Sunday, January 31, 2010

Eastern APA paper submissions are now open

It seems early to be thinking about this, but submissions are open for the Eastern APA. (You have some time yet to get your papers ready if you haven't.) I had a bit of trouble finding the page I needed to submit my submission, so my advice is to head straight to the member log in section (here). From there, look to the bottom of the page and you'll see the right link to follow under "Online Resources". For some reason, the links the APA provided with the announcement that submissions were open took me nowhere useful.

Hope this helps.


Earlier I was telling Amy what a horrible movie Avatar is. She was shocked that I had seen it. I hadn't.

Why would I have to see it to know how horrible it is. Just like The Passion of Christ, can't you just tell? If you can't tell that, what can you tell?

It seems to me that we can know without seeing a movie that it's horrible. You think that, too. Maybe I'm picking the wrong examples, but it doesn't matter. Top Gun. The Matrix. Battlefield Earth. You knew they'd be bad. You didn't need to know via some inductive inference that rests on the premise that all observed movies hitherto have been bad. You knew from the trailers and the commercials. With Avatar it took just one look.

I mention this not to trash Avatar. To be perfectly fair, I haven't seen it. I mention this because I think there's an interesting argument by analogy here to consider:
(1) We can know that a movie will be horrible from the trailer even if there's some logically possible movie with just that trailer that is good (and, we don't need to make crazy modifications to that movie to make it good. We don't need to put the clips from the trailer into a trailer that the characters watch and mock in the movie.)

(2) Judging that a movie is bad without knowing all its parts is like judging that something shouldn't have happened without knowing all its parts.

(C) We can know that some state of affairs shouldn't have happened if someone could have done something to stop it without knowing all the facts and all the morally relevant features even if there's some logically possible larger state of affairs that includes it as a part that would be acceptable.

I've been thinking about moral epistemology a bit. Ross seemed to have the view that when we think about some state of affairs we can see that certain features of it count in favor or against various courses of action, but I don't think he thought we could arrive at a verdictive moral judgment without reasoning or inference. I think it's an interesting question as to whether we can know that certain verdictive judgments are correct without first establishing some premises about contributory reasons that are then treated as the basis for further deliberation. I cannot think of any reason to think that we cannot know that some verdictive judgments are true without reasoning from premises about contributory reasons, but others might. They have the epistemology of bad movies to contend with. We know some movies are just the sorts of things that shouldn't have been made and we don't need to reason from stills of silly, earnest blue aliens to figure that out.

Foley and Pascal on evidentialism

I've been reading some of Foley's work in preparation for next weekend's philosophy of religion conference. He is the keynote and I'm going to be giving a talk that probably will cover his views concerning disagreement. In the course of working through some of his older papers, I just read a piece he wrote on Pascal's wager that I'm having a really difficult time understanding. I'm not entirely certain I understand his view, but he seems to think that there's a sense in which practical considerations can count as reasons for belief. In explaining why we don't offer practical reasons for believing in the course of trying to persuade someone to believe, he says:
... We ordinarily do not consider what practical reasons we might have for believing. And the explanation for this is similar to the third-person case. Deliberations concerning our practical reasons for belief are ordinarily inefficacious and pointless. Hence, our practice is to ignore them ... Still, there can be reasons for intending to do X that do not even purport to indicate that doing X is worthwhile (just as there can be reasons for believing p that do not even purport to indicate that p is true.) Think of cases in which the intention to do X will produce benefits even if you do not do X. [Here, he has in mind the Kavka's toxin case.] ... The puzzle, then, like the puzzle for belief, is why we are not inclined to take much notice of these consequences in arguing with others about the rationality of their intentions. Part of the solution is similar to the one for belief. Becoming convinced that one has these kinds of reasons is ordinarily not enough to generate a genuine intention to do X. So, insofar as we are trying to persuade others to have this intention, it will normally be pointless for us to cite such considerations. By contrast, if we convince them that doing X is worthwhile, they normally will acquire the intention (39).

