Thursday, November 19, 2009


Around in the web:
  • A survey on philosophers’ views about normative judgments.
  • A survey on publishing in philosophy.
  • A survey on a new journal in philosophy.
Plus, if you're a PhilPapers user, a survey on the distribution of philosophical views among professional philosophers and others (in your inbox).

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Easy “Difference-Making” Properties?

Last week we discussed Cameron’s 'Truthmaking for Presentists,' very cool paper!

Bracketing concerns about a notion of indeterminacy whose source is not semantic (nor epistemic) and about the notion of indeterminate truth, we devoted part of the discussion to Cameron’s contention that insatisfaction with “Lucretian” properties like being such as to have been a child motivates restriction to difference-making properties as candidates for truthmaking, understood as properties “the instantiation of which at a time makes a difference to the intrinsic nature of the bearer at that time”.

If I understood them correctly, both Marta Campdelacreu (in attendance) and Pablo Rychter (virtually) independently worried that some properties that would count as difference-making for Cameron seemed insatisfactory for truthmaking in just the same way than “Lucretian” properties were. Take an intrinsic property Ross presently instantiates, say being currently sitting. It would seem as unsatisfactory as before that the presentist used the property of being such as to have been a child and currently sitting in the truthmaker for the truth that Ross was a child. But the property is difference-making for him, given that
(*) Ross has the intrinsic nature at the present that he has partly in virtue of instantiating being such as to have been a child and currently sitting at the present.
(Notice that it won’t do, it seems to me, to reject (*) on the basis of:
(#) Ross has the intrinsic nature at the present that he has partly in virtue of instantiating being currently sitting at the present.
For, arguably, if (#) is true then (*) is also true. See the axiom of subsumption in Fine’s (1995) logic of essence, and the discussion of the conjunction thesis for truthmaking in López de Sa (2009).)

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Schaffer's Permissivism

A couple of weeks ago we discussed Schaffer's 'On What Grounds What'. Although we discussed quite a bit about different, non-equivalent ways of characterizing 'permissivism' in detail, I got the sense that there was a general sympathy towards the spirit of the contention that existential questions about numbers etc. were somehow easy, and the harder questions concerned what grounds what, and thus what is fundamental.

In particular, those in attendance did not object to the following constituting a proof of the existence of numbers (p. 357):
  1. There are prime numbers.
  2. Therefore there are numbers.
This is just an invitation to people not in attendance to share their views ;-).

Lasersohn as a Truth Relativist, MacFarlane style

I remember there was a discussion at some point between Dan LdS and Manolo CG about whether Lasersohn is a "non-indexical contextualist" or a "relativist" (MacFarlane's terms). The discussion concerned Lasersohn's 2005 paper, "Context dependence, disagreement and predicates of personal taste", where, with the exception of a short paragraph whose interpretation sparked the debate, there is nothing to base a relativist interpretation on ("relativist" - mind you - as opposed to "non-indexical contextualist"; there's no question whether Lasersohn is a contextualist of the ordinary sort.) However, in his more recent paper, which we were supposed to read in our unofficial reading group on contextualism and relativism last year, things are crystal clear. Here is what Lasersohn says in "Quantification and perspective in relativist semantics", Philosophical Perspectives 2008:
What makes this system “relativist”? Different authors use this term in
different ways. As I understand it, there are two crucial features of the system
just outlined which make this term appropriate. First, sentences may vary in
truth value without a corresponding variation in content. Second, this variation
depends on some parameter whose value is not fixed by the situation in which a
sentence is used. (pg. 315)
And then he continues, relating his view with MacFarlane's:
These criteria are equivalent, as far as I can tell, to the claim that sentences
may be assigned contents whose truth values depend not just on the “context
of use” but also on the “context of assessment” (MacFarlane 2003, 2005a). We
treat the context of use as fully determined by the situation in which the sentence
is used; if truth values vary independently of this situation, we regard them as
at least partly dependent on a separate context determined by the situation in
which the sentence is assessed for truth or falsity.
Maybe the debate was solved months ago, but I thought I should mention it anyway!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Kaplan and the shotgun

