Thursday, December 29, 2005

An Uncertainty of Mine, Expressed as a Proposition

Proposition: In the scene in American Beauty in which the plastic bag is featured, we are supposed to largely agree with the boy about the beauty of the plastic bag, or at least sympathize insofar as we feel him to have a certain depth.

"we are meant" can be either cashed out in terms of authorial intent or any other theoretical apparatus you find appropriate.


Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Brutal Composition Again

I've posted updated versions of the Brutal Composition paper. It's in a pdf this time, so it's nice and shiny and cool and friendly to the .doc-challenged. There's some significant revisions, but that'll only be of interest to nascent Blank scholars and those who missed it the first time around.

(Ignore the "writing sample, department of philosophy" junk at the top of the file. That just indicates that I am now finished with 3! grad school applications. Also, I blatantly stole the reference to "Blank scholars" from Neil Sinhababu, but I'm connected to him by a reasonably tight two degrees of separation, so it's cool).

Friday, December 23, 2005

Bob Jones? Not so much...

There's a small debate in the Times Higher Education Supplement over intelligent design being taught in schools. First exhibit: can anyone figure out what the ID defender is saying? Does he have an argument? Second exhibit: the critic of ID is arguing for the beneficial effects of faith schools. Unbeknownst to me, there are a large number of religious state schools in the UK. The author argues that the faith schools can be used as a tool to integrate Muslims, and that a number of distortions in the U.S. educational system are the result of the fact that religious education is run almost entirely by the private sector.

Aside from the constitutional problems with anything similar to the British system, I think it would be a horrible idea. My picture of how primary and secondary education should work is even funding for all schools at the national level, with the states given the option to increase funding for education, again subject to maintaining an equitable distribution of resources between school districts. You'd have to couple this with high taxes imposed on private schools to prevent the middle and upper classes from fleeing the public schools and manoeuvring to slash funding for public education. The salutary side effect of this would be to, in an entirely constitutional fashion, push a lot of religious education out of existence. There would still be private religious schools for the fanatics who were able to pay, as well as some extremely prestigious schools, but the net effect would be to improve the quality of public education while making it more egalitarian.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


1. Went to Go club today after a two week hiatus. Played three reasonable games, which ended my pattern of playing rushed and disastrous games. Still, I haven't made any noteworthy improvement in at least a month.

2. I go home Friday, which means I'll probably not post until the New Year, though a reasonable internet connection should appear at the familial estate on the 28th.

3. It's getting harder for me to talk about politics. I'm just getting more stupid and ill-informed and apathetic. Apathetic in the sense that I know my general stance on a lot of different areas, but can't be bothered to examine the nuances that distinguish particular positions, and can't be bothered to try and defend my viewpoint. In particular, I no longer know or care enough to argue with people who are misinformed or lie (whether it's real or a hypothetical discussion with some nutcase in the blogosphere). I feel that this is a bad thing.

4. I think I'm going to start trying to write my second paper on composition, a defense of the intuitive conception of when composition occurs as a moderate, non-brutal answer to the Special Composition Question. Don't know what that means? Read the first paper! It's in an old post "Consistency Again." The view that I'm going to defend will be that
some objects, the xs compose another object y iff y is epistemically salient.
The trick is to define the notion of epistemically salient in the proper manner: the result I want is for the SCQ to reduce to a question about reduction and/or elimination in the special sciences. The question "do the molecules that make up my body really compose something?" reduces to the question "is the category 'human being' a scientifically significant category?"

In that case, our intuitions about composition end up being intuitions about reduction, except 'composition' is referentially opaque (that could be a misuse of the term 'referentially opaque'). Nihilism and Universalism turn out to be limiting and equivalent cases. Everything either gets reduced to physics, or is eliminated in favor of physics so either 1) nothing exists except fundamental particles, or 2) every fusion is real, because physics doesn't distinguish between them (in some sense of the word).

In a natural enough sense, this paper is a followup to Brutal Composition and Our Intuitions because that paper argued that we need a theoretical account of what composition is, or when it occurs that explains how our intuitions could have evidential force, and I think this account does the trick.

(I know the title of this post isn't quite a word, but I like it).

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Whoring Myself

I'm spent an amusing 5 minutes pondering putting ads on this blog. Thanks to the Google AdSense program, it's easier than ever!

There's something ridiculous or unethical about the thought of putting ads on my blog when I use firefox with adblock and would recommend that the rest of you do the same. Silly questions about ethics aside, the real point is that I don't quite get enough traffic to justify the practice. Most ads give you money for every thousand views/viewers, and it takes a little while for this blog to get a thousand views...

Thursday, December 15, 2005

I just realized today that I screwed up something in my writing sample. I took Michael Lynch's minimal conception of intuitions as my working 'definition' of intuitions, and then did some analysis of Ernest Sosa's reliabilist theory concerning intuitions, without noting that Sosa is using a more restrictive conception of what an intuition is than Lynch is. Bad news. I think my commentary on Sosa is obviously still relevant despite the disconnect (and will add a sentence saying so) so I don't think anyone will think this hurts my argument. I'm more worried that it'll just make me look unobservant and stupid.

Good thing Rutgers was the only place I sent that copy of the writing sample to, because it's obviously an unappealing safety school for me.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005

Four Joys

From earlier today:

1. Valentina hot sauce has reignited my passion for cosmic, which had waned over the past month or two.
2. I pulled an all-nighter of the good kind.
3. I turned in my application to Rutgers.
4. I had my last day of class today.

One down, Ten to go

I turned in my Rutgers application. That leaves


to go. Luckily, the vast majority of work has been done.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

An Utterly Trivial Terminological Point

The title gets you going, huh?

I'm revising my writing sample, and I'm confronted with the question of how to name the view that "For any xs, the xs compose an object y if and only if the xs are fastened together." Fn 34 of Brutal Composition reads as follows
See Van Inwagen, Material Beings, p.56. Van Inwagen calls the view "fastening." But Mark Aronszajin and Fred Feldman have convinced me, in conversation, that this is a misnomer, since 'fastening' is a form of the verb that denotes the act of causing some things to be fastened together, rather than a word that denotes the relation being fastened together. And 'fastenedness', which does denote that relation, is too hard to pronounce.
Nevertheless, every reader of my paper who was not completely immersed in the composition literature has responded to seeing 'fastenation' with complete and utter incomprehension. So I think I'm going to use 'fastening' since at least one canonical figure in the literature uses it, and I'd rather not annoy the heck out of non-specialist readers. But I'm really unsure of this decision. Most importantly, this is obviously the best way to be using my time at the moment.

Chapter the Third, In Which I Come to Accept Capitalism

Achewood and Fafblog are going up against the Dilbert Blog and The Hate Mongers Quarterly on The Weblog Awards for Best Humor/Comics Weblog. I was going to write about how this is a clear example of market failure, since Girls are Pretty just isn't included and the Dilbert Blog isn't really that funny. Also, the Hatemonger's Quarterly is some of the shittiest shit ever shat onto the net. Believe me on this one. You don't want to spend the time confirming my opinion.

I know I'm biased, so let's factor that into the equation, by moving my opinions of both Fafblog and the Hatemonger's Quarterly towards the center. The result is that Fafblog is still one of the top 250 things to happen to humanity, while the Hatemonger's Quarterly has become a despicable mediocrity. Even when they take on targets where I can roughly sympathize with an old conservative curmudgeon, such as the "Student Environmental Action Coalition’s Activist Training Camp," they just sort of muddle around being unfunny. One of their favorite posts for the year involves making fun of an English professor for ending a sentence with a preposition.

On second thought, this isn't really a market failure, since Achewood and Fafblog are both solidly in the middle of the pack, Dilbert isn't in first, and the Hatemonger's Quarterly is dead last.

