October 31, 2004


I agree with Kevin that McCain-Feingold hasn't really accomplished anything, but it did lead to a very amusing foosball-based TV spot for Russ Feingold. (It doesn't seem to be up on his ad page right now.) Any candidate who uses foosball in an ad gets my vote--that's not supposed to be modally very robust at all.

You see a lot of presidential ads while watching football in Wisconsin. The locals don't seem to be sweating the Senate race much--on my way into the office the other day I passed about 30 people on the campus plaza, gathered around Feingold himself. It was cold and windy, but that's not a crowd you'd expect around a senator four days before a hotly contested race. Modus tollendo tolens...

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:02 PM | Comments (0)

All Good Things Must Come To An End

But a wonderful day for bloggers everywhere.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:49 PM | Comments (1)

October 30, 2004


I was ready to defend Steven Landsburg again because I thought he'd written an outrageous troll article about executing spammers. Turns out it was an outrageous troll article* about executing hackers. I have no emotional investment in that right now.

That is to say--I've just been hit by amazing amounts of comment spam, in the hundreds of comments. I've cleared it up, but I may be a bit quicker to lock up old comment threads in the future.

The spam raised a quasi-interesting moral question: Given that it's morally wrong to spam someone's blog, is it worse to spam someone's blog with references to practices that make that person uncomfortable/queasy, if those practices are themselves not morally wrong? NO, I'm not providing examples.

*Nice blog design! Glad to see someone else who's too lazy to modify the original templates.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:25 PM | Comments (0)

Note to HR Professionals

If, by chance, you ever happen to be sending out e-mails to people who have applied for a job with you, do not use the subject heading "Your Application." Any spam-filter worth its salt will reject that posthaste. (Fortunately, my spam filter is not worth its salt.)

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

October 27, 2004

Steven Landsburg Is Not In The Gamma Quadrant

I don't like Steven Landsburg, Slate's economics columnist, at all.* But Kevin Drum is not fair to him when he describes his rationale for endorsing Bush as "galactically incomprehensible."

Landsburg writes:

Duke thinks it's imperative to protect white jobs from black competition. Edwards thinks it's imperative to protect American jobs from foreign competition. There's not a dime's worth of moral difference there.

Now, it's not true that there's no moral difference here--Duke hates black people, and his preferred policies go beyond protecting jobs; while Edwards may just think that, as an official of the U.S. government, he has an obligation to look to U.S. citizens' interests first. So there may be a difference in motivation, and there's certainly a difference in legitimate governmental action (it's wrong for a government to treat to some of its citizens; a government can hardly help treating citizens and non-citizens unequally). So I think Landsburg is overstating the case.

But I think that what Landsburg is thinking is that protectionist measures hurt overseas workers, by forcing them into utterly crappy jobs rather than the really crappy jobs that outsourcing produces. (Or perhaps not-so-crappy jobs, in the case of white-collar outsourcing.) And that this is a drastic overall decrease in utility, which in Landsburg's opinion outweighs the other differences between the candidates.

This interesting exchange between Tyler Cowen and Brad DeLong is at least somewhat related.

I'm not sure I buy any of Landsburg's premises here, and (as you may have guessed) I don't buy the conclusion. But it's not galactically incomprehensible.

*Because of this, which is just awful, and this and this, which assume that any action that leads to someone's being worse off than they might otherwise be amounts to a tax on that person, and this.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:47 PM | Comments (4)

Patricia Blanchette Talk at UWM

Patricia Blanchette, of Notre Dame, is speaking Fri. Oct. 29 at 3:30 in Curtin Hall 124.

Her paper, "Analysis and the Logical Relations in Frege," is currently
available for review in the Philosophy Office, Curtin 612.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:14 PM | Comments (0)

October 26, 2004

Too Too Too To Put A Finger On

In considering Achille Varzi's paper about this sentence:

(1) If Alf went to the movie then Beth went too, but only if she found a taxi cab

Brian claims that the word "too" is usually semantically inert. He points out that

When we’re doing propositional logic (7) and (8) are of the same form.

