Monday, February 29, 2016

Fun with "now"

I am now writing this and you are now reading this.

What can we learn from the Contingent Liar?

Start with this:

  • The last bulleted item in this post is not true.
Call this token bulleted linguistic item p. Then p is, in fact, the last--and the only--item prefixed with a bullet point in this text. If it's not true, then it seems it's true. But if it's true, then it seems it's not. Oops! That's a contradiction in classical logic. But, famously, sentences like this are only contingently paradoxical. If I were to add a bullet point followed by "2+2=4" at the end of the post, then p would be unparadoxically false, while if I were to end the post with a bullet point followed by a piece of nonsense or a falsehood, then p would be unparadoxically true (nonsense is not true).

Here is an assumption that I think is implicit in the above derivation:

  1. The item p is true if and only if the last bulleted item in this post is not true.
The argument needs some bridge like this between the truth of the linguistic item p and the last bulleted item not being true. Once we have (1), then the argument is quick, using only uncontroversial premises. If item p is true, then the last bulleted item is not true by (1). But empirically the last bulleted item is p. So if p is true, then it's not true. But if it's not true, then by (1) it's not the case that the last bulleted item is not true. Since empirically the last bulleted item is p, it follows that it's not the case that p is not true, i.e., that p is true. So p is true if and only if it's not true, a contradiction in classical logic.

Since we should not deny classical logic or obvious empirical truths, it follows that (1) is false. Now, if p expresses a proposition, then it's got to express a proposition that makes (1) be true--that's both intuitively obvious and a consequence of the Tarski T-schema. (Doesn't (1) follow from the T-schema absent the expression assumption? It had better not. If "s" is meaningless, then the instance "'s' is true if and only if s" does not express a proposition, too, and hence is not true. So the T-schema had better apply only to meaningful items.) So p doesn't express a proposition. But that's a contingent fact, since in another possible world I screw up and end this post with a bulleted "2+2=5" thereby making p both meaningful and true.

So, whether a linguistic item expresses a proposition is in general a contingent matter. We already should have known this in the case of linguistic items using names, indexicals and demonstratives, and indeed p contains the demonstrative "this". But nothing hangs on p containing the demonstrative "this"--one could just replace it with some complex definite description--so I will ignore this demonstrative. If we think that whether a linguistic item expresses a proposition determines whether it's a meaningful sentence, then it follows that whether a linguistic item is a meaningful sentence is contingent, even in the absence of names, indexicals and demonstratives.

Further, not only is it a contingent matter whether a linguistic item expresses a proposition, but whether it does so can vary from token to token, again in the absence of names, indexicals and demonstratives. After all, I just gave a conclusive argument p does not express a proposition, and hence that the last bulleted item in this post does not express a proposition, and thus is not true:

  1. The last bulleted item in this post is not true.
Item token (2) is true (note that numerals aren't bullets) and hence expresses a proposition. But s, which is a token of exactly the same type, does not. And that's not due to names, indexicals or demonstratives.

These conclusions are interesting independently of the paradox. But somehow it feels wrong to use the paradox to reach them. Is it?

Thursday, February 25, 2016

Corporations aren't persons

  1. It is always wrong for the state to kill a person for non-payment of taxes.
  2. It is sometimes permissible for the state to dissolve a corporation for non-payment of taxes.
  3. If corporations are persons, dissolving a corporation is killing a person.
  4. So, corporations aren't persons.

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

A puzzle about medicine and war

The following seem to be true:

  1. It is never permissible for the state to force on a non-consenting innocent patient medical procedures very likely to cause death.
  2. It is sometimes permissible for the state to force a non-consenting drafted soldier to go to near certain death in a just war.
In regard to (1), the state can legitimately force patients to undergo medical operations involving minimal risk and invasiveness, at least as long as the patients have no conscientious objection to them (a restriction that has an obvious military analogue): vaccinations are the standard example. This is very puzzling: Why the distinction?

Here is a suggestive hint. We can imagine circumstances where a war against a vicious enemy could only be won by an attack by non-consenting draftees even though it was morally certain that most of the draftees would be captured and horrendous medical experiments would be done on them by the enemy. Such an attack could well be permissible, even though much less extreme medical experiments could not be intentionally imposed on non-consenting patients even for an equal good (say, to defeat some awful disease). This suggests a difference between directly imposing harms and acting in a way that is morally certain to lead to the self-same harms. This is exactly the sort of difference that the Principle of Double Effect is sensitive to. Someone who thinks that foreseeing/intending differences do not matter is probably not going to be able to make the distinction between enforced medical procedures and the draft.

At the same time, the Principle of Double Effect does not seem sufficient to remove the puzzle concerning (1) and (2), since it doesn't really get at what it is that is so special about medical procedures likely to cause death as opposed to military operations likely to cause death. Probably another part of the puzzle has to do with the integrity of the body. But it's tricky: the importance of bodily integrity is not enough to make all enforced medicine wrong. It seems that the state can legitimately require procedures that are minimally invasive and minimally risky, but cannot legitimately require procedures that are minimally invasive but highly risky (think of injecting someone with a vaccine versus injecting someone with a fully functional virus).

