May 29, 2004

The Dividing Line

Via Kevin Drum, a picture that shows the pop/soda line in Pennsylvania (as well as all over the country). This was an issue of great contention in Governor's School, where bright young kids from all over the state were brought together. The data for Utah seem fairly chaotic, for reasons about which I decline to speculate (in public).

[UPDATE: What's up with St. Louis and Milwaukee? Why does being a center of brewing mean that you call it "soda" even when you're in the midst of fine upstanding pop country? I'm beginning to regret taking this job.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:49 PM | Comments (0)

May 27, 2004

Your place for Two Envelopes...

is currently this Crooked Timber thread. Therein I hint at why I think the two-envelope problem might matter (besides being an interesting puzzle); I hope to post on that soon.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:38 PM | Comments (0)

May 26, 2004

Background Assumptions

I was rereading Edward Craig's Knowledge and the State of Nature for the paper I'm writing,* and I was struck by a way in which Craig's presuppositions seem to be different from mine. Namely: Craig refers to Colin Radford's "Knowledge--By Examples" successively by:

(1) Stating Radford's thesis (that knowledge doesn't require belief) (p. 12)

(2) Asking "What is it, for example, that gives Radford's examples some purchase?" (pp. 15-16)

(3) Mentioning "Colin Radford's French Canadian" (p. 31)

(4) "Radford's French Canadian, Jean. Jean comes out with the right answers to questions about British history, and someone who knows the background to this surprising fact can certainly find out about British history by accepting what Jean says." (p. 37)

On p. 41 he then spends a paragraph giving a nice summary of Alvin Goldman's fake barn example (which Goldman apparently credits to Carl Ginet).

So Craig doesn't give any details about Radford's example until the third time he mentions it ((1) doesn't count), and even then he doesn't tell you how it works. Then he does tell you how Goldman's example works. I can only conclude that Craig is willing to assume that the reader is familiar with Jean but not with the fake barns. And that seems like it must reflect a big difference between US and UK philosophical culture (or, it has been suggested to me, Scots philosophical culture, though Radford was in England). Craig's book was written in 1990, when I was still a math major, but I'd be astonished if an American epistemologist hadn't heard of the fake barns, and I'd be surprised if that example wasn't part of the folklore in 1990. Radford's example, on the other hand, just isn't one I'd assume people knew (for instance: I do not know it). In 1990 at least, Radford's example must have been much more famous relative to Goldman's in the UK.

And that leads up to the important question: Is there a bunch of Scottish grad students with a group blog called Jean the Librarian?**

*What is this paper I keep talking about? In homage to Hector-Neri Castaneda's "The Paradoxes of Deontic Logic: The Simplest Solution to all of them in One Fell Swoop," I'm thinking of calling it "The Theory of Knowledge: Every Single Account Objected to One by Freaking One." Or, to lift from one of Craig's delightful Three Men in a Boat-style chapter titles, "All Analyses Insufficient." The basic thesis is the same as that of Mark Kaplan's "It's Not What You Know that Counts," or (what I think is the moral of) Weatherson's line on "Taking Knowledge Frivolously," that the concept of knowledge as people are always on about it is not one that is very important--or that its importance is as a convenient shorthand for a bunch of other important things, and so fine analyses of the details of knowledge aren't nearly as important as they look. Much attention is paid to to the practical environment view in Hawthorne's Knowledge and Lotteries, though the hope is that I will wind up with many self-standing sections that can be recombined easily to meet various word limits.

**Should that have been "Are there a bunch," which is what I had first?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:51 PM | Comments (0)

Like a Rolling Stone

[This post was actually inspired by looking at a bag of apples rather than by you-know-what.]

When did people start excusing things by saying "It's just a few bad apples"? When I was a sprat, I thought the saying was something like "A few bad apples can spoil the barrel." Which is not exactly the message people send when they talk about "bad apples" these days, although it may be more accurate.

In one sense this is like "A rolling stone gathers no moss," in another sense unlike. Opinion on whether or not it's a good thing to gather no moss appears to be about evenly split. Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, and the Temptations say it isn't, Muddy Waters and by extension Mick Jagger say it is. Apparently Hank, Merle, Bob, and the Tempts have the original meaning, though being covered with moss doesn't sound very appealing to me. But in either case, the descriptive meaning is the same; those who are constantly on the move (say, visiting assistant professors) don't form lasting attachments. The only question is whether it's a good thing or a bad thing.

With "bad apples" the descriptive meaning seems to have reversed itself--at first it was that you had to be vigorous against corruption because it could spread, now it's that corruption is not that big a deal once it's discovered if only a few people were involved. What gives?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:40 PM | Comments (0)

No! Don't Go in There!

From the New Yorker, an article by David Grann about the giant squid ("with tentacles sometimes as long as a city bus and eyes about the size of human heads"). No living specimen has ever been sighted, but New Zealand biologist Steve O'Shea, however, is

not trying to find a mature giant squid; rather, he is scouring the ocean for a baby, called a paralarva, which he can grow in captivity

thus recreating the first fifteen minutes of every monster movie ever made. It doesn't help that Grann goes out of his way to make O'Shea seem dangerously unstable, culminating in this bloodcurdling moment:

...listening to Neil Diamond's slightly nasal tenor on the stereo. ("He's bloody brilliant, isn't he?" O'Shea said.)

