Friday, December 31, 2010

The way things will and should be.

In the future, all interviews will take place on twitter. Until then, we should move to skype.

We should immediately disband the APA and use our dues to hire a lobbyist to represent our interests in Washington. Could it really be that hard to get some earmark spending? Give us half of what they gave for a bridge to nowhere, and most of the current members of the APA could retire very comfortably and very early.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The only thing to fear was fear itself

UTSA has moved to online teaching evaluations. I thought this was a horrible idea. We used to have students write evaluations in class and so only the students who came to class would write evaluations. Under the new set up, students who don't attend either because they can't be bothered to show or because they've been failed for plagiarism are given the opportunity to write evals. Actually, they are encouraged to write evals. If they evaluate all of their courses, their names are entered into drawings for free ipads. (How about a drawing to reward attendance?)

Received my eval scores this afternoon braced myself for the worst. Students failed for academic dishonesty were going to let me have it. Someone who noticed that I wear the same outfit everyday would let me know the noticed. (Not the same token pants and shirt, but the same type. I did wear the same cardigan nearly every day.) The sleepers and the texters would explain why they had better things to do in class than pay attention.

Not to fear. Didn't happen. They didn't write evaluations. I had 1 student write an eval for phil law. 6 students in logic and another 6 for analytic phil. I think it was less than 10% response rate. They were all positive. My fears were unfounded, but it doesn't restore my confidence in the system.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sigurdur Gudmundsson

Will someone write a phil mind book so they can use this as the cover?

If I had a choice, I'd think seriously about this for a cover of a book on norms:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Exciting news!

Received word that the referee reports on my manuscript look promising, so there's a chance that my book on epistemic justification just might be a go. I'll hopefully have something definite to report come some point in January! Now, I need a better title. I've been working with The Nature of Belief's Justification. Sort of dull, I think.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eastern APA

I'll be giving a talk in Boston on the 28th @ 3:00 p.m.. I'd tell you where if I knew, but I don't. It's the second talk in the "What Epistemology is Not" colloquium (III-H).

Here's a handout.

Abstract: Mentalists say that two subjects have the same evidence if these subjects are in the same non-factive mental states. Mentalism doesn’t tell us what evidence is. Mentalism doesn’t tell us it is to have evidence. The mentalist could say that evidence consists of facts or true propositions. The mentalist could say that our evidence will include any proposition that we know by means of observation. Mentalism could say either of these things, but it cannot say both of these things. That’s why we know that the mentalist is mistaken. Or, so I argue. After showing that we have evidence the mentalist says we cannot, I offer an argument for externalism about justified belief. I argue that our experiential beliefs can be non-inferentially justified only if they are true.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thomson on the Doctrine of Double Effect

Consider Thomson's example:
Suppose a pilot comes to us with a request for advice: “See, we’re at war with a villainous country called Bad, and my superiors have ordered me to drop some bombs at Placetown in Bad. Now there’s a munitions factory at Placetown, but there’s a children hospital there too. Is it permissible for me to drop the bombs?” And suppose we make the following reply: “Well, it all depends on what your intentions would be in dropping the bombs. If you would be intending to destroy the munitions factory and thereby win the war, merely foreseeing, though not intending, the deaths of the children, then yes, you may drop the bombs. On the other hand, if you would be intending to destroy the children and thereby terrorize the Bads and win the war, merely foreseeing, though not intending, the destruction of the munitions factory, then no, you may not drop the bombs.” What a queer performance this would be! Can anyone really think that the pilot should decide whether he may drop the bombs by looking inward for the intention with which he would be dropping them if he dropped them?

Thomson observes in the passage above that in deliberating about what to do, our attention is turned outwards rather than inwards. This is correct, but it's not clear why this should be trouble for the friends of intention. In deliberating about what to do, our attention is focused outward rather than inward upon the facts as we take them to be rather than our taking the facts to be a certain way. Many of us would still want to leave it as an open question as to whether the permissibility of an action depends upon the facts and not at all upon our beliefs about the facts. This is particularly true in epistemology, where there is nearly universal agreement that the permissibility of belief depends (in part) upon relations among beliefs and not just relations among the facts the agent happens to have in mind. Theoretical deliberation might be concerned with the question whether p is true, but it hardly follows that the normative standing of beliefs formed in response to that question depends entirely upon the external matters one focuses one's attention on in trying to settle that question. Why should things be different with practical deliberation?

One reason to think that our attention will be directed outwards rather than inwards when deliberating about what to do is that practical deliberation is concerned with what to do. While acting for some intention rather than another is something that happens and happens just when we do something, it is not itself something done. To see this, remember that the agent who decides to V could potentially V from any number of intentions. If she were obliged to V from one intention as opposed to another and this was something she did, it too could be the sort of thing that could be done from one intention as opposed to another. Again, if this is a doing, to be done from one intention rather than another, the agent would have to select between possible intentions. A vicious regress looms. It would seem that doing something from one intention rather than another would require completing an endless series of prior acts, something we cannot do. So, since doing something from one intention rather than another is not something we do, it is not something that we concern ourselves with in practical deliberation.

But doesn't this show that we have to reject the DDE since the DDE tells us that moral status depends, in part, upon intention? If acting for some particular intention rather than another is not something that we do, it is not something we can do, and so not something we can be obliged to do. This is correct, but this misses two things of potential significance. The first is that in the examples we are looking at, it is easy to follow the prohibition against V-ing from such and such an intention--do not V. So, there is no conflict between DDE and the principle that states that “ought” implies “can”. Second, it is not clear whether DDE is concerned in the first instance with acts or actions. Or, if you prefer, it is unclear whether the DDE is concerned in the first instance with types or tokens.

Thomson's point has bite, in part, because it would be absurd for the agent who realizes that the situation is the sort of situation in which someone may or must V in light of various considerations having to do with the nature of the situation to then ask whether she may V in light of the psychological factors that would explain her V-ing. If the question the DDE asks us is whether an agent could act from a suitable intention given the nature of the choice situation she faces, the reason Thomson's inward looking question is one we should not ask is that the question does not address something that the DDE is concerned with. If the DDE is concerned with act-types in the first instance, it tells us that the permissibility of an action will depend upon whether the agent could have acted for a sufficient reason, not whether her reasons for acting were sufficient.

Should we say that the DDE is concerned with acts rather than actions? I think we should. Moral principles like the DDE are in the business of telling us what our obligations are. What we are obliged to do is an act, not an action. When the reasons that apply to you demand that you do something (or refrain from doing something), the reasons are not concerned with the concrete details that distinguish two actions if they are of each of the same act-types. Also, as others have noted, the opposite view has trouble with negative obligations and the prospective nature of obligation. If you fulfill one of your negative obligations by not performing an act of a type, the omission does not seem to be a good candidate for an event and so we do not have a good candidate action to be the action that fulfilled the obligation. If you have an obligation you leave unfulfilled, there is something that is an obligation and we again have no good candidate action to be that obligation. [Some of these points are taken from Wedgwood and Schroeder from a discussion over at PEA Soup.]

Acting from such and such an intention or for such and such a reason is not something done, so it is not a type of act. Since what we are obliged to do is perform an act of a certain type, not any token action, and the DDE is concerned with our obligations, it is concerned with acts, not actions and the particular psychological antecedents that explain them. The question to ask, then, is not whether the agent's intentions in acting were such that they involved an intention to harm someone who had a claim against being so harmed but whether the agent could have acted as she did without such an intention. Thus, the fact that we do not look inward in deliberating about what to do is not a reason to think that intention has no bearing on permissibility.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ugly story coming out of Texas

The Texas Observer is running some stories concerning the race for the Speaker of the House. Is John Cook of the State Republican Executive Committee motivated by anti-Semitism? Consider:
"We elected a house with Christian, conservative values," SREC member John Cook wrote Tuesday morning to other SREC members. "We now want a true Christian, conservative running it. This is not about Straus, this is about getting what the people want."

In case you were wondering, Straus is Jewish and his challenger is not.

John Cook's full email is here:
From: John Cook
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 2010 10:34:17 -0600
To: John Cook
Subject: Re: YouTube - The Battle for the Texas House

I agree that we need to be respectful of each other and that we need to tell the truth about the facts. Knowing the facts, I have to take exception to the response to David Barton's message and your contradictions of Mr Barton. And I say yours, because you are resending it, therefore, you must agree with it. How can you say work together and then demonize a great Christian, conservative.

Two really quick items come to mind. First, I know both Larry Phillips and Bryan Hughes and think highly of both. If they say something, I believe them! I talked to Larry, just a few minutes before he walked into the committee meeting to testify. I told him I was greatly disappointed in his phone call to Bryan Hughes and that he was not following the Christian conservative approach to politics we as Christians were to follow. And that to make amends he had to drop his support for Straus and go with a more conservative choice. In our conversation, he never said he didn't do it. He also didn't take the oath at the committee meeting and Bryan Hughes did. That disappointed me also.

Secondly, your analogy of comparing the senate to the house is preposterous. The senate is historically less conservative than the house by more than the 20 point difference you sight, apples and oranges. Also the Democrat chairmen under Straus is 16 D's and 18 R's of 34. Under Craddick his first session is 12 D's and 27R's. The second session under Craddick was 10 D's and 31 R's. The 3rd session under Craddick, his last, 11 D's and 29 R's. Where are you guys getting your FACTS?

