Saturday, March 31, 2007

Humanists behaving badly

Not so much postage recently (busy!), but I've got a few things in the works. Here's another link to tide us over.

I don't want to make a big deal about not (really) very much, but I did find this to be a depressing little episode. Jeremy, Julian (in comments), and Ophelia administer the tough love here, here, and here.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Awesome random quote

As you know, some blogs have all kinds of stuff in the sidebar (we're sort of minimal that way here at DR), including random quotations. I think Clark had one from Strawson that I commented on some time ago. Anyway, I just got a great one at Pharyngula:
The politics of failure has failed! And I say we must move forward, not backward! Upward, not forward! And always twirling, twirling, TWIRLING toward freedom!

Kodos, (disguised as Bob Dole), THE SIMPSONS
That episode has some great bits. ("Go ahead, throw your vote away!")

Monday, March 19, 2007


1. Slow-motion train wreck here. I find these curiously fascinating, especially when I have some sympathy for both "sides" (not to imply that any actual engagement took place ...). HT: Butterflies and Wheels (see comments there too).

2. Flash guide to "electronic music" here. More like electronic dance music, I would say; and some of the examples are oddly chosen. Fun to look at though. HT: (some other good music links there too)

3. I clicked through to that site (relatively inactive before now) from A brood comb, who credits it with this link, which has video and audio of a lecture by Hilary Putnam (not sure if it's new material though). For more, see Abc's online-philvideo page, which is pretty impressive by now.

4. Leiter Reports reports that there will be another online philosophy conference in May; some big names will be posting (video too!). So click over here ... in May. I'll remind you. If I remember.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Decisions, decisions

Carlos Reygadas is a Mexican director whose first feature film, Japón, showed him a) to be a promising young (30 at the time) talent, who b) had seen about 15 too many Robert Bresson movies (which is not easy to do, believe me). I do approve of using non-professional actors, and I did like Japón, which was very Bresson/Tarkovsky/Kiarostami-in-rural-Mexico, but it was tough sledding in spots; I think I watched the DVD in three shifts. Some prominent Arvo Pärt on the soundtrack, if that tells you anything. Nice title, by the way ("Japan," a country in which, as I have already mentioned, the film is definitely not set). Some of you would like it a lot (you know who you are). On the other hand, if you're one of those people, you've probably already seen it twice.

Anywho, I recently saw a predictably uninformative trailer for his subsequent film, Batalla en el cielo, and I thought I'd go over to imdb to check it out before tracking down the DVD. Now there was some, um, unusual material in Japón; nothing to give you nightmares or anything, but enough to make one just a little wary. imdb has a relatively new feature on their recently redesigned page, which shows five (presumably) computer-generated recommendations: if you liked this film, you may also like these others.

So what does the imdb database recommend for those who enjoyed Batalla en el cielo, you ask?

1. Caligula
2. Ken Park
3. Intimacy
4. In the Realm of the Senses
5. Visitor Q

I've seen three of these films. I had heard that Caligula was really bad, but I love Malcolm McDowell, who is perfectly cast as Caligula: Alex the Droog as Roman Emperor, always up for a bit of the old ultra-violence. So I saw it. It was really bad. Oscar trivia: in 2007, one nominee for each of the Best Actress and Best Actor awards, including one winner, appeared in this film almost thirty years previously (Helen Mirren and Peter O'Toole). How about that?

I did like Intimacy (dir. Patrice Chéreau), which has some fine acting (Mark Rylance, Kerry Fox, the always great Timothy Spall) along with the apparently unsimulated (i.e., real) explicit sex. But you see where this is going (check out the Plot Keywords for this film at the imdb link: hel-lo!).

In the Realm of the Senses is Nagisa Oshima's legendary 1976 shocker of sexual obsession. Thumbs up on this one too (but you have to like that sort of thing – by which I mean that era of Japanese avant-garde cinema, you naughty boy).

I'd never heard of Ken Park, but it turns out to be a film by Larry Clark, director of Kids and other teen-sex-exposé-cum-exploitation numbers, of which I have seen zero to date. One imdb commenter on the film says: "Before watching 'Ken park' I was warned this was the uncensored version. If there really is a censored version, may be the one in theaters, it would probably miss around an hour out of the hour and a half the movie runs." Oooo-kay.

