August 29, 2007

Expressivism, Pragmatism, and Representationalism

Busy conference season in Australia. Today ends the Evolution and Cooperation Conference at ANU, organized by Richard Joyce & Kim Sterelny.

Steve Downes (University of Utah); Christian List (LSE); Ben Kerr (University of Washington); Timothy Ketelaar (University of New Mexico); Matteo Mameli (Cambridge); Fiery Cushman (Harvard); Peter Godfrey-Smith (Harvard); Kai Spikerman (LSE); Brett Calcott (ANU)

Day 1 included Christian List, who had neat empirical data on the Condorcet jury theorem as applied to deliberative democracy. Another great talk was Fiery Cushman's, which included loads of data about our judgments regarding moral consequences and intentions. And there were others.

Ah, I took my first spin around the block on the left side of the road. It was at night, and some street signs were apparently missing, but overall the episode went down without a hitch. Driving on the left is easier than I thought. Just take everything you do with your left hemisphere and replace it with everything you do with your right hemisphere, and vice versa. The drive was in part preparation for my trip to Sydney for the Expressivism, Pragmatism and Representationalism conference, hosted by the Centre for Time. I didn't drive to Sydney (Chalmers and Fish took care of business), but I did get stuck with the honor of driving around to find a parking spot in Potts Point. No problemo, but I think i'll stay on my bicycle for a while.

Arrived during Simon Blackburns talk. He waxed broadly about the ins and outs of expressivism. Also caught Jamie Dreier's talk on the difference between irrealism and realism, and the pitfalls of trying to articulate said difference. This was also our 3 and a half year old daughter's first time attending philosophy talks. She had a blast. She wanted to know what order-of-explanation has to do with the reality of the subject matter. Will check out more talks tomorrow. Still don't know how long we are staying in the fabulous city, but won't be upset if we leave later rather than sooner.

August 28, 2007

Most Counterfactuals are False

The title is of Alan Hájek's very interesting paper, which can be found on his website. I mentioned the main argument in a post last January:

1. 'Might' and 'Would' are dual operators. So "If A were the case, B might not be the case" entails "It's false that if A were the case B would be the case":

2. Indeterminism (in particular, chanciness) and indeterminacy (in particular, vagueness) in all the interesting cases underwrite a 'might not' claim. For instance, any chance of both A and not-B (no matter how small) underwrites the 'might not' claim, viz., "If A were the case, B might not be the case":

Hence, in all the interesting cases, its false that if A were the case B would be the case. So most (uttered) counterfactuals are false.

Alan rejects the contextualist response, but I won't develop his arguments. I'll just mention here what I think the contextualist should say. Counterfactuals are context sensitive. Whether apparently bizarre {A, not-B} possibilities are sufficiently close depends on the context. In conversational contexts that involve discussion of quantum indeterminacy, etc., such possibilities are relevant and close. Hence, the would-claim, , is false. But in ordinary conversational contexts, the apparently bizarre {A, not-B} possibilities are irrelevant and remote. Hence, the might-claim, , is false. In neither context is both and true. Luckily for us and the would-claims we ordinarily use, quantum indeterminacy is rarely seriously entertained.

August 23, 2007

Reasons, Reasoning and Rationality

Today at ANU concluded the conference on Reasons, Reasoning and Rationality, Themes From the Work of John Broome. Speakers: Jamie Dreier (Brown), Nic Southwood (RSSS), Andrew Reisner (McGill), Geoffrey Brennan (RSSS), Garrett Cullity (Adelaide), Daniel Star (CAPPE), Wlodek Rabinowicz (Lund), John Broome (Oxford). I won't try to do justice to all of the interesting papers, but instead will touch on a couple.

Jamie Dreier examined tensions between various formulations of two principles, which he aimed to reformulate and vindicate:

(Buck-Passing) For something to be good is for it to have properties that provide sufficient reason to choose, prefer, ... or admire it.

(Subjectivism) R is a reason for S to Phi iff R explains why Phi-ing promotes something S wants.

We had the most fun thinking about the Narcissus Bomb Example:

Philosopher chemists at Washington University have invented a Narcissus Bomb. Once triggered, this bomb will explode unless it is in the presence of someone who admires it enormously. You are now in the presence of a triggered Narcissus Bomb and nobody else is in the room.

This part of the talk was designed to show the limitation of Buck-passing. The explosive potential of the bomb is sufficient reason to admire it, but the bomb is evil. Jamie relied here on a fix by Nomy Arpaly, which hypothesizes that the bomb is sufficient reason to make it the case that you admire it but not reason to admire it.

I don't know yet how to think about reasons, but arguably a reason for Phi-ing is a reasoning Psi-ing when Phi-ing entails Psi-ing. But then since 'makes it the case' is factive, 'making it the case that you admire the bomb' entails 'you admire the bomb'. Hence, by the above closure principle, a reason for the former is a reason for the latter, and we're back to the original problem.

Another exciting paper was by Wlodek Rabinowicz, in which he argued Incommensurability is possible if there is vagueness. Incommensurability obtains when two thing x and y are such that neither is better than the other, yet they are not equally good. Wlodek was responding to an argument that Incommensurability is not possible. The argument depended on the following symmetry claim: if it is indeterminate that x is better than y then it's indeterminate that y is better than x.

Berit had a great counterexample to symmetry. Consider: x seems to have the temperature absolute 0. It's determinate that y doesn't seem colder than x, because on all sharpenings of the vague predicate 'seems absolutely cold' it is true that y doesn't seems colder than x. After all, y can't seem colder than absolute 0. But it's indeterminate that x seems colder than y, because on some sharpenings of the predicate 'seems absolutely cold' y doesn't seem absolutely cold. Hence, symmetry fails.

August 19, 2007

Objects and Arrows

Objects and Arrows is a new blog by John Symons, editor-in-chief of Synthese. The blog provides updates from the frontier on emergence, epistemology, philosophy of psychology and related matters.

August 14, 2007

On to Oz

Today Berit and I enjoyed our first full day at Australian National University. We got a little work done in the morning, listened to Wlodek Robinowicz' very interesting talk, "Dutch Books Against Groups and Jury Voting", which as you might surmise was about exploitation strategies against rational subjects in betting and jury situations. Lessons were drawn about the limitations of betting interpretations of probability. Then we met more of the department and its visitors over the traditional afternoon tea on the outside balcony. The sounds of the local birds are pretty amazing. I expect soon to walk with my daughter to the nearby hills where the kangaroos are rumored to run rampant.