Philosophy - Published; Philosophy - Unpublished; Miscellaneous
"Translation and the Ontology of Languages" (forthcoming volume Philosophy of Tranlsation and Translation of Philosophy, edited by Joachim Adler and Stefan Riegelnik)
Donald Davidson says there is no such thing as a language. His reasons for this claim stem from the improvisatory nature of linguistic communication, as manifested in our understanding of malapropisms. If there are no languages, there can be no translations either. However, I argue that justice can be done to the improvisatory aspect of linguistic communication in a way that is consistent with the existence of languages and translations. Davidson, like many philosophers and linguists, assumes that languages, if they exist, must be sets of some kind. I bring to bear an account of artifacts, including abstract artifacts, that I have developed elsewhere in order to argue that languages are abstract artifacts made out of, but not identical to, sets of certain kinds. This enables me to describe the differences in the kind of improvisations needed to understand things like malapropisms and those needed to translate from another language.
"Much Ado about Something-from-Nothing: Problems for Ontological Minimalism" Ontology After Carnap (2016).
Ontological Minimalism is an increasingly popular view that combines realism in first-order ontological debates ("Ks do exist," for some disputed kind K) with a deflationary understanding of what such existence claims amount to. In the version of the view associated with Stephen Schiffer and Amie Thomasson, Ontological Minimalism says that such existence claims can be easily shown to be true (or false) because the concepts in question include conditions for their own application. Given the obtaining of these conditions, it will be a conceptual truth that entities falling under the kind exist. I argue that though the view sounds very attractive, it faces