The Terminator and Philosophy: Call for Abstracts

The Terminator and Philosophy

Edited by Richard Brown and Kevin S. Decker

The Blackwell Philosophy and Popular Culture Series

Please circulate and post widely.

Apologies for Cross-posting.

To propose ideas for future volumes in the Blackwell series please contact the Series Editor, William Irwin, at

Abstracts and subsequent essays should be philosophically substantial but accessible, written to engage the intelligent lay reader. Contributors of accepted essays will receive an honorarium.

Possible themes and topics might include, but are not limited to, the following:

“Can We Really Change the Future?” or “Killing Sarah Connor”: Cyberdyne Systems, time travel and the grandfather paradox; Skynet and John Connor: philosophy of technology and creating our own enemies; “Sentience, Sapience, and Self-Awareness”: issues in philosophy of mind; Neural Net to Supercomputer to ‘Software in Cyberspace’: Skynet and multiple realization;“Is Skynet Justified in Defending Itself?” the ethics of war and artificial intelligence; “Irrefutable Delusions”: Sarah Connor, Delusional Beliefs, and Standards of Evidence in T2;“Stop Miles Bennett Dyson”: Sarah Connor’s transformation into a killer (is violence contagious?) or Sarah Connor’s transformation from ‘80’s ditz to Feminist Icon; “Judgment Day is Unavoidable” or “No Fate but what we Make”: eternalist vs. presentist perspectives on the original versus modified timelines; “John Connor is the Most Important Person in the World”: causality and the meaning of life; “To Preserve and Protect”: the contrastive values of human versus artificial life; “What is a Terminator?”: The Ontology of Fictional Objects; “I Have Data Which Could be Interpreted as Pain”: machines, consciousness, and simulated perception; The T-1000: adaptable machines and emergence; How Did They Build Skynet?: “truthmakers” and knowledge with no source; Andy and the Turk: killing the innocent to save the innocent or Are scientists responsible for their inventions?; “Terminatrix”: the T3 gynoid , feminism, and trangressive cyborgs; “Should we Stop the Future?”: Conservatism and the “Terminator Argument” in bioethics; “The Closest Thing to a Father I Have”: John Connor & the Terminator; “Desire is Irrelevant, I am a MACHINE”: Who is Responsible for the Terminator’s Actions? Or freewill vs determinism; “Assume the Shape of Anything it Touches”: The Metaphysics of Transformation in T2 & T3; The Govinator: Fantasy and reality in politics; Does the Future Exist now?: The nature of spacetime and reality; Embodied Artificial Intelligence: Is AI actually possible, and if so, how close are we to creating it?; Monstrous Technology: From Frankenstein to the Terminator.

Submission Guidelines:

1. Submission deadline for abstracts (100-500 words) and CV(s): September 8, 2008.

2. Submission deadline for drafts of accepted papers: November 3, 2008.

Kindly submit by e-mail (with or without Word attachment) to: Richard Brown at

Valid but not in Virtue of Form?

Some remarks of the Semantic Terrorist in the post on moral truthmakers got me to thinking. Here is what he said.

consider the following argument which is easily proven to be invalid despite the fact that many analytic philosophers would mistakenly classify it as valid:

1) George Bush is a bachelor.
? George Bush is unmarried.

This argument is in the same logical form as the following:

1) George Bush is a Texan.
? George Bush is unmarried.

As ST points out many analytic philosophers do take that argument to valid. It is standard in logic textbooks to point out that these arguments meet the definition of validity; it is indeed impossible for the premise to be true and the conclusion to be false, but as the point continues, this isn’t because of teh form of the argument. The form, as ST demonstrates, allows for counter-examples, and so the validity must be due to something besides the form of the argument. The reason for the impossibility of the truth of the poremises and the conjunction of the denial of the concusion is said to be due to the definition of ‘bachelor’.

All of this is standard, but why isn’t the argument above seen as having a supressed premise of the form ‘all bachelors are unmarried makes’? Then the argument is formally valid; it is just an instance of a very common categorical syllogism. The same is true of the texan argument, it just happens to have a false suppressed premise ‘all Texans are unmarried males’. I don’t see what the argument against positing the suppressed premise is supposed to be. It is clearly the only way to make the inference legitimate.