The last film is a film by Takashi Miike. I did not dislike Audition, but after reading reviews of Ichi the Killer I decided to pass on further visits to the twisted Miike psyche. Here's what another imdb commenter says about Visitor Q: "There are some truly disturbing things in Visitor Q that few people of sound mind and body will want to sit through. Fortunately, I am not of sound mind or body." Body? Yikes. Oh, and the page also lists (under Fun Stuff) a Continuity Goof: "At the start of the film when the girl is undressing to have sex with her Dad, she takes her socks off. However when we see her again a few seconds later, she still has them on. She then removes them (again)." Even though I thereby repeat myself, I say again: yikes.

So I guess I know something about Batalla en el cielo. Just not whether or not I want to see it.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Philosophers gone wild

Philosophers' Carnival, Spring Break edition, now up at Movement of Existence. Thanks Bryan!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Ooh, me too!

The Scienceblogs crew is discussing important matters for once (e.g., here, here, here, here), and I commented at Pharyngula, but I find I have more to say. It concerns someone's list (no Scienceblogger, but someone else, here; click the link for an amusing editorial comment on one writer) of

The Most Significant SF & Fantasy Books of the Last 50 Years, 1953-2002

Note the dates, which I shall ignore in my comments below. Like everyone else, I shall embolden the titles of those I have read.

The Lord of the Rings, J.R.R. Tolkien

Only read this three or four times (not like some people). That may hold me, in fact.

The Foundation Trilogy, Isaac Asimov

I loved this as a teen. I grant his stylistic deficiencies though.

Dune, Frank Herbert

Some find this overrated, which I certainly do not. But there's no reason to read past the first one. (Although if you do, #5 (Heretics of Dune) is kind of fun.)

Stranger in a Strange Land, Robert A. Heinlein

Not what I expected when I finally read it. I can see why hippies liked it.

A Wizard of Earthsea, Ursula K. Le Guin

I assume they mean the series. This is well worth reading as a good example of the wizards & dragons (as opposed to sword & sorcery, which is a bit different) school of fantasy. And unlike some, I have no problem with putting fantasy in with SF. The first three books are the best, but I liked the fourth one too (Tehanu, written much later). I think there are one or two others. As I expected, she went ballistic when the miniseries had Ged as a blond-haired blue-eyed white guy.

Neuromancer, William Gibson

Again unlike some, I think cyberpunk at its best was a breath of fresh air. In any case this is certainly a "significant" book (I like the second one (Count Zero) best though).

Childhood's End, Arthur C. Clarke

I do think Clarke is a bit overrated, but this is a fine effort.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, Philip K. Dick

Interesting disagreements on this one too. Like most people, I prefer the film on the one hand, and other Dick on the other (Three Stigmata, A Scanner Darkly, Ubik)

The Mists of Avalon, Marion Zimmer Bradley

Good idea – King Arthur from the Celtic angle – but toooo looong.

Fahrenheit 451, Ray Bradbury

When I think of Bradbury I always think of that Simpsons episode in which übergeek Martin Prince is running for class president, and makes a campaign pledge that he will establish a science fiction library featuring "the ABC's of the genre: Asimov, Bester, and Arthur C. Clarke!" To the question "What about Ray Bradbury?" his dismissive reply is "I'm aware of his work." I like Bradbury myself, but my favorite by far is The Martian Chronicles, which is a thing of beauty. This is okay though.

The Book of the New Sun, Gene Wolfe

As I mentioned at Pharyngula, I hated this, and I can't believe I went on to read all four, especially after suffering through the godawful third one. (Bit of a rebound in the finale though, as I recall.) It really is insufferable (look at me, my main character's a torturer!). Forget this and try Robin Hobb's Assassin trilogy.

A Canticle for Leibowitz, Walter M. Miller, Jr.

I liked this, but it's been a while and I don't remember it that well.

The Caves of Steel, Isaac Asimov

Another teen fave, and all respect for our progenitors, but I think Foundation is all we really need.

Children of the Atom, Wilmar Shiras
Cities in Flight, James Blish
The Colour of Magic, Terry Pratchett
Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison

Not sure I read all of these stories. I do approve of the edgy turn SF took around that time, but sometimes a little goes a long way.

Deathbird Stories, Harlan Ellison
The Demolished Man, Alfred Bester
Dhalgren, Samuel R. Delany

I did read Stars in My Pocket Like Grains of Sand, which was okay, but I think I'll skip this one, which sounds like more of the same and then some.

Dragonflight, Anne McCaffrey
Ender's Game, Orson Scott Card

I did like this, but I have no intention of reading any of his other books. I bet the original short story is much better; this seems padded, and it's that stuff that I hear predominates in the later books. It's true of Delany and it's true here: Nobody wants to hear your stupid politics, big guy.