Maybe it's like this: the fact that an intentional procedure directly transgresses bodily integrity typically calls for consent. But in at least some cases where someone's lack of consent is strongly irrational, that lack of consent can be overridden for a sufficiently good cause. But where the lack of consent is at least somewhat rational, the lack of consent cannot be overridden. When the risks are minimal, the lack of consent is strongly irrational, barring conscientious objection. But when the risks are high, lack of consent is at least somewhat rational. Medical procedures always transgress bodily integrity, so we get (1). On the other hand, commanding an attack likely to lead to death (or torture or being the victim of vicious medical experiments) does not transgress bodily integrity, and so a completely different set of standards for consent and authorization is in place. This is a mere sketch. I am not sure the details can be worked out.

Notice, also, that the account in the preceding paragraph does not apply to sexual cases. Even if someone's lack of consent to sex is strongly irrational (imagine a contrived case where a married person for completely irrational or even malicious reasons refuses to have sex with a spouse, despite the fact that great benefits would come to society from their having sex--perhaps a killer robot has been programmed by a mad scientist to stop its rampage only if they have sex), it is wrong for the state to force the person to have sex. Once again, sex is morally exceptional.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Consent and sex

Here are some facts about sex and consent.

  1. Without valid consent, sex is always seriously wrong.
  2. Merely proxy consent for sex (say, by parents on behalf of a child) is never valid.
  3. Child consent for sex is never valid.
  4. Consent may be withdrawn at any time when discontinuation is still possible.
And yet:
  1. Sometimes sex is permissible (with consent, of course).

There aren't many cases other than sex where the analogues of 1-5 apply. Here's one potential such case. The Nuremberg code forbids medical experiments that involve a significant risk of serious injury or death to a healthy subject, except in the case of self-experimentation, assuming the other conditions of the code are met. But if such self-experimentation is permissible, it seems likely that it would be morally permissible (though we may have good reasons to rule it out in professional medical ethics codes) to hire someone to perform such experiments on one. To do such experiments without valid consent from the employer/subject would be seriously wrong, neither proxy nor child consent would be sufficient for validity, and one would have to stop whenever consent was withdrawn.

But notice an important feature of the medical experiment case: the reason these strong consent restrictions are in play is because of the significant risk of serious injury or death. If one modifies the experiment to make the risk insignificant, weaker consent standards come into play. In particular, parents will then be validly able to consent.

But in the case of sex, the reason for the strong consent standards does not come from risks of injury or death, whether physical or psychological. For we can suppose a case where the person is unconscious, where 100% effective prophylactics are used and where the person will never be informed of the event, and hence there is no danger of physical or psychological injury. Even so, the strong consent standards for sex apply. For instance, merely proxy consent is still not sufficient.

Notice, too, another interesting feature of the medical experiment case. Even when the experiments are done in a moral good way, it is regrettable that there was no other way of getting the benefits. But sex isn't like that: when it is engaged in in a morally good way, typically there is nothing regrettable about it--quite the opposite.

So there seems to be something exceptional about sex and consent. The other cases where such strong requirements of consent need to be in place are look to be cases where one needs permission to impose something very bad on someone. That's not what's going on in sex. What is going on? My view is that sex is tied very closely to love, and love requires freedom... But filling out detail isn't easy.

Determinism and moral imperfection

If determinism is true, then I always do the best I can do. If I always do the best I can do, I lack moral imperfection. So if determinism is true, I lack moral imperfection. But I am morally imperfect. So determinism is not true.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Frequentism and explanation

This is really very obvious, and no doubt in the literature, but somehow hasn't occurred to me until now. Suppose that a fair coin is tossed an infinite number times. Suppose, further, than in the first hundred tosses it lands heads about half the time. It's no mystery why it lands heads about half the time in the first hundred tosses: it's because the probability of heads is 1/2 (plus properties of the binomial distribution). But suppose frequentism is true. Then the reason the probability of heads is 1/2 is that the infinite sequence has a limiting proportion of heads of 1/2. Now consider these three statements:

  • A: approximately half of the first 100 tosses are heads
  • B: the limiting proportion of heads is 1/2
  • C: the limiting proportion of heads starting with the 101st toss is 1/2.
Then, C is statistically independent of A, as A depends on the first 100 tosses and C depends on the other tosses. Clearly, C has no explanatory power with respect to A. But B is logically equivalent to C (the first 100 tosses disappear in the limit). How can B explain A, then?

There are some gaps in the argument--explanation is hyperintensional, for instance. But I think the argument has a lot of intuitive force.

Would telepaths need language?

One might think that language is a crutch for non-telepaths. If you could sense what I believe, I wouldn't need to assert anything. If you could sense what I want, I wouldn't need to request anything. If you could sense what I intend, I wouldn't need to promise anything.

But that's just not right. Maybe it's true that if you could sense what I believe, there would be no need to make assertions. But the claims about requests and promises are just completely wrong. To request something is very different from wanting it. When I request something I create a reason for you to provide it to me, a reason that goes over and beyond the reasons given by my desires. We can sincerely request things that we don't want, for instance because it is our duty to request them, and even more frequently with hold back from requesting things that we want precisely not to impose on our interlocutor with the reasons that come from requesting. Sometimes we even hold back from asking because we want to get thing without asking for it. And of course that I intend to do something does not create the kind of reason that a promise does.

