Thursday, March 29, 2007

A Large Portion of My Class Says They'd Push Someone in Front of a Runaway Train

...if that would stop the train in time so that it wouldn't hit five more people further along the track. I find that rather disturbing and I think it shows that a lot of college students aren't very reflective about moral issues (as if that wasn't obvious enough already given the number who think relativism is a reasonable or even obligatory position to take). This is classic consequentialist sort of thinking.

Classic consequentialism says that the right action to take is the one that produces the most good consequences. So if we want to decide between action A and action B, we look and see how much good stuff will result from doing A and compare that with the result from doing B. Nothing else matters - that action A is a rape, for instance, and action B is helping a little old lady across the street is completely irrelevant to determining the rightness or wrongness of the two actions. All that matters is the consequences.

Here, what the students seem to be doing is weighing lives against each other - five lives are worth more than one life, so doing something that results in five living and one dead is morally better than doing something that results in five dead and one living. But that just seems morally reprehensible - human beings aren't mere commodities whose relative values can be weighed or compared with one another or to see what a single human being's life is worth. Human lives aren't the sort of thing that you can just add together to get more value - human beings are of infinite valuable or at least not additive value. The students' approach here, however, ignores the inherent dignity and incomparability of human value and treats human lives as mere objects to be bought or sold with no regard to the personal wishes, rights, or integrity of the individual human person.

Why are students (and some philosophers) tempted by this sort of picture, though? One reason, I suspect is watching too much TV or too many movies or reading too many books where the hero engages in consequentialist-permitted (but seemingly wrong) actions all for the greater good and succeeds in doing so. Passing no judgment on the hero, this sort of story can influence people's moral perceptions. Stories can make us sympathize with or root for evil people or want them to engage in their evil acts (consider, for instance, the thrill and narrative satisfaction one gets at the end of The Godfather, for instance, when all of Michael Corleone's enemies are gunned down and killed).

Alternatively, we may be influenced by these things in the following sort of way: we want to see X to happen since X is better than the other alternatives, so we root for the person involved to do action Y to bring about X even though Y might be wrong - and (this is the crucial part) we mistake this approval of X with approval for the action, Y, that brings about X. Take the TV show 24, for instance - few episodes go by where you don't have the hero, Jack Bauer, or one of the other agents torturing someone to get some key information to help save a bunch of other people. We all, of course, prefer a world where there is one torture and no murders to a world where there is no torture and many murders, so we may want Jack to do the torture so that the first world is the one that we live in rather than the second. But that doesn't mean that what Jack does is morally permissible. It is a mistake to go from "the world ought to be such that it includes Jack doing such-and-such" to "Jack ought to do such-and-such", but it is a very easy mistake to make - one many people, many of my students included, seem to have fallen into.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

The True Nature of Internet Discussions and Debates

It's funny yet both sad and true:

It's all about...

stupid people saying stupid things
really loudly so that
other stupid people
will think that the things the smart people say
are really stupid.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Religion as an Excuse for Violence

Click here to find an interesting story. What I find most interesting is that even unbelievers were more inclined towards violence when faced with a story in which God sanctions the violence - perhaps the average unbeliever is either not so secure in their unbelief as they let on or maybe, deep down inside, they really believe after all.
This story doesn't tell us much that is new. Israel tended to justify itself alot in the face of its own injustice and violence by hearkening back to its election by God and status as holder of the Temple. The moral of the story is that religion is one of the most powerful forces in individual and corporate life and, as fallen beings, we tend to use that powerful force for our own selfish ends. Religion really is one of the most dangerous things there is, as well as one of the most wonderful.

An Argument Against Tooley's Dynamic View of Time

**WARNING: Technical Post**

1. Either States of Affairs (SAFs) are in time or SAFs are not in time.
2. Something cannot be located in a time other than that of its material constituents when they are arranged in such a way to give rise to that thing.
3. So by 2, if SAFs are in time, then SAFs cannot be located in a time other than that of its material constituents when they are arranged in such a way to give rise to that SAF.
4. For some SAFs, the time when their material constituents are arranged in such a way to give rise to them is wholly located in the past.
5. So by 3 and 4, if SAFs are in time, then some SAFs are wholly located in the past.
6. An SAF is actual-in-the-present if and only if it exists in the present.
7. Something exists in the present if and only if it is located in the present.
8. Something is wholly located in the past only if it is not located in the present.
9. So by 5-8, if SAFs are in time then some SAFs are wholly located in the past but not actual-in-the-present.
10. If some SAFs are wholly located in the past but not actual-in-the-present then Tooley's Dynamic View of Time (TDVT) is false.
11. So by 9 and 10, if SAFs are in time then TDVT is false.
12. By 6, and 7, if SAFs are not in time, no SAF is actual-in-the-present.
13. If no SAF is actual-in-the-present, then TDVT is false.
14. So by 1, 11 and 13, TDVT is false.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Fatalism is the view that everything that happens is somehow fated or perhaps determined or decided with certainty beforehand - there is no way of avoiding what is fated to happen and one has no control over whether such fated occurrences come to pass. One is powerless in the face of fate. Often, people try to argue that various views about God or the future lead to an objectionable sort of fatalism and, since fatalism is false, we ought to reject such views. One such view that has been attacked is the view that for every proposition p about the future, it is determinately true or determinately false that p. So for the proposition that I will go to school tomorrow or perform a certain action eleven years from this date, it is either determinately true that I will do this or determinately false. But some people want to object that this means that fatalism is true and that we have no control over the future since it's already determined for us.

