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Saturday, December 12, 2009

PhilPapers Survey: Classical or Non-Classical Logic?

For me one of the most surprising results in the PhilPapers Survey was the result of the logic question. In the target group 51.5% accept or lean towards classical logic, whereas 15.3% accept or lean towards non-classical logic. For all respondents, the distribution was: 44.3% versus 20.1%. I have seen people around the web say that they were surprised that so many accept or lean towards non-classical logic. So, let me explain why I was surprised that the numbers were not higher for non-classical logic.

First, as many commentators on the web have pointed out, philosophy undergraduate students often mistakenly believe that if you adhere to classical logic, you are required to treat corresponding English expressions accordingly, for example, they believe that you are required to treat the indicative conditional as a material conditional. Sometimes their logic teachers are responsible for inducing this belief in them. In any event, this belief often motivates undergraduate students (and some graduate students) to reject classical logic, or at least it has motivated many of my undergraduate students. What were the numbers, then, for undergraduate students? Hugely different from the target group: 37.3% accept or lean towards classical logic, whereas 26.7% accept or lean towards non-classical. But there is still a majority for classical logic.

Second, and more importantly, I would have thought that the target faculty had interpreted the question: "Logic: classical or non-classical?" as meaning "What do you believe is the correct logic for reasoning?". If you have a consistent premise-set, you will do well if you reason according to classical logic. But if you have an inconsistent belief-set, you will do terribly if you reason according to classical logic. Hence, classical logic cannot be the correct logic for reasoning in general. But perhaps the question was predominantly read as meaning: "What do you believe is the correct logic for reasoning, given a consistent premise set?". And, I am sure there are other more sophisticated ways of reading the question that can explain the attraction of classical logic.

Third, it's surprising that the numbers for the "other" category were so high. When I have talked to people in the target faculty about logic, a fair number have been sympathetic to logical pluralism. A common view is that we cannot narrow down the number of correct logics to one. But the question wasn't about whether or not we can narrow down the number of correct logics to one. The question was about whether classical or non-classical logic is correct in some respect, which was not specified. Perhaps if you are a logical pluralist, you will answer "neither". But even those who are logical pluralists could have read the question as "What do you believe is the correct logic for reasoning given some arbitrarily chosen premise set", in which case "non-classical logic" would have been an appropriate answer.

These are some of the reasons I was surprised by the results for the logic question. I want to raise a different, but not unrelated, point. At first I was very surprised that so many philosophers don't have determinate views about core issues. I think this mostly explains my errors in the metasurvey. But, on second thought, this is probably not what is going on. Rather, what is going on is that most questions have readings that will make a fair number of philosophers with determinate views say "other". The issue came up on the message board on PhilPapers discussing the surveys. David Bourget was surprised by the results for mental content. David Chalmers responded that one could hold that internalism about mental content is correct and yet think that some mental content is wide. But I bet some philosophers who hold the same views as Chalmers answered "other" to the mental content question, for this exact reason. I did not do that myself, but I considered doing it. In fact, for all of the questions, this sort of ambiguity may have explained the high numbers for the "other" category. For example, for the logic question, people might have thought that if they picked "classical", they would rule out the possibility that it sometimes might be preferable to reason in accordance with non-classical logic.

One final point: I have not yet mentioned the growing interest in the logical paradoxes as a factor. The logical paradoxes are sometimes used to motivate non-classical logic. However, it is not obvious to me that a significant number of philosophers take the paradoxes to motivate non-classical logic. Whether the paradoxes do do this is a very interesting and difficult question. It cannot be answered without saying what we mean by "correct logic". Perhaps languages come with a consequence relation. If this is so, then the Liar paradox may well be used to motivate the view that the consequence relation in English is non-classical. But there are lots of other options too. A recent attractive view is that the semantics for English, despite being inconsistent, is classically closed (variations on this view are held by, e.g. Kevin Scharp, Doug Patterson, Kirk Ludwig and Matti Eklund). Personally, I am more attracted to non-classical inconsistency views. I do not think non-classical inconsistency views entail dialetheism. I think one can take English to be inconsistent, closed under a paraconsistent consequence relation, and yet hold that all contradictions are logical falsehoods (but not logical truths). In terms of the "other" category on the survey, I suspect that if the growing interest in the paradoxes had any influence on the results at all, then it would have been in terms of placing more people in the "other" category.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

PhilPapers Surveys: Preliminary Results

The preliminary results of the PhilPapers Survey and Metasurvey have now been made public. I will have more to say about these results shortly.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Deadline Extended for Philosophical Survey

The deadline for the Philosophical Survey and the Philosophical Metasurvey has been extended to Tuesday Dec 3, 2009. You can read about the surveys here.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Philosophical Survey

David Chalmers and David Bourget are conducting a philosophical survey on people's views on philosophical issues. You can read about the survey here. Note that the closing time for the survey is November 23 at 7 AM New York time. So today is your last chance to complete it.

Journal Survey

The Northern Institute of Philosophy plans to run a journal dedicated to the publication of short philosophical papers within the core areas of the analytic tradition. They are currently conducting a short survey to determine whether there is general interest in a journal of this kind. The survey can be found here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pre-Central Workshop

The Philosophy Department at Northwestern will hold a one-day Epistemology conference, on the theme of the Epistemology of Testimony, on Northwestern’s Evanston Campus on Wednesday, February 17, 2010 (just before the Central APA). The conference is free and open to the public.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Müller-Lyer Illusion

Particularly nice demonstration of the Müller-Lyer Illusion.