The First Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the Unbeliever, Stephen R. Donaldson
The Forever War, Joe Haldeman
Gateway, Frederik Pohl

Interesting premise; lame payoff. Worth reading though.

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, J.K. Rowling

I guess this one is the most "significant" in that it was a surprise smash hit, but I think each successive one is slightly better than the preceding one (haven't read Half-blood Prince yet).

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams

Best as the original radio series; on the page the timing is off. But yes, essential. Like other series, though, it tails off in quality after three.

I Am Legend, Richard Matheson
Interview with the Vampire, Anne Rice
The Left Hand of Darkness, Ursula K. Le Guin

This is perhaps a tad overrated, but I admire the ambition.

Little, Big, John Crowley

I'll get to this one, really I will. I have a copy and everything. Right there on the shelf. (*sigh*)

Lord of Light, Roger Zelazny

Only Zelazny I've read. Very nice.

The Man in the High Castle, Philip K. Dick

Again, not my favorite, but respectable (his Hugo winner, I believe).

Mission of Gravity, Hal Clement
More Than Human, Theodore Sturgeon
The Rediscovery of Man, Cordwainer Smith
On the Beach, Nevil Shute
Rendezvous with Rama, Arthur C. Clarke

Now this is overrated. Where's the punch line, after all that? And there are sequels too (glug).

Ringworld, Larry Niven

Not believable, but entertaining.

Rogue Moon, Algis Budrys
The Silmarillion, J.R.R. Tolkien

I own it, but I just can't see reading it.

Slaughterhouse-5, Kurt Vonnegut

I went through a Vonnegut phase once. This is a good one, as is the movie, but Cat's Cradle is my favorite. The Sirens of Titan is also great.

Snow Crash, Neal Stephenson

Another polarizing figure. My own view is a common one: good stuff, but learn how to write an ending! I like Diamond Age too (same caveat), but I have spurned the subsequent doorstops.

Stand on Zanzibar, John Brunner

Another ambitious tome, which (although a bit dated by now) I liked a lot. Check out his eco-dystopia The Sheep Look Up.

The Stars My Destination, Alfred Bester
Starship Troopers, Robert A. Heinlein
Stormbringer, Michael Moorcock

Haven't read this one, but Behold the Man was a kick in the head. Remember all the fuss about The Last Temptation of Christ? If Pat Robertson read Behold the Man his head would explode.

The Sword of Shannara, Terry Brooks

Never read it, and after all the abuse I've seen piled on it, I never will.

Timescape, Gregory Benford

Okay. He's a physicist, and the premise is interesting, but I don't remember it that well.

To Your Scattered Bodies Go, Philip Jose Farmer

This is Riverworld vol. 1, I think. One was enough for me.

So that's 28 out of 50: respectably geeky, although not geektastic. I think we've seen that result around here before. Of the ones I haven't read I think I'll try Bester next – people seemed to like him a lot (even if one of them was Martin Prince).

Of course everyone had favorites that were missing. At Pharygula I mentioned off the top of my head:

Patricia McKillip. I don't understand why she isn't better known. Maybe it's the covers of her books, which no guy would dare carry around with him lest he be beaten up. But she totally rocks. Riddle-Master is the early epic every fantasy writer has in them (and I loved it), but I actually prefer The Book of Atrix Wolfe and the more recent Alphabet of Thorn. Lyrical and haunting.

Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Jane Austen (or some Victorian, say Dickens) writes fairy stories. Slow start, but gets better and better. Definitely groundbreaking. Not at all like McKillip, but the same point applies: people look down on "fairy tales," but when they're good they're %$#&in' creepy. I want to read it again.

Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep. Just read this one after multiple recommendations (e.g. the last time we did this). Galactic-scale SF, great concept, cool aliens.

David Brin, Startide Rising. Like the previous entry: uppity humans vs. ancient galactic powers. Great aliens (must learn dolphin trinary someday). This is book two of a trilogy, of which I liked the other two less (you can skip the first one, as the plots are not that closely related; whatever you need to know is filled in for you; similarly, the plot gets tied up nicely at the end, so you can skip #3 as well, though I did like parts of that one too).

More (upon reflection):

Stanislaw Lem. At one point I had read everything available in English. More literary than most; typical 20th-C. Eastern Europe sensibility, written in a wide range of styles. My favorites: The Chain of Chance, His Master's Voice, Fiasco, Solaris (and yes, I liked both movie versions), Imaginary Magnitude, A Perfect Vacuum (the last two are rather experimental ...).