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Purpose and Religiosity

Ed linked to an old article by Mark Oppenheimer which laments a trend in which college campuses discourage single-minded purpose. Oppenheimer's idea of single-minded purpose is a bit eccentric, as he cites some odd reminiscences
They say it would take a lifetime simply to copy out the works of Bach or Telemann. Much the same is true of Wodehouse. I know: at school I hammered out all of his novel Fringe Assets on an electric Remington in an effort to teach myself to touch-type, an effort that took me a term and a half.
This particularly eccentric pass time aside, Oppenheimer mentions physicists and poets, so his concerns are broader than the welfare of the almost OCD. I'm less interested in Oppenheimer's article itself, which I am often in agreement with, so much as the influence of his religiosity.

Oppenheimer is not concerned with our lack of ability to sustain attention per se--the sort of concern which can be articulated from the viewpoint of soulless careerism. Instead, Oppenheimer is concerned with what the lack of devotion present on college campuses shows about our view of the good life. Fry's patient transcription of Wodehouse has touch-typing as its product, but this is hardly what gives the image of Fry its gravity. We are told to "reflect for a moment on the elegant asceticism of Fry's project" and this project exemplifies "something provided by college life at its best, something all too rare afterwards, to be cherished while one can: the uninterrupted moment."

Respose can be a commodity. The dominant careerist aesthetic includes yoga, meditation or gardening as ways to take a little bit of time for yourself, which enhances your concentration and keeps your mind healthy. But Oppenheimer's vision of what validates repose is different. His description of the values which are the opposites of repose is curt and dismissive: "well-rounded and liberal is a perfectly nice way to be — I hope it describes me — but it connotes no particular meaning or calling or purpose. It's a way to be, not a reason to be." Going by that description alone, many people would by surprised to realize that they're devaluing peacefulness and rest. I'm belaboring this point, but I want to stress that there's something peculiar about Oppenheimer's point which invites you to identify with it, without necessarily understanding what motivates him.

You most often hear calls for leading a purposeful life from religiously minded commentators. If, as a secular atheist, you start to reflect on not just the concrete complaints Oppenheimer lodges but also his reasons for doing so, you might feel a substantial disconnect. The language of purpose and "a reason to be" are familiar and natural to a theist, whereas for us they leave the sense that we don't really know what either thing would be, or they reflect nothing more than a shallow dressing up of careerism. I don't think this difference is intrinsic. Certainly, given Oppenheimer's examples: Campus Crusade for Christ, and Big Ten football players, one might suspect that he has a poor grasp on what activities exhibit purpose in any important sense. The inclusion of Big Ten football almost has the force to rewrite the entire article as a parody.

In any case, a religious outlook fosters a comfort with the notion of a purposeful life, whereas a reflective atheistic perspective tends to discomfit us by stripping away a layer of illusion about the purposes that our life might serve. I don't mean to say something idiotic to the effect that atheism makes life meaningless, as I've heard a theist or two assert, rather, I'm saying that the task of explaining the nature of a purposeful life becomes much more difficult because we're not allowed to cheat. In particular, despite my intrinsic sympathy for Fry and for the notion of single-mindedness of purpose and for the uninterrupted moment, I feel as if I have nothing more than a hunch that these things have anything to do with a purposeful life.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

What is Dad Rock?

Dad rock is ususally from the period referred to by historians as "back in the day," but it's not classic rock. None of
The Beatles
Jimi Hendrix
The Doors
Simon and Garfunkel or
Credence Clearwater Revival
are Dad Rock, even though there's a reasonable chance that any given Dad listens to several, if not all of them. If you want examples of Dad rock, look at Paul Simon on his own (I don't know if he was always Dad rock, but he's put out an album or two in the genre) or the 800 lb gorilla: Steely Dan.

But what makes those last two Dad rock? I'd really like someone to answer that for me.

I was probably going to apply to CUNY...

and then I found out that the application fee is $125. In comparison, Princeton is a complete ripoff at $65 for applications before December 1 and $80 afterwards.

I'm still applying to Princeton, since if I got in I'd spend $80 of my pocket money on the party without hesitation. Wouldn't do $125 for CUNY (seriously, with my likely guest list, how the hell could I throw a $125 party? Grey Goose screwdrivers? Drinking contest employing 10 year Laphroaig?)

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Bush Guarantees All Suspicious Arabs Will Get Good Grades

One official said about three dozen names fall in that category; others believe it is fewer. The list includes several people whose identities were offered by al Qaeda figures during CIA interrogations, officials said. One turned out to be an innocent college professor who had given the al Qaeda member a bad grade, one official said. Wrongful Imprisonment: Anatomy of a CIA Mistake (Washington Post)

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Objectivity Again

An interesting example of what the current journalistic mode of writing demands. The Pentagon has been planting articles in the Iraqi press, and paying friendly journalists. The New York Times comes down with the following unusually angry denunciation.
Even as the State Department and the United States Agency for International Development pay contractors millions of dollars to help train journalists and promote a professional and independent Iraqi media, the Pentagon is paying millions more to the Lincoln Group for work that appears to violate fundamental principles of Western journalism.
All in the third person, but also non-factive: the phrasing "principles of western journalism" leaves the crucial ambiguity between accepted principles and binding normative principles. I'd love to learn to be able to write like that.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005

Harry Potter and the Curmudgeon's Capitulation

Usually when I go back to my parents' house, I read fantasy novels and relax. I tried to work over Thanksgiving break but was completely scatterbrained, so instead I read Harry Potter vols 2 through 6, and uh..

Well, I enjoyed them. I'd always admitted to enjoying the first one, but I shamelessly enjoy a lot of bad fantasy. Anyway, they're pretty freaking funny, moreso as the series goes on, and a lot of the obnoxious things from the first book make more sense as time goes on. They're well above par for the genre, though I still don't quite what the huge fuss is about.

You happy, Megan? I won't be getting any less half-hearted, so don't hold out.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Semantic Paradoxes In Natural Language

There hasn't been a lot of philosophy here recently.

In "Truth and Meaning" Davidson attempts to extend the Tarski style definition of truth in a formal language to natural language, and use this as a theory of meaning. In the case of the formal language, you have an object language "L" and a metalanguage, which is capable of expressing everything expressible in L, and which also contains a predicate "true-in-L." You give a recursive algorithm for translating sentences in L into the metalanguage. If s is a sentence in L and p is it's formulation in the metalanguage, you get a sentence of the form
"s is true iff p"
The reason that you have to do this in a metalanguage is to avoid the liar paradox, in which you have a sentence of the form
"This sentence is false."
Since the metalanguage only defines truth in L, rather than truth generally and L has no truth predicate, there is no possibility of having a liar sentence in either language. Davidson's extension of Tarski's proposal gives you sentences of the form
" 'Snow is white' is true iff snow is white."
The account looks completely vacuous in English, but there are at least some more interesting sentences in the vicinity
" 'Der schnee ist weiss' is true iff snow is white"
" 'Snow is white' est vrai si et seulement si la neige est blanche"
Moreover, the theory of meaning itself is given not by these sentences, which are theorems of that theory, but rather the meaning postulates attaching to individual words and composition rules which tell you how to give the truth conditions of any sentence in terms of its constituent parts.

Now, most logicians had thought that Tarski's idea was inapplicable to natural languages, in part because natural languages seem to have a universality that makes the proposal untenabile. That is, English is it's own metalanguage, "true-in-English" seeming to be an English predicate. Davidson's answer is decidedly odd. Without claiming to have a decisive answer, he puts forth the following suggestion.
The semantic paradoxes arise when the range of the quantifiers in the object language is too generous in certain ways. But it is not really clear how unfair to Urdu or to Wendish it would be to view the range of their quantifiers as insufficient to yield an explicit definition of 'true-in-Urdu' or 'true-in-Wendish.' Or to put the matter in another, if not more serious way, there may in the nature of the case always be something we grasp in understanding the language of another (the concept of truth) that we cannot communicate to him."
Your ability to translate Urdu into English implies that the resources to define 'true-in-Urdu' in English are available (and they can define the same thing about English in Urdu). But that seems to create an obvious problem. An Urdu speaker can just say "['snow is white' is whatever those British people mean by]'true-in-Urdu'[iff snow is white]" putting everything in brackets into Urdu, and they have seemingly just reintroduced the possibility of generating semantic paradoxes. It is therefore quite unclear to my how Davidson's project is supposed to avoid the semantic paradoxes (he does say he feels justified in proceeding without having definitively shown that there are no semantic paradoxes in natural language).