Survey on Publishing

Sally Haslanger has created a survey on publishing. She will be on an APA panel in NY to discuss publishing issues, and would like to have some data to discuss. It should take about 10 minutes. It will be useful to have your CV handy as you fill it out. You can find the survey here.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Reasoner 3(11)

The latest issue of The Reasoner is now freely available for download in pdf format here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The 2010 Synthese Conference: CFP

Two news items from Vincent Hendricks:

On April 15th and 16th of 2010, the Synthese Conference will take place at Columbia University. The 2010 edition of the Synthese Conference will focus on the theme of epistemology and economics. Recent years have seen an increasing amount of interaction between epistemology and economics: traditional topics in epistemology, such as the analysis of knowledge, have found a significant role in the study of interactive decision making, while traditional topics in economics, such as the analysis of rationality, now figure prominently into certain areas of epistemology. We anticipate that the conference program will include slots for five invited papers and at least five contributed papers. Every paper that is presented at the conference will be considered for the special issue of Synthese that will be based on the conference theme of epistemology and economics. The list of invited speakers is still being finalized. In the meantime, we encourage submissions for the contributed slots. Submissions should be relevant to the conference theme of epistemology and economics, broadly construed, and should satisfy the usual guidelines for submissions to Synthese. Submissions for the contributed slots must be received no later than February 1, 2010. Notifications of acceptance will be made by February 20, 2010. All submissions should be sent to .

The Synthese Editors-in-Chief: Johan van Benthem, Vincent F. Hendricks and John Symons

The Local Organizing Committee: John Collins, Haim Gaifman, Jeff Helzner and Philip Kitcher

Vincent, who is Professor of Formal Philosophy at University of Copenhagen, has taken up a permanent position as Visiting Professor at Columbia University in New York.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Northern Institute of Philosophy

The NIP (Northern Institute of Philosophy) is now up and running. Links here and here. Posts at different levels - postdoctoral and professorial research fellowships - will be advertised shortly (HT: Luca Moretti).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Cleverly Painted Donkeys

Story here (HT: Judy Crane).

Thursday, August 20, 2009

22nd European Summer School

The website for the


is now available here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Video from Jack Smart Dinner

Tribute to Ned Block, who gave the Jack Smart Lecture at the ANU on June 30, 2009.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Philosophiles on Wild Rapid in the Colorado River

This is too good not to post:

Kent Bach and his wife Claire on the wildest rapid in the Colorado River. Their J-boat comes into view at the 3:06 mark.

Kent and Claire are sitting high and right. At the 3:44 mark, you can see Claire, on the right side of the raft, getting jerked backwards when she loses her grip during their dive into a big crater. No more telling me that philosophers of language are unadventurous!

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Entry on Descriptions

I have uploaded my entry on Descriptions for Oxford annotated biblios to my website. If you have any comments or suggestions, please don't hesitate to email them to me.

Monday, May 25, 2009

FoodTongue: Interview with Alan Huang

Alan Huang is a three- (soon to be four-) time alum of the Canada/USA Mathcamp, where the language FoodTongue started about five or six years ago. Alan learned FoodTongue just prior to his first Mathcamp, and he helped create the most recent dictionary, which is more or less all written in FoodTongue.

Brit: Hi Alan! In a sentence or two, what is FoodTongue?

Alan: Depending on the speaker, it's either a bold experiment in language design or a creative specimen of Mathcamp randomness (or an unnaturally long-lived bad idea, for certain non-speakers).

Brit: Can you tell us a bit more about the entries in the lexicon of FoodTongue? Is there a purely conventional connection between the symbols of the language and the entities referred to? Or is there a system or pattern which you follow when new words are introduced? Or is there an even closer connection between the symbols of the language and the entities referred to than that?

Alan: There's no general rule by which words are related to their meanings. Speakers are free to create any new words they need to express ideas, and the methods by which foods have been chosen include sound in English or other languages (lobster), properties of the food (popsicle), specific references (pie), related words (ketchup/mustard), themes (names of games), and randomness (Ice Cream).

Many words are thus easier to remember than if meanings were attached to random food names. Occasionally conflicts arise, but as FoodTongue evolves, ambiguous, hard-to-remember, and uncommon words tend to be replaced. The system also works well without a central authority -- the dictionary may be the closest FoodTongue has to one, but it's designed as a wiki so that it can respond to changes in the language, as opposed to instigating them.

Brit: What is the syntax like? Is the syntax that of English? Or does it have its own syntax? The phonology obviously must be that of English.

Alan: First of all, there's no inflection in FoodTongue, since there aren't many endings to add on to English nouns. (The obvious choice is to pluralize, but that has not been used yet. There has been discussion on grouping related foods; for example, if grape is a verb, raisin could be the future tense. But that was deemed infeasible.) So FoodTongue usually follows normal English word order (subject - verb - object, preposition - noun, etc.), and everything else (such as tense, number, and person) is done with separate words. However, grammar is still quite free-form as long as it's understandable, and speakers may have different styles based on preference or other languages they know. For example, a sentence that literally means "want have" would be understood as "I want to have it". A special case is music and poetry (of which there do exist FoodTongue examples). Since FoodTongue words tend to have more syllables compared to English translations, words are often omitted or moved to fit the meter.

Brit: Can you ascribe propositional attitudes to others in FoodTongue? You mentioned "want"-reports above. What about other attitude ascriptions? For example, can you say "I know that p", "I believe that p", "I hope that p", "I love that p", etc? More generally: is there a way of expressing tense and modality in the language? Can you talk about what once were the case but is no longer? Can you talk about what will be the case? Can you talk about what is merely physically, metaphysically or logically possible? Can you talk about what is logically impossible? If so, how do you do that?

