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.

Aristotle on Universal Quantification

I was rereading the Posterior Analytics in preparation for my lecture today and I was struck by the following passage from Book I chapter 4 (72b 28-30)

Now I say that something holds of every case if it does not hold in some cases and not others, nor at some times and not others; e.g. if animal holds of every man, then if it is true to call this a man, it is true to call him an animal too; and if he is now the one, he is the other too;

Here Aristotle seems to be defining ‘all A’s are B’s’ in terms of a universally quantified conditional statement (for any thing (and/)or for any time, if that thing is an A then that thing is a B). This sounds surprisingly modern (indeed, by the end of the chapter he seems to be talking about universal instantiation), since most of us were told in our logic classes that rendering universal statements in terms of a quantified conditional is supposed to correct an error in Aristotle’s logic (i.e. the error of thinking that ‘all’ implies ‘some’). But if we take Aristotle at face value here the way he formally defines ‘all’ will give us perfectly good truth conditions for ‘all A’s are B’s’ even if there aren’t any A’s at all.

So it doesn’t seem that Aristotle’s logic is committed to the existential import of universal affirmative statements (though I know that this isn’t Artistotle’s position since he is clear that No A are B is the contrary of all A are B (i.e. they both can’t be true. He gives as examples ‘all men are just’ and ‘no men are just’)). I wonder if Aristotle had thought explicity about empty categories if he would have rejected the contrary bit from On Interpretation


Thinking about this a bit more it occurs to me that what this shows is the implicit truth-conditional definition of the conditional Aristotle is using. ‘If p then q’ From what he says we can see that the sentence will be true when p is true and q is true and it will be false when p is true and q is false (cf his evidence in Post. A. 72b 30). He does not say anything about the case when p is false, but we can infer a bit about this condition by his claim about contraries. Since when All A’s are B’s is true No A’s are B’s must be false we know that the conditional cannot be counted as true when teh antecedant is false (that would render both of these statements true and so not contraries). So, in the F F and F T combinations the conditional must be counted as false. That satisfies the requirement that the two cannot be true together. So we can see a kind of operator being defined here; let’s call it ‘xxx>’. ‘xxx>’ is defined truth functionally as

P         Q     P xxx> Q

t          t        T

t          f         F

f          f         F

f          t          F

Is the ‘XXX>’ connective a connective from relevance logic? No, it is just the ‘&’ of classic first-order logic…this fits very nicely with the metaphor of universal quantification as a giant conjunction…

HOT Imagination

I was reading this interesing report on some of Frank Tong’s recent work here. Tong’s work is regularly presented at the consciousness conferences I frequent and I have briefly mentioned it before. This recent study asked participants to imagine a certain image. Then these subjects were subjected to a binocular rivarly set up, which is where researchers present a different picture to each eye at the same time. What usually happens is that the person sees the two images switching back and forth. Some of Tong’s other works has focused on showing that we correlate the subject’s report of whcih they are seeing with their neural activity and thus learn to predict from looking at their brain what they are seeig. This is very exciting!

Anyway, in this research Tong shows that imagining one of the two simuli before having them presented influences which of the two you end up consciously seeing. In fact he is able to show that it has the same effect as being presented with a ‘dim’ image of the stimuli. The article points out that this might lead to an empirical way to quantify how strong an individual’s mental imagery is. Super interesting!! But I am interested in this as data for a theory of consciousness.

How do we explain this? Well, from the higher-order perspective it is easy to explain. A conscious mental state is, on this kind of view, consists in my being conscious of myself as bing in some first-order state. Presumably imagining is a conscious mental experience, and so would have to consist in my being conscious of myself as being in the first-order state that I am imagining. Presumably the disparity in first-person reports as to the presence of mental imagery is due to the varrying ability of persons to token this higher-order state in the absence of the firsrt-order sensory state. This also explain why it would be the case that presenting the subject with a dimly lit actual image works just as good as the subjects own imagined experience.

For some people it is easy to token the relevant higher-order state and they have very vivid mental imagery experience. Others have difficulty tokening these higher-order states and manage only to have ‘fleeting’ mental images. There is even a small group that denies to have this ability. I must confess to be one of these people. I have never been able to have vivid mental imagery. When I imagine a situation I usally find myself describing it like you might find in a book. Sometime I can manage vauge mental images, especially when laying down on the verge of sleeping, but when I am alert and awake it is very hard for me to do. Interestingly, I have good auditory ‘imagery’ experieince. I think that this may be due to me being a musician but that is just anecdotal evidence.

The preceeding discussion is all based on the assumption that imagining cannot happen unconsciously. The way I have explained it above has it as only being conscious. Is this a mistake? Rosenthal does not anywhere explicitly talk abou tthe imagination. I wonder if he thinks that we could imagine something unconsciously?

Philosophers’ Carnival & Some Announcements

Carnival here

There has been a lot happening out here in the real world lately (see my website for details). Here is a synopsis

1. I have a committee and a date to defend my dissertation! This is simultaneously exhilerating and terrifying…

2. My paper “The Metaphysical and Epistemic Impossibility of Moogles” has been accepted to appear in the forthcoming Final Fantasy and Philosophy volume…does this make me a super nerd?

3. I put some new tunes up at the Logical Form site…check them out! (Rumor has it that there may be a NC/DC reunion soon…


OK, I got to go, but I’ll be back…