Isaiah Berlin Lecture HT12
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Abstracts

Abstracts

Tim Willenken (Pittsburgh) - Virtue and Maximization

Abstract: In this paper, I argue that bearing maximizing practical dispositions is an all or nothing matter. By this I mean that an agent might rationally bear practical dispositions that lead him to maximize or minimize some feature of the world: the amount of suffering, say. She might also rationally bear only dispositions that are non-maximizing: the disposition never to kill, say. But she cannot rationally bear both types of practical disposition: if she does, she will be rationally compelled to revise her set of practical dispositions. Further, I argue that this result about practical rationality makes a certain traditional argument for consequentialism very strong indeed.

Andrew Bacon (Oxford) - Knowing-wh

Recently there has been a flux of interest in `knowledge-wh' reports ([2], [15]) as found in: `John knows where to buy newspapers' and `Jane knows who stole the cookies.' In this paper I assess some of these recent proposals, and note an ambiguity in knowledge-wh ascriptions, akin to the relational/notional ambiguity in intensional transitive verbs, which these proposals do not account for. In light of this, I offer my own análisis of knowing wh, in which the interrogative complement, `wh-F', denotes a generalised quanti¯er and `knows' a relation between an individual and such a quantifier. In particular, S knows wh-F at w i® S's knowledge fixes who the F is at w, i.e. (wh-F at w = wh-F at w') for all w' epistemically accessible to S from w (for simplicity, we give `wh' the semantics of `the'.) This analysis is then applied to a number of problems in philosophy including: the connection between objectual and propositional knowledge and other factive verbs, know how, concealed questions and Jackson's knowledge argument.

Daniel Morgan (Oxford) - "I"-states

“I”-states are mental states which are most naturally ascribed (by the subject whose states they are) through a sentence containing the first-person pronoun within the scope of an attitude verb. The most influential accounts of “I”-states have emphasized the distinctive relationship such states stand in to certain ways of gaining information and/or actions. In this paper, I do three things: I say what reason there is for thinking that some account of this basic sort is correct; I show that the best developed accounts of this sort (those provided by Gareth Evans, Francois Recanati and John Perry) faces serious problems, and I put forward an account (of the same sort) which avoids those problems. My account differs from Perry’s in denying that there is any distinctive relationship in which all and only “I”-states stand to actions. It differs from Evans’s and Recanati’s in its characterization of the relationship between “I”-states and ways of gaining information. It differs from all three in focusing on a relationship that holds among different “I”-states. Not much attention has been paid to this relationship. It turns out though that no account which ignores it can be correct. One of the main contributions of this paper is to begin the work of describing that relationship.

Nigel Leary (Birmingham) - Natural Kinds: hold the (Metaphysically necessary) Essence

The externalism advocated by Kripke and Putnam about the reference of proper names and natural kind terms has implied that the truth of theoretical identifications, such as the claim that “water is H2O”, are, if true, necessarily so and knowable a posteriori. The focus of this paper is not claims about the semantics of natural kind terms, but rather the assumption that empirical sciences discover real essences, and the claim that the demarcation of natural kinds “carves nature at its joints”. The specific target in this paper is Brian Ellis’s contemporary essentialism, and the argument attempts to demonstrate 1) that his thesis is deeply suspect, 2) the connections between the motivation for Ellis’s essentialism and the essentialism advocated by Kripke and (early) Putnam, and 3) that the notion of metaphysical necessity (knowable a posteriori), for natural kind chemical compounds, is misleading, unnecessary and unmotivated. Furthermore, it argues that a proper understanding of the empirical sciences will push us towards either a version of promiscuous realism (Dupré, 1993) or constructive empiricism (van Frassen, 1980) but not, as Ellis believes, towards scientific essentialism. In conclusion it argues that natural kinds are, fundamentally, classifications of individuals into groups in virtue of certain similarities, and that the properties which make these individuals similar, that go on to form the basis of natural kind membership criteria, may well be, in and of themselves, independent of us, but as they relate to the formulation of membership criteria, presupposed before any empirical investigation, there is good reason to think that they are not (completely) objective, because although the properties of the individuals that constitute the kinds may be real and objective, the way they figure in natural kind discourse, and the demarcation of nature into kinds, is defined by the research interests of the discipline.