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Fish in a barrel pt 2

The torture ban passed 90-9, and the Bush administration has been threatening to veto. 90 votes isn't even close to the cutoff for overruling a veto, so the administration has to have known for a long time that they didn't stand a chance. So why did they veto it? "We'd just like to make a symbolic gesture that we approve of torture, and also exacerbate divisions within our own party by forcing Republicans to help overrule the President." This could not make less sense.


I'm in the middle of deciding where to apply to graduate school. Roughly, the three stages are
Beginning: Ask professors where to apply, generate large list based on all of their recommendations.
Middle: Stare at the websites of relevant institutions, hoping for insight.
End: Buy a dart-board.

What currently irks me is the way some departments are less than forthcoming about who is exactly on their faculty. Stanford, in particular, lists everyone you could possibly associate with the department on the website, and you have to click on individual links to find out that they are emeritus or better yet, "former faculty," having moved on to a job at another institution.

Update: Does Stanford read my blog? Either that, or I'm illiterate (this is a very real possibility). I returned to their website today, and saw that they're now listing the former faculty so that you needn't look at the personal websites. Also, philosophy placement records are depressing.

How Not to Interview One of the World's Greatest Minds

There's something over a controversy over a Chomsky interview with the Guardian. Chomsky claims he's been misquoted, which wouldn't surprise me, but I can't really tell from here. Leiter has the basic set of links. What I did notice in the interview was the astonishingly stupid and petty attempts of the interviewer to discredit Chomsky. Here's a gem:
So I am surprised when he says he only goes online if he is "hunting for documents, or historical data. It's a hideous time-waster. One of the good things about the internet is you can put up anything you like, but that also means you can put up any kind of nonsense. If the intelligence agencies knew what they were doing, they would stimulate conspiracy theories just to drive people out of political life, to keep them from asking more serious questions ... There's a kind of an assumption that if somebody wrote it on the internet, it's true."

Is there? It's clear, suddenly, that Chomsky's opinion can be as flaky as the next person's; he just states it more forcefully. I tell him that most people I know don't believe anything they read on the internet and he says, seemlessly, "you see, that's dangerous, too."

Far be it from me to prove that people are more credulous while on the internet than when dealing with other media, but they certainly are more credulous than they should be. Probably most people say they don't believe much of what they read on the internet, but they generally don't have the metacognitive skills to identify reliable sources. Extra points to the interviewer for not realizing that Chomsky's glib response was just to avoid getting in a petty fight with her.

Update: I regret not reading to the end of the article. It was intellectually dishonest of me not to get a complete picture of the interview before commenting. Forget everything written above. What you really need to know is that Chomsky is a hypocrite for having a stock portfolio.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Police State, Yes?

According to the Times, New York City is investigating the possibility of imposing congestion tolls. The idea is that whenever you drive into the the most heavily trafficked areas of the city during the day, you pay $7 for the privilege, with exemptions for residents and individuals with disabilities. It's a good idea, but it's not worth it. London is typically mentioned as the model for this policy. To sell the public on the idea, the mayor of London made all sorts of promises that the camera system involved would not be used by general law-enforcement. By the first day the system was on line, he was on the radio trumpeting the fact that law enforcement could use the system to nab potential terrorists. I don't think the promises will even be made in the United States. The Times article didn't even mention civil liberties concerns.

That's all, folks

I sent my thesis to the committee via email at 6:00 AM on wednesday and dropped off a pair of photocopied figures today. I'm not very confident in it, so don't count on seeing it unless you're writing a philosophy thesis which I've had a look at. Strict quid pro quo concerning embarassment and all.

The rest of the semester will be largely devoted to relaxing. Remaining tasks include:
1) Play more Go. Sadly, I've got my priorities enough in order that my devotion to the game was suffering as a result of the thesis.
a) On which note, look what I ordered!
2) Fill out a ton of applications.
a) read a lot of justifications of the use of intuitions in philosophy, and incorporate this into my paper/writing sample on Brutal Composition.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

20 hours left

David got home and we had a huge team rant about health insurance and also a level headed discussion about the flu killing us all. Oddly, this was just what was needed to get me in the mood to finish my thesis. Let's do this.

Monday, November 07, 2005

What objectivity entails

From an article on the American Museum of Natural History's exhibit on Darwin:

An ongoing federal trial in Harrisburg, Pa., may determine whether a local school board can compel teachers to inform students about the theory of intelligent design - the idea that life on earth is too complex to have arisen through evolution alone. And though there is no credible scientific support for this position, President Bush, when asked in August about evolution and intelligent design, said that "both sides ought to be properly taught." (Nytimes, my emphasis)

I guess I'd been too hard on the Times. I'd previously said that they were just following the standard "he said, she said" model that is the typical journalist's mangling of the concept of 'objectivity.' That's not the case in this article.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Limits of non-discrimination

The story that Target allows its pharmacists to refuse to dispense emergency contraception on religious grounds checks out. It's not surprising, given that several states may well pass legislation to extend this supposed right to all pharmacists. This seems worthy of no longer shopping at Target, or rather contacting Target to tell them they will not be receiving my business, while neglecting to mention that they didn't in the first place. You might consider doing the same.

It's clear to me that pharmacists do not, and should not, have the right to refuse to fill prescriptions on religious grounds. The reason religious anti-discrimination has nothing to do with it is that the pharmacists aren't being discriminated on the basis of their religion, rather, they're not being allowed to hold a job while acting on beliefs that prevent them from meeting the requirements of the job. So far, so good.

Here's a test case that shows things to be a little more complicated. The job description of a doctor(1) is to provide patients with medical care necessary to alleviate or prevent illness and improve the quality of life, while also making the patients feel comfortable and inspiring confidence. Now transition to the south in 1960 or 1950, and imagine the following line of argument "Refusing to hire Black doctors is not discrimination on the basis of their race, it's just refusing to hire people who are not capable of discharging the function of their job. If we hire Black doctors, patients will be uncomfortable, and won't trust that their doctors can help them." I take it this argument is wrong, whereas the first was correct. But it's also obvious that the premise about how patients would react was correct.

What this shows is that we ought to think very carefully about the reasons underlying what constitutes discrimination (and the limits of state and corporate power in general). As liberals, broadly defined, we've usually got the right intuitions, but we don't know exactly why we have them. Belle did a good job of exhibiting this by posting one of the best arguments against same sex marriage (at least outside of queer theory, if you give those arguments any credence) and then quickly taking it back, but leaving a skeleton of it behind. Though I'm not sure Belle draws this moral, what her exercise shows is that it's worth thinking about whether you aren't just another "handwaving Burkean conservative" who just happens to believe in gay marriage and reproductive rights.

It's times like these when I want to do ethics and political philosophy. *sigh*

(1) Was going to say waiter, focusing on the comfort of the diners, but then I realized that most southerners were probably perfectly comfortable being waited on by Blacks.


[Updated and reposted]

I'm afraid the upcoming weeks are certainly going to suck.

Oct 25th Philosophy of Language Paper
Oct 25th Algebra Homework
Oct 27th GRE
Oct 31st Paper on Benjamin
Nov 1st Bastard gave us Algebra Homework for the day before the test
Nov 2nd Algebra Test
Nov 4th Writing Degree Zero
Nov 7th Mythologies
Nov 8th Algebra Homework (maybe)
Nov 9th Draft of my thesis
Nov 16th Thesis Defense

Pretty much everything takes a backseat to the Thesis.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Armchair Psychology

I retook a web version of the Jung personality test today, and was rather stunned by the following question:

17) I tend to pay more attention to my thoughts than my feelings.

