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Thursday, January 31, 2008

Advice from the Scientists

Young Female Scientist offers some interesting reflections on what she thinks she ought to have done differently early on in her career.

Female Science Professor offers advice on what not to include in your research statement.

Am I a Woman Scientist reflects on perceived intelligence.

I don't know if all of this carries over to philosophy. But I am sure some of it will be of interest.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

MacFarlane, Kratzer-Conditionals and Knowing What You Ought to Do

At the AOC conference John MacFarlane gave a paper (co-authored with Niko Kolodny), defending an assessment-sensitive semantics for 'ought'. In MacFarlane-style assessment-sensitive semantics the truth-value of utterances will depend on features determined by the context of assessment and not just on features determined by the context of utterance and circumstance-shifting operators. Thus, my utterance of 'John ought to pay his bill' may have different truth-values, depending on who is considering it for truth.

The paper is very rich. I can't cover all the details. But the paper includes, as part of its defense, a Kratzer-inspired theory of indicative conditionals. On the theory in question, conditional 'ought'-statements are always narrow-scope rather than wide-scope. So, the conditional 'if I get drinks in the bar, then I ought to pay' has the correct form with the 'ought' taking narrow scope. 'It ought to be the case that if I get drinks in the bar, I pay', on the other hand, must be paraphrased as 'if I get drinks in the bar, I ought to pay'.

I have one concern about this account of conditional 'oughts', which piggybacks on John Broome's concern about narrow-scope conditional requirements. Consider the conditional 'ought' statement:

(1) If I (sincerely) assert the sentence 'there is a department meeting this afternoon', then I ought to believe that there is a department meeting this afternoon.

(1) seems true. After all, there is supposed to be a close connection between assertion and belief. But now consider the following scenario.

Scenario:
I have strong evidence that there is no department meeting this afternoon but I assert 'there is a department meeting this afternoon'.

Since I asserted that there is a department meeting this afternoon, it would seem that I ought to believe that there is a department meeting this afternoon. And since I have strong evidence that there is no department meeting this afternoon, it ought to be the case that I don't believe that there is a department meeting this afternoon. So, it ought to be the case that I believe and don't believe that there is a department meeting this afternoon. But this can't be right. So, something must have gone wrong.

MacFarlane rejects modus ponens. So, the following inference form is not unrestrictedly valid:

If I assert 'there is a department meeting this afternoon', then I ought to believe that there is one.
I assert 'there is a department meeting this afternoon
So I ought to believe that there is one

So he can avoid the unfortunate consequence. But there is an alternative move available. Broome's move. Broome allows for wide-scope 'ought' statements (or 'requirement' statements but I am here focusing on 'ought' statements). So, it is not quite right that if I assert 'there is a department meeting', then I ought to believe that there is one. Rather, it ought to be the case that if I assert 'there is a department meeting', then I believe that there is one. Moreover, detachment fails. So the following inference is invalid:

It ought to be the case that if I assert 'there is a department meeting', then I believe that there is one
I assert 'there is a department meeting'
Hence, I ought to believe that there is one

Of course, Broome could allow the following inferences:

It ought to be the case that if I assert 'there is a department meeting', then I believe that there is one
I ought to assert 'there is a department meeting'
Hence, I ought to believe that there is one

It ought to be the that if I assert 'there is a department meeting', then I believe that there is one
I assert 'there is a department meeting', and it is not the case that I ought not to assert 'there is a department meeting'
Hence, I ought to believe that there is one

My main concern with the MacFarlane move (i.e., his theory of conditionals) is that on the assumption that the first sentence is a narrow-scope 'ought' statement, the following instance of modus ponens seems exceedingly plausible:

If I assert 'there is a department meeting this afternoon', then I ought to believe that there is one.
I assert 'there is a department meeting this afternoon'
So I ought to believe that there is one

However, as we have seen, if we accept just this one instance of modus ponens, then we can derive a contradiction in the envisaged circumstances.

