January 30, 2005


I've just been hit with my first ever trackback spam. Does anyone know how I can delete the relevant pings? The Movable Type editing menu doesn't even let me figure out which posts they're attached to. (I think I can delete the pings if I can find them, but "page through every entry to see which ones got pinged" is not an acceptable method of finding them.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:08 PM | Comments (4)

January 26, 2005


Today is the one-year anniversary of this post on the Language Log Challenge.

More interesting, perhaps, the one-year anniversary of this blog was two days ago. Here's the second post. I missed the anniversary itself because I'm holding my breath until someone comments on the Diana Wynne Jones post. (Anders Weinstein left an excellent comment on the post on penalty flags for philosophical referees.)

Well, not really. I have excellent reasons for not posting. More regular posting will probably resume in February.

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

January 19, 2005

Diana Wynne Jones

Light blogging for a little while, most likely. While this continues, maybe some of my faithful readers can tell me something about Diana Wynne Jones. Her name has come up a lot in several contexts recently, and I've read one of her books--The Homeward Bounders--which I thought was very good. (It uses archetypical images very well, it's a good read, and unlike some books I could name when you find out what's been happening it makes sense on its own terms.) But I really know damn-all about her. Recommendations? Evaluations? Does her name have a hyphen in it?

Also, if someone doesn't comment on this post soon I may be reduced to commenting on it myself, using ridiculous pseudonyms. Have I misjudged my audience that badly?

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

January 17, 2005

Out of Print?

The Poor Man points (via Volokh) to John Collier's story "The Chaser," and then tells us that collections of Collier's stories are out of print. Tragic. Guess I have to retract the end of this post, though maybe I'll make your homework assignment "Use possibly illegal means to get the publisher to reprint the damn things."

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:33 AM | Comments (1)

January 16, 2005

Forgot to Forget To Remember

I think the meaning of the following sentence is pretty clear--it happens to be true:

(1) After I've stopped at a gas station, I frequently worry that I didn't remember to put the gas cap on, because I don't remember putting the gas cap on.

And I think the meaning of the following sentence is pretty clear, and it's clearly not self-contradictory--in fact, it's also true:

(2) I was worried because I didn't remember putting the gas cap on, but of course I had remembered to put the gas cap on.

What this shows is that "S remembered PHIing" and "S remembered to PHI" have very different semantics. (Although in (2) the past tense in the first clause refers to a different moment than the pluperfect in the second clause; so (2) wouldn't be self-contradictory anyway.) In this case, it seems as though "I remembered to put the gas cap on" is true iff I put the gas cap on. But "I remembered putting the gas cap on" requires not only that I put the gas cap on, but also that I have some experiential memory of doing so.

The exact semantics of "remember to" will take a bit more work (which someone may have done). If I considered putting the gas cap on but did not do so, it seems misleading to say "I didn't remember to put the gas cap on," but it also seems misleading to say "I remembered to put the gas cap on." I'd guess that "I didn't remember to put the gas cap on" is the true-but-misleading one, but I don't have an argument here. But my guess is that "remembering to" really is factive.

If that's so that might have some significance for the debate concerning practical and theoretical knowledge, as exemplified by the debate over whether knowledge-how is merely a species of knowledge-that. C.L. Hamblin, in Imperatives, argues (if I remember correctly) that the practical analogue of knowledge-that is not knowledge-how but knowledge-to, as in "He knows to shut off the lights when he leaves." Knowledge-how is analogous to knowledge-wh, containing embedded questions, whereas knowledge-to and knowledge-that do not contain embedded questions.

Perhaps knowledge-to can be shown to be a species of knowledge-that (I don't remember whether Stanley and Williamson address knowledge-to in their work on knowledge-how). It seems to me, however, as though remembering-to is likely of the same species as knowledge-to; at least, if "I remembered to put the gas cap on" expresses a kind of practical memory, then that demonstrates that there is such a thing as practical knowledge, whether or not it's expressed by knowledge-to or -how constructions.

(1) and (2) don't directly address the claim that remembering-to is a practical kind of memory; they show that it's different from experiential memory, but they don't show that it's different from remembering-that. But if remembering-to is to be a species of remembering-that, it can't be that "X remembered to PHI" is analyzed in terms of "X remembered that X PHIed"; rather, it must be analyzed in terms of something like "X remembered that X should PHI." And the latter doesn't, it seems, imply "X PHIed"; if "X remembered to PHI" does imply this, then there's a problem.

Just some inchoate thoughts on a construction that might perhaps merit further study (if it hasn't already been studied further).

