November 6, 2013


Over the next few days I'll be gradually dragging this blog through the recommended upgrade path from Movable Type 3.2 to 5. It might look a bit messy for a while (sorry) but the results should be worth it eventually.

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March 22, 2010

Lecture Stunts

I love hearing about tricks and stunts that people have used as part of their teaching strategy in lectures. I have just been reading Williamson's description of his technique for setting up real life Gettier cases:

To make the point vivid, I have occasionally created Gettier cases for lecture audiences. For example, I have begun a lecture by apologizing for not giving a power-point presentation; I explained that the only time I gave a power-point presentation it was a complete disaster. Since my listeners had no reason to distrust me on a claim so much to my discredit, they acquired through my testimony the justified belief that the only time I gave a power-point presentation it was a complete disaster. They competently deduced that I had never given a successful power-point presentation. Thus they acquired the justified belief that I had never given a successful power-point presentation. That belief was true, but the reason was that I had never given a power-point presentation at all (and still do not intend to.) My assertion that the only time I had given a power-point presentation it was a complete disaster was a bare-faced lie....Someone commented "you can't believe the first thing he says." (192, The Philosophy of Philosophy, 2008)

(I like the story, but I also like the subversive insertion of a hyphen into "powerpoint.")

My friend Nate Williams told me a story about a professor who taught intro ethics at Chapel HIll. Upon the first occasion in the semester a student relativised an ethical claim to a person, as in "Eating meat is wrong for you but it isn't wrong for me" he would have them removed from the lecture hall by a couple of grad students in white coats. When the student (invariably) protested that this was wrong, the professor would reply, "well it might be wrong for you..."

The same friend also gave me an idea for a trick I use when teaching personal identity. After some discussion of the soul, I ask the students whether they think they have souls, and if so, whether they are the kind of thing that can be sold to another person. After getting their views, I hand out contracts beginning "I hereby agree to sell my soul to Gillian Russell for the price of one candy bar..." The contract states that if they have no soul, or if its ownership is not transferable to me, then get to keep the candy bar and the contract is complete. Then I lay out enough candy for the entire class on the front desk and wait ... I have seven so far. All reasonable offers will be considered.

Anyone know of any others?

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November 21, 2009

my mistress, my checkout girl...

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November 19, 2009

Scottish Cafe and Restaurant at the National Gallery

I've just returned from a clandestine (i.e. intentionally non-work related) visit to Scotland. As evidence, here are a couple of pictures taken from the 'ferry:

Forth Rail Bridge.jpg

Forth Road Bridge.jpg

One of the nicest surprises of my trip was stumbling across the Scottish Cafe and Restaurant at the National Gallery on Princes Street in Edinburgh.


My parents are Scottish and I was an undergraduate at St Andrews, so I'm used to thinking of Irn -Bru as the national drink, and Bridies and deep fried Mars bars as the stuff of feasts, which is sort of a shame, because i) I'm vegetarian and ii) despite my Scottish roots, I rather like food, and I'm quite sure it's possible to make it out of locally grown Scottish ingredients.

So the existence of this cafe is very, very welcome. One of the most amazing aspects is the cheese board section on the back of the menu. Here's an excerpt:

Cheese Board - Export.jpg

See that? Every entry tells you whether or not the cheese is made with vegetarian rennet. Hurrah! Here's what a small version of the Pentland cheese board looked like:

Chese Board Real.jpg

According to the menu I have Angus MacLay to thank for the world miraculously turning out to be the way I've always wanted it to be, at least in this tiny corner of Edinburgh. Thanks, Angus!

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July 13, 2009


Very exciting mail this morning! Just received a (gratis) copy of John P. Burgess' new book Philosophical Logic. Among other things it's nice to have a good copy of a Burgess-written text on tense logic (or, as he calls it "Temporal Logic") - my copy of his article "Basic Tense Logic" is the first chapter of my "course pack" of photocopies from his Heresies in Logic course at Princeton and all the pages are now loose and apt to disappear. Anyway, I haven't read the book yet, but I'm confident it's going to be a very strong candidate for the textbook when I teach philosophical logic next. Also it's like $20 $14 in hardcover! I'm guessing there'll be no better bargain this year.

My old grad school friend Antony Eagle also has a new book out, an edited collection of readings in the Philosophy of Probability. No doubt that would also make a good course book.

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January 24, 2009

And I'm back. Hello!

I’ve been so quiet around here for so long that you’ve probably stopped wondering what's happened to this weblog. But no more. By invoking the magic words pre-tenure sabbatical I have found myself (more or less) settled at the University of California, Berkeley, with no teaching duties. It’s the beginning of the semester, Branden Fitelson and John MacFarlane are both teaching great looking seminars (though I’m going to be a little bit cautious about blogging their contents – not everyone wants what-I-said-in-seminar-today broadcast to the world) and it turns out that Berkeley serves coffee and cookies in the break during their colloquia. So the stars are pretty much all aligned. Stay tuned…

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February 6, 2008

On Sleep

I think it's pretty common to think of how asleep someone is as a continuous property, in the sense that someone can be a little bit asleep (in which case their eyes will be closed, but they might remember overhearing a conversation nearby, and be wake-able with very little stimulus, such as someone whispering their name, or opening the door of the room they are in), or very very deeply asleep, in which case they might sleep through a loud storm/band playing next door/someone poking them or even moving them, and in all kinds of states in between. But Demmett and Vaughan's The Promise of Sleep argues that this is wrong: though there are indeed different kinds of sleep (i.e. stages 1-4 and REM sleep) sleep itself is discrete on/off thing.

