Saturday, December 31, 2005

What I'm Doing On My Holidays

I'm writing a paper on modal knowledge over this Christmas/New Year break. In it I'm trying to argue that we can answer two questions simultaneously:

1. How can experience be a guide to modal truth?
2. How can conceivability be a guide to modal truth?

by proposing that experience grounds our concepts (that is, makes them knowledge-conducive guides to the structure of the world), and that what we can conceive of is constrained by what our concepts are like in such a way that the information about the world's structure which is in encoded in the structure of our concepts is recoverable through the activity we call 'attempting to conceive'.

What's all that got to do with knowledge of what's possible and necessary? Well, things are easy if you think that modal facts are , or metaphysically depend upon, structural facts about the actual world. Because the latter are the kinds of facts that 'attempts to conceive' put us in touch with.

What I'm looking at now are ways in which people who don't like that metaphysical idea might also get in on my epistemological act. Ways, that is, in which you might think that information about actual-world structure can be an epistemic guide to modal facts even though these facts do not depend metaphysically on facts about actual-world structure.

One option is to believe in metaphysical dependence in the other direction: that is, to think that actual-world structural facts depend on modal facts. But that option doesn't have much prima facie plausibility (at least, not to me).

Alternatively you might think both actual-world structural facts and modal facts depend on some other class of facts in a way which explains the correlation between the two. (But what sort of facts would they be?)

There's always the option of brute correlation, but we'll need a damn good story about why we should take the correlation to be brute, to tell to those who think that it's actually evidence of metaphysical dependence in one direction or the other.

Finally, I thought, perhaps you might think there is some satisfying explanation of the correlation which does not appeal to metaphysical dependence at all. (But what would it look like?)

As always, any comments/suggestions/further possibilities are very welcome here.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Chalmers, Carnap and Lightweight Existential Quantification

I clicked through to David Chalmers's powerpoint slides on Ontological Indeterminacy yesterday, wondering if I might get a discussion of ontic vagueness. In fact I found something else equally interesting: a discussion of 'deflationary' (=, roughly, Carnapian) views about certain existential questions.

I have a few comments (though NB I have not heard the full talk, so maybe some of these points are addressed there):

1. I'm not sure whether the kind of 'relativism' Chalmers describes should count as deflationary. To say that there are many equally good answers to a question (which I think is the core of the proposed 'relativism') is prima facie different from saying that there is *no* substantial answer to the question (deflationism). To get the latter from the former we seem to need to assume that relativism about answers to a question is incompatible with the thought that the question and its answers are metaphysically substantial.

2. I think substantial ontological existence claims can be what Chalmers calls 'lightweight', i.e. a priori knowable or analytic or something in that area. Which is to say, in effect, that I don't think 'lightweight' (a priori knowable) existential claims need be genuinely lightweight. The envisaged connection between 'lightweightness' and real , metaphysical, lightweightness is, I guess, supposed to be effected by the thought that a priori reflection can only address what Carnap would call 'internal' questions, while genuinely heavyweight ontological questions must be 'external'. But personally (for what it's worth), I think concept-led a priori reflection might well lead to knowledge of substantial conclusions, including existential conclusions. Once we acknowledge that concepts can be grounded - i.e. sensitive to the way the world is in such a way as to make them good epistemic guides to reality - we can think (in Carnapian terms) of frameworks as being selected on more-than-pragmatic grounds, that is, selected for their fit with the world. And then there is no reason to doubt that a priori reflection on concepts within a framework can give us epistemically respectable answers to (what Carnap would have called) external questions.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Non-trivial Counterpossibles

A reflection that was triggered by hearing Timothy Williamson give a paper here last weekend at the last ever Arché Modality Workshop.

Some people (classically, Lewis) think any counterfactual with an impossible antecedent is trivially true, and I'm prima facie inclined to agree. But we should be able to distinguish between ones where there appears to be something non-trivial going on, such as:
1. If the square root of 2 were rational, it could be represented as n/m with n, m integers
and ones which don't seem to have this feature, such as:
2. If the square root of 2 were rational, there would be lemonade rivers.

Two options are:
A: to say that the difference between trivial and non-trivial counterpossibles is one of assertability (1 is assertable in many contexts where 2 is not),
B: to say that this difference is a matter of epistemic accessibility (you can know 1 is true without knowing it has an impossible antecedent, whereas this looks doubtful for 2).

But I'm currently wondering whether, in some cases at least, neither assertability nor epistemic access gives the deepest or most insightful characterization of the difference - they may rather be symptoms. For instance, you might think that in some cases it is the existence of some metaphysically interesting connection between states of affairs described in 'A' and 'B' that really explains why a counterpossible conditional 'A []--> B' is non-trivially true. You would then expect this conditional to exhibit the pattern of assertability and epistemic accessibility usually associated with non-trivial counterpossibles, although that behaviour is not what its non-triviality amounts to but rather a sign of it.

(PS For the record, I don't assume there will be the same story to tell in every case about what sort of factor underlies the assertability and accessibility symptoms.)

(PPS I will - hopefully - get round to replying to the interesting comments on my previous post soon ...)

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Here's a common claim schema:

If ... is dependent on our language, then were our language to be different in relevant respects then so would ... be.


(1) If vagueness depends on our language, then were all semantic vagueness to be eliminated then there would be no vagueness.

A worry about this is that it seems a semantic theorist of vagueness (someone who thinks vagueness is entirely due to semantic features of our language, and has nothing to do with how the world is independently of our linguistic representations of it) might sensibly reject (1), and instead assert:

(2) Although vagueness depends on our language, if all semantic vagueness were eliminated, this apple would still be borderline red.

For the consequent of the counterfactual is couched in the very language which is supposed to be suitable for creating vagueness. Asserting (2) therefore does nothing to undermine the thought that it is the semantic features of our actual word 'red' language which are responsible for the borderlineness, in other worlds, of the apple's redness.

What do people think?

Friday, November 25, 2005

Counting Vaguely Identical Objects

Dominic Hyde gave three talks on vagueness during his recent visit here, the most recent of which focussed on an argument from Pinillos against vague identity (NB you need a subscription to Mind to get to the full text from this link).

Suppose a ship (b) leaves port and two ships (a and c) dock, but (for the usual reasons having to do with the replacement of bits) we want to say it is indeterminate whether a=c, and indeterminate whether b=c, yet determinately not the case that a=c. Pinillos argues this cannot be right, and a key premise of his argument is that the set of ships which left port - {b} - is distinct from the set of ships which docked - {a,c} - because these two sets have different cardinalities. (This leads him to conclude that there must be something in one set which is not in the other - so that there is some pair consisting of one member from each set such that it is (determinately) the case that the two things in that pair are not identical - contradicting the assumption that all the relevant identity claims are indeterminate.)

I won't go into the details of Dominic's response to the Pinillos argument, since (as far as I know) it's not yet publicly available. But my own reaction (different from Dominic's) was to wonder whether the defender of this sort of vague identity should accept that the two sets are distinct. Maybe she should say that it's indeterminate whether the set of ships which left port is identical to the set of ships which docked.

Sure, there is a strong intuition that something is wrong with '{b} = {a,c}', but perhaps this could be explained as an intuition to the effect that, because of the difference in cardinality between the sets, this identity claim is necessarily not true, which does not (for people - like Dominic - who are into three-valued logics) entail that it is false. (By analogy, a claim Dominic argued for in one of his other talks here is that although we have a strong intution that claims like 'Patch p is red and non-red' are not true, we should not therefore regard them as false when p is a borderline case.)

In fact, is the defender of vague identity even compelled to accept the claim that the sets have distinct cardinalities? If it really is indeterminate whether a=b and indeterminate whether b=c, then the set of ships which left port contains b, and it is indeterminate whether it contains a and indeterminate whether it contains c. And the set of ships which docked contains a and c, and it is indeterminate whether it contains b. Maybe, therefore, we should say that the cardinality of each set is indeterminate, in such a way that it is not determinately the case that the two sets have distinct cardinalities.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

More Paradox

Here's the promised conclusion to my last post. (Thanks to Robbie for a helpful discussion of this stuff over dinner last night).

The reason I'm uneasy about Field's project is simply that I need to hear more about why the notion of truth that we end up with is (the) one that we're interested in when we get worried about semantic paradox. We are to understand truth as the thing governed by Schema (T), and we are to understand (T) by understanding its logical constants, and we are to understand its logical constants by understanding which arguments are valid. (The notion of validity which is used to give us a grip on the logical constants in Schema (T) - and hence on the truth-predicate - will render the paradox-generating argument invalid - specifically, by rendering unrestricted LEM invalid).

But what reason is there to think the kind of truth we were concerned with when we started out is so definable? Maybe Field's project is just to show that a predicate obeying (T) can be used consistently. But even this claim presents difficulties: if how we understand (T) depends on how we understand the constants it contains (undeniable), and if how we understand of those concepts is governed by which arguments we take to be valid (Field's claim), then we have first to agree with Field about which arguments are valid in order even to accept that the (thing which looks like a) T-schema that he ends up preserving is the same as the one we wanted to preserve. Otherwise, he may have preserved the truth of the sentence 'T(< A >) iff A' but only at the expense of making it mean something else.

In addition, traditional worries about implicit definition seem relevant to the claim that we can understand logical constants by understanding which arguments are valid, and the claim that we can understand (T) once we understand the constants involved. (To illustrate with the first case, suppose you have a bunch of arguments involving '&' which you're told are valid. If you're meant to be able to tell from that what '&' means, you're presumably supposed to do this by noting that the intended interpretation of '&' is (the) one which will make all these arguments come out valid. But what guarantees that there is such an interpretation, and exactly one of them?)