Kim Stanley Robinson, The Mars Trilogy. Maybe I was a sucker for this, liking The Martian Chronicles like I do, but (with that book) this is the definitive story of Mars colonization. I also liked The Years of Rice and Salt (alternative history w/reincarnation).

Robert Charles Wilson, Spin. A recent favorite. Very nice hard SF with a galactic time-scale, although not an epic (yes, such a thing is possible). His heroes do tend to be dour, damaged souls, but I did also like Blind Lake and The Chronoliths. Ooh, I see he has a sequel (Axis) scheduled for July release. Maybe we'll find out [redacted].

Robert Morgan, Altered Carbon. Another recent fave, very entertaining if not deep. Tightly plotted cyber-noir, where the two genres really do mesh nicely. Violent though.

I was surprised to see no Robert Silverberg, who was a big name at one time. Not a genius, I suppose, but deserves mention. I liked Dying Inside.

China Mieville is a new name I hear a lot. I haven't read any of his big books, but I did like Looking for Jake, his collection of stories.

Kelly Link! Yes, this promising new writer gets an exclamation point. No novels yet, but two collections of bizarrely compelling stories.

Also, I'm sure I read something by Kate Wilhelm that was really great, but I can't remember the title. It was the one where ... (okay, never mind).

Not really appropriate for the list, but relevant while we're on the subject: I also enjoy the more out-there material by (*cough*) "literary" writers. Lem is often compared to these guys, but for some reason only he counts as a real SF writer. I refer to Borges, Italo Calvino, Haruki Murakami (my first one was A Wild Sheep Chase, which is great), even (stretching the point a bit) Pynchon, Hesse, Kafka, and this guy no-one else seems to have heard of, Robert Pinget (try Someone). I also hear good things about the latest Kazuo Ishiguro (Never Let Me Go).

Okay, I'm sure I've forgotten some wonderful things, but forgetting wonderful things is what life is all about.

Thursday, March 08, 2007

More of the same (no intuitionism this time!)

First my standard disclaimer: this started out as a reply to Aidan's reply, in comments, to my last post (for which I thank him). But again, my rule is that anything of this length goes out front. I'll start out in the third person, but subsequent occurrences of "you" may refer to Aidan, in his post or reply.

In his comment, Aidan quotes Scanlon as finding the trivial answer unsatisfying because "it simply takes the reason-giving force of moral considerations for granted." This seems to me to conflate two different things. Consider the ambiguity of "simply" here (just as an example, to see what I'm getting at). I agree that the trivial answer does this, and that it is unsatisfactory. But its unsatisfactory nature is not due (simply!) to its doing this at all, but instead that that is all that it does – it "simply" points to it. This is trivial; we wanted more.

Reading "simply" the other way, it says that it does this (i.e., takes the r-g f. of m. c. for granted) undeniably: it does indeed do it; it simply does; there's no way around it. It does indeed do this undeniably. But that, as I've said, is not what's wrong with it. A better answer will do that too. It is not that it does it at all which renders it trivial, but the unhelpful way in which it does it. There's no explanation there, just affirmation (however correct).

So it's not that "merely asking 'why does an action's wrongness give me reason not to perform it?' shows some kind of scary conceptual deficiency." That may indeed be what one finds puzzling, and it is not at this point, nor to the very idea of moral philosophy, that I object. My problem is with the implied requirements on acceptable answers. As you say, questions of the form "why is this a reason for that?" need not imply skepticism about whether this is indeed a reason for that. But that's my line. For certain requirements on the form of acceptable answers seem to me to amount in practice to skepticism. One is required to act, in generating and evaluating such answers, as if one did not (yet) believe the conclusion – as if one were a moral ignoramus. That's what makes it seem as if there is a "scary conceptual deficiency" – not that one asks the question at all. Puzzlement does indicate "conceptual deficiency" of a more everyday kind, not necessarily scary, and we treat it with a better account of how the concepts in question function – even if this does entail telling you what you already know, albeit now in a more perspicuous form which makes (the proper use of) the relevant concepts clear.

