November 30, 2007

Women are not earing more philosophy Ph.Ds

This is disappointing: despite the fact that, in 2004, women earned one-third of philosophy Ph.Ds, in 2006 they earned only 28.6%. In 2000, the number was 28.4%. Furthermore, in 2006, women earned just over 50% of doctorates in the life sciences and humanities, nearly 60% of doctorates in the social sciences, and less than 30% and about 20%, respectively, in the physical sciences and engineering.

In short, with respect to gender diversity, philosophy is more like physics than history.

The historical data are even more depressing. In 1976, women earned more than 30% of all doctorates in the humanities, and roughly 26% of all doctorates in the social sciences. So philosophy is three full decades of diversification behind our sister disciplines.

This is simply appalling.

We had a very respectable job talk this afternoon from an ethicist just finishing her dissertation at Harvard. I think she's a strong candidate for one of our open lines, and not just because the dean is threatening to take away some of our lines if we don't hire more people who aren't white men. And yet it would be rather generous to call the attendance by the faculty for her talk `sparse'.

They might have skipped her talk because she's female, or because she's South Asian-American, or because she's an ethicist. Frankly, I don't think it matters what the reasons were, either implicit and explicit. How can they even pretend to fairly decide between today's speaker and our two other applicants if they don't go to the damn talks? Given the extreme underrepresentation of both women and South Asians in Anglophone philosophy, I think there was an especially strong obligation to attend her talk so as to give her all due consideration.

Two Links

I'm sure I'm late to the party on this one, but do you guys know about Google Fight? You enter two words or phrases and then see which is searched for more. For instance, I just proved Bill O'Reilly right as "Happy holidays" beat the living Hell out of "Merry Christmas". Also, in a fight between "porn" and "Wii", porn actually lost. The modern world is a very strange place indeed. Link.

Europe really is more laid back that the US. I mean, it's just a bunch of nuclear weapons, right? Link.

November 25, 2007

Simple, But Cool

Three distinctions for an epistemology of mathematics

In The fate of knowledge, Helen Longino makes a distinction between three senses of the knowledge -- that is, three different usages of the term `knowledge'. These three senses of knowledge can help us tease apart some notions that have been tangled together in Analytic epistemology of mathematics for the last 130 years or so.

Necessary and possible

Necessity and possibility are modal notions. Modal notions show up in many different domains of enquiry: we have logical modalities, physical modalities, mathematical modalities, epistemological modalities, metaphysical modalities, and so on. It seems like unqualified modalities should be either logical or metaphysical. Zalta has argued that some logical impossibilities are metaphysical possibilities, though I suspect many metaphysicians around here assume the negation of this.

When made in mathematics, this distinction seems to be related to the truth status of mathematical propositions and the theories built up out of those propositions: Under `what circumstances' are mathematical propositions true? `All of them', so mathematical truths are `necessary'. It's therefore tied to at least one view -- and more likely a family of views -- of the content of mathematical knowledge.

A priori and a posteriori

These notions distinguish two sorts of justification or warrant relations. When I know (a priori) that 2+2=4, I have warrant for this belief. This warrant is different from the (a posteriori) warrant I have for the belief that it's a little cold in my house right now or that I'm being appeared to redly. The distinction does not refer to the doxastic processes by which I came to have these beliefs. In a famous paper, `What numbers could not be', Benacerraf argues that realists about mathematics cannot give a suitable epistemology for mathematics because their views are not compatible with any `causal theory of knowledge'. But the causal story about how I came to have my belief that 2+2=4 is not the same as the warranting story about how I came to be warranted in my belief that 2+2=4. A causal theory of knowledge may be confusing doxastic and warranting relations.

More generally, when I have a priori warrant, a certain relation obtains between my belief that 2+2=4, the proposition (or sentence or whatever) that 2+2=4, and possibly some other things (perhaps the Platonic numbers 2, 4, and the addition relation; perhaps the abstract natural number structure; perhaps something else entirely). This relation is the warrant or justification relation. I am said to have knowledge (at least in part) by standing in this relation. A priori and a posteriori therefore refer to the second, relational, sense of mathematical knowledge.