I just have a hard time understanding how it can be that there's a reason in any sense of 'reason' for someone to believe p when that belief would be practically beneficial to have. This isn't a motivating reason. It's not a normative reason. It is, at best, a reason to perform an action that would predictably result in the formation of a belief.

If I'm reading the passage correctly, the suggestion as to why we wouldn't point to the Pascalian benefits of believing God exists in the course of trying to persuade someone to believe that God exists is not that we know that only truth-related considerations are relevant to the question 'Should I believe God exists?' but because we know that pointing to practical considerations will not typically persuade or motivate belief. But that's such a strange thing to say. I thought that part of the puzzle here was to explain the motivational inefficacy of practical considerations. I also thought that we would offer truth-related considerations even if we were convinced that they would be no more causally efficacious than practical considerations. I might have an argument for God's existence or non-existence that I accept that I know my audience won't, but if they asked whether they should believe God does/doesn't exist I'd offer the argument and say that I know it won't move them, but that's their problem. Not only that, but it seems like knowledge of what causal connections there are between my words and the beliefs of another will be empirical and built up over past observation. Don't we know apriori that there's no point in offering practical considerations when the questions have to do with whether to believe some proposition?

Later in the essay he remarks:
We rarely engage in Pascalian deliberations. We do not weigh the practical costs and benefits of believing as opposed to not believing some propositions. On the other hand, it is anything but rare for us to weigh the costs and benefits of spending additional time and resources investigating a topic. In buying a used car, for example, I will want to investigate whether the car is in good condition, but I need to make a decision about how thoroughly to do so ... The reasonable answer to such questions [about how much effort to invest into an investigation] is a function of how important the issue is to me and how likely additional effort on my part is to improve my epistemic situation. As the stakes of being right about the issue go up and the chances for improving my epistemic situation go up, it becomes increasingly reasonable for me to make the additional effort (43.)

I wonder if this is a counterexample. Consider two hypotheses. H1: There doesn't exist a Pacalian God that will punish the non-believer for all eternity. H2: There doesn't exist a unitarian God that will treat all believers and non-believers alike. I think the evidential situation for H1 and H2 are basically the same. I know that the practical costs and benefits of getting these hypotheses wrong vary radically. I'm just as epistemically rational and responsible in accepting H1 as H2. In other words, rationality does not compel me to investigate one of these hypotheses with greater care than the other.

Friday, January 29, 2010

What's wrong with these people?

New talent at What's Wrong With These People. The brain trust has decided that they should balance out their crazy anti-Muslim pieces and homophobia with some good old fashioned sexism. Should be fantastic.

Final word on that APA post. I like the old APA policy statement better. So far as I can tell, Troy's view is that because of magic a policy that forbids discrimination on racial grounds applies to behavior but a policy that forbids discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation doesn't cover behavior. And, you're a fascist opposed to the spread of ideas if you place conditions on who can advertise in your publications. Why, why, why does anyone bother to argue with this? I have no idea. (Mr. Zero, you have better things to do!)

Thursday, January 28, 2010

David Brent's Brusque Refutation of Moral Particularism

I'm sitting in on a seminar on moral particularism this semester and it looks like it is going to be a lot of fun. Thought I'd mention David Brent's argument for generalism: a good idea is a good idea, forever. Deal with that!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

We've got nuts working around the clock in shifts

Thirdly, let's get one thing straight: I did not so much as imply that it was perfectly OK for Christians who disapprove of homosexuality to refuse those persons hire for simply that reason. I did NOT say that this was OK. I said that if their lifestyle makes it impossible for them to fulfill their job commitments, THEN it is OK to refuse them hire. Are we clear?

I'm glad that Justin, a former colleague of mine, is fighting the good fight against this malt. I'm sad that Justin, a very talented philosopher, is letting the people who write this malt waste his time and energy.

