Monday, January 30, 2006

From Wikipedia:
Kripke delivered the John Locke Lectures in philosophy at Oxford in 1973. Titled Reference and Existence, they are in many respects a continuation of Naming and Necessity, and deal with the subjects of fictional names and perceptual error. They have never been published and the transcript is officially available only in a reading copy in the university library, which cannot be copied or cited without Kripke's permission. In fact many copies are informally circulated among philosophers. Its influence, though considerable, is thus difficult to trace.
I find it slightly odd that a philosopher can deliver a seven part series of public lectures and then control the transcript so that others are technically (if not actually) prohibited from even mentioning it in print. There's such a thing as speaking off the record, but surely this isn't it (for contrast, most of the John Locke lectures for the past decade and at least a large number of those before then have been published as books).

Fish in a barrel pt 4

I ran across some confirmation of the obvious fact that the media is paying much less attention to the NSA spying leak than it paid the Lewinski scandal. Not a surprise, but it's useful to see some quantitative measures, on which the difference is striking.

The charitable interpretation is that the Clinton administration had so many fewer scandals that the media was forced to spend time on unimportant or completely imaginary wrongdoing. (Media Matters)

Monday, January 16, 2006

Interesting tidbits

From Bill Lycan's preliminary description of his seminar on Dualism:

"First we shall examine the standard objections and consider some Dualist replies.
(I have come to think that the standard objections are actually pretty
feeble.)" Unless something has drastically changed, Bill is a staunch materialist in spite of this, so it's interesting that he'd trash the standard objections.

"April 4: Intentionality! (I think plain old intentionality is a much
worse problem for materialism than is anything in the area of subjectivity,
qualia, phenomenal character,....)"

I fairly well agree with that. In the fall of 2004, I wrote a paper for Bill on the Knowledge Argument. The argument runs as follows: you can know anything you want about the physical structure of the world, as well as neurology and psychology, the dynamics of color perception, etc, but if you have never seen red, then none of that information will tell you what it is like to see red. Therefore, there is some fact you do not know if you merely possess all the physical information. This is a problem for materialism (when you try to make this sentence precise, there be dragons in that forest...). The standard response is to say that you do gain information when you experience red which is not a consequence of physics, etc. This is just because you have a particular "introspective perspective" that is, your brain monitors the activities going on inside of your brain more or less directly, so that particular types of activity in your brain appear to you as seeing red.

My paper argued(*) that this response didn't get you squat, because the notion of a perspective was every bit as problematic for materialism as the explanatory gap between physics and color sensations. The problem is closely linked to how original intentionality arises: how is it that this particular lump of matter comes to have a viewpoint on the world, which is roughly similar to having any intentionality at all, since presumably any creature with intentionality has some sort of perspective.

(*) Actually, my paper did not argue anything. It flailed at various targets.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

I am a ridiculous creature

One good way to improve your Go is to review games you've played, noticing what worked and what didn't, finding slack moves, whether or not the opponent noticed them, etc. It's best if you do it with someone substantially stronger than you, or at least your opponent, but it's still worthwhile if it's just you.

In that spirit, I present you with a commented game I played. No, really..I took a game which was on my computer, wrote down comments, showed some alternate sequences, etc. It's in a .sgf file.

There's something wrong with me.

Commented game

Fish in a barrel pt 3

Duke is really freakin good. They have played five ranked opponents and won by an average of 16.8 points. The fact that they are the obvious choice to win the national championship this year makes me very sad.

Wednesday, January 11, 2006


I played the best game of Go today. Only made one obvious mistake at the beginning of the game when I thought I could push through a one point jump and cut when I couldn't. I ended up starting a decent sized fight which I was pretty sure I could win. Then I came up with a several move sequence which exploited a throw-in and shortage of liberties to catch six stones. That then led to a one sided ko which netted me ten points or so.

I was about to post a couple of mundane updates earlier this week, one of which would've included a complaint that my Go was stagnating and every game I played was bad. Good timing.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

A minor quibble with Chomsky

From his newsweek interview:
Well, it's extremely difficult to talk about this because of a very rigid doctrine that prevails in the United States and Britain which prevents us from looking at the situation realistically. The doctrine, to oversimplify, is that we have to believe the United States would have so-called liberated Iraq even if its main products were lettuce and pickles and [the] main energy resource of the world were in central Africa. Anyone who doesn't accept that is dismissed as a conspiracy theorist or a lunatic or something. But anyone with a functioning brain knows that that's not true—as all Iraqis do, for example. The United States invaded Iraq because its major resource is oil. And it gives the United States, to quote [Zbigniew] Brzezinski, "critical leverage" over its competitors, Europe and Japan. That's a policy that goes way back to the second world war. That's the fundamental reason for invading Iraq, not anything else.
I think Chomsky is slightly off on his analysis of the 'rigid doctrine': I think you were perfectly able to admit in civilized discourse that part of the reason we invaded Iraq was its oil reserves, you just can't do that while maintaining that this fact has any moral relevance. This isn't really based on any detailed thought about the situation, I just feel like I heard a lot of people (even within the media) talk about how we were involved in part because of the oil, but I agree with Chomsky that you never heard anyone prominent act as if that made any difference to the justification of the invasion.

