Thursday, May 06, 2004


The new site is located here.

[Please, Orangers, no more posting here, you'll be receiving your email invites shortly]

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

Slowdown, and, announcements

Looks like things have been a little slow here due to everyone working on finals and grading. Just to reiterate, the new site is just about up and running. Orangers, I'll send you your invitation emails to the new blog soon, most likely tomorrow, and announce the new URL then as well.
To outside visitors, hopefully things will pick up pretty soon. We'll be having a modal logic reading and work group this summer, and there will also be a series of graduate student presentations of papers. No doubt we'll blog about these things as well pretty soon. I believe quite a few of us are sticking around this summer.
Again for Orangers, I believe a tentative first meeting date for the modal logic group is the 13th. Y'all should email Kevin Kukla if you didn't express interest earlier and do now.

Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Logic & HTML

FYI: The current U. Rochester Blog has helpful instructions for putting logical notation into HTML. This will help, as I try to respond to the comment thread concerning paraconsistent logic.

Nice move Mark!


Many thanks go to Matthew at Ektopos , who has generously offered to host us at Ektopos.com. So, we'll be looking quite a bit snazzier pretty soon a la a Movable Type format (check out on the sidebar links Parablemania, This is not the Name of This Blog, or Fake Barn Country for examples). Please (SU folk) send any style suggestions to me at marksteen@gmail.com . I'm busy grading 30 finals and papers right now, so it might take a while before the site is set up and we move. I'll be importing the content from here to there, and we will have integrated comments, no more problems with comments shutting down, etc. And, later you'll get new invitation blog notices for the new deal.
I'll post the new site location as soon as it's presentable enough. By the way, did I mention how much I like Ektopos?
Ektopos Ektopos Ektopos

Monday, May 03, 2004



Friday, April 30, 2004

Hyleninja (Steen's blog) has moved

to better and brighter territory (namely, TypePad). If all y'all OrangeBloggers could pony up about 50 cents a month each, we could re-locate to better environs. But, maybe, like we talked about before, we could hit up the department for the dough. Either way, we should do it. I've been spoiled, and blogger smell what icky. Check it out...

Paraconsistent Logic

I know this is a difficult topic for many, but I only have one small thought on the matter. One of the classical logic arguments for why contradictions are said not to be true is because contradictions entail everything, and not everything is true -- or so goes the thought. Though I won't pursue it here, on every paraconsistent semantics that I've read (Priest, The Brazilian Paraconsistent Logicians, Rescher, Brandom, etc.) it is quite easy to show that a contradiction entailing an arbitrary X need not preserve truth, so such an entailment is not a valid entailment. Thus, we ought not be worried in admitting true contradictions, at least on this point.

Even on a classical account of validity, it's not at all clear that the argument from classical logic has any force, if we think of validity as truth preservation. So I don't think this argument works. I acknowledge that other, more subtle arguments, to the effect that some crucial notion or other, for example, truth, validity, or rationality, requires consistency. On this point, I believe (very tentatively) that we need to be open to other kinds of consistency. Though I won't pursue this line of thought any further, I see no reason for closing one's mind to the possibility of dialetheism.

This post is meant only as a passing remark concerning my interest in dialetheism as it pertains to a logic of vagueness. But such interests, are, more generally, forcing me to re-think my position(s) concerning classical logic.

Is anyone familiar with Rescher & Brandom's argument that this world, in all probability, is a paraconsistent world, amongst other possible worlds? I've heard a couple people mention this in passing. Does anyone know the argument?

I defended my master's thesis yesterday. I passed! The whole experience was quite interesting. I kept anticipating that they would start asking trick questions and try and trip me up so that they could fail me. But, they didn't. And in fact, the committee even got a bit chatty at one point. The best thing about a defense, though, is when your advisor takes you out for a beer afterwards!

Thursday, April 29, 2004

Brief (replacement) Note:
The comments program has been changed from Squawkbox to Enetation to Haloscan and then Backblog. Sorry about the loss of comments. [note for Orangers--forget everything I said about comments, you don't have to do anything special now]
Sorry about the technical problems. With Enetation, you could post comments on Netscape, but not Explorer. Haloscan didn't work half the time I checked the webpage. Squawkbox, which started out free, froze us unless we paid some cash. I hope Backblog holds up. I wish the rest of you Orangers liked all this more, then we could switch to MT or Typepad which looks a lot cooler and holds up better, with better features (such as integrated comments etc.). Alas!

Just a reminder. This month is "Autism Awareness Month". Ironicly. Not suprisingly, it's almost too late to mention this.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

God, the Problem of Evil, and Lagadonianism

[note-some of this is culled from old posts from my own blog]
There’s been some interesting activity around the phil blogosphere recently about folk’s favorite solutions to the problem of evil. Brian Weatherson’s is here, which he was keyed off to write by Jonathan Ichikawa’s proposed solutionhere.
My favorite solution to the problem of evil is Ken Gemes’ (which you can find here, courtesy of Brian Leiter), backed up by some of my own, highly speculative considerations about how God thinks/speaks:

"[C]onsider the world we know and inhabit. It is a possible world, hence one that God has thought of. Furthermore, our world pretty clearly, pace Descartes, contains evil. Now God being perfect would not create a world containing evil. Ergo God did not create this world, he merely thought of it. Our world then is a merely possible world, one God thought of but chose not to create. Presumably it was his knowledge of the evil in this world which led him to decide that it was beneath creation. The actual world is some other world that contains none of the evil of this world or any other possible world." (Gemes)

So, there is no actual evil that is problematic and in need of justification, since our world isn’t actual. The actual world, if there is one, must not have any. Now, I said that this was my favorite solution, which doesn’t necessarily coincide with what I think is the best, or the more likely true position (I think Brian’s, which is based on other sources, comes closer to being right). It’s downright wacky. How do we deal with the wackiness? By bringing in some more.

The major problem, of course, is dealing with incredulous stares and people pounding their Moorean fists. How to reply? The answer is that God speaks and thinks in Lagadonian, and, while ‘speaking’ the actual world in Lagadonian, he merely thought of our world in Lagadonian. But what, pray tell, is Lagadonianism? Well, I’m glad you asked.

A 'Lagadonian' language (the phrase is inspired by a passage from Gulliver's Travels...I'm not sure who introduced it in a phil.language context ) is a (or 'the') language where every object is a name of itself (and, similarly, every event is it's own name/description, every property is a name for itself, every state of affairs is its own description, and so on). Just as we can represent the state of a affairs of 'the apple is red' by 'le pomme est rouge', 'la manzana es rojo', by morse code, by whatever code the passage 'the apple is red' is stored as in a Word document, etc., etc., so is, or possibly can be, the state of affairs of the apple being red represented in the apple's being red.
Now, assuming God exists, we'd like to suppose that he would think in the most perfect language possible. There's a prima facie case, if a Lagadonian language is possible, that God would think in Lagadonian. This is because, to think in any other language would be to use representations that are not identical with what is represented, and all kinds of problems, as we know, arise because of this. God can just cut out the middle man by thinking with the things he thinks of, whereas us puny mortals think of the things we do with something else.