And I have only started looking at your FACTS. But if your not accurate in these, why should I believe the rest.

Straus' record is not conservative. Period!!

Straus' pro-life. Wrong!!! Why do you not talk about recorded vote 672 right before the vote you sight, 676? When he was voting against the Republicans and with almost all the Democrats. You can't just believe someone when he says he is pro-life. There needs to be confirmation!

Also, if Straus wants to caucus, all he has to do is call the caucus. Has he done that? He has a supermajority you say. I want to see the voting take place by Republicans who own the house at this point and I mean conservative Republicans. We will see who votes for Straus.

WE elected a house with Christian, conservative values. We now want a true Christian, conservative running it. This is not about Straus, this is about getting what the people want.

I have seen the list of 5300 conservative leaders across the state against a moderate and for a conservative, now show your list of 4000 you speak about! Then show me your list of 130 reps that support Straus. Or is Straus wanting a floor fight so he can be elected by the 51 Democrats again. Does this not bother anyone else but me?
John Cook

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What's wrong with these people?

Someone asked in the comments why I hadn't said anything in response to the latest shameful display of bigotry from What's Wrong with These People (see their series of "disinviting" Islam (1, 2, 3). I did sneak in one sarcastic comment, but I'd like to give my time to the gentleman from somewhere or other (here):
Shari'a is just the way we live our lives: not eating pork, no drugs, or alcohol, prayers, etc. The punishments are deterrents -- if other deterrents suffice, like American laws, what reason do we have to cut the hand of the thief when we know they're gonna go to jail? We're not trying to overthrow the system. We're just trying to live our lives.

And jihad, even the military definition, is a struggle *in response to oppression.* As far as I'm concerned, I'm not being oppressed as a Muslim in America. And I'm very grateful to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the American system for it.

What you're saying though is that I NEED to be oppressed, like I'm some sort of animal or something. You sicken me. I'm a human being, no more a cultist of a socio-political ideology than fact, you friggin started a website to do this, who's the ideologue??

I play guitar, I go to soup kitchens with my MOSQUE's youth group, I'm on the track team. I own a Bible and it's a lot like the Qur'an. I'm not a bad person. You offend me.

I think this says everything that needs to be said on the matter.

The right to vote and a jackass

The founder of the Tea Party Nation says that it is "wise" to only let property owners vote (here). When I first read this, I thought the idea was that the right to vote would be limited to those who owned land, but it seems that historically you could vote if you had other sorts of property (e.g., tools of trade, livestock). In the comments, someone attributed this to Ben Franklin (who was against limiting voting to property owners): If a man gains the right to vote by ownership of a jackass and loses it when the jackass dies, where does the right to vote reside? In the man, or the jackass?

In other news, Rick Santorum for President? You gotta be kidding. No, no Santorum.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The contingent apriori

This came up in a discussion thread on facebook (do we have to start citing that now?) and I thought I'd do a quick post. The question was whether there were examples of the contingent apriori that did not involve indexicals or demonstratives. Floated a possibility that I think I discussed with Turri some time ago that I also think figures in his forthcoming PPR paper. Suppose you know that there's a large and fair lottery coming up and you have a ticket for it. If you think you know your ticket will lose, the question is whether you can also know the lottery conditional apriori:

(LC) If I have a ticket in a fair lottery with n tickets, my ticket will lose.

I think that in some ways, this is a poor choice of examples. There are difficult questions about whether you can know lottery propositions and this muddies the waters a bit. Let's try something a bit different.

Suppose you're a fallibilist who thinks that if S has fallible grounds, FG, S can know some contingent proposition p by believing p on FG. Consider the fallibilist conditional:

(FC) If I have FG, p.

I know apriori that if I don't have FG, FC is true. I won't know apriori that FC is true in a world in which I have FG and ~p. But, is there any possible world in which I know FC apriori?

Someone could say that there's a possibility of error that comes with believing FC, but that's true when it comes to believing p on the basis of FG. Assuming that the fallibilist is right, this "possibility" of error is not sufficiently threatening to prevent you from knowing p. So, the question is whether it is sufficiently threatening to prevent you from knowing FC apriori.

Here's an argument for the claim that fallibilists ought to believe in the contingent apriori:
(1) The possibility if being mistaken in believing p when you have FG does not prevent you from knowing p and the same possibilities of error that arise when you believe on FG are the possibilities of error that arise when you believe FC on apriori grounds.
(2) The the threatening possibilities aren't sufficiently threatening to prevent you from having aposteriori knowledge, they aren't sufficiently threatening to prevent you from having apriori knowledge.
(C) You ought to think you can know FC apriori if you think you can know aposteriori that p is true on the basis of FG.

The argument for (2) is basically this: differences between apriori and aposteriori knowledge need to be explained, not brute.

I don't buy the argument, but I think it's interesting. I suspect that (1) is mistaken. ((2) might be as well.) Knowledge-threatening possibilities are not just a function of your evidence or grounds, but also your situation externally characterized. In describing someone has having FG, we might rule out certain knowledge threatening possibilities that don't get ruled out if all we have is someone who can entertain the conditional FC. So, there's no particularly compelling reason (yet) to think that fallibilists ought to embrace the contingent apriori.

So, perhaps the response works if we assume this: the set of knowledge threatening possibilities an individual needs to neutralize differ depending upon whether the individual:
(a) knows that she has FG vs.
(b) knows that FC is true if ~FG or if p.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The public is the problem

According to a new CNN poll, only one-third favor extending tax cuts for the wealthy.

According to the internets, more than one-third of the voters who went to the polls earlier this month voted for Republican candidates in every race. (Yes, even in races with witches, wrestlers, racists, idiots who fantasize about life in the SS.)

Maybe it's time to stop blaming the politicians who do pretty much what they threatened to do if elected and start blaming the knuckleheads to vote for Republicans because they want their elected officials to act like Democrats.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fetal value and potential personhood

This is one of those head scratching moves that makes me think I must be missing something obvious, but I've seen in a few places lately people defending the claim that the fetus has intrinsic value (or is intrinsically valuable) because it is a potential person. It seems that the thought is that something is intrinsically valuable because it can become something else, but I would have thought that this would be a clear case of instrumental value. It's valuable as an instrument in the production of some other thing.

Yes, I realize that something can be both intrinsically and instrumentally valuable, but we're looking for a reason to say that the fetus has the first sort of value and while I'm not denying that it has that sort of value, it looks like we're looking for the explanation in the wrong sort of place.

Perhaps the thought is that the fetus is not an instrument to something that is intrinsically valuable because the fetus doesn't undergo substantial change in the production of a person? Still seems dubious.

Perhaps the thought is that the fetus is intrinsically valuable because there's something intrinsic to the fetus that is what drives the changes by which something of intrinsic value comes to be? Perhaps, but then it just seems like the fetus has instrumental value in large part because of its intrinsic makeup. Still not seeing the move to intrinsic value.

I think Jeff McMahan's view is that all you get out of potential F-hood is instrumental value and I sort of thought that was obvious, but I'm left scratching my head because a number of quite clever and intelligent people have been saying otherwise. Thoughts? [Not an invitation to tell me about how wonderful and valuable the fetus is apart from its status as a potential person. This is a question about the concept of potential F-hood, not a question about fetuses, really.]

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Berman Introduces Birther Bill

One of our state representatives has filed a birther bill requiring candidates running for President to show their birth certificate to the Texas secretary of state (here).
“This bill is necessary because we have a president whom the American people don’t know whether he was born in Kenya or some other place,” Rep. Leo Berman, R-Tyler, said in reference to President Barack Obama and of House Bill 295. “If you are running for president or vice president, you’ve got to show here in Texas that you were born in the United States and the birth certificate is your proof.”

Berman’s bill specifies that “the secretary of state may not certify the name of a candidate for president or vice-president unless the candidate has presented the original birth certificate indicating that the person is a natural-born United States citizen.”

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The sky is falling!

Texas is facing a budget shortfall that is proportionately larger than the one facing California. This couldn't possibly hurt Perry in his bid for re-election.

(I'm not saying that he can be faulted for all of our woes, but he surely shouldn't be bragging about the great shape that Texas is in. The sky really does look like it's about to fall. I can only imagine that eduction is in serious, serious trouble here.)

Monday, November 1, 2010


Just a quick question about the dark doctrine (i.e., the doctrine of double effect). I agree that Thomson's Loop Case makes it hard to defend the DDE on its standard understanding, but as a logical point, if the DDE is understood as saying only that there is a moral difference between effects intended and foreseen or that it's prima facie wrong to intend an evil means in the pursuit of some end, doesn't it survive that purported refutation? Yeah, it's permissible to turn the car at the guy with the intention of hitting him, but that's consistent with the obviously correct thought that it is prima facie wrong. And so that's consistent with the thought that one wrong arises because of the agent's intentions. Is there some reason that explains why the DDE is taken to be an absolute principle or is this just some historical quirck?

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Fallible but factive

Knowledge ascriptions are factive, but many of us are fallibilists about knowledge. So, I hope that this isn't an argument that would move many people to think that there can be false, justified beliefs:

(P1) It is possible to justifiably believe p even if you have the same justification(s) for believing p that someone does in some ~p-world.
(C) It is possible to justifiably believe p even if ~p.

