May 23, 2007

2nd Online Philosophy Conference

The 2nd Online Philosophy Conference has just entered its second (and final) week. My paper on Logical Pluralism (which is, in a way, a paper about the objects of validity) is up, with comments by JC Beall and Jonanthan McKeown-Green. I was really happy that JC agreed to comment on the paper, since he and Greg essentially wrote the book on logical pluralism. Jonathan is a good friend of mine from my graduate days. He had the office nextdoor to mine for a while at Princeton, but he has since returned to Auckland, where (some of you may be interested to note) there is currently a vacancy in logic. Anyway, the paper is only 14 pages long, and I'd be really grateful for any comments.

The Online Philosophy Conference is well worth supporting of course, and this week it also features papers from Derek Pereboom, Jeff McMahan, Caspar Hare, John Martin-Fischer and Jonathan Dancy.

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August 1, 2006

Missoura News

What would a zombie call their philosophy of mind blog?

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July 31, 2006

Thoughts, Arguments and Rants

As readers of that blog may have noticed, I've joined Brian's Thoughts, Arguments and Rants in its new incarnation as a group blog. Carrie Jenkins (who I've never met, but have heard a lot of good stuff about) is one of my new co-bloggers; the others have yet to post, and I'll leave it to them to reveal their identities.

I'll still be posting here, so leave on your feedreader...

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May 23, 2006

Online Philosophy Conference

As I'm late to acknowledge, the Online Philosophy Conference has been on for the last few weeks. This week includes Brian's paper on relativism about indicative conditionals, with comments by me. Hurrah! (I won't link to the texts here - go and check out the conference.)

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March 28, 2006

Blog Citation

I was part of an APA panel session on blogging last week (I mean to post more about the APA, but I haven't finished writing that post yet - Kenny's there already though) and one of the questions concerned whether anyone ever cited content from blogs in (proper) published work. We hummed and hawed and mentioned a few things we'd cited, but I've just come across one of Jason Stanley's footnotes from page 6 of Knowledge and Practical Interests in which the blog of one of our APA panel members gets a mention:

"Jon Kvanvig (on the blog Certain Doubts) suggested this as an account of these sorts of cases."

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January 23, 2006

knows how to box, but he can also use the diamond...

The Ethical Werewolf imagines Scott Soames as Tyson. This, frankly, is what the blogosphere is all about. (That will, of course, be my main thesis at the panel on blogging at the pacific APA.)

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December 16, 2005

A sad day for the blogosphere...

Well, this comes as a great shock, but net did not win the Weblog Award it was up for. However, it did get several more votes after I put more effort into campaign visibility (by posting about it here the day before yesterday.) Thanks to everyone who voted!

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December 14, 2005

The 2005 Weblog Awards

So, erm, it turns out that has been nominated for an award. It is, admittedly, kind of a naff award: we're one of 15 nominees for, ahem, "Best of the Top 6751 - 8750 Blogs" (as ranked by The Truth Laid Bear), and frankly, loosing badly to something called "Save the GOP". But we'll take what we can get, so thank you very much to KaneCitizen at News on the March for nominating us.

I don't think there's much chance of a win, but, hey, it would be good, you know, not to be last. So er, The 2005 Weblog Awards vote early, vote often. yay.

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October 27, 2005

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 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, 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 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 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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September 12, 2005

Self-Appreciation got a good review. (yay!)

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July 30, 2005

Conference Blogging

Greg Restall has been blogging the 2005 Logic Colloquium in Athens. Before he left, Greg and I had a chat about value of conference blogging. We agreed that it can be very good, but Greg had worries about etiquette. How critical is it polite to be? Or politic to be? Could failing to mention someone's talk be taken to be tacitly critical? Or does everyone understand that the author of the post has not undertaken to present a balanced account of the entire conference, but just a few notes on a couple of things that interested them?

This topic might seem silly and self-aggrandising. It would be arrogant to overestimate the extent to which one's blog is read, of course, and the weight given to what one says. But then, it would be foolish to underestimate the accessibility of information on the web; no-one would be very happy about the number one search result for their name being an off-the-cuff criticism of their paper by some lazy blogger who didn't understand it properly. (Or even a blogger who did.)

This is just a subgenre of a topic that Brian - seminal, and very widely-read blogger that he is (my lawyers asked me to add that phrase) - has worried about from time to time: the ethics of blogging. I think the factors which combine to make it tricky are the natural informality and immediacy of the medium, along with the accessibility and longevity of items on the web. It's easy to assume that one's core (and comment-happy) audience is one's entire audience, (hello fellow logic bloggers!) but of course in principle it can include one's students, senior colleagues, rivals, family, journalists, philosophical opponents, MI6, JK Rowling (it's so easy to forget she has internet access) and other celebrities, including those in one's own profession, whom one will undoubtedly run into in the queue for coffee at a conference next month.

