March 31, 2004

Moonlight Becomes You

In the Kent Bach/Jeff King/Jason Stanley love-fest in Pasadena, there was a bit of difference of opinion whether the names in the following sentence are used literally:

(1) Leningrad became St. Petersburg.

What strikes me as odd here is the use of "become." I would have thought that "become" meant "started to be," so it's natural to use it with adjectives, common nouns, or descriptors. Hence the following are perfectly straightforward:

(2) Leningrad became the capital of Russia.

(3) Leningrad became a world center of trade.

(4) Leningrad became isolated.

They're interpreted as, for some time t:

(2a) At some time t' before t, Leningrad was not the capital of Russia; after time t it was.

(3a) At some time t' before t, Leningrad was not a world center of trade; after time t it was.

(4a) At some time t' before t, Leningrad was not isolated; after time t it was.

But the corresponding

(1a) At some time t' before t, Leningrad was not St. Petersburg, after t it was

is weird, at least on the view that true identities are metaphysically necessary; if Leningrad was St. Petersburg after time t, it was at t'. It seems that the pressure here is to say either that "St. Petersburg" is not used literally here or that "St. Petersburg" is not used to refer, not to say the same thing about "Leningrad." I hadn't realized this when I started typing.

[UPDATE: Added the quantification over t'.]

Also--does anyone know why "becomes" is sometimes used to mean "suits," as in the title of this post? I just can't think of a half-plausible story, although perhaps it's obvious from the OED.

(There won't be any APA quotes here, because all the decent ones I remember are ones that someone might not want published, and that someone is me.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:07 PM | Comments (13)

March 29, 2004

My Blogroll Gets Busy

I headed over to Brian's Utah Weblog because I thought he might have posted on any Democrats running for Congress in my district of Utah. Turns out there is one--he is (as well as another guy). Nice to see a blogger hit the streets--best of luck to Brian!

(That's Brian Watkins, not Weatherson or Leiter.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:26 PM | Comments (0)

Jacket Found at APA

Somebody left a jacket at the Utah party at the APA Friday night. Please get in touch if you think it might be yours (comment or e-mail). If it is unclaimed there's a grad student who will want it, so if you never liked it don't worry.

(The party was a blast, BTW, as was the conference. I may or may not blog on a couple of things.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:18 PM | Comments (0)

March 24, 2004

Blogging Break

I'm leaving this afternoon for the APA in Pasadena, and will not be blogging from there (or probably reading e-mail either). See you there if you're going; if you're not, the undisputed highlight is here. Back next week.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:57 AM | Comments (1)

I (heart) Mekons

Nice article in TAP Online on my fave rock band, the Mekons.

I disagree with the thesis, though. It's not that since the collapse of socialism the Mekons have moved to "lamenting the fate of the puny and disenfranchised citizen at the brutal hands of power." That's what they've been doing all along--the first song on Fear and Whiskey is about trying to apologize to a friend after a night of awful drunken behavior, and even the political songs from back in the day were intensely personalized. That's what makes them so good.

(The real stunner with I (heart) Mekons wasn't that it was an album of love songs, it was that it was an album of happy love songs.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:53 AM | Comments (2)

March 23, 2004

Another Monopoly Problem

Henry Farrell and Brad DeLong discuss the harms monopolies do by taking away the incentive to innovation. Another illustration can be found in music reissues. Reissuing old music (say, pre-1942) on CD can be done better or worse; the condition of the source 78s and the mastering process itself can make a big difference in the end product.

While recordings are in copyright the copyright owner has an effective monopoly on producing reissues. For a long time, the major labels seemed to use this monopoly to avoid doing a decent job. Read back editions of the Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD and you will find a lot of complaints about Columbia's shoddy treatment of the early Louis Armstrong recordings. Apparently their most recent reissue has been much better, but I think this is partly because of pressure from the wonderful remastering job done by JSP--imported from England, where the recordings seem to be out of copyright.

Similarly, for a long time--about a decade--Duke Ellington's 1940-2 recordings were available only on an RCA set (The Blanton-Webster Band) that muffled the recordings. This was still good enough to become my favorite album ever after I'd listened to three tracks of it, but it wasn't as good as it should be. The more recent reissue (Never No Lament) is much better--I've done some track-by-track comparison--but there's some crackling on the first disc which could easily have been avoided. But what incentive does RCA have to avoid it if there is no competition? It's still absolutely fantastic, and I'm glad I got the new issue (thanks, Mom and Dad!), but these immortal recordings should be available in pristine form. It's as though the Mona Lisa were behind glass with a spot on it, and the curators refused to wipe the spot off.

I wish there were a way for the makers of music to be compensated other than by awarding people monopolies on the production of their work. I don't have an idea how it could be done. But it seems to me that these monopolies have some of the same kind of costs as other monopolies do.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:36 PM | Comments (0)

March 22, 2004

If You Might Want to Hire Me Next Year, Let Me Know

I feel awfully self-conscious doing this, but the temporary job market in philosophy is completely chaotic--a lot of it works by word of mouth, and departments sometimes start expressing interest in a position a month after other offers have been made.

So: I have received an offer for a one-year position for next year. If you or someone you know might want to hire me, you should let me know as soon as possible, or I may already have made a commitment. (e-mail:

My AOSs are Epistemology, Philosophy of Language, and Logic; I can also teach Ethics and Philosophy of Religion through the advanced undergraduate level. My cv is here (pdf without included fonts) or here (Microsoft Word). Some of my papers, including my dissertation and drafts of a couple of forthcoming papers, are here.

Only a few left in stock! Hurry!

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:26 PM | Comments (3)

March 20, 2004

God and Free Will, Redux

Brian Weatherson, Keith DeRose, and I are discussing free will, indeterminism, and the possibility of God's existence over at Brian's site.

Stray thought: Is Newcomb's problem like the question of how we should behave if predestination is true? God has already predicted what you would do and decided where you will go based on that; should you now reason that the decision has been made and do whatever you want?

My understanding of predestination is not sound enough to say--believers in predestination think salvation is through faith, not works, I think, which might undermine the analogy.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:40 AM | Comments (5)

March 18, 2004

Who Denied It?

[UPDATE: I should make it clear that I have no evidence that Sarah Champion is the author of Belle de Jour, and in fact I doubt it. One of the CT commentators is now claiming to be the author of Belle de Jour and not Sarah Champion, if I read the post correctly. All this concerns a scenario, possibly counterfactual, in which Champion is the author of Belle de Jour.]

Chris Bertram reports on Belle de Jour, an anonymous blog purporting to be written by a British prostitute. (I think--I can't get the link to work, and if I could I'm sure it would be very naughty, so click at your own risk.) Literary detective Don Foster claims to have identified the author of BdJ as one Sarah Champion.

Why am I blogging this? Because Chris reports that Belle has denied being Champion. Commentator "jam" notes that "BdJ may be Sarah Champion. As the Times noted, Champion didn't deny it." Leading me to observe that the Times seems to be begging the question: If Belle denied it, and Belle is Champion, then Champion did deny it.

Well, what I said was a joke--we know perfectly well what is meant by "Belle denied it but Champion didn't," even if Belle is Champion. But the question is: Why do we accept it? It seems to me intuitive that we might say that each of the following three is true:

(1) Belle denied that Belle was Champion.

(2) Champion did not deny that Belle was Champion.

(3) Belle is Champion.

Yet they seem to form an inconsistent triad.

For me, the first natural response is to say that, in these circumstances, "X denied that p" implicates "X, speaking in the persona of X, denied that p." So (2) might be literally false but convey the truth of

(4) Champion did not, speaking in the persona of Champion, deny that Belle was Champion

while (1) is both true and conveys the literal truth

(5) Belle, speaking in the persona of Belle, denied that Belle was Champion.

(4) and (5) can both be true even if (3) is true, because "speaking in the persona of" is an opaque context.

Yet this analysis might have trouble with

(6) The author Foster named did not deny that Belle was Champion.

because it would require evaluating what the author Foster named under the persona of "the author Foster named." And it's not clear that she says anything under that persona.

A similar approach is suggested by Geoff Nunberg's paper "Indexical Descriptions and Descriptive Indexicals." Nunberg suggests that sometimes an indexical contributes one of the properties of its referent to the truth-conditions of a sentence. For instance, if I am a prisoner condemned to death, I may say:

(7) Traditionally, I get whatever I want for my last meal.

(7) doesn't mean that Matt Weiner traditionally gets what he wants... because there's no tradition about Matt Weiner's last meal; rather I contribute my property of being a condemned prisoner, and (7) is true iff traditionally a condemned prisoner gets whatever he wants for his last meal. I don't think Nunberg extends this to names (I can't open that link now either), but if you do extend it to name you could say that in (1) Belle contributes the property of being the person who posts on the Belle de Jour website, while Champion contributes the property of being the person who speaks publicly as Champion; and perhaps in (6) "The author Foster named" also contributes the property of being the person who speaks publicly as Champion.

Another possibility is to deny (3) in some form or other, as commentator Keith M. Ellis did in response to my claim that if Belle denied it, and Belle is Champion, then Champion did deny it:

It depends upon what your definition of is is (as used in this context). Although we might use the word identity in this context ("Belle's identity is Champion”) it would not have its mathematical meaning. Belle and Champion are not mathematically identical, if for no other reason than that Belle calls herself “Belle” and Champion calls herself “Champion”. The context makes clear that we must necessarily think of “Belle” as someone distinct from Champion even if they are in fact the same person. Thus, whether or not Belle is Champion, what Belle says Champion does not necessarily say.

I think what Keith is getting at here is something like Hector-Neri Castaneda's guise theory, though I don't know much about that. Of course it's in a way begging the question to say that Belle calls herself "Belle" and Champion calls herself "Champion"; if we accept that (3) licenses intersubstitutability in transparent contexts, then if (3) is true Belle calls herself "Champion" when speaking publicly and Champion calls herself "Belle" when blogging. But you could say that Belle and Champion are the same person but not the same voice, and that might license saying that what Belle says Champion does not say.

Perhaps the most economical way is to say that Belle is a fictional character. Then (1) is only true within the fiction, (3) is decidedly false within the fiction as well as in the real world, and (2) is true in the real world. Hence, no inconsistency. This is bolstered somewhat by the idea that Belle's exploits are indeed fictional--that is, untrue--but it seems as though Belle is not presented as a fictional character.

Anyway, it may be worth pondering why (1)-(3) seem acceptable.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:32 PM | Comments (2)


It's clear that the way to score Boggle contests is to see who wins the most rounds rather than who gets the most points. The traditional point-totalling method overemphasizes the ability to pile up stacks of words in wide-open grids and marginalizes the ability to winkle weird words out of grids with lots of consonants clumped together, but it's clearly the latter that requires the most skill. It's like Rawls's criticism of utilitarianism--the traditional scoring method does not respect the distinction between rounds.