I think this isn't a good argument [why not?], but I do wonder if it is this sort of argument that helps explain why all of the orthodox accounts of justification allow for the possibility of false, justified belief.

There's a reaction to this sort of argument that is just as bad as the argument. There are passages in McDowell where it seems he urges us to flip this argument on its head. He doesn't use the language of justification, but there's the thought that knowledge is a standing in the space of reasons and the internalist thought that epistemic standing cannot be beyond your ken or blankly external to you. This might add up to a sort of infallibilist view on which (C) is rejected which is taken as reason to reject (P1).

I try to untangle the web a bit in the latest draft of my disjunctivism paper (here).

I've also posted a revised draft of my paper, "Belief's Aim and its Justification". In it, I argue that if reasons for action are facts, justification ascriptions are factive. See here.

Why is it not a good argument? Whether something is justified depends, in part, upon the reasons to/for and the reasons against. Even if two subjects have the same reasons for V-ing, V-ing might be justified only for one of them because they might differ in terms of the cases against their V-ing in the situations they face. So, the argument assumes that there will not be differences in the reasons not to believe when we move from a situation in which a belief is true to a situation in which it is false. Why would anyone think that? Is there no reason not to believe the false?

Friday, October 29, 2010

Know your rights

(1) The right thing to do is vote for Bill White. Please, please don't vote for Rick Perry.
(2) If you want to know your rights as a voter in Texas, look them up here.

Tomorrow is the last day for early voting in Texas. Even if you are unable to make it to the county in which you are registered (I can think of two people who fit the bill), you can vote early on a limited ballot (It might be good to bring some paperwork to show the people working at the polling station. You can find polling stations here.)


Anon sent an unrelated but not un-fantastic little clip (see comments).

Also, if you want to cast a limited ballot in Texas, know that this is limited to certain polling stations. UTSA, for example, has a satellite polling station and will not distribute the limited ballots to those who are registered to vote in other counties. I checked and this is totally kosher. Probably a good idea to check before you head to a polling station to see if you can cast a limited ballot from there. Haven't found a good resource for this as the sites I've seen do not say that you can only cast the limited ballot from some stations.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Holy Toledo!?! Don't they know what "Iott gear" will be taken as code for?

From the Iott campaign website:

Oct 30, 2010
When: Saturday, October 30th 8:30 am - 9:00 am

Where: Lucas County GOP Victory Center, 10 S. Superior St, Toledo

Calling all Iott Volunteers! Please join us for this very special pre-election rally with House Minority Leader, John Boehner. What a great way to start off our pre-election weekend. Please wear any Iott gear you may have! Should you have any further questions, please don't hesitate to call 419.324.0224

Is he just asking for it? The only thing anyone knows about the guy is that he likes to run around dressed up like a Nazi with a group of WWII enthusiasts who want to celebrate the "idealism" of the Nazis. I guess someone could call and ask whether this is just an invitation to come dressed up as a member of the SS.

Hat tip: TPM

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Unbelievable scenes from Kentucky

Interesting to see what sort of coverage this receives. Maybe someone can Tivo Beck for me. I'm sure he'll denounce this.

They've identified the man who stomps on the woman's head in the video. Tim Profitt has confessed. Who is he? Someone important, apparently, because the Paul campaign was citing his endorsement (here).

Monday, October 25, 2010

Rick Perry and Eminent Domain

Rick Perry is running for another term as governor. He'll likely win since he's running as a Republican and so gets a free pass. This is one of the few times I wish someone more genuinely Republican was running for office. He vetoed legislation in 2007 that would have protected landowners from eminent domain and you'd think that in a state like this, that would be a one way ticket out of office. But, well, it's not because he's a Republican.

Thursday, October 21, 2010


Is where I shall go soon. In keeping with recent posting trends, the name of this post will be the name of a band and the name of a city that I have been to or will go to.

I'm meeting with the Boston University Ethics Reading Group to talk about the unity of practical and theoretical reason. I'm of the view that the demands of practical and theoretical reason are unified in the following way: practical reason will not demand that you act against your own judgment if that judgment meets the demands of theoretical reason.

To give this view a name, I'll defend unificationism against the segregationists. I'm not a unificationist because I think practical reason is accommodating or because epistemic defects subvert obligation. I don't think it makes much sense to characterize the justified belief as the sort of thing you cannot act on. Most of the talk will be focused on beating up on views that try to bring the demands of practical and theoretical reason together by making practical reason out to be the sort of thing that accommodates us by relieving us of obligations we reasonably judge not to be under. I don't think practical reason is quite so accommodating. Hope to convince some other folks that this is so.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


It would be difficult to explain. We were there and I think this band is adorable and precious. Someone told me that there are some philosophers in this band, but my Icelandic isn't so good. One of their songs is about Nietzsche. (There really are some Icelandic looking people in Iceland. Not terribly surprising, I suppose, but interestingly, it is _more_ surprising than learning that you have more than the average number of legs and that was very surprising.)

Monday, October 11, 2010

On whether "ought" implies "can"

Might I be incapable of meeting my obligations? No, you might think, because obligations are the sorts of things that cannot
be unless they can be met. Or, better put, you might think that you must be able to meet your obligations if indeed they are your obligations because “ought” implies “can”:

Necesarily, if you ought to φ, you can φ (OIC).

OIC has come under attack (again). The latest attack due to Graham (forthcoming) is novel and not without its intuitive force, so it is worth taking a look to see if OIC has finally met its match.

According to Graham, there are cases where an agent has an obligation where the agent has not both the opportunity and ability to act in such a way as to fulfill that obligation. This example poses no threat to OIC, but it is
where we should start:
A surgeon has ten patients, each of whom will die of organ failure if he does not receive an organ transplant. The surgeon wants to save her patients and is convinced by philosophical arguments to the effect that it would be morally permissible to kill two people in order to save them. She notices that in another room of the hospital there are two innocent and unconscious tonsillectomy patients who are perfect organ matches for her patients. The only means by which the hospital janitor, who is aware of the situation, can stop the surgeon from chopping up the two and redistributing their organs among the ten is by shooting her with his pistol. He does so and thereby kills her (TRANSPLANT).

It is intuitive to say:
(1) It is morally permissible for the janitor to kill the surgeon.
Let’s assume this is so. Graham says that if this is so (which it is), we should also say:
(2) If the janitor had not killed the surgeon, the surgeon would have impermissibly killed the two patients.

This also seems correct and I agree with Graham that (2) is an important part of the explanation of (1).
Now, consider a variant on TRANSPLANT:
Everything is as it is in TRANSPLANT except that the surgeon cannot refrain from killing the two because the ten are her grand-children, and she is as compelled to save them as is the most severe kleptomaniac to steal (COMPULSION).

Concerning COMPULSION, Graham observes that (1) still seems true. He also observes that the doctor’s compulsion seems irrelevant to the fact that (1) is true concerning COMPULSION. So, he concludes that we should say that (2)
is true concerning COMPULSION as well. And now we can see why OIC is in trouble. The surgeon could not have met his (alleged) obligation not to kill the two patients.

Like Graham, I think the janitor is permitted to shoot in both cases. He thinks I should thus reject OIC:
As in TRANSPLANT, in ... [COMPULSION] (1) is true. But not only does the addition of the surgeon’s compulsion not change this fact, it also seems irrelevant to it. In other words, whatever explains the truth of (1) in TRANSPLANT, it seems, must also explain the truth of (1) in COMPULSION. But if this is right, then OIC must be false. For if, as I shall argue, what explains the truth of (1) in TRANSPLANT is (2), and what makes (1) true in COMPULSION is the same as that which makes (1) true in TRANSPLANT, then it must be the case that (2) is true in COMPULSION (forthcoming, pp. 7).

I worry about his inference from the (correct) observation that (2) explains (1) in TRANSPLANT to the further claim that (2) explains (1) in COMPULSION. First, while I agree that the surgeon’s compulsion seems irrelevant to the fact that (1) is true in COMPULSION, I do not see why this should lead us to conclude that the proper explanation of (1) is the same in COMPULSION and TRANSPLANT. We know, for example, that if you fiddle with the right details, you can construct pairs of cases where the effects to be explained are the same in both cases, the potential causes are the same in both cases, but differences between the cases determine which cause explains where the differences are irrelevant to the fact that the effect was produced in these cases. If the cause of some effect was sufficient but not needed because the effect would have occurred anyway had the cause been removed (e.g., there was a backup cause), modifying details of the case that seem intuitively irrelevant to the fact that the effect was produced might involve modifying the very details that determine which potential cause is the actual cause and so determines which causal explanation is the correct one. I see no reason to think that moral explanation will not
involve similar complications.

I want to do two things. First, offer an alternative explanation for (1) in COMPULSION. Second, argue that we have no good reason for preferring Graham’s explanation to mine even if we accept his explanation of TRANSPLANT. Our janitor has to decide whether to shoot or not to shoot. Suppose our janitor believes OIC and so believes the conditional that if the surgeon cannot avoid killing the two, he cannot act impermissibly in so doing. But, suppose our janitor does not initially believe that the doctor is compelled to act while removing his pistol from his utility belt. He would, let us assume, shoot the doctor if he thought that the doctor was acting freely in the way we might imagine he did in TRANSPLANT and do so from the same motive. I imagine
that this was a concern for the patients and not a pathological dislike of impermissible actions. But, now our janitor comes to learn (never mind how) that our surgeon is not acting freely and so has to decide whether to carry out his
intention. Perhaps matters are complicated for him because he thinks (rightly or wrongly) that the doctor is not acting impermissibly since the doctor cannot refrain from trying to kill the two patients. It would be strange, I think, for
the janitor to put his pistol away. What could his reason be? If he decided not to save them because he knows how their organs will be distributed, it is hard not to think of this case as one where the janitor is deliberately allowing some
to die in order that others might be saved. This seems very unKantian.

