"There are none so blind as those who will not see." --

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Friday, December 14, 2012

The Hobbit, or There and Back-Before-it-Ended Again

It drove them, greedy ambition bold/
To seek out treasure, as dragons did of old/

Fans began feeling, that something wasn't right/
Their groans resounding, in the night/

The film was bloated, the story's soul was lost/
The movie tickets, had not been worth the cost/

The news would spread, it was a dread/
Those who like halflings, should read the book instead!/

Saturday, December 08, 2012

An interesting paper on Analytic Functionalism

A very interesting paper on analytic functionalism has been posted at Brains. Here are some of my own thoughts, on the subject of whether ordinary people ("the folk") attribute mental states to groups:

First, the distinction between "individuals" and "groups" seems to be relative to a level of description: On a microscopic scale, our brains are vast groups of neurons, and while they interact and are closely related, so do group entities like corporations, though admittedly to a lesser extent. One question is then whether the folk, on being given a detailed explanation of how some part of the brain works, or of neurons, dendrites and synapses in general, would feel an intuitive pull towards a dualistic view: they might think such an ensemble couldn't be conscious any more than a corporation could, and posit a more unified agent like a soul (BTW, this resembles Scholastic arguments for the simplicity of the soul). Another question is, if the folk would still think that brains could be the subjects of intentional and phenomenal states but NOT that corporations could, whether the difference would arise because the members of a corporation have thoughts and experiences of their own, while neurons are thought not to have them. If so, that would seem to show that people fail to ascribe thoughts and experiences to corporations because they think that if the members of a group have thoughts and experiences the group cannot--the mental states of the members "crowd out" any potential mental states of the group--not just because they are a group. On this view groups could still be conscious if their members are not.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Philosophy, et cetera on Effective Giving

Philosophy, et cetera: Effective Giving:
I encourage  everyone who wants to make the world a better place to join Giving What We Can and pledge to give 10% of their pre-tax income to effective charities.  You can expect to save several lives each year (averaging over your lifetime earnings, if you're currently a student), which is pretty amazing when you think about it, and it's surprisingly easy too.  (A 10% change in income generally doesn't impose any drastic lifestyle changes!)  Some people give even more, and that's even cooler.  Some start with less, and every bit helps. ...

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Some Strong Conditionals for Sentential Logics (Circulation Draft)

Here is my latest draft of a paper attempting to give an account of a stronger-than-material conditional which can be adapted to various sentential logics. An abstract is provided below. To see the draft, go here:

Some Strong Conditionals for Sentential Logics (Circulation Draft)

Please keep in mind that the paper is a work in progress, and is still in a fairly rough state. That being said, I appreciate any comments and / or criticism that those who are interested in the subject have to offer.


In this article I define a strong conditional for classical sentential logic, and then extend it to three non-classical sentential logics. It is stronger than the material conditional and is not subject to the standard paradoxes of material implication, nor is it subject to some of the standard paradoxes of C. I. Lewis’s strict implication. My conditional has some counterintuitive consequences of its own, but I think its pros outweigh its cons. In any case, one can always augment one’s language with more than one conditional, and it may be that no single conditional will satisfy all of our intuitions about how a conditional should behave. Finally, I will make no claim that the strong conditional is a good model for any particular use of the indicative conditional in English or other natural languages, though it would certainly be a nice bonus if some modified version of it could serve as one.

The basic idea is this: In general, one starts out with with the logic that one  wants to define the conditional for, and describes a meta-language for it. The metalanguage contains ┌(q|p)┐, a “conditional designator” which designates the truth value that q takes given that p is true, i.e., given that p has the value 1. It is to be read as ┌ the value of q given p┐ or ┌the value of q conditional on p┐. The stroke, |, is not a connective; it merely serves to separate the letter q from the letter p. The designator works like this: If p never takes the value 1, then ┌(q|p)┐ designates nothing—for q cannot take a value given that p is true if p can never be true—and is said to be empty. It is also empty if the value of q varies when the value of p is 1, for in that case q doesn’t take a unique value given that p is true. If q always takes the value 1 when p takes the value 1, then ┌(q|p)┐ designates 1, and in our meta-language we can say that ┌(q|p)┐ = 1, which is another way of saying that ┌(q|p)┐ designates 1. Similarly, if q always takes the value 0 when p takes the value 1, then ┌(q|p)┐ designates 0, and in our meta-language we can say that ┌(q|p)┐ = 0. 

With our meta-linguistic conditional designator ready to hand, one can now define what I call the strong conditional, or strong implication, for which I will use the symbol ‘→’. Its definition is (where ‘v( )’ is the valuation function, which gives the semantic value of an expression):
If ┌(q|p)┐= 1, then v(p → q) = 1
If ┌(q|p)┐= 0, then v(p → q) = 0
If ┌(q|p)┐ is empty, then v(p → q) = 0

I shall begin by exploring some of the disadvantages of the material conditional, the strict conditional, and some relevant conditionals. I proceed to define a strong conditional for classical sentential logic. I go on to adapt this account to Graham Priest’s Logic of Paradox, to S. C. Kleene’s logic K3, and then to J. Łukasiewicz’s logic Ł, a standard version of fuzzy logic.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The Format of Scholardarity's Submissions Page Has Been Updated has updated the format of its submissions page. Now you can sign in using your Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Twitter, or HeyPublisher account. Also, you no longer have to send in submissions via email; you can upload them directly through the submissions form.

You can submit your contributions here.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Philosophers' Carnival # 145

Welcome one and all to the 145th edition of the Philosophers' Carnival! You may notice that this edition is a bit shorter than most previous ones. This is because, in deference to the new carnival policies, I've decided to include only what I believe to be the best of the best submissions.

And so, without further ado, I present to you the Philosophers' Carnival's main attractions:

Chad McIntosh of Appeared-To-Blogly examines the link between theism and the multiverse hypothesis, and concludes that the multiverse hypothesis is 'metaphysically laden'.

