Recent Posts

The Bertrand Russell Show

Feminist Philosophers

fragments of consciousness

Gender, Race and Philosophy: The Blog


Leiter Reports: A Philosophy Blog

Long Words Bother Me

semantics etc. highlights

Thoughts Arguments and Rants



Friday, December 15, 2006


I will be travelling for the next few weeks. Lemmings will be fairly quiet during that time.

Sharvy's Theory of Descriptions

I've posted a new draft of my paper "Sharvy's Theory of Definite Descriptions Revisited" on my webpage. Comments are more than welcome.

New Metaphysics Blog

The grad students at UB have started a new group blog, Ungrounded Dispositions. It is devoted to metaphysics and related matters and is well worth checking out.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

2D and Context-Sensitive Predicates

Lots of predicates are claimed to be context-sensitive. Familiar examples include 'know', 'come', 'go', 'nearby', 'local', 'left', 'right', 'tall', and 'rich'. Here I shall mostly be concerned with a different group of predicates which may or may not turn out to be context-sensitive, namely predicates such as 'is the brightest object in the evening sky'. At first glance predicates like this one seem to be context-sensitive. After all, nothing can be the brightest without being the brightest to someone. Besides your evening sky isn't my evening sky. So, a good guess is that this sort of predicate is context-sensitive. This would mean that its 2-intension would vary across contexts. So, for some speakers, its extension may include Venus. For others not. But how then do we account for its 1-intension (its Fregean sense). One possibility is to take the predicate's 1-extension at a scenario to be relative to speakers. The idea is simple enough: scenarios are worlds with or without a centered individual. What counts as the brightest in the evening sky will be relative to the individual in the center (I am pretty sure I have seen this account of the predicate in David Chalmers' work, but when I went back to look I couldn't find the place).

But this sort of approach comes at a cost. For the individual in the center is also the 1-extension of 'I'. So, it would seem that I can know the following things on a priori grounds: 'Hesperus and I both exist iff Hesperus is the brightest object in the evening sky', 'if Hesperus and I both exist, then I am not blind', and 'If Hesperus and I both exist, then I am not a zombie'. Let's run the argument for the first case. 'Hesperus' (suppose) was acquired via the description 'the brightest object in the evening sky'. Now, suppose the scenario has no center, then the left-hand side is false. But so is the right-hand side. For there is no brightest object if the centered individual is not there to observe it. Suppose scenarios have centers. Then the left-hand side is true just when the right-hand side is. But now if these conditionals are true at all scenarios, then by definition one is in a position to know them on a priori grounds. But these conditionals do not seem a priori.

What to do? Well, we can simply reject the supposition that 'is the brightest object in the evening sky' is context-sensitive. Ignoring 'the evening sky' part of the predicate, there is a simple way of accounting for such predicates as expressing dispositional properties. x is the brightest object in the evening sky iff x would appear as the brightest in the evening sky to a standard observer under standard circumstances. This will get around the problem. But there is something odd about this. 'Bright', 'red', 'blue', and so on, no doubt express dispositional properties. It is easy to imagine what 'standard conditions' means here. It means something like 'normal lighting conditions, no obstructions, no evil deceivers, etc.'. But standard conditions do not usually include information about location. What would a normal or standard location be anyway? To account for the 'the evening sky' part it thus seems that we need to contextualize after all. Perhaps a mixed approach will do. On a mixed approach, 'x is the brightest object in the evening sky' is true at a scenario iff x is the brightest object to a standard observer located at the center under standard conditions. Even though we appeal to the center here, we do not run into trouble, as the analysans is a modal claim.

Monday, December 11, 2006

More Links

David Chalmers has some links to posts on consciousness and two-dimensionalism, including some posts on Lemmings.

As Brian Weatherson points out, the new Philosophical Perspectives is out. I just received my copy in the mail today. It is packed with very interesting-looking articles (not counting my own). Like Brian I look forward to reading these when we get passed this semester and the upcoming APA.

I should mention James Beebe's post on blind refereeing over at Certain Doubts again. I think this issue is extremely important, as publication is the only way up from the mud for many unestablished but promising young philosophers.

I note that Carrie Jenkins has a new book on knowledge and arithmetic coming out with Oxford University Press. It looks super-interesting.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Around the Blogosphere

Noam Chomsky turned 78 today. (Language Log)

David Chalmers reviews Phenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal Knowledge: New Essays on Consciousness and Physicalism, edited by Torin Alter and Sven Walter.

You can read about temporary and accidental intrinsics over at Knowability.

"Is Blind Review Threatened by Online Works in Progress?", James Beebe asks.

Can you submit a legal brief in Seussian verse? Brian Weatherson has the answer.

Not just Philosophers, Mathematicians too

Philosophers sometimes work on idiosyncratic problems which members of award and grant committees fail to see the value of. What about this for a grant proposal? "I would like to spend the next two semesters examining whether one can construct a feasible version of Lewis' (1968) counterpart theory but without postulate P2". I would immediately give money to this project but for obvious reasons I do not recommand that you submit it as your next grant proposal (unless you know I am on the committee). Speaking of failure to see the value of others' projects, here are some projects in mathematics which I bet many grant committees would turn down (or would have turned down). The projects are described in more detail here.

In 1896 Hadamard and de la Vallee Poussin proved that the chance that a random number nearby some large number n is prime is about 1 / ln(n), where ln(n) denotes the natural logarithm of n.

In 1930, L.G. Schnirelmann proved that every even number n greater than or identical to 4 can be written as the sum of at most 300,000 primes (this is my favorite).

In 2002 Liu Ming-Chit and Wang Tian-Ze proved that every odd number n greater than 2 x 10^{1346} is the sum of three primes. Meanwhile Oliveira e Silva is running a distributed computer search that has verified the weak Goldbach conjecture, viz. that all odd numbers greater than 9 are the sum of three odd primes, up to n > 4 x 10^{17}. So the gap is closing. Perhaps in a few years (with the faster computers the future will bring) the gap will close, and the conjecture will be proven (if the grant committees are willing to chip in).

Email Subscriptions

I've finally gotten around to adding an email subscription option for Lemmings. You can find it at the bottom of the sidebar.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Another 2D Puzzle

Here is another one of those can't-see-the-flaw-but-don't-believe-the-conclusion-style arguments:

Initial definitions:
[] ----- it is metaphysically necessary that
<> ----- It is metaphysically possible that
Apriori ----- It is a priori that
EP ----- It is epistemically possible that (or 'it is compatible with what is a priori that')
'Julius' ----- name (in the semantic sense) but known a priori to refer to the actual inventor of the zip.

Principle A:
(As proposed in the comment section here -- DJC's last comment): "the outermost operator determines which intension(s) of the immediately embedded sentence to look at", e.g., '(Apriori, actually p) iff (Apriori p)'.

By A, we have:
(1) Apriori []p <--> Apriori Apriori(p) [Apriori tells box to look at 1-intension]
(2) []Apriori(p) <--> [][]p [box tells a priori to look at 2-intension]
(3) []EP(p) <--> []<>p [box tells EP to look at 2-intension]

Metaphysical modality is governed by S5 (which includes):

[]p --> [][]p
<>p --> []<>p

So, we get (by 1-3):
[]p --> []Apriori (p)
<>p --> []EP (p)

Substituting in:

[]Water is H20 --> [](Apriori (water is H20))
<>Julius is not the inventor of the zip --> [](EP(Julius is not the inventor ...))

But that seems wrong. It doesn't seem that it is necessarily a priori that water is H20. Nor does it seem that it is necessary that it is epistemically possible that Julius is not the inventor of the zip (given that it is not epistemically possible that he is not).

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Justices Weigh Race School Admissions

From Truthout:

Supreme Court deliberations are private, but yesterday's oral arguments on whether it is constitutional to allow school systems to use race in making school assignments became as much a public debate between the divided justices as a questioning of lawyers. The ultimate decision is likely to be one of the most defining of the court headed by the new chief justice, John G. Roberts Jr., and a powerful statement about where the nation stands more than 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education demanded an end to segregated schools.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Frances on Trick Socks and Religious Experience

What are trick socks and what do they have to do with religious experience? Bryan Frances argues that if you see what appears to be blue socks, and you continue to believe that the socks are blue, in spite of being told by reliable witnesses that they are really green, then it is plausible to think that your belief is blameworthy. But then if you "see" what appears to be God but you are told by reliable witnesses that what you "saw" was really something else, then, by analogy, your continued belief that you "saw" God is blameworthy. So, the blue socks case seems to suggest that to have religious beliefs of a certain kind may be epistemically irresponsible.