Oh well, we're all doomed anyway.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:36 PM | Comments (0)

Important Questions

Does Daryle Ward suck?

As of the 5th inning tonight, he is 3 for 3 with a walk, 3 runs scored and 6 RBIs. He needs a single for the cycle.

The Pirates can use more of that kind o' sucking.

[UPDATE: For instance, their pitchers could stop giving up 4-run innings when ahead 10-3. Don't make me look stupidly triumphalist, guys!]

[UPDATE 2: Pirates 11, Cardinals 8. Ward hit for the cycle, becoming half of the first father-son team to do so. After the game six Pirates starters had batting averages over .300. Excellent.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:31 PM | Comments (0)

May 21, 2004

Political and Social Philosophy: Request for Syllabus Help

I'll be teaching an introductory course in political and social philosophy next fall, and I'm interested in suggestions for contemporary-ish stuff that fills some of the following slots. I'll be teaching short chunks of stuff that should be accessible to non-specialists, so keep that in mind; these papers may not help.

Libertarianism aside from Nozick (I've heard Loren Lomasky is good; is there anything easily digestible? Should I just go with Locke?)
Egalitarianist/Redistributionist things that's not Rawls
Some sort of response to the libertarian view (does Etzioni have good stuff here?)
Gender or Race theories that make good contact with the tradition (which, in addition to that mentioned above, includes Hobbes, Rousseau, Mill, Marx, probably Plato, some others).

Thanks for your help.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:18 PM | Comments (4)

Great Moments in Imperatives

"Grow taller!" instruct banners hung in some schoolyards, defectors and aid workers say.

(From a story about how the truly horrific situation in North Korea has led to an extremely short generation.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:11 PM | Comments (0)

May 20, 2004

Two Implicatures

1. The National Park Service directions to Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty contain this passage:

10. Continue 2.3 miles south-southwest to a combination fence, cattle guard #4, iron-pipe gate - and a sign declaring the property behind the fence to be that of the "Rafter S. Ranch". Here too, is a "No Trespassing" sign.
11. At this gate the class D road designation ends. If you choose to continue south for another 2.3 miles, and around the east side of Rozel Pint, you should see the Lake and a jetty (not the Spiral Jetty)...

Why do they say "If you choose to"? Do they really think that you're going to drive 65 miles north to Corinne, Utah, 25 miles west to the Golden Spike National Historic Site, 5.6 miles on a gravel road, and 7 more miles on Box Elder County Class D (maintained) roads, and then give up before you get to the Spiral Jetty, unless your car is leaking oil? Or is it that they feel that they cannot write "Continue South..." in the imperative mode if continuing south is trespassing? By phrasing it in this way, are they trying to invoke the Maxim of Manner in such a way as to let you know that this is trespassing? Is there a legal theory on which putting this in conditional form absolves them from responsibility? And if there are trespassing issues, how can they mark the Rafter S. gate on the map as "closed, but not locked," unless there's an under the table agreement?

2. As I was being dropped off by the folks whose car had started leaking oil (at the Golden Spike) even though it had been allegedly fixed within the past week, I tried to psych them up for the ensuing discussion with their mechanics by saying, "Knock them dead. Literally." This isn't quite an example of my favorite uncancellable implicatures, but it's something related. "Knock them dead" is an idiom, and my saying "literally" indicated that it was not to be taken with its idiomatic meaning. But it does not indicate that it is to be taken literally, but rather figuratively as an expression of annoyance. The literal interpretation is so outlandish that my words must be interpreted another way. To literally tell someone to knock someone else dead would be a serious crime, which I would never... Hold on, someone's knocking.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:15 PM | Comments (0)

Humor Redeems Evil (But Not in the Real World)

Brian says somewhere that we couldn't imagine a fiction that in which all the same non-moral facts are true as in our world but different moral facts are true. That's probably true--I can't imagine all the non-moral facts of our world anyway. But I do think that I've read some novels in which the moral facts are not the moral facts that would be true in the real world, if the non-moral facts that were true in the real world were the non-moral facts that are true in the fiction.

I'm thinking of Donald Westlake's Dortmunder novels. Dortmunder is a hapless crook whose schemes always go wrong in funny ways. He never harms anyone seriously (I don't think). And I'm pretty sure we're supposed to sympathize with him; with his exasperation with the eccentrics he has to deal with, with his frustrations at unforeseen hitches, sometimes with his anger when someone treats him in an absolutely unforgivable way (like the diplomat who cheats him out of his pay for a jewel he had to steal six times, or the media mogul who steals his ring after catching him robbing his house). None of this would work if it were true in the story that Dortmunder were evil. (Pulp Fiction has humor that's based on your seeing things from the point of view of evil people, but I don't think that's what Westlake's doing--he's not nearly as dark.)

But--if Dortmunder existed in the real world, he'd be evil. He constantly puts people at hideous risks, even if he doesn't want to hurt anyone. In one novel he kidnaps a child (who runs circles round him a la The Ransom of Red Chief). If he never does much actual fictional harm, that's because of Westlake making sure that nothing awful happens; in the real world, he'd be depravedly indifferent and damned lucky.