Richard Brown of Philosophy Sucks! shares some notes and thoughts on Giulio Tononi's inaugural lecture at NYU's Center for Mind and Brain.

Over at M-Phi, Catarina reviews Stephen Read's exposition of Thomas Bradwardine's solution to the Liar Paradox.

In his blog post "A Response to an Anti-Naturalist" at Larval Subjects, Levi Bryant replies to a critique of his defense of naturalism and materialism.

At Philosophy, et cetera, Richard Chappell critiques M. Oreste Fiocco's paper "Consequentialism and the World in Time", in which Fiocco gives arguments against consequentialism based on the philosophy of time.

Do you have infinitely many beliefs about the number of planets? Apparently not. Eric Schwitzgebel argues that if that's true it shows that " seems problematic to think of belief either in terms of discretely stored language-like style representations (perhaps plus swift derivability allowing implicit beliefs), or in terms of map-like representations."

In a post at the hanged man Matthew J. Brown argues, in opposition to some recent papers by Heather Douglas, that "...value judgments do have legitimate direct roles to play in the internal processes of scientific inquiry"--three roles, to be precise.

Finally, Mark Lance presents an interesting problem for the semantics and epistemology of mathematics in the first part of his post on domains of quantification over at New APPS. To be specific,

" knows what one is saying with such a sentence only if one knows what domain one is quantifying over. If we are discussing anything as complex as the reals - equivalently second order arithmetic - and mean to quantify over the "intended model" - that is, do not specify some constructable model as our domain - then we do not know what we are quantifying over. Thus, we do not know what we are saying when we make claims with second order arithmetic quantifiers."

That's all for this edition. The next Carnival will open at Talking Philosophy on December 10th.

Notes on Timothy Williamson’s Lecture “Logics as Scientific Theories”

Over at Scholardarity I've posted my notes on Timothy Williamson’s lecture “Logics as Scientific Theories” which was given at U.C. Berkeley on November 1st.

Friday, November 02, 2012

A Summary of Mackie’s “The Subjectivity of Values”

I've posted a summary of J.L. Mackie's article "The Subjectivity of Values" in Philosophy Notes at Scholardarity.

Here's an excerpt:

In his essay “The Subjectivity of Values”, J.L. Mackie aims to show that values are not built into the structure of the universe. He begins by clarifying his position, addressing possible reactions and trying to prevent misunderstandings. Some would reject Mackie’s thesis as being morally subversive, others would accept it as a platitude, and still others would say that the question of whether there are objective values is itself illegitimate. Mackie’s thesis applies to all purportedly objective values, not just moral ones. Also, his thesis is a second-order rather than a first-order claim: It states that our values have nothing objective corresponding to them, but one who accepts this claim is not thereby committed to adopt any particular attitude towards private conduct or public policy. One can think that values are ultimately subjective while still valuing things, practices, or states of affairs—or perhaps not valuing much of anything at all—because valuing something does not presuppose that valuing it has an ontological ground.

Monday, October 29, 2012

"Gold is a yellow metal?" It ain't analytically so!

Proof at last that "Gold is a yellow metal" is not analytic, pace Kant. Viva la Kripke!

Southampton scientists change the colour of gold (From the BBC)


For this very reason all analytic judgments are a priori even when the concepts are empirical, as, for example, "Gold is a yellow metal," for to know this I require no experience beyond my concept of gold as a yellow metal. It is, in fact, the very concept, and I need only analyze it, without looking beyond it elsewhere.
 --Immanuel Kant,  Prolegomena to any Future Metaphysics; Preamble, Section 2b, p. 267

See also Kripke's  Naming and Necessity, p. 118-9

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Primer on Logic: Part 4.1

I've published a new article on Scholardarity, A Primer on Logic: Part 4.1, the latest installment of my introduction to formal logic. In it I address some preliminaries to Predicate Logic.

Also, in case you missed Parts 1, 2, 3, and the Interlude, which respectively cover logical preliminaries, propositional logic, Aristotelian logic, and the inadequacies of Aristotelian logic, you can check them out here:

Part 1

Part 2
Part 3


If you have any comments / criticism, by all means share it!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Announcement of Scholardarity’s First Essay Contest

Announcement of Scholardarity’s First Essay Contest



Peter Krey and Jason Zarri, co-founders of Scholardarity, are pleased to announce that Scholardarity is now accepting submissions for its first essay contest. The cost of entering the contest is $10.00. There will be prizes for the first, second, and third place winners. The contestant who wins first place will receive at least $200.00, the contestant who wins second place will receive at least $100.00, and the contestant who wins third place will receive at least $50.00; we say “at least” because the money received from the entrance fees will form a “pot”, which will be divided amongst the three winners: 50% of the pot for first place, 25% of the pot for second place, and 10% of the pot for third place.

There are two topics to choose from:

(1) What role should the government play in a society and what is the proper relation of the government and economy in order to best serve the common good? Would new approaches to the discipline of economics—for example, the evolutionary or complexity economics of Eric Beinhocker or other approaches, e.g., the social economics of Anghel Rugina, contribute to the well-being of society?
(2) What is the proper relationship between government and religion in a democracy? What are the effects, positive and/or negative, of government on religion, of religion on government, or of both on society as a whole? Essays may include the pros and cons of the separation of church and state, governmental restrictions on certain religious practices, as well as restrictions placed on a religion, such as wanting to impose its will on the whole society.
There will be two rounds: In Round 1, contestants will submit a proposal of about 500 words in which they give an outline for a paper on their selected topic. From these proposals, twenty will be selected as finalists to enter Round 2. The finalists will write a paper based on their proposal, of about 2,000 words in length. All twenty of the finalists’ essays will be published on Scholardarity.
The deadline for submissions for Round 1 is November 15th, and the deadline for submissions for Round 2 is January 15th

To enter the contest, go to Scholardarity's Contest Page to enter, then send your proposal, along with your name, address, and any other relevant contact information.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Philosophy Notes from my Grandfather

I’ve started a new section of Scholardarity in Open Source Study Notes, Philosophy Notes from my Grandfather. It’s a page dedicated to the memory of my late grandfather, who graduated Summa Cum Laude with a Bachelor’s in Philosophy from USF. I’ve also added its first entry, An Overview of the History of Philosophy: Part 1.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

On the Relativity of “Reallys” -- Now at Scholardarity

I've just posted my article "On the Relativity of “Reallys”: A Critique of Strawson" at Scholardarity in the Philosophy of Mind section, in which I criticize P. F. Strawson's attempt to reconcile the standpoints of science and common sense, insofar as they concern perception .

