Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Two-dimensional semantics

Frege had sense and reference. Kaplan has character and content. Jackson has a-in/extensions and c-in/extensions. All of these are supposed to account for the difference in cognitive significance of sentences or terms when the sentences and terms are intensionally different but extensionally the same. Frege's notions don't line up with Kaplan's. For sentences (similarly for terms) senses are propositions that denote truth or falsity as reference. For Kaplan, contents are true or false and propositional. The characters are functions from worlds to extensions. Kaplan's distinctions don't quite line up with Jackson's. The character/content distinction maps pretty well to the c-in/extension distinction, but the character is supposed to account for the cognitive significance of differing sentences/terms with the same content. The a-intension and extension are supposed to do this for Jackson.

It seems like it would be possible to extend Kaplan's theory to Jackson's, but it might mean changing how "actually" works in Kaplan's semantics. (It would also mean accounting for the bit about character just mentioned.) Why "actually"? I don't remember if "actually" denotes whichever world w is in the context or if it denotes the actual world @ regardless of the context. Both views on "actually" are out there, e.g. Jackson likes the former and Perry likes the latter. So, why "actually"? Jackson wants the a-extension of a term to be the extension of the term in a world w, under the assumption that w is the actual world. If Kaplan's view is that "actually" denotes w, then it should work just fine. If his view is that "actually" denotes @, then the a- and c-in/extensions collapse. (The library's only copy of Themes from Kaplan is out.)

The next question is how motivated this is. For Kaplan, the character is roughly the linguistic meaning (roughly). I guess the c-intension is supposed to correspond to that. But, if we move the cognitive significance to the a-intension, how well does the c-intension capture the linguistic meaning? Kaplan's point is that the linguistic meaning of a term is what gives it its cognitive significance outside of its content. I guess the a-intension includes the linguistic meaning for the languages we speak, as well as the linguistic meaning for the languages of all those other people in the possibluum (possibility+continuum=possibluum. That term is from John Perry. He used it to tease David Lewis at UCLA. )

(I debated naming this post "Love 'actually' " but I stopped myself, for better or worse.)

Friday, September 22, 2006

Kantian concepts: abstraction

I think I understand something in Kant. In his Logic, he describes three ways in which one generates concepts: abstraction, reflection, and comparison. You have your concepts, and each concept has an intension and an extension. The extension is the things that fall under the concept (anachronistically understood set theoretically). The intension is set of the differentiating things, marks. Abstraction generates concepts by fiddling with the intension, specifically by removing marks. Since the extension and intension are inversely related (according to Kant), this will increase the size of the extension. This makes sense to me. You start with a concept, say, poodle. You abstract out the breed, you get dog. you abstract out the mammal, you get quadruped, or animal. I'm not sure exactly how the hierarchy goes, but it seems like a fairly intuitive idea.

The thing I'm wondering is whether you get a strict hierarchy or if you get multiple inheritances. Kant says the most general concepts are something and nothing. You can't get any more abstract than that. Fair enough. In my toy example, could one abstract in a different order, say abstract quadruped out before mammal? Maybe there is a strict containment of mammal by animal, but there looks to be a fair amount of room to play within the concept dog. If we have a white poodle, and we abstract out white we have poodle. If, rather, we abstract out poodle, we have white dog. So far Kant hasn't set down any rules about containments and order of abstraction. Maybe white appears under poodle and under dog? Not sure.

I will have to do posts on reflection and comparison when I get through the sections on them in the Logic.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


Feldman and Conee's article "Evidentialism" tries to defend the view that epistemic justification for a belief is determined by the quality of the believer's evidence for the belief. They sum this up in a principle EJ:
Doxastic attitude D towards proposition p is epistemically justified for S at t iff having D toward p fits the evidence S has at t.

