I say that it’s philosophically inexpensive because I think it is more convincing than any other Twin-Earth thought experiment in that it sidesteps many of the standard objections to the usual thought experiments. I also briefly discuss narrow contents and give an analysis of Putnam’s original argument.
There is a certain approach to the semantic paradoxes that is highly intuitive and for that reason alone never seems to go away. Roughly put, it's the idea that the paradoxical sentences just don't really have any truth conditions at all, no matter how grammatically sound and meaningful they and their parts are. I suppose that just about anyone who spends even a relatively modest amount of time thinking about the paradoxes comes up with this idea eventually. There is a (...) great deal to recommend this approach, especially when it carefully distinguishes sentence tokens from sentence types. For one thing, it requires no significant alteration in commonsensical views about language or logic. Let us call it the Token Approach, as it trades on distinguishing linguistic tokens from types. The approach does not contain any of the flashy logical moves that characterize most other current responses to the semantic paradoxes. Many contemporary philosophers of language and logic ignore the Token Approach in part because, it seems, they cannot display their logical chops when investigating it. Despite this devastating drawback, the approach strikes me as good as any. -/- It faces two obstacles: it apparently lacks a plausible explanation of how certain type-identical sentence tokens can differ in truth conditions, and it may fail to adequately deal with certain paradoxical sentences of the liar family. However, I don't take the obstacles to be insurmountable: in each case the advocate of the Token Approach can appeal to a traditional and highly credentialed-if controversial and obscure-contemporary view of linguistic meaning that promises to supply suitable ways around both obstacles. (shrink)
In this essay (for undergraduates) I introduce three of the famous semantic paradoxes: the Liar, Grelling’s, and the No-No. Collectively, they seem to show that the notion of truth is highly paradoxical, perhaps even contradictory. They seem to show that the concept of truth is a bit akin to the concept of a married bachelor—it just makes no sense at all. But in order to really understand those paradoxes one needs to be very comfortable thinking about how lots of interesting (...) sentences talk about not dogs or cats or elections or baseball but sentences. That is, we need to get familiar analyzing sentences that talk about sentences. (shrink)
When pondering the relation of existence to time one often finds oneself with intriguing intuitions expressed with slogans such as ‘Only the present really exists’, ‘Present entities are more real than past or future entities’, and ‘The future is yet to be; the past is no more’. When we express these intuitions, we don’t seem to be saying, in a straightforward way, that past objects such as a recently popped soap bubble are merely no longer present. Instead, we seem to (...) be voicing some philosophically important view regarding how existence and time are related. The view is presentism, but the slogans only vaguely suggest some view; they do not, by themselves, adequately express it. -/- I will argue that there are two philosophically important kinds of presentism, ontological and logical. Roughly put, ontological presentism is the claim that there is an objective ontological distinction between present and non-present entities: whereas a spatial change from here to there does not mark an ontological distinction, a temporal change from now to then does mark an ontological distinction. Waiving subtleties, logical presentism is the claim that we never quantify over past or future entities. On the face of it, the two theses seem pretty different. One concerns existence; the other, logic. I think we have failed to make significant progress in evaluating presentism because we have failed to carefully distinguish the two theses. In this essay I clarify, distinguish, and evaluate them. (shrink)
The epistemological consequences of paradox are paradoxical. They can be usefully generated by telling a series of once-upon-a-time stories that make various philosophical points, starting out innocent and ending up, well, paradoxical.
