Wednesday, December 20, 2006

A Meta-Metaphysical Taxonomy: The Sematic View vs (True) Dismissivism

The MetaMetaphysical e-Reading Group at The bLOGOS is getting busier and busier! (See there posts starting with ‘MM Bennett’ and ‘MM Sider.’)

Thinking about these issues, here is an abstract of a paper I plan to write after the break.

In the last couple of years, there has been a renewed interest in issues in meta-metaphysics on the nature of certain apparent disputes in metaphysics. The underlying worry seems to be that some of them are merely apparent disputes in metaphysics. In this paper I defend that there are two quite radically different ways in which this can be held to hold—although they are often not sharply distinguished in the debate.

On the one hand, one might hold that the disputes are indeed genuine, but of a semantic rather than metaphysical character. This I label the semantic view. I offer a criterion for identifying them, compare it with some alternatives by Bennett, Chalmers, Hirsch and Sider, and illustrate it with the dispute between defenders of the so-called “supervaluationist” vs almost-identity solution to the problem of the many.

On the other hand, one might hold that the apparent disputes are merely apparent, given that the views allegedly under dispute turn out to be, in a certain sense, equivalent to each other. Following Bennett’s terminology (although not her way of explicating the position), I propose to label this (true) dismissivism given that, by contrast with genuine semantic disputes, there is indeed something to be dismissed, if the apparent disputes turn out not to be genuine. Again I offer a criterion for identifying them, compare it with some alternatives by Bennett, McCall&Lowe, Miller, Sidele and Sider, and illustrate it, although more tentatively, with the 3D/4D dispute about persistence.

These two positions are in contrast with regarding the disputes as genuine and metaphysical in character (which I illustrate with the dispute between universalists and restrictivists with respect to composition). But I hope it will transpire the significance of the way they differ from each other vis-à-vis the kind of attitude that seems vindicated with respect to them.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Problem of the Many, Supervaluations, and the Sorites

(Cross-posted at The bLOGOS.)

These days I am revising this paper, once again :-(! There I argue against the so-called ‘supervaluationist’ solution to the problem of the many, which is often the one favored by fellow defenders of the view of vagueness as semantic indecision.

In a nutshell, I claim that the feature of precisifications that such a solution requires—selecting just one of the many candidate-mountains in the vicinity of paradigmatic mountain Kilimanjaro—render them inadmissible. In my paper I focus on the penumbral truth that if something is a paradigmatic mountain, and something else is very similar to the former in that which is required for something to be a mountain, then the latter is also a mountain. One other main difficulty, emphasized by McGee 1998, is that such precisifications fail to preserve clear cases of application of the predicate, in that there is no entity that is determinately a mountain—at least, on standard ways of characterizing what it is for something to satisfy a 'determinately'-involving matrix.

In Williams 2006, Robbie claims that, in virtue of nothing determinately satisfying ‘is a mountain,’ the solution undermines the explanation offered by defenders of the view of vagueness as semantic indecision such as Keefe 2000 of the persuasiveness that the (false) sorites premise certainly has. According to her,

“Our belief that there is no true instance of the quantification gets confused with a belief that the quantified statement is not true. … The confusion … is a confusion of scope, according to whether the truth predicate appears inside or outside the existential quantifier” (Keefe 2000, 185).

Insofar as I can see, however, the difference in scope in truth- (or determinate-) involving existential statements appealed to here is compatible with nothing determinately satisfying ‘is a mountain’—disturbing as the latter might be for other reasons, of course.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Colors vs Values

Andrew Howat is using the following quotation as the epigraph to the final chapter of his thesis on response-dependence:

Philosophy has dwelt nearly exclusively on differences between ‘good’ and ‘red’ or ‘yellow’. I have long marvelled at this. For there resides in the combined objectivity and anthropocentricity of colour a striking analogy to illuminate not only the externality that human beings attribute to the properties by whose ascription they evaluate things, people, and actions, but also the way in which the quality by which the thing qualifies as good and the desire for the thing are equals—are, ‘made for one another’ so to speak.