Aye, 'tis a mocking fair and just

Sent in by a reader whose true identity is cleverly hidden by a disguise. Not sure if I'm being lampooned for my writing or my lack of mustache.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Inference and evidence

Just a quick post on a familiar topic. I've been working on a paper where I say that one of the problems with E=K is that, intuitively, it does not seem that inference is a process for gathering or acquiring new evidence. Inference is a way of extending our knowledge by using old evidence to settle new questions. If I know p and deduce p v q and then deduce (p v q) v r, I don't think I've just added some new evidence to my stock of evidence but I know things I mightn't have not known before. And, if I deduce ~ p --> q, that's not more evidence but it's something I know that I've not known before.

One objection to this is that I'm just working with a very narrow conception of evidence, W is working with a broader conception of evidence, and there's little here that gives us reason to revise E=K. Fair enough. The problem cannot be that there's redundant evidence on E=K, there's going to be redundant evidence on views that restrict our evidence to things we know non-inferentially because we can know the same thing non-inferentially in different ways. Moreover, there is a perfectly good sense in which things we know via competent deduction are reasons for belief. It's because I knew p v q that I could knowingly deduce (p v q) v r and deduce ~p --> q. There's no real difference between bits of evidence and reasons for belief, so there's really nothing to the objection.

Okay, but I still think we ought to distinguish evidence (or ultimate evidence) from derivative reasons for belief. Suppose I see that there's been a fox in the garden and suppose I then see that the fox in the garden ate blueberries off of the bushes. I then read that there's never been an observed case of male foxes that eat blueberries, but there's solid evidence that suggests that female foxes just love the things. So, let's say I have good inductive evidence, e, for the belief:

(1) There's been a female fox in the garden.

Now, suppose that my inductive evidence is strong enough that I can be said to know (1). Because I know that it is analytic that female foxes are vixens, I can knowingly deduce from (1):

(2) A vixen has been in the garden.

Now, I deduce that since (1) is deducible from (2), (1) is at least as well supported by what I know as (2) is.

Here's what I'd like to say. I'd like to say that the evidential probability of (2) is neither less nor greater than (1). I'd like to say that the evidential probability of (1) prior to believing (2) is less than 1. I don't think I can say these things if E=K is true. If among the propositions included in my evidence is (1), then (2) has the evidential probability of 1. So, what about (1)? If I know full well where (1) came from, the evidential probability for that should be lower than 1 and remain that way, even when I realize that (1) is a deductive consequence of (2) and so realize that (1) is deducible from (2) and so as well supported by what I know as (2) is.

One of the advantages of the view that limits evidence to what you know non-inferentially is that you can say what I'd like to say. If our evidential probabilities are determined by conditionalizing on our evidence and our bodies of evidence include everything E=K says, you get the unfortunate result that the negation of (1) is inconsistent with your evidence even if your evidence for (1) consists of a circular argument that cites (1) itself and inductive grounds that are consistent with (~1).

Friday, January 22, 2010

Is Cindy McCain a Reptilian in Disguise?

Probably. Barely. But, she's one of the good ones.

I bet you didn't even know there were good ones.

Tales of discovery

I just found out that Agnes, the gray cat that lives behind our apartment, is Tito and Agnes is a boy. So, is Tito. My students can rest easy knowing that there will be no further mention of Bruce Wayne, Archie Leach, or Hesperus this semester.

I've also discovered the writing of George Saunders. Unsuccessfully, I've tried locating a collection of short stories because I wanted to read "Adams", but I have purchased his first collection of shorts and a collection of essays that is laugh out loud hilarious. I knew that I'd be sleeping in Josh Ferris' bed in December, so I thought I'd try to learn a little something about him first. (That was totally unnecessary, he was out of town for the duration of my stay. I know these posts can be tedious.) Couldn't find his novel in Iceland, but I did stumble across a New Yorker podcast where he read Saunders' short. You can listen here, if you're interested.

Finally, I discovered this in my inbox:
Dear Mr Littlejohn,

My name is Connie Hibbard and I work at the Westin St. Francis hotel in San Francisco, CA. I have been a server at the hotel for 27 years and I’m a proud member of Unite Here Local 2.