There's a couple of things about this article that I want to mention. First, the view seems pretty normative. Justification seems like a thoroughly normative notion, whether it is of the epistemic flavor or not. Feldman and Conee say that their view doesn't conflict with Goldman's view (in regards to people believing logical consequences of their justified beliefs) because "EJ does not instruct anyone to believe anything. It simply states a necessary and sufficient condition for epistemic justification." There's a sense in which I agree. EJ doesn't instruct anyone to believe; agents can disbelieve, reserve judgment, whole-heartedly endorse, etc. This isn't what they mean I guess. I take it they mean that it doesn't recommend any doxastic attitude. But, surely this is false. It seems reasonable to assume there are only a finite number of doxastic attitudes one can have. Some of these, say the subset JB, will be justified with regards to p and the evidence at one's disposal at t. Surely EJ recommends adopting one of those attitudes in JB as they are the justified ones whereas the ones not in JB are not justified.

That is in section II. In section III they make the claim: "Having acknowledged at the beginning of this section that justified attitudes are in a sense obligatory, we wish to forestall confusions involving other notions of obligation." Whoa. That makes my interpretation of them from the preceding paragraph look bad. I don't see how this meshes with their previous claim though. They say that there may be non-epistemic obligations that one encounters in forming beliefs, but these seem besides the point. There may be a point I'm missing (it might be the narrow reading of "belief" I discounted above), but it looks like they are asserting contradictory things.

One final observation, they say at the end of section III: "But it is a mistake to think that what is epistemically obligatory, i.e., epistemically justified, is also morally or prudentially obligatory, or that it has the overall best epistemic consequences." This once again asserts the normative nature of their account. But, I want to focus on the last bit of that. They say that epistemic obligation doesn't have the overall best epistemic consequences. Does this mean that it doesn't ensure true beliefs? Fair enough. What are the overall best epistemic consequences then? They don't mention knowledge in the article, so it is doubtful that is what is at issue. They can't be talking about justification, cause that wouldn't make sense. Really, this claim strikes me as weird and based on odd reasoning. It is based on a weakly supported inference from an idea from James's Will to Believe. If you believe God exists even though you aren't justified in that belief, there may be epistemically good consequences. From this they draw the inference that EJ might not promote the epistemically best consequences. If it doesn't why adopt it? Their inference is far too hasty and does some work to undermining their point in the article.

Psychophysical laws

In his arguments for anomalous monism, Davidson uses a premise that there are no strict psychophysical laws. He defines strict laws as the ones that do not have any ceteris paribus clauses. One objection to this is that there are psychophysical laws and that whole industries are built upon them. The best example is anaesthesia. One wants a lawlike connection between the physical effects of the drugs and the mental states (or lack thereof) that follows from them. Whether this is an objection to Davidson hangs on the strictness of the anesthetic "law". If there are no ceteris paribus clauses involved in the effect of not feeling pain, then this is a good example and a good counterexample. If there are (and my guess is this is so), then while there may be a lawlike relation between the physical effects and the mental effects of the drug, it will not be a strict lawlike connection. I don't think that Davidson denied there being psychophysical laws, just strict ones. On this understanding of him (that will be wrong if he does say no psychophysical laws period), the anesthesia counterexample doesn't fly.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Kant: judgments and concepts

Here's the first of a semester long series of attempts to make sense of things in Kant's first Critique. In the introduction to the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant speaks of knowledge until he introduces the analytic-synthetic distinction. When he does that, he switches to talk of judgments. When he does this, he doesn't make it clear whether he's talking about judgments as in acts of judging or the contents of those acts. He seems to go back and forth a little but it looks (from my brief and shallow reading) like he's talking about the contents more. In any case, why the need to switch from knowledge? Maybe this is related to the idea that judgments are things you can take responsibility for, but knowledge is not. I'm really not sure though.