Since God would think with the things he thinks of, rather than with something else, since our (merely possible) world is an un-actualized one, which, if actualized, would have solid physical things, then the Lagadonian words for them, which God has thought of, are the solid physical things we see around us. (Hebrews, 11:3, which Gemes mentions: "[t]hrough faith we understand the worlds were framed by the word of God") Too bad these words aren't actual.
Of course, there are so many moves to be made against this, that it would be hard to motivate. But, that's just what you'd expect, what with all the evil and us being non-actual and all.

I just finished reading Graham Priest's Beyond The Limits of Thought. I won't say much, but he discusses topics ranging from: Zeno, Anselm, Williamson, Heidegger, Derrida, etc. And he does so clearly and cleverly.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Here's a candidate for 'most unlikely sentence in a newspaper's theater review section':

"Analytic philosophy is many things, but hilarious is not one of them."

So begins a (sorta) review (in Sunday's Arts and Leisure section of the NYTimes) of a new Tom Stoppard play called "Jumpers". It gets a good review, and if anyone's going to write a decent play about this topic, it's Stoddard, I suppose.

The play revolves around Moore, Russell and Wittgenstein (I think), and covers topics ranging from Russell's theory of descriptions to arguments about the existence of God.

If anyone's seen it, I'd love to hear a more thorough description and review.

Saturday, April 24, 2004


This has nothing to do with philosophy, but it seems useful. I recently logged in to blogger, and after you sign in there is a special advert for you to sign up for google-mail, or gmail. I signed up and it's pretty sweet, the sweetest feature being 1GB of storage. Also, there's some pretty snazzy features. I recommend you sign up. And, yes, this is also a way to get all you un-signed-up Orangers to register at blogger for Orange Philosophy.

Friday, April 23, 2004


Would these lecture notes of Achille Varzi's short course in modal logic be useful for our summer study?

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Lockean Essentialism?

John Locke is often seen as the father of anti-essentialism [edited for stupid typo]. Essentially, the view is that nothing has properties necessarily in themselves or contingently in themselves. When you think of me as a human, being rational is essential, but when you think of me as an animal it isn't. When you think of me as a husband, being married is essential. When you think of me as a human being, it isn't. Locke's way of putting this is that my properties are only essential to my being me insofar as you're thinking of me under a particular sortal term.

Locke's reasoning on this is fallacious, as Kripke famously showed (without really saying much more than Leibniz had already said in the preface to his New Essays on Human Understanding).

I had a conversation this morning that made me wonder if Locke was really the anti-essentialist [edited for stupid typo] he's usually portrayed as. It seems to me that the general point Locke was making isn't so far removed from something Aristotle and Aquinas make in their unmoved mover arguments. The unmoved mover argument gets commonly misunderstood as a mere causal argument. If A is caused by B, then we ask what caused B. Then we turn to C, which in turn was caused by D. Hume rightly objects to this argument for an unmoved mover by pointing out that each bit is explained if there's an infinite series of such moved movers. If that's all the argument is, then there's no reason to conclude that there's an unmoved mover unless you can show a problem with an infinite past, which mathematics can make sense of since Leibniz and Newton.

That's not what Aristotle and Aquinas meant, however. Their notion of a cause makes what Hume thought of as a cause seem quite anemic. They were really talking about a dependence relation that involves notions of contingency and a more robust notion of explanation. A is contingent in the sense of requiring something else entirely for its very existence. So is B. It's true that B explains A in some sense, but B isn't an explanation for A unless B is itself explained. No contingent thing that didn't have to exist has its explanation in itself, and since everything we encounter in daily life in space-time is a contingent thing, then all our prime examples of things will turn out to be contingent things. What Hume failed to see is that once you're thinking in these terms, it's quite clear that providing an explanation for all the contingent things in terms of each other still doesn't count as providing an explanation for why there are any contingent things at all. That's why Aristotle and Aquinas saw there still to be a need for something beyond intermediate causes. It's not a necessary explanation unless it's got a necessary cause, without which it wouldn't exist. (None of this requires sufficient explanations, as Leibniz and Kant's versions of the argument required.)

Now what does this have to do with Locke? It seems to me that Locke is thinking along the lines of the people Hume criticizes here. He wants to say that nothing in itself is necessary or had to have the properties it has, as Aristotle and Aquinas were saying about every contingent thing. Only when thinking of it under a sortal do you get the distinction between necessary and contingent, because the things are necessary or contingent given that property you're thinking of as definitional. When ignoring that, you get different properties. This is all very similar to the notion of an intermediate cause like that of Aquinas or Aristotle, in which something is what it is only because of things outside of it. It's a different issue, but it raises similar questions. The difference seems to be that those guys allow some essential properties of contingent things, and Locke denies any at all except under a sortal.

Now why do I think this should lead us to question Locke's anti-essentialism? There's one sort of being, which the unmoved mover argument is supposed to lead us to (and Locke does give his own particularly bad version of the cosmological argument in Book IV that makes all the mistakes Hume complains about that Aquinas and Leibniz were more careful about) who does seem to have properties essentially. If Locke admits that God has properties essentially, including existence, which I think is required for his own argument in Book IV, then aren't there some properties that are had essentially and not just according to a sortal?

Maybe Locke can get out of this, but it seems to me that he'd have to work hard to explain God's necessity if nothing can have properties essentially or accidentally except when thought of under a sortal.

Derrida's honorary degree from Cambridge, and it's critics

There's an interesting link here (which I got from the Wikipedia entry on 'pseudophilosophy') which presents the famous protestory letter (one of the signatorys is Quine) against Cambridge's decision to honor Derrida with an honorary degree, plus the Wikipedia author's commentary. Should make for interesting reading. John Philips, the author of the post, teaches a critical theory class, where "The course will focus, week by week, on certain key topics, e.g., intention, sign, vision, authority, history, ideology, alterity and haunting." I'd like to skip the first seven topics and skip right on to the 'haunting,' although perhaps the bit on alterity could help me with my sartorial shortcomings. A question, is Wikipedia a great and noble egalitarian institution, or a non-peer reviewed haven for self-promoting hacks? I think the answer might be somewhere in the middle, but, sorta rightish on my scale.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Comparing Event-Identity Principles

I’ve been looking at some of the non-counterpart-theoretic accounts of event-identity and individuation, and it seems that almost all of them result in events having all their intrinsic features essentially, and some seem to entail that at least the immediate extrinsic features are essential to them as well (e.g., the event’s immediate causes and immediate effects). I see some of these results as happy ones.
Let’s take a look at a few (non-duplication) principles of event identity.

[preface all of the following, except my own, with ‘where x and y and z are events’]
Donald Davidson:
(x)(y)(x=y if and only if ((z) (z caused x iff z caused y) and (z) (x caused z iff y caused z))

WVO Quine:
(x)(y)(x and y have the same position in space-time -> x=y )

Jaegwon Kim [a Bennettian reading of him]:
(x)(y)(z)(substance-property/relation-time triple z constitutes x & z constitutes y -> x=y)

Jonathan Bennett:
(x)(y)(z) (property-zone pair z which constitutes x is the property-zone pair which constitues y -> x=y)

Here is my offering, which I will contrast with the above:
Mark Steen (gulp—hesitate putting my principle and name up next to those of the mighty dead and living)
[note that x and y here are supposed to be events, whereas I’m intending the z to be any individual/particular whatsoever, either events, substances, properties (construed as individuals if you wish), etc.]
(x)(y)(z)[(x = y) <->(z < x <-> z < y)]

We could summarize them by different slogans:
Davidson: no two events can have the same exact causes and effects in the causal network.
Quine: no two events can have the same space-time position.
Kim: no two events can be constituted by the same substance-property/relation-time triple.
Bennett: no two events can be constituted by the same property-zone pair.
Steen: no two events can have all and only the same event-parts or individuals as parts/constituents.

