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Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Arkansas' Sibilant 's' (Salerno)

Do you have good grammar? Not so much? You can always become an Arkansas lawmaker and change grammar. I quote from NPR today that

Rep. Steve Harrelson, a Democrat in the Arkansas legislature, yesterday introduced a resolution to declare the correct way to write the possessive form of the state's name. That would be, he says, "Arkansas's." ... Not everyone agrees, however, including the largest newspaper in Little Rock, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. The daily stands by the Associated Press stylebook, which mandates that the state's possessive form is Arkansas'

There, see? The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette says he's wrong. Nice correction NPR!

PHINEWS Bulletin, February 2007

(1) PHINEWS / Volume 10 is scheduled to be published in April 2007. Deadline for submissions is March 15, 2007; Please send your annoucements and other relevant material to Vincent F. Hendricks,


Synthese hosts its first annual conference Between Logic and Intuition: David Lewis and the Future of Formal Methods in Philosophy at the Carlsberg Academy in Copenhagen, October 3- 5 , 2007.

Invited Speakers: John Collins, Alan Hajek, Hannes Leitgeb, Rohit Parikh and L.A. Paul

Call for Papers - Deadline April 1, 2007

Synthese invites papers on the work of David Lewis and formal philosophy in accordance with the conference abstract. The final papers should be submitted electronically directly to editor-in-chief Vincent F. Hendricks,, classified as a "SAC"-submission in the subject entry. The deadline for submitting a paper for consideration is April 1, 2007. Notification of acceptance for presentation at the conference is August 1, 2007

(via Vincent Hendricks)

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Two New Danish Blogs

... new to me anyway. One is Anders Schoubye's -- a blog which has actually been around since 2002 (long before I started mine). Anders was just accepted as a graduate student at UCLA and is interested in definite descriptions, presupposition-failure and other exciting topics. The other is Klemens Kappel's Klemens Kappel's Blog (very fitting name!). Klemens is an associate professor at University of Copenhagen. Unfortunately (for you English-speaking (only) readers), the language of Klemens' blog is Danish. So, you (English-speaking readers) will have to wait for my occasional reports. Anyway, in spite of the fact that both of these topnotch philosophers are Danish, I have never had a beer with them in Copenhagen (likely explanation: it's 11 years -- yes, 11 years -- since I left the country). Actually, I never met Anders (but I am looking forward to meeting him at the Aberdeen epistemology conference in May, which he has promised to show up for!). I know Klemens from conferences, and he is definitely one of my favorite epistemologists. Hopefully, I will bump into him again soon.

Offer Out to Alexandrova

Exciting news: we have an offer out to Anna Alexandrova, who just completed her Ph.D. at UC San Diego. I very much hope she will accept the offer. She currently holds a post doc position at Wash U and has also taught a course for us last year. Her reasearch area falls within the broad area of formal philosophy, though with a special focus on philosophy of economics. This is an area of philosophy which I was hoping to learn more about. Now that may happen in a quite natural fashion.

Bush Funneling Money to al Qaeda-Related Groups

From Truthout:

Seymour Hersh reports that the Bush administration is funding anti-Shiite Sunnis linked to al Qaeda without Congressional approval and without appropriate appropriation. Hersh speculates that the money is coming from the pallet-loads of cash floating around Iraq and has already reached "three Sunni jihadist groups." He says, flatly, that the president is "supporting groups indirectly that are involved with the same people that did 9/11."

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Resistant Counterpossibles

A quick follow-up on Joe's kangaroo post (I couldn't resist). In his forthcoming book The Philosophy of Philosophy Timothy Williamson defends the view that all counterpossibles are true, including:

If Hillary Clinton had been my mother, she wouldn't have been my mother.


If the law of excluded middle had failed, 'p or not-p' would have been true.