Here's the sort of argument that seems to be in many peoples' minds:

1. If all propositions about the future are determinately true or determinately false, then no one has any control over their future.
2. But we do have control over our futures.
3. So, by 1 and 2, not all propositions about the future are determinately true or determinately false.

To make this argument go against the further view that such propositions are true or false because future times and events actually exist, we can add the following:

4. If not all propositions about the future are determinately true or determinately false, then not all of the future does exists.
5. So, by 3 and 4, not all of the future exists (the open future view).

To make this relevant to issues over open theism (the view that God doesn't know everything about the future), we could further add:

6. God knows about something if and only if that thing exists.
7. So, by 5 and 6, God does not know all of the future.

Why think any of these statements are true? 7 follows from 6 and 5. 6 seems reasonable - one can't know something if there isn't anything there to be known. 5 follows from 3 and 4. 4 seems reasonable - how could every bit of the future exist if parts of it are still indeterminate? 3 follows from 1 and 2. 2 seems fairly common-sensical and accords well with our general experience of the world. 1, however, seems to be the most interesting premise - the one that I think we need to push on if we are to avoid open theism or "open future" views on the one hand and fatalism on the other. 1 is the crux in arguments for fatalism or an open future.

I think something like the following reasoning seems to be lurking in the background for premise 1:

0. If the future is not as real as the present then 1 is true.
0.1. The future is not as real as the present.
Therefore, 1 is true.

Notice, though, that if we reject 0.1, this argument for 1 won't work - we can insist that the existence and full reality of the future on par with the present grounds the determinate truth of claims about the future without entailing fatalism. The reasoning many open-future people seem to be using is that we seem, metaphorically, to be "moving" from the real present into a not-so real future so that, if the future is determinate it can't be because of our free actions since those free actions do not yet exist and so are not fully real - it is as if there is a cosmic play written out that we must inevitably follow, one that is independent of us and constraining us. Indeed, if God knows our futures and the future is not real then that must be because something is constraining us, perhaps God himself. Otherwise, there is no way he could know what we will do.

But now consider the badly-named static view of time, according to which all times are equally real and on a par with each other. I exist and act just as much in future moments as I do in past or present ones. On this view, there isn't necessarily any cosmic blueprint that my future is forced to follow since it is my future - my future free decisions and actions - that make it determinately true or determinately false that I will perform some specific action in the future. So my future is under my control and exists as a result of decisions under my control. It is only when we deny that it is me who makes it true that I will do something - when we deny that I act and exist as much in the future as in the present or past - that we will be tempted to say that determinate truth or falsity about my future actions means such things are outside my own control. So it seems we need to deny the reality of the future in the first place to get the argument for the unreality of the future (1-5) off the ground. And that's clearly a question-begging move - which puts open-theism, with its reliance such arguments, on very shaky ground.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Notes on Ludlow: Ch. 10

**WARNING: Technical Post**

In chapter 10, the antirealism or verficationism shines through strongly. Whereas previously Ludlow noted that we tend to evaluate claims about the past or future based on current evidence, he now seems to say that claims about the past or future are really claims about this evidence (in which case, it's not really evidence except in the trivial sense where we count something as evidence for itself). This, of course, is an unargued leap that he seems to take without being aware of it - if one is to be a presentist, there are a number of ways of grounding past or future truths other than simply in the evidence for such truths. Perhaps Ludlow's linguistic discussion is supposed to provide some such evidence, but it seems to me inconclusive at best, a confusion of assertibility conditions and truth conditions that one would only expect if one were already persuaded of some kind of antirealism.

Indeed, the move seems to be completely unwarranted unless one has already ruled out the alternatives or are assuming some kind of verificationism about meaning. But then it is hard to see how we can rule out many similar, obviously bad moves (notice a pattern developing in this book?). We might, for instance, note that we evaluate claims about other people or places based on personal, spatially proximate evidence. If we follow Ludlow, we would have to conclude that claims about other people or places are just claims about evidence internal to me or where I am at. But this seems to me to be clearly false - solipsism just isn't a viable option. Perhaps someone may object that the evidence we consider can be located in other persons than me or places than the one I am at. It's just mediated by more proximate events, objects or processes. But then we could give exactly the same answer for time - we can be, for instance, in possession of temporally remote evidence about stars via current light processes now reaching the earth from these stars. The same thing goes for fossils, which interestingly, Ludlow thinks are really what sentences purportedly about dinosaurs are really about. But that's just crazy (darn it!).
The main problem Ludlow deals with in this chapter has to do with inferences like the following:

I am hungry.
Next Tuesday it will be true that I was hungry.

Now, it might be the case that all evidence for today's hunger disappears by next Tuesday. But then, in that case, it will not be true then that I was hungry today. Ludlow discusses two ways out of this. The first is to say, for instance, that a future tense version of a sentence is true iff the sentence in the present tense is true. So even though there will be no evidence for my hungriness Tuesday, the prediction of future truth is still true. Even though at that later time it ends up not true that I was hungry. This is a pretty weird way out and not very plausible.

The second alternative is to say that the content of my sentences changes over time. So the above inference is going to work even though the evidence for the premise will be long gone because the words purportedly ascribing hungriness to myself change in meaning. But we have no idea what meaning they will take on later, nor for that matter what meaning they had previously. We may, however, not be able to get out of the first strategy here. After all, the proposition that next Tuesday it will be the case that I was hungry seems to follow from the proposition that I am hungry. Since it doesn't make any sense to speak of propositions changing their contents (since, presumably, propositions just are certain sorts of contents), explaining the inference in cases of evidence loss cannot rely on this second strategy. So it looks like Ludlow is going to have to be faced with taking the first alternative after all, which doesn't seem like a good idea.

