May 24, 2005


I just got back from giving a talk at Illinois Wesleyan, which was a wonderful experience--big shout-outs to Mark Criley and Amy Smith for their great hosting job--and I'm about to head to the FEW and then to Lubbock to find a place. So there will be a hiatus* till at least sometime next week. In the meantime, get out and enjoy the sunshine or something.

*Where'd the Unlearned Hand go? If you understand why I said that, you've been reading blogs too long.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:24 PM | Comments (1)

May 21, 2005

Unsavory Propositions

"There, now," she said.
I glanced at her to see if this utterance was deliberate. We had often embarked on prolonged discussions of "there, now" as children, an exclamation I had deemed redundant and, worse, senseless.
"What does it mean?" I would say.
"It means 'there, now'" was all that Martha would reply.
--Cathleen Schine, The Evolution of Jane, p. 36

As you may know, Herman Cappelen and Ernie Lepore's newish book Insensitive Semantics argues for a position called Semantic Minimalism: that the only context-sensitive terms are certain obvious ones, like 'I', 'you', 'he', 'she', 'here', 'now', tenses, and some others. An utterance that doesn't contain any of these terms semantically expresses the same proposition, no matter what context it is used in. So Cappelen and Lepore say things like "when Nina says 'John is ready', she expresses the proposition that John is ready."

This position is hard to one-up, but Martha has done it. On her style of explanation, even the obvious context-sensitive terms mean just what they say. And I think she wins. Because the relevant question here is, exactly what are the things that utterances semantically express? And I don't think that there's any reason to think that the answer is 'propositions', if we take different utterances of "I was here three minutes ago" to express different propositions.

Cappelen and Lepore argue for Speech Act Pluralism--that a single utterance performs many speech acts. So if I say "Matt Weiner is in his office" I say that Matt Weiner is in Curtin Hall, and that Matt Weiner is in his office, and that the author of the blog Opiniatrety is in his office, and a whole mess of other things besides. In this I think they're absolutely correct.

But why should we single out one of these speech acts to say, "This is the proposition semantically expressed"? What makes one of these speech reports special?

Cappelen and Lepore's answer, as I understand it, is that people can communicate across very different contexts and in contexts in which there is great ignorance--when the speaker doesn't know anything about the circumstances, beliefs. The proposition that is semantically expressed is what can be exactly communicated. Thus "the proposition semantically expressed is that content the speaker can expect the audience to grasp (and expect the speaker to expect them to grasp) even if they have mistaken or incomplete communication-relevant information" (p. 184), and mutatis mutandis audiences can expect the same of the speaker, and non-participants can grasp the content.

It seems to me as though the proposition semantically expressed is supposed to be a minimal fail-safe content. If you don't grasp this, you don't grasp what has been said. Somewhere (I can't find it right now [UPDATE: see bottom of post]) I believe C & L say something like, if you're reporting someone who said "She is tall," and you don't know who they were talking about, you have to say "I don't know exactly what they said, but they said that some woman was tall." Whereas if you're reporting someone who said "John is ready," and you don't know what activity was salient, you can still say "They said John was ready," and you're guaranteed to have expressed something the speaker expressed--even if you don't know what John was ready for.

But in fact sometimes we can communicate even without knowing what proposition is semantically expressed, as C & L have it. Take their own expression of the possible gaps in communication (5stC is the context of their utterances):

Take you, our reader; we have no idea who you are; we know next to nothing about your beliefs... (you're not here in 5stC with us).

What does the bolded sentence semantically express? According to C & L's theory, it's a proposition of the form <Matt Weiner, in 5stC with, C & L>. (To keep it simple, I'll assume that the utterance in question is the token of that sentence in my copy of Insensitive Semantics, which I never let anyone else see; so 'you' uniquely picks out me.) But C & L, the speakers, don't know that it expresses that proposition. And I know that they don't know that--in fact, they as good as told me that they don't know it. So here's a case where communication is possible even though the hearer can't expect the speaker to grasp the proposition that's semantically expressed.

(I picked on the bolded sentence because it's the only one in this passage where 'you' isn't in an intensional setting. "We have no idea who you are" is an interesting case--obviously it's meant to mean something like "We have no idea who's reading this sentence" rather than "We have no idea who Matt Weiner is, in the sense that we wouldn't recognize his face on the side of a milk carton"--though that's also true. I think here 'you' has to be treated as one of Nunberg's descriptive indexicals; 'you' contributes the property 'being the reader of this sentence'.)

So the 'proposition semantically expressed' as C & L have defined it doesn't necessarily play the role they want it to play. What does play that role--that of (as I interpret it) the minimal fail-safe content? The meaning of the words. I can grasp, and can expect C & L to grasp, that they said "you're not here in 5stC with us," where 'you' is the term that picks out the addressee of the context, 'us' is the term that picks out the speakers of the context, etc.