Friday, September 28, 2012

Testing the limits of your imagination: Part 2

In this post I invite my readers to test the limits of their imagination. As I said in Part 1,
In his Meditations on First Philosophy, Descartes distinguished between imagination and conception, or between mental images and concepts. Thus he supposed that one can conceive of a chiliagon, a polygon of a thousand sides, although one cannot form a mental image that represents it—none, at any rate, that wouldn’t represent a circle equally well. This shows that imagination has its limits, and that one can conceive of things that one cannot (adequately) imagine.
In Part 1 I tried to determine the maximum number of sides that you can visualize a polygon as having. This time, I want you to test something different: imagined motion.

Experiment 1:
Visualize a disc (or a square; whichever proves to be easier). To help you to keep track of the motion, imagine it as half white and half black, or as having black and white stripes or dots. Now imagine the figure rotating about its center, at a relatively slow pace--say about half a rotation per second. After a few seconds, imagine it rotating once per second. Now repeat his process, gradually increasing the number of rotations  per second. I predict that at some point you will no longer be able to "keep track" of the motion. What I would like to know is how many rotations per second you can  visualize before you lose track of the motion.

Experiment 2:
Now, I want you to imagine a system consisting of two discs, one about two to three times as big as the other, with the larger one at the center.  Now visualize the smaller disc orbiting the larger one, much like planet orbiting a star (as the system would be viewed from "above", i.e., not "edge on"). Start by imagining the smaller disc orbiting at one half a revolution per second. As in Experiment 1, gradually increase the number of revolutions per second step by step: How many orbits per second you can  visualize before you lose track of the motion?

Thanks for your cooperation!

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

A past philosopher toasts a potential president

I had a most interesting dream last night (well, not really, but let's pretend). I was at a university I'd never seen before, but somehow I knew where I was going. Walking through the Humanities building, I noticed that some people looked vaguely familiar, though hard to place. Passing one of the doors, which was ajar, I heard the voice of Mitt Romney. It turned out that a professor was playing a clip of Romney's acceptance speech from last night. The professor, apparently trying to explain his views on  one's knowledge of one's own mental states to his students, paused the video and resumed his lecture: "Now imagine yourself saying, 'But I know how bored I am!', and banging your head against your desk to prove it..." Immediately I began to suspect something. I made my way to the lounge, where a party was to be held. The faces of those who were there were mostly glum. The results from last night were clearly not what they had expected; or, at any rate, not what they had  hoped for. I overheard one professor say to another that it looked like he lost his bet with professor Voltaire that this was the best of all possible worlds. I'm still not sure if he was joking or not, but my suspicion was correct: Many of the faculty were great philosophers from the past! At that point I saw someone dressed in a monk's robes stand up and clear his throat. The room became silent, and everyone turned to face him. I don't know how I knew it--again, this was a dream--but it must have been St. Anselm. "I propose a toast to our president elect!", he said. I remember his words vividly:

Obama had his problems, as it is plain to see,
but they pale beside those that face our new president, Romney.
It would not be a slander, if it can be believed, 
to define poor Mitt as he than which none blander can be conceived.
He hasn't got a lot of charm, or personality,
nor has he very much respect for folks like you and me.
He worries little about the poor, who have a "safety net",
and worries less about those whose votes he thought he could not get.
"If only I were Latino", he joked, "I'd be assured to win"
--tragically, Mitt failed to see, he should be liked for being him. 
So let us all drink to his health, and wish him lots of luck;
he'll need it most four years from now, when his only term is up!

At that point everyone in the room laughed and cheered. It turned out to be a good dream after all.

Friday, September 07, 2012

A Brief Sketch of Kant’s Critical Philosophy

Over at Scholardarity I've posted A Brief Sketch of Kant’s Critical Philosophy in Scholardarity Student’s subsection Open Source Study Notes. Here's an excerpt:

Metaphysical knowledge can be either dogmatic or critical. Dogmatic metaphysics seeks to know things as they are in themselves. Critical metaphysics, which Kant calls “Critique”, only gives us knowledge of things as they must appear to us, and hence of the necessary features of all possible experience. Dogmatic metaphysics would have to meet two requirements which are inconsistent in Kant’s system. First, it would have to be synthetic a priori. It could not be analytic a priori, for then it could not give us new knowledge. Neither could it be synthetic a posteriori, for then it could tell us no more than natural science does. Second, it would have to go beyond the bounds of all possible experience; otherwise, it would not be distinct from mathematics and geometry, which, while also synthetic a priori, are limited to possible experience. This limitation is what makes them possible, for as we said above, they are “built into” space and time as forms of our sensibility. Anything which can appear to us must be subject to our forms of sensibility, and so mathematics and geometry must hold of all appearances. But since dogmatic metaphysics is supposed to apply to things which cannot appear to us, we cannot know a priori what they are like, for they are not subject to the only conditions under which experience, and hence synthetic a priori knowledge, is possible. In consequence, metaphysical knowledge of a dogmatic sort is impossible. Now we can see the source of Kant’s distaste for dogmatic metaphysics: It poses questions which it cannot answer.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Philosophy of Language Notes Part 1: Wittgenstein