This is a non-serious post connected to Dan LdS's talk on Wednesday (which I suppose took place...). To be more precise, it's conencted to Egan's paper that Dan was considering. I haven't re-read the paper, but I remember I wasn't convinced that the Kaplanian framework has serious problems with (at least some of) the examples Egan is giving. Also, it struck me as a bad thinig that Egan doesn't think it necessary to sharply differentiate his view from the multiple-utterances view. If I remember correctly, Egan's preferred view is that an utterance produced at a given context of utterance expresses a multiplicity of propositions, which proposition is expressed being determined by the context of utterance together with the context of assessment (don't remember whether he actually uses this latter term, but let's stick to it for the moment). On the other hand, the multiple-utterances view has it that each time different assessors are presented with a sentence produced in a context of utterance (different from the respective contexts of assesment), that counts as a different utterance of the sentence at issue. [Let me here note that even the shotgun metaphor that Egan uses is closer to the multiple-utterances view than to his preferred one: the shotgun is the producing of the sounds, the bullets are the different utterances and the wounded people are the different propositions expressed. (Yes, this is Romanian mafia speaking. Shhhh...)] Now, the thing is I'm not sure Kaplan has problems with the multiple-utterances view. In defining truth in a context, Kaplan speaks of occurences of sentences. Could these be equated with utterances? If not, is the relation between occurences and utterances such that an occurence of a sentence can only result in one utterance being produced? My "I'll be back in 5 minutes" post on my office door constitutes, I take it, just one occurence of the sentence. Yet, it seems to me to spread around a multiplicity of utterances - one for each different minute (second?) the note spends hung on my door. Of course, to get across a content, someone needs to read the note, so that that someone grasps the proposition, but I don't think it's so implausible that there are propositions out there that no one grasps :-) (This is similar to the gravestone poem example, right? What does Egan say about that - how does he reject it? Sorry for being lazy...) So maybe Kaplan's talk of occurences gets things wrong, but defining truth for utterances instead of truth for occurences would fix it - in such a way that the multiple-utterances view is compatible with the "modified" Kaplan. Even if one finds ungrasped propositions hard to swallow, each grasped proposition gets expressed in a context in which there is both a "speaker" and an audience, located in time and space, which seems to me to be the notion of context Kaplan is using.
If you find this too confusing or stupid, please ignore it. :-)

Friday, October 09, 2009

Epistemological Nightmare

All our worries were justified: Two "Zebras" in a zoo in Gaza turned out to be cleverly painted mules:
The UN are sending in a hastily assembled squadron of epistemologists to keep the situation from escalating.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


We have had the first session of the new LOGOS Reading Group on Metaphysics. We discussed Varzi’s recent ‘Universalism Entails Extensionalism' in Analysis. I was quite surprised to learn about the difference between characterizing a sum of the Xs as
something that overlaps all and only those things that overlap some of the Xs
something that has the Xs as parts and no part disjoint from the Xs.

We also resumed a discussion we had last year about who should count as anti-extensionalist, allowing that there be two non-atomic things sharing all proper parts. Varzi mentions Wiggins 1980, but as Marta Campdelacreu pointed out, for a Wigginsian arguably the head of the cat is part of it, but not of a ‘mere’ fusion of its body cells, right? Any other candidates?

Friday, October 02, 2009

Illocutions, Perlocutions and Metaphorical Content

In his talk last Wednesday at the LOGOS Seminar, "On Metaphorical Content", Gergö Somodi gave an argument that puts pressure on anti-Davidsonian theories of metaphorical content, and suggested a possible way out, to be further researched and elaborated. Here I will present my interpretation of the paper, and I will indicate that, if I understood it correctly, the research project is indeed worth pursuing.