That is to say--if we are looking for some rock-bottom level of content that is communicated whenever there is understanding, the sort of thing expressed by "'There, now' means 'there, now'" is better suited than the sort of thing expressed by "'Nina, in saying 'John is ready', says that John is ready."

Of course, on that view what is semantically expressed by an utterance isn't what ordinarily gets called a proposition. And I have thus proved the thesis of this post. I haven't proved what I'd really like to--that propositions, as usually taken in philosophy, are no damn use whatsoever--but maybe that'll wait until I turn this into a real paper.

[UPDATE: The passage I was thinking of above is on pp. 93-4, where C & L consider how someone might report an overheard utterance of "That's a nice one" if she doesn't know what was demonstrated. They say that one of four things will happen: She'll say "I don't know what he said," she'll investigate to find out what was demonstrated, she'll quote directly "He said, 'That's a nice one,'" she'll say something like "He said that some demonstrated object was nice." This is supposed to generalize to every expression in the Basic Set of context-sensitive expressions, and to contrast with "John is tall" and "John is ready" and the like.

But note: If I see "I am better than you" written on the wall, and someone asks me what is written there, I can say "Somebody wrote that they were better than me. I don't know who."]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:47 PM | Comments (2)


via John and Belle, US soldiers at an Afghan interrogation camp beat an innocent man to death over a period of days, until he looked like he had been run over by a bus (p. 8, if the link has expired); part of a systemic pattern of abuse.

I can't see any reason to doubt that the culpability for the torture goes higher than the people who are being charged with it. I can't see any reason to doubt that the culpability for covering it up goes much higher. And there's no reason to think that the torture increased our security or helped achieve our national goals in any way whatsoever. This is what our leaders, and our voters, have brought us to.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:46 AM | Comments (0)

Theme Song

Fortuna wonders what the theme song of her blog should be. Mine, I'm absolutely positive, is a They Might Be Giants song. TMBG strikes exactly the note of gleefully obnoxious cleverness that I aspire to. Which one, I'm not exactly sure. If I did philosophy of biology it would be "Mammal"; if I did philosophy of physics it would be "Particle Man"; but I don't. Somehow I think "My Evil Twin" best expresses the sort of philosophical quiddity that might theme this blog; or perhaps "Snowball in Hell". (I've discussed "Mr. Me" and "Piece of Dirt," but that doesn't make them themes; in fact I think that would be a conflict of interest.)

For all I know there is a song about context-sensitivity on one of the post-Apollo 18 albums; if so, that's it.

Am I supposed to ask someone else what the theme song for their blog is? I'll ask you. Should be an interesting thing to think about.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:43 AM | Comments (1)

May 15, 2005

Gigolo and Gigolette Wake Up To Find Their Eyes Are Wet

Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo is #4 on Fametracker's Ten Least Essential Summer Films, which reminds me: Wasn't Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo redundant? I mean, aren't Gigolos male by definition?

(Little bit o' use-mention confusion there, perhaps, but everyone already knew the movie was redundant. I meant the title.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:15 PM | Comments (6)

May 13, 2005

Style and Envy in Philosophy

I vaguely promised some posts based on things that happened at the Chicago APA, and I haven't yet. Here goes one (also, note to self: other people political-blog better than I do):

I was grumbling about how I thought I'd have to learn PowerPoint to teach the big Accounting Ethics class I'll be doing at Tech--if for no other reason than that I think I'll be more effective if I conform to students' expectations, rather than being "that weird guy who teaches that dumb ethics class we have to take."

A friend from Pitt urged me to come to love PowerPoint--that, among other things, presentations on PowerPoint are better than simply reading papers.

I think this may reflect some interesting differences in philosophical style, which may ultimately reflect on the envy of other disciplines that Gillian Russell and Kieran Setiya were discussing end o' last month. (I should also say that I'm kind of BSing here. What I'm about to say probably doesn't stand up as a generalization at all.)

Basically, if you think philosophy should aspire to the condition of the humanities, you're more likely to want to read a paper; if you think philosophy should aspire to the condition of the sciences, you'll be more likely to use PowerPoint or some such.

PowerPoint is very suitable for argument proceeds like this: Here's the background against which we're arguing; the problem, the competing hypotheses, etc. Here's some data--which need not be experimentally gathered data, though it can be; it can be a problem case or something else that perhaps elicits intuitions. Here's how we deal with it. This is supposed to echo a sort of Background-Data-Explanation (with Experimental Methods down in the small type, I suppose) model that you find in science papers.