Williamson then writes as follows (symbols have been translated into English):

If all counterpossible were false, 'possibly-A' would be equivalent to 'if A had been the case, A would have been the case', for the latter would still be true whenever A was possible; correspondingly, 'necessarily-A' would be equivalent to the dual 'not-(if not-A had been the case, then not-A would have been the case)' and one could carry out the programme of section 3 using the new equivalences.
As this is a counterpossible (if Williamson is right), what Williamson just said is true. But so is:
If all counterpossible were false, 'possibly-A' would NOT be equivalent to 'if A had been the case, A would have been the case', for the latter would still be FALSE whenever A was possible; correspondingly, 'necessarily-A' would NOT be equivalent to the dual 'not-(if not-A had been the case, then not-A would have been the case)' and [so] one could NOT carry out the programme of section 3 using the new equivalences.
I am not saying that counterpossibles are sometimes false. My only point is that the subjunctive mood is a common way in which to refute one's opponents in philosophy (perhaps the most common way), and so, if counterpossibles are true (per definition), philosophy isn't as deep and interesting as one would have thought.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Denmark to Withdraw From Iraq

From Truthout:

The Associated Press reports from Copenhagen of Denmark's plan to withdraw troops from Iraq. The Danish announcement came Wednesday as British Prime Minister Tony Blair said his country would withdraw about 1,600 troops in the coming months, if local forces can secure the southern part of the country.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Philosophers' Carnival # 43

... is here.

Sunday, February 18, 2007


In previous blog posts John Capps has argued that the PGR gives us a somewhat inaccurate picture of the quality of philosophy programs. He now appeals to the Faculty Scholarly Productivity Index to back up this claim. The FSPI measures productivity by the number of books and articles published and the number of citations. Given these parameters, the 10 highest ranking philosophy programs are:

1. Michigan State
3. Princeton
4. U. of Virginia
5. Rutgers
6. UC San Diego
7. Penn State
8. UT Austin
9. SUNY Stony Brook
10. Rice

Capps notes that the list "doesn't look anything like the Leiter list". He also foreshadows an objection. The objection is that the PGR measures quality, whereas the FSPI measures quantity. Capps replies that citations are normally taken to be a good measure of quality. That's a good point. But I wonder whether the numbers cited by the FSPI are really accurate. According to the FSPI, only 20% of the faculty at Princeton and 28% of the faculty at Rutgers published an article in 2003-2005. Though I haven't checked, that seems unlikely. On the other hand, if there are mistakes, everyone is probably affected, and so that does not explain why the FSPI looks different from the PGR. So why does it look different? One possible answer is that there are numerous ways to measure the quality of a program. The FSPI clearly cannot measure originality or quality of articles as well as the PGR. Still, these data are quite interesting, and it might be a good idea for prospective Ph.D. students to compare the lists before deciding where to go. But students should also keep in mind that some prospective employers might consult the PGR rather than the FSPI before they decide whether or not to make an offer.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

On McGee's Counterexample to Modus Ponens

McGee's counterexample to modus ponens came up in our reading group today at WashU during our discussion of Chapter 4 of Timothy Williamson's forthcoming book The Philosophy of Philosophy. The counterexample runs as follows. It's just before the election in 1980. The polls suggest that Republican Reagan is a clear winner. Democrat Carter is second, and Republican Anderson is third. Someone reasons as follows:

(1) If a Republican wins, then if it's not Reagan who wins, it will be Anderson
(2) A Republican will win
(3) Therefore, if it's not Reagan who wins, it will be Anderson.

Impeccable reasoning. Or maybe not. Intuitively, (1) and (2) are true, while (3) is false. Of course, if we force a logic 101 reading, then the reasoning is impeccable.

The counterexample is not a counterexample to modus ponens, given a reading of 'if ... then ...' as a material conditional. It is a counterexample to modus ponens, given an intuitive assignment of truth-values. Moreover, if we take the intuitive assignment of truth-values seriously, then it is a counterexample to the logic 101 reading.

But if 'if ... then ...' is not to be read as the material conditional, how is it to be read? A possible worlds account (ala the one for subjunctive conditionals) does not seem give us the intuitive result either. Without any further constraints on the closeness relation, a possible worlds analysis of (1) would tell us to go to the closest world in which a Republican wins. That is the actual world (as Reagan won). Then we go to the closest world in which it's not Reagan who wins. The closest world in which he doesn't win is one in which Anderson wins, if we keep the "Republican wins" feature fixed. So, (1) is true. (2), of course, is true. And so is (3) if we keep the "Republican wins" feature fixed. But this is not the intuitive result.