A society of telepaths would still very much benefit from acts that have the reason-creating forces of requests and promises, and the reason-canceling force of permissions. Such telepaths would either need to have sui generis mental states of mentally-requesting, mentally-promising and mentally-permitting, or would need symbolic conventions to indicate when they are offering a request, a promise or a permission (maybe when I am imagining a blue patch while entertaining a proposition, I am requesting that you make the proposition true, while if I am imagining a green patch I am merely permitting you to make it true). In either case, I think, these mental requests, promises and permissions would be basically a language.

So maybe asserting is a crutch for non-telepaths. But while requests, promises and permissions could no doubt be offered more efficiently by telepaths, this would still involve something that is essentially a language.

What do we mean by "finite"?

The standard mathematical definition is a set is finite provided that its cardinality is a natural number. But what are the natural numbers? Think about all the non-standard models of the natural numbers, models of arbitrarily high cardinality, and note that if we use one of these high-cardinality models as what we mean by "natural number", we will get a different extension for "finite". So how do we manage to pick out one particular meaning for "finite" or "natural number"? I want to offer four options.

1. Physics. The world gets described by a lot of equations. In these equations, mathematical objects (numbers, Hilbert spaces, etc.) represent features of the real world. We then constrain our interpretation of mathematical terms like "finite", "natural number" and "real number" by the requirement that the mathematical objects correspond as closely as possible to the features of the real world. In other words, we privilege those models of the natural numbers which fit the physical world. Note that this very much requires a significant dollop of scientific realism.

2. The future. We use the infinity of future days to define "finite": a natural number is any number that we will ever reach by counting once per day. This requires the actual world to have an infinite future.

3. Causal finitism. According to causal finitism, no object has an infinite causal history. But, very plausibly, any finite number of causes can be the causal history of an event. We can use these modal claims to constrain the interpretation of "finite".

4. God. Maybe God simply chose one extension for "finite", "natural number", etc., and made our words correspond to that. Cf. this.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Consent is not sufficient for permissibility of sex

Rape isn't just wrong, but it is historically among the handful of the very worst types of crimes, sharing that unhappy position with murder, torture and treason. I take it that every instance of rape is very seriously wrong.

But now consider a spectrum of sexual acts: on one of the spectrum is a sexual act motivated by the man threatening the woman with death; on the other end of the spectrum is a sexual act motivated by the man threatening the woman that if she doesn't have sex with him, he won't take her out to the movie that they planned to go to. In the death case, the sex is non-consensual and hence rape. In the no-movie case, the sex is consensual and hence not rape: the threat is way too mild to invalidate consent.

Somewhere in that spectrum is a transition--be it vague or not--between non-consent and consent and hence between rape and non-rape. But every instance of rape is very seriously wrong. When we have continuously transitioned away from a very serious wrong, we shouldn't expect to immediately land in the territory of moral innocence. Rather, we should expect to land either in the territory of another wrong, either another very serious wrong or a "merely" serious wrong. If we start with an act of torture and continuously reduce the degree of pain, eventually we will get an act that isn't torture--but an act that falls somewhat short of the amount of pain needed for it to count as torture is still a serious battery.

Thus we should expect there to be sexual acts that are consensual, but seriously wrong because they are neighbors to rape. Moreover, we should expect that these acts will still wrong for reasons connected to their sexual nature, just as rape is very seriously wrong for reasons connected to its sexual nature. Consent, thus, is necessary but not sufficient for sexual integrity.

Here's a different way to put the argument. If one thinks that consent is the only condition needed for the permissibility of sex (with respect to sexual integrity--of course, there are other conditions, such as whether promises are broken, etc., but they aren't properly sexual), then one has to think either that (a) we have a transition from a very seriously wrong act to a completely innocent act in the above spectrum without any intermediate cases that are wrong but not seriously so, or (b) there are cases of rape that are non-seriously wrong. I think (a) is implausible and (b) is clearly false.

The spectrum I generated above was based on a spectrum of threats. But one can also generate a spectrum based on degrees of sobriety, degrees of understanding, clarity of expression (consent is a speech act), etc.

This has an important consequence particularly relevant to college judicial policies: If acts that aren't rape but are close to rape are seriously wrong, then in cases where it cannot be shown that a rape occurred, but it can be shown that either a rape occurred or a serious wrong close to rape occurred, it can still be just to levy serious punishment. Of course, this would require due process, and hence a way to operationalize the notion of such acts close to rape.

Note 1: None of my argument is meant to give aid or comfort to those who want to narrow the definition of rape. Rather the point is to widen the scope of wrong acts, for instance in the way that the "enthusiastic consent" movement does.

Note 2: The argument I am giving is not a sorites. Vagueness complicates the argument, but does not, I think, destroy it.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Aristotelian perdurance

The perdurantist thinks that we are four-dimensional beings made up of three-dimensional slices, temporal parts, from which we inherit our changing properties such as thinking. One good reason to deny perdurance is that implies that our thinking is derivative from another entity's thinking, namely from the part's thinking, pace Andrew Bailey's very plausible thesis that our thinking does not derive from another entity's thinking. Another issue is that perdurance has at most a 50% chance of being true for me: since the slice thinks the same thoughts as the four-dimensional being, I have at least a 50% chance of turning out to be the slice--contrary to perdurance.