The main issue behind all of this is whether we can "lose" facts about the past - whether past facts about people or places or events or whatever can simply disappear from reality. And that just seems implausible. The past, whatever else we may say about it, seems firm and fixed and not subject to erasure. Intuitively, this kind of change doesn't seem possible. Despite claims for presentist views that they are common sense, the issues brought up in this chapter I think show that it is indeed quite far from it (or at least Ludlow's version is), Ludlow's protests to the contrary.

"Religious Literacy"

Here's a blurb on a book Amazon recommended to me. Sounds interesting:

The United States is one of the most religious places on earth, but it is also a nation of shocking religious illiteracy.

* Only 10 percent of American teenagers can name all five major world religions and 15 percent cannot name any.

* Nearly two-thirds of Americans believe that the Bible holds the answers to all or most of life's basic questions, yet only half of American adults can name even one of the four gospels and most Americans cannot name the first book of the Bible.

Despite this lack of basic knowledge, politicians and pundits continue to root public policy arguments in religious rhetoric whose meanings are missed—or misinterpreted—by the vast majority of Americans.

"We have a major civic problem on our hands," says religion scholar Stephen Prothero. He makes the provocative case that to remedy this problem, we should return to teaching religion in the public schools. Alongside "reading, writing, and arithmetic," religion ought to become the "Fourth R" of American education.

Many believe that America's descent into religious illiteracy was the doing of activist judges and secularists hell-bent on banishing religion from the public square. Prothero reveals that this is a profound misunderstanding. "In one of the great ironies of American religious history," Prothero writes, "it was the nation's most fervent people of faith who steered us down the road to religious illiteracy. Just how that happened is one of the stories this book has to tell."

Prothero avoids the trap of religious relativism by addressing both the core tenets of the world's major religions and the real differences among them. Complete with a dictionary of the key beliefs, characters, and stories of Christianity, Islam, and other religions, Religious Literacy reveals what every American needs to know in order to confront the domestic and foreign challenges facing this country today.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Notes on Ludlow: Chs. 7-9

**WARNING: Technical Post**

In Chapter 7, Ludlow begins to construct an alternative, tensed semantics. Parts of this have a strongly antirealist, idealist, or verificationist sort of feel about them. In fact, Ludlow seems to agree with uberantirealist Michael Dummet, stating, 'As Dummet (1969) has argued,a semantic theory that accounts for an agent's semantic knowledge must show how portions of the language are learned from the evidence available to the language learner' (p.99). I'm not sure that this is really correct as it pushes us towards an untenable kind of antirealism about practically everything. And I'm not sure whether Ludlow wants to be committed to such a view. Then again, he seems to flirt with idealism throughout the book, so maybe I shouldn't be so surprised. To continue the quote,

But now consider how we learn to use past-tense expressions such as (4).
Dinosaurs roamed the Earth.
We do not evaluate this sentence by imagining some time earlier than now and determining whether at that time (4) is true. Rather, we evaluate (4) by right now conducting the sort of investigation that is appropriate for past-tense statements like (4). (For example, we might study fossil records.) Likewise for any past-tense statement. We have certain procedures for determining whether a past-tense proposition is true, and these procedures do not involve the evaluation of a proposition at some time past; rather, we simply evaluate the proposition in a particular way - a way which is independent of how we evaluate present-tense and future-tense propositions.
Consider the future-tense proposition (5).
The economy will recover in the third quarter.
Clearly we do not evaluate such a proposition by picking some time in the third quarter and determining whether it is true at that time that the economy is recovering. Rather, we evaluate it by studying the currently available economic data. Crucially, our evaluation of (5) can proceed without our ever attending to a corresponding present-tense proposition at some future time index.

It's not quite clear to me how any of this is relevant to the debate over tense. After all, the tenseless theorist can simply grant that Ludlow is correct that we look at present evidence to determine the truth of past or future tense statements. The mistake is to infer from this that when we determine the truth or falsity of past or future statements we are not thereby determining whether a certain tenseless fact holds. Using present evidence and not attending de dicto to any present-tense proposition at some future time index is perfectly compatible with this. The only way one could think otherwise would be to assume that tensed r-mirroring truth-conditions must also be m-mirroring truth-conditions. And that, as I've been arguing is clearly a mistake. After all, the same sorts of things Ludlow says about tensed statements could be said about first-person or 'here' sentences as well.

But he continues,

If this picture of the underlying robust theory is correct, then it immediately leads to a second advantage for the A-theory [tensed] proposal under discussion - in fact, a striking epistemological advantage. The B-theorist is in the untenable position of asserting that there is actually reference to past and future times and/or events. However, this flies in the face of everything we know about reference. We are in neither a perceptual relation nor a causal relation with future events, and our causal connection with most past events is tenuous at best. In regard to times, the idea that there could be reference to such abstract objects surely requires major adjustments to current epistemological thinking.

