Sunday, May 20, 2007

Nussbaum on India

Martha Nussbaum has written a surprisingly well-informed and insightful essay on the rise of fascism in India. Surprising, that is, for someone like me who isn't following her work very closely; she has just published a whole book about this issue. You have to give it to her, her scope is impressive.
Reading through the piece brought back memories of some downright scary discussions about this guy that I had in India. There is not much that is more distressing to a German than to be congratulated for this part of his country's history.
In case you're neither interested in Martha, Adolf nor India, read it for the sake of the good point she makes against over-pragmatically inclined educational systems.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

MetaMetaphysics e-Reading Group: next session

Logos’ e-reading group on MetaMetaphysics is resuming, after a short period of inactivity. During the next e-session we will discuss “Fundamental and derivative truths”, a work in progress by Robbie Williams, available here. The e-session will start around May 30, here in the bLOGOS. Posts belonging to this session should be tilted “MM Williams: your title”

UPDATE: This has been postponed until the beginning of next semester.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Call for Intuitions

This came up the other day when I was talking with Brenda Laca over at the UAB. Consider:

We had lunch at twelve.

I agree (tentatively) with Prof. Laca that this means, as a matter of semantics, that the actual eating started at twelve. Thus it would be wrong to assert this sentence if the lunch went from eleven to one; in that case the right thing to say would be

We were having lunch at twelve.

Still, it seems to me that even in these circumstances, it wouldn't be right to contest the first assertion, at least not by saying something like

No you didn't!

If anyone shares these intuitions or has different ones, I'd be grateful to read about them!

Friday, May 11, 2007

Contexts and their Centers

According to David Lewis (1980), in order to capture how the truth of a sentence depends on features of contexts and its contribution to the value of longer sentences in which it is embedded, we need a semantically basic two-dimensional relation of a sentence s being true at a context c at an index i. A context is a location—time, place, and possible world, or centered world for short—where a sentence might be said. It has countless features, determined by the character of the location. An index is an n-tuple of features of context, but not necessarily features that go together in any possible context. Thus an index might consist of a speaker, a time before his birth, a world where he never lived at all, and so on. The coordinates of an index are features that can be shifted independently, unlike those of a context, and are used to systematize the contribution of sentences embedded under sentence operators, such as ‘possibly’ or, more controversially, ‘somewhen,’ ‘strictly speaking,’ and so on. Given a context c, however, there is the index of the context, ic: that index having coordinates that match the appropriate features of c. Hence the basic two-dimensional relation can be abbreviated in this special case: sentence s is true at context c iff s is true at context c at index ic.

According to David Chalmers (2006), there is a contextual understanding and an epistemic understanding of two-dimensional semantics. Although I am not familiar with the details of “this monster paper” (so described by his author ;-{)}), it seems to me clear that the Lewisian should be counted among the “contextual understanding” approaches, if any does: “the first dimension represents possible contexts of utterance, and the intension involved in the first dependence represents the context-dependence of an expression’s extension” (Chalmers 2006, p. 65) (This is not to say that it cannot be count as also being among the “epistemic understanding” approaches, but never mind this now.)

Notice, however, that Lewis’s contexts are worlds centered at spatiotemporal points, which may or may not be occupied by linguistic tokens, utterances thereof, thoughts, or whathaveyou. Thus, for Lewis, contexts are locations where a sentence might be uttered, but not necessarily locations which contain any utterance of any sentence. (Thus the models for contexts offered in (Chalmers 2006, p. 66) are not appropriate in general.)

One of the two general problems David Chalmers identifies against the contextual understanding of two-dimensional semantics concerns precisely the need to evaluate sentences such as ‘Language exists’ as false with respect to language-free contexts. Thus it seems to me to be directed only against particular versions of the contextual understanding which, unlike Lewis’s, restrict themselves to contexts with specific linguistic/mental centers.

Am I wrong? And anyway is there any reason why, on the contextual understanding, one should so restrict the contexts, against Lewis?

(I think Oscar will be arguing for such a restriction at the LOGOS Seminar. Maybe he’ll also share his reasons here…)

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

MM Chalmers: Schaffer on Furnishing Functions

In a part of ‘Ontological Anti-Realism’ which I didn’t comment on (§§8-11), David Chalmers considers an objection against anti-realism based on the idea that the absolute unrestricted quantifier has an objective, determinate semantic value. I don’t want to assess his response to the objection here (see related discussion here, and references there).

In order to analyse existence assertions, however, he tentatively introduces the notion of a furnished world—an ordered pair of a world and a domain—and a furnishing function—a mapping from worlds to domains—(see the end of §8).

In his comments to the paper, Jonathan Schaffer objects:

The argument for heavyweight realism about fundamental structure: Furnishing functions are maps from a world to a domain. But a function is a map from one structure (‘the input’) to another (‘the output’). One cannot have a well-defined function without there being some articulated structure to the input. In particular we must be able to specify the arguments of the function. Any function is either complete or partial. It is either injective or not. It is either surjective or not. None of these classifications would make sense unless the input (‘the world’) already comes with some fundamental articulated structure inbuilt, to feed into the function. … I conclude that the framework that Chalmers actually supplies is at least half-realist, in the sense that it presupposes heavyweight realism about fundamental structure. (pp. 2-3)

I am probably missing something here. For I understood that a furnishing function was a map from the class of worlds to the class of domains, whose arguments were precisely just worlds. Thus I don’t see why there being such mappings requires in any sense any “articulated structure” in the items to which the function is applied. Can anyone help?

Online Graphical Dictionary Interesting ;-{)}!

(Thanks to E.B. for the link.)