Thursday, November 17, 2005

Paradox Workshop

Yesterday's workshop on Semantic Paradox was enjoyable. Here is a nice photo of the workshop participants taken by Simon Prosser.

One of the many interesting questions that came up concerned "model-theoretic revenge" for approaches like Hartry Field's. I was interested by some of the stuff which appears around p. 23 of the written version of Field's paper. Here Field claims that his model theory 'plays at best a very indirect role in explaining truth. Rather, truth is directly explained by Schema (T), and model theory enters only in helping us understand more fully the logical connectives that occur in instances of Schema (T)'. Validity is not necessary truth-preservation, but is (co-extensive with) preservation of designation in all models. Apparent 'revenge' sentences of the form of:
(Q*) Q* is not designated in model M
(see p. 27) are supposed to be unproblematic precisely because designation in M is not truth but merely a model-relative notion, which means that Q* can consistently be either designated or undesignated in M.

I'm uneasy, but reasons why will have to wait till my next post, as I'm dashing off now to the Vagueness workshop ...

Monday, November 14, 2005

Novemberfest and Conventionalism

A busy couple of weeks at Arche, with two workshops (on semantic paradox and vagueness respectively), and talks by (among others) Greg Restall, JC Beall, Hartry Field, Diana Raffman, Achille Varzi and Dominic Hyde (with many others in town - e.g. Steve Yablo, Richard Heck, Graham Priest). I'll try and post some paper reports here as the fortnight progresses.

In the meantime, does anyone think the following is a way to rescue conventionalism about necessary/a priori/analytic truth from one obvious type of objection to it?

Here's the objection (as expressed by BonJour):

[w]hat convention might be adopted that would make it possible for something to be red and green all over at the same time? It is, of course, obvious that new conventions could change the meaning ... of the words ‘red’ and ‘green’, but there is no plausibility at all to the idea that such changes would result in the falsity of ... the proposition that nothing can be red and green all over at the same time, as opposed to merely altering the way in which [that proposition is] expressed.
(From In Defence of Pure Reason, p. 53.)

Mightn’t the conventionalist try and distinguish two ways of understanding the claim that had our conventions been different it would have been possible for something to be red and green all over? On one of these, the relevant counterfactual worlds are being assessed by us, and therefore our own conventions are in play. So we deny that these worlds where our conventions are different are worlds and something can be red and green all over (because our actual-world conventions fix that nothing can be red and green all over in any world, including these ones). On the other approach we consider, not what is true at those worlds considered as worlds governed by our actual conventions, but what is true at those worlds considered as worlds governed by the conventions we have at the worlds in question. So on this second approach we accept that there are some worlds where it is possible for something to be red and green all over at the same time.

Maybe the conventionalist could argue that our intuition that changing our conventions wouldn’t change the facts (the intuition driving BonJour's objection) is well-enough preserved by the result we get on the first approach. But on the second approach there are worlds where the proposition is made false by the fact that we have different conventions at those worlds. And this (she might say) is enough to rescue the thought that we could have had different conventions which would have made it false that nothing is red and green all over - i.e. enough to rescue conventionalism from the objection.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Accidental Representation

Here's a bunch of interesting questions.

1. Does the involvement of (certain kinds of) luck interfere with representation? Suppose, for instance, that I have a drawing in front of me which, considered as a road map of a small town in Wales, would serve as an accurate guide. But suppose it is purely coincidental that the drawing has this feature - it was produced as a circuit diagram. Does the drawing represent the road layout of this small Welsh town?

2. If accidental representation is not possible, is the kind of accident that prevents representation from occuring analogous to the kind of accident which prevents some true beliefs from being knowledge?

3. If accidental representation is possible, what (if any) are the conditions on representation which prevent it being the case that (e.g.) any two resembling things represent each other?

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Epistemic Twin Earth

(Nod to Daniel for starting me thinking about this topic this morning.)

Suppose that epistemically normative claims are made true by the same facts as certain natural-sounding claims (even though the former do not necessarily 'mean the same' as the latter in any other sense).

And suppose that, on Epistemic Twin Earth, people's use of (what sound like, and are treated like) epistemically normative terms is regulated by natural properties distinct from those which regulate our use of these terms. Perhaps we agree to the sentence: "One epistemically ought not to have beliefs that one knows to be contradictory", and the Twin Earthers dissent from a sentence which sounds exactly like this. Do the people on Epistemic Twin Earth disagree with us about what epistemic norms there are?

If the view described above is right, it might seem that they don't, since (presumably) the Twin Earthlings' normative-sounding claims are made true by different natural facts to ours. Hence the appearance of disagreement is illusory, and (for all that's been said so far, anyway) we might both be right.

Two questions:

1. If this is right, should we be worried (as, according to Horgan and Timmons, we should be worried by an analogous result in the ethical case)?

2. Is it right? Nothing is being claimed, on the view under discussion, about the sense-meaning of our terms of epistemic evaluation or how their reference gets fixed. If we have the intuition that people on Epistemic Twin Earth are disagreeing with us in such a way that we could not both be right, then could we allow that their terms of epistemic evaluation pick out the same properties that ours do, despite the fact that their use of these terms is regulated by some other property? It is plausible that the reference of 'water' is fixed in such a way that Twin Earthlings' term 'water' refers to XYZ, not H20. But is a similar claim plausible for terms of epistemic evaluation?

Monday, October 24, 2005

Naturalism and Epistemic Norms

Here's a question which I've been thinking about for a while but which I got a bit clearer on this weekend: have we successfully naturalized epistemic normativity if, for every epistemically normative claim, we can identify the fact which makes true, and it turns out to be a natural fact?

I'm tempted to say yes. The view could be that (for example) claims like:
(1) S's belief that p is epistemically correct
are made true by the same facts as claims like:
(2) (S believes that p and) given S's information, p is probably true.

This sort of view appears to raise an analogue of the Open Question Argument. It could be objected that the normativity of (1) is not adequately captured by (2) because one can agree that p is probably true given S's situation, but still wonder whether S's belief that p is epistemically correct.

One can respond that it need not be part of the view that (1) means the same as (2), and that therefore the identity between the facts which make these two claims true need not be at all obvious. If there is meant to be more to the objection than this, it's not clear what it is. To insist that the question of the correctness of S's belief remains genuinely open when you know that (2) is true is just to beg the question against the view that the fact which makes (1) true is the fact that makes (2) true.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Epistemic Value and Epistemic Norms

I'll be off to Stirling this weekend for a workshop on Epistemic Value. The main focus seems to be on the value of knowledge, but I'm hoping there's going to be plenty of discussion of issues around epistemic normativity too, which I'm interested in at the moment - I'm currently drafting a paper on why it looks to be one of the more difficult kinds of mental normativity for naturalists to accommodate (although there's still reason to be optimistic that they can do it).

The thought is that a line naturalists might take with normativity claims in general is that they are claims about the maximization of some value or other which can be naturalistically characterized. (Not that this line's not fraught with difficulties, but I think it has some appeal as a strategy.) The trouble is that it's difficult to recast claims of epistemic normativity in a simple way as claims about the maximization of some value (e.g. true belief), as I note in another current draft paper, which delves into epistemic consequentialism as part of one of its attempts to see how Crispin Wright's views on entitlement can be motivated. However, I also argue there that a subtle epistemic consequentialism might have something going for it (though it wouldn't rescue Wright-style entitlement as a form of warrant), and I now want to argue that this subtler consequentialist view might be appealed to as the basis for a naturalized account of epistemic normativity.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Experience and Concepts

During a helpful conversation with Amber Carpenter today I realized that an argument from Kant that I've been interested in for a while may have an analogue in Plato.

The Kantian version of the argument is that experience cannot provide grounds for (certain of) our most fundamental concepts, since we need those concepts to be in place before we can have experiences of the right kind (this is most prominent in the Transcendental Aesthetic). The Platonic analogue (I'm looking at Phaedo 74c-75c here) is that experience cannot provide grounds for our grasp of (certain) forms, since whenever we experience something(s) as possessing the relevant quality or standing in the relevant relation we compare it/them (unfavourably) with the form itself, which wouldn't be possible unless we already knew the form.

Plato seems to take it that the forms in question are real, although they cannot be empirically known. Whereas Kant, believing that certain basic concepts cannot be empirically grounded, concludes that they do not correspond to (transcendentally) real features of the world.

(For the record, I myself am tempted to think both that our basic concepts are empirically grounded and that they reflect real structural features of the independent world.)