The main experiment Demmett cites in support of this goes more or less like this: you keep a subject awake for 3 or 4 days, so that they build up a large sleep debt, making them liable to fall asleep quickly. Then you clip their eyelids open (yes, it does sound torturous) and sit them in front of a bright flash, like that of a camera, which goes of randomly, but on average every 8 seconds or so. Then you ask them to push a button every time the flash goes off. Here's what happens. For the first couple of minutes they push the button diligently every time the flash goes off. But after a couple of minutes, there is a flash and they fail to push the button. The experimenters ask them why they didn't push the button, and the subject replies that there was no flash. But of course, there was a flash, the experimenters all saw it, and the subject is sitting there with their eyes pinned open in front of the flash bulb. The electrodes attached to the subjects scalp (which you can use to measure electrical activity in the brain) show that the subject actually fell asleep for 2 seconds.

Demmett argues that sleep is total cut-off of normal perceptual processes: basically the brain drops a wall between the subject and the outside world, such that the sleeper simply doesn't perceive the outside world at all. The difference between sleep and unconsciousness, coma or death is that certain things can prompt the removal of the wall (sounds, shaking the sleeper, etc). But still, either the wall is there or it isn't---the subject is either asleep or he isn't---and if he's capable of paying attention to anything in the outer world (groggily attending to nearby conversations, for example, or some language learning tape) then he isn't asleep at all.

All of which makes sleep seem really strange. It's clear from the book that nearly everything we know about sleep has been discovered very recently, and that a lot of falsehoods about sleep are still very widespread. Some of the new data about sleep has been achieved-unsurprisingly enough-through new ways of studying the brain, but there's also been plenty discovered that could have been discovered much earlier if only someone had looked. In fact, it's completely amazing, and in need of explanation, that no-one every noticed these things before. For example, Rapid Eye Movement (REM) during sleep is strikingly obvious to anyone who'd care to look. And it is ubiquitous: everyone - babies, old people, animals, men, women - has hours of REM sleep every night (well, in the case of nocturnal animals, it might be during the day, and hibernation and the like turn out to be special cases. And it takes a few weeks before the sleep of babies is consolidated into longish alternating periods of wake and sleep..but you get the point - REM sleep is all over the place.) And it isn't as if no-one ever watched anyone else sleep. And yet pre-20th century theories of sleep (Aristotle apparently thought vapours arising from one's stomach after eating put one to sleep) make no mention of it, and it wasn't discovered and studied until a few years ago. Why?

Is it just that people assumed sleep was uninteresting? It seems to me that there are a bunch of issues that could be of interest to philosophers here, but the philosophy of sleep book I've found on Amazon is Robert Macnish's The Philosophy Of Sleep, which is a 2006 reprint of the 1830 book. Here's his description of waking from a healthy night's sleep:

The sleep of health is full of tranquility. In such a state we remain for hours at a time in unbroken repose, nature banqueting on its sweets, renewing its lost energies, and laying in a fresh store for the succeeding day. This accomplished, the slumber vanishes like a vapour before the rising sun; languor has been succeeded by strength; and all the faculties, mental and corporeal, are recruited. In this delightful state, man assimilates most with that in which Adam sprang from his creator's hands, fresh, buoyant and vigourous; rejoicing as a racer to run his course, with all its appetencies of enjoyment on the edge, and all his feelings and faculties prepared for exertion. (2)

So, no need for coffee then! And no beta-waves. There is some mention of eye movement in the index, so I'm going to order a copy of the book (I got this stuff from the Amazon "search inside" feature) and see if there's anything that could be construed as early observation of REM. There might be a few more posts about sleep in the next few days or so.

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January 30, 2008

Of all things

Nick (J.J.) Smith has just sent me a link to the following quite astonishing Amazon product! Wow! You know, I hoped people liked me, but well, this, I just don't know what to say. If you look at the same store's other products you'll see that I'm in such exalted company as that of Barry Manilow (do Americans know who Manilow is? He was my Mum's favourite singer when I was a kid and as far as I can tell he's now living out his days as a hearthrob in Vegas) and Shane MacGowan (I promise you I have better teeth.) Was kind of a let down to realise they probably had the Canadian singer in mind...

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December 28, 2007


Good luck to everyone who's being interviewed at the APA this week. In some ways it's a weird, weird process - not obviously geared to producing good results, and clearly torture for some participants.

I suppose I can imagine someone arguing that the ability to get through it is a sign that a candidate has some of the qualities they want in a colleague (organisational skills, ability to push on and keep working under stressful conditions, ability to cope with difficult people and formal situations etc.), but when I was reading Pascal Boyer's Religion Explained recently, and he described a coming of age ceremony in which adolescent boys are subjected to a terrifying ritual in which their deaths are faked (they are held underwater and it is made to look as if a spear is plunged into their bellies) before they are taken away from the village by the older men and basically hazed for an extended period of time, I couldn't help being reminded of the APA. Good luck keeping your heads, guys.

(N.B. Just to clarify, I haven't actually heard any stories about APA interviews involving water-boarding. And there is a rumour that girls are sometimes interviewed too.)

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August 16, 2007

Logic Job

Logicians often complain that there are no logic jobs in philosophy, but Adam Morton has just sent me news of one, and it's at the University of Alberta in Edmonton, where I did a postdoc. U of A is a great department - I had an absolutely fantastic year there - and Edmonton is a great place to be if you have any interest in winter sports...or theatre for that matter, the Edmonton Fringe Festival is some of the best fun you can have without snow.


The Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta, invites applications for a tenure-track position in Philosophy, with a specialization in Logic. Other areas of research and teaching specialization and competence are open. The appointment will be made at the rank of Assistant Professor, effective July 1, 2008. Responsibilities include undergraduate and graduate teaching and maintaining an active research programme. Tenure stream faculty normally teach four one term courses per year. Candidates should hold a PhD in Philosophy and provide evidence of scholarly and teaching excellence. Salary is commensurate with qualifications and experience, and the benefit package is comprehensive. Applicants should arrange to send a letter of application indicating the position applied for and describing areas of research interest, curriculum vitae, all university transcripts, a sample of written work, letters from three referees, and, if available, a teaching dossier and teaching evaluations to Bruce Hunter, Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, CANADA, T6G 2E5. CLOSING DATE: November 10, 2007. The University of Alberta hires on the basis of merit. We are committed to the principle of equity in employment. We welcome diversity and encourage applications from all qualified women and men, including persons with disabilities, members of visible minorities, and Aboriginal persons. All qualified candidates are encouraged to apply; however, Canadian citizens and permanent residents will be given priority. For further information concerning the Department, please consult

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December 28, 2006

Meeting of the Society for Exact Philosophy, 2007

S.E.P. 2007 -- Vancouver, Canada. May 17-20, 2007.


The 35th annual meeting of the Society for Exact Philosophy will be held at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, May 17-20, 2007, organized by Prof. Paul Bartha (UBC). Paper submissions pertinent to the conference theme, "Time, Logic, and Exact Philosophy", are especially encouraged, but papers in all areas of analytic philosophy are welcomed.

Guest Speakers--
* Richard Healey (U Arizona)
* Jeff Horty (U Maryland)
* John Woods (UBC)

SUBMISSION DEADLINE: January 7th, 2007. (Notifications: by Jan 31st.)

Submission Instructions:

Authors are requested to submit their papers according to the following guidelines: 1) Papers should be prepared for blind refereeing, 2) put into PDF file format, and 3) sent as an email attachment to the address given below -- where 4) the subject line of the submission email should include the key-phrase "SEP submission", and 5) the body text of the email message should constitute a cover page for the submission by including i) return email address, ii) author's name, iii) affiliation, iv) paper title, and v) short abstract.

Electronic submissions should be sent to

Nota Bene: All submissions will receive email confirmation of receipt. If your submission does not soon result in such an email confirmation, please send an inquiry either to the above address or to the local organizer.

More Information--

For more information on the conference and conference accommodations, visit the conference web site at:

Information on the Society and its previous meetings is on the web at .
"The SEP is dedicated to providing sustained discussion among researchers who believe that rigorous methods have a place in philosophical investigations."

Join us in Vancouver.

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May 23, 2006

Formal Epistemology Workshop

I'm off to FEW at Berkeley tomorrow, which promises papers by Robert Stalnaker, Gilbert Harman and Sanjeev Kulkarni, Tim Williamson, Adam Elga, Katie Steele, Mike Titelbaum, Edward Epsen, Horacio Arló-Costa and Rohit Parikh, Lydia and Tim McGrew, Eric Pacuit, Jon Williamson, Jan-Willem Romeijn, Sara Rachel Chant and Zac Ernst, Jonathan Weisberg and Johan van Benthem, as well as tutorials on judgement aggregation (Christian List) and "no free lunch" theorems (David Wolpert).

I'll be commenting on van Bentham's paper "Dynamic Logic for Belief Change" and the usual crowd of blogging epistemologists promises to be in attendence. See you there...

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November 26, 2005

The 2006-7 Masterclass in Mathematical Logic

Details below the fold.

From the FOM mailing list:

Dear Colleagues,

please bring the following to the attention of your


In the academic year 2006-2007 a year-long program
of courses in Mathematical Logic is organized by
MRI (a cooperation of Dutch Universities).

The program is intended for advanced undergraduate and
beginning graduate students, and aims to provide them
with a solid preparation for a possible Ph.D. studentship
in the area.
There are possibilities for fellowships for students. Students
interested in fellowships should apply before January 15, 2006.

Details can be found at

In particular, a brochure and a poster (in pdf format)
can be downloaded there; one also finds a list of the
courses that will be given.

Jaap van Oosten

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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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September 30, 2005

Want my job?

The University of Alberta is inviting applications for the Killam postdocs again. There is a lot of advice for philosophy job-seekers in the blogosphere, but I haven't seen much that stresses the worth of postdoctoral fellowships and I suspect that a lot of job-seekers don't place much importance on them in their search. But if you want to do research in philosophy, it makes sense to apply. One's success as a researching philosopher depends upon how much time one has for research. Teaching and service in a tenure track job can consume a lot of time - all your time, if you let them - so that in seven or eight years time you can find yourself not having done any major new work since your dissertation. If you don't get the job of your dreams, a 2 year postdoc might be a much better bet than a position with a high-teaching load somewhere you plan to leave anyway, and - and this surely the clincher - if you DO get the job of your dreams, they may well let you take the postdoc as well.

Postdocs are good.

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September 19, 2005

Support Analytics Anonymous!

