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October 27, 2005

Logic in Edmonton

Kit Fine will be speaking here at the University of Alberta on 3rd November. The title is "Class and Membership."

I doubt it's a political philosophy talk though.

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400 Words for Splanchnik

Arnold Zwicky over at languagelog has had a couple of posts about the word "splanchnik" recently (complete with assistance from Kenny) and given languagelog's fondness for jokes about the Eskimo Vocabulary Hoax, (my favourite is the zombie cartoon) I couldn't resist posting this excerpt from the novel I'm reading:

(Context: the Jewish-American hero-abroad is having a conversation with his Ukrainian guide. I've retained the non-standard layout of conversations from the original.)

"And I want to see what it's like now. I don't think there are any Jews left, but maybe there are. And the shtetls weren't only Jews, so there should be others to talk to." "The whats?" "Shtetls. A shtetl is like a village." "Why don't you merely dub it a village?" "It's a Jewish word." "A Jewish word?" "Yiddish, like schmuck." "What does it mean schmuck?" "Someone who does something that you don't agree with is a schmuck." "Teach me another." "Putz." "What does that mean?" "It's like schmuck." "Teach me another." ""Schmendrik." "What does that mean?" "It's also like schmuck." "Do you know any words that are not like schmuck?" He pondered for a moment. "Shalom," he said, "which is actually three words, but that's Hebrew, not Yiddish. Everything I can think of is basically schmuck. The Eskimos have 400 words for snow, and the Jews have 400 words for Schmuck." I wondered, what is an Eskimo? (p. 60 of Everything is Illuminated, Jonathan Safran Foer.)

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October 24, 2005

Every Natural Number is Interesting

Reading through a written version of John P. Burgess' lecture "Tarski's Tort" (described by John as "a sermon on the evils of calling model theory "semantics", preached at Notre Dame on Saint Patrick's Day, 2005" (Amen)) I came across the following proof that every natural number is interesting:

Suppose that not every natural number is interesting. Then there is non-empty class of natural numbers which are non-interesting. Since the natural numbers are well-ordered, this class must have a least member - call it n. But if n is the least uninteresting natural number, then n is interesting for that reason. Contradiction. So every natural number is interesting.

John will be in Calgary along with Kit Fine and Alasdair Urquhart for the U of C's logic mini-symposium on November 4th and 5th. See you there...


Note to self: stop calling model-theory "semantics."

Posted by logican at 12:13 PM | TrackBack

October 10, 2005

Philosophers' Carnival XX

Roll up! Roll up! It's the 20th Philosophers' Carnival...

Welcome, one and all, to the Philosophers' Carnival - a fortnightly compilation of all that is good and true, or at least moderately amusing, in the philosophical blogosphere. This time it is being hosted here on logicandlanguage.net, where we usually like to pretend that we only care about logic and language, but this was always just a front. In the interests of eclecticism the posts below are presented in no particular order, and in particular, are not divided into sections by area...

First up is a post by tireless Philosophers' Carnival organiser Richard Chappell in which he argues that immoral acts are also irrational.

"From genocidal tyrants to inconsiderate neighbours, wrongdoers are not just mean and nasty, they're also making intellectual errors."
Richard argues that ethics is about taking others' interests into account, and that, given that we already care about some other people (e.g. family and friends), we could only fail to extend that care to more people by making arbitrary distinctions between people. Arbitrary distinctions are unmotivated, and hence irrational. His post made me wonder whether ethics is really just about taking others' interests into account. I'm pretty sure pristine environments don't have interests, but wouldn't it be wrong to pollute them, even if no-one's interests were harmed?

Steve Esser at Guide to Reality works in investment management, but has an interest in philosophy and writes about his disappointment with Armstrong's new book Truth and Truthmakers. (Go Steve! Since when did lay-philosophers become so hardcore?) Steve writes

"So, below you will find the spectacle of an untrained lay-person criticizing a brilliant and prominent scholar on a blog."
Alright! Bring it on!