According to the view I christen sharpism, when Joe says to his daughter in a perfectly ordinary context ‘The Earth is super-duper old’, his claim has an incredibly discriminating truth condition: although it’s true if the Earth is over 347,342,343 years, 2 days, and 17 nanoseconds old, if the Earth is even a nanosecond younger then his claim has some status other than “just plain true”—but we leave open what that new status might be: false, indeterminate, indeterminately indeterminate, meaningless, just (...) under 100% true, or whatnot. The material point is that the claim changes in truth status (“alethic status”) with a nanosecond change in the Earth’s age. The sharp cutoff might not be a cutoff separating the true from the false, but it is a sharp alethic cutoff nonetheless. It has this sensitive truth condition even though Joe has never made any relevant linguistic stipulations and doesn’t even know what a nanosecond is. Another example: when I say to a visiting speaker, ‘The auditorium where you’ll give your lecture is a short walk from here’, my claim is true if the auditorium is no more than 123 meters, 6 centimeters, and 16 nanometers away. Hence, if it turns out that we were 123 meters, 6 centimeters, and 17 nanometers away from the auditorium, my claim had some status other than true. (shrink)
On occasion, someone will ask you why you’re a philosopher and not a scientist or some other, more obviously respectable, intellectual. Or a high and mighty philosopher will dismiss all of philosophy with the exception of the history of philosophy. Others will restrict philosophy’s importance to applied philosophy or philosophy with obvious interdisciplinary features. Or someone from a different discipline might be respectful of the philosophical profession but in need of an explanation of why research in philosophy that is not (...) applied, is not interdisciplinary, and does not fall under the heading of the history of philosophy is thought to be important. A university dean or other university official or professor might have just that question. In fact, your cousin might have that question. (shrink)
If you retain your belief upon learning that a large number and percentage of your recognized epistemic superiors disagree with you, then what happens to the epistemic status of your belief? I investigate that theoretical question as well has the applied case of philosophical disagreement—especially disagreement regarding purely philosophical error theories, theories that do not have much empirical support and that reject large swaths of our most commonsensical beliefs. I argue that even if all those error theories are false, either (...) (a) the average philosopher’s true commonsensical beliefs are epistemically impoverished, or (b) a good portion of philosophy is bunk and philosophers should give up most of their error theories despite the fact that their supporting arguments are generally as good as or even better than other philosophical arguments. (shrink)
In this essay I try to motivate and formulate the main epistemological questions to ask about the phenomenon of religious disagreement. I will not spend much time going over proposed answers to those questions. I address the relevance of the recent literature on the epistemology of disagreement. I start with some fiction and then, hopefully, proceed with something that has at least a passing acquaintance with truth.
There are two “problems of evil” (actually, as we will see in chapter 2 there are three main ones, each with multiple variants, but that doesn't matter here). One, the “logical” one in Alston's terminology, is almost universally thought to be not at all ...
Suppose you know that someone is your epistemic peer regarding some topic. You admit that you cannot think of any relevant epistemic advantage you have over her when it comes to that topic; you admit that she is just as likely as you to get P?s truth-value right. Alternatively, you might know that she is your epistemic superior regarding the topic. And then after learning this about her you find out that she disagrees with you about P. In those situations (...) it appears that the confidence with which one holds one?s belief should be significantly reduced. My primary goal in this essay is to present and reflect upon a set of cases of disagreement that have not been discussed in the literature but are vital to consider. I argue that in the new cases one is reasonable in not lowering one?s confidence in the belief. Then I articulate and defend an ambitious principle, the Disagreement Principle, meant to answer the question ?Under what conditions am I epistemically blameworthy in retaining my belief with the same level of confidence after I have discovered recognized peers or superiors who disagree with me?? (shrink)
Philosophers often find themselves in disagreement with contemporary philosophers they know full well to be their epistemic superiors on the topics relevant to the disagreement. This looks epistemically irresponsible. I offer a detailed investigation of this problem of the reflective epistemic renegade. I argue that although in some cases the renegade is not epistemically blameworthy, and the renegade situation is significantly less common than most would think, in a troublesome number of cases in which the situation arises the renegade is (...) blameworthy in her disagreement with recognized epistemic superiors. I also offer some thoughts on what it would mean for philosophical practice for us to refrain from being renegades. Finally, I show how a new kind of radical skepticism emerges from modest theses regarding the renegade. (shrink)
