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.