Expressivism and the T-Schema

Expressivist like Blackburn like to invoke deflationary accounts of truth as a way to save the common sense intuition that moral judgements can be straightforwardly true or false. I have elsewhere argued that this strategy fails to absolve the espressivist from giving an account of justification and, without some kind of modification, the expressivist is committed to relativism. Blackburn’s expressivism collapses into pure autobiography.

Here is another way to make the argument. Take the following claim: Eating meat is immoral. According to the deflationist this will be true just in case eating meat is immoral. This can be put in terms of the T-Schema as so,

“Eating meat is immoral’ is true if and only if eating meat is immoral

But what are to make of the right hand side of this bi-conditional? We cannot take it as naming some fact according to the expressivist. It seems we must, then, give it the expressivist meaning. Doing so yeilds the B-schema

“Eating meat is immoral’ is true if and only if Boo eating meat

This makes it clear that deflationsim about truth cannot help the Blackburns of the world avoid giving a real theory of moral justification.

Or is there some other interpretationof the right hand side of the bi-conditional?

The Ambiguity of ‘That’

I have previously discussed Devitt’s claim that definite descriptions are ambiguous as between a referntial and an attributive meaning. In my earlier post I gave an argument from Kripke that to my mind is pretty convincing and for which I can’t see a plausible reply.

One of the positive arguments that Devitt gives is a comparison to demonstratives like ‘that’ (argument 3). His point is that the convention by which we express singular thoughts using ‘that’ is straightforwardly a semantic convention (‘if anything is’ as he puts it). Add to this that ‘the’ and ‘that’ are completely interchangable. Anytime that we could use one we can also use the other. So, to take the classic example, if I were to say ‘the murder of Smith is insane’ to express my singular thought about Smith’s murder I could just as well have said ‘that murder of Smith is insane’. This, together with the previous point suggests that ‘the’ has a referential meaning (just like ‘that’).

But if we take the comaprison seriously we will have to postulate an abiguity for ‘that’ as well since there are attributive uses. For insatnce if I am looking at the bloodly murder scene and I say ‘that murder of Smith is insane’ it is clear that I could mean ‘that murder of Smith –whover he is– is insane’. But we have no reason to posit this kind of ambiguity for ‘that’ so we have no reason to postulate it for ‘the’. If anything, what the comparison to demonstratives show is that it isn’t obvious that ‘the’ has the Russellian attributive meaning.

The Problem with 2-Dimensional Semantics

Central to the claim of Chalmers’ two dimensional semantics is the idea that there are two different ways of considering a possible world. We may consider it counter-factually in which case we hold the actual world fixed or we may consider as actual in which case the proposed possible world is thought of as being actual, with our world then a counter-factual world. Thus Twin Earth, considered as actual, is a world where water is not H20 but is rather XYZ. From their point of view it is a necessary truth that water=XYZ and so there would be no water here on Earth (considered counter-factually).

The problem with this line is that it assumes that we can tell a priori which possible worlds there are. Before we can consider a possible world as actual, we need to know whether it is possible or not. The two-dimensionalist simply asserts that some world is conceivable and then proposes to consider it as actual. But we have no non-question begging way of saying what is or is not really conceivable. Some claim that to be conceivable is simply to lack any contradiction in teh thing conceived. But just because there is no obvious contradiction in a proposed conceivable world does not mean that there is no contradiction in that coneption. Besides whihc, there are those who claim that contradictions are conceivable. Kripke famously proposed ‘non-normal’ worlds (sometimes called ‘impossible worlds’) these are worlds where contradiction are true or where standard laws of logic fail to apply (like the rule of necessitation). Are such worlds conceivable? Kripke seems to think so, others do not.

Until we resolve this issue two-dimensional semantics is hopelessly question begging. The only thing that we can consider as actual is, well, the actual world.

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

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.

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.

HOT Theories of Consciousness & and Gricean Intentions

One of the things that I am interested in is the philosophical commitments of the higher-order thought theory. Rosenthal, in my estimation, presents a viable theoretical account of what consciousness might consist in. I do not actually endorse the view; rather what I think is that the view is not obviously false. This is not a popular view, since most people do in fact think that it is obviously false. They therefore dismiss it with strange assuarnce. But it seems to me that we ought to take the theory seriously. When it is properly understood it is capable of giving a very decent account of consciousness.

But no one is perfect and Rosenthal formulates the theory in terms of his background philosophical assumptions. In particular he relies on an anti-Gricean and anti-Kripkean philosophy of language. But I am very attracted to these kinds of view. So, I have taken to recasting the theorythat Rosenthal gives with this kind of view in mind (I have also tried to show that the theory is commited to a claim that all conscious mental states have a qualitative component).

One objection to the Gricean claim that one expresses a mental attitude via a reflexive intention, which is that one’s hearer recognize the very intention to express the attitude in question, is that we often do not consciously experience ourselves as having these kinds of intentions. Maybe we do in some elaborate circumstances, but usually whe one is talking to someone the conversation often doesn’t seem so strategic. But if the any kind of higher-order theory of consciousness turns out to be right then we should expect the kind of Gricean intentions to occur unconsciously. If so it would not seem to us that we had those intentions and so it would then be no objection that we rarely notice them. We notice only the conscious ones.

Rosenthal objects to Gricean theories because, according to him, A Gricean is committed to saying that in the case of insincere speech acts (misleading people) one is expressing a mental attitude that one does not have. So, if I reflexively intend that take me to be expressing the belief that p, even though I know that p is false (or at least believe that it is) and want to purposely manipulate you into believing it (a perlocutionary effect I hope to achieve), then I count as expressing the belief that p even though I do not have that belief.

Now it is true that writiers like Searle and Vendler have said these sorts of things, and so it is the case that Rosenthal has an objection to their theories this is not the only way to go. One can simply define belief expression as occurring if and only if one has the belief that p and one reflexively intends ones utterance as a reason for the hearer to take his utterance as evidence that he does believe p. Then lying or misleading would not strictly speaking count as expressions of belief (even though the hearer would take the utterance as a reason to think that the speaker does have the belief and so, if the speech act were successful, the hearer would take the speaker to be expressing the belief when in fact the speaker were not really expressing the belief. Bach and Harnish define belief expression in this way, though they do not explicitly discuss insincere speech acts. We might say that when one lies one actually express the belief that ones utterance will deceive the hearer into taking me as believing p. Or one could say that when someone lies they pretend to express the belief. It would then be the case that a person who lies pretends to have the right intention to express the belief that p. This is actually the kind of account Rosenthal himself gives of lying. According to him it is pretending to think p, why can’t the Gricean just say what I did? What can’t they be pretending to have the relvant intention rather than to be thinking the relevant thought?

Either way though, Rosenthal’s objection to Gricean theories isn’t fatal and the higher-order theory actually helps to make sense of some first person data. This is problematic for Rosenthal since he bases one of his major argument for the higher-order thought theory itself on his causal theory of attitude expression.