On the other hand, reading papers is more suitable for--gosh, it could be hard for me to say this without being prejudicial--things where you have to keep very close track of the dialectical situation. Sort of "Here's this person's argument, here's something that you might think was an objection to this argument, here's why it doesn't work, but here's the concession they have to make to defuse it, and here's why that undermines their argument"; which is more suitable to being presented on a handout, with multiple levels of indentation, rather than a PowerPoint or series of slides which tends to have a paratactic structure (everything on the same level). And is more suitable to reading, because if you forget some detail in presenting this sort of thing it can go completely to heck.

So what seems to me like the increasing trend to talk through presentations on PowerPoint rather than read papers may reflect an increasing trend to think of philosophy as essentially scientific. (Or it may be that I heard less of these while I was at Pitt's philosophy department--my friend was in History and Philosophy of Science--and more since entering the wider world. I think the underlying point would still hold.)

This isn't quite the kind of science envy Gillian mentions, particularly in comments. Gillian envies the scientists' understanding about how the world works, and I'm surely with her on that. (Add in my George Lewis envy, and my novelist envy, and....) I'm thinking of something more like what Greg Restall says in comments about mathematics in those comments:

I like the shift between the formal, constrained definition/lemma/theorem/proof/corollary style of the mathematical disciplines like formal logic and the open-ended, discursive, exploratory, dialectical style of philosophy. One provides definitive results, which are open to interpretation. The other provides understanding, but little in the way of definitive results.

(And mathematics doesn't quite work the same way as science here--I don't know how mathematically-oriented philosophers like to present their results! I should find out at the FEW.)

Kieran, OTOH, in Gillian's comments and his own blog, expresses humanities envy--a desire to speak to a wider audience, to actually decrease the level of technicality involved.

My position here is somewhat equivocal. To some extent I think that perhaps philosophy should be more scientific, less dependent on fuzzy intuitions. But I don't particularly enjoy doing that kind of work, right now. So I don't have science envy, more science akrasia.

This manifests itself particularly in relation to epistemology. Really I think that epistemologists should be working on stuff that tends to fall on the formal side of the fence: In particular, how can we be precise about the extent to which certain evidence supports certain conclusions. But I'm not actually good at making these arguments (yet--that's part of the reason I'm going to FEW). But, fortunately for me, there's a lot of informal-epistemology arguments to be made about why the formal stuff is the stuff epistemologists should be working on.

In this way I feel a bit like the oldest Marx Brother, who

when a friend said that she couldn't imagine him living happily in an egalitarian society, he responded: "Neither can I. These times will come, but we must be away by then."

Lord, make epistemology formal and just like science! But not yet.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:03 PM | Comments (5)

May 12, 2005

Indirect Discourse Reports

via Atrios, needs to take Indirect Discourse 101.

[UPDATE: Ah, just read Kieran Healy.]

[UPDATE 2: Though this does remind me of the Onion "What Do You Think?" a few weeks back: "I heard Tom DeLay's blood was in the water and the sharks were circling him, but unfortunately, it turned out to be a metaphor."]

They say that People for the American Way is running a 'distorting ad' that:

(1) says of Janice Rogers Brown, "She's so radical that she says, with programs like Social Security and Medicare, seniors are cannibalizing their grandchildren!"--in relation to this quote: "My grandparents' generation thought being on the government dole was disgraceful, a blight on the family’s honor. Today’s senior citizens blithely cannibalize their grandchildren because they have a right to get as much "free" stuff as the political system will permit them to extract." (factcheck's emphasis)

(2) says of Priscilla Owen that "President Bush’s own attorney general criticized her ten times," when (factcheck points out) "Alberto Gonzales wasn't Bush's attorney general at the time he made the 10 statements PFAW cites," and "[i]n some of his written opinions he did indeed disagree strongly with Owen's legal reasoning, but he never criticized her personally, or by name."
Dealing with (2) first--given that Alberto Gonzales is now Attorney General, it should be uncontroversial that we can replace "Alberto Gonzales did X" with "Bush's own attorney general did X"; all we have to do is let the definite description have wide scope over the past tense. Perhaps the fear is that the ad misleads by letting us think that Gonzales criticized her as Attorney General, but I think that fear is exaggerated.

(Contrast the Progress for America claim that Owen was "endorsed by major newspapers." Yes she was--but for a different job. That seems to me like an intentional attempt to mislead, especially given that two of those newspapers have since expressed reservations about Owen's nomination.)

Also; did Gonzales criticize her? Even if he didn't name her, to say that acting on Owen's opinion "would be an unconscionable act of judicial activism" seems like it would be fairly described as criticizing her. (As factcheck points out, it seems like it would also be fairly described as "calling her an activist judge," despite what Gonzales says.)

