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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Another Mini-Hiatus

For the next few days I will be at a workshop at Rutgers. Lemmings will be fairly quiet during that time.

Women Read Philosophy and Drink Syrah

Hat tip from Language Log:

The Microsoft adCenter Labs' "Demographic Prediction" tool allows you to "use adCenter technology to predict a customer's age, gender, and other demographic information according to his or her online behavior -- that is, from search queries and webpage views." Interestingly, it predicts that 69% of those who search for or read philosophy sites are females!

Here are some other interesting results:

Mathematics: 57% females
Science: 59% females
Physics: 54% females
Literature: 68% females
Syrah: 57% females

Weapons: 58% males
Guns: 63% males
War: 57% males
Race cars: 73% males
Beer: 56% males

Tensing the Copula

Last night I re-read David Lewis' Tensing the Copula. The article is a reply to two solutions to the problem of temporary intrinsics.

The problem of temporary intrinsics is this. Material objects, like you and me, have different properties at different times. At t1 Brit is bent-shaped, and at t2, she is straight-shaped. But if the properties of being bent-shaped and straight-shaped are had simpliciter and they are really properties and not relations, then 'at t1 Brit is bent-shaped' must entail that Brit is bent-shaped. And 'at t2 Brit is straight-shaped' must entail that Brit is straight-shaped. So, Brit is both bent-shaped and straight-shaped!

Lewis first considers Mark Johnston's solution. Johnston suggests that the copula is temporally modified. So, 'at t1 Brit is bent-shaped' translates as 'Brit instantiates-at-t1 the property of being bent-shaped', and 'at t2 Brit is straight-shaped' translates as 'Brit instantiates-at-t2 the property of being straight-shaped'. Lewis dislikes this proposal because it does not account for how we can have properties simpliciter. Brit does not have the property of being bent-shaped. She has-at-t1 the property of being bent-shaped.

Sally Haslanger suggests that the proposition that Brit is bent-shaped is true at some times and false at others. Lewis replies that this proposal presupposes endurantism (i.e., the view that objects persist by being wholly present at different times). However, I think he is wrong about this. The proposition expressed by the sentence 'Brit is bent-shaped', relative to a context, contains the referent of 'Brit'. If endurantism is true, the referent is a three-dimensional enduring object. If perdurantism is true, the referent is a worm. It can still be true with respect to one time that Brit -- the worm -- is bent-shaped, and false with respect to another time. All it takes for the worm proposition to be true at t is that the relevant t-part of Brit is bent-shaped.

The temporal propositions solution does not presuppose endurantism. Rather, it is neutral in disagreements among different metaphysical proposals. And that I take to be a virtue of Haslanger's proposal. The problem of temporary intrinsics can be solved without taking sides!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

America's Money-Addicted and Legacy-Loving Universities

Jason Stanley has posted a link to this very interesting article from the Economist over at the Leiter Reports. The article is a review of Daniel Golden's book The Price of Admission: How America's Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges - and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates. As the article reports, Golden's book draws attention to the fact that in many cases students are admitted into elite universities, not because of their intellectual abilities, but because they happen to be related to (in)famous politicians, rich alumni, or other "legacies". The article also points out that poor whites and members of minority groups are frequently "held to higher standards" than the sons and daughters of the "legacies".

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Another Anonymous Referee

Joe Salerno recently discovered that the anonymous referee to which Fitch credited the knowability paradox was Alonzo Church. As Joe reports here, Loeb's paradox was also credited to an anonymous referee.

Philosophers' Carnival # 36

is here.

Back from Syracuse

I am back from my trip to Syracuse. Regular posting at Lemmings will resume shortly.

Update: Adam Patrick Taylor took some pictures. Click here.

A New Solution to the Knowability Paradox


Joe Salerno has an interesting post on the knowability paradox over at Knowability. The knowability paradox is this (this is Jon Kvanvig's take on it). Suppose, for reductio, that all truths are knowable but that not all truths are known. Then there is a truth p, such that p & p is unknown. This truth is knowable. So, assuming that 'know' distributes over conjunction, it is possible that (p is known and it is known that p is unknown). So by the factivity of 'know', it is possible that (p is known and p is unknown). Contradiction. So, it is a theorem that if all truths are knowable, then all truths are known (assuming classical logic). But we also know that if all truths are known, then all truths are knowable. So, it is a theorem of classical (epistemic) logic that all truths are knowable iff all truths are known. QED.

