Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

Fool proof

November 25, 2008

A temptation so powerful that nobody is immune to it, especially no philosopher. What if you could make it such that nobody can disagree with your core thesis? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? And so, year after year, paper after paper, they try.

For a while it looked like Timothy Williamson had good chances of winning the contest. Witness: “If the original question, read literally, had too obvious an answer, either positive or negative, that would give us reason to suspect that someone who uttered it had some other meaning in mind, to which the overt compositional structure of the question might be a poor guide. But competent speakers of English may find themselves quite unsure how to answer the question, read literally, so we have no such reason for interpreting it non-literally.” (from: The Philosophy of Philosophy)

So, basically, anybody not gripped by the problem of vagueness (hidden in the “original question” referred to) is most likely not a competent speaker of English. But notice that Williamson fails to really rule out all other options. He consciously weakens the claim about linguistic competence to a ‘may’. (Of course, competent English speakers may also “find themselves quite unsure how to answer the question” not because they are unsure what the answer, if any, to the question is, but because they “find themselves quite unsure” about what the hell the original question was supposed to mean, literally understood. But that’s a separate issue.)

Williamson’s attempt, at any rate, is toppled by Theodore Sider’s more concise and less cautious claim: “The very idea of distinguished structure itself, once grasped, is one that must surely be acknowledged.” (from: Ontological Realism) Marvellous. If you disagree with the idea of distinguished structure that just shows you haven’t really grasped it (yet). It’s not just that you are not a competent speaker. It’s more like: you are not a competent thinker. The ‘surely’ gives it away, a little bit, but other than that: there’s really nothing left to argue about, is there? Davidson would be proud.

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Ponderable Matter

October 5, 2008

“I must confess I am jealous of the term atom : for though it is very easy to talk of atoms, it is very difficult to form a clear idea of their nature, especially when compound bodies are under consideration.” – Faraday

The great experimenter obviously had no professional mereologist at hand…

A birthday

June 25, 2008

Willard Van Orman Quine. Main road philosopher. Empiricist post-modernist. Was born a hundred years ago.

Puzzle for an economist

April 12, 2008

How do these two pieces of information go together?

Here we go again…

February 23, 2008

… yet another article that begins with the overused sentiment that yet another question philosophers (gosh, these people must be really stupid!) have been unable to make any progress on has finally been addressed (successfully, naturally) by SCIENCE, and hence there is hope for an answer, at last.

While the question “Whence morality?” has been addressed by many thinkers, it is not the question “which has troubled philosophers since their subject was invented.” The question that underlies most philosophical reflection about morality (or ethics, rather!) is: what should we do? how should we live? The question is not primarily about why we engage in moral judgment, but rather which moral or ethical judgments to make. Such questions have prompted further questions about the meaning and epistemic standing of moral claims, and many interesting philosophical answers have been developed. Naturally, we do not see any of them mentioned in the article.

But note the rhetoric: philosophers are TROUBLED by questions – they don’t investigate questions, or give answers to them, no it is questions who trouble them. They are similarly passive with respect to their entire subject: it was invented. By whom, one might ask. Nor has their been any development in the subject – which presumably makes it permissible to ignore contemporary philosophers.

Aside from some serious questions about the science in this particular case, the most annoying fact about the article is not just that it fails to mention any of contemporary philosophical normative theory or meta-ethics, but that the author can be certain to get away with it. Why is that?

Science & Soccer

February 8, 2008

You play it in a team. The rules are fairly clear and roughly the same everywhere in the world. Competition and prestige are high. Billions of dollars are being spend on finding the greatest talents and putting together the best teams. You have to make your career when you’re young. The older you get, the more likely you are going to be stuck with management work.

It’s hard to be really good. If you are, however, you can work almost anywhere in the world.