We might cite, then, the prohibition against acting on maxims that involve treating others as mere means as the explanation as to why (1) is true in COMPULSION. As for TRANSPLANT, the relevant moral facts can be explained in part by this, but we could also say that the janitor acted permissibly because he was preventing another from murdering two. We have the materials to explain the relevant moral data even if the doctor would have acted impermissibly in only one of the cases.
Is the explanation I have offered as to why (1) is true in COMPULSION fare better than Graham’s explanation? It has this much going for it. My explanation allows us to remain agnostic as to whether OIC is true. Since there is (presumably) a default presumption in its favor, conservatism gives us some reason for preferring my explanation to his. I would also note that there are further modifications of COMPULSION that involve the permissible killing of the doctor where it is clear that the doctor does not act impermissibly in the relevant scenario:
Everything is as it is in TRANSPLANT with two exceptions. First, the surgeon cannot refrain from killing the two because the surgeon is controlled by remote by a neurosurgeon who has wired our surgeon’s brain forcing the surgeon to act and reason as the surgeon did in TRANSPLANT. Second, this surgeon would not normally reason and act in this way were it not for the neurosurgeon. (CONTROL).

The neurosurgeon’s goal is to distribute the patient’s organs so that the greatest number can be saved. If the only way to save the patients is to kill the surgeon, See Scanlon for 2000 for discussion of cases that involve treating someone as a mere means
by allowing something to happen to them. my own view is that the janitor would be permitted to shoot knowing that this would eventuate in the surgeon’s death. This is so even though the janitor knew (never mind how) that it was not the surgeon who was acting. If the surgeon did not act, she did not act impermissibly. Still, I say, the intuition that it is permissible for the janitor to use force to intervene is as firm in this case as in Graham’s. So, even if Graham gives us the right explanation as
to why intervention is permissible in TRANSPLANT, I say this gives us little reason at all to think the same explanation holds true in COMPULSION since CONTROL illustrates that there are cases nearby where the permissibility of shooting the surgeon tells us nothing about the moral status of that surgeon’s actions.

Graham anticipates this sort of response and offers this challenge that I shall try to meet in closing the paper. Consider:
A bystander can redirect an out-of-control train away from ten trapped track workers and toward two other trapped track inspectors. If the bystander does nothing, the train will kill the ten, and if she redirects the train, it will kill the two. From a distance, a hunter sees that the bystander is about to redirect the train and realizes that he can prevent her from doing so only by shooting her with his rifle. He does so and thereby kills her (TRAIN).

Graham says that it is not permissible for the hunter to do this, and I agree. But, Graham asks, what is the difference between this case where the hunter acts impermissibly and my case where the janitor kills a “passive threat” (forthcoming, pp. 15)? It is what I suggested earlier. In COMPULSION as well as CONTROL, the decision to do nothing would involve letting some die as a
means to some end and so would violate the Kantian prohibition that tells us we must not act on maxims that involve treating others as mere means. This is not a feature of TRAIN and it is a mistake to think of the hunter’s situation and
the situation of our heroic janitor as the same. Two differences are immediately apparent. The first is that the Kantian reasoning that helps us understand why it is that the janitor acts permissibly seems not to apply TRAIN to help us
understand why someone in the hunter’s position might shoot. The second is that in TRAIN, we have an agent who is using violence to prevent someone from acting justifiably whereas this is not so in CONTROL, COMPULSION, or TRANSPLANT.

1. Graham, Peter. Forthcoming. “Ought” and Ability. Philosophical Review.
2. Scanlon, Thomas. 2000. Intention and Permissibility. Proceedings of the
Aristotelian Society (Supplementary Volume) 74: 301-17.

Question about Broome's "Ought"

I'm interested in this:

You ought to see to it that: if you believe you ought to \phi, you \phi (Broome's Principle).

And this:

Strengthened Detachment
(1) You ought to see to it that: if you believe that you ought to \phi, then you \phi.
(2) You ought to see to it that you believe that you ought to \phi.
(C) You ought to see to it that you \phi.

Broome once thought of “ought” as expressing a relation between an agent and a proposition. On his view, “You ought to believe p” and “You ought to see to it that you believe p” have the same meaning (1999: 79). Suppose you are handed a gun and a pill. If you take the pill, you will believe that you ought to shoot one person with your gun. If you take neither, you know that hundreds will be killed. It is tempting to say that in the case described, you ought to see to it that you believe you ought to shoot one person with your gun. Presumably, this requires taking the pill. So, I think you should take the pill. As a result of taking the pill, you believe that you ought to shoot one person with your gun. I do not think this is what you ought to do. Either Broome's Principle is false, “ought” does not pick out a relation between agents and propositions, or Broome's Principle is not to be understood in terms of combinations of actions and beliefs an agent ought to bring about.

So, what does Broome's Principle mean? I know that we're supposed to talk about rational requirements now rather than wide-scope "ought", but is that because everyone has repudiated the idea that "ought" takes wide-scope in the way it does in Broome's Principle?

Does "ought" not imply "can"?

I've written a short note addressing the latest attack on OIC, the principle that states that "ought" implies "can". I've written on OIC before, but last time I was addressing an argument for it. This time, I'm addressing an argument against.

Might I be incapable of meeting my obligations?

It's a response to a paper of Peter Graham's which is forthcoming in Philosophical Review. (You can find his much longer (and, regrettably, more interesting) paper here).

Saturday, October 9, 2010

No, not every Tea Partier is racist

Some spend their weekends dressing up like Nazis.

You can read the story of Rich Iott here. He's the Republican nominee running in Ohio's 9th District.

Of course, dressing up like a Nazi doesn't make you a Nazi. Still, this description taken from the webpage of Iott's group is striking:
Germany headed a stong movement in Europe to actively campaign (politically and through warfare) against the ideals of Bolshevist Communism. This culminated in 1941, when the German armed forces were pitted against the very home of Bolshevism, Soviet Russia. Nazi Germany had no problem in recruiting the multitudes of volunteers willing to lay down their lives to ensure a "New and Free Europe", free of the threat of Communism. National Socialism was seen by many in Holland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, and other eastern European and Balkan countries as the protector of personal freedom and their very way of life, despite the true underlying totalitarian (and quite twisted, in most cases) nature of the movement. Regardless, thousands upon thousands of valiant men died defending their respective countries in the name of a better tomorrow. We salute these idealists; no matter how unsavory the Nazi government was, the front-line soldiers of the Waffen-SS (in particular the foreign volunteers) gave their lives for their loved ones and a basic desire to be free.

Iott is no longer one of the "young guns" for the Republican Party (here). The tent is still big enough for him, it's just that the webpage shrank.

So, just so we're fair to the GOP. Being the sort of person that dresses up like a Nazi for a little fun on the weekends to "salute" those Nazi "idealists" won't disqualify you from being a "young gun" for the Republican party, but being known as being the sort of person that thinks its cool to salute the Nazi idealists will. I'm glad that there are some standards in force.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Analytic Philosophy: The Journal!

Some of you know this, but some of you might not. Philosophical Books is changing format and changing its title. Analytic Philosophy (the journal) should be coming to library shelves near you soon(ish). My experience with them has been very good. Excellent comments returned quickly.

Details here:
Analytic Philosophy

The proof is in the objecting!

But not everyone is on board with the effort. Organizations like Kaplan, the University of Phoenix, and various for-profit colleges are lashing out at Obama's plan, charging that community colleges are being showered with too much presidential attention and federal aid at the expense of other institutions.

For-profit colleges are against Obama's plan (see here). Must be a good plan. Let me guess, Republicans are going to be against the way Obama's plan threatens the way free-market forces have given rise to for-profit schools that can only survive by suckering students into taking out massive loans backed by the federal government that is then forked over to them by students who then can't repay them. In 3, 2, ...

Saturday, October 2, 2010

White House Whiteboard

Explaining the tax cut fight with a whiteboard.

I hate whiteboards. I'm a blackboard kind of guy. I like chalk. Still, this guy's whiteboard is kicking the rear end of some guy's blackboard.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Paladino Email

Paladino and his racist email. I'm sure there's a distinction to be drawn between racist emails and racists, so to be fair, we should note that not all racists use email.

But, you know, the Tea Party isn't racist, it just supports racists.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

How can a poor man stand such times as this and live?

Just a quick follow up/final thought (for now) on this Todd Henderson incident. If you and your spouse are pulling down somewhere between $250,001 and $400,000 per year and you are worried about the impact of Obama's tax cuts, that's understandable. And, if you're worried about having to fire "the (legal) immigrant from Mexico who owns the lawn service we employ", that's admirable. Why doesn't he just explain his situation to the guy that cuts his lawn? He could just say, "Hey, pal, I'm sorry that we can't afford the $20/week we had been paying you to cut the lawn. See, there's this tax hike coming that may or may not raise our taxes because we make somewhere between 250k and 400k a year. Could you cut us a break during these tough times and cut the lawn for $10/week?" Just level with him. The guy mows lawns for a living, so he's got to understand the plight of the working man.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

It ain't easy living easy

A man plays a tiny (and likely quite valuable) violin here.