The equivalence is prima facie puzzling. But, Joe argues, Nicholas Rescher's Epistemic Logic (2005) gives us a simple reason to believe that it is a logical truth that there are more truths than knowables. We can think only a countable number of propositions but there are uncountably many truths. So, there is nothing puzzling about the equivalence. Both sides are logical falsehoods.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


For the next few days I will be at Syracuse giving a talk. Lemmings will be fairly quiet during that time.

My Favorite City Name

City of Truth or Consequences

Institutions Hinder Women in Academia

From New York Times:

Old-fashioned institutional structures present an obstacle to women in science and engineering. This was the conclusion of an expert panel, assembled by the National Academy of Sciences. The conclusion appeared in the report "Beyond Bias and Barriers: Fulfilling the Potential of Women in Academic Science and Engineering".

The panel reports that the lack of women in academic jobs in science and engineering is due to pervasive biases in academic institutions and "arbitrary and subjective" evaluation procedures. The panel recommends that universities change their procedures for hiring and tenure.

Lawrence H. Summers, a former president of Harvard, claimed last year that the lack of women in top science programs is best explained on the assumption that women are born intellectually deficient. The expert panel dismissed this idea. New York Times reports that they attempted to reach Lawrence H. Summers for comments but his spokesman reported that he was out of town.

The expert panel also dismissed the idea that women drop out of science programs or fail to get hired by top universities because they are less prolific than men or spend too much time away from academia.

Though it is difficult to say how philosophy compares to science and engineering, a good guess is that institutional structures present an even greater obstacle to women in philosophy. How great an obstacle remains to be seen. I hope the American Philosophical Association will assemble an expert panel of its own to investigate the issue.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Call for Papers: Knowability and Beyond (Salerno)

[cross-posted from Knowability]

CALL FOR PAPERS (May 1, 2007)

Knowability & Beyond
Special issue of Synthese
  • Can there be non-actual knowledge of what is actually the case?
  • Is the concept of knowability basic or is it semantically decomposable into knowledge and (alethic) possibility?
  • Should an intuitionist find a way to express an existential commitment to some ignorance and undecidedness?
  • Are there more truths than knowables?
These are possible topics for a special issue of Synthese that I will be editing. For a description of the issue and further details please go here.

Thomas Sattig: The Language and Reality of Time

I've posted a rough draft of my review of Thomas Sattig's The Language and Reality of Time on my webpage. I am going to let it sit there for a while before I hand it over to Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. If you think something crucial is missing, please don't hesitate to let me know. The review raises an objection to Sattig's regional instantiation account. It then offers a brief defense of an account of temporal predication that is somewhat similar to the so-called "intensional account of predication", considered and rejected by Sattig. The objection to Sattig's position was mentioned in an earlier post at Lemmings. The predicational account defended is similar in crucial respects to the predicational account offered by David Kaplan in "Demonstratives".

Dissertation on Modality

As Kai von Fintel points out here, Valentine Hacquard's Ph.D. dissertation Aspects of Modality (MIT, 2006) is now on-line. I haven't read it yet. But it looks awesome.

Certain Doubts on the Move

Jon Kvanvig's group blog Certain Doubts has moved with him to Baylor.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Kratzer on Situation Semantics

I followed Kai von Fintel's brilliant advice and read Angelika Kratzer's new entry on situation semantics in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. It is indeed a very nice survey of the literature on situation semantics. Along the way, Kratzer offers replies to historically important objections to situation semantics, for example, Soames' arguments from attributive uses of definite descriptions and mid-sentence domain shifts, which he offered back in the mid-80s. She also offers arguments for thinking that natural language quantifies over situations. Consider, for instance, the following sentences (from Kratzer):

(1) If, whenever it snowed, it had snowed much more than it actually did, the town plow would have removed the snow for us.

(2) Whenever it snowed, some local person dreamed that it snowed more than it actually did, and that the local weather channel erroneously reported that it had snowed less, but still more than it snowed in reality.

Kratzer thinks that examples like (1) and (2) indicate that "natural languages have the full power of object language quantification over situations" (p. 15).

