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Thursday, August 31, 2006

Time in Chinese

Last night I read Jo-Wang Lin's very interesting piece "Time in a Language Without Tense: the Case of Chinese" (from Journal of Semantics 23, 2005). As Lin points out, Chinese is well-known for not having any tense morphology. Here are some examples (from Lin):

John zuotian qu ni jia
John yesterday go you house

John hen mang
John very busy

John dai wo qu D.C.
John take me go D.C.

But how significant are the tense morphological differences between English and Chinese? Well, English has tense morphology. For instance, it has past tense morphology, as in 'John once bought a bike' or 'it once was the case that John bought a bike' (the second past tense inflection is vacuous or stylistic). Does English have present tense morphology? Well, there is a lot of disagreement about that. Of course, English has a progressive form, as in 'I am writing a blog post'. But Murvet Enc--a linguist famous for her work on tense--has recently told me that she thinks (and is going to argue) that there is no such thing as present tense morphology or operator (incidentally, I am thrilled to hear that, since Authur Prior--one of my heros--argued for that thesis many years ago). And we know that there is no future tense morphology in English. 'Will' and 'would' do not count as a future tense morphology. So the main difference between English and Chinese is that unlike Chinese, English has past tense morphology.

So how do Chinese speakers manage to indicate PAST vs PRESENT? It has sometimes been suggested that Chinese has unpronounced semantic tense features. But Lin argues that this is not so. Rather, Chinese makes use of (among other things) temporal adverbs (e.g. 'yesterday' and 'the year of 1996'), aspectual particles/markers, modal verbs ('will' and 'should'), and pragmatic background assumptions.

Here is just one example.

Mary he-guo jiu
Mary drink-ASPECT wine
'Mary drank wine before'

The aspectual marker 'guo' translates roughly as 'before'. 'Guo' indicates that the whole event (that of drinking wine) must have taken place before the time of speech.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Tense, Scope, and Relative Clauses

The following sort of sentence, due to Kusumoto 1999, is fun to think about:

(1) Every faculty member failed to talk to a prospective student who (later) decided to go to Umass

(1) has two later-than-matrix interpretations where the time introduced by the past tense of the relative clause is later than the time introduced by the past tense of the matrix clause.

Prior-fans might try to account for these readings via Quantifier Raising. For example, it might be thought that, by Quantifier Raising, the noun phrase and the relative clause move out of the scope of the matrix clause as follows:

(1a) [a prospective student who (later) decided to go to UMass]i every faculty member failed to talk to ti

(1a) is ambiguous between: there is a prospective student who later decided to go to UMass (e.g. Amy) that no faculty member talked to, and for each faculty member there is a (possibly different) prospective student who later decided to go to UMass that s/he didn't talk to.

The problem is that (1) has a further reading which (1a) does not have, namely: no faculty member talked to any prospective student who later decided to go to UMass. (1a) does not have this reading because the bracketed material is outside the scope of the non-bracketed material. So Kusumoto suspects that the movement hypothesis is false.

However, it seems to me that the problem goes away on the plausible assumption that the noun phrase and relative clause can take narrow scope with respect to negation but wide scope with respect to the rest of the sentence.

Kusumoto, K. 1999. Tense in Embedded Contexts, Doctoral Dissertation, University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Shots from Copenhagen

Joe also took a couple of shots at the Copenhagen workshop.

The Lemmings Suicide Myth

Did you think that Lemmings deliberately run over cliffs "in their millions, to be dashed to their deaths on the rocks below" or did you think that Lemmings are "crowds of [philosophers] who foolishly follow each other, lemming-like, regardless of the consequences"? Well, think again.

Revealed: What Really Went on in Stirling

Joe Salerno reveals: what really went on at the Epistemic Value conference in Stirling last week.

Riggs vs Pritchard on Luck

At the Stirling Epistemic Value conference Wayne Riggs presented a nice alternative to Duncan Pritchard's modal account of luck. One of the core cases Wayne wanted his account to handle was the following (I do not remember the details but do by all means go read Wayne's very interesting paper).

Indiana Jones and Missouri Smith are captured by natives who are going to kill them. Suddenly there is a total solar eclipse and the natives believe the gods want them to set Jones and Smith free. Smith says "we were really lucky that that eclipse occurred", to which Jones replies "lucky? Are you out of your mind? I knew well in advance that it would occur and would never have allowed them to capture us if it didn't". It seems that the occurrence of the eclipse was lucky for Smith but not for Jones.

But how can that be? Well, according to Wayne, even if one has no control over a given event, an event can be lucky if one exploited one's knowledge of the occurrence of the event in particular ways. On Wayne's account, an event is lucky for x iff x has no control over its occurrence, and x did not exploit its occurrence for particular purposes (Wayne's analysis contains a third condition which I will leave out here).