Over at Scholardarity I've posted Part 1 of my notes on the Philosophy of language, the first contribution to Scholardarity Student’s subsection Open Source Study Notes. This  part deals with the philosophy of Ludwig Wittgenstein. Here's an excerpt:

~ Prelude ~
Why philosophers study language–

1) Philosophers have been accused of “making mistakes” based on language. Consider the sentences:

i) “Santa Claus does not exist.”
ii) “Santa Claus wears a red suit.”

a) “How can one talk about something”, philosophers sometimes ask, “and say something true or false about it, if it isn’t real or doesn’t ‘have being’ in some sense? In order for statements like (i) or (ii) to be true, they have to be about something—Santa Claus, in this case. Granted, in light of the fact that (i) is true, Santa Claus doesn’t exist, but nevertheless he is some kind of being and has properties—including the properties of being non-existent and wearing a red suit.” However, at least since Bertrand Russell published his famous article “On Denoting” in 1905, most philosophers think that arguments like this are based on linguistic confusions. It can be true that Santa Claus does not exist without Santa Clause being real in any sense.

b) From time to time philosophers also ask: Is there such a thing as “goodness”, or something like Plato’s “Form of the Good”? Able philosophers have thought so, but others–emotivists, in particular, such as A. J. Ayer, C. L. Stevenson, Richard Hare—have held that to call something good or bad, or to say that an action is right or wrong, is not to say that it objectively has some moral feature—“goodness”, “wrongness”, etc.—but to express how the speaker feels about the thing or action in question.  For example, on this view a sentence like “Lying is wrong” is neither true nor false; nor, when properly understood, is it purported to be. It merely evinces that the speaker who uttered the sentence disapproves of lying. It does not even say that the speaker disapproves of lying—that would be a sentence that is apt to be true or false; true if the speaker disapproves of lying and false if they do not. On the emotivists’ view, to say that lying is wrong is more like saying “Boo lying!”, “Screw lying!”, “Down with lying!”, or something of the sort.

(Personal note: Words like ‘good’ and ‘bad’, ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, may have an expressive function, but it doesn’t follow that they only have an expressive function. Sentences involving ‘good’ and ‘bad’ might sometimes attribute objective goodness or badness to some entity, and it may be that it is in virtue of one’s belief that the entity in question is objectively good that one can use the term ‘good’ or ‘goodness’ to express how one feels about it. For it may be that if one had no belief concerning the entity’s moral value, one might not have any feelings about it, whether positive or negative.)

2) What are the limits of human knowledge? What can we conceive? The “early” Ludwig Wittgenstein, for example, thought there was a connection between the limits of conception and the limits of what can be expressed in language:

The book will, therefore, draw a limit to thinking, or rather—not to thinking, but to the expression of thoughts; for, in order to draw a limit to thinking we should have to be able to think both sides of this limit (we should therefore have to be able to think what cannot be thought).
The limit can, therefore, only be drawn in language and what lies on the other side of the limit will be simply nonsense.—Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus, p. 3

3) Language is inherently interesting.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

4th annual 3 Quarks Daily philosophy prize -- submissions end Sept. 3rd

The following is from a post at 3 Quarks Daily:

Dear Readers, Writers, Bloggers,
We are very honored and pleased to announce that Justin E. H. Smith has agreed to be the final judge for our 4th annual prize for the best blog and online writing in the category of philosophy. (Details of the previous three philosophy prizes can be seen by clicking on the names of their respective judges here: Daniel Dennett, Akeel Bilgrami, and Patricia Churchland).
As usual, this is the way it will work: the nominating period is now open, and will end at 11:59 pm EST on September 3, 2012. There will then be a round of voting by our readers which will narrow down the entries to the top twenty semi-finalists. After this, we will take these top twenty voted-for nominees, and the four main editors of 3 Quarks Daily (Abbas Raza, Robin Varghese, Morgan Meis, and Azra Raza) will select six finalists from these, plus they may also add up to three wildcard entries of their own choosing. The three winners will be chosen from these by Justin Smith.
The first place award, called the "Top Quark," will include a cash prize of one thousand dollars; the second place prize, the "Strange Quark," will include a cash prize of three hundred dollars; and the third place winner will get the honor of winning the "Charm Quark," along with a two hundred dollar prize.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Objectivism and The Corruption of Rationality–Formatting Fixed

The formatting of Scott Ryan’s book Objectivism and The Corruption of Rationality, available in the Epistemology section of Scholardarity, has been fixed and now coincides with the print version.


Scott Ryan, a friend and philosophical mentor, was kind enough to write the following poem for me based on my post "Conceivability, Consciousness and the Content of Belief" and Lewis Carroll's Poem "Jabberwocky".  In his words:

"Written for Jason Zarri, who's taking on an argument of David Chalmers in a paper he's writing for a graduate philosophy course at San Francisco State University."

Thanks Scott! 

And now, without further ado, I present:


'Twas swillig, and the lively lads
Did gyre and gimble round the bar;
All tipsy were the Student-Grads,
As the pee-zombies are.

"Beware the Chalmer! Don't evade
The Problem Hard of Consciousness;
The arguments so far you've made
Are dubious. Acquiesce!"

He took his Vorpal Ale in hand;
Long time he toted round his beer
To seek his foe, and finally manned
A table in the rear.

And, as his uffish beer he drank,
The Chalmer, with its mind aflame,
Came whiffling through the tavern dank,
And argued as it came!

(1), (2)! (1), (2)! "Not true, not true!"
Both premises he thus denied.
He scotched the myth, departing with
The Chalmer's zombie hide.

"And hast thou slain its argument?
Come to my arms; embrace thou me!
O thesis fine! O thought divine!"
He'd earned his Ph.D.