Since the 80s situation semantics has not been overly popular among philosophers of language. But Kratzer's piece gives us a good reason to think that it should be.

Jenkins on Flirting

Carrie Jenkins has a fun paper on the philosophy of flirting coming out in the Philosophers' Magazine. Click here or here.

New Lemming Blog

Mind Reader, a new blog devoted to mind, phenomenology and cognitive science, is well worth checking out. But unless I missed something, the administrator has not yet revealed his or her identity.

First there was the anonymous blog commentator, now the anonymous blog administrator.

Non-Plagiarized Term Papers for Sale (Salerno)

From this NYT article one learns that Term Paper Relief has the highest moral standard in the business of writing terms papers. At a bargain rate of $9.95 per page they promise a product that is "completely non-plagiarized". This must be a great relief to their customers.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Sattig on Endurantism and Property Abstraction

I am currently working on a review of Thomas Sattig's book: The Language and Reality of Time (Oxford UP, 2006) for Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews. This is a preview.

As the views are standardly characterized, endurantism is the view that objects persist by being fully present at different times, whereas perdurantism is the view that objects persist by having temporal parts at different times. On the most popular version of the latter view, temporal parts just are spatio-temporal regions. Endurantists insist that objects are never identical to spatio-temporal regions.

Sattig develops a new endurantist view according to which objects persist by being fully present at different spatio-temporal regions. Moreover, objects have properties at times insofar as the spatio-temporal regions they occopy at those times have these properties simpliciter. This view has some unexpected consequences, for example that spatio-temporal regions can be female, be happy, be married, be conscious, believe that it is raining, feel that the room is too hot, be mad at their spouse, and so forth.

Sattig does a very good job explaining why these unexpected consequences of his view are not counter to our intuitions (the explanation turns on the fact that spatio-temporal regions, on his view, do not have the properties at times)

However, Sattig notices a problem for his view: property abstraction. Consider the following sentences:

(1) John is happy
(2) John is such that he is happy
Or: John has the property of being a thing x such that x is happy

Property abstraction is widely regarded as a valid move. But, as Sattig observes, it appears to make trouble for his view. Consider:

(3) At t, John is identical to John.

By property abstraction, we get:

(4) At t, John is such that he is identical to John.
Or: at t, John has the property of being a thing x such that x is identical to John.

But if John has this property at t, then the spatio-temporal region he occupies at t has the property of being a thing x such that x is identical to John simpliciter. But surely only John can be identical to John.

Sattig notes that the problem of property abstraction is a problem, not just for his account, but also for perdurantism. He then offers the following solution.

Property abstraction -- e.g., the move from (1) to (2), or the move from (3) to (4) -- is indeed valid, but it is trivially valid. For (2) just has the same logical form as (1), and (4) just has the same logical form as (2). In other words, (2) and (4) are pleonastic paraphrases of (1) and (3).

I think, however, that this way of viewing property abstraction is problematic. Consider the following sentence:

(5) Every one of the students is happy

(5) contains a partitive noun phrase that embeds a definite description. By property abstraction we get:

(6) The students are such that every one of them is happy.
Or: The students X are such that every one of X is happy.

But it is widely agreed that sentences like (5) have the logical form given by (6). To arrive at the logical form of (6), we need property abstraction. Property abstraction reflects genuine syntactical movement. Since there is plenty of evidence for the syntactical movement in question, there is also plenty of evidence against the view that the logical form of (4) is very different from its surface form.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Baby Monkey

This baby monkey is so so cute.

Cappelen and Lepore's Sensitivity Tests

In chapter 7 of Insensitive Semantics Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore offer a number of tests for context-sensitivity. Here are a couple of examples of the kind of test employed by Cappelen and Lepore. Consider the following utterances:

John: I am hungry.
Mary: I am hungry.

Brit: #John and Mary said/believe the same thing.

Since it is inappropriate to conclude that John and Mary said/believe the same thing, it cannot be that John's and Mary's utterances semantically express the same proposition. So, on the assumption that 'hungry' is context invariant, it must be that 'I' is context sensitive.