Thursday, October 06, 2005

Don't Give Up On The Given

Larmore (2002, ‘Attending to Reasons’, in N. Smith (ed.) Reading McDowell: On Mind and World, London: Routledge, pp. 193-208) writes:

.. the Given cannot serve as a justification for a belief, if it lacks conceptual articulation; yet to the extent that it is shaped by an understanding of the world we already possess, it cannot count as simply "given". (p. 196)

Larmore may be right that something like this is supposed to be 'the well-known trouble with [the] "foundationalist" approach'. But I don't see the force of the dilemma. We can accept the truth of the first horn, the claim that conceptual articulation is required in order for sensory input to justify a belief. But we do not thereby impale ourselves upon second horn. For provided this conceptualized sensory input is ‘shaped’ by an ‘understanding of the world’ which is itself shaped in response to what is given to us in (unconceptualized) sensory input, there is no reason to think that this understanding in any way distorts our experience of the world. Rather, we can hope that the conceptual shape of our conceptualized sensory input reflects the structure of the world.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Why We Do This

There's an article here on academic blogging which people reading this might find interesting. (Thanks to Daniel for the pointer.) I agree with many of the sentiments expressed, though if 'younger scholars' are really worried that 'blogging would eat up time that could be devoted to publishing articles or working on a book', that would seem to be a mistake - at least in philosophy (although I would have thought in other discipines too) ideas floated as blog entries can later become bits of papers or books, having benefited from commentators' feedback. (Or that sort of feedback could help you realize that an idea isn't worth pursuing sooner than you would have otherwise - also very useful if you want to spend more time getting your better ideas into print ...) Blogging isn't 'conventional academic writing' but it's capable of being as much a preamble to it as a good seminar is. Particularly if you're someone who finds (as I do) that making yourself write something down is a good way of getting it clear(er).

OK, that's enough self-justification. Back to my conventional academic writing.

Monday, October 03, 2005

Restricted Precisification

Something I've wondered for a while is whether supervaluationists are right to think of precisifications as ways of making *every* term in our language precise. Instead, mightn't it be helpful (at least sometimes) to talk about precisifications-for-a-term, i.e. ways of making *that term* precise? Here are two prima facie reasons to think so.

1. Robbie Williams shows in a forthcoming paper that on the usual supervaluationist story there is a problematic interaction between two kinds of vagueness: how-tall-must-it-be-to-be-a-mountain vagueness and problem-of-the-many vagueness. Suppose we resolve the problem of the many by saying that on each precisification just one of the Kilimanjaro candidates is a mountain. Then there is nothing which is a mountain on every precisification. But that undermines something supervaluationists (and the rest of us) typically want to say about how-tall vagueness, namely that some things are definitely mountains.
We could deal with this if we said that there are some things (Kilimanjaro-candidates) which are definitely mountains where what this means is that they are mountains on every acceptable way of making precise how tall something has to be to be a mountain, but which are not definitely mountains where what this means is that they are mountains on every way of specifying precisely which of the Kilimanjaro-candidates counts as a mountain.

2. Precisifying everything at once makes it always false to say of a vague term that it is definitely vague. (No term is vague on every complete precisification, because no term is vague on *any* complete precisification.) But we can truly assert that a term is definitely vague if what it means is that *on all precifications of 'vague'* the term in question counts as vague.

If precisification worked this way, 'Definitely ...' would function differently on different occasions of use. It would always have the same truth-conditions as 'On all precisifications of the salient term(s) ...', but which term(s) are salient will change. Presumably context would help us determine which term(s) are salient on any particular occasion.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Shifting The Problem?

'Boundary-shifting' approaches to the Sorites paradox propose that Soritical reasoning only looks convincing because the boundary for the correct application of a vague predicate shifts as we consider different items in the Sorites series. On every occasion, the predicate has some precise boundary, but whenever we consider two successive elements in the series our very doing so makes it the case that the boundary does not lie between those two items. As Delia Graff puts it in this paper, ‘the boundary can never be where we are looking’. This boundary-shifting effect is taken to be responsible for the prima facie plausibility of the (false) major premises in Sorites arguments.

But there is a limited range of possibly-acceptable positions for the boundary of a vague predicate (at least, this is true for many vague predicates). Graff accepts this - she describes constraints of the kind I have in mind here as ‘clear-case constraints’ - and it is very hard to see how anyone could deny it.

However, familiarly, what counts as a ‘clear case’ for the application of a vague predicate is itself a vague matter. So clear-case constraints seem to determine a range of acceptable positions for the boundary of a vague predicate which range is itself vaguely defined. (Of course, there will also be other constraints on the extension of the predicate on any given occasion, but these are not relevant here.)

If we adopt any kind of boundary-shifting view, then, we should consider that one important kind of vagueness associated with a vague predicate is vagueness in the range, across contexts, of acceptable positions for the boundary. And this seems to raise issues. For one thing, it looks as though the full account of the vagueness of our original predicate ('is red', say) will in the end have to make mention of the vagueness of another predicate ('is a clear case of redness'). And a similar thing will happen when we come to give an account of the vagueness of the latter predicate, and so on ad infinitum.

Two questions about this:
1. Do we ever really get a proper account of the vagueness of the original predicate if this infinite regress gets going?
2. Isn't the first step problematic enough by itself? Can we really hope to make progress in understanding the vagueness of 'is red' with an account that invokes the vagueness of 'is a clear case of redness'? Surely our understanding of the latter derives from our understanding of the former, not vice versa?

I'd be interested to hear comments and/or indications of where to look for discussions of this sort of point in the literature. (I know Graff has a paper forthcoming in the Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society on boundary-shifting and higher-order vagueness. Anything else?)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Time For Fitch

John Burgess has a paper here on a temporal analogue of Fitch's paradox: if whatever is true will be known, then whatever is true is known.

Using 'Kp' to mean 'It is known that p' and 'Fp' to mean 'it sometime will be that p', the analogue of Fitch's paradox is that from:
1: p --> FKp
together with the usual assumptions about knowledge, it appears we can derive 2: p --> Kp
We do this by noting that 1 implies
3: (p&¬Kp) --> FK(p&¬Kp)
but that the consequent of 3 is impossible, so that from 1 we can derive the negation of 3's antecedent, which is (classically) equivalent to 2.

Here, however, an analogue of Edgington's response to the vanilla Fitch paradox looks particularly easy to defend. Just as Edgington's anti-realist says that what's knowable are things of the form 'actually p', the defender of the future-knowledge principle should say that what's knowable are things of the form 'at t, p', where 't' is a name for whatever time it is now. This means that instead of 1 we have
1': p --> FK[p was true at t]
and instead of 3 we get
3': (p&¬Kp) --> FK[(p&¬Kp) was true at t]
the consequent of which is unproblematic.

Given, however, that Edgington's solution to vanilla Fitch is beset with objections, it's not clear how thinking about this temporal analogue can really throw any light on the original puzzle, as Burgess seems to hope it will.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Relativism and Other Animals

Brian Weatherson has just posted a substantial blog entry on Types of Relativism - something I got interested in here a while ago. Brian offers a taxonomy of 18 logically possible positions, of which he thinks only eight are interesting, consisting of various possible combinations of 'Invariantist', 'Contextualist' and 'Relativist' views on three different issues: utterance content, utterance truth-value and proposition truth-value.

I was hoping I could write a post on how the six positions I talked about in my post relate to Brian's eight positions, but, after working out that Brian's III is not one of my positions - because it's not any kind of relativism-like view - I got confused by the following.

Brian's definitions of 'Invariantism', 'Contextualism' and 'Relativism' are all given in terms of the variation (or lack thereof) of some value (content or truth-value) with what he calls 'context'. I wasn't clear, though, whether this was meant to be the utterer's context, the context of the assessor of the utterance, or whether Brian intends to allow that it could be either (and/or maybe other things besides, such as subject's context). Given that he classes Cohen-DeRose-Lewis contextualism as one of the views definable in terms of his I/C/R classification scheme, I guess that utterer's context must be of importance sometimes. But in the theist graffiti case he explicitly discusses assessor's context. If we don't get clear on whose context it is that matters, surely we overlook an important dimension of variation in the various available views here.

Another point: Brian's contextualist is someone who thinks that:
Any token has the same value in all contexts, but some tokens of the same type take different values
Presumably, though, the reason for calling such a view 'contextualist' is that the explanation of the difference in values is required to have something to do with context (and by my understanding of how the term 'contextualist' is generally used, this would usually be utterer's context).

Monday, September 12, 2005

Most Of Us Prefer Our Own Kind (To Goodhart's)

This is a little off my beaten track, but a bad argument is a bad argument. David Goodhart argues in this month's Prospect that the Human Rights Act is a threat to national security (because it problematizes e.g. the deportation to countries where they may face torture or degrading treatment of individuals perceived to present a terrorist threat, and the detention without trial of such individuals). UK citizens have rights, he says, (mainly) because they are UK citizens. Non-citizens don't share them. ('People are not born with [rights] and, regrettably, many .. have few or none'.) But of course, he acknowledges that 'we would ... like the rights currently enjoyed by people in developed countries extended to the rest of the world too'.

Surely we have two options with rights-talk: we could call 'rights' the things that are actually respected, or we could call 'rights' the things that should be respected. This terminological difference makes no difference to the question of which things should be respected. And as soon as we acknowledge that whatever rights UK citizens enjoy should be extended to everyone, there seems to be no basis of the kind Goodhart wants for an argument that non-UK-citizens should be treated differently to UK citizens.

Goodhart seems to think that non-UK-citizens should not be extended certain rights if they 'hate us and may attempt to harm us'. Whether or not such attitudes and potential behaviours are relevant to the forfeiting of rights, however, no argument is given that UK citizenship is similarly relevant. So it isn't clear why, even if one agrees that one can forfeit rights because of what one might do, the appropriate conclusion is not that anyone who 'hates us and may attempt to harm us' forfeits the rights in question.

(Perhaps, though, it is not so surprising to see an unargued preference for UK citizens in someone who thinks that "[t]o put it bluntly - most of us prefer our own kind").

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Non-Cognitivism and Anti-Realism

Here's a question that's been bothering me for a while. (I seem to remember that someone - it could have been Gideon Rosen - raised something like it in the discussion following my talk at the last Arche Modality Workshop.)