'Twas swillig, and the lively lads
Did gyre and gimble round the bar;
All tipsy were the Student-Grads,
As the pee-zombies are.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Conceivability, Consciousness and the Content of Belief

[Cross-Posted at Scholardarity's DiaBlog, here]

What follows is the text of my final paper for a philosophy of mind course that I took in the spring semester of this year. Due to constraints on length, the paper is much shorter than it needs to be. I would very much like to expand it to deal with David Chalmers' nuanced views on conceivability, among other things, and so I would be very grateful for any feedback that could help me to do that.  

Conceivability, Consciousness and the Content of Belief

1. Introduction
            In his article “Consciousness and Its Place in Nature”, David Chalmers presents an argument against materialism—the view that truths about consciousness and indeed mental phenomena in general are in some sense fixed by truths about physical entities—which is based on conceivability. If the argument is sound, the fact that one can conceive materialism to be false entails that materialism actually is false. In this paper I will argue that the argument is unsound, and I will do so by giving a parallel argument that is clearly unsound.

2. Sketching Chalmers’ Argument
            Let us say that something is metaphysically possible if it really could obtain, even if it actually does not. Let us also say that something is metaphysically necessary if it really has to obtain no matter what. In other words, if we say that a “possible world” is a way that absolutely everything—the entire universe—really could turn out to be, then something is metaphysically necessary if it obtains in every possible world. Now, Type-A materialists think that phenomenal truths—truths about “what it is like” to have experiences of various kinds—can be derived from physical truths via a priori reasoning. Type-B materialists, on the other hand, think that phenomenal truths are entailed by physical truths even though one cannot know a priori either that this is so or which physical truths entail which phenomenal truths. However, on both views phenomenal truths are fixed by physical truths as a matter of metaphysical necessity: There is no possible world in which the physical truths are as they actually are while the phenomenal truths are different.
            Chalmers offers an argument against Type-B materialism based on our ability to conceive that the physical truths about the world could be just as they are while some phenomenal truths are different. Let P be some sentence expressing the complete truth about all things physical, and Q be some particular truth about someone’s phenomenology. Chalmers’ argument would then be:
1. It is conceivable that P ¬ Q.
2. If it is conceivable that P ¬ Q, then it is metaphysically possible that P ¬ Q.
3. If it is metaphysically possible that P ¬ Q, then materialism is false.
4. Materialism is false.

(Philosophy of Mind, p. 249). So if it is conceivable that P holds while at least one truth about someone’s phenomenology fails to hold, materialism, and hence Type-B materialism, is false. This argument is clearly valid, but I think it is unsound, and I propose to show this by giving a parallel argument that I take to be clearly unsound.

3. Presenting the Parallel
            Consider Platonism and nominalism about predication. Platonists think that the truth of sentences of the form “x is F” (or some restricted class of such sentences) require the further truth of sentences of the form “x exemplifies F-ness”, where ‘F-ness’ refers to the property expressed by ‘F’. Nominalists deny this. They would say that sentences of the form “x exemplifies F-ness” are (necessarily) false.[1] Nevertheless, for nominalists sentences of the form “x is F” are perfectly fine as they are.
            There are at least two different possible forms of Platonism. Type-A Platonists hold that sentences of the form “x exemplifies F-ness” can be derived from sentences of the form “x is F” via a priori reasoning. Type-B Platonists hold that sentences of the first form cannot be derived via a priori reasoning from sentences of the second form, although they do follow from them as a matter of metaphysical necessity. Nominalism has been upheld by many able philosophers over a long span of time, and since it is unlikely that this would be so if Platonism could be easily established a priori from the platitude that there are true predications, I think Type-B Platonism is more plausible than Type-A Platonism.
            Now for the parallel argument. Let R be some sentence expressing the conjunction of all sentences of the form “x is F”, and S be some particular sentence of the form “x exemplifies F-ness.” The argument would then be:

1. It is conceivable that R ¬ S.
2. If it is conceivable that R ¬ S, then it is metaphysically possible that R ¬ S.
3. If it is metaphysically possible that R ¬ S, then Platonism is false.
4. Platonism is false.

So if it is conceivable that R holds while at least one particular sentence of the form “x exemplifies F-ness” is false, it follows that Platonism, and hence Type-B Platonism, is false. I take it to be clear that Type-B Platonism cannot be refuted so easily. Something has gone wrong, but what?

4. Two Kinds of Conceivability
The second argument, like the first, is clearly valid. Thus, it must be unsound. Type-B materialists are committed to accepting premise (1) of first argument, and Type-B Platonists are committed to accepting premise (1) of the second. Also, in both arguments premise (3) appears to be necessarily true. This casts suspicion on premise (2) of each argument, though I will focus on premise (2) of the first argument.
I think premise (2) is questionable for two related reasons. The first reason is that I think the term ‘conceivable’ is ambiguous, and has two senses. Taking ‘thinkable’ and ‘comprehensible’ as technical terms, I will say that something is thinkable if one can understand it, and that something is comprehensible if, in virtue of understanding it, one can tell that it is possible.[2] So everything which is comprehensible is thinkable, but I think the converse is not true. Some expressions—nonsense strings like “!#?@”, and ungrammatical “sentences” like “Is and Caesar two” are not conceivable in either sense. On the other hand, sentences expressing logical or metaphysical impossibilities—e.g., “It’s true that Socrates was brave and it’s not true that Socrates was brave,” “Tyler is a married bachelor”—are, in my opinion, thinkable but not comprehensible. Some would take such sentences to be strictly meaningless, but I think that view is mistaken. For it seems that we can understand necessarily false sentences, because there are many cases where people have believed things which just can’t be true. Consider those who thought they could prove Euclid’s parallel postulate before the discovery of non-Euclidean geometries, or those who thought, before Gödel, that one could derive all the truths of mathematics within a single formal system. Once we grant that people have believed such things, we must also grant that necessarily false sentences are meaningful, and can thus be understood, for if they could not be understood they could not be the content of someone’s belief.