Perhaps I'm just in some strange mood, but I don't get the distinction. I don't think I categorize mental states of mine into thoughts and feelings. I take it that both are supposed to be occurent mental states, roughly dateable events in an individual's conscious experience, and I'm not sure I find two such things "when I introspect."

That isn't to say I don't use feeling as either a verb or a noun, it just seems that the usages to which I put it don't correspond to what the test-takers have in mind. First, I often refer to sensations as feelings: "I feel hot." Second, I use feelings to refer to moods: "I feel elated" or "I feel down." But, as Ryle did a good job of showing, moods are more or less patterns of dispositions to think certain thoughts and feel certain ways. Third, if I have a strong opinion which I cannot find good reasons for, yet which I can't give up, I might say "well, I don't know why, but I just feel like he's bad news." This seems like it's the closest to what the test-makers had in mind, but I'm still not getting it. After all, it doesn't seem like anyone could pay more attention to their feelings than they pay attention to their thoughts, if this is what a feeling is. This thing is just a thought "he's bad news" that you've discovered that you don't have a reason for. But you had to go through a logical process of reasoning, checking over the various possible rationales you might have to discover that you don't have a good one. So it seems like this isn't precisely an occurent mental state either.

I'm an extremely analytical and logical person, but I certainly haven't gone through a process of reasoning for most of the things that I think. Most of my beliefs go unexamined until something comes up to call them into question, and most of my thoughts occur to me and I move on without ever thinking of a reason for them. In that, I'm in the same boat as everyone who has ever lived. What distinguishes the analytically minded person is her dogged persuit of a sound rationale for the thought once it has been called into question.

Most people don't react this way when they take the Jung personality test (or its cousin the myers-briggs). They find that sort of question easy to answer. So, tell me what the utterly obvious thing I'm missing is. Really, I mean it. I demand that you comment and explain what a feeling is.

Also, in case you didn't catch it:
INTP - "Architect". Greatest precision in thought and language. Can readily discern contradictions and inconsistencies. The world exists primarily to be understood. 3.3% of total population.
Free Jung Personality Test (similar to Myers-Briggs/MBTI)

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Shot Down

"Thank you for bearing with us while your paper was considered for publication in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy. I am sorry to have to tell you that your paper has been judged unsuitable for publication in the AJP. I attach a copy of the referee's report on which our decision about your paper has been based; perhaps this information will be useful to you in revising your paper for submission to some other journal. Please bear in mind that the AJP accepts less than 10% of the papers submitted to it. Thanks again for considering the AJP. (From internal evidence or other sources, you may feel that you have identified one or more of the individuals involved in the assessment of your paper. We ask, nevertheless, that you direct any communications to assessors through me at the above address.)"

The reviewers complaints were that 1) I did seem to substantially engage with the literature on intuitions in my discussion (true-though I'm familiar with the volume he cites, and I didn't find it especially helpful. Still, this is worth fixing). 2) The author picked up on some important slip-ups on my part, 3) The author claims a disconnect between what I assert I prove and what I prove (I'm mulling over this one), and 4) I think the reviewer may have missed the thrust of my argument at the end of the paper (I'm mulling over this one as well). (2) can be easily rectified, (3) is troubling, (4) is a problem if the author didn't make the mistake I'm attributing. (1) Will probably take time to fix that I don't have until after Nov 9th.

Still, very helpful comments, and the review time was literally less than a month. The kids at the AJP do a very nice job.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Can anyone guess what I'm doing?

I think one of the major differences between a real philosopher and an undergraduate is that the real philosopher doesn't look at

Explain Frege's puzzle about identity. What is Frege's distinction between sense and reference, and how is (sic) this distinction supposed to account for the informativeness of some identity claims? Is Frege's account of the informativeness of identity claims adequate?

and think to themselves "how the heck do I get 5 pages out of that?" At moments like these, I join the non-philosopher in thinking that philosophy just teaches you how to complicate the obvious.

The letter of the law

prohibits me from linking to the blogs that I link to over there to the right, unless I have my own contribution (of dubious value) to tack onto it, as in the Frege post. I'm going to circumvent my hitherto unannounced and self-imposed rule. Here's the trick: I'll link to someone who is doing the exact same thing as Kieran Healey is doing at crooked timber. When you're going apeshit over Leon Kass's most recent attempt to have what is colloquially known as a "thought," there's sort of a standard model for the post. Just let him hang himself:

For the first time in human history, mature women by the tens of thousands live the entire decade of their twenties — their most fertile years — neither in the homes of their fathers nor in the homes of their husbands; unprotected, lonely, and out of sync with their inborn nature. Some women positively welcome this state of affairs, but most do not; resenting the personal price they pay for their worldly independence, they nevertheless try to put a good face on things and take refuge in work or feminist ideology.

Speaking of my rule about not linking to those blogs, the rationale is that you, being a good person, are already reading them religiously. Seriously, if you're not reading crooked timber on an almost daily basis there's probably something wrong with you. If you're checking it seven times a day, hypothetically speaking, there's probably nothing wrong with that either.

Did I mention that Leon Kass is Addie Clark Harding Professor in the Committee on Social Thought and The College at the University of Chicago, and Chairman of the President’s Commission on Bioethics. This man is in charge of deciding that we can use embryonic stem cells for scientific research prior to the date of the proclamation concerning whether or not we can use them. Today he's taking a break from that sort of thing to tell us about the downfall of civilization. Priorities, you know?

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Political uses of philosophy of language

Juan Cole trots out Frege's distinction between sense and reference in order to explain why Cheney's decision to reveal Valerie Plame's identity was illegal. Cheney et al seem to have thought that by using the phrase "Joe Wilson's wife" they could avoid the law which forbids revealing a covert agent's name. I think Frege's sense-reference distinction is actually in line with Cheney's position. Picture Cheney claiming that they didn't reveal the name of a covert agent, merely that name's referent.

Still, Cole is clearly invoking Frege in a spirit of "you've got to be kidding me." Anytime "19th century german logicians" enter a political discussion someone is probably getting condescended to, and lord knows that's justified. I wonder if any of the philosophy bloggers will mention this one, since I'm not sure that Cole's invocation of Frege is mistaken.

Update: I probably should be sure about that, since I started my philosophy of language paper on Frege's sense-reference distinction today.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

I very nearly failed to get in to grad school today...

You see, it turns out that while you can sign up for the GRE as little as two days in advance and there are GRE tests offered almost constantly throughout the fall, as time goes on the tests fill up. Of the test centers in Durham, Raleigh and Greensboro there was only one open test-date in October. Neither the Raleigh nor the Durham center had any November tests either.

It takes 4-6 weeks for scores to make it to your schools and the Rutgers application is due December 15th. Time for someone to learn me some words.

Monday, October 17, 2005

Fish in a barrel pt 1

Perfect, but a problem. Had the ringtone been a common telephone ring, the scene could have dropped into the final edit without a hitch, the moment providing a quick bit of emotional texture to the film. But EMI Music Publishing, which owns the rights to "Gonna Fly Now," was asking the first-time producer for $10,000 to use those six seconds. (Times)

I don't know how to state the distinction, but it's obvious: the documentarian was not using this song to enhance their documentary, they were recording an event in which the song incidentally appeared. Recording this event should be no more a copyright violation than the woman playing the song in the first place is one.

Sunday, October 16, 2005


Anomalous behavior on the part of GNU Go: I've been playing with a 4 stone handicap, and winning by perhaps 20 points so long as I concentrated. 3-stone games, I'd lose by 30 points. On Sergio's advice, I've tried some even games, and lost both by 30 points...I know not what to think. Anyway, time to learn fuseki.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Drugs Drugs Drugs

I think I'm being inconsistent. I'd be inclined to agree with both of the following statements:

(1) Most recreational drugs should be made legal. Not just relatively safe drugs like marijuana but also some of the nastier stuff. I'm not sure how far I take this: the relative ease of addiction and debilitating nature of withdrawal symptoms might make a drug like heroin bad enough to warrant legal proscription, though not with the severity of current laws.