David Wiggins

As Esa Díaz-León has observed, this is in striking sharp contrast with the one opening my thesis on response-dependence:

There is a longstanding attempt to make dispositional theories of value and of colour run in parallel. But the analogy is none too good, and I doubt that it improves our understanding either of colour or of value.

David Lewis


Tuesday, November 14, 2006

The Necessity of Composition I

I’ve been revisiting Ross Cameron’s paper arguing that principles of composition need not be necessary. (He is not the only one. I hope to post on Josh Parsons’ paper somewhen—hence the ‘I’ in the title.) I think I still have the worry I tried to express at the Arché Modality Seminar and Workshop. Let me try it again here.

Suppose that one thinks, as I am inclined to, that principles of composition—of the sort of: whenever there are some things, there is something that is a sum of them—are necessary if true as the result of being ‘analytical,’ at least in a certain sense (which I won’t pause to explicitly state ;-)).

Ross objects:

“Existence claims are, seemingly, never analytic; so it seems that a conditional whose consequent was an existence claim could be analytic only if the antecedent asserted the existence of the thing in question. But if the sentence ‘If some objects are in conditions C, then there exists something that is composed of those objects’ is informative then the antecedent does not assert the existence of the thing in question (namely, the sum of the objects in conditions C). The sentence is synthetic, then; there is nothing in the concept of certain things meeting certain conditions that there is a fusion of those objects.”

This seems puzzling to me. Consider the following:

Whenever something is a proper part of another, there is something that is part of the latter but not of the former.

I take it that this has a good claim to be necessary if true as a result of analyticity. And it has the relevant considered form: a conditional whose consequent is an existence claim. In a certain sense, such existence is not “asserted” in the antecedent—hence the “informativeness”—; in another sense, it is (“implicitly”) so asserted—hence the analiticity—.

Mutatis mutandis, Ross’ opponent contends, for the envisaged principles of composition.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Are Emoticons Compositional?

For some reason, I was checking an online list of emoticons. With some surprise, I found this, which I had never encountered before:

:-{)} Smile with moustache and beard

This kind of made sense, don’t you think? And, automatically, so they did all of:


Words for RelativismS

I have just come back from participating in the Arché's final Vagueness Workshop. It has been a great funjetlag and loads of killing objections to my paper notwithstanding ;-)!

In two or three occasions there, the issue as to which might be the appropriate taxonomy of contexutalist/relativist positions in recent debates arose, including the issue as to which might be appropriate descriptive labels for the taxons. I’d like to post specifically on the latter here. In some papers I have suggested the following taxonomy, taking as basic the datum of apparent faultless disagreement from Crispin, and (some of) the jargon from Lewis-MacFarlane.

Are appearances to be endorsed?

No → (1) Non-Relativism

Yes → Is the content of the relevant sentence in the different contexts the same?

No → (2) Indexical Contextualism

Yes → Is the index determined by the different contexts the same?

No → (3) Non-Indexical Contextualism

Yes → (4) Radical Relativism

(Couple of quick remarks: Admittedly, an ‘hermeneutic’ view on which the content of sentence depends on the perspective from which it is assessed is set aside. How to locate ‘subject-sensitive invariantism’ is a delicate issue: in my view here might be some versions of the view falling under (2) and some falling under (3)—and perhaps some falling under (1) or (4).)

Regardless of the details, some people might more or less agree with the taxons, and still dispute the labels. Some concerns I have sympathy with:

· Re (1): it is purely negative. In some debates, ‘realist’ might do, and in some debates, ‘(insensitive) invariantism might, but they seem to lack the desirable ‘trans-debate’ generality.

· Re (2)-(3): In some debates, particularly concerning knowledge attributions and epistemic modals, ‘contexualism’ is reserved specifically for (2), which also has in its favor that the relevant expressions need not be, according to (2), strictly speaking indexicals. But this leaves (3) without appropriate label, which I think should ideally convey the shared moderate character of (2) and (3) vis-à-vis (4).