5. The Perilous Parallel
We now have the resources to see why my parallel to Chalmers’ argument is significant, and what its significance is. Regarding predication, either Platonism or nominalism is true. Now, either the truth of predications (or some restricted class of predications) requires that objects exemplify properties, or it does not. So either Platonism or nominalism is necessarily true, and if Platonism is necessarily true nominalism is necessarily false, and vice versa. Either way, one side thinks, but does not comprehend, something that is metaphysically impossible.
This brings us, at last, to the second reason why premise (2) is problematic. Let’s say that a world satisfies some sentence (or whatever one takes the ultimate bearers of truth to be) if that sentence is true at that world; or, alternatively, that that sentence would be true if that world were actual. If something is comprehensible then it is indeed satisfied by some possible world.  But either nominalists or Platonists think something which is metaphysically impossible, and which cannot be satisfied by any possible world. Despite that, both of these alternatives are epistemic “possibilities” in the sense that we cannot rule them out a priori given our current knowledge and limited inferential abilities. Thus some epistemic possibilities are not satisfied by any metaphysically possible worlds. If we nevertheless wish to count Platonism and nominalism as epistemic possibilities in the above sense, we will have to hold that some things are satisfied by impossible worlds—worlds in which some necessary truths may fail to hold. One could not say that such worlds are really misdescribed possible worlds or scenarios, as when a world in which water is purportedly XYZ is really a world in which the watery stuff is XYZ while water is still H2O. A “world” in which predication essentially involves properties is not really a misdescribed world in which predication doesn’t essentially involve properties. Some work in semantics has shown that one can make sense of impossible worlds[3], but this is no help to Chalmers’ argument because the argument only works if worlds where P ¬ Q holds are metaphysically possible. P ¬ Q may be epistemically possible in the above sense, but that does nothing to show that it is metaphysically possible.

6. Objection and Reply
            Chalmers could try to question the idea that one could believe impossible things. If one cannot, my distinction between thinkability and comprehensibility threatens to collapse.
            I think, however, that the view that one cannot believe the impossible cannot be sustained. Consider the content of that very belief: If it is impossible to believe impossible things, it is impossible to believe that one can believe impossible things. What then could Chalmers make of his opponents’ position? He could not say that someone believes that someone can believe impossible things. Are sentences like “Wyman believes that P”, where ‘P’ is an arbitrary impossible sentence, meaningless? If so, “Wyman believes that someone believes impossible things” is meaningless. Could Chalmers maintain that his opponents are not mistaken, but simply confused? In that case he should not deny what they say, holding it to be false. He should instead claim that his opponents have an illusion of belief, and on pain of incoherence this illusion must not itself involve a false belief about the semantic status of certain of their apparent beliefs.  Vindicating that claim is no easy task, and I doubt it can be done.

7. Conclusion
We can now see why Chalmers’ argument against Type-B materialism fails. It fails because it does not distinguish two different senses of ‘conceivable’, namely thinkable and comprehensible, and while the falsity of materialism is thinkable we have no real evidence that its falsity is comprehensible. So we can conceive that materialism is false in one sense, but this does not entail that it is really possible that it is false. Maybe materialism is false anyway, but Chalmers’ argument does not show that it is.

Chalmers, David J. “Consciousness and Its Place in Nature,” Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings, ed. David J. Chalmers. New York, Oxford University Press, 2002.
Chalmers, David J. Philosophy of Mind: Classical and Contemporary Readings. New York, Oxford University Press, 2002.
Restall, Greg. “Ways Things Can't Be”, Notre Dame Journal of Formal Logic, 38: 583–96. 1997.

[1] There is one exception: “Trope” theorists do believe in properties, but for them properties are tropes.  These are particular properties like Socrates’ wisdom, not Platonic properties like wisdom in general which are thought to exist outside of space and time. In the main text I intend ‘property’ to be understood as referring to Platonic properties, not tropes.

[2] I think ‘conceivable’ is really an operator, not a predicate. Instead of saying, e.g., “Nominalism is conceivable,” one should say, “It is conceivable that nominalism is true.” The same goes for ‘thinkable’ and ‘comprehensible’.

[3] See for example Restall (1997)


Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Open Source Study Notes

Open Source Study Notes, a new feature of, is opening. Anyone can contribute their study notes, study guides or study aids, and even overviews or introductions. All contributions will be free to read, and no registration is required. Submissions can be about specific courses, books, or articles; but they can also be about broader topics within a discipline. All areas are welcome—however, submissions may be subject to review and/or editing before they appear, and it will be easier for us to evaluate submissions in the humanities because that is the area in which we have the most experience. Also, anyone can suggest additions or changes to contributions through comments or email. At first, only the administrators will be able to actually make changes, but our plan is that in the future anyone can register (for free) to be an editor, and could then be able to make changes themselves.
Contributions should be submitted to Files should be an MS Word, an MS Works, or a Rich Text Document—or, if you have exceptionally clear handwriting, you can scan your contribution and send it as an image. Finally, contributors should accompany their submission with a brief description of its contents, along with its number of pages or words.

We look forward to hearing from you!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Synopsis of Singer’s The Life You Can Save

In this article on I provide a synopsis of Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save: Acting Now to End World Poverty, in which he tries to get his readers to consider, or reconsider, the question of what their obligations are to those who are trapped in extreme poverty. I write the synopsis in the hope that it may convince you to think about these issues for yourself, and also to go on to read Singer’s book.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Should Scientists Ignore Philosophical Theories of Evidence?

In a new article on, I  examine Peter Achinstein's critique of philosophical theories of evidence as they relate to science. I argue that scientists should not ignore philosophical theories of evidence--not all of them, anyway. To read it, click here.

Here's an excerpt: 

In his article “Why Philosophical Theories of Evidence Are (and Ought to Be) Ignored by Scientists,” Peter Achinstein argues that philosophical theories of evidence are ignored by scientists because they rest on assumptions which make their concepts of evidence too weak for scientists to work with, or which entail that the truth or falsity of evidential statements can be determined a priori. Given that, as Achinstein argues, the truth of many evidential statements can only be determined empirically, this “a priorist” assumption makes scientists consider philosophical accounts of evidence irrelevant to their work.

