December 31, 2005

The War on Kwanzaa

At the post office just now, the woman in front of me seemed perturbed that they didn't have any Kwanzaa stamps, until the clerk explained that they weren't printing up any new 37-cent stamps, since the rates are about to go up.

She then placed a fairly elaborate stamp order that did not seem to please the people in line behind me at all.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:37 AM | Comments (1)

December 27, 2005

Shannon Sharpe Imitates Philosophy

No sooner do I declare hiatus than I break it to note that Shannon Sharpe:

But playoff teams have the record to get into the playoffs. It's as simple as that

seems to be making an argument of the exact same form that Doug Lavin discusses in an early draft of "Practical Reason and the Possibility of Error" (which analyzed the flaws in the argument that the best team would always win the division, because the best team was by definition the one that won the most games).

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:51 AM | Comments (6)

Even Lighter Blogging

Even lighter blogging than usual for a while, what with holidays and the APA and such. this is worth checking out in the meantime.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 07:21 AM | Comments (0)

December 18, 2005

Report of an Incident

When I attempted to drive off to watch the Steelers game, the wheels on the car just spun on the ice. I went back into the house to ask my parents if they had any sand or anything to put down by the wheel. My father said that he had a couple of tricks to get a car moving off of snow. He spun the wheels forward a bit, and then reversed the car off the snow and pulled it out into the street. "What did you do?" I asked. He replied, "I took the brake off."

Posted by Matt Weiner at 10:55 PM | Comments (4)

December 14, 2005

Another Post on Conditionals!

So going off the last post, but too disorganized even for it, I was thinking about when "If P or Q, then R" amounts to "If P then R and if Q then R."

It seems to me that

(1) If Alice is in France or Germany, it's France

makes sense, even though it doesn't imply "If Alice is in Germany, she's in France" (except as a material implication, which we will ignore for now). But perhaps only because "If Alice is in Germany, she's in France" would be absurd. If I believe that if Alice is having a good time in France, but would not be having a good time were she in Germany, it seems at least misleading to say

(2) If Alice is in France or Germany, she's having a good time.

Unless, perhaps, it is mutually acknowledged that she would not be having a good time in Germany, so (2) is taken to entail (1).

And I'm pretty sure it's infelicitous to say

(3) If Alice is in France, or if she's in Germany, it's France she's in.

"If P, or if Q, then R" seems practically an explicit assertion of "If P then R" or "If Q then R."

The assertion in question in my last post was actually of the form "Whether or not P, then P." Take the general form to be "Whether P or Q, R"; that seems to me more like (3) ("If P or if Q, R") than (1) ("If P or Q, R"). So this also seems infelictous:

(4) Whether Alice is in France or Germany, she's in France.

And that suggests that I was entitled (in my analysis) to move from "I believe that whether or not P, P" to "I believe that if P then P, and if not-P then P."

Posted by Matt Weiner at 02:14 PM | Comments (5)

Post on Conditionals and Stuff, but mostly about putting up some content

Posting has been slow lately, but here's a link to a comment I left on CT explaining why it's ordinarily absurd to say "Whether or not P, I believe P," and why it wasn't so absurd for Bush to say it.

I haven't thought through the exact circumstances under which "If P or Q, then R" is equivalent to "If P then R, and if Q then R," which is one of the key steps in my explanation. I don't remember whether it comes out true in relevance logic. In a Lewisian closest-possible-world semantics for counterfactuals I don't think it comes out true; if the P-worlds are closer than the Q-worlds, and R is true in the closest P-world but not in the closest Q-world, then "If P or Q then R" comes out true but "If Q then R" comes out false. Other counterfactual semantics, I don't know. There may not be any semantics on which this equivalence holds and on which "If not-P then P" is absurd (for material implication, the equivalence holds, but "If not-P then P" is equivalent to P and so not absurd).

But even if that is the case, I think I'd still stand behind the analysis. Though I'd be prepared to run away from it at the slightest hint of opposition.

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

December 03, 2005

Put This In Your Journal

Magical Trevor 3 is out (and has been for a while).

1, 2.

(These are cartoons, by the way. If you didn't know that, and you clicked on the links, and your coworkers are now giving you strange looks, my apologies.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at 03:26 PM | Comments (2)

December 02, 2005

Norms on Acts and Actors

Jon Matheson just was asking me about Jennifer Lackey's Norms of Assertion, which contains some criticisms of my Must We Know What We Say? The paper raises a lot of interesting points--for reasons that I might explain later,* I think that we're actually fairly close to agreement about some of the points she's criticizing me on.