Could one be a non-cognitivist about (say) ethics without thereby being an ethical anti-realist in the sense I favour, i.e. without believing that what it is for an ethical proposition to be true is for us to be some way?

Suppose you're a non-cognitivist about ethics because you think ethical discourse is expressive of our attitudes. Surely you'll therefore agree that what it is for murder to be wrong is for us to have a certain kind of attitude to murder?

One reason why you might not agree is that you might think that nothing is what it is for murder to be wrong. You might think that there is no way for the world to be that would correspond to murder being wrong, since ethical discourse does not correspond to states of affairs or facts in the way a cognitive discourse does. But if someone were to claim that what it is for murder to be wrong is for us to disapprove of it, we would take her as saying that there are ethical facts, it's just that they are facts about our attitudes.

But why should we take 'what it is for' (WIIF) talk as talk about states of affairs or facts, when we're dealing with a non-cognitive discourse?

Presumably one motivation for resisting the anti-realist WIIF claim supposed to be that when we say 'murder is wrong' we aren't asserting that we disapprove of murder. But to claim that what it is for murder to be wrong is for us to disapprove of murder is not to claim that when we say 'murder is wrong' we are asserting that we disapprove of murder. (Similarly, to say that mental states are brain states is not to say that when I say 'I'm happy' I'm asserting that I'm in brain state B. I may never have heard of brain state B.)

Monday, September 05, 2005


I am a bit puzzled by the modal claims often made concerning the relation between a proposition's being true and its truthmaker existing. Here's one of the sources of my puzzlement.

Suppose you think facts (actual worldly states of affairs) make propositions true. In particular, suppose you think that the fact that Mu and Marks purr is what makes true the proposition All Carrie's cats purr.

Why should you think that it is impossible for the same fact to obtain without making proposition true? Consider a world where I have two more cats besides Mu and Marks, and one of these other cats does not purr. In this world, the fact that Mu and Marks purr still obtains, but does not make true All Carrie's cats purr.

I guess it could be said that the truthmaking fact in the actual world is not the fact that Mu and Marks purr but the fact that all Carrie's cats purr. But I wonder whether this sort of fine-grained individuation of facts is in keeping with the conception of them as worldly states of affairs (which, presumably, are supposed to have some degree of independence of the different ways in which we can represent them).

Why do we want a modal tie between the existence of the truthmaker and the truth of the proposition, anyway? We want truthmakers to have some special relationship to the propositions they make true, of course, but why this sort of special relationship? Wouldn't it be better to drop the claim that a proposition p's truthmaker is something that could not exist without making p true, and say instead that p's truthmaker is that thing in virtue of whose existence p is true? (NB: I intend these all as genuine, i.e. not merely rhetorical, questions!)

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Demands of Fairness

Last Friday, Michael Ridge presented a paper at a workshop here in St Andrews on Moral Demandingness.

Ridge discussed obligations entered into collectively by groups of agents - in particular, what happens when one member of the group fails to meet her share of the obligation. He argued that considerations of fairness impose a duty on the remaining parties to divide the extra burden created by this neglect as fairly as possible between them. For instance, suppose I and two friends collectively promise to pay you £9 in return for some service, planning to pay £3 each. Then one of my friends refuses to pay anything. According to Ridge, fairness imposes a duty on you, myself and the remaining friend each to sacrifice the same amount as a result of this refusal. So I and the remaining friend should pay you £4 each, so that you get £8. That way, the cost to each of us of the friend's refusal is £1: you miss out on £1 of your payment and my friend and I pay £1 more than we were supposed to.

There is something appealing about this. But on the other hand there's something appealing about the thought that all that fairness requires of me is that I pay my agreed share of £3. It doesn't seem to be required by fairness (though it may be virtuous and supererogatory) that I pay more than my share (we want to say: more than my fair share) just because someone else has neglected her part in the collective obligation.

So it looks like there's a sense in which fairness requires nothing more of me than that I pay £3, and a sense in which fairness requires that I pay £4. It would be nice to hear more about what these two senses are, in order to lessen the feeling of contradiction. (For what it's worth, my instinct is that the feeling is not genuine.)

Saturday, September 03, 2005

Encore d'ECAP

Michael Devitt offered some thoughts at the ECAP on why referential uses of definite descriptions should not be thought of as conventional implicatures. Were they such, correct referential uses of 'The F is G' would convey both a proposition about whatever is uniquely F and (by implicature) a proposition about a particular thing. But (according to Devitt) in many cases the former is not conveyed at all. Consider for instance 'The book is on the desk'. This usually isn't supposed to convey any claim about some thing which is uniquely a book.

It might be argued in response that the speaker's quantifiers are supposed to be suitably restricted so that there is only one book in their range, or that 'the book' is elliptical for some longer description (such as 'the book in front of us'). But Devitt thinks this can't always be right, because in many cases, an uninformed or misinformed speaker would be unable to supply the required restriction on the quantifier or the required non-elliptical description.

I asked whether it is really fair to demand that the speaker be able to supply these things. Devitt replied that it must be facts about the speaker that determine the range of her quantifiers or the full form of her elliptical descriptions. But I wondered why it needs to be facts which are accessible to the speaker (as opposed to, say, facts about the speaker's causal relation to the world and/or other speakers of her language).

Friday, September 02, 2005


Other interesting ECAP sessions included a talk by David Liggins (PhD Sheffield, shortly to take up a year of Analysis-funded research in Cambridge), fearlessly delivered at 9.30am on the first morning of the conference, entitled Naturalism and Nominalism. David suggested (without endorsing) a new way for nominalists about mathematics to accommodate the fact that mathematical theories seem committed to mathematical objects. They could accept that mathematicians utter lots of sentences which express propositions that entail such commitment, but deny that this means they are committed to theories which contain those propositions. When a sentence of this kind is utterered by mathematicians, on the proposed view, what thereby gets put into the mathematician's theory is not the proposition p expressed by the sentence but some other proposition (David suggested some proposition concerning the provability of p from certain axioms). I'd be interested to hear more about what reasons we could have for thinking that what gets put into the theory is a different proposition from the one expressed, as opposed to thinking that a different proposition was being expressed from the one you might have expected.

I should also mention that I was pleasantly surprised to find myself in a Philosophy of Maths talk later on in the same stream where the women in the room outnumbered the men by five to one. This was unprecedented in my experience!

That afternoon I went to a paper on measures of coherence (of the kind Coherentists would seem to need in order to assess how justified our beliefs are), written jointly by Luca Moretti and Ken Akiba and presented by Moretti. One point that came up here was whether logically equivalent sets of sentences were always equally coherent. The speaker thought so, but I was sceptical. Suppose that P in fact entails Q. Then the set {P, Q, P entails Q} is logically equivalent to {P, Q}, but you might reasonably think it was more coherent.

More paper reports to follow soon, I expect!

Monday, August 29, 2005


The ECAP is now in full swing. It´s an event on an impressive scale, with long days comprising for the most part multiply parallel sessions. It´s also pretty warm in Lisbon right now, and many of the rooms have no air conditioning. This (together with the fact that the university is located under the flight path of the city´s airport) has been the main downer so far. Philosophically there has been plenty to entertain and to challenge. I´ll try and get comments on various papers up here eventually, but since I´m pushed for time now I´ll just briefly describe some material presented yesterday by David Papineau and this afternoon´s talk by Kit Fine.

Papineau was arguing that epistemologists and methodological philosophers of science once had a similar range of interests, but that recently (since Gettier, as far as I could tell) epistemologists have been moving away from methodological concerns, and focussing on other matters (the examples given were tracking, disjunctivism and contextualism). For a while I wondered whether Papineau was going to say that the methodologists were out of date, but it turned out the fault lay with the epistemologists, since Papineau could find little reason to be interested in the concept of knowledge except insofar as knowledge is a means to true beliefs, i.e. insofar as one is interested in the methodology of belief formation.

A few thoughts about this:
1. Even supposing there is a real difference of focus between epistemologists and methodological philosophers of science, I would prefer to think in terms of a division of labour than a competition as to whose project is more worthy.
2. Even if we are inclined to agree that we need a reason to be interested in knowledge which appeals to our prior interest in something else, there seem to be some which aren´t simply that our having knowledge is a means to our having true beliefs. For instance, there is Edward Craig´s idea that we are interested in knowledge because we are interested in the notion of a good informant. There´s still a focus on true belief here, in some sense, but for one thing the shift to the third-person perspective which is (at least sometimes) reasonable when we´re thinking about good informants seems to put issues like contextualism back on the menu. (When I spoke to Papineau after the talk he said he was already thinking about this, and also mentioned the Williamsonian idea of knowledge as the norm of assertion.)
3. It´s not even obvious to me that the only methodological reason for being interested in knowledge is that one is interested in securing true beliefs. Before we have a clear grasp of what knowledge is, gleaned from a thorough exploration of the concept of knowledge of the kind Papineau considers disreputable, how can we say whether methodologists should focus on finding out which belief-forming policies lead to true scientific beliefs, as opposed to saying that methodologists should focus on finding out which policies lead to scientific knowledge?

Kit Fine gave a very interesting paper (of which I´d heard an earlier version in St Andrews in June), in which he proposes a new approach to the notion of class. Rather than building a ZF-like hierarchy by starting with a grasp of the membership relation and using it to explain which sets there are (first the set with no members, then the set with the null set as its only member ... etc.), we would start off with all the classes and any urelemente as given, and then explain membership by saying which of those things the relation held between. He described this as a sort of Copernican Revolution.