I leave it up to the readers to point out which of these principles is best (and, if any are workable). [note that I believe my principle entails Quine’s, though not vice-versa, and so is ‘stronger’. I do believe that my principle is superior to Davidson’s in that it does not make certain extrinsic relations essential, and, unlike Bennett’s and Kim’s, is neutral on the nature of events. Bennett and Kim’s account of event-identity depends on events either being tropes or triples, respectively, whereas my principle of event identity can I think work regardless of the analysis of what events are. Perhaps, though, I’m being too optimistic about how much work the part-relation can do here. Any feedback appreciated]

Friday, April 16, 2004

The very definition of

I tend to think of dumb things to write about when I have a huge stack of grading to do, and here's one (actually I think about them all the time, but I write about them when I have stuff to put off doing). Arianna Huffington was on NPR today. One thing she said caught my attention. It's a common enough saying, but it struck me today how odd it is. She was describing President Bush's response to the dead and very slowly rising economy after 9-11 by cutting taxes. She said that this response is the very definition of insanity. Leaving aside the tendentious nature of the proposition she was trying to express with this sentence, let's consider how the sentence is supposed to express that proposition to begin with. After all, how can his action be the very definition of anything? My first thought was simply that she must not be thinking about what a definition is. It's not an action. An action can illustrate a definition as a clear case, but it's not itself a definition.

My second thought was to remember something I once read by Kuhn. To make a short story long, one of his earlier papers (I think) had a fascinating discussion of exemplars as the constituents of definitions. This is right in the line of Locke and Hume also, though he said it far more clearly and worked it into a complex theory about the rationality of scientific theory change. I wonder if the linguistic practice Huffington was engaged in assumes something like this about definitions. The original Lockean/Humean idea, if I'm remembering it correctly, was that we come to learn the meanings of words through seeing exemplars of them and then eventually tying together what's common to all those exemplars as the definition of the term. Kuhn went on and discussed definitions in science in terms of this, with exemplars serving as part of the epistemic framework of a scientific theory, one of the things that need to change one bit as a time, with some rational support for each change, if a theory changes is to change with rational basis (something he later rejected, if I'm remembering the sequence right). None of this really helped. If what Huffington was doing was assuming we have no concept of insanity apart from its examples and allowing one obvious case of insanity to stand as the definition, since that's all a definition really is, then every person who utters this sort of statement has to be assuming something like that, and there's no way that's true.

So it must be just a bad stand-in for "that's a really good example of insanity", with some elements of being an intensifier (much in the way 'literally' can stand as an intensifier in statements like 'When he gets down into the red zone, he literally explodes!') Both cases, I think, involve people not thinking very much about how they're using language and invite philosophers to laugh at the people saying such things, even if philosophers of language and linguists have perfectly good explanations of how these locutions are supposed to function in the language. It's still silly to hear someone say it. That's something that bothers me. It's so fun to make fun of stupid ways people say things, and yet descriptive linguistics will tell us to analyze it without any such normative judgments. Doesn't that take the fun out of it?

Consider an utterance of the following sentence:

(1) Ann’s computer, which she bought in 2001, crashes frequently.

Now consider situation (S):

(S) Ann bought her computer in 2000, (not in 2001), but the computer in question does crash frequently.

In one of his numerous articles (“The Myth of Conventional Implicature”) Kent Bach, affirms that, even in situation S, many people would be inclined to say that (1) is true (and I confess that I feel a certain pull in this direction myself).

Based on this, Bach wants to say that an utterance of (1) does not express one proposition, namely, a conjunctive one (i.e. ‘Ann’s computer crashes frequently & Ann bought her computer in 2000’. Or more generally: ‘main clause & non-restrictive relative clause), but rather two propositions, which are ordered in terms of relevance/salience/speaker’s commitment to it. So, instead of linear conjunction, we would have something akin to a “layering” of propositions.

I don’t really know exactly what to make of it. This phenomenon (if it is indeed a phenomenon), is intriguing, although I’m not sure of its legitimacy. In particular, I’m not too sure about the robustness of the intuitions about the truth of (1) with respect to S.

Can the role of the relative clause be accommodated as a case of a referential use of a predicate? Hmmm. I don’t think so, because it is not used to pick a discourse referent, since the latter has already been identified as “Ann’s computer”.

In other respects, the relative ordering is defeasible, of course, for instance, since the relevance of the relative clause can be enhanced (say, by mentioning something ludicrous or incredible, or by being unusually lengthy), and of course there are going to be lots of interactions in term of focusing, topicalization and information structure in general.

What do you say about this, idle Orangers? Has Bach presented us with an authentic phenomenon?

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

The Invasion by Faculty Grows

We also welcome faculty members Ben Bradley and Andre Gallois to Team Orange, who we hope will blog as well. I've also invited the nefarious Norwegian, Steffen Borge, who, while preferring to reside amongst the Rutgerians, is still an official SU grad student, and so eligible to rant here against anti-Griceans.

Isaiah Berlin Taken to Task

The Guardian has an interesting and somewhat vitriolic piece against Berlin here. I don't know enough about Berlin to know if the critiques are sound, but I thought others might be interested in checking it out.

Tuesday, April 13, 2004

Beiser told me that he's open to suggestions for his seminar next spring. Anyone who has ideas about classes they'd like to take that he's qualified to teach should e-mail him. He said he'd be willing to do something different (a.k.a. not Kant or Hegel).

Gallois at Rochester

Orangers might be interested in checking out this Rochester post on Gallois' talk there on whether 'a=a' is a priori (among other things) (he gave the same talk here of course last year). Orangers might also be interested in not being referred to as 'Orangers'.
UPDATE: Error on my part. Andre's talk was about whether '[]a=a' is true. As is obvious, I wasn't there.

Opinion from The Gnu

One of the most mysterious members of our blog team, ie, 'Team Orange', or 'Naranja Terribile,' is a certain supple Wildebeest, otherwise known as 'The Gnu.' While one of the lower mammals, he does have some interesting opinions about foreign and domestic policies on his own blog here.

Monday, April 12, 2004

We've been Invaded!

Although this is primarily a grad student blog, we have enlisted a couple of faculty members. Welcome to Ishani Maitra and Eric Hiddleston! We hope they drop in and blog. You can find descriptions of these professors via the departmental link up there on the left.

If You're Interested...

I have a (very) rough draft of a paper critiquing Ted Sider's 4D theory of persistence here (and after that a somewhat amusing analysis of Van Gulick's Higher-Order Theory of consciousness...although this latter is more of a 'weekly')

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Please add favorite philosophy quotes out of context:

I'll start:
"The sun is just as big as it looks."

"But nose and tongue are only smelt or tasted by another nose or tongue."

"But where is the smell, then? Are there smelly brains?"
-I think this was Reid, but it could be Smythies

"And so this would be as foolish as putting motor oil into the boy, or beating the machine."