Analytic and synthetic

Until the eighteenth century, analysis and synthesis were two different and complementary mathematical methods. Analysis was the method of `breaking down' ideas, while synthesis was the method of `building up' complex ideas from simpler ones. In Ancient geometry, for example, one first analysed the relations between the given geometrical objects, and then assembled the simple relations thereby discovered into a rigorous proof of the desired claim. By the late nineteenth century, the terms were adjectives -- analytic and synthetic -- and not nouns. They were identified with logical relations, which in turn were bundled together with a priori and a posteriori. This is seen most clearly in Carnap's most important books, Der logische Aufbau der Welt and Logische Syntax der Sprache. These were the basis for Ayer's Language, truth, and logic, which provided the framework within which most Anglophone philosophers have been working for the past sixty years. The transition between these two uses of the terms is identified most prominently with Kant, whose usage is, (in)famously, neither the same as a priori/a posteriori nor easy to understand. Until Kant scholars provide us with a better understand of the use of the distinction during the eighteenth century, it is probably better to stick with the pre-Enlightenment methodological understanding of analysis and synthesis.

With this sense of the distinction in place, each of these terms refers to either one of two different knowledge-producing processes or one of two complementary parts of a single knowledge-producing process. This corresponds to Longino's third sense of knowledge.

As an epistemologist, I am unusual in that I most interested in the third sense: what are the processes by which mathematical knowledge is produced? Most contemporary philosophers of mathematics are primarily interested in the first sense, the content of mathematical knowledge, and the closely related metaphysical problems. That is, they want to understand what mathematics is about. A few philosophers have approached epistemology from the second side, and attempted to give an account of how mathematical beliefs can be warranted. For realists, these generally involve either a Platonic-Goedelian direct intuition of mathematicals or a quasi-Aristotelean abstraction of mathematical knowledge from perception. Kantian apriorist, Millean empiricist, and Fregean logicist views also show up occasionally, but are nowhere near as prominent in the literature. Obviously these five are related to views about the processes by which mathematical knowledge is produced.

Generally speaking, no philosopher of mathematics is at all happy with the proposals offered by any other philosopher of mathematics, and often a given philosopher of mathematics is not all that happy with his (the subdiscipline is ridiculously male-dominated) own views either.

November 24, 2007

Animal Crossing

Here's a touching story about Animal Crossing. It's a good comic to boot. Link.

November 21, 2007

I miss the Daily Show

Fortunately, they've put together a four-minute YouTube video on the WGA strike that's a bit ... familiar.

Via A,aB

November 17, 2007

Darth Vader: Live

He rocks a mean harmonica. Link.

November 15, 2007

I'm The Many Bales of Straw That Broke The Camel's Back

O.K., that's it. I've been hearing from Brottman for several months now about his plans to start a weight loss competition and I nodded my approval while not joining in. But now Drew's trying to slim down and he's doing it publicly, so I feel like I should sidle up to the bar myself.

As of weigh in this evening I'm a ballerina-like 285lbs. I'm sure some of that is fat baby that I never lost. Anyway, I know I've been a smaller person and I can be one again. It's just a matter of committing to it, and maybe making the process public will help me stick to it. I've got to get tough. Go, Joe!

Somebody's Coming...Whoa ooooooooh!

There's a new Ghostbuster's video game coming out. It's written by Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis and the original cast is doing the voices. They've confirmed that there will be cooperative multiplayer. Here's a picture. Radical. Link.

In other news, here's some upcoming downloadable content for Rock Band.

November 11, 2007

Making a place for the other

Janet Kourany is one of my mentors here. She's married to Jim Sterba, another of my mentors. Today, both are tenured professors in the philosophy department -- Janet is an associate professor, and Jim is a full professor. Their daughter, Sonya, is also planning on pursuing a career in academia. Janet recently wrote a heart-breaking and infuriating open letter to Sonya that was published in the latest APA Newsletter on Feminism and Philosophy. In it, she describes -- to put it bluntly -- the incredibly shitty way she has been treated by various departments of philosophy in attempting to solve the two-body problem, and she warns Sonya not to make the same mistakes she did.