Here is a second potential worry about MacFarlane's (and Kolodny's) account. For MacFarlane, possible world-states are states compatible with what is known (by the assessor). The ideal world-states are a subset of the possible world-states (the set of the most ideal states). Now, consider 4-year old Mary. Her mom has told her that if her pants are on fire, she ought to pour water on them. She truly believes but doesn't *know* that if her pants are on fire, she ought to pour water on them, and she doesn't know that liquid hydrogen is distinct from water. So, in some of the possible world-states (where Mary is the assessor), water = liquid hydrogen and in others water is not identical to liquid hydrogen (since she doesn't know about the identity). Moreover, since she doesn't know that if her pants are on fire she ought to pour water on them, water = liquid hydrogen in some of the ideal possible world-states, and in some of those states, Mary's pants are on fire and she pours liquid hydrogen on her pants (causing an explosion). Assuming 'she ought to' and 'she is permitted to' are duals, it follows that if Mary's pants are on fire, she is permitted to pour liquid hydrogen on her pants, which seems unintuitive (even when she is the assessor).

For further discussion of MacFarlane's paper, click here and here.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Princess Mary and Hendricks at the Award Ceremony


Vincent Hendricks receiving the Elite Research Prize by Crown Princess Mary.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Elite Research Prize to Vincent Hendricks

This afternoon Vincent F. Hendricks, Professor of Formal Philosophy at Roskilde University, Denmark and Editor-in-Chief of Synthese, will be awarded the Elite Research Prize by the Danish Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation and Her Majesty, Crown Princess Mary. The prize, which is by far the biggest (1.000.000 Danish Kroner, approximately $200.000) and most prestigious prize of its kind in Denmark, is awarded by the Danish Government to the most outstanding national researcher who in an extraordinary way contributes to strengthening Danish research internationally.

The award ceremony takes place at The Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen on January 24, 2008, 2:30 – 6.30 pm.

For more information about the prize and the ceremony, click here.

For more information on Professor Vincent F. Hendricks, click here.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Philosophers Carnival # 61

... is here.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Weatherson on Influence

At the AOC conference Brian Weatherson gave a paper on causation defending a disjunctive account. The paper begins by considering various causative statements, e.g. 'John opened the window'. It then argues that the obtaining of the special causal relation that obtains when a causative statement is true is sufficient (but not necessary) for causation.

The other disjunct (or sufficient condition) is influence. Influence differs from causal dependence. An event E causally depends on a prior event C iff if C hadn't occurred, then E wouldn't have occurred. Causal dependence is sometimes taken to be a necessary constraint on influence. However, for C to influence E, it must also be the case that if C had occurred at a different time, then E would have occurred at a different time, and if C had occurred differently, then E would have occurred differently. Weatherson argues that causal dependence is not a necessary constraint on influence.

However, I think this latter assumption is problematic. Here is a potential counterexample. Suppose there is an evacuation "test" event during which a number of American residents are evacuated out of America (Brian is one of them), and suppose Brian moves to Rutgers right after the evacuation event (a bit later than he otherwise would have).

The evacuation event is not the cause of Brian moving to Rutgers. Yet if the evacuation event had occurred at a different time, then we can imagine that Brian's move would have occurred at a different time as well (we can set up the case that way). Moreover, if the evacuation event had occurred differently (suppose e.g. that Brian was not one of the chosen ones), then his move to Rutgers might have occurred differently as well (e.g., it wouldn't involve a trip from overseas).

The right kind of response to this example, I think, is to take causal dependence to be a necessary constraint on influence. Brian would still have moved to Rutgers even if the evacuation event hadn't occurred.

Of course, if we *do* take causal dependence to be a necessary constraint on influence, then we need to find a way to avoid counting the following sort of causal claim as true:

(1) 2 + 2 = 4 and the evacuation event (as described above) are the joint cause of Brian's move to Rutgers.

On the standard Lewisian account of counterpossibles, 'if 2 + 2 weren't 4, then Brian wouldn't have moved to Rutgers' is vacuously true. So, if causal dependence is a necessary constraint on influence, and influence is sufficient for causation (Brian agrees to the latter), then (1) is true. So we want to rule out that counterpossibles are vacuously true across the board (but, as Joe and I argued at the conference, there are ways to do that).

Friday, January 18, 2008

Visibility in Philosophy

Vincent Hendricks recently gave a talk to his new PhD-students on how to gain visibility in philosophy. You can download his slides here.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Chairing Principles

There are many different theories about how best to chair a session. Disagreement arises in particular when it comes to the principles for determining the order in which people get to speak. Some will simply put people on the list in the order that they see them raise their hand---but remember, seeing is theory-laden. Others will invoke more sophisticated principles, for instance, pick people in the back before picking people in the front or pick people to the left before picking people to the right, and so on. In Arizona Agustin Rayo (aka 'Augustin Reyo') would punish people who raised their hands one second too late (the slow ones didn't get to ask follow-ups, etc.), and Ned Markosian put people whom he thought had already spoken too much in earlier sessions at the end of his list. Both Agustin and Ned were punished for these practices. Here is a picture of Agustin being punished.

