sentimentalism and fit

April 24, 2007

Sentimentalism is an account about the meaning of some evaluative terms in natural language. In general, the sentimentalist about some evaluative term E proposes to analyze E in terms of the notion of fittingness of some emotion. So, for example, ‘x is shameful’ gets analyzed as ‘it is fitting to feel shame at x‘. Fittingness in turn gets analyzed in terms of the truth of the representational content of the relevant emotion. That is to say: shame at x is fitting just in case x-directed shame represents x truthfully. (And, in general, an emotion with representational content p is fitting just in case p.)

The sentimentalist analysis of ‘shameful’ avoids making a mistake that other accounts of the meaning of ‘shameful’ have made. Say that we propose to analyze ‘x is shameful’ as ‘x‘s bearer ought to / should be ashamed of x‘. This is clearly wrong. It is possible that John should be ashamed of smoking — say Osama will blow up India unless John’s ashamed of smoking — even though his smoking is isn’t itself shameful.

This is all seems pretty much correct. Still, the following sentences sound pretty odd to me.
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The Road to Ramseyan Humility

April 22, 2007

I’ve mentioned to a few of you around here that I think it is Lewis’ solution to “Putnam’s Paradox” that lands him in “Ramseyan Humility”. Here’s a sketch of why. I apologize for assuming some background familiarity with both “Putnam’s Paradox” and “Ramseyan Humility”, but I’m trying to keep things punchy.

Consider Lewis’ argument for Humility. Lewis’ assumes that T is realized by fundamental properties, which (because fundamental properties are plausibly wholly distinct from the roles they realize) allows Lewis to run the permutation argument to establish multiple possible realizations of T. But why does Lewis assume that T is realized by fundamental properties? There are actually several questions here. First, why does Lewis think that T is even prima face the sort of thing that is realized—that is, why does Lewis think that the Ramsey sentence approach to the content of T is the right one? Second, why does Lewis think that T is realized (rather than holding a non-representational interpretation of the Ramsey sentence as Sklar does)? Third, assuming that T is realized by something, why does Lewis think that T is realized by (metaphysically robust) natural properties [rather than, say, (metaphysically thin) classes]? And, finally, fourth, assuming that T is realized by natural properties, why does Lewis think that T is realized by completely natural properties, i.e., fundamental properties (rather than, say, natural “enough” properties).

Although there are four questions here, I think Lewis’ answer to the first three will be roughly the same: realism. His answer to the fourth question, however, can be found in RH where he makes a particular observation about scientific progress. Let’s take these questions in order. Read the rest of this entry »

Investing one’s will & ownership claims

April 17, 2007

I think the following claim (or some version of it) is used by several political theorists (e.g., Locke and Hegel) to justify property rights:

Investment Principle (IP): If A invests its will in some (previously unowned) thing x, A thereby has an ownership claim to x.

For example, if I carve a statue out of a previously unowned rock, I thereby have an ownership claim to that rock/statue. This seems false to me. I’ve recently argued against this principle (with the argument that follows below), but I’m not entirely satisfied with the argument and I can’t put my thumb on the source of my dissatisfaction. First, the argument:

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is an expressivist semantics for natural language viable?

April 4, 2007

(Apologies in advance for the techy nature of this post. The subject itself is pretty techy.)

Various philosophers have argued for a semantics for natural language that makes no use of the notions of truth and reference in its metalanguage—that is to say, a non-representational semantics. There are many ways in which one might attempt to develop such a semantics. One way is expressivism. While there is much that is distinctive about expressivism as an approach to the semantics of natural language, the most central idea is utterances of “complete” pieces of syntax do not assert propositions with cognitive (truth-conditional) content, but rather function to express attitudes of approval (something like full credence) or disapproval (something like zero credence) by the speaker.

There are many questions about how to formalize this central idea. One approach is to rewrite a standard truth-conditional semantics (e.g., the kind you’ll find in Heim and Kratzer’s Semantics in Generative Grammar) with “approval” standing in for “truth” and “disapproval” standing in for “false” in the metalanguage.

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