[2] If the Red Sox win the Patriots will win too.
[3] If the Red Sox win the Patriots will lose.

Varzi thinks that (1) should come out false when Alf does not go, Beth finds a cab, and Beth does go--because Beth can't go "too" if Alf doesn't go in the first place. Brian thinks this is wrong, because "too" is semantically inert, and I agree. (Though it seems to me that in that case (1) is true vacuously, and we don't need to evaluate "Beth went too.")

That seems fine, but what does "too" do?

I'm going to throw out a bunch more sentences, with judgments.

(4) If I am stupid, you are stupid too.

(5) *I may be stupid, and you are stupid too.

(6) Kerry will probably win New Jersey, and he will win New York too.

(7) ?The Steelers will lose decisively to the Patriots, or they will beat the Eagles too.

It seems that (4) can clearly be true if I am not stupid but you are--which at least casts doubt on Varzi's contention that (1) is false if Beth goes but Alf doesn't. In (5) I mean to assert unconditionally that you are stupid (contrast (4) and (1)), I don't mean to assert outright that I am stupid, and it seems that "too" is inappropriate. But in (6) I do outright assert that Kerry will win New York, and I don't assert outright that he will win New Jersey. So the theory that (5) seems to support is refuted by (6).

An interesting case is (7). If it's acceptable, I think the "too" isn't semantically inert; it means either that the Steelers lose decisively to the Patriots or they beat both the Patriots and the Eagles. I think. And I think it presupposes that, if the Steelers don't lose decisively to the Patriots, then they will beat the Patriots (well, that just follows from the reading I just gave). But I'm really not sure that it is acceptable.

That might provide a bit of support for the idea that "too" isn't semantically inert, and that what's going on in (1) and maybe in (4) is that, if the antecedent is false, the conditional is vacuously true, not that the consequent (with "too" thrown in) is true. This is all at the logic-textbook level Brian mentions; I'm not going to try anything at the level of Brian's explanation of the pragmatics of "but only if." And, I should say again that I'm not at all sure about (7), so it may provide no evidence of anything. Still, it seems like a somewhat interesting question what "too" does and when it's OK.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:36 PM | Comments (2)

Thought Experiments Are Hard to Communicate

If you look at the current front page of Slate, you will see a little headline, "How Game Theory Can Win Bush the Election." It takes you to this article by my old college friend Jordan Ellenberg. Go read the article and tell me if you can see what's wrong with this picture.


When Jordan writes, for instance,

Let's say that Bush has a 30 percent chance of winning Ohio and a 70 percent chance at Florida. Furthermore, we'll assume that Bush can increase his chances by 10 percent in either state by making a last-minute visit there, and that Kerry can do the same

he is making numbers up. The point is not to say anything about the actual state of the election--the point is to use a hypothetical situation to explain Nash equilibria.

This is a perfectly honorable project. And I can understand if the editors thought that "How Ellenberg Can Use the Election to Explain Game Theory" wasn't a sexy headline. But "How Bush Can Use Game Theory to Win the Election"--that just stinks like week-old fish. Jordan's article doesn't suggest in the least way that Bush, rather than Kerry, can gain some advantage from game theory.

There's a little bit of a philosophical pedagogical point here. Philosophy uses a lot of thought experiments, so much that they're second nature to philosophy PhDs. But they're not second nature to many other people, including our students. If the headline writer for Slate can't tell the difference between a thought experiment and a strategy session for Bush, it's likely that our students can't either. We need to keep that in mind when we're teaching something that involves a thought experiment--don't just assume that people know what the point is.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:59 AM | Comments (0)

October 25, 2004

More Like This, Please

I'm planning to say almost nothing about my job search, or about the jobs market in general. But I want to say--I like this page. It's nice to have an explanation of the position that goes beyond the JFP ad, and this is genuinely helpful. (Plus it explains what "secondment" means.)