[Sore loser? Moi?]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:02 PM | Comments (0)

Boo, New York Snobs

I quite like New York for the most part but this instance of New York snobbery won't stand up. The bagels that are always most highly recommended to me in NYC just aren't that good, and any fule kno that the best bagels ever to be found were in Squirrel Hill's Bageland (ironcially, "New York Style Bageland"), now sadly out of business. Snobbery will never beat the combination of hometown chauvinism and nostalgia. Squirrel Hill (that's in Pittsburgh) has pretty great pizza too.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:57 AM | Comments (0)

March 17, 2004


Brian Weatherson doesn't seem to be handicapping the NCAA men's brackets against the Leiter rankings, so I'll have to. (Disclaimer: this post intended for entertainment purposes only. If you are considering combining careers in basketball and philosophy, your choice of school should not rely solely on this post.)

Stanford (#1 seed) is clearly dominant in the combined NCAA/Leiter rankings. The only higher Leiter-ranked schools in the the tournament are Pitt (#3 seed) and Princeton (#14 seed), and Stanford's higher seed outweighs their higher rankings.

The first-round Texas-Princeton matchup looks to be easily the game in which the two teams have the lowest combined Leiter-rankings. Other potential powerhouse matchups are Pitt-Wisconsin, Stanford-Maryland or Syracuse, Arizona-Duke, or maybe Stanford-Connecticut for a spot in the final four. (None of those require more than a one-seed upset.)

The Phoenix bracket has quite an impressive list of philosophy schools in top seeds.

OK, start your poll picks [um, pool picks, they sound the same in Pittsburghese].

[UPDATE: Look, mister, Chalmers and I settled it last year that the correct methodology is 4 * seed + Leiter. As a friend who probably wishes to remain nameless likes to say, when you're writing a dissertation on seeds the right opening is "Not all theories of seeds are equally plausible." I like Gonzaga v. Pitt in the Final Four, though.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:54 PM | Comments (1)

March 16, 2004

Ought and Must

Here's a thought inspired by anankastic conditionals. "Must" does not always imply "ought" in anankastic conditionals that start "If you want to...."

Background (lifted from a French farce I will not name): Pierre is late for a plane. The plane will leave without him unless he phones in a bomb threat.

Consider these said to Pierre:

(1) If you want to catch the plane, you must[/you'll have to] phone in a bomb threat. (2) If you want to catch the plane, you ought to phone in a bomb threat.

It strikes me that (1) is true and (2) is false.

The proposal that Kai von Fintel and Sabine Iatridou give for anankastic conditionals accounts for the truth of (1) fine. Essentially, they promote the goal of catching the plane ahead of any other goals the subject has, and evaluate possible worlds according to that goal (where the possible worlds are constrained by the modal background); if in every world in which that goal is fulfilled, p is true, then "if you want to catch the plane, must(p)" is true. That's true here--given the background, in every world in which Pierre catches the plane, he phones in the bomb threat.

But their proposal for "If you want to catch the plane, ought(p)" is essentially to promote catching the plane before all other goals, look at the possible worlds in which that goal is fulfilled, and see if p is true in all the best of those worlds, where "best" is evaluated with respect to the original ordering source plus the new goal. That predicts that (2) should be true--in fact it predicts that "If you want to A, must(p)" entails "If you want to A, ought(p)." If p is true in all the A-worlds, it's true in all the best A-worlds.

People like me who believe in moral dilemmas won't have a problem with the failure of must to imply ought--if you have conflicting obligations, it may be that you must do something that you oughtn't to do. But here there's no moral dilemma. Pierre's putative goal of catching the plane--and this may not be a goal that he even has--is in conflict with his duty not to call in bomb threats. So even if he wants to catch the plane, he ought not to take the necessary means to that end.

It seems to me that in (2) the goal of catching the plane is evaluated as more important than just an ordinary goal, but not so important that it overrides all other considerations. To say more we might have to come up with a theory of practical reasoning that says when commitments you have taken on should be overridden. I will come up with that theory in my next post [um, irony].

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:08 PM | Comments (3)

Nona Gerard Update

[UPDATE: Earlier Gerard posts here and here.]

Mom points out this story on Nona Gerard's firing from Penn State. Gerard has just cleaned out her office.

Last August, [PSU-Altoona Dean] Cale filed written allegations against Gerard, saying she failed to perform her job duties by not supporting the Altoona campus Integrative Arts degree, and that she had committed grave misconduct by writing derogatory e-mails that created a hostile work environment for other faculty members.

If those are the charges on record, there is no freaking way that they justify firing a tenured professor. Opposing department programs and saying bad things about other faculty members are EXACTLY what academic freedom is supposed to protect. Penn State needs to justify this right away, lawsuit or no lawsuit; until they do, I and every other academic should condemn them in no uncertain terms. And I hope Gerard skins Penn State in a breach-of-contract lawsuit.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:45 PM | Comments (0)

Leaving Money on the Table Is Dumb, Dumb, Dumb

[Title courtesy of Brian; this post was promised about a month and a half ago.]

Allan Hazlett talks about Newcomb's problem. He's a one-boxer, as am I, and he thinks that one-boxing is associated with compatibilism and with virtue theories--both true in my case.

Here's a version of Newcomb's problem that might seem to create lots of trouble for one-boxers. I don't think it does, but I won't say why just yet.

A highly superior being presents you with two boxes on a table. One box is opaque; the other is clear, and can be seen to have $1000 in it. The being says that it can predict human behavior, and it has put $1 million in the opaque box if and only if it predicts that you will not take the clear box. You have observed millions of similar trials, and the being has predicted accurately every time.

So far that's just the classic Newcomb problem. Here's the twist: You get to open up the opaque box first, and then decide whether to take the $1000 in the clear box.

It seems that there is no justification whatsoever for not taking the $1000. You already have the contents of the opaque box, if any; why leave the $1000 on the table. But ex hypothesi the people who leave the money on the table get rich, and the ones who don't don't, just like in the original Newcomb problem. All the arguments for one-boxing carry over.

So why do I remain a one-boxer? That's for me to know and you to find out, possibly by asking me or waiting.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:31 AM | Comments (7)

My APA Paper

[UPDATE III: A draft of my response is now added in the comments; I guess I'll field my own questions.]

[UPDATE II: Added a bunch of paragraph breaks to the paper for ease of reading; also, check out Jonathan Sutton's response in the comments.]

Here's my APA paper, "Deductive Closure and the Sorites." I also have some very nice comments by Jonathan Sutton, most of which I agree with. (If he'd like to post them in comments that would be great. [UPDATE: He has, thanks!] Then I can post my reply, and everyone else can post questions. We might not even have to go to Pasadena.)

The basic idea is that on certain kinds of fallibilism (see note 2 for exactly which kinds), one must take Deductive Closure to be a Sorites premise. Though the principle of deductive closure seems perfectly harmless--if you know A and B, and you properly deduce C from A and B, you know C--repeated applications take us from knowledge to not-knowledge.

The comparison to the sorites is supposed to give aid and comfort to these fallibilists. The argument by John Hawthorne that I discuss seems to show that these fallibilists must reject Deductive Closure, and that seems outrageous. I think that you can mostly accept Deductive Closure in the way that you mostly accept that two visually indistinguishable hues are the same color. (Whatever that way is--I don't have a dog in that fight.) And the fact that Deductive Closure can't be accepted without qualification is no more outrageous than the fact that the indistinguishability principle can't be accepted without qualification.

A word on how this paper fits in: It's all part of a project to disparage knowledge. (Jonathan will not approve.) My view is that knowledge is a useful folk concept that doesn't capture anything useful for serious epistemological investigation. Whatever knowledge gets the epistemologist can be got better by considering degrees of justification.

To argue this I'd like to show that knowledge doesn't have the roles you might think it has. Peter Graham and Jennifer Lackey have argued that knowledge isn't what's transmitted in testimony; I'm arguing that knowledge isn't what's preserved in deduction. In fact, if deduction yields a sorites with respect to knowledge, knowledge behaves exactly in the way that you'd expect being justified tout court to behave; there's no clear line between how justified a belief must be to be justified tout court, and as you add more and more justified premises the justification of the conclusion slowly leaks away, if you're not careful (in the way I describea at the end of the paper).

Herewith, the paper:

It is, to put it mildly, intuitively appealing to think that knowledge is deductively closed:
(DC) If S knows A and B, and C follows deductively from A and B, then S is in a position to know C.[1 ]
Part of the appeal of DC is that it captures one of the most common ways in which we expand our knowledge. If we know premises A and B, and we deduce their logical consequence C, then it seems that we know the conclusion we have properly deduced. No matter how I came to know A and B, they can be used to generate further knowledge.

I will argue that, in spite of DC's intuitive appeal, it should not be accepted without qualification. It is a sorites premise; like "Two hues are the same color if they are visually indistinguishable," it seems intuitively obvious, but it leads to absurd conclusions when applied indiscriminately. Furthermore, treating DC as a sorites premise yields a better account of the generation of new knowledge than does unqualified acceptance of DC. Accepting DC without qualification would be proper if a piece of knowledge could always be put in the bank for further use, with no regard for how that knowledge was attained. Knowledge, however, cannot be put in the bank; sometimes, if rarely, we must reexamine the origins of our knowledge.

DC presents a particular problem for a fallibilist who believes that we may know that p even when we have not ruled out certain improbable ways in which p can fail to obtain. For instance, the fallibilist might hold that I can know that
(1) My feckless friend Bill will never be rich
even if I have not established that
(2) Bill's ticket will not win the lottery tomorrow.[ 2 ]
The problem is that, if I have not ruled out a possible alternative to p, then I do not seem to know that that alternative does not obtain; I do not know (2), that Bill's ticket will not win the lottery tomorrow. (2) however, follows from (1), so if I know (1) but not (2), DC is violated. On the other hand, if knowledge that p requires ruling out every alternative to p, no matter how improbable, knowledge will be extraordinarily hard to obtain.[3 ]

Contextualism holds that more than one standard for knowledge is in play here; DC holds within each standard for knowledge. To know that p, we must rule out all the alternatives to p that are relevant according to the standard of knowledge in effect. By the standard we apply when considering (1), the possibility that Bill's ticket wins is not relevant, so we know both (1) and (2). By another standard, which we must apply when considering (2), the possibility that Bill's ticket wins is relevant, and we know neither (1) nor (2).[ 4] On either standard, if we know (1), we know its consequence (2).

Contextualism thus accounts for why we may be willing to ascribe knowledge of (1) but not of (2). (2) is a consequence of (1), but when we explicitly consider (2) rather than (1), we shift the standard so that knowledge disappears. Note that this account respects the way we use DC to gain new knowledge from old knowledge. We might say, because of Bill's fecklessness, that we know he will never be rich; but we would not go on, "If Bill won the lottery, he would be rich; by modus tollens, we know he won't win the lottery." Bill's fecklessness provides no grounds for belief that his ticket won't win.