As for (1)--as David Kaplan says, "Direct quotation is rarely charitable." Brown did say what PFAW says she said--it seems impossible to avoid the conclusion. If PFAW were speaking in a context in which it might be thought that they were saying that seniors are literally eating their grandchildren, then it would be fair to criticize them for misleading direct quotation. But, you know, they aren't. And it's important for PFAW to capture the metaphor Brown uses--it's not just that she thinks (wrongly) that today's seniors are burdening their grandchildren, it's the visceral hatred she has for Social Security and Medicare.

What this shows is that indirect discourse reports can be tricky, if you're being deliberately stupid. Cappelen and Lepore in Insensitive Semantics quote a couple of cases--Nixon's "Smoking Gun" utterance, Bush on "imminent threat"--where what the speaker was rightly taken to say went far beyond the literal meaning of his words. As Cappelen and Lepore observe (and I've mentioned Wettstein on this as well) it's probably impossible to formulate hard and fast rules for when indirect discourse reports are true. And--I think Wettstein and I think this, not sure about C & L--some reports are more or less accurate rather than just true or false.

With people of good will that can create some problems, but not too many. We can agree that Brown said what PFAW said, speaking metaphorically; we can agree that Gonzales criticized Owen; we can agree that the newspapers didn't endorse Owen for the federal bench (though perhaps it is relevant that they endorsed her for the Texas Supreme Court).

The problem is that in politics we often aren't dealing with people of good will. We are dealing with people who take the sentence "President Bush based his famous and false claim that Iraq was seeking uranium from Niger on a set of crudely forged documents" and respond "Bush did not mention Niger, but rather Africa." (The rest of the claims in that post seem to have beamed in from Uqbar--Bush stated what British intelligence found, an analysis that has never been revoked and has recently been confirmed"? Oy.) We're dealing with people who say "the battle of Iraq is one victory in a war on terror that began on September the 11th, 2001" and then describe that by saying "We did say there were numerous contacts between Saddam Hussein and al Qaeda." And I could go on. And the problem is, given the flexibility of discourse reports, it's hard to nail them to the wall and say that what they said is absolutely false.

Factcheck and the like could have a role to play here. They could say, "Here's what was said, here's what everyone knows was meant, and it gives an inaccurate impression or it doesn't." Unfortunately, they choose not to do that. When they run an article subheaded "both sides twist facts," they give the impression that both sides are twisting the facts evenly; not that one is seriously distorting the intent of quotes and the other is doing it accurately. Admittedly, if you read closely, they say that "Readers can decide for themselves" whether Brown's views are radical, and they are quite sarcastic about Gonzales' attempt to distinguish activism from activism. But that's not the message people will take home. In their insistence that both sides must be equally wrong, factcheck is part of the problem, not part of the solution.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 01:29 PM | Comments (2)

How Big Is Connecticut?

[vaguely political stuff moved under the jump to make room for the philosophy/linguistics post just below]

In the third part of her New Yorker "Climate of Man" series--unfortunately not online, and my paper copy isn't hear--Elizabeth Kolbert talks about the prospects for cutting fossil fuel consumption by using solar power. She arrives at the sobering conclusion that, in order to cut consumption by a certain amount, we'd need solar panels covering a land mass the size of Connecticut.

At least, it's supposed to be sobering--and if you're in New York City, that seems like a huge amount of land. But look at the US. Connecticut--that's the pink one just above NYC (which NOAA seems to think is on Long Island, but never mind)--is not very big as the country goes. In particular, I understand that there's a lot of fairly uninhabited land in Texas, say between San Antonio and El Paso. I know there's a lot of fairly uninhabited land in western Nebraska, because I've driven across it. You could fit a few Connecticuts in there. And both places are flat, and Texas at least gets a lot of sunshine.

I'm not saying it would be easy to set up huge solar farms here--people own the land and would need to be bought out, probably. But, if we're faced with something as grave as the threat of global warming, we may need to do something drastic. A big government-led program to increase solar energy doesn't seem ridiculous. And I just don't see the argument that there's not enough land. Maybe Europe doesn't have enough land, but the U.S. has quite a lot of land that is underutilized. (And developing the land into solar farms could lead to jobs for the people living there; I'm not trying to be completely callous about the red states.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:35 PM | Comments (6)

If, as seems likely

Take a look at this sentence (part):

(1) if, as seems likely, the roads ever diverge, the Kurds will pursue their separate destiny.

Does this seem funny to you? It struck me a bit funny. Specifically, 'ever' struck me a bit funny. Without "as seems likely" the sentence would be impeccable, but that interposition seems to mess with the NPI licensing.

I'm very unsure about this: Obviously I can parse the sentence fine. But it did trip a little warning flag when I read it.

And there's a bit of Google confirmation for my queasy feeling. About 3,400,000 hits for "If [word word word] ever"; about 23,500 hits for "if as seems likely"; (1) is AOTW the only hit for "if as seems likely [word word word] ever" (and varying the number of intervening words doesn't help much).