This argument or set of arguments here seems to be a non-starter. I'm not sure how anything Ludlow says makes reference to or quantification over future or past events or times at all problematic. That our causal relation to past things is tenuous seems irrelevant since all that is needed for causal theories of reference is causation - not "super duper not-so-tenuous causation". And if we have a causal theory of reference, then it is reference to present things that is problematic since causation is a cross-temporal relation. That we do not have any causal relation with future things is, I think, not as clear as Ludlow seems to think, but let's give him that for the moment (I tend to think it's false, actually). But quantification or reference do not necessarily require causal relations - one can fix the reference of a name, for instance, by introducing it via an identifying description without having any clear causal contact whatsoever with the object satisfying the description. And quantification over certain entities does not seem to require being causally related to all of them and there's no clear reason why we would need to be. In addition, on most theories of time, times are not abstract but rather concrete objects. In any case, they are treated the same sort of way as places or parts of space. We seem to be able to refer to or quantify over space or regions thereof, so why not times? There seems to be no difference here. All of Ludlow's criticisms here could just as well be thrown against the view that other persons or object outside of myself exist and that we quantify or refer to them. If Ludlow were correct, his views would be pushing us towards a dangerous ontological solipsism where only I exist or an epistemic or semantic solipsism where only I can be referred to or quantified over by myself.

Ludlow ultimately comes to think that his semantics leaves presentism as one of the only plausible, consistent accounts of time. But if we accept presentism for time based on the problems outlined in the book, it seems that similar problems for first-person sentences or 'here' sentences are going to force us into the ontological solipsism mentioned above. After all, if presentism is a main way to get out of McTaggart's Paradox for time, solipsism will be an analogous way to get out similar paradoxes for persons.

Indeed, Ludlow's tensed semantics could be transformed into an analogous first person or 'here' semantics. Ludlow claims in Chapter 8, for instance, that apparent reference to times like 'June 24, 1972' can be paraphrased away as 'when standard calendars read "June 24, 1972"' and that normal tensed sentences will actually be decomposed as complex sentences composed of two tensed sentences joined by 'when', 'after' or 'before'. But we can do the same sorts of things with apparent reference to places and decompose 'here' sentences as complex sentences composed of two 'here' sentences joined by 'where', etc. So 'Paris' becomes something like 'where standard tracking systems read "Paris"'. If we do want reference to times, we can build times up as collections of when-clauses, according to Ludlow. But then if we want reference to places, we can build them up as collections of where-clauses. Perhaps we can do this sort of thing with persons as well - only I exist, but I can refer to other persons as collections of who-clauses (?).

At the end of Chapter 8, Ludlow shows that his theory can apparently get him out of one formulation of McTaggart's Paradox. But it's far from clear that it can escape a reformulation to match Ludlow's theory. Heather Dyke's formulation, suitably adjusted to face Ludlow, seems, for instance, like it would cause Ludlow particular trouble.

Chapter 9 consists in listing some psychological considerations that may or may not help the tensed theorist. I think they do not - the tenseless theorist should be at ease with all the data discussed. In fact, that's just the sort of data one would expect if the New Tenseless Theory were true - people think tensedly. In fact, some have argued that the data actually favors the tenseless theory. In addition, not all of the discussion is clear or very clearly well-motivated. Some of the discussion of and quotes from Merleau-Ponty, for instance, is metaphorical and opaque at best and of unclear relevance to the topic or the use Ludlow seems to want to put it to. So I think chapter 9 is inconclusive at best.
The last-ish notes are soon to com.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Notes on Ludlow: Chs. 5-6

**WARNING: Technical Post**

In the beginning of Chapter 5 Ludlow says,

A first attempt at a semantical theory consistent with this [the tenseless] picture would be to give "tenseless truth conditions" for tensed sentences. That is, we want the right-hand sides to be free of A-series predicates (including 'past' and 'future' as well as temporal indexicals. (p.77)

Such a theory, as Ludlow sketches in the remainder of the chapter, would involve use of temporal language committing us to the existence of other times standing in various temporal relations (or, if we wanted to adopt more of a reductionist or relationalist picture, the existence of events standing in various temporal relations).

In the next chapter, Chapter 6, Ludlow details what he takes to be problems for the tenseless theory. The main problem is something I already addressed in my post on Chapter 3 - Ludlow thinks that the tenseless theory cannot deal with 'the indexical nature of temporal discourse'. This is just the problem with the man in the house of mirrors again. To give just one example, Ludlow claims that the following two sentences as said on March 12 express different semantical knowledge and that the tenseless theory cannot deal with this because it will have to give them the same truth conditions (in the rest of the chapter, Ludlow also, despite earlier toying with the theory, rejects token-reflexive theories for temporal language (rightly, I believe)):
(1) My fifth anniversary is (this) March 12.
(2) My fifth anniversary is today.
He also notes, with Prior, that it seems that one is not thanking goodness for any tenseless fact when one is thankful that a painful dentist visit is over with but the tenseless theory seems to require that this is what one is thankful for.

The answer here is a fairly easy one - distinguish between, on the one hand, Ludlow's "semantical" truth-conditions which are intended to mirror the speaker's perspective and way of representing things (we can call these r-mirroring truth conditions, since they are supposed to mirror our way of representing the world), and, on the other, "metaphysical" truth-conditions which are supposed to capture the metaphysical structure of the world as it matches up (or fails to do so) to our representations (we can call these m-mirroring truth conditions, since they are supposed to mirror the metaphysical structure or "joints" of reality). "'e is now' is true iff e is now" can be a correct account of the truth conditions as represented by the knower (that is, the r-mirroring truth conditions) but it can still be true that what makes 'e is now' true is the tenseless fact that e is at t (these are its m-mirroring truth-conditions). That is, it can still be true that a mental or public tokening of 'e is now' at t is true iff e is at t since at t 'e is now' and 'e is at t' express the exact same fact, just with a different representational form - the former is needed for action whereas the latter is not sufficient so that when one represents the truth conditions one needs, for action, to represent them in the latter way - in an r-mirroring rather than m-mirroring way. If they are represented as ' 'e is now' is true iff e is the time of this utterance', for instance, that will not be sufficient for action or sufficient to know that e is now since i don't know this utterance is now.