UPDATE: Bryan Frances has posted another excellent post on trick socks and religious experience over at Knowability, partially in response to Colleen Keating, Trent Dougherty, and other commentators.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Modal Adverbials

It seems that it should be possible to treat 'actually' as the modal adverbial 'in @', where '@' is a term for the actual world. Moreover, if terms have a primary intension in addition to a secondary intension, in Chalmers' sense, one should expect that non-actual scenarios verify '@' (just as some non-actual scenarios verify 'Hesperus is not Venus'). But these two positions appear to be inconsistent.

Suppose, for reductio, that for any given scenario S, S verifies '@' as it occurs in 'in @'. Then it is true at the actual world, that there is no scenario at which 'p iff in @, p' fails to obtain. So, 'p iff in @, p' is a priori. But the same holds regardless of which world the utterer occupies. So, at w2, it is true that there is no scenario (accessible from there, as it were) in which 'p iff in @, p' fails to obtain. And at w3, it is true that there is no scenario at which 'p iff in @, p' fails to obtain, and so on. So, 'p iff in @, p' is necessarily a priori. Now, this much still seems obvious to me.

But then Chalmers dropped the bomb: 'necessarily, it is a priori that (p iff in @, p)' entails 'necessarily, (p iff in @, p)'. But 'necessarily' operates on the secondary intension of the operand sentence. Since at any world the referent of '@' is the world of utterance, it is not necessary that (p iff in @, p). So, it is not necessarily a priori that (p iff in @,p).

But then it is and isn't necessarily a priori that (p iff in @, p). Contradiction. By reductio, it is not the case that for any given scenario S, S verifies '@'. So, 'in @' cannot have a primary intension, and so, given 2Dism 'actually' cannot be treated as a modal adverbial.

Now, I don't really believe the conclusion of this argument yet. So I am left to wonder whether it is sound, and if not, why I fail to see where it goes wrong.

Monday, November 27, 2006

The 39th Philosophers' Carnival

... is here, this time hosted by a brood comb.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

2Dism and Epistemic Extension

We have been talking about two-dimensionalism in one of my seminars. One issue that came up was that of how names and kind-terms manage to refer (or "pick out something") in a (conceivable) scenario. Given two-dimensionalism, names refer (roughly) to their actual referents in metaphysically possible worlds but they refer to something that may be very different from their actual referents in (conceivable) scenarios. For example, 'David Chalmers' refers to David Chalmers in metaphysically possible worlds (where he exists) but in a given scenario, 'David Chalmers' may refer to someone who looks a lot more like David Lewis. So, 'David Chalmers = David Lewis' is metaphysically impossible but it may (in some contexts) be conceivable (for instance, if the speaker uses 'David Lewis' to mean, roughly, 'the author of The Plurality of Worlds' and uses 'David Chalmers' to mean, roughly, 'the author of The Conscious Mind').

Chalmers and Jackson say that if we have a complete canonical description of a scenario, then 'David Chalmers = David Lewis' is true there iff it is a priori implied by the description. The description (being canonical) cannot itself contain any names or kind-terms. But how then are we to understand the presupposed notion of apriority? If names and kind-terms are descriptions in disguise, then there is no problem seeing what is going on. But Chalmers and Jackson deny that this is so.

It's not that speakers associate descriptions with names and kind-terms (or that there necessarily are any such descriptions that could be associated with them). It's rather that if there is an implication of the aforementioned sort, then it corresponds to some (idealized) ability of the speaker in question. I found the following passages particularly illuminating (they are all from "Sense and Intension (SI)" or "Conceptual Analysis and Reductive Explanation (CARE)"):

"subjects are frequently in a position to identify the extension of a given concept, on reflection, under the hypothesis that the scenario in question obtains. Analysis of a concept proceeds at least in part through consideration of a concept's extension within hypothetical scenarios, and noting regularities that emerge" (CARE: 7)

"This pattern, whereby a conditional ability to evaluate a concept's extension yields elucidation of a concept without a finite counterexample-free analysis, is illustrated very clearly in the case of 'knowledge' " (CARE:8)

"The possibility of this sort of analysis is grounded in the following general feature of our concepts. If a subject possesses a concept and has unimpaired rational processes, then sufficient empirical information about the actual world puts a subject in a position to identify the concept's extension" (CARE: 8)

"If something like this is right, then possession of a concept such as 'knowledge' or 'water' bestows a conditional ability to identify the concept's extension under a hypothetical epistemic possibility, given sufficient information about that epistemic possibility and sufficient reasoning" (CARE: 9)

"But it remains the case that when a subject possesses a name, the subject will have a conditional ability to identify its extension given sufficient empirical information about the actual world, and the relevant conditionals will be a priori for the subject" (CARE: 12)

"It is probably easier, then, to give up the aim of producing a perfect explicit analysis, and to content ourselves with the observation that we have an a priori grasp of how our concepts apply to specific epistemic possibilities, when these are described in sufficient detail" (CARE: 24)

"The epistemic intension is a function, not a description. It is revealed in a subject's rational evaluation of specific epistemic possibilities, not in any sort of explicit definition" (SI)

"Here the crucial property of a description is that it gives us a way of identifying an expression's extension, given full knowledge of how the world turns out. It may be that for some expressions ..., there is no description that can do this job. It is nevertheless not implausible that the expression's extension depends in some fashion on how the world turns out, and in particular that full knowledge of how the world turns out puts a subject in a position to identify the expression's extension" (SI)

As these passages make clear, a given expression need not be associated with a description in order for it to have an extension in a given (conceivable) scenario. But if the subject possesses the concept in question, then she has an ability to pick out the extension at any (conceivable) scenario. Here is another way to put the point: to grasp a concept simply is to have this ability (under ideal circumstances). If a subject lacks the ability (under ideal circumstances), then she does not master the concept.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Class Struggle

America is apparently in an unfortunate and unfair but steady drift toward a class-based society. Jim Webb writes:

America's top tier has grown infinitely richer and more removed over the past 25 years. It is not unfair to say that they are literally living in a different country. Few among them send their children to public schools; fewer still send their loved ones to fight our wars. They own most of our stocks, making the stock market an unreliable indicator of the economic health of working people. The top 1% now takes in an astounding 16% of national income, up from 8% in 1980. The tax codes protect them, just as they protect corporate America, through a vast system of loopholes
Read more here.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Have You Ever Been Insulted in Print?

If you think you haven't been, check out Bryan Frances' entertaining post over at Knowability, devoted to this issue. And if you think you have been, and you need a place to vent and bitch and moan, you can contribute with your own insights here.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Thomas Sattig: The Language and Reality of Time

My review of Thomas Sattig's book The Language and Reality of Time has appeared in Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

More on the PGR

Some graduate students have started a new blog, which is devoted to criticism of the PGR.

Also, Keith DeRose has updated his post over at Certain Doubts.

Blue Swans and Unknowable Facts

I've posted a new draft of my paper "On Keeping Blue Swans and Unknowable Facts at Bay. A Case Study on Fitch's Paradox" on my webpage. Comments are more than welcome.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

On the Recent Criticism of the PGR

Keith DeRose defends the Philosophical Gourmet Report from recent criticism over at Certain Doubts. The criticism came from Prof. Michael Pakaluk of Clark University and can be found here. Professor Pakaluk thinks the Philosophical Gourmet Report is a "pointless waiste of time". He thinks that if students are qualified to go to graduate school, they ought to know where the professors they want to work with are located. But then they don't need to solicit advice from the PGR. I think this argument misconstrues the purpose of the PGR. In my opinion, the primary purpose of the PGR is to help students increase their chances of getting accepted by a program which most other scholars in the profession consider a top program in philosophy. After all, it is the very same scholars who will be making most of the hiring decisions a few years laters when these students go on the job market. And it is hardly a secret that pedigree matters when departments decide who to hire.