(Well, maybe that's not such strong confirmation, since that isn't really a lot of hits for "if as seems likely." Someone gave a talk here about the perils of using Google for linguistic research, but I was at Rutgers. I plead rank amateurism, m'lud!)


(2) If, as seems likely, the roads diverge at all, the Kurds will pursue their separate destiny.
(3) If, as I expect, the roads ever diverge, the Kurds will pursue their separate destiny.
(4) If, as seems unlikely, the roads ever diverge, the Kurds will pursue their separate destiny.

(2) and (3) sound funny to me for the same reason (1) does. (And the only occurence of a construction like (3) I can find is "If (as I expect) no one will ever," where 'no one' is NPI-licensing; but "If as I expect" only get 518 hits AOTW, so that's not surprising.) (4) also sounds funny, but that may be just because "as seems unlikely" is funny--only 300 hits AOTW.

I don't know what the moral might be, but it's an interesting case. If you say something along the lines of "NPIs are licensed in contexts in which negation or doubt is expressed," then (1) would be bad because doubt isn't really expressed--'if' expresses doubt, but 'as seems likely' takes it back. But that's a very crude analysis of NPI-licensing. (I refer to my previous plea.)

Now, this seems OK to me:

(5) If the roads ever diverge, as seems likely, the Kurds will pursue their separate destiny.

That's not too surprising--see Kai von Fintel's comments to this post, especially perhaps #3. (I should also say--I can't find any Googlable examples of "If... NPI..., as seems likely." Except this: "If this is to be the only book about Rose Maddox that will ever be published
using first-hand sources, as seems likely"; and there 'ever' is licensed by 'only'. [UPDATE: Got one! "Geoff - if you ever win a prize here, as seems likely, I can see four ink
carts would be a good idea for what to send as your prize." But this isn't very strong evidence. Wish I knew how to do this search better.])

There might be an interesting issue with (5), if it is indeed acceptable. What is its syntactic structure? If, as seems plausible to me, "as seems likely" is somehow generated from something like this:

(6) If the roads ever diverge, as [PRO: it] seems likely [that the roads ever diverge

then it'd be odd, because in "It seems likely that the roads ever diverge" 'ever' isn't in an NPI-licensing requirement. But here I should defer to someone who knows more about the syntax of 'as'.

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

May 11, 2005

I'm being stalked!

Recently, we sent you an invitation to complete a Guest Satisfaction Survey concerning your stay with us at Hilton Chicago-Palmer House, where you checked out on April 30, 2005.

We noticed that you did not have time to complete the survey. We are concerned that you may not have responded because we have somehow failed to live up to your expectations.

[attempt at humor deleted--gratuitous link to this entry restored]

I wonder if I should knuckle under and click the stupid link, or if it would be appeasement. I fear that if I don't, the Senior Vice President for Brand Management will be standing outside my window by the end of the week, weeping, rending his garment, and saying "What'd we do wrong? What'd we do wrong? Why don't you return my calls?" The fact that the return address for the e-mail is "" is not particularly encouraging.

(Clicked the "unsubscribe" link. Fingers crossed.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:37 PM | Comments (4)

Political Digression on Bush and Yalta

You may have heard that the other day George W. Bush denounced the Yalta pact--which, Brad DeLong summed up, I think not unfairly, thus: "George W. Bush blames Winston Churchill (and Franklin Roosevelt) for not starting World War III in central Europe in July 1945." Yesterday Kevin Drum asked why Bush brought up Yalta at all; who was the audience for this remark? Today he cites some answers, in terms of Yalta's status as a buzzword for Cold War right.

But I think there's an answer nearer to hand. Here's the key quote:

We will not repeat the mistakes of other generations -- appeasing or excusing tyranny, and sacrificing freedom in the vain pursuit of stability.

He's just going on about Iraq again. Same ol' buzzwords, and the fact that the context was inappropriate (and the history is dubious) really doesn't matter.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 12:24 PM | Comments (0)

May 10, 2005

Mandy's Tall

So Keith DeRose, in his Rutgers paper, argued that 'tall' is obviously context-sensitive, invoking a case in which two separate people are simultaneously talking about a basketball player's height when he's standing in front of the gym. We need the simultaneous separate conversations to deal with something like Cappelen and Lepore's third proposal for the metaphysics of 'tall' (Insensitive Semantics, p. 171): For an object to be tall at time t is for it to be tall with respect to some comparison class, which is determined by its circumstances at time t. If the conversations are simultaneous, this proposal doesn't admit that "X is tall" can express a true proposition in one conversation and a false one in the other.