So ultimately I don't think the failure Ludlow notices in providing tenseless r-mirroring truth conditions is really relevant to whether or not we should be tenseless theorists. A tenseless theorist just isn't committed to giving r-mirroring truth conditions. Indeed, this can be seen as the characteristic difference between the Old Tenseless Theory of Russell and company and the New Tenseless Theory of Mellor and others - the Old theorists were trying to give r-mirroring truth conditions and that was shown, as Ludlow has shown once again, to be a failure. The New theorists, on the other hand, have abandoned that project as hopeless and wish instead to give us tenseless m-mirroring truth conditions while allowing that we cannot give tenseless r-mirroring truth conditions for all tensed language. I think this is where Ludlow fundamentally misunderstands what Mellor is trying to do.

This is similar to what's going on in phil mind over property dualism (the view that there are irreducibly mental properties). The phenomenal concept strategy tries to show that physical descriptions do not miss anything in the world that can be captured by phenomenal descriptions but that this is compatible with the conceptual irreducibility of the phenomenal to the physical - that is, phenomenal descriptions must be given phenomenal r-mirroring truth conditions but that's compatible with giving them physical m-mirroring truth conditions.

On the last page of the chapter, Ludlow is somewhat cryptic about why tensed truth conditions or tensed beliefs require a tensed reality:
If the world contains only B-theory resources, then precisely how do we avoid having a B-theory psychology?
The illusion of a possible way out here is fostered by thinking that there could be psychological concepts that are, as it were, disembodied - cut off from the actual world in important ways. How can a psychological property (call it foo) that bears no relation to tense in the actual world have anything to do with tense?
It is no good to say that our abstract property foo is tensed because it is grounded in our time consciousness or temporal perception. That merely keeps the question one step removed. Then we must ask what it is about time consciousness or perception that makes them tensed. Why do we call consciousness or perception tensed if it does not correspond to something tensed in the actual world?
[...]psychological states (particularly perceptual states) are individuated in part by relations to the external world. In this case, that means that if the world is not tensed then it is difficult to see how our perception of the world could be tensed. (p.96)
I'm not quite sure what the problem is here - the tenseless theorist has perfectly reasonable accounts of how our tensed psychological states hook up to the tenseless world. It is necessary for our representations in general to fed into our cognitive systems in certain forms for them to be useful to us - in order for the ordinary descriptive facts of the world to be useful for action they need to represented by us in certain special ways. Facts about time are like this too and we call our special-functioning representations tensed when they have this function with relation to time. Tense has to do with the structure of our representations, not the facts they are about. Just because our representations have particular features doesn't mean the facts they represent have to have those features. So much should be pretty darn obvious. So this plea at the end of the chapter just seems to me to be pretty lame.

Four chapter to go...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Notes on Ludlow: Ch. 4

**WARNING: Technical Post**

In chapter 4, Ludlow supports a strong view about the relationship between language and reality - he seems to think that a correct semantic theory (in his sense) for a given language will tell us what there is. Here he seems to confuse what use of a given language would commit us to and what there actually is. Just because, for instance, use of English commits to me to the existence of, say, grobbles, does not mean that grobbles really exist. A semantic theory, then, might tell us some of the metaphysical commitments of a given language, but that on its own does not tell us anything yet about metaphysics itself. Take an axiom he gives, for instance:
(1') For all x, Val (x, snow) iff x = snow
Ludlow thinks that the truth of 1' commits us to the existence of snow. But that doesn't seem right at all - it only commits us to there being snow if we also suppose that 'snow' has a semantic value in Ludlow's sense, which it might not. Contra Ludlow, 1' doesn't appear to have any metaphysical commitments at all.

In the rest of the chapter, Ludlow applies these thoughts to events and names, etc. Though I won't go into details, I just didn't get his discussion of names at all. Maybe I would have to have read some of the papers he cites towards the end of that discussion.

Yet again, more later.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Notes on Ludlow: Ch. 3

**WARNING: Technical Post **
In chapter 3, Ludlow supports the idea that the character or role of indexicals ought to find their way into the semantics for such terms. For an example, consider this quote of his (p59):

In a house of mirrors, someone might point at a man who is about to be attacked by a dog, saying 'He is being attacked by a dog', and I may assent to this judgement, not realizing that I am about to be attacked. Intuitively, someone who says 'You are about to be attacked by a dog' is saying something more than the first speaker. To say that this extra information lies outside the province of semantics seems to be surrendering all too quickly.

But "saying something more" in what sense? Is that "something more" really something semantic and if so what is that "something more"? Perhaps it is just something more in the sense that it is of a different form and admits of a different cognitive, practical, or functional role. But that need not mean that this something more must show up in the truth conditions of a sentence unless we are liberal in what we ascribe to the sense of a sentence. If we don't do this, then it is not clear, without further information, whether Ludlow really disagrees with his opponents here since they are just forming truth conditions for differing purposes. After all, it's not clear to me that the "something more" is really "extra information" at all rather than old information in a different, more useful (or differently useful) form. Even if there is extra information carried by the different sentences, why think that this is semantically rather than pragmatically conveyed. Why think that just because a sentence carries information that this must fall into its semantics? Every spoken sentence, for instance, carries the information that it is spoken at a specific time by a specific person who is in certain brain states, etc. But clearly if we allow all the information carried by an utterance into the semantics, that would not be a good idea - the whole notion of semantics would be stretched to the breaking point.