A message from the U of A undergrads:

Analytics Anonymous, the undergraduate philosophy club at the University of Alberta, is preparing to host the annual Prarie Provinces Undergraduate Philosophy Association (PPUPA) conference from January 27-29, 2006. The conference, Philosophy and the City, will take an interdisciplinary perspective on issues relating to urban issues. For more information on the conference and Analytics Anonymous, please visit

As part of our fundraising campaign, we are looking for donations of bottles for recycling, and books that we can sell to used book stores. The money will be used to bring our two prominent key-note speakers from Toronto and New Hampshire, book conference rooms, and cover operation costs of the PPUPA 2006 conference. If you have any books and/or bottles that you are willing to donate, please contact ppupa2006 - AT - gmail - DOT - com (Subject: Book/Bottle Drive) to have someone come pick them up. Any donations are appreciated. Thank you!

Mary Butterfield
VP External
Analytics Anonymous

I think it is particularly amusing, given the club's name, that they're collecting empty bottles.

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Another linguistic holiday rolls around: it's International Talk Like a Pirate Day once more. Aarrrh. Make mine a rum, lime.

(Update 20/9/05 Richard Zach has a similar post, but much cooler. Make sure you click through.)

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September 16, 2005

Reality Check

I have never forgotten a conversation from graduate school, in which a vocal and very confident-seeming professor admitted to having suffered crippling anxiety over question sessions after talks when they were a graduate student - not over having to answer the questions, mind you, over asking them.

If you rarely attend philosophy talks, you might not be familiar with the format, which is different from that in most sciences. (Rob Wilson tells me his recent talk in the biology department had a 10 minute question session.) The speaker generally speaks for an hour, and then there will be a further hour of questions from the audience. The tone of these questions varies a lot from department to department, and from questioner to questioner, but it isn't unusual for such questions to be aggressive, and a speaker who has become defensive can be quite dismissive of a question which he or she sees as having no merit. Add to this the ordinary anxiety a student might feel about drawing the attention of 40-50 people, including their professors, advisor, peers, friends and rivals while issuing what a defensive speaker can easily interpret as a challenge, and you have a situation that might be expected to cause anxiety in ordinary human beings. So it didn't surprise me that anyone was scared about asking questions after talks - as a grade A introvert, I was utterly petrified myself. I only had to form the intention to ask a question and controlling my breathing would begin to seem difficult, never mind using my breath to speak. But it it did take me aback that this professor - young, confident, stylish, and at the top of their profession, a professor who often asked aggressive questions and even appeared to enjoying themselves - had ever been in the same boat.

Yet they told me that as the end of a talk neared, and the moment at which the chair would ask "any questions from the audience?" - the moment at which my professor would have to raise their hand to signal that they indeed had a question - they got so anxious that their arm would begin to feel heavier and heavier...until it seemed almost physically impossible to raise it.

That was just one conversation in grad school, but it meant a lot to me because I tended to think of good philosophers as more than human. And of course, I knew that I was not superhuman, because I had these ordinary mortal weaknesses like social anxiety. So, very occasionally, it's nice to hear good philosophers admit their weaknesses, (and I do see such social anxiety as a weakness - I'd give it up in an instant if I could) because then it shows that it is possible to be a good philosopher in spite of such ordinary human frailty. If you can't see that, then it becomes harder to see why you should be staying in graduate school.

I felt a similar way on reading Greg Restall's confessions regarding the recent issue of the Australasian Journal of Logic. They're on his weblog, so I'm sure he won't mind you reading them. He writes:

As the managing editor, there was a period in this last semester where I wasn’t managing very well, and things piled up and got the better of me for quite some time. To speak overly frankly for a moment, I got quite depressed over the state that things were in and over my own disorganisation. Unfortunately, being depressed is not a good condition in which to be motivated to do anything about that which you’re depressed about.

Now most graduate student philosophers, most students even, let work get on top of them at some point. They put off doing it, they miss deadlines, they get depressed about the whole mess, and, as Greg notes, depression is a motivation-sapper, so the situation only gets worse. So why was I amazed to read that Greg had been in this situation? Because he's an astonishingly successful philosopher and logician and I secretly believed that it's the superhuman few who don't get distracted/behind/depressed who succeed. And how else had he managed to start and run an entire online logic journal, apparently in his spare time, get elected a fellow of the Australian Academy of the Humanities and run one of the best kept websites in the discipline? By exercising his superpowers, thought I.

So his post is a good wake up call in two ways. First the encouraging way: not being superhuman is no reason to give up. But of course, there's a demanding point too: not being superhuman is no excuse for giving up either.

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July 28, 2005

How to read philosophy in Melbourne...


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July 23, 2005

Low-Res Bloggers At Dinner

I presented at a session of Jon Cohen's NotYASS (Not Yet Another Seminar Series) at the Australia National University in Canberra last week, and overcame my dislike of cameras long enough to take an extremely low resolution picture using my phone:


This is Jon with Kenny Easwaran at the Eritrean restaurant we went to after the seminar. NotYASS is a very good thing, I think. Many of the participants are computer scientists and mathematicians, though there were also several philosophers there the night I was presenting, and I think it's good to have a venue for us all to interact. The kind of questions and suggestions one gets at an event like that are different from the ones you might expect from a standard philosophy audience, and that's healthy and interesting, I think. And challenging, of course. (I was psyched to have Bob Meyer in the audience!)

Here's the webpage for the current schedule.