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

October 24, 2004

Central APA Paper

My paper "The Practical Importance of Knowledge (Such As It Is)" has just been accepted for the Central APA in Chicago. It deals with some of the issues that Jon Kvanvig is raising in this post. My abstract:

In Knowledge and Lotteries, Hawthorne argues for a view on which whether a speaker knows that p depends on whether her practical environment makes it appropriate for her to use p in practical reasoning. It may seem that this view yields a straightforward account of why knowledge is important, based on the role of knowledge in practical reasoning. I argue that this is not so; practical reasoning does not motivate us to care about knowledge in itself. At best, practical reasoning motivates us to care about several other concepts in themselves, and ascriptions of knowledge provide economical summaries of these independently important desiderata.
Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:37 AM | Comments (1)

...Oh My

The upside of coming into the office at a ridiculous hour Sunday morning is that I'm pretty sure no one heard me cracking up at this.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:16 AM | Comments (0)

October 19, 2004

Metaethics Workshop

I should mention that I went to the Metaethics Workshop at Wisconsin-Madison on Saturday (I did not go Friday or Sunday--Friday night I was playing the trombone with a friend in Madison, Sunday I was watching Vinny Testaverde lose to the Steelers one last time), that all the talks were excellent, and that I'd like to try to put a thought together on Ruth Chang's talk on all-things-considered judgments. But not right now.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:36 PM | Comments (0)

Giblets Is Right

Noted without further comment.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:48 PM | Comments (0)

Good News on Milwaukee Election

A compromise has been reached about ballots for the city of Milwaukee:

Under an agreement reached Friday between the city and county, one touted by Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, the city will get the 938,000 ballots it requested. The city, in turn, agreed to return all unused ballots to the county. Suburbs are being asked to do the same.

This seems eminently fair to me. The rest of the article has more about electioneering in Milwaukee.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:31 AM | Comments (0)

October 18, 2004

A Painted Mule Problem

I put up a request for intuitions on a painted mule problem over at Certain Doubts.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:04 PM | Comments (0)

Happy That, Hopefully

Over at Brian's blog Jonathan Weinberg and Tony of Tongue But No Door raised the question of whether "happy that" really is factive--does "S is happy that p" entail p? My initial response was "sure," but I ran across this example that may give some evidence against. (The rest of this post is mostly copied from the comment I left at Brian's.)

Baghdad, April 9, 2003:

Marine Cpl. Orlando Fuentes [said] "I’m happy that I'm here. And I'm happy that this thing is almost over, hopefully."

In the second sentence, what does "hopefully" modify? Is Fuentes (1) happy that (hopefully this thing is almost over); (2) hopefully, [happy that this thing is almost over]; or (3) [happy that this thing is almost over—hopefully it’s almost over]?

I’m not sure (1) makes any sense—can "hopefully" be part of the content like that? And (2) doesn't seem like what Fuentes means—he's certainly happy about something. But (3) seems to undermine the factivity about knowledge, since Fuentes expresses certainty that he is happy that p and uncertainty about p.

Since Fuentes' belief turned out to be fairly spectacularly wrong, we can also use this as an to raise two more questions--was Fuentes mistaken about his own happiness, and if "happy that" really is factive, how do we describe Fuentes' happiness? It doesn't seem right to say that he was happy that he thought the war was almost over.

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

October 15, 2004

Site Redesign

Not the site you're reading, though. I've redesigned my main page, put up a couple of new papers and revised drafts on my papers page, and put up a page of teaching evaluations. So all my job application materials are easily accessible (except my recommendations, of course).

Previously some people had trouble reading some of my PDFs. I've reconverted all the PDFs using Acrobat Distiller (except on my dissertation page). Please let me know if you still have trouble reading it.

A focus group approved of the turquoise background on the home page, and convinced me to take down this link. I'm a little bit uneasy about putting up a teaching evaluation in which a student describes me as a "stud," but hey, I'm just the messenger. I did omit part of that comment, in which the student basically calls down frogs, locusts, and murrain on departments that don't hire me, though I can't help but approve of the sentiment.

Over the next few units of time I may start putting up some links to worthwhile past posts in the sidebar.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:32 PM | Comments (0)

October 14, 2004

Petition on Milwaukee Vote

Please (especially if you live in Wisconsin) sign an e-petition to ask the Milwaukee County Executive to provide an adequate number of ballots for election day. Petition here.