But there is an interesting Aristotelian version of perdurance. I am a four-dimensional being, but I have a sequence of special accidents Dt corresponding to the times t at which I exist. Then all my changing features are grounded in features of these accidents. For instance, I am thinking at t provided that Dt is thinking*, where thinking* is whatever feature of an accident Dt that makes the possessor of Dt be thinking. For categorial reasons, thinking* isn't thinking: only substances think, but non-divine substances think in virtue of having an accident that in turn is thinking*.

What are the Dt accidents? One option is that they are the accident of existing at t. But perhaps there is a more Thomistic option: perhaps in the case of material substances they can be identified with something like Thomas's accidents of dimensive quantity. Thomas thought that material substances had a special accident, a dimensive quantity, and all their other accidents were in turn accidents of its dimensive quantity. This is a very similar role to that played by Dt. Or, perhaps, we could take Dt to be an accident of occupying such-and-such a three-dimensional region of four-dimensional space. There is room for further research here (and if anybody wants to work more out and co-author, they are very welcome).

There is a major difference in outlook between this and typical perdurance pictures. On typical perdurance views, the slices are prior to the four-dimensional whole. On this Aristotelian perdurantism, the Dt accidents are, like all accidents, posterior to the substance, which is four-dimensional. Apart from this, the view might not be that distant from standard perdurantism. I have proposed in another post that an Aristotelian could identify parts with certain kinds of accidents. On that identification, the Dt accidents could turn out to be parts. But the difference in outlook remains: the parts really are just accidents of the whole. And the parts don't have the same features as the whole does. They have features for which we have no names, features we can only identify as that feature of the accident that grounds the substance as being F.

This post is really just a combination of this and this.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

A reversed adverbial account of temporary intrinsics

It seems that I am bent and straight. Minutes earlier, when I was standing up, I was straight. Right now, however, I am sitting and writing this post, bent at an ergonomic 135 degrees. But no one can be both bent and straight. The presentist has no problem here: I am bent, but I was straight. Eternalists, however, have to work harder to remove the appearance of contradiction. One of the stock solutions is adverbial:

  • I am straight at t1 and I am bent at t2.
I am not fond of the adverbial solution. After all, just as it is a contradiction to be standing still and running, it is a contradiction to be standing still patiently and running calmly. It is not clear why adding adverbs to contradictory predicates should remove a contradiction, unless the adverbs are truth-canceling or alienans ("I am bent and straight" is contradiction, but if I qualify "bent" with the truth-canceling adverb "apparently", the contradiction disappears). And positing truth-canceling adverbs all over the place is unattractive.

But there is a reversed adverbial account. Rather than taking the temporal qualification as the adverb, one can turn it into a predicate and turn the apparent predicate into an adverb. Thus:

  • I exist at t1 straightly and I exist at t2 bently.
All appearance of contradiction disappears. There is no more contradiction here than in thinking quickly and running slowly, or eating elegantly and writing sloppily.

An ontology that naturally corresponds to this resolution is a nested mode ontology. I have a mode of presence at t for every time t at which I exist. (This mode might be directly an accident of me, though I prefer the view that it is a mode of my human nature.) Each of my temporary intrinsics then corresponds to a mode of the mode of presence at t.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Presentism and theoretical simplicity

It's oft stated that Ockham's razor favors the B-theory over the A-theory, other things being equal. But the theoretical gain here is small: the A-theorist need only add one more thing to her ideology over what the A-theorist has, namely an absolute "now", and it wouldn't be hard to offset this loss of parsimony by explanatory gains. But I want to argue that the gain in theoretical simplicity by adopting B-theoretic eternalism over presentism is much, much larger than that. In fact, it could be one of the larger gains in theoretical simplicity in human history.

Why? Well, when we consider the simplicity of a proposed law of nature, we need to look at the law as formulated in joint-carving terms. Any law can be formulated very simply if we allow gerrymandered predicates. (Think of "grue" and "bleen".) Now, if presentism is true, then a transtemporally universally quantified statement like:

  1. All electrons (ever) are negatively charged
should be seen as a conjunction of three statements:
  1. All electrons have always been negatively charged, all electrons are negatively charged and all electrons will always be positively charged.
But every fundamental law of nature is transtemporally universally quantified, and even many non-fundamental laws, like the laws of chemistry and astronomy, are transtemporally universally quantified. The fundamental laws of nature, and many of the non-fundamental ones as well, look much simpler on B-theoretic eternalism. This escapes us, because we have compact formulations like (1). But if presentism is true, such compact formulations are mere shorthand for the complex formulations, and having convenient shorthand does not escape a charge of theoretical complexity.

In fact, the above story seems to give us an account of how it is that we have scientifically discovered that eternalist B-theory is true. It's not relativity theory, as some think. Rather it is that we have discovered that there are transtemporally quantified fundamental laws of nature, which are insensitive to the distinction between past, present and future and hence capable of a great theoretical simplification on the hypothesis that eternalist B-theory is true. It is the opposite of what happened with jade, where we discovered that in fact we achieve simplification by splitting jade into two natural kinds, jadeite and nephrite.