Following more or less the Austinian terminology that Gergö was using, and more or less the interpretation of Davidsonian views he was assuming, on a Davidsonian view the only illocution made with an utterance of a metaphorical sentence such as 'Juliet is the Sun' is the one whose content is the literal necessary falsehood that Juliet is identical with our star. It is true that the utterance conveys to audiences other, more sensible ideas, such as the claim that Juliet gives warm and light to the speaker; but this is no illocution, it is only a causal effect of the literal illocution on which the latter has as little rational influence as if that idea had been produced in the audience by "a bump in the head" (Davidson, sic). On a Davidsonian account, then, grasping that Juliet gives warm and light to the speaker is merely a perlocutionary effect.

Anti-Davidsonians like Elizabeth Camp argue instead that the more sensible idea is also an illocution (in addition perhaps to the illocution of the literal meaning) of the utterance, perhaps conveyed in the indirect way that indirect speech acts or conversational implicatures are conveyed, or perhaps more in the way that context-dependent meanings are conveyed. Now, the problem that Gergö raised for these views (as Genoveva helped me to appreciate) goes as follows: writers like Camp accept that an essential part of the mechanism through which the alleged metaphorical illocution is conveyed to audiences has audiences "noticing resemblances, seeing things, entertaining pictures"; but all of these are perlocutionary effects; how can an illocution be conveyed by essential perlocutionary means?

My initial resistance to this way of setting the problem was as follows: if perlocutions are defined the way Gergö proposed (intention-irrelevant causal effects of utterances), then it is not clear that the categories illocution/perlocution are incompatible. For understanding the literal semantic content of a context-dependent utterance, such as Kaplan's 'That is a picture of the greatest philosopher of the twentieth century.', might well be an intention-irrelevant (in the sense indicated by Gergö) causal effect of an utterance. But then the anti-Davidsonian is safe, because "noticing resemblances, seeing things, entertaining pictures" might be perlocutions but also illocutions, and there is no problem with the view. This would be clearer if we used a less question-begging description of the way we interpret metaphors, such as, in our example, "thinking of the target-domain of persons in terms of the commonly believed properties of the source-domain of stars", instead of speaking of "noticing, seeing, picturing".

Alternatively, we can define "perlocution" in such a way that the categories of illocutions and perlocutions are really incompatible, as on the Strawsonian definition that what is distinctive of perlocutions is that they cannot be produced by Gricean communicative intentions. But then it is question-begging to say that the way we interpret metaphors, through "noticing resemblances, seeing things, entertaining pictures", is a perlocution. The anti-Davidsonian would say that this is no perlocution, in the Strawsonian sense, but rather something that can indeed be achieved by means of communicative intentions, what, again, would be clearer if we described it in less question-begging terms such as "thinking of the target-domain of persons in terms of the commonly believed properties of the source-domain of stars".

In the course of the discussion (particularly the exchange with Josep), I came to think that this is also what Gergö wants to suggest, and that his point was rather that defending it requires a better clarification of what is usually meant by perlocution, so that we can see that effects that in some sense can be called 'perlocutionary' can contribute to properly illocutionary effects. With this I agree, in fact Gergö's characterization of a perlocution as an intentionally-irrelevant causal effect of an utterance is what many writers on these topics seem to have in mind (see for instance chapter 2 of Alston's Illocutionary Acts and Sentence-Meaning).

Thursday, August 06, 2009

On the distinction between positive and negative conceivability in Chalmers

I'm sorry but the following was written in Spanish, if anyone has trouble reading and is interested I can translate.

