Saturday, May 30, 2009

Overheard in Dallas

Some guy to some other guy in Half Price Books:

How come if we came from apes there are still apes? If we evolved from apes, there shouldn't be any apes left over. Are we gonna put an ape into the zoo and come back the next morning and find a person screaming 'Let me out!' I heard this comedian say that the other night and I just thought it was hilarious.

Well, there's the problem with them evilutionists. They're missing all that awesome creationist stand up.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

One reason I heart Obama

This guy.

Making roads and roofs a paler colour could have the equivalent effect of taking every car in the world off the road for 11 years, Chu said.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Monday, May 25, 2009


I'm launching a new project: phightclub. If anyone is interested in participating, send me an email at cmlittlejohnATyahooDOTcom.

Sunday, May 24, 2009


My diavlog with Juan Comesana is now available online if you're interested (here). It was really hard to know how to pitch our work to our audience, but I'm pretty happy with the results. It was really fun putting this together and after some initial technical difficulties, I'm glad to see that it came off successfully. (Special thanks to Sherri Revier of ERA Colonial Real Estate in Georgetown, TX for finding an office for me to use!)

Friday, May 22, 2009

Internalist supervenience for externalists

Suppose you know p and that you have an internal duplicate that believes p for roughly the same reasons. A commonly held intuition is that you and your duplicate are justified in believing p to the same degree. Suppose that’s right. A commonly drawn lesson is that justification supervenes on the intrinsic properties of a thinker. Suppose that’s right. A commonly drawn lesson is that the justification of our beliefs is determined by these intrinsic properties. That might be a mistake. Even if two intrinsic duplicates cannot have beliefs that differ in justificatory status, someone might say that the reason that the second subject is justified is that the second subject is an intrinsic duplicate of someone who has knowledge. That property might supervene on the intrinsic properties but there’s a perfectly good sense in which that property isn’t determined solely by that individual’s intrinsic properties. Suppose you hold the view that to be blameless before the law you don’t have to act like a lawful citizen, you only have to be motivated in the way that lawful citizens are. Maybe I intend to drive on the left and I have a very similar twin that intends to drive on the right. Whether one of us is the same on the inside as a lawful citizen depends (in part) upon the traffic regulations. Nevertheless, anyone who is just like the one of us that intends to drive on the correct side of the road is blameless before the law but only if they are the same on the inside as the one who intends to do something that is ‘turns out’ to be consistent with the regulations.

This might seem to be a minor point, but I think it matters in the epistemology of moral judgment. Someone might think that NED intuitions support the phenomenal conservative view that says that your judgment that p is true is justified if it seems that p is true and there’s no reason to think things are amiss. They don’t, however. Suppose someone’s moral judgment is based on an intuition where it could not be that the moral world is the way that the intuition makes it seem. According to PC, as long as they have no reason to think things are amiss it seems that the moral judgment based on the intuition is justified. According to externalism with supervenience internalism (ESI), that doesn’t follow. The person who has the sort of intuitions that lead to cannibalism isn’t the same on the inside as someone who knows what to do when trying to decide what to hunt up for dinner.

[Juan and I discussed this point earlier when I wasn't so sleepy and he has made a similar point in his Phil Perspectives paper.]

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


I'll be heading to Austin in just a few minutes. Later this afternoon, I'm going to 'shoot' a session of bloggingheads with Juan Comesana.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Acting for the right reason

I'm not really opposed to the idea that motivating reasons are psychological states of an agent, but there's this argument that's supposed to show that this view cannot be right:

1. Normative reasons are facts and in deliberation they can be represented in the contents of the relevant mental states.
2. The psychologized view of motivating reasons alleges that mental states are what constitute motivating reasons in third-person rationalizing explanations.
3. There is a categorical divide between mental states and mental contents.
C. Therefore, the motivating reasons which rationally explain an agent's actions can never themselves be nor represent any normative reasons for action.

This is an odd argument for someone to give when he seems to think that arguments from error do show that motivating reasons are not the facts that are represented in the contents of the relevant mental states when the facts don't fit the agent's relative beliefs.* Doesn't the argument above work just as well when reformulated as follows:

1'. Normative reasons are facts and in deliberation they can be represented in the contents of the relevant mental states.
2'. The abstractionist view of motivating reasons alleges that the contents of mental states are what constitute motivating reasons in third-person rationalizing explanations.
3'. There is a categorical divide between the facts that constitute normative reasons and the contents of mental states.
C'. Therefore, the motivating reasons which rationally explain an agent's actions can never themselves be nor represent any normative reasons for action.