Technical notes: My paraphrase (2) fits best with something like Prior's temporal logic. A competitor to this are ersatz times, as in Crisp's theory. Ersatz time theories allow a paraphrase of (1) that seems very eternalist:

  1. For all times t, at t every electron is negatively charged.
However, first, the machinery of ersatz times is complex and so while (3) looks relatively simple (it just has one extra quantifier beyond (1)), if we expand out what "times" means for the ersatzist, it becomes very complex. Moreover on standard ersatzist views, the laws of nature become disjunctive in form, and that is quite objectionable. For a standard approach is to take abstract times to be maximal consistent tensed propositions, and then to distinguish actual times as times that were, are or will be true.

Friday, February 12, 2016

The Principle of Sufficient Reason and Probability

I just posted the paper here. Forthcoming in Oxford Studies in Metaphysics.

Abstract: I shall argue that considerations about frequency-to-chance inferences make very plausible some a localized version of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). But a localized version isn’t enough, and so we should accept a full PSR.

But you have disposed all things by ... number .... (Wisdom 11:20)

If God exists, the Axiom of Choice is true. For given any set of nonempty sets, surely God could choose a member of each of the nonempty sets. (This argument is by Meyer, Nous 21 (1987), 345-361.) But if the Axiom of Choice is true, then any set can be well-ordered. And any well-ordered set has the same cardinality as some ordinal. Ordinals are essentially numbers, albeit some of them are infinite. So, indeed, God has disposed all things by number, and necessarily so. (Wisdom 11:20 also says that God has disposed things by size and weight. Perhaps this indicates that the quantifiers in text are restricted to material things. Or perhaps immaterial things count as having zero size and zero weight.)

I actually find the necessity in the above argument quite surprising. Ordinals are pure sets: sets built up out of the empty set, not out of concrete ur-elements. I find it surprising that any infinite set of concrete objects that God could create can still be numbered with a pure set.

Thursday, February 11, 2016

Is spacetime countable?

Plausibly there is such a thing as a true physics, an ideal physics that we are striving towards, a physics that includes both particular statements as well as laws. That true physics is true, and hence consistent. It is also the sort of theory we can produce, so it has countably many statements (maybe finitely, but perhaps we could continually add to it). Finally, it is very likely to be a first-order theory, since it looks like all of science involves first-order theories.

Suppose there is a spacetime. Then the true physics posits it. Imagine we now have the true physics. By downward Löwenheim-Skolem, the true physics is consistent with spacetime being countable. So, by Ockham's Razor, wouldn't we have good reason to think that spacetime is countable, since that's more parsimonious than its being uncountable? And, now returning to the early 21st century of the actual world, doesn't the fact that if we had the true physics we would have good reason to think spacetime is countable, give us good reason to accept the counterintuitive conclusion that spacetime is actually countable?

I am not sure. For even if a countable spacetime is ontologically simpler, its description in our mathematical language is more complex than that of an uncountable spacetime manifold. Does that matter? Yes, but only if our mathematical language actually cuts mathematical reality at the joints or if we are created to get science right. (I suspect a naturalistic physicist could have a hard time resisting the argument for a countable spacetime. But this is all very, very speculative, and my mind fogs up when I think about the relativity of uncountability, intended models and the like.)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Cardinality and worlds

For every initial ordinal k, there is a possible world with exactly k photons. But there is no set of all initial ordinals (proof: suppose there is such a set; the union of the members of any set of ordinals is an ordinal; so the union of the initial ordinals is an ordinal; it must have the same cardinality as some initial ordinal in the set; but for any ordinal in the set, there is a larger one in the set). So there is no set of all possible worlds.

This argument doesn't use the Axiom of Choice and hence it improves on the argument I gave here.

Presentism and ethics

Presentism has some ethics problems stemming from its claim that persons who don't exist now don't exist.

  1. Weight: Non-existent persons should count for a lot less than existent persons in our moral deliberations. But future persons shouldn't count a lot less than present persons in our moral deliberations. So, presentism is false.

  2. Murder: If there is no afterlife and presentism is true, murder can be a victimless crime. For when the crime is complete, there is no victim. But that would be absurd even if there were no afterlife.
  3. Promises: A promise to a nonexistent person has no force. But even if there were no afterlife, a promise to someone who had died would have force.
  4. Mourning: If there were no afterlife, it would be appropriate to mourn beloved departed persons because we love them. But a love for someone who doesn't exist is not appropriate.
  5. Love: Ethics is grounded in love. But one shouldn't love non-existent persons. This creates a problem for duties towards people who do not yet exist, if presentism is true.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Imagination and dreams

When I visualize a car in my imagination, the experience is obviously different from seeing a car. It's not even close. Similarly, if I imagine a sound, the experience is obviously different from hearing it. In part this is due to shortcomings of my imagination. But I suspect it's not just that. Rather, imagined experiences are qualitatively different from actual experiences. This isn't the difference disjunctivists get at between hallucinations and veridical experiences. I am willing to concede that a hallucination and a veridical experience could be phenomenally the same, but then both would be different from imagined experiences. There are, of course, structural analogies. Imagining a red triangle is related to imagining a blue square much as seeing a red triangle is related to imagining a blue square. And there may be some resemblance between imagining a red triangle and seeing a red triangle.