Speaking of which, Conservative Philosopher has a post about the importance of metaphysical questions for ethics. CP thinks liberalism encourages the view that moral questions can be settled independently of questions in metaphysics. He argues against this view, taking questions about the permissibility of abortion as an example. After mulling over his post for a while, I think I have convinced myself that there is a class of moral questions that have to be answered in isolation from importantly relevant metaphysical questions: things like, given that I have no idea whether a 4 week-old foetus is a person, it is permissible to abort it? And, given that I can't tell whether shellfish suffer, is it ok to kill and eat them? Given that I don't know whether a patient will ever come out of their comma, is it ok to turn off their life-support? Questions about what we ought to do often have to be answered even though we are in ignorance of important metaphysical and, even physical, facts. It would be nice to be metaphysically and physically omniscient and not have to bother with them, but, alas, even I have yet to attain that state.

Lindsay Beyerstein at Majikthise has a very sensible post about journalistic objectivity. She writes:

"Skepticism about objectivity seems to have become more fashionable in some circles. This is both heartening and troubling. It's encouraging that more journalists and consumers are becoming aware of their own biases and looking for novel ways to overcome them. Skepticism towards objectivity becomes troubling when people get so upset about the fact that their perspective is limited that they give up on the search for better epistemic standards."
She also touches on the idea that bloggers are less objective than traditional journalists. (The nearest thing we get to journalism in this Carnival is Jonathan Ichikawa's post on Tim Williamson's recent Brown/Blackwell lectures. It seems to me that his post is more valuable for having taken a stance on the issues.)

Brian Weatherson's a puzzle about moral uncertainty, and its solution discusses a decision theory case and then suggests that such cases do not arise when reasoning under moral uncertainty. The basic decision theory case is this: one has to decide between 3 courses of action, A, B and C. One is practically certain that either outcome p or outcome q will occur, and if outcome p occurs, action A has the greatest payoff and if outcome q occurs, action C has the greatest payoff, and yet the right action is still B. I'm pretty chuffed that I understood this, because the prerequisites for Brian's examples include Sports 101 (What's a points spread?! I feel like such an idiot...) The comments thread on this one includes responses from Ralph Wedgwood and Jamie Dreier.

G&R at the Good and the Right responds to some of the psychological literature he's been reading about whether our moral judgements are based on reason, or emotion. His post includes descriptions of the experiments, brain diagrams and fMRI images, and links to online articles (including two by Jon Haidt, who has also done fascinating work on disgust. Check out his disgust scale questionnaires to see where you fit on the scale...) At one point G&R quotes Bechara and Domasio:

Although patients with ventromedial prefrontal damage were capable of performing normally on nearly every neuropsychological test they were asked to take, and obviously had preserved conventional intellectual functions, their ability to express emotion and experience feeling relative to complex personal and social situations, for example, as in the expression and experience of embarrassment, was compromised (1048).

And I couldn't help wondering, does that mean they'd fail the Voight-Kampff test from Bladerunner?

Jonathan Ichikawa is interested in truth-in-fiction, so maybe he can tell me. In one of the more substantial posts this time round, he reports on and responds to Tim Williamson's recent Blackwell/Brown lectures. I think this style of post - a fast, and yet written (with all the endurance and hence responsibility and commitment that written text brings) response to a point from a recent public lecture - is a nice way to use a philosophy blog. Someone like Tim Williamson is a sufficiently bright a star to be fair game and his new work is likely to be of interest to many readers. Richard Chappell (of Philosophers' Carnival fame) also has a response to Jonathan's post.

I don't think I could introduce Enwe's post better than Enwe does: "Thursday evening, I had a discussion with Ludwig Fahrbach. We were talking about the question why the hell we should feel obliged to do meta-philosophy. I presented some arguments but he was not convinced. Sitting in the train I thought about that topic again and wrote a short paper..."

Next there's a post from Alex on the beautifully designed blog Strictly Speaking (we especially like the frog.) Alex writes about Wittgenstein's views on Certainty.

Will Wilkinson at Fly Bottle writes about freedom and choice in relation to Barry Schwarz' book the Paradox of Choice.