An related thought about concepts is what happens when analytic and synthetic judgments are made? This takes Kant to be talking about acts, but I will put the question out anyway. If you make the a priori judgment that S is P and it is synthetic, then, according to Kant, you are adding to the concept of S the concept of P. So, when you are done, does that mean you have a new concept, say P(S)? Or is it just an assertion that S is linked to P in the synthetic a priori way? If that is so, in what sense are you adding anything to the concept of S? My sticking point is that I don't get in what sense anything is being added. If you make two sequential judgments that S is P, is the second analytic since S contains P from the first judgment, which is synthetic? Switching to the idea that judgments are contents not acts, things are still confusing. Kant makes synthetic a priori judgments sound like something is being added to something. This sounds like a dynamic (in the pre-theoretic sense) and contents seem to be static (again, pre-theoretically). Maybe this is my philosophy of language interest creeping in where it should not creep.

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Minimal semantics and Gricean pragmatics

Suppose that Cappelan and Lepore's minimal semantics is right. This means that most of the things we say are false. No utterance of "I am tall" is ever true (at least on this planet). No utterance of "That is flat" is either. Lots of things we say won't be literally true. This means that most of what goes for what-is-said is not true either.

There's the rub. If most of your propositions expressed as what-is-said are not true, then the maxim of quality goes right out the door. I suppose that one could reason like this: he said "I am tall" but since that isn't true, there must be a further proposition that is relevant that he wanted me to understand. There are two problems with that. One is that there are a lot of propositions in the neighborhood of the one expressed by my "I am tall". A whole lot of them. You'd be hard-pressed to pick out the right one just given that I have expressed something in that semantic neighborhood. Additionally, this would turn most acts of understanding into implicature recovery. I suppose that Kent Bach would be happy with this since his position isn't too far from this line. Actually, I suppose that the relevance theorists wouldn't mind this either since they think that some amount of inference is done in every communicative act. They don't use the maxim of quality though. This might indicate that going minimal about semantics pushes one to abandon canonical (or even neo-?) Gricean pragmatics. There are a lot (most?all?) of details that would need to be filled in before the connections (or lack thereof) between minimal semantics and Gricean pragmatics can be made explicit. It seems telling that Cappelan and Lepore aren't Griceans; and the minimal semantic project is designed to be bolster Davidson's program and Davidson was very much not a Gricean.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Doing epistemology

I came out of the M&E seminar today more interested in epistemology than I have been since I first read Descartes and subsequently got my interest pounded out of me by repeated Gettier references. It occurred to me that I'm not clear what we are supposed to be doing in doing epistemology. There seems to be several somwhat related though not identical goals. One is to refure the (Cartesian) skeptic and say "I DO know that I'm not a brain in a vat." Another is to present an analysis of the concept of knowledge. This doesn't need to entail the first point since it might be that our analyzed concept doesn't overcome extreme skepticism. Another is to provide a clear explication of the role of evidence or justification in knowledge claims. This could easily be related to the other two, however unless we are trying to build a foundation for knowledge in the sense of unrevisable bedrock beliefs, it need not. There are at least those three points to epistemology. Each is independent of the other. One can give an account of knowledge without getting into skepticism as long as one's concept of knowledge doesn't include that it must answer the skeptical challenege. The evidence/justification point is indepdnent of skepticism since figuring out what role it plays in knowledge claims doesn't depend on or imply showing how it defeats the skeptic. It doesn't entail analyzing knowledge since we can either work with a concept of knowledge pregiven or generalize the inquiry to be about belief formation. In any case, one can be justified in or have evidence for false beliefs.

I think that trying to handle all three points at once will lead to some confusion. I think I see it in Unger's defense of skepticism although I do not have textual references offhand. There are probably more points to doing epistemology, but these three popped up first. I'll list others as they come to me.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Information and inference