Here's a hypothesis about dreams: The "visual" experiences in dreams are phenomenally more like the ones in visual imagination than like seeing, but one's ability to tell the difference is suppressed.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Avoiding gerrymandering

Occasionally a philosopher tries to avoid some gerrymandered counterexamples to a theory by specifying that some sentence s involved in the theory must be atomic. But every sentence is equivalent to an atomic sentence. After all, the sentence s is equivalent to the atomic sentence "s is true". So it's a move we should beware of. I guess we do better if we restrict to first order sentences. But even so, one can always just stipulate a new predicate. Thus, "The sky is blue or snow is white" is equivalent to "CreatedBlueSkyOrWhiteSnow(God)". So not only must one restrict to first order atomic sentences, but probably to first order atomic sentences with perfectly natural terms.

Lying and norms

I want to explore an argument against the moral permissibility of lying. Start with this thought:

  1. To assert p contrary to one's beliefs violates a genuine norm.
I don't, of course, mean the norm to be a moral one: that would beg the question against those who think lying is morally permissible. Rather, I am thinking that there is a norm at least partly constitutive of assertion which is violated when one asserts contrary to one's beliefs. It seems that a speech act just isn't an assertion if it's not governed by a norm that makes (1) true. (But if one thinks the norm of assertion doesn't require anything like belief but only truth, then I can modify my argument to work with that.)

Next, I want to bring in this thesis which generalizes Aquinas' idea that legislation that commands immoral activity is null and void, an empty gesture, and not a law:

  1. No genuine norm requires one to do something immoral.
All authority is limited by morality, after all. A theist might say that all authority is either God's authority or an authority that flows from God's, and derivative authority has no force against God's authority, whereas God forbids all immoral activity (I am not affirming a divine command theory, just the weaker claim that immoral activity is in fact forbidden by God).

Finally, let's add an uncontroversial observation:

  1. If lying is sometimes morally permissible, then lying is sometimes morally required.
After all, the main motivation people have for affirming the permissibility of lying is the thought that you should lie to the murderer at the door inquiring whether her intended victim is in your house (when the victim is indeed there). But what gives force to the thought that this is permissible is the thought that it is required in this case. If we think lying is never morally required, then the view that lying is sometimes permissible is left largely unmotivated.

Now, let's see what follows from (1)-(3). For a reductio, suppose lying is sometimes permissible. Then it's sometimes required by (3). Suppose then you're in a situation where lying is morally required. But when you lie, you assert contrary to your beliefs. So by (1), when you lie you violate a genuine norm. Hence a genuine norm requires you to do something immoral, namely to refrain from lying in this case. But that contradicts (2). So, it can't be the case that lying is sometimes permissible.

I worry that the argument proves too much. Suppose that you're playing cards with a tyrant. If you win, innocents go free; if you lose, they are killed. Surely you should cheat. But cheating violates the norms of card-playing, so a parallel argument shows it's wrong to cheat.

I say that the rules of the game lack normative force in this case, and indeed that, as we would say, this is not a game anymore. I don't know exactly how to characterize games, but it seems essential to a game that, roughly, they just be a bit of fun. Russian roulette is not a game, and its rules have no normative force. Just as property rights cease in cases of grave need according to Aquinas, so too when so much is at stake it's not a game, and if it's not a game, the person who pulls cards out of her sleeve to save lives isn't cheating in a game because she isn't playing a game.

Could one, then, say the same thing about the person who says to the murderer at the door regarding the intended victim: "He's not at home"? The parallel claim would be that the norms of assertion don't apply, and hence the words aren't an assertion at all. The murderer is deceived into taking the words to be an assertion, but they aren't one at all. There is something attractive about this view, in that it would allow one to maintain the traditional Christian view that lying is always wrong while allowing one to solve the murderer-at-the-door problem. But I think this doesn't work. Unlike playing cards, asserting isn't a game, something that ceases when there is too much at stake. It isn't even like the institution of private property, which dissolves according to Aquinas in cases of grave need since it's ordered to the preservation of life. Assertion is ordered to a different good than the preservation of life: truth. Moreover, it just seems quite implausible to say that the person saying "He's not at home" to the murderer isn't making an assertion.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

A puzzle about being and being-caused

These claims are really plausible:

  1. I exist because I was caused by my parents.
  2. My having been caused by my parents is a fact about me.
  3. My existence is explanatorily prior to all other facts about me.
  4. There are no loops of explanatory priority.
But they seem to be contradictory. My being caused by my parents is explanatorily prior to my existence, but my existence is explanatorily prior to that, and that surely looks like a loop.

But actually there is no contradiction. To get the claim that my existence is explanatorily prior to my being caused out of (3), we need to add the premise that my being caused is a different fact about me from my existing. But why add a premise that makes for a contradiction? We should instead conclude that the fact of my existence is the same fact as my being caused by my parents.

But if it's the same fact, then we have an interesting ontological conclusion: My existing is my being caused by my parents (and presumably by all the other causes cooperating with them, including especially God). I've argued for something like this conclusion here, but this is a much neater argument.