Sobre la distinción entre concebibilidad positiva y negativa en Chalmers:

Según Chalmers, la concebibilidad positiva tiene las siguientes ventajas epistemológicas sobre la negativa:

  1. “se corresponde con el tipo de intuición modal clara y distinta invocada por Descartes y que refleja la práctica en el método de concebibilidad como es usado en los experimentos mentales filosóficos contemporáneos” (155)
  2. la concebibilidad positiva es mejor guía para la posibilidad que la negativa (160)

Ambas resultan de su concepción de la misma más o menos en los términos de Yablo (1993):

    • concebir positivamente consiste en “imaginar (en algún sentido) una configuración específica de objetos y propiedades” (150)
    • se diferencia de suponer o “entertaining” porque (al igual que la imaginación perceptiva) el acto de imaginar que S tiene un carácter objetual mediado: consiste en tener “una intuición de (o como de) un mundo en el que S, o por lo menos de (o como de) una situación en la que S, donde una situación es (a grandes rasgos) una configuración de objetos y propiedades dentro de un mundo” (151)

A diferencia de Yablo, imposibilidades manifiestas pueden ser imaginadas en este sentido según Chalmers y por ello agrega que la imaginación debe ser coherente (152-3).

La pregunta a hacer es ¿en qué consiste esa “intuición” de un mundo/situación en el caso de la imaginación modal? Está claro que en el caso perceptivo sería algo que podemos llamar una “imagen mental” de la misma. Lo único que se me ocurre es que en el caso modal en lugar de visualizar/construir una imagen, lo que hacemos es captar/construir una descripción del mundo/situación en cuestión. Siguiendo a Chalmers, imaginar modalmente (visualmente no se puede) que Alemania gana la II Guerra Mundial consiste en "imaginar un mundo donde Alemania gana ciertas batallas y procede a abrumar a las fuerzas aliadas dentro de Europa! (151). Esto es, uno debe describir el mundo imaginado en algunos aspectos adicionales pero relevantes a la verdad de la proposición involucrada. Por ejemplo, Si deseo imaginar un mundo donde los cerdos vuelan debo imaginar algunos rasgos biológicos de los seres voladores que me permitan afirmar que son cerdos (¿rasgos morfológicos tal vez? ¿genéticos?) y algún detalle acerca de cómo animales así logran volar. Cuanto más detallada la descripción del mundo (cuanta más información contenga), más "positiva" habrá sido la concepción. De este modo el requisito de coherencia puede ser también más fácilmente comprendido: la descripción debe ser consistente.

Si esta reconstrucción está encaminada, la diferencia entre concebibilidad negativa y positiva de una oración S consiste en la diferencia entre que S no sea falsa a priori y que una descripción D relevante de un mundo-S sea consistente.

Aquí surge una segunda pregunta: ¿qué tipo de información relevante para la verdad de S debemos considerar? Supongamos un conjunto de tales oraciones O1...On que son condiciones necesarias de S. Ahora bien, para toda Oi el condicional Oi entonces S es verdadero, pero en algunos casos es conocido a priori y en otros a posteriori. Cuando caracteriza la concebibilidad primaria (1-concebibilidad) afirma que "es siempre un asunto a priori" e involucra suspender todo conocimiento a posteriori (158). ¿Significa esto que las únicas Oi relevantes para 1-concebir positivamente un mundo-S son aquellas en las que el condicional es a priori? No entiendo muy bien en ese caso cómo podríamos 1-concebir positivamente que algunos cerdos vuelan. Tal parece que tenemos que examinar qué es lo que sabemos a priori de los cerdos, por ejemplo, que son animales de cuatro patas, tal vez. Pero parece que hay poco que sepamos de este modo y no alcanza para construir una descripción que determine un mundo-S. Si este diagnóstico es correcto resultará que a estos efectos es tan difícil concebir positivamente que algunos cerdos vuelan como un enunciado matemático complejo. En otras palabras, se repite contra la concebibilidad positiva de Chalmers la objeción de van Inwagen a la concebibilidad a la Yablo. ¿Qué opinan?

Monday, July 13, 2009

Do you think that there is anything it is like to have a visual experience in general?