· Re (4): ‘Radical’ is overused in taxonomies, and the view is commonly referred to as ‘Truth Relativism’ or ‘Relativism about Truth.’ True enough, but—unless one keeps in mind a suitable explicit stipulation—these latter labels could be fairly used for any of the relativistic (2), (3) and (4) options: after all, all of them endorse the appearances that none of the judgers are thereby judging something that is not true!

Any views?

(Cross-posted at the Arché Weblog.)

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Back in St Andrews

I am going back to my dear Scotland for one week, in order to participate in the Arché's final Vagueness Workshop. Look forward to seeing people there!

Monday, October 30, 2006

Without David Lewis (2001-2006)

Unfortunately, I never met David Lewis. In (Northern) summer 2001 I was lucky enough as to having been accepted as a visiting student for a little while at the RSSS Philosophy Program at ANU. When making the arrangements, I learned that David Lewis would give the Jack Smart Lecture in June. This clashed with the First Latin Meeting in Analytic Philosophy I was participating in, so finally I decided to miss Lewis’ and arrived in Canberra in July 2001.

This turned out to be the time I was closest to meet him. Sadly and untimely, he died some months later, while I was in effect visiting there where he had so many friends and colleagues.

I was thinking about this during the opening of the Inaugural David Lewis Lecture, delivered by Frank Jackson at Princeton last Friday. A very appropriate way to honor one of the deepest and most influential philosophers of recent times.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Disjunctions, Conjunctions, and their Truthmakers

(Cross-posted at The bLOGOS.)

A truthmaker for a given truth is something in virtue of which the truth is true. One plausible thesis about truthmaking is that it is closed under entailment, in the sense of obeying the so-called entailment principle:

If something makes a certain truth true, then it also makes true all of this truth’s consequences.

Though plausible, the principle seems to have some undesirable consequences: the explosion of truthmakers for necessities—every thing is a truthmaker for every necessary truth—, and indeed the truthmaker triviality—every thing is a truthmaker for every truth whatsoever—.

Gonzalo Rodriguez-Pereyra in his ‘Truthmaking, Entailment, and the Conjunction Thesis’ has recently argued against attempts to preserve (perhaps, a restriction of) the entailment principle while avoiding these results. In so doing, Gonzalo crucially both defends the disjunction thesis—if something makes true a disjunctive truth, then it makes true one of its disjuncts—, and rejects the conjunction thesis—if something makes true a conjunctive truth, then it makes true each of its conjuncts—.

I have written a short reply to his paper. I first provide plausible counterexamples to the disjunction thesis, and contend that Gonzalo’s general defense of it fails. Then I defend the conjunction thesis from Gonzalo’s case against it. I finally conclude that the envisaged attempts have not been proved, by Gonzalo’s considerations, to be at fault.

(My note originated from the discussion I had with Gonzalo here.)

All comments welcome!!

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


Every now and then—and more often than not, depending on who your friends are ;-)—people talk about feminist contributions to a philosophical debate, feminist analyses of a certain concept, feminist approaches to a certain topic…

One might perhaps wonder what exactly it would be for such contributions, analyses, or approaches to be feminist. One “deflationary” view would be that those are contributions, analysis, approaches offered by people who, as a matter of fact, are feminist. As to what the latter would be, how about anti-sexist people—people against sex-based discrimination?

This is deflationary assuming that, in most cases at least, there won’t be essential connections between the normative claims one holds and the soundness of the contribution, analysis, or approach in question. In that sense, and to put it provocatively, one could equally talk of blond contributions to a philosophical debate, tall analyses of a given concept, or gay approaches to a certain topic. But my assumption here is probably contentious!

(This was triggered by a recent discussion here.)

So here we go!

Welcome! This is my new blog. I will be the main one posting here, but please contact me if you would like to. Everyone is of course welcomed (and encouraged!) to comment. Hopefully language will be English (enough), length short (enough), and content philosophical (enough). Let's see how this works...!