I like the account. However, one issue which came up at the conference is that if one takes the control and exploitation conditions to be necesary and sufficient for luck, then control but lack of exploitation would be sufficient for non-luck. But that seems wrong. Suppose, for instance, that John would win the race if only Mary didn't participate. It is within John's control to break Mary's leg, but he doesn't want to do that. So he fails to exploit his control. However suppose, by sheer coincidence, that Mary breaks her leg and that John wins. In that event we would want to say that John's victory is lucky and that Mary's breaking her leg is unlucky. So maybe we should simply get rid of the control condition and make do with the exploitation condition.

The Analytic/Continental Distinction

Jason Stanley has an interesting post about the Analytic/Continental Distinction over at the Leiter Reports. According to Jason, though it is difficult to say who is analytic and who is not (he certainly wouldn't classify Shoemaker as analytic and Husserl as continental), he thinks that there is a distinction to be drawn between the two. As far as Jason is concerned, the main difference between analytic and continental philosophy is that continental philosophy, unlike analytic philosophy, is interested in giving historical and cultural explanations of the phenomena in question. For example, where an analytic philosopher might seek to identify the semantic contribution an expression makes to the semantic content of sentences in which it occurs, a continental philosopher might prefer to identify the historical and cultural reasons for its use.

I think there is much to be said for this way of looking at the distinction. In particular I do not think it is the subject matter in question that distinguishes analytic philosophy from continental (assuming that a distinction can be drawn). If anything it is the method used. Analytic philosophers like to look at the details, give "localized" arguments, and solve paradoxes. Continental philosophers like to look at the big picture, give global explanations, and identify paradoxes and tensions. But, to be honest, the distinction between analytic and continental philosophy never made any sense to me. What about drawing a new distinction between influential/non-influential articles/books or convincing/non-convincing articles/books. Any of those distinctions would clearly cut across any potential distinction between analytic and continental philosophy.

Would-Be Native Speaker of English

The Danish political party the Radical Lefts have proposed that Denmark should introduce English as an official second language.

Klemens Kappel is less than optimistic about the Radical Lefts' influence on political decision-making in Denmark. He sent me this link (in Danish) which informs us that the right-wing parties won't go for the proposal. But it doesn't matter. Danes already treat English as an official second language, at least in the philosophy world.

NB: For the record: the Radical Lefts are neither very radical nor very much to the left, unfortunately.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Greco in St. Louis

John Greco has started his new job in St. Louis. I really look forward to having him here and to have the opportunity to learn from him.

Philosophers' Carnival # 34

As everyone else probably already noticed, Philosophers' Carnival # 34 is here.

Nussbaum vs. Mansfield on Manliness

Colleen Keating brought this discussion of Nussbaum's review of Mansfield's book Manliness to my attention.

Nussbaum's review is available here.

The following excerp from Nussbaum's review nicely illustrates the nature of Mansfield's claims:

"...Mansfield's assertions (I cannot quite call them arguments) seem to be as follows. Manliness, the quality of which John Wayne (says Mansfield) is the quintessential embodiment, is a characteristic that societies rightly value. But modern feminism wants a society that has effaced all distinctions of gender, a society in which men and women have the same traits. This is a dangerous mistake, because manly aggression, though not altogether reliable, supplies something without which we cannot have a good or stable society. (Mansfield connects manliness not only to military performance but also to the ability to govern a nation, and, as we have seen, he denies that women who are not Mrs. Thatcher have this trait.) Since women are only rarely capable of manliness, a society in which both sexes have the same traits will have to be lacking in manliness. We should reject this aim, and, with it, modern feminism".

"The second half of the book contains, as Mansfield has warned his reader, a more complex set of assertions, though they all lead to the same bottom line. Taking Theodore Roosevelt as his more complex icon of manliness, Mansfield notes that traditional John Wayne-style manliness is not necessarily combined with virtue. Indeed, traditional manliness is often linked to a Nietzschean sort of 'nihilism,' which accepts no restraints and desires to soar 'beyond good and evil.' (This reading of Nietzsche, like so many readings in the book, is not defended by any close look at an actual text. Is this the Nietzsche who prizes the disciplined virtue of the dancer, who teaches that laisser aller, the absence of restraint, is incompatible with any great achievement of any sort?) Theodore Roosevelt, though, did combine traditional manliness with virtue, thus showing that it is both possible and valuable to do so".

"On the whole, however, men will allow the constraints of virtue to drag down their manly flights only if women insist on virtue as a condition of sex. So women's non-manly inclinations hold men in check. This old saw, which one encounters over and over again in the writings of Leo Strauss's followers, seems to derive not from a realistic look at life but from an opportunistic reading of Rousseau's Emile, minus all Rousseau's complexity and nuance. Rousseau shows clearly that the difference between Emile and Sophie is produced by a coercive regime that curbs Sophie's intelligence and even her physical prowess - she would have beaten Emile in the race had she not had to run in those absurd clothes. He also demonstrated, in his unpublished conclusion to the Emile-Sophie story, that a marriage so contracted would be a dismal failure, since parties so utterly distinct in moral upbringing would be totally unable to understand one another".