Professor Pakaluk does briefly address this issue. He writes:

It's a bit misleading to say, as the Report does, that "The rankings are primarily measures of faculty quality and reputation. Faculty quality and reputation correlates quite well with job placement, but students are well-advised to make inquiries with individual departments for complete information on this score." The placement rankings can and should stand on their own. But do you know anyone who has consulted the Leiter rankings in hiring a candidate? If we wouldn't be so foolish, why would we recommend that students heed these rankings in choosing a program as regards something much more important than a job, viz. their education?

I do not think anyone needs to consult the PGR in order to decide whether or not to hire a candidate. Everyone is already fully aware of how the individual departments are ranked, and as everyone knows, it matters a great deal where a job candidate got his or her Ph.D., at least at the junior level. A Ph.D. from a top program in philosophy is not exactly an entrance ticket but it will increase the candidate's chances of landing a tenure-track job, perhaps even one with a decent course load.

Bush's Danish Allies

In 2003 the Danish government was informed by Danish intelligence that there was no evidence of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. In spite of this, the Danish government decided to join George W. Bush when he invaded Iraq. An editor and two reporters for the Danish Newspaper Berlingske Tidende are now on trial for publishing the classified information showing that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction in 2003. As Majikthise notes, "this prosecution feels like payback".

(Via Majikthise and BBC)

CNN Reports on Canada's Drug Policy

CNN features a short article about the two Canadian University Professors, Douglas Hutchinson (University of Toronto) and Brian MacLean (York), who after a legal battle won a right to smoke marijuana at work. Both professors suffer from a chronic medical condition that can be eased by smoking marijuana. In Canada 1,492 people are currently authorized to possess marijuana for medical purposes.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Chalmers on De Re Epistemic Ascriptions

In "The Foundations of Two-Dimensional Semantics" David Chalmers mentions that it is difficult to make sense of de re epistemic ascriptions. To see what the problem is, consider:

(1) It is a priori that Phosphorus has been visible in the morning.

The proper name in (1) can, via property abstraction, move out of the scope of the a priori operator. Then we get:

(2) Phosphorus is an x such that it is a priori that x has been visible in the morning.

This is the de re reading of (1). The a priori operator operates on some aspect of a sentence that has a variable in it.

The reason it is difficult to make sense of this is that the a priori operator cannot be taken to operate on singular propositions. If it could, then we should expect 'Hesperus is Phosphorus' to be a priori (which, of course, some thinkers do want to argue that it is). It is better to think of the a priori operator as operating on what Chalmers calls the 'primary intension'. The primary intension is (roughly) the possible-world equivalent of a Fregean thought. The problem now is that it is difficult to see what sort of Fregean thought/primary intension could possibly be expressed by the operand sentence in (2), viz. 'x has been visible in the morning'.

It might be suggested that the Fregean sense/primary intension of 'x' is something that can be glossed as 'the bright object in the morning sky'. But that does not seem right. For what is special about the de re reading of a sentence like (1) is that it "gets at" the object directly, as Russell would put it.

An alternative approach would be to say that the primary intension of 'x has been visible in the morning' is contingent and hence not a priori (as 'apriority' is defined in terms of the necessity of the primary intension). This would follow if the primary intension of 'x' is similar to the primary intension of a name whose referent one cannot really describe, even though one can use the name proficiently (by being a link in a causal chain that leads back to the referent). It would follow, then, that even though (1) is true on the de dicto reading, (2) is false. For just like the Fregean element expressed by 'some x has been visible in the morning', the Fregean element expessed by 'x has been visible in the morning' is true at some conceivable scenarios and false at others.

If the latter is correct, then there is an independently interesting lesson to be learned, namely that property abstraction on sentences involving proper names is not simply a trivial move, as sometimes suggested. Property abstraction can make a difference to truth-conditions even for sentences containing no quantified noun phrases.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival # 38

is here, this time hosted by Eric Schwitzgebel.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

Greco on Contextualism

John Greco has a post on subject-sensitive invariantism vs. attributor contextualism over at Knowability. There is also a link to John's paper, where the view is developed and defended.

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Heim on Comparative Clauses

Metaphysical eternalists occasionally offer presentists the following challenge: if only present things exist, how do we account for the truth of claims of the following sort:

-Al Gore is taller than almost any ancient politician
-Russell was smarter than most philosophers of his generation.

The alleged problem for the presentist is that claims like these seem to ascribe cross-time relations. But no relation can be instantiated by objects that do not exist.

As it turns out, however, if Irene Heim's recent theory of comparative adjectives is correct, comparative claims pose no problem for presentism. Heim begins with claims of the following sort:

-John is taller than every girl
-John is taller than one of the girls

As Richard Larson (1988) argues, such claims can be dealt with by positing that (i) the quantified noun phrase moves to a wide-scope position and (ii) the comparative expression 'taller than' combines with two type e expressions (i.e., variables or referring terms). But a similar strategy is unavailable for claims of the following sort:

-John is taller than every girl is.
-John is taller than one of the girls is.

The initially tempting hypothesis that the quantified noun phrases scope out of the 'than'-clauses is extremely implausible, given what we know about the sort of movement quantified noun phrases undergo (quantified noun phrases do not normally scope out of relative clauses, etc.) Moreover, Heim argues, even if quantified noun phrases could scope out of 'than'-clauses, adverbs of quantification, modal expressions and floated quantifiers can't possibly do that. Out-of-'than'-clause accounts of comparatives are thus unable to account for claims of the following sort (from Heim):

-The suit cost more than they had each paid in taxes.
-It is warmer here today than it usually is in New Brunswick.
-It is warmer today than it might be tomorrow.
-George is richer than his father was and his son will be.

After considering some traditional analyses of comparatives, Heim then offers a theory where comparatives ascribe relations between what she calls "degrees" (i.e., abstract entities like heights, weights, etc.). To account for quantifier scopes, Heim suggests that there are semantically vacuouos 'wh'-items in the sentence structure of comparative claims. 'John is taller than every girl is' is thus of the following form:

[wh5[every girl is t5]]4 [John is taller than t4]

'Every girl is wh', where 'wh' is a semantically vacuous 'wh'-item, scopes out of the comparative clause, and the 'wh'-item raises to a wide-scope position. The truth-condition for this sentence is: for every girl x, John's height is greater than x's height.

From a semanticist's point of view, Heim's hypothesis is interesting because it makes the right predictions in nearly every case. From a metaphysician's point of view, her theory is interesting because it makes presentism look less unattractive. Consider:

-Al Gore is taller than almost any ancient politician ever was

Heim's theory predicts that this sentence is of the following form.

[wh5[almost any ancient politician was t5]]4 [Gore is taller than t4]

Assuming the past tense takes wide scope over the quantified noun phrase 'almost any ancient politician', we get the following truth-condition: it was the case that, for almost any ancient philosopher x, Gore's height is greater than x's height. As this analysis incurs no commitments to the existence of non-present individuals, presentists can happily embrace it.

Larson, R. (1988), "Scope and Comparatives", Linguistics and Philosophy.

It's Not "Unnatural"

Oslo's Museum of Natural History currently features an exposition devoted to animal homosexuality. Manifest homosexual behavior has been observed among members of 450 species. The Museum exposes explicit photographs of sexual behavior among members of 30 of them. The project's director Geir Soli's says the aim of the exposition is "To refute the too well-known argument according to which homosexual behavior is a crime against nature."

(Via Truthout and BBC News)

Most Dangerous City in the U.S.

St. Louis is the most dangerous city in the country, according to annual rankings of the safest and most dangerous American cities. The murder rate increased 16 percent from 2004 to 2005, compared with 4.8 percent nationally, and the overall violent crime rate surged nearly 20 percent, compared with 2.5 percent nationally. That places St. Louis just above Detroit, Flint, Michigan and Compton California. The safest city in 2005 was Brick, New Jersey, followed by Amherst, New York, and Mission Viejo, California.

(Via CNN)

David Armstrong

David Armstrong gave a talk here yesterday. Colleen Keating has put up a summary of the talk on her blog.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Redbirds Take it in Five!

Maybe now we can stop wearing bright red.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Schlenker on Quantifiers

It is widely agreed that the truth-conditions for sentences with quantified noun phrases must reflect our use of them. If we are talking about my logic class, and I say 'some student failed', then my utterance of 'some student failed' may be false even if some student in the universe failed. The question is, how do we account for the apparent context-sensitivity of quantified noun phrases?

Jason Stanley and Zoltan Szabo (2000) argue that there are implicit indexical variables in the sentence structure. Such variables are either bound by higher operators or assigned values by context.