Nate Charlow ( Michigan) - Proper Names, Presuppositions and the A Priori*

This paper proposes, defends, and applies the following constraint on knowability a priori (call it ‘AK’): for any sentence S expressing some proposition p, p is knowable a priori only if, for any linguistic presupposition q of S, q is knowable a priori. Four applications of this apparatus are attempted in the paper, as follows: (1) Because proper names bear existence presuppositions whose truth is not knowable a priori, AK gives the Millian a theory-independent reason for denying that it is knowable a priori that Cicero is Tully. (2) The solution proposed in (1) is roughly adaptable to a resolution of Frege’s Puzzle about the potential informativeness to an addressee of a speaker’s utterance of ‘ Cicero is Tully.’

(3) Kripke famously gives an example of a contingent truth s that is knowable a priori. It turns out that s carries existence presuppositions whose truth is not knowable a priori. So AK entails that s is not knowable a priori. (4) Several philosophers have attempted to ground knowledge of logical truths on knowledge of the meanings of the sentential connectives. Their arguments entail that some logical truth l will presuppose that there is a meaning designated by the connective that makes l true. This observation, combined with AK, suggests a new way of formulating a standard objection to their arguments.

Dan Giberman (Stanford) - Gloppy Trope Bundles

Trope bundle theories are prima facie attractive given certain problems faced by competing theories of substance and properties. They are less mysterious and ontologically costly than substratum theories, and they do not share the strange commitments of immanent universal theories (according to which items can wholly exist at distances from themselves). But trope bundle theories are not without their detractors. The three most difficult problems facing any theory of trope bundles are the bundling problem, the trope-targeted companionship problem, and the trope-targeted imperfect community problem. The first is a general problem for bundle theories. The latter two are general problems for trope theories raised in a recent paper by David Manley. After introducing a novel conceptual scheme for understanding the metaphysics of minimal supervenience bases across possible worlds, I use it to describe a new kind of trope bundle theory. I then argue that this new trope bundle theory is equipped to solve the three aforementioned problems. If I am right then, given the problems faced by its competitors, trope bundle theory emerges as a highly attractive theory of substance and properties.

Julien Murzi (Sheffield) - The Paradox of Idealization (co-authored with Salvatore Florio)

A well-known proof by Alonzo Church, first published in 1963 by Frederic Fitch, shows that all truths are knowable only if all truths are known. This is the Knowability Paradox. If we take it, quite plausibly, that we are not omniscient, the proof appears to undermine metaphysical doctrines committed to the knowability of truth, such as semantic anti-realism. Since its rediscovery by Colin McGinn and William Hart in 1976,2 many solutions to the Paradox have been offered. In this paper, we show that some of them do not have the resources to block a problem we raise. We present a new proof to the effect that not all truths are knowable, resting on different assumptions from the original argument published by Fitch. In light of this proof, anti-realists who favour either a hierarchical or an intuitionistic approach to the Knowability Paradox are confronted with a dilemma: they must either give up anti-realism or opt for a highly controversial interpretation of their original tenet.

Cristian Constantinescu (Cambridge) - Value Incomparability and Indeterminacy

In this paper I examine two competing accounts of value-incomparability that have been put forth in recent literature. According to the standard account due mainly to Joseph Raz, incomparability means determinate failure of the three classic value-relations (better than, worse than, and equally good): two value-bearers are incomparable (with respect to a value V) if and only if (i) it is false that x is better than y (with respect to V), (ii) it is false that x is worse than y (with respect to V), and (iii) it is false that x and y are equally good (with respect to V). Most philosophers have followed Raz in adopting this account of incomparability. Recently, however, John Broome has presented an alternative view, on which value-incomparability is explained not in terms of determinate failures of the trichotomy of value-relations, but in terms of vagueness, or indeterminacy. The aim of this paper is twofold. Firstly, it seeks to supply some independent reasons for thinking that the phenomenon of value-incomparability is actually a matter of the indeterminacy inherent in our comparative predicates. Secondly, it attempts to further Broome’s view by warding off several objections that worry him, due mainly to Ruth Chang and Erik Carlson.