Alan: All such constructions are usually just implemented with subordinate clauses, e.g. "I want that you be here". There are words for verbs like "think", "know", "love" and helpers like "should", "can", "must", which can be used with such clauses (or independently). Essentially everything else that's possible (and I don't know if some modals are in concise ways) is done explicitly, with words like "maybe" and "in the past" / "now" / "in the future". For example, "it PAST be, but NOW not" means "it was once the case, but no longer", and "not can be that..." means "it is impossible that".

Brit: Do you have ways of expressing indicative conditionals (e.g., "if John is home, then I will pay him a visit"), subjunctive conditionals (e.g. "if I had been a Mathcamper, I would have known FoodTongue"), conditional probabilities (e.g. "the probability that it will rain given how clowdy it is is 0.8"), etc?

Alan: There is no distinction between indicative and subjunctive conditionals; the difference is determined through knowledge and context. Probabilities are expressed by modifying "maybe", e.g. "if he NOW not be here, he big-maybe small-FUTURE be" would be understood as "if he is not here now, he will probably be here soon", but whether he is here now (and whether the speaker knows) is unstated.

Brit: Could you also say something about indexicals ("I", "now", "here"), demonstratives ("this", "that"), quantification ("there is an ...", "for all x") and anaphora (e.g., "A man entered the door. He took off his hat") Do you have a word referring directly to the speaker or the time of speech? Do you have words that refer only when accompanied by a demonstration (e.g. by an index finger or a gaze). Can you quantify over things as in "there are at least 30 people who are fluent speakers of the language"? Are there anaphors that refer to an entity already referred to, as in "The TV is in the living room. But it is broken".

Alan: There are words for "I" / "you" / "he/she" (plurals are formed by prepending "all"), "in the past" / "now" / "in the future", and "here"/ "there". Demonstratives are handled by "here" / "there" or by the word for "one", which serves generically either to specify or to refer to nonhuman objects ("one book be good; one be big and" means "this book is good; it is big also"). Humans are referred to by the pronoun "he/she". All of these words can also be specified nonverbally (e.g. a gesture in person, or a picture in a blog entry).

There is one relative pronoun ("that") and one interrogative (which can take a noun, as in "what person"). Quantifiers are expressed with "be x that y" and "all x y". When referring to mentioned entities, "one" and "he/she" may be omitted if understood. For example, "should talk he/she; be here" could mean "you should talk to her; she is here".

The word for "and" has several other meanings, including "add", "also", "so", "then", and "more". Comparisons and such use "and" (in the sense of "more") and/or an adjective or adverb followed by the relative pronoun (acting as "than"). For example, "and that 30" means "at least 30"; "and big that Dan" or "big that Dan" means "bigger than Dan". It sounds confusing as I write it, but in practice it's quite natural.

One caveat -- numbers. Usually, all numbers greater than four are lumped into "many". Thus, "at least 30 people speak FoodTongue" would simply be translated "many person talk food-tongue". When relatively small numbers must be named, as in specifying Mathcamp 06 / 07 / 08, the numbers will be added together ("four and two", etc.). There is a base-five system that uses zero through four, but it's not really in common use.

Brit: How is the language used? Is it used only in writing on certain internet sites? Or is it also spoken when you meet other speakers of the language?

Alan: FoodTongue is probably most often spoken on the Internet. Speakers often make blog entries or have IM conversations containing (or entirely in) FoodTongue. However, it may also be heard whenever speakers meet in person -- likely math and science competitions, university events, and Mathcamp itself, where it's seldom difficult to find someone speaking or teaching FoodTongue.

Brit: What was the reason for inventing the language? Was it started as a kind of experiment? There is something very secretive about the language. What is that all about?

Alan: The language started at Mathcamp 2004. I was not there, so my source is the first FoodTongue dictionary, distributed in that year. One evening, at a gathering of campers, the idea came up of trying to communicate entirely with food words. Soon the campers formed a basic vocabulary, and began teaching others. At that first meeting it was decided, as noted in the dictionary, that FoodTongue should not when possible be explained in other languages, which has remained a central principle. So it's not that the language is being kept secret, but that questions asked about it often cannot be answered.

Brit: Why have a principle to the effect that FoodTongue should not when possible be explained in other languages? Was it because you wanted the language to develop naturally?

Alan: As I said, I was not present at FoodTongue's creation, but I suspect that because it grew out of a suggestion to communicate entirely with food words, there was a desire to maintain that ideal by not bringing in other modes of verbal communication. As Waffle [Eric Wofsey] said, "The goal of Food Tongue is not to be understood. The goal is to communicate within a restricted framework." Or perhaps there is a tradition at Mathcamp to confuse people by not explaining things (but also to willingly demonstrate for those who show interest). Whatever the case, those who have learned FoodTongue since its inception have also been willing to continue upholding the principle. I think that as it's often brought up as a matter of following the spirit of the language, there's an element similar to suspension of disbelief, where speakers agree to abide by the rules or risk breaking the experience. It should also be noted that there is no restriction on discussing FoodTongue in other languages, only on explaining individual words.

Brit: So how did you manage to acquire FoodTongue prior to your first Mathcamp? Did you have a mentor?

Alan: The best way to teach FoodTongue without violating its spirit is in person, because gestures and other nonverbal communication are allowed. I was taught it before Mathcamp 2006 by a friend who had gone in 2005, and he demonstrated many of the words for me (for example, pointing at his watch to show the word for time). I should note that the *new* dictionary is written in FoodTongue -- the first dictionary, which I mentioned before, has two-way translations between English and FoodTongue. Clearly, this violated its own principle, so it was decided (I believe) that the dictionary should only be used by fluent speakers, as a reference. (The stated goal of the dictionary was to reunite some dialects that had arisen, for which breaking the principle was useful.)