99 names of god, one problem contains Mathetes' meditations on something he learned in his class on Islam, namely that among the 99 names for god, which include "the Merciful" and "the Severe", there is "the Real" (al-haqq).

You could live or die based on the way you think is a very short post from Metathink, who tells us that we could live or die based on the way we...

And Wo has a post about whether logical truths are true.

This post from Austin Klein on about.com is on the value of disagreement. The most interesting part is the discussion of disagreement with oneself. In a second post the same author suggests that defenders of views are often confused about exactly what those views are. This perhaps accounts for the effectiveness of Schopenhauer's advice from The Art of Always Being Right: "Extension. This consists in carrying your opponent's proposition beyond its natural limits - in giving it as general a signification and as wide a sense as possible, so as to exaggerate it." If your opponent really knew the view he is extending, the counter might come more naturally: "The defence consists in an accurate statement of the point or essential question at issue." (35)

Jason Kawall at Pea Soup asks "do we have a shared concept of rightness?" and surveys some different ways of understanding rightness from the literature. The comments thread is worth reading on this post.

Rex Hubbard has a long post on extending Michael Martin's "The Gap in Theistic Arguments". Rex's thesis is that "none of the traditional arguments would be helpful to religionists even if they were supplemented with premises that established the unique truth of theism." (my emphasis) The argument, I think, is that religionists generally need to establish much more than mere theism, and need to support claims such as "god forbids homosexuality" or "god appreciates it when you praise him". If this is the view though, I wonder whether the religious need really be worried. Couldn't they just take what they can get from the usual arguments for the existence of god (even if it's a merely a first cause in the case of the cosmological argument, it would seem to be something more substantial - a purposeful designer - in the case of the argument from design) and then use other arguments to support supplemental religious theses?

And so, alas, there I must leave you, gentle reader (the barista has resorted to putting the lights out in an attempt to get me to pack up and leave - she should probably have cut me off earlier). But let me add that the Philosophers' Carnival is always on the lookout for future hosts. Think it's a good thing? Have a blog? Then volunteer to compile an edition. Richard Chappell's page here gives details of what is involved. So far the project has drawn a lot of support from the philosophical blogging community, but there's a conspicuous lack of support from the community's stars...whither the Weatherson carnival? Don't you long for the Wilson Hellie double act as applied to a carnival hosting? The razor-sharp style of Herr Doktor Professor Zach, the disgusted invective of Brian Leiter? Not to mention the Velleman version...hey, if I wasn't forward enough to mention you here, don't think it's because I'm not thinking of you...(ahem, Greg Restall, Matt Weiner, Dennis DesChene...)

Update Mon 10th, 15.46: Richard tells me he dreams of the day Dave Chalmers hosts the carnival...

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October 7, 2005

Josh Knobe in the Chronicle

I've just noticed this article about Josh Knobe in the Chronicle. (Thanks to Daily Phil, the UCSD philosophy blog.) The article talks about Joshua's empirical research in ethics and the philosophy of mind, which has included asking passersby in Central Park to make judgements about whether a particular act of harming the environment was intentional or not. While Joshua was at Princeton he sometimes shortened his name to "Shua", instead of the more conventional "Josh", and it was this fact that led to one of Mark Schroeder's contributions to the Princeton Grad students' own version of the Philosophical Lexicon:

shua, adv. An affirmative answer to a question one might be asked in a philosophical survey at Newark International Airport. "Did the manager spoil the environment intentionally?" "Shua." [MAS]

Posted by logican at 10:49 PM | TrackBack


Some photos of the new Hume statue in Edinburgh (sent by my dad, who has recently become interested in Hume.):


Hume statue

"If we take in our hand any volume; of divinity or school metaphysics, for instance; let us ask, Does it contain any abstract reasoning concerning quantity or number? No. Does it contain any experimental reasoning concerning matter of fact and existence? No. Commit it then to the flames: for it can contain nothing but sophistry and illusion." (Hume's Enquiry)

Plaque on the Hume Statue

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October 6, 2005

navy humour

I was charmed to see that the shipwright returns links to this blog in his sidebar, with the phrase "the other russell". I'm thinking it beats "the lesser russell"...

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