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Saturday, March 31, 2007

Reflections on My Talk at SLU

I had a great time at SLU yesterday. During my lunch with Eleonore Stump I learned that Eleonore is currently working on issues related to my work on knowledge-wh. Eleonore is especially interested in the neurobiological grounding of knowledge-how and objectual knowledge -- an approach which I find very fruitful. My own approach is primarily linguistic.

My talk went well. One issue that came up during Q & A concerned my analysis of knowledge-how. I treat knowledge-how as a species of knowledge-wh. The reason for this is that it is merely a fluke in English that 'how' is not a wh-word (in old English, old Nordic and Danish 'how' is a wh-word -- that is, it is not strictly speaking a wh-word but rather the equivalent of a wh-word in those languages). So, an adequate analysis of knowledge-wh should be extendable to knowledge-how. In my paper on knowledge-wh I offer a general analysis of knowledge-wh and knowledge-how which is based on my previous analysis of pseudo-clefts. On my analysis, 'wh' clauses are predicates. Two examples:

On my analysis, 'John knows what Mary did at 3 p.m.' cashes out to 'there is an x such that John knows that x is what Mary did at 3 p.m.'

And 'John knows how to play the piano' cashes out to 'There is a w such that John knows that w is how to play the piano' (this instance of my general analysis is very similar to Stanley and Williamson's analysis of knowledge-how)

Most of the questions after my talk concerned my analysis of knowledge-how. Among other things it was pointed out by Scott Berman, Jim Bohman, John Greco, Michael Barber, Joe Salerno and others that John may not know how to play the piano even if there is a w such that he knows w is how to play the piano. My immediate reaction was to refer to the gap between knowledge states and knowledge reports. After the talk Michael pointed out that there is a kind of ambiguity in 'knowing how' (not a lexical one). Sometimes we use 'knowing how' to talk about an ability to do something, and sometimes we use it to talk about knowing-ways (or in some constructions: degrees, as in 'John knows how difficult this task is'). That seems right to me. What I wonder is: how do we analyze 's knows how to F' in the ability sense? (compositionally, that is) Any ideas?

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

SLU Talk

I have uploaded a new version of my paper on knowledge-wh to my webpage. It is available here. This is also the paper which will form the basis of my talk at SLU on Friday.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Modes of Existence

I now have a draft of my review of Modes of Existence, which I am reviewing for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. The first 12 pages are mostly summaries of the essays (Mulligan, Raspa, Kroon, van Inwagen, Varzi, Reicher, Barbero, Orillo, Spolaore). The last 6 pages are friendly criticisms of Achille Varzi, Giuseppe Spolaore, and others. The very last part is an (overly sketchy) extension of David Chalmers' 2Dism to fictional and perceptual reports. Comments welcome!

Singpurwalla to Maryland

My friend and former colleague Rachel Singpurwalla (currently at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville) has just accepted a tenure track offer from University of Maryland, College Park.

Friday, March 23, 2007


Jon Williamson has started a new venue for short pieces called The Reasoner.

Adam Taylor is organizing a grad conference on powers, dispositions and singular causation.

Also check out this post on the overcrowding problem by Adam Taylor.

And this post on concepts by Jesse Butler.

Thursday, March 22, 2007


Just got back from the Knowledge and Questions Conference in beautiful Nancy - just east of Paris. In spite of the fact that I had to spend 4 days in Charles De Gaulle Airport on my way back to St. Louis because of Continental Airlines' less than brilliant overbooking policy and bad weather in Newark, I had a really great time. Franck Lihoreau did a fantastic job organizing the conference, and need I say that the food was unforgettable? I learned that Claudine Tiercelin caused something of a revolution in the French University system when she proposed that Russell's work should constitute one of the major components of the comprehensive exam which many French college students need to pass before graduating. Claudine currently holds a visiting position at Fordham University (in addition to her permanent position in Paris). Claudine is well-known for her work on Peirce's logic and is also making important contributions to variouos areas of mainstream analytic. I am a huge fan of Claudine's work on Peirce. She is one of the world's best (if not the best) Peirce scholars.

What else? I finally got a chance to meet Paul Egre (actually, I met him briefly at a book event organized by Hendricks and Pritchard last year in Portland). Paul's paper concerned the question of why wh-clauses embed only under "factive" (or deictic) verbs. Pascal Engel gave a super-interesting talk on the knowledge account of assertion which Timothy Williamson has famously defended, and Ian Rumfitt talked about knowledge and logical consequence. Among other things, he rejected Edgington's suggestion that the consequence relation is one that preserves truth under a priori implication.