Brit: What do you use the language to talk about? All sorts of topics? Math? The language itself?

Alan: FoodTongue generally doesn't have the vocabulary needed to delve deep into any field (although agglutination and calquing may produce approximations), but anything it has words for (or that words can be created for) is fair game, from talking about school to playing a card game. If anything, FoodTongue is particularly suited to Mathcamp culture; some words (grapefruit, smarties) refer to concepts specific to Mathcamp, and a few of those have become the primary means of naming those concepts (meatloaf, starfruit), at least among my friends. In practice, conversations may switch into and out of FoodTongue regardless of the subject at hand (or for gratuitous Mathcamp references).

Brit: How many people would you say master the language? Or is it hard to say? Can anyone join the forums where the language is spoken?

Alan: This is a tough question, and I doubt anyone has an accurate count. I personally know at least 30-40 people who would answer to their FoodTongue names; of those, up to a dozen are in my IM contacts and regularly converse with me in FoodTongue. But these are mostly Mathcamp alumni from 2007-2008; I know next to nothing about those from 2004-2006, and I'm also not the best-connected in my corner of Mathcamp. In theory, there's nothing preventing anyone from learning FoodTongue. However, the three main barriers are knowledge, interest, and teaching.

First, FoodTongue has probably spread little beyond Mathcamp, so many people who may be interested have never heard of it. Second, although many speakers try to teach friends the language, they are unfortunately often uninterested. Finally, as I noted, FoodTongue is best taught in person, and very difficult otherwise unless pictures are used (assuming the principle is adhered to). Most teaching thus goes on at Mathcamp, where each summer a handful of campers learn FoodTongue from alumni. This seems sufficient to keep the language alive, and indeed it shows no signs of dying just yet, but it is still limited in its reach.

Brit: It is obviously fun to learn a new language and to be able to speak a different language. But do you think that FoodTongue might also serve any practical purposes?

Alan: I have not seen any uses of FoodTongue for which it is particularly suited. That said, I think generally FoodTongue has as much practical use as any other natural language. It has sufficient vocabulary to describe everyday life concisely, especially at Mathcamp. But FoodTongue is probably spoken more for its principles and for itself than for any external purpose. Speakers enjoy being part of the community and communicating within the restrictions -- which is good, because short of aliens visiting Earth who share none of our physical features but somehow eat the same foods, I can't think of any situation in which it would uniquely useful.

Brit: Do you know of any other languages which are like FoodTongue? How does it compare to international languages like Esperanto? How does it compare to secret codes used throughout history by e.g. intelligence agencies?

Alan: So first of all, FoodTongue is certainly not an international language. It's spoken by people who already know English and much of it, from the vocabulary to word order, comes from English. The words are easy to learn because they're English food names, and the meanings are easy to remember largely because they have associations in English. (Of course, it's possible to create foreign equivalents by translating all of the food names; for example, "Pomme langue baguette-langue" is a valid sentence in French FoodTongue.)

I think the property that mapping a subset of a language (food words) into a complete language in itself sets FoodTongue apart from many languages. It may be similar to some codes, but it's not suitable for secrecy as it is -- many words are easy to figure out, and even if disguised as a grocery list it's usually obvious there's a hidden meaning. FoodTongue is probably most similar to games played by children in which they redefine words (for example, Tolkien's Animalic).

Brit: I once compared FoodTongue to so-called Lagadonian languages in which objects, properties, reletions etc. are names of themselves. Obviously, FoodTongue is not a Lagadonian language. However, I wonder whether there is any interesting similarity between FoodTongue and Lagadonian languages? Any thoughts?

Alan: As I noted before, it's possible to translate all the food words into another language, while expressing the same ideas. There may have been some dispute over the issue, but my view is that FoodTongue is theoretically independent of the words used to express it. That is, the concept of me is expressed by the concept of apple, not the English word "apple" (or the French word "pomme"), even if the concept was apple was chosen to represent the first-person pronoun because of associations of the English word "apple". It is thus possible to create a salad that's a valid FoodTongue sentence, though it may be a rather weird salad. Although the foods are abstract -- the concept of me is represented by the concept of apple, not a specific apple -- this interpretation is similar to the original Lagado, in that representations of concepts are not tied to any specific spoken, written, or physical form.

Brit: How do you predict that FoodTongue will evolve in the future?

Alan: As I understand it, after FoodTongue was invented at Mathcamp 2004, almost nobody learned it in 2005, but it became much more popular in 2006. In the first dictionary there are many words that have fallen out of use (some of which have been redefined), and there are many words that I use for which it includes no equivalent. Unlike with natural languages, once campers leave the population (graduate from Mathcamp), they maintain contact with friends from camp. A possible scenario is that every few years the FoodTongue spoken at Mathcamp will have shifted, and the alumni from those years as they move on will still speak it as they did as campers. So while the language continues to evolve at camp, multiple age-separated groups of speakers will form, still mutually intelligible but with visible differences in vocabulary and perhaps philosophy. I don't know how likely this is, though.

Brit: Do you have any advice to people interested in learning the language?

Alan: The best advice to people interested in FoodTongue is to contact someone who knows it. The wiki is designed so that it's possible to learn from scratch entirely using that site, but it's much easier to have a speaker walk you through (preferably in person). One of the things I learned from making the wiki is that there are significant numbers of people even at Mathcamp who are interested in the language but have not had a chance to learn -- so talk to a speaker, or someone who can refer you to one.