The real substantive disagreement here, I think, comes down to the question of primary and secondary propriety. Keith DeRose has argued (and I agree) that, if there is a norm of assertion, the asserter can be subject to or exempt from criticism according to whether she had reason to believe that the assertion conformed to the norm. If the agent has reason to believe her asssertion confirms to the norm, it's secondarily proper even if it doesn't conform to the main norm of assertion.

Lackey argues that this doesn't make sense; you can't have a primary/secondary propriety distinction for actions. If an action violates the norm, it just violates the norm, and you can be criticized for it. She gives the example of a basketball player, Mabel, who has lost a contact lens. Mabel takes a foul shot from in front of the foul line, but she reasonably believes that she is behind it. Still, her shot is in no way proper--it is merely that Mabel has a good excuse for taking an improper foul shot. Similarly, if she takes the shot from behind the line while thinking she's in front of it, there's nothing wrong with the shot. So the primary norm, that foul shots should be from behind the foul line, is the only norm on the shots.

I've just been talking about this with Allan Hazlett, and I think that the way to make this distinction out is to distinguish norms applying to the acts and norms applying to the actors. Primary propriety is a norm on the act; secondary propriety is a norm on the actor, as to whether she did a reasonable job of trying to live up to the norm on the act.

Below the jump a couple of sports examples, which seemed amusing at the time. In fact those examples are this post's reason for existence. I'll perhaps try to post something a bit more worked out about primary and secondary propriety here or at CD. You may also want to read this thread from Certain Doubts (I especially like Keith's comment about how we have intuitions reflecting both kinds of propriety) and my earlier response.

The first example I came up with was the norm of kicking a field goal in American Football. Not the rules for field goals (how many players must be on the line of scrimmage, whatever) but what makes a field goal Good or No Good--which is, clearly, whether the ball goes through the goalposts.

But whether a field goal is good qua field goal does not necessarily correlate with whether the field goal kicker has done anything right or wrong. In the Bears-Niners game** the kicker lined up for a field goal that was kicked perfectly straight, and seemed as though it would travel through the uprights, but that was seized by a gust of wind and blown sideways out of bounds. The kicker is exempt from criticism--he did everything he could. But the field goal was still no good.

To echo what Keith said in his CD comment, I think intuitions about whether assertions are improper sometimes rely on primary propriety of the assertion and sometimes on secondary propriety of the asserter. So we may say, "Well, this assertion is false, even though the asserter can be excused." Or, "The asserter is blameworthy even though she made a true assertion." If we feel that an assertion is basically OK, that's not necessarily a sign that it is in fact in conformity with the primary norm of assertion. Our feeling may be that the asserter is exempt from criticism, even though the assertion itself is improper; just as we wouldn't criticize the kicker even though the field goal isn't a good field goal.

Here Allan objected that there can be things that meet the criteria of proper assertions even though they don't involve any agency at all. Suppose that I receive an electric shock which causes my throat to contract involuntarily, producing sounds indistinguishable from some true utterance. Would I be forced to say that that is a proper assertion, with only secondary impropriety? We realized pretty quickly that in this case I can say that it's not an assertion at all, because of the lack of agency. So the norm simply doesn't apply.

The football analogy is this: Suppose that the wind was so strong that it blew the ball from the holder's grip and through the uprights, without the kicker's foot touching it. It would not be a field goal at all, good or no good. Since there is no action by the kicker, there is nothing to apply the norm to. [Agency as such isn't necessary in football--if the kicker is blown into the ball it is a field goal I think. But that's just an analogy.]

The punchline of the shaggy-dog story is our attempt to figure out what this would be. We decided it would be a fumble through the end zone, and touchback. I assure you that it did seem very funny at the time.

*I reserve the right to explain it only in the privacy of my own home, not on the blog.

**Speaking of Chicago, Sufjan Stevens' Illinois is amazing. I put it on last night and have been listening to it obsessively. Hear a bit or two.

Posted by Matt Weiner at 11:42 PM | Comments (17)

The Blogological Proof; Or, the Ultimate Expression of Blog Triumphalism

At Thanksgiving, we were discussing kinds of blogs one might have, and my brother said, "If something has been done, it surely has been blogged."

This led me to produce the following proof:

(1) If something has been done, it has been blogged. [apodictic]
(2) If not-blogging has been done, it has been blogged. [Instantiation of (1), which has universal form]
(3) If not-blogging has been done, there is blogging of not-blogging. [Rewriting of (2)]
(4) Blogging of not-blogging is a contradiction in terms. [Properties of negation--if you are blogging, you are not not-blogging]
(5) Therefore not-blogging has not been done. [(3), (4) modus tollens]
(6) Therefore all activities are blogging.

So we can all stop pretending to have real lives now. Hooray!

Posted by Matt Weiner at 08:32 AM | Comments (6)