People who have interviewed professional women of my generation—people like the journalist Vivian Gornick—have set out poignantly what so many of these women experienced: how they started out full of ambition and promise, how so many of them became trapped in dead-end positions such as research associate positions in the sciences, and how they ended up believing that that was all they could be. Rather than transform a negative environment to meet their needs and deserts, they allowed the negative environment to transform them. Something of that happened to me. Indeed, my third, and probably my worst, mistake was that I allowed my adjunct status at Dad’s university at least to some extent to define me. True, I fought for and eventually got an office with the regular faculty, paid trips to give papers at conferences, the possibility of teaching graduate courses and, in fact, any courses I pleased, and many of the research supports available to the regular faculty, and true, I kept professionally active, but the demoralization took its toll.

You can read all of Janet's letter here.

November 09, 2007

An epistemological argument against metaphysics

Infamously -- at least, as infamously as I can make it -- I am radically indifferent to the concerns, problems, and techniques of metaphysics. I am thoroughgoing here: whether it's Shapiro, Quine, Heidegger, van Inwagen, Aristotle, Leibniz, or Aquinas, I think metaphysics is less interesting and important than the number of hairs on my head. This post is an attempt to justify that radical and thoroughgoing indifference to any metaphysicians that might happen to read it.

If the job of the sciences is to describe the way the world is, then, or so I've been told, the job of metaphysics is to describe the way the world must be. That is (well, this isn't exactly the same thing, but probably what's intended), metaphysics is in the business of discovering (metaphysically) necessary truths, truths of the form []p. This discovery often involves considering (metaphysically) possible truths, truths of the form <>p. I have problems with the idea that we can know such truths, if any such truths there be. That is, I don't think that beliefs that []p or beliefs that <>p are ever justified.

Let's consider an arbitrary necessary truth []p. How could we be justified in believing that []p? I want to consider this by asking what sort of argument could be given for []p. What sort of argument? Unless the metaphysician is prepared to say that we can come to know that []p by generalising empirical truths, presumably the argument should be deductive. More specifically, it should be logically valid and sound.

But what logic? The presence of the modal operator [] suggests that a modal logic. S5 is the most widely accepted, or so I've been told. Perhaps the reader prefers another modal logic. Or perhaps the reader thinks she can do her metaphysics with classical first-order logic. In any case, she will have a set of inferences rules for her logic, which can be stated as axioms, and these axioms will have to be necessary truths themselves. If they are not necessary, then her inferences will not apply across all possible worlds -- her logic will not be metaphysically sound. Furthermore, in order for our belief in the conclusions of the arguments built using these inferences to be justified, our belief in the necessity of these axioms must be justified itself.

In short, in order for metaphysical beliefs to be justified, our beliefs that logical axioms are necessarily true must be justified.

There, I think, only three meta-doxastic attitudes one can take towards axioms. First, on the Aristotelean or Classical attitude, axioms are contentual and must be self-evident. Alternatively, on the Hilbertian or Mathematical attitude, axioms are formal and simply stipulative. (Note that Hilbert himself was not a Hilbertian in this sense about all branches of mathematics -- he was an Aristotelean about finite arithmetic.) On the first attitude, axioms are the most basic and fundamental truths -- and probably this `fundamental' carries both metaphysical and epistemological tones. On the second attitude, axioms are simply laid down arbitrarily, and need not be true of anything. The first attitude has been prominent in Western thought since Antiquity. The second was a late nineteenth-century development out of non-Euclidean geometry and abstract algebra. The third or Contingentist attitude is to take axioms to be assumptions we make contingently, either implicitly or explicitly. Perhaps the axioms express reliable-but-not-necessary and contingent features of our cognition (a certain sort of neo-Humean might think this), or perhaps they express the theory of logic that best exemplifies the features we want a theory of logic to have (Quine thought this, Michael Friedman's `contingent a priori' is somewhat related, and my own view lies in the vicinity of both of these).

Illustrate these three with an example: modus tollens.

