Thursday, January 29, 2009

Roar T!

I've been a fan of the Philosophical Lexicon since I was an undergraduate. If you've read it before, they've packaged the new 2008 entries in one place. This one had me laughing:
Roar T, n. Loud conversational alternative to Convention T; also known as "the disputational theory of truth."
I actually haven't read anything of Richard Rorty's work since freshman year, but I've heard enough to get it, and it's really a Tarski joke anyway.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Moral intuition and linguistic intuition

Here's a disanalogy between moral intuition and linguistic intuition (for example, intuitions about what a word means or whether a particular construction is grammatical). I'm sure that something like this is true, though I may not be talking about it right. And who knows, maybe it's more controversial than I think...

We can imagine a community where everybody across all times has the same moral intuitions, and they're all wrong. But we can't imagine a community where everybody across all times has the same linguistic intuitions, and they're all wrong. If the community of Spanish speakers regards it as intuitive that 'arroz' means 'rice' in Spanish, that's what 'arroz' means in Spanish. When we imagine them all using it to mean 'beef', we're just imagining a situation in which 'arroz' means beef in Spanish. However, if all Spanish speakers (or all Puritans, if we want to make this be a community of moral co-believers rather than a linguistic community) thought it was wrong to use birth control, there still might be nothing wrong with using birth control. This is because the linguistic intuitions of the community play a role in constituting the language, while the moral intuitions of the community do not constitute morality.

I'm just using intuition in the sense of 'pretheoretical judgment' here. Obviously if you say it's a presentation of necessary truth to your nous or something that'll mess up the example.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Have grant, will travel

A couple months ago, I applied for a grant to fund travel around America between May 10 and July 25 so that I could give talks on my research at a bunch of places. Today I got some news from the nice granting people here in Singapore saying that they like my application and they actually want to give me more money so I can give more talks! They haven't officially approved the grant yet, but things seem to be on track.

So I thought I'd just kind of open this up. If you want me to come over to your philosophy department and give a talk defending utilitarianism or the Humean theory of motivation, send me an email (my address is at the top of this page). The papers are yet to be written, but I'd be happy to discuss stuff in more detail or send along a draft in a month or two when I've got them ready. And if you're at a place with an undergraduate philosophy club, I'd be happy to give them a reading of "Possible Girls", which never fails to amuse the kids. I know summer isn't the best time for this sort of thing, but if it turns out that your institution can host a talk in mid-June or the teens of July, that'll be wonderful.

Assuming the grant money comes through as expected, I'll be able to pay my own way. If you want to feed me something interesting, though, I won't turn it down!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Future selves and procrastination

I'm wondering if I'd manage my time more efficiently and procrastinate less if I saw my future selves the way I see other people.

Failing to do some task today so that it ends up having to be done by somebody else strikes me as more shameful than failing to do some task today so that I have to do it tomorrow. So I'm much more likely to slack off if I'm going to pay the price in the future than if somebody else will. Maybe if I felt similar obligations towards Neiltomorrow as I do to, say, my colleagues, I'd get more things done today.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Silence and John Kulvicki's stable property view of sounds

In "The Nature of Noise", John Kulvicki defends a 'stable property' view of sounds, on which sounds are "dispositions of objects to vibrate in response to being stimulated." They aren't the compression waves that pass through the air -- they're the dispositional properties of objects that make them vibrate and produce those waves in response to thwacking. (I give him points for using the word 'thwacking' liberally in the paper.) As Kulvicki says, this would make sounds a lot like colors, at least on some fairly intuitive views of color.

Two things. The minor point is that we're going to have to have a really complex view of thwacking in order to make this all work out. Intuitively, the sound of Roy Sorenson is the sound he makes when he talks, not the sound that he makes when you thwack him, unless you interpret his speech as some kind of internal self-thwacking. Kulvicki's distinction between having sounds and making sounds, which he uses to deal with cases like audio equipment, doesn't seem to do the necessary work here. While I suppose I could get into saying that my stereo makes sounds it doesn't really have, it sounds weirder to say that Sorenson is making sounds he doesn't really have when he talks.

But my bigger objection has to do with silence. It seems pretty straightforward that when it is silent, there are no sounds. This goes along perfectly well with the view that sounds are compression waves. But it's big trouble for the view that sound is a stable dispositional property of objects. On the stable property view, silence is compatible with there being lots and lots of sounds! Objects retain their dispositions even if those dispositions aren't being activated, and the presence of lots of drums or other objects with wave-making dispositions will make it the case that there are lots of sounds, even if nobody is beating the drums and all is totally silent.

Ending the paper JFPs / Proceedings And Addresses

If you're an APA member, they mail you 4 paper copies of Jobs for Philosophers and three book-shaped copies of the Proceedings and Addresses of the APA (one for each division's annual meeting) each year. I imagine that a big chunk of the APA membership fee goes towards funding the creation and distribution of all this paper.

In our internet-enabled times, I don't see good reason for mailing out all this stuff. The electronic versions of the Proceedings and Addresses are just plain easier to use -- you can instantly keyword search them with Ctrl-F and remind yourself when the session you want to heckle is meeting. If there's some way to push the APA to move to an online-only format, I'd be happy to do my part in the pushing. I'm guessing that the money we save by doing this could be put to better use creating public goods of some kind or another. Or you could just cut the membership fees.

Possible reasons that we're sticking with paper:
-There are some ads in the Proceedings and Addresses that may not translate very well to internet form (the JFP is all classified ads which should translate just fine to the internet with no revenue loss.) But I can't imagine that the revenue stream here is big enough to justify huge amounts of paper.

-Old-timers may not like the internet. But is that really such a big constituency these days? And if they don't like looking at screens, will they really be so unhappy to use their printers and print stuff?

-Paper copies of the Proceedings and Addresses are also used as programs at the conferences, and then economies of scale make it not such a bad deal to print out additional copies and mail them to everyone. I'd be surprised if the economics worked out this way, but I guess it's possible. Then I'd be interested in seeing if there's some way to get more streamlined programs.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Redesign almost finished / Turn Into

This blog has been redesigned! Since I've got a stable political blog now, I'll be able to turn this place into a proper philosophy blog. New features include the snazzy dynamic blogroll on the right (still incomplete, I have to add back all the people who were on the old one). That should make it easier for me to figure out when people are posting so that I can read/comment/respond here. Also, I've got my currently-published-or-accepted papers up there if anyone wants to download them. Any further design suggestions will be appreciated.

Apropos of nothing really, here's the song that's been obsessing me for the last couple weeks -- the Yeah Yeah Yeahs' "Turn Into". There's so much cool stuff going on in this song that I've been playing it over and over again to get my fill of the acoustic part and the electric part and all the different melodies. This is sort of the 'Y Control' of the second album, which is a bit more lush and melodic than the first. (Some would say the 'Maps', and I dig on "they don't love you like I love you" as much as the next soft-indie-rock wuss, but Y Control was always my favorite.)

Sadly the video isn't synced to the audio right, so you see Karen O sing at you with a meaningful look in her eyes 4 seconds after you've heard the words. Well, her bouncy dancing still works for me.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Cass <3 Samantha

Add this to the list of things I didn't know: new OIRA head and legal academia heavyweight Cass Sunstein is married to Samantha Power! Apparently they met through the Obama campaign and got married this past July 4 in Power's native County Cork. I also didn't know that Sunstein had previously been in a relationship with Martha Nussbaum.

See, this is why we publish.