"But back to feminism. Feminism (exemplified in Mansfield's book by a few carefully selected bits of early 1970s authors) wants women to reject virtue and to seek sexual satisfaction promiscuously. In effect, it teaches women to be as 'nihilistic' as men. But women are doomed to dismal failure at this task, because their manliness is puny. Meanwhile, they will lose the hold they once had on men through modesty and virtue. They will therefore be more endangered: Mansfield actually asserts that a woman can resist rape only with the aid of 'a certain ladylike modesty enabling her to take offense at unwanted encroachment'! (How does he handle the well-known fact that a large proportion of rapes are committed by men with whom the victim has already had an intimate relationship, or with whom she currently has one?) Society, meanwhile, will come to grief. So, once again, the lesson is that we ought to rid ourselves of feminism ..."

Nussbaum goes on to show in a rigorous fashion that Mansfield's claims are simply outrageous and false. Feminists do not want to "eradicate" gender distinctions; they are concerned with justice. Some feminists fight for pregnancy benefits from insurance companies, others fight for rape victims, and so on. As Nussbaum points out, feminists "have not typically sought a society in which there are no gender distinctions. They have challenged imposed and unchosen gender norms that interfere with women's freedom and functioning ... what feminists have sought above all is a society in which there are no sex-based hierarchies, in which the sheer luck of being born a female does not slot one into an inferior category for the purposes of basic political and social functioning".

Leiter on Journal Refereeing

Brian Leiter has posted an interesting post on In-house journal refereeing policies over at the Leiter Reports. What triggered the post was a letter by Dennett and Churchland that calls the refereeing practices of Journal of Philosophy and the Philosophical Review into question. The problem is that many of the papers submitted to these journals are not sent out to external referees but are refereed by department members who know the author's identity. This is indeed a problem, because one could imagine that certain groups of philosophers might be discriminated against due to these practices.

Then again, the philosophy world is very small and probably not very fair. Supervisors drop email notes to editors of book series or to old friends who are chairs of hiring committees, you run into people at conferences who think your choice of Scotch was so excellent that they would like you to send them your next book manuscript, your department chair likes your new hair cut, or your new blog for that matter, and gives you an early promotion. The list goes on and on. And then there is pedigree. A Princeton affiliation does seem better than a Never-Heard-of-Community-College affiliation, even if the person from Never-Heard-of-Community-College wrote a better article. The world is not fair. The philosophy world is not fair. I am not saying we should get over it. We definitely shouldn't. But we probably shouldn't put all the blame on the In-house journals. The problem is much deeper than refereeing practices.

Time Adverbials in the Indonesian Language

Adam Arico has posted an interesting post over at Aspiring Lemming on time adverbials in the Indonesian language. According to Adam's informant, there are no basic tenses in the Indonesian language. A proper translation of 'I turned off the stove this morning' would amount to something like 'I turn off the stove this morning' or maybe 'I am turning off the stove this morning'. Interestingly, we do sometimes speak this way in English. Consider, for instance:

I am giving a talk in Aberdeen in July
I am in Stirling in August
Carrie is visiting ANU in the fall, etc.

Adam considers the possibility that the time adverbials in the Indonesian language function as Priorean tense operators. I suspect they don't. Or at least, if the time adverbials in the Indonesian language function in the same way as the time adverbials in English, then I would be prepared to argue that they do not function as sentential operators. But then again, I don't know the Indonesian language. Does anyone know of any studies on this?

Kraut Sparks Emotions

My earlier Philosophy of ... post and Robert Kraut's claim that music does not express emotions have initiated some debate over at Bean's Philosophy Blog War and the Dreaming Track.

Transatlantic Flights in the Post-Liquid Era

I finally returned from my trip to Europe. I was only gone for 2 weeks but it feels like ages, maybe because my department went from "barely alive" to its usual new school year activity levels. The conferences I went to (in Stirling and Copenhagen) turned out to be fantastic. I met a number of new people and learned a lot, and I am grateful to Duncan Pritchard, Lars Bo Gundersen and Klemens Kappel for organizing the events.

So what about the flights? They weren't too bad. Some of the conference participants left before they lifted the "no hand bag" restriction for flights to the UK. But laptops are apparently more resistant than one would have thought.

The airlines haven't yet adjusted to the "no liquid" restrictions. I went with Continental. They ran out of bottled water after 4 hours (half-way). The passengers were thirsty. The flight attendants assured us that it was safe to drink the water in the rest rooms. I could have sworn that there was a sign in the rest room above the sink saying "do not drink the tap water". But if it was ever there, it had been removed. So I drank it, and I was fine. It was only later that I read that 25% of the tap water on flights contains excessive amounts of coli bateria. I wonder whether the many infants on the plane whose mothers had to mix the rest room water with baby formula were feeling equally great about this.