(((p -> -q) ^ q) -> -p)

The Aristotelean says that this is self-evident and fundamental in both metaphysical and epistemological senses. Bivalence and non-contradiction are deep features of reality and our knowledge of it. The Hilbertian says that this is just a certain rule for manipulating arrays of strings of symbols -- when you have a subproof that terminates in -q and a separate proof of q, then you can write down the negation of the premiss of the subproof. And the Contingentist says, perhaps, that this is a pragmatically useful posit -- it lets us create proofs by contradiction, which are very powerful indeed, and is only objectionable if you have a very strict understanding of the nature of mathematical reasoning or think truth means justified assertion.

If we take one of these attitudes explicitly, what sort of attitudes towards the axioms is justified? Are we justified in believing that they are necessarily true? For the Contingentist, we are at most justified in believing that axioms are true (that is, true of the actual world). Similarly, as there is no need on the Hilbertian attitude for the axioms to be true, we are at most justified in believing that axioms are true. To infer that axioms are necessarily true is to make a ridiculously hasty generalisation. We are justified, on these two attitudes, at best in believing them to be contingent truths. (Note that even this may not be justified: on certain sorts of Contingentism, such as the neo-Humean, we are not even justified in believing that they are true!) Finally, for the Aristotelean, if self-evidence is indeed justification, then it seems that we are justified in believing that the axioms are true. But self-evidence doesn't imply necessity. Indeed, for classical epistemological foundationalists, sensory beliefs are self-evident, but are assumed not to be necessary at all. If self-evidence is not justification, then it doesn't seem that we are even justified in believing that the axioms are true.

The problem is just this: Any story we tell about being justified in believing that the axioms of logic are true is consistent with them not being necessarily true. Indeed, any story we tell is consistent with the axioms of logic only being true of the actual world, and false of every other possible world.

Something entirely parallel happens if we prefer an externalist account of knowledge, replacing justification with warrant. Every non-ad hoc story the externalist epistemologist-metaphysician tells us about how our belief that the axioms of logic are true is warranted is consistent with them not being necessarily true, and indeed with them only being true of the actual world. The only way out that I can see is to propose that belief that []p is warranted just in the case that []p is true, or something equivalent, which is clearly ad hoc.

To summarise: In order to be justified in our belief that []p, a paradigm example of an important claim of metaphysics, we must first be justified in believing that the axioms of logic are necessarily true. But on no reasonable account of the status of axioms are they necessarily true. Hence our belief that the axioms are necessarily true is not justified. Hence we are justified in believing that []p.

November 08, 2007

Xbox 360 Is Here To Stay

For those expecting a big comeback from the other consoles and a decline of the 360, for the three months preceding September 30, 2007 Electronic Arts sold $218 million in 360 software. For that same time period they sold $217 million on all other platforms combined. Wow...Link.

November 05, 2007

A Night Of Rock Band

Rock Band drops in a few weeks, but review units are trickling out here and there. Wondering what a night of Rock Band is like? Here's a live blog of the experience. Link.

November 03, 2007

What's the difference between an attack ad and legitimate criticism?

The Edwards campaign has a new ad out, presenting Clinton contradicting herself during a(?) recent Democratic debate:

I came across this ad on Tennessee Guerilla Women, where the blogger accuses Edwards of `cut[ing] and past[ing]' a `scathing' and `nasty' ad, and implying that he has thereby, and unlike Hillary, `gon[e] negative'. There's also a link to a discussion on another blog that, from the excerpt, appears to be accusing Edwards of hypocrisy. I want to bracket the issue of hypocrisy, since it could be that Edwards is making a legitimate criticism that applies just as well to both himself and Clinton. Note that I also assume some criticism is legitimate. While we're rather fond of accusing politicians of `going negative', part of the process of campaigning is pointing out the failings and flaws of one's opponents. Indeed, going negative has gained such prominence that accusations of it are popular and often unfair and illegitimate attacks -- it's a way to shame one's opponent for revealing one's own flaws and failings.

Attack ads and legitimate criticisms lie on opposite ends of a spectrum. In the murky middle are ads that might be illegitimate and unfair attacks and might be legitimate criticisms. Which one is this -- attack ad, legitimate criticism, or in the murky middle? It's clear that the blogger I quoted in the last paragraph thinks it is clearly an attack ad.