There are different shades of red that you can experience. You can distinguish between RED35 and RED36, two experiences of different shades of red. Both experiences of the two shades of red are more similar, phenomenologically speaking, between them that with regard to RED2.
Furthermore experiences RED35, RED36 and RED2 seem to be more similar that an experience of GREEN21. In general we distinguish between red experiences and green experiences. The phenomenal properties that characterize red experiences are in a sense different from those which characterize green experiences.
Do you think that it is controversial to suppose that red experiences have something phenomenological in common?

The former four experiences are in a sense similar, they are color experiences. They differ in a sense from visual experiences of forms, like a visual experience of a square. But again this experience and an experience of a red object have something in common: they are visual experiences, and in a sense the way they feel is similar.
Do you agree that visual experiences feel somehow similar and that the way that they feel is different from, say, auditory experiences?

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Indeterminacy Problem or Fact?

Recently, Manolo Martínez presented his “A Solution for the Indeterminacy Problem.” I voiced a worry I had some time ago, according to which indeterminacy will be just a fact if whatever it is in the individual that determines reference, fails to determine a particular one within a range of equally natural candidates.

In the discussion with Sònia Roca, however, it seemed to me that he would agree with this but contend that, in a given range of cases in the discussion, one of the candidates was indeed more natural than the alternatives. So reconstructed, the paper will advance a particular elaboration on the relevant notion of naturalness via HPCs as to substantiate the contention. Is this a fair reconstruction?

Phenomenal Properties and Epistemic Access

Phenomenal properties are properties of mental states. In virtue of a phenomenal property a certain mental state feels somehow, there is something it is like to be in that mental state.
Some philosophers have argued that a mental state M of a subject S can instantiate a phenomenal property P without S realizing (or even being able to realize) that she is feeling anything (phenomenal consciousness without access consciousness in Block's terminology).
I disagree. There is a sense of feeling, that is the sense I am interested in, in which it makes no sense to talk about feeling anything if one does not realize it. In that sense, phenomenal consciousness entails access consciousness.
If we are interested in phenomenal properties and in its naturalization, the discussion is relevant. For imagine that one is interested in a neural correlate of a conscious mental state, or in some empirical evidences relevant for certain theories of consciousness. Is the epistemic access a constitutive part of the phenomenal property?
For instance, blindsighters have been sometimes presented as an objection to representational theories of consciousness. In order to deal with this, representational theorists introduce some further condition for instantiating a phenomenal property besides the representational character (for instance Tye introduces the condition of being available for reasoning and believes -being "poised" in Tye's terminology). But if we accept the distinction between the phenomenal property and the epistemic access, we can say that what is missing in the case of the blidsighter is the epistemic access (poised would not be a necessary condition for consciousness). In that case, I see no pre-theoretical way to decide whether or not a phenomenal property is instantiated.
A further problem would be that, if the process responsible for the instantiation of the phenomenal property and the epistemic access are different, one could fail. Imagine that S is instantiating phenomenal property A, the epistemic access machinery fails (certain neurons misfire) and indicates phenomenal property B. What does S feel? Trilemma:
  1. S feels anything. But this seems to be an ad hoc answer
  2. S feels B. In this case the phenomenal property instantiated plays no role in what S is feeling.
  3. S feels A. In this case S feels A but if she has a believe about what she is feeling this is going to be false. This option seems to go against the widespread intuition that we do have direct access and knowledge of what we are feeling
Option 3 seems not to be acceptable for me. One can fail in categorizing the feeling: for example having a experience A of very cold water and believing that it is really hot. In such a case there is a categorization mistake: experience A is categorized as belonging to experiences of hot water. Nevertheless, it seems to me that I am infallible in knowing what it is like to have experience A when I am undergoing experience A (some kind of indexical knowledge, this feeling)
It seems to me that in virtue of instantiating a phenomenal property I thereby come to know what it is like to undergo the corresponding experience (maybe I cannot remember it 1 msec. later). If this is true, the epistemic access is an intrinsic element of the phenomenal property and there cannot be phenomenal consciousness without access consciouness.

What do you think about the relation between phenomenal properties and the epistemic access?