Well, DeRose's example is a bit artificial. When would we be likely to have simultaneous conversations about someone's height, invoking different comparison classes, where the person's current activity didn't obviously privilege one? It's like everyone's serenading them in a musical comedy.

[Lights pick out MANDY MOUNTAIN asleep upstage. She is of above average height for a six-year-old girl. Tune: "Please Hello," sort of.]

For a person?
BEECHER: For a tot!
BAKER: But she'll fit through any doorway.
BEECHER: Now, must we discuss her your way?
In my class she's head and shoulders
above the rest.
BAKER: But when the older
kids surround her, she's not weedy, and
she's well below the median.
GENO AURIEMMA: Playing ball, she's not tall.
I cannot misrepresent her.
On the court, she's so short,
she could never be a center.
DORA THE EXPLORER: I don't know how you've been countin';
Mandy's tiny for a mountain.
THE INVARIANTIST CHORUS: I'm beginning to lose patience
with your raw equivocations!
You're entangled in a thicket; you're
just dealing with implicature.
EVERYONE ELSE [to INVARIANTISTS]: Mandy's tall, in a way.
What this means, well, who can say?
To preserve semantic innocence
we confess there's never been a sense
of this word, that we've heard
that preserves a stable meaning...
and so most of us are leaning
toward a view that, it's true,
is not lacking opposition:
sentence S can express
several different propositions.
Pardon the offensive we give,
but 'tall' is context-sensitive!


Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:37 AM | Comments (4)

The Prequel

I mentioned (here too) that just before leaving for Chicago Sunday I fell into an absurdist movie for a few minutes. It happened thus:

I was leaving about 15 minutes earlier than I thought I had to if everything went smoothly in Chicago. On the way to my car, I realized I had left my cell phone charging in my apartment. I turned back to get it. This was my mistake.

By the old folks' home up the block, a man in a wheelchair asked me how far away the Jewels was. Realizing he meant the Osco/Jewel drug store, I told him it was at the next traffic light, turn right and cross two streets. He was upset, saying he was tired. I told him that I would go to the drugstore for him but I had to be in Chicago at 6 so had to go. He asked me if I was going all the way to the end of the block, but I wasn't.

While we were talking, a car was driving out of the home's parking lot, about fifty feet away. "Why is that guy driving out of the lot over the curb?" I thought. Then I realized that there was no one in the car. My brain shut down for a second or two. The car thwacked head-on into a tree. If not for the tree, it would have gone straight out into Prospect Ave. The couple walking along between us and the car were quite startled.

(Here it occurred to me: What would I have done if they had been in the car's path? They'd have no reason to look over their shoulders. The thing to do would be to shout "Run!", but how could I have conveyed that I was talking to them, or why they should have run? It would've been hard to put the situation into words.)

I got my phone and came back out.

Someone was driving the car back into the lot (back over the lawn and the curb? I think so). The man in the wheelchair was up talking to someone who seemed to be supervising this; then he came back down, even more agitated. He was clutching a prescription and saying that his other papers had blown away. (We're almost on the lake; it's very windy.) I saw some scraps of paper on the other side of the street and nipped across to look at them. They turned out to be just scraps, but the man wanted to cross the street just there, so I stepped out and stopped traffic (just a couple of cars) so he could cross at the corner of Royall Place (no light).

Now he began to say that a man who had given him something--possibly the money for his prescription--had parked a car on Royall Place (he pointed to the car) and gone up the stairs into a building (he pointed to the building). This was the Charles Allis Museum, which I've never visited even though it's basically across the street. He wanted me to look for the man inside the building. I said that I would ring the doorbell.

I did, and a woman came out. The man began to tell his story of someone vanishing in the building. The woman from the museum was confused--understandably, I suppose--said that no one had come in since she'd been sitting there, and asked if he wanted to visit the museum (which I think was closed). Having passed the issue off, I slipped away. I had used up my 15 minute cushion, and I had to go; also, I thought he was building up to a touch.

At the corner of Kane Street I stepped of the curb when I was engulfed in a flock of motorcycles turning left on red. This is legal there (Prospect and Kane are both one-way), but still startling. I'm not conveying why this seemed so absurd--it was like there was no traffic and then the motorcycles condensed around me.

And then, dear reader, I went to my car, and headed for Chicago, where I little knew what awaited me. But you know the rest of the story.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:34 AM | Comments (0)

May 09, 2005

Back in Town

I made it to and back from the Mengelberg/Lewis concert with nary a hitch, and it was very good. The Rutgers Epistemology conference was great and should produce some substantive philosophy blogging or even work. It was nice to be around for Mom's birthday--many happy returns, Mom!--and too bad that my calendrical cluelessness led to my flying out so early Mother's day. My attempt to meet up with Ogged, Wolfson, and Kotsko was a disaster that has been thoroughly covered elsewhere. I should write up the absurdist movie I temporarily fell into just before heading to Chicago in its own entry; about the rest, suffice it to say that I was in a Philadelphia. The AACM 40th anniversary concert, which I did get to, was very good--the highlight was definitely George Lewis again, in duo with Ann E. Ward. I should write about the music too, and about music more in general--this blog (via Gillian) is putting me to shame.