On the way back I made sure to drink plenty of water in the "sterile area" at the gate before boarding. I brought my own EMPTY water bottle. They removed the cap at the screening point. Why? Because otherwise I could fill it at the water fountains in the sterile area and hide it in my hand luggage. But in the sterile area you could buy bottled water with caps and hide it in your hand luggage. They never checked again. So the cap removal policy at the screening point was apparently "all show".

There were a couple of other surprises on the trip. Joe Salerno, my fellow traveller, got detained on his way into Scotland. The problem was a little inconsistency. They asked me whether we "worked together". I said "no, we are going to a conference". Joe said "define 'working together' ". Then the officer wanted a detailed account of the conference we were allegedly going to. Joe thought she was just small-talking. She was not! But half an hour later he got off the hook and we could continue our trip to Stirling.

Copenhagen had lifted the "no liquid, no gel, no cream" restrictions, except for flights to Heathrow. But, to my surprise, they had added a new restriction. A "taste anything liquid, creamy, or gel-y" restriction. Try tasting hair gel or night cream. Yuk!

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Danish Epistemology Workshop (Salerno)

[crossposted from knowability]

The Danish Epistemology Network, Namicona, and the Department of Philosophy at the University of Copenhagen hosted an epistemology workshop on August 22. Speakers included Lars Gundersen (Aarhus), Jesper Kallestrup (Edinburgh), Berit Brogaard and yours truly.

Gundersen developed an account of why neither disjunctivism nor contextualism has the resources for dealing adequately with "abominable conjunctions". The natural way for these theories to deal with such conjunctions leaves them vulnerable when we reformulate the conjunctions in terms of claimability/assertibility: (1) it is claimable that I know that p (where p is some ordinary proposition); (2) if it's claimable that p and claimable that p entails q, then it is claimable that q; and (3) it is not claimable that I know that q (where q is the negation of the skeptical hypothesis).

Kallestrup's paper, "Reliabilist Justification: Basic, Easy and Brute" a way of blocking track-record versions of the easy knowledge objection. The key is to motivate a Wrightian restriction on the transmission of justification across valid deduction. Doing so blocks the very first inferential step in the track-record/bootstrapping arguments.

Brogaard in her presentation "In Defense of a Perspectival Semantics for 'Knows'" first defends relativism against objections (including Stanley's objections that it cannot accommodate the factivity of 'knows' and that it entails that circumstances of evaluation have features that cannot be shifted by any intensional operator), but then shows that a perspectivalist semantics can do all the same work without relativizing sentence truth to contexts of assessment.

I presented "Knowability Noir: 1945-1963", which evaluates an unpublished debate between Fitch and Church in 1945. Their debate was primarily over the effectiveness of the proof we today call the "knowability paradox". My primary concern was to offer an account of what Fitch perceived to be the significance of the proof in his 1963 paper. I argued that the significance was to draw general and special lessons about how to avoid conditional fallacies in philosophical analysis.

Epistemic Value: Day 2 (Salerno)

[crossposted from Knowability]

The final day of the epistemic value conference included a paper by Ward Jones. He developed some ideas about the nature of doxastic goods in his attempt to say what it is that makes knowledge valuable. Pascal Engel's position was that none of the arguments for pragmatic encroachment on truth, evidence, justification or knowledge work. Christian Piller argued that our interest in truth is not captured by the idea that we desire to believe all and only truths. In particular, he argued, that we do not wish to believe only truths. And Martin Kusch developed an account of the social value of knowledge partially in terms of a very interesting fictional geneology of a proto-concept of knowledge.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Epistemic Value: Day 1 (Salerno)

[cross posted from Knowability]

Highlights from a full day of interesting talks at the epistemic value conference:

Wayne Riggs developed a conception of epistemic luck to compliment his credit approach to the value problem. Much use was made of Jennifer Lackey's published criticisms of the credit approach and her criticisms of Pritchard's theory of luck.

Matt Weiner explained that knowledge is like a Swiss army knife. Its value is derivative of the value of its components. Moreover, knowledge is not more valuable that any of its proper parts. Matt's positions hinged on the connections between knowledge and practical rationality.

Berit Brogaard argued that a perspectivalist semantics supports epistemic value monism better than does contextualism or relativism. Along the way she denies that there are any genuinely relative truths.

Mark Kaplan came to terms with human fallibility by arguing that a determination of one's confidence that p does not determine her opinion regarding p; "being confident" is different from "being willing to say". Without paradox I can take it to be highly likely, say, that there are errors in my book, even though I endorse all of the claims therein.

There were other interesting talks as well. Must get some sleep before tomorrow's marathon.

