaker does not have entailing evidence for the proposition she concedes she might be mistaken about. It follows from (IKSE) and the Moorean observation that we can know non-inferentially that we have hands that (6) is false.

The repair. Replace (EPk) with:

(EPc) p is epistemically possible for S iff ~p isn’t obviously entailed by something S knows with complete certainty.

According to (EPc), the concession that ‘It might be that ~p’ is just the acknowledgement that either p isn’t known or if it is known it isn’t known with complete certainty. The problem with Dougherty and Rysiew’s solution, arguably, was that they could sever the connection between (1) and (4) only by severing the connection between knowledge and evidence by insisting that it is much harder to acquire evidence than we might have antecedently thought. If we say that more is required for epistemic necessity than mere knowledge, we can say that less is required for open epistemic possibilities than either ignorance or the lack of entailing evidence.
I think there’s some independent motivation for replacing (EPk) with (EPc). Think about cases of inductive knowledge. It seems odd to think that you could have knowledge of future events only if your beliefs that these future events will occur are epistemically necessary for you. Or, think about the introduction of sceptical hypotheses into a conversation. Suppose knowledge is the norm of assertion. Suppose (EPk) is true. Suppose that concessions of the form ‘It might be that ~p’ are assertions. You should only concede ‘It might be that ~p’ if you are in a position to know that you don’t know that p. It seems, to me, that this makes it too difficult to get into the proper position to concede that you might be mistaken. If someone introduces the possibility that I’ve been hallucinating and I concede that I might be mistaken, am I really in a position to assert that either my belief is false, I don’t hold the belief, I don’t have adequate justification for that belief, or I’m in a Gettier case? I don’t think so. Denying that you know or knew is hard. Conceding that you might be mistaken is easy. It seems that knowledge isn’t the norm of assertion, concessions aren’t really assertions, or the mere fact that you know doesn’t completely close some epistemic possibility. Finally, consider the contrast between (1) embedded and similar embedded statements:

(7) I believe that I know that Harry is a zebra, but it might be that Harry is just a painted mule.
(8) I believe that I know that Harry is a zebra, but he isn’t.
(9) I believe that I know that Harry is a zebra, but there’s no reason for me to believe that he is.
(10) I believe that I know that Harry is a zebra, but I don’t believe that Harry is a zebra.

If after seeing the zebra you raise the possibility that the zookeepers painted a mule and put it in the zebra cage, it seems that I could speak truthfully if I utter (7). When we embed these other claims where the second conjunct denies that a condition necessary for knowledge obtains, the embedding doesn’t seem to wash away the sin of asserting (8), (9), or (10). If we take the effect of embedding these claims to be that the speaker thinks that it is not altogether unlikely that the embedded claims are true, the fact that we find (7) to be acceptable is some indication that the defectiveness of CKAs is not due to the fact that they express obvious falsehoods but something else. Finally, consider the sort of cases that led Radford (1966) to say that knowledge doesn’t require belief. Pressed for answers on a quiz show, a contestant consistently gives the right answers and is pleasantly surprised to discover that the answers she’s giving are correct. It seems that as she’s doing this she might rightly think to herself that she might be mistaken while someone at home might be right to say that she knew the answers to the questions.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

No power in Hyer Hall

Why the above? Because there's no power in Hyer Hall and might not be until next week! Just when I thought they couldn't take anything else from me, they took my lights and printer.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Philosopher's Digest

Just a quick post to remind you about Philosopher's Digest. My review of Dougherty and Rysiew's PPR piece is now online and there should be some more reviews coming shortly. It's still in its infancy. I imagine that in the not so distant future there will many more reviews and many more reviewers. In the meantime, it seems like a good place for philosophical discussion.