Philippe Schlenker (forthcoming) has a different proposal. To see what the proposal is, let us briefly look at how quantifiers were treated pre-Stanley/Szabo and pre-generalized quantifier theory. Here is how we used to give truth-conditions for existentially quantified sentences.

'Ex(Fx & Gx)' is true at a sequence of evaluation s iff for some individual d in the domain fixed by the sequence, 'Fx & Gx' is true at s for the assignment of d to x.

For example, 'some boy is hungry' is true at s iff for some individual d in the domain, 'x is a boy and x is hungry' is true at s for the assignment of d to x.

Schlenker suggests that we make the following amendments.

'Ex(Fx & Gx)' is true at s iff for some individual d in the domain satisfying certain conditions determined by an accessibility relation R, 'Fx & Gx' is true at s for the assignment of d to x.

Suppose I utter 'some student failed' and intend it to mean that some student in my logic class failed. Treating the tensed verb as if it were tenseless, 'some student failed' is true at the domain of individuals assigned by the sequence of evaluation iff for some individual d satisfying 'x is in Brit's logic class' at the domain for the assignment of d to x, 'x is a student and x failed' is true at the domain of individuals for the assignment of d to x.

Note that all of this is stated in the meta-language, just as we do it in modal logic. So, context determines an accessibility relation, and the accessibility relation determines the conditions an individual in the domain must satisfy for it to be relevant in the context. So, on Schlenker's proposal, quantified noun phrases have the same semantic values in all contexts: they are not context-sensitive, and there are no implicit domain variables in the sentence structure of sentences with quantified noun phrases. What varies with context is the relevance relation (or accessibility relation) and so also which individuals in the domain of the sequence are deemed relevant.

I think Schlenker's suggestion is very interesting. Only drawback: it seems to presuppose pre-generalized quantifier theory, and so I do not see at this point how it would deal with determiners such as 'most', 'more than half' and the like.

Schlenker, P. forthcoming. "Ontological Symmetry in Language: A Brief Manifesto", Mind & Language.
Stanley, J. and Szabo, Z. 2000. "On Quantifier Domain Restriction", Mind and Language 15: 219-261.

(Thanks to Francois Recanati for recommending Schlenker's article)

Hutchinson Wins Marijuana Battle

Professor Doug Hutchinson who teaches ancient Greek philosophy at The University of Toronto has been fighting college officials for more than a year.

The battle has been over whether Hutchinson has a right to smoke marijuana in his office on campus. Hutchinson depends on marijuana to alleviate pain from an undisclosed medical condition, and for years he secretly smoked up to 10 joints a day in his office. But last year he was caught when colleagues complained about the smell.

After multiple cease-and-desist orders with morally judgmental content and a clearance from Health Canada, college provost Margaret MacMillan finally gave in and granted Hutchinson his own room in the basement of the college.

Hutchinson is relieved that the process is over and said that the process has relit his activism for people's right to use marijuana.

(Via The Gazette and

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Hyperintensional Operators

The latest issue of Philosophical Issues features a very intersting article called Indicative versus Subjunctive Conditionals, Congruential versus Non-Hyperintensional Contexts by Timothy Williamson. As the title indicates, the articles is mostly about indicative and subjunctive conditionals. However, the article got me thinking about hyperintensional operators again.

Uncontroversially, Williamson takes an operator O to be intensional iff it is not extensional, and O is extensional iff the following condition is satisfied:

If p is materially equivalent to q, then Op is materially equivalent to Oq.

An operator O is hyperintensional iff it is not non-hyperintensional, and O is non-hyperintensional iff the following condition is satisfied:

If p is strictly equivalent to q, then Op is strictly equivalent to Oq.

Hyperintensionality, then, is a special case of intensionality. As I believe some but not all truths, 'Brit believes that' is intensional. Moreover, as I believe some but not all necessary truths, 'Brit believes that' is hyperintensional. If S is a perfectly rational and omniscient being, then 'S believes that' is extensional, and non-hyperintensional. However, as a matter of fact, most propositional attitude operators will be hyperintensional.

Many story prefixes are also hyperintensional. 'Andrew Shepherd is identical to the actual current president' is strictly equivalent to '2 + 2 = 5', but 'in the movie the American President, Andrew Shepherd is the actual current president' is not strictly equivalent to 'in the movie the American President, 2 + 2 = 5'. Or if you dislike examples with 'actual', consider this example instead: 'Andrew Shepherd is not identical to the President' is strictly equivalent to '2 + 2 = 4', as 'Andrew Sherpherd' is empty, but 'in the movie the American President, Andrew Sherpherd is not identical to the president' is not strictly equivalent to 'in the movie the American President, 2 + 2 = 4', as the fomer is false but the latter true.

According to David Lewis ["Tensed Quantifiers" in Zimmerman (ed) Oxford Studies in. Metaphysics 2005], span operators -- operators that shift the time feature of the index of evaluation from the time of utterance to some past or future time span -- are hyperintensional. According to Lewis, 'it is raining, and it is not raining' is strictly equivalent to '2 + 2 = 5', but 'it WAS the case that it is raining, and it is not raining' is not strictly equivalent to 'it WAS the case that 2 + 2 =5', as the former has a true reading, whereas the latter is necessarily false. According to David Lewis, the reason that the former has a true reading is that it could be true at one time but false at another time during the time span in question that it is raining. Lewis takes this to constitute a serious problem for presentism. If presentism is true, then span operators are required to capture certain truths (e.g. 'there have been several kings of England named Charles'). But span operators are hyperintensional. Yet modal operators (including tense operators) are thought to be intensional, not hyperintensional.

However, I think a presentist could reply as follows: a proposition is true at a span circumstance only if it holds at some, most or all times during the time span in question. But 'it is raining, and it is not raining' does not hold at any time during the time span in question. For there is no time at which it is raining and not raining. In other words, the result of embedding a contradiction under a span operator does not yield a truth. So, span operators are not hyperintensional.

Around the Blogosphere

Joe Salerno has a new post on mental state operators.

Carrie Jenkins wrote a paper on flirting. Now Daniel Nolan has written a reply.

Arnold Zwicky is thinking about F-words over at Language Log.

And Brian Leiter is slowly but surely revealing the new rankings for Ph.D. programs.

New Blog

I just learned that Luvell Anderson has a new blog, Philosopher X, "devoted to matters in the philosophy of language and social and political philosophy".

Other Blog News:
Ideally Speaking has moved to a new site. A few other philosophy graduate student blogs well worth checking out: Adam Arico, Richard Chappell, Jeff Dauer, Colleen Keating, Aidan McGlynn, Shawn Standefer.

Also, Dave Chalmers has recently updated the page of people with on-line papers in philosophy.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

Go Cards!

The religious fervor of the fans of the St. Louis Cardinals has taken to the streets, and basically a lot of people in this town are just plain drunk. Please stay off the roads!

Schnieder on Leibniz's Law

The January 2006 issue of The Philosophical Quarterly features an interesting article, " 'By Leibniz's Law': Remarks on a Fallacy", by Benjamin Schnieder.

Schnieder makes a convincing case for the view that the following sort of argument is sometimes fallacious.

a is F
b is not F
By Leibniz's Law, a is not identical to b

Leibniz's Law says (roughly) that if a and b have distinct properties, then a is not identical to b. The problem with (A)-style arguments is that the negation in the second premise may be meta-linguistic. Here are a couple of examples of meta-linguistic uses of negation (from Schnieder, p. 45):

I din't trap two mongeese, I trapped two mongooses.

Non-English speaking student: I shall become a great toy for christmas.
English teacher: No, you will not become a toy, you will get one.

In these cases the negation is not used to deny that the thing in question has a property expressed by the predicate, for the predicate does not express a property. Rather, as Schnieder points out, it is used to deny that the predicate "lacks proper usage in English" (p. 45) or does not express the property the speaker intended it to express. For example, I am not denying that I have the property of trapping two mongeese, for there is no such property. Rather, I am saying that 'trapped two mongeese' lacks proper usage. Likewise, the English teacher is not denying that the student has the property of becoming a toy for christmas. Rather, she is saying that 'shall become a great toy for christmas' does not express the property the speaker intended it to express.