We're Dinosaurs

For Orangers--Check out the University of Rochester's new blog look here. Also, please take a look at Brian Weatherson's suggestions here. I think it would be a good idea to switch to TypePad, but it would cost some money. One cheap option is only $9 a month, so, if we signed up to that it would be around .60 each a month for all of us who are signed up. I thought about just signing us up, but since participation has been pretty low I'll wait. Please, fellow Orangers, check out the Typepad site, think about how much you'd be likely to contribute to blogging in the future, and let me know whether you can spare the cost of 1/3 of a cup of starbucks coffee (a tall) a month. Also keep in mind that the added features of typepad might contribute to your blogging even more. Please add comments below, or other options that you have in mind. Also, I really hope to see posts by
* Edison Barrios
* David Bzdak
* Dimitria Gatzia
* Nathan Hanna
* David Horacek
* Eric Hiddleston
* Kevin Kukla
* Europa Malynicz
* Mike McFall
* Philip Pegan
* Jeremy Pierce
* Tess Sandra
* Jessica Wollam
pretty soon, since you haven't done so yet. You lurkers!

Saturday, April 10, 2004

Some people say that the logic of of President Bush's decision making is pretty fuzzy. If only.

Material Conditionals and the IRS

I ran across the following strange set of instructions on IRS Schedule EIC. They had a column for each child. Line 3 says:

If the child was born before 1985 --

a. Was the child under age 24 at the end of 2003 and a student?
Yes (Go to line 4.) No (Continue)

b. Was the child permanently and totally disabled during any part of 2003?
Yes (Continue) No (The child is not a qualifying child.)

It seems to me that the proper answers for both and a and b for our children are no, taking the questions in isolation from the antecedent above. Yet they don't intend us to answer that way. They intend us to skip those questions. If we take it as a material conditional, we get this result. Any material conditional with a false antecedent will be true. So should I check Yes for both questions? If I do, they'll look above and see that our kids were born in 2001 and 2002 and investigate me for tax fraud. They don't want me checking Yes. They also don't want me checking No. Otherwise, I wouldn't be able to continue past 3b. They want me to skip it, as if they think the conditional has no truth value.

This is good evidence that ordinary conditionals in English don't always function logically the way material conditionals do (though sometimes they do -- e.g. 'if that story is true, then the Pope's Italian' where the speaker clearly believes the story is false). Most philosophers who work on conditionals already believe this, so this isn't anything new. I just thought it was an interesting place to see evidence for this.

Events and Modal Fragility

The Beatles are a good band, Aristotle was pretty smart, and events are modally fragile. One of the preceding I've sought to defend in a recent paper that was cut up a bit by some pretty smart folk. What is some good literature out there on this topic? I've got Bennet's Events and Their Names, and I believe Lewis talks about this in 'Causation as Influence.' I believe Lewis talks about this elsewhere as well but a (not too deep) perusal of his papers hasn't led to any obvious ones to read on this. (one of the reasons I ask here is the lack of success looking for this on the PI. You either get swamped with your search results, or if you try to narrow your search, get almost nothing).

Friday, April 09, 2004


I went cruising a little bit to find the best pix of Orangefolk on the web. I'm sure I'm missing some, and we've lost access to some of the SnapFish pictures of other conferences.

Here you can find pictures of the Metaphysical Mayhem VII, August 2002. (courtesy of David Chalmers)

Here you can find pictures of the SWIM (Syracuse Workshop in Metaphysics), where some of us are, appropriately, swimming. August 2003. (courtesy of Ted, ahem, Theodore Sider)

And, at this page on Ted Sider's site, you can find some more pictures of Syracuse folk, both past and present.

Please let us know in the comments below if there are any other good sites I'm missing...

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Leiter, Van Dyke, Carter et al

In case you haven't been following some of the Intelligent Design debate in the blogosphere, and the sheer awfulness of the kind of arguments the ID'ers employ, and the wonderful acrimony in regards to this whole scene, check out Leiter here. There's a lot of great links there, especially to a particularly wonderful evisceration over at the Panda's Thumb. I'd like to think that these debates are just good fun, since the ID'ers (at least the ones I've seen) don't stand a chance, but, unfortunately, a bill recently passed in Minnesota allowing passages in textbooks that question the veracity of Darwinism and put forth Creationism as an equally valid 'scientific' theory.

We've Started a Trend

We started our blog on March 25th. Rochester started their blog about six days later (although there are hints they tried to do so earlier). Now, Brown has a grad student blog, which you can find here. We'll give a proper shout-out in a few days after they have some more posts. This is an interesting development. As far as I know, we're the first grad student group that has started a group blog, and I have a feeling that before you know it that we all will. But, 'though we may be first, I have to admit it, those Rochester guys are kicking our ass content-wise. Get cracking, Orangers! Hell, I'm doing my dissertation, I've got excuses, what about you? Hopefully, we'll have more folk signed up out of the thirty of us than the seven or so so far.

Sunday, April 04, 2004

Lucretius Anticipates Galileo

I found a passage in Lucretius that anticipates Galileo's famous thought experiment about falling objects of different weight falling at the same speed:

And if by chance someone thinks that heavier atoms, in virtue of their more rapid motion straight through the void, could fall from above on the lighter atoms, and that in this way the blows which generate the productive motions could be produced, he has strayed very far from the true account. For everything which falls through water or light air must fall at a speed proportional to their weights, simply because the bulk of the water and the fine nature of the air can hardly delay each other equally, but yield more quickly to the heavier bodies being overwhelmed by them. But by contrast, at no time and in no place can the empty void resist any thing, but it must, as its nature demands, go on yielding to it. Therefore, everything must move at equal speed through the inactive void, though they are not given by equal weights. (On the Nature of Things 225, in Brad Inwood and L.P. Gerson, ed., Hellenistic Philosophy: Introductory Readings, p.64.

He's wrong on a number of details here, but it's amazing how close to the truth he is, even on some things Galileo didn't even get right. Irem described it as two wrongs making a right. Lucretius lived something like 1650 years before Galileo.

I think this is relevant to the discussion we were having initiated by Jordan. Philosophers who say they don't need to bother reading the philosophers of history and just focus on contemporary stuff are opening themselves to missing something that's already been said on their topic, as Galileo did. Ignoring philosophy in other traditions has the same problem, and I don't know much about African or Asian philosophy, and I don't really know where to begin. I've been looking for a good textbook looking at those traditions from an analytic perspective, but I don't know if anything like that exists. There should be such books, though (and this is a normative 'should').

Look what Hempel's cat dragged in...an albino crow.




Here's a shout-out to the fine philosophy grad students at Rochester, who now have a blog up and running here [plus, there's a perm link up there on the left]. Drop by sometime and tell them why they've got it all wrong.

Saturday, April 03, 2004

It seems to me that the stages in Ted Sider's Stage View of perdurence have all of their qualities trivially necessarily. In Four-Dimensionalism p. 201, in a footnote he says that the stage-counterpart relation is identity. If trans-world identity is out of question, then stages cannot have counterparts other than themselves. A fortiori, they cannot have counterparts in a possible world other than the one they are in. So, they must have all of their properties essentially. This seems bothersome to me, but I cannot figure out exactly why.