Those of us who take skepticism seriously typically have two relevant beliefs: (a) it’s plausible (even if false) that in order to know that I have hands I have to be able to epistemically neutralize, to some significant degree, some skeptical hypotheses, such as the brain-in-a-vat (BIV) one; and (b) it’s also plausible (even if false) that I can’t so neutralize those hypotheses. There is no reason for us to also think (c) that the BIV hypothesis, for instance, is plausible (...) or probably true. In order to take skepticism seriously it’s sufficient to hold (a) and (b); one need not hold (c). Indeed, philosophers who accept (a) and (b) never endorse (c). Show me a philosopher who suspects that he is a brain in a vat and I’ll show you someone who is deranged! That’s one thing that bothers undergraduates in philosophy. They object: why on earth do some philosophers take the BIV hypothesis to pose any threat at all to our beliefs given that those very same philosophers think that there’s no real chance that the BIV hypothesis is true? Sure, the BIV hypothesis is formally inconsistent with my belief that I have hands, so if the former is true then my belief is false. But so what? Why should that bare inconsistency matter so much? Is this strange attitude amongst philosophers the result of some logic fetish infecting the philosophical community? It is sometimes said that the skeptical hypotheses are not only inconsistent with our beliefs but are explanatory of our experiences, which is supposed to make them more of a threat. But students aren’t fooled: although the skeptical hypotheses may attempt to explain why our experience is as it is, it’s the kind of attempt appropriate for science fiction movies that are all special effects and virtually no plot. No one with any sense of reality will take the evil demon hypothesis to be even tenuously explanatory. (shrink)
We all can identify many contemporary philosophy professors we know to be theists of some type or other. We also know that often enough their nontheistic beliefs are as epistemically upstanding as the non-theistic beliefs of philosophy professors who aren’t theists. In fact, the epistemic-andnon-theistic lives of philosophers who are theists are just as epistemically upstanding as the epistemic-and-non-theistic lives of philosophers who aren’t theists. Given these and other, similar, facts, there is good reason to think that the pro-theistic beliefs (...) of theistic philosophers are frequently epistemically upstanding. Given their impeccable epistemic credentials on non-theistic matters, the amount of careful thought that lies behind their theism, the large size of the community of philosophical theists, as well as other, similar facts, it would be surprising if all or even most of their pro-theistic beliefs were epistemically blameworthy in some or other signicant sense tied to charges such as ‘He should know better than to believe that’ (so mere false belief need not be blameworthy in this sense; the use of ‘blameworthy’ will be claried below). Of course some of the pro-theistic beliefs of some theistic philosophers are epistemically blameworthy; the mere large numbers of fallible theistic philosophers almost guarantees it. My point here is that it would be unexpected if most of the pro-theistic beliefs of theistic philosophers were epistemically blameworthy. (shrink)
Content externalism is the dominant view in the philosophy of mind. Content essentialism, the thesis that thought tokens have their contents essentially, is also popular. And many externalists are supporters of such essentialism. However, endorsing the conjunction of those views either (i) commits one to a counterintuitive view of the underlying physical nature of thought tokens or (ii) commits one to a slightly different but still counterintuitive view of the relation of thought tokens to physical tokens as well as a (...) rejection of realist physicalism. In this essay I reveal the problem and articulate and adjudicate among the possible solutions. I will end up rejecting content essentialism. (shrink)
For years philosophers argued for the existence of distinct yet materially coincident things by appealing to modal and temporal properties. For instance, the statue was made on Monday and could not survive being flattened; the lump of clay was made months before and can survive flattening. Such arguments have been thoroughly examined. Kit Fine has proposed a new set of arguments using the same template. I offer a critical evaluation of what I take to be his central lines of reasoning.
I once overheard a telling conversation between two of my colleagues. One asked the other about a new book on a topic of some importance to both of them. He asked whether they would have to do anything different because of the book. The second colleague said not, so the first colleague said he would not read the book. The conversation encapsulates an excellent test of the worth of a philosophical work: an idea is important if as a result of (...) it experts will have to change what they do when they work on the idea’s topic. It’s not good enough to be right, or to choose an important topic, or to choose a topic of contemporary interest, or to be original; it isn’t even enough to have all of those qualities. I know now that much of the work I have done, especially as a graduate student, failed that test—even work that found its way into leading philosophy journals. (shrink)
I’m going to argue for a set of restricted skeptical results: roughly put, we don’t know that fire engines are red, we don’t know that we sometimes have pains in our lower backs, we don’t know that John Rawls was kind, and we don’t even know that we believe any of those truths. However, people unfamiliar with philosophy and cognitive science do know all those things. The skeptical argument is traditional in form: here’s a skeptical hypothesis; you can’t epistemically neutralize (...) it, you have to be able to neutralize it to know P; so you don’t know P. But the skeptical hypotheses I plug into it are “real, live” scientific-philosophical hypotheses often thought to be actually true, unlike any of the outrageous traditional skeptical hypotheses (e.g., ‘You’re a brain in a vat’). So I call the resulting skepticism Live Skepticism. Notably, the Live Skeptic’s argument goes through even if we adopt the clever anti-skeptical fixes thought up in recent years such as reliabilism, relevant alternatives theory, contextualism, and the rejection of epistemic closure. Furthermore, the scope of Live Skepticism is bizarre: although we don’t know the simple facts noted above, many of us do know that there are black holes and other amazing facts. (shrink)