(2) The distinction between prescription and non-prescription medications serves an important purpose and should be maintained (without saying that everything is on the side of the line where it should be).

The inconsistency isn't as wide-spread or obvious as it might seem. Many legal prescription drugs are much more dangerous than illicit drugs. To take an obvious example, someone using barbituates under a doctor's supervision is putting themselves in a lot more danger than someone smoking weed.

A second point is that there's more need to regulate something that people think is good for them than something people think is dangerous. People are prone to thinking of drugs in a very Manichean fashion even if they are moderately aware of the facts about how the drugs function. Thinking of a drug as "useful but dangerous" and acting in accord with that thought requires a bit of cognitive sophistication and will power that most people lack. For that reason, allowing people to self-prescribe medication would probably end up having extremely negative effects.

Third, limiting access to prescription drugs while allowing the standard set of recreational drugs would avoid many of the costs of our current program of criminalization. Part of the reason that drug laws are so widely ignored is that there really are no (or few) substitutes for the recreational drugs that people use. So they keep using them, and we have the high cost of enforcement most importantly the harm to those who are prosecuted, or the victims of drug war related crime. If today's recreational drugs were legalized, while keeping prescription drugs limited to those with prescriptions, the prescription drugs wouldn't have the same incidence of illicit recreational use because of the availability of substitutes.

That said, I don't think the tension is really resolved. I ought to think about this more if I want to get it right.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Triviality is my style

Best to break my hiatus gently.

StumbleUpon, the best thing to happen to random internet use since AIM, delivered me to a blog entirely devoted to attacking figurative uses of the word 'literally.' I am literally furious. I can understand the sentiment that the figurative use is becoming so prevalent that it is simultaneously losing its force and obfuscating the original meaning of the term. What annoys me is that a large portion of the people commenting on this website seem to think that it's plain wrong to say "I literally want to kill him" when you do not in fact intend to commit homicide.

The ironic thing about this is that the function of the word 'literally' is to distinguish between literal and figurative uses of a word, yet its defenders are telling us that the figurative use is wrong. So if we applied their advice across the board, we wouldn't even have the word in the first place.

Although it doesn't precisely match the definition, the usage in question is essentially nothing other than hyperbole, a well established rhetorical device. A word of advice, children: when your view has the consequence that Catullus doesn't know how to use language, you might want to jump ship.

An article linked to from said blog indicates that I occupy an odd position by both defending the figurative use and deploring its superabundance.

Thursday, October 06, 2005

For the moral psychologists

A few years ago we were all horrified to hear about a first person shooter ethnic cleansing game. We were not horrified to hear about Grand Theft Auto, a game in which you shot random pedestrians and beat hookers. The difference in our reaction was based on the natural assumption that the people who played the first game believed in what they were doing. Or at least, even if they didn't believe in literally gunning down members of other ethnic groups, they thought something like the members of those ethnic groups were subhuman. We didn't assume that the people playing Grand Theft Auto believed in beating hookers or shooting random pedestrians. At least, a lot of us didn't. Hearing the media hysteria, it was clear that someone out there really did seem to think your average teenager believed in beating hookers and shooting pedestrians.

I'm pretty sure we were right. But what lead us to view the two cases differently in that way? I think that's a surprisingly sophisticated judgment at the intersection of ethics and psychology and one that most of us perform quite naturally.

Law of Unintended Consequences

Yesterday evening I left my computer with ITS and today I retrieved something that has a new hard drive. I'm not sure it's my computer because I was missing three arrow keys, and this thing has a new keyboard, so there's no tactile resemblance. When I left mine there was a burzum cd in it and this thing came with a burzum cd, but they could be just that devious.

In this time of new beginnings, I'm starting over with Firefox. I also suspect I won't be reading Salon anymore. I was already falling off of the bandwagon, but with adblock, I now have to go to salon, disable adblock, watch a stupid advertisement to get the site pass and then turn adblock on again before going about my reading. So goodbye dear Salon, you've been a faithful companion these 6 years, but we all must die. Even eclectic left of center webmags with steadily deteriorating content.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Nietzschean Moral Philosophy

Josh Knobe and Brian Leiter have a paper in progress which argues for a Nietzschean approach to moral psychology, in contrast to the dominant Aristotelian and Kantian approaches. The majority of their argument is actually based on a huge body of psychological research which, they argue, is congenial towards the Nietzschean view and mostly incompatible with the alternate views. Much of this work concerns self-deception and free will (first separately then followed by free will as self-deception).

A choice study: It was assumed, for example, that any program that decreased racist attitudes would thereby also decrease racist behavior. This initial assumption was called into question by the influential work of LaPiere (1934). LaPiere went on a long car trip with a Chinese couple. Along the way, he took careful notes about how his companions were treated at each of the hotels and restaurants they visited. Despite the widespread prejudice against Chinese people in America at the time, LaPiere found that he and his companions were generally treated quite well and that they were refused service on only one occasion. Later, he wrote to all 250 hotels and restaurants listed in his notes, asking the employees whether or not they would be willing to serve Chinese guests. Over 90% of respondents said that they would not serve Chinese, in spite of the fact that they had just done exactly that. This finding seemed to suggest that attitudes and behavior were not quite as closely linked as had previously been thought.

I have two recommendations.
1) You should read the paper (it's probably the antepenultimate draft)
2) I should familiarize myself with the majority of the work they cite.

My first recommendation will probably take you 30-90 minutes to comply with. Given the various other commitments I have, the second will take me the next 6 years.

I'd already arranged to meet with Josh this thursday before finding this paper. Now I'll have even more stuff to ask about. *grins*

Monday, October 03, 2005


Been a while, eh? In the results category, I have played a lot of people and am continuing to improve. I even attended a tournament and conducted myself respectably. You don't want details.

I replayed some of Takemiya's games on the computer and found them utterly incomprehensible. Then I found out that "reviewing Takemiya's games is very instructive since they are full of unusual ideas. It is very difficult to follow his style but at the same time his plays opens horizons for others," so I didn't cry. Then I replayed the most famous game of Go ever, and it wasn't completely bewildering. I think if I keep improving quickly, I'll ask for this book of Shusaku's games for Christmas. Unless it's $47 and I'm not a moron, of course.

You heard it here first: the NRA is nuts

One question that really just now occured to me is how well various national political organizations represent the views of their members. For a while I've criticized the NRA not respecting the positions of a majority of its members on several issues. Part of what makes this so objectionable is that often the members are right at the NRA is wrong. Or sometimes the members are wrong, and the NRA is insane.

But thinking about it more, I suspect that the disconnect between members' opinions and official organizational positions is probably pretty common. And sometimes the organization is closer to being right than its members are. So (1) I'm curious how common the disconnect I mentioned is, (2) I'm unsure how worried about it I need be, and (3) pending the response to (1) and (2), the criticism that the NRA misrepresents its members positions seems pointless: the real problem is that the views involved are typically insane. You could criticize a political organization for failing to represent the views of its members, but I think you'd need a special sort of relationship to the organization to do that. Part of that special sort of relationship involves not wanting to abolish the organization. Since I don't really feel like the NRA needs to exist, I lack that special sort of relationship. So I should just stick to my guns and continue saying that the NRA's positions are freakin nuts.

Friday, September 30, 2005


Today I had lunch at Peppers with Jason and two other grad students to talk about applying. The conversation ended up just wandering around, with a lot of metaphysics thrown in, since I didn't actually have a lot of specific questions. The net result is that sometime during the conversation, I realized that I've subconsciously decided to apply this year unless I just can't get the work done. So, let there be a conscious decision.

I am applying to grad school this year.

I also decided to ask Keith Simmons and Alan Nelson for recommendations. I'm told that it's no problem that Keith only knows me from a set theory reading group, and Alan has only taught me as a visiting professor. Apparently a recommendation from him would carry a lot of weight, even more than I realized. That'll be four recommendations if each of them ends up being willing (Bill Lycan and Ram Neta are the other two).

Oh yes, time to take the GREs.