I’m writing because the Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association is considering holding its annual meeting at the St. Francis from March 31st to April 4th, 2010. My co-workers and I are currently in the midst of a dispute with Starwood Hotels, the company that manages the Westin St. Francis. The company is insisting on proposals that would make health benefits unaffordable for myself and my family, cut workers’ retirement benefits, and increase workloads.

This is despite the fact Starwood made $180 million in profits during just nine months last year, and the Westin St. Francis hotel itself generated over $11 million in earnings. My co-workers and I went on a 3-day strike in November to show that we will not let Starwood, whose CEO made $4.8 million in 2008, use the economy as an excuse to squeeze as even harder. We are calling on all Westin St. Francis customers to BOYCOTT the hotel until it agrees to a fair contract.

I understand the APA is taking input on whether or not to hold its conference at this hotel. Unfortunately, the information the APA sent its members was false and misleading on several counts. For example, the APA said that “there is no dispute over salaries or working conditions” and that “the parties do not appear to be far apart.” This simply isn’t true. The issues at stake in negotiations include wages, working conditions, workers’ right to join unions, and affordable healthcare.

Moreover, the APA said, “There are no pickets, though union staff may distribute leaflets at the hotel doors”. Local 2 members have held multiple picket lines outside the St. Francis. I myself participated in a lively picket line just a few days ago, along with 150 coworkers, in front of the hotel. Starwood is trying to spread the idea that it’s just a few “union staff” at our actions – but APA members shouldn’t buy into this line. You can get a glimpse into our struggle through a video that’s posted on our union’s website,

We are asking you not to eat, sleep, meet, or speak at the Westin St. Francis. I would also like to ask you to contact the APA to let them know that you will not violate this boycott. Please contact the Pacific Division’s Secretary-Treasurer, Dominic McIver Lopes, at 604-822-6703 or

We’re counting on your support. Thanks for taking the time to stand up for working people in San Francisco.


Connie Hibbard

I'd prefer it if people called me 'Clayton', but if you don't call me 'Clayton', you should call me 'Dr. Littlejohn'. That's a segue. We say things like 'You should call me 'Clayton', but since you won't do that, you should call me 'Dr. Littlejohn''. We don't want to say that the 'should' is ambiguous, but there's something like ambiguity going on here because we don't say that this statement is false. We can say that the second 'should' picks out a subsidiary obligation, but I'm interested in the linguistic terminology to use to describe this.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Quick note on reasons and facts

Against the view that reasons can be propositions and needn't be true propositions, it seems to me that such a view faces a difficulty similar to the difficulty faced by views that identify pieces of evidence with propositions and drops the truth requirement. Suppose there's a reason to drink the stuff in the glass and that reason is that there is gin in the glass. Suppose there's no reason (available) to not drink the gin in the glass and so we say:

(1) You ought to drink the contents of the glass.

If pressed for an explanation, wouldn't this be a true explanatory statement:

(2) You ought to drink the contents of the glass because there is gin in the glass.

But, doesn't (2) entail:

(3) You ought to drink the contents of the glass and there is gin in the glass.

But, (3) is false. There's no gin in the glass.

In general, it seems that one of the things that normative reasons can do is provide part of an explanation as to why certain things ought to be done or oughtn't be done. But, explanatory statements like (2) are factive. So, the only way I see to save the view that severs the connection between reasons and truth is to say that the question as to whether some normative reason is a true proposition or false one depends upon whether it enters into explanatory relations or not. Sort of a weird view, don't you think?

Myself, I don't have the semantic intuitions that let me say things like:

(4) Among the reasons there were to drink the contents of that glass was that there was gin in it, but of course there was no gin in it.

Some have them. Alright, but doesn't everyone pretty much take it for granted that 'p because q' is true only if p is true and q is true?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is the Pacific APA leaving San Francisco?

Sunday I bought non-refundable tickets for the APA meetings in Chicago and San Francisco.