I've never taught my own Phi 191 (Ethics) course nor have I taught during the summer. I'm doing both this summer. I was hoping that anyone who has taught their own 191 course could allow me to look over their syllabus. Of course, any advice would be appreciated! I don't teach till second summer session, so I have time to think a lot about the syllabus and how I want to teach it. I TA'd for Sam's 191 course (in Fall 2000) and we used Rachels' text (if I remember correctly?), which I also used in college. So I was thinking about using Rachels, but would like something different. Even better, if anyone has found a way to incorporate deontic logic into the course that would be really neat! Seriously, though, any syllabi or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Each semester I teach Phi 107, I track the mean and median of papers and exams, and only allow 10% to determine their final grade, leaving the other 90% for exams and papers. But each semester I have problems determining how I will assign all or part of that 10%. If you teach TTR, you know we only have 28 sessions, so I'm often asked: "How many absences can I have before you won't give me the 10%?" I realize that coming to class is necessary (but not sufficient) for the full 10%. This is a slippery 10% and the scale is a little too vague for my taste. So does anyone have any suggestions on this matter?

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Armchairs to Ploughshares in England

A report I’ve recently checked out from the Aristotelian Society claims that the effect of a resurgence of Wittgenstein scholarship in England has been having a pronounced effect on philosophy across the pond. Apparently, Wittgenstein’s pronouncements on the value of philosophy and the value of good honest work have been having an effect. Harold Noonan has recently decided to become an auto mechanic. The Guardian, in a recent interview, asked prof. Noonan, "Why did you give up your 80K a year job (US$) to fix carburetors?" Noonan replied, "I’ve gotten out of the fly bottle. What, don’t you want to fly?" John Divers, formerly involved with the neo-Scottish renaissance, who worked on metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh, now digs peat out of a bog on the mainland south of the Isle of Skye. When asked why he gave up tenure and life in the ivory tower, replied, "philawsaphy esh a disease, eh? Awve been inoculated what proper by the sagahcious Austrian. Now, bugger off!" Apparently, this new trend has even had an effect over here in the United States. Michael Stocker, formerly of Syracuse University, has started a new career in plumbing. Why would such a prestigious scholar start a career in plumbing at this late a stage in his life? When asked, prof. Stocker replies, "The pipes are you. The pipes are me. They’re backed up."

OK, after some difficulty in posting, this will be rather long. Since I'm free (this weekend from 107), I can turn my attention to more important things: philosophy and betting --- I mean college basketball!! Note that I haven't read all the other blogs, but will do so, and hope to comment, or post. There are three things I wish to address: (1) Newcomb's paradox (NP) (2) our modal logic reading group and (3) I saw Daniel Nolan at Starbucks a few hours ago!!!! I won't discuss (3), just thought I'd mention it. I'm sure I was the last to find out. NB: I'm no where near as felicituous with the English language as the rest of you, but I hope what follows is somewhat interesting. And by no means do I possess the quick-witted humour of themarksteen.


I'm aware that NP has several renditions, many different conclusions are drawn, and some consider NP not even a paradox. I wish to address the latter two. For those unfamiliar with the paradox, let me explain one rendition.

• Two closed boxes, B1 and B2, are on a table.
• B1 always contains $1,000.
• B2 contains either nothing or $1 million --- you do not know which.
• You have an irrevocable choice between two actions:

1. Take what is in both boxes.
2. Take only what is in B2.

A week before the test a superior Being made a prediction about what you will decide. You know that in the past the Being's predictions have been "almost certainly" correct. (You may think of the Being as God, as a superior intelligence from another planet, or a supercomputer capable of probing your brain and making highly accurate predictions.)

If the Being predicted you would choose both boxes, he has left B2 empty.
If the Being predicted you would choose only B2, he has put $1 million into B2.

What should you do?

There seem two ways to reason:

(1): if I take what is in both boxes, the being will almost certainly have predicted this and left B2 empty. On the other hand, if I take B2 alone, he will have put the $1,000,000 in it. So I shall take B2 alone.

(2): The $1,000,000 is already sitting in B2 or it is not, and which situation obtains is already fixed and determined. If the being has already put $1,000,000 in B2 and I choose both, then I get $1,001,000. If he has not, then I get $1,000. Either way I get $1,000 more than by taking B2 alone.

Now, some have claimed that this NP shows Determinism (DET --- no, not the same as my determination principle from my paper!) false! For the life of me I can't see this, though such philosophical blindness is not unusual for me. I don't think that it shows DET false. Rather NP, minimally, functions as a test for deterministic/indeterministic intuitions. Let me explain.

If S agrees with the reasoning of (1), then S has the intuition that their choice makes a difference. (1)-intuitions seem to closely track inderministic intuitions -- at least WRT to my students. This I find interesting by itself, but also as a way to motivate the plausibility of libertarianism and attendant issues in mental causation. (See --- I do like philosophy of mind!!)

While if S has the intuition that the reasoning involved in (2) is correct, then S has deterministic intuitions. So it's not clear that NP shows determinism false. If someone could show that this is wrong, I'd be more than delighted in being shown false --- a complex mental state.

Perhaps this idea turns on thinking that NP is not really a paradox? To be honest, I don't think that NP is a paradox, but I'm not sure it matters to my question concerning whether NP shows DET false. I realize this is going to be partly a function of what one means by a paradox. I take a paradox to be the following: An unaccetable conclusion derived by apparently acceptable reasoning from apparently acceptable premises (Sainsbury, Fine, Priest, etc.) It is from this definition of paradox that I find philosophical significance in such puzzles. If such reasoning is licensed in our logic, then such paradoxical conclusions threaten the very foundations of our logic -- our rationality??? Not surprisingly, we have other logics. May I even suggest that logic is a convention --- shh!!! Maybe I shouldn't have said that.

I've also read that some people believe that NP is reducible, in some way, to the prisoner's dilemma. Is that true, and, if so, how?

If anyone could help me get clear on these questions, I’d be very happy.


I was very happy that so many of you responded to my idea of having a modal group this summer. So hopefully it’s possible. I think that it would be best if we met and discusses what we want to do in a more formal environment, say, the Dietl Room?. I commented on a post about this awhile ago, but there were no responses. I was think that we should meet before the end of classes, perhaps in the next week or so???? Let me know!


Do you think that it would be better if we just posted instead of commenting? I seem to follow the discussion easier when there are no comments, just posts. This might be my laziness. Just a thought.

Thanks for putting this up Mark!!

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

More on a 'non-canon' requirement....

Brendan: I agree with you (and Chuck - sorry Chuck, I'd missed your comments) on the need for the department to do much more to drive home the importance of doing work outside the department: e.g., with taking courses in something along the lines of in the linguistics, cog. sci., physics, psych., Af.Am., Lat.Am. departments. But I think this importantly distinct from the what I'm on about. If we cast the net very broadly as you suggest, a distinction will get run together and we'll end up with just a type of 'get out of the department' idea. The distinction is this: The non-philosophy department departments that seem to me (and you) of particular merit for us to be exposed to cut, roughly, two ways - 'sciences' (hard and social) & and (ugly term) 'cultural/identity studies' (Women's studies, African-American Studies, Latin American studies....). Just 'getting out of the department' would miss the real need to be exposed to both sides of this division (it'd also risk missing that neither side of the divide is 'distant' - people in our dept. already, of course, do both). It's worth noting that we already do have a distribution requirement that necessitates our doing something on the science side - the Sci/Math requirement. It's not mandated at all that we leave the department to fulfill it, but, still, it's mandated that we're exposed to the (very broadly construed) 'area'. My suggestion is just that we recognize the importance of being exposed to the (still ugly term) 'cultural/identity studies' (very broadly construed) 'area' too - and so build in a requirement to be exposed to it.