None of this is too original--I think I swiped the basic idea from John Holbo. But maybe this is a new wrinkle. When we're reading a Dortmunder, we know that things won't go too horribly wrong; that Dortmunder won't go to prison for life, for instance. But in the fiction, it is not true that Dortmunder definitely won't go to prison for life. Much of the sting would be taken out of his mishaps if he were in a position to be sure that nothing bad would happen. So halfway through we, the reader, may infer that p is definitely true from what is written--this is a matter of the books' tone as much as anything--though definitely p isn't true in the story.

It seems to me that there ought to be an interesting example with "might" in the vicinity. Say you have this: by page 32, you know that if the burglar alarm turned itself on, then Dortmunder will go to prison. On page 40, it is left ambiguous whether the alarm turned itself on (in fact, it's hinted that it did). On page 50, it is made clear that the alarm is off. It seems to me that it's true to say:

(1) On page 40, it is true in the story that Dortmunder might go to prison.

(2) On page 50, it is no longer true in the story that Dortmunder might go to prison.

And these are epistemic "mights"--metaphysically, it's not true (since in the story, it is already settled before the events of page 40 that the alarm is off). But is there anyone whose knowledge is such as to make both (1) and (2) true? Not the reader--we know all along that Dortmunder won't go to prison. Not Dortmunder--even on page 50, he doesn't know that he won't go to prison. And, the way I've set it up, not anyone else (that's why the alarm has to turn itself on).

(I'm writing this post now partly because I just typed, "Let us pretend that maximizing expected utility is always rational." Can I pretend it, since I don't believe it? I think so. But I don't think I can imagine it--pretending is a matter of using examples of practical reasoning that involve EU instead of much messier examples that I think have a hope of being right.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:12 PM | Comments (3)

Return of Two Envelopes (or, Philosophers aren't all morons)

I started this blog in part to work through some stuff about the two-envelope problem (my stab at a theory, some more thoughts, some later stuff, and the links will give you more posts). That trailed off eventually, but the problem has popped up again on Crooked Timber and TAR--John Quiggin, Brian W., Brian on TAR (same post, different comments). John says that the problem goes away if you create a probability distribution with a finite mean, Brian agrees but points out that we can create a well-defined distribution without a finite mean.

In the comments Bill Carone takes the line that we're impermissibly messing with infinity, and if we would just realize that the problem would go away. I disagree; Bill's got infinity wrong.

In his 5:18 comment here Bill observes that one step in the argument regroups the terms in a divergent series, and that this yields paradox because there's no guarantee that you'll get the same sum when you change your groupings. (Say the series a1 - b1 + a2 - b2 ... diverges. It may be, for instance, that a1 + the sum of all (ai + 1 - bi) converges to a different limit than does the sum of all (ai - bi).)

That's true, an accurate diagnosis of the problem, and exactly what Dave Chalmers said.

Bill continues:

take the standard numbered ball and urn example:
1. Put balls labelled 1 through 10 in, take the ball labelled 1 out.
2. Put balls labelled 11 through 20 in, take the ball labelled 2 out.

Some will say that, in the limit, there are zero balls in the urn, since each ball is taken out. This is incorrect.
Clearly, if you take the limit, you see that it diverges, as the number of balls increases without limit.
If you use hyperreals, you get the same (correct) answer; if you do this N times, where N is an infinite integer, you still have 9N balls left in the urn. All the finite numbered balls are out, but 9N infinite numbered balls are in. Again, no paradox.

I'm afraid I can't see what Bill is talking about here. Let's think of it synchronically instead of diachronically. Suppose that you define two sets of sets of integers as follows (i ranging over positive integers):

Ai = {10i - 9, ..., 10i} for all i.

Bi = {i} for all i.

Let Di be the number of members of A1 U A2 U ... U Ai - (B1 U ... U Bi). For any N, DN = 9N, so as N goes to infinity so does DN.

How many integers are there in the union of all Ai but not in the union of all Bi? Zero. Both unions comprise all positive integers.

Nor does taking the union of all Ai require us to throw in any hyperreal integers. We have taken the union of an infinite number of sets, but it would be very hard to do mathematics without such operations. And I defined an infinite number of sets above, but it would be completely impossible to do mathematics without doing that.

This reminds me of Bill's comment here, about a problem that's similar to the ball-and-urn problem (Bill Gates is presented with an infinite number of bets, each of which has positive utility but that when summed together guarantee him a loss of $1):

The last step is invalid, when they say “Bill Gates accepts [all the bets].” This assumes that he has an actual infinite number of deals before him. Mathematics should not use infinities as actual quantities.

But it's no more impossible to present an infinite number of bets than it is to define an infinite number of sets, the way I just did. You can accept an infinite number of bets, too, by saying "I'll take 'em all." In fact, I hereby make an infinite number of conditional commitments: If someone leaves an integer as the first comment to this thread, I will leave twice that integer as my first comment to that thread. I have committed myself to all of the following: If you write i, I will write 2i. Is there a problem with that?

Now, Bill may wish to lean on the synchronic vs. diachronic distinction. As far as the ball-urn paradox goes, you might say that it doesn't make sense to say, "Put in balls 10i - 9 through 10i and take out ball i. Do this for all i. How many balls are left when you're done?" Because you might wonder whether it makes sense to talk about when you're done with an infinite number of tasks.