Hawthorne (2002), however, has shown that a contextualist who wishes to preserve DC must do considerable violence to our epistemic practices. Consider the following situation: Alice has 5000 feckless friends, each of whom holds one ticket in tomorrow's lottery. The only way any of Alice's friends will become rich this year is to win that lottery. The lottery has 5001 tickets, one held by Dr. Evil, who is not Alice's friend. Sarah asks Alice in turn, of each of her friends, "Will Bill be rich this year? Will Harry be rich this year?" etc. Alice replies, in each case,
(3Bill[/Harry/etc.]) Bill[/Harry/etc.] will not be rich this year.
In fact, Dr. Evil's ticket wins, so none of Alice's friends is rich this year. Each of her statements (3) turns out to be true. Looking back at year's end, should we say that Alice knew that Bill would not be rich, that Harry would not be rich, etc.?

If contextualism is to support fallibilism about lottery cases, the contextualist must say that there is a standard for knowledge by which, when we consider whether Bill will be rich this year, we may ignore the possibility that Bill's ticket wins. Alice, however, seems to stick to one standard as she considers whether Bill will be rich, whether Harry will be rich, etc. If, by a single standard, Alice knows (3Bill) and (3Harry) and the rest, then by DC within that standard she knows
(4) None of the 5000 friends will be rich by year's end.
On Alice's evidence, however, (4) has only a 1 in 5001 chance; (4) will not be true unless Dr. Evil's ticket wins. Though, looking back, we know that Dr. Evil's ticket did win, it is outrageous to say that Alice was in a position to know (4).

Hawthorne points out that the contextualist can wriggle out of this problem by positing that Alice does shift standards. One could say: On the Bill-standard for knowledge, one may properly ignore the possibility that Bill's ticket will win, but not that Harry's ticket will win, or Jerry's, etc. On the Harry-standard for knowledge, one may properly ignore the possibility that Jerry's ticket will win, but not Bill's, or Jerry's, etc. When evaluating (3Bill), the Bill-standard is appropriate, so it is proper to say that Alice knows (3Bill). When evaluating (3Harry), the Harry-standard is appropriate, so it is proper to say that Alice knows (3Harry). But DC only governs premises that are all known by the same standard. (4) is the conjunction of one premise that is known by the Bill-standard, one that is known by the Jerry-standard, one that is known by the Harry-standard, etc.; Alice's knowledge by each of these standards may be deductively closed without her knowing (4) by any standard.

This multi-standard solution preserves fallibilism and unqualified DC, but it has little else to recommend it. As Hawthorne points out, this "solution to our lottery puzzle require[s] rapid context shifting where, initially, context shift was far from noticeable" (Hawthorne 2002, p. 251). Worse yet, it wreaks havoc on the role of deduction in our epistemic practices. Suppose that Bill and Harry are going on vacation together, and Alice is wondering whether they will be able to afford a certain hotel. She reasons:
(3Bill) Bill will not be rich this year.
(3Harry) Harry will not be rich this year.
(5) Therefore neither Bill nor Harry will be rich next week.
(6) Therefore they will not be able to afford the hotel.
On the multi-standard solution, Alice knows (3Bill) by the Bill-standard and (3Harry) by the Harry-standard. Since these are different standards, it does not follow by DC that she knows (5), even though (5) is a deductive consequence of (3Bill) and (3Harry). If Alice is to come to know (5) and (6) by deduction from (3Bill) and (3Harry), she must first rederive her premises under a single standard.

It would be nightmarish to constantly recheck the foundations of our knowledge in this way. The deduction from (3Bill) and (3Harry) to (5), in particular, is unlike the deduction from (1) to (2), which may reasonably be taken to require rechecking our reasons for believing the premise. When we reason from (1), that Bill will never be rich, to (2), that Bill's ticket will not win, we realize that our acceptance of (1) required ignoring the possibility that (2) might be true; ignoring that possibility might have been reasonable when considering (1), but it is not reasonable when considering (2). Focusing on (2) raises the new doubt, "What if Bill's ticket does win?" No such new doubt is raised in the deduction from (3Bill) and (3Harry) to (5). To get to (3Bill) and (3Harry), Alice must have ignored the possibility that their respective tickets win; if this was proper, it is proper to ignore these possibilities nwhen considering (5). For Alice has not refocused her attention on the tickets; she is still considering whether her friends will be rich. So there can be no new need for Alice to recheck the foundations of her knowledge; at least so it seems.

Let us suppose that there is no context-shifting, so that all our discussion takes place with respect to a single fallibilist standard of knowledge. (My argument will thus also defend non-contextualist fallibilism against the lottery paradox.) On this standard, Alice can properly ignore the 1 in 5001 chance that one particular lottery ticket wins; she thus can know each of (5Bill), (5Harry), etc. We must suppose that she and we never slip into explicit consideration of whether a certain lottery ticket will win; the question at issue is always, "Will Bill ever be rich?", "Will Harry ever be rich?", "Will Bill or Harry ever be rich?", etc.

The fallibilist picture, then, is that Alice knows that Bill will not be rich this year. The chance that he will become rich by winning the lottery is negligible, and in ascribing this knowledge we properly neglect it.[5] Indeed, Alice knows that neither Bill nor Harry will be rich this year. If Bill will not be rich (a negligible chance), the only way that either Bill or Harry will be rich is if Harry wins the lottery. The chance that Harry wins the lottery is negligible; indeed, properly neglecting this chance, Alice knows that Harry will not be rich. (I remind you that, in ascribing this knowledge, we are looking back from the time when Dr. Evil has won the lottery; so none of Alice's 5000 friends become rich this year. It would not be proper to neglect a possibility that actually came to pass.) If Alice knows (3Bill), and on her evidence there is a negligible chance that (3Harry) is false, then that negligible chance will not prevent her from knowing the conjunction of (3Bill) and (3Harry). Well then, does Alice know that neither Bill nor Harry nor Jerry will be rich this year? There is a negligible chance that Jerry will win the lottery and become rich; indeed, we properly neglect this in saying that Alice knows that Jerry will not be rich. So this negligible chance that (3Jerry) is false will not turn Alice's knowledge that (3Bill) and (3Harry) into not-knowledge that (3Bill) and (3Harry) and (3Jerry)…

You can tell where this is going. Eventually we reach the conclusion that Alice knows (4), that none of her 5000 friends will be rich. Though (4) turns out to be true, on Alice's evidence it has only a 1 in 5001 probability, so by any standard it is absurd to say that she knows it. In fact, we leave knowledge behind well before we reach (4). Yet it is impossible to say exactly when we leave knowledge behind. Each step seems innocuous. At each step, Alice's conclusion becomes vulnerable to a new doubt, that the friend at issue might win the lottery. But this doubt is ex hypothesi negligible. It seems implausible that adding a new conjunct, and a new 1 in 5001 chance of error, could take Alice from knowledge to not-knowledge. Still, when we heap all these conjuncts together, we have a sorites paradox.

Each step of the sorites involves an application of DC. Alice knows (3Bill) and (3Harry), so by DC she knows their conjunction; she knows (3Jerry), so by DC with the previous step she knows its conjunction with (3Bill) and (5Harry), etc. The problem is that our fallibilist picture allows that Alice may know that p even if she has not foreclosed every possible alternative to p, so long as the unforeclosed alternatives have negligible probability (and are not otherwise relevant). If Alice's evidence puts her in a position to know that p, it may still be compatible with certain ~p-possibilities of negligible probability; if it puts her in a position to know that q, it may still be compatible with certain ~q-possibilities of negligible probability. Alice's evidence is then compatible with certain ~(p & q)-possibilities—the union of the ~p-possibilities and the ~q-possibilities—whose probability is at most the sum of two negligible properties. Adding together enough of these negligible probabilities yields a non-negligible probability that destroys knowledge.

I will not attempt to solve the sorites paradox. Let us simply say that what makes it paradoxical is the intuitive appeal of general sorites premises such as "Two hues are the same color if they are visually indistinguishable," which lead to obvious falsehoods when applied repeatedly. The intuitively appealing general premise cannot be accepted without qualification, though without a solution to the sorites paradox I cannot say exactly what qualification is required. So DC's intuitive appeal does not entail that we should accept it without whatever qualification that is required for general sorites premises.

Of course, DC's intuitive appeal does not entail that it is a sorites premise, either. DC's intuitive appeal, I argued, rests on the way it captures our epistemic practices. The hyperactive context-shifting necessary to reconcile fallibilism with unqualified DC was undesirable because it threatened those epistemic practices. To save fallibilism, I must show that treating DC as a sorites premise does not threaten those practices.

DC unqualified allows us to take our knowledge as given, without worrying about how we attained it. So long as we know p and q, we know any logical consequence of p and q that we can deduce; we can accept that consequence without reconsidering how we came to know p and q. This, I claim, is not much more realistic than the idea that we must recheck our knowledge every time we try to deduce a new consequence.

On fallibilism, we may know that p if we are properly ignoring an improbable alternative to p. This leads to a sorites paradox when, as in the lottery case, the ignored alternatives build up over the course of a multi-premise deduction. Many improbable alternatives, compounded, can add up to a probable alternative that cannot properly be ignored. If we are fallibilists about knowledge, we must avoid this compounding of ignored alternatives.

This does not mean that we must constantly recheck the foundations of our knowledge. Ignored alternatives compound over many-premise deductions. If we know p and q, and they were not themselves obtained by repeated applications of DC, then we may deduce their joint consequences. A single application of DC will not generate a sorites paradox. The known propositions p and q cannot be simply put in the bank without regard for how they were attained; we must remember that p and q were not attained by repeated applications of DC. Still, we do not have to recheck their foundations.

It is even possible to construct a many-premise deduction that is immune from the sorites paradox. This can be done by building in redundancy, in the engineer's sense: supporting various intermediate steps in multiple ways. A giant conjunction of all the known premises will not have this redundancy; the ignored alternatives will compound, and it will not be safe to apply DC repeatedly. Frequently, however, we can structure our arguments so that the falsity of a single premise would not undermine the deduction of any of the intermediate steps. Then it will be safe to apply DC.

Suppose, for instance, that Alice parks cars on-street for customers, noting their location. Suppose that an average of one car every day is stolen in the neighborhood, though in fact none of Alice's customer's cars have been stolen. For any one of her thousand customers, Alice can reasonably say that she knows where that customer's car is parked; the risk of theft is negligible in the individual case. If asked to sign off on a map of the location of all her customers' cars, Alice may reasonably say that she does not know that all thousand cars are where she parked them; the risk that one of the thousand has been stolen is non-negligible. The map can be obtained by repeated applications of DC, conjoining the known propositions about where the individual cars are; but because this is a giant conjunction, the possibility that a car has been stolen compounds with each application of DC, and Alice does not know the conclusion. Yet Alice may reasonably say that she knows that most of the cars are where she parked them, because the argument for that statement has the proper redundancy. The conclusion "Most of the cars are where I parked them" is entailed by any number of conjunctions of 980 of the known statements "Car X is where I parked it," and the possibility that the cars have been stolen do not compound when Alice deduces the conclusion from each of those different 980-strong conjunctions.