Monday I received an email stating that the APA might move the Pacific to Las Vegas or San Jose:
Dear 2010 Pacific Division Participant,

The Pacific Division recently learned that the union representing San Francisco hotel workers has called for a boycott of several San Francisco hotels, including our conference hotel. The Executive Committee would like to know whether you feel that the meeting should be moved outside San Francisco or whether you oppose moving the meeting.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Don't eat the whale!

There was a little fish shop in Iceland (I believe it was called 'The Sea Baron') that served fresh fish and also served whale shish kabob. Don't eat whale!

Here's a Radiolab episode on animal minds from you should hear (here). It's a really moving tale about some divers who try to rescue a whale off of the coast of California.

Knowing means never having to say you're sorry

Just received word that my paper has been accepted for the 2010 Episteme conference being held at the University of Edinburgh this June (here). Waking up to this sort of news isn't quite as good as waking up next to someone you love (yeah, I'm talking to a certain someone who has just selfishly left for Iceland until August because of some silly Fulbright business who I expect will be reading this moments from now), but it's pretty good.

The title? I'm pretty proud of this one: Knowing Means Never Having to Say You're Sorry.

The topic? The role that the concepts of knowledge and justification play in practical reasoning. Knowing p means never having to say that you're sorry for having acted on the belief that p when you also knew that your choice was p-dependent. An argument suggests that the same should be true for justification, but that requires an unorthodox account of justification that nobody but yours truly takes seriously.

The lineup of invited speakers looks absolutely amazing and this will be my first trip to Scotland. I look forward to leaving my burnt offering at the statue of Hume and hearing some first rate papers from some first rate epistemologists.
Dear TB, I've tried a few times to respond to your email from earlier this week but they keep getting bounced back. If still interested in taking a look at The Myth of the FJB, I've added a link in the sidebar.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Goldman vs. Williamson

I've been writing a bit on evidence and reading the exchange between Goldman and Williamson in the OUP collection on Williamson. I think Williamson deals with the objections masterfully. It's a bit like when I play chess against Leo. Unfortunately, I'm dispatched with masterfully when that happens.

A couple of things. Williamson notes that on the account of evidence Goldman seems to prefer:
it is not even clear that one's evidence must be consistent, let alone true ... But there are grave difficulties in making sense of evidential probabilities on inconsistent evidence, since conditional probabilities are usually taken to be undefined when conditioned on something inconsistent (310).

Goldman had taken issue with the claim that evidence can only consist of true propositions and suggested that instead we think of a subject's evidence as that which the subject justifiably believes non-inferentially. Given some standard assumptions about justified beliefs, a subject could have inconsistent justified beliefs. That's the root of the problem, but the problem is easily avoided if we opt for some factive view of evidence since the facts tend to be consistent.

Williamson does consider a variant on Goldman's view, one on which one's evidence consists of those true propositions that one is non-inferentially justified in believing. He says that the problem with this view is that, "such a view is a rather unnatural hybrid; the truth condition is an ad hoc afterthought, not an organic consequence" (311). Goldman could say that it is better to have an ad hoc view than a counterexampled one, but as I rather like the view that Williamson is criticizing let me say why I think it has organicity going for it.

What is a piece of evidence? It's a fact. It's a fact that stands in various relations, but it's a fact at the very least. What does it take for some piece of evidence to belong to you? It belongs to you when it is properly yours, properly treated as yours, etc... What does it take for evidence to properly belong to you? Justification. That's what justification is all about. A belief is justified just when it is proper to treat what is believed as a reason. A view that tells us what evidence you have is going to tell us two things, what a piece of evidence is and what it takes to possess it. Because it tells us these two things, an account that tells us both of these things at once might seem rather unnatural. But, why should that matter? An account of what it is to have a puppy will involve some account of what distinguishes puppies from things that aren't puppies and what is distinctive of the having relation. Any account that didn't look like an unnatural mix of property rights and zoology wouldn't be the right account.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Mama told me not to come, indeed!

George W. Bush opening for Three Dog Night at a convention for safari hunters to be held in Reno.