Freedom of Speech Meets Speech Act Theory

In celebration of my one year in the blogosphere I have decided to start a new (randomly published) series of posts highlighting a post from exactly one year ago that did not recieve much attention. Here is the First.


If you have been around here lately then you know that I have been working on a paper on the higher-order theory of consciousness, and right now I am supposed to be converting the paper into a PowerPoint presentation, but I was distracted by the following line of thought…ah well…why fight it?

Freedom of speech is a foundational value in American society, and indeed ought to be foundational for any free society. Yet, even so we all recognize that there ought to be some limits set of this freedom. The important question, of course, is just what these limits ought to be. Famously Mill argued for what has come to be know as ‘the Harm Principle,’ which says, as he puts it, “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others.” But what limits does this impose?

Here is a quote from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s entry on Mill.

If we accept the argument based on the harm principle we need to ask “what types of speech, if any, cause harm?” Once we can answer this question, we have found the correct limits to free expression. Mill uses the example of speech related to corn dealers; he suggests that it is fine to claim that corn dealers are starvers of the poor if such a view is expressed through the medium of the printed page, but that it is not permissible to express the same view to an angry mob, ready to explode, that has gathered outside the house of the dealer. The difference between the two is that the latter is an expression “such as to constitute…a positive instigation to some mischievous act,” (1978, 53), namely, to place the rights, and possibly the life, of the corn dealer in danger.

This kind of argument is common is the free speech debate. It is akin to the adage ‘you can’t yell “fire!” in a crowded theatre’and the so-called “fighting words” exception to free speech. Recent times have seen an adaptation of this kind of argument (especially in Britten) with respect to inciting terrorism.

It seems to me that what this kind of an argument amounts to is an injunction on certain kinds of speech acts (i.e. an injunction against certain illocutionary forces especially when they have some harmful perlocutionary effect. (I take it for granted that you know some speech act theory (Austin, Grice, etc), if you don’t let me know in the comments and I will give you a brief introduction to the basic ideas)). In fact when one goes back and re-reads Mill with some speech act theory in mind, it becomes clear that he is defending our right to make assertions (read: express beliefs) that are unpopular/believed to be false by others and to express moral sentiments that others may deem immoral but this clearly does not apply to ever kind of act that we can perform with speech.

Once we see speech as a kind of action then it becomes obvious that we ought to prohibit some kinds of speech, in just the same way that we prohibit certain kinds of actions (this, I take it, is similar to Stanley Fish’s views and why he says that no speech is ‘free’ though he does not appeal to speech act theory). In particular it becomes obvious that some kinds of speech acts that fall under ‘hate speech’ ought to be prohibited. We would not allow someone to poke a random person on the subway with a stick repeatedly, just to annoy the person. Why, then, should we allow someone to psychologically jab at someone with a racial slur, just to annoy the person?

Let us invent a racial slur for discussion’s sake. Let us say that there is a group of people for whom to be called a ‘bagger’ is as hurtful to them as our English “n” word.  Now suppose that someone said “Baggers are less intelligent than Asians, and it is a waste of time to try to educate them.” On the view that I am advocating it would be allowable for someone to say that in the course of asserting that baggers are less intelligent than Asians, as that is the expression of a belief which is an allowable speech act no matter how repugnant the belief is, and also no matter how much it pains me to hear you express it. This is because the perlocutionary goal of assertion is to get someone to believe something and not to cause harm to that person. Any harm produced is “collateral damage.” 

But it would not be allowable, on my view, to say the same thing in the course of performing some other kind of speech act that had as its perlocutionary goal inflicting some kind of psychological damage on the person, or of inciting them to do violence. Thus what matters is not what is said, but what one is doing in and by saying it.

Language, Thought, Logic, and Existence

Well, I’m off to go present my paper at the APA! I’ll be back on Monday. I guess I have Philosophy Sucks! to thank, since I was noticing that the paper grew out of some interesting discussion I had here last year. Thanks to everyone who participated!!

You can enjoy the virtual version here (and on the sidebar with the other virtual presentations), which is a recording of a rehersal I did today (It may take a second to open since I recorded it in stereo, which I haven’t before).

Some Cool Links

(via David Pereplyotchik)

Below are links to some examples of talks that fall well within the cognitive science arena. I’ve found, however, that many of the non-cogsci talks are more interesting, because they introduce one, often in a vivid way, to a subject matter that is less familiar. (For instance, Wade Davis’s talk on anthropological fieldwork was, for me, genuinely exciting.)