I had an idea recently that I want to put out there in hopes of making it better at some point. The idea is that there seems to be a link between John Perry's information games and the Brandom-Sellars notion of material inference. Information games are transferring and applying informatoin to one's previously held or newly created information files. Learning new information about Bill let's you put that information into Bill's file. Perry explains more about the information games in several places, in particulatr Reference and Reflexivity. When someone makes an indexical utterance, say "I am hungry," that gives you information about the speaker, i.e. the person who said that is hungry. If you make the further connection that the speaker is Bill, then you are licensed to add that information Bill's file and infer that Bill is hungry. The connection should be clear. Information and files can give licenses to substitute identical singular terms, so from F(a) to F(b) where a=b. This is the model of inference that Brandom discusses. Going a bit further, since informatoin is what the world has to be like given some perceptions and constraints to which the agent is attuned, the proper constraints will allow the agent to infer that Bill hasn't eaten for a while, or from F(a) to G(a), substitution of frames. The description of information as the way the rest of the world must be in order for something to have happened sounds a lot like incompatabilities. Given that p, and p precludes q, if the constraint is accurate then not-q. If you get the information that Ed is a dog, and being a dog is compatible with being a mammal, then the world can contain Ed the mammal. However, this conclusion is weaker than the starting premise since one cannot go backwards from it. The constraint doesn't allow that.

At least, I think the direction from information to inference works. The direction from inference to information is a little trickier. The (in-)compatability and information connection works in both ways, since the sketch of an argumnt given above seems to reverse. I'm not sure how the argument from the symmeteric substitution of terms and and the asymmetric substitution of frames. In other words, I have an argument that info->infer, but I still need an argument that infer->info. Once I come up with that I can figure out what is wrong with this idea.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Holism and dependence

In their paper "There is no question about physicalism," Crane and Mellor try to undermine one of the arguments that Davidson uses to defend the position that there are no strict laws linking the mental and the physical. Davidson says that the mental is holistic and normatively constrained by rationality. Crane and Mellor attack both these lines, but I will focus on what they say about holism. They say that physical laws are holistic too. The example they give is f=ma. They say that given some value for f, one cannot know the values for m or a. The variables are interrelated in the same way as the various beliefs that one has. They conclude, pace Davidson, that holism doesn't prevent strict laws linking the mental and the physical.

The point that Crane nad Mellor try to make seems to rest on conflating dependence with holism. This is an intuitive distinction, but I think it holds. Dependence would be when a change in one thing necessitates a change in the dependent things. In the case of f=ma, changing one variable changes the quotient or product of the others depending on the variable. Holism seems like a more global claim where in order to know one thing about the system, you have to know a very large amount about it. Holism implies dependence, but not conversely. The difference doesn't come across enough when the "system" is the three variables in the equation f=ma, since it doesn't take much to know a lot about it. I think it can come out clearly in the following way. The variables in the force equation are functionally dependent, so you can have a binary function from two to the third. This function can be curried to produce a unary function to a unary function to the value of the third variable. I don't think that holistic systems are in general functionally dependent. They are relationally dependent, so that knowing the values of 2/3 of the system's variables constrains but does not determine the remaining third. In other words, no functions, so no currying. I will need to get a more detailed specification of holsim to expand this idea, but I think the point is there. Crane and Mellor conflate (inter-)dependence with holism, so I don't think their objection goes through.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Knowledge and reason

In his "Knowledge and the Internal," John McDowell argues that a hybrid conception of knowledge as a combination of a standing in the space of reasons (belief and justification) together with some cooperation from the world in being the way one thinks (truth) is not tenable. One of the reasons given is that it relies on a picture of the space of reasons as "interiorized", that is, as constituted in such a way that no contingency from the world can upset its connections. Anything reached by reason is certain on this picture. McDowell argues that this picture pulls apart the truth condition and the justification condition since one depends on the world and the other on reasons, and the two don't ever meet. He goes on to say that that picture of the space of reasons depends on a scheme/content distinction that amounts to unstructured perceptoins feeding into our conceptual scheme whihc structures the non-propositional input in such a way as to produce propositional contentful perceivings. He thinks this results in a space of reasons devoid of content, or, as he puts it, dark. What is the way around this problem? To bring the world into interaction with the space of reasons. He thinks that the space of reasons is shaped by the world so that when we reach inferntial conclusions, they are quite likely to be right because the inferential connections have been partly constituted by how the world is. At least, that is what I got after one reading.