Background here

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:36 PM | Comments (0)

October 13, 2004

Pogo and Rousseau

Henry, poor dear, does not know the wonder that is Pogo. In grad school I was nicknamed "Pogo" by the girls who worked at the reserve desk because of my spontaneous outpouring of enthusiasm when one of them held up a Pogo book and said, "What's this?"

Rousseau's account of how the institution of society freezes inequality into place reminded me of this dialogue from a Pogo Sunday strip (the bear maintains a look of genuine sorrow throughout):

Bear: Long as us has both been thrun out of Pogo's house, us is in the same boat.

Owl: Right.

Bear: Share and share alike!

Owl: Right.

Bear: Thru thick and thin!

Owl: Right.

Bear: Till your death do us part.

Owl: Why my death?

Bear: Because you'll starve first, alack aday.

Owl: But little folks don't need as much food as big folks.

Bear: You ain't gonna get as much.

I'm actually not quite sure which bit of Rousseau reminded me of this; the important thing is to be reminded of Pogo, not what does it. (Quote from memory and probably wrong somehow.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:29 AM | Comments (2)

GOP Officials Attempt to Sabotage Election in Milwaukee

This is disgraceful. If you're in Milwaukee County please respectfully e-mail County Executive Scott Walker about this; here's a web form.

[Republican] Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, citing vote-fraud concerns, is publicly balking at a City of Milwaukee request for almost 260,000 additional ballots in anticipation of high turnout for the Nov. 2 presidential election....

[Democratic City Mayor Tom] Barrett said that the 679,000 ballots the county had agreed to print were less than the amount prepared for the presidential election in 2000 as well as for the the gubernatorial race in 2002. He and the city's top election official said that the city requested 938,000 ballots from the county, which, by law, pays for and prints ballots.

In a letter sent to City Elections chief Lisa Artison, Walker said that he had "serious questions" about the need for that many ballots when the city reported having 382,000 registered voters in September.

Walker said that having excess ballots around was troublesome in light of possible illegalities in current voter-registration drives - already under investigation by the district attorney - and potential "chaos" at understaffed polling places where voters could grab ballots.

I seriously doubt that polling places will be so poorly run that voters will be able to "grab ballots" and stuff them in without minority party poll-watchers noticing. But if they are--won't that happen regardless of the number of ballots available? I don't think the contention is that the city is requesting so many ballots that they'll be spilling out of bags in the middle of the floor.

As for registration fraud--how is reducing the number of ballots supposed to address that? If a polling place runs out of ballots, it will disenfranchise everyone who hasn't voted yet, no matter whether their registration is legitimate. And fraudulently registered people who've already voted will still have their votes count. In short--the solution seems to have nothing to do with the alleged problem.

As for the number of registered voters in Milwaukee:

The chairman of the county commission, Doug Haag, who is also the Republican Party's chairman in Milwaukee County, went further.

Haag said Republican Party officials questioned why voter-registration groups seem to target only Milwaukee's central city and students on the city's east side. And he noted that Wisconsin has same-day registration.

Meanwhile, the Democrats' explanation seems perfectly sound:

City officials said that they were trying to err on the side of no ballot shortages because some wards have run out in the past.

They said that ballot-marking errors, intense voter interest, the need to have extra ballots at many high-turnout wards and other factors played into their request.

It's not rocket science. Having too many ballots printed is harmless. Having too few ballots printed disenfranchises people. You want to err on the side of safety.

And given the incoherence of the Republicans' stated motives, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that disenfranchising people is exactly what they want to do.

Again, if you're a Milwaukee County resident, please respectfullye-mail County Executive Scott Walker about this; here's a web form.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:50 AM | Comments (0)

October 12, 2004


Never stick your head into a philosopher's office and say, "Oh! I thought you might have been [proper name]." Predictable consequences ensued.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:21 PM | Comments (3)

October 08, 2004

Our Lunch Was, Is (or, Tense and What Is Said)

Andy Egan, in "Epistemic Modals, Relativism and Assertion" says:

it can be appropriate for listeners at different times to attribute different truth values to one and the same utterance. (Such as when Blofeld says, at noon, “it’s lunchtime”. Number 2, in the room at the time of utterance, should agree that Blofeld’s utterance is true. Bond, listening to the recorded conversation later that night, should say that Blofeld’s utterance is false.)