Brit: Thank you, Alan! To the interested reader: You can contact me via email if you want me to pass on your contact info to a speaker. No anonymous requests will be considered.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

SEP Entry

A new (summer 2009) edition of our Stanford Encyclopedia entry on the knowability paradox is now online.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Gender-Specific Emotions

There is a very interesting post on gender and emotions over at Feminist Philosophers. JJ mentions that she believes that the gender-specificity of emotions and emotional responses is often ignored in the mainstream literature on emotions. She also indicates that the different reactions of men and women to professional criticism might be partially responsible for the sort of male dominance often seen in our profession.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Annotated Bibliography on Color

I have uploaded my entry on Color for Oxford annotated bibliographies to my website. If you have any comments or suggestions, don't hesitate to email them to me.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Truth Conference

There is a great-looking conference taking place right now at University of Connecticut. If you are in the area, you might want to check it out. Speakers include: Michael Lynch, Marian David, Crispin Wright, Max Kölbel, Gila Sher, and others (HT: Cory Wright).

Friday, May 08, 2009

Is Self-Knowledge Necessary for Happiness?

Simine Vazire, who is assistant professor of psychology at Wash U in St. Louis, is going to offer answers to this question in the future over at Psychology Today.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Helene Lucy Dwyer (1941-2009)

I am very sad to report that Helene Lucy Dwyer passed away on Thursday, April 23, 2009 from ALS. To those who knew her Helene Dwyer was not just a dear friend, but someone whose example set her apart as truly admirable. She never advocated for herself — just her fervent beliefs about human and animal suffering. The philosophical world has lost a quiet philosopher of first standing who will never be forgotten.

Her obit is here.

(Thanks to Alan White for the pointer)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

On Philosophy Blogging, with Gualtiero Piccinini

Gualtiero Piccinini blogs at Brains.

G: What prompted you to launch a philosophy blog?

B: I was giving a talk in Aberdeen in Scotland in July 2006 and had a pub conversation with Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Carrie Jenkins, John Hawthorne and others about blogging. One side led by Walter argued that blogging was too time-consuming to be a worthwhile enterprise both for authors and readers. The other side led by Carrie argued that blogging was just an extended and more public version of emailing that could benefit both authors and readers in various ways. I was on Carrie's side, and to make my opinions a bit more believable I decided to start my blog, Lemmings, upon my return. I am very happy I did.

What prompted you? And why did you decide to turn it into a group blog?

G: It must have been fall of 2005. I knew some philosophers, such as Matt Weiner, who had started blogs. I was curious. One day I noticed a book on blogging on my wife's boss's bookshelf, so I borrowed it. The author turned out to be a right wing nut arguing that blogging was a way to defeat the democrats.

At the time, he was not obviously wrong - democrats were barely recovering from John Kerry's defeat in 2004. He was wildly wrong in the long run, though. Left wing blogs like Daily Kos have many more readers than their right wing counterparts and are credited with helping build the progressive movement that turned the political tide in America.

Anyway, the book's author also argued that blogging is a helpful tool, and that everyone should blog. I decided to give it a try. I started my blog, Brains, in December 2005. Within a few months, a reader and fellow philosopher of mind pointed out that there was no group blog in philosophy of mind. He suggested that I turn Brains into a group blog. He said he'd like to contribute. He actually took more than two years to write his first post! But many others have contributed in the meantime.

You said you are happy you started your blog. What are the benefits?

B: I use my blog to announce conferences, calls for papers, and other related events, to post pictures from conferences and to inform readers when I upload new papers to my website. It's also a great place to try out new ideas and get feedback on my work. Blogging makes people aware of your existence. I like to think that I write for an audience. Sometimes the audience consists of just a few referees. However, blogging increases the chance that your work gets read. Certainly, my citation indices went way up after I started my blog. I also suddenly got more invites to volumes and conferences. And more people became interested in my work. But blogging also has other more important benefits. It's a great way to increase awareness of the inequalities which still exist in our profession, for instance, awareness of the sort of male favoritism that is characteristic of the field as a whole. Some larger (or smaller) blogs familiarly serve other purposes as well, for example, they announce philosophy jobs and moves and discuss problems internal to the profession (e.g. unprofessional refereeing practices).

What are the benefits for you? Do you think some of these benefits will disappear as the popularity of alternative ways of sharing one's interests with others, for instance Facebook, increases?

G: I agree with your list of benefits. I also find blogging useful to find and connect with other people interested in my area, and to promote ideas that I find worthwhile and underappreciated. By the way, I enjoy your posts against male favoritism. I'd like to think I don't have that bias, but it's good to be reminded of it, so I can counteract it when I can.

I don't think Facebook and other tools change the usefulness of blogging. Facebook is a way to communicate with "friends", whereas blogging is a way to communicate with anyone interested in the topic. They serve different purposes.

Can you say more about your audience? What do you know about them? Do you track their number and location?

B: I used to look very closely at my stats but I have lost interest in them lately. I do occasionally look at them but now mostly at overall numbers. I have about 200 hits a day, more when I actually post and when others link to my posts and less when I take a break from blogging. About 70% of my readers are from the US and Canada, about 20% are from Australia and Great Britain, and about 10% are from other countries. I get really excited whenever I see a new country on the list. Today and yesterday I had readers from the US, Great Britain, Unknown, Canada, Australia, Germany, Hong Kong, Denmark, Holland, Norway, Spain, New Zealand, Czech Republic, China, Malaysia, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Italy, Thailand, Romania, Sweden, France, Colombia, Austria, Israel, Serbia and Montenegro, Costa Rica, Portugal, Peru, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Turkey, India, Russian Federation, Pakistan, Iran, Islamic Republic, Belgium and Switzerland. It's exciting that there are people all over the globe who actually have an interest in reading my posts. It's almost like having friends all over the globe, except I usually don't know who they are. But they know me — they know what I think, what I do, what I like, and what I look like, and they can communicate with me by commenting on my posts or by sending me emails — and they often do. I like corresponding with people in all sorts of ways. Even though a lot of my correspondence is professional, corresponding with people is also my hobby. It's what I like to do.

