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Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Reasoner 1 (2)

Alan Baker has published a reply to our note on counterpossibles in the latest issue of the Reasoner. Naturally, we are now working on a reply to his reply.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Epistemology in Copenhagen

The spring conference season is coming to an end. Just got back (to my usual location in Copenhagen) from a very stimulating epistemology conference organized by Klemens Kappel, who (as usual) did a fantastic job. Speakers included: Duncan Pritchard ("A Two-Tiered Relevant Alternatives Theory"), Erik Olsson ("Reliabilism, Stability, and the Value of Knowledge"), Nikolaj Nottelman ("Two Problems of Justification Transmission in Light of the Deontological Conception of Epistemic Justification"), Erik Carlsson [impersonated by Erik Olsson] ("Williamson on the Causal Efficacy of Knowing"), Kristoffer Ahlstrom ("On Empirical Investigation in Epistemology"), Berit Brogaard ("What Mary Did Yesterday: Reflections on Knowledge-wh") and Esben Nedenskov ("What does it take to make sense of skepticism?"). Discussants included (among many others): Lars Bo Gundersen, Eline Busck Gundersen, Jesper Kallestrup, Klemens Kappel, and Anders Schoubye. I talked about knowledge-wh and got great feed-back from the audience, especially from Jesper and Anders. A little anecdote. After Friday's sessions we met at the local corner bar, close to the old KUA. The restaurant Sult, where the conference dinner was supposed to take place, is located just a few kilometers from the conference location (the new KUA), and the weather was super-nice; so Lars Bo Gundersen and I decided to walk. Klemens had explained how to get to the restaurant but Lars and I apparently didn't listen. I guess we thought others would know. As we started walking we realized we had no idea where we were going. I remembered Klemens mention Gothersgade (a street) and Lars remembered him mention Kongens Have (a large park). As we approached those locations we started asking people for directions. But as "Sult" means "Hunger" in Danish, people didn't take us very seriously (the restaurant is actually named after Henning Carlsen's film version of a famous Knut Hamsun novel). When asked, people looked for hidden cameras. Happy ending: we finally found the restaurant but mistakenly entered through the staff door in the back and came out through the kitchen. Anyway, it was a very fun dinner and night, and the next day we were all a bit tired but managed to carry on at a normal activity level with the help of a moderate amount of more or less well-tasting coffee.

Sunday, May 27, 2007


Carrie Jenkins is scheduled to appear on Philosophy Talk in August.

New feminist blog (HT: Sally Haslanger)

Philosophers' Carnival # 47 is here.

UPDATE: Links to discussions of the status of women in philosophy can be found here and here (HT: Feminist Philosophers).

FURTHER UPDATE: Feminist Philosophers reports that women are less likely to thrive in environments with less than 30% women in top positions.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

St. Andrews

Just returned to Copenhagen after a few intense days in St. Andrews at the adjectives conference. Sharon Coull, Herman Cappelen and Jason Stanley did a great job organizing the conference. In fact, Sharon's contribution was so excellent that she ended up with several job offers from conference participants. "Jason-Billy-Whizz" chaired all sessions, except his own, which was chaired by Ludlow. That added to the fun. Some highlights: Chris Kennedy defended a version of his famous degree account of gradable adjectives, Delia Fara showed how allowing relativity to comparison classes and respects can be used to solve Kit Fine's puzzle of coincidence, Gabriel Segal and Daniel Rothschild argued that gradables are indexicals, Peter Ludlow defended a variation on this view, according to which gradables are associated with hidden domain variables, John Hawthorne offered objections to Stanley's nominal restriction strategy, Paul Pietroski offered a new theory of gradables as monadic predicates, Jonathan Schaffer offered reasons against a relativistic account of predicates of personal taste and defended a contextual variant, and Stanley defended an anti-Chomskian line with respect to the adjective "average" (as it occurs in 'the average American has 2.3 children'). Stanley's theory predicts that the following examples (due to Gabriel Segal) are infelicitous:

The average American has 2.3 children, and he sends all of them to college
The average American has 2 children, he used to have 3, and now he is worried about his fertility
The average American has 2 children, he used to have 3 and wonders where the last one went (perhaps he went to college).