John Roberts told me this morning that even though November 18th is the deadline for my thesis defense, it isn't when my final draft is due. More like penultimate, possibly antepenultimate. Still, Nov 18th is precisely 7 weeks from today. Even after making some progress this week, I'm way behind where I need to be. Time to cut back on Go and AIM--if I have the strength.

Oh Gasp! New Math!

A long train of links starting with Belle gets you to the assertion that children in L.A. schools are having trouble learning fractional division because they are being taught that fraction division is repeated subtraction (in the same way that division of natural numbers is repeated subtraction).

Too often, the math that teachers are taught at district training sessions is just plain wrong. For instance, middle school teachers are erroneously taught that fraction division is repeated subtraction. This makes sense only for special examples such as 3/4 divided by 1/4 . In this case, 3/4 may be decreased by 1/4 a total of three times, until nothing is left, and the quotient is indeed 3. Understanding division as repeated subtraction, however, is nonsensical for a problem like 1/4 divided by 2/3 because 2/3 cannot be subtracted from 1/4 even once. No wonder students have trouble with fractions in high school.

Leave aside the odd use of 'erroneously' to describe a working algorithm, but does anyone really think that it's easier to teach kids this complicated method of subtracting fractions instead of the normal "invert and multiply" method? The subtraction method is going to take more computation except in the rare cases where the two fractions have the form a/b and ca/b. I guess that's the point of all the hubub. But maybe I'm out of touch with exactly how the average kid learns math.

Thursday, September 22, 2005


Whatever happened to my underload? I was supposed to take three courses my final semester.
PHIL      109        PHIL PROB PSYCH            LEC     3.0                  
13821 001 T 12:30PM-03:00PM KNOBE, JOSHUA
Josh Knobe is one of the big guys in experimental philosophy, and he's new here in the department, and he just came and visited phil club and he's totally awesome. Unless the course description ends up being something ridiculously weird, rabid wolves couldn't stop me from taking this course.

PHIL      305        SYSTEMATIC PHIL            LEC     3.0                   
09559 001 W 03:30PM-06:00PM REEVE, C D
Ancient Philosophy is a requirement for graduation, but I'll sign up for an independent study and take this course on Plato as a substitute, assuming I've correctly identified what this is (I can't sign up for it directly because it's 300 level).

PHIL      240        PHILOSOPHY OF MIND         LEC     3.0                   
13968 001 T 03:30PM-06:00PM LYCAN, W G
Philosophy of Mind with Bill Lycan?! Unless it's an entire semester on consciousness, the rabid wolves don't stand a chance. It's 200 level, so they won't let me sign up directly. Am I allowed to take two independent studies?

MATH      181        INTRO TOPOLOGY             LEC     3.0                    
07298 001 MWF 11:00AM-11:50AM BELKALE, PRAKAS
MATH      187        GROUPS AND FIELDS          LEC     3.0                    
07299 001 TR 09:30AM-10:45AM EBERLEIN, P
Did I ever mention that the math department schedules classes the way Satan would? I could take either or neither of these, depending on how I'm feeling next semester.

LING      137        SEMANTICS                  LEC     3.0                     
07051 001 TR 03:30PM-04:45PM TERRY, JULES, M
If I've underestimated the rabid wolves, this looks pretty. I'm sure not having ever taken a linguistics course won't be a problem.

Then there's bowling. Oh, did I mention that I definitely have a natural sciences perspective left, and possibly, pending the results of a conversation with the study abroad advisor, a social sciences perspective to fulfill? *Hates*

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Bed blogging

...less salacious than it sounds. I've been mildly sleep deprived for a long time now, but I don't have any major obligations until next tuesday, and I plan on spending most of the spare time in bed.

Consistency again

This morning, I mailed a paper to the Editor of the Australasian Journal of Philosophy in ever so distant New Zealand. Since this is an international journal which would be accessible through the internet as well as any university library worth its salt, I should have no hesitation showing the paper to my good friends who always accept me for who I am. Yeah right. But the hobgoblin of little minds is strong today, so here you are.

Witness the rather mundane title: Brutal Composition and Our Intutions.

Update: maybe I'll find out how to make it into a pdf for those of you running linux (does the linux running one still read this, actually?). Anyway, pdfs are nifty and professional looking.

It wasn't necessary

...but oh did I need that guilty self-congratulatory feeling.

Me: I need to send this to New Zealand
Girl behind the counter: "Is this just letters/papers?"
Me: "Yeah, it's just a manuscript."

Monday, September 19, 2005

Why we buy our own books

Davis Library BD311 .V35 1990

DUE 08-15-06

That's the entry for Peter Van Inwagen's Material Beings, a book that I read a while back and now need a page number from. Given the nature of the book and the length due date, I'm fairly certain I can narrow it down to one of 5 people who has it out of the library. Still, it could easily take as long as a week to track him down and humiliatingly beg to have a look at the book.

Plan b: remove that thankfully inessential citation from the paper and continue.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

But, I want the compliments...

The comment spam has ceased being interesting, so I've deleted what's coming in, and turned on word verification to stop more from appearing. Although I'll miss the compliments, I don't think they'll ever match the silver tongue of my first secret admirer.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

One of the good guys is being a bad guy

I don't really have a theory of how Supreme Court nominees should be evaluated, but I'm pretty sure that it's not like this:

Senator Joseph R. Biden Jr., Democrat of Delaware, was much less satisfied with the nominee's responses to questions about whether there is a "right to die."

"Do you think the Constitution encompasses a fundamental right for my father to conclude that he does not want to continue - he does not want to continue - on a life-support system?" Mr. Biden asked.

"Well, Senator," the judge replied, "I cannot answer that question in the abstract because - "

"That's not abstract," Mr. Biden interjected. "It's real."

Mr. Biden found the long back-and-forth less than illuminating, referring at one point to "this Kabuki dance we have in these hearings here, as if the public doesn't have a right to know what you think about fundamental issues facing them."

Of particular interest is the bold ontological assertion that abstract objects are not real. While there are certain moods in which I agree, I find Professor Biden's excursion into metaphysics to be a bit of a non-sequitor. That said, John Roberts' confirmation could well be such a disaster that it doesn't matter how bad the stated reasons for opposing him are. Paraphrasing a bit, I'd sooner confirm Godzilla than John Roberts.

It only takes one drop

The Vatican would desperately like to purge American seminaries of gay men, and are preparing by conducting an investigation to find all the mutants.

Edwin O'Brien, archbishop for the United States military, told The National Catholic Register that the restriction should apply even to those who have not been sexually active for a decade or more.

I really hope that they don't think this one through too carefully.

It is unknown how many Catholic priests are gay. Estimates range widely, from 10 percent to 60 percent.

Monday, September 12, 2005

What I was going to write

I was writing a long post detailing my lack of faith in the entire project of giving a theory of reference during these past two days. Shortly before finishing, I made the mistake of expressing some of the same thoughts to Ed and thought "oh wait, I'm just doing a bad job of rehashing Stephen Stich's argument from The Fragmentation of Reason." So instead of the long post, I'll just give you the money shot:

I think that analytic philosophy went insane recently

There's two long posts waiting in the wings, one on Benjamin's essay "The Storyteller" and the other on Benjamin and fascism, but they might die equally horrible deaths.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

I have a secret admirer!

Or some comment spam on that last post. You be the judge:

"You have a knack for
writing. I read about 20
blogs a day, and skim about
30 more, so I mean it! We
can all use improvement, but
you certainly are better than
most I've read."

But don't get your feelings hurt, international man of mystery!

"I'm going to be starting a blog
soon, about affordable seo [ed: link removed]
(I know, it sounds strange!) but
if you don't mind, I might drop
you a line just to get a little advice.

Oh how I anticipate that day.

In the meantime, read about how spammers are sort of like aliens.

Friday, September 09, 2005

Down with the king

How could a monarch stoop to dressing so much like a member of the petty-bourgeoisie? In the next generation we will have kings earning their MBAs and selling yard tools.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Judicial Activism please?