The response from Michael O'Hare:
Because Obama proposes to let the Bush tax cuts expire only on “incomes above $250K”, I was surprised that Prof. Henderson expected to be importantly worse off under the president’s plan, so I went here and plugged in what seemed to be reasonable numbers. He says his family’s “combined income exceeds the $250,000 threshhold for the super rich (but not by that much)” . I tried $140,000 each for him and his wife, $5000 in charitable deductions, and a 5% mortgage on a million-dollar house, which is what would cost about $15K in property tax per year in Chicago, with 80% 20% down [thanks JHA]: $40,000 per year in mortgage interest.

Under Obama’s plan, his federal tax would be $48,333, and his Illinois tax about $8400 (3% of AGI). Under current law (Bush tax cuts), $55,600 + $8400. Oops; what happened? Obama will greatly ease his AMT hit, and his taxable income is less than the $250,000 cutoff. If all the Bush tax cuts expire, his income taxes will be the same as now, $55,600, again because of AMT changes.

But wait a minute: he says he’s paying “nearly $100,000″ in state and federal taxes, not including sales tax; let’s say $95,000. Leaving out his property tax, that’s $80,000 in income tax. How much income would lead to this kind of tax hit? I had to experiment with the calculator a little, but it’s a little less than $170,000 apiece. So his pretax family income exceeds $250,000 by at least $90,000. But this doesn’t include tax-free contributions to their 401Ks: anything they are socking away for retirement adds to his actual income; unless they’re at the $33,000 limit they must just like to pay taxes, or are too stupid to be walking around professing and treating sick kids. So we’re pretty close to $400K gross income, and on top of that their employers are surely putting money into their retirement funds. I guess $150,000 is “not that much” in some circles.

He is also whining about his and his wife’s education loans, $500,000, which are costing them about $50K per year in interest. Let’s just sketch out the family budget here:

Taxes $100,000

Housing* $65,000 mortgage + 15,000 insurance & maintenance = $80,000

Two really nice cars $.70/mile x 15,000** miles = $10,500

Student loan payments (20 year amortization at 10%) = $60,000

*Why a couple with a half-million dollars of debts decides it needs a million-dollar house in Chicago, where the Hyde Park average price ” near their work” is a third of that, is not entirely clear. Also note that $25,000 of this is going into their own pockets, building equity in their house.

**They live near their work, so this is probably generous.

This leaves about $90,000, a lousy $245 a day, for food, clothes, vacations, cable TV, and like that. You can walk into Nordstrom’s on Upper Michigan and spend that in a minute, and for stuff you really need. Really, I don’t know how these people get by; their adaptive skills, economical habits, and modest living style is an inspiration to all of us. Perhaps they are careful to tip no more than 15% at the Sizzler when they splurge.

So how does our third-of-a-million-a-year law prof/doctor couple and their three kids, barely scraping by already and falling before our eyes to the very bottom of the top 1% of US families by income, make out under Obama’s rapacious soak-the-rich commie attack on all that is holy and American and fine? Wait for it; take a guess before the jump:

His taxes will go down $3700; he can buy one of those ties every two weeks! And this guy is threatening to fire the gardener and the house cleaner, take the kid out of art class, turn off his cell phones, and try to raise competent adults with only basic cable. Prof. Henderson, I’m ashamed to share my profession with you.

HT to Brad DeLong.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Nagel on Strict Liability

According to Thomas Nagel:
Strict liability may have its legal purposes, but seems irrational as a moral position.

I think that's at least half wrong. Not sure about the legal part, but the moral part is off base. I've been thinking about doing some "experiments" to see what the folk think. The data I've seen suggest that the folk buy into strict liability as a moral doctrine. It's one of the few times I think the folk are alright.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The chart that explains everything!

If you want to know why so many Americans are pissed about jobs and primarily pissed at the Dems and the Obama administration, here's a helpful chart:

What's this chart a chart of? It shows monthly job losses or gains in the private sector since the start of the Great Recession. Red bars are months under the Bush administration and blue bars are months under the Obama administration.

Really, I think the chart explains everything.

Bleg: Non-propositional evidence

I'm looking for discussions of non-propositional conceptions of evidence. In particular, I'm looking for articles or books where someone argues for a non-propositional conception of evidence.

Here's what I have already:
1. A sufficient stock of authors arguing for a propositional conception of evidence.
2. A sufficient stock of authors who speak of evidence as non-propositional without offering arguments.
3. Material from Moser, Davidson, and Pollock in which they offer reasons for thinking of evidence in terms of something other than facts or propositions. I've also collected more material responding to these arguments than I need.

If there's something you've seen that's worth taking a look at, please let me know. I'm working on a writing project where it would be good to have a discussion of propositional vs. non-propositional conceptions of evidence.


Friday, September 3, 2010

3 Quarks Daily

There's a contest going on and you can vote on which blog post you like best here:


Meant to post earlier, but I've been swamped with start of the semester/new apartment/misc. obligations. Saw a tweet earlier about this telling people to go vote for a particular person's posts. There's money involved, so I don't think that's totally appropriate. First they burn our armchairs and now they're pulling for a result in a poll...

Friday, August 27, 2010

Aquinas, father of socialism

Now, according to the natural order instituted by divine providence, material goods are provided for the satisfaction of human needs. Therefore the division and appropriation of property, which proceeds from human law, must not hinder the satisfaction of man's necessity from such goods. Equally, whatever a man has in superabundance is owed, of natural right, to the poor for their sustenance. So Ambrosius says, and it is also to be found in the Decretum Graziani "The bread which you withhold belongs to the hungry; the clothing you shut away, to the naked; and the money you bury in the earth is the redemption and freedom of the penniless."

This is my favorite bit from Singer's "Famine, Affluence, and Morality", but it's not Singer. It's St. Thomas Aquinas. I guess that means that Catholicism is socialism.

Somehow this gets lost in translation. No, I don't think the passage above is any sort of evidence that Aquinas is advocating socialism. He's advocating "socialism", which, as far as I can tell, is not socialism but basically stuff that Beck doesn't like. So, it's more like goodness.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


From CNN's story on Laura Schlessinger:
Before she uttered the N-word, before the controversies over homosexuality and religion and morality, Laura Schlessinger was considered a breath of fresh air.

Wasn't she considered a "breath of fresh air" by the very same people who shared her backwards views about homosexuality and religions and morality? I spent a horrible summer working in a chemistry lab washing test tubes and watching centrifuges while forced to listen to her show five days a week. Every bit of it was horrible. Good riddance to bad rubbish.

Can't resist posting this gem, Palin's twit from yesterday:
Dr.Laura:don't retreat...reload! (Steps aside bc her 1st Amend.rights ceased 2exist thx 2activists trying 2silence"isn't American,not fair")

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Out of the armchair and into the arms of Kripkean orthodoxy

From the NYT:
A new study suggests that concussions and head trauma can cause degenerative diseases similar to A.L.S. and that Lou Gehrig may not have had Lou Gehrig's disease.

I wonder what the experimental philosophers are going to say? It certainly does look like the authors of the study are with Kripke. Upon coming to doubt that Gherig had A.L.S., they didn't say that they had evidence that A.L.S. isn't Lou Gherig's disease, they said that they had evidence that Lou Gherig had neither A.L.S. nor Lou Gherig's disease. Maybe the experimental philosophers will do a cross cultural study to look for non-English speaking doctors willing to describe the results as evidence that Lou Gherig's Disease is actually a degenerative disease similar to but distinct from A.L.S. often caused by concussions and trauma.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

A second look at the defeat principle

According to Better Reasons, the reasons provided by veridical perceptual experience are better than those provided by a subjectively indistinguishable hallucination. Conee has objected to Better Reasons on the grounds that it conflicts with the following principle:
A subject’s justification for a belief is not stronger than a second subject’s justification for the same belief, if their respective justifications are prone to being equally well defeated by the same defeaters (Defeat).

His objection assumes that veridical perceptual experience and subjectively indistinguishable hallucination are equally well defeated by the same defeaters because they are subjectively indistinguishable. So, if his objection is sound, it shows that if two conscious experiences are indistinguishable, the reasons they provide for your beliefs are equally strong and these experiences will justify the same beliefs to the same degree.

If we read Defeat as saying that the reasons provided by two mental states are of the same strength if they are defeated by some common defeater, the principle implies that the justification you have for believing that you will win this hand of poker when you know that you have four aces is no better than the justification you have if you have a pair of aces because you know you cannot justifiably believe you will win if you peek and see that someone is holding a royal flush. If Defeat has any plausibility, we have to assume that the justification provided by two states is equally strong if these justifications are liable to defeat by all the same defeaters. I still think the Defeat principle is problematic, but it will take a bit of work to show that this is so.

Consider now two theses about indiscriminability and justification:
TransitivityI: (x)(y)(z)[(Ixy &Iyz) --> Ixz)]
TransitivityJ: (x)(y)(z)[(Jxy &Jyz) --> Jxz)]

Read 'Ixy' as x and y are indiscriminable for you and 'Jxy' as x and y justify the same beliefs to the same degree.