The award-winning Central Pub close to the Arche Research Center (picture) formed a natural meeting place for drinks after the talks. More reports from DK epistemology workshops will follow.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Report from Great Britain

Just a quick update from Great Britain. We have now arrived in St. Andrews and are looking forward to the amazing talks starting today. Our tour of Great Britain began about a week ago with a fantastic Epistemology and Linguistics conference, organized by Martijn Blaauw. Kent Bach opened with Bach-y solutions to a number of problems in epistemology, including the apparent shiftiness of the truth-value of knowledge-attributions. Joe then talked about the most general factive mental state operator (and guess what? It ain't 'knows that'). I was next with my new cleft approach to knowledge-wh. Meanwhile there were other fun parallel sessions going on. As for the other keynote addresses, my friend Peter Ludlow concluded on the first day with a talk on knowledge reports and indexicality. Ram Neta replied. The next day my soon-to-be-colleague Jonathan Schaffer came on stage and showed that if the knowledge account of assertion is correct, then we ought to be contrastivists. After some super-interesting parallel sessions we reached the grand finale: Jason Stanley's talk on knowledge and action. Actually, it was, strictly speaking, Stanley and John Hawthorne's joint talk. But Stanley covered it brilliantly alone, with a very interesting reply from Duncan Pritchard.

So much for the serious part of the conference. After all the talks and dinners we waisted valuable time drinking ale, scotch and the like at Scottish clubs. And don't ask Stanley or Ludlow whether they went to Babylon, because they will most certainly deny it. Anyway, pictures will follow, as soon as Ludlow will allow it.

After Aberdeen we went to a nice mini-conference in Edinburgh. The conference was organized by Jesper Kallestrup and Matthew Chrisman, and the speakers included Ram Neta, Duncan Pritchard, Jonathan Schaffer, Joe and I. A fantastic day and a fantastic night out in Edinburgh. We then went down to Manchester and York and have just arrived back in Scotland. That is, we arrived yesterday, and we finally got to meet the famous philosopher of language Gabriel Segal whose work I have replied to on earlier occasions. The adjectives conference (which is organized by Herman Cappelen and Jason Stanley) begins today. So expect more updates. Next week I will report from various workshops in Copenhagen.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Trip to Europe

I am off to Europe. My paper for Aberdeen is available here. After Aberdeen Joe and I are presenting something on subjunctives, impossible worlds and two-dimensionalism in Edinburgh (we will also give our new account of essences). After Edingburgh I am off to England. Then back to Scotland to St. Andrews. I will be taking a sidetrip to Copenhagen as well. See you in a month.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Trolling and the Public Woman

Kathy Sierra, a female technology blogger, was recently so severely threatened online that she had to cancel all her public speaking engagements and stay inside her house for fear that the online stalker would track her down. The Kathy Sierra incident is a severe case of what is called 'trolling'. According to Blogging Feminism, trolling is 'a particular use of commenting on blogs: commenting intended to stop the ongoing conversation or to turn it into a fight'. Trolling can take various forms, from comments with unrelated content or content questioning the importance of the topics discussed to insults, threats, and harassments intended to question the authority, integrity, intelligence or fundamental human rights of bloggers – typically female bloggers. Blogging Feminism lists some examples of moderately severe trolling. In one of them the troll expresses a wish to torture and rape women. Not all trolling is that severe. It can also take the form of regular spam posted in the comments section of a blog.

The sort of trolling feminist bloggers experience is typically the most severe. As Jill from Blogging Feminism points out, the fact that women bloggers are subject to this sort of discrimination has a lot to do with the old-fashioned picture of respectable women as domestic creatures. She writes:

The original "public woman" was the prostitute. Men have traditionally occupied the public space (including the political), while women were relegated to the domestic -- or at least, certain kinds of women were relegated to the domestic. Cloistering women away or at least keeping them tied to domestic duties has long been a sign of socioeconomic class, from ancient Greece through Victorian England through the 1950s and The Feminine Mystique. "Other" women -- poor women, women of color -- worked outside the home. The lowest class of women were the publicly available ones. And public availability was tied to sexual availability.
I would like to think that this picture of the public woman has changed. But the recent incidents in the blogosphere indicate that it has not. In this regard it is noticeable that, while educated women with a bachelor's degree or higher are in the majority in America, working women in America are still in the minority, and their earnings are considerably lower than those of men. Here are some stats:

Percent of women 25 to 29 who had attained a bachelor’s degree or higher in 2005: 32%
Percent of men 25 to 29 who had attained a bachelor's degree or higher in 2005: 25%.