Another paper that I rather liked was Maria Aloni's paper on de re attitudes. Maria offered a new 2Dish account of de re attitude ascriptions. As mentioned earlier, a rough draft of my own paper is available here. The papers from the conference are scheduled to appear in a special issue of Grazer Philosophische Studien.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Nancy, France

I am off to the Knowledge and Questions Workshop in Nancy, France. I have included the program below. My paper is available here.

Thursday 15th March
12.00—14.00 Registration, Coffee
14.00—14.10 Conference Welcome
14.10—15.20 CLAUDINE TIERCELIN, "The Fixation of Knowledge:
Pragmatist Parries to the Skeptical Challenge"
15.20—16.30 PAUL EGRÉ, "Epistemic Verbs and Embedded Questions"
16.30—16.50 Coffee Break
16.50—18.00 MARIA ALONI, "The Pragmatics of Questions and Attitudes"
20.30 Conference Dinner

Friday 16th March
9.30—10.40 JONATHAN SCHAFFER, "Knowing the Answer"
10.40—11.00 Coffee Break
11.00—12.10 BERIT BROGAARD, "What Mary Did Yesterday. Remarks on Knowledge-wh"
12.10—14.00 Lunch
14.00—15.10 IAN RUMFITT, "Knowledge by Deduction"
15.10—16.20 PASCAL ENGEL, "Asserting, Asking and the Norm of Knowledge"
16.20—16.50 Coffee Break
16.50—18.00 CHRISTOPHER HOOKWAY, "Questions, Problems, Inquiries"
18.00 Conference End

Philosophers' Carnival # 44

... is here.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007


Exciting news: I am going to ANU next year. They offered me a Research Fellowship in connection with David Chalmers' "The Contents of Consciousness" project. I am really looking forward to joining this excellent program.

Monday, March 05, 2007

1-Intensions and Strict Epistemic Possibility

Here is a problem I have been struggling with for the last couple of weeks. Suppose we assign the following truth-conditions to 'for all S knows, p might be the case'.

'For all S knows, p might be the case' is true iff there is a scenario v such that v is compatible with what S knows, and the 1-intension of 'p' is true at v.

For simplicity's sake, suppose scenarios are sets of enriched propositions, and suppose a scenario v is compatible with what S knows iff every enriched proposition in v has a 1-intension that is compatible with the 1-intensions of S's knowledge mental states.

This account seems to give us the right result in the simple cases. Suppose I don't know that water is H20. Then there is a scenario, namely the XYZ scenario, which is compatible with what I know and in which the 1-intension of 'water is not H20' is true.

But, now, here is the problem. Suppose I use 'water' and 'H20' interchangeably but fail to know that this is so. Then, since I do not know that I use 'water' and 'H20' interchangeably, it is plausible that I do not know that water is H20. So, it is strictly epistemically possible for me that water is not H20. But, as I use 'water' and 'H20' interchangeably, it is not deeply epistemically possible for me that water is not H20. In other words, 'water is not H20' is compatible with what I know but not compatible with my use of the words 'water' and 'H20'.

The problem now is this. The account of strict epistemic possibility just offered makes use of the notion of 1-intension. However, the 1-intension of a sentence S is a function from deeply epistemically possible scenarios to truth-values (see David Chalmers' work on this). As strictly epistemically possible propositions may be deeply epistemically impossible, the notion of 1-intension should not play a role in an account of strict epistemic possibility. But how then do we deal with strict epistemic possibility? I am pretty much stuck here. Any suggestions?

Sunday, March 04, 2007

Alexandrova Accepts Offer

Exciting news: Anna Alexandrova turned down the post doc at Wash U and accepted the position at UMSL instead.

Ernie Lepore on the Heresy of Paraphrase

Ernie Lepore gave a super-interesting talk at SLU Thursday. The talk was about the heresy of translation. According to the heresy, when a poem is translated, something gets lost in translation. As Lepore pointed out, there seems to be a simple refutation of the heresy (I am quoting from the handout):

Suppose someone utters the sentence S in a poem. If S is meaningful, then it expresses a thought or an idea or a proposition or whatever -- call what it expresses p. Why couldn't another sentence S' be introduced to express p, regardless of whether it occurs in a poem or in a patch of prose?
The idea is this. We ought to be able to express the content of a poem in a different language. Just translate the poem word for word, and you should be able to preserve the content. Yet it surely seems that something got lost along the way. Lepore thinks that what gets lost is what he calls 'the vehicle of articulation'. To see the difference between an expression and a vehicle of articulation, consider the following sentences (from Lepore):

(1) 'red' is an English word

(2) 'red' is one word in English, another in Danish, and none in Italian

In (1) 'red' is an English word, in (2) it is a vehicle of articulation which expresses a color word in English, a past tensed verb in Danish, etc. The vehicle of articulation is different from the expression. Vehicles articulate expressions. Expressions have semantic values, vehicles don't.

