2006-05-09

Updates

1. I gave my Graduate Student Colloquium talk, which didn’t go very well nor even badly in the ways I expected. My talk was titled “Belief and Practical Interests” and I began by trying to recap some recent developments in the epistemology literature, including the encroachment of practical interests into the analysis of core epistemic notions like knowledge and justification. In the encroachment literature, the intuitive clarity of the distinction between epistemic facts and practical facts (or a variant thereof) is taken almost for granted. I myself didn’t find anything mysterious about it. My audience, on the other hand, balked. This seriously derailed the remainder (i.e. the bulk) of my presentation. No doubt I am to blame for some of their difficulties, but I don’t think I am entirely at fault. I was quite disappointing.
        Nonetheless, I did gain something from working on the presentation, namely that I need to reconsider the approach I wanted to take in my paper. My plan was simply too ambitious to accomplish with any degree of rigor. Accordingly, I decided to work from Jeremy Fantl and Matthew McGrath’s paper (which relates practical interests to justification) rather than Jason Stanley’s book (which relates practical interests to knowledge). This should make the connection to belief much more direct, and I will explore what consequences allowing encroachment has on the transparency of belief and the norm of full belief.

2. Before I get to that, however, I’m working on a paper for David Rosenthal’s Quine / Sellars course on Quine’s treatment of opacity and propositional attitudes. I’ll have more to say on that soon, I hope. The course has also given rise to a substantial interest in Sellars on my part, which I’m only just beginning to explore.

3. Jessica Wilson was the colloquium speaker at the Graduate Center last week. She spoke on "Is Hume's Dictum Obvious?" I was impressed by her presentation, and even more so by her philosophical honestly during the question period. Her talk gives me new appreciation for aspects of metaphysics I had hitherto regarded with all the distain of, well, metaphysics in general. Specifically, I now better understand the relations between and motivations for Hume’s dictum and arguments over physicalism, the nature of necessity and properties, and between broadly Humean versus broadly Aristotelian conceptions of nature.
        I also had the privilege of going out to dinner with the speaker after the talk, which was quite pleasant and is something I rarely get to do. Thanks to Barbara Montero for accommodating me by selecting one of the kosher veggie Indian restaurants as our venue.

4. Kripke’s last class was perhaps the best I’ve seen him give. I’m sorry Alan Berger, who usually attends, had to miss this one. Kripke discussed Strawson’s “On Referring” and particularly his mention of the uses of descriptions in anaphoric contexts. But he also gave his views on a variety of central issues in the philosophy of language: He gave a criterion for synonymy of expressions, and followed this up with his take on the semantics–pragmatics distinction, stating what he believes semantic should offer an account of and what remains to pragmatics. He then repeated in detail what he calls the “pragmatic fallacy”. Throughout, he related these general topics to proper accounts of the natural-language use of ‘and’ and ‘but’. His discussion of Strawson also verified something that Frank Pupa pointed out to me, that Kripke’s favoring of Russell over Strawson seems in large part to be based upon a view of the dialectic in which Russell gave an account first and so the burden of proof is on subsequent figures to refute him, rather than seeing later figures (including Strawson) as providing alternative, positive proposals which should be judged on their merits, regardless of whether they can be said to “refute” Russell. All in all, it was a most helpful class. I can only hope his teaching continues at such a high level this week.
        Kripke also attended Jessica Wilson’s talk, and made a comment which helped to clarify his notion of metaphysical necessity and its relation to physical necessity. He confessed that he has no definite view on whether alien worlds are metaphysically possible, or on whether water could exist in possible worlds in which the physical laws are substantially different than our own. This corroborated my reading of his discussion of essential properties in Naming and Necessity.

5. Yesterday, I finished skimming Mendelsohn and Fitting’s First Order Modal Logic, which I thought was really very accessible and was nicely attuned to philosophical issues (unsurprisingly, given the authors). Their discussion of the problems of existence and non-existence was particularly helpful, especially as it gave me some understanding of what motivated Meinong’s views. I had not known that Meinong was a student of Brentano, nor that Meinong’s doctrine unreal objects was a extension of his teacher’s notion of an intentional object. This is of some interest to me as I have harbored a suspicion for some time that much talk of abstract objects, e.g. propositions, is better recast as talk about intentional objects. Hopefully I’ll find some time to work through this.

6. My summer plans are firming up somewhat. It looks as if I’ll be spending the summer in NY devoting myself to philosophy and my girlfriend. I haven’t settled on whether I will try to work part-time or not, but I’m leaning against. Given the amount I’d like to accomplish philosophically, working would make actually accomplishing it quite challenging; and, if I actually do accomplish (at least much of) what I’d like to, I won’t really care about the dent this will put in my savings. It also looks as if there will be quite a few people sticking around over the summer, looking to meet up and to do philosophy.

7. Yesterday, I attended Bana Bashour’s Graduate Student Colloquium Series (GSCS) talk "Personal Issues: A Return to Locke's Old Problem", based on work she’s doing for her thesis, and which I thoroughly enjoyed. It prompted, I think, the best discussion of any of the GSC talks I attended. This was probably due, in part, to the presence of Michael Levin and Ellen Fridland in the audience who are both familiar with Bana’s work. I made a couple of pretty sharp comments myself — it’s always a nice feeling to have a smart day. Regardless, her talk gave my new hope that something worthwhile and well motivated can be said about personal identity.

8. Finally, I spoke with David Pereplyotchik who ran the GSCS this year, and I’ll be taking over the job from him for next year. I’m looking forward to it. Since, do to shabbat, I’m not able to really participate in running the Graduate Student Conference, I’m happy to have an opportunity to do some similar work with the GSCS. One idea I’ve had, is to try to organize a “mini-series” of talks on related themes in the fall, with papers distributed ahead of time and with designated commentators; the spring series would stay pretty much as is. We’ll see what comes of it.

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