Consider another case:

Ernie: I am hungry
Herman (reporting): #Ernie believes I am hungry

If Herman aims at reporting Ernie's belief, he is clearly unsuccessful. This suggests that 'I' is context-sensitive. For if 'I' were not context-sensitive, then the semantic content of 'I am hungry' would be the same regardless of whether 'I am hungry' is embedded or unembedded.

After considering a number of such tests Cappelen and Lepore show that expressions like 'tall', 'know', and so on, fail the tests. This indicates that these expressions are not context-sensitive.

In his reply to Cappelen and Lepore John Hawthorne notes that expressions like 'nearby' and 'local' seem to fail the tests for context-sensitivity in spite of the fact that it is very plausible that they are context-sensitive. Consider, for instance, the following exchanges:

Ernie: I am at a local bar.
Herman: Ernie believes he is at a local bar.

Ernie: A nearby restaurant has good Thai food.
Herman: Ernie believes a nearby restaurant has good Thai food.

These exchanges seem fine. If Cappelen and Lepore's tests are good indicators of context-sensitivity, the felicity of the exchanges suggests that 'local' and 'nearby' are not context-sensitive. However, Hawthorne thinks denying that 'local' and 'nearby' are context-sensitive is absurd. For instance, it is widely agreed that the content of 'local' depends on the perspective salient in the discourse context. Thus, an occurrence of 'John went to a local bar' can mean that John went to a bar that is local to him, that John went to a bar that is local to the speaker, that John went to a bar that is local to the hearer, and so on. Expressions like 'local' and 'nearby' are what Francois Recanati and Anne Bezuidenhout call 'perspectivals'. Their content will depend, not on the speaker's location, but on a location that is relative to the perspective salient in the discourse context.

If perspectivals fail the tests for context-sensitivity, then it is open to argue that expressions that fail the tests (e.g. 'tall' and 'know') are perspectivals in Recanati's and Bezuidenhout's sense as well. This would be bad news for semantic minimalism and good news for moderate contextualism. The only concession defenders of moderate contextualism would need to make is that 'tall', 'know', and so on are perspectivals (in the mentioned sense) and not indexicals.

More Discussion of Journals

There is a new thread on for-profit journals over at the Leiter Reports.

Friday, September 08, 2006

An Old Problem for Semantic Eternalism

Here is an old problem for semantic eternalism which still fascinates me. This is Kusumoto's (1999) version of it. According to the eternalist, 'believe' operates on eternal propositions, that is, propositions that are timelessly true or false. So, an occurrence of 'John believes that Mary is pregnant' is true iff John believes at t* that Mary is pregnant at t*, where t* is the time of speech. But consider now the following case.

Mary is pregnant on December 24, 2006 and is expected to give birth on January 15, 2007. But on the morning of December 24, 2006, John and Mary are in a car accident. Mary and the baby are fine. But John is in a coma. Exactly four months later John wakes up and remembers the accident but he believes it is still December 24, 2006, so he says: 'Where is Mary? She is pregnant'. One can truthfully report what John believes using the sentence: 'John believes that Mary is pregnant'. But according to the eternalist, an occurrence of 'John believes that Mary is pregnant' is true iff John believes on April 24, 2007 that Mary is pregnant on April 24, 2007. The problem with this analysis, however, is that John couldn't possibly believe that Mary is pregnant on April 24, 2007. For he believes that it is still December 24, 2006. Eternalism would thus seem to get the truth-conditions wrong.

Here is another way of making the same point. Suppose we treat 'John believes that' as a modal operator. 'John believes that p' is then true iff for all worlds w compatible with what John believes at (@, t), p is true at (w, t). But John believes (among other things) that no human pregnancy lasts 13 months and that Mary was almost 9 months pregnant on December 24, 2006. So, if eternalism is right, then it is true at any relevant world of evaluation that no human pregnancy takes 13 months, that Mary was almost 9 months pregnant on December 24, 2006, and that Mary is pregnant on April 24, 2007. This is inconsistent. So, contrary to appearances, John's belief set is inconsistent!

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

Thursday, September 07, 2006

New Guest Blogger: Ward Jones

I am happy to announce that Ward Jones will be a future contributor to Lemmings. Ward Jones is an associate Professor of Philosophy at Rhodes University, the Editor of Philosophical Papers and a key figure in epistemology, mind, and ethics. In epistemology he is particularly well-known for his early contributions to the emerging literature on the Meno problem.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Semantic Minimalism

In the book symposia on Insensitive Semantics Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore argue that Kent Bach's position collapses into radical contextualism. Bach's position is roughly that many sentences are semantically incomplete, and that they are in need of completion for a full proposition to be pragmatically conveyed. Consider, for instance:

(1) Mary has had enough.