Friday, August 18, 2006

Epistemic Value Conference: Day 0 (Salerno)

Today was the pre-conference workshop on epistemic value at the University of Stirling. Stephen Grimm set up a dilemma for epistemic value monism. Either epistemic appraisals apply only to "interesting truths" (Alston, Goldman) or they apply to all truths equally (Lynch). If the former, then absurdly epistemic appraisals such as 'is justified' do not apply to uninteresting true beliefs. If the latter, then believing that there are n blades of grass in the yard is absurdly as valuable as any other belief.

Jason Baehr argued that the guiding intuition behind the value problem does not warrant the standard formality and generality constraints on a solution. That is, the intuition that knowledge is more valuable than mere true belief does not motivate the traditional thought that one or more components of knowledge must have "truth-independent" value or the thought that knowledge is always more valuable than true belief.

Jay Wood discussed a wide spectrum of epistemic values and argued against a sharp distinction between epistemic and moral value.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Going to Europe

I am giving a couple of talks in Stirling and Copenhagen over the next couple of weeks. My talk in Stirling will be based on this paper (in progress) on relativism and the epistemic goal, and my talk in Copenhagen will be based on this paper (also in progress). Among other things, I here offer an extended reply to Jason Stanley's criticism of relativism about 'know'. Because I'll be away, blogging will be sporadic for the next couple of weeks. But I will be reporting from both conferences if I can get internet access.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Adverb-ly speaking

Lewis famously argued that 'strictly speaking' is an index-shifting operator just like 'it was the case that' and 'it is possible that'. But there are dozens of operators of the form: ADVERB + 'speaking'. Consider, for instance:

Roughly speaking
Literally speaking
Figuratively speaking
Ideally speaking
Less than ideally speaking
Frankly speaking
Relatively speaking
Seriously speaking
Generally speaking
Graphically speaking

What role do these prefixes and the corresponding adverbs play in the semantics and/or pragmatics? Are they simply tools for indicating the speaker's intentions when the speaker's intentions are less than clear? Or do they function as index-shifting operators, as Lewis thought? My guess is that it will depend on the adverb in question. Some operators (e.g., 'literally speaking' and 'frankly speaking') and the corresponding adverbs are probably just tools for making one's assertive intentions clear to the hearer. Other operators (e.g., 'generally speaking' and 'ideally speaking') and the corresponding adverbs seem to function as index shifting operators of sorts. Consider, for instance:

(1) Ideally, all books would be water proof.

In (1), 'ideally' seems to shift the world in the index to some world where things are ideal.

But if there are two sorts of ADVERB + 'speaking' , then the question arises, was Lewis right that 'strictly speaking' is an index-shifting operator? Or should 'strictly speaking' be treated as a discourse marker of sorts?

King and Stanley on Truth-Conditional Pragmatics

Last night I read Jeffrey King and Jason Stanley's very interesting piece Semantics, Pragmatics, and the Role of Semantic Content. Jeff and Jason raise various concerns about certain forms of semantic minimalism and truth-conditional pragmatics. Let me try to re-formulate one of their concerns about one form of truth-conditional pragmatics in my own words.

Truth-conditional pragmatics distinguishes between the semantic content of a sentence relative to context and the speech act content of a sentence relative to context. The speech act content of a sentence relative to context is the content asserted by the speaker in that context. A sentence is true relative to a context c, on this account, iff the speech act content of the sentence at c is true at the index determined by c.

The worry now is this. Though the semantic content can be defined, it seems to play no significant role in the semantics. As we have just seen, it plays no role in the definition of truth-at-a-context. Admittedly, it does constrain what a sentence can be used to assert. But this feature of semantic content is pragmatic not semantic.

I think, however, that defenders of truth-conditional pragmatics may reply as follows. Consider the following analogy. One might worry that certain forms of eternalism run into similar trouble. Take, for instance:

(1) John is nice.

Given certain forms of eternalism, the semantic content of (1) relative to a context is the temporal content that John is nice (no time constituents). But the speech act content of (1) relative to a context is an eternal proposition, viz. the proposition that John is nice at t*, where t* is the time of speech. But now, one might ask, what role does the temporal content play in the semantics? Well, the eternalist will say, the temporal content does in fact play an important role in the semantics: it is the sort of content that tense operators operate on.

Perhaps defenders of truth-conditional pragmatics could reply in a similar way. Consider, for instance:

(2) France is hexagonal

Some defenders of truth-conditional pragmatics broadly defined (for instance, Soames in recent work) would say that the speech act content of (2) relative to a normal context is the proposition that France is roughly hexagonal. The semantic content of (2) is the content that France is hexagonal. Does the semantic content play a role in the semantics? Yes, it does. For 'strictly speaking' and 'loosely speaking' operate on the semantic content. As Lewis pointed out, 'Loosely speaking, France is hexagonal' is true under high standards of precision iff the semantic content of 'France is hexogonal' is true under low standards of precision.

