Friday, March 21, 2008

Migrating ...

I have decided to migrate Long Words Bother Me to Wordpress.

It is now available with a shiny new look at a shiny new address,

Please update your bookmarks!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Manchester Photos

Updated: Apologies, the links I had up here before required Facebook membership. The new ones should be generally accessible!

A few photos from the very enjoyable Manchester Philosophy of Maths conference are now available. I also found a few more photos from Geneva on my camera, which I've added to the end of my Geneva album.

Friday, March 14, 2008


UPDATE: I have slightly updated these slides following the presentation.

Unexpectedly, I find myself lined up to give a talk at this weekend's conference Metaphysics and Epistemology: Issues in the Philosophy of Mathematics in Manchester. (I'm filling in for someone who could not attend.)

Despite the initial panic induced by hearing myself agree to prepare a talk from scratch in about a week, I am very glad I've signed up for this, as it's encouraged me to put together some stuff from my book that I haven't presented in a stand-alone way before but actually makes quite a nice package. (I hope I'll still think that by Sunday ...)

The basic idea is to trace through some of the connections that empiricists of different stripes have postulated between meaningfulness and confirmation. I use Ayer and Quine as stalking-horses, and try to show that even if we grant them that there should be a tight connection between the two it would be preferable to take the units of both meaning and confirmation to include concept-sized chunks rather than just proposition-sized (Ayer) or theory-sized (Quine) chunks.

In case it's not immediately obvious what that has to do with the philosophy of mathematics (!), I'll be arguing that one of the benefits of taking a concept-oriented approach is that this sits with a lovelier epistemology of arithmetic than Ayer's or Quine's.

I've put the slides online in pdf format for interested parties. If you're going to be at the conference, don't read the slides as they contain spoilers. Everyone else, feel free to click through ... it's worth it for slides 25 and 26 alone.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Kripkenstein's Mules

I've been thinking recently about the possible fruitfulness of comparing cleverly-disguised-mule-worries (CDMW) in epistemology with Kripkensteinian-meaning-underdetermination-worries (KMUW).

I think it is helpful, in understanding CDMW, to think about two kinds of questions:

(1) Why does S believe those animals are zebras rather than lions?
(2) Why does S believe those animals are zebras rather than cleverly disguised mules?

'Because they are zebras' looks like a good answer to questions like (1) and a bad answer to questions like (2).

For a contextualist explanationist about knowledge like myself, this suggests that in contexts where the question 'Is S's belief explained by the fact believed?' amounts to something like (1), 'S knows they are zebras' looks good, and in contexts where that question amounts to something like (2), 'S knows they are zebras' looks bad.

What I find suggestive, in trying to understand KMUW, is an analogy with the questions:

(1') Why does S use 'plus' for addition rather than subtraction?
(2') Why does S 'plus' for addition rather than quaddition?

'Because of the dubbing, or otherwise word-defining, activities of S's linguistic predecessors' looks like a good answer to questions like (1') and a bad answer to questions like (2').

More on this topic will follow ...

Tuesday, February 26, 2008


It's now settled that I will be spending September to December as a Visiting Associate Professor in the excellent Philosophy department at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Daniel will be there too as a Visiting Professor.

It's very exciting to look forward to hanging out with an fantastic bunch of philosophers, including my erstwhile Canberra colleague, Andy Egan.

More From Geneva

Mark Jago has a blog post, with pictures, on the recent Eidos conference in Geneva.

Friday, February 22, 2008

New Web Pages, V-day Podcast

Following a small web crisis in the department, I have made myself a new set of web pages using Google Pages. This was fun; while the editor itself is very basic (but also therefore very easy), and doesn't allow you to do much, a workaround when you want to get other kinds of content or formatting into your page is to make another page and then cut and paste (from the page not the html) into the Google Page Editor. This seems to have worked for everything I've needed so far.

In other news, the Nottingham University Podcasts folks recently made a Valentine's day podcast on my work in the Philosophy of Flirting.

Sunday, February 17, 2008


For the last few days I've been attending the Eidos Because Conference. And for the few days before that I was attending the Eidos pro*doc Graduate Workshop. All in I've given 6.75 hours of talks during the last six days and participated in 19 further sessions. This has been a real marathon. Some photos are available which illustrate some of the effects.

Highlights have included Kit Fine arguing that vagueness is a kind of collective phenomenon like unevenness, then using this idea to motivate a logic where things of the form ~[(Pv~P)&(Qv~Q)] are true but everything of the form (Pv~P) is true; and David Liggins laying into the idea that standard (maximalist, necessitarian) truthmaker theory can be motivated by thinking that truth requires metaphysical explanation.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

We've Set a Date ...

August 2008 is when it's all set to happen. (I'm talking about my book here obviously.)

Grounding Concepts even has its own OUP page now, with instructions on how you can pre-order your copy (for a very reasonable £35).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Finite Quantities in Arizona

My favourite session at the recent Arizona Ontology Conference was on Daniel's paper Finite Quantities.

Daniel argues that there is suggestive evidence from science to the effect that certain fundamental quantities are quantized rather than continuous. That, for Daniel, is to say that not all properties of the form having n units of X are instantiated, for certain fundamental X such as mass, charge or perhaps distance. Rather, for these X, there is some minimal n such that the property having n units of X is instantiated, and for all other instantiated properties of this form, 'n' is replaced with some multiple of this minimum.

It is commendable to get clear about what the quantized hypothesis looks like, and Daniel gets quite a lot clearer about it than most other discussions I know of.

However, having clarified that it is not a claim about the necessity (nomic, metaphysical or otherwise) of this restriction on the instantiation of certain properties, or about the non-existence, unreality or other substandardness of such properties (assuming that properties can exist uninstantiated), the view does not seem so very surprising or controversial.

It strikes me as a much more modest and palatable claim than the claims that quantizers - including Daniel - often sound like they are making. It sounds considerably less shocking, for instance, than the claim that 'there is no such thing as' (say) 1/2 n units of mass, or that although I may express things like "1/2 n units of mass" in language there is 'no quantity corresponding to these representations' and that 'these quantities are not physically real' (p. 2).

Moreover, clarity as to the exact nature of the quantizer's thesis seems to make some of Daniel's argumentative moves puzzling.

One of Daniel's main opponents in the paper is someone who says that every time (say) a mass of six units is instantiated, the thing which instantiates the property having six units of mass also instantiates having three units of mass (twice over) and having two units of mass (three times over).

But let's be clear about two readings of 'having three units of mass'. On the first, it means 'having at least three units of mass'. On the second, it means 'having exactly three units of mass (and no more)'.

Now no-one would deny that everything which instantiates having six units of mass also instantiates having at least three units of mass. That would be silly. The quantizer, in this (made up) case, must instead be looking at denying that the property of having exactly three units of mass (and no more) is instantiated by anything.

But once we are clear that this is what is meant, the opponent's position looks silly. Obviously something which instantiates having six units of mass does not instantiate having exactly three units of mass (and no more).

On neither reading, then, does it seem as if a Daniel-style quantizer and the opponent he describes in his paper have a sensible dispute such that they might need to look at the science to resolve it.

Saturday, January 12, 2008


This post comes to you from the Arizona desert, where I'm currently attending the Arizona Ontology Conference. There have been some interesting sessions about which I'll post soon, but for now, here are some photos.