There may be another corollary. It seems that my esse, my existence, is modally essential to me--I couldn't exist with a different esse. But if my esse is my being caused by my parents, then I couldn't have had other parents.

Objection 1: We should restrict (3) to facts about the present time. But my having been caused by my parents isn't like that.

Response: Run the argument in the first moment of my existence (assuming there is one; if not, run it for some creature which has a first moment of existence; presumably if the ontological thesis I am arguing for is true for some creature, it's true for them all).

Objection 2: If my existing is the same as my being caused by my parents, how can (1) be true: isn't (1), then, a claim that I exist because I exist?

Response: Even if the fact (or state of affairs or event--there are multiple ways to formulate the argument) of my existence is the same as the fact of my being caused by my parents, the proposition that I exist is not the same as the proposition that I am caused by my parents.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Value-of versus value-for

Some people distinguish the (non-instrumental) value of an individual's feature from the (non-instrumental) value for the individual of that feature. Ockham's razor, on the other hand, suggests we identify them. There is an interesting kind of argument from the nature of love for such an identification. Love has at least three aspects: benevolence, appreciation and pursuit of union. (For more on this, see One Body.) Love isn’t merely a conjunction of these aspects. The aspects are tightly intertwined, with each furthering the others. And the identification of (non-instrumental) value-of with value-for gives us a particularly elegant account of part of this intertwining. Appreciation is appreciation of what is valuable. When I appreciate the value of an individual, I seek to preserve and promote that value. Now when I act benevolently for an individual, I seek to preserve and promote what is of value for the individual. If the value-of and value-for are the same, then this appreciation motivates the benevolence and the benevolence is an expression of the appreciation. And a benevolence that is an expression of appreciation is a benevolence that escapes the danger of being patronizing and condescending.

On the other hand, if value-of and value-for were different, then not only would we lack this elegant intertwining, but there could be a real conflict between appreciation and benevolence. For appreciation would naturally lead me to promote the value of the beloved, which would take time away from the benevolent promotion of the value for the beloved, and conversely. The identity of value-of and value-for makes it possible for love to have an intrinsic unity between the appreciative and benevolent aspects. And union can then flows from these, since through benevolence one unites oneself to the beloved in will and through appreciation one unites in intellect.

Self-causation, persistence and presentism

Fido exists now because of various things Fido did a couple of minutes ago, such as breathe, pump blood with his heart, etc. So, it seems, Fido's existence is caused by Fido. But self-causation is absurd. So what's going on? Well, that depends on the theory of persistence.

Perdurantists and exdurantists have no problem at all. One temporal part causes another. There isn't even a whiff of absurd self-causation, either. Four-dimensionalist worm-theorists who don't believe in temporal parts can say that Fido doesn't cause his existence, but only aspects of his spatiotemporal dimensions. So on four-dimensional theories, we don't have absurdity.

But what about three-dimensionalist theories? Suppose Fido wholly exists at this time. Then it seems that all of Fido (now) is caused by Fido (five minutes ago), and that would be absurd. But that's not quite right. The eternalist or growing block three-dimensionalist can distinguish. Fido doesn't cause Fido's existing simpliciter. Fido only causes Fido's existing now. If we want more precision, we can say that Fido in virtue of existing five minutes ago causes himself to exist now. No problem, again.

That leaves the other three-dimensionalist option: presentism. And now we have a problem. According to presentism, to exist is to exist presently. Fido's present existence is (was? -- the tenses are hard to get right) caused by Fido. But that just means that Fido's existence is caused by Fido. And that's self-causation.

But perhaps we should take account of the sorts of things presentists say about the problem of transtemporal causation. Maybe it's not quite correct to say that Fido's existence is caused by Fido, but rather that Fido's existing is caused by Fido's having existed five minutes ago. Plus, talking like this makes causation a relation between states of affairs, and some will prefer that. But we still have a problem. For Fido's having existed five minutes ago is a state of affairs involving Fido. But it's absurd for Fido's existing to be caused by any state of affairs involving him, since Fido's existing is explanatorily prior to any state of affairs involving Fido.

Perhaps, though, the presentist can bring in Fido's haecceity H. Fido's existing is caused by H's having been instantiated five minutes ago. That is, I suspect, the presentist's best bet here. But there is a problem for that. For it sure seems like the state of affairs that caused Fido's present existence isn't a state of affairs of his haecceity having had something happen to it (say, being co-instantiated with respiration), but but it is the state of affairs of Fido having done certain things five minutes ago, like breathing. If it is states of affairs about haecceities that are causally relevant, then it looks like the things that are fundamentally involved in causation aren't particulars like Fido but are are abstracta like haecceities. And that's not right.

There is a direct argument here against presentism, too.