I think Andy is probably right about the truth-value that Blofeld's utterance has when Bond listens to it. But it struck me that it's very unnatural for Bond to say that Blofeld's utterance is false in any of the following ways:

Blofeld (on tape): It's lunchtime. Bond: That's false/what he said is false/his utterance is false.

More natural are the following:

Blofeld (on tape): It's lunchtime. Bond: That was true/what he said was true.


Blofeld (on tape): It's lunchtime. Bond: That's not true any more/what he said isn't true any more.

("That's not true anymore" implies "That's not true" simpliciter; that's why I think Andy is right about the truth values.)

And what's interesting here is that it's natural to say that "what is said" was true and isn't any more. What is denoted by "what is said" is vague, of course, but there's at least a bit of reason to think that "what is said" is what plays the "proposition role" (see Andy's p. 5). Anyway, here what is said seems to have an argument for times, rather than just being simply a set of worlds. (This is in accord with Andy's main point, I think.)

This might cause a little bit of trouble for John Hawthorne's final argument against contextualism, in Ch. 2 of Knowledge and Lotteries. Hawthorne discusses the idea that we put propositions in a belief box, and points out that if contextualism about knowledge is true, then many things in our belief box may go from true to false when our context changes. But if the things in the belief box are akin to "What is said" here, then it shouldn't surprise us when the truth-values of those things change as context shifts; since they can change as time goes on. Part of a healthy cognitive economy will be keeping track of what's in your belief-box, and making sure that you don't continue to believe "what Blofeld said" when it's not true any more.

I think Hawthorne's point can survive this, though. It's relatively easy to keep track of the present-tense sentences in your belief box; that just involves keeping track of time. But keeping track of contextually determined "know" sentences in our belief box would be hard, because most of us aren't even aware (even supposing it's true) that "know" is contextually determined.

(Incidentally, I find myself inclined to say that Bond should say "Blofeld's utterance is true," but it's a very weak inclination. Egan's paper via Certain Doubts.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:14 PM | Comments (1)

October 07, 2004

Core Dump (More Dirty Laundry Edition)

1. The other day when I went to buy laundry detergent the clerk at the drug store asked me if I wanted my change in quarters. That guy is going to go far.

2. But I didn't need them, because I'd been saving my quarters for weeks. A radical interpreter might well conclude that my primary goal in life is to have enough quarters by laundry day without having to do to the bank. I think there were times in Pittsburgh when I would buy a pastry that cost $1.25 over one that cost $1, just for the quarters.

3. It would've been much cooler if that question from the VP debates, instead of saying "without mentioning your running mate's name," had said "without using the letter 'e'." Wouldn't it?

4. The fact that I answer 'yes' to number 3 is just one of the reasons why I will never find myself within a hundred miles of public office.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:12 AM | Comments (0)

Free Ianthe Broome!

Later when she was drinking her tea Mervyn came into the room with a card in his hand.
Ianthe realised from his triumphant expression that he had caught her out in a mistake and waited with resignation to hear what it was.
'Government in Zazzau,' he declared. 'The place of publication is London, not Oxford. It was published by the Oxford University Press for the International African Institute--do you see?' From behind his back he now produced the book itself, open at the title page.
'Of course--how stupid of me. I'm so sorry, I'm afraid I do make mistakes sometimes.'
'But there is no need to make that kind of mistake,' he said rather obscurely and left the room with a springy step.

Barbara Pym, An Unsuitable Attachment

In comments here Jeff Johnson suggests that we start a movement to end the use of publisher and city of publication in book citations. Being a dedicated philosophical moderate, I wouldn't go that far--you probably need to know the publisher if you want to hassle your library to order the book. But cities, definitely. The whole practice has the air of a former time when, if you wanted the book, you had to go to the city and hunt up the damn printer yourself; and as Jeff points out, frequently there's more than one city on the title page, and who knows what to put on? Vive la revolution! I of course am not going to act on this in the slightest until (and unless) I get tenure somewhere.