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July 19, 2005

Wish you were here

This post comes live from hut D at the RSSS in Canberra. It's about 40 minutes until the start of the Philosophical Methodology conference but yesterday we had an appropriate trailer in the form of Al Hájek's "Heuristics" paper, which is about heuristics for coming up with philosophical ideas, for papers, questions about other people's papers and the like.

Suggestions included:

"see definite descriptions in neon lights" - whenever someone claims that Y is the X, try to make a case that X isn't satisfied uniquely, or that in some cases there is no satisfier for X, e.g. when Stahlnaker claimed that A[]->B is true just in case at the nearest world where A is true, B is true, Lewis claimed that in important cases there is no nearest world where A is true, e.g. consider the counterfactual "if Bizet and Nietzsche were compatriots, they would both be French." Intuitively there are two equally close worlds (neither such that there is a closer one) in which they are compatriots - one where they are both French, and one where they are both German. (Or, going by one of Nietzsche's crazy early autobiographies, both Polish.) Or consider the nearest world in which "if I were taller than 7 feet tall, I would be better at basketball." There's no closest world at which I'm taller than 7 feet tall, since a world at which I am 7 feet 1/2 inch is presumably closer than one in which I am 7 feet 1 inch, but then 7 feet 1/4 inches is closer still...

"try applying the analysis to itself"

Al has a friend who devised Baker's Laws:

Baker's Law 1: everything tastes better with either chocolate or garlic added.
Baker's Law 2: everything tastes worse with both chocolate and garlic added.

But what about chocolate? And garlic? Each violates law 1, and a mixture of the two violates law 2.

Al gave this talk at the undergraduate philosophy conference yesterday afternoon, and in the talk immediately afterward Kate from Melbourne Uni was trying this second technique out on David Chalmers. Pretty cool.

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July 18, 2005

Postcard from Sydney

Once again, I'm back from my travels and snatching another 30 seconds with my email and weblog. I think it is ok for me to call these notes - written from Melbourne after my return - "postcards" because I never seem to post ordinary postcards until after I get home either.

And so from 2nd-8th July I was at the conference of the Australasian Association for Philosophy at the University of Sydney. The AAP lists the following quote from Bill Lycan on their website:

Here is a revealing comparison.   For the annual meeting of the American Philosophical Association the Program Committee sifts submissions carefully and rejects 80 percent.  The Australasian Association of Philosophy does not sift submissions. Yet every year the AAP program is better overall than the APA program.

I can't speak for the APA, but having been to the AAP 6 years in a row now, I can say that it is always a fantastic conference. Bill Lycan himself was back to talk about the Gettier problem, David Chalmers talked about verbal disagreements, Ted Sider presented his own version of conventionalism about necessity, Karen Bennett told us why she isn't a dualist, Andy Egan sorted out relativism, Daniel Nolan (Professor Nolan to you now) made me feel bad about my non-theoretically supported beliefs (but gave me a menu of remedies to select from,) and Charles Pigden took on conspiracy theorists' detractors. In dialogue. Written in Shakespearean language. With volunteer actors, who included one of his oponents on this topic. It gave a whole new meaning to "putting words in someone's mouth." There were also papers from other well-known philosophers like Michael Smith, Steve Yablo, Jack Smart, Alan Hajek, Richard Swinburne, John Heil, Laurie Paul...I should never have started this list - there is no way it was ever going to be complete, or even representative...there's a link to the schedule here.

Man, does David Armstrong know how to throw a party.

One of the nice things about the conference this time was that many of the attendees were staying at the University's International House, which provides meals. That meant that I was always running into someone I wanted to talk to at breakfast, and it was easy to have lots of casual interaction with other philosophers. One snippet which I picked up this way was that I should be careful to distinguish intrinsic/extrinsic property distinction from the relational/non-relational property distinction (and not casually conflate them, as I did at the beginning of my conversation with suppering metaphysician Josh Parsons) because some properties are relational but intrinsic, e.g. I have the property of having a nose, and that is intrinsic to me (unlike the property of being an hour's flight from Canberra,) even though I have it in virtue of my relation to something else (my nose.)

A number of bloggers were there including Antimeta's Kenny Easwaran, and David Chalmers, who has photos from the conference up on his website.

When I get round to sending my postcard from Canberra I'll tell you about my meeting with Jon Cohen, who writes that logic blog, That Logic Blog. (He's got blogger pictures up already.)

Posted by logican at 12:19 AM | TrackBack

July 11, 2005

Change of Title

Greg Restall and I have decided to change the name of our joint paper from "Barriers to Inference" to "Barriers to Implication". The old title sounds good and it respects a tradition in the literature, but it led to some odd situations. At FEW, for example, I found myself asking the aren't-you-conflating-inference-and-implication question after someone else's talk, only to stand up and present our barriers paper and have to sheepishly explain that it wasn't really about inference barriers at all...anyway, Greg and I both accept Harman's distinction, so we thought we'd try to bring our practices in line with our beliefs.

Posted by logican at 11:54 PM | TrackBack

July 1, 2005

Return to Form

I hear that two guys and a small dog are still checking in here each day, and so they will have noticed that things have been quiet for a couple of weeks. I went home to England and the unseasonal heat (yes, it is high summer) and the modem between me and the e-world led to me reinventing myself as slothful reader of science fiction paperbacks. But no more macho fantasy for me: I arrived in Melbourne yesterday, where I am staying with fellow blogger and long-term friend Matt Carter and fellow philosopher Sue. They helped me to stay awake until the evening against the protests of my circadian cycle (if my mind is kind of like a computer, couldn't I get something kind of like a reset button fitted for its clock?) Tomorrow I'm off to the AAP, possibly after attending this awesome-looking Music/Film Festival at the Forum. So happy to be back in this city.

