Friday, August 31, 2007

Six Theses about Language and Philosophy

                The format is a little goofy, because I pasted it from an email. I've changed nothing from the email text which means it was written on the fly, but reading over it I think I endorse it in essentials (as clarified in such a manner as to be clearly true of course). :-)~

              1. There is a fact of the matter
                as to the “rules” governing the application of terms. This is “logical”
                fact. It uses the same basic ramseyfication maneuver Lewis and other Humeans
                use for natural laws.

              2. Based on this fact I make an
                inference to the best explanation, that the generally consistent pattern is
                not the result of chance, but language users (not necessarily) conscious grasp
                of those “rules” not unlike a realist about laws.

              3. That people break from the
                pattern when they are asked to think about the rules I take to be evidence
                that they are not good at consciously representing those rules. Since the
                rules are simply generalizations over instances—pretty much exactly like a
                humean supervenience view of natural laws—to diverge from them *just is*
                to mistake what it was that was guiding them.

              4. What is guiding them, in my
                view, is the possession of concepts that words express. It is not the case
                that we can consciously think well about concepts we possess. We acquire the
                concepts by linguistic socialization. We are taught how to use words by our
                community. We are almost never told rules of application. We are just
                observers of applications, initially paradigm instances and then later fringe

              5. Since language skill is a
                kind of know-how, there is no expectation of ability to articulate the rules.
                This is a general feature of know-how. I couldn’t begin to tell you how I
                throw a Frisbee so damn well. In fact, when I try to pay attention to what it
                is the ability vanishes. Every time I formulate a theory about the rules of
                Frisbee throwing and test them I find I’ve failed. I’m not much more sanguine
                about terms (for non-scientists). There are of course exceptions, I’m an
                expert bike rider and though much of it is ineffable, some things I think I’ve
                figured out and have justified beliefs about what the rules are.

              6. I think ordinary language
                terms are often ultimately incoherent. I think this is the lesson of many
                logical, semantic, and metaphysical paradoxes. I think this is not surprising
                because of how I think language is acquired, by application to paradigm
                instances and then further and further extensions therefrom. As a result, my
                philosophical methodology is closest to Carnap’s “explication.” See Maher’s
                “Defense of Explication” and his lecture notes on line for a good defense of

              Tuesday, August 28, 2007

              Back-to-school Post! Knowledge and Evidence

              Set aside, for now, E = K. Focus on E → K.

              I’m fond of saying that we don’t need to know p in order for p to be in our evidence.

              However, consider this argument which I’ve adapted from Williamson (he uses it for a related but different argument, an argument of the form p is evidence for h only if p entails ~h).

              [Set aside, for now, my assertion that you know you’ve lost the lottery when you have the true belief that you have based on the odds.]

              So for some suitably large n, you’ve observed (on video, all the draws have already occurred, including the last draw) n balls taken out of a bag and all have been red.

              From this you reason that the n+1 ball which was drawn was red.

              Surely that the n + 1 ball was red is not part of your evidence.

              Yet it may be as probable as you please.

              Now bring back in E = K.

              That entails that you don’t know that the n + 1 ball was red.

              This contradicts my assertion that we do know the results of good, solid inductions.

              Suppose I’m right.

              Then either E = K is false or that the n + 1 ball was red is part of my evidence after all.

              I think I can make plausible the latter claim. Here’s a try.

              You ask me if Earl’s going to be at the party. I think he’s more likely to be there if Rich is going to be there, and I’m pretty sure Rich is going to be there, so I answer that I think Earl will probably be there.

              I’ve clearly conditioned on the proposition that Rich is going to be there even though I don’t know he is, it’s only quite probable for me.

              I think this *establishes* that it’s OK to use the unknown as evidence.

              I think the reason we are less likely to say this in the case of the case of enumerative induction is that the mathematical framework invokes a way of thinking which makes us want to “wait and see.”

              After all, that next draw is coming up, why not just wait and see? We are hesitant to use something as evidence if we think it’s status might change soon or if it’s status can be fixed quite easily.

              This is a very natural and rational way to *use* evidence, but it shouldn’t affect our *analysis* of evidence.

              So if I’ve succeeded thus far, either we do *know* that the next draw was red (assuming it was) and furthermore we know that we’ve lost the lottery (assuming we have) or E = K is false.

              Either way, Williamson is mad and I’m happy. :-)~

              Friday, August 03, 2007

              SCP at the ACPA: Virtue and Value

              John Greco (now at SLU don't forget) is currently putting together a session for the Society of Christian Philosophers at the American Catholic Philosophical Association meeting. Jason Baehr will give a paper on open mindedness as an intellectual virtue and Stephen Grimm will give a paper on epistemic value. Daniel Breyer (Forham) will comment on Jason's paper and I'll be commenting on Stephen's paper.

              Call for Papers