In the question session I queried whether one could understand which classes there are without understanding what membership is. It´s not as if classes can be pointed out to us like boxes: to think about a particular class, we have to describe it, and presumably we will most often describe classes using descriptions of the form ´the class whose members are ...´. Fine initially proposed that we associate classes with certain conditions (e.g. the null class with the condition x is not identical to x) which, although they may contain a limited membership relation, do not contain the full notion. But since these are the conditions for membership of the class we are interested in, that doesn´t seem to help - understanding the relation between the condition and the class is understanding that the condition tells you which members the class has.

If something like this is right, then at most I think Fine might be able to claim that, instead of the traditional explanatory asymmetry between the membership relation and the notion of class, we have an interesting interdependence between the two. I don´t think he could say that the asymmetry was to be reversed in the way suggested by the phrase ´Copernican Revolution´.

Fine made a suggestion in reply, which was that we might associate conditions with the objects which would turn out to be the classes in some other way than by saying that the conditions specify the classes´ members. I´m still wondering what to think about this (comments welcome, obviously!), though an initial feeling is that we can´t really get an idea of which classes there are by this means. We would get the idea that there are these objects, but would we have enough information to understand that they were classes if we didn´t understand what membership was?

Thursday, August 25, 2005


I will be away at the European Congress for Analytic Philosophy in Lisbon until Friday 2 September, so there will (probably) be no more posts here until then.

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Rationality More Generally

Rationality seems to come in different stripes - familiarly, there are epistemic and practical notions of rationality. Maybe there are other (more specific?) kinds as well.

It would be nice to have a general notion of rationality that would cover all the cases. How about something like this:

R: An act’s rationality-of-kind-K is determined by the extent to which it promotes the aims which that act has in virtue of being a (certain type of) act of kind K.

For example, we might say that:

RE: A belief's epistemic rationality is determined by the extent to which it promotes the aims which that act has in virtue of being an epistemic act (or perhaps, more specifically, a belief-like epistemic act).

To get an idea of what I mean, suppose you think that the sole constitutive aim of an epistemic act is to do what will probably get you to the truth about the matter under consideration (so that any act that lacks this aim just isn't a belief). Then you'll think that a belief's epistemic rationality is determined by the extent to which adopting that belief is the (a) thing that will probably get you to the truth about the matter under consideration.

I take it RE would explain why it doesn't seem right to assess non-epistemic acts for epistemic rationality.

Sunday, August 21, 2005

Epistemic Rationality

I've been thinking today about how something's being epistemically rational doesn't match up with that thing's being, epistemically speaking, the best thing (or one of a number of optimal things) to do overall.

Suppose you think that withholding judgement as to whether or not the physical world exists would be crippling, in almost all ways, including epistemically. People who withhold judgement about whether there is a physical world are making a big mistake, insofar as they want to do well epistemically - they are pursuing a course of action which is epistemically hopeless. In order to do well epistemically, believing in the external world is the thing to do. It enables us to get on with all sorts of other important epistemic projects. Many of these are, of course, projects which depend on our assuming that the physical world exists (e.g. projects involving visual inspection). But I want to ignore those for now (for reasons that should become clear below). Let's focus instead on the projects which don't actually depend on that assumption, but are just such that we wouldn't ever get round to them if we were too busy worrying about whether the physical world existed or not.

If it's right that withholding judgement about the physical world would prevent our undertaking these projects, then believing in the physical world is, epistemically speaking, a good thing to do, insofar as it enables us to get on with all these projects.

But there could be a drawback: suppose belief in the external world is in fact not supported by evidence (or suppose that it has some other status you would normally take to suffice for irrationality). Then, epistemically speaking, believing in the external world has drawbacks as well as advantages - it enables us to get on with those other epistemic projects, but it requires us to do something that we would normally regard as epistemically dodgy. (NB: this would also mean that any projects which depended on the assumption that there is an external world could not really be counted as epistemic bonuses for the believer - they would share the epistemic dodginess of the assumption on which they depended.)

But suppose that we were eventually going to stop believing in the physical world, but only after we've got around to pursuing a good number of these other (independent) projects. Then, it seems, we would eventually end up in an epistemic situation which had the advantages of belief in the physical world but not the disadvantages.

Perhaps this would mean that believing in the external world was, epistemically speaking, the best thing to do overall. Imagine, furthermore, that it's even known by the subject to be epistemically speaking the best thing to do overall. Could we infer that it was epistemically rational?

That would seem very strange to me. I'd be interested to hear how others' intuitions go on this case, but mine is that the epistemic rationality of a belief in p at a time t is to be evaluated just with regard to the subject's epistemic state at t with regard to p. Considerations about one's future epistemic state with regard to other propostions shouldn't enter into it.

Friday, August 19, 2005

Contemporary Debates in Epistemology

I've just got my copy of this collection through from Amazon, and skipped straight to chapter 4 on the a priori. I was interested to notice Michael Devitt (pp. 107-8) discussing one of the questions I asked in my most commented post so far, namely why we should assume that experience only tells us what is the case, rather than what must be the case. (Devitt, unsurprisingly, is in favour of a holistic, web-of-belief account of how it can.)

Even more interestingly, BonJour (p. 100) argues that the way to solve a certain kind of regress problem ('the application of a propositional insight concerning the cogency of ... an inference would require either a further inference of the very sort in question or one equally fundamental') is to claim that a priori rational insight cannot be always (perhaps cannot be ever) 'propositional in form'. Instead, an a priori insight must (often) be 'a direct grasping of the way in which the conclusion is related to the premises and validly flows from them'. This raises several questions, including the question of how best to make sense of how grasping 'the way in which ...' could amount to something other than the grasping of a proposition, or how, even if it is different, it could amount to grasping something which does not itself (by BonJour's - internalist - lights) stand in need of justification like a proposition does. I always suspected the solution to this kind of problem was to reject the (famously regress-generating) internalist premise.

Another interesting question the suggestion raises (which as far as I can tell BonJour does not address) is whether, if non-propositional a priori insight is possible, there could also be empirical grounding for these non-propositional things, whatever they are. It's hard to see an obvious reason why there could not, though I think if there could that would undermine this argument of BonJour's for the existence of a priori insight.

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Vague Existence Gets Murkier

I was talking vague existence over lunch today with Katherine Hawley and Daniel Nolan.

Daniel suggested that in order correctly and exhaustively to represent an ontically vague world, a world (let's say) where it is an ontically vague matter whether an F exists, our best theory BT must be such that it is a vague matter whether or not BT is committed to Fs. It wouldn't be enough for the theory to include a sentence which says that it's a vague matter whether Fs exist.

This would, I think, be a way to respond to my suggestion that ontic vagueness creates tension with the Quinean criterion for ontological commitment. The Nolan line (I use that description without intending to suggest that Daniel endorses the view) would seem to be that although BT is not committed to Fs just by dint of containing a sentence which says that it's vague whether Fs exist, BT is vaguely committed to Fs (or at least, it becomes problematic to say that it is not committed) because it is a vague matter whether or not BT says that Fs exist.

One interesting feature of this proposal is that it seems to imply that ontic vagueness cannot be limited to Fs alone. If it's vague whether there are Fs, it's also vague whether BT includes 'There are Fs'. And to say the latter vagueness is merely linguistic would seem somewhat strange under the circs. How could two different things be responsible for the vagueness of reality and the vagueness of BT, when the latter kind of vagueness exists merely because BT has to be an exhaustive representation a reality which exhibits the former kind?

That aside, though, I'm not sure I can yet see what independent motivation there is for taking this sort of line. It must be that in this situation BT leaves something out (or more cautiously, does not determinately capture everything) if it attempts to say all there is to say on the matter of the existence of Fs just by including the sentence 'It's vague whether there are Fs'. To do its job properly, it must also vaguely include the sentence 'There are Fs'. But why think that? What's been left out exactly?

One motivating thought Daniel mentioned: suppose we take exhaustive representation of the universe to be possible by theories that are not such that it's vague whether they include certain sentences. That skirts close to a bivalence assumption: we might like to think that (best theories are ideally good enough for it to be the case that) the true sentences are the ones in the theory, and it's determinate which ones those are, and all the others are false. Defenders of ontic vagueness who refuse to accept bivalence should therefore be equally unhappy with the idea that correct and exhaustive representation is possible by theories which are not vague in the aforementioned way.

But as far as I can see there is no need to say that the sentences not included in the best theory are false. All we want is for our best theory to include all the sentences that we think are true. So if we think 'It's vague whether there are Fs' is true, that should be in BT. And if we think it's a vague matter which of 'There are Fs' and 'There are no Fs' is true, then we don't think 'There are Fs' is true and we don't think 'There are no Fs' is true. (Which is not to say that we think either of them is untrue. We aren't committed either way.) So BT needn't include either of these sentences. But that's not to say that (either actually, or according to BT) these sentences are false. And if it were we'd have bigger trouble on our hands than a commitment to bivalence ...

BT of course needs to include the information that it's a vague matter which of the two sentences is true, but it does this, not by vaguely including them both, but by including 'It's vague whether there are Fs'.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Recognizing Necessity

Tonight's post is (even) more of a ramble than usual - a question I'm just starting to get interested in and would like to know (and think) more about.