(1) is grammatical. Yet on Bach's view, it fails to semantically express a proposition relative to context. Relative to context, it expresses only a propositional radical, namely the radical that Mary has had enough. The speaker may now fill in the missing constituents and by doing that she may succeed in conveying a complete proposition.

Cappelen and Lepore argue that this view collapses into radical contextualism. For whatever your reason is for thinking that (1) is semantically incomplete, this will also be a reason for you to think that (2) below is semantically incomplete:

(2) Mary has had enough pasta.

The main reason to think that (1) is semantically incomplete is that whenever it is true that Mary has had enough of something or other (e.g. pasta), it is usually also true that Mary has not had enough of something or other (e.g., compliments). But suppose now that Mary owns a pasta company and has just ordered 10 million bags of pasta. Then it would be true to say that Mary has had enough pasta. But if I utter (2) during my pasta dinner with Mary and her family, and Mary wants more pasta, then it is not true to say that Mary has had enough pasta. Since both of these scenarios could obtain at the same time, it may be that it is true that Mary has had enough pasta and true that Mary has not had enough pasta. According to Cappelen and Lepore, it is simply impossible to draw a principled distinction between sentences that semantically express propositions and sentences that semantically express propositional radicals.

What to do? Well, you could join Cappelen and Lepore in saying that (1) and (2) both semantically express full propositions relative to context. Or you could revise Bach's view. Bach says that it is sentences that are truth-evaluable or non-truth-evaluable. But we could also just say that it is occurrences or utterances of sentences that are truth-evaluable or non-truth-evaluable. In the pasta-dinner/pasta-company situation, then, an occurrence of (2) is not truth-evaluable. But other occurrences of (2) may be truth-evaluable. In other words, it is possible to draw a principled distinction between occurrences of sentences that are truth-evaluable and occurrences of sentences that are not truth-evaluable, even if it is not possible to draw a principled distinction between sentences that are truth-evaluable and sentences that are not truth-evaluable.

Philosophers' Carnival # 35

... is here.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The Vacuous Past

Do we always mean past when we use the past tense? Certainly not. Consider the following sentences:

(1) John decided a week ago that in ten days he would say to his mother that they were having their last meal together (Abusch 1988)

(2) John said he would buy a fish that was still alive (Ogihara 1989)

(1) requires for its truth that John decided to say "we are having our last meal together", and (2) requires for its truth that John said he would buy a fish that is alive simultaneously with the buying event. This suggests that the past tense is ambiguous: it may be interpreted either as semantically vacuous or as meaning anteriority with respect to some reference time. The ambiguity thesis nicely explains why we don't need two past tense operators (or past tense quantifiers or whatever) in the logical form of the following sentence:

(3) Mary believed that Nixon was up to no good in the White House.

(3) can be read in two different ways, depending on whether the second occurrence of the past tense is taken to be vacuous. If the second occurrence of the past tense is read as vacuous, then (3) requires for its truth that the time of Mary's believing overlap the time of Nixon's being up to no good in the White House.

Abusch, D. 1988. "Sequence of Tense, Intensionality and Scope". In H. Borer (ed.), Proceedings of WCCFL 7: 1-14.
Ogihara, T. 1989. Temporal Refernece in English and Japanese. Ph. D. Dissertation, University of Texas, Austin.

New Guest Blogger: Scott Sturgeon

Scott Sturgeon, a leading figure in mind, language, metaphysics and epistemology, will be a new guest blogger at Lemmings.

Around the Blogosphere

Aidan has a post on the continental/analytic distinction over at the Boundaries of Language.

Robbie reports from the Lewis Graduate Conference at Leeds.

If you haven't yet seen Joe's photos from Stirling, click here.

Carrie is at ANU. Read her frequent updates here.

Certain Doubts is moving.

There is interesting discussion of refereeing practices over at the Leiter Reports.

If you have any axes to grind, enter the Philosophy Blog War.