A friend once told me that his mother had instructed him never to write anything in an email that he would not write on a postcard. But the average blog is much more public and widely-read than the average postcard (even if we include the postcards which I write to my gran in Winchburgh, which get read by the local postman before he delivers them. "Oh hello Mrs Russell, I see your granddaughter still hasn't settled down ...") Could we come up with a similar rule-of-thumb for blogging? Perhaps one way to do it would be to consider the extreme cases: don't write anything in your blog which you wouldn't want to be read by i) the members of a hiring committee, ii) your students, iii) your father.

On a completely unrelated note, things will be quiet around here for a while. I'm back off to the UK on Monday and they tell me it's half a world away...

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June 8, 2005

logicnazi moves out

I don't know whether any of you guys are interested in, you know, logic, or philosophy, (or even math(s)), but should you be, you'll be happy to learn that frequent (and appreciated) commentor logicnazi has started a new blog called "Computational Truth." He writes:

The name computational truth refers to my two majors areas of interest. My mathematical interest in computability/recursion theory and my philosophical interests in truth and representations thereof. Well really my philosophical interests may be closer to the theory of mind but that is only because I think answers to the puzzles of truth (like the liar) and representation lie in the theory of mind.

To which I say, to the first part: cool interests, and to the second part: huh?

The idea that the answer to the Liar lies in the philosophy of mind reminds me (unfairly, I'm sure, since logicnazi hasn't elaborated) of trying to explain the Liar to someone in a club once (you think I'd learn...) and getting the response: but that doesn't seem hard to figure out; lots of people can just tell when someone is lying. (I suppose the idea was that we utter the sentence in conversation with one of them and they will be able to assign the appropriate truth-value based on our shifty demeanour or lack of such.) But, other problems aside, this is to be distracted by inessential features of the paradox (like the fact that it's called "the Liar" and that one traditional way of setting it up involves a Cretan claiming that all Cretans are liars) for the paradox itself. We can recreate the paradox without any mention of anyone lying, using only classical logic and our favourite unrestricted disquotational T-schema, and so the paradox seems squarely located in logic and the philosophy of language. Something has to give, either in our logic, or in our theory of truth. Since we have the paradox without commitment to any particular principle in the philosophy of mind, how could getting principles in the philosophy of mind right help us here?

Well, probably I'm not using enough imagination. I suppose work in mind might give us an error theory of our acceptance of one of the principles or argument forms (notice how I managed not to write "inferences"? I really am trying to be consistent about the inference/implication thing) that land us in the paradox, in the sense that it might explain how we came to accept them, even though they aren't true or valid. That would be a non-trivial role for philosophy of mind (or at least, for psychology) in the solution to the paradox, but still, there would have to be a solution in logic or the theory of truth for it to support.

But enough confused speculation. logicnazi's new blog promises to be very intriguing...

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May 16, 2005

More on Comments

When I first started this weblog, I expressed my reservations about the comments system. (And Greg Restall responded to my remarks.) In particular, I wrote:

One can allow the hoi polloi to trample all over one's carefully crafted weblog, misunderstanding one's posts, adding their comments about their dogs and getting into private and badly edited conversations.

Well, I take it all back. One hears a little about bloggers having to be thick-skinned enough to enough to handle abusive comments, but the comments left on this weblog have all been polite, and are usually on topic (or at least off-topic on grounds other than self-promotion) and friendly. Regular commentors are often graduate students or professors in philosophy or computer science and I think my commentors have also done a reasonable job of judging appropriate tone and register for a weblog comment, which is often quite difficult.

So, the quality of the comments has surprised me and my suspicions were unfounded.

There is something remarkable about the comments to date though. I am suspicious of the hype about the majority of bloggers being male, but it does seem as if the majority of commentors on this site are male. Here are some stats:

Total number of comments on this blog to date: 119
Number of comments left by me: 25
Number of comments left by readers of undiscoverable gender: 1
Comments left by readers who are not me, and whose gender I can reasonably judge: 93
Of those 93, number I judge to be female: 2
Of those 93, number I judge to be male: 91

(Some examples of such judging: commentor leaves the name "Anna" - judged to be female. Commentor leaves the name "pedantic bore" - no judgement of gender. Commentor leaves the name "David" - judged to be male. It is possible that such judgements are wrong in some cases.)

I don't see this as something that needs to change - it's not as if commenting on my weblog is a condition to which a gender should aspire - but it is remarkable, all the same.