Let's say that the extra information for a word like "you" is that it refers to the person being addressed, so that "you are the person I'm addressing with this utterance" is true iff the person I'm addressing with this utterance is the person I'm addressing with this utterance. But if we want to such truth-conditions to capture as much as possible, as Ludlow seems to want, then is clearly not acceptable - the sentence on the right hand side clearly does not have the same sense (in the widest sense) as the sentence mentioned on the left. For one thing, they have differing cognitive significance. I can, for instance, know that the former is true without having any clear idea whether the latter is true. And the former is contingently true whereas the latter is necessarily, and trivially, true.

Ludlow's proposed fix here is not persuasive in the least. He proposes that a sentence like (25) "It could have been the case that you are not the person I'm addressing with this utterance" is to be analyzed (? - it's not clear whether he's saying it's synonymous or that this really what the sentence is like at the level of logical form or what) as (26) "It could have been that the person I'm addressing with this utterance is not the person I'm addressing with this utterance". That sentence seems ambiguous between de re and de dicto readings and Ludlow seems to think that we should treat the original sentence as the de re version of its analysis. But it's not clear why it should be the de re reading rather than the de dicto. Or why we should take the alleged fact that 26 gives us the truth conditions for 25 as reason to think that 25 has a similar structure.

Consider the following exchange between Paul Teller and me on this sort of account for the word "now", where "e is now" is true iff e is the time of this utterance:

Paul: If there is a model then there are questions about scope Consider (1) "E might have occurred now" We could read this as
(a) Possibly [te is the time at which e occurs, tu is the time at which the utterance occurs, and te = tu]
I don't think this reading can be given to (1), but we'll have to consult with the experts whether this is just bad ear on my part. It seems to me that the natural reading is
(b) tu is the time at which the utterance occurse, (viz, in the real world) and possibly [te is the time at which e occurs and te = tu that is there is some possible world in which e occurs at the time in which the utterance occurs in the real world.

Me: The trouble here is that in (1) we have a possibility operator applied to a single sentence - "e occurs now" - which does not apparently have the internal structure specified in the above truth conditions. I'm not quite sure how the logical form of a sentence using "occurs" would get written out (since sentences about events are tricky like that), so let's use a simpler example:
(2) e is now
Again, applying a possibility operator to (2) does not seem to produce a sentence that has the internal structure of the truth conditions provided by either of the examples above. This is because (2) seems, grammatically, to be an atomic sentence and hence lacks the structure to support the scope ambiguity you mention above. (2), in logical notation, seems to come out as
(3) Ne
and applying a possibility operator to this we get
(4) Pos (Ne)
There seems to be only one scope possible for the possibility operator here - that is, to operate over the entire sentence, which means that to evaluate the truth of (4) we must look in every possible world and see if there is one where (3) is true. To find a possible world where (3) is true is just to find one where the truth conditions for (3) are met. And since the token reflexive theory requires that the truth conditions for (3) require a token of the sentence to exist, (4) requires there to be some possible world where a token exists - so something like (a) would be the correct truth conditions, not (b). That the statement of the truth conditions for any of these sentences is complex and can have varying scope for possibility operators is besides the point since the fact that the statement of a sentence's truth conditions has a certain structure does not entail anything about the structure of the sentence itself. Consider the following statement of truth conditions for "Jerry is a bachelor":
(5) "Jerry is a bachelor" is true iff Jerry is unmarried, marriagable, and male. Now consider the following sentence:
(6) Jerry is necessarily a bachelor.
If we treat (6) in the same way (4) is treated by (b) above then we can get the following incorrect truth conditions for (6):
(7) (6) is true iff Jerry is unmarried and necessarily (Jerry is marriagable and male)
But clearly (7) is not correct - where a modal operator applies to an atomic sentence, there is no way to move the operator further inside the sentence - the operator clearly applies to the entire sentence. EVEN IF the statement of the truth conditions for the atomic sentence is not itself atomic.

So one of Ludlow's proposals, to give a kind of token-reflexivy analysis of the truth-conditions for indexical sentences, is not going to be very promising unless all we are after is extensional equivalence (which Ludlow is clearly not - he wants to load up sense as much as possible and stick it all in the truth-conditions or have it "displayed" there if he can). Of course, if all we are after is extensional equivalence, anyone - opponents included - could be happy with these sorts of truth conditions.

Ludlow's other proposal is to take it that (28a) 'I walk' is true iff I walk. The trouble is applying this sort of T-schema to other people's utterances of the same thing. One way to take care of this is to say that the truth conditions we use are different when others are speaking. But that seems rather ad hoc, especially if the truth conditions are supposed to display the sense of such a sentence. But since I use 28a for 'I walk' it should not matter whether I say it or not since the sense seems to be the same no matter who uses it. But then that's not very plausible since when someone else says 'I walk' they are not saying that I walk. Clearly, then, if we are to use differing truth conditions in our evaluations of sentences when they come from us or from someone else, that must mean that we display different aspects of the sentence in each case. And if that's so then it seems that we can't be too liberal about what must be included in the sense of a sentence if both truth conditions for myself and those for others are both supposed to display senses. It can't be required to capture the full cognitive significance of such a sentence, which calls into question Ludlow's program a bit.