I like this since it ties together the justification and truth requirements of the JTB account of knowledge. Severing the tie between the two is what gives Gettier cases their purchase. If you remove the gap between them, then Gettier cases shouldn't work. I'm not sure how this move would explicitly stop a Gettier case. Maybe the justification that carries over from the initial premise (Mr. A has 10 coins in his pocket and will get the job) to the existenial generalization (The person who will get the job has 10 coins in his pocket) and the final conclusion (Mr. B has 10 coins in his pocket and will get the job, except he doesn't realize it). At least on the face of it, it seems to go through still. Maybe there is something in the Gettier cases that has a presupposition in conflict with McDowell's picture that I'm missing.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Quinean tension

In class the other day, Brandom said the Vienna Circle split into two camps about what to do when they discovered that naturalism and empiricism were in conflict. One camp said that naturalism was the doctrine they should adopt. The other camp said that empricism should remain the core doctrine. He characterized Qune as falling into the latter camp which confused me at first. He said that this was because Quine rejected modal notions including dispositions and stuck with the idea of empiricism as a methodology until the end. This partly seemed right because Quine responds to Davidson in his "On the very idea of a third dogma" by saying that we can't reject the content/scheme distinction because then there would be nothing left of empiricism. This partly seemed wrong because the Quine that I remember talked about the primacy of naturalism (no first philosophy) and of recasting meaning in terms of dispositions to verbal behavior. While this is right, the picture of Quine siding with empiricism makes more sense in terms of the overall picture of Quine's philosophy. He did reject all modal notions. He was quite claer about that. I had forgotten that he had also suggested that dispositions should be eliminated in terms of descriptions of the physical structure that underlies the dispositional behavior. This split was a tension in Quine's work that he never really seemed to acknowledge. There should be some places where this comes out very clearly. One of the ones suggested to me was Word and Object; I am guessing it is in chapter 2.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Kant problem

I am having great difficulty writing a post on Kant. This could mean one of any number of things. Kant may be too deep a thinker for my pithy blog posts. Or, I might not understand the material sufficiently well.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Feyerabend and belief revision

I read Feyerabend's Against Method which was both quite interesting and quite frustrating. I don't think I buy the extreme view of epistemological anarchism he puts forward (I'm not sure if I understand it exactly), but I do buy his line that tackling related sets of problems from wildly varying angles can bring to light facts relevant to the approaches that would otherwise go unnoticed. That seems like the Wittgensteinian point I've mentioned before that philosophers suffer from a lack of examples. Taken a bit further, they also suffer from a lack of alternative view points. Same thing with scientists, so says Feyerabend.

I took his discussion of the lack of method in scientific inquiry to roughly support my complaint about belief revision theories. I'm going to talk about belief revision and theory testing as though they were roughly the same, which I think they are to a reasonable degree. He pointed out how Galileo ignored counter-arguments and evidence and took a bunch of problematic observations to be noise to be explained by future theories. Galileo was very selective about what sorts of things he took to bear on his ideas even though there was a large amount of evidence that didn't support it, even disconfirming it. One of the things Feyerabend emphasized was the interpretations that Galileo placed on the observations and how these differed from the interpretations that people who saw the evidence as refuting Galileo's position. Galileo had to conceptually reorient himself and adopt a theory that made claims about far fewer things than contemporary Aristotelian theory. The basic point I took away from this, in light of my previous discussion, was that experience never interacts directly with our web of beliefs. Interpreting the evidence is always up for grabs, within limits. Quine was right that there are beliefs we can hold come what may, but he was wrong about experience impinging upon the fringes of our network of beliefs.