(Just kidding. Bush is the keynote, but he is sharing the program with an expert on proper boot selection and care and Three Dog Night. Promoters promise, "His intellect and humor will make this a night to remember".)

Excuses and epistemic shortcomings

I've been swamped, so no posting. But, I wanted to post on something that came up in a discussion with a colleague yesterday. The question has to do with ignorance and excuses. What sort of ignorance excuses? Factual ignorance seems like the sort of thing that should excuse, but what about normative ignorance?

I don't have an argument exactly for thinking that normative ignorance shouldn't excuse, but I worry that we don't want to excuse evil behavior simply on the grounds that we become convinced that the agent has values that differ radically from our own. So, here's a thought. If you want to know the how and why of excuses that cite factual ignorance/mistaken belief, I'd say that someone could suffer these epistemic shortcomings but that is consistent with the hypothesis that the agent's heart was in the right place. Their actions were in the service of the right sort of values, they just lacked the factual information so that their actions that were in the service of those values did not actually promote/protect those values. Notice that this account could not be applied to cases where the subject acts on the basis of normative ignorance. So, the question I think is whether there is something more fundamental that explains why this gloss on how excuses work works because if it there isn't, it seems that the explanation as to how excuses work seems to presuppose an asymmetry between factual and normative ignorance.

[Notice that this approach might leave room for excuses for people who have the values right but make some mistakes about the comparative weight of competing reasons. Maybe, just a thought.] Do people have views about whether/how excuses based on normative ignorance work?

Monday, January 4, 2010

Further thoughts on warranted assertion

Wanted to post some thoughts concerning questions that came up towards the end of my session. One of the things I wanted to do is show that certain kinds of cases cause trouble for reasonable belief accounts of warranted assertion. Suppose someone ought to B rather than A but you reasonably believe that they ought to A rather than B. I say that you oughtn't assert that this person ought to A and that this is something they epistemically oughtn't assert.

One claim that I think came up during Q&A was that those who defend reasonable belief accounts of assertion just mean something like 'reasonable' by 'warranted'. The problem with this is that they aren't denying Williamson's account since he says that you shouldn't/oughtn't/mustn't assert p if you don't know p but are warranted if you may or are permitted to assert p. I would think that this would trivialize the account. If 'warranted' just meant what 'reasonable' meant, how could you offer an account of warranted assertion by saying that you are warranted in asserting whatever you reasonably believe? That's just to say that you are epistemically reasonable to assert whatever you reasonably believe. That's supposed to be some hard earned discovery of philosophical argument and reflection?

If I recall correctly, one claim was that there wasn't a sensible notion of 'should', 'ought', 'duty', etc... that comes apart from what's reasonable but I disagreed. I disagree. There's a perfectly sensible notion of duty that comes apart from what's reasonable. It's the thing that most people have in mind when they say (concerning the example from the paper) that there was a stronger duty to help the person who the agent poisoned than there was to help the person who was simply poisoned. That there's some other perfectly good notion of 'should', 'ought', or 'duty' is perfectly compatible with that point. It's not what people have in mind when they accepted the relevant intuitive claim and so people who defend RB accounts need to account for that.

One thing that I've learned recently is that some of my opponents who are more sympathetic to reasonable belief accounts of warranted assertion reject the following principle:
(JBJA) If S justifiably believes S ought to A, S can't be obliged to do something other than A.
Someone who rejects (JBJA) can't then turn around and say that there's no notion of 'ought', 'should', or 'duty' that comes apart from reasonable, rational, or responsible thing to do. Take any action that would be a counterexample to that principle above! When S is alleged to justifiably believes S ought to A but ought to do B instead, it surely cannot be reasonable, rational, or responsible for S to do B instead.

Saturday, January 2, 2010


I've made it back to Austin. According to Yahoo Weather, it is 34 degrees right now and today's low will be 41. I owe some responses to comments and apologize for failing to get to them in a timely manner, but I hope once I'm settled again that I'll be able to discharge my obligations to Ralph and Jeff who have both suggested with some plausibility that I was mistaken.

Happy New Year!!!