(Aside: The use of "now" in a past tense sentence in Pym's third paragraph is interesting. It seems a lot like free indirect discourse; though probably sequence of tenses in narration has been pretty well studied.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:29 AM | Comments (0)

October 05, 2004

Who Dreamed It?

Brian blogs (TAR, CT) on the "Westphall hypothesis":

The reasoning is as follows. The last episode of St. Elsewhere revealed that the entire storyline of that show hadn’t really (i.e. really in the fiction) happened but had all been a dream of Tommy Westphall. So by extension any story involving a character from St. Elsewhere is really (in the fiction) part of Tommy’s dream. And any story involving a character from one of those shows is also part of Tommy’s dream, etc. So all 164 shows that are connected to St. Elsewhere in virtue of character sharing are part of Tommy’s dream.

Brian objects to this six different ways. Five and six, he claims, are the really decisive ones. And while I think five and six establish that it is possible to have the following be true:

The entire action of TV series X was a dream, but series Y and Z that share characters with X are not part of X's dream

I really doubt that they establish that this is possible in Tommy Westphall's case. (Though since I've never seen St. Elsewhere, I haven't read the CT comments, I haven't clicked the link to check out the character-sharing network, and I probably haven't seen most of the shows involved in that network, I'm probably not the best person to judge.)

Here's Brian's objection six:

This is related to the previous objection. From the fact that a character appears in two different TV shows, it doesn’t follow automatically that those shows take place in the same fictional world.
We can see the logical point here by simply noting that the fact that a city appears in two different fictions doesn’t mean those fictions take place in the same world. For instance, recently I saw two romantic comedies set in London, one with tennis (Wimbledon) and one with zombies (Shaun of the Dead). The presence of London in both movies doesn’t mean they take place in the same fictional world. And if cities can be cross-fictional so, logically, can people....

The point about London is taken. But the thing is that London is in the real world, and Wimbledon and Shaun are fictions that take off from that real world. Arguably, Shaun London inherits most of the properties of Real London as a sort of default--Shaun London is on the Thames in virtue of the fact that Real London is on the Thames even if this doesn't come up in the movie at all, unless there's something about the movie that makes it false. But Real London doesn't inherit any properties of Shaun London--the fact that Shaun London contains an apartment with such-and-such mess doesn't make it true that real London does.

(This is put hypothetically because I haven't seen SotD. Nor, for those counting implicatures, have I seen Wimbledon, so stop saying that! You know who you are.)

The same relation can hold true between fictions. Kenneth Koch's The Duplications contains a lot of quite surprising stuff about Mickey and Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck. Duplication Donald inherits many characteristics from Disney Donald, although the defaults are probably overridden quite a lot here--still, I'd say that Duplication Donald is white with a yellow beak, even if it doesn't come up explicitly in the poem. But Disney Donald doesn't inherit anything from Duplication Donald. It is not even default true in the world of Disney that Donald is eventually beaten to death by Mickey in a jealous rage and then resurrected by Mickey, using his newly acquired Olympian powers, only to be turned into a piece of text art shortly thereafter. I mean, that wouldn't even be true as a default, even if it weren't overridden by other things in the Disney world.

What Brian needs is that the St. Elsewhere characters that are shared with other series don't inherit their properties from St. E. But I doubt he can have that, at least not for many of the characters. The asymmetry here is between works that are somehow derivative of others; that play off their popular perceptions, that exist within the worlds of the other series, that for sure come later. That won't be true of any St. E spinoffs--though if St. E is in fact spun off from other series, those may be off the hook.

(There's an interesting question lurking in the area about the status of multi-authored sprawling works like the land of TV. I'd say, for instance, that it is not true in Love American Style that there is humanoid life on other planets, even though Mork is a character in Happy Days which was a spinoff--I think I've got that right. And I don't think that's because Happy Days is asymmetric in the way SotD and Real London are. But that's for another time.)