Jonas Åkerman (Stockholm) - Vagueness, Belief Forming, & Similarity Constraints

Once we decide to resolve the sorites paradox by denying the major premise, the question arises why we were so inclined to believe it in the first place. It has been argued that contextualist theories of vagueness (broadly conceived) can answer this question – sometimos referred to as the Psychological Question (PQ) – in a satisfactory way, while competing theories cannot. However, once we observe that PQ has to do with belief forming rather than extension determining, a gap is exposed in the contextualist argument, and it becomes clear that the kind of principle invoked in order to address PQ is insufficient. Moreover, there is an alternative kind of principle which provides a neat answer PQ without putting any significant semantic restrictions on the theory and thus is available to virtually any vagueness theorist. Hence, this way of arguing for contextualism about vagueness fails. Some concluding remarks on the possibility of saving the argument by applying an instance of the principle of charity; it turns out that its application is highly problematic in cases like this.

Emily Thomas (Birmingham) - A Devilish Twist on Anselm’s Ontological Argument

St Anselm formulated his ontological argument to prove the existence of God. This paper is not intended to further the much-discussed issue of whether or not the argument is sound, but is instead concerned with some of the interesting consequences it would entail if it were sound: namely the fact that the ontological argument can also be used to prove or disprove the existence of the Devil. This paper will discuss the various guises of the Devil and the consequences the ontological argument holds for them. It will become apparent that Anselm’s meaning on some points is unclear, and I will try to unravel these ambiguities before offering my opinion as to which interpretation of Anselm is correct. This paper will show that if Anselm’s argument is sound then the Devil could exist, in at least one of his guises.

Moritz Schulz (Humboldt) - Counterfactuals in a Chancy World

Our thinking about counterfactuals is guided by what we take to be the objective chances the world is governed by. If they had scored another goal, they would have won the match. We think that this counterfactual is likely to be true because the chances that they would win the match on the assumption that they scored another goal were high. In this sense, our credences in counterfactuals aim at certain objective conditional probabilities. However, standard accounts of counterfactuals cannot account for this way of evaluating them. On Lewis’s account, most counterfactuals are plainly false. For instance, the counterfactual above is plainly false because there is one relevant world in which the other team equalises in extra time. In this paper, I shall offer an account of the truth conditions of counterfactuals which is apt to relate them to conditional probabilities in an adequate way. The idea is to treat counterfactuals as being about a randomly-chosen antecedent-world. This amounts to a certain kind of epistemicist solution to the problem of counterfactuals and chance: it preserves bivalence but it imposes limits on which counterfactuals are knowable.

Massimo Renzo (Milan) - Fairness and Self-Defense: A Multiple Principle Theory of State Legitimacy

In this paper I will try to defend a multiple principle theory of state legitimacy, that is a theory that employs more than one principle in order to account for the fact the states are justified in coercing everyone living within their territory. While granting the anarchists’ claim that some individuals do not have a duty to obey the state, I will argue that nonetheless these individuals can permissibly be coerced by the state. My theory consists of two principles: the principle of fairness, which accounts for the state being justified in coercing those who accept “willingly and knowingly” the benefits provided by it; the principle of self-defense, which accounts for the state being justified in coercing those unwilling to accept these benefits (since the price to pay for them is state authority). Finally, I will argue that claiming that the principle of self-defense justifies the state in coercing those unwilling to have it is not to say that the state should limit itself to coerce them. On the contrary, the state should engage in a dialogue with those coerced by it, in order to offer them justificatory reasons for its action and try to convince them to see themselves as members of a cooperative venture


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