Creighton Club meeting

This is extremely last-minute, but for anyone in the upstate New York area, you should come down to this year's meeting of the Creighton Club. The program is below.

156th Meeting of the Creighton Club
Hobart and William Smith Colleges
Trinity 305 (On the official Campus Map: The Salisbury Center at Trinity Hall)
Geneva, NY

Keynote Speaker: Fred Feldman

8:30 am Coffee

9:00 am “Giving Up Hume’s Guillotine”,
Aaron Wolf (Syracuse University, Graduate Student)

Commentator: Andrew Alwood (Cornell University)

10:15 am Coffee break

10:30 am “Success and Truth in the Realism/Anti-realism Debate”,
K. Brad Wray (SUNY/ Oswego)

Commentator: Gregory Frost-Arnold (Hobart and William Smith Colleges)

11:45 am Business Meeting

12:00-1:15 Lunch

1:30 pm “Eternal and Historical Kinds”,
Mark Spencer (SUNY/Buffalo, Graduate Student)

Commentator: Adam Taylor (SUNY/Buffalo)

2:45pm Coffee break

3:00 pm “Hume’s Moral Sentiments as Motives”,
Rachel Cohon (SUNY/Albany)

Commentator: Nathan Powers (SUNY/Albany)

4:15 Coffee Break

4:30 Keynote Address:
"What To Do When You Don't Know What To Do"
Fred Feldman (UMass/Amherst)

6:15 Reception (Cash Bar)

7:00 Dinner


lolspeak infiltrates logic

I found the following (unintentional?) gem in last night's batch of logic homeworks:

"This argument has a valid."

But it doesn't even approach the greatness of this.


contraposition and 'most'

Is this odd, or am I just under-caffeinated at the moment?

The principle of contraposition (= the equivalence of 'If P then Q' and 'If not-Q then not-P') doesn't hold when the quantifier is 'most'. That is, 'Most As are Bs' is not equivalent to 'Most non-Bs are non-As'.

I take 'Most As are Bs' to mean: the number of things that are both A and B is greater than the number of things that are A but not B.

A minute or two of drawing (unless I've messed up somewhere) will get you a picture where
(1) the number of ABs > the number of A non-Bs
is true, but
(2) the number of non-A non-Bs > the number of A non-Bs
is false.

Again, maybe this point is as obvious as 2+3=5. But I am covering simple inductive arguments in my critical thinking class at the moment, trying to figure out which ones are good, and I had never thought about this case before, but it means the inductive analogue of quantified modus tollens (Most As are Bs, x is not B, Thus x is not A) is no good. And that surprised me, since the analogue of modus ponens is perfectly fine.


Galen Strawson on moral responsibility

As many readers will know, Galen Strawson recently published a brief piece on his views about free will and moral responsibility in the New York Times. Now I am very late to the discussion on this, and even more out of my professional depth, but we are reading this piece for my freshman seminar, along with Strawson's interview in Tamler Sommers' A Very Bad Wizard, and I wanted to post a thought about the basic argument. I'm sure someone must have said this before; any references to the relevant literature would be greatly appreciated.

Here's Strawson's argument (quoting from the NYT piece):

(1) You do what you do ... because of the way you then are.

(2) So if you’re going to be ultimately responsible for what you do, you’re going to have to be ultimately responsible for the way you are ... .

(3) But you can’t be ultimately responsible for the way you are ... .

(4) So you can’t be ultimately responsible for what you do.

I take it that (2) is supposed to follow from (1) (since there's a 'So' at the beginning of (2)). Now, what implicit premise does Strawson need to make that inference valid? Something like the following:

(*) If X because of Y, then if you are ultimately [morally] responsible for X, then you are ultimately [morally] responsible for Y.

In other words, you can only be morally responsible for the effect if you are also morally responsible for the cause (=you can't be morally responsible for an effect unless you are also morally responsible for the cause).

I think this principle (*) may have counter-examples; I'm curious to hear about other people's reactions. Here's one such example: A person is driving along a very infrequently traveled mountain road, when some giant falling rocks hit him and his car. His car careens off the road, and he is badly injured by the rocks and subsequent crash. If he does not get to a hospital soon (and there's one 30 minutes away by car), he will die.

Now suppose someone drives by a few minutes later, and she sees that the first person is badly injured and will probably die soon if he doesn't make it to the hospital (imagine the second driver is a physician). She decides that picking him up, putting him in the car, and taking him to the hospital would be an annoyance, and she leaves him there (let's assume that taking him to the hospital wouldn't really be any significant cost/ burden for her).