This picture of how deduction yields knowledge is more realistic than the picture that any known premise may be put in the bank for further deduction. On this picture, we must retain enough information about how knowledge was attained to make sure that we are not compounding the fallibilities of our individual premises. We must not engage in lengthy chains of deduction where each link is fallible and the failure of one link destroys the whole chain. Still, so long as our arguments have the proper redundancy and no new pertinent doubt has been raised, we need not constantly recheck the foundations of our knowledge. Treating DC as a sorites principle means that new knowledge may be deduced from old knowledge almost always, but not quite always; and that is just what the fallibilist needs.

[1] Also S should be in a position to work out the entailment. This formulation is almost exactly that given by Cohen (1999), p. 62, with the qualification Cohen adds in his n. 14. Cohen's formulation, however, involves one premise, while mine involves two; as we will see, this is important.
[2] The example of feckless Bill is due to Lewis (1996, p. 565). It is possible to be a fallibilist about brain in vat cases without being a fallibilist about lottery cases. There is a definite, though low, probability, that Bill's ticket will win, but there is no obvious probability to assign to the possibility that I am a brain in a vat. So Hawthorne's argument, discussed below, will not apply to a position that is fallibilist concerning brains in vats but not lotteries. In this paper, I will only consider fallibilism concerning lottery cases.
[3] See Vogel (1990) on how the lottery case generalizes; see also Cohen (1998) on how infallibilism can lead to skepticism.
[4] Such contextualist accounts have been developed by Cohen (1988, 1998), DeRose (1995), and Lewis (1996). The treatment of relevant alternatives in the text is based on Lewis's account.
[5] In fact, it is debatable whether this chance is negligible, given the low number of tickets in the lottery. Even a fallibilist might not allow that we know that Bill will never become rich, given the high expected value of a 1 in 5001 chance of becoming rich. If this causes concern, substitute a more tractable example.

Works Cited
Cohen, Stewart (1988). "How to Be a Fallibilist." Philosophical Perspectives 2, 91-123.
Cohen, Stewart (1999). "Contextualism, Skepticism, and the Structure of Reasons." Philosophical Perspectives 13, 57-89.
DeRose, Keith (1995). "Solving the Skeptical Problem." Philosophical Review 104, 1-52.
Hawthorne, John (2002). "Lewis, the Lottery, and the Preface." Analysis 62, 242-251.
Lewis, David (1996). "Elusive Knowledge." Australasian Journal of Philosophy 74, 549-567.
Vogel, Jonathan (1990). "Are There Counterexamples to the Closure Principle?" In Doubting: Contemporary Perspectives on Skepticism, ed. M. Roth and G. Ross. Kluwer, Dordrecht.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:03 AM | Comments (8)

Ned Ludd Was Right

Before I left Salt Lake, I put the files I want to work on over break onto a floppy disk. Then I realized that my floppy disk is Mac-formatted and my parents' computers run Windows. For a few brief shining moments, Macs and PCs used to talk to each other, but not much lately. So I figured I'd go down to Pitt, find a Mac and e-mail the files to myself so I could download them in Windows.

I got to Pitt and the Macs in the Philosophy grad student office (they haven't changed the combination on me yet) have zip drives only, no floppy drives. Fortunately I had anticipated this and brought my own floppy drive from Salt Lake. (I had the same problem with my office computer at the beginning of the term--I had to carry my drive back and forth from home to the office until Steve Downes lent me a floppy drive for office use.) One of the Macs didn't recognize my drive when I plugged it in, but the other did.

I e-mailed the files to myself and my dad. Then I came home to work on them, downloaded them, and opened them up. Complete chaos. One file has a mess of formatting commands followed by the text, the rest are just nonsense.

So what we did was plug in one of the Macintosh LCs sitting in the attic--a 13-year-old computer. This LC is so underpowered it doesn't multitask. We didn't install System 7 because System 7 ate up all the available RAM. So we opened up AppleTalk--anyone remember that--stuck in a PC disk, and copied all my files, slooowly, onto the PC disk. The LC thinks that all dos filenames have a maximum length of eight characters plus the three-character extension.

Thought that that might learn you kiddies what the bad old days were like....

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:19 AM | Comments (0)

March 15, 2004

Kinds of Imperative Coordinations

Geoff Pullum thinks dissimilar illocutionary forces can be coordinated, and why not, but don't think that means you have to accept all his examples.*

In particular, he cites "Make one little remark and they jump all over you" as an imperative followed by a declarative--acknowledging that the first clause isn't semantically an imperative, but arguing that it is syntactically.

I guess I can't argue the syntactic issue, but why should that stop me from classifying the kinds of imperative-declarative coordinations? Imperative clauses are represented by A! and B!, where A and B are subjectless; declaratives by C and D.

(1) "A! and C" carries the force of an assertion, "If you A, then C." Note that the syntactically imperative clause A! doesn't have a trace of imperative force. Often sentences of the form "A! and C" carry the implication that you should do A, or that you shouldn't do A, but that is because C is obviously good (or bad). So the imperative force is derived from the assertion of the indicative conditional, not the other way around.

This trips up the third commentator in this discussion.** The first commentator says that the message of the Spanish elections was "Bomb us and we'll cave!" The second says that the message was "Bomb us and we will not be distracted...." The third says that that does not change the fact that the underlying message is "bomb us."

Not so; "Bomb us and we'll cave" means "If you bomb us, something you like will happen." "Bomb us and we won't be distracted...." means "If you bomb us, something you don't like will happen." By implication, the first is advice to "bomb us," the second is advice "don't bomb us." You just can't deduce A! from a sentence of the from "A! and C."

[Of course, there are all sorts of complications here because the recipients of any message are al-Qaeda, whose goals are completely immoral and irrational and opposed to those of the people allegedly sending the message. Also, I don't here endorse either reading of the elections, I'm just pointing out a syntax error.]

And "A! then C" can be completely neutral with respect to whether you should do A, as in "Drop salt into water and it will dissolve." Here, because the consequent is neither good nor bad, the hearer is neither told to drop salt into water nor ironically told not to. It's just a conditional telling you what will happen if you drop salt into water.

(2) (a) "A! and B!" ordinarily conveys the force of two imperatives: "Take two aspirin and call me in the morning." (Or you could think of this as the conjunction given imperative force.)
(b) But it can also carry the force of a conditional "If you A then you will B." For instance, "Marry in haste and repent at leisure." Or "Fill out this form and watch the money roll in."

In the second example the first clause is endorsed, in the second example the first clause is counter-endorsed. In both cases, though, I think this comes from the conditional that is conveyed rather from the imperativity of the first clause. Because you don't want to repent at leisure, the assertion "If you marry in haste then you will repent at leisure" tells you not to marry in haste; because you do want to watch the money roll in, the assertion "If you fill out this form then you will watch the money roll in" tells you to fill out this form.

And as in (1) I think it's possible to come up with neutral examples of (2b); "Add more water, and get runnier oatmeal; add less, and get thicker oatmeal." (Well, like Humpty-Hump I think this clearly tells you to add less, but your tastes may differ.)

(3) "A! or C" is pretty clear: it both conveys the imperative "A!" and the declarative "If you do not A, C" (which many take to be synonymous with "Either you A or C"). So "Stop or I will shoot!" orders you to stop, and tells you that if you do not stop I will shoot." "Be quiet or the bogeyman will get you" warns you to be quiet, and asserts that if you are not quiet the bogeyman will get you. "Pick me up or I'll have to take a cab" requests that you pick me up, and asserts that if you do not pick me up I will have to take a cab. Etc.

(4) "A! or B!" can have two interpretations.
(a) On one, you are told to do either A or B; "Fish or cut bait" for instance. (C.L. Hamblin, in his book Imperatives, argues that it can also mean "Do exactly one of A or B" or even "Don't do both A and B," but never mind that.)

(b) On the other interpretation, it means exactly the same as "A! or you B"; it conveys the imperative "A!" and the declarative "If you do not A, you B." So "Quit smoking or die of cancer" conveys the advice to quit smoking and the assertion that if you do not quit smoking you will die of cancer. "Die of cancer" is not given imperative force even ironically, it seems to me. Of course here, as in (3), the second clause has to express something you don't want, or it won't make any sense to convey the imperative "A!" along with the declarative "If you do not A, you B."

OK, so we have two cases, (2a) and (4a), in which two coordinated imperative clauses are both taken imperativally.

We have two cases, (1) and (2b), in which an imperative before "and" serves as the antecedent of a conditional assertion, with the second-person subject suppressed. In (2b) the imperative after "and" serves as the conditional's consequent, with the second-person subject suppressed.

We have two cases, (3) and (4b), in which an imperative before "or" plays double duty, as a stand-alone imperative and as the first disjunct of a disjunctive assertion, with the second-person subject suppressed. In (4b) the imperative after "or" serves as the second disjunct, with the second-person subject suppressed.

So it's not uncommon for an imperatival form to serve as a declarative. That's the typology. Insofar as I want to make something of this, it's that there seems to be something fishy going on with the imperatival antecedents in (1) and (2b); and by extension, with the second imperatival clauses in (2b) and (4b). I can't think of any Gricean account of how you get from a literal "A! and C" to the meaning "If A then C," but in the cases in which A is meant imperativally it's dead easy to see how you get there from "If A then C." Pullum is a syntax nerd and I'm not, so trust his judgment, but why does this form mean what it does?

I read a Dwight Bolinger piece (in a volume of To Honor Roman Jakobson, I think) on imperatives in which he argued that "A! then C" was an "aphetic"--the idea was that "[if you] Marry in haste, [you] repent at leisure" naturally acquired an "and." In comments to this post--lost in Brian's move to MT--Kent Bach referred to this as those corny delete-that insert-this transformations, but I mention it as a historical curio (or anyway, a sign that a good linguist thought something fishy was going on).

*Yes, the primary purpose of that sentence was to one-up Brian's link. The second time I coordinate three different forces in this post, they all have their literal meaning.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:50 PM | Comments (2)

Of Zithers, Dolceolas, and Homemade Electronics

Snarkout (via commentator and fellow-Pittsburgher Vera Tobin) posts on the nightmares that exotic instruments will pose for musicologists of the future:

Pity the music historian of the twenty-third century, reduced to tears by an effort to find just the right antique to perform primitive yet stirring twenty-first century compositions on. The audience won't know the difference between a real Electronic Rap Pad and a clever reproduction, but she will, and she'll wish we had stopped at plainsong.