Now, some expressions can only be expressed with one vehicle. Quotation expressions, for example, cannot pick out different things. Unless you use a name (e.g. 'Jason') to refer to 'Quine', 'Quine' can only be expressed with "Quine". "Quine" carries the semantic value with it. That is, the thing we quote is contained in the quotation expression. According to Lepore, quoted expressions create hyperintensional contexts. Consider, for instance:

(3) 'bachelor' is the first word in 'bachelors are unmarried men'

(4) 'unmarried man' is the first word in 'bachelors are unmarried men'

Even though 'bachelor' and 'unmarried man' are synonyms, substitution is illegitimate in a quotation context. According to Lepore, poetry is in important ways similar to quoted expressions. If you substitute a synonym for a word in a poem, something may get lost. Like quoted expressions, poems create hyperintensional contexts. Substitution into the context of a poem is illegitimate. Lepore concluded that the heresy got things exactly right. Some poetry is not simply about the content but is about the vehicle of articulation. For this reason, poetry can only be translated with great difficulty, and something usually gets lost.

Thursday, March 01, 2007

On Adam's Counterexample to Modus Tollens

Ernest W. Adams famously offered the following counterexample to modus tollens:

If it rained, it didn't rain hard.
It rained hard.
So, it didn't rain.

Obviously, this is not a counterexample, given a logic 101 reading of the indicative conditional. Rather, it is a counterexample, given an intuitive assignment of truth-values to the premises and the conclusion. On an intuitive assignment, it seems that 'if it rained, it didn't rain hard' and 'it rained hard' may both be true. But the conclusion seems false, given the premises.

Notice that we get the same result with a subjunctive instead of an indicative:

Should it rain, it won't rain hard.
It is raining hard.
So, it is not raining.

The subjunctive in the first premise is a so-called future subjunctive, which differs pragmatically from the past and pluperfect subjunctives, for example the past and pluperfect subjunctives introduce a counterfactual implicature). With a future subjunctive, the argument seems invalid. But the appearance is an illusion. If it is raining hard in reality, it is not true that it doesn't rain hard at the closest worlds at which it rains. For the closest worlds at which it rains will include the actual world. So, if the second premise is true, then the first premise is false. Now, on a possible world account of the indicative conditional, Adams' argument fails for the very same reasons. I take that to be a virtue of a possible worlds analysis of indicative conditionals. But obviously more needs to be said about how to avoid certain problems that arise on a possible worlds analysis of the indicative.

Here is one such problem: if subjunctives and indicatives have the same truth-conditions, why is 'if Oswald didn't kill Kennedy, someone else did' acceptable when 'if Oswald hadn't killed Kennedy, someone else would have' is not? Edgington suggested that the difference turns on a difference in the tenses. I think that story is plausible.

Another problem is to account for the difference between pairs of conditionals such as 'If Kerry had won the election, the actual U.S. president would have been a democrat', which seems false, and 'if Kerry won the election, the actual U.S. president is a democrat', which seems true. Solutions have been suggested by e.g. David Chalmers, Brian Weatherson and Daniel Nolan. Weatherson and Nolan suggest that the evaluation world (the "A-world") may fix the reference of the expressions in indicative conditionals. That's an interesting idea but it does seem to have some odd implications. For example, 'If language didn't exist 80,000 years ago, then language existed 80,000 years ago' comes out true. Chalmers' two-dimensional account seems to fare better, as it avoids this consequence. On his account, language doesn't have to exist at the scenarios used to evaluate indicative conditionals.

Adams, E. W. "Modus Tollens Revisited", Analysis 48 (1988) 122-128.


Joe reports on some riots in Copenhagen.

Joe also has a new post on the old puzzle: if you were to call a horse's tail a 'leg', how many legs would a horse have? I especially enjoyed the picture of the five-legged horse.

Jonathan Ichikawa has an interesting post on apriori metaphysical possibility over at the Splintered Mind.