Monday, February 21, 2011

Philosophers' Carnival #121

funny pictures - When you have a idea SO BIG...'re a philosopher. So welcome to Philosophers' Carnival #121. Not so much a one-to-one as a party (a rather Platonic party). The bouncer's been busy (arguably too busy, or not busy enough). And there's some of the hard stuff later on; so, enter...

......the Hallway (epistemology)

Keith DeRose imagines 'Nico at the Zoo with Zebras' (at Certain Doubts), an example of how knowledge attributions can sometimes be true even when they’re about insensitive beliefs.

John Wilkins compares Elliott Sober's 'Modus Darwin and the *real* modus darvinii' of 'affinity, explained by common ancestry' (at Evolving Thoughts), showing that the former should've been the latter.

Maryann Spikes thinks of 'Atheism and agnosticism (really, apisticism) as belief' (at Ichthus77), and also thinks that you can only be apistic if you don't claim to be.

......the Games-room (logic and language)

Ben Nelson wonders about 'Trust as a truth-maker' (at Talking Philosophy). Of course, "X trusts me" is made true by X trusting me, but Nelson takes a broader (even deeper) look at this kind of thing.

I ask 'Is 'pretty' pretty?' (It is, and it isn't:)

Matt asks 'How slippery is the slope?' (at The Consternation of Philosophy), and concludes that 'the slippery slope fallacy is a slippery beast, and is perhaps best not thought of as a fallacy at all.'

......the Dining-room (metaphysics)

Edward Feser asks 'Why are (some) physicists so bad at philosophy?' (at Edward Feser), and...

Eric Steinhart wonders 'Why Materialism is Unscientific' (at Camels with Hammers), both in response to astrophysicist Ethan Siegel asking 'Can You Get Something For Nothing?' (both answer No).

Jeremy Stangroom wonders, 'A First Unmoved Mover?' (at Talking Philosophy). He shows Copleston and Russell describing the Atomists differently; not because either was bad at the history of philosophy, but because good answers to the question Why should there be something rather than nothing? do include Because the metaphysically necessary being is perfectly good as well as the (now) obvious No reason.

......the Living-room (mind)

Kenny Pearce knows that 'Sometimes it's Rational to act Arbitrarily' (at Kenny Pearce). 'In ordinary cases it is irrational to take a certain course of action when you know there is a better one available to you,' but what if you are asked to choose any natural number of dollars? (Sobel thinks that choosing anything would still be irrational; why would he think that?)

Constantine Sandis entertains 'Enchanting Causes' (at Flickers of Freedom), and so 'tests our intuitions about what sort of desire makes an action intentional.'

Joel considers 'Killing a Vegan: Degrees of Subjectivity' (at Florida Student Philosophy Blog), arguing that chickens (as opposed to Vegans) may not feel phenomenological pain, because they don’t have the 'I' concept, or the neurological ability to do much more than react physically.

......the Kitchen (moral philosophy)

Robin Hanson asks 'What Virtue Privacy?' (at Overcoming Bias), and by discussing Thomas Nagel's 'Concealment and Exposture' argues 'that humans had huge heads to subtly evade social norms while pretending to enforce them.'

Tim Dean considers 'Morality, Health and Sam Harris' (at Ockham's Beard), arguing that Harris's moral realism makes naturalism harder to defend, and suggesting that we could just say that 'Being animals, we pursue health. And being social, we pursue morality.'

James Gray defends moral realism against Hume, by considering 'Intrinsic Values & Beliefs About Reality' (at Ethical Realism).

Antti Kauppinen explains 'How the Experience Machine Works' (at Experimental Philosophy), before objecting to Felipe de Brigard’s recent ex-phi objection to Robert Nozick’s result.

Richard looks at 'Natural Agents and Status-Quo Bias' (at Philosophy, et cetera), questioning Carolina Sartorio, who argued (via Trolleys) 'that we need stronger reasons to justify interfering in a process (e.g. deflecting a trolley) than to justify abstaining from such involvement.'

Clayton Littlejohn has 'Ethical Intuitions (II): Cosmic Coincidence' (at Think Tonk), the second in a series of posts on moral epistemology (some empirical arguments having been considered in 'Ethical Intuitions (Part I)'): A version of intuitionism on which moral properties supervene upon natural properties is defended against Matthew Bedke.

Jussi Suikkanen conjoins 'Deliberative Contractualism and the Conditional Fallacy' (at PEA Soup), arguing that the former (by Nicholas Southwood) commits the latter.

Thom Brooks announces 'Thom Brooks on "Punishment: Political, Not Moral"' (at The Brooks Blog). British Hegelians make Alan Brudner's retributivism more attractive, apparently.