He mentions the homemade electronics of the Silver Apples. While I'm back in Pittsburgh I'll play with an improvising group--around 10 years now and it doesn't have a name--including a fellow who plays homemade electronic junk that makes Silver Apples look like Circuit City. But authentic music performers won't ever try to reproduce it. One of the things about improvised music is that it lets you work with sounds that are beyond notation, even beyond complete control, like the sort of things that happen when I inhale through my trombone instead of blowing out.

Snarkout also points to this article on the great gospel blues singer Washington Phillips. Apparently Phillips played zithers instead of the dolceola, an instrument whose primary fame is as the one Phillips allegedly played*, and lived until 1954 rather than 1939. Regardless, he must be heard. If you know Tom Waits's "78" version of "Innocent When You Dream"--Phillips sounds like the 78 Waits is nostalgic for.

[Further down snarkout mentions the conspiracy theories about Tupac Shakur's death, but I know the truth.]

*What would Kripke say? Or whoever it is who wrote Naming and Necessity.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:32 PM | Comments (0)

A Question

I have never seen a single one of the shows this talks about, and it still cracks me up. Does that make me a bad person?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:47 AM | Comments (0)

March 13, 2004

Spring Break

[Bumped up because I hadn't left yet.]

Spring break is next week, and the cat and I will be going back to Pittsburgh on Ice Cube's favorite airline. This may mean no blogging, though I hope not; it may mean lighter blogging; it may mean heavier blogging, since I will have a DSL connection at my parents' house; or it may mean exactly the same amount of blogging. Whatever it means, the amount of blogging next week will be caused in part by my being on break.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:00 PM | Comments (0)

No Respect, Part IV

Go to this entry and search for the string "epistemology."

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:58 PM | Comments (0)

If You Must

Something in the von Fintel/Iatridou paper on anankastic conditionals ("You must take the A train if you want to get to Harlem")--if you must know, I think I misread an example--made me think of the following semantics for a reading of "If A, you should B":

(1) Given a modal base f and an ordering base g, "If A, you should B" is true if, when A is added to the modal base f, B is true in all the world that maximally satisfy the ordering base g.

What that means, if I'm understanding the Kratzer semantics aright:
According to the Kratzer semantics, a modal is evaluated against two bases; a modal base, which encompasses more or less the facts that are presupposed; and an ordering base, which expresses what is "good" with respect to the modal. To evaluate "Ought p," you look for all worlds compatible with the modal base, see which of those worlds comes out best with respect to the ordering base, and see whether p is true in all those best worlds (there may be more than one).

So (1) translates into English as follows: Take all the things that you presuppose, and presuppose A as well. Then, if things go as well as they can, B will be true.

This doesn't give a good account of anankastic conditionals. Suppose that your actual goal is to be up early tomorrow, and that this goal determines the ordering base--we evaluate what you should do by its conduciveness to your getting up early. Take the anankastic conditional:

(2) If you want to go out with your friends, you should call them.

As an anankastic conditional, (2) is probably true. But on the analysis (1), (2) comes out false; even if we presuppose that you want to go out, the ordering base is your goal of getting up early, and among the worlds in which you want to go out that goal will be best fulfilled in the worlds in which you do not call your friends.

But (1) does seem to be a suitable analysis of another modal:

(3) If you go out, you should come back before 10.

Here, the idea is that, given that you do go out, you will be most likely to get up early tomorrow if you get back before 10. In other words: Of the worlds in which the antecedent is true, the best (with respect to the ordering base) are those in which the consequent is true. That's just what (1) says.

Interestingly, (3) is very close to this:

(4) If you must go out, you should come back before 10.

(4) suggests that it is a bad idea (with respect to the ordering source) for you to go out. (3) is neutral on this question, I think. But what is the role of "must" in (4)? Clearly it's not part of the antecedent; you can't respond "I'm going out even though I don't have to, so your advice doesn't apply."

Perhaps a different ordering source applies to the "must." Given what the addressee wants to do, she must go out; given the ordering source behind (4), she should come back before 10. I don't pretend that this is an answer, I just want to raise the problem?

(And what of "if you must know, I think I misread an example"? There, I think it's plain--it's a biscuit or sideboard conditional. My take on these is that, literally, "if you must know" is an utterance modifier; the information that I think I misread an example is only relevant if you must know. So, literally, it's not asserted unless you must know. But of course your desire to know has nothing to do with the truth of the consequent, so by a sort of implicature the consequent is asserted whether you want to know or not. I may eventually turn this sort of analysis on the anankastic conditionals themselves.)

(BTW: DON'T Google the phrase "sideboard conditional.")

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:54 PM | Comments (0)

Two Philosophy of Religion Links

(1) Ran across Nate Oman's discussion of the role of agency in LDS theology and political philosophy--two subjects about which I know nothing, though they have a pretty big impact on my life at the moment. In the original post, Nate Oman points out that a theodicy based on respect for agency doesn't support a Millian political philosophy based on respect for agency. Mill argues for the Harm Principle, that government can regulate activity when it harms others; but agency-based theodicy requires that God allow people to make choices even when they do harm others.

I've always favored soul-making theodicies over the free will-based theodicies; if (like me) you're a compatibilist, God could have given us free will while making us such that we won't harm others, and I've never been convinced by the various attempts to combine incompatibilism, a traditional account of God's powers, and theodicy. But it's an interesting discussion. (And it contains this great line: "[Theodicy] is the companion work of theiliad, right?")

(2) Greg Restall argues that the sense in which God is bound by logic need not be any different from the sense in which God is bound by any other modality. It is logically impossible for God to do anything that violates the laws of logic, but it is also physically impossible for God to do anything that violates the laws of physics--but there is a broader sense of possibility in which it is possible for God to violate the laws of physics.

As Greg says,

The interesting issue is whether there’s any reason to think that the modality of logical necessity is any different to the others, or whether we could consider yet broader senses of possibility. That’s the place to look for something distinctive about the nature of the grip of logical necessity. [Italics wiped out in cut-and-paste]

One maybe possible response that I don't necessarily endorse is one like the one Cora Diamond might take, based on "What Nonsense Might Be." That is: To say that God cannot do something logically impossible is not to restrict God's power, because there's nothing there for God to do. So "If God can do anything, God can make a rock that's so heavy He can't lift it" is no more true than "If God can do anything, God can gabba gabba frazz potrzebie." I'd need to do a lot of philosophy of logic to back this up, though.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:05 PM | Comments (0)

New Academic Journals: Why Aren't They All Like This?

It seems impossible to deep link it*, but if you go here you will find a button that takes you to the Journal of Pedantry and Minutiae Studies. Sample proposed article: "Three-word titles: Must they be followed by a colon and a catchy explanatory phrase?" Absolutely.

*[UPDATE: But it isn't--go here. Thanks guys!]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:26 AM | Comments (3)

March 12, 2004

If You Want To Get To Sugar Hill in Harlem

[UPDATE: I'm planning to blog more on this subject: one, two, three new posts.]

Kai von Fintel blogs a draft paper (by himself and Sabine Iatridou) on anankastic conditionals. These are conditionals of the form "If you want A, you must/ought to do B," where B is the means to attaining A. So in the following pair:

(1) If you want to go to Paris in August, you must book a flight

(2) If you want to go to Paris in August, you must see a psychiatrist

(1) is anankastic but (2) is not. (1) can be paraphrased:

(3) If you do not book a flight, you will not [be able to] go to Paris in August.

(2) cannot be paraphrased:

(4) If you do not see a psychiatrist, you will not [be able to] go to Paris in August;

rather it has the more straightforwardly conditional interpretation, "If you have this desire, you must do this thing" (in this case, because the desire indicates ill-health).

von Fintel and Iatridou come up with several anankastic conditionals that do not involve "want." I think I can come up with one that's not even conditional:

(5) Utah students with ambitions in politics should run for student government.

You may think that (5) has the anankastic reading that running for student government would be facilitate careers in politics. Actually, I intend a non-anankastic reading; such students should run for student government because it'll cure those ambitions, if it's not already too late.

Anyway, Kai and Sabine's paper is interesting, and I hope to blog a lot about it in coming days.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:33 PM | Comments (0)

New Utah Philosophy Blog

Joe Ulatowski, a U of U philosophy grad student and the motive force behind the rationalism reading group, has a new blog up: Onto the blogroll. He's got a lot of stuff up right now about expressivism and the Frege-Geach argument.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:19 PM | Comments (0)

Woman Charged with Murder for Refusing C-Section

[UPDATE: More from the Salt Lake Tribune here--with more from Leslie Francis--and here.]

Salt Lake Tribune:

Salt Lake County prosecutors on Thursday charged a West Jordan woman with criminal homicide in the death of her stillborn baby. Prosecutors claim the woman ignored repeated warnings in the last few weeks of pregnancy that the twins she was carrying could die or suffer brain damage unless she had an immediate Caesarean section.

(The woman denies that she refused a C-section.)

This case raises legal questions, which I'm not qualified to comment on. My department chair, Leslie Francis, is quoted in this accompanying article saying that this case is unprecented in Utah, and that doctors in these situations have difficult issues.

But politically I find this very troubling. A C-section is a very invasive procedure, and to declare that a woman must obtain one on pain of life imprisonment seems outrageous. The legal doctrine seems to be that a woman who becomes pregnant forfeits control over her own body. The contrast between this case and the Parker Jensen case, in which charges were reduced to a slap on the wrist against parents who refused to allow their 12-year-old son diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma.

The Jensen case led to over two dozen bills in the Utah legislature to increase parental rights, though the most radical bills apparently did not pass. The thought seems to be that parents gain the right to decide whether their children will get medical treatment the moment the child leaves a woman's body.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:48 PM | Comments (1)

March 10, 2004

An Interesting Case

Allan Hazlett reports:

I had occasion to be standing next to a police officer late one night on the weekend. Outside a motorcycle backfired as it drove by. The officer then said into his radio: "Possible shots fired, Wickenden and Brook. Harley backfiring. [pause] That's right, a Harley backfiring."

Allan argues that this can't be an epistemic modality, since the policeman knows that it's just a motorcycle, and observes "Surely we ought to parse the officer's remark as: 'A sound that could be mistaken for shots bring fired, but which is in fact the sound of a motorcycle backfiring, could be heard a moment ago at Wickenden and Brook.'"

He's correct about the reading--and the dull truth is probably that the police use "possible shots" as a term of art for "sounds that could be mistaken for shots"--but there is a reading on which the modality is epistemic. Namely, that the modality refers to what is possible, given what someone than the other speaker knows.

This would be an especially interesting case, because the people whose knowledge is relevant are unknown to the speaker, and might not even exist. I think that those people would be, any police officers who learn of the sounds (either by hearing them or by having a concerned citizen report them). For those officers, the shots are indeed possible shots, and Allan's policeman is telling the dispatcher that those shots that are possible for the officer calling them in weren't really shots.