So the disagreement, it seems to me, concerns the purpose and nature of philosophical explanation. If you demand an "explanation" for something (here, the reason-giving force of moral wrongness), and you also specify that it not appeal to the truth of that which is being explained (whether or not you claim to believe it already), then this "explanation" can only take the form of an argument from the one (thus narrowly construed) to the other. This is effectively a skeptical requirement. This is why it looks like there's a dilemma: the non-trivial horn consists of such arguments, the unacceptability of which is that in scrupulously refraining from taking the conclusion for granted (in order to meet the requirement), these arguments, however effective they may be in showing that the conclusion holds, fail to explain. We are still in the dark about what puzzles us. That much is true: neither horn of the dilemma is acceptable.

I originally put this by saying I didn't think the dilemma bit: there are other, better, explanations which, in spurning that questionable requirement, are impaled on neither horn. But I could say instead that I do think the dilemma bites those committed to the questionable (I'd probably say "Cartesian," but that's my universal term of abuse) conception of philosophical explanation, but I'm not one of those people. It is indeed a puzzle how an acceptable explanation of that form could be enlightening. Compare the skeptical paradox: it does bite those with Cartesian conceptions of knowledge – an important fact, which should indeed be rubbed into the relevant complacent faces – but the rest of us (however few we may be) may shrug it off. (On the other hand, it's not "Prichard's paradox" but his "dilemma.")

Another way to see my worry is to compare it to McDowell's rejection (e.g. in "In Defense of Modesty") of Dummett's analogous demand in the theory of meaning, i.e., that we explain the phenomenon of meaning without appealing to it at all, taking up, as McDowell puts it (either there or in "Anti-realism and the epistemology of understanding"), the perspective of a "cosmic exile." For McDowell and me, "modest" explanations (from a "participant perspective," although I'm not sure McDowell uses this term) are perfectly good, and "explanations" to cosmic exiles inconceivable. I think this is Anscombe's Aristotelian point too ("Modern Moral Philosophy").

As for your second point. (Boy, careful explanation takes time, doesn't it?) My point is that speaking of "p" allows elision of a key distinction: between propositions I believe and those I don't. Any specific example falls into one but not the other of these, and in such cases I will know which. If I have no idea whether it is true (Andromeda example), I fail to see how its bare obtaining can constitute a reason to believe it. Any reason to believe something must itself be something I am aware of. Or at least that's the "internalist" way to put it. "Externalists" would complain not of my failure to be aware of it, but of the lack of any reliable process that caused the belief. After all, I don't believe it. You were the one referring (ie in the example) to its truth: so why do you believe it? Again, "because it's true" does nothing here (just as you naturally must have demanded more than that when you came to believe it yourself, as you claim to, in the example, by referring to its "truth"). Reasons for believing p, internal or external, concern not p (by) itself but our cognitive access to it.

Now (as with the other case) this is not to say that you may not appeal to the truth of p in giving your extended explanation of how we can know this (the reasons, in either sense, for our belief). But this is (typically) in cases in which I do (already) believe the truth of p. And here again, "because it's true" does nothing by itself.

We have reason to believe that electrons are running through the wire not simply because electrons are indeed running through the wire, although they are, but also because this caused the ammeter to spike, and ammeters are built in such-and-such a way, and every alternative explanation for why such things act that way in such circumstances has been ruled out (for such and such reasons), etc. (After all, this is why I believe it.) You may appeal to the existence of electrons; but you don't have to – you can tell the story however you like. Here a scrupulously non-question-begging argument for the truth of p would be fine as well – it would, if it worked, constitute a reason to believe p. But so might a "question-begging argument," even if it (thereby) fell short of convincing us of the truth of p, as even in such cases I might still see what you were getting at, enough to see it as a (non-conclusive) reason for belief.

In either case the bare truth of p constitutes no reason to believe it (so "because it's true" is false, not trivial). There are plenty of truths we have no reason to believe; we just can't pick any of them out, because if we could that would mean we knew they were true – and thus had reason to believe them. (Again, speaking of "p", while perfectly understandable, makes this harder to see.)

I am no blind acolyte of McDowell, but here again let me compare our views to remove a potential confusion. McDowell is famous for insisting, contra Davidson and Rorty, that our relations to the world are normative, not "merely causal," and that we do indeed aim, in inquiry, to "get the world right." (It is strange that he should have to do this as, as McDowell himself points out, it was the whole point of Davidson's action theory that "reasons can be causes.") So in this sense the "world itself" (not the Cartesian objective world/Kantian noumenon, but the world qua object of our beliefs, as opposed to our beliefs themselves) can constitute a "reason" for belief. This may seem to contradict what I said above. But this only means, I take it, that, as I said, we may refer to the fact that p in explaining not only how we come to know that p but even why we should believe that p. (It is Cartesians who rule such things out; I think this is the source of the externalist animus toward "evidentialism," but I'm not sure, as externalism itself seems Cartesian as well, albeit in other ways.)