In what follows I will examine the value of evidence, its nature, and its relation to science. I hope to show that, while Achinstein’s conclusions are mostly right, the arguments and examples he gives to support them are flawed in some of their details. Specifically, I propose an account of evidence according to which, though evidential claims are objective to a large extent, something counts as evidence only if, ultimately, it has a relation to beings for whom it counts as evidence. On this view something’s status as evidence does not derive merely from people’s beliefs, but from shared practices that are embodied in what I call contexts of inquiry. I also propose that this concept of evidence is one according to which evidential claims, though defeasible, are in one respect a priori. I argue that this account of evidence is one that should be of interest to scientists.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality -- Now available for free at

As co-founders of, Peter Krey and Jason Zarri are happy to announce that Scott Ryan’s book Objectivism and the Corruption of Rationality: A Critique of Ayn Rand’s Epistemology is now available for free at, in the Epistemology section.

Ayn Rand presented Objectivism as a philosophy of reason. But is it? That is the question Scott Ryan seeks to answer in this careful examination of the Objectivist epistemology and its alleged sufficiency as the philosophical foundation of a free and prosperous commonwealth. Sorting painstakingly through Rand’s writings on the subject, Mr. Ryan concludes that the epistemology of Objectivism is incoherent and debases both the concept and the practice of rationality.
[Note: Some of the formatting of the text has been corrupted and differs from the print version]
Scott Ryan has been a guitarist, singer, and songwriter, a mathematics teacher, a writer and editor, a computer programmer, a Sherlockian, and a husband and father. He holds a master’s degree in mathematics and a juris doctor, and has had a lifelong interest in philosophy. He currently works as a software developer and lives in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, with his wife.

Friday, June 15, 2012

How to Know What Should Be So: Ethical Guidance and Ethical Theories

If one is in a moral quandary it is wise to look for ethical guidance if one has the time to do so. Ethical theories are, among other things, intended to be one possible source of ethical guidance. If such guidance is valuable, then in ethics there is an embarrassment of riches: There are multiple, well-accepted, yet mutually inconsistent theories. These include utilitarianism, Kantianism, virtue ethics, contractarianism, libertarianism, natural law theory, some forms of moral particularism, and more. The disquieting thing is that, at present, it seems that we are not at all close to being able to determine which of them, if any, is right. How can you know what you should do when ethicists, those who devote their careers to studying such theories, cannot reach a consensus on which one we should accept? Those who look to ethical theories for ethical guidance are apt to be disappointed. This situation is problematic, for if ethical theorizing is to have relevance to real-world ethical behavior, and not just be a way of examining ethical issues out of a love of arguments or puzzles, it must be possible for us to use ethical theories to inform ourselves of what we should do.

It seems that philosophers have usually tried to address the issue of how one should act by advancing arguments for or against these theories (or certain parts of them). I want to approach this issue from a different angle. The question I will address is this: Can you get ethical guidance about what you should do in certain situations without knowing, or even having good reasons to believe, that any particular ethical theory is right?

I know of at least one philosopher who thinks you can. In the following passage from his article “Hunger, Duty, and Ecology”, which was the inspiration for the ideas I express in this article, Mylan Engel Jr. rebuts an objection to the obligatoriness of donating to famine relief:
One of the most common reasons that I have heard philosophers give for rejecting the arguments of Singer and company [for contributing to famine relief] runs roughly as follows:
Singer’s preference utilitarianism is irremediably flawed, as are Kant’s ethics, Aieken’s theory of human rights, and Rawlsean contractarianism. The literature is peppered with devastating objections to these views. Because all of the aforementioned arguments are predicated on flawed ethical theories, all these arguments are also flawed. Until someone can provide me with clear moral reasons grounded in a true moral theory for sending large portions of my income to famine-relief organizations, I will continue to spend my money on what I please.
Such a self-serving reply is both disingenuous and sophistical. It is disingenuous because, as noted earlier, utilitarianism, Kantian ethics, human rights-based ethics, and contractarianism are among the most widely accepted theories in normative ethics. In other contexts, philosophers typically embrace one of these four theoretical approaches to ethics. It is sophistical because a similar reply can be used to “justify” or rationalize virtually any behavior. Because no moral theory to date is immune to objection, one could, for example, “justify” rape on the grounds that all of the arguments against rape are based on flawed ethical theories.
The speciousness of such a “justification” of rape is obvious. No one who seriously considers the brutality of rape can think that it is somehow justified / permissible simply because all current ethical theories are flawed. But such specious reasoning is often used to “justify” allowing millions of innocent children to starve to death each year. [footnote omitted] (Environmental Ethics, p. 462).
Engel goes on to justify his conclusions about donating to famine relief by appealing to what he takes to be almost universally shared commonsense beliefs about morality.

My approach will be different. My idea is that if you compare all the viable ethical theories that you know of, and find that all, or at any rate a great majority of them agree about whether an action you're considering is right, wrong, or permissible, then you know that it is at least highly probable that that action really is right, wrong, or permissible. For if all ethical theories agree about the moral status of an action, it can only fail to have that status if they are all false. And if a great majority of ethical theories agree about the moral status of an action, it can only fail to have that status if all of the theories that agree about its status are false, which becomes more and more improbable as the number of the theories that agree increases. Note that I’m not arguing that if a great majority of ethical theories agree about the moral status of an action then it automatically follows that it very probably has that status. The argument is rather that if some ethical theory or other is true, then majority agreement implies that the action very probably has the moral status that the majority of theories agree that it has. The upshot is that my approach should be a good guide as to what you should do as long as some ethical theory or other is true.  So by using my approach you can be guided by ethical theories without having to attempt the difficult task of determining which of them is right.