Why do we get a different result on an intuitive reading? Well, because there are two ways of determining closeness. If we keep the "Republican wins" feature fixed, we get one ordering of the worlds, and if we keep the "most likely to win if Reagan doesn't" feature fixed, we get another ordering of the worlds. If we keep the "Republican wins" feature fixed, Anderson wins if Reagan loses. If we keep the "most likely to win if Reagan doesn't" feature fixed, Carter wins if Reagan loses. The "most likely to win" feature would normally be more important, as it would normally be more salient. In the case of (3), for example, we keep the "most likely to win if Reagan doesn't" feature fixed, hence the false reading. In the case of (1) the "Republican wins" feature was just mentioned in the antecedent. That makes it more salient. So when we evaluate the embedded conditional, we keep it fixed, hence the true reading.

Now, there are of course numerous reasons to be suspicious of a possible worlds analysis of indicative conditionals. But at least the possible worlds analysis fares better than the logic 101 analysis in this particular case, as it is able to explain why modus ponens seems to fail.


Wayne Riggs is hosting a conference on "Why Formal Epistemology?" on April 28-29, 2007. Participants: Luc Bovens, David Chalmers, Branden Fitelson, Alan Hajek, Jonathan Kvanvig, Adam Morton, Scott Sturgeon, and Paul Weirich (via Wayne Riggs).

Keith DeRose's has a new paper on Sly Pete and conditionals of deliberation, which can be found here.

There is an interesting post on Yablo’s Paradox, formal systems and incompleteness over at the Florida Student Philosophy Blog

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Freedom & Neurobiology

John R. Searle, Freedom & Neurobiology -- Reflections on Free Will, Language, and Political Power, Columbia University Press, 2007, 128pp., $24.50 (hbk), ISBN 0-231-13752-4.

Freedom and Neurobiology (FN) brings together two of the lectures John Searle gave at Sorbonne in the spring of 2001. One was a public lecture on political power. The other was a lecture on free will. The two lectures appeared in French in a book entitled Liberté et neurobiologie in 2004. The book was subsequently translated into Spanish, Italian, German and Chinese. FN comes with a 37 pages introduction which brings together the two themes. Both essays are written in the style that has characterized Searle's work for several years. Written with great clarity in expression, the essays begin with the fundamental issues (neurobiology and the Big Bang) and work their way up to such issues as freedom, collective intentionality and political power. Along the way the book makes several contributions to the free will debate and the dispute over the status of social reality.

In the first essay Searle formulates the problem of free will as a problem in neurobiology. According to Searle, the problem of free will boils down to the problem of answering the following questions: (1) 'What exactly are the neuronal processes that cause our conscious experiences', in particular, what are the processes that cause the 'active character of what we might call "volitional consciousness" '? (pp. 40-41), and (2) how do we explain the appearance of a gap between subsequent conscious states? Searle does not answer either question fully. Presuably only a neurobiologist/quantum theorist duo could do that. But he does give us reason to believe that these questions ought to be at the center of the debate concerning free will.

What makes the problem of free will a problem, says Searle, is that 'the conscious states are not experienced as sufficient to compel the next conscious state' (p. 43) There is an appearance of a gap in the causal chain. It is awareness of this gap that makes us think we have free will. As Searle puts it,

It is important to emphasize that the problem of free will, as I have stated it, is a problem about a certain kind of human consciousness. Without the conscious experience of the gap, that is, without the conscious experience of the distinctive features of free, voluntary, rational actions, there would be no problem of free will. We have the conviction of our own free will because of certain features of our consciousness.
This is a slight exaggeration, on Searle's part. For, as he subsequently points out, to say that there would be no problem of free will if we didn't experience the gap is not yet to say that the gap is not real. It could be that whatever precedes our actions is in every case sufficient to determine the action. But if it is not, then we are owed some account of how such gaps are possible in a largely deterministic world. Searle admits that there may be indeterminacy at the quantum level (p. 44). But the indeterminacy is often described as randomness, and randomness does not make for freedom in choice. Suppose I flip a coin before "deciding" whether to go to a bar in the Central West End or one in University City. I end up in University City. So do you. But unlike me, you weighed pros and cons -- your preference for walking home rather than driving settled the issue. Who is making a free decision in this case? Well, certainly not me.