I don't think this will help, though. Say that you stipulate that the first insert ten-remove one takes place at t=1/2, the second at t=3/4, the third at t=7/8... For every t, it's well defined exactly which balls are in the urn. As t approaches 1, the number of balls in the urn increases without limit. And at t=1, there are no balls in the urn.

Bill complains here that Brian is assuming that an infinite number of coin flips has been completed and then using that infinity in his calculations. But Brian isn't actually using any infinite numbers. He's using a well-defined positive number obtained by a certain procedure--flip a coin until it comes up tails--which intuitively yields a certain probability distribution. That procedure isn't even a supertask except in the probability 0 case in which the coin never comes up tails. And the objection that it's physically impossible to flip a coin that fast seems as much beside the point as John Quiggin's comment that the problem is theologically inaccurate.

Bill may have a point that you just can't work with probability distributions defined over infinite sets, except as limits of finite sets. Part of the point of working through these paradoxes is to see whether and how we can extend our intuitive conceptions of probability theory. The problem I discuss here is meant to put some pressure on those intuitions--we have some potential global weirdnesses created by the two-envelope problem, but we also have a local question (should I take another one-flip bet?) that seems easy to resolve. It may be that whenever we have infinite probability distributions things will break down. But we won't be able to show that just by making the sign of the cross whenever the notion of infinity comes around.

(Why am I ranting on so? Basically, because Bill's comments assume that every philosopher who's ever worked on this is an idiot who doesn't understand how to take a limit to infinity, and because he won't stop saying this. I used to be a bit of a math jock myself, Brian knows a bit about probability theory himself, and the collective wattage of the philosophy profession is higher than you might think.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:38 PM | Comments (9)

May 17, 2004

I Went Up To Monto Town

Lately I've been been noticing the Waxie trucks around, and I can't help but think: Do they have a dargle?

So that leads to a thought about truth in fiction.

Namely: The following two sentences say exactly the same thing about the sounds that Mark Letter is making:

(1) Mark Letter was whistling "The Girl I Left Behind Me" at a brisk hornpipe tempo.
(2) Mark Letter was whistling "Waxie's Dargle" at a brisk hornpipe tempo.

Yet it seems to me that there are stories in which substituting (2) for (1) will alter what is true in the story. (To be specific: Take Muriel Spark's "The Girl I Left Behind Me," make the narration third person, and lop off the last paragraph or so. That's not on the web, you'll have to go find it and read it yourself.) There may be a significance to Letter's whistling "TGILBM" that there isn't to his whistling "Waxie's Dargle," even though those whistlings are the same whistling. If the story contains (1), it may need to be interpreted so that A Girl Left Behind Him is important. If the story contains (2), it may not need to be.

Which may be no more than to say that what is true in a story depends on what is implicated as well as what is explicitly stated, and the Maxim of Manner holds here.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:45 PM | Comments (1)

Little, Big

Just finished reading John Crowley's Little, Big (discovered via this post I think). It was superb. I didn't figure out the significance of one character's name till about the last page (no telling). About halfway through I thought that the book reminded me of One Hundred Years of Solitude, being the saga of a family at the meeting point of our world and the magical one. About two-thirds of the way through I riffled through the reviews at the beginning and saw that one of them made the same point.

So in an attempt at saying something original: The ending reminded me of Donald Barthelme's The King. In tone as much as content; both have something of the form of a happy ending but are intensely sad. Anyway, go read.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:07 PM | Comments (1)


I wasn't planning to say anything about the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, but then it just seemed fitting that the first headline I saw today was Gay couples wed in Mass. (Of course discrimination against gays and lesbians is different from discrimination against black people, but discrimination is discrimination.)

(That was a headline on paper. The current online headlines are less encouraging.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:20 PM | Comments (0)

May 13, 2004

Post Without Articles--Big Whoop

[UPDATE: Geoff Pullum responds probably more graciously than I deserve. It's good to know his insults were pretences--writing under odd constraints can make you say things you wouldn't otherwise. Perhaps that's what happened with Thaler's own insults.

And, writing without articles is boringly easy--I didn't have to do anything I wouldn't have done anyway in writing this update.]

Consensus at Language Log seems to be that writing without verbs is a priori ridiculous. Hmph. Philistines. Writing under apparently silly constraints can lead to new unthought-of fascinating patterns, as in Perec and other Oulipo writers. People should ignore ridiculous anti-verb polemics, but keep open minds about books they haven't read. (Though misogyny and prejudice are bad.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:49 PM | Comments (0)

Knowing The: The Post-Final Chapter

Really-I-mean-it final thoughts on direct-object knowledge constructions:

1. The theory sketched here is a complete hopeless non-starter. For it to be true, there would have to be not only two kinds of way, but two kinds of name, two kinds of capital, etc. etc. Ridiculous. Forget I said anything.

2. Here in comments I make noises about the special nature of knowing a person, as evidence by the fact that "I know Britney Spears" seems to entail "Britney Spears knows me." But thinking it over I'm convinced by Shieva Kleinschmidt's example here, in which you know someone as an infant but she doesn't know you. So it seems to me that possible that "X knows Y" requires acquaintance (with a person or a city or what have you) but the alleged symmetry of personal knowledge claims probably results from the fact that the kind of acquaintance you can have with a living person is almost always mutual, but not always.

