Monday, June 16, 2008

The Seventy First Philosophers' Karneval!

Alaaf, and welcome to the Philosophers’ Karneval, sometimes mistakenly called the Philosophers’ Carnival. For this edition Michael and I scoured the net, seeking philosophical floats for a proper parade in Köln. Apologies to those whose submissions didn't make it in, as we applied some strict Kölsch purity laws; we hope you'll enjoy the festivities anyway, and feel free to submit to the next edition. We attempted to do something a little different this time around, giving both short summaries of each post and some comments to get discussion rolling.

Weiberfastnacht Ethics: Let the festivities begin with a bang!

John Milanese tries to decode Plato in “Is Mathematical Knowledge Ethical Knowledge?” He argues that mathematics is, for Plato, not instrumental to, but constitutive of ethical knowledge, which requires a fine grasp of harmony. While this position seems closer to Plato’s intent than the alternatives, one might wonder whether it also serves to make Plato’s account of virtue completely implausible.

Tomkow brings us “A Solution to the Trolley Problem”, which attempts to address the difference between the switch-flipping intuitions and the fat-man-tossing intuitions by presenting a barrage of alternate scenarios designed to show that it’s always the fat man doing the trolley stopping. But one might wonder whether the fat man is really the “who” of the most relevant scenario, since the fat man is not the agent of his own tossing. And if not, the problem seems to remain unresolved.

At Pea Soup, Douglas Portmore suggests an interesting ambiguity in "the Too Demanding Objection" often leveled against moral theories. The comments, excellent as always, help clarify the difference. The interpretation on which a theory demands more than we have “sufficient reason to give” seems especially problematic. While Portmore has almost certainly pinpointed an important ambiguity, figuring out its terms will take more fine tuning.

Freitag Language and Logic

Shawn Standefer brings us a look at three different kinds of formality and asks where Wittgenstein’s “Tractarian Formality” fits in. He examines MacFarlane’s distinction between 1-formality, 2-formality and 3-formality in light of the Tractatus. He recognizes that these distinctions might help to fill out the role played by the Tractatus in the story of how we got from Kant and Frege to Tarski, Carnap and Quine. Apparently, this story might include a good argument for how to maintain Kantian formalism without Kant’s transcendental idealism. Of course, there’s a lot more to say about formality than is included in this famous history, but Standefer acknowledges so much.

N.N. at Methods of Projection looks at “Davidson and Meaning”. The broad matter is Davidson’s tête-à-tête with Dummett over the role of convention in meaning. As Dummett sees it, speakers use words as they do because those words mean what they do, whereas Davidson defends the converse: words mean what they do because speakers use them as they do. N.N. sniffs something amiss in Davidson’s account. For instance, N.N. is puzzled when Davidson suggests that, in a case of miscommunication, a speaker’s utterance only “sort-of” has meaning. As I read him, Davidson is asking, what is our meaning theory supposed to be a theory of? What is it trying to explain? His answer is, communication. Meanings, to the extent that they are theoretically useful at all, are to be judged by how well they explain successful communication, and communication has two non-reducible aspects: speaker intention and semantic role. Thus, an intention that fails to be expressed through the conventional use of a term only ‘sort of’ has meaning.

Colin Caret goes “From Mysticism to Paraconsistency” by taking on the tired old argument that we can disregard mystical claims out of hand, since mysticism is committed to contradictory propositions, and contradiction logically entails the truth of anything. Rejecting attempts to make mystical claims consistent, Colin instead argues that mystics intend their claims to be contradictory, and that the Principle of Charity requires us to understand such contradictions as nevertheless rational. He argues that a paraconsistent logic can allow for the meaningful, yet ostensibly inconsitent claims served up by the mystics. I would like to see this approach developed further, but find his way of motivating it here compelling.

Sammstag Epistemology

Eric Schwitzgebel takes on the possibility of Self-Blindness, where a person is in a mental state but lacks introspective access to it, by focusing on pain and belief. He argues that self-blindness in both cases seems unlikely, but for different reasons: in the case of pain, one might expect biological mechanisms to take over to compensate for any lack of introspection; in the case of belief, on the other hand, there seems to be a conceptual connection between having a belief and ascribing that belief to oneself. I would like to see in this connection a treatment of normative approaches to belief, according to which self-ascription of belief rests on entailment of a subject’s commitments to the evidence for that belief. Such a view maintains the conceptual link between being in a state and instrospecting it, while allowing for the possibility of introspective error.

Richard Brown, considering Armstrong on Naturalism, gives us a defense of both naturalism and empiricism. Empiricists, he argues, should accept naturalism, and everyone should accept empiricism over rationalism if evolution is true. I remain skeptical: the evolutionary argument doesn’t exclude the emergence of faculties that yield knowledge going beyond nature (e.g., Reason); nor is it entirely clear how we should justify our belief in evolution without from the start presupposing some normative commitments.