Schnieder concludes by considering some arguments from the literature that could perhaps be refuted by arguing that the negation is meta-linguistic, for instance, Nicholas Wolterstorff's argument against taking the kind K to be identical to the property of being K:

The Apple Blossom is the state flower of Michigan
The property of being an apple blossom is not a state flower.
Therefore, The Apple Blossom is not identical to the property of being an apple blossom.

It is arguable that 'the property of being an apple blossom is a state flower' lacks proper usage, and that that is what the negation sign is supposed to indicate.

As I was reading Schnieder's article, I came to think of Kit Fine's case for the non-identity of the statue and the clay. In his case for non-identity Fine appeals to the following sort of argument:

The statue is well made
The clay is not well made
So, the statue is not identical to the clay

Fine even says that predicates such as 'is well made', 'is ugly', 'is Romanesque', 'is insured', and so on may apply to the statue, but the "correct and proper" application of the predicates prevents them from applying to the clay. So, it isn't simply that it is false to say 'the clay is ugly', on Fine's view. It is meaningless to say it. So, when we say 'the clay isn't ugly', Schnieder or anyone sympathetic to his view could argue that the negation is meta-linguistic. If it is, then arguably Fine's non-identity argument does not go through.

Philosophers' Carnival # 37

is here.

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Why are Lagadonian Languages so Called?

A Lagadonian language is a language where objects and properties can be names for themselves (Lewis 1986: 145). But why are Lagadonian languages so called? The answer can be found in Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels from 1726 (thanks to John Gabriel).

In Gulliver's Travels, Swift's hero Lemuel Gulliver visits the Academy of Science at Lagado, the capital city of Balnibarbi. Here he finds scientists trying to extract sunbeams from cucumbers, erect buildings from the roof down, plow farmland with pigs, and make marbles soft enough to stuff pillows. At the school of languages a language experiment is being conducted. Gulliver explains (pp. 162-3):

"The other project was a scheme for entirely abolishing all words whatsoever; and this was urged as a great advantage in point of health as well as brevity. For it is plain that every word we speak is, in some degree, a diminution of our lungs by corrosion; and consequently contributes to the shortening of our lives. An expedient was therefore offered, that since words are only names for things, it would be more convenient for all men to carry about them such things as were necessary to express the particular business they are to discourse on. And this invention would certainly have taken place, to the great ease as well as health of the subject, if the women, in conjunction with the vulgar and illiterate, had not threatened to raise a rebellion, unless they might be allowed the liberty to speak with their tongues after the manner of their forefathers; such constant irreconcilable enemies to science are the common people".

"However, many of the most learned and wise adhere to the new scheme of expressing themselves by things; which hath only this in­convenience attending it, that if a man's business be very great, and of various kinds, he must be obliged, in proportion, to carry a greater bundle of things upon his back, unless he can afford one or two strong servants to attend him. I have often beheld two of those sages almost sinking under the weight of their packs, like pedlars among us; who, when they met in the streets, would lay down their loads, open their sacks, and hold conversation for an hour together; then put up their implements, help each other resume their burdens, and take their leave".

"But, for short conversations, a man may carry implements in his pockets, and under his arms, enough to supply him; and in his house he cannot be at a loss. Therefore the room where company meet, who practise this art, is full of all things ready at hand, requisite to furnish matter for this kind of artificial converse".

"Another great advantage, proposed by this invention, was, that it would serve as a universal language, to be understood in all civilised nations, whose goods and utensils are generally of the same kind, or nearly resembling, so that their uses might easily be comprehended. And thus ambassadors would be qualified to treat with foreign princes, or ministers of state, to whose tongues they were utter strangers".

Swift's novel was a satire on various aspects of humanity. But satire or not, Lagadonian languages have proven useful to modal abstractionists, or ersatzers, as David Lewis called them, those who treat possible worlds as abstract entities. As a nice example of how Lagadonian languages can be used to describe possibilities and possibilia, take a look at, for example, Ted Sider's The Ersatz Pluriverse.

Lewis, David. 1986. On the Plurality of Worlds. Cambridge: Blackwell.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Review of Sattig: the Language and Reality of Time

I've posted a new draft of my review of Thomas Sattig's The Language and Reality of Time on my webpage.

More Tense

There appear to be more scope interactions among quantifiers, relative clauses and tenses than predicted by most theories of tense. If you have time, take a moment to appreciate the differences between these structurally similar relative clause sentences. The reading indicated for each sentence is the most salient reading, not the only one (P is past, F is future, E is a stand-in for the existential quantifier, and the predicates are appropriately abbreviated):

200 years ago John Smith hired a senior professor who got his Ph.D. from Harvard.
P(Ex(senior professor x & John hires x & P(get Ph.D. x)))

200 years ago John Smith hired a junior professor who later became president
P(Ex(become president x & P(junior professor x & John hires x)))

A colleague of mine who was a child prodigy got her Ph.D. from Harvard.
Ex(colleague x & P(get Ph.D. x & P(prodigy x)))

A colleague of mine who got her Ph.D. from Harvard was a child prodigy.
Ex(colleague x & P(get Ph.D. x & P(prodigy x)))

A colleague of mine who was a child prodigy will run for president
Ex(colleague x & P(prodigy x) & F(run x))

A colleague of mine who will run for president was a child prodigy
Ex(colleague x & F(run x) & P(prodigy))

John hired a junior professor who will become president
Ex(P(junior professor x & John hires x) & F(x becomes president))

A child prodigy who won five competitions will soon graduate from college
Ex(P(prodigy x & x wins) & F(x graduates))

An adequate theory of tense should explain all of these scope interactions and more.

Men Want Children

Last year the New York Times reported that many women at elite universities plan to stop working after having children. The article caused much controversy. Now a new study sheds light on women's post-childbirth plans. Yale's Women's Center released a survey last week that found that 0.7 percent of men and 4.1 percent of women at Yale plan to leave the work force after having children.

Victoria Brescoll, who conducted the survey in 2005-6, suggests that men and women value their careers equally, because 4.1. percent does not count as many. But that is not quite right. I am sure men and women do value their careers equally. But it is not quite right that 4.1. percent does not count as many. She is right that we cannot conclude that many women plan to stop working after having children (compared to women who do not plan to stop working). But we can conclude that many women plan to stop working when they have children (compared to men).

Interestingly, the Yale study also found that more men than women plan to have children. So, why do more women than men plan to leave the work force after having children when more men than women plan to have children? Perhaps because child-birth often has a negative impact on a woman's career but often has no impact on a man's.

(via Inside Higher Ed)

Dolphins Call Each Other By Name

Humans call each other by name. But so do dolphins. Distinctive "signature whistling calls" apparently function as referential signals in Dolphinese. This was the conclusion of a paper recently published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Researchers found that when playing synthesized signature whistles without the caller's voice features to a dolphin, the dolphin would turn toward the speaker if the whistle sounded like a relative's. What remains unknown is whether dolphins also make signals that refer to entities other than dolphins.

(Via tvnz and Colleen Keating)

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Meta-Ontology and Singular Plural Predicates

The October issue of The Philosophical Quarterly features an article by Patrick Toner called "Meta-Ontology and Accidental Unity". Toner defends something like Peter van Inwagen's approach to composition: not every two things compose a thing. Artifacts, for example, do not. If one takes the van Inwagen approach to artifacts, one cannot sincerely and truly say 'there are chairs' or 'there are computers'. Or so it seems. However, Toner argues that that is not so. He points out that there are singular predicates that apply to pluralities and which appear to be plural predicates in disguise, for instance, 'family', 'basketball team' and so on. Arguably, Sam, Linda, Amy and Kurt do not compose an object, even if they collectively satisfy the predicate 'family'. On this view, then, 'chair', 'computer', 'telephone' and other similar predicates are (or can be treated as) plural predicates. So, when we say 'there are chairs' or 'chairs exist' we are not committed to there being any single object that satisfies the predicate 'chair'. We are only committed to there being a plurality of entities which collectively satisfy the predicate 'chair'.

This is an interesting argument. However, if the project is descriptive, then I think it fails. For 'family' and 'basketball team' behave just like other singular nominals. They combine with determiners (as in 'every family', 'the basketball team' or 'at most one basketball team'), they are grammatically singular ('every great basketball team is from the East Coast'), and so on. So, the suggestion must be that we ought to treat 'family', 'basketball team', 'chair' and so on as if they were plural.