It seems we have an argument that you either ought to deny 1. or deny that the conclusions of these arguments matter. Myself, I can't see why the conclusions of these arguments matter because it seems that the conclusions of these arguments are perfectly consistent with a view that says that there's still a perfectly good sense in which we can act for the right reasons--that happens when the facts fit the mental states that represent those facts as reasons in reasoning.

* This argument is odd also because it denies that the mental states that provide the reasons we reason from represent the facts that the first premise says are our normative reasons. Suppose I agree that there's no univocal sense in which my belief that p and the proposition that p represent the same thing. That's consistent with saying that there's a sense in which my belief that p represents X and a sense in which it is the proposition that p that represents X. These are just different senses. But, given the availability of the different senses, it seems that there's a sense in which someone who opts for a psychologized conception of practical reasons can represent normative reasons.

The sceptic refuted?

This is the example from Ken Gemes' paper, "A refutation of global scepticism". On the basis of my experience, I believe two claims:
1. I have a hand.
2. It is not the case that I have a hand with a wart on it.

The negations of 1. and 2. are inconsistent, and so the sceptic cannot be right to say that it's possible that all my experience-based beliefs are false.

You might not know this, but Gemes is also responsible for the best possible response to the argument from evil. (It can be found here.)

This reminds me of a seminar some years back when someone claimed something to the effect some experiences can justify believing p only if some other set of experiences could justify p's denial. (Quine, apparently, said something to that effect.) When I asked about the claims 'This lemon is not killer yellow' and 'It's not the case that I'm a blind man wearing a black blindfold', I remember they weren't particularly amused.* Experience suggests that they were not a referee for Gemes' paper.

* Yes, I'm sure there's a subjective difference between being blind and wearing a black blindfold, but modify the example as you think is appropriate to make it modestly amusing.

Dude, where's my PPR?

Oh, and dude where's my Nous?

It seems that PPR and Nous are having a freeze on new submissions until October. Bad news. It's getting harder and harder to get published.

The right and the good


1. From the epistemic point of view, epistemic justification is the sort of thing that is always good to have.
2. From the epistemic point of view, it is better to have justified beliefs than unjustified beliefs.

Suppose you think that whenever you form your beliefs in a responsible fashion, your beliefs have 'epistemic worth'. Such beliefs have a kind of value that is non-instrumental. It seems that epistemic responsibility is necessary but insufficient for justification. Then it seems that we have an explanation for (1) but not for (2). Worse, we have a problem trying to derive a theory of the right from a theory of the good because the good we've identified either doesn't call for promotion or does but doesn't justify the belief when there are reasons not to believe.

There's an explanation as to why the judgment that (2) is true is itself true, and that's because our judgments about what is 'better' or 'best' often reflect some prior judgment about what's right. (Credit to Philippa Foot for this.) So, we're using rightness to explain (2) rather than goodness to explain rightness. If you want to do better, here's the challenge you face.

If there's a consequentialist explanation of (2), it's either going to identify some positive value that the justified beliefs have that explain their status that unjustified beliefs lack or some negative value that explains why unjustified beliefs are unjustified. I don't think the former could work for this reason. We know that there's epistemic disvalue that attaches to epistemically irresponsible belief and whatever else this positive value must do, it must do something epistemic worth doesn't: it must be a positive value that calls for the response that involves forming a belief. But, it seems that whatever had that value would provide a reason that gave us a prima facie duty to believe. If there were such duties, then it seems there should be sins of epistemic omission. There are no such things. If there's just negative epistemic values and justified beliefs are those that lack such values, you get the problem that whenever you form a belief (even if you form it carefully) you run the risk of bringing about this negative value and if there's no overriding reason to run that risk by (potentially) bringing about some positive value then it seems that any belief you form is running a risk there's no reason to run. It's hard to see what could justify such beliefs. If, however, you identify some value that gives us reason to run a risk, you are back to identifying values that would give us prima facie duties to believe when there's no such beast. Face it, there's no prospect for deriving a theory of epistemic justification from some prior theory of epistemic value.


Does anyone have a copy of this article they could email me?
Ken Gemes, "A refutation of global scepticism", Analysis 2009 69: 218-219

SMU's library doesn't have a subscription to Analysis now that they've switched to Oxford. It's insanity!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Ought vs. Ought

[NB: A lot will need to be edited to take account of material at the end of the paper.]

I'm reading Schroeder's "Means-End Coherence, Stringency, and Subjective Reasons" as I'm interested in Ewing's Problem and his take on it. As someone who is somewhat inclined to try to accommodate the data that led Ewing to say that there is a special sort of subjective 'ought' that captures the kernel of truth in the idea that you ought to let your conscience be your guide in terms of some sort of wide-scope 'ought' statement, I feel obliged to address the arguments of this paper. S raises three objections to the wide-scope solution to Ewing's Problem. First, consider:

(Con) If you believe you ought to A, you ought to A.

