David Lewis + Kit Fine = Weirdness

May 24, 2011

David Lewis thinks that properties are just sets of possible individuals. SEP: “Lewis argues that for any set of actual and possible objects (fundamental or not), there is a property, namely the property an object has just in case it is a member of the given set.”

Kit Fine thinks that essence is an asymmetrical relationship. Specifically, it is an asymmetrical relationship between a set and its constituent(s). Although Socrates is essential to the singleton set {Socrates}, the set is not essential to Socrates. “It is no part of the essence of Socrates to belong to the singleton.” (“Essence and Modality“)

Suppose you accept both. Then no individual has any property essentially. After all, a property is a set, and it is not part of the essence of any individual to belong to any set. Moreover, every property has its bearers essentially. After all, constituents of a set are essential to that set. On the face of it, that is pretty weird.

Ways to get out: (1) Most obviously, don’t put Lewis and Fine together. (2) Clarify what Fine says, so that the essence relationships hold for some sets but not others. (3) Clarify what Lewis says, so properties aren’t just sets, but in some sense correspond to them. Both (2) and (3) look ad hoc to me, so perhaps the weirdness can count as an incompatibility result between Lewis and Fine?

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Too Many Dans or Just One?

May 6, 2011

Though it wasn’t quite the University of Woolloomooloo, in July 2010 at the Australian National University, I, Dan Singer, was honored to join the company of Dan Greco, Dan Korman, Dan Marshall, Dan(iel) Nolan, and Dan Stoljar.

Courtesy of Thomas Whitney

There sure were a lot of people with the same name … or so you might think …

  1. Dan Singer and Dan Nolan have the same name.
  2. Names are rigid resignators, a la Kripke (1970/80).
  3. So, Dan Singer’s name and Dan Nolan’s name pick out the same thing in all possible worlds.
  4. So, Dan Singer’s name actually picks out the same thing that Dan Nolan’s name picks out.
  5. So, Dan Singer is Dan Nolan.
Either 4 is wrong or I know a lot more about metaphysics than I thought I did.  It seems pretty obvious to me that there is an equivocation on “name” between 1 and the rest of the premises.  The issue is that I can’t figure out a sense of “name” that makes sense of 1.  Here’s why: The natural move is to say that the names of 1 are individuated by their syntactic properties (i.e. the letters and the sounds associated with them).  Then admit two senses of “name”.  But if this is right, we’d expect the analogous move to apply to words in general, i.e. that there’d be the two analogous senses of “word”.  But I’m inclined to deny that there is any sense of “word” such that financial institutions and sides of rivers can be picked out by the same word.  Am I just being stubborn on this point?  Are there other viable solutions here?

Experimental Metasurvey

May 4, 2011

[cross-posted at: http://experimentalphilosophy.typepad.com/experimental_philosophy/2011/05/experimental-philosophy-metasurvey-results.html. This is a summary of the results of a meta-survey about experimental philosophy conducted by myself (Billy Dunaway), Anna Edmonds and David Manley.]

Some current experimental philosophy is devoted to conducting surveys among non-philosophers to gather information about their dispositions to apply philosophically relevant concepts. And those who report the results of these surveys sometimes make claims about how surprising these results are to philosophers. (Here is a representative quote: “[W]e think that a critical method for figuring out how human beings think is to go out and actually run systematic empirical studies… Again and again, these investigations have challenged familiar assumptions, showing that people do not actually think about these issues in anything like the way philosophers had assumed.” (Nichols and Knobe, “An Experimental Philosophy Manifesto” in Experimental Philosophy, ed. Knobe and Nichols, p. 3)) But whether an empirical result is surprising to a group of people is itself an empirical question, and so we designed a survey of our own to test this.

Our hypothesis was that that philosophers would, for the most part, correctly guess what kind of response non-philosophers would give. This was confirmed by our study. We selected several published surveys of folk subjects, each of which had been claimed in the literature to have surprising results. The surveys we chose cover a variety of philosophical topics: causation, intentionality, and moral responsibility. We asked philosophers to suppose that ordinary, non-philosophical folk are presented with the relevant cases, and to say how they thought the folk would respond. (Subjects were firmly instructed to opt out of a given question if they had prior familiarity with experimental research that might bias their answer.) For each question, at least 77% (and up to 95.8%) of philosophers correctly predicted how the non-philosophers would respond.

A brief overview of the questions from the experimental philosophy literature we asked about and the results from our study are printed below. For a more detailed presentation of the questions we asked (which include verbaitim descriptions of the vignettes from the original studies conducted by experimental philosophers) and the results, go here:

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