Posted by logican at 11:23 PM | TrackBack

June 16, 2005

St Louis

Here's something that I've been meaning to post for a while. It seems that Peter McBurney knows a lot more about the logic scene in St Louis than I do. He writes:

I keep meaning to ask you if you know that St. Louis (which I know you're currently away from) is a hotbed of argumentation theory? One of the founders of computational argumentation, Ron Loui, is in Computer Science at Wash U:

and in the Philosophy Department at SLU is William Rehg:

I have co-authored a paper with Bill and my former PhD supervisor (Simon Parsons), on assessing the socio-political legitimacy of systems for computer-supported argument.

Ron Loui supervised the PhD of Guillermo Simari, who returned to his native Argentina and by force of personality established the National University of the South (UNS) in Bahia Blanca as a major world centre for computational argument. (The other locations are the Universities of Liverpool and Utrecht, IRIT in Toulouse, and the AI Lab at Cancer Research UK in London.)

Appropos nothing, really, except that St Louis is famous for more than TS Eliot and Miles Davis!

And the arch, of course. And Scott Joplin and Chuck Berry.

And that fabulous song lyric:

St Louie woman, with her diamond rings,
Drags that man around, by her apron strings.
If it wasn't for powder, and her store-bought hair,
that man I loved, wouldn't have gone nowhere.

It's quite a city, though I've yet to find the hair store. I was back there for a few hours yesterday, (I'm on the road a lot at the moment - I'm in London now and it'll be the southern hemisphere by the end of the month) and was happy to have a chance to catch up with my computer science colleague, Aaron Stump.

Thanks Peter.

Posted by logican at 4:52 PM | TrackBack

June 8, 2005

Via Arts and Letters Daily

Alicia Shepard reports her experiences of student complaints about grades. I was surprised by the same phenomenon last semester. I've never yet had the "but my parents pay your salary" complaint, but I have had the following given by students as grounds for a grade increase:

And just in case you're reading this, guys, none of these have ever worked. (To have even a ghost of a chance you need to go for miscalculation, death or serious illness.)

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June 1, 2005

Formal Epistemology

Now that I have a chance to draw breath, I'd like to say that the Formal Epistemology Workshop was fantastic, and I recommend next year's conference to anyone who doesn't come out in a rash at the sight of symbols. I think the mixture of sessions - papers from (exceptionally talented) graduate students, papers from established scholars, and tutorials in interesting topics - is a very good idea, and I learned a great deal, talked to many interesting and clever people, and came away with great comments on my paper - especially from my commentator, Peter Vranas (he didn't mention anything about the slide striptease trick) - and ideas for new work. Thank you very much to Sahotra Sarkar and Branden Fitelson for organising it all.

Like Jonah, I found that there was plenty of material that was over my head, but when I admitted this to Brian Skyrms he suggested that some of what one learns at a conference like this is new stuff from papers that one understands, but one also learns that there are these other subjects and tools out there which one might want to investigate later.

One highlight for me was Cristina Bicchieri's tutorial on experimental game theory. Two of the simple styles of game were Ultimatum games and Dictactor games. In an Ultimatum game, the first of two agents is given $10 by the experimenter and has to offer to divide it between themselves and agent 2. Agent 2 then chooses to accept or reject that offer. If they accept, the money is split as offered, if they reject, both agents get nothing. In the Dictator Game version, player 1 simply gets to decide how to split the money. What makes this experimental game theory is that instead of running the games with idealised agents, we run them with real people, in these cases as anonymous one-shot games. There are all kinds of variations on the games in which, say, agent 2 isn't told everything that agent 1 is told, and in which the two agents have to solve problems before the game and one is told that they did better than the other, or the agents are rechristened things like "buyer" and "seller." And the results are just interesting.

And sort of shocking. And in some cases kind of funny. In the simplest version of the Ultimatum game, one might expect the 1st agent to offer the lowest amount possible, and the responder to accept it. But (and this is kind of funny) it turns out that it's only small children who play the game this way. In general, offers below 20% are simply rejected half of the time and it's common to offer around or slightly less than half the money to the other agent. The experimenters thought that giving people more money to play with might make them behave "more rationally", but people still rejected offers below 20%.

Professor Bicchieri then considered some explanations for this - altruism, preference for fairness, social norms etc. - and used experimental games to test them, with a lot of surprising results. One distressing general trend was that people seemed to be more responsive to what they thought others would count as acceptable behaviour than they were to any independent judgements of acceptable behaviour (and so for example, even in one-shot games, whether or not their partner will find out how they choose makes a big difference to way they choose.)

I imagine this work will be of interest to ethicists like Gil Harman and John Doris, whose research draws on empirical results, and - though it isn't obvious exactly what follows from it for ethics - it does seem plausible to me that surprising empirical research like this could support some interesting work in ethics and political theory, especially in areas where the conventional wisdom on people's reasons for action is really dodgy (e.g. immigration.)

(Note - If you've been following the Hume's law discussion, that might - for a second - seem like an odd thing for me to say, but even if you can't get an ought from an is, lots of us believe all kinds of normative claims (e.g. torturing the innocent is wrong, polluting the earth is bad) and these could give us surprising normative results when teamed with surprising empirical data.)