We can then say 'there are chairs'. This translates as 'there are some Xs that collectively satisfy the predicate 'chair" '. But we should not say 'the chair is soft', 'every chair is broken', 'at most one chair is broken', and so on. Instead we should say something plainly ungrammatical: 'the chair are soft', 'all chair are broken', etc. and we should never say 'at most one chair is broken', for the latter is plainly false. However, we could probably get used to saying things like 'the chair are broken', for people already use plural in combination with singular names and nouns, as in 'Manchester United are playing tonight', 'the government are doing what they can', and so on. My main worry is that since this project requires us to revise English, it is not clear that it fares any better than van Inwagen's original position. After all, van Inwagen's position does not rule out a complete revision of our linguistic practices. For example, we might get used to saying 'there are some particles arranged chair-wise' instead of 'there are chairs'.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Food Tongue and Lagadonian Languages

A lagadonian language is a language where objects and properties can be names for themselves (Lewis 1986: 145). Brit (not 'Brit') is a name for Brit. Redness (not 'redness') is a name for redness. Lagadonian languages are dead languages, not quite in the sense in which Latin is a dead language, but in the sense that they cannot be spoken. Nonetheless we can give a syntax and a semantics for them in a non-Lagadonian meta-language.

Speaking of strange languages, Food Tongue is an actual non-Lagadonian languague, invented and spoken by some math campers (hat tip: Christopher Owen). Unfortunately, the semantics, syntax and lexicon for Food Tongue is kept secret. But I think the basic idea is this. The grammar is essentially English. Moreover, every Food Tongue word is an English food kind term. That is, every word in Food Tongue refers, in English, to kinds of food or ingredients used in cooking. For example, 'chocolate' refers to chocolate in English but in food tongue it is an adjective whose semantic value is the property of being good. 'Vanilla' refers to vanilla in English but in Food Tongue it is an adjective whose semantic value is the property of being bad. Proper names in English are translated into food kind terms that sound similar. 'Christopher', for example' might be translated into 'Crust topping'.

One problem with Food Tongue, as I understand it, is that its vocabulary is severely limited. But this problem could be avoided if Food Tongue were turned into a Lagadonian-style language. Let the vocabulary of Food Tongue* be, not English food kind terms, but rather concrete dishes, concrete ingredients that could be used in cooking, and so on. This apple, for example, might be a name of Manhattan, this piece of dark chocolate might be an adjective whose semantic value is the property of being good, and this cheese sandwich might refer to the property of instantiating. We cannot translate English sentences into Food Tongue*, but we can translate English sentences into spatial arrangements. 'Manhattan is good' translates into the arrangement consisting of this apple, this piece of dark chocolate and this cheese sandwich. Imagine what one can do with Food Tongue* at weddings, anniversaries, and the like. If you are the best man, you can bake a cake instead of giving a toast.

Lewis, David. 1986. On the Plurality of Worlds. Cambridge: Blackwell

Tense and Relative Clause Sentences II

Sentences like:

(1) John met a man who was a cyclist (King 2003)

pose a problem for most standard theories of tense. (1) has three readings, which can be paraphrased as follows:

(1a) John met a man who was a cyclist before John's meeting him
(1b) John met a man who was a cyclist at the time of the meeting
(1c) John met a man who was a cyclist after John's meeting him

Every theory of tense predicts that (1a) is a reading of (1). For every theory of tense takes past under past to mean anteriority with respect to some past reference time. The problem is how to account for (1b) and (1c).

Toshiyuki Ogihara has made a number of interesting suggestions about how to account for the tenses in relative clause sentences (most of his papers are available on his website).

First, Ogihara suggests that English has an SOT rule (sequence-of-tense rule), which allows for optional deletion of embedded past-tense morphemes. This is what is going on in:

(2) John said he would buy a fish that was still alive (Ogihara 1989)

The past tense morpheme in the relative clause is deleted. So, (2) requires for its truth that John said that he would buy a fish that was still alive at the time of the buying event.

Interestingly, a similar suggestion was made by the Danish grammarian Otto Jespersen (1860-1943) (in A Modern English Grammar on Historical Principles). Jespersen suggests that unlike certain other languages (e.g. Japanese) English has a rule that allows past-tense morphemes to be deleted when they occur under another past-tense morpheme.

Second, Ogihara suggests that the (1c) reading where the time of the cycling is later than the time of the meeting can be gotten via (optional) quantifier raising. "A man who was a cyclist" raises to a wide-scope position. On this reading, the matrix tense becomes the "embedded" tense. So, on this reading, the time of the cycling is naturally interpreted as being later than the time of the meeting.

Unfortunately, this simple story cannot be the whole story about tenses in relative clause sentences. For consider:

(3) I will marry a man who went to Harvard (from Partee)

(3) has a reading that does not require for its truth that I marry a man who went to Harvard prior to the speech time. It only requires that I marry a man who went to Harvard prior to the time of the marriage. Since 'a man' is not the surface-grammatical subject of the sentence, there is clearly quantifier raising. But if "a man who went to Harvard" raises to a wide scope position, then (3) does require for its truth that a man I will marry went to Harvard prior to the speech time (as in "a man x who went to Harvard is such that I will marry x").

Another problem with the wide scope reading is that (3) could be true if the speaker marries a man who is not born yet (suppose the speaker is 3 years old). So, we do not want the existential quantifier to have wide scope. Given Priorean tense logic the correct reading of (3) is:

(3a) F(Ex(man x & I marry x & P(x goes to Harvard)))

In English: it will be the case that, there is someone who is a man and who marries me and who went to Harvard.

What to do? Here is my working hypothesis ("working hypothesis" because I am still struggling with the syntax).

The matrix tense can either take wide scope or narrow scope with respect to the existential quantifier. If the matrix tense takes wide scope, then the relative clause tense is interpreted as past (future) relative to the matrix tense (and there is (optional) deletion of the embedded past tense). If the matrix tense takes narrow scope, then the relative clause tense is intepreted as past (future) relative to the time of speech. Moreover, if the matrix tense takes narrow scope, then it can take wide or narrow scope with respect to the predicate restricting the existential quantifier.

This working hypothesis gives us rather nice results in the case of:

(4) John was talking to a student who will run for president

My hypothesis predicts that (4) has the following three readings:

P(Ex(student x & John talks to x & F(runs x)))
Ex(P(student x & John talks to x) & F(runs x))
Ex(student x & P(John talks to x) & F(runs x))

In English:
It was the case that, there is someone who is a student and who is talked to by John and who will run for president.
There is someone who was a student and who was talked to by John and who will run for president.
There is someone who is a student and who was talked to by John and who will run for president.

The first reading seems unavailable. But notice that it is unavailable only if we allow that "will" can introduce a time that is earlier than the time of speech. It has been suggested in the linguistic literature that since English features two future modals, namely "would" (as in "It was the case that John would run for president) and "will" (as in "It was the case that John will run for president"), "will" always introduces a time that is future relative to the time of speech (the exception being special narrator contexts).

Also, my account does not straightforwardly predict that (1c) is a reading of (1). What it does predict is the following reading:

Ex(P(man x & John meets x) & P(cyclist x))

This reading is compatible with "John met a man who was a cyclist after John's meeting him" but it does not entail it. So, we should expect the "cyclist-after-meeting" reading to be triggered only by the presence of temporal adverbials and/or other cues in the surrounding discourse context. And that is entirely consistent with the data. For, as Ogihara reports, speakers need a little bit of help for the "cyclist-after-meeting" reading to be salient.

Dissertations On-line

Josh Dever has created a site where you can publish your philosophy dissertation. (Hat tip: Leiter Reports)

PPR and Nous Go Electronic

The Rutgers-based journals Philosophy and Phenomenological Research and Nous have decided to "move from paper to exclusively electronic operation". The journals do not accept any new submissions while this new approach is being implemented. The time-out is from October 18, 2006 - mid-April 2007 (Hat tip: Leiter Reports).

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Academic Blogs Wiki

Henry Farrell has created an academic blogs wiki. You can add your blog if it is not already listed (hat tip: TAR).

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Impressions from Last Weekend: Multiple-Choice Edition

How many philosophers and linguists can fit in an SUV?

(a) None
(b) Seven
(c) Thirteen
(d) None of the above

What is the best way to irritate Jason Stanley?