And then there is the whole hand vs. hand + finger debate. In Arizona the hand + finger fans were out-voted by the hand fans. Why be a hand + finger fan? Because sometimes people are just dying to jump in in the middle of a discussion. So the hand + finger procedure could save lives. Why be a hand fan? Because the finger procedure can lead to finger-abuse, finger-nails and finger-f ...ing. Finger-abuse is the process of using your finger to ask your real (and completely unrelated) question because you are too impatient to wait your turn. A finger-nail (an expression invented by Dave Chalmers) is a follow-up on a follow-up and is bound to be irrelevant to the original question. And finger-f...ing (a term of art invented by Jonathan Schaffer) is finger-abuse of the most severe kind. Finger-f...ers use their finger so much that it causes others to be pushed off the list because the session runs out of time. We then say that he or she has been finger-f...ed.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Pics from AOC

Our pictures from the Arizona Ontology Conference are now up. Joe has further details on some of the talks. More details later.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Live from AOC

This is me on my horse Viking. Carrie took the picture. For some live blogging, check out Joe's post over at Knowability.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Greetings from AOC


Hello folks. We are having a blast at the Arizona Ontology Conference. Yesterday we rode our horses to the cook-out site, where Andy Agan gave his talk. Scooter (my horse last year) was busy. So, I got to ride a horse called 'Viking' (very fitting). Nice horse. Likes to run off the trail if at all possible. Went on the fast ride today. It was a mountain ride. Very exhausting (for the horse). Wanna see some pictures from the conference?. Go to Carrie's site. The cool cowgirl in the picture is Laurie Paul (followed by Stephie Lewis). Carrie is the master photographer. More details and photos will follow soon.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Peter Hewitt Hare (1935-2008)

I am deeply saddened to learn that my former teacher and mentor Peter Hare, highly influential contributor to the study of American Philosophy and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Buffalo, has passed away. Peter was a wonderful teacher and person, fun to be around and fun to speak to. Whenever I had a conversation with Peter, I always left feeling inspired and full of hope and optimism. He will be truly missed.

UPDATE: Peter died from a pulmonary embolism that may have been caused by a clot that developed on a plane trip. Obituaries can be found here, here, here and here.

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Greetings from the Northern Hemisphere

Alright, so happy new year everyone! Just returned (to somewhere in Jersey) from an intense meeting in Baltimore. Met up with old friends and gave a talk on quantifiers (will get the paper up soon). Jason offered some really nice comments. Party last night in Baltimore. Had too many cups of Henry's imported whiskey and left the room without my cell phone. Did you ever see Curious George -- the cartoon? The man with the yellow hat hides George in his no-pet-policy apartment but the door-man has a nose for monkeys and rides the elevator one floor at a time 'til he finds the monkey-contaminated apartment. That was me. Had already gotten down to the lobby-level and had no idea which room the party was in. Couldn't call anyone. Wanted my cell phone back. So, I went from floor to floor. Found a room with loud music and philosophy-talk (or so I thought). Wrong one. Found another one. Got it right this time around. Got my cell phone. Oh man, was I hung-over the next day (the day of my talk, of course). Anyway, that's life. Now back in Jersey, working. Some side-trips to Arizona and some other places soon. New Year's eve -- oh, well -- had to miss out on Dave's cool pool party at his new house in the woods. Attended some sleazy east coast party instead. Anyway, happy happy new year everyone. And all you Canberra friends, hang in there, we will be back soon :-)

New Year Links

A bunch of new Compass articles are now available, including my own on attitude ascriptions.

Automatic Press/VIP now has its own visibility online with all the interview books listed.

Check out this new super-interesting-looking paper on the swamping problem by Duncan Pritchard.

The Reasoner 2(1) is now available. New submissions welcome (100-1000 words)

Possibly Philosophy -- that's Andrew Bacon's new blog. Looks very promising and will no doubt be of interest to readers of Lemmings.

New issue of EPISTEME now available

EPISTEME
Volume 4, Issue 1, 2007
Editor: Alvin I. Goldman

Special Issue: Epistemic Relativism
Guest Editor: Frederick F. Schmitt

List of contents and abstracts available here