(There's also another interesting question--what if two rival authors start incorporating the others' characters into their works, making them do things that obviously aren't meant to be true in the original work? Like, P.G. Wodehouse starts having Bertie make an ass of Sherlock Holmes, whereas Conan Doyle has Holmes send Bertie to prison several times--my chronology's off here, but I'm in a hurry. That would be a somewhat cool premise for a story kinda like Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter, but it would be much, much cooler if it happened in real life. By my standards of cool.)

Well, I'm in a hurry, but Brian's objection 5 is basically that you can dream about real people. And that is true, but is that likely to be what Tommy's doing? It sounds as though, for this to be true, Tommy would have to be dreaming about the characters doing exactly the things they do in real life, and that's quite lacking in what PD Magnus (in Brian's TAR comments) calls "interpretive coolness."

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:28 PM | Comments (2)

October 04, 2004

Everybody's Bloggin'

Ben Roethlisberger has a blog! Doesn't seem to be updating it lately but that's understandable. Just the latest blogger to go all professional.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:38 PM | Comments (3)

October 02, 2004

Style Question

If I want to say that Keith DeRose has argued for a position in two publications, and those publications appear in my bibliography as DeRose (1996) and DeRose (2002), I start my sentence, "DeRose (1998, 2002) has argued that..."

Suppose I want to say that Jonathan Weinberg, Stephen Stich, and Shaun Nichols have argued for a position in two publications. One of those publications appears in my bibliography as Nichols, Stich, and Weinberg (2003); the other appears as Weinberg, Nichols, and Stich (2001). How do I start the sentence?

Surely not:

Weinberg, Nichols, and Stich (2001) and Nichols, Stich, and Weinberg (2003) have argued that....

Surely not?

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:10 PM | Comments (9)

Lies and Credibility

[NOTE: This is very untopical; I started working on it a few days ago. You will even notice me passing up an attempt at a political cheap shot. It does, however, sum up some of my key philosophical ideas.]

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings discusses the fact that it is not uncommon for politicians to lie--and it's relatively recently that we've got used to this. Not surprisingly, she looks at this from a moral standpoint:

While some people seem to think that it's inevitable that politicians lie, it is not. There is nothing about deciding to run for elective office that automatically strips politicians of their principles and renders them incapable of telling the truth. Moreover, there is nothing about being a citizen that forces us to accept this state of affairs. We could, if we wanted to, take the fact that a politician tells a flat-out falsehood as a serious strike against him or her, a consideration that might be outweighed by something even more important, but that was as important as, say, that politician's stand on taxes or the environment. And I think we should.

And I, unsurprisingly, want to take an epistemological standpoint, because this has a direct connection to my views on testimony (which I've written about a bit). Specifically, it might endanger one of my key theses; that the teller has a responsibility to tell the truth that is grounded in purely epistemological considerations.

That argument works, quickly as follows:

(1) You have an interest in having people believe what you tell them.
(2) If you tell falsehoods, people shouldn't believe what you tell them.
(3) So if you tell falsehoods, you shouldn't be able to accomplish something that you have an interest in.
(4) Put another way: If you tell falsehoods, you should have a certain bad consequence happen to you.
(5) "If you don't do X, then you should have bad thing S happen to you" implies that you are responsible for doing X, on pain of sanction S (this is adapted from A.R. Anderson's analysis of "ought").
(6) In sum: You are responsible for telling the truth in that you stake your credibility on the truth of your testimony.

But, as Hilzoy points out, politicians (among other people) can lie and get away with it. That looks like it presents an obvious problem for my account. It doesn't--the problem is serious, but not obvious.

The obvious problem may look like it arises with premise (2). What happens when a politician tells a falsehood and people believe him anyway? But that's not incompatible with (2), because (2) says "If you tell falsehoods, people shouldn't believe what you tell them." Your hearer should believe what she's justified in believing; that doesn't mean she will believe what she's justified in believing. She may believe what you tell her even though your testimony doesn't provide evidence for what she says.