On the subject of bad excuses

It appears that the supreme court nominee was part of a Princeton organization which was opposed to large numbers of women and minorities attending the university (it's hard to determine exactly what the group's stance was, but it seems clearly reactionary). The best excuses that the various people were able to offer when interviewed by the Daily Princetonian were that he might not have been in the organization despite having listed it on a resume, or if he was in it, that was merely to get jobs and wouldn't have mentioned it on his resume unless he was exploiting a connection to someone in the organization. So either he's a liar or completely unprincipled. Good traits for a justice, I hear.

Monday, January 09, 2006

A tepid defense of conceptual analysis

Over break, I read Frank Jackson’s book “From Metaphysics to Ethics: A Defense of Conceptual Analysis, along with a review of it by Steve Stich and Jonathan Weinberg. S&W pose two questions to Jackson concerning the empirical assumptions that he makes: first, Jackson seems to rely on a dubious notion of concepts as embodying a folk theory, and second, he seems to assume interpersonal consistency of intuitions about hypothetical cases without any basis. What I have to say mostly bears on the first question.

S&W note that in the contemporary cognitive science literature most researchers have adopted theories upon which our concepts do not resemble any sort of “folk theory.” For reasons of space, they only examine one alternative, exemplar theories of concepts.

On such a theory, a given concept is constituted by a set of exemplars, which can be seen as detailed ‘descriptions’ of particular members of the category. When called upon to answer whether some new object is a member of the category, we determine how similar it is to several of the exemplars, and render a verdict on that basis (much of the processing will be unconscious). One important fact about the theory is that a person’s recent emotional and cognitive history “primes” or activates a subset of the exemplars, as well as altering the level of similarity which must be achieved for a positive judgment. So there is a substantial degree of intrapersonal variance in people’s intuitions, as well as interpersonal variance in the exemplars various people have.

Neither of the points which S&W make are very definitive attacks on Jackson’s account as they stand (in all fairness, S&W present them as questions). There is a doctrine, typical of the rationalists, but also present in Aristotle, that only a certain sort of person is capable of properly doing philosophy. For instance, Plato believed that you had to spend years studying a variety of subjects in order to develop your “rational intuition” (not the Platonic term) before you could properly do philosophy.

I don't know whether exemplars are supposed to be the sort of thing you can intentionally influence but it seems possible given that Stich points towards “the importance of myths and parables in moral pedagody, since these stories can serve as the basis for building stored up exemplars” (639). This fits with the fact that you can inculcate reluctant undergraduates with the traditional philosophical intuitions (Gettier and Twin Earth cases, for example). Since one’s recent cognitive and emotional history prime the exemplars that are used in a particular case, perhaps one of the abilities that characterizes a good philosopher is the ability to prime the proper exemplars in herself. If that was true, then there could be an account of how both interpersonal and intrapersonal variation in conceptual intuitions can be compatible with the possibility of conceptual analysis.

There are still problems for this sort of account. Jackson meant to defend an account of conceptual analysis on which the philosopher is elucidating folk concepts—if this is the case, that places a limit on the divergence between the exemplars used by the philosopher and those used by the folk. Still, even this account does not require perfect agreement in judgments-you possess the same concepts at different times in your life, even though you activate different exemplars and make different judgments at different times.

Pointing out that this account is available obviously falls quite short of defending it. In particular, what reason do we have to suppose that anything about the philosophical training we undergo in the Anglo-American tradition has any of the effects on our intuitions that are mentioned above? I think even if everything I've said so far is correc, that question might prove impossible to answer.

Friday, January 06, 2006

A steaming pile of shit

A little bit of philosophy of science can be a very bad thing. Albert Aschuler on the Dover court decision:

The court argues that ID does not follow the ground rules of science because it is not “testable” or “falsifiable.” Like most writers on the subject, the court invokes the image of science associated with Karl Popper – a view still endorsed by many scientists but rejected for good reason by most philosophers of science. W. V. Quine (and before him Pierre Duhem) showed that paradigm-preserving explanations are always available. New data never require the abandonment of a particular belief when we are willing to sacrifice other beliefs. In that sense, no scientific proposition is ever falsifiable.
This summary of 20th century philosophy of science would be poor by the standards of an undergraduate paper, while the apparent inference to rejecting any demand for falsifiability is simply appalling.

Monday, January 02, 2006


Eat, sleep, relax. Keep up the good work. Eat all of the candy and drink all the booze I received this christmas (I've failed at this one for some of the recent holidays).