Sonntag Epistemology (a day much like Saturday, but with some unexpected surprises, small parades, and masked balls breaking out)

Brandon asks “Whatever Happened to Sublimity?” He reminds us that the concept of the sublime in the early modern period had as much to do with epistemology as with aesthetics, and that "sublime ideas" were taken to be ideas that exceeded the abilities of the human mind. Brandon suggests that the neglect of the sublime on the contemporary scene arises from our parsing of the world into little ideas. I am sympathetic to this project, but worry whether the contemporary scene can competently tend to the sublime: the French flirtation with sublimity in the late '80s, one might recall, was short-lived and not wholly productive.

Kenny Pearce examines “Realism, Phenomenalism and ‘Physical-Talk’” in a rare defense of Berkeley's phenomenalism against representational realism, in both its causal and mysterian varieties. He argues that phenomenalism can give a better analysis of our "physical talk" than the competition. While this is certainly a legitimate and interesting approach, however, one might wonder whether Kantian or Husserlian approaches cannot better do justice to physical talk; such talk might derive its evidence from our sense experience, but it is still talk about real objects, rather than the modes in which we experience them.

Rosenmontag Metaphysics

Andrew Bacon takes a stab at “Generalized Supertasks.” Just when many philosophers and mathematicians have come around to accepting that some supertasks are possible, Bacon argues that a large number are not. So, Zeno may have been wrong about motion, but the general problem persists.

Ever wonder what a formalized ‘Being and Time’ might look like? Jeff Rubard in “Heidegger’s Temporal Logic" at The Fortunes of the Dialectic suggests that it might look something like Hans Kamp’s tense logic. This connection is intriguing, but it would have to be worked out in some detail before it becomes compelling.

Fastnachtdienstag, the final day, is a good time to look at what’s left and perhaps burn one’s background commitments:

Avery Archer continues digging through “Davidson on Weakness of Will” and comes up with a criticism: Davidson's attempt to make sense of akrasia seems to succeed only by virtue of driving a wedge between reason and motivation, which is certainly a problematic conclusion given Davidson's insistence that reasons are the causes of our actions. While I tend to think that such gaps might be problematic for Davidson, I am not sure that Avery has quite found source of the difficulty: Davidson takes reasons to be belief-desire complexes, and certainly one can act on a belief-desire complex (in the right way) without that action being caused by the complete totality of the agent's relevant beliefs and desires. An akratic action is still a rational action, and an action properly motivated by reasons; it does violate a meta-principle of rationality, the "principle of continence," but it is precisely because akratic agents (like continent ones) are motivated by their reasons that their actions can be understood as failing to pass a meta-rationality test. Otherwise, irrationality would not even pose a problem. (Davidson's "Paradoxes of Irrationality" develops the account in more detail.)

Ever wonder why you’re not an anarchist? Paul Gowder over at Laws and Letters has had the opportunity, and shares his thoughts here. Gowder’s post takes up a challenge by Crispin Sartwell, who has decided ‘Enough with subtlety, just give me one good reason why the State, morally, should exist?’ Gowder’s one good reason seems to be: since most people as a matter of fact will spend time under the power of a state, and since there are any number of normative theories that justify this state of affairs, states can be justified by any such theory that doesn’t demand the impossible. Oddly, there's not much about what we are supposed to understand by a ‘State’. Was ancient Athens a state? What about medieval England? Or renaissance Genoa? Sartwell worries about the destructive potential that modern States have engendered, but I’d point out that, in tribal societies, the likelihood of violent death is much higher than any of us will ever see. Sartwell, and others, respond in the comments.

Alexei at Now Timesin “Background Committments: Style & Contentaddresses Brian Leiter’s insistence that a core set of philosophical propositions can be smelted down from Nietzsche’s affective stylings. Leiter makes an insightful comparison between transference in psychoanalysis and the affective charge of Nietzsche’s writings vis-à-vis the ‘revaluation of all values.’ Just as the theory of transference is separate from actually undergoing the experience, so too is the philosophical theory underwriting Nietzsche’s books. Alexei tries to one-up Leiter, by pointing out that the theory/practice distinction in analysis is not nearly as cleanly cut as Leiter is presuming. I’m not sure that Leiter will be convinced, because it still seems as though Freud’s theory of the psyche could be articulated without ever being practiced, but Alexei’s sophisticated and compelling post proves that the question is much more complicated than one might presume.

That’s it, readers and revelers! This Karneval is at an end. Nothing left to do but wait out the hangover and enjoy your Aschermittwoch Brathering. ‘Til next time, Alaaf!


  1. Thanks for the inclusion guys -- and I'm glad to hear that someone enjoyed the piece!


  2. Hallo ihr Kölsche Jungs, great Karneval!

  3. Vielen Dank, Alter. Hey, ich hab dein e-mail verloren. Könntest du dich bei mir melden? Ich fliege bald nach Köln, an Millikans Seminar teil zu nehmen.

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