Posted by logican at 10:13 AM | TrackBack

May 23, 2005


Like Jonah and Kenny, I'm off to FEW tomorrow. On Thursday I'll be presenting a paper that I wrote with Greg Restall, "Barriers to Inference," which is about how to formulate and prove inference barrier theses such as these:

Russell's Law: you can't get a universal claim from particular claims
Hume's Law: you can't get a normative claim from a descriptive claim (no 'ought' from an 'is')
Kant's Law: you can't get necessity-style claims from contingent claims
Hume's 2nd Law: you can't get claims about the future from claims about the past and present.

The slides for the talk are available as a pdf here. Since I don't really believe in reading out slides as a presentation method, there isn't a lot of explanation on the slides themselves. If you're interested in a more explicit exposition, you might like to take a look at my paper "In Defence of Hume's Law" and Greg's and my "Barriers" paper, both available here (and both well under 20 pages!)

FEW promises to be unusually technologically advanced for a philosophy conference (ok, CS-readers, stop smirking) and, according to the schedule:

There will be wireless access in the room. You are encouraged to bring laptops with wireless capability.

So perhaps I'll be able to post some news from the conference. (If I'd been reporting on the AAP last year, I could have told you about Karen Bennett rescuing Kit Fine from sharks...)

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April 12, 2005

Journal Selection

I spent some time today thinking about where I should send a paper that I have nearly finished. This discussion over at the Leiter Reports was helpful, even though it is no simple matter to form sensible beliefs about journals based on it. I think I have learned what people consider to be a reasonable time to wait for a response from a journal (three months is good,) the kinds of problems people have with journals (extended response time, unhelpful reports from referees, disrespectful editors and referees) and I have a better feel for which journals are thought of as "the best" and which count as "second tier."

My tenure clock has only just started to tick, and I like the paper, so my plan is to send it to a top journal. But in checking out the websites of a few journals I was surprised to find that several of them do not accept electronic submissions:

To an outsider this seems strange. I thought the editor simply wanted to email the paper to referees. It is faster and cheaper than posting it and it is what has happened both times I've refereed papers. (Yes, quake in your stylish yet affordable boots, AJP and CJP authors, they let a young punk like me write reports on your work.)

It isn't very likely that the editors are not computer-minded; doesn't publishing a journal involve a lot of messing around with computer files and, well, possibly Quark or InDesign or LaTeX? (Am I being hopelessly naive about what publishing a journal involves?)

Incidentally, I think I'm going with PPR, (at least, it was their address I wrote on the strangely concrete envelope that I bought from the bookstore this afternoon) because, well, (only slightly embarrassed) I kind of want to publish in the same journal as Tarski...

Decisions are funny things.

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April 11, 2005

The Life of Blogs

The first day in the life of a new-born analytic philosophy weblog brings non-paradoxical self-reference.

Posted by logican at 11:25 PM | TrackBack

Local News

There are a number of logic and language related talks coming up in the philosophy department at the University of Alberta in the next two weeks:

"Searching for Logic" - Adam Morton Friday April 15th, 3.30pm in Humanities 4-29.

"Truth in Virtue of Meaning" - Gillian Russell (that's me) 21st April, 12 noon in Humanities 4-29.

"Mathematical Notation and Philosophical Analysis" - Jamie Tappenden - Friday, April 22nd, 3.30pm in Humanities 4-29.

Posted by logican at 3:15 PM | TrackBack

April 9, 2005

Unzeitgemasse Betrachtungen

So I was wondering,....which philosophers would have had weblogs, had they lived long enough?

And which not?

I'm thinking yes for Wittgenstein; the Investigations demonstrates clear blog-yearning. Yes for Nietzsche - the witt, the aphorisms, the opportunity to hold forth on the state of the culture to an audience at the click of a mouse. And yes for Quine - Quiddities too was itching to be a blog and there would be a ton of bizarre posts about things like the miscalculated areas of small countries.

But no for Kant, (couldn't begin to get started on the lack of seriousness, depravity of it all etc.) No for Kripke (he has lived long enough, obviously, but by reputation he lacks the kind of thick-skinned imperviousness to the pressures of publicity that weblogs are meant to require) and no for Epicurus, because he would much rather be out having dinner with his friends.

Though you know what? Kripke should totally have an anonymous weblog.

Posted by logican at 2:32 AM | TrackBack

March 28, 2005

The Lone Linguist

Brett Hyde has accepted a permanent offer from Wash U, which will mean that he continues in his role as the university's only linguist. Brett is extremely popular with students, even scoring a site where they list memorable things he has said. I think my favourites are:

"Usually my first speech after an assignment is the 'say no to drugs' speech."
"Who can use 'razzmatazz' in a sentence?"

Posted by logican at 9:51 PM | TrackBack

March 20, 2005

Alternative APA

The American Philosophical Association holds its Pacific Division Meeting in San Francisco from 23rd to 27th March, 2005, and at the moment they still plan to hold it at a hotel under boycott from the union UNITE HERE. Sally Haslanger has posted the letter from UNITE HERE asking philosophers to boycott the hotel, as well as links to information about the alternative APA (also hosted on the APA website) and a very sensible letter about it all from Lawrance Blum. Brian Weatherson hosts a serious discussion about whether the benefits that young philosophers get from the Pacific APA should outweigh the needs of the hotel workers to some extent. Brian thinks 'yes.' I think 'no.'