That's at least three posts I've promised to write. Even if they do get written--which is dubious--you'd be better served by going here and clicking all the links (with sound).

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:14 PM | Comments (7)

May 07, 2005

After Stopping to Pet a Cat in a Driveway

Dad: We've seen a whole family of cats here.

Matt: Oh, they live here?

Dad: One doesn't know that now that you've mentioned the possibility.

Which theory in the area of the contextualism/invariantism dispute does this support? Discuss.

(I swear I wasn't nattering about contextualism just before this. If I remember correctly, I was nattering about how I'd realized that my theory of the norms of assertion can be summed up as "Liar, liar, pants on fire" and "Busted, disgusted, you'll never be trusted." Thanks to Jonathan Weinberg for help here.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:58 PM | Comments (1)

May 03, 2005

Knowledge for the Komplete Klutz

This may be the second in a series of fairly silly posts inspired by the APA Central meeting, tho' I may try to slip some philosophy into this one.

As I mentioned, the Central was during a no-beer period, so I was drinking wine the whole time. (When I was drinking, I mean. Couldn't find any Woodchuck.) At one point I found myself drinking wine in the bar of the Hard Rock Hotel, which I hasten to add was not my idea. I said to my companions, "This is not really a good wine. And if I can tell this is not a good wine, it means something."

MC said, "It means it's really awful."

This, I think can give us some insight into the KK thesis.

[But before I begin: I did not really use any of the wisdom of Winesmanship (scroll down). My current gambit is to say, in any context where no one will be actually insulted by this, "Quaffable but not transcendent"--in an inverted-quotes tone meant to demonstrate my ironic awareness of my lack of wine knowledge, appearing to deprecate myself while actually attempting the damn-good chap "Blindfolded experts can't tell red from white" gambit (see Pop-skull--scroll down again). This is especially Lifemanlike because I haven't even seen the movie I'm quoting.]

I think I could appropriately reason something like this. I'm going to stipulatively change "really awful" to "fairly bad," for reasons that will become apparent.

1. This is not a good wine. [judged immediately on tasting]
2. I have judged, with complete confidence, that this is not a good wine. [by introspection]
3. I know that this is not a good wine. [from 2--I have no reason to doubt my judgment.]
4. If I know by tasting it that wine is not good, it must be pretty far from good--fairly bad. [I am familiar with my limited capacities as a judge of wine]
5. This wine is fairly bad. [3, 5--and 2!]

Now, I think I know 1-5. In fact, I'd be happy to assert that I know 1-5. (Though I don't think that that means I know I know 1-5, since knowledge isn't the norm of assertion.)

There are two points where I think you might object to my claim that I know 1-5. You might think I don't know 3, and you might think that I don't know 4.

It may look like 3 comes from 2 by the application of the KK thesis--if I know p, I must be in a position to know that I know p. Well, it could come from such an application. But this time it doesn't. It comes from my ability to know what my judgements are and to reflect on them.

And it may look like, though 4 is true, I don't know it. But I do know it. I know my palate well enough to know that it's not very sensitive (and I don't know much about wine), so that whenever I can judge with complete confidence that a wine is not good by taste alone the wine is really fairly bad.

In fact, I can judge with complete confidence that the wine is fairly bad. Because I am confident in my reasoning abilities, and my knowledge of my palate, even if I'm not always confident in the palate itself. So not only do I know 5, I think I know that I know it.

Now compare this possible reasoning--if my immediate reaction had been "this wine is fairly bad":

1'. This is a fairly bad wine. [judged immediately on tasting]
2'. I have judged, with complete confidence, that this is a fairly bad wine. [by introspection]
3'. I know that this is a fairly bad wine. [from 2'--I have no reason to doubt my judgment.]
4'. If I know by tasting it that wine is fairly bad, it must be very bad indeed. [I am familiar with my limited capacities as a judge of wine]
5'. This wine is very bad indeed. [3', 5', and 2']

Same goes throughout. I think I know every step, and I think at the end I know that this wine is very bad--and indeed I know that I know it.

But in the initial case, can I continue to reason as follows?

5. This wine is fairly bad. [as before]
6. I have judged, with complete confidence, that this wine is fairly bad. [introspecting on 5]
7. I know that this wine is fairly bad. [from 6--no reason to doubt my judgment]
8. If I know that this wine is fairly bad, it must be very bad. [familiarity with my limited capacity]
9. This wine is very bad. [7, 8]

I cannot. 6 and 7 are OK, but 8 is wrong. The reason 8 is wrong though 4' is right is that in this case I do not know that the wine is fairly bad by tasting it; I know by tasting it and by reasoning about my limited capacities. That doesn't support the further inference to 9.

