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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.