Percent of women 16 or older who participated in the labor force in 2005: 59%.
Percent of men 16 or older who participated in the labor force in 2005: 73%.

The median annual earnings of women 16 or older who worked year-round, full time, in 2005: $32,168
Women earned 77 cents for every $1 earned by men.

The difference is quite noticeable. Only 59% of adult women participate in the labor force. The fact that some of these women do not participate owing to the fact that they attend colleges and universities does not explain this difference. And needless to say, the fact that men earn more than women in spite of the fact that women, on average, are better educated is atrocious. The stats confirm that the old-fashioned gender-roles haven't yet been wiped out.

(Thanks to Sally Haslanger for the S&F Online link)

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Materials Concerning Women and Minorities in Philosophy

Sally Haslanger has posted the available data concerning the status of women and other minorities in philosophy at the SGRP site. Her paper on the status of women in philosophy, which she presented at the Central Meeting of the APA, 2007, is available here (HT: Brian Weatherson).

Thursday, May 03, 2007

Reflections on Donkey Sentences

Philosophers and linguists tend to agree that donkey sentences such as:

(1) If a farmer buys a donkey, he vaccinates it

are deeply problematic. What they tend to disagree about is how best to deal with them. My students sometimes wonder why (1) is thought to be problematic at all. It just says that for all farmers x and all donkeys y, if x buys y, then x vaccinates y, doesn't it? The problem with this reply is that it treats 'a farmer' and 'a donkey' (constructions that look like existentially quantified constructions) as universally quantified constructions.

There are numerous alternative proposals in the literature. And old and famous one is David Lewis'. (1) is to be understood as containing an implicit adverb (e.g. 'always', or 'generally'). The adverb is thought to bind both variables. It is a so-called unselective quantifier quantifying over pairs, triples, or whatever (in this case, pairs of farmers and donkeys standing in certain relations).

Lewis' view runs into trouble. Consider:

(2) If a farmer buys a donkey, he usually vaccinates it.

Given Lewis' view, (2) is true iff for most farmer-donkey-bought-by-farmer pairs, the farmer in the pair vaccinates the donkey. But consider now a scenario with 31 farmers and 130 donkeys. 1 rich farmer buys exactly 100 donkeys and vaccinates all of them. 30 poor farmers buy exactly one donkey each but do not vaccinate it. There are then 100 farmer/donkey pairs (of the right sort) where the farmer and the donkey stand in the vaccination relation. And there are 30 farmer/donkey pairs (of the right sort) where the farmer and the donkey do not stand in the vaccination relation. Since most farmer-donkey-bought-by-farmer pairs are such that the farmer in the pair vaccinates the donkey, Lewis' view predicts that (2) is true. but intuitively, it is false. This is the so-called 'proportion problem'.

There is also the so-called D-type account (defended by numerous people, including Stephen Neale). On this view, donkey pronouns go proxy for numberless descriptions. For example, in (1) the 'it' goes proxy for 'the donkey(s)'. The D-type approach predicts that (1) is equivalent to 'every farmer who buys a donkey vaccinates every donkey he buys'.

In my talk at the Central Meeting, I argued that a problem arises for this account (Neale acknowledges that this is a problem in a footnote in an article from 1990, and if I remember correctly, he also refers to a personal correspondence he had with Heim).

Consider a different scenario in which 10 farmers (the only ones) buy 10 donkeys each and vaccinate 9 of them. The majority of informants report that (1) is true in these circumstances. But the D-type approach predicts that it should be false. A similar problem arises in the following case:

(3) If a farmer buys a donkey, he sometimes vaccinates it.

The majority of informants report that (3) is true if the only 10 farmers buy 10 donkeys each and vaccinate 3 of them.

I argued that we need to treat donkey pronouns as plural definite descriptions (using plural variables, in line with Boolos), and I then appealed to an earlier paper of mine in which I argued that plural definite descriptions function as partitive constructions at a subsequent level of analysis [my paper is forthcoming in Mind and Language, and also contains a precis of the donkey proposal].

I then said that the force of the partitive construction will depend on the monotonicity properties of the adverb (or initial quantifier in the case of relative clause doneky sentences). As a rule, the partitive that goes proxy for the pronoun inherits the force of the adverb of quantification (or initial quantifier in the case of relative clause donkey sentences) when the quantifier is upward-entailing in the VP. When the quantifier is downward entailing in the VP, the partitive has existential force. I also said that this cannot be the whole story, because of so-called weak and strong readings. I won't go over that again.