These days the two most popular approaches to belief ascription are Millianism and Contextualism. The former approach is inconsistent with the existence of ordinary Frege cases, such as Lois believing that Superman flies while failing to believe that Clark Kent flies. The Millian holds that the only truth-conditionally relevant aspect of a proper name is its referent or extension. Contextualism, as I will define it for the purposes of this essay, includes all theories according to which ascriptions of the form (...) ‘S believes that a is F’ and ‘S believes that b is F’, where ‘a’ and ‘b’ are coreferential proper names, may, depending on the context, differ in truth-value even though in those very contexts each ascription relates the same believer to the very same proposition. What the two theories have in common is the claim that names are Millian. What separates the two theories is what they say about belief contexts. In this essay I prove that Millianism is true, Contextualism is true, or our intuitions regarding belief ascriptions are hopelessly inaccurate. As a consequence, my argument is a proof that either names and many general terms are Millian or our intuitions regarding belief ascriptions are hopelessly inaccurate. (shrink)
Millianism is reasonable; that is, it is reasonable to think that all there is to the semantic value of a proper name is its referent. But Millianism appears to be undermined by the falsehood of Substitutivity, the principle that interchanging coreferential proper names in an intentional context cannot change the truth value of the resulting belief report. Mary might be perfectly rational in assenting to ‘Twain was a great writer’ as well as ‘Clemens was not a great writer’. Her confusion (...) does not seem to preclude her from assenting to those sentences in a normal, understanding manner. That is, Assent-for-Mary is true: Mary can knowingly assent to ‘Twain was a great writer’ and ‘Clemens was not a great writer’. By Disquotation—the rough principle that if in ordinary circumstances one assents to “P”, then one believes that P—Mary believes that Twain was a great writer and she believes that it’s not the case that Clemens was a great writer. If Substitutivity were true, then since ‘Mary believes that Twain was a great writer’ is true, ‘Mary believes that Clemens was a great writer’ would have to be true too. But then Mary would amount to a refutation of the plausible principle Consistency that, roughly put, no rational adult can have occurrently held and reflectively considered and compared contradictory beliefs. Since Disquotation, Assent-for-Mary, and Consistency are true, Substitutivity has to go. (shrink)
Kripke’s puzzle has puts pressure on the intuitive idea that one can believe that Superman can fly without believing that Clark Kent can fly. If this idea is wrong then many theories of belief and belief ascription are built from faulty data. I argue that part of the proper analysis of Kripke’s puzzle refutes the closure principles that show up in many important arguments in epistemology, e.g., if S is rational and knows that P and that P entails Q, then (...) if she considers these two beliefs and Q, then she is in a position to know that.. (shrink)
My hunch has always been that in the end, Fregeanism will defeat Millianism. So I suspect that my (1998) arguments on behalf of Millianism are flawed. Peter Graham (1999) is confident he has found the flaws, but he has not. I hope that some clarification will enccurage others to reveal the errors.
The Burge-Putnam thought experiments have generated the thesis that beliefs are not fixed by the constitution of the body. However, many philosophers have thought that if this is true then there must be another content-like property. Even if the contents of our attitudes such as the one in ‘believes that aluminum is a light metal’, do not supervene on our physical makeups, nevertheless people who are physical duplicates must be the same when it comes to evaluating their rationality and explaining (...) their actions. I argue that the considerations motivating this view are best handled with just the ordinary ‘that’-clause contents. (shrink)
Saul Kripke's puzzle about belief demonstrates the lack of soundness of the traditional argument for the Fregean fundamental principle that the sentences 'S believes that a is F' and 'S believes that b is F' can differ in truth value even if a = b. This principle is a crucial premise in the traditional Fregean argument for the existence of semantically relevant senses, individuative elements of beliefs that are sensitive to our varying conceptions of what the beliefs are about. Joseph (...) Owens has offered a new argument for this fundamental principle, one that is not subject to Kripke's criticisms. I argue that even though Owens' argument avoids Kripke's criticisms, it has other flaws. (shrink)
In this article I offer a three-pronged defense of Millian theories, all of which share the rough idea that all there is to a proper name is its referent, so it has no additional sense. I first give what I believe to be the first correct analysis of Kripke’s puzzle and its anti-Fregean lessons. The main lesson is that the Fregean’s arguments against Millianism and for the existence of semantically relevant senses (that is, individuative elements of propositions or belief contents (...) that are sensitive to our varying personal conceptions of the referents of those elements) are viciously circular. Thus, the Fregean must give new arguments for her central claims. Second, I offer an original, positive argument for the Millian idea that the thoughts that Cicero was bald and that Tully was bald are identical. Incredibly, the argument appeals to nothing but highly intuitive, pre-theoretical principles regarding folk psychological usage—traditionally the source of Fregean intuitions. Third, I examine one of the most important recent papers on Kripke’s puzzle, that by David Sosa (1996). Sosa claims to have found a way to turn the tables on Kripke’s puzzle by using it to argue against Millian theories. I argue that Sosa’s argument on behalf of the Fregean is question-begging. I conclude that Millian theories can be seriously defended without any use of theoretical constructs such as guises or Russellian propositions, and Fregeans need to start over arguing for their theory’s central claims. (shrink)
Suppose that you had always had a physical twin, Chris, who on a different planet went through life having physical characteristics, sensory experiences, utterances, and brain processes exactly the same as yours in every physical and sensory respect. Chris.