In big words, her epistemic responsibility is to form beliefs that accord with the evidence. When you've lied, your testimony won't provide evidence for what you've said; if she believes it, she'll be believing in an epistemically responsible manner. Proverbially, "Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

The "should" is important for the move from (4) to (5). If not doing X will have bad consequences, that doesn't show that you're responsible for doing X--falling sick isn't a punishment for not dressing warmly. The sanction itself has to be applied in a normative manner. (You're prudentially responsible for dressing warmly enough; but the sanction for not doing so is that you can appropriately be criticized for behaving imprudently, not the bad consequences that follow naturally.)

So it's no problem for my thesis that liars are sometimes believed. What is a problem for my thesis is if sometimes liars should be believed--if someone may lie and still be fairly confident that his audience will be justified in believing his future testimony.

How could that happen? Hilzoy, again:

It is, of course, possible to tell who is lying. I, for instance, often know. But that's because I am the sort of person who actually likes to watch CSPAN panels on natural gas pricing, and read GAO reports on the security of shipping containers. For some reason, most people don't share this taste; even my friends find it somewhat eccentric. Moreover, lots of people don't know the sorts of basic things about policy that they'd need to know in order to sort out truth from falsehood.

And Bernard Yomtov, in comments:

I think you ignore the media's responsibility here. It has often been pointed out elsewhere that much newspaper reporting has descended to reporting statements made, with little or no effort to evaluate their truth. The point bears repeating. Politicians would lie less if they were called on it more often. Isn't that that job of the press?

Take ordinary citizen Y who gathers information from the newspaper--and not by reading every single article in detail. It seems reasonable in some sense for Y not to spend all her time scouring over the paper. Then suppose politican X, who has lied frequently in the past, says that there is a growing threat from Molvania. (It doesn't matter whether X is telling the truth this time--only that he wants you to believe it.) What should Y think?

Well, on the evidence that's available to Y, X is no more or less trustworthy than any other politician. All Y knows is that X has said this; she doesn't have a lot of information about X's record. So it seems that Y is justified in believing what X says about Molvania, even though X has lied in the past. X has lied but should still be believed; so the sanction (as described in (4) and (5)) doesn't apply even normatively.

What to do? One point is that your loss of credibility needn't apply to all your future utterances to count as a sanction. You're going to say a lot of things in the future, and it's a sanction if even some of them shouldn't be believed because of your past false testimony.

The problem here is that it seems as though the information on politicians' truth-telling record might be so poorly disseminated that most people won't be in a position to use that information for judging their future testimony. So, for most Y, it will not be the case that Y should not believe what X says because of X's future testimony. My account tends to presuppose that your record is going to get out--if you tell enough falsehoods, eventually people will have heard about them, so they won't be justified in believing what you tell them. But if the institutions that give most people their information are broken, that might not be true.

Perhaps I should answer this by moving the locus of epistemic responsibility from the individual hearer to the society. So not only will individuals have epistemic responsibility for their beliefs; a society will have an epistemic responsibility for ensuring that individuals have enough information to arrive at true beliefs. A society that doesn't do that isn't well set up epistemically. Then my original premises (2)-(5) will still go through; if you tell falsehoods, you shouldn't be believed, because society should make sure that the falsehoods are well enough publicized that people will have evidence when their informants are liars. (For politicians, it's important that dissemination be widespread; for most of us, our reputation need only extend through our social circle.) What the hearer does with the information is up to them.

Anyway, that's a thought. The idea of a social epistemic responsibility is a pretty big one that could use some more working out, but I remain somewhat optimistic that we can establish a sense in which someone who tells falsehoods shouldn't be believed.

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

October 01, 2004

Quine Was Right

I suppose that if a boxer can get paid 70,000 pounds a year to remain an amateur, the Washington Monthly's homepage can get nominated for best Outside-the-Beltway blog.

Since Kevin blogs from California, I guess it makes sense, and is richly deserved too. Still, Quine was right: there are no meanings. (Any resemblance to Quine's actual views is strictly coincidental.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:37 AM | Comments (0)