Gee whiz, that didn't take long

Gotta put the spam filter back up! Unless y'all really want to hear about how to get credit reports. Off to delete them now...

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Intuitionistic logic makes my head hurt

At the boundaries of language, Aidan has a post about (Duncan) "Pritchard's Dilemma," which was a new one on me. Aidan relates Scanlon's version thus:
Scanlon presents the original version as a dilemma facing any account of what makes an action wrong. We want to know why the fact (assuming for now that it is one) that an act is wrong gives us reason not to do it. The worry is that we'll either end up giving an uninformative answer like 'Because it's wrong!', or we'll end up citing some feature of the act which supposedly substantively explains why we have reason not to perform it which intuitively has no connection to its wrongness (that performing the act would lead to social ostracism, for example); as Scanlon notes, it is not such features of the act which we'd expect 'a moral person first and foremost to be moved by'.
But Aidan is concerned not with this version, but with the "theoretical analogue," where the analogous question is: "why does the fact that p is false give us reason not to believe that p?" Aidan is "inclined to think Prichard's dilemma bites in both cases," and airs some ideas for us about how to argue for this conclusion. I would have commented over there, but as I think I have mentioned before, I am reluctant to drop voluminous comments on other people's property (I've done it before and it looks funny). So let me do it here where I can stretch out. (Back to Wittgenstein some other day.)

Since I reject some of the premises in Aidan's discussion, I get more confused as the post continues, so I can't address it all; but there's plenty to talk about.

1. The two cases of the dilemma seem quite different. Let me address the moral case first.

Let's say you pose me this dilemma (i.e. ask me this question). If you really don't believe that the moral wrongness of an act gives us reason (conclusive or not) not to do it, you don't understand what I mean by these things. Your question ["why the fact that an act is wrong gives us reason not to do it"] concerns the conceptual relation between moral wrongness and rationality.

So if I reply "because it's wrong!", this is indeed "uninformative" in one sense; but that makes it not a failed argument, but instead a rejection of the need for same (and an annoyed refusal to supply the requested explanation). It has the sense of "what part of 'it's wrong' (or 'there's a reason') don't you understand?" Rather than an answer, it's a demand for a better question.

But let's say I do explain. My explanation will concern both concepts (relating them to other concepts still, like agency, belief, truth, normativity, and, I don't know, human being), and is not an argument taking us from one settled location (in conceptual space) to the other. After all, if the one doesn't entail the other, I don't know what you're talking about when you say "moral" (or, again, "reason"); so I'm hardly going to accept your challenge. It'd be like agreeing to build a bridge between the two peaks of Kilimanjaro.

Note that this is not just a semantic claim of analyticity; after all, we may speak as we like, and you might very well come back with: "so morality entails reasons for/against action; if so, why believe there is any such thing?" Instead, it's that if you don't show at least a minimal level of moral understanding, I'm not sure what sort of person I'm talking to, and I might start edging out of the room (or at least keeping an eye on the spoons when you're over for dinner). Theoretical analysis is supposed to explain this phenomenon, not defend it (yet it does, I believe, remain corrigible; but if so, it is you who must explain, not me). I think Anscombe has something about this. You may simply be, as she puts it, "wicked." If so, it's hardly something I can expect to be able to argue you out of, although I suppose it does happen.

So yes, an instrumental "explanation" of my reason not to do something would hardly capture the moral aspects of the act. But that doesn't mean I've got nothing to say except trivialities (although if you continue to play dumb I may run out of things to say to you). The dilemma seems to have no bite here. (Exercise for the reader: contrast Euthyphro and divine command conceptions of morality)

2. How about the "theoretical analogue" of this dilemma? Our question here, again, is "why does the fact that p is false give us reason not to believe that p?" and whether "because p is false!" is too trivial, in the way that "because it's wrong!" is claimed to be in the moral case. This strikes me as a quite different matter.

In the moral case, the reason I come out with "because it's wrong!" is that it's so obvious that an act's moral wrongness supplies a reason for refraining from performing it that I can't even accept the question (i.e., the demand for an inference from one to the other). If I do, I say something unsatisfactory (the second horn of the dilemma); so I deflect the question (not answer it) with my triviality. (Again, this means the "dilemma" is not a dilemma: a third option is available = starting over with a long explanation of the relevant conceptual relations, this time in a larger context, as above. Or simply breaking off the conversation as hopeless.)