The stuff on experiential memory here is inspired partly by James Higginbotham's paper "Remembering, Imagining, and the First Person," which I discussed a little here. The link to that paper in my previous entry has been taken down; it's now available in Alex Barber's Epistemoloogy of Language.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:43 PM | Comments (1)

January 15, 2005

Must Do Better

I was clicking through my archives and I saw this entry:

Since, people who review journal submissions are called "referees," can't we make some jokes about that? The best I can think of is a 5-yard penalty for illegal quantifier shift. Leave something better in the comments

which attracted no comments whatsoever. Come on, faithful readers, can't we do better than that? It's playoff time--take it to the next level [UPDATE: That means you, OK?].

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:46 PM | Comments (7)

January 10, 2005

What If There Is No Best Possible World?

In a thread about the problem of evil at Brian W's weblog, John Fischer mentioned a defense against the problem of evil based on the idea that there is no best possible world. Often we see the problem of evil (perhaps more accurately described as "the problem of suffering") in the following terms: A good being will actualize or create the best world it can. God, being omnipotent, can create any world whatsoever. So why didn't God create the best of all possible worlds? But if there's no best possible world, perhaps the question doesn't arise.

[The thread was inspired by some bishops' remarks about how God could have allowed the tsunami. I have nothing to say about that but: How awful.]

Here is my reconstruction of the argument. (Fischer thinks that Hasker and van Inwagen have made these arguments; I don't know if my version of the argument tracks theirs.) (And I see that Jonathan Ichikawa blogged it first.)

(1) There is no best world. (Assumed for the sake of argument.)
(2) If it were legitimate to criticize God for creating a world because a better world could have been created instead, then (by (1)) it would be legitimate to criticize Him for creating any world whatsoever.
(3) So if the antecedent of (2) holds, God is free from criticism only if He creates no world.
(4) But it would be better for God to create some worlds (such as arguendo this one) than no world.
(5) So God could be legitimately criticized for creating no world.
(6) So the antecedent of (2) must be false—it is not legitimate to criticize God for creating an decent enough world, even if a better world is available.

[(6) assumes there is a course of action that is free from criticism--not every course of action is unacceptable for the good being. This may be false when your action has put you in a moral bind, but it seems that it should be true for God faced with a choice of what to create out of the void.]

But the argument, I think, is subtly invalid--and this corresponds to a pretty obvious flaw. (Again, I don't know if this corresponds to the way it's originally presented.)

The argument is a reductio of the antecedent of (2)--that it's legitimate to criticize God for creating a decent enough world if He could have created a better world instead. But that reductio only establishes the following:

(6a) There is some decent enough world such that God would be exempt from criticism for creating it, even though He could have created a better world instead.

It does not establish that this world is such a world. There may be a principled way of picking out the worlds such that God can be created for not creating a better one (even though they are decent enough). And our world can be such a one.

In fact, I don't think we should say simply that a benevolent being would create the best world possible. Rather--a benevolent being should create a world with as much good as possible, and as little evil. And even if there is a better world than any given possible world, it doesn't seem as though there's a world with less evil than any possible world. Suppose God created world W. Consider world W*, which is exactly like world W but with all the evil removed. If W* has at least as much good as W, then it is legitimate to criticize God for having created W rather than W*.

This will be true even if there are better worlds than W* (say W* has 1 trillion happy people and another possible world has 2 trillion). So it doesn't violate the assumption that there is no best possible world. If there are two goals, "Minimize evil" and "maximize good," then the first goal can be attained with perfection, and we can criticize for imperfection with respect to that goal; even if the second goal can't be attained with perfection, and we can't criticize with respect to the second goal.

Now, there's a big assumption here: That W* will have at least as much good as W. Perhaps removing the evil from W would also remove so much good that we would conclude that it is better to create W than W*. But that's just to say: Perhaps the evil in W is necessary for some appropriate greater good. So to block the argument that God should have created W* instead of W, we need a successful theodicy. The argument (1)-(6) doesn't seem to have got us anywhere.

Now, the idea of a world with absolutely all the evil removed doesn't really appeal to me. In comments here I called it "literally anodyne"--bland through lack of pain. If it's necessary to have some evil for there to be any good, then there may be no lowest acceptable level of evil. That would mean that there would be no such thing as perfection with respect to the goal of minimizing evil, and would block the foregoing argument.

But there's still a problem, raised by what Marilyn Adams calls "horrendous evil":

evils the participation in (the doing or suffering of) which gives one reason prima facie to doubt whether one's life could (given their inclusion in it) be a great good to one on the whole [from "Horrendous Evils and the Goodness of God." linked]

It seems as though, by definition, horrendous evils cannot be necessary for there to be an acceptable level of goodness in the world. So, if God has created world W that includes horrendous evil, we can criticize him for not creating world W**--just like W but with the horrendous evil removed--instead. And even if W has more total good than W**, it's still unacceptable to create W rather than W**. That amounts to making someone suffer a horrendous evil for someone else's good, which is unacceptable.