(a) Eat his dinner while he is talking
(b) Put three relativists on the program and make him the chair
(c) Discreetly remind him that no one on the program is named "Lasergun"
(d) All of the above

How much can you expect a philinguist from California to pay for a bottle of conference pre-dinner wine?

(a) Eight dollars
(b) Ten dollars
(c) Fifty-six dollars
(d) All of the above

Where can one buy a bottle of wine in New Brunswick, Jersey?

(a) A wine store
(b) The supermarket
(c) Walmart
(d) More than half of the above

Is 'yellow fin tuna salad glitzy Hollywood star restaurant menu item' interpretable?

(a) Yes, but only if it is type e rather than type (e, t)
(b) Yes, this is one of my preferred items on glitzy Hollywood star restaurant menus.
(c) Sure, it combines with determiners, as in 'more than two-third of the yellow fin tuna salad glitzy Hollywood star restaurant menu items were unavailable yesterday'
(d) Yes, it is interpretable. In fact, most constructions in which it occurs are system 1 not system 2, which means that even a small child can grasp them (witness 'yellow fin tuna salad glitzy Hollywood star restaurant menu items rarely make you sick' and 'yellow fin tuna salad glitzy Hollywood star restaurant menu items carry the West Nile Virus'.
(e) Yes, but I am wondering what to say about 'the four yellow fin tuna salad glitzy Hollywood star restaurant menu items available Thursday morning from 10 to 11 and Friday evening before Friday's episode of Jeopardy but after regular school hours at the local school in East New Brunswick were unavailable Friday at 9 p.m. when we suddenly found ourselves in the mood for something fishy'

Salerno on Factive Mental State Operators

Joe Salerno has an interesting criticism of the main thesis of Williamson's book Knowledge and its Limits. The main thesis is that 'know' is the most general factive mental state operator. Joe argues that 'S could have known that' also satisfies Williamson's tests for being (i) factive, (ii) most general, and (iii) a mental state operator.

Laurence Jonathan Cohen (1923-2006)

Jonathan Cohen, who is particularly well-known for his accomplishments in philosophy of language, died last week. The Guardian has an obituary for him (hat tip: TAR).

Stanley on Un-American Universities

Jason Stanley has an interesting post arguing that American universities are responsible for developing "one of the most impenetrable class hierarchies in the first world".

Back to Work

I am back from my shore excursions, back to classes, papers, emailing, blogging, and what have you. Regular posting at Lemmings will resume shortly.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Another Mini-Hiatus

For the next few days I will be at a workshop at Rutgers. Lemmings will be fairly quiet during that time.

Women Read Philosophy and Drink Syrah

Hat tip from Language Log:

The Microsoft adCenter Labs' "Demographic Prediction" tool allows you to "use adCenter technology to predict a customer's age, gender, and other demographic information according to his or her online behavior -- that is, from search queries and webpage views." Interestingly, it predicts that 69% of those who search for or read philosophy sites are females!

Here are some other interesting results:

Mathematics: 57% females
Science: 59% females
Physics: 54% females
Literature: 68% females
Syrah: 57% females

Weapons: 58% males
Guns: 63% males
War: 57% males
Race cars: 73% males
Beer: 56% males

Tensing the Copula

Last night I re-read David Lewis' Tensing the Copula. The article is a reply to two solutions to the problem of temporary intrinsics.

The problem of temporary intrinsics is this. Material objects, like you and me, have different properties at different times. At t1 Brit is bent-shaped, and at t2, she is straight-shaped. But if the properties of being bent-shaped and straight-shaped are had simpliciter and they are really properties and not relations, then 'at t1 Brit is bent-shaped' must entail that Brit is bent-shaped. And 'at t2 Brit is straight-shaped' must entail that Brit is straight-shaped. So, Brit is both bent-shaped and straight-shaped!

Lewis first considers Mark Johnston's solution. Johnston suggests that the copula is temporally modified. So, 'at t1 Brit is bent-shaped' translates as 'Brit instantiates-at-t1 the property of being bent-shaped', and 'at t2 Brit is straight-shaped' translates as 'Brit instantiates-at-t2 the property of being straight-shaped'. Lewis dislikes this proposal because it does not account for how we can have properties simpliciter. Brit does not have the property of being bent-shaped. She has-at-t1 the property of being bent-shaped.

Sally Haslanger suggests that the proposition that Brit is bent-shaped is true at some times and false at others. Lewis replies that this proposal presupposes endurantism (i.e., the view that objects persist by being wholly present at different times). However, I think he is wrong about this. The proposition expressed by the sentence 'Brit is bent-shaped', relative to a context, contains the referent of 'Brit'. If endurantism is true, the referent is a three-dimensional enduring object. If perdurantism is true, the referent is a worm. It can still be true with respect to one time that Brit -- the worm -- is bent-shaped, and false with respect to another time. All it takes for the worm proposition to be true at t is that the relevant t-part of Brit is bent-shaped.

The temporal propositions solution does not presuppose endurantism. Rather, it is neutral in disagreements among different metaphysical proposals. And that I take to be a virtue of Haslanger's proposal. The problem of temporary intrinsics can be solved without taking sides!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

America's Money-Addicted and Legacy-Loving Universities

Jason Stanley has posted a link to this very interesting article from the Economist over at the Leiter Reports. The article is a review of Daniel Golden's book The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges - and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates. As the article reports, Golden's book draws attention to the fact that in many cases students are admitted into elite universities, not because of their intellectual abilities, but because they happen to be related to (in)famous politicians, rich alumni, or other "legacies". The article also points out that poor whites and members of minority groups are frequently "held to higher standards" than the sons and daughters of the "legacies".

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Another Anonymous Referee

Joe Salerno recently discovered that the anonymous referee to which Fitch credited the knowability paradox was Alonzo Church. As Joe reports here, Loeb's paradox was also credited to an anonymous referee.

Philosophers' Carnival # 36

is here.

Back from Syracuse

I am back from my trip to Syracuse. Regular posting at Lemmings will resume shortly.

Update: Adam Patrick Taylor took some pictures. Click here.

A New Solution to the Knowability Paradox


Joe Salerno has an interesting post on the knowability paradox over at Knowability. The knowability paradox is this (this is Jon Kvanvig's take on it). Suppose, for reductio, that all truths are knowable but that not all truths are known. Then there is a truth p, such that p & p is unknown. This truth is knowable. So, assuming that 'know' distributes over conjunction, it is possible that (p is known and it is known that p is unknown). So by the factivity of 'know', it is possible that (p is known and p is unknown). Contradiction. So, it is a theorem that if all truths are knowable, then all truths are known (assuming classical logic). But we also know that if all truths are known, then all truths are knowable. So, it is a theorem of classical (epistemic) logic that all truths are knowable iff all truths are known. QED.

The equivalence is prima facie puzzling. But, Joe argues, Nicholas Rescher's Epistemic Logic (2005) gives us a simple reason to believe that it is a logical truth that there are more truths than knowables. We can think only a countable number of propositions but there are uncountably many truths. So, there is nothing puzzling about the equivalence. Both sides are logical falsehoods.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


For the next few days I will be at Syracuse giving a talk. Lemmings will be fairly quiet during that time.

My Favorite City Name

City of Truth or Consequences

Institutions Hinder Women in Academia

From New York Times:

Old-fashioned institutional structures present an obstacle to women in science and engineering. This was the conclusion of an expert panel, assembled by the National Academy of Sciences. The conclusion appeared in the report "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering".

The panel reports that the lack of women in academic jobs in science and engineering is due to pervasive biases in academic institutions and "arbitrary and subjective" evaluation procedures. The panel recommends that universities change their procedures for hiring and tenure.

Lawrence H. Summers, a former president of Harvard, claimed last year that the lack of women in top science programs is best explained on the assumption that women are born intellectually deficient. The expert panel dismissed this idea. New York Times reports that they attempted to reach Lawrence H. Summers for comments but his spokesman reported that he was out of town.

The expert panel also dismissed the idea that women drop out of science programs or fail to get hired by top universities because they are less prolific than men or spend too much time away from academia.