Monday, September 04, 2006

The mental and the physical

After reading Crane and Mellor's "There is no question of physicalism" I decided that it would behoove me to read the Donaldson articles that they discuss, namely "Mental Events" and "Causal Relations". Both are quite interesting and they had much more overlap than I expected. Both involved discussions of anomolous monism and both emphasized intensional aspects of language in crucial areas. One of the areas in which the extensionality came to the fore was in describing the causal relation. Davdison thinks that the causal is extensional because it is describable in an extensional first-order language. Crane and Mellor think it is intensional because, for probablistic causation, you can have p(a is a)=1 and p(a is the F)=n<1 even when a is the F. Their argument looks like it works for probablistic beliefs maybe, but the examples they give don't look like causal statements. You won't have something of the form "e caused e", since events usually cause distinct events as effects. Within the scope of "... causes ---", the terms do seem extensional, so Crane and Mellor's argument seems invalid. Crane and Mellor need the causal relation to be intensional because they want to show that paradigmatic, purely physical vocabulary has intensional contexts just like paradigmatic uses of mental vocabulary. The alleged difference between the two vocabularies is one of the things Davdson marshalls in support of his thesis that mental events described in mental terms are not connected to physical events described in physical terms by any strict laws.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

The meaning of "meaning"

Do meanings form a natural kind? I really have no idea.

Physicalism: Reduction and Unity

The article "There is no question of physicalism" by Crane and Mellor is pretty good, at least for the first half. They argue that there is no non-vacuous version of physicalism that is true. One thing they say that is in accord with what Dupre said is that physicalism depends on a unity of science thesis that doesn't look like it will work out. I was initially surprised to see that, but after giving it some thought, it makes sense. The grand pyramid of unified science has physics at the bottom and everything else building up on top of it. Each successive layer is reducible to the one below it, ultimately reducible to physics. So the story goes. Mellor and Crane point out that there is no reason to believe this microreduction thesis. There are phenomena that physics studies (Mach's law, special relativity) that do not look reducible or require macroscopic objects. In any case, they argue, it isn't explained what kind of physics we are supposed to be reducing to. The choices are present physics and future physics. If the prior, then we a priori rule out entitites of future physics if that ontology differs from the present's. If the future, how can we say what that ontology will be? That's a convincing dilemma.

The most interesting point of the article was when they pressed the question of why microphysical reduction gets this sort of ontological say. The answer seems to come from Occam's razor: if you can reduce one domain of entities to another, then you should take the smaller domain. But, just because everything has these micro-constituents, does that give us reason to think that the macro-things don't exist? Their answer is no. Their reason is that the microreduction thesis doesn't by itself say anything about the existence of macroscopic objects. In order to get that, you have to bring in auxialiary premises, one of which is a massive application of Occam's razor. But, once you deploy Occam's razor, what force does Crane and Mellor's point have? It looks undermined to me.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Rational Numbers

The title of this post is a bad pun which I hope will become clear by the end of the post. Davidson's argument (it could have been McDowell's verison of Davidson's argument) against their being conceptual schemes which are completely alien to ours and uninterpretable has the premise that in order for something to count as a conceptual scheme, it must be rational. This means that it must be possible to say what is a reason for what in such a way that the structure of reasons and inferential connections in the target conceptual scheme is sufficiently like the home conceptual scheme for an interpreter to recognize rationality in it. If one cannot map someone else's conceptual scheme onto a rational structure akin to one's own, then there is no reason to think it is a rational scheme at all. Thinking about this suggested an analogy to me. Suppose A takes the natural numbers learned as a child as basic, B takes the standard ZFC construction of the natural numbers as basic, and C takes the von Neumann version as basic. Each can interpret the others numbrs, i.e. map the foreign numbers onto theirs in such a way as to provide the right kind of structure. Now suppose D comes along with a completely alien version of things he calls natural numbers. The catch is that none of A, B, and C can map D's numbers to their own in a way that preserves any of the expected structural features. Should A, B, or C say that D is talking about the natural numbers? Seems like the answer is no. Should we think that D is talking about natural numbers, just not those of A, B, or C? Again, no. Does this analogy extend to rationality in the way I want it to? I think so. There are some disanalogous points, mainly that in the case of natural numbers there is more (or at least the illusion of more) objectivity than our conception of rationality. Additionally, it is harder to be a pluralist, in the sense of various equally valid non-intertranslatable versions, about the natural numbers than about concepts of a nonmathematical sort. I think the basic point is preserved in the analogy however.