(Brian has a lot more about epistemic modals; this post seems especially relevant.)

Trust Me

While shuffling through my briefcase looking for some papers I vitally needed, I thought:

(1) I wouldn't trust me with any top-secret papers.

It struck me that there's a subtle difference between this and:

(2) I wouldn't trust myself with any top-secret papers.

(1) is a general warning to anyone [or perhaps some restricted set of people] who has secret papers not to entrust them to me. (2) means something more specific: If I myself had secret papers, I would be uneasy about what would happen to them, or would take special steps to ensure that they remained safe despite my bungling. (2) might be read the way I've interpreted (1), I suppose, but I don't think it can work vice versa.

In any case, there's a question: Why is it grammatical to use "me" instead of the reflexive in (1)? The answer, I suspect, has to do with variable binding. [Amateur linguistics hour is now in effect; someone has surely studied this already.]

"Would" always, it seems to me, presupposes some implicit reference to another situation--something like "three days ago, I would...." or "If wishes were horses, I would...." or "If I were you, I would...." I'm not saying that there's always a deep-structure phrase that's elided in surface structure, only that for "I would phi" to be true "I will phi" or "I do phi" must be true in some other situation, somehow determined by context.

In (1), "I" is being treated as a variable. What the speaker has in mind is something like "If I were you, I wouldn't trust me with any top-secret papers." That is, "X would not trust me with any top-secret papers," where the value of X and situation are determined by context (it could be anyone with secret papers, or some contextually salient person who has secret papers on offer). "Me" is not bound to "I," so it retains its reference to me.

In (2), "I" is also a variable--but "myself" is bound to "I." So we get "X would not trust X with any top-secret papers," value of X and situation are again determined by context. If no one else is salient, X may be me--so we get "I would not trust myself with any top-secret papers (if I had them)." If someone else is salient, it may refer to them--"Moe [the klutzy spy] would not trust Moe with any secret papers."

The paraphrases in the last two paragraphs have all contained the phrase "would not." Would not under what circumstances? Usually--under the circumstances in which X makes judgments that I would make. So I am expressing the judgment, in (1), that X should not trust me with the papers, and in (2), that X should not trust X's self with the papers. (Though you can say "I wouldn't trust myself if I'd gone through what she's gone through.")

So in (1) "I" is used as a variable, to denote the person who does the trusting, but the pronoun retains some first-personal aspects; the judgments expressed are still my own, rather than those that would be made by the person who is assigned to the variable.

If any of this is right, it looks like an interesting case.

[PS I printed out new copies of the papers I had been looking for. I have no idea where they went.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:03 PM | Comments (2)

More on Academic Freedom

Via Kieran Healy, Michael Berube points out that the Nona Gerard case is different from the Southern Mississippi case (see my earlier comments, including a declaration of bias). Gerard's firing went through administrative procedures, while the president of Southern Miss unilaterally and summarily fired two tenured professors. He says that when he expressed sympathy with Gerard earlier, some of his friends told him he didn't know what he was talking about, so he's reserving judgment.

That's reasonable; I don't know the details of the case either. But administrative proceedings in themselves aren't enough to guarantee justice--ask the Innocence Project.*

In particular, you could imagine that someone who was a real pain--who attacked her colleagues, who gave brutally frank (and possibly inaccurate) advice to students--would be likely to alienate a lot of people on campus. Maybe people would be alienated enough to see what she did as grave misconduct, worthy of revocation of tenure. But it would still be the conduct that academic freedom is supposed to protect.

I don't know whether Gerard really did commit fireable offenses, or whether she just got too many people angry. Part of the reason I don't know is that Penn State hasn't said exactly what she's done. I understand that they're facing a lawsuit and can't speak freely, but that leaves us unable to tell whether there's been an abuse of academic freedom or not. So I think we all do have reason to be gravely concerned.

(I don't think I'm disagreeing with Berube here--he says that "The Penn State decision should be pursued, and the grounds for Gerard's dismissal made available for broader review," and that the people who told him about Gerard weren't discussing revoking her tenure. It's possible that she was a bad colleague but not one who should've been fired. Until the details come out, we can't know.)

*And of course there's a huge difference between being fired from a tenured job and being imprisoned or executed, I'm not saying there isn't. And the Innocence Project site is truly dismaying.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:35 PM | Comments (0)

March 09, 2004

Ah, Spring

Temperature seems to be up over 50 degrees today, making it the first day for the door to be propped open so cats can disport themselves on balconies. In the dictionary beside the word "disport," there is a picture of the local cat rolling around on the balcony, putting her belly toward the sun--but that picture is not on this site, because Kevin Drum forgot to mail me the digital camera that he's not using anymore. Cats would like their personal attendants to join them on the balcony, but their personal attendants have cover letters, research proposals, and review sheets to write, as well as trips to make to the office to send some important e-mails and do a bit of blogging on the side--and cat food to pick up on the way home. Where I had best be going, it being such a nice day and all.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:33 PM | Comments (0)

If You're So Smart, Why Ain'tcha Rich?

[Title from David Lewis, of course.]

In this TAR thread, Brian says he doesn't understand why Nash equilibria* are especially interesting, or why conforming to a Nash equilibrium should be taken to be the essence of rationality:

In the most famous game of all, Prisoner's Dilemma, we know that the best strategy in repeated games is not to choose the equilbrium option, but instead to uphold mutual cooperation for as long as possible.

This annoyed economist Kevin Quinn:

We play Nash when we are rational and respect one another's rationality; playing anything other than the Nash means we think our opponent is either irrational or is mistaken about what we will do.

Not too surprisingly, I'm with the philosopher over the economist. In fact, I think that this whole debate reveals a problem with economists' conception of rationality, and shows how they would be better off paying more attention to philosophers.

*When none of the players in a game can make herself better off by unilaterally changing her strategy, we have a Nash equilibrium. There's always at least one Nash equilibrium (under certain constraints, I suppose). In the Prisoner's Dilemma, the only Nash equilibrium is for both players to defect. I'm told that the situation that inspires Nash's big breakthrough in the movie A Beautiful Mind wasn't even a Nash equilibrium.

The Prisoner's Dilemma is supposed to model many cooperative situations, where everyone will be better off if everyone cooperates, but each individual has something to gain by not cooperating. According to the Nash equilibrium strategy, a rational person should realize that, no matter what everyone else does, she will be better off if she does not cooperate. So, if everyone is rational, no one will cooperate, and everyone will be worse off than if they were all irrational and cooperated.

I think this is a reductio ad absurdum of the economic conception of rationality. The whole point of economic rationality is to achieve what's best for you. If a group of allegedly rational people all achieve what's worst for them by acting rationally, that shows that they've got the wrong conception of rationality.

My attitude toward this question is somewhat like my attitude toward foundationalism in epistemology. I think that I am justified in believing that the earth goes round the sun. There are various foundationalist views on which justification is defined in terms of what can be inferred from various starting points according to various rules. On some of those views, I may not be justified in thinking the earth goes round the sun--I may not be justified in believing in the earth, or in believing the testimony of others about astronomy. In my opinion, that shows that those views get justification wrong, not that I should restrict my beliefs to what's justified by those views.

Similiarly, I am more certain that it is rational to cooperate in (some) Prisoner's Dilemma situations than I am of any particular conception of rational decision-making. If the economic conception of rationality says that we should always defect, then the economic conception just doesn't capture what it is to decide rationally. Period.

Here we're in the vicinity of Gibbard and Harper's famous remark about Newcomb's problem: Approximately, if someone decides to reward irrationality, then those who behave irrationally will be rewarded. Arntzenius, Hawthorne, and Elga take a similar line about what happens to agents who can't bind themselves to strategies when faced with one of their infinite decision problems. To which I respond: If you're so smart, why ain'tcha rich? If someone decides to go around giving $50 to all irrational people, then irrationality will be rewarded. But if you know in advance that the decisions you make will leave yourself worse off, then those decisions just aren't rational. And if you know in advance that the decisions you and everyone else will make will leave you all worse off, then those decisions just aren't perfectly rational.

Newcomb's problem and AH&E's infinite problems are sufficiently outre that we might just say: Here, rationality hits its limits. But the Prisoner's Dilemma is not so. The Dilemma is meant to encapsulate many of the situations we face every day, and a theory of rationality on which it's not rational to cooperate has serious problems.

Frequently economists can get past their theory of rationality. I remember a Krugman column in which he urged everyone to vote, even though it wasn't rational (since the chances that a single vote will determine the outcome are minuscule), and a James Surowiecki column in which he discussed how we were all better off for the enforcement of certain norms even though it wasn't rational to enforce them (I think it was about the disgrace of the NYSE chairman--on the economic view, post facto punishment is cutting off your nose to spite your face). They came to the right conclusions--I just wish they wouldn't make the traditional obesiance to economic conceptions of rationality. There is more to rationality than economists dream of. Economists would be better off if they read what philosophers had to say about it.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:20 PM | Comments (6)

March 08, 2004

This Is Appalling

Not only has Penn State-Altoona fired a theater professor, apparently for criticizing her colleagues, but Southern Miss is firing two professors for aiding an AAUP investigation against an administrator.

These cases are EXACTLY what academic freedom is supposed to protect. The whole point is for faculty to feel free to say controversial things--and that includes controversial statements that might annoy the administration.

Yet another reason why faculty need better organization. These schools should be unable to hire anyone for any position. I suppose this post may ensure that they won't be hiring me, but I'd rather not work somewhere where I have to be always looking over my shoulder.

Via Kieran Healy and Ralph Luker, among others (follow their links).

(Declaration: The PSU-Altoona professor, Nona Gerard, is known on the Pittsburgh theater scene; she directed plays for Unseam'd Shakespeare, on whose board my mother sat, and I saw her reverse-sex production of The Importance of Being Earnest--in fact, I used my pull to buy tickets a bit before the box office opened. So this one is personal.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:15 PM | Comments (1)


Richard Mellon Scaife's wife donated $2000 to the Kerry campaign? (Search for "Ritchie.") I try not to post on politics but this is too good not to note.

[UPDATE: Not too surprisingly, Blake at American Footprint and Tim Noah at Slate beat me to this.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:14 PM | Comments (1)

Two Chips Off the Language Log

(1) In a post that is worth reading, though I have nothing to say about its substance, Bill Poser writes:

If [A] you've been clever enough to register, if [B] the Mechanicsville Tool and Die Company decides to develop a web presence, you can't [C] refuse to give up the domain name unless [D] they pay you a lot of money. [Sentence letters added]

Now, this clearly is to be read as "If A, if B, you can't do (if not-D, C)." But the first time through I had to struggle to avoid reading it as "If A, if B, if not-D, you can't do C." I wonder what that says about the ordinary action of "can" and "unless."

