Contrary to frequent declarations that descriptivism as a theory of how names refer is dead and gone, such a descriptivism is, to all appearances, alive and well. Or rather, a descendent of that doctrine is alive and well. This new version—neo-descriptivism, for short—is supposedly immune from the usual arguments against descriptivism, in large part because it avoids classical descriptivism’s emphasis on salient, first-come-to-mind properties and holds instead that a name’s reference-fixing content is typically given by egocentric properties specified in terms (...) of broadly causal relationships between a speaker and his environment: properties like being the actual individual called ‘Aristotle’ referred to by my informants’ use of the name, being the actual individual called ‘George Bush’ whom I have seen/heard described as the U.S. President who started the second Gulf War, and so on. names is not in contention.) What these neo-descriptivists claim is that the usual modal, semantical, and epistemological arguments against classical descriptivism don’t get much of a foothold against this new version, especially if we don’t insist that speakers be able to state these properties on demand. It is enough that these are properties implicit in the semantic judgments of speakers. Recent attacks notwithstanding, such a neo-descriptivism has struck many philosophers as a credible and worthy successor to classical descriptivism. (shrink)
This is a survey of contemporary work on ‘fictionalism in metaphysics’, a term that is taken to signify both the place of fictionalism as a distinctive anti‐realist metaphysics in which usefulness rather than truth is the norm of acceptance, and the fact that philosophers have given fictionalist treatments of a range of specifically metaphysical notions.
We argue that computation via quantum mechanical processes is irrelevant to explaining how brains produce thought, contrary to the ongoing speculations of many theorists. First, quantum effects do not have the temporal properties required for neural information processing. Second, there are substantial physical obstacles to any organic instantiation of quantum computation. Third, there is no psychological evidence that such mental phenomena as consciousness and mathematical thinking require explanation via quantum theory. We conclude that understanding brain function is unlikely to require (...) quantum computation or similar mechanisms. (shrink)
In their recent ‘The ethical case for non-directed postmortem sperm donation’, Hodson and Parker outline and defend the concept of voluntary non-directed postmortem sperm donation, the idea that men should be able to register their desire to donate their sperm after death for use by strangers since this would offer a potential means of increasing the quantity and heterogeneity of donor sperm. In this response, we raise some concerns about their proposal, focusing in particular on the fact that current methodologies (...) do not make for a reliable way of ensuring that sperm retrieved postmortem has a good chance of leading to conception, which is in turn likely to make potential recipients reluctant to use such sperm. These concerns add to the ethical doubts that attend aspects of the proposal, making the prospect of implementation of such a policy unlikely at best. (shrink)
This paper provides a new solution to the epistemic paradox of belief-instability, a problem of rational choice which has recently received considerable attention (versions of the problem have been discussed by — among others — Tyler Burge, Earl Conee, and Roy Sorensen). The problem involves an ideally rational agent who has good reason to believe the truth of something of the form:[Ap] p if and only if it is not the case that I accept or believe p.
In this paper I argue against the usual interpretation of\nMeinong's argument for nonexistent objects, an\ninterpretation according to which Meinong imported\nnonexistent objects like "the golden mountain" to account\ndirectly for the truth of statements like the golden\nmountain is golden'. I claim instead (using evidence from\nMeinong's "On Assumptions") that his argument really\ninvolves an ineliminable appeal to the notion of pretense.\nThis appeal nearly convinced Meinong at one stage that he\ncould do without nonexistent objects. The reason, I argue,\nwhy he nonetheless embraced an ontology of nonexistents (...) has\nto do with the phenomenology of representation, and not\nwith semantics. (shrink)
This paper suggests that quantified negative existentials about fiction—statements of the form “There are some / many / etc. Fs in work W who don't exist”—offer a serious challenge to the theorist of fiction: more serious, in a number of ways, that singular negative existentials. I argue that the temptation to think that only a realist semantics of such statements is plausible should be resisted. There are numerous quantified negative existentials found in other areas that seem equally “true” but where (...) a realist semantics imports ontological commitments that few would want to embrace. In the final part of the paper I sketch an alternative pretense account of one such quantified negative existential, and suggest that the account gives us some reason to believe that quantified negative existentials in general, including quantified negative existentials about fiction, can also be understood in pretense terms. (shrink)
Consider predicates like 'is a fictional character' and 'is a mythical object'. Since their ascription entails a corresponding Negative Existential claim, call these 'NE-characterizing predicates'. Objectualists such as Parsons, Sylvan, van Inwagen, and Zalta think that NE-characterizing properties are genuine properties of genuinely non-existent objects. But how, then, to make room for statements like 'Vulcan is a failed posit' and 'that little green man is a trick of the light'? The predicates involved seem equally NE-characterizing yet on the surface fail (...) to mark a genuine property o f things. Instead, the truth of such predications strongly supervenes on types of referential failure. Kendall Walton's anti-objectualist account of talk about fiction provides a neat solution to this supervenience problem by invoking special games of make-believe. The present paper claims that while Walton's view thereby gains an important advantage over objectualism, the solution faces problems of its own. The rest of the paper desribes another solution, one that assigns a large role to the idea of metaphor. (shrink)