Before continuing let me just summarize how to test for monotonicity.

Right-upward monotonic (upward-entailing in VP, or just upward-entailing, e.g., 'some', 'most', 'almost all', 'every', 'all')
DFs are Gs
All Gs are Hs
DFs are Hs

Left-upward monotonic (upward-entailing in NP, e.g. 'not every', 'some')
DFs are Gs
All Fs are Hs
DHs are Gs

Right-downward monotonic (downward-entailing in VP, or just downward-entailing, e.g. 'no', 'not every', 'at most 3')
DFs are Gs
All Hs are Gs
DFs are Hs

Left-downward monotonic (downward-entailing in NP, e.g. 'every')
DFs are Gs
All Hs are Fs
DHs are Gs.

Non-monotone: e.g., 'exactly 3'

What I want to focus on here is Jessica Rett's most interesting example:

(4) Not every farmer who owns a donkey beats it.

Rett took me to be saying that when a quantifier is upward-entailing in the NP the partitive inherits its force from the quantifier and when it is downward-entailing in the NP the partitive is existential. But that can't be right, as 'every' is not upward-entailing in its NP.

Anyway, if we follow me in taking the partitive to have existential force when the quantifier is downward-entailing in its VP, and if we follow Rett in taking 'not every' to be a quantifier construction, then we should expect (4) to be equivalent to:

(5) Not every farmer who owns a donkey beats at least one of the donkey(s) he owns.

This may or may not be a good reading of (4). I will get back to this later.

An alternative is to say that 'not every' is not a quantifier construction at all. We might treat 'not' as a sentential operator. 'Every' is then the quantifier, and the relevant quantifier in (4) is then upward-entailing in its VP. So, we'd get:

(6) Not every farmer who owns a donkey beats all the donkeys he owns.

So which one (if any) is the best reading of (4)?

I have now pilot-tested this on students. The majority actually got (5) as the most natural reading. Here is how I tested it (thanks to Barbara Abbott for helping me think through this -- most of what follows is from a correspondence with her, and for the most part I am using her formulations -- all mistakes are mine).

If 'not' is a sentence negation, then

(4) Not every farmer who owns a donkey beats it.

should be true if (6) is false:

(6) Every farmer who owns a donkey beats all the donkeys he owns.

E.g. if one farmer beat all but one of his donkeys (and all the other farmers beat all of them), then (4) would be true.

On the other hand if 'not every' is a quantifier, then (4) would be true if (5) is true (since 'not every' as a quantifier is downward entailing in the VP):

(5) Not every farmer who owns a donkey beats at least one of the donkeys he owns.

(5) would not be true in the circumstance given above (where all the farmers beat all their donkeys except for one, who spares just one). Instead, we'd need to have at least one farmer sparing all of his donkeys, and not just one.

In testing this I presented students with sentence (4):

(4) Not every farmer who owns a donkey beats it.

and asked: If one farmer beat all but one of his donkeys (and all the other farmers beat all of them), is (4) true? The majority answered 'no'.

So, interestingly, if my proposal is right, then it is indeed the monotonicity properties of 'not every' that matter in this case and not the monotonicity properties of 'every'. That is, (4) comes out as 'not every farmer who owns a donkey beats at least one of the the donkeys he owns'.

Thanks to Barbara Abbott, Jessica Rett, and the audience.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Impossible Objects

In this eery short story from 1997 written by Graham Priest the main character finds a mysterious box in Richard Sylvan's home. The story reminded me of the importance of being intellectually unassuming. Even if classical logic is true, it is far from clear that we know that it is. As a minimum, Priest's line should bring about some doubt and maybe some intellectual modesty.

Sleepless Nights for Graduate Students and Department Heads

Jonathan Wolff has started writing a monthly column for the Guardian. The post on sleepless nights can be found here (HT: The Boundaries of Language and Leiter)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

The Reasoner vol. 1 no. 1

From Certain Doubts:

The first issue of The Reasoner, volume 1, no 1, is now online. Feature articles by Berit Brogaard and Joe Salerno, Laurence Goldstein, Amit Pundik, and Gregory Wheeler. The deadline for vol. 1, no. 2 is May 15.
Joe Salerno has a post summarizing one of the arguments from our short contribution to the counterpossibles debate.