Sellars on Mind and Language

I found this very interesting lecture by Sellars where he talks about dot quotes and its relation to ontology and the mind-body problem…all good stuff and worth a listen. But what really caught my interest was his comments at the beginning of part F where he seems to admit that some kind of causal theory has to be right for the way thoughts work but not for the linguistic meaning…is there any other way to interpret these remarks? Also, does anyone else feel like they are listening to Jimmy Stewart talk about philosophy??


On my way home from class today I realized that what Sellars says in these lectures vindicates something I thought of after someone objected that on my view names would fail the Church translation test. t thought you could just dot quite your way out of it so it is nice to hear Sellars talking about dot quoting ‘Socrates’.

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

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…

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.

Did Quine Change his Mind?

It is well-known that Quine argued that the axioms of logic are revisable. The law of the excluded middle, for instance, while at the center of our ‘web of beliefs’ could, if we had compelling evidence, be revised or even abandoned. But it is commonly thought that Quine changed his mind by the time that he wrote his Philosophy of Logic in 1970. But is this right?

What people seem to have in mind is the passage in chapter 6 on deviant logics where he says, in considering the debate between someone who denies the law of non-contradiction and someone who rejects this denial,

My view of this dialogue us that neither party knows what he is talking about. They think they are talking about negation, ‘~’, ‘not’; but surely the notation ceased to be recognizable as negation when they took to regarding some conjunctions of the form ‘p & ~p’ as true, and stopped regarding such sentences as implying all others. Here, evidently, is the deviant logician’s predicament: when he tries to deny the doctrine he only changes the subject. (p 81)

The idea here is supposed to be that it is impossible to really reject the law of non-contradiction as opposed to simply changing the subject. But this doesn’t mean that the law of non-contradiction isn’t revisable, it simply means that arguments between those who are pro-revision and those who are Conservatives will very often be question begging. Quine goes on to say as much when discussing the law of the excluded middle,

 By the reasoning of a couple of pages back, whoever denies the law of the excluded middle changes the subject. This is not to say that he is wrong in doing so. In repudiating ‘p or ~p’ he is indeed giving up classical negation, or perhaps alteration, or both; and he may have his reasons. (p 83)

He then goes on to canvass the reasons that have been given, which range “from bad to better”. But ultimately Quine rejects them as sufficient to motivate us to abandon classical logic. He appeals to something he calls the ‘maxim of minimal mutilation’, as he says,

The classical logic of truth functions and quantification is free of paradox, and incidentally is a paragon of clarity, elegance, and efficiency. The paradoxes emerge only with set theory and semantics. Let us try to resolve them within set theory and semantics, and not lay fairer fields to waste. (p 85)

He goes on to cite it again in response to the challenge from quantum mechanics,

But in any event let us not underestimate the price of deviant logic. There is a serious loss of simplicity, especially when the new logic is not even a many-valued truth functional logic. And there is a loss, still more serious, on the score of familiarity. Consider again the case, a page or so back, of begging the question in an attempt to defend classical negation. This only begins to illustrate the handicap of having to think within deviant logic. The price is perhaps not prohibitive, but the returns had better be good. (p 86)

It seems clear from this that Quine is not retracting his claim that classical logic is revisable but is instead canvassing the reasons that one may have for such a revision and arguing that we, as of yet, do not have enough reason to abandon classical logic. This is entirely consistent with his views and so we can conclude that he did not change his mind about the revisability of logic.

Top 10 Posts of 2008

OK, so the year isn’t over yet…but these are the most view posts so far…

–Runner up– Reverse Zombies, Dualism, and Reduction

10. Question Begging Thought Experiments

9. Ontological Arguments

8. The Inconceivability of Zombies

7. There’s Something About Jerry 

6. Pain Asymbolia and Higher-Order Theories of consciousness

5.  Philosophical Trends

4. A Short Argument that there is no God

3. Has Idealism Been Refuted?

2. God versus the Delayed Choice Quantuum Eraser

1. A Simple Argument Against Berkeley

Chappell on the A Priori

The a priori seems to be on the rise of late, especially with defenders like Richard Chappell championing the cause. According to Chappell an ideallly rational being would have access to all the metaphysical possibilites. Given that we can ideally (or coherently)  conceive something we can infer that the thing in question is metaphysically possible. This is, of course, the basis for the zombie argument against materialism. Since we can coherently concieve of a zombie world (a world where there are beings like us in every physical way except that they lack conscious experience) that shows that consciousness cannot be a physical property.