Arguably, TransitivityI is false. Suppose a, b, and c are perceptual experiences. Suppose a is indiscrimimable from b, b is indiscriminable from c, but a is discriminable from c. Just think of the experiences you have when you look at paint chips. If these chips differ only slightly, you might be unable to distinguish the first from the second and the second from the third even if the first and third can be told apart on the basis of experience. What goes for the chips goes for the perceptual experiences of the chips. It seems that TransitivityJ is true. For it to be false, there would have to be some proposition, p, such that the degrees to which a and c justified belief in p differed even though both a and c justified belief in p to the same degree that b does. This is impossible.

With this in mind, I shall argue that the principle Conee is committed to is mistaken. Conee’s principle states:

(1) (x)(y)(Ixy --> Jxy)

I think we should assume that:

(2) (x)(y)(~ Ixy --> ~ Jxy)

The justification for (2) is that in discriminating between two things, you can know that these two things are distinct. You will have stronger reasons for believing that you are undergoing a while undergoing a than you will have for believing that you are undergoing some experience you can knowingly discriminate from a (e.g., c). If a is indiscriminable from b, b is indiscriminable from c, but you can discriminate between a and c, (1) entails that a and b justify the same beliefs to the same degree. It also entails that b and c justify the same beliefs to the same degree. It follows by TransitivityJ that a and c justify the same beliefs to the same degree. But, this contradicts the further assumption that a and c are experiences that you can discriminate between given the further assumption that (2) is correct. The most obvious way to avoid this contradiction is to deny Conee’s principle, (1).

Recall that Conee’s objection to McDowell was that McDowell’s view implied that it is possible for indistinguishable states to provide different reasons for belief. His objection to this view assumed that indistinguishable states can be defeated by precisely the same considerations and that states that can be defeated by precisely the same considerations cannot offer different reasons. Now, I think we can see that these assumptions cannot both be correct. Either the reasons provided by two indistinguishable states are not defeated by the very same considerations or the reasons provided by two states can be defeated by the same considerations even if these states provide different reasons.

I’m suspicious of his defeat principle. Can reasons defeated by all the same defeaters differ in strength? If reasons behave like boxers they can. Nobody can defeat Mustard in a boxing match. Apart from Mustard, nobody can defeat White or Plum. White and Plum cannot box against one another because they share gloves. Plum and Green do not box against one another because Plum and Green share trunks. You need a boxing match to bet on because you have debts that no non-betting person can repay in time. If you do not know who the opponent will be and the rules require that you bet on the fighter you send into the ring, you have better reason to send White into the ring than Plum. It is true that they would both be defeated by the same opponent. You will lose if Mustard is waiting for your fighter in the ring. If you were to send White to the fight and Green was the opponent, you would win. If you were to try to send Plum into the fight and Green were the opponent, the fight could not take place and you could not win your bet. If the opponent is neither Mustard nor Green, you win. The lesson seems to be that the comparative strength of two reasons is not fixed by facts about what defeats these reasons. Not if reasons are like boxers. I think some reasons are like boxers. Reasons to bet on boxers are reasons. They seem to behave a bit like boxers.

Monday, August 9, 2010

What happens when someone acts for a reason?

There is a reason. Oh, and someone acts for it.

I think that has to be right, but it's going to take some work to defend it. I've just written a short paper I thought I'd post here:
What Happens When Someone Acts for a Reason?

Friday, July 23, 2010


I haven't been gallivanting around the world sipping foie gras, I've been getting work done. [Yes, yes, I know. It's an obscure Steve Coogan reference. Carry on.]

A little paper on evidence, justification, and knowledge:
Does evidence consist of what you know or is it what you justifiably believe? Yes.

A revised version of my paper on phenomenal conservatism:
Defeating Phenomenal Conservatism

I really like the first thing. Basically, it's a new argument for the factivity of justified belief, one that builds on other work I've done on evidence and criticisms of Williamson that I think miss their mark. (Badly! These criticisms establish the factivity of justified belief.) One of things I do in the paper is address Williamson's rationale for thinking there can be false, justified beliefs. He says (rightly) that the justification relation is not deductive. True, I think, but misleading. The justification of a belief does not require that there is a deductive basis for it, but it does depend upon whether the belief can shoulder its share of the burden of providing support. If reasons and bits of evidence are facts, _that's_ why justification ascriptions are factive. The big picture mistake is in thinking that the justificatory standing of a belief is fixed by what the belief "stands on", its basis. That's part of it, but it also depends upon whether it can "stand" beliefs in turn. False beliefs can't do that. Or, so I claim. Read the thing and remain unconvinced!!!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

More objections to E = K

Rizzieri (forthcoming) presents a number of objections to Williamson’s claim that your evidence consists of all and only the propositions that you know (E=K). I think his criticisms of Williamson miss their mark.

Consider an example:
I believe that nobody can enter my office (O for now) because I believe that I have just locked the door (LD for now). Let us stipulate that I have inferred (O) from (LD). I pushed the lock in and gave it a quick twist to the left, which usually does the trick; however, my lock is damaged and does not work. Hence, (LD) is false.

About this example, Rizzieri remarks:
If Williamson’s proposal that (E = K) is correct then (LD) cannot serve as an evidential ground for (O). This generates problems for (E = K). The first difficulty is that it is very plausible that (LD) does partially constitute my evidence for (O). After all, I am justified in believing (LD), (LD) supports (O), and an explicit inference from (LD) is my most immediate basis or ground for (O).

It is hard to know what to make of this remark because it is hard to tell whether LD and O are propositions or propositional attitudes. If they are propositional attitudes, Williamson will (rightly) say that it is a category mistake to say that LD partially constitutes my evidence for O because beliefs do not partially constitute evidence for beliefs. Evidence consists of propositions.

Let’s fix this. Let’s say that the objection is this. LD is the proposition expressed by, ‘I have just locked the door’. O is the proposition expressed by, ‘Nobody can enter my office’. LD is supposed to be evidence for believing O. So, the worry is that Williamson has to deny:

(1) That I have just locked the door is evidence that nobody can enter my office.

If (1) is true, so is:

(2) Because my door is locked, it is more likely that nobody can enter my office than it would have been had my door been unlocked.

This entails:

(3) My door is locked.
But, (3) is false. So, (1) must be false. So, Williamson has to deny something false.

Each of the cases involving false, justified beliefs face the same problem. In each such case, Rizzieri wants to say that the content of such beliefs is part of the subject’s evidence, but we know this is not so because the problem with his first objection generalizes. Suppose S justifiably believes p but p is false. If he says that p is part of S’s evidence for q, he has to say that this is true:

(4) That p is evidence that q.

In turn, he has to say that:

(5) Because p, q is more likely to be true.

In turn, this entails:

(6) p.

Owing to the factivity of ‘because’ and the further fact that evidence for has to explain why it is that the propositions it serves as evidence for are more likely than they would have been had things been different, (4) is true only if (6) is.

Like nailing honey to a bee

I really have no idea what that means, but it's a good song and it seems hard to do. Sort of like working out what to say about having evidence.

F&M say that if you are non-inferentially justified in believing p, p won't fail to be part of your evidence owing to weakness in epistemic position. I think that's right. They are sort of hesitant to say that if you are non-inferentially justified in believing p, p is part of your evidence. They leave it open that p might fail to be part of your evidence for reasons other than weakness in your epistemic position. Like, p might not be evidence, for example.

Suppose evidence is factive. Can you say that it's possible to believe p, that belief is non-inferentially justified, but p is false? One view is that there's a gap between what you can justifiably treat as a reason and what is a reason. I wonder if that's a gap you can really maintain. It clashes with two thoughts that seem pretty good.

First, there's this view:
(Proper Basing) Doxastic justification is propositional justification plus basing. If you justifiably believe p, there is a reason to believe p and your belief is based on it.

If you oughtn't believe p unless you believe justifiably, you oughtn't believe p if either there's no reason to believe or there are reasons but they aren't the reasons for which you believe. Given the factive conception of evidence, Proper Basing seems to suggest that you cannot say that there's a gap between what your evidence is and what you can properly treat as if it is your evidence.

Second, there's this view:
(J-Closure) If you justifiably believe p, you have the right to draw the obvious consequences from p.

Suppose you justifiably believe p, but p's not itself a genuine reason. Suppose you infer an obvious consequence, q. Is there any reason that supports it? If you say there is, it seems a reason has come from nowhere. If you say there's not, why would you ever need to base your beliefs on reasons?

Monday, July 19, 2010

The lion will someday get snuggly with a lamb

But the battle between the factives and non-factives will never end. The latest skirmish can be found on Christopher Cloos' blog:

The factivity of reasons and evidence.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Objectivism, Perspectivism, and Contextualism

For reasons too complicated to get into here, Alphonse is a jury of one. He reviewed the case carefully and judged that the accused, Dave, was guilty as charged. He says it:

(1a) He is guilty as charged.

Let’s suppose that he is confident:
(2a) I know he is guilty as charged.

Let’s suppose we’re confident in him, and so we say that he’s right both times.

For reasons too complicated to get into here, there is another jury of one. This one member jury has the same evidence for believing that the accused is guilty (well, change the names but otherwise it's the same evidence), but he is not guilty. So, while this second speaker, Bridget, is perfectly reasonable in believing that she speaks the truth, she speaks falsely when she asserts (1b) and (2b):

(1b) He is guilty as charged.
(2b) I know he is guilty as charged.