To the worry of "So long as postmodernism is represented at the university, does it really matter which department does it?": Logistically, we certainly could never be in a position to cover all non-canon areas in our faculty, even if we went out hiring to be able to cover more non-canon philosophies. So, we'll have look to some other departments for (some) courses. But if important philosophical thought of real philosophical value is being done outside the canon, then it's to our detriment not to be exposed to it. My suggestion is that there very clearly is such thought (with non-canonical philosophies appilcable very widely across canonical areas of philosophy) - done by profs inside and outside our department - and that its exclusion from our requirements is an importantly negative thing. Does it matter if philosophers have some exposure to non-canon thought if there's other departments covering that thought? I think very much yes. Our topics ('our' here being canon and non-canon phil.) are often highly interrelated and I think we impair ourselves (and our students) if we have no exposure to perspectives outside the canon's walls. As you rightly point out, talking across the canon/non-canon divide may in instances be difficult. But such a difficulty (that's not always there and, when present, admits of widely varying degrees) is outweighed by the positive benefits of exposure, and the thought that the talking divide will lessen with increased exposure (as divides often do). Importantly (and as you point out with linguistics), talking divides (also, I think: that aren't always there and, when present, admit of widely varying degrees) exist on the science side of the divide too - and I don't think we'd take that as a reason to think the Sci/Math requirement unimporant and eliminable. Quite the opposite, I suspect - the talking divide is something important to be exposed to, congnizant of, and to try to sort though.

Jeremy - Nitpicking appreciated. I knew what you said about Linda, but not Laurence. I've not been exposed to much of his work, only 'Moral Deference', in which philosophical issues of race arise.

Thanks again to Brendan, Mark, Chuck, and Jeremy for comments

Hiddleston's paper page up

As Brian notes at TAR, our own Eric Hiddleston has a page of papers/drafts/pictures/research interests up here, mostly of course on phil. science and causation. Y'all should check it out.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Replies all well-received, thanks kindly to Brendan, Mark, and Jeremy. I'll try to formulate a couple replies:

1) Brendan wrote the following:

"...if the standard for distribution requirements is whether one will use the things learned in one's later work, then I don't see why logic should be out but (for instance) classical chinese philosophy should be in. You may never publish a paper in logic, but I probably won't every publish a paper on Confucius."

In a sense, I agree. But, I don't think it too accurate to give my arguing for some requirement of non-canon philosophy as saying that you should be made to learn anything very particular - e.g., Confucius. What would seem more useful for an E&M person to study in the non-canon are, say, Feminist Epistemologies or African Metaphysics - in other words, something non-canon that's directly related to your areas.

2) Brendan again:

"...I take it you're suggesting that studying non-canon philosophy may breathe fresh life into old issues. I think the same could be said for logic, though."

Again, I agree - I certainly don't think logic useless. It can breathe new life and so can non-canon work. But, there are two big things to consider: (i) Requiring logic and nothing non-canon is a very strong privilege of the developmental power of logic over the developmental power of anything non-canon - this seems a great error to me; (ii) The situatedness of logic WITHIN the canon places an important limitation on the new life that it can breathe into the canon - there is great potential for a different kind of new life to be breathed in by a source outside the canon, in part because the non-canon stands as 'other' and in part because it is in large untapped material. It may well be that logic should be maintained as a requirement - I'm not quite sure of this. What seems to me of particular importance is problem of the strong inclusion of logic and exclusion of everything non-canon.

3) From Mark:

"You're not recommending all, or some of the non-canon classes become required, do you? Then they would certainly be canon."

No, I'm not recommending that - just recommending a move to an explicit requirement for us to at some point delve into the non-canon. Also, I think there worse things than expanding 'the canon' the bring non-canon stuff in. Feminists, for example, would gladly give up their 'non-canon, alternative' status if it meant the canon developing enough to include them. A globally inclusive canon would be a whole different kind of canon.

4) Again, Mark:

"It's not surprising, however, that the department focuses on giving its students what it, and what it thinks the majority of phil. departments, thinks are the most important/central subjects. .... Perhaps the best you can hope for is a reasonable coverage of the Western Canon and more contemporary Anglo-American philosophy which will hopefully give you the tools to be able to delve into whatever interests you have."

No, it's not surprising. But I do think it sad. It only leads to a perpetuation of the exclusion of and the failure to appreciate the real importance of studying non-canon work. I do hope for more. I don't see how what you've given as the best I can hope for is any different than what currently exists and what I have a problem with.

5) And again, Mark:

"Really, though, you cannot be a good philosopher without using logic. Logic isn't just the manipulation of 'p's and 'q's etc., you're using it whenever you're arguing with ordinary language, and certainly philosophy shouldn't step away from examining the form of our ordinary language reasoning and being on the lookout for mistakes we make with it."

I agree. But I'm not so sure that the good logical skills that we really need and that we frequently apply are precisely those taught in logic classes. I've done very little logic, but my papers are well received and so too my comments. I think the logical reasoning that's vital is something that I and many learn as we sort through so many dense papers. It seems quite crazy to me that even if, say, I was in my last term of taking classes, doing very well, and even published I could still be made to take a logic class for the reason that I need to work on my logical reasoning skills.

A story: Angela Davis was asked to give a description of a fairly complicated logical principle (I can't remember which) by a white supremacist logic prof. at UCLA in her job interview there (this is when she was just starting out). Clearly, it was an irrelevant question: Formal logic was distant from what she worked on. The question was asked as a way to disarm her, to show that she couldn't hack it and do real philosophy because she couldn't work through this principle (and this might help keep her, as a black woman the white supremacist didn't want in, from the department).

I think we've come past this: I hope at least. But I wonder if the logic requirement isn't still indicative of a 'you must talk THIS talk to do real philosophy' or 'this is what philosophy relly is, so you must study it'. And surely such an idea is silly: Or else no one who's not trained in logic or, indeed, who wrote before logicese came about would be doing real philosophy.

6) Lastly, Jeremy

"I still don't think it's as central for what someone getting a Ph.D. should know. Part of this is a merely descriptive attitude toward how I think of what counts as philosophy in our context. So it almost trivially falls out of it that non-canon stuff is fringe and therefore not what must be mastered for a Ph.D. The problem with thinking this way, though, is that somehow it needs to be worked into the canon if it's to become part of what's mastered for a Ph.D. So it's a catch-22."

I think we agree a fair bit. I want to question, and of course I am, whether what counts as philosophy in our context isn't in need of improvement. Great potential, I think, lays for coming to improvement by working out into the non-canon. As in reply to Brendan, reworking what counts as canon to include what's non-canon today seems to me a much positive and important thing to do. Also, I'm not really calling for mastery of non-canon work to be required. Just an exposure. I think mastery of some non-canon work would be great, but such a thing starts with just exposure - and there's part of my reason for questioning our distribution requirements.

7) Lastly again, Jeremy:

"Charles Mills has argued that the best way to do it isn't to require or even have specialized classes in African-American, feminist, or whatever other kind of philosophy you have in mind. The best way to do it is to have mainstream courses that include this material. I think that would be very hard for our department to pull off. After all, how many of our metaphysicians besides Ishani can teach the metaphysics of race?"