The standard (Kripkean) objection to this line of argument is to try to distinguish between metaphysical and epistemic possibility. Some things that are epistemically possible (i.e. seem coherently conceivable) turn out to be impossible (a classic example is to point out that before you learn that the square root of 1,987,690.000 is 1409.855 (rounded up to the nearest thousandth) it is concievable that it be other than 1409.855 but once we find out what it is it is impossible for it to be otherwise. According to the materialist one of these things is the zombie world. While it seems that we can coherently concieve of such a world, we are actually missing some contradiction, or physical difference between our world and the zombie world and so it is not actually (ideally/coherently) concievable. 

Chappell objects to this line of argument for (at least) two reasons. The first has to do with the theoretical extravagance of the materialist’s claim that the identity between (say) H2O and water is necessary. It posits an unexplained strong necessity, wheras the modal rationalist (the one who thinks that it is a metaphysical possibility that water could be other than H2O, not just an epistemic possibility) doesn’t have to posit something like this. All that she needs to posit is a single uniform space of possibilities that we describe in various ways. The materialist has to posit a space of epistemically possible worlds and a seperate space of metaphysically possible worlds. Parsimony and simplicity seem to favore that modal rationalist here.

The second is an attack on the claim that calling something a rigid designator settles the dispute. As Chappell says,

Perhaps our term ‘consciousness’ is, like ‘water’, a rigid designator. But who cares about the words? Twin Earth still contains watery stuff, even if we refuse to call it ‘water’, and the Zombie World still lacks phenomenal stuff (qualia), even if we stipulate that our term ‘consciousness’ refers to some neurophysical property (and so is guaranteed to exist in this physically identical world).

Yes it will, IF we have settled the issue in favor of Chapell’s view and we then think that we are genuinely concieving of a real metaphysical possibility. If there is a question as to whether these kinds of possibility are distinct then Chapell has done nothing more than beg the question.

This is evidenced when he says,

Kripke himself noticed something along these lines. While we can imagine a world where watery stuff isn’t truly water, it’s incoherent to imagine a world where “painy” stuff isn’t truly pain. To feel painful is to be painful.

Pointing out that Kripke begs the same queston as you are beging is not a way to absolve yourself of beging the question. There is a legitimate case to made that being in pain and feeling pain are in fact two seperate things. The evidence for this comes, not from a priori reflection on the nature of pain, but from evidence from cognitive science.

 But suppose that you are not moved by this evidence and you still maintain that a priori analysis reveals that the zombie world is metaphysically (not just epistemically) possible. Is this a coherent position? One objection that immediately pops up is that on this view it seems that we can concieve of various possible worlds that result in contradiction. So, I seem to be able to concieve that God necessarily exists and that God necessarily doesn’t exist (or that numbers do and don’t necessarily exist). Since the claim that conceiveability entails possibility entails that God (or numbers) both necessarily exists and doesn’t exist only one of those possibilities can be a real metaphysical possibility; the other must be an epistemic possibility.

Chappell is of course aware of this objection and tries to deal with it in the post linked to above. Here is what he says,

I agree with Chalmers that the most attractive response for the modal rationalist here is to hold on to their strong position, and instead deny the… conceivability intuitions found, for example,…above. It isn’t at all clear that a necessary being, or a shrunken modal space, is coherently conceivable in the appropriate sense. The modal rationalist will want to hold that their position is not just true, but a priori. They would then expect opposing views to be refutable a priori, and hence not feature in any a priori coherent scenario. Of course, it would beg the question to merely assert: “the thesis is true and hence has no successful counterexamples”. But that is not what’s going on here. Rather, I hope to show that the modal rationalist can explicate their commitments in a way which makes clear exactly why, on their view, the meta-modal cases in question are not taken to be genuinely conceivable. If successful, this should suffice to undermine the charge of internal inconsistency or self-refutation.

The problem with this line of argument is that it commits the very ‘fallacy’ that Chappell accuses the Kripkeans of making. The strategy that he is here proposing is that of trying to show that there is some possible state of affairs that seems conceivable but which, on reflection, is not in fact metaphysically possible (i.e. that there are possibilities that (seem)concievable but are not metaphysically possible). But if there are possibilities that (seem) concievable but not metaphysically possible then we need an independent argument that the zombie world is not one of these worlds. No such argument has been given. Rather what Chappell does is to assume that it is in fact coherently concievable; but this cannot be assumed if there are any possibilities which (seem) concievable and are not metaphysically possible. Chappell’s own view commits him to there being such possibilites, so by his own view the modal argument against materialism is suspect.