  1. Fido's presently existing is caused by Fido's having existed five minutes ago.
  2. If presentism is correct, Fido's presently existing is Fido's existing.
  3. Fido's having existed five minutes ago is a state of affairs of which Fido is a constituent.
  4. No state of affairs of which Fido is a constituent causes Fido's existing.
  5. So, if presentism is correct, Fido's existing is caused by Fido's having existed five minutes ago. (1, 2).
  6. So, if presentism is correct, Fido's existing is caused by a state of affairs of which Fido is a constituent. (3, 5).
  7. So, presentism is not correct. (4, 6)

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

A "Freudian" argument against some theories of consciousness

  1. The kinds of computational complexity found in our conscious thought are also found in our unconscious thought.
  2. So, consciousness does not supervene on the kinds of computational complexity found in an entity.
Of course, (1) is an empirical claim, and it might turn out to be false, though I think it is quite plausible. If so, then we have the backup argument:
  1. The kinds of computational complexity found in our conscious thought possibly are all found in unconscious thought.
  2. So, consciousness does not supervene on the kinds of computational complexity found in an entity.

If birds aren't reptiles, maybe people aren't animals?

Some biological taxa are clades: a clade is a taxon that contains a descendant of every included organism. For instance Mammalia is a clade, while Reptilia is not, since birds aren't reptiles but are descendants of reptiles. There are biologists that wish that we used a phylogenetic classification scheme, one where all taxa are clades. But that's not what is traditionally done. Let's consider the hypothesis that the traditional approach is right in the sense that it cuts nature at joints. Then a taxon can change from being a clade to being a non-clade. I assume that Reptilia changed in this way when birds evolved. And whether such a change has occurred is a substantive question.

In principle, then, it is possible for the kingdom Animalia, which I understand is normally taken to be a clade, to change into a non-clade. And it is a substantive question, then, whether such a change occurred when humans evolved. It could be the case that sapience marks such a departure that we are a new kingdom, and Animalia is no longer a clade. I think a close relative of this thought--albeit without evolutionary connections--is behind the ordinary person's (as opposed to a philosopher's) resistance to the idea that we are animals: personhood is such a transformative feature that it marks a completely new kind of organism.

But while the question is substantive, it's not tenable to say we aren't animals. If we are not animals, it seems we aren't mammals. (Maybe more can be said, though?) But if we aren't mammals, then various natural kind-based explanations fail: we can't say, for instance, that we have complex bones in the inner ear because we have mammals.

Note, too, that the question raised in this post is orthogonal to the question that animalists are concerned with. For all that we animalists need for our positive theory is that we are organisms--whether the particular kind of organism we are is an animal, a plant, a fungus or something else is not very important for the theory.

Monday, February 1, 2016


I just had a really naive thought. Let's imagine what a definition of animals would be like. It would say something like this: Animals are things that maintain homeostasis, take in nutrients and grow, reproduce, initiate and control a large variety of types of motion in response to changing environmental features, etc. It's not very easy to come up with details of the definition, but it seems like it would go something like this. Well, it's pretty clear that we do these things, as well as doing any plausible items we'd want to add to the definition. So we're animals. Case closed.

What could an anti-animalist say? I guess her best hope would be: The definition is close to the truth, but not quite. Rather, animals are things that non-derivatively maintain homeostasis, take in nutrients and grow, etc., etc. But it seems to me that there is a natural dilemma. Derivative homeostasis (say) either is or is not a case of homeostasis. If it is, that seems all we need for animalhood (along with analogous other qualities). If it is not, then the anti-animalist can't say that we have homeostasis, and that's absurd.

Deep Thoughts XLII

No one speaks about what cannot be spoken about.

A secondary brain and computational theories of consciousness

There is an urban myth that the Stegosaurus had a secondary brain to control its rear legs and tail. Even though it's a myth, such a thing could certainly happen. I want to explore this thought experiment:

At the base of my spine, I grow a secondary brain, a large tail, and an accelerometer like the one in my inner ear. Moreover, sensory data from the tail and the accelerometer is routed only to the secondary brain, not to my primary brain, and my primary brain cannot serve signals to the tail. The secondary brain eavesdrops on nerve signals between my legs and my primary brain, and based on these signals and accelerometer data it positions the tail in ways that improve my balance when I walk and run. The functioning of this secondary brain is very complex and are such as to suffice for consciousenss--say, of tactile and kinesthetic data from the tail and orientation data from the accelerometer--if computational theories of consciousness are correct.

What would happen if this happened? Here is an intuition:

  1. The thought experiment does not guarantee that I would be aware of data from the tail.
  1. If a computational theory of consciousness is correct, the thought experiment guarantees that something would be aware of data from the tail.
Suppose, then, a computational theory of consciousness is correct. Then it would be possible for the thought experiment to happen and for me to be unaware of data from the tail by (1). By (2), in this scenario, something other than me would be aware of data from the tail. What would this something other than me be? It seems that the best hypothesis is that it would be that it would be the secondary brain. But by parity, then, the subject of the consciousness of everything else should be the primary brain. But I am and would continue to be the subject of the consciousness of everything else and there is only one subject there. So I am a brain.

Thus, the thought experiment gives me a roundabout argument that:

  1. If a computational theory of consciousness is correct, I am a brain.
Of course (3) is fairly plausible apart from the thought experiment, but it's always nice to have another argument.

So what? Well:

  1. My hands are a part of me.
  2. My hands are not a part of any brain
  3. So, I am not a brain.
  4. So, computational theories of consciousness are false.

The thought experiment is still interesting even if computational theories of consciousness are false. If we had such secondary brains would we, or anything else, feel what's going on in the tail? I think it metaphysically go either way, depending on non-physical details of the setup.