3. The second post I made, that this business undercuts one of the arguments that knowledge-how was knowledge-that, was the best, and I shoulda quit there.

4. If I were still stupid enough to try to come up with a general theory of direct-object knowledge claims I might suggest that they all have a (frequently suppressed) position for guise--that's what is made explicit in "knowing as"-clauses. And I note that "X knows Y as Z" doesn't imply "X knows Y":

(1) I know Britney Spears as the singer of "Baby one more time," Pepsi pitchstress, and 2002 Fametracker Famous Person of the Year, but not as a person [/but I don't know her].
(2) Many bloggers know Noam Chomsky as a political theorist, not as a linguist.

And I don't think these knowing-as claims require any sort of direct acquaintance at all.

This sentence sounds fine to me:

(3) I know Giorgione as a figure in a hoary philosophical example

even though just about the only fact I know about Giorgone was that he was so-called because of his size; I can't even remember what his other name was. So (3) just means "I know that Giorgione was a figure in a hoary philosophical example," maybe including "...and what that example was." (Though I guess I don't know that example itself, if I can't remember the other half of it.)

On this theory, I suppose that when the "as"-clause is not explicit its value would be filled in by whatever guise was salient. When talking about living people, the salient value is usually "as a personal acquaintance," but it wouldn't always have to be. For instance, it seems to me that I can say

(4) I'm reading up on theories of language. I already know David Kaplan and Saul Kripke but not Howard Wettstein

even though I don't know any of them personally; what I mean is that I've read Kaplan and Kripke, but Wettstein's book is still waiting for me at the Interlibrary Loan desk.

Could this sense override the sense of personal acquaintance? Suppose you're talking to someone I've met repeatedly and you say, "In the next class I'm teaching we're going to read the great epistemologists: DeRose, Hawthorne, Neta, Weiner." Would it be legitimate to respond:

(5) I know the first three but not Weiner.

Sounds doubtful--it might be better to say "I know the first three but not Weiner's work." Or maybe it makes a difference whether you know that I'm an epistemologist.

One advantage this theory might have is that it can account for why it would be true for me to say each of the following out of the blue:

(6) I know the capital of Australia
(7) I don't know Canberra

and simply weird to say

(8) *I know the capital of Australia but not Canberra

given that (unlike some people) I know that that the capital of Australia is Canberra but I've never been there. In (6) the guise parameter can be filled in "as the capital of Australia," which simply requires knowing of the city that is the capital of Australia that it is. In (7) Canberra's capitality is not salient at all, and the salient guise is "as a city"--meaning not that it is a city, but that you are acquainted with it as a city. Compare:

(9) A: The following are capitals of countries: Rome, London, Paris, Canberra.

B: I didn't know Canberra

in which Canberra's capitality is made salient (except this may be non-literal). The reason (8) fails is that there's only one occurrence of "know" and it can't take two guise parameters.

There's probably a lot of stuff about "in detail" and the like that may cause trouble for this theory.

If I really wanted to overreach, I would claim that in know-that claims the that-clause is a noun phrase denoting a fact, and that facts are objects that cannot be known except as facts. But that would really be overreaching.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:27 PM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2004

Way... No Way

[This is a continuation of the previous post.]

[Definitive thoughts on the theory sketched within here. Short version: It stinks.]

There is perhaps a sense in which "knowing the way" can mean being acquainted with a place*, as in

(12) I know how to get to Lauratia if you can avoid the bandits, but I don't know the way to Lauratia at all; I've never been there and I would be a lousy guide.

(13) This local knows the way to Lauratia very well and can guide you through the nasty parts, though he's never heard of Lauratia.

Can these two senses be conjoined?

(14) ?This local knows the ways to Lauratia and to Freedonia; he's spent his whole life in the valley that leads to Lauratia, though he doesn't know that Lauratia is on the other end, and he knows how to get to Freedonia, though he doesn't know the terrain.

Well, that sounds funny, but it might be because of the ridiculous contrivance I needed to force the right reading. Perhaps knowing the location would work better.

(15) Alice knows the location of the new stadium--she's lived there her whole life--but she doesn't know that they're going to build a new stadium there.
(16) Alice knows the location of Switzerland, but she's never been to Europe.
(17) ?Alice knows the locations of the new stadium and Switzerland.

(17) sounds funny to me. Perhaps we have a bit of evidence here that "location" is ambiguous between the concrete place and the abstract answer to the question. Then we could have it that (16) involves the objectual rather than the propositional sense of "know," but that knowing such abstract objects just is having the right propositional knowledge.

OTOH, I can't think of a single use of the alleged abstract sense of "location" outside knowledge ascriptions, so maybe it would be better to try and come up with a syntax on which sentences like (16) are propositional knowledge-ascriptions. That's one of the options Brian suggests here. But in the unlikely event that my ramblings help someone come up with a solution, my blogspace will not have been wasted.

(As you may have gathered, my thoughts on this question have been even sketchier than usual. I think I'm now going to officially stop trying to dig myself out of this hole. But click the "more" link for an example from the Urban Guerrilla's manual!)