I certainly agree with Mills - that would be ideal. A good way to work towards that seems to me to be teaching graduate students non-canon work precisely so that it can be worked into their courses when they/we are professors. That may be a positive step towards including non-canon work in undergraduate curriculums and slowly working on canon philosophers to study and take up non-canon philosophies.

And though we're by no means in a great condition, we may well have enough faculty members to start something. (I know Jeremy knows this breakdown, but for, perhaps, others:) Ishani could do, say, the metaphysics of race as well as feminist philosophy of language; Linda can do at least Latin American philosophy, feminist epistemologies, and feminist philosophy of science; both Ishani and Linda can do a feminist ethics; Laurence can do race theory. There are also great philosophers in other departments who could teach cross-credit courses: For example, Chandra Talpade Mohanty in Women's Studies who can teach (in addition to some topics mentioned already) feminism in the third word and postcolonial philosophy. Also, Women's Studies is also trying to hire Nkiru Nzegwu from Binghampton right now who is a leading figure in, among other things, African philosophy and African aesthetics.

More competent hiring would be needed, of course, but I there's a decent enough groundwork to start into the re-working the requirements.

Again, I'm very thankful for all the comments. More, of course......I think this quite an important topic.

Hi all. A worry that I could use some help working my head through:

Distribution Requirements. Over the weekend I took off to a conference, the final paper at which discussed the nature of phil. PhD. distribution requirements. The paper was by Lucius Outlaw, Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt - and the particular case he kept coming back to was his department's granting a phil. PhD. in 'American Philosophy', without there being ANY distribution requirements along the lines of studying ANY 'non-mainstream' American philosophy (that meaning, no requirement to study African-American, or Latin American, or American Feminist .... philosophy - nothing outside of the entrenched canon). Everyone in attendance, myself included, was rather in shock at the practice (though some were much more familiar with this state of affairs than I, who'd no clue that PhD's were at some places expressly given as PhD's in 'American Philosophy').

This was cause for immediate reflection: What is the standing of our department in this regard?

My feeling is this: As someone who's been trying to step aside from the canon in many regards (and study Feminist and Latin American and African Philosophies), I've found and I think our department little better than Vanderbilt. Even though the degree here is obviously not termed an 'American Philosophy' degree, it still strikes me as pretty terrible that there's no requirement to learn ANYTHING outside of the canon - be it a form of American philosophy or not. And that feeling stuck even after considering the somewhat loose nature of many of the distribution requirements given to us. We have some loose and some tight distribution requirements: Some requirements say 'Some History of Philosophy' or 'Some Ethics/Political Phil./Aesthetics' - but others are very straight 'Logic', 'Phil. Of Science/Math', 'Phil. Of Mind/Language'.

The staged up requirements say one thing very clearly: There are some forms of philosophical thought that the department thinks we should not be able to call ourselves Doctors of Philosophy without having studied. I agree with the sentiment - but I don't think the department has it much right exactly WHAT THOSE FORMS of philosophical thought are. Logic seems to me the worst case here (though Science, even Mind don't follow much behind...). The fact of the matter is that a great number of us (most?) will never use Logic once we've got through with satisfying the requirement - really only if you're a hardcore E&M person. Could I be a good philosopher with no command of Logic? Seems pretty quite clear that that's entirely plausible.

But could I really be a good philosopher if I've no exposure at all to non-canon thought? I really really doubt it. Non-canon thought gives not only exposure to new and/or resoundingly different takes on many philosophical issues, it also gives exposure to the social situatedness of the canon that the canon perpetually tries so hard to push aside and ignore. Manifest lack of exposure to non-canon philosophy does nothing to help canon philosophy - it only keeps it in a shell. And the shell keeps canon philosophy enormously isolated and ignorant of so much of 'other' philosophy.

Clearly there's a call here for the distribution requirements to be changed - but I'd be curious to hear what others have to say ....

Monday, March 29, 2004

For those of you who are interested, there is a good job opening in Union College, Schenectady which is two hours' drive away from Syracuse. Here is the ad. The ad doesn't mention this, by I confirmed that ABD candidates are encouraged to apply as well.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

I really hope somebody except for me and Jeremy is going to post something here. Most of you know what I'm working on, and, since I've encountered a slow-down (for 3 months!), there's nothing new to say. Certainly there must be something interesting for SOMEBODY to say about SOMETHING!? Or, at least, you could point out something that has been puzzling you recently, or putting you in some kind of intellectual deadlock. Or, hell, what's going on with your dissertation? I also hope that some of you who haven't signed up yet do so. It's pretty easy. Actually, I can think of something that's been bothering me recently. How many of you have read Sider's Four Dimensionalism? I've already written one paper (as part of my diss) against his arguments against mereological essentialism, but what's really been bothering me is the temporal counterpart relation, which to me seems like a kind of hand-waving, but I can't actually put my finger on what's exactly wrong with it, if anything. Any ideas? Or, have any of you read any good papers on this recently? I guess I should check out the PPR symposium on it, which must have come out by now.

Friday, March 26, 2004


Earlier Kevin emailed y'all about having a summer reading group on Modal Logic. Is this still going on? I'm willing to do it, and I think it would be a good idea. He suggested the Chellas book, and I've heard the Hughes and Cresswell book is good, but with some flaws. Any suggestions about titles and articles would be appreciated. The point is to really get into the meat of modal logic, learn the different systems, and also get into quantified modal logic as well as diamonds and boxes. I think we should limit it to two books (or three, if they're slim), with perhaps 10 at most supplementary articles.


(Ok, I published this before on my own blog, but, I think it was funny enough to put out there again, and more likely to actually be read here.)