Now, consider:
(3a) I ought to convict.
(3b) I ought to convict.
(4a) I know I ought to convict.
(4b) I know I ought to convict.

Suppose (3a) is true. It does not follow that (4a) is true, but there is no principled reason to think it has to be false given everything we have said. So, suppose it is true, too. What should we say about (3b) and (4b)? This is where things get tricky. The natural thing for the objectivist to say is that these claims are both false. According to the objectivist, you ought to Φ if Φ-ing is best-objectively and since it seems that convicting is not the best thing for Bridget to do, (3b) is false. Owing to the factivity of ‘knows’, the objectivist should say (4b) is false, too. The natural thing for the prospectivist to say is that (3b) is true. According to the prospectivist, you ought to Φ if Φing is
best-prospectively (i.e., maximizes expected value). Since we are assuming that Alphonse ought to convict, the same should be true for Bridget. The same options are best-prospectively for them. If (3b) is true and we have no reason to think that Alphonse owes an epistemic advantage over Bridget, perhaps the prospectivist should say that (4b) is true as well. Or, more guardedly, (4b) is true if (4a) is.

In cases like this, I think the objectivist enjoys an advantage over the prospectivist. Suppose Bridget convicts Clarence and after serving twenty years, Clarence is cleared of the charges. They clear him of the charges because of DNA evidence, evidence that was not available at the time of the trial. Intuitively, Clarence was wronged and is owed compensation. The prospectivist, it seems, has to deny this but this is what seems counterintuitive. It would not just be beneficent to help Clarence after he is freed. He is owed something. But, if giving him what he is owed is righting some past wrong, there has to be a wrong in the past and the prospectivist cannot find one.

This seems like a plausible principle:

(PP) If the speaker knew at the time of the conviction that she ought to vote to convict, the convicted will not be owed compensation for being sentenced.

This is the sort of the principle that the objectivist and prospectivist might agree on, they just disagree about when you ought to vote to convict. The objectivist says that what you should do depends (in part, on occasion) upon the facts ‘beyond’ the evidence, but the prospectivist denies this. The objectivist and the prospectivist deny that ‘ought’ is ambiguous.

Enter the contextualist. On one version of contextualism, one designed to accommodate some intuitions about Regan's mineshaft example, if the speaker asserts 'A ought to Phi', that is true only if A's Phi-ing is best-prospectively given the contextually determined body of evidence. This might be A's evidence, but it needn't be. Suppose Clarence knows he's innocent and so knows that Bridget speaks falsely if she asserts (1b) and (2b). We might imagine that Clarence cannot be present for the trial and so he knows just this: Bridget is conscientious and will review the evidence very carefully. Clarence knows the evidence either strongly points in favor of guilt or innocence, but not which. His lawyer texts him to say that a verdict has been reached, but his lawyer likes to create suspense and so he doesn't say what the verdict was. Because Clarence knows what he knows about Bridget and the evidence, it seems that on the contextualist view, Clarence can say truthfully, 'Whatever Bridget says about (3b) and (4b), she speaks the truth'. His lawyer then tells him that Bridget said that he should be convicted and that she knew that she should convict him. So, it seems, Clarence can say, "I know she shouldn't have convicted me and so know that she didn't know she should convict me, but she did speak the truth." So, according to Clarence, "Bridget spoke truthfully when she said "I know I ought to convict Clarence" but I know she should not have convicted Clarence".

That seems bad and now I wonder about (PP). Do contextualists think he gets compensation when he's exonerated? If they can say that Clarence is owed compensation, it looks like they have to say that speakers say something true when they say ‘Clarence is owed compensation in spite of the fact that the speaker who said ‘I know I ought to convict Clarence’ spoke the truth’. If we could climb down from these quotation marks, it seems that the contextualist is coming out in favor of owing compensation to those who are not owed compensation. If we cannot climb down from these quotation markes, it seems that the contextualist can take no position on (PP). I guess that's why contextualists haven't joined the innocence project.

It seems to me that objectivists and prospectivists can have an honest debate about whether someone like Clarence is owed compensation for a past wrong, but I don't see how the contextualist can contribute to this debate.

Isn't it ironic?

I haven't read much about this ruling on DOMA, but a casual read suggests that the problem the court had with DOMA is that it interferes with the those states that want to define for themselves what marriage amounts to. So, right wing attempt to pick on homosexuals is struck down on the right wing principle that the states should have greater autonomy. I hope a few right wing heads explode over this one (here). If I didn't have work to do, I'd probably head to what's wrong with these people and read the comments. But, well, I have work to do. I know they must be suffering a bit tonight and I can take a small measure of comfort in that.

(As you might have guessed, the judge is one of those long hair Nixon appointees. Seriously, someone needs to do something about these out of control Republican appointed judges.)

Thursday, July 1, 2010

The correct way to deal with a situation vs. what you ought to do

Suppose you're a rule consequentialist. I think you should think that situations could arise where you know that one of the available options, B, is better than A (i.e. contains more total intrinsic value), but you ought to pick A anyway. So, maybe you can get a smidge more utility if you break a promise than keep it, this is a fact that isn't lost on you, but it wouldn't thereby follow for the rule-consequentialist that the promise should be broken.

I think this much is pretty straightforward. This is what I'm not so sure about. Consider:

(1) Although you ought to have done A, the correct thing to do in the situation described is pick B.

(2) You know that the correct way to deal with the situation described is pick B. After all, you know that that's what you're supposed to do.

It seems to me that (2) is the clear winner here. So, I'm curious as to whether we should say that if you know you ought to A, the correct way to deal with the situation is to A.

Notice I haven't said that "correct" and "ought" come to the same thing, I'm just floating the idea that what you know you ought to do will thereby be the "correct" way to deal with the situation.

Why isn't 50/50 good enough?

I've been thinking about epistemic consequentialism lately and trying to understand Goldman's view from _Epistemology and Cognition_. In terms of the value theory, it's pretty simple: true beliefs are intrinsically good, false beliefs are intrinsically bad, and they have the same magnitude of value. One interesting feature of the view is that it seems Goldman has available a kind of rationale for saying that you can only justifiably believe p by conforming to J-rules if doing so will lead to a sufficiently high truth ratio, one that doesn't lead to a greater number of false beliefs than true ones. If you were to form no beliefs at all, you'd be better off than if you formed a greater number of false beliefs than true ones. So, Goldman can explain why we're not justified by following rules that lead to more failures than successes. I haven't seen much discussion of this, but if you think about it, it's not obvious what entitles the epistemic consequentialist to say that a sufficiently high truth-ratio is required for justification as the consequentialist thinks you should respond to your situation in such a way that there's not a better way of responding available. There's our explanation. Not believing anything is an option, an option that is neither good nor bad, and so an option that contains more bad than good comes out as second best at best.

Okay, but that brings me to the problem. Goldman thinks of J-rules as giving permissions. If you're in a situation where the best you can do if you believe anything at all is get things right 51% of the time and you are permitted to believe nothing, shouldn't you be permitted to follow the rules that get things right 51% of the time? If an option is better than a permissible option, can you really say that that option is ruled out on consequentialist grounds? It seems not. But, then again, if an option is as good as a permissible option, it's hard to see how you could argue that that option isn't permissible on consequentialist grounds. So, why wouldn't rules that get things right precisely half the time be good enough to justify belief?

This matters, I think, because we know that if the evidence for h is just as strong as the evidence for ~h, there's a decisive reason to refrain from believing h and from believing ~h until you get more evidence. A similar point holds true for rules you know lead to true just as often as false belief.

It seems the obvious fixes are these. First, require something of believers. Require that they believe in ways that promote the good. Here's what I like about this. You can still say (I think) that justification requires getting things right at least 50% of the time. Here's what I don't like about this. I think the notion of positive epistemic duties might make sense given the consequentialist framework, but I don't think there are positive epistemic duties. Second, muck around with the value theory. As SB reminded me in an email, Riggs has suggested that we might be wise to say that false beliefs are not just bad, the magnitude of the value of false belief is greater than that of true belief.

I think there are ways still of causing trouble for a view modified in this second way, but here's one. (I had some back and forth tweeting about this, but thought I should post a little something here.) Consider the following rule:

(R) If the # of Fs is finite but too large to count, believe that the number is composite.

Following that rule, you'll get things right more often than not, but believing in accordance with that rule isn't believing with justification. To flesh the intuition out a bit, believing that the number of grains of rice in the kitchens of Austin is prime is believing a known unknown (in Sutton's terminology). You can't justifiably believe known unknowns. So, you can't believe with justification by believing in accordance with (R).

There are two objections. First, if you believe the number of grains of rice in Austin is composite and it is, you know. If you know, you justifiably believe. Second, you can't know that this is so, but you can justifiably believe what you know you cannot know.

I'm not moved by the objections, but I'm also not sure what my intuitions are. I tend to think that you can't justifiably believe these things and know you cannot know them. I'm very confident that if you know you're not in a position to know p, you cannot justifiably believe p. (Some discussion here.)

