the illusion of superficially contingent a priori knowledge

August 30, 2007

I suppose the fact that I think it is easier to get examples of deeply contingent a priori knowledge than of superficially contingent a priori knowledge puts me in the minority. Anyway, Hawthorne (in “Deeply Contingent A Priori Knowledge”) cites Evans’ Julius case as a paradigm example of superficially contingent a priori knowledge:

(E) ∃!x(x invented the zip) → Julius invented the zip

(E) is contingent, I presume, because there are worlds in which someone uniquely invented the zip, but it wasn’t Julius. It is, according to Hawthorne, superficially contingent because the name ‘Julius’ has been stipulated to designate the inventor of the zip, so simply understanding the meaning of (E) puts one in a position to recognize that the actual world verifies (E).

The problem is that there are two readings of (E), one on which ‘Julius’ takes narrow scope with respect to the antecedent, and one on which ‘Julius’ takes wide scope over the whole conditional. I contend that only the narrow scope reading is knowable a priori, but the narrow scope reading is necessary, not contingent.

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personal and doxastic justification

August 3, 2007

In their “The Basic Notion of Justification” (Phil. Studies, 1989), Kvanvig and Menzel incredibly attempt to defend the equivalence (J) by appeal to the lambda calculus:

(P) S is justified in believing p

(D) S’s belief that p is justified

(J) (P) ≡ (D)

Kent Bach and my friend Clayton hold that (P) involves the notion of personal justification — roughly, the kind of justification that is a property of responsible cognitive agents — while (D) involves the notion of doxastic justification — the kind of justification that is a property of justified beliefs. According to them, these are distinct notions and so (J) is a false equivalence; there are cases where an instance of (D) is true of some person, but the relevant instance of (P) is not, and vice versa.

Kvanvig and Menzel give a counterargument which I think is wrong. They begin by assuming that the logical form of (D) is as follows:

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presuppositions and the a priori

July 13, 2007

I’ve written a paper proposing the following constraint on knowability a priori and arguing that it has some wide-ranging implications for the study of the a priori. You can see the paper for more on that. In this post, I’ll be concerned to motivate the constraint and to defend it against some looming objections. Here is the constraint:

(AK) For any p, p is knowable a priori only if, for any presupposition q of p, q is knowable a priori.

Here are several arguments for (AK), or something close enough.[1]

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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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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 »