You can browse the talks by clicking on the topic links at the bottom right of each video’s page. Or just start here


David Pereplyotchik

Meta-metaethics and the NJRPA

I am getting ready to go to Jersey tomorrow to present Language, Thought, Logic, and Existence at the NJRPA which should be fun. If you haven’t listened to the virtual version why not check it out. It will almost be like being there!

 I am also working on comments for next weeks Yale/Uconn Graduate conference in Connecticut.  I will be commentating on a paper by Jeff Sebo (NYU) called ‘Two Normative Arguments for Metaethical Constructivism’ I will be arguing that Jeff has not given a normative argument for a metaethical conclusion. So I wanted to take this opportunity to jot down some thoughts about Meta-metaethics. What exactly is the point of metaethics and how is it different from normative ethics?

Metaethics is primarily concerned with questions about the meaning of ethical terms like ‘good,’ ‘evil,’ ‘ought,’ ‘obligation,’ and ‘right,’ and the possibility of the justification of normative moral judgments like ‘suicide bombing is morally wrong,’ ‘Uday Hussein was an evil man,’ or ‘Humans ought not to eat meat’. Now, though we are concerned with the possibility of the justification of these normative judgments, we are not concerned with giving a theory that would tell us, or purport to, whether these judgments are actually correct. Metaethical inquiry is concerned only with the nature of the kind of answer that can be given, not the actual answers that are given.

So, for instance, Plato’s answer that there are eternal, perfect, and unchanging Forms of Justice and Courage tells us how a normative judgment could be true. It does not tell us which ones are. His account amounts to the claim the moral judgments are beliefs that are true or false in so far as they capture reality as it is in the Eternal Realm of the Forms, just like normal predicates work on his view. Telling us what objects do participate in these Forms is the job of normative ethics. In Plato’s case the normative theory takes the form of a virtue ethics based on his analogy between the parts of the soul and the parts of a city. While Plato’s normative theory has fallen out of favor, his metaethical theory remains quite popular, but I shall not dwell on this here. My point is that the proper task of metaethics lies in giving a general theory about the nature of moral judgments and the semantics of moral words that would explain how realism could be true, or is false, or whatever.

Given this account it may then seem that to add constructivism to the fray should be no problem. The constructivist thinks that there are moral properties, just like the Platonist, except that the moral properties are thought of as constructed by us rather than found out there in the world. This certainly seems to be the way that most constructivists take, and the one that Sebo takes in his paper. He characterizes constructivism as a hybrid metaethical and normative theory, whereas non-constructivism is a purely metaethical view that makes no normative claims or predictions.  So Sebo takes a metaethical theory to be the conjunction of a semantical claim, a metaphysical claim and an epistemological claim. A purely metaethical theory would only deal with these questions and since constructivism deals with these questions it is a distinctive metaethical theory, albeit one that makes a specific normative claim. This normative claim is that we should only do something if we have a reason to do it and we only have a reason to do something if we in fact value it. The constructivist thinks that trhe moral facts arise due to a distinctively human act of valueing. They are not ‘out there’ independantly of human beings. His argument is then that it is a mistake to think that finding out whether the normative claim is true or not has no bearing on metaethical disputes.

But when we actually look at what he says, this isn’t the case. His argument actually turns out to be an appeal to naturalism and intuitions about which theory is better to accept. He develops an analogy with the debate between evolution and intelligent design. The evolutionary theory makes all kinds of actual predictions whereas intelligent desing is neutral. If we then independantly verify the predictions that evolution makes then we should take this as evidence that evolutionary theory is true which is inconsistent with the theory of intellilgent design (we are here taking evolutionary theory to be the theory that life arouse due to random/chance physical events).

 He then goes on to argue as follows. Imagine that we find out that the normative claim that the constructivist makes is somehow shown to be true, that is imagine that we find out that we should only act a certain way if we have some subjective reason for acting that way. Then what we have is two theories, each of which can account for this fact, but one of which is committed to strange properties, or whatever, so the success of the normative story is indirect evidence for constructivism. But the problem with this argument is that it does not really rely on the normative claim that the constructivist makes, as that can be accepted by the non-constructivist. Besides which, the only other option is not Platonism. It may turn out to be the case that the moral properties are natural properties. So the normative argument fails. As it should. Metaethical theories are completely neutral as between normative theory.