Rejoice! The california state legislature passed legislation rendering the marriage law gender neutral. It awaits the signature of Arnold Schwarzenegger, who may well still veto it, in which case there aren't enough votes to push it through (at least I think not).

What I really love is the governor's position, however: "Schwarzenegger's office has repeated that he believes the issue should be decided either by a vote of the people or a court decision" (emphasis added). All the more evidence that the judicial activism issue is a red herring.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Digging myself in deeper

Trying to write for my thesis is becoming a nightmare. Not only is the organization absolutely impossible, I'm really struggling to decide what demands to hold the theory to, so that I'm honestly unsure whether I'm defending Dennett or attacking him, half of the time.

I'm reasonably sure of a number of points, but I have no idea how to work them into a thesis. I'm also worried that everything I've written so far is a dead end that I won't be able to use once/if I clarify these problems.

Monday, September 05, 2005

Things I should've or actually did use as responses to dumb questions on my P.E. webassign

My first stab at the problem was good enough, but I ultimately decided not to submit it on grounds of unresponsiveness:

1. What is the Physical Education Activities Program at UNC trying to accomplish through formulating activity standards?

The physical education activites program at UNC attempts to foster a fascist youth movement centered around the cultivation of an aesthetic of bodily perfection, especially that of the virile young man.

3. Does elitism foster mass-participation in physical activity? Briefly explain your answer.

Elitism is naturally at the core of any fascist movement: the individual learns that he must submerge his private goals into the collective will of the fatherland as it is expressed by the leaders of the nation. Having made peace between individual and state via this submission, the individual then participates in the mass-physical activity dictated by the reich.

4. Physical activity has been shown to provide some protection against several chronic diseases. Name four of these diseases.

Democracy, Modernity, Enfeeblement, Faggotry.

More tactically sound were the following responses:

To 1) The physical education activities program at UNC attempts to promote a culturally relevant approach to fostering physical education that is congruent with the economic and moral necessity of healthy physical activity. PEAP attempts to combat the well documented decline in physical activity following puberty, a period of transition which many UNC students have previously experienced. Thus, these students are at risk for declining levels of physical activity, and PEAP attempts to shelter them from this possibility.

To 3) While some might see elitism as the cornerstone of any regimen of physical education, drawing upon the lengthy cultural history of the Olympian ideal and the correlatory focus on the virile young man, this conception of physical activity seems more likely to promote a spectator society that is detrimental to the possibility of mass-participation in physical activity. Elitism, however natural it may seem, is likely to cause many students to become alienated from physical activity, seeing their own physicality as a flawed cariacature of those privileged by the elitist doctrine, a result which can only be strengthened by the Judeo-Christian conception of the body as an impure and temporary resting place for the soul.

To 4) Physical activity is known to absolutely obliterate coronary heart disease, adult onset diabetes, hypertension and depression.

Friday, September 02, 2005

T-10 minutes

...until there's a legal battle over disciplinary action taken against high school students because of their facebook profiles. From a pragmatic perspective, I really can't imagine what they thought they were doing by launching this new service.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Still a nerd

I returned to Francesca's for Go again tonight. I played two games, the first an even game against a player of unknown rank named either "Fish" or "Phish," not kidding about the name: he's from Asheville and is going to Duke. Lost by two points. Then I played a 5-stone handicap game against the same 15 kyu as last week which I won by 13 points. Still looks like I'm around 20 kyu.

Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Honestly, I'm a little squeamish about the subject, but...

A 22 year old man from Nebraska named Matthew Koso is being charged with statutory rape after he impregnated and then married a 13 year old girl last year. What makes the case newsworthy is that normally marriage is de facto protection from statutory rape charges, even if it's marriage after the conception or birth of a child. The New York Times profile of the case is surprisingly sympathetic to him, if I read it correctly.

I was going to post about all the interesting features of the case, but was struck by the fact that in a number of instances, I can't decide whether a given feature of the situation is exculpatory or damning (in terms of prosecution, mind an ethical level the situation seems clearer). What makes this aspect of the law intellectually interesting is the presence of a fairly strong intuition that the law needs to exist without the well-developed rationale necessary to make a case like this clear.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Nussbaum v. Butler

About 5 years ago, Martha Nussbaum published an article critiquing Judith Butler that has served to convince many an analytic philosopher that they were doing just fine by not paying Butler any attention. Our very own John McGowan has published one post and then another discussing Nussbaum's critique. McGowan's posts are deliberate and insightful, and on balance, he comes off as defending Butler against the most tendentious parts of Nussbaum's critique, while saying he's substantively on Nussbaum's side. More importantly, he says a good bit about the relationship between personal perfectionism and collective political action. Read the posts if you have any interest in theory and politics, even if you haven't read Butler or Nussbaum (the Nussbaum article is short enough, easy enough and of enough sociological interest to make reading it worthwhile, imho).

Saturday, August 27, 2005

Trip home

I had to be in Raleigh yesterday morning, so I spent a short afternoon doing laundry in my ancestral estate. In Chapel Hill, I keep my intellectual interests pretty focused: mainstream analytic philosophy and analytic history of philosophy, math, and whatever my humanities course du jour is giving me (Barthes and Benjamin this semester, yay!). But my old room is the repository of each and every temporary interest of my high school years as far out as the Tao Te Ching. A few books have been decisively abandoned (Eastern mysticism, yes), but most of them are just waiting. Sometimes, as with Derrida, I expect that I'll confidently write them off, but it takes time to be sure of that.

And so, on top of the more ordinary melancholy that my room inspires, there's another source of unease, because if I ever knew how it all fits together, I don't anymore. The work that I'm doing in analytic philosophy is what most interests me now. What's more, I'm confident that I can make some contribution to the field, if not with my honors thesis now, with my doctoral dissertation or my work after I have a teaching position, or once I'm tenured...

Yet I don't see how it relates to everything else I'm interested in. It should. I think about the nature of belief ascription, the nature of rationality, the nature of representation itself. Surely those things can't be irrelevant to all my other intellectual concerns? Nevertheless, there's every reason to think that my work would remain irrelevant to everyone outside the ghetto of analytic philosophy, except perhaps a linguist or cognitive scientist. Don't be confused about what I'm saying--I'm not worrying that I'll be a second rate philosopher, a hack who doesn't matter to his colleagues because he doesn't have any ideas worth mentioning. I'll worry about that tomorrow. It's not even literally a question of who else reads my work. The problem is that I would write my work as a philosopher and then forget about it in every other context.

Nor am I precisely worried that the demands of professorial life will prevent me from studying culture in general. You can be a professional philosopher and comment on politics in front of a large audience (another: more tendentiously a philosopher, but with a bigger audience). Right now, I don't feel like that's enough. Those two men essentially do politics on the side, and their politics doesn't have much to do with their work (1). I think the same thing would be true even if I went into political philosophy or applied ethics. Besides, my concern isn't really about political relevance.

(I find myself rambling, even more so if I try and continue, so I'm going to stop and leave this here as a draft of sorts).

What I would have said to a verizon customer service agent had my phone not said it was roaming in the middle of UNC's campus so that I could not call

"My fucking phone says that it's roaming. I am standing outdoors in the middle of UNC's campus. I am NOT roaming. Can you please inform me of whom I need to murder in order to solve this problem?"

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Yes, I am a nerd

I made the pilgrimage to Fransesca's in Durham to play go tonight. I took a 9-stone handicap from a 15 kyu player and easily won, then took a 9-stone handicap from a 10 kyu player and lost miserably after a few blunders. Let's say I'm 20-22 kyu.

If time permits, I'll continue being a nerd this coming semester.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Fitch's Paradox

Bill Lycan once attended a talk attempting to explain what licensed us to be paternalistic to our children in Kantian ethics. His observation was that when a theory must employ complex arguments to accomodate the obvious it's a problem for the theory even if the defense works.