Of course, this reply may not work in every case, but at least it is not obvious that the semantic content plays no role in the semantics just because it does not play a role in the formulation of truth-conditions for occurrences of sentences.

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Stanley on the Conception of the Humanities in the United States

Stanley has an interesting post on the conception of the humanities in the U.S. Basically he is arguing that it isn't the nature of current philosophical inquiry that's responsible for the "unique American attitude" towards philosophy prevailing in America but rather people's conception of the humanities.

More on 'Many' and 'Few'

It is well-known that sentences containing 'many' and 'few' are in some way context-sensitive. Consider, for instance:

(1) Few German linguists applied

If the topic of the discourse is last year's applicants compared to this year's applicants, then we would tend to interpret (1) as meaning that few German linguists applied this year compared to last year. Here is another example:

(2) Few philosophers have a blog.

Compare: "few philosophers have a blog. The rest are doing more serious work" and "most linguists have a blog, but few philosophers have one". In the first case (2) gets read as "there are few philosophers with a blog compared to philosophers without a blog". In the second case (2) gets read as "there are few philosophers with a blog compared to linguists with a blog"

But what exactly makes sentences with 'few' and 'many' context-sensitive? Are 'few F' and 'many F' indexical in a broad sense? Are their extensions contextually variable but their contents contextually invariant? Or does the context-sensitivity simply reflect a difference in what the sentences are used to assert?

Kai on 'Must' and 'Ought'

Kai von Fintel has posted a funny cartoon that illustrates the difference between 'must' and 'ought'.

He also has a new paper on epistemic modals, co-authored with Thony Gillies.

Have you ever been gettiered?

Back in grad school in the late 90s I would usually visit Denmark in the summer. One time I came back earlier than expected. My friend Kelly called. "I knew you were back", she said, "I saw Mike with a pack of Danish cigarettes". At the time I wold usually bring back Danish cigarettes for friends. But this time around I didn't. Some other Dane had given them to Mike.

Trip to Europe

I am getting ready for a couple of conferences in Europe. The first is the Epistemic Value conference in Stirling. The second is a mini-Epistemology conference in Copenhagen, sponsored by NAMICONA. I hope to be reporting from both confrences (if I can get internet access).

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Partee Sentences

Another kind of sentence that is fun to think about is the following Partee sentence:

(1) If you were king, you would cut off the head of everyone who offended you.

Partee thinks that (1) is ambiguous between a transparent interpretation where 'everyone who offended you' denotes everyone who offended you in the past in the actual world, and an opaque interpretation where it denotes everyone who offended you in a non-actual world where you are king. On Partee's proposal, we can get the transparent reading by assuming that the past tense refers to some actual past time. So Partee predicts the following two readings ([]--> is the subjunctive conditional, @ is a past time in the actual world, K is 'is king', O is 'offend', C is 'cut off the head of', and 'y' refers to you). I am ignoring the past tense on the Opaque reading:

Opaque: Ky []--> (x)(xOy --> yCx)
Transparent: Ky []--> (x)(xOy@ --> yCx)

What is special about Partee's analysis is that she takes the tenses to be similar to pronouns, and on the transparent reading the past tense refers to an actual past time. Given a Prior-style approach, on the other hand, we should probably assume that there is (optional) movement of the nominal + relative clause. So we get (P is past):

Opaque: Ky []--> (x)(xOy --> yCx)
Transparent: (x)(PxOy --> (Ky []--> yCx))

The two formulations of the transparent reading differ in that the Prior-style formalization entails that for everyone in the actual world @ who offended you, you cut off their heads in the king-world w, while the Partee-style formalization entails only that for everyone in the actual world @ who offended you and who exists in w, you cut off their heads in w. As Dave has pointed out to me, these analyses are not equivalent unless the converse Barcan formula obtains (the converse Barcan formula entails that nothing in the actual world could have failed to exist).

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Chappell's Book Mashup

Let's play Richard Chappell's Book Mashup game over here as well.

Chappell's Mashup Game Rules:

Make a new title by rearranging and combining the titles of two books, adding punctuation as needed.

Chappell's examples:

- Crime, Reason, and the Realm of Punishment
- From Animal Ethics to Farm Metaphysics
- Beyond Liberty: on good and evil

Here are some further suggestions:

- Either Truth and/or Objectivity
- Being Green: Eggs and Ham, and Nothingness
- Knowledge, the Conscious Mind, and its Limits

In fact, let us loosen the rules a bit:

Make a new title by rearranging and combining the titles of two or three (well-known) articles, books, or movies, adding punctuation as needed.

Around the Blogosphere

At what point does a country have enough universities? You can find Jonathan Wolff's discussion of the issue here

As Aidan points out, three metaphysicians at Leeds have recently started a new blog called Metaphysical Values.

Gillian has an interesting post about self-control over at TAR.

A woman uses about 20,000 words per day while a man uses about 7,000. True or false? Read Mark Liberman's answer here.