And my Lord, my great and just Judge, I followed the span of my compass, and followed the limpid rivers of truth to their paradisiacal estuaries, and found the path that I must follow, 'though it pained me to do so. And I was weak, my Lord, but thanks to thee and thine grace I gathered the fortitude to see to it that I would practice my husbandry on myself, to secure an apprenticeship or journeyman's practice, in order to further praise Thy Name, to find myself humble before Thy Presence, and to pay the rent, and secure much-needed vittles and victuals. For my posterior did I value, and did not see fit to sit it down upon the most base concrete, and my gut has indeed rumbled, oh my Lord.
And so to the newspaper did I seek, and to the classifieds did I go, and what did I come upon but a vacant clerkship in a Mutual Fund corporation! Alas, my Lord, some requested qualifications I did not possess, such as the making of spreadsheets, the entry of data, and the callings of conferences. But, my Lord, surely those handlers of human resources must see my still center, my humble bearing, my complete lack of risibility, and pass upon those more mean applicants! And surely my Lord shall see to it that my impecuniousness shall pass, for in Thee all are comforted, and guaranteed a 401K. For the last shall be first, and those without contractual labor shall have it.
My interview indeed set, and on this morn it shall come to pass. I put on my best Bishop's robe, and attacked my recalcitrant cowlick with an almost improper severity. My countenance in the mirror seemed placid, and I left my boarding-house with a strong sense of purpose, not a penny-farthing to my name.
I was received at the firm, 'MegaCorp', with the utmost propriety. I was ushered into a small office where I met one James ("call me 'Jimmy'!") Samuels. Oh, Lord, my sense of optimism was indeed slowly crushed on that day, for James, nay, 'Jimmy', had a patronizing bearing, veiled with the most saccharin false obsequiousness, and uttered obfuscatory sunny locutions, never answering a question felictously. Lord, 'though 'tis not my place to question, how can it be that there is room in your creation for the likes of human resources personnel! Are they people? Are they human? Why, oh Lord, do they smile buffonishly, and why do they torment me with laughter tinged with tones that smacks of hinnibility at the least risible of occasions! Oh, he was like a morning news anchor, my Lord. I felt the very presence of the Dark One, my Lord, in that room, sharpening Mr. Samuels teeth into fangs, and turning his words into daggers!
"So, Mr. Augustine, what skills and benefit can you bring to MegaCorp?"
"A question fair and proper, Mr. Samuels.."
"Call me Jimmy!"
"Mr. Samuels, my employment of your Christian name, nay, a bastardization thereof, at this time strikes me as both improper and astonishing. But, as you are now the mediator between me and my destiny, I shall indeed utter the foul-sounding 'Jimmy', if it does please you."
"Oh, Mr. Augustine, stop it! You're cracking me up!"
"We do digress, Mr. Samuels. I think that I, a former Bishop and philosopher, have much in the way of benefit to bestow on your fair and noble enterprise. Many years had I passed in joy and humility at the Scriptorium, copying the fair words of my Lord. I have read the NeoPlatonists, the Pagans, Aristotle, wrote City of God and my Confessions. "
"How fast do you type?"
"Typing is vulgar, Mr. Samuels. I prefer a quill pen. My calligraphy has no peer. I envisage..."
"Do you have ten-key by touch?"
"The abacus is no stranger to me, Mr. Samuels. My fingers fly along it with zest and alacrity, computing sums as naturally as the beaver builds its dam, the bee gathers its honey, and the sailor goes to the brothel."
Samuels looked quizzically down at his notes, and scrawled pensively for a moment. Upon looking up, the same false smile smeared itself across his lips.
"What do you think is your greatest weakness, Mr. Augustine?"
Oh, Lord, it was then that I snapped. The temerity! The audaciousness! The outrageousness! Oh, my Lord, I am a peaceful man, but lo what mental encumbrances I put upon myself to desist from defenestrating this cur, this dog, this ungodly corporate whore!
"Get thee behind me, Satan! Thou knowest that is a trap. A question for which any answer either requires that I defile myself with falsehoods, as a first step toward my grovelling before whatever turpitudinous slave-driver I'll have, or, to answer that I must spew forth such inanities as to discount all pretenses to intellectual integrity. Or, lastly, to reveal a genuine shortcoming, the hearing of which must indeed prevent me from gainful employment! You ask me either to prevaricate or self-immolate! And I will not, Mr. Samuels, I will not. I sayest to you, take my subsisting employment and insert it in your perineum forthwith! Good day, my child. Go with God"
Oh, Lord. Was it pride? Was it arrogance? I cans't playeth the game, my most fair Judge, and yet my stomach rumbleth continuously, a racket so loud and vociferous that it can surely awaken deafened octogenarian invalids. If only a sandwich would appear before me, and my desparation would subside.


One, suppose this site actually takes off and does well. Should we invite our professors to blog as well? (not that many of them would) This could have an upside, but maybe folk would more likely prefer to have it as our own.

Secondly, if many people would only feel like blogging if the blog is private (i.e., not viewable by those not registered), then that could be a reason to make it so. I think, however, that the weight of reasons is on the side of keeping it public. Feedback?

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Coming Into Existence

In the hopes that I can get some feedback to help end the lack of direction I've had since I gave my Internal Speakers Series talk last semester, I've written up my thoughts on coming into or going out of existence. It explains what's disillusioned me about where I thought I was going at the time and why I've started thinking about other things until I get some new direction that I might find both interesting and promising. Any comments are welcome, of course (since that's kind of the point).


I thought that one thing that this blog could be good for, among other things, is as a forum for talking about teaching-related issues. We're all familiar with the pernicious trend of student relativism, and the following phrases no doubt ring a painfully familiar bell:

"That's true for them"
"It just depends what you believe."
"It's all relative."

And some other issues, peripherally related to student relativism, are moves such as this:

"Whose to say _____?"
"That's your opinion."
"That's what they believe."

And, one more that comes to mind is student revulsion to certain kinds of thought experiments (a certain kind of imaginitive resistance, although this isn't quite the right term), such as the alien-pain case as a counterexample to type Identity Theory, brain-wipes and personality uploads/downloads, etc.

If anyone knows any particularly good moves to deal with these you should let me know. I have some moves that seem only temporary repairs, as the issues will just surface again and again.

If you want to find out about the Bertrand Russell Society 31st Annual Meeting, here is the link.


Well, I've just sent out all the invitation letters so that you can all sign up. Let me know if you didn't receive one, it was a bit tricky with the forms trying to sign up 30+ folk. If any of you have blogs, or something you'd like me to put up as a link on the sidebar, let me know it's name and URL.
UPDATE: OK, I was having some problems, and had to email everyone again, and unfortunately it says it is from Mark Edward, while it is indeed from me, Mark (E) Steen. Please sign up and let's get this thing going...


Irem Kurtsal Steen, and Mazel Tov as well, for getting her paper accepted for the Bertrand Russell Society meeting in Plymouth, NH, which she'll be presenting in June. (Irem is a grad student here at Syracuse like myself). Here is her abstract:

Russell on Matter and Our Knowledge of the External World


In parts of Our Knowledge of the External World (OKEW), Russell appears to defend a phenomenalist epistemology of perception. In this paper, I defend that Russell did not intend OKEW to be phenomenalist. I show this by explaining the development of Russell’s views that led him to write OKEW, paying special attention to his 1912 essay "On Matter", which is a precursor to OKEW. According to my explanation, OKEW was the result of Russell’s attempt to merge two different objectives into one.
One of these objectives was to demonstrate an inference of the existence of the external world solely on the basis of sense-data and unsensed particulars that are intrinsically similar to them, thereby showing how we can have knowledge about the intrinsic nature of physical objects with which we are not directly acquainted.
Russell’s second objective was to logically construct a system out of sense-data, and unsensed particulars that are intrinsically similar to them. This system was going to have the properties that science assigns to matter. By means of this logical construction, Russell would be demonstrating that, even though science postulates the existence of entities and variables that are not sensed, the truth of scientific hypotheses does not require the existence of anything that is in principle unverifiable.
Russell failed to accomplish the inferential task because of the problems he ran into when writing the Theory of Knowledge manuscript. As a result, he wanted to demonstrate both our knowledge of physical objects, and the verifiability of scientific truths by the method of logical constructions. This put conflicting burdens on his project. The constructions that would validate and assure the verifiability of scientific truths had to have a phenomenal nature. The external world as we claim to know it, on the other hand, is not phenomenal. In OKEW, Russell struggles to overcome this tension, but inevitably fails. The result of this is our impression that Russell defends a phenomenalist epistemology of perception. My explanation will reveal that Russell did not intend to defend this position. OKEW is confusing, and at times, confused. But a better understanding of it should emerge from separating the two entangled and sometimes competing objectives that it was meant to achieve.

folks who may be interested in reading her paper and giving her feedback can email her at iremkurtsal@hotmail.com

Welcome to OrangePhilosophy! I've decided to set up a blog for the use of the Syracuse grad students, to foster discussion about our work and philosophy in general. I have no idea if this will get picked up, I'm about to e-mail everyone to invite them to blog. Hope this goes well...

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