I am a young philosopher. Among other things that involves having an excellent education, which I can only expect to get better, and some official recognition of that fact (my PhD.) I have research skills, highspeed access to the internet on my beloved 12-inch powerbook, and, these days, I have a weblog. I am fortunate in all these things and they give me a kind of power which most hotel workers don't have: they allow me a voice and a respectful audience, and with that comes some influence over the world around me.

A year ago or so I read Barbara Ehrenreich's Nickel and Dimed, in which she takes minimum- or low-wage jobs (waitress, maid, cleaner etc) for a year and reports on her experiences. One of the most obvious features of those experiences - familiar from my own undergraduate experiences with such jobs - is that you get no respect; your employer doesn't listen to you because she doesn't care what you think; employees may be expected to empty out their pockets and submit to searches at any time; their schedules are rearranged with little respect for their convenience, and the contract between the employee and employer is treated like a benificent gift from the employer, which she may retract with a moment's notice. The employee is treated as if they were almost powerless. And they kind of are - on their own. The thing about organisation, of which unions are a form, is that it lets a lot of people with very little power work together. And together they have more power and stand a better chance of getting all the benefits of respect: being listened to, being treated carefully, not being taken for granted, not being threatened.

Of course, power is just power, and both employees and employers can do good or bad things with it. But that's true of the vote too, and we don't need to know how someone is going to use their vote in order to decide whether or not they should have one. For the most part people in low-paying jobs are too vulnerable and too easy to exploit. They should have some more power over their lives. If a group of them have got together to try to take back some control and respect, then yes, they might inconvenience us, there might be interests of ours that are harmed in the process and it might be that young philosophers have their interests harmed more than most. But not so much that it would justify stamping on a serious attempt to improve the lives of low-wage workers.

I've opened the comments on this, because, well, it's that kind of issue. Comments are welcome from ANYONE, no matter what they think. The Clinical Attitude is encouraged. Respect for other commentors is required.

Added 21/03/2005: Here's the link to Brian's post giving the APA's reasons for staying at the boycotted hotel.

Posted by logican at 12:07 PM | TrackBack

March 17, 2005

House-Warming in the Blogosphere

I'm back from California and it has been interesting to track the ripples from the opening of this weblog. In my third post I wrote that a google search for "tonk" and "local reduction" returned only a multiple-choice exam for the Indian civil services, while one for "local reduction" and "deduction" returned sheaves of computer science lecture notes. CS guy pointed out yesterday that the same searches now return, in first place, my post, and Brian Weatherson's discussion of the post, respectively. (Of course, in the comments, Greg Restall pointed out that I needed to search for "normalization" all along, and Michael Kremer informed me that Dummett talks about it under the heading of "local peaks".) In addition (honour of honours) languagelog added me to their blogroll and I got a trackback from Greg and another from Richard Zach's logblog. If I can just make it through the week without being rude about anyone I might not regret adding my real name to this thing.

Posted by logican at 4:18 AM | TrackBack

March 6, 2005

On Comments

I feel ambivalent about comments. Should I allow them? Encourage them? I might have turned to my stated influences for guidance, but of course, has comments, and languagelog does not. So they are no help.

Movable Type, the publishing platform behind this weblog, allows for three approaches to comments. 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. This is, of course, the path of the generous spirit (let them have their misunderstandings, and their dogs and their conversations - this weblog is big enough for it all.) But the generous spirit and the egomaniac seem to be going the same way (leave comments for me! leave comments for me!!!) And turning on comments would involve reliquishing control of the content of my weblog, which I am loathe to do, especially when it is still so small.

The option at the other extreme is to leave the comments off. But one of the attractions of a weblog it that it is a good way to get decent comments on ideas. What if Greg Restall already knows the answer to the problem I have been puzzling over in an entry? Do I not want to make it as easy as possible for him to put me straight? I might go years not knowing the answer to a question I care about, just because I was too much of a control freak to turn on the comments.

Moveable Type also offers a third way: comments are submitted as usual but have to be approved by me before going up on the site. This might look like a good compromise, but of course, compromise two bad options and you get an unmitigatedly bad option. Think about it, in practice, which comments could I quietly kill? The spam, the threats, the abuse. (Hey, it could get lively over here!) But suppose someone submits a comment that is on topic, but which I think is stupid, or confused, or just too long. Could I, in all conscience, kill it? No. Definitely not. If I am going to have the appearence of welcoming discussion then I have to take it all. So the third way only offers an illusion of compromise.

Here is a tentative plan. For posts like the present one, I will leave the comments off. If you want to tell me something, feel free to email me. For posts where I think discussion could be interesting and useful, I will..., well, ..., I will think about it some more.

Posted by logican at 12:39 PM | TrackBack


Despite my strong enthusiasm for my new weblog, I haven't a clue where to begin, so I shall opt for the old cop out of writing about writing (though I promise not to write about having nothing to write - it isn't true anyway.)

In my dreams, this weblog is a cross between languagelog and, only even more beautiful than, and even wittier and more eclectic than languagelog. In my dreams. In practice, as you can see, is still growing into its beauty, and I don't have the breadth of knowledge of a single languagelogger (language lumberjack?), nevermind all sixteen of them. But I hope you are wondering what this weblog will be like, and sometimes aspirations can be a good guide to the future.

The explicit plan - open to revision as we progress - is to post a couple of hundred words a day on a topic related to logic, the philosophy of logic, or the philosophy of language, very broadly construed. Jokes, links to news stories and anecdotes are all on the cards, but so is formal logic, semantics, and maybe even a little philosophy of math(s).

Posted by logican at 2:31 AM | TrackBack