But in this second case the answer to our question is simply: it doesn't. Perhaps surprisingly, this is true on either an internalist/evidentialist or externalist/reliabilist account of justification. Internalist first (more obvious). Something's being true (false) hardly constitutes evidence for its truth (falsity). The Andromeda galaxy either contains intelligent life or it does not. We have no evidence either way; yet one or the other is true. Once we see this, externalism gives the same result. No reliable process has produced a belief either that p or that not-p (in me anyway; I'm in doubt on the matter). So no external reason either. (I don't get (epistemological) externalism though; maybe Clayton can help us out here.)

Why did we ever think otherwise? Well, let's take another look at the question. When you refer to "the fact that p is false," you pose a conversational dilemma. I can say "wait, how did we know that p is false? Maybe it's true." Given that you haven't said what p is, this would be a weird thing to say. What's going to convince me that "p" is true? I can hardly dispute it; nor can you give me evidence for it. Clearly your implied answer is "ex hypothesi, dummy."

So instead I let it go – I accept the implicit stipulation that p is false (i.e., that that p is false is a fact) – so that our conversation may continue and you may make your point. But now it looks weird to disclaim any reason to believe this "fact," or the relevance (to our belief) of its truth. I've just accepted it as true, without any argument, without even asking what it was. How can I then turn around and claim not to have any reason to believe it, since that it's a "fact" is all you told me? It is not making of the sense, to do this.

That's why it looks like "because p is false!" is trivially true, when in fact it's false (i.e, that p's falsity provides a reason for disbelieving p). It looks like the best reason there could possibly be, when it's no reason at all.

Here's where my head begins to throb (see title of post). For it seems to me that, given this, the difference between realism and (Dummetian) anti-realism, which Aidan goes on to discuss, doesn't seem to come up. The problem with getting from p's truth-value to my having a reason to believe it is that I don't have any idea what that truth value is until you tell me. As the Andromeda example shows, it could be true or false with no evidence either way. But now the (Dummetian) anti-realist objects: with no evidence either way, the statement has no truth-value (or: its truth-value is "indeterminate," neither true nor false). The Andromeda example is out.

But this doesn't help. Again, it's not that I have no evidence that p is false (or true); it's that I have no evidence about p's truth value at all, including what evidence there is for it. The anti-realist move simply pushes the problem back. The Andromeda example may not work, but a different example will – one, say, where I have no idea what would count as evidence one way or another. For any specific claim, of course, the Dummettian may object that this can't be a proposition that I understand. True enough; but that's hardly relevant, given that all I have been given is "p". Unless my interlocutor is messing with me, he understands it (i.e., he picked an intelligible example), and that means I have no reason to doubt that there is evidence for (the existence of evidence for or against or for the indeterminate nature of) "p". Again, to demand same here would be (as I believe they are putting it these days) teh weird.

Nor does is anti-realism relevant if we accept ex hypothesi, as before, that p is false. For the anti-realist, it follows that there is a proof (or conclusive evidence; Aidan uses a mathematical example, so let's talk about proof) from our axioms to not-p. Now that I have a proof, do I have a reason to believe that p is false?

Not in the relevant sense I don't, as the earlier reasoning still applies. I have no idea what this proof is (how could I – I don't even know what p is.) I'm in the same relation to (the existence of) this proof as I was earlier to p's truth-value: I can either demand to see it (weirdly) or I can accept your implicit claim that there is one (i.e., in declaring it false on an anti-realist construal) and (again weirdly) deny the relevance of that fact to the question of whether or not I should believe p, given the existence of said proof. This makes triviality (now of the form "because p is false, and so there is a proof that p is false!") the only apparent option.

Aidan actually says "If one asks why some set-theoretical statement s being false gives one reason not to believe that s, can we do better than to simply point out that s is false? Surely we can; usually we will be able to prove that ~s follows from some mutually shared set of axioms." So here we know what s is and have proved its negation. Now I do know what to believe. If so, then that's my reason for believing s is false: we proved its negation. But what about s's falsity? Did s's falsity provide (not a proximal, but maybe an ultimate) reason for my belief? Well, I didn't use it as a premise, obviously; so, no. If a, b, c entail not-s then not-s provides inductive evidence for a, b, c; but ex hypothesi again, I don't have independent access to not-s, so that doesn't help not-s provide ultimate reason for believing it.

