March 26, 2007

Recent Colloquia at SLU

We're having a great colloquium series at SLU this semester. On Friday Liz Harman delivered a super-interesting talk, "Does Blameless Ignorance Exculpate?", in which she argued that an otherwise epistemically blameless subject may nevertheless be morally blameworthy. Other speakers this semester include Ernie Sosa, Ernie Lepore, Berit Brogaard, Rob Koons and Steve Stich.

The Reasoner

The deadline for the first issue of The Reasoner is April 15. The Reasoner is edited by Jon Williamson and "is a monthly digest highlighting exciting new research on reasoning and interesting new arguments. It is interdisciplinary, covering research in, e.g., philosophy, logic, AI, statistics, cognitive science, law, psychology, mathematics and the sciences."

March 15, 2007

Greco on Skepticism

My colleague and guest author, John Greco, will be discussing Skepticism live on KALW 91.7 FM (San Francisco) Sunday March 25 at 10a.m. on Philosophy Talk. The show can be heard on other stations as well. Will attempt a link to the podcast when it becomes available.

[Update: the audio is now available here]

March 07, 2007

ANU Appointment

I'm very pleased to announce that I've just accepted a visiting fellow appointment at the RSSS Philosophy Program at Australian National University. Will be there from August 2007 to August 2008, and am looking forward to spending time in that fantastic department.

March 04, 2007

Copenhagen Riots

Photo by: Kristian Linnemann
A third day of rioting in Copenhagen after police repelled from helicopters, and stormed a youth center to remove its occupants. The occupants were squatters (or "left-wing activists" to use BBC's term of endearment) that have been using the building as a youth center (called Ungdomshuset) since 1982.

Photo by: Kristian Linnemann

The Christian group (Faderhuset) purchased the building in 2000 and have a court order for the eviction. The occupants vow never to leave and claim that the city had no right to sell the building while it was in use.

Protests continue throughout the city. Sympathizers protested in Germany, Sweden, Norway and Austria. The violence began in Copenhagen last December during a protest against the eviction plan.

Websites like the Anarchist Black Cross inform protesters of their rights. (Some sections in English.) An article by Indymedia about the December violence can be found here.

Safia reports from Copenhagen. Outstanding photography here.

Photo by: Safia

Left: (Danish embassy in Budapest, March 2)

[UPDATE: Videos moved here.]

[UPDATE: Protests Continued Sunday, some peaceful.]
[UPDATE March 10: Anarchist sightings and arrests, but things seem to have calmed down.]

The Scientific Revolution in Linguistics

I received this from Michael Hand:

Greetings all! This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Chomsky's *Syntactic Structures*, the founding document of "generative-transformational" linguistics (in a broad sense). This is arguably the defining moment of the scientific revolution that replaced the prescientific, crassly empiricist Saussurean-Bloomfieldian linguistics with scientific linguistics as it is even today (though admittedly linguistic theory doesn't look much like the Chomskian theory of the late fifties). Chomsky's 1959 review of Skinner's *Verbal Behavior* is usually cited as the founding document of today's "cognitive science", but a case can be made that *Structures* should be accorded a share of that honor as well (though the review is more explicit in relevant ways). For an accessible and brief account of the revolution, see the early chapters of Newmeyer's *Linguistic Theory in America*; for an extensive and sometimes hilarious account of the empiricist attempt at counterrevolution, see Harris's *The Linguistic Wars*.

A moment of silent, appreciative reflection and awe right about now would not be inappropriate.

March 01, 2007

Context of Evaluating Counterfactuals

If we call a tail 'a leg', then how many legs would a horse have? It would still have four. The concepts we use to evaluate the question are our actual concepts, even if the truth of the antecedent (at a closest world w) involves (at w) a revision of our actual concepts. A principle is suggested:

(*) when we evaluate the truth of a counterfactual, the concepts employed (in drawing a path in a close world w from the antecedent to the consequent) are determined by the context of evaluation and not by the semantic facts at w.
An analogous principle is this (paraphrased from Jenkins in the comments thread to the last post):
(**) when we evaluate the truth of a counterfactual about logical principles, the logic employed (in drawing a path from the antecedent to the consequent) is determined by the context of evaluation and not by the logical facts at the relevantly close worlds.
The idea is that the logic we use to evaluate the truth of a counterfactual is our default logic (ex hypothesi, classical logic), even if the truth of the antecedent (at close worlds) requires an alternative to our default logic. (*) and (**) would seem to stand or fall together.

However, (*) is not unrestrictedly true. Consider:
(1) If 'one' meant two, then 'one plus one' would mean two plus two.
If the concepts of evaluation are held fixed, then we should insist that the consequent (i.e. 'one plus one' means two plus two) is false in the closest worlds where the antecedent is true. And so, we should insist that (1) is false. But, (1) is prima facie true. Therefore, (*) is prima facie false as a general principle.

We should then expect that (**) likewise fails as a general principle. It had better fail. Otherwise we cannot engage non-vacuously, when we consider what (logical) principles would be the case if others were not. The reason we can in fact engage non-vacuously about such matters is this. When we evaluate counterfactuals about logical principles, the logic at the closest worlds is relevant to---indeed, is essential for---a proper evaluation of the consequent.