What then is Searle's answer to the big question? After dismissing what he calls 'epiphenomenalism' -- the view that 'our experience of freedom plays no causal or explanatory role in our behavior' (p. 62) -- he argues that the brain 'causes and sustains' a conscious self which then engages in deliberations and reports its results to the brain. Finally, the brain moves the body. For Searle the self plays an important role in explaining our experience of the gap but the self is not something over and above the brain. As he puts it,
the self is not some extra entity; rather, in a very crude and oversimplified fashion, one can say that conscious agency plus conscious rationality equals selfhood. So if you had an account of brain processes that explained how the brain produced the unified field of consicousness, together with the experience of acting, and in addition how the brain produced consicous thought processes, in which the constraints of rationality are already built in as constitutive elements, you would ... get the self for free (p. 72).
So how does Searle's account differ from old-fashioned determinism? Is the account simply a form of compatibilism -- a theory that reconciles free will and determinism? It is not. While the self isn't some extra entity for Searle, the results of its deliberations are not caused by the brain. Searle thus assumes that there is a level of indeterminacy in decision-making. As quamtum indeterminacy is the only (known) kind of indeterminacy in nature, the indeterminacy in question can only be quantum indeterminacy. Searle points out that just because quantum indeterminacy is best described as randomness at the quantum level, this does not mean that the self's deliberation processes are also random. There can be radomness at the micro-level even if there is none at the macro-level. Searle concludes by noting that the hypothesis he has outlined is 'a mess' and that it seems to remove one mystery only to replace it with three others (free will, consciousness and quantum mechanics). Searle never says how quantum indeterminacy explains system indeterminacy. In spite of the inconclusiveness, the essay gives new structure to a very complicated debate without rehearsing all the tangents that have emerged in recent years. Moreover, it makes it absolutely clear where in the debate Searle stands: he is an old-fashioned indeterminist.

If you are already familiar with Searle's previously published books, in particular The Construction of Social Reality and Rationality in Action, the second essay will bring back old memories. The essay is about how political power supervenes on brute facts and collective intentionality. There is nothing mysterious about collective intentionality, according to Searle. If several organisms engage in an activity with consciously shared attitudes, there is collective intentionality. However, collective intentionality does not suffice for political reality. The institutional and political realms require what Searle calls 'status functions'. A status function is a function we impose upon an object by believing collectively that the object performs the function in question. Searle's favorite example is the one dollar bill. If we didn't believe that the one dollar bill had the value corresponding to the number printed on it, it would just be green paper. But the green paper is not just green paper, it functions as currency, and that function is a status function. Status functions are imposed on objects via constitutive rules of the form 'X counts as Y in context C'. According to Sarle, prominent or forceful individuals in a given social group initially impose the status functions. Then, slowly, the imposing becomes routine, and the practice then creates a constitutive rule. Searle thinks 'language is partly constitutive of all institutional reality' (p. 95). This makes institutional reality different from social reality (broadly construed). Within institutional reality, status functions exist only to the extent that we represent them as existing.

Now, as for political power, political power (and in particular governmental power), says Searle, is a system of status functions. It depends for its existence on collective acceptance (p. 97) When a system collapses, it is usually because the acceptance by a large number of people is withdrawn. One interesting feature of Searle's view is that he holds that political facts could not exist without language and armed violence. What makes it true that Bush is president is that enough people regard him as and accept him as president. And this they do by accepting the entire governmental system. But the governmental system would not remain in place if it were not 'backed by the threat of armed violence' (p. 108). It is only through the threat of armed violence that the government can be sustained as the ultimate system with ultimate power.

