Monday, November 28, 2011

4 Permanent Positions at King's College London

I have some exciting news that I can now share. KCL is advertising four permanent positions. Below are links to the relevant pages on the HR site along with a brief summary of each post. These ads should start appearing on places like, but I thought I'd get the word out now.

(1) Applications are invited for a Readership or Professorship in the Department of Philosophy at King's College London, starting in September 2012. The successful candidate will have expertise in one or more of the following areas: Philosophy of Mind, Philosophy of Psychology, Philosophy of Language. (here)

(2) Applications are invited for a Lectureship or Readership in the Department of Philosophy at King's College London, starting in September 2012. The successful candidate will have expertise in Ancient Philosophy. The Department has teaching needs in late ancient and medieval philosophy but applicants without expertise in these areas are also encouraged to apply. (here)

(3) Applications are invited for a Lectureship or Readership in the Department of Philosophy at King's College London, starting in September 2012. The successful candidate will have expertise in one or more of the following areas: Aesthetics, Post-Kantian German Philosophy. (here)

(4) Applications are invited for a Lectureship or Readership in the Department of Philosophy at King's College London, starting in September 2012. The successful candidate will have expertise in Political Philosophy. (here)

Undoing evidentialism

I'm off to Southampton on Tuesday to give a talk on evidentialism. My focus will be on a pair of claims. First, that your evidence supervenes upon your mental states. Second, that relations between your beliefs and the evidence you have on hand is what determines whether you would believe with justification if you believed on your evidence. I'm skeptical of both claims.

Think about the move away from infallibilism, the view that you have the right to believe p only if your reasons entail that p is true. The move is perfectly sensible. Conee rightly notes that the infallibilist view does seem to lead rather directly to external world skepticism. What the evidentialists do to avoid the skeptical conclusion is reject infallibilism as characterized above but retains another kind of infallibilism that I think is deeply problematic. They think that it's always wrong to believe without sufficient evidence and always right to believe with sufficient evidence. That second claim suggests that normative standing supervenes upon the relations between your beliefs and the evidence you have on hand. To justifiably believe p, your reasons don't have to entail p, but a description of your reasons has to entail that it's right to believe p. It strikes me that there are a number of problems with this approach. Among them, if you think that belief is governed by a truth norm, the second sort of infallibilism entails that the first is correct. The result is that the second sort of normativized infallibilism doesn't lead away from skepticism, but right back to it. Anyway, I'll be discussing further problems for the view and hope to post a paper on the issue soon.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Happy Thanksgiving

I'm thankful for gin and tacos. A taste:
I can't say it surprised me that people defended the cop. There are always people who will defend the cop. Believe it or not, I was taken aback by just how stupid their arguments were even though such things should not surprise me anymore. Most of all, though, it's amazing the extent to which these people who believe that government is pure evil will argue that A) the role of the citizen relative to the police is one of absolute, unquestioning obedience, B) the police are to be taken at their word at all times, and C) whatever type and amount of force the police choose to use is inherently right ...

Maintaining this curious set of beliefs depends on their equally curious understanding of what exactly the police are for. To the average conservative – old white people, suburbanites, the wealthy, moral traditionalists, etc. – the police are a personal valet service charged with protecting them from the brown people, the poor, the homeless, and the punk kids with their boom-boom music and bouncing cars. The rights of those groups are not an issue, you see, because they have no rights. Only "good, hard working Americans" truly have rights, and others forfeir their rights by their actions. If the police ask you to move from the sidewalk and you don't, then you no longer have any rights. They can do whatever they want and it's your own fault.

Needless to say, I've come across defenses of what the cops did to protestors on the UC campuses. (Naturally, from the very same sort of people who were protestors in their youth!) I'm thankful that when I joke about those people here, my students have a hard time believing that they're real (and also thankful that they don't get all worked up when I set Williams' Jim and the Indians example in the states).

Thursday, November 24, 2011

On what it's like

My initial reaction was that everything is a little bit different (e.g., kids want to know where Wally is, not Waldo), but a little bit better (e.g., rugby is objectively better than football; underground is better than driving).

Maybe things aren't just a little bit different:

If the headlines are to be believed, things are very different here.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Open Letter to Chancellors and Presidents of American Universities from Your Faculty

You can read the letter here.

If you are an academic who wishes to sign this letter, please contact Matthew Smith (matthew.noah.smith AT yale DOT edu) and give him your name, your department affiliation, and your university. Also, please be sure to use your university email. (If you're wondering what this is in response to, you can get an eyeful here.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Brutal responses to student protests

UC Berkeley

UC Davis

An open letter calling on Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi to resign can be found here.

Thursday, November 10, 2011


With all the horrible things happening in the world right now, this is what we all needed.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Can't you hear me knocking?