Perhaps, though, the truth conditions are supposed to represent just the facts a person knows and just the way they know them. So maybe it is true that I use things like 28a in interpreting what I am saying since I must represent the truth conditions in such a way in order to use them. But that doesn't mean (to anticipate my objections to later chapters) that in representing things in the way 28a does that I am representing some fact over and above the fact that (28b) 'I walk' is true iff Ian Spencer walks - even though I have to represent it like 28a rather than like 28b.

More later.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Notes on Ludlow: Chs. 1-2

**WARNING: Technical Post**

A lot of my dissertation is going to be about the debate between the tensed and tenseless views of time. Roughly, the main idea behind the tensed view is that reality itself is fundamentally tensed - there is an absolute, single present and absolute past and future and any description of reality must fundamentally be tensed as well. The tenseless view, on the other hand, sees talk of past, present and future as reducible to talk about various times merely being earlier or later or simultaneous and views tense as merely linguistic - reality itself is not in any way fundamentally tensed. So perhaps when I say 'We are eating now' at 6pm what makes that true or false is whether we are eating at 6pm - there's no need to talk about anything being present or past or whatever.

So for research I've been reading Peter Ludlow's Semantics, Tense, and Time and I must say that so far I am fairly unimpressed. He seems to just be regurgitating old tensed theorist arguments against tenseless theory. For one thing, many of his characterizations of the tenseless theory (which he calls the 'B-theory'), are controversial or misleading at best. No reasonable tenseless theorist, for instance, would characterize their own view as saying "time is simply a sequence of unchanging and tenseless events" (p1) - tenseless, yes; unchanging, no. Nor would they agree that the opposite view is characterized by thinking that "it is fundamental to the notion of time that events [...] have genuine temporal status" (pp2-3) as if the tenseless theory somehow denied this. I don't remember where he says this, but he also characterizes the distinction between the two theories by saying that, unlike the tensed theory, the tenseless theory denies the reality of "genuine change" - a characterization that no tenseless theorist would accept.

Chapter 1 seemed to be rather confused (and this confusion seems to follow through the rest of the book) in that, while Ludlow maintains that the only real language is our innate biological internal I-language (and that public, E-language does not exist), he persistently - in this chapter and in others - seems to treat I-language as if it were English. But that seems implausible since I-language is supposed to be part of our biological endowment whereas the grammar of English and connections between the world and English words definitely is not. We certainly use English words to express our internal representations of the world but I'm not sure that it follows that my I-language is simply English. Ludlow says he thinks he is following Chomsky here but I don't know enough personally about what he says to tell whether that's true. If I-language is just English, then I would have to disagree with Ludlow about it being our Language of Thought. After all, I think we learn English by using mental representations in the first place and this would be impossible if all representation had to be in English to start with. And if I-language is English after all it's not so clear that all our representations are really linguistic in character rather than also geometric or map-like or imagistic or whatever. After all, if animals don't have I-language then, given the similarities in our brains, it seems likely that, in addition to the linguistic representational capacities our brains have, we would also have more primitive forms of representation in common with more primitively brained organisms.

In chapter 2 Ludlow champions a view of semantics on which the job of semantic theory is to tell us what people know when they know the meanings of sentences. This in itself, I think, tells against the idea that my internal representational system is fundamentally English. After all, assuming Ludlow is correct, I learn English by learning the semantic rules for English which I then represent in my mind. But my representation of the rules, if in English, are themselves in need of interpretation and require that I know and represent some further rules in order to know what they mean. But (since global holism is false) this can't keep going on. So if I must know rules for every representation in English I must have some rules I know that aren't in English. But then we must ask about the semantics of these representations. The bottom line is that I must ultimately have some representations that do not require my knowledge of their semantic rules in order to use them competently. Otherwise, my semantic rules would either be circular or I'd be off on an infinite regress. So while showing what rules people know when they know the meaning of a sentence is useful for semantics, it cannot be the entire semantic story (if it is part of it all, which can be disputed - see some of Scott Soames' work for lots and lots of criticism of this view of semantic theory).

Ludlow thinks that semantic theory should take the form of a system of axioms (maybe with axioms like ' "Ted" refers to Ted', etc.) which can in turn be used to derive a system of sentences which give us the truth-conditions (so, for instance, one such sentence would be '"Snow is white" is true iff snow is white') for all the sentences of the language in question. He then supports the view that the truth-conditions derived in such a theory for various expressions will be such that each of them ' "shows" or "displays" the sense of the expressions' (p42). By this, he seems to say a few pages later, he means that the right hand side of the biconditional (the "iff" statement) will have the sense of the expression referred to on the left hand side. What this amounts to will depend on what the notion of sense amounts to. Sense might include functional, cognitive, or practical role, determination of reference or truth, the form taken, etc. The more sense encompasses, however, the more unclear it is that this sort of semantic theory has all the metaphysical ramifications that Ludlow is going to want out of it. The less it includes, on the other hand, the more unclear it is that it includes everything we would want our semantics to include. But he can't have it both ways, it seems.

More tomorrow.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Further Notes on Moral Relativism

Here is a selection from some notes I made up for a talk I gave to some College Lifers three years ago (members of FBC's College Group, that is):

The Bad Things: Arrogance, ethnocentrism, racism, sexism, intolerance, forcing your own views/practices on others, imperialism, religious persecution, discrimination, etc.