Now, I think this may be a counterexample to Strawson's argument. Why? Let X be the first driver's death, and Y be the falling rocks hitting the car. It seems reasonable to say that (i) the first driver died because of the avalanche of falling rocks, but (ii) the second driver is at least partially morally responsible for the guy's death, even though (iii) she is certainly not morally responsible for the rocks hitting his car (she wasn't standing at the top of the mountain, pushing down rocks to harm passersby). If (i)-(iii) are correct, then we've got a counter-example to (*).

Someone who wanted to defend Strawson has at least one reasonable response to this: the second driver's leaving the first one to die is (at least part of) the cause of the guy's death; at the very least, we have the right sort of counterfactual dependence that is a necessary condition for causation (If she had not driven right past, then he would not have died). But now we are in the difficult and murky issue of causation by omission -- a contentious and vexed topic, since if we allow omissions to be causes in general, then a LOT of things become causes that we do not ordinarily think of as causes. (Sarah McGrath's "Causation by Omission" is an excellent treatment of this issue.)

So I guess my final conclusion is that, in order to accept (*), you have to accept a contentious metaphysical thesis about omissions being causes as well. This is of course not a refutation, but it certainly provides a respectable 'way out' of Strawson's basic argument.



I wish

My google alert for 'Carnap' usually just turns up stories about carjacking gangs in the Philippines. But today I got the following little gem, from essaymill.com. (The title of my post refers to the first sentence below -- and please check out the last sentence of the first paragraph.)

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name that philosopher

"Every method of inquiry is justified; disputes can only arise over the question of the purpose and fruitfulness of a given method."

* * * * * *

If you guessed the epistemological anarchist Paul Feyerabend, you're wrong. It's Carnap, in 1932's "Psychology in Physical Language" (p. 192 in the Ayer collection). (On this blog, 'Carnap' is always a pretty good guess.) It sounds to me like his Principle of Tolerance, with methods of inquiry substituted for logical systems.


Is 'is' ambiguous?

One of the essential components of modern logic is the view, standardly attributed to Frege and Russell, that 'is' is ambiguous: 'is' has the senses of
(i) identity (Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens; in other words, Mark Twain = Samuel Clemens),
(ii) predication (Mark Twain is an author), and
(iii) existence (Mark Twain is; in other words, Mark Twain exists), and
(iv) class inclusion (Authors are artists).

After grading a batch of logic problem sets, I'm wondering whether (i) and (ii) really are ambiguous; more specifically, how the senses of identity and predication fare with respect to the standard ambiguity tests. As I've mentioned several times before on this blog, one of the most widely-accepted ambiguity tests is the conjunction-reduction (or 'no crossed readings') test. The basic idea can be illustrated by an example: 'Alice has a bat' can mean she has a flying pet or a new baseball bat; 'Bob has a bat' has the same two possible readings, with Bob instead of Alice. However, 'Alice and Bob have bats' cannot mean that one has a baseball bat, and the other has a pet flying mammal.

Now let's think about 'is'.
'Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens' has a true reading, and
'Mark Twain is a famous author' has a true reading.
But what about 'Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens and a famous author'?
This sounds zeugmatic to me, confirming the Frege-Russell view of 'is' as ambiguous. However, many of my logic students wrote something analogous to this on their most recent problem set, when asked to translate a particular sentence of first-order logic into English. Student responses to logic problem sets are probably some of the worst data imaginable for this kind of question, but it did make me wonder whether my observations about 'is' in English are very theory-laden, ruined by years of logic and logically-inspired philosophy. What do other folks think about 'Mark Twain is Samuel Clemens and a famous author'?


Do any languages mark the use/mention distinction in speech?

In written English, we mark the distinction between using an expression and mentioning it using quotation marks: 'Chicago' has 7 letters, but Chicago does not. In other words, we can use quotation marks to disambiguate between use and mention.

For various reasons, I am interested in ambiguity tests: ways to diagnose whether a particular expression really is ambiguous or not. One common, widely-accepted (I think) test appeals to different languages: if the e.g. English expression you're interested in is in fact ambiguous, then it should be translated by two unrelated words in at least some other languages. For example, 'bank' is ambiguous in English, and it is translated by 'Bank' and 'Ufer' in German.

After reading a batch of student papers about the definition of 'health,' I was struck by their complete lack of inclination to distinguish use and mention. So then I thought about the ambiguity test -- does any spoken language disambiguate use and mention morphologically (without saying 'the word...' or 'the sentence...')? I posted the question at Ask A Linguist, and the three people who responded said they did not know of any. Does anybody out there know of one? (And it would be strange if it were just one or two languages...)

If there aren't (m)any such languages, then it looks like this could be a counterexample to that particular ambiguity test.