Say there are some a priori contingent truths (e.g. The metre bar is one metre long). If that's so, how do we recognise necessity when we see it? It can't just be that, when we realize we have special a priori access to some truth, we thereby (gain all the information we need in order to) realize that the truth in question in necessary.

Here's a quick answer: suppose that coming to know a proposition a priori is a matter of realizing that a certain kind of relation holds between the concepts involved. Then there doesn't seem to be any obvious reason why it should always be the case that, when the right sort of relation holds between the concepts in p, that sort of relation also holds between the concepts in Necessarily p. We come to know p a priori by recognizing something about one set of concepts, and we come to know a priori that Necessarily p by recognizing something about a different set of concepts.

I like this sort of answer in principle, though it can't be quite the whole story. One thing it doesn't do is explain why there is so often a connection between realizing that you have a priori knowledge that p and realizing that p is necessary. Apart from that, though, I wonder whether people are inclined to think it is lacking in some other way (and/or to have views as to what should we say to address the fact that there is usually a connection between a prioricity and necessity)?

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Finkish Fitchish Dispositions

I had a great time talking about Fitch this afternoon with some members of the NAMICONA group. I got some very interesting comments and I want to make a note of some of them before I forget - though this post follows a couple of post-talk drinks so apologies if it falls below even my usual standards of clarity ...

One intriguing suggestion, made by Lars Gundersen: maybe saying that p is knowable-if-true is not a matter of asserting 'p --> possibly-Kp', but rather a matter of attributing some sort of dispositional property to p, which might be finkish. To take the conditional to capture this property would be to commit (something close to) the conditional fallacy. (NB: the rest of this post consists in reflections on things Lars and others said in the session - they take no blame for any nonsense in what follows.)

Compare: killer yellow is visible, even though if one were to look at it one would not see it but would in fact perish. It would be a mistake to assume that the dispositional property of visibility is captured by any counterfactual of the form 'if you were to look at it then you would see it'.

To get closer to the Fitch case, consider super-killer-yellow, which is visible, even though necessarily all who look upon it instantly perish. To get even closer again, consider super-suicidal-yellow, which necessarily disappears when someone looks at it. The visibility of super-suicidal-yellow (one might think) is a finkish dispositional property.

But note that we are still some distance from the conditional that generates the Fitch argument, since that conditional is material and so far we're still talking about counterfactuals. But if being knowable-if-true is indeed a dispositional property, perhaps the first step in rejecting its analysis as (p --> possibly-Kp) will be to argue that if any conditional captures it at all it won't be a material one. (The next step will presumably be to argue that if any strightforward counterfactual captures it then what goes on the left hand side of that counterfactual is not 'p' but some description of the stimulus - investigation presumably - which typically triggers the response of becoming known-if-true. And what goes on the right hand side is a description of this response.)

And note that we are getting close to what we want insofar as we've established that the visibility of super-suicidal-yellow is not threatened by the falsity of 'super-suicidal-yellow is possibly seen'. Maybe we can argue by analogy that the knowability-if-true of (p and not-Kp) is not threatened by the falsity of '(p and not-Kp) is possibly true and known'.

Assuming something like a Lewisian analysis of dispositions (for the sake of argument), we might try something like the following:

A proposition p is knowable-if-true at time t (i.e. disposed at time t to give response r - becoming known-if-true - to stimulus s - being sufficiently investigated) if and only if, for some property B that p has at t, for some time t’ after t, if p were to undergo stimulus s at time t and retain property B until t’, s and p’s having of B would jointly cause p’s giving response r.

('Sufficient investigation' = investigation sufficient to produce knowledge of p if p is true and knowledge of not-p if p is false.)

One thing about treating Fitch cases (and any others where the appearance of s necessarily prevents the retention of B) this way, though, at least if we also assume a Lewisian analysis of counterfactuals, is that the counterfactual involved in the analysis will be trivially true in the interesting cases, since it is impossible for any true proposition of the form (p and not-Kp) to retain it's truth-value (which I would imagine must be part of B) while being sufficiently investigated. So I guess we would need to plug in some other analysis of the counterfactual, or else demand that the counterfactual be assertible as well as trivially true, or something of that kind.

There might, of course, also be more promising non-Lewisian analyses of the relevant dispositional properties that don't involve counterfactuals at all.

[Aside: It could be that on some ways of developing this thought, it might end up quite close to some of the things I think about Fitch. Ascribing the relevant dispositional property might depend on (what I would descibe as) the thought that the state of affairs (if any) which makes p true is recognizable. The base property might be a matter of p's relation to that state of affairs (if any). Another extrinsically-based disposition, perhaps!]

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Word Meaning and Sentence Meaning

Reading a draft chapter of Philip Ebert's PhD thesis today reminded me of a thought I've been batting about for a while concerning Frege's context principle.

Interpretations of the context principle usually seem to take it to be a claim to the effect that (certain) whole sentences in which a word occurs have some kind of semantic priority over the words themselves. But I've never been able to see exactly why a semantic priority claim is what's needed.

Suppose, for instance, that you think that what the context principle does is reveal that it suffices for epistemic access to the referents of mathematical singular terms if we have knowledge of (the propositions expressed by) the whole sentences in which these terms occur. Wouldn't it be enough to support that conclusion if we said that word meaning and sentence meaning are interdependent, so that understanding (certain) sentences in which a term occurs is always sufficient for understanding the term itself? With this principle in place we can argue that understanding the relevant sentences suffices for a grasp of the putative referent of a mathematical term, and that this together with knowledge that the sentences are true suffices for knowledge that the referent exists. (There are other assumptions at work here, of course, but only ones that are needed anyway.)

At most, we might feel pressured to say that our knowledge of the meaning of the sentences is prior to our grasp of the putative referent of the term (e.g. if we wanted an explanation of our grasp of the putative referent that was clearly naturalistically acceptable - didn't rely on intuition of abstract objects). But that's a matter of epistemological priority about semantics, not semantic priority. It doesn't imply that the fact that the term means what it does depends in any interesting (asymmetrical) way on the fact that the sentence means what it does.

In the background to all this is a lurking intuition that it is obvious that neither word nor sentence is semantically prior to the other - that word meaning and sentence meaning are clearly interdependent in such a way as to make claims of asymmetric semantic dependence implausible. I'd be interested, though, if anyone can set me straight as to why a full-on semantic priority claim will buy us more of what we want.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Muriel and Schmuriel

I've been trying to work out why the area around Billund and Aarhus feels familiar in an unsettling way. I think it's that it combines the climate and long days of my current home county, Fife, with the flat landscapes and wide skies of my previous home county, Cambridgeshire. The effect is somewhat like that of meeting a friend wearing another friend's clothes in a context where you weren't expecting to see either of them.

The NAMICONA centre is pretty quiet at the moment but seems very friendly. I'll be giving a seminar on Fitch on Thursday afternoon to earn my passage out here, so there may be more to follow on that topic. Meanwhile, over dinner last night I discovered that Lars Gundersen shares my interest in the intrinsicness or otherwise of dispositions, and Eline Busck reminded me about this paper by Jennifer McKitrick on the topic (Ingenta access is required for this link).

I thought it might be illuminating to reformulate my 'friend of Muriel' example (originally described here as an example of a disposition with an extrinsic base) in conformity with McKitrick's pattern for examples of extrinsic dispositions. (This ought to work if the original does, since I guess that dispositions with extrinsic bases are extrinsic dispositions, although it would be more controversial to suppose that the converse holds.)

So consider person x and person y, who are perfect duplicates. They each have a friend whom they like very much and call by the name ‘Muriel’, but neither of them has ever met the other's friend. Let us refer to x’s friend as ‘Muriel’, and y’s friend as ‘Schmuriel’. Now we have the following argument:

1. x and y are perfect duplicates.
2. x is disposed to get upset when someone is rotten to Muriel.
3. y is not disposed to get upset when someone is rotten to Muriel.
4. Therefore, perfect duplicates do not necessarily share this dispositional property.
5. Therefore this dispositional property is extrinsic.

As far as I can tell, this example has an advantage over McKitrick's, in that there is no possible interference from relevant context-sensitivity in ‘gets upset when someone is rotten to Muriel’, of the kind that an objector might think was operative in the phrases that appear in McKitrick’s examples (‘weight’, ‘the contents of my pocket’, ‘recognizable’, etc.) and which the objector could use to motivate the ‘objection from relationally specified properties’ (see p. 163ff.).

Saturday, August 06, 2005


I'll be visiting the NAMICONA centre at Aarhus University until Monday 15 August. I hope I'll be able to get a couple of posts up while I'm there but things will be quieter than usual.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Disappearing Diamonds and Disappearing Disjunctions

(I'm using '-->' to represent the material conditional in this post.)

Kvanvig argues (here) that it is surprising (in some deep way) when Fitch's paradox shows us that 'p --> possibly Kp' is equivalent to 'p --> Kp'. It's surprising, he says, because it looks like we're collapsing a distinction between its being possible that Kp and (what is strictly stronger) its actually being the case that Kp.

But if that's the sole source of the puzzlement, why aren't we similarly surprised that '¬A --> (AvB)' is equivalent to '¬A --> B'? Here it looks like we're collapsing a distinction between the truth of a disjunction and (what is strictly stronger) the truth of one of its disjuncts. (Or at least, it looks as much like we're doing that as it looks like we're collapsing a modal distinction in the original case).

