Normative Because False!?#

September 18, 2009

In what is meant to be  “a contribution of major importance to a unified theory of probability and utility” Jeffrey (The Logic of Decision) says about Bayesian decision theory that

Indeed, it is because logic and decision theory are woefully inadequate as descriptions that they are of interest as norms. (p.167)

Now,  here’s a worry I presented yesterday in the seminar and that I’d like to present again, so that other people may consider it and that the ones that heard it can see why it’s worrisome. There are, at least, two questions the claim above prompts:

1) If theory T is woefully inadequate as a description of phenomena F, and yet it is meant to be a normative theory of F, couldn’t it be that it makes absurd demands about F?

2) If it is in virtue of theory T’s woeful descriptive inadequacy towards F that T is an interesting normative theory of F, wouldn’t it be the case that false descriptive theories turn out to be interesting normative theories?

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Quick question

February 5, 2009

While reading an influential text on direct reference, I found the following claim:

In the framework I have just sketched, a proper name is a word which must be used in a certain way, even though it may happen to be used in other ways.

I don’t know how to interpret this in a non-inconsistent, or non-contradictory, way.  I wonder, more specifically, how the quoted text differs from the following:

According to the rules we have just stipulated, you must come home every night at 8, even though you may come at other times.

Any proposals?

Against Structured Propositions

March 7, 2008

Here’s a view about propositions:

A proposition P is a set of ordered pairs <A,G> where the first object is an individual and the second a property. These propositions are generally expressed by declarative statements such as my utterance of the sentence `Alvin is Green’. Call this `Structured Propositions’.

Here’s an argument against this view of propositions.

P1) If propositions are structured then one must either: a) become Meinongian, or b) accept gappy propositions.
P2) According to Russell, Meinongianism entails contradictions, so it’s unacceptable.
P3) Gappy propositions cannot explain informative speech acts where true negative existential are asserted. Such speech acts cannot express gappy propositions. So, gappy propositions are unacceptable.
P4) From P2 and P3, it follows that we should neither be Meinongian nor gappy proposition theorists.
C) Propositions are not structured. Read the rest of this entry »

Religion and Problems of Scope

November 5, 2007

Certain theistic stories seem to have some problems of scope. Melville, in his “Moby Dick” (ch.10) presents one of them.

“What is worship? –to do the will of God- that is worship. And what is the will of God? –to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me – that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator.”

Some theistic stories seem to have this problematic principle, also known as “The Golden Rule”, according to which one should do onto others what one wants them to do upon oneself. The sheer existence of different, incompatible, theistic stories, adds another problematic element: not everyone, even among theists, share the same story. But that is not all, there’s a third problematic element: theistic stories tend to be universal in scope. They intend to be true of everything everywhere.

These three elements, golden rule, incompatible theistic stories, and universality, get theists into trouble. The latter makes it so that no other, incompatible, story can be true. This, in turn, makes it desirable (when not necessary) to evangelize the mislead believers without, of course, misleading yourself. This evangelical obligation, however, conflicts with the golden rule. It seems as if it is inherent to the evangelical purposes that believers are not created equal: some are correct and some are mistaken. How can we fix these theistic stories?

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The Argument from Error

September 6, 2007

(surely this has already been thought by someone else, if so, excuse it)

In the Meditations Descartes says “if it were repugnant to the goodness of Deity to have created me subject to constant deception, it would seem likewise to be contrary to his goodness to allow me to be occasionally deceived; and yet it is clear that this is permitted.”

This made me think of an epistemological version of the problem of evil. I will present the argument, say some things abut it, and then wait for you to tell me whether you find it ridiculous or not. The argument goes like this.

P1 If (summing up) there is a three-O God then it cannot be that humans are constantly deceived.
P2 Humans are constantly deceived (by their senses, reasoning, intuitions, etc.)
C There is no three-O God.

If I remember properly, the usual reply to the “Problem of Evil” argument is that of Free Will. It is obvious that the same argument will not work here. The Free Will argument requires the possibility (or actual instances) of Evil, but not of error (or deception). One might be omniscient and still be free to take the dark side. So there is at least something attractive about the “Problem of Error” argument.

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Necessarily coextensive, yet distinct?

May 26, 2007

So here’s an Aristotelian puzzle that I do not know how to sort out. It has apparently been reinstated, or a version of it, by Fine. I believe he did not even present it as a puzzle. Anyway, take a look at it, and help me solve it. Otherwise, I’m lost (and so is my paper).

Suppose you believe that properties are the set of their instances. Suppose, furthermore, that you are a modal realist. Aristotle was not, but he does believe in potential and actual bearers of properties, and he does think these are within the extension of a property [Meta, V.26].

In any case, there is a familiar problem with this view: coextensive properties. ‘renate’ and ‘chordate’ have the same actual extension, yet they are different properties. The solution is easy and well known: ‘renate’ and ‘chordate’ are not coextensive because they have different extensions in other possible worlds. Aristotle’s reply would be similar: ‘renate’ and ‘chordate’ are not coextensive because they have different potential instances.

The problem comes with a twisted version of this objection. Suppose you have necessarily coextensive properties, and yet distinct ones. (This is what Fine presents in his ‘famous’ paper against modal accounts of ‘essence’, where he claims ‘essential property’ is not synoymous with ‘necessary property’, I think, however, that Aristotle’s example is better). Aristotle talks about ‘Grammarian’ and ‘Human’. According to Aristotle, this much is true:x is human iff x is a grammarian (or has knowledge of grammar). Yet, ‘Human’ reveals the essence of its instances, and ‘grammarian’ does not.

My question is this: is there any way in which one can sort this case out, and still be extensionalist about properties? Do you know of any extensionalist reply to this? Or should we simply claim that ‘grammarian’ and ‘human’ have the same meaning?

PNRG online

May 16, 2007

Some of you might not know that some of us have organized the PNRG (Proper Names Reading Group). The PNRG is intended to get all the pro-language enthusiasts together. Our plan is to read one paper a week, and discuss its content by means of the comments given by one of us. Last week Dustin Tucker commented on Kroon’s “Causal Descriptivism”, and the first week I commented Braun’s introductory paper “Proper Names and Natural Kind Terms”. Next week, Thursday 24th, we will learn from Mike’s comments of Stanley’s “Names and Rigid Designators”. We meet every Thursday (except this week), 5-7, Seminar Room. If you are interested and want to glance at the reading list, drop me a line.

Enough publicity.
In my complementary comments to Braun I dared to argue that the four problems of Millianism (as Braun presents them) really boil down to two. As it turned out, I found that the claims were stronger than the argumentative support I was then giving. Jason Konek and Jon Shaheen pointed this out. They argued against the idea that the so-called “problem of informativeness” could be reduced to the problem of belief ascriptions. Jason exemplified his claim by referring to Eric Swanson’s ‘presupposition’ solution to the problem of informativeness, which, he said, is independent from his solution to the problem of belief ascription. Jon argued differently. He said that the problem of informativeness could be accounted for without appealing to mental states, and so without solving the problem of belief ascription. I still think that any good solution to one of the informativeness-belief-ascription dyad is a good solution to the other.

In this post I want to present Eric Swanson’s claims about these issues. I will argue against Jason that (1) Swanson’s treatment of the puzzles makes it even clearer to see why a solution to informativeness is a solution to belief ascription (and vice versa): and exemplify against Jon that (2) you cannot solve informativeness problems without appealing to mental states.

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