Carnap on the internets

There is no internet acronym that adequately captures my feelings about this post, which I found via my google alert for Carnap:

"There has never been a scientific scam in the history of mankind as big as the science swindle of "climate change." Nothing comes close. Modern scientific hustles like mesmerism, phrenology, eugenics, the Piltdown man, and even Lysenkoism, pale in comparison to the flimflam of anthropomorphic global warming (AGW).

There was, however, one astonishing episode in the early part of the 20th century in mathematics and logic which conceptually roughly parallels the current crisis of science behind AGW. It was the destruction of the dream of the Vienna Circle of the completion of logic. Kurt Gödel, the German mathematician and philosopher, put the philosophical fantasy of "the elimination of metaphysics through the logical analysis of language" to rest[i].

Gödel's two "Incompleteness Theorems" exposed fundamental flaws in the foundations of a school of philosophy known as Logical Positivism. In a somewhat similar vein, the release of the e-mails for the University of East Anglia precipitated the collapse of the house of cards of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the "science" behind AGW. ..."

If that's not enough enlightenment for you, the original post continues for several more paragraphs.


Name that quote, plus a request for history of analytic literature

Name the author and work for the following two quotes:

(1) "that is a priori which we can maintain in the face of all experience, come what will."

(2) "the whole body of our conceptual interpretations form a sort of hierarchy or pyramid with the most comprehensive, such as those of logic, at the top, and the least general, such as 'swans' etc. at the bottom; that with the complex system of interrelated concepts, we approach particular experiences and attempt to fit them, somewhere and somehow... Persistent failure leads to readjustment... The higher up a concept stands in our pyramid, the more reluctant we are to disturb it, because the more radical and far-reaching the results will be if we abandon it..."


Answer: C.I. Lewis, Mind and the World-Order (1929): p. 231 and pp.305-6.

Now for the request. Quote (1) sounds very similar to Quine's 'an analytic sentence is one held true come what may' (especially because for Lewis the analytic and the a priori are coextensive). Quote (2) echoes Quine's description of the web of belief (with the major difference that the nodes of Quine's web are claims, not concepts). Does anyone know of a paper or book chapter that describes in detail the relationship between Quine and C.I. Lewis -- specifically Lewis's influence on Quine? Thanks in advance!


Do animals pretend?

This is my first foray into Sunday cat blogging. Here goes.

Many philosophers have spent a fair amount of time thinking about pretense -- what exactly it is, and how to apply a theory of pretense to various areas of philosophical interest (e.g. perhaps we are playing a game of pretend when we talk about the natural numbers).

I was just watching my cat play with a fuzzy cat toy. The cat, in some sense, realizes that the fuzzy ball is not a mouse (or whatever). However, when it is playing with the toy, it will temporarily exhibit many of the behaviors that it would exhibit toward a real mouse -- e.g., it hides behind furniture so that the toy won't 'see' it.

All the philosophical discussions of pretense with which I am familiar are restricted to human pretense. But given the kinds of things I see with my cat, and given that pretense occurs fairly early in childhood development (sophisticated multi-person pretend games start around 3 1/2), it seems at least possible that animals engage in pretense too.

And if my cat isn't engaged in a pretense, then what exactly is it doing?


New philosophy of physics blog

I somehow missed this: there's a new philosophy of physics blog by my erstwhile office-mate Chris Wüthrich, who's now at UCSD. It's cleverly titled "Taking up Spacetime," and it looks promising -- he has a good recent post up about the notion of structure.


logic teaching question

I'm teaching Symbolic Logic this term, and we just introduced the notion that two syntactically distinct sentences can mean exactly the same thing (e.g. DeMorgan's Laws). In class yesterday, I asked the students to come up with a criterion for when two sentences are identical in meaning. We eventually reached the "official" answer: S_1 and S_2 are synonymous just in case they have the same truth-value in all models (ok, we're not using the notion of models; for us, it's "... in all possible arrangements of the board" in Tarski's World -- we're using Barwise and Etchemendy's Language, Proof, and Logic.)

Along the way to the official answer, though, a student gave the following characterization:
Sentences S_1 and S_2 are synonymous just in case the set of all sentences that follow from* S_1 is identical to the set of all sentences that follow from S_2.
After class, I jotted down a proof-sketch showing that the student's characterization is equivalent to the "official" one. But I'm not 100% confident in it, so I'm just curious whether anyone can see a counter-example (i.e. are there any 2 sentences that meet one characterization but not the other?).
* EDIT: As Bryan made me realize in the comments, I should specify that 'follows from' here is semantic, not syntactic/ proof-theoretic; i.e. 'Conclusion C follows from premise P' means that every model (or world, or construction, or whatever it is that makes sentences true in your formal semantics) in which P is true is also a model in which C is true.