I suspect that, if there is something deeply surprising about the Fitch proof that stands in need of explanation, there must be more to it than this.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Classify Me

Keith DeRose pointed out a while ago on Certain Doubts that the titles of the essays in this collection form a series of yes/no questions that we can use as a little diagnostic test to put epistemologists into boxes. So for what it's worth I'm going to follow Clayton Littlejohn's example and list my answers here.

1. Is Knowledge Closed under Known Entailment?
2. Is Knowledge Contextual?
Probably, in at least one of the senses that could be intended.
3. Can Skepticism Be Refuted?
Nope, but that's not a problem.
4. Is There A Priori Knowledge?
I expect so, but if so it'll be empirically grounded - and no, 'a priori' doesn't mean 'non-empirical' :)
5. Is Infinitism the Solution to the Regress Problem?
6. Can Beliefs Be Justified through Coherence Alone?
7. Is There Immediate Justification?
Probably, though we'll have to be really careful spelling out what that means.
8. Does Perceptual Experience Have Conceptual Content?
Is it structured in a way that is mirrored by our concepts? Yes. Does it have content which is actually shaped by concepts (i.e. is it conceptualized): some does, but not all of it.
9. Is Justification Internal?
10. Is Truth the Primary Epistemic Goal?
11. Is Justified Belief Responsible Belief?
If I'm going to borrow terminology from action-talk, I'd rather say 'appropriate' than 'responsible'.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Experiencing Modalities

Why do many philosophers seem to have accepted without argument that experience can only give us epistemic access to how things are, not to how things must be or how they could be? As far as I can tell, Plato, Kant and Hume were all convinced of the truth of (some version of) this claim, and it also has later advocates (I can think of relevant passages in Whewell and Chisholm).

But even if we thought that all modal truths were knowable a priori (and we had not yet appreciated that a priori knowledge may be empirically grounded), what would be the grounds for denying that experience can provide some (a posteriori) form of epistemic access to modal truths?

Granted, we never see modalities or bump into them. But we never see or bump into quarks or dark matter or magnetic fields either. We (or rather, those experts to whom we delegate such things) infer to their existence as the best explanation of what is observed. This is a perfectly respectable way for experience to provide epistemic access to some swathe of reality.

Is it perhaps assumed that modal truths cannot serve as explanations of the things we observe? Or is it that some other, non-modal explanation will always be better?

Alternatively, is the assumption that experience cannot provide us with epistemic access to modal truths just outdated? Has our epistemology moved on, with the realization that we can have empirical grounding for believing in something without actually bumping into it, and left this old-fashioned assumption behind?

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Lynch's Role-Functionalism About Truth

Michael Lynch visited Arche recently and gave two great seminars on alethic pluralism, defending the view that truth is "both many and one" in the sense that truth is a multiply realizable functional property. This post is an attempt to record some of the thoughts I had in the discussion period about one of the arguments we looked at (which can also be found on p.15 of this online manuscript).

Michael proposes that '[i]n general, a real distinction between a property and a concept is merited whenever there are features relevant to something's being F which go beyond what can be known just by reflecting on our concept of Fs.' He also notes that '... according to alethic functionalism, a proposition is a member of the truth kind in virtue of its having the supervenient role property of truth.' But the nature of the realizing property, and whether a proposition has it, 'go beyond' the concept of truth, in that 'mere reflection on the concept of truth does not reveal them'. Therefore, Michael concludes, the property of truth is not a 'mere construction out of the concept'.

In our seminar I raised the concern that two readings of the intial claim are available, only one of which is plausible, although the other seems to be relied upon during the course of the argument. The two readings are:
1. Property and concept are distinct if there are features relevant to something's being F such that whether they are relevant to something's being F is not knowable just through reflection on the concept of truth.
2. Property and concept are distinct if there are features relevant to something's being F such that whether something has those features or not is not knowable just through reflection on the concept of truth.

One thing to note about whatever reading we settle on (this point was made by Crispin Wright during the seminar) is that we must be careful with the notion of 'relevance' here. We don't mean causal or explanatory relevance, for instance. (Any property F, even one which is just a reflection of our concept, could be such that part of the explanation of why a particular thing is F appeals to features of that thing which 'go beyond' - in either sense - reflection on the concept of F.) Something more like constitutive relevance seems to be needed. ('Constitutive' relevance needn't entail any kind of knowability through conceptual reflection - compare e.g. the kind of relevance that the feature of being H2O has to the property of being water.)

Suppose we can settle on an appropriate notion of relevance. Still, even if 1 is plausible, 2 surely isn't. 2, however, seems to be what's at work when it's claimed that it is significant that whether a proposition has some realizer property is not knowable just by reflection on the concept of truth.

Nonetheless, might it be significant that the nature of the realizing properties is not knowable through reflection on the concept of truth? I'm not sure. To convince me that it is, Michael needs to argue that the 'relevance' of the realizer properties to the property of truth is not comparable to causal or explanatory relevance, but is such as to make the realizer properties constitutively relevant to the role property.

But I think there may be a dilemma lurking here. If something about the realizer properties were constitutively relevant to the role property, such that this relevance wasn't knowable just through reflection on the role property, wouldn't that mean the role property was no longer purely functional in nature?

Compare: the Twin Earth thought experiment convinces us that being H2O is (although this fact is not knowable by conceptual reflection) constitutively relevant to being water. But at the same time it convinces us that being water isn't just a matter of being the colourless liquid that flows in our rivers etc.. Similarly, if something convinces us that (say) some fact about the nature of correspondance or coherence is a posteriori constitutively relevant to the property of truth, won't that simultaneously convince us that being true is not just a matter of having a property which fulfils the truth-platitudes that Michael wants to use to characterize truth's functional role?

Monday, August 01, 2005

More on Vague Existence

Here's a more concise (and otherwise improved) version of a worry I was playing about with in my post a few days ago, and a look at a couple of manouevres that might be made in response.

There is a tension between the following three claims:
1. One is committed to Fs iff there are Fs among the range of the quantifiers appearing in one's best theory.
2. According to best theory, it is an ontically vague matter whether an F exists.
3. Someone whose best theory (correctly) asserts that it is a vague matter whether an F exists isn’t committed to saying that an F exists, nor is she committed to saying that one does not exist.

By 3, if 2 is true then we are not committed to the existence of an F. By 1, therefore, no F is among the range of the quantifiers appearing in our best theory. Hence our best theory can also truly contain the sentence ‘Nothing is an F’. But how can it be that our best theory can truly assert both that it is a vague matter whether or not there is an F and that nothing is an F? If nothing is an F, then it is not a vague matter whether or not there is an F: it is settled that there isn’t one.

Short of ditching 1 altogether, there seem to be two possible lines of response which a defender of 2 could appeal to. One is to argue (contra 3) that it is a vague matter whether the defender of vague existence is committed to Fs. The other is to revise 1 so that it reads: one is committed to Fs iff, determinately, there are Fs among the range of the quantifiers appearing in one's best theory.

I don’t find the first response appealing; acknowledging ontic vagueness seems to me to be a paradigmatic way of remaining decidedly non-committal. The second, though, may be thought more promising. Given that the defender of vague existence for Fs is not committed to Fs, the revised version of 1 will only deliver that it is not determinately true that there are Fs among the range of the quantifiers appearing in her best theory. This won’t entail that her best theory can truly say ‘Nothing is an F’.

However, some independent motivation for the revision is needed if it is not to appear ad hoc. And I'm not sure what form that motivation might take. There doesn’t seem (for all that’s been said here) to be anything wrong with the original 1 except that it makes claims of vague existence problematic. But until we are persuaded that vague existence is actually unproblematic, why should we regard that as a reason to revise 1?

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Mystery of the Disappearing Diamond

Jonathan Kvanvig has an interesting paper on Fitch's knowability paradox in which he argues that the paradox is a puzzle for everyone (not just those who believe that if a proposition is true then it is knowable). The puzzle is one of modal collapse; Fitch's argument shows that:
1. p --> possibly Kp
(if p then it is possible that p is known by some being at some time)
2. p --> Kp
(if p then p is known by some being at some time).
But how come the possibility operator can just disappear like that? Everyone has work to do explaining this, according to Kvanvig.

Thinking about the way the Fitch argument works suggests the following explanation:
Nothing of the form (p and not Kp) is knowable. But given 1, if anything of that form is true, then it is knowable. That's why, if 1 is true, nothing of the form (p and not Kp) is true. And that's why if 1 is true then 2 is true too.

Kvanvig must think there's something unsatisfying about this simple explanation. But what? Do we need further explanation of one or more of the claims it draws upon? I don't think so, but even if we do it could surely be given. More plausible, I think, is the thought that the simple explanation doesn't really explain the disappearance of the possibility operator; it just explains why 2 follows from 1.

If the worry is something like this then it is interesting. What counts as a good explanation of a fact does plausibly depend on (among other things) the way the fact is presented. The thought here would be that presenting the implication of 2 by 1 as a case of surprising modal collapse makes the simple explanation offered above inadequate (even if it is a good-enough explanation of the same fact under a different description).

But I am left with two questions:
A. What exactly is wrong with the simple explanation, considered as an explanation of the modal collapse? What virtue would a satisfying explanation have that this one lacks?
B. If we can answer question A, do we have any reason to think that there will be a good explanation of the modal collapse so described (i.e. an explanation that has the virtue we've identified as lacking in the simple explanation)? Or might it be that the best we can do is explain why 1 implies 2, leaving the fact that 2 takes the form of 1 without the 'possibly' a sort of coincidence?