There's got to be some sort of normative relation between the belief and the action if one conforms to (Con) (or the belief and failure to act if one fails to conform), and the wide-scoper suggests that (Con) misrepresents that normative relation. Really, we ought to replace (Con) with:

(Wide-Con) You ought to: do A or do not believe you ought to do A.

First, S objects that duties of conscience are not 'symmetric' in the way that the duty (Wide-Con) imposes upon us is. My reaction is to say that if there wasn't some independent reasons that bore on whether to act or whether to believe, the duty would be symmetric. However, if there are independent reasons that bear on whether to act or believe, we could appeal to those reasons to capture the sense in which it seems that the duty is not symmetric. S anticipates this sort of response and says this:

A naive response to this objection holds that though changing his beliefs is not
ruled out by the instrumental principle, it is ruled out by some other principle
governing theoretical reason, which says not to change your beliefs about what you
ought to do, or some such thing. But this is short-sighted. In general, if Yves ought
to do either A or B, and ought not to do B, then it follows that Yves ought to do
A. This means that if there really is a principle according to which Yves ought not to
change his belief, then in any circumstance in which that principle applies, the only
way for him to fulfill his Wide-Scope requirement to either-do-A-or-not-believethat-
he-ought is for him to do A. And so it follows that in those cases, he ought to do
A. But that just means that in any case in which Yves ought not to change his belief,
it follows from the Wide-Scope view that his belief must be true. So the Wide-
Scope view is still committed to holding that Yves’s belief about what he ought to
do is infallible in any case in which he is believing rationally. And this looks like a
second bad problem for the Wide-Scope view (pp. 227).

Part of me thinks this isn't a big deal. First, there are some who think that you cannot rationally fail to identify what you ought to do or believe. They'd embrace the conclusion S thinks spells doom for the wide-scoper. Second, those who do not think that you can always rationally identify what you should do would likely say that it doesn't follow from the fact that the relevant ought-belief is held rationally that it is held permissibly, in which case they needn't say that any rationally held belief about what you ought to do is true. (For example, suppose you think knowledge is the norm of belief. In cases where you believe you should A but you shouldn't A you can't know you should A (b/c of the factivity of 'knows'), so the wide-scoper who opts for the knowledge account is not committed to the unfortunate view S thinks sinks the wide-scoper's view.

I think it's interesting to note that S seems to be committed to a kind of infallibility problem of his own if he still sticks by his view that says that when someone judges that they ought to A there is an objective reason for them to A since that suggests that the subject has infallible judgments about what kinds of considerations would count in favor of A-ing. We're just not that good at identifying favorers.

Later in the paper, S defends the idea that if someone intends to do S, he subjectively ought to do A. His defense involves the idea that if you intend to A you have some beliefs such that, if they are true, you objectively ought to A. This places an odd constraint on intention: you can intend only what it is possible to be such that you ought to do it. (If only it was that easy (for minimally intelligent people) to quit smoking!) It seems an obvious problem with this suggestion can be found in aisle 7. Yes, that's where they keep the soup. Seeing the array of cans, I know I ought to get Campbell's Tomato soup but no can is jumping out as the can to buy. If I don't judge that there is some particular can that I ought to buy, how can I intend to take a can from the shelf? S's reply is wicked clever:

I think that what cases of picking really show is that the intention to do A needn’t
require the antecedent belief that one ought to do A. But I don’t think they show that
someone who intends to do A need not believe that she ought to do A. Before Zach
makes any decision, of course, the carton on the left and the carton on the right are
perfectly on a par. But after he has made his decision, the carton on the left comes
out on top. The fact that he has picked it is now a relevant difference between the
two. So if he ought to take one of them, the one on the left is the one that he ought to take. (238)

It's clever, but I think it's wrong. Suppose that as you reach for the can you intend to pick and dutifully form the belief that you ought to pick that can, you are momentarily distracted and fail to notice that you grabbed an equally good can sitting next to the one you intended to pick. First problem. There's no sense in which you failed to do what you should but there's a perfectly good sense in which you failed to do what you intended. Thus, what you intended to do is not something that you subjectively ought to do because what you subjectively ought to do is (roughly) what you objectively ought to do when certain beliefs of yours are true. Second problem. To comply with the requirement that you only intend to do what you believe you ought to do (in some sense of ought), don't you have to form false beliefs? Aren't these beliefs the subject knows full well would be false?