(Also, the first two if's express presuppositions in some way--it's not as though you might be able to do (if not-D, do C) if A or B failed, but that the question simply wouldn't arise if A or B failed. This seems to be a presupposition of the use of "refuse": to say "I refused/I didn't refuse/I couldn't refuse" seems to, ordinarily, presuppose you were asked. Anyway, these ifs don't seem to be biscuit conditionals--it's not that "You can do (if not-D, C)" is asserted outright. This is probably a well-known and much-studied phenomenon. Enough amateur hour.)

(2) In the previous post, Geoff Pullum says:

What I think is the most important teaching I do is a course on the Unix operating system. It changes people's lives. I taught a student who went on to use his Unix on Silicon Graphics workstations at Industrial Light and Magic, and his team won an Oscar for the special effects in Forrest Gump.

He has now supplanted Juan Non-Volokh at the top of my enemies list. Forrest Gump was on TV where I was eating just before Oscar night, and it is the best argument I've ever seen for an Elvis moment.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:04 PM | Comments (0)

Bayes and God

This is why I'm skeptical about the extent to which Bayesian approaches are useful in epistemology. Actually it isn't, it's just material for a cheap shot. But really, the trick is in setting the prior that God exists at 50%, isn't it? And, well, in all the other stuff. Anyway, Kierkegaard would not approve. (via Kevin Drum)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:36 PM | Comments (0)

Physician-Assisted Suicide

Mark A.R. Kleiman trashes an argument against physician-assisted suicide by Leon Kass (scroll down to the Update). MARK is right that the argument has a hole, but I think it might be possible to fix it.

The argument, in paraphrase, is: If your physician can help to kill you at your request, your physician might pressure you into authorizing her to do so. If you are on guard against this possibility, you will be constrained about the information you reveal to the physician. This would corrupt the doctor-patient relationship. Therefore, a doctor should never help to kill her patient, even if requested.

MARK points out that nothing in this argument rules out another physician's assisting the patient's suicide. Fair enough. But perhaps we can argue--in order to be able to assist a patient's suicide, a physician must be in contact with the patient, and know her record. Therefore, a doctor should never help to kill a person with whom she does not have a doctor-patient relationship.

This problem might be solved if the patient's physician recommended another doctor to assist in the suicide, but then the recommendation itself would be subject to Kass's original argument.

So we'd have a dilemma here for physician-assisted suicide. It's unacceptable to perform it for someone who is your patient, and it's unacceptable to perform it for someone who isn't your patient. This is similar to a dilemma that I've occasionally found convincing about the death penalty: It's unacceptable to forbid the jury to take into account the particular circumstances of the crime (because death should be reserved for the worst crimes), and it's unacceptable to allow the jury to take into account the particular circumstances of the crime (because it opens the door to prejudice, as can be seen in the statistics cited in McCleskey v. Georgia I think it is.)

Just to place this firmly in the realm of abstract argument:

(1) I don't find Kass's original argument convincing. It seems to me that the same argument might apply to a physician's power to recommend that the patient be committed to a mental institution, or that the patient move to a nursing home, or something. If you don't already think assisted suicide is outside the realm of medicine, I don't see why you should accept Kass's premises. (Though I am inclined to oppose assisted suicide on the grounds that it would be could lead to abuses under cost-cutting pressure from insurance companies. I'm not sure if I've just contradicted myself.)
(2) I see no reason to doubt MARK's assessment of Kass's character. He was there, I wasn't, he reports others as having agreed, and the response he quotes from Kass is sophistical and inadequate.
(3) At the moment I'm not actually opposed to the death penalty in the U.S. It seems to me that the death penalty can be appropriate when the prison system is so porous that you can't guarantee that someone will stay in prison. The recent New Yorker article on the Aryan Nations prison gang makes it sound as though something similar is going on--the gangs have taken over the day-to-day running of the prisons to the extent that life in prison won't work as a punishment. Responsibility for this lies in part with the people supervising the prisons, but as the prosecutor says at the end of the article, there doesn't seem to be any way to combat this without putting the prison gang leaders to death. This still leaves about 95% of executions unjustified by my lights.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:47 PM | Comments (2)

Crooked Timber Suck-Up Watch

I believe the previous post was my first link to a Kieran Healy CT post, which if I'm counting right means I have now linked over half (7/13) of the regular CT posters (as well as guests John Holbo and Belle Waring). This is probably not a record, though you might be surprised at which ones I've missed.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:18 PM | Comments (2)

A Much Better Reason Not to Read the Volokhs

than anything Neil Levy cites, is to be found here (via Kieran Healy). Never mind the politics--it's downright criminal to put Rush lyrics up where they might awaken repressed memories in someone who is trying to forget some truly shameful bits of his musical past. Fortunately, my Johnny Cash-o-phobic neighbor isn't in, so I can apply some antidote. "Were You There When They Crucified My Lord," all right.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:06 AM | Comments (0)

March 06, 2004

More On This Later, Maybe

I feel as though I should be posting on the Neil Levy paper referenced here, since it's plumb spang in my field (epistemology of testimony). But I haven't been able to organize my thoughts yet.

Levy argues for the counterintutive view that it's often unwise to gather evidence on a controversy. If you're not an expert in a certain field, you can be better off not exposing yourself to arguments against the position that you already hold.

I suppose I'll start with this: Few people are complete experts or complete incompetents in any field. Inosfar as you are completely incompetent, it won't matter if you expose yourself to arguments against your position, since you won't understand them. You should form a reasoned judgment as to which experts are most trustworthy, and conform your views to theirs.

Insofar as you have some competence, you probably hold your views for some reasons other than simple acceptance of what others say. Then exposing yourself to opposing views may at least tell you where the battle lines are drawn--that even the people who oppose the policy accept X, for instance. And it may tell you whether the reasons that led you to accept your view are contestable. In which case, weakening your position may be epistemically responsible.

The trick will be not overestimating your expertise--not taking the opposing expert's view as refuting your own when you haven't even understood it completely. But this doesn't preclude being aware of the opposing arguments, or that they exist.

One of the tricky things here is that Levy talks about moral and political controversies, which are not as obviously conducive to testimony as empirical controversies. It's at least tempting to think that an adult knows everything she needs to know to make moral judgments, and so should only take others' views as suggestions. (OTOH, Levy talks about global warming, which has a large empirical/scientific aspect.)

This is very rough, and I'd need to read Levy's paper again to see if I'm making contact with his arguments. Hence the title of this post.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:12 PM | Comments (0)

Sleep as a Kind of Booger

In this X-bar post about boogers, a discussion comes up concerning the term for the dried stuff that accumulates in your eyes. When I was a kid I called it "sleep" for a little while, but I eventually stopped doing so and stopped hearing anyone else do so. Eventually I became convinced that I had misapprended it from the idiom "rub the sleep out of your eyes"--if you look for what comes out of your eyes when you rub, it's sleep. But two X-bar commentators confirm that they call it sleep, too.

("Eye booger" is much more perspicuous, though.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:13 PM | Comments (2)

A Zombie Metaphor

[UPDATE, April 3, 2004: Hi to everyone coming over from Belle's wonderful "And a Pony" post. This post of mine is really awfully cheap nitpicking, isn't it? Please head to my main page, where you can usually find nitpicking of a much higher order. If you'd like to help me out a bit, you can give me your opinion on this question. And the bit after the asterisk here was supposed to be funny, but I can't remember why.]

In this post by Belle Waring, Adam Kotsko describes some views* as "pipe dreams." Whereupon Carlos replies "that must be a *crack* pipe."

Well, as I understand it, "pipe dreams" originally comes from dreams inspired by the opium pipe. But no one thinks of opium anymore when they hear "pipe dreams." So with Carlos' remark the very same metaphor rises from the grave, shaking off the shrounds of idiomaticity, heads downtown and finds out what the new drug is.

*I'm not saying which, because I'm trying to keep my own political views close to my chest. This is a purely linguistic point, and if some of you click the link and absorb some political commentary that's got nothing to do with me.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:35 AM | Comments (0)

U of Utah Elections Update

Last I checked, the University of Utah student elections had been delayed by a barrage of grievances filed [by the special prosecutor, I think] against every party but the Space Monkey Mafia. Sadly, disqualifying all those parties and installing one-party Space Monkey Mafia rule does not seem to be on the table.

I guess the students are getting valuable preparation for real-life politics from this process, but I'm not sure I'm happy about this.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:06 AM | Comments (0)

March 05, 2004

Layers of Implicature

Some interesting questions raised by the second sentence here:

(1) We want to make sure that you receive these items. Before we can proceed, however, we ask that you check with your local post office to see if your package can be found.

Literally, the sentence would seem to mean "We cannot proceed until we ask that you check..." That would make an appropriate answer, "OK, you've asked, now you can proceed." I don't think that's what's intended.

(2) Before we can proceed, however, please check with your local post office to see if your package can be found.

Maybe (2) deserves an asterisk, but it seems like something that might be said. Now, in "Look before you leap," "A! before B" means "Do A before B is true." That doesn't work either--it's not like I'm in a race against time, where I have to get to the PO before they develop the ability to proceed, and if not it'll be too late.

Now, the idea seems to be that they cannot proceed until I check with the Post Office. This seems like it would literally be written

(3) Before we can proceed, you must check with your local post office.

Here there seems to be two layers of decoding involved. First the performative "We ask that you check" gets turned into the imperative "Check," and then the imperative "Check" gets turned into the modal "You must check." Perhaps last step is similar to the process by which "To be healthy, exercise" gets decoded into "To be healthy, you must exercise" (if indeed that happens).

Note that I've been supposing that all manner of implicatures are computed in-line.

But there's yet another layer of implicature. (3) is unlikely to be literally true; I bet they could proceed even if I don't check. So really, since Quality is flouted, (1) means something like:

(4) Before we will proceed, you must check with your local post office.

It seems to me that there's a lot of decoding involved in figuring out what (1) means.

(1) also raises other questions:

If someone ships me a package and it doesn't get to me, why is it my responsibility to hassle their carrier? Why won't they give me a tracking number that matches the carrier who's actually supposed to have delivered the package? What use is it to me to order a book that doesn't arrive until after we've finished it in the reading group? Does everyone else have this kind of experience with, or is it just me? [UPDATE: It seems only fair to add that, having been told (truly) that I asked around at the post office, Amazon is now rush-shipping me a replacement.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:49 PM | Comments (0)

Fictionalism about Math

[UPDATE: Vera Tobin discusses this entry here.]

In the rationalism reading group we've been reading Jerrold Katz's Realistic Rationalism. In a brief account of fictionalism about mathematics, Katz (IIRC) contrasts fiction with mathematics in that fiction can sustain inconsistency, and concludes that the best explanation is that fiction is fictional and mathematics is real. I kind of like fictionalism about mathematics, so I'm going to try to object. [But I'm not sure these views hold up at all--that's part of the reason I didn't specialize in philosophy of math. So take 'em with a grain of salt, please.]