Wednesday, July 27, 2005


I'm on a computer-free holiday until Sunday 31st, so won't be posting any more until then.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Vague Existence

In a forthcoming paper in Analysis (not yet available online) my colleague Elizabeth Barnes discusses some worries about ontic vagueness for sparse theories of properties (both theories of Universals and trope theories). One worry about sparse Universals is that issues of vague instantiation seem as relevant to them as to plentiful Universals. Another is that 'Aristotelians' about Universals (people who think Universals only exist instantiated) have some work to do if they are not to be committed to the vague existence of certain sparse Universals.

Rather than discussing the details of Elizabeth's interesting discussion, I just wanted to note an intuitive response I had to it. I often find myself tempted to believe in Universals and not to be Arisotelian about them, so I can regard Elizabeth's worries about vague existence as one more reason not to go Aristotelian. But the non-Aristotelian still faces the worry about vague instantiation. Instinctively, though, I am less worried by this that by the threat of vague existence.

But why? Vague instantiation is ontic vagueness - real vagueness out there in the world, not generated by our language - just as much as vague existence is. An initial thought is just this: I can understand (sort of) how two things, a Universal and a particular, could be vaguely related to each other, but not how one thing could exist vaguely.

A first attempt to say why is that if there is something of which it is true that it exists vaguely, then that thing exists. And we're not going to be comfortable with saying both that it exists and that it's a vague matter whether it exists or not. If vague instantiation is the worst thing we have to deal with, no similar problem arises - there is no comparable motivation to say both that some particular instantiates some Universal and that it is vague whether it instantiates it or not.

The obvious response is that the defender of vague existence is not committed to saying there is something which exists vaguely, merely that it is vague whether (to borrow Elizabeth's example) an Einsteinium Universal exists. As Katherine Hawley puts it in this paper, a 'modest' commitment to vague existence is a commitment to this claim:

it is indeterminate whether anything is F (for some F), this is not as a result of semantic indecision, and yet nothing is such that it is indeterminate whether it is F.

But I'm still uneasy. As good Quineans, anything that we quantify over is something that we should be happy to say exists. Therefore, you might think, no Einsteinium Universal can be among the range of our quantifiers, since we are not happy to say that an Einsteinium Universal exists (that would be in tension with the claim that it is indeterminate whether an Einsteinium Universal exists). But if no Einsteinium Universal is among the range of our quantifiers, we can truly say that nothing is an Einsteinium Universal. And that looks very much like a claim that no Einsteinium Universal exists, which is again in tension with the claim that it is indeterminate whether an Einsteinium Universal exists.

Maybe there is room to try and block this argument by claiming that it's indeterminate whether an Einsteinium Universal is among the range of our quantifiers. After all, our quantifiers range over everything that exists, and it's indeterminate whether an Einsteinium Universal exists.

But if our quantifying over something goes along with it's being the case that we should be happy to say that that thing exists, this proposal ought to give the result that it is indeterminate whether or not we should be happy to say that an Einsteinium Universal exists. Yet the defender of ontic vagueness will actually be unhappy about saying this, and will presumably think she is right to take that attitude, since saying this would amount to taking a stand where the world itself does not.

Putting the point another way, if it's a vague matter whether we're quantifying over an Einsteinium Universal, it's a vague matter whether we're committed to one or not. But the defender of ontic vagueness would surely deny that she is committed to the existence of an Einsteinium Universal (I am assuming that the view is meant to be neutral as to whether an Einsteinium Universal exists or not - i.e. not committed either way). And this sits uncomfortably with the thought that it's a vague matter whether she is or isn't so committed.

Monday, July 25, 2005


Lewis (1997) proposed that:

Something x is disposed at time t to give response r to stimulus s if and only if, for some intrinsic property B that x has at t, for some time t’ after t, if x were to undergo stimulus s at time t and retain property B until t’, s and x’s having of B would jointly be an x-complete cause of x’s giving response r.

There are lots of things to say about this, but one of them is that we sometimes seem to have dispositions based on extrinsic properties. For instance, I am disposed to get upset when someone is rotten to Muriel, and the underlying basis of this disposition is that I like her. Liking Muriel is, however, surely an extrinsic property of mine rather than an intrinsic one.

The restriction to intrinsic bases is introduced to resolve certain problem cases which occur if we leave it out. A sorcerer watches over a fragile glass, prepared to make it cease to be fragile if it is ever struck. Why doesn't that mean the glass has a disposition to lose its fragility when struck? According to Lewis, it's because the property which served as the basis of the proposed 'disposition' would not be intrinsic to the glass.

But maybe Lewis puts the intrinsicness requirement in the wrong place. Maybe what matters is that s and x's having of B cause changes in the intrinsic properties of x which are sufficient to bring it about that x gives response r to the stimulus s.

If that's right, the real reason the glass does not have the disposition to lose its fragility when struck is that the striking and the property of being watched over by a sorcerer do not cause a change in the glass's intrinsic properties that suffices to bring about the loss of fragility. The way this property and this stimulus bring about that response is through causing changes in the sorcerer and his relation to the glass.

By contrast, the cases where we seem to have dispositions with extrinsic bases are ones where the relevant extrinisic property, together with the stimulus, brings about the response just by causing some change in the intrinsic properties of the bearer of the disposition. For instance, I get upset when someone is rotten to Muriel because of the way that the rottenness and my liking for Muriel cause changes in my intrinsic properties.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

In Virtue Of

I've just finished reading a very interesting paper on metaphysical dependence (the kind of fact-fact relation that philosophers often use 'in virtue of' to express) by Gideon Rosen, which he presented at the last Arche modality workshop. I won't comment on the contents of the paper as it's a work in progress, but I did want to post some thoughts about a question I was inspired to think about by reading it.

The question is: can it happen that a single fact P obtains wholly in virtue of one fact Q and also wholly in virtue of a distinct fact R? I'm not particularly wedded to any answer to this question, but here are some prima facie reasons for answering 'yes'. The fact that my poppies are red obtains in virtue of the fact that they are scarlet. (Actually all my poppies are disappointingly pink this year - but let's pretend they're not.) And the fact that these poppies are red obtains in virtue of their surfaces being microphysically structured in such a way as to look red under normal conditions. A little more controversially, the fact that Jeff has decided to go somewhere sunny for his holiday obtains in virtue of the fact that he has decided to go to Spain for his holiday, and it also obtains in virtue of the fact that Jeff's brain is (or has been) in a state constitutive of his having decided to go somewhere sunny for his holiday.

But one could try to resist this by saying that in these cases the 'two facts' mentioned are really the same fact. On the face of it, that seems crazy: a poppy's being microphysically structured in such a way as to look red under normal conditions doesn't even entail that it is scarlet. So how can these two facts be the same? One response might be to argue that there is no real (worldly) fact corresponding to anything as general as the 'fact' of the poppy's being scarlet or that of its being microphysically structured in such a way as to look red under normal conditions; to argue, that is, that the only real facts are very detailed facts about the poppy's particular microphysical structure. We could then say that the two sentences cited when saying what it is in virtue of which the poppy is red are (regardless of what we happen to think about the matter - and regardless of how much we know about the worldly - i.e. particular - facts) just two ways of picking out the same particular fact or facts about the poppy.

An objection to this view is that it makes 'in virtue of' relations into relations of fact-identity (or perhaps at best fact-inclusion). For presumably the worldly fact(s) corresponding to my poppy's being red are the same as those corresponding to its being scarlet and its surface having a certain microphysical structure. But I can imagine this bullet being bitten; maybe IVO claims really are made true by relations of fact-identity or fact-inclusion. Maybe they are interesting, non-trivial and assymmetric only for epistemic reasons, having to do with the ways the facts are picked out. This line has its advantages if you are inclined to think that worldly metaphysical grounding is a weird sort of notion that we are well shot of.

A less radical way of taking this kind of approach, however, would be to argue that although the less particular facts are also 'real', they are not the sorts of things that facts can obtain 'in virtue of'; only the very particular facts can play the metaphysical grounding role. When we appear to cite a less particular fact as the metaphysical ground of some other fact, we are actually just gesturing towards the kind of real (particular) fact that is doing the work.

There are problem cases for either version of this sort of strategy, however. It seems that my mother is a parent in virtue of having given birth to me, and she is also a parent in virtue of having given birth to each of my brothers. But however particular you take them to be, these facts are surely not the same fact.

In response to this kind of point, perhaps we might deny that she is a parent wholly in virtue of having given birth to me. Although she could have been a parent wholly in virtue of having given birth to just one of us, and indeed was so at one point, maybe we just need to be careful not to confuse that claim with any claim about the actual metaphysical ground of the present tense fact that she is a parent.

One way to motivate that line could be to argue, in sympathy with the more radical of the two options considered above, that, as things currently stand, the sentence 'My mother is a parent' must pick out a bunch of particular worldly facts which involve (the microphysical parts of) me and all my brothers, and so could not obtain wholly in virtue of her having given birth to me. It must pick out this bunch of facts, we might think, because there's no unspecific wordly fact (her being a parent) that it could pick out, because unspecific facts aren't 'real', and to say it picks out specific facts about (the microphysical parts of) her and only one of her children seems to be privileging that child in an unprincipled way. (And we don't want to encourage sibling rivalry.)

However, we don't need to say anything as strong as this in order to appreciate that there is some intuitive motivation for the claim that my mother's being a parent does not obtain wholly in virtue of the fact that she has given birth to me (or to just one of my brothers). Or so it seems to me.