What are your readers like? And what are your co-bloggers like? Have you had any trouble cooperating with your co-bloggers?

G: My readers are like yours, I think. People with some interest in the topic, from all over the world — mostly from industrialized countries. Some faculty, some students, some others. My co-bloggers are 22 faculty and students interested in philosophy of mind and related sciences. Some are old friends of mine, others are simply readers who asked to contribute. I made new friends that way!

If anyone who seems competent asks me to be a contributor, I am happy to give them an account. Their name appears on the side bar after they publish their first post. If I had more time, I would invite more people to contribute. Hopefully some day I will. I've never had any problem with contributors, and only rarely with commenters. Sometimes I get spam comments — either people trying to advertise something, or people who spout nonsense about a post. I moderate the comments, so none of the spam appears on the blog.

One of the common objections I hear is that blogging takes too much time. This is not at all my experience. I spend very little time blogging — maybe one or two hours a week — and when I do, I often get good feedback that is very much worth the time. How do you feel about this? How much time does blogging take away from you?

B: These days just an hour or two a week, but when I was more active on the blogging scene I would spend a few hours a day. I like to contribute to other blogs too. I glance at at least 20 blogs a day and scrutinize maybe three of them. I like to know what's going on. And it's interesting how the style and content can vary from blog to blog, or even from post to post on the same blog. Sometimes reading blogs is like reading celebrity gossip columns and other times it's like reading professional philosophy or science journals or newspapers. There are also those blogs that are more like diaries. I totally dig those. They are cool. Not many philosophy blogs are like that, though. And those that are like that tend to be anonymous, for good reasons. Here are a few of my favorites:

I also really like this blog for its uniqueness:

Maybe some day I will start an anonymous live journal. Or maybe I already did :-) What are your blogger aspirations? Do you aspire to become bigger? To write on more general topics? To gain more influence on the practices of our profession?

G: I’m busy enough with the philosophy of mind and related sciences. I’d like the field to become more rigorous and move towards a greater integration of psychology and neuroscience. The empirical side of the field is still largely framed by the ideas of the old greats: Fodor, Dennett, the Churchlands, etc.; Classical computationalism vs. connectionism. But this is a confused and simplistic dichotomy! They established the field, but they left many foundational issues unresolved and poorly understood. I think we have the conceptual tools and empirical evidence to make progress; we just need to deploy them carefully and see where we can go with them. There are a bunch of young people, including several Brains contributors, who are working on foundational issues. Some of them are still in graduate school. Blogging helps spreading the word, I hope. If I find some time, I might try to build Brains into a bigger blog, with more contributors. Or maybe someone else will read this and volunteer to help? There is a lot to do!

What about you? Where do you go from here, blogging-wise?

B: I would like to blog more about male favoritism and other kinds of favoritism in philosophy. Before I had tenure I thought it was a bit risky to blog too much about these issues. But I guess I can do what I want now. Now I just need to find the time to do it. My hope is that blogging about these issues can change things around in our profession. I hope that when I retire in 40 years, there are 50% women in most top philosophy departments, 50% women among the highest paid philosophers, 50% women contributing to volumes and journals, etc. As it is now, there are about 21% women in top philosophy departments, 0 - 10% women among the highest paid philosophers, and about 15% female contributions to mainstream philosophy volumes (I just got done making the calculations for Oxford volumes and hope to write a post about this soon). I hope blogging about these issues can help to change this picture.

I am off to Vancouver now. But I do have one last question before leaving. If someone out there wants to start a blog, what should they keep in mind? Which mistakes should they avoid? Any other useful advice to potential or actual bloggers?

G: Consider joining a group blog and practicing a bit. (If you work in philosophy of mind/psychology/neuroscience and you have something interesting to say, join Brains :-).

For some people, contributing to a group blog might be enough. If there is no group blog in your area, start one! If you want to start your own blog, aim at quality and look for an edge (a specialty, a different perspective, etc.). Finally, link to other blogs and online sources and ask others to link to your blog. The more connected you are, the more readers will find you.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Inconsistency Theories of Semantic Paradox

Here is a short review I just wrote of "Inconsistency Theories of Semantic Paradox".

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Do they mean it?

A few pics from Vancouver here, here and here.

Saturday, April 04, 2009

Face or Word?

Friday, April 03, 2009

Hendricks to University of Copenhagen

Vincent F. Hendricks will take up a position as Professor of Philosophy at the University of Copenhagen, Department of Philosophy, August 1, 2009. Hendricks is Editor-in-Chief of Synthese and received both the Elite Research Prize from the Danish Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation and the Roskilde Festival Elite Research Prize in 2008. He was previously Professor of Formal Philosophy at Roskilde University, Denmark.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Joscha Sauer Cartoon

(HT: Adam Taylor)

Friday, March 20, 2009

A Couple of Links

1) Pictures from Russell V.

UPDATE: Alastair has uploaded some great pics. They can be found here.

2) And here is a short review which I just wrote of Nicholas Griffin and Dale Jacquette, ed., Russell vs. Meinong: The Legacy of "On Denoting".

MIT's Open Access Policy

As Kai von Fintel explains here, MIT faculty have just voted unanimously in favor of a non-exclusive policy that allows MIT to make faculty members' final preprints freely accessible. I am impressed. I hope other universities, including my own, will follow suit.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Lee Walters on Counterfactuals and Context

(Partial cross-posting from the comment section of a post over at Matters of Substance)

Lee Walters has an interesting paper responding to a paper I co-wrote with Joe Salerno on counterfactuals and context last year. One of Lee's objections is that "once the role of context for Lewis is properly understood, strengthening and the rest [of the argument forms normally claimed to be invalid for counterfactuals] are invalid as Lewis himself claimed". This is exactly what we argue is not the case. Once the role of context is properly understood, this is not the result we get. Consider:

(1) If the speed of light hadn't been constant, then the physics books would not have been mistaken.