(I think Anders Weinstein is getting at this sense of "knowing the way" in his comments here. Brian thinks these uses are very rare. I think I may have found one here--that link could get me in trouble! I found it through Google, I swear:

The urban guerrilla must know the way in detail, and, in this manner, must go through the schedule ahead of time as a training, to avoid entering alleyways that have no exit, or running into traffic jams, or being stopped by the Transit Department's traffic signals.

It seems to me that maybe "know the way in detail" here has to mean more than "know in detail what route will take you away," though it has to mean that too. You have to be familiar with the terrain to the extent that you know how to avoid traffic jams and red lights. Only direct acquaintance--going through the schedule ahead of time--will suffice for this. Maybe. Perhaps I'm just blinded by my theory here.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:01 PM | Comments (2)

De Re Knowledge The, For Real

[NOTE: This whole post is pretty much redundant; see the discussion after (8).]

In the update to the previous post I mentioned that I had left out the best examples of de re ascriptions of knowing the way. These be they, with the de re term bolded:

(1) Alice knows the way to my office.
(2) Alice knows the way to that woman's office.
(3) Does Alice know the way to your office? [All said when Alice is not present]

In each case, Alice may be able to correctly answer the question, "What is the way to X's office?" for some term X that corefers with the bolded term (as used in (1)-(3)). But she's not in a position to directly answer the question "What is the way to my/that woman's/your office?" because she doesn't have access to the context in which the indexical is used. So sometimes Alice's knowledge of the way will be manifested in knowledge of a singular proposition, if you believe in such things (we hates them), or in knowledge of a proposition that contains a term that isn't the one used in the "knowing the way" ascription.

Now consider this scenario: A conference is held in the University of Utah seminar room. Mischievous scamp that I am, I am not wearing my nametag. I say to Alice, "Let me get something from my office." She then sees me walk to the door of my office, two doors down, but she doesn't know my name.

Here (1) is certainly true. But is (4) true?

(4) Alice knows the way to Matt Weiner's office.

If you think that (1) expresses knowledge of a singular proposition, then (4) expresses knowledge of the same singular proposition, so it should come out with the same truth value. If you think that (1) expresses knowledge of some de dicto proposition, with some co-referring term substituted for a term in the known proposition, then the question is which substitutions are possible? Alice knows

(6) The office of the guy who just spoke to me [or that guy is two doors down from the seminar room;

the question is whether it's acceptable to substitute "Matt Weiner" for the corefering bolded terms.

It seems to me that it would be OK for people discussing Alice's knowledge to say

(7) Alice knows the way to Matt Weiner's office, as the way to the office of the guy who just spoke to her.

For instance, if you wanted to know the way to MW's office, Alice is a good source if you ask her using the right terms. But then it seems OK to say

(8) Alice knows the way to Matt Weiner's office, but not as such.

Having typed all this out, I see that Brian already mentioned cases like this; "as such" is acceptable when it binds a description or name smaller than the whole definite description after "the."

Yet I don't think that will account for every case. Take this: Sarah knows the way to the seminar room, but not that the conference is held there. If you know that, and that the conference is held there, then Sarah is a good person to ask the way to the conference if you phrase it right. So you might say:

(9) Sarah knows the way to the conference, as the way to the seminar room.
(10) Sarah knows the way to the conference, but not as such.

It seems to me that if (7) and (8) are acceptable, (9) and (10) should be too. But in (10) "as such" can't bind any definite description short of "the way to," because the bolded terms in (9) don't co-refer. Sarah may not know any proposition containing any term that co-refers with "the conference."

If knowing X not as such is always objectual knowledge of X, then this suggests that ways themselves might be abstract objects that can be known under one guise or another, but the knowing of which is always the knowing of the answer to a question "What is the way to Y?" (Similarly for answers, locations, etc.) That would predict that "way" is ambiguous, since ways are also places, as in

(11) The way to Lauratia is dangerous and bandit-infested.

Is there this amibiguity in "knowing the way"? post.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:01 PM | Comments (2)

May 06, 2004

Knowledge As

[UPDATE: Er, the conclusion really is kind of batty, and I left out all the best examples of de re ascriptions of knowing the way. This problems may be fixed in another post.]

In Brian's post about "knowledge the," I was slightly bothered by his use of "as such." In my idiolect "as such" means pretty much the same as "really" (except it comes after the thing it modifies), as in "I didn't go to the office as such" for "I didn't really go to the office" (and frequently "I didn't go within a hundred miles of the office," but never mind that).

But I think what is going on here is that "as such" is just a case of a more general formulation of "knowing as", and that this "knowing as" applies only to what Brian's calling objectual knowledge.


(1) Mary Jane knows Spiderman, as Peter Parker.

(2) The average beginning Latin student knows Tully as Cicero.

The comma can be inserted in (1), because "Mary Jane knows Spiderman" is just plain true--M.J. knows that person--and the as-clause gives the name she knows him under. (2) is a bit trickier; it may not be literally true unless you put quotes around "Cicero," or it might require that you convert "knows" to "knows of," or both. (Though I intend eventually to argue that there's a sense in which "Classicists know Cicero" is literally true.)

Here there's a simple account of knowledge as such--"X knows Y as such" equals "X knows Y[,] as Y."* (OK, it's not quite so simple, since I haven't figured out whether the comma is necessary.) So:

(3) Mary Jane knows Peter Parker as such.