As noted at the outset, the essay on political power was intended as a public lecture. It does not deviate much from the theory Searle set out in the Construction of Social Reality and Rationality in Action. The essay raises important fundamental questions, such as 'what is a constitutive rule?', 'what makes social and political facts true?', 'how is a governmental system sustained?' A brief remark on the second question. On Searle's view, what makes it true that Bush is president is that we have imposed the president status function on Bush. He has the status function only insofar as we continue to believe that he has certain obligations and powers. But maybe this is overstating the role our alleged acceptance of Bush has in keeping him in place. Perhaps it is true that the continued acceptance of the governmental system is needed in order to sustain the government. And maybe it is also true that collectively we decided to impose a status function on Bush. But, it seems, the president status function is not sustained by our beliefs. Rather, it seems to be a role in a system that can be filled by different individuals. What characterizes the role is a collection of formal properties. What makes it true that Bush is president is that Bush fills the role. In this sense, the president status function is akin to numbers, it is a role in a larger system defined by its relations to other places in the order.

In sum: for those already familiar with Searle's philosophy, Freedom & Neurobiology introduces few new issues but it sheds light on old ones, and it clearly and concisely states Searle's views on a number of issues, including language, collective intentionality, free will, and the self.

Note: My colleague Gualtiero Piccinini was also asked to review the book for CUP. His review can be found here.

John Searle, the Free Speech Movement

Monday, February 05, 2007

Erdös Number 8

Richard Zach reports that the Mathematical Reviews database MathSciNet has an "Erdös Number calculator" in the author search. He calculated Jason Stanley's, which is 5. I looked up my own, which is 8:

Berit Brogaard coauthored with Barry Smith MR2224530
Barry Smith coauthored with Achille C. Varzi MR1693227 (2000e:03014)
Achille C. Varzi coauthored with Anthony G. Cohn MR1996110 (2004e:03021)
Anthony G. Cohn coauthored with Ernest S. Davis MR1716181 (2000k:68156)
Ernest S. Davis coauthored with Jeffrey M. Jaffe MR0677084 (84f:90042)
Jeffrey M. Jaffe coauthored with Michael Rodeh MR1025464 (90m:68019)
Michael Rodeh coauthored with Maria M. Klawe MR0668088 (84a:68026)
Maria M. Klawe coauthored with Paul Erdös MR0593526 (82c:05058)

As Zach points out, you can also calculate other numbers, for instance, your Stanley or Zach number. My Zach and Stanley numbers are both 10. So is my Carnap number. My Taski number, on the other hand, is 7, and my Quine number is 8.

'The President has been Assassinated 5 Times'

Some think worm theory is suspect because we rarely quantify over worms in ordinary language. However, consider the following sentences (from Carlson 1977):

(1) The president makes good decisions when he is from Ohio
(2) The president has eaten at the Statler Hilton on saturday nights every week for the past 25 years.
(3) The president inhabited the White House continuously for 136 years until Truman moved into Blair house.
(4) The president has been assassinated by a disgruntled job-seeker five times since the turn of the century.

(3) seems to assert that a four-dimensional spacetime worm to which the predicate 'president' applies lived in the White House for 136 years until one of its temporal parts moved into Blair house, and (4) seems to assert that a four-dimensional spacetime worm to which the predicate 'president' applies has been killed five times. Carlson himself treats bare plurals and definite descriptions used generically as terms referring to kinds. But (1) of course does not assert of a kind that it makes good decisions when it is from Ohio. To avoid this implication Carlson distinguishes between kind-level and characterizing predicates. Kind-level predicates are predicates such as 'is extinct' which apply to the kind itself (as in 'the dinosaur is extinct'). Characterizing predicates are predicates such as 'makes good decisions when he is from Ohio' which apply only to instances of the kind. It is not the kind that makes good decisions when it is from Ohio but the individuals that fall under it. Carlson treats kinds as basic but if kinds were mereological sums, as some philosophers think, his suggestion would be consistent with the thesis that ordinary language quantifies over worms.

Reference: Carlson, G. 1977. Reference to Kinds in English, Ph.D. thesis, UMass.


Two of my articles just appeared in print:

"Number Words and Ontological Commitment", The Philosophical Quarterly 57 (2007), 1-20.

"Span Operators", Analysis 67 (2007), 72-79.

The papers are available here.

I'm cool with that

From LanguageLog:

Mark Liberman points out that 'Holly's slang scholarship is weak', as 'I'm cool with that' was current in the 80s when the mother was a teen. He also points out that 'cool' was used as 'a general term of approval' all the way back in 1884. SWEEEEEEET!