To clarify, my idea is not to put different ethical theories together to get a composite theory, but to help someone figure out what they should do in a fairly specific situation. By comparing different ethical theories you might find that they agree about what you should do in a situation, but they might not agree about why you should do it. If you try to “combine” the guidance you get across diverse situations the result would probably not be cohesive enough to yield an ethical theory. And if you find that a sufficient number of ethical theories don't agree even about what you should do in a given situation, I think the most you can conclude is that you don't know what you should do, and in such a case you would not have any determinate guidance. So I think that in some cases my approach will give you guidance and in other cases it won't.

Nevertheless, on my view, you would have a reason to explore as many different candidate ethical theories as you can, even though there is no need to determine which of them is right. This is because the more of them you consider, the more certain you can be that you have a representative sample of all the possible viable ethical theories, and the more representative the sample is, the more certain you can be that an action really has the moral status you think it does given that the majority of ethical theories agree that it has it.

It is important to note that ethical theories properly so called need not be the only kind of ethical view that one might have to take into account on my approach. Timothy Chappell has introduced the different yet related notion of an ethical outlook, which he characterizes as follows:
Anybody who is going to live a genuinely worthwhile and a fully human life will have to live out a set of views and commitments about the central questions concerning value: what is worth living for and what is worth dying for, what is really admirable and what is really contemptible, what we must do at all costs and what we must not do no matter what; and so on. This set of views and commitments need not be very explicit; but it must run deep—must be sincerely and indeed passionately held. And it need not be very systematic; but it must be as considered, rationally defensible, and coherent as possible. Any such set of views about value is what I will call an ethical outlook.[1]

The notion of an ethical outlook is, in principle, broader than the notion of an ethical theory, for it can include ethical theories as well as ethical views that are less systematic. In Chappell’s opinion, mainstream ethical theories[2] are not credible ethical outlooks, because he thinks they are ill-suited for any of the four roles that he regards as important ones important for ethical outlooks to play.[3] I am not convinced by his arguments, but I don’t have the space to address them here, so I will proceed on the assumption that mainstream ethical theories are credible ethical outlooks and leave the analysis of Chappell’s arguments for another occasion

Related to this is the important question of whether ethical outlooks that are not ethical theories are eligible to be included among the views that my approach takes into account.  For now I will simply say that, though I cannot see a priori any reason why not, I think their eligibility must be determined on a case by case basis, and in order to make such determinations I would need a more fully developed account than I now possess of the criteria of viability that I will present next. The development of such an account is something that I must also leave for another occasion.

Given that there may be ethical theories that have not yet been thought of by anyone, it is not certain how many of them there are. But it is certain that not all of them are created equal. Thus, in order to carry out a project like mine, it will be necessary to develop criteria of viability that one can use to eliminate theories that are inadequate and thus narrow down the range of theories one will have to consider.  In this section I will list some of these criteria.

One criterion is cohesiveness. Ethical theories cannot contain contradictions, but more than that, their components must be mutually supporting and fit together well. That is, an ethical theory can’t just be some arbitrary set of statements about what one should do that happens to be logically consistent. Some parts of the theory must provide a rationale as to why such-and-such is right, wrong, or permissible. Furthermore, these parts and their rationales must be subsumed under some common principles, or be such that relevantly similar actions receive relevantly similar evaluations, and for relevantly similar reasons.

Another criterion is comprehensiveness: An ethical theory cannot merely tell one what one should do in just a few cases. It should give one guidance that applies to a large number of cases of various kinds.
An ethical theory also has to have verifiable implications for one’s behavior. That is, one’s obligations must be such that it is in principle possible for one to discover what they are if one makes the effort to do so. If an ethical theory says, for instance, that in cases having feature F one should do x and in cases having feature G one should not do x, there must be a way for one to  recognize that one is in a case which has feature F or a case which has feature G. If this were not so, one could only do x or fail to do x in the appropriate kind of case through a lucky guess. Even if one assumes that one really would have obligations in such a skeptical scenario, it would be pointless for one to try to find out what they were.

Yet another criterion derives from the old but venerable principle that “‘ought’ implies ‘can’”. Ethical theories must be psychologically plausible: One cannot be obligated to do something if it is psychologically impossible for one to do it. And if doing something is possible but difficult, an ethical theory which prescribes doing it is less viable the more difficult it is to do it.

As with any kind of theory, ethical theories should not contain any statements that have been shown empirically to be false. They should, in other words, be empirically adequate. This seems obvious enough, but if one takes one’s theorizing seriously it requires that one should make the effort to see if the ethical theories that one is considering are consistent with any relevant scientific theories or bodies of knowledge.

The guidance that an ethical theory provides must also be appropriately specific, that is, it should not be so vague that it doesn’t really recommend anything in particular.

Finally, however specific an ethical theory’s guidance may be, when considering it one needs to ask oneself, “Do those who know this theory best agree about what it recommends and what it doesn’t?” The more difficult it is for the relevant experts to agree on how to interpret the theory, the more it lacks interpretational stability and the less viable it is.

I will make no claim that the above list of criteria is complete, but one has to start somewhere. However, I will claim that these criteria are both necessary and useful for my project.

[1]Ethics Beyond Moral Theory,” p. 7.
[2] Chappell actually uses the expression “moral theory,” which I take to be equivalent to the expression “ethical theory” as I use it.
[3] Here is Chappell’s characterization of these roles:
We want our ethical outlook to be something which, in real time, can be the source of our reasons to act (motivation), and which can structure our thinking and deciding about how to act as it actually happens (deliberation). We also want our ethical outlook to be something which, offline, can articulate and deepen our understanding of what counts as good or bad and right or wrong action, and why (explanation); and we want it to be something which can explain what will or would be good or bad and right or wrong action, in future or hypothetical situations that we ourselves have not actually met, but which we or others might conceivably meet (prediction) (“Ethics Beyond Moral Theory,” pp. 12-3).