_End Transmission. To be resumed later.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Very advanced applied epistemology

In anticipation to the sequel to one of the worst movies I've ever seen (I can't wait to see it!), I thought I'd again ask this question: if you were to discover by means of a DNA test that someone is a living descendant of Mary Magdalene, can you knowingly infer that this same someone is the living descendant of Jesus?

(Assume Mary Magdalene is not herself a descendant of Jesus.)

Shouldn't Ron Howard be working on his Arrested Development film?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

It seems I could later think I earlier thought but not know if I did, therefore I don't know now I exist?

I judge that I'm thinking and that if I think I am. Also, I know I'm CL. So, among other things, I judge that CL now thinks and thus CL now exists. That's what I think to myself now. Does that belief constitute knowledge?

Between now and later, I'll be kidnapped and my brain split into two. Each half is placed into a new body. Upon waking, I'll remember everything I now know but I won't then be able to say knowingly 'Earlier I judged that CL thought and thus must have existed' because I wouldn't know this to be true. I won't later know it because I won't then believe it. I won't then believe it because I don't know whether I can say truthfully that I, CL, existed earlier given that I don't know how to describe splitting cases. Thus, because I won't later know whether I, CL, existed previously when someone named 'CL' formulated the cogito I don't now know that it's true that I judge that I, CL, think and thus must exist.

The crucial assumption appears to be this one: if S knows that p at t1, and if (at some later time) t2, S remembers everything S knew at t1, then S knows p at t2. It seems at t1 that I know I exist at this time. It seems I later remember everything I knew prior to the surgery but it seems that after the surgery I do not know whether I existed before that surgery. It seems that either my cogito judgment does not constitute knowledge now or the principle is false. I tend not to side with Descartes, but this time I might.

I can think of one thing that's wrong with the world

Holy Jesus. I sometimes check out What's Wrong with the World for the jokes (it's funny when someone channels Bob Dylan while pooh poohing torture) but I'm pretty sure that if I had been a contributor up until today I'd quickly jump ship after reading today's offering (condensed version):

We need to end immigration for Mohammedists because lots of 'em are evil and shifty and if we let them in they will make parents that home school look bad.

No, I'm not making it up. Choice quotation, "Beyond that, the time has come for conservative American parents to consider the danger posed to them by immigrant cultures that, to put it bluntly, make traditionalist parents look bad. It is in our interests to support the ending of Muslim immigration, thereby blocking a route by which the public will plausibly be made suspicious of parental rights and of countercultural groups."

Monday, May 11, 2009

It seems as if ...

I have a question about this locution, 'It seems as if p'. If you're anything like me, you rarely notice the perceptual breaks that are due to blinking. Consider two propositions: that it seems as if perceptual awareness is completely unbroken; that it seems as if perceptual awareness is not completely unbroken. If you're anything like me, can it truly be said of you that it seems as if perceptual awareness is completely unbroken _and_ that it seems as if perceptual awareness is not completely broken because it seems the same either way? If so, what does the phenomenal conservative say about the justification we have for believing either that some stretch of experience is broken or unbroken? Do they say that there is a justification available to us that would justify belief in incompatible propositions?

Some 'experimental philosophy' done over breakfast tells me that some of the folk (okay, one folk subject) thought that it seems as if our experience is unbroken, it does not seem as if it is sometimes broken (barring cases where you notice the blinking), but it seems the same whether it is in fact broken or unbroken.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Being John Malkovich

Question. Nobody would have the property of being John Malkovich unless JM's parents had met and produced a child. Let's take that as given. I don't want to fight about the necessity of origins. It doesn't seem to follow, however, that the property of being JM is an extrinsic property of anything. It doesn't seem to follow from the fact that nobody would have that property unless JM stood in some relations to things besides himself that there's something that has the property of being JM relationally? I could be wrong, but if I am, what is it that has that property as an extrinsic property?

Next question. Nobody would have the property of being someone who believes John Malkovich exists unless at some time or other JM did in fact exist. Let's take that as given. I don't want to fight about thought content externalism. It doesn't seem to follow, however, that the property of being a belief that JM exists is an extrinsic or relational property of some belief or thought. I could be wrong, but if I am I'm wrong about being John Malkovich or wrong to think that there's some interesting parallel between these two cases.

Friday, May 1, 2009


This often comes up in class. I'll have students who just don't get how non-believers could have firm views about morality. Instead of asking, 'But how do atheists explain that murder is wrong?' maybe they'll start asking, 'But how do atheists figure out that torture is okay?'

Details here.

Killing vs. Letting Die

Apparently, the NBA thinks it's better to kill (the dream) than to let it die. Here.