I've looked at something so long that I have confused myself, and am now hoping to get a little help. Paul Boghossian makes the following charge against analyticity (and smart people quote this approvingly):

What could it possibly mean to say that the truth of a statement is fixed exclusively by its meaning and not by the facts? Isn't it in general true--indeed, isn't it a truism--that for any statement S

S is true iff for some p, S means that p and p?

How could the mere fact that S means that p make it the case that S is true? Doesn't it also have to be the case that p? (Nous 1996, p.364)

Now my question: Is it fair to impute to Boghossian the view that there are no S, p such that S means that p is a sufficient condition for S is true?

(The upshot: if this is fair, then I think any case where S expresses a logical truth p is a counterexample. I still the the 'truism' is true; I just don't think it establishes the claim I'm imputing to Boghossian.)


jurors do the impossible

I went in for jury duty yesterday for the first time in my life. I learned a lot about the nitty-gritty mechanics of a trial. I was put into the jury box for voir dire, where the judge and the lawyers ask you a bunch of questions to determine whether they want to leave you on the jury or get a replacement. (I was tossed out.)

One thing that struck me during this voir dire questioning is that the judge asks you to do two things that, I think, are impossible. First, he asks you if you can be completely and totally impartial. I'm not a psychologist, but I've seen plenty of studies showing that basically no one is thoroughly impartial; unconscious biases run through our thinking.

Second, the judge asks you if you can refrain from coming to a belief about the accused's guilt or innocence until you enter the jury deliberation room -- that is, after you have heard all the evidence, followed by the judge's specific instructions about the law. If you think that belief is involuntary (as many do), then this is impossible.

I recognize that these 2 things are ideals to strive for, and most likely the judge and lawyers recognize that they cannot be perfectly achieved. By re-interpreting these 2 demands to myself as ideal goals, I felt OK about agreeing to them. But I still felt weird asserting that I could do two things that, if understood literally, I think are impossible.


a new job description

I just got home from the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, where I gave my talk arguing for the following slogan:
pessimistic induction + common accounts of reference = semantic anti-realism.
For the blogpost version, with a decent comment thread, see here.

Salt Lake is physically beautiful, and socially it seems to be a strange combination of hippies and Mormons. The Utah department was really great -- plus, Jim Tabery was a model host. The only thing I want to post, though, was Ron Mallon's description of my work on Carnap et al.: he characterized me as a 'boutique historian.' I don't know whether the expression is original to him, but I definitely plan to steal it to describe myself in the future.


Chmess in the pages of Science

Dennett bad-mouths studying chmess, but it looks like chmessology has appeared in the latest issue of the esteemed journal Science.

Also, in case you haven't seen it, Greg Lavers wrote a good review of the Cambridge Companion to Carnap for NDPR, worth checking out.


Are scientific theories full of truth-value gaps?

I'm almost done writing a paper that argues that if one accepts the pessimistic induction over the history of science, then one should be a semantic anti-realist about current science -- or should hold unorthodox views in philosophy of language. Here's the argument:

(P1) Certain claims that (a) contain terms with defective reference, or (b) exhibit presupposition failure, are neither true nor false.

(P2) Some fundamental theoretical claims of earlier science exhibit the type of (a) defective reference (e.g. 'phlogiston,' 'absolute velocity,' 'Vulcan') or (b) presupposition failure (e.g. 'Events A and B are simultaneous') described in (P1).

(C1) Therefore, some fundamental theoretical claims of earlier science are neither true nor false.

(P3) Present science probably resembles past science. [That's the step borrowed from the pessimistic induction]

(C2) Therefore, some fundamental theoretical claims of present science are neither true nor false.

The main objections, I think, are:
1. Sentences that contain non-referring terms or exhibit presupposition failure are false, not truth-valueless.
2. Specifically, natural kind terms that fail to pick out a kind/ property (e.g. 'phlogiston') do not generate truth-value gaps (even supposing proper names that fail to pick out an individual do generate truth-value gaps).

I offer replies to these objections, but none of them are absolutely decisive. So, my more tentative conclusion is that a proponent of the pessimistic induction either has to accept my original conclusion OR accept a currently unpopular position in philosophy of language -- e.g. one could justify objection 2 by appealing to a descriptivist account of natural kind terms, but that would fall afoul of the widely endorsed Kripke-Putnam arguments against such descriptivism.

I'll be giving this material as a talk at the University of Utah in a couple of weeks, so any feedback before then would be especially appreciated.