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Iceland Update

We leave very early tomorrow morning for Svinafellsjokull glacier tongue on Vatnajokull. I'm not entirely sure what that means, but we'll drive for a while. If we ever make it to the other side of the island, we'll hike on the glacier. On the trip there and back, we'll hike through some moss fields, see a glacier lagoon, dine on hot dogs at N1. Good stuff.

Iceland has live webcams where you can see things like the glacier lagoon just mentioned above, Blue Lagoon, and the street I walk every morning on the way to the coffee shop.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Good news!

Just received word from Erkenntnis that a piece I wrote on evidence has been accepted for publication. In it, I defend the view discussed over at TAR some months ago that evidence consists of true propositions and your evidence will be the true propositions you are non-inferentially justified in believing are true. [The-off-the-record view is that your evidence really consists of the propositions that you are non-inferentially justified in believing are true. Because there are no false, non-inferentially justified beliefs, the truth requirement in the official version is redundant. (I don't know why, but that view seems harder to get by the referees. (Okay, I know why. I've read the reports.))]

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Heavy, Ike.

From Jean Kazez:
Tis unconceivable that inanimate brute matter should (without the mediation of something else which is not material) operate upon and affect other matter without mutual contact; as it must if gravitation in the sense of Epicurus be essential and inherent in it. And this is one reason why I desired you would not ascribe innate gravity to me. That gravity should be innate inherent and essential to matter so that one body may act upon another at a distance through a vacuum without the mediation of any thing else by and through which their action or force may be conveyed from one to another is to me so great an absurdity that I believe no man who has in philosophical matters any competent faculty of thinking can ever fall into it.

Isaac Newton to Richard Bentley, February 25, 1693

Something handy to keep in your pocket for when faced with crude conceivability "arguments" against materialism.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Epistemic consequentialism (tidied up just a bit)

Maitzen (1995) argues that we ought to reject the nearly universally held view that our fundamental epistemic aim has to do with maximizing true belief while minimizing false belief on the grounds that a commitment to this view comes with a commitment to the universally rejected view that all and only true beliefs are justified. His argument fails, but the failure of his argument is instructive.

Goldman’s (1986, 1999) consequentialist approach(es) to epistemic justification should be susceptible to Maitzen’s objection. Goldman thinks there can be false, justified beliefs and unjustified true beliefs. Nevertheless, he seems to think that we can think of the justified belief as the belief that promotes something of epistemic value. True beliefs are, he says, intrinsically good. False beliefs are intrinsically bad. Withholding or suspending judgment is neither intrinsically good nor bad. The justification of a belief is not determined by the value of that particular belief, it is determined by whether the belief is permitted by a set of rules that would lead to a sufficiently high ratio of true to false beliefs by those who conform to those rules. Goldman is an epistemic rule-consequentialist (ERC). He is not an epistemic belief-consequentialist (EBC). I know of no actual advocate of EBC, but if someone were to advocate EBC, she would say that we ought to evaluate beliefs directly and determine their epistemic status by how well particular beliefs contribute to the epistemic good rather than assess beliefs indirectly by appeal to Goldman’s J-rules.

Maitzen offers us this argument against ERC, one inspired (in part) by Lyon’s (1965) objection to rule-consequentialist views in ethics:
(1) Upon pain of incoherence, ERC had better be extensionally equivalent to EBC.
(2) EBC would classify all true beliefs as justified and all false beliefs as unjustified.
(C) Thus, upon pain of incoherence, ERC had better classify all true beliefs as justified and all false beliefs as unjustified.
Because there are true beliefs that are not justified, we ought to reject both EBC and ERC.

Maitzen’s argument for (1) is straightforward. If the rule-consequentialist’s theory did not have the same evaluative consequences concerning the moral status of acts as the act-consequentialist’s view did, there would be an alternative set of rules the agent could conform to that would better promote utility than those proposed by the rule-consequentialist and thus should be preferred by the rule-consequentialist. If the act- and rule-consequentialist’s theory did have the same evaluative consequences, the views would be extensionally equivalent. Essentially the same point holds true for ERC and EBC. We simply shift our focus from acts to beliefs and from the intrinsically valuable consequences of acts to the verific effects of either individual beliefs or conforming to some set of rules.

I think Maitzen thinks (2) is pretty obvious. Here is what he says:
If the nominal aim is the reason for having, or pursuing, justification, then it ought to follow that beliefs are justified insofar as they serve the nominal aim and unjustified insofar as they do not. But this consequence gives rise to an obvious problem. If justification is essentially a matter of serving the nominal aim [i.e., to maximize true belief and minimize false belief], then it seems we would evaluate no true belief as unjustified and no false belief as justified … The reason is straightforward. If one seeks, above all else, to maximize the number of true (and minimize the number of false) beliefs in one’s (presumably large) stock of beliefs, then adding one more true belief surely counts as serving that goal, while adding a false belief surely counts as disserving it (1995: 870).

There are two problems with the argument. The first premise seems not to be obviously true and the second premise seems to be obviously false. First, observe that Goldman is not a maximizing epistemic consequentialist. He thinks that a belief is justified if the rules that permit the formation of the belief are such that conforming to them would lead the believer to form a sufficiently high ratio of true to false beliefs. A belief does not turn out to be unjustified on his view simply because there is some set of rules such that conforming to these rules better maximizes epistemic utility and these rules do not permit the formation of the belief. Thus, Goldman would not be at all disturbed by the charge that his view is not extensionally equivalent to a maximizing form of EBC. Let’s bracket that worry for now, for even if Goldman did defend a maximizing form of consequentialism, it is not clear the argument for (1) works. If we asked which set of rules produces the best epistemic outcomes when a believer conforms to those rules, we might say that there is not some unique set of rules. The rule that EBC says determines which beliefs are justified or rightly held will be tied for first and there might be alternative rules that are extensionally equivalent. If, however, we focus on rules that produce the epistemically best results when internalized and complied with, it is not clear that EBC will be tied for first because EBC might have greater internalization costs than some alternative set of rules and if those rules are not extensionally equivalent to the rule that EBC says determines which beliefs are justified, arguably we have a consequentialist rationale for rejecting EBC.

Of course, debates between direct and indirect consequentialists will likely continue for some time and so Maitzen may well be right to say in response that there is no good value-theoretic reason to focus on rules that are optimific when internalized as opposed to optimific when conformed to. So, let’s look at (2) because it is here that I think Maitzen’s argument fails most dramatically. Simplifying matters just a bit, Goldman thinks that true beliefs have positive intrinsic epistemic value, false beliefs have intrinsic epistemic disvalue, and withheld judgments are neither intrinsically good nor bad. So, his view commits him to saying that all and only true beliefs are justified, right? It would if we assumed that the total intrinsic epistemic value (or disvalue) of believing p is always equal to the intrinsic epistemic value of believing p. The problem is that I cannot think of any good reason to assume this and can think of some pretty strong reasons to reject it.
Forming a belief can contribute value directly and indirectly. Any true belief, according to the epistemic consequentialist, is a good thing, but one good thing amongst many things of value to take account of. Any false belief, according to the epistemic consequentialist, is a bad thing, but one bad thing amongst many things of value to take account of. An advocate of EBC will say that in determining the epistemic status of a belief, we have to take account of the total epistemic value of believing p and then compare that to the total epistemic value of believing ~p as well as the total epistemic value of suspending judgment. Believing p when p would always come out better than believing ~p or withholding if beliefs never had valuable consequences or prevented us from attaining valuable consequences in the future, but that’s not how things work with belief. I might believe that it is a good idea to read Dianetics because I think it will be good for a laugh. I might have really good evidence that it will be good for a laugh. Maybe it is good for a laugh. If, however, I read it and end up joining a cult that brainwashes me and instills in me tons of false beliefs while cutting me off from sources of information that would have provided me with many true beliefs, the total intrinsic epistemic disvalue of believing (correctly) that reading Dianetics will be good for a laugh could turn out to be great. The total intrinsic disvalue might be far greater than the tiny bit of epistemic value that was attained by forming the true but disastrous belief. Examples like this can easily be multiplied, as could many less far fetched examples in which someone forms a series of true beliefs that constitute misleading evidence that thereby prevents someone from appreciating a vast number of truths they might otherwise have come to believe. So, even if Maitzen’s faith in Lyon’s collapse objection is not misplaced, it seems we have some reason to think that the justification he offers for (1) is actually a reason to reject (2). EBC simply would not classify all true beliefs as justified and all false beliefs as unjustified because no one who accepts EBC should work from the implausible psychological hypothesis that forming a belief never has consequences for the future.

Of course, once we see why Maitzen’s argument fails, we can see why epistemic consequentialism is so deeply implausible. There is a perfectly good value-theoretic reason for thinking that consequentialists ought to respect some version of the totalism. As Carlson observes, consequentialists in ethics will say that the morally relevant outcome of an action is not simply the action taken on its own but the possible world that would be actual if the agent performed the action (1995: 10). So, if we try to characterize the justified belief in consequentialist terms and take the epistemic good to be prior to the epistemic right, we should say that the epistemically relevant outcome of a belief is not simply the intrinsic value of the belief taken on its own. We should assess a belief by assessing the total epistemic value in the possible world that would be actual if the believer formed the belief. As the example above illustrates, no one in epistemology thinks we should accept totalism. The effects of forming a belief, whether they happen to be good or bad, has nothing at all to do with the epistemic status of a belief. And that is why EBC and ERC are hopeless.

Epistemic Consequentialism