Chris Bateman considers 'A Categorical Imperative for the Other' (at Only a Game), suggesting that 3 formulations of Immanuel Kant's categorical imperative are more easily seen to be equivalent if they (or something like them) are derived from Emmanuel Levinas' concept of the Other.

Anders Sandberg wonders how much 'Intolerance we ought to encourage?' (at Practical Ethics). 'At the very least we can make it a social rule that just as we frown at racist, sexist or homophobic statements we frown at pseudoscience or deceptive evidence.'

......the Backyard (other)

Paul Newall examines different views of 'Astrology and its problems: Popper, Kuhn and Feyerabend' (at The Kindly Ones), and suggests that 'the philosophical problem for astrology is not that it can always explain failures (Popper) or that it does not attempt to solve problems (Kuhn) but instead that it has stagnated (Feyerabend).'

Kieran Healy looks at 'Gender divides in Philosophy and other disciplines' (at Crooked Timber). More than 70% of US PhDs in psychology were awarded to women, and it's 60% in sociology. Still, it's only 40% in political science, and 30% in philosophy.

Brian Leiter also looks at 'Women in Philosophy in the US' (at Leiter Reports), and finds that the proportion teaching philosophy is only about 20%. That's pretty good, given our context (it's more than 5 times the proportion of female bloggers here).

Gary Williams has some 'Thoughts on Cordelia Fine's new book Delusions of Gender' (at Minds and Brains); e.g. 'Maybe 1000 years in the future there will be an equal amount of male and female physicists, philosophers, and computer scientists,' because our brains are (equally) plastic.

James Warren reveals 'Rejection letters of the ancient philosophers' (at Kenodoxia). Bitchin' there 'More on philosophy and society'? No, because the party's over (hopefully before the fighting starts). Almost all-male, and the kitchen the most popular place; what a party. But if this carnival bored (or annoyed) you, or if your entry bounced (for no good reason), the solution is to host a carnival, which you should also do if you liked this one, of course: No hosts = no carnivals.
......And whenever you find yourself reading an interesting post, of a philosophical nature, you should submit it, because no posts = no carnivals. Carnival #122 will be at Ichthus77

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Is ‘pretty’ pretty?

Are any words pretty? Maybe not outside of calligraphy (or song), but on the other hand, ‘pretty’ isn’t too odd-looking, as words go. And it does make us think of prettiness. So I’m reluctant to say that it isn’t pretty, i.e. that it’s heterological (that it doesn’t describe itself accurately). Is it, then, that it isn’t heterological (that it describes itself accurately), that it’s a pretty predicate? I wouldn’t go that far; to me, it seems only vaguely pretty. And so it seems to me that ‘pretty’ is vaguely heterological.
......Is being heterological a matter of degree? Well, descriptive accuracy does seem to be. E.g. “is short” is a fairly short predicate expression, while “is so far from being extremely long that, not only is it not very long, it’s short” clearly isn’t. So there’s probably an expression that means the same as “is short” and which is vaguely short (unless an expression N letters long can be short while one N + 1 letters long isn’t), and hence vaguely heterological. Furthermore, is ‘boring’ boring? Not very boring now I come to think about it. Etc.
......So, since it’s a matter of degree, should we not say that predicates are heterological insofar as they don’t describe themselves very well? If so then ‘heterological’ is as heterological as not, is (only) vaguely heterological. And Grelling’s paradox—that ‘heterological’ is hetrological if, and only if, it isn’t—does rule out the non-vague extremes. I’m not suggesting that ‘heterological’ is neither heterological nor not—i.e. that it’s not heterological and that it is—however, because if I’m right, such trivalent (or dialethic) claims are inaccurate, aren’t very true (nor very false).

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Classical Logic, how is it correct?