This is all by way of picking on Timothy Williamson. His models of knowledge in Knowledge and Its Limits lay heavy emphasis on the margins for error required for knowledge; so that S typically is in no position to know that some quantity x is no less than 5 unless x is at least 7 or so. Williamson considers that possibility that the margin for error varies with the value of x (in the previous example, the margin for error at 5 is 2; maybe the margin for error at 8 is 0.5, so that S is no position to know that x is no less than 8 unless x is at least 8.5).

He never, IIRC, models the possibility that the margin for error depends on how knowledge is acquired. That is, he never models the possibility that S is not in a position to know by perception that x is no less than 5 unless x is at least 7, but S may be in a position to know by inference that x is no less than 5 if x is greater than 6. That's what's going on here. I'm in no position to know by taste that the wine is fairly bad unless it's very bad; but I may be in a position to know by taste and inference that the wine is fairly bad even if it is only fairly bad.

And this suggests, perhaps, that the examples that threaten the KK principle--if you know that p, you're in a position to know that you know that p--don't threaten the KKK principle--if you know that you know that p, you're in a position to know that you know that you know that p. Frequently KKp will be true because you reflected on your judgment that p, and saw that it amounted to knowledge. It's not obvious that in these cases you won't be able to reflect on your reflection, and see that it amounts to knowledge to--so KKKp will also be true.

This may be laid down to Delia Graff's observation that knowing that you know that you know that you know that you know that you know something is not very clear at all. But I think Williamson runs into problems with respect to this, that show up even if we stick to two levels of knowledge. I'll post something about that sometime in the next couple of weeks. (But if you check the blog once a day, you won't know that I've posted about this that day until you actually check the blog.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 04:13 PM | Comments (6)

How's That, Killer?

The University of Pittsburgh just had American Express send me something advertising its "new clear card." I suppose this means I have a new clear option.


The Curtin Hall Elevator work will commence on June 13th. At this time one elevator will be taken out of service. This elevator will be put back into service before the next elevator is taken down.

Either that's some mighty quick elevator repair, or it's going to take mighty long to catch the other elevator going down. I choose B.]

Posted by Matt Weiner at 09:34 AM | Comments (0)

May 02, 2005

Mengelberg/Lewis near Princeton: May 5

Dutch pianist Misha Mengelberg will be playing at John Zorn's new space The Stone in New York (Ave. C and 2nd St.) this Thursday, May 5, with trombonist George Lewis and bassist Brad Jones. There are two shows, 8 and 10. Tickets are $15 (at the door only).

Why do I describe this as "near Princeton"? I'm coming in for the Rutgers Epistemology Conference and for a commenter's birthday, and I'm staying with that commenter in Princeton. I'll probably be able to make the 10 pm show. But I won't have a car, and if anyone is planning to drive in from Princeton for this show--and you should, it'll likely be absolutely fantastic--a ride back would be super.

(Or, if anyone reading this is going to be at Rutgers, see you there. Or if you're going to be at the show but don't live in Princeton. Be at the show. Really.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 05:54 PM | Comments (4)

May 01, 2005

Potter on the Objects of Clarity

The paper before mine at the APA was Stephen Grimm's very nice "Is Understanding a Species of Knowledge?" with comments by Mark Silcox. In the discussion (especially Mark's comments) one of the main issues was what the objects of understanding are, in the sense of 'understanding' we're concerned about. Is it understanding that? Understanding why or how? Understanding a subject matter? Understanding a word or sentence?

Stephen Potter has insights on a related subject, that of making something clear:

'Remarkably little to do with Christianity,' said Sticking. I felt we were in for a dose of Golden Bough, but somehow the Lawrenceman checked him.

'Perhaps,' he said. There was something tip-top about the placid way this word was said. He went on:

'Yet there is a ceremony of departure, a sacrifice. On the hill they lit the wood fire to the morning.' Lawrenceman's eyes were wide open, but he wasn't looking at anybody.

'You don't make yourself clear,' said Sticking, in his most distinct voice.

'Can anybody make themselves clear?' Lawrenceman turned to Sticking for the first time.

'That is the general supposition.'

'I think a man can make his words clear, and even his thoughts. But himself...?' After this stunning and really first-class statement, Lawrenceman turned his back on us and walked to the window, and Sticking made a mistake....

--Stephen Potter, The Complete Upmanship, p. 283 (Supermanship, Ch. 1: "Faces Old and Faces New")

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:54 AM | Comments (3)