(4) Mary Jane knows Spiderman, but not as such.

What about cases like

(5) Dionne knows the way to San Jose,

which Brian argues seem semantically like propositional knowledge but syntactically like objectual knowledge?**

Brian cites "as such" as a reason to think that (5) is propositional, since it doesn't seem to make sense to add "as such" to (5), in contrast to (4). That seems convincing with respect to (5). But I think there are de re-de dicto issues lurking in the vicinity.


(6) Hildegarde knows the way to the site of Burbank.

(7) Hildegarde knows the way to the site of Troy, as the way to the site of Burbank.

(8) Hildegarde knows the way to the site of Troy, but not as such.

If Hildegarde can truthfully answer the question "How do you get to the site of Burbank?" but not "How do you get to the site of Troy?" and if the site of Burbank is the site of Troy, then (7) strikes me as true--and hence so does (8). We can make a de re ascription of knowledge of the way to the site of Troy; but that doesn't imply that Hildegarde knows the way to the site of Troy, ascribed de dicto.


(9) Every beginning Latin student knows what Cicero's most famous oration was.

(10) Every beginning Latin student knows what Tully's most famous oration was, though they know of him as Cicero.

(11) Every beginning Latin student knows what Tully's most famous oration was, though not under that name.

(10) and (11) strike me as at least arguably true.

Now, I still do think that propositional and objectual knowledge are two different kinds of knowledge, and that (1), (3), and (4) are objectual while (5)-(11) are propositional. But perhaps there's a little bit of a push here to treat all knowledge as objectual--with clausal knowledge ascriptions ascribing knowledge of propositions, facts, structured propositions, or something. Then the "as such" clauses could tell you what guises the propositions are known under; and the reason that (5) is false (de re effects aside) if Dionne can't answer "How do you get to San Jose?" would be that it's useless to ascribe knowledge of that fact unless it's known under the guise corresponding to the way it's named.

(Well, that would involve a lot of revisionary semantics! Best to avoid it if at all possible. I wouldn't have typed that if I had more than 5 minutes before the computer logs me off.)

*And maybe there is an account here of why "as such" means really--compare
"I didn't call him a moron as such" = "I didn't call him a moron using the word 'moron' (but maybe I did using other words)."
"I didn't go to the office as such" = "It wouldn't be true to say that I went to the office, but there's something in the vicinity that's correct."
Well, maybe.
**Well, maybe he doesn't argue that as such.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:55 AM | Comments (0)

May 05, 2004

Things I Say But Don't Know

The other day I made the claim that Utah is the only state whose motto is the title of a King Crimson song ("Industry"). When pressed, I admitted that I hadn't looked up all the state mottoes, nor reviewed the list of King Crimson songs for likely titles. It just seemed incredibly unlikely that there could be another (could a state have "Discipline" as its motto? Could Calfornia have "Dig Me"? Delaware "Easy Money"?)

But that's OK, because I am committed to the doctrine that it's sometimes acceptable to assert things that you don't know, so long as they turn out to be true. (Word version, in case you can't read my pdfs.) With that in mind, there are two ways I can go: More examples of possible assertion without knowledge, or stupid jokes about the state mottoes, listed here.

Of course, I'm going to do both.

First, a passage from "Election Day," by Joseph Hansen (in City Sleuths and Tough Guys, ed. David Willis McCullough, at p. 412, numbers added by me):

"Don't apologize," Dave said. "It was my mistake. I'm thankful you came out unscathed. [1] He [Hats] was there [at a crime scene], all right." "[2] He admitted it?" Cecil looked surprised. "[3] No, but [4] those cuts on Bess Jessup's face came from his rings--[5] I'd bet on it. [6] If we could search his place we'd find clothes of his with her blood on them. And Rader's."

By my liberal count, [1] [4] and [6] are all properly asserted without knowledge. In [2] Cecil wonders whether Dave has the direct evidence for [1] that (in my opinion) would provide knowledge; in [3] Dave admits that he doesn't, but he doesn't retract the assertion either. Nor can Dave mean to imply that he's deriving knowledge of [1] from [4] or [6]; [5] implies that he doesn't know [4], and [6] is obviously derived from [1] or [4] rather than vice versa.

You might say that [1] and [4] don't count as assertions without knowledge. The epistemological status of [1] is a bit tangled; Rader has testified that Hats was there, which might ordinarily yield knowledge. On the other hand, Rader would have a clear incentive to lie. So I think you can't say that Dave knows because Rader told him; Rader just isn't trustworthy enough.

You might, on the other hand, say that Dave doesn't really assert [4], since he immediately says "I'd bet on it," which implies less than complete certainty. On the other hand, I don't think there's any reason to say that you haven't asserted something if you imply that you're less than completely certain about it, unless you're already committed to the knowledge account.

In any case, [6] looks like it's asserted outright, and it can't be claimed to be known. Because if Dave were willing to claim he knew [6], he'd have to be willing to claim he knew [4] and [1].