But it's not so clear to me. First, the ad doesn't contain vague and emotionally-loaded descriptions of her policies and past actions. It's showing clips of her speaking. Next, we might worry about context -- perhaps these remarks were made in contexts that change their meaning. But they mostly seem to be pretty clear, so that means that it's at least not clearly an unfair attack. Third, we might worry about the fact that Clinton is speaking extemporaneously rather than carefully and precisely stating her views. She's speaking on her feet at a debate to explain her views in a general way rather than formulating policy in a precise way for implementation. So, again, there might be subtlety and nuance to her views that are being unfairly neglected. The portion of the ad on immigration might be especially worrying in this respect.

Let's think about that immigration portion a little more carefully. The ad wants to suggest that Clinton is being inconsistent. It seems to me as though she might be trying to avoid answering an obviously stupid question -- giving illegal immigrants driver's licenses isn't an issue that can be settled with a `yes' or `no' answer in thirty seconds. But then I wonder why she didn't just say that it's a stupid question, and far too complex of an issue to be settled so simplistically. Hence, she might be saying inconsistent things, and she might be caught off-guard with a spectacularly stupid question. It's not clear either way.

So, with respect to the immigration portion, it's not clear whether the ad is an unfair attack or a legitimate criticism. With respect to the other two reasons I can think of for calling an ad an attack ad rather than a legitimate criticism, it's at least not clearly an unfair attack, and probably a legitimate criticism. I can't think of any other reasons for calling an ad an attack ad rather than a legitimate criticism. So, considering these three reasons together, I conclude that the ad is in the murky middle, but very, very close to being a legitimate criticism. It's at least not clearly an attack ad.

Addendum: There's a fourth respect in which an ad could be an attack ad, and that's if it's promoting or appealing to some odious ideology (racism, sexism, heterosexism, ablism, xenophobia, and so on). This ad is clearly not doing that by any ordinary standard. It's not, as one commentator on the source post suggests, going after Clinton `on the basis that she's female'.

November 01, 2007

What's wrong with Ron Paul?

David Neiwert and a diarist on Kos have very, very disturbing series of posts on Paul. The three major points of Neiwert's post:

Most of his positions today -- including his opposition to the Iraq war -- are built on this same shoddy foundation of far-right conspiracism and extremist belief systems, particularly long-debunked theories about the "New World Order," the Federal Reserve and our monetary system, the IRS, and the education system.


While I think the evidence that Paul is incredibly insensitive on racial issues -- ranging from a racially incendiary newsletter to his willingness to appear before neo-Confederate and white-supremacist groups -- is simply overwhelming, it isn't as simple to make the case that he is an outright racist, since he does not often indulge in hateful rhetoric -- and when he has, he tries to ameliorate it by placing it in the context of what he thinks are legitimate policy issues.


Note, if you will, that the interviewers' questions are all predicated on a belief in old far-right conspiracy theories about "banking elites" [read: Jews] are secretly out to control the world -- and Paul clearly accepts those premises as valid.

Phenry's diary is its own rundown. Here are some highlights that, I believe, will generally disturb my libertarian friends: Paul is anti-abortion (and not just anti-Roe v. Wade), is pro-shielding oil companies from contamination lawsuits, is so anti-immigrant that he wants to repeal birthright citizenship, voted against reauthorizing the Voting Rights Act of 1965, voted for a bill that would require `proof of citizenship' -- producing a birth certificate, passport, or naturalisation certification -- at the polls, supports the Defense of Marriage Act (indeed, he cosponsored a bill that would bar federal courts from considering challenges to the federal DMA), does not believe in the separation of church and state (though he does believe in the `separation of school and state'), introduced a bill that would prohibit the federal court system from hearing any equal protection case involving religion or sexuality, refuses to acknowledge that there is genocide in Darfur, hates unions and voted to make it harder to file class-action lawsuits.

And that's a selection from one post in a series of four.

This does not sound like the set of beliefs of a man whose political philosophy is firmly grounded on a principle of respect for individual liberty.