So: Katz's example of inconsistency in fiction is that Dr. Watson's war wound is said to be in two different places. I think the reason that the fiction can tolerate this inconsistency is that the inconsistency doesn't matter. The reader is never impelled to bring together the two statements about the location of the wound.

But some fictional inconsistencies do matter. In one mystery--I guess I can't say which--one of the details in the detective's summing up is that one character was born on Feb. 29. If you go back looking to see how he knew that, you see that the character does say that his birthday was Tuesday, which happens to be Feb. 29. Unfortunately, he also says that he turned thirty-four that day. Here the inconsistency matters--you have to retrospectively correct the story so that the character's age is divisible by four, or it won't make any sense.

I think that similar things can happen in mathematics. Most inconsistencies will get you in trouble. But, as Mark Wilson likes to point out, at various points in mathematical history people have used mathematical apparatus that on its face seems inconsistent. The trick is to avoid smashing the inconsistencies together--Wilson describes the pracititioners of the operational calculus using ad hoc contextual restrictions to avoid introducing error. And we use naive set theory all the time--we just need to make sure we don't run through the paradoxes.

Fictionalism appeals to me because it seems to account for mathematical evolution. In what sense do we have the same operation in a2 + b2 = c2 and in ei.pi = -1 ? I've never liked the idea that the operation is sitting there in Platonic heaven, waiting to be discovered. I don't see how proofs can provide knowledge then (Katz's book is meant to answer this question, but I'm not convinced), and I like Wittgenstein's statement that even God can only discover mathematical truth by doing mathematics.

So my version of the fictionalist answer is: People discovered that the best way to go on was to extend the definition of exponentiation so that eix = cos x + i sin x. In this group-authored fiction, no other extension worked, and false starts had to be excised from the canon as ruthlessly as Exploits of Moominpapa.

(There's an amazing passage in Cardano where, as far as I can tell, he takes the square root of a negative number even though negative numbers hadn't been invented yet. It contains what appears to be a pun based on the fact that the Latin phrase for "subtracting the cross-products" can also mean "dismissing the excruciating headaches involved." No, really.)

Of course fiction can tolerate inconsistency much better than mathematics can. Fiction is designed to--well, I don't know what it's designed to do, but one of the ways it can achieve this is to entrap the reader into contradictions. Mathematics must go ever onward, and occasionally be used to build bridges that won't collapse. So it's important that there be consensus in mathematics, and that doesn't usually go along with inconsistency. But I think you might be able to make the case that that's a matter of the purpose of mathematical inquiry rather than a question of its having more objective reality than fiction.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:09 PM | Comments (3)


I think today is the first Friday since cat-blogging ended at Calpundit, so I'll link this excellent cat-related stuff from Matt McIrvin.

Also, after a bit of inaccessibilty, the punk kittens are available again! (If you're in your office, turn the sound down a bit before clicking.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:53 AM | Comments (0)

March 04, 2004

It's Nice To Be Valued

I'm a bit late on this story, but the Utah state legislature has rejected funds to earthquake-proof the main campus library. Apparently it's in danger of total collapse in a magnitude 5 earthquake, and I keep hearing that Salt Lake is overdue for an earthquake. (Usually this comes along with "There's a fault running down Main Street!" which does not make me happy. Mom, don't read this. [UPDATE: She did.])

[Aside: The Sarah Michalak who runs the library does not seem to be the one I knew at PGSS.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:24 PM | Comments (1)

March 03, 2004

Academic Novels

[UPDATE: Fact-checked the Barbara Pym descriptions, and (hereby) noted Henry Farrell's quote: "I’ve always much preferred grumpy, splenetic conservative Amis pere when he was on form to slightly-too-clever-for-his-own-good Amis fils." Dead on.]

This CT thread has turned into a discussion of campus fiction. I haven't read Randall Jarrell's Pictures from an Institution, but I will fix that soon.

Anyhow: Kingsley Amis's Lucky Jim is gutwrenchingly funny (if I ever get tenure, I will try to publish a paper beginning "In considering this strangely neglected topic"). I'm quite fond of Barbara Pym's Less than Angels, which as the title suggests takes a gentler view of academic follies than many books in this genre. The opening scene is classic: The official opening of a library is forced to observe the students and scruffy academics working in it, with the students huddling by the refreshments, wisecracking about the faculty, and eventually blowing off work to drop by a friend's. You may not think of Pym as a virtuoso stylist, but she's a master at handling point of view here (and in many other works--read the first page of An Unsuitable Attachment, and watch how smoothly the camera glides from Stonebird to Sophia and Penelope).

[God, I love writing sentences like that. Books sound so interesting when you enigmatically refer to the characters without hinting who they are.]

James Lasdun's The Horned Man is a tremendous novel with an academic setting--full of pity and terror. Its only flaw is the satire of sexual-harassment policies--Lasdun himself has the narrator acknowledge that he's a much-parodied type. But its power comes from its remorseless exploration of how someone who tries to set up failsafe rules for living can destroy himself and those around him.

(On the subject of complainst about good books: I just read Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon--the last 600 pages in more or less one gulp, which should be enough review--and was mildly irked by the satire of pomo academics, which was pretty phoned-in I thought. But it's impossible to stop reading, and said satire occupies less than 5% of it.)

Henry calls David Lodge "a talented light novelist," but I think the light novel deserves the same respect as other genres. Small World is a brilliant farce, and making you fall off your seat laughing is a noble service for literature to perform. Nice Work I also like--at times it makes literary theory seem sexy and sensible--but the first volume of the trilogy, Changing Places, isn't as good. One complaint: It doesn't earn its ambiguous ending. A novel can gain depth and resonance by refusing to settle a crucial question, but in CP you know there's an answer that the author's simply not disclosing.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:45 PM | Comments (0)


Matt Yglesias complains about the use of "literally" to mean "metaphorically." I think that, in most cases, this reflects a non-cancelable implicature. To say

(1) Howard Dean started a wildfire in American politics

is to flaunt a maxim of Quality (the one that says "Don't say false stuff," my copy of Grice is at home). So we reinterpret as (1) as metaphorical. Now, in

(2) Howard Dean literally started a wildfire in American politics

"literally" seems to cancel the implicature. Except that (2), taken literally, is still so obviously false that it makes more sense for the listener to reinterpret "literal" as figurative than to take (2) literally. The violation of Quality is so blatant that it outweighs two reinterpretations.

That's the problem with the case Dimmy Karras cites in Matt Y's comments: When you say

(3) This business is literally a gold mine

the literal interpretation of (3) does not flout Quality, at least not enough to outweigh the "literally," and so it makes sense to think that the business is about extracting gold from the ground.

(The official Opiniatrety on this, BTW, is that it's still annoying. "Literally" does not add anything to the sentence. It would be better to say "really," but people would rather use a two-bit word than one that makes them sound like Moon Unit Zappa. "Really" kinda sounds like it should mean the same thing as "literally"--how it got to be a degree modifier is a story for another day.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:52 PM | Comments (2)

Site Stuff

OK, I've banned an IP that was spamming the comments (Zoloft this time) and checked my referrer logs--thanks to Brian Weatherson and Matthew Mullins respectively. I think this may happen to every blogger, but I'm surprised and a bit intimidated at the number of unique visits I'm getting--a couple hundred each day, at least. I may have to improve the quality of arguments here. (OTOH, the vast majority seem to be from unknown web pages--maybe those were all the spambot.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:11 AM | Comments (0)

March 02, 2004

Unsilly Questions

Kai von Fintel blogged a month ago about the semantics of fiction, pointing out that fictional stories do not determine the answers to "silly questions" such as "In the Holmes stories, what is Inspector Lestrade's blood type?" I don't know all the literature, but one of the things that I was getting at in this post was that truth in fiction may leave serious questions unsettled, or at least settle them in an unusual way.

Debates over normative questions in fiction aren't surprising--we can sit around arguing over whether Hamlet is a hero or a misguided fool. We can have the same sort of debates over whether, say, Lyndon Johnson was a good or bad president. In both cases, we start with the material facts, of the fictional or real world, and argue over what normative judgments those facts justify.

But we can have debates over important material facts in fiction that are more like the normative judgments in the real world than the non-normative ones. If we want to know whether FDR knew about Pearl Harbor before it happened, we need to look for an evaluate the evidence. Suppose, though, we want to know whether the children see the ghosts in The Turn of the Screw, or whether they are strictly in the governess's imagination; or on whether the cat that appears at the end of Hemingway's "Cat in the Rain" is the same cat that the woman sees in the rain.* The answer to this question is determined, if it is determined by anything, by the sentences of the story. (Yes, I'm rejecting authorial intent.) But the way we answer the question may be to argue over which answer makes more sense; and making sense here is an aesthetic concept rather than an epistemic one.

I think that unsilly questions like this may even be indeterminate. Sometimes there is simply nothing to settle whether the story is a better story if p holds or if ~p does. In fact, part of the appeal of the story may be a deliberate ambiguity on the question of whether p. Some have said that this is true of Turn of the Screw, and I think it's a commonplace of literary theory--stories of the uncanny are systematically ambiguous about whether the ghosts really exist.

(Bernard Capes' "An Eddy on the Floor" makes nice use of this--after the narrator dismisses the supernatural as impossible, he adds, "Yet, there is also the little matter of my personal experience.")

If truth in fiction can depend on aesthetic judgments, then it won't be any more determinate than the aesthetic judgments; and if amibiguity can contribute to the value of a story, important facts about some stories will be ambiguous. Some might take this as a reductio either of fictional realism or of the idea that fictional truth can depend on aesthetics--not me, though.

*IIRC, David Lodge thinks not, because the cat at the end is too big for the woman to call her a "kitty." This is ridiculous--no cat is too big to be called a kitty. FWIW, the woman does call the cat "she," and the cat at the end is a tortoiseshell, who can thus be seen to be female.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:17 PM | Comments (0)

IP Logging

I've been hit by some "penis enlargement" comment spam recently. I would like to ban the IP, but I don't know what the IP is. Does anyone know how I can log commenter's IPs? Also, what are these "referrer logs" people keep talking about--do I have one already, and if not is there a way for me to get one for free? Thanks.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:27 PM | Comments (3)

March 01, 2004


Earlier in comments, I remarked that "X knows Y" is a symmetric relation. Contrary to what may or may not be implied here, "X loves Y" is not a symmetric relation. This has been known to cause trouble.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:16 PM | Comments (4)

Going Underground

Jonathan's method of anonymizing his blog is a lot like my solution to the surprise inspection paradox. You may think this says something about my solution to the surprise inspection paradox. By the same token, you might think that my blog is already anonymous, to at least one commentator.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:08 PM | Comments (0)