Though it is difficult to say how philosophy compares to science and engineering, a good guess is that institutional structures present an even greater obstacle to women in philosophy. How great an obstacle remains to be seen. I hope the American Philosophical Association will assemble an expert panel of its own to investigate the issue.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Call for Papers: Knowability and Beyond (Salerno)

[cross-posted from Knowability]

CALL FOR PAPERS (May 1, 2007)

Knowability & Beyond
Special issue of Synthese
  • Can there be non-actual knowledge of what is actually the case?
  • Is the concept of knowability basic or is it semantically decomposable into knowledge and (alethic) possibility?
  • Should an intuitionist find a way to express an existential commitment to some ignorance and undecidedness?
  • Are there more truths than knowables?
These are possible topics for a special issue of Synthese that I will be editing. For a description of the issue and further details please go here.

Thomas Sattig: The Language and Reality of Time

I've posted a rough draft of my review of Thomas Sattig's The Language and Reality of Time on my webpage. I am going to let it sit there for a while before I hand it over to Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. If you think something crucial is missing, please don't hesitate to let me know. The review raises an objection to Sattig's regional instantiation account. It then offers a brief defense of an account of temporal predication that is somewhat similar to the so-called "intensional account of predication", considered and rejected by Sattig. The objection to Sattig's position was mentioned in an earlier post at Lemmings. The predicational account defended is similar in crucial respects to the predicational account offered by David Kaplan in "Demonstratives".

Dissertation on Modality

As Kai von Fintel points out here, Valentine Hacquard's Ph.D. dissertation Aspects of Modality (MIT, 2006) is now on-line. I haven't read it yet. But it looks awesome.

Certain Doubts on the Move

Jon Kvanvig's group blog Certain Doubts has moved with him to Baylor.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Kratzer on Situation Semantics

I followed Kai von Fintel's brilliant advice and read Angelika Kratzer's new entry on situation semantics in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is indeed a very nice survey of the literature on situation semantics. Along the way, Kratzer offers replies to historically important objections to situation semantics, for example, Soames' arguments from attributive uses of definite descriptions and mid-sentence domain shifts, which he offered back in the mid-80s. She also offers arguments for thinking that natural language quantifies over situations. Consider, for instance, the following sentences (from Kratzer):

(1) If, whenever it snowed, it had snowed much more than it actually did, the town plow would have removed the snow for us.

(2) Whenever it snowed, some local person dreamed that it snowed more than it actually did, and that the local weather channel erroneously reported that it had snowed less, but still more than it snowed in reality.

Kratzer thinks that examples like (1) and (2) indicate that "natural languages have the full power of object language quantification over situations" (p. 15).

Since the 80s situation semantics has not been overly popular among philosophers of language. But Kratzer's piece gives us a good reason to think that it should be.

Jenkins on Flirting

Carrie Jenkins has a fun paper on the philosophy of flirting coming out in the Philosophers' Magazine. Click here or here.

New Lemming Blog

Mind Reader, a new blog devoted to mind, phenomenology and cognitive science, is well worth checking out. But unless I missed something, the administrator has not yet revealed his or her identity.

First there was the anonymous blog commentator, now the anonymous blog administrator.

Non-Plagiarized Term Papers for Sale (Salerno)

From this NYT article one learns that Term Paper Relief has the highest moral standard in the business of writing terms papers. At a bargain rate of $9.95 per page they promise a product that is "completely non-plagiarized". This must be a great relief to their customers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sattig on Endurantism and Property Abstraction

I am currently working on a review of Thomas Sattig's book: The Language and Reality of Time (Oxford UP, 2006) for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. This is a preview.

As the views are standardly characterized, endurantism is the view that objects persist by being fully present at different times, whereas perdurantism is the view that objects persist by having temporal parts at different times. On the most popular version of the latter view, temporal parts just are spatio-temporal regions. Endurantists insist that objects are never identical to spatio-temporal regions.

Sattig develops a new endurantist view according to which objects persist by being fully present at different spatio-temporal regions. Moreover, objects have properties at times insofar as the spatio-temporal regions they occopy at those times have these properties simpliciter. This view has some unexpected consequences, for example that spatio-temporal regions can be female, be happy, be married, be conscious, believe that it is raining, feel that the room is too hot, be mad at their spouse, and so forth.

Sattig does a very good job explaining why these unexpected consequences of his view are not counter to our intuitions (the explanation turns on the fact that spatio-temporal regions, on his view, do not have the properties at times)

However, Sattig notices a problem for his view: property abstraction. Consider the following sentences:

(1) John is happy
(2) John is such that he is happy
Or: John has the property of being a thing x such that x is happy

Property abstraction is widely regarded as a valid move. But, as Sattig observes, it appears to make trouble for his view. Consider:

(3) At t, John is identical to John.

By property abstraction, we get:

(4) At t, John is such that he is identical to John.
Or: at t, John has the property of being a thing x such that x is identical to John.

But if John has this property at t, then the spatio-temporal region he occupies at t has the property of being a thing x such that x is identical to John simpliciter. But surely only John can be identical to John.

Sattig notes that the problem of property abstraction is a problem, not just for his account, but also for perdurantism. He then offers the following solution.

Property abstraction -- e.g., the move from (1) to (2), or the move from (3) to (4) -- is indeed valid, but it is trivially valid. For (2) just has the same logical form as (1), and (4) just has the same logical form as (2). In other words, (2) and (4) are pleonastic paraphrases of (1) and (3).

I think, however, that this way of viewing property abstraction is problematic. Consider the following sentence:

(5) Every one of the students is happy

(5) contains a partitive noun phrase that embeds a definite description. By property abstraction we get:

(6) The students are such that every one of them is happy.
Or: The students X are such that every one of X is happy.

But it is widely agreed that sentences like (5) have the logical form given by (6). To arrive at the logical form of (6), we need property abstraction. Property abstraction reflects genuine syntactical movement. Since there is plenty of evidence for the syntactical movement in question, there is also plenty of evidence against the view that the logical form of (4) is very different from its surface form.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Baby Monkey

This baby monkey is so so cute.

Cappelen and Lepore's Sensitivity Tests

In chapter 7 of Insensitive Semantics Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore offer a number of tests for context-sensitivity. Here are a couple of examples of the kind of test employed by Cappelen and Lepore. Consider the following utterances:

John: I am hungry.
Mary: I am hungry.

Brit: #John and Mary said/believe the same thing.

Since it is inappropriate to conclude that John and Mary said/believe the same thing, it cannot be that John's and Mary's utterances semantically express the same proposition. So, on the assumption that 'hungry' is context invariant, it must be that 'I' is context sensitive.

Consider another case:

Ernie: I am hungry
Herman (reporting): #Ernie believes I am hungry

If Herman aims at reporting Ernie's belief, he is clearly unsuccessful. This suggests that 'I' is context-sensitive. For if 'I' were not context-sensitive, then the semantic content of 'I am hungry' would be the same regardless of whether 'I am hungry' is embedded or unembedded.

After considering a number of such tests Cappelen and Lepore show that expressions like 'tall', 'know', and so on, fail the tests. This indicates that these expressions are not context-sensitive.

In his reply to Cappelen and Lepore John Hawthorne notes that expressions like 'nearby' and 'local' seem to fail the tests for context-sensitivity in spite of the fact that it is very plausible that they are context-sensitive. Consider, for instance, the following exchanges:

Ernie: I am at a local bar.
Herman: Ernie believes he is at a local bar.

Ernie: A nearby restaurant has good Thai food.
Herman: Ernie believes a nearby restaurant has good Thai food.

These exchanges seem fine. If Cappelen and Lepore's tests are good indicators of context-sensitivity, the felicity of the exchanges suggests that 'local' and 'nearby' are not context-sensitive. However, Hawthorne thinks denying that 'local' and 'nearby' are context-sensitive is absurd. For instance, it is widely agreed that the content of 'local' depends on the perspective salient in the discourse context. Thus, an occurrence of 'John went to a local bar' can mean that John went to a bar that is local to him, that John went to a bar that is local to the speaker, that John went to a bar that is local to the hearer, and so on. Expressions like 'local' and 'nearby' are what Francois Recanati and Anne Bezuidenhout call 'perspectivals'. Their content will depend, not on the speaker's location, but on a location that is relative to the perspective salient in the discourse context.

If perspectivals fail the tests for context-sensitivity, then it is open to argue that expressions that fail the tests (e.g. 'tall' and 'know') are perspectivals in Recanati's and Bezuidenhout's sense as well. This would be bad news for semantic minimalism and good news for moderate contextualism. The only concession defenders of moderate contextualism would need to make is that 'tall', 'know', and so on are perspectivals (in the mentioned sense) and not indexicals.