Coming soon: mini-interview with Lindsay Beyerstein from Majikthise.

Kamp/Vlach Sentences Again

Consider the following sentences:

(1) One day, all persons alive now will be dead
(2) Once all persons alive then would be dead

Sentences like (1) and (2) can familiarly be translated using Hans Kamp's doubly indexed N operator, and Frank Vlach's doubly indexed K operator. Kamp's N operator shifts the time of evaluation for the sentence it embeds to the time of reference (which may or may not be the time of speech). Vlach's K operator is used in combination with the N operator. The K operator stores the time introduced by a past tense operator that embeds it, and the N operator is used to retrieve the stored time. (1) and (2) can be analyzed as follows (F is future, and P is past):

(1a) F(for all persons x: (N(Ax) --> Dx))
(2a) P K F (for all persons x: (N(Ax) --> Dx))

However, I think there is a simpler way to translate (1) and (2), for instance (where X is a plural variable):

(1b) For all persons X, F(the Xs do not exist).
(2b) It was the case that (for all persons X, F(the Xs do not exist)).

Danish Cartoons: Racist Provocation or Free Speech?

Ever wondered what the Danish cartoon controversy was really about? This article from Green Left Weekly gives an interesting perspective on the controversy.

Belief Reports and Enriched Indices

I am still thinking about belief reports. As mentioned earlier, I like the description theory defended by Kent Bach. On the description theory, 'that' clauses are not semantically singular terms; they do not refer to exact belief contents; they merely describe them. The description theory is committed to (i) the truth-value of 'S believes p' varies with context; or more precisely: it varies with the standards for belief description salient in the context, and (ii) 'S believes p' ascribes a dyadic relation. But (i) and (ii) are compatible with at least two different theories. On one theory, 'S believes that p' has different contents in different contexts. On another, 'S believes that p' has the same content in all contexts (unless 'p' contains indexical terms like 'I') but its extension varies across contexts. Kent says he holds the second view. But on the second view, I think that we need standards for belief description in the index. To see this, consider:

(1) Peter believes that Paderewski has musical talent
(2) Peter disbelieves that Paderewski has musical talent

Assume the second view. And assume for reductio that the index is a pair of a time and a world. On the second view, (1) and (2) can both be true in different contexts where different standards for belief description obtain (in one context we might be intending to describe the exact content Peter believes that Paderewski, the musician, has musical talent, in another context we might be intending to describe the exact content Peter disbelieves that Paderewski, the statesman, has musical talent). Moreover, since (1) and (2) do not contain any indexicals, (1) and (2) have the same contents in all contexts. So, if the index is a pair of a world and a time, then the semantic contents of (1) and (2) may both be true at one and the same index. So, the index cannot be a pair of a time and a world. Instead, it must be a triple of a world, a time, and a standard for belief description. Now, this is interesting, because if I am right, then Kent's proposal is in fact a form of MacFarlane-style non-indexical contextualism.

Epistemic Value Conference

Most of the papers for the Epistemic Value conference in Stirling later this month are now posted.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Modality and Quantifier Domain Restriction

Soames has replied to my alleged counterexample that it still holds that if I utter (1) below assertively, I make a statement that is true when evaluated at any possible circumstance of evaluation w iff (2) below is true at w, and so, even if the variable-content restriction theory also makes the right predictions in this case, my example isn't a counterexample to his theory.

(1) Everyone got an A [answering a question about Amy, Bob, Carl, ...]
(2) Every one of them got an A

He is, of course, right about that. But consider:

A: How did the students in your logic class do on the logic test?
B: Everyone got an A.

Is the content of 'everyone got an A' true at a possible world w in virtue of the fact that the students in my logic class in w (whoever they might be) got As? Or is it true at w in virtue of the fact that the students in my logic class in the actual world @ got As in w? I'd say it is the latter. But then it seems that the range of the quantifier does enter into the semantic content of the sentence.

Here is another example.

A: What did you do yesterday?
B: I met the new graduate students.
A: Do they seem smart?
B: Very much so. They all had offers from Princeton but chose to come to us instead.
C: How does B like her new job?
A: I think she likes it a lot. The graduate students could have been at Princeton.

The content of A's remark 'the graduate students could have been at Princeton' is true at the actual world @ iff the content of 'the graduate students are at Princeton' is true at some world w. But isn't it the graduate students in B's department in the actual world @ that must be at Princeton in w? I think it is. Of course, we cannot just set aside the de re/de dicto issues here. But I think my point holds even if the definite NP takes narrow scope with respect to the possibility operator.

Final example (from Knowability, Possibility and Paradox).

Consider the Knowability Principle:
For all p, if p is true, then it is possible for someone to know that p.

And non-omniscience:
There is a truth that is not known by anyone.