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May 4, 2005

Mumblings and Grumblings

Chris Ragg, at Mumblings and Grumblings, has been doing some blogging on the descriptivism/causal theory of reference debate, though of course the first sentence in this post makes absolutely no sense...

Through Chris' blog I stumbled upon the promisingly titled Bishop Berkeley, Bacon and Bird (that's Charlie Bird (givin' the word) I am thinking, so I hope that my friend Mr Mole is listening.) Recent topics include the epistemology of the rules of logic, a descriptivist response to Williamson on mental states and some thoughts on an essay on Coltrane (man supreme.)

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April 25, 2005

Ideas of Imperfection

I'll try not to get into the habit of introducing "new" philosophy weblogs that are actually a few days older than mine, but I can't help this one. Listen up: Kieran Setiya has a weblog. Yep, Kieran. If you know him, 'nuff said, I think. If not, I can only say that that man can say more interesting things over dinner than most people think of in a lifetime. I shan't say more, since it would only be gooey and embarrassing gushing over Kieran, but go and read his stuff. He comes highly recommended.

In his post from the 14th March, on Marjorie Garber's book Academic Instincts he writes:

I do take issue with the following remark:

Virtually everyone in the humanities envies the philosophers, but the philosophers, some of them at least, aspire to the condition of law. Or, alternatively, to the condition of cognitive science.

This description of philosophers is both peculiar and false. Some aspire to the condition of law? I don't follow. Does she mean that they want to be lawyers – a remark on adversarial style? Or that they wish they could legislate the world to fit their image of it? In any case, what is striking about philosophers, for the most part, is rather their peculiar self-confidence: their lack of envious insecurity.

This reminded me of Tim Schroeder's short essay "What are you going to do with that?" (where "that" refers to your newly minted philosophy degree.) His protagonist, harangued at parties, protests:

But philosophy trains the intellect. It does not simply fill one up with facts which are soon outdated, but makes one an all-purpose reasoner, clear and lucid in speech and on the page. The skills of philosophers are in demand in business. Philosophers are hired to be ethical consultants at hospitals. Philosophers get into prestigious law programs (but here we get into bad faith, because people who really love philosophy feel about the law the way lovers of Belgian chocolate feel about the Hershey Corporation).

I think he and Kieran are right about law envy - I've never encountered that one, perhaps because philosophers who wish to become lawyers usually can. What I have encountered (squirming in my own rotten soul, no less) is mathematics envy. And sometimes some theoretical physics envy. And sometimes, I think it would have been fun to be a hairdresser...and there's always linguistics and computer science. Perhaps we simply realise that it would be great to have knowledge of the fields which border on our own, and hence admire and envy the people who really do have that knowledge.

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April 21, 2005


There's a new blog on the philosophy of mathematics here. (Well, it's newish - older than this blog, yet younger than the year.) At the helm is Kenneth Easwaran, a Berkeley graduate student studying for his qualifying exams. So far topics covered include fictionalism and platonism, logicism, logical consequence and conservative extensions.

In his first post Kenneth says he started the blog "to give myself a place to write up my thoughts on various things that I'm reading in preparation for my qualifying exam. Hopefully some of the thoughts on these and related issues will eventually turn into research projects that will be worth discussing."

This makes a lot of sense to me. When I have graduate students I think I might start a group blog and encourage them each to contribute something each week.

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April 18, 2005

Mavenry on Crack (or just me on crack?)

Damn. After I posted this Mark Liberman informed me that the site I'm criticising is in fact a parody site. Sorry for the misplaced indignation - these are crazy times.


Linguist mocks crazy old mavens.

Mavens go insane:

If we are not mistaken, 'web site' ought to be 'Web-site', since 'Web' is a proper noun, 'sitemeter' is simply a monstrous mangle that should at the very least be capitalised, and the spelling 'humor' is one more example of the kind of linguistic bigotry that demands the English-speaking world accede to the vulgar American way of doing things.

Plus check out their endorsement from famous racist Kilroy-Silk:

It is time to rescue Great Britain from the hands of foreigners, and S.P.E.C.S. have risen to the challenge.

They also lambast BBC newsreader Huw Edwards (who is Welsh) for splitting infinitives:

We have always insisted that being a non-native is no excuse for this vandalism of the airwaves, and we shall be monitoring the speech of Mr. Edwards very closely indeed.

And I have always insisted that being old and paranoid is no excuse for this sort of nonsense. These particular fellow-citizens of mine are about more than the usual self-important and badly-researched pedantry, and I hereby call them on it. I'm not sure we have much choice but to tolerate it, but ignore it, and your children will be next.

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