Invoking God doesn’t Save Descartes from Skepticism

Descartes argues that God could not be a deciever and so his clear and distinct ideas, which presented themselves to him as self-evidently true, really were necessary truths. If it was the case that Descartes had this strong belief that there are physical objects when there weren’t any really then God would be the Evil Demon; but that isn’t possible. God wouldn’t allow Descartes to be decieved in this way. I often joke that Descartes must not have read the Book of Job because God does allow Job to be decieved (though, it is true that God is not the one doing the decieving) into thinking that it is God who is the one responsible for Job’s misfortunes. But actually, after having thought about it for a bit I now think there is a serious problem for Cartesian epistemology here.   

How are we supposed to rule out that we are not in some Job-like situation in which God allows the Evil Demon to decieve us into thinking that there is a physical world (in order to test us or whatever). So even if you grant all of Descartes’ premises you still don’t really have any justification to believe in the existence of the physical world because you can’t rule out this final Evil Demon scenerio (i.e. the one where God allows him to decieve you).

The Variability of Reasons?

I was reading the entry on moral particularism over at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (my adviser is a particularist which is bad ’cause I’m generally a Kantian and he has been making me read Toulmin’s ‘the Place of Reason in Ethics’). So anyway, here is an argument that is presented as an argument for moral particularism,

Particularists suppose that this doctrine [about the variability of reasons] is true for reasons in general, so that its application to moral reasons is just part and parcel of a larger story. For an example that comes from a non-moral context, suppose that it currently seems to me that something before me is red. Normally, one might say, that is a reason (some reason, that is, not necessarily sufficient reason) for me to believe that there is something red before me. But in a case where I also believe that I have recently taken a drug that makes blue things look red and red things look blue, the appearance of a red-looking thing before me is reason for me to believe that there is a blue, not a red, thing before me. It is not as if it is some reason for me to believe that there is something red before me, but that as such a reason it is overwhelmed by contrary reasons. It is no longer any reason at all to believe that there is something red before me; indeed it is a reason for believing the opposite.

This strikes me as a very implausible claim.  First it isn’t clear what the ‘seems’ there is supposed to mean. Does it mean that I have a red phenomenal experience? Or is it that I have a phenomenal belief? If the former it then becomes odd to think of a red experience as a reason of any kind (especially if one is influenced by Sellers’ work)…but let us waive that. Is it really true that the appearence of a red-looking-thing is reason to believe that there is something blue out there? Well, only in light of my belief about the influence of the drug I am on. Buit then it sounds like we are doing exactly what is being denied here. The appearence of a red-looking thing before me is a reason to believe that there is something red out there UNLESS this reason is trumped by some other reason (like the belief in the example).

Given this very plausible interpretation of what is going on here the particularist cannot base his case on examples like this without further argument.

Fantasy Philosophy Department

I was thinking about fantasy baseball today after watching Knocked up. I am not much of a sports fan so I started thinking about a philosphy version of this stuff. So, let’s say you were the chair of your won philosophy department. What would your fantasy department look like? Let’s say that you only get 10 faculty. My picks would be as follows

1. Kent Bach

2. David Rosenthal

3. Austen Clark

4. Stephen Neale

5. Michael Devitt

6. Bill Lycan

7. Stephan Darwall

8. Ned Block

9.  John Searle

10. Ruth Millikan

I guess we need some rules to, like points for books published and conference presentations…what would be your picks?

The Metaphysical and Epistemic Impossibility of Moogles

As I mentioned before, I recently found out that a proposed paper of mine had been accepted for the upcoming Final Fantasy and Philosophy volume of the Blackwell Pop Culture and Philosophy series. This is very exciting! I have always been a fan of the series (I hope to some day be able to edit a Terminator and Philosophy volume myself). Way back in 2000, when I taught my very first course as a Graduate Teaching Associate at SFSU I use The Simpsons and Philosophy as a text for my critical thinking class (along with Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric) so it is kind of cool to now be writing a piece for one! Anyway, I figured people might be interested in teh abstract, so here it is.


Everyone knows that moogles are disgustingly cute. I know people who would kill to be able to have one in real life, but could there really be moogles? Say, for instance, that archeologists discovered a species of animal in some remote land that completely resembled the moogle. Would that count as discovering that the beloved Final Fantasy creatures were real? Even if we don’t make such a discovery are moogles metaphysically possible? That is, can we coherently imagine a situation which would count as one which contained moogles? The answer to these questions depends on what the meaning of ‘moogle’ is. One group of philosophers has argued that the meaning of a word like ‘moogle’ is given by an associated description. On this theory ‘moogle’ might mean something like ‘small, cute creatures that are generally helpful…and very intelligent. They usually have white fur and red, purple, or pink wings, and a colored “pom-pom” sticking out of their head. Many exposed to people can speak their common language; however, most only know how to speak cries of “KUPO!”’ (final fantasy wiki).  If this were the meaning of ‘moogle’ then should we ever discover a creature that fit the description we would have discovered moogles and even if we don’t we can certainly imagine a creature fitting that description and so moogles would be metaphysically possible. For a period of time this was the dominant view in the philosophy of language. However in the 1970’s a different view of the meaning of natural kind terms was put forth by Saul Kripke, among others. According to this view the meaning of a word is given by the thing to which it refers, not by a description. The basic idea of Kripke’s theory is that a word’s meaning is fixed in an initial ‘baptism’; in essence we point at the thing and say something like ‘we’ll call that kind of thing ‘dog’.  Thus the reason that ‘dog’ means dog is because there is a causal-historical chain running from my use of the word back to the original baptism(s). Now in the case of ‘moogle’ the causal-historical chain grounds out in a creative act by the person who made up moogles. But if this is the case then it turns out that moogles are epistemologically and metaphysically impossible; they are essentially fictional. No animal we discover, no matter how much it resembled a moogle, would count as finding one. Even were it to yell ‘greetings, kupo!’ This is Kripke’s argument for the epistemological thesis that we could never discover moogles. He also gives an argument that they would be metaphysically impossible; that is, ‘no counter-factual situation is properly describable as one in which there would have been’ moogles. This is because we do not know enough about the internal structure of the race. In this paper I will review the description theory of the meaning of natural kind terms, the Kripkean objections to this kind of theory and fill in the details of Kripke’s argument.