When substituting 'p & it is not the case that p is known by someone' for p in the Knowability Principle, it seems that the domain of the quantifier ought to be the actual domain rather than some merely possible domain.

Worst Paper Title Ever

What is your most pathetic paper title ever? Here is mine:

"Plantinga Paradox in Wright's Peirce"

This was the working title of a co-authored paper of mine (for the record: we later changed the title to "Anti-Realism, Theism, and the Conditional Fallacy")

Quantifier Domain Restriction

I am still thinking about Soames' article The Gap Between Meaning and Assertion. Soames makes some interesting remarks about quantifier domain restriction. He considers the possibility that quantificational domains are sets, and that quantified noun phrases contain hidden domain variables that are contextually completed. On the view he has in mind, "each quantifier occurrence is assigned a contextually determined range as all, or part, of its semantic content relative to the context" (p. 16). But Soames thinks that "a fatal flaw in this approach is that althought contextually provided subsets of the domain may be relevant to the extensions of quantifiers, they are not parts of their semantic contents" (p. 16)

He offers the following example. Consider:

(1) Everyone writes a senior thesis.
(2) Everyone who is a Princeton student writes a senior thesis.

Suppose I am asserting (1) in a conversation about students at Princeton University. Then, according to Soames, "the statement I make is one that is true when evaluated at any possible circumstance of evaluation w iff something like [2] is true at w" (p. 16).

I think Soames may be right about (1), but I think that is because (1) is a kind of generic statement--a law-like generalization. But I do not think his criticism applies to all cases. Consider the following case:

You: How did Amy, Bob, Carl, Dan, and Elizabeth do on the logic exam last semester?
Me: Everyone got an A.

Here it is quite plausible that the quantifier is assigned the set containing Amy, Bob, Carl, Dan and Elizabeth as part of its content.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Double Access Readings

So-called double-access sentences, such as,

(1) John said that Mary is pregnant

pose a challenge for most theories of tense. The problem posed by double-access sentences is that they can be true only if the time the embedded content is about overlaps the time of utterance. So for (1) to be true, John must have said 'Mary is pregnant', and the time of Mary's alleged pregnancy must overlap the time at which the sentence is uttered. If we treat the tenses as quantifiers, (1) should come out as (t* is the time of utterance):

(1a) Et(t < t* & at t John says that Mary is pregnant at t)

But (1a) does not require for its truth that Mary's alleged pregnancy overlap the time of utterance. What about the following alternative analysis (based on a suggestion made by Higginbotham)?

(1b) Et(t < t* & at t John says that (Mary is pregnant at (t, t*)))

This seems fine. But if (1), upon analysis, cashes out to (1b), then we get the wrong result in cases like the following:

John said that Mary is pregnant
Peter believes everything John said
Hence, Peter believes that Mary is pregnant

On the double access reading of the first premise, its truth requires that John said that Mary's pregnancy overlaps his time of speech and the time the sentence is uttered. If we read the conclusion in a similar way, then the argument is valid, but the truth of the conclusion requires Peter to believe that Mary's alleged pregnancy overlaps the time of John's past speech. But surely the conclusion does not have such a reading. So, the argument cannot be valid if the first premise is given a double access reading.

Semantic Content and Assertoric Content

Last night I read Scott Soames' article The Gap Between Meaning and Assertion. According to Soames, the assertoric content of an utterance of a sentence is (roughly) the proposition the speaker intended to assert; and the semantic content of a sentence in context is (roughly) the semantic values of the constituents of the sentence relative to the context in question. Soames thinks that the speaker might assert the semantic content as well as the assertoric content. This is so if the semantic content is a "relevant, unmistakable, necessary and a priori consequence of the speaker's primary assertions, together with salient presuppositions of the conversational background". Let us consider an example (from Soames).

Peter doesn't realize that Paderewski, the statesman, is Paderewski, the musician.

(1) I believe that Paderewski has great musical talent (said by Peter to fellow musicians)
(2) I don't believe that Paderewski has great musical talent (said by Peter to fellow political friends).

According to Soames, here is what Peter asserted in the two cases:

(1a) I believe that Paderewski, the musician, has great musical talent.
(2a) I don't believe that Paderewski, the statesman, has great musical talent.

However, Soames says, when Peter utters (1) he is also asserting the semantic content of (1). For "it is an obvious necessary and a priori consequence of the fact that one believes of a man that he has the property of being both A and B, that one believes, of him, that he has the property of being B"

I am not sure I follow. 'S believes that x is A and B' doesn't entail 'S believes that x is B', for 'believe' is not closed under logical consequence. Is the latter a "relevant, unmistakable, necessary and a priori consequence of the former"? Well, doesn't that depend on who the speaker is, and how complicated the predicates 'A' and 'B' are?

Deep Thought: For Men Only?

Julie Van Camp has an interesting paper posted on the issue of "why women are not represented in much greater numbers in philosophy" and whether anyone cares. Click here.