January 23, 2007

Arizona Ontology

The Arizona Ontology Conference, organized by L. A. Paul, was held at a scenic dude ranch in Tucson. I learned some ontology and how to ride a horse. Here's the program and a complete list of participants. Summaries of papers can be found at Lemmings. My pictures are here.

Update: i've added about thirty more pics.

Update: Here are more pics and a post about Jonathan Schaffer's comments, from Dave Chalmers. Yet even more pics from the conference have been posted by Brian Fiala, Andy Egan, and Benjica (Hellie and Wilson).

January 14, 2007

Sex, Singer and Ali G

Peter Singer reminds us here that sex with humans is a lot more fun. And Ali G has something to say about animal rights as well.

January 07, 2007

Contradictions Rational and Justified? (Frances)

Suppose Jan is taking a philosophy of logic course. She hears from several of her professors that dialetheism is the best theory for dealing with the semantic paradoxes, and most philosophers of logic even think it’s true. This is a world in which dialetheists have had some sociological success in persuading others of their odd theory.

Independently of the testimonial matter, she personally finds the case for dialetheism very convincing.

So, she has very good evidence E1 that there is good evidence E2 for her belief that proposition X (expressed by something like ‘The claim I am making with this very sentence is not true’) is both true and not true. E1 is her knowledge that most excellent philosophers of logic endorse dialetheism after plenty of expert investigation over many years. The alleged E2 is the alleged direct evidence for dialetheism—the actual philosophical arguments for it. I am not yet (see below) saying that E2 exists in this possible world or any other world. At this point I’m just saying that in this world E1 exists.

I wonder: is this a case in which one is RATIONAL in having a belief of the form ‘P and ~P’ (e.g., ‘Proposition X is both true and not true’)? She has made a mistake, we can assume, but making a mistake in the philosophy of logic is hardly grounds for irrationality.

Return to the actual world: some VERY smart people think that X is both true and not true. I find it hard to believe that all of them are irrational. Perhaps they are confused, but not irrational.

So: it appears as though one can have a rational belief of the form ‘P & ~P’. If that’s right, then it’s going to be pretty hard to formulate general principles of rationality of the form ‘It is always irrational to have beliefs of the form blah blah’.

But is Jan’s belief JUSTIFIED? Given the content of the belief, whether it is justified depends on whether she possesses good evidence for her belief. I’m inclined to think that she does have evidence sufficient for justification PROVIDED controversial philosophical views are ever justified by controversial philosophical arguments (that’s a big ‘provided’). I’m no philosopher of logic, but I take it that the argument for dialetheism is of the form, ‘Well, this is the best overall theory of the semantic paradoxes’. I also take it that many people think it’s a good argument. So now at this point I AM assuming, without any argument, that E2 exists.

Is any of this right??

January 04, 2007

Plagiarism and the President (Frances)

Racecars aren’t breaking speed limits at the Indianapolis 500 Speedway. The limits don’t apply to the cars on that racetrack during that race. But what about George W. Bush?

Isn’t he a plagiarist? He “wrote” a 1254 word essay that appeared in the WSJ today. I’ll bet he didn’t write even one word of it. I suppose there are some fools who think he wrote it, but of course they are wrong. In fact, he probably had very little to do with the content of the essay. Instead, people who work for him came up with the ideas, and he okayed them. There is no way he could have come up with the ideas, let alone the words.

One could say that the usual rules of when plagiarism occurs don’t apply to the president “writing” an op-ed in a newspaper; that’s why I brought up the racecar point. But the application of plagiarism isn’t limited to academics of course. And “everybody knows he didn’t write it” doesn’t seem sufficient to avoid the charge of plagiarism, especially since not everyone knows it. The fact that the essay contains nineteen occurrences of the pronoun ‘I’ makes it worse!

So: is he obscenely guilty of plagiarism?

January 02, 2007

Modality at the APA

I realize that time is an illusion and that 07 will be more of the same, but nevertheless feel compelled to drink champagne and wish you all a very happy new year.

There were some interesting talks at the APA in DC. For instance, Alan Hajek argued that most counterfactuals are false. Let P and Q be contingent formulas and suppose that it is not the case that both P and Q. Then the argument goes something like this:

1. Might and would are dual operators. That is, P []--> Q (i.e., if it were that P, then it would be that Q) is equivalent to ~(P <>--> ~Q) (i.e., it's not the case that if it were that P, then it might be that ~Q).

2. For each counterfactuals, P []--> Q, there is some objective chance that P but ~Q. So if P were the case then it might be that ~Q.

By 1 and 2, it follows that

3. P []--> Q is false.

At that session Dorothy Edgington and Bill Lycan had very interesting things to say as well. Some of the debate centered around whether the argument might go through even if premise 1 were false. Something like this would be favorable to Hajek's positions since arguably 'might' is an epistemic modal and 'would' is not. There was also disagreement about whether a natural counterfactual contextualism, analogous to epistemic contextualism, might block the argument. Hajek remained skeptical.

In an altogether different session on modality, Michael Nelson responded to Michael Fara and Timothy Williamson's paper "Counterparts and Actuality", in which it is argued that Lewis' counterpart theory (CPT) should be rejected because it is incompatible with the logic of actuality. Michael Fara was the official commentator and Williamson commented from the audience. Needless to say, Fara and Williamson were not about to let Nelson off easy. The dialectic went something like this.

Fara and Williamson argue that claims like

A: "It is possible that everyone that is actually rich was poor."

, and

B: "n is a botanist, but is not actually a botanist.",

once translated into CPT augmented with an actuality operator, deliver propositions with the wrong modal status. Contrary to what is required, the CPT translation of B is consistent (since true in models of CPT in which the denotation of 'n' has no actual world counterparts) and the CPT translation of A is false (since false in every CPT model).

Nelson offered some ways to defend CPT against this line of argument (for instance, by going second order or by adopting a 2-dimensional semantics). F and W however objected that, at least, Lewis would not be happy with these amendments since one of the advertised benefits of CPT is that it allows us to explain modality with no more than standard first-order extensional semantics.