Since our world seems to contain horrendous evil, this is a problem for the theist. The only solution that preserves God's benevolence will be one in which the horrendous evil is actually a necessary part of a greater good, in ways that we are not capable of understanding in this life. Adams suggests that this could be possible only by God's "integrating participation in horrendous evils into a person's relationship with God." We perhaps cannot see how God could do this now; but God being God, He may do things that we are incapable of comprehending now.

Thus a defense against the problem of evil that does not rest on the no-best-possible-worlds idea at all. Yet I also find this defense unsatisfying by itself. For if it is meant to explain how this can be the best of all possible worlds--such that every horrendous evil is necessary for a greater good enjoyed by the person that suffers it--then every horrendous evil needs to be part of God's plan. And that's very difficult for me to swallow.

This is very shaky, since we're already conceding the point that we may be simply incapable of understanding the goods that God has in store for us in the afterlife. Still, is the world really better because these particular people had their villages wiped out in tsunamis, and these particular people are tortured or murdered by death squads, and these particular people aren't? That seems very close to the idea that God's goodness is essentially different from the goodness of ordinary beings, or that we simply can't understand God's plan. And that seems more like throwing up one's hands at the problem of evil, rather than solving it.

Here perhaps the no-best-possible-world argument can help. It is necessary, let us suppose, that some horrendous evils exist in order for us to enjoy the goods of the afterlife. Given any distribution of horrendous evils, there may be a better one possible. But there is no best possible distribution of horrendous evils, so we cannot criticize God for failing to create a better distribution (as per (1)-(6)). Perhaps God uses indeterminism to let the horrendous evils fall where they may. (And perhaps in the afterlife we will all share in each other's suffering and redemption.)

All this is a defense rather than a theodicy. I don't think any of it would hold any conviction to someone who did not antecedently believe in God. And for this reason I think these defenses need to be based in something like the considerations that the Archbishop of Canterbury cites in Brian's original post. If you perceive God shining through the everyday world, or if you have faith in God--or, maybe, if you think you have a logical proof of God's existence--then perhaps these arguments will help you see how God can permit such things. If not, then they will seem like strained metaphysical speculations.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:25 PM | Comments (5)

January 06, 2005

A Question

Slow blogging lately because, well, just because. I thought I'd harness the power of my viewers to resolve a question that's puzzling me, though. It concerns the little illustrations found in "The Talk of the Town" in paper copies of the New Yorker. What is going on in the one next to "Dept. of Meltdowns"? (Don't follow that link, the illustration I'm talking about isn't online.) In "Letter From Kalapet" a Peter Arno-ish couple is looking at a newsstand; in "Postscript" there's a cityscape (I don't think it's any section of the Manhattan skyline per se); but what's going on in "Dept. of Meltdowns"? Is that a malfunctioning coffee machine striking the guy on the head? What are the things that look like a pair of glasses on the table to the left? Surely some Opiniatrety reader has a copy of the New Yorker and can explain this to me.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 06:51 PM | Comments (4)

January 01, 2005

Cosmic Baseball

While verifying that Bishop Berkeley was married, I ran across Cosmic Baseball, which--well, you'll just have to look. Here's Berkeley's stats. Here's an account of the recent 2-1 victory of Major League Baseball over the District of Columbia. I guess this is the team I root for. The Interweb is a very odd place.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:22 PM | Comments (2)

APA Roundup

1. Fontana Labs--working that anonymity--watched Dawson's Creek in his hotel room during downtime, but most of the people I talked to watched the World Series of Poker on El Ocho. Absolutely riveting. The downfalls of Sam Grizzle and Phil Ivey were something to see. Judging by the previews for ESPN Original Drama TILT, this will be one case where reality TV beats the other kind.

2. Chatting with a couple of experimental philosophers (names omitted because they may not wish to be associated with these jokes), we decided that "Low-Hanging Fruit" would be a great name for a blog.

3. In that spirit, and in the spirit of this post, we also decided that it would be great if Umberto Eco would write a book about high finance, to be reviewed under the title "Eco and the Moneymen."

4. There were several more in the vein of #3, but you really don't want to hear them.

5. Not related to the APA, but while typing to this post I was listening to a new-to-me CD (Dourou by the Daunik Lazro Quintet) and I thought, "Joe McPhee's solo here is kind of dull." Eventually I realized that a 30-second segment of the track was repeating. (The CD player on this computer is somewhat wonky.)

6. Happy New Year all!

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:25 PM | Comments (0)

Legal Fiction

On the political side, Publius has an amazing amount of good stuff up. I tried to follow Orin Kerr's link to this post, but this computer won't let me look at the permalink, so I had to read the whole front page--and it's all good. This post I found especially incisive.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:59 AM | Comments (0)