There's an interesting thread developing at New APPS on divine hiddenness (here). The argument from divine hiddenness has always struck me as prima facie plausible, if not the strongest argument for atheism around. The argument runs something like this:

(P1) If God exists, he is perfectly loving.
(P2) If a perfectly loving God exists, he wouldn't allow non culpable unbelief (non-belief and disbelief? I think both).
(P3) However, there is nonculpable unbelief.
(P4) Therefore a perfectly loving God doesn't exist.
(C) Therefore, there is no God.

Some authors think that you can have a meaningful relationship with God even if you don't believe that God exists. Dougherty and Poston offer this example:
Suppose that Jones – an unfortunate fellow – is locked in solitary confinement in a dark prison cell. Jones hears faint taps coming from the other side of his prison wall. The taps resemble the presence of another person willing to communicate, but it is not certain that there is another person in the other cell. Yet, Jones begins to tap back. Suppose this activity continues over a long period, and Jones can – with some effort – make sense of the taps as another person attempting to communicate with him. Suppose Jones’s credence (his degree of belief, rational confidence, or what have you) on the claim ‘there is another person in the cell beside me’ is 0.5. He seems to be discerning messages, but he realizes that it could just be in his head since the signs are ambiguous. Yet, given that the two persons are tapping back and forth to each other, it seems that they are in a personal relationship, one which in time could take on great significance (again, this latter part is of great importance). The interaction could be so meaningful and hope-inducing that it keeps Jones from going insane or perhaps even keeps him from dying or killing himself. Suppose also that, in fact, the tapping is coming from Smith who, many years later, meets up with Jones and they discover what was going on. We submit that this part of their relationship will take on new-found significance in their new relationship, something to look back on and cherish, and a surprisingly good foundation for deepening their relationship now that Jones’s credence has been raised to moral certainty by actually meeting Smith.

The case isn't supposed to cover the case of non-culpable disbelief, only to show that you can have a meaningful relationship given only partial belief (and a very low degree of belief, to boot).

What to make of the case? It's clear that the tapping can be meaningful in some sense, but it's also clear that it can be meaningful without being a meaningful relationship. Consider two versions of the case. In the first, Smith and Jones meet after being released from prison. In the second, Smith dies in prison and Jones learns about Smith from Smith's widow. In the second case, it seems it would be very, very weird for Jones to say this:

Yes we had a meaningful relationship for years, but we never met and I didn't know he existed until now. I always thought it was just as likely that he was a drip or a branch hitting a window.

Yet, that seems to be how they want to describe the case. If they resist this description of the case and say that there wasn't ever a meaningful relationship between Jones and Smith, I think they face some serious trouble. Focus now on their version of the case, the one with the happier ending. To show that there's a meaningful interpersonal relationship without belief in their version of the case, they'd have to say that the relationship became meaningful because they later met. Intuitively, whether the tapping constitutes a meaningful relationship shouldn't depend upon whether they meet later. It would be odd to think that the proper description of the relations between them while in prison depended upon what happens in the future.

I think there's a simpler solution to all this. Reject 2. A life of unbelief isn't the worst thing in the world. (Surely it's better to let a handful of rational people never believe in God than allow a handful of genocides.) If you're a theist, you have to think that God is permitted to let (literally) the worst things in the world happen. Done and done.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Indexing with Word - What to do when it all goes wrong

I've been writing the index for Justification and the Truth-Connection. (Coming soon from Cambridge University Press!) This is a really arduous process, so I thought I'd offer an important tip for those working on macs with Microsoft Word.

Before you start your index, it would be a good idea to create a copy of your file and set it aside so if your index goes bad, you can junk your file and start over.

One of the annoying things about indexing in Word is that it's a pain to get your entries removed if something goes wrong. There's nothing in the program (that I've found) designed to remove your index entries without going through and removing them manually from the text. I had about 4500 entries to delete, so this gets a bit tedious. You can do a find and replace and substitute a space for XE which will prevent entries from being compiled, but code corpses will litter your document after that. If you had to get rid of an old index and enter a new one, it's going to be a nightmare going back through the document with its eviscerated indexing entries to enter new ones. (Basically, for every entry you create, you'll have something like this: {XE "blah blah blah"} in the text. If you do the find and replace, you'll be left with this: { "blah blah blah}. It keeps you from having an entry in your index that reads "blah blah blah", but the garbage is left in your text unless you manually delete it.)

If you must delete all of your index entries, I discovered a better trick that you might use. (If you have a better trick than this, do let me know.) For various reasons, I had to buy a copy of Pages before I could get my hands on Microsoft Office. I had to buy Microsoft Office (regrettably) to do the index to the book. In the states, you can get a copy of Office for about $10 if you have a campus discount. Here, Office costs about eight times that on Amazon. (Ten times that if you try to use the education discount through the Apple store!) If you copy your document and paste into a Pages file and save that file as a .doc file, the index will be completely removed. You can then make a fresh start. I'm posting this because none of the other tricks I found online for removing or deleting an index in Word on Mac were all that great.

You can get a copy of Pages for about $20 from the app store. If you don't want to do that, you can also email me a copy of your file and I'll send you back a .doc file with the index stripped away. (cmlittlejohn AT google DOT com)