Flamming LIPS!

So I just got back from the Long Island Philosophical Society meeting, where I presented Language, Thought, Logic, and Existence (the virtual version is here if you missed it, which considering that there was 10 people there, you probably did) it was early but I had a good time…in the afternoon I commented on a paper by Glan Statile called ‘Mind, Matter, and Religious Experience’ which argued that materialism about the mind was empirically false as shown by the near death experience of Pam Reynolds.

I argued that there was no evidence that she had had any experience during the one hour time that she was actually brainsead and that the details of her experience suggest that she had experience before and after the time she was literally dead. During the discussion I was asked if she was brain dead for the whole seven hours and had had some experience would I be convinced that materialism was false. I said that I thought I would and he said that I had conceeded too much.

So suppose that Pam had no electrical activity in her brain at time T1 and that later when she is awake she is able to recount details from T1 that she would only be able to know if she had experienced the events she described at T1. Glen was arguing that this would be empirical evidence that materialism was false, and I had been agreeing with this premise. But the suggestion was, why wouldn’t this instead be evidence that there was some other (physical) property of the brain, which we weren’t monitoring and which was responsible for generating experience. So, maybe electricity is just an accidental feature of the brain, and something else is responsible for generating experience (maybe spin, or whatever). So, if materialism is an empirical hypothesis, how could it ever be falsified?

I also had a very interesting discussion with Jonathan Adler about my claim that most moral truths are analytic, but I plan a seperate post for that.

09/19/07 -Devitt on Meaning

I am continuing my series of posts on the Meaning course I am auditing co-taught by Devitt and Neale (previous posts here, here, and here).

One thing that I, and others, have been pressing Devitt on is his treatment of semantic types. As he has admitted in class, he is primarily concerned with token sentences as a way of evaluating  the thoughts that those tokens are taken to be representitive of (confirming his commitment to P-semantics). This is what leads him to say that something is a meaning if and only if it plays a semantic role, which means that it can be used to explain bevaior and as a guide to reality.

When it was pointed out that this seems to indicate that sentence types, or for that matter word types,  don’t have any meaning Devitt appealed to the distinction between physical types and semantic types. This wasn’t a suprise since he had said the same thing to me after he read Kripke, Devitt, Bach. By physical type Devit means the physical structure that all tokens of ‘Aristotle’ share. The physical type ‘Aristotle’ is ambiguous for him. There is a distinct semantic type for each thing named Aristotle (which is a collection of all the tokens that are causally related to the particular object that they name), though only on physical type (at this point Neale asked if utterances and sentences could belong to the same physical type or not, to which Devitt said ‘I haven’t thought a lot about types!’).

He then offered the following tentative definition of the meaning of types

A property of a physical expression type is a meaning if and only if that property, together with the context, determines a meaning for all of its tokens

The second occurence of meaning here is supposed to be the P-semantic one, the one he defined in Comming. He says ‘ a meaning for all its tokens’ because he thinks that tokens can have more than one meaning. According to this definition, then, for the physical type ‘Aristotle’ to have a meaning is for it to have a property which determines a meaning for all of its tokens.

But this is itself ambiguous. It could mean

1. The property of the physical type determines a single meaning that all of the tokens share (though there may be other meanings that all the tokens share)

2. The property of the physical type determines a meaning for each token that may vary from token to token.

If 1 is the case then it will turn out that every token of ‘Aristotle’ will have the property of picking out Aristotle the philosopher no matter who the token actually refers to. This in effect means that every name token refers to every bearer of the name…wierd!

If 2 is the case then there must be some property that the name type has that acts as a function that when applied to a name token, in a given context, will give us the refferent of that name. What could such a property be? The natural candidate is something like NDT (being the theory that a name N is semantically equivelent to the description ‘the bearer of “N”‘). Who the bearer of “N” is will be determined by the causal relation that some object has to the thought that is being expressed by the sentence in which the token occurs. So it looks like Devitt should endorse frigidity as an L-semantic theory…though I somehow doubt that he would agree. When I brought this up in class, he said ‘perhaps names are a bad example…’