Aidan asks: "Is it the case [...] that that fact that a statement's negation is provable is only a reason to believe it derivatively because of that close connection to truth?" My answer: if I know that the statement's negation is provable, then it's either a) that proof itself, or b) whatever other evidence I have for the existence of same (e.g., you told me), that provides my reason to believe its conclusion – not that conclusion itself. If I don't know this, I may have no reason to believe anything at all about it, whether it happens to be true or not. And again, it seems not to affect matters if we move from s's falsity to the provability of not-s.

And even in intuitionistic logic, if not-s is true, then s is false (right? right??), so I don't see how that's relevant. But by this point in the post I'm as confused as Aidan himself claims to be.

I may yet see spots before my eyes

Up to now I have resisted putting up any sort of visit counter here. I don't want to be self-conscious if there are a lot of visitors, nor (more likely) be disappointed if there aren't. But those ClustrMap things are really cool. So I got one (it's really easy, as shown by the fact that, well, even I can do it). Now let's see some red dots!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Yes, that's a Q

I was looking at Shawn's posts on Wittgenstein at Words and Other Things (see previous post), and I ran across this one, which is short enough to reproduce here in its entirety:
I wonder what Wittgenstein would think about Calvin ball. Calvin ball is a game invented by Calvin of the Calvin and Hobbes comic. The only rule to Calvin ball is that there are no rules. What counts as a move in the game? Pretty much anything. But, is this a problem? If anything counts as a move, does nothing count? I'm inclined to say no. There are not conflicting rules or conflicting interpretations being appealed to. There aren't distinguishing rules being appealed to either. Wittgenstein would probably think that there is too little structure to the "game" for it to count as a game.
This gets Calvinball slightly but importantly wrong. It's not that there are no rules; it's that they make them up as they go along (and that they never play it the same way twice). But once a rule is made up, it's a rule (at least for now). When Calvin touches (what Hobbes, making the rule up on the spot, then reveals to be) the Pernicious Poem Place, Calvin still takes himself to be bound by the newly invented rule to recite, to his chagrin:
This is a poem! Please do as you're told!
And this is a bucket of water, ice-cold!
Please take this water, and dump it on me!
Don't hesitate! Do it A.S.A.P.!
After Susie complies, Calvin subsequently indicates, damply, that he takes Hobbes to be bound by this rule as well ("just you wait").

And anyway, even if there "were no rules," that doesn't mean it's not a game, even for Wittgenstein (and his point here, of which more later). They're still playing, after all; and they do distinguish playing from non-playing (games begin and end). They keep score, too (one game is Q to 7 at one point, I believe).

Friday, March 02, 2007

Too rich for my blood

My previous post (eventually) ended up talking about the review at Amazon's page of a particular book. It might interest you to know that at that page, one used copy of The Sokal Hoax lists for $399.98. The same seller has another listing for the same book, this one for a mere $99.98. Both (perhaps the same copy?) are described as Used – Good (so if it were Excellent, that would presumably cost more, yes?). The natural question (which someone has surely addressed somewhere) is of course: why would anyone bother trying to sell this book for four hundred dollars? The book is in print, and Amazon is selling it new for $15.60 ($4.40 off the $20 list price) plus shipping (FREE Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25). So why bother asking, um, $384.38 more (plus $3.49 shipping, no less)? After all, if you clicked on the button that says "25 used & new from $5.58," it was because you didn't want to pay $15.60 for a new one. Even $99.98 seems a bit much for a twenty-dollar book. Maybe Sokal signed it in his own blood (eww).

That's not the highest price I've ever seen for a book, either. I saw one on Bookfinder for over $1000 (that one might actually have been out of print though). But even in normal cases – books in print with $20-$40 list prices – there are always used copies selling for much more, with no explanation. What, I demand in colloquial English, is up with that?

By the way, due to its long shaggy-dog excursus into Tractarian territory, my post has garnered comment from the proprietors of two Wittgenstein-oriented blogs which are new to me (and if anyone knows any more, then let that person speak forth), and which I have added to the blogroll: Methods of Projection and Tractatus Blogico-Philosophicus (heh). If (but not only if) you are looking for more heavily LW-saturated blogging than there is here (despite the name, I am just as much influenced by Davidson and McDowell as by LW), check 'em out! While you're at it check out The Space of Reasons, a new blog dedicated to McDowell's epistemology (about which I might eventually have something to say as well ...).

[Update (3/5): another blog new to me has linked up as well - Words and Other Things]