Mill is a detractor of the view that proper names have meanings, defending in its place the view that names are nothing more than (meaningless) marks. Because of this, Mill is often regarded as someone who anticipated the theory of direct reference for names: the view that the only contribution a name makes to propositions expressed through its use is the name's referent. In this paper I argue that the association is unfair. With some gentle interpretation, Mill can be portrayed (...) as someone who is a Millian in the sense he most cares about (names are meaningless marks) but a descriptivist in so far as he takes the determinants of reference to be properties in the possession of speakers. I contend that this view is not only one that Mill comes close to holding, but, in light of the reasons that (nearly) led him to such a view, one that is worth taking seriously on its own terms. (shrink)
In his 'Why We Need A-Intensions', Frank Jackson argues that "representational content [is] how things are represented to be by a sentence in the communicative role it possesses in virtue of what it means," a type of content Jackson takes to be broadly descriptive. I think Jackson overstates his case. Even if we agree that such representational properties play a crucial reference-fixing role, it is much harder to argue the case for a crucial communicative role. I articulate my doubts about (...) Jackson's views on this point by contrasting them with the views of John Stuart Mill, usually regarded as an early believer in something like a direct reference account of content for names, but someone who, on my reading, teaches us a salutary lesson about the importance of separating the question of how reference is determined from the question of how we succeed in communicating. (shrink)
This paper presents a theory and computational model of the role of emotions in group decision making. After reviewing the role of emotions in individual decision making, it describes social and psychological mechanisms by which emotional and other information is transmitted between individuals. The processes by which these mechanisms can contribute to group consensus are modeled computationally using a program, HOTCO 3, which has been used to simulate simple cases of emotion-based group decision making.
Kant's distinction between things in themselves and things as they appear, or appearances, is commonly attacked on the ground that it delivers a radical and incoherent ‘two world’ picture of what there is. I attempt to deflect this attack by questioning these terms of dismissal. Distinctions of the kind Kant draws on are in fact legion, and they make perfectly good sense. The way to make sense of them, however, is not by buying into a profligate ontology but by using (...) some rather different tools – surprisingly enough, tools first developed in the area of aesthetics. Once this is done, much of what Kant says begins to look perfectly coherent. In the final part of the paper, I point out that none the less all is not well. Kant's Critical doctrines make it hard for us to accept Kant's own version of this otherwise coherent distinction. (shrink)
In Reference without Referents, Mark Sainsbury aims to provide an account of reference that honours the common-sense view that sentences containing empty names like "Vulcan" and "Santa Claus" are entirely intelligible, and that many such sentences -"Vulcan doesn't exist", "Many children believe that Santa Claus will give them presents at Christmas", etc.- are literally true. Sainsbury's account endorses the Davidsonian program in the theory of meaning, and combines this with a commitment to Negative Free Logic, which holds that all simple (...) sentences containing empty names are false. In this critical review, we pose a number of problems for this account. In particular, we question the ability of Negative Free Logic to make appropriate sense of the truth of familiar sentences containing empty names, including negative existential claims like "Vulcan doesn't exist". /// En Reference without Referents, Mark Sainsbury se propone ofrecer una explicación de la referencia que respete la idea de sentido común de que las oraciones con nombres vacíos como "Vulcano" y "Santa Claus" son completamente inteligibles, y que muchas de oraciones de este tipo -"Vulcano no existe", "Muchos niños creen que Santa Claus les traerá regalos en Navidad", y demás- son literalmente verdaderas. La propuesta de Sainsbury se inscribe dentro del programa davidsoniano en teoría del significado, y combina éste con un compromiso con la Lógica Libre Negativa, según la cual todas las oraciones simples que contienen nombres vacíos son falsas. En este estudio crítico, presentamos varios problemas de esta explicación. En particular, ponemos en duda la habilidad de la Lógica Libre Negativa de entender de manera apropiada la verdad de oraciones conocidas que contienen nombres vacíos, incluidas negaciones de existencia como "Vulcano no existe". (shrink)
The question of the role of theory in the determination of reference of theoretical terms continues to be a controversial one. In the present paper I assess a number of responses to this question (including variations on David Lewis’s appeal to Ramsification), before describing an alternative, epistemically oriented account of the reference-determination of such terms. The paper concludes by discussing some implications of the account for our understanding of both realism and such competitors of realism as constructive empiricism.
I'll begin this paper with an autobiographical example — an instance of a common enough kind of case involving agents who are faced with making a choice they strongly care about, but who have tendencies that incline them towards choosing an option they prefer not to choose. Later in the paper, I apply some of the general lessons learned from this case to a philosophically more familiar example of a hard-to-make choice, and to the well-known problem the example generates for (...) the idea of rational agency: Gregory Kavka's toxin puzzle.Some time ago I did a bungy jump. Nothing remarkable in that. (shrink)