As for the other--I've checked the state mottoes against this King Crimson discography, and now I know that Utah is the only state whose motto is also a KC song. (Though I'd forgotten about the various permutations of "Peace" on In the Wake of Poseidon--quite understandably IMO.) But--did you know that one state's motto is a reggae album? One's a Jim O'Rourke album? One's rhymes with a Pixies song? One is a Philip Glass album? One a really bogus poem once illustrated by Thurber and transformed by Rocky and Bullwinkle? One the street my high school was on, and one a neighborhood on the other side of Pittsburgh's East End? One actually contains a KC song title as a proper substring (oops)? One is a substantive philosophical thesis? One is really lame, one just goofy, and one bizarrely sexist? Answers in comments; either the original language or the English translation is permitted.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:17 PM | Comments (3)

Knowing the Facts, Continued

Brian's post on non-clausal knowledge constructions such as "knows the way to San Jose" and "knows Dionne" scooped one of the points I thought up at the INPC, but I'm going to try to rephrase it anyway.

Earlier Brian adduced the oddity of

(3)   ??Alex knows which places sell beer this time of night and Shea, who runs a couple of them

as evidence that "knows" is ambiguous between two relations: One that relates the knower to a proposition, one that relates the knower to a person; and (after Stanley and Williamson) he adduced the non-oddity of

(1) Alex knows which places sell beer this time of night and how to get to the nearest one

as evidence that knowledge-how and knowledge-that are the same relation. But

(4) ??Alex knows that John is coming up for trial and the facts of his case

sounds as odd as (3); which, by analogous argument, would indicate that "knows" is ambiguous between a relation that relates a knower to a proposition and a relation that relates a knower to facts. And that seems odd to me, as I've suggested. So I think this undercuts the conjunction argument that knowledge-how is knowledge-that.

Brian himself in the "knowledge the" post cites these examples:

(28) Andy knows the bar manager, and how to get free drinks off her.

(29) Andy knows the bar manager, and what she likes to drink.

(30) ?Andy knows the bar manager, and that she likes Red Bull and vodkas.

The first two at least suggest that the conjunction test doesn't distinguish knowing a person from knowing the answer to questions.

In comments to Brian's "knowing how" post, Jonathan Ichikawa points out (effectively) that the odd sentences like (3) and (4) are the ones with clauses first and objects second; the OK sentences like (28)-(30) have the object first and the clause second.

I think (3) and (4) may sound odd because they're like garden-path sentences. When you don't find another wh- or that-term after the conjunction, you expect that the conjunction will be part of the relative clause, not that it will be another object of "know." But I know nothing about garden-path sentences, so don't take that account seriously unless you're able to make something of it.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:51 PM | Comments (0)

Threat to Academic Freedom at Middle East Centers

[UPDATE: Links fixed.]

The Daily Utah Chronicle:

[T]he U.S. House of Representatives passed the International Studies in Higher Education Act, which has since been introduced to the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

If this legislation passes, it will establish an oversight committee
comprised of seven representatives from U.S. security agencies.

The committee would possess the sovereignty to exercise political and
investigative control in studying, monitoring, apprising and evaluating
the nation's 17 Middle East centers and their various activities to ensure
that they reflect diverse perspectives and represent the full range of
views on issues of international concern.

Juan Cole has more; Stanley Kurtz, who has been leading the charge against the Middle East Centers, makes his case here.

I'm not at all an expert on this, but on first glance it stinks to high
heaven. The government should not be in the business of establishing
diversity controls for academic centers, period. Particularly when the
call for diverse perspectives come from the likes of Stanley Kurtz, who as
far as I can tell has spent the last couple of years being wrong about
absolutely everything, and is an utter fucking
to boot.

I'd like to see some discussion of this--I found out about it from a
student newspaper lying open in the computer lab. If this isn't a threat
to academic freedom, I'd love to know.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:48 PM | Comments (5)

May 04, 2004


MICHAEL WILLIAMS: That's more than we know.

Seems a bit out of character to me.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:58 PM | Comments (0)

Just So You Know the Reasons for Light Posting....

Back from the INPC which was pure conferency goodness. I won't try to pick highlights--every paper I saw was excellent--but I do think that Brian is on to a good principle, namely that the best papers are given by people who have taught at Utah.

Anyway, posting has been light because the last couple of times I sat down to blog actual live people came into my office and I went off with them. And now my Interweb connection is down and I'm posting this from the office of someone who will probably want her computer back. In the meantime, go read this post of Brian's on constructions in which "know" takes direct objects. I had also been thinking about these during Jonathan Schaffer's talk (though not directly relevant to his points!). In particular, I'd like to post in a bit about the following kinds of constructions:

(1) Alice knows the facts concerning Jane's legal case.

(2) Alice knows Jane's reputation.

(1) may be of particular interest because knowing a fact is, well, knowing a fact. If (1) turns out to have a different kind of syntax from

(3) Alice knows that Jane is being sued by Sarah

that indicates either that the syntax isn't a good guide to the kind of knowledge at issue or that knowledge-that isn't knowledge of facts. (Jonathan might well opt for the second option!)

Also, remember that in "Alice knows Jane" "knows" expresses a relation that is more or less symmetric. This (to my mind) provides evidence that knowledge of people is a different kind of knowledge from knowledge of other objects, even if they turn out to have similar syntax.

[UPDATE: I just noticed that one of the commentors on the relations post was at the INPC. Belated greetings, if you're reading this! Conference pictures here.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:51 PM | Comments (0)