I have a related suspicion of results where extremely simple methods are used to prove something extraordinary. Fitch's paradox is an example. There's an appealing principle that all truths are knowable: in principle, for any true statement, someone would be able to know it. Some things that could have been known can no longer be. I think there would be literally no way to know where the atoms that make up my body were 1000 years ago even given perfect knowledge of the laws of physics and perfectly accurate measuring instruments. In other cases, knowing one thing rules out knowing something else. Suppose I cat-sit breakbeat and bossanova. Kittens move around a lot, so I might have to choose to either know the location of Breakbeat at 10:53 or Bossanova is at 10:53. Any of these individual things could have been known but the principle doesn't imply that one person, or even everyone put together could simultaneously know every true statement.

Yet, suppose there is an unknown truth, call it p. That p is an unknown truth is unknowable: if we knew "p and nobody knows that p" then p wouldn't be unknown. So, the existence of an unknown truth, p, implies the existence of an unknowable truth. Dilemma: either every true statement is known (by someone at some time), or there are unknowable truths. Given this choice, you should accept that there are unknowable truths. The dilemma can be formally presented in quantified modal logic without any difficulty--I don't really know modal logic at all but can follow the proof. The Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy explains in more detail.

There's a promising line of challenge to the above argument made by Dorothy Edgington, based on distinguishing between "knowing in a situation that p" and "knowing that p in a situation." The distinction goes as follows. Let p = "Anna is walking to the door of Johnson St," and no one in Johnson St. knows that p. So "p and no one at Johnson St knows that p" is true. But I, sitting on the curb, know "p and no one at Johnson St. knows that p." You can scale things up from Johnson St. to the entire world and attempt to dissolve the paradox. Roughly, in our situation, no one will ever know that p, but there are alternate situations in which someone could know that p. Call him Peter. If Peter is capable of finding out that no one in our situation ever knew P the problem is dissolved. As always, there are a lot of epicycles to be had here. In particular, the talk of Peter knowing about people in our situation is extremely problematic given the standard treatment of modality. Every so often, I try to wade into the literature surrounding this solution, but inevitably get depressed by its dreariness and the way that the central issues seem to very quickly get lost.

What I really want to say in response to the Fitch's paradox is this: you have missed the point by the way you're treating the knowability principle. It's attractive to treat the principle as the bare assertion that for any truth, that truth is knowable. Certainly that is sufficient for the knowability principle to be true.

I think the real assertion of the knowability principle is that there is an entirely general conceptual scheme, capable of representing any aspect of the universe. This scheme is capable of representing the objects that make up the universe, the patterns that relate them, as well as evaluative discourse surrounding them (the disciplines of ethics, aesthetics, epistemology). Moreover, a culture blessed with this conceptual scheme would be in principle able to acquire evidence about any aspect of the universe implicated in their conceptual scheme. I'm firmly committed to the existence of such a conceptual scheme. More contentiously, it's my opinion that the contemporary western world's science and humanities are potential ancestors of this conceptual scheme. Our competence as representers of the world is capable of increase without bound. Performance limitations will always prevent us from knowing a great many things that we'd like to know. Since it requires quite a great deal of knowledge to even have a given conceptual scheme, performance limitations will almost certainly prevent us from even acquiring the ideal conceptual scheme. I can't argue for these claims here, though.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005


I ran into my old macroeconomics professor at the Daily Grind today. It's a tactical mistake, but I'm both too literal and too vain to substitute "I'm a bum" for "I'm working on my thesis." So for the sake of my self-respect, I need to get better at my pitch. Here's the first draft:

I'm trying to defend Daniel Dennett's theory of how we attribute beliefs and desires to other people. He says we attribute beliefs and desires by assuming people are fairly rational. To start off with, we assume people want what they need to survive: they want food, water, shelter, they want to avoid things that are dangerous. We also assume that people know about obvious features of their environment. The reason we attribute those beliefs and desires is so that we can predict people's behavior. This also works by assuming that people are rational. If you've I'll predict that you do whatever is rational to satisfy your desires given what you believe. That's the basic outline, and it's pretty plausible at first. The first real problem is that Dennet isn't very detailed. He gives us this story that works for the obvious cases: you think I believe there's food in the refrigerator, so you think I'll open the fridge when I'm hungry. But, if you know me, you might also think I believe the war in Iraq is hopeless or that the theory of relativity is true. It's hard to see how you get from the obvious beliefs all the way to the really complicated ones. The other big problem is defining rationality, because it's a very slippery concept, and also because it really seems that people do irrational things: they smoke or they play the lottery, maybe. Or they think we're winning the Iraq war.

I know they'll stop me before I get through all that, but whaddya think? Is it comprehensible? Do I sound like I'm wasting a year of my life?

Sunday, August 07, 2005

I get stronger while you sleep

Products of my all-nighter:
2 emails sent to professors
1 hazy recollection of reading the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy article on Edmund Burke
1 desire to read Reflections on the Revolution in France
1 desire to read In the Beginning (Go book)
1 frustration with the UNC library for being closed on Sundays during the summer intersession
1 beautiful 7:45 AM run
1 posting of something I wrote 15 hours ago
1 breakfast (first in months)

I ran continuously from the time I left my apartment stoop to the moment I returned for the first time ever. I ran much more slowly than usual, and proper running form eluded me after being awake for 20 hours: I'm sure I resembled nothing so much as a bobblehead doll. But the distance is the really important thing for now: doing intervals and other speed training involves being able to run long distances without collapsing.

I'm arguably more productive when I don't sleep. Get some coffee in me, and it's thesis-gibberish time. Bill will never know what hit him.

Saturday, August 06, 2005

James Doyle has a post at some place called normblog that I'm unfamiliar with. Wander away from the link I sent at your own peril. Based on an analysis of our ordinary conception of human agents as causing their actions, as it appears in common sense and (so we're told) legal doctrine, he argues that we can't say Blair caused the London bombings. Chris Bertram has a nice reply, even if he doesn't think his reply constitutes an argument. Not only is Bertram right that there's an alternate way of thinking of causation as it relates to persons within the social sciences, it's probably true that this way of thinking is much better suited to the case at hand, since we're examining a political

The other part of Doyle's post is an argument that we cannot hold Blair even indirectly responsible for the London bombings unless we antecedently assume that his decision to go to war was wrong. That would remain true even if Blair had been almost certain that the war would result in the bombings. There is a huge suppressed premise here. This assertion is only plausible if you assume that going to war with Iraq should be evaluated on deontological grounds.

The problem is that justifying the war on deontological grounds appears to be an absolute non-starter. Given the manipulation of intelligence, the defiance of international law and the constantly shifting rationales for war, the only option for someone interested in defending the war is to insist that it all doesn't matter, the war will be justified by the future stable, democratic Iraqi nation that's just waiting to appear. We killed a lot of people, and lied about it to boot, but everything turned out right--that's the exact form of a consequentialist argument.

Friday, August 05, 2005


*ahem* anyone out there? anyone listening?

I have once again entered into the world of posting my thoughts to a publicly accessible website on a semi-regular basis. I believe they call the fad "blogging." I've tried it before, with predictably mediocre results, and nothing about that experience screamed "you absolutely must try this again once a year has passed you by!"

Instead, quite perversely, my mediocre writing skills have motivated this enterprise. My prose is decidedly uninteresting. My sentences are almost always too long, full of various crutches and qualifiers that I can never resist using. My grammar is a very weak sort of "above-average," which makes it positively atrocious in the rarefied air that I inhabit. The lexicon and orthography do a bit better, but not by much. As you see, pedantry is also a problem.

So I hope I'll get some writing practice from this blog. I can write something that falls in between my typical academic paper and "lolz, that are soooo funny" as delivered over AIM. Ideally I could attach my full name to this and let quasi-strangers read it without overwhelming shame. Heavy on the philosophy, light on the personal details. Preferably nothing that involves the phrase "and I was so drunk." Lover-safe, ex-lover-safe. Perhaps even mom-safe.

Or that's the plan, in any case.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Test post

Blogger has a new interface that doesn't require me to use html.

Let's see how it works.

If this posts properly, I may start blogging soon.