According to Stewart Shapiro, Classical Logic is first-order (and hence formal) predicate logic, which he describes in some detail (in that SEP entry), having first noted that:
Formal languages, deductive systems, and model-theoretic semantics are mathematical objects and, as such, the logician is interested in their mathematical properties and relations. Soundness, completeness, and most of the other results reported below [in that SEP entry] are typical examples. Philosophically, logic is the study of correct reasoning. Reasoning is an epistemic, mental activity. This raises questions concerning the philosophical relevance of the mathematical aspects of logic. How do deducibility and validity, as properties of formal languages--sets of strings on a fixed alphabet--relate to correct reasoning? What do the mathematical results reported below [in that SEP entry] have to do with the original philosophical issue?
Shapiro goes on to list some possibilities; e.g. perhaps "the components of a logic provide the underlying deep structure of correct reasoning."
......Another possibility is that "because natural languages are vague and ambiguous, they should be replaced by formal languages," or rather (since formal languages are all defined using natural languages) "regimented, cleaned up for serious scientific and metaphysical work." Now, scientists often do define their own scientific terms; but how could that process apply to logic? Informal logic must be good enough for us to work out the correct formal language to use, if there is one (otherwise our justifications would become circular). "Another view is that a formal language is a mathematical model of a natural language in roughly the same sense as, say, a collection of point masses is a model of a system of physical objects." Such a view makes sense, in view of the many logics studied by logicians; but what, then, can we say about logic in the sense of correct reasoning? We use such a logic when we use any mathematical model scientifically; we must reason correctly about the model. Is classical logic a good model of informal logic?
......Despite the various logics that logicians work on, most arguments are presented in a classical logical style (even those about other logics). So presumably we do think that such components cut our reasoning pretty close to its joints, so to speak. Is classical logic correct? Some philosophers say so (e.g. Alexander Pruss recently gave that as a reason for rejecting open future views, in comments on this post of his), but I wonder how it is. It's hard for me to specify my worries without having already resolved them; but let's look at some simple logical arguments, such as might be used to introduce classical logic, and see how they may fail to be examples of classical logic (without going too far into the related problems of metaphor and vagueness).
......Grass is green, and all flesh is grass, so, is all flesh green? That's clearly invalid, the second premise being metaphorical; but did we use classical logic to work that out? And suppose I was holding something that wasn't green; could I deduce that it wasn't grass? Again no, because it's not true that all grass is always green. But what if all Blurps were always green; could I deduce that I wasn't holding a Blurp? I don't see why not. And surely I could put that argument in classical logical form. And yet if "is green" is a classical predicate, then not only what I'm holding, but anything and everything is either green or else not green (LEM); whereas there's clearly a shading from green, through greenish and vaguely greenish colours, to those that aren't green. Is it that classical logic is a good model, but that informal logic (real logic) must be slightly different? If so, what's the point of all that maths that Shapiro introduces (rather well)? I'm not saying there's no point to it. (I'm hoping it's not turning philosophy into a pseudo-science.) I'm rather asking whoever's reading this post, what do you think about classical logic?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Reasoning badly from Yablo’s paradox

Paradoxes can be hard to resolve, so it can be hard to reason well from them. A nice example is a recent argument that the past is finite, by Laureano Luna (2011: ‘Reasoning from paradox’, The Reasoner 5(2), 22–23). I shall vary the details. Suppose there’s a place where, once a year, every year, someone says “No previous utterance here was true,” with nothing else ever having been said there. Details can be varied, so long as we would, were the past infinite, have an infinite sequence of similar utterances. Indeed, it’s because we can vary the details that the following contradiction seems to follow from supposing the past to be infinite (rather than from, say, supposing that language need not begin with evident truths).
......Each utterance in that place concerned the past, so it seems that each utterance should be either true—were none of the previous utterances there true—or else false—were at least one of them true. But none of them can be either, on pain of Yablo’s paradox: Were no utterance there true then, via what each said, each would be true (and not true); but were any of them true, then since none of the earlier ones would have been true, its immediate predecessor would also, via what it said, have been true (and not true).
......But even if such sequences of utterances are impossible, the past might be infinite. One possibility is that simply infinite sequences, e.g. the natural numbers, are indefinitely extensible (are Potential Infinite) in the sense that while there’s always a next element, e.g. a bigger number, there’s no complete collection of them all. Standard mathematics assumes that such isn’t the case, but we’ve yet to discover that it isn’t. And if it is, then although we naturally think of past years as stretching back in time forever, the past couldn’t be the whole of such an infinite sequence, and so our infinite sequence of utterances would’ve been impossible too. And yet the past might, even so, be infinite. E.g. there might have been, before the Big Bang, some infinitely slow process, which took an infinite time to complete (and before which there might have been something else, possibly with no beginning); such a process has an infinite duration in the sense that we might go any natural number of years back into it and not reach its beginning, and also in the sense that were it the unit of time, all the time since the Big Bang would be relatively infinitesimal.
......Another possibility is that truth, or descriptive accuracy, is essentially a matter of degree. We might take an utterance of “No previous utterance here was true” to be asserting that none of those previous utterances described the past well enough for it to be classed as true. Yablo’s paradox would then be ruling out every possibility except the possibility that all those utterances described the past only vaguely, that they were all vaguely true. (Does it seem that they would then have been failing to describe the past well enough to be classed as true? If so, note that the suggestion is that either classification—true or not—would be less accurate than that of vaguely true.) So, our contradiction may well have been due to our having used, in effect, a rather artificial language. So we seem to have shown only that either the language of those utterances doesn’t allow such sequences of sentences, or something else (e.g. maybe the past must be finite, or maybe the natural numbers are indefinitely extensible).