Causes of Tolerance and Relativism:
*Avoid the Bad Things! Bad Things come from Objectivism – history.
*Respect others – don’t offend or say anyone is wrong. It is okay to be different. (plus no positive moral instruction)
*Different cultures do things differently. So moral practice purely cultural.
*Everyone has a right to their own beliefs, especially about what is right.
*Self-centered individualism. I have complete authority over my own life and no one else has a right to impose themselves on it. “Who are you to tell me what is right?” I want to do whatever I want – not told I am wrong. If others are wrong, then there’s a standard. If a standard, then I could be wrong. But I want to do whatever I want – I have a right to do it and no one can tell me what to do.

Why are each of these bad reasons to believe in relativism?
*Objectivism does not have to go with the Bad Things.
*Respecting others does not mean never offending anyone, nor does it mean that all differences are okay.
*If different cultures have different beliefs, that does not mean both are right – just because some differences between cultures are purely a matter of opinion does not mean all are.
*Having a right to a belief does not make the belief true.
*That something justifies what you do is not a good reason to believe in it.

Most people accept relativism without much thought – it sounds nice.
But their beliefs are confused. “Don’t do any of the Bad Things!” is a moral absolute. So is “Be tolerant”. Case of Hitler.

Distinguish absolute morals from their cultural manifestations.
Stand up for objective morality while avoiding the Bad Things.
Some will confuse this with the Bad Things (since some do the opposite) and accuse you of them. Learn to separate Bad Things from standing up for the truth so that any offense will be from the gospel and not your timing or way of presenting its truth.
Real tolerance – respecting and not persecuting those you disagree with. This doesn’t mean not expressing your opinion or disagreement – it means doing so in love.

Thursday, March 8, 2007

Moral Relativism and Really Bad Papers

I'm in the middle of grading one of the worst batches of papers I've ever graded. Somehow, out of all the TAs I'm the one who ended up with most of the really bad ones - vast confusions and misunderstanding, gross failures to actually read the text they are writing on, neglect in actually following the directions given by the topic prompt, rambling and incoherent paragraphs (or pages) with little or no apparent point, incomprehensible prose, lack of critical thought, lack of arguing for their own opinions, use of obviously circular or question-begging arguments, treating this as a book report rather than a philosophy paper, ignoring what was actually said or argued in class, and so on. And all this on almost all my students' papers!

I was especially dissappointed with the papers on the first paper topic. The students were asked to take a look at the part of Russ Shafer-Landau's article on ethical subjectivism where he presents and then destroys arguments for NES - normative ethical subjectivism (the view that an action is right for me if and only if I approve of it/believe it is right). They were then supposed to turn one of the arguments for NES into an argument for Cultural Relativism (the view that an action is right for me if and only if my culture approves of it/believes it is right) and then see whether Shafer-Landau's objections to the analogous argument for NES work here as well and whether the argument for CR ends up showing CR is true. Over half of the students on this topic supported CR but half of them did not even take into account Shafer-Landau's devastating objections which would work against CR just as well as NES and the rest either misunderstood Shafer-Landau, made a reply to him that we explicitly showed in class did not actually work, or said basically that Shafer-Landau's replies don't work because CR is true. So basically these were awful papers. Unsurprisingly, those advocating CR didn't actually have any good reasons to believe CR and they basically said that it was true because CR is correct. Ugh!

It's awful that so many students buy into NES or CR when they have so many problems and there's really no good reason or argument in their favor. Here's one sort of argument against these kinds of moral relativism (MR):

(1) Morality is not arbitrary.
(2) If morality is not arbitrary then MR is false.
(3) Therefore, MR is false.

Evidence for 1: Morality is a fundamentally rational, reasoned thing. People reason and argue and deliberate about moral matters and there are certain patterns to moral reasoning and justification - it's not just willy-nilly or anything goes nor is it completely random. It has all the hallmarks of non-arbitrariness, unlike something like, say, norms of etiquette or whether one likes chocolate ice cream or not.

Evidence for 2: Since morality is based on patterns of reasons and reasoning and people and cultures do not simply arbitrarily approve or dissapprove of actions but do so for these very reasons, it seems that these reasons, which explain these patterns of approval and dissapproval are what make something right or wrong, not the approval or dissapproval itself. And so if approval and dissaproval are not what morality directly depends upon, then MR must be false since it claims the opposite. So good-bye, MR.

I'm quite fond of this sort of argument. Down with MR!

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Yo-Mama Jokes for Philosophers

From NC/DC :

Yo Mama is a Philosopher!

Here are some philosophical Yo mama jokes...
-Yo mama is so fat, she is the truth-maker for 'your mama is fat'
-Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks the trancendental deduction is a tax break for club kids
-Yo mama is so fat, when she introspects her mental states she finds food
-Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks lost rigidity can be fixed with viagra
-Yo mama is so fat, her formal cause is the Fat
-Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks undetached rabit parts are what she uses to make rabbit stew
-Yo mama is so fat that when she sits around the house, she sits AROUND the house in every possible world
-Yo mama is so dumb, she thinks 'the T-schema' refers to the Boston Tea Party
-Yo mama is so fat that she accelerates at more than 9.8 m/s/s and so if yo mama and a bowling ball were both dropped from the Empire State building at the same time she would hit the ground first
-If you understand any of these jokes, then P(Ex) (Philosopher(x) & x=you (yes, you)); i.e. you might be a philosopher

Added at Brain Hammer :

Yo mama’s so dumb she tries to shave her legs with Occam’s razor.
You mam’s so fat the back of her slacks looks like two of Buridan’s asses.