(1) has two readings. On the false reading, the physics books would have been the way they actually are. So, the closest worlds are worlds where the speed of light is not constant but where the physics books are just the way they actually are, and hence wrong. On the other reading, even if the speed of light hadn't been constant, the physicists would have been as intelligent as they actually are. So they wouldn't have had the evidence they actually have, and they wouldn't have written the books they actually wrote. So, (1) is true.

The problem, of course, is that a similarity metric that just prioritizes facts about the intelligence of physicists is compatible with the closest worlds being ones where the speed of light isn't constant but where everything else is as close as possible to the way it actually is. So physicists have the same intelligence and the same evidence as they actually do, the books are the way they actually are, and so on. To get the true reading of (1), the similarity metric must specify a large number of facts, including facts about the production of physics books.

But now consider (2) below. To evaluate it non-vacuously, we must bracket a number of these prioritized facts.

(2) If the speed of light hadn't been constant but the world had been just the way it actually is in nearly all other respects, then the physics books would not have been mistaken.

Since we have to bracket prioritized facts in order to evaluate (2) non-vacuously, we are in some sense changing the context when we evaluate it. A context in a Stalnakerian sense is most naturally defined partially in terms of the set of facts that the conversationalists hold fixed. One can, of course, insist that this is the wrong notion of context. But the dispute then is a dispute about what the correct notion of a context is. Why isn't moving in the space of ordered worlds and hence bracketing prioritized background facts just a way of changing the context? After all, to evaluate (2) non-vacuously we have to suppose (for the sake of evaluation) that these prioritized facts do not obtain. That is just a way of changing the context, given our preferred notion of context. But now, when we keep the context fixed, then strengthening etc turn out valid.

Lee claims that "Brogaard and Salerno’s mistake then, is to move from the fact that “the set of contextually determined background facts must remain fixed” (42) to the thought that on Lewis’s semantics these facts must hold at all the worlds relevant to assessing counterfactuals within that context."

However, this is not a mistake. Bracketing prioritized facts for the sake of evaluating a counterfactual non-vacuously just is a way of changing the context. Moving in the space of ordered worlds amounts to bracketing prioritized facts and hence amounts to changing the context, given our preferred notion of context. Note that we are not suggesting that there can't be an overall similarity metric. We are simply suggesting that when we move in the space of ordered worlds, the context may shift. So, our approach is not simply a strict conditionals approach.

Later in the paper Lee claims: "We could, however, consider Brogaard and Salerno not as drawing out a consequence of holding context fixed within Lewis’s semantics, but rather as rejecting Stalnaker-Lewis semantics."

This is a charitable (and somewhat correct) reading of our paper, at least if he takes us to be rejecting the idea that one can bracket prioritized facts in order to evaluate counterfactuals non-vacuously without changing the context at least temporarily.

Lee also says:

"the conclusion of (Wet Match) concerns what would have been the case, if, contrary to fact, the match had been soaked overnight. To hold fixed the fact
that it has not been soaked overnight, is to miss what it is that we are concerned with."

Not true. We allow for context-shifts in our semantics. So, we don't miss "what it is we are concerned with". The conclusion obviously triggers a shift of context.

Lee further claims:

"the following argument is valid for Brogaard and Salerno since one of the background
facts held fixed when considering the premiss, is that the coin landed heads.

If you had bet heads you would have won
Therefore, if the coin had come up tails, it would have come up heads and
you would have won

We do not reason like this and have no interest in counterfactuals assessed in this way."

Exactly. We do not reason in this way. But what this shows is that we don't keep the background fact that the coin landed heads fixed when we evaluate the conclusion. Of course, we don't. We allow context to shift. Lee's case is not a counterexample to our proposal.

Lee also holds that we mis-evaluate the following counterexample to MP:

If a Republican were to win, then if Reagan were not to win, Anderson would win.
A Republican will win.
So, if Reagan were not to win, Anderson would win.

He thinks that we mistakenly have Lewis assign the truth-value true to the first premise. But this is not a mistake. At the closest worlds at which a Republican wins and Reagan does not win, Anderson wins. So (1) is true. Of course, Lee might insist that we have to evaluate the first premise differently. He might insist that we have to go to the closest world where a Republican wins (the actual) and then to a world where Reagan doesn't win. Carter wins there (as he was second in polls though not republican). But that would defeat the purpose of a contextual semantics that is claimed to capture intuitive truth-values. Our semantics has the advantage over the standard one that it does not entail a rejection of MP.

In conclusion Lee says: "we have no interest in counterfactuals assessed a la Brogaard and Salerno".

As we explain in the paper and in an earlier comment over at Matters of Substance, epistemic contextualists seem to assume it. Moreover, a Stalnakerian notion of a context seems to push us in this direction, as I explained earlier in this post.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Metaphysics of Mind Graduate Conference

The program for next week's Metaphysics of Mind graduate conference here at University of Missouri, St. Louis is now complete:

Friday Night—March 6th

1) 5-6:30 PM SGA Chamber Room MSC, Terry Horgan (University of Arizona), “Updating the Agenda for the Metaphysics of Mind”

7 PM Dinner Catered by Chartwells, Venue TBD

Saturday—March 7th

9 AM Coffee and Bagles Clark Hall 209

1) 9:30-10:20 AM, Sara Bernstein (University of Arizona/MIT), “Overdetermination Problems”

Commentator: John Lee

2) 10:20-11:10 AM, Kevin Morris (Brown University), “Reductive Explanation in Two Models of Reduction”

Commentator: David Pruitt

3) 11:10-12 PM, Carolyn Suchy-Dicey (Boston University), "Epistemic Restraint: An Antidote to Zombie Poison"

Commentator: David Johnson

12-1 PM Lunch Catered by Chartwells

4) 1-1:50 PM, Joe Hedger (Arizona State University), “Is Brooks’s Model of Intelligence Scalable to the Level of Human Beings? Some Remarks about his Instrumental AI Approach and Ascription of Intelligence”

Commentator: Dane Muckler

5) 1:50-2:40 PM, Mihnea Capraru (Syracuse), “How to Check if We Have Free Will”

Commentator: Lisa Cagle

Break 2:40-3:00 PM

6) 3-3:50 PM, Markus Kneer (Institut Jean Nicod, Paris / Princeton University), “Imagining being Napoleon”

Commentator: John Fraiser

7) 3:50-4:40 PM, Liz Stillwaggon Swan (State University of New York at Buffalo), “A Structure and Process Account of Consciousness”

Commentator: David Redmond

Sunday—March 8th

10 AM Coffee and Bagels MSC 315

1) 10:30-11:20 AM Daniel Sportiello (Notre Dame), “Fundamental Confusion”

Commentator: John Fuqua

2) 11:20-12:10 PM, Collin Rice (University of Missouri), “Proxytypes, Compositionality, and Content”

Commentator: Jonathan Spelman

3) 12:10-1 PM, Isaac Wiegman (Washington University in St. Louis), “Representation and Explanation in Artificial Neural Networks”

Commentator: James Virtel

Inquiries regarding the conference may be sent to Nick Baima at

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Petition to the APA

Have you signed this yet? (HT: Leiter)

Friday, February 13, 2009

Relative Truth

I recently put together a special issue of Synthese on relative truth. It has just come out in print. Contributors include: David Capps, Andy Egan, Michael Glanzberg, Steven Hales, Max Kolbel, Peter Lasersohn, Michael Lynch, John MacFarlane, Daniel Massey, Sebastiano Moruzzi, Stephen Neale, Duncan Pritchard, Brian Weatherson and Crispin Wright.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Female speakers: a rarity

We all know about the male-dominated philosophy volumes, especially those in mainstream analytic philosophy. Often these volumes have no female contributors. Occasionally they have a token woman. When you point it out to the editors, they have plenty of excuses.

"I invited lots of women but they all said 'no'."
"Hardly any women are working in the area."
"I just asked the most prominent people in the field."
"It's the proceedings from a conference."
"I am just following the norm"

Legitimate reasons? In some cases perhaps. It could indeed be that the editors invited a handful of women who all said 'no', and it could be that hardly any women work in the relevant area. But how often does that happen? The prominent-people and conference excuses are just... well, plain silly. Might it not be that those invited to contribute to volumes on a regular basis have a better shot at becoming the most prominent people in the field? Or is it the other way around? And I can't help but wonder why female speakers weren't represented at the conference or workshop that preceded the volume. Is it because less than 10% females on the main program is the norm, even in areas where it shouldn't be difficult to find qualified female philosophers? Or is it because the qualified women in the area live too far away from the conference site? Or is it because the prominent male philosophers in the audience wouldn't be able to handle the tiny female voices? Naaah, it's probably just that "caring about the status of women in the profession is so twentieth-century" (HT: Feminist Philosophers).

Sunday, February 01, 2009

New Blog

It's Only A Theory is a new group blog that aims at providing a forum for people interested in general philosophy of science. The current contributors are: Marc Lange (UNC), Otavio Bueno (Miami), Chris Pincock (Purdue) and Gabriele Contessa. Should be interesting. Go check it out.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Metaphysics of Mind

On March 6-8, 2009 there will be a graduate student conference on The Metaphysics of Mind here at University of Missouri, St. Louis. The keynote speaker is Terry Horgan (Arizona). Here is a tentative program:

Friday Night—March 6th

1) Terry Horgan (University of Arizona), "Updating the Agenda for the Metaphysics of Mind"

Saturday—March 7th

1) Sara Bernstein (University of Arizona/MIT), "Overdetermination Problems"

2) Kevin Morris (Brown University), "Reductive Explanation in Two Models of Reduction"

3) Carolyn Suchy-Dicey (Boston University), "The Impossibly Small Hard Problem: Subjective Parallelism, Objective Ordinalism"

4) Joe Hedger (Arizona State University), "Is Brooks's Model of Intelligence Scalable to the Level of Human Beings? Some Remarks about his Instrumental AI Approach and Ascription of Intelligence"

5) Markus Kneer (Institut Jean Nicod, Paris / Princeton University), "Imagining being Napoleon"

6) Liz Stillwaggon Swan (State University of New York at Buffalo), "A Structure and Process Account of Consciousness"

Sunday—March 8th

1) Daniel Sportiello (Notre Dame), "Fundamental Confusion"

2) Collin Rice (University of Missouri), "Proxytypes, Compositionality, and Content"

3) Isaac Wiegman (Washington University in St. Louis), "Representation and Explanation in Artificial Neural Networks"

All inquiries regarding the conference may be sent to Nick Baima at

Tuesday, January 27, 2009


David Chalmers has just announced the launch of PhilPapers, which is an impressive bibliographic database of close to 200,000 papers and books in philosophy. The resource was developed by Chalmers and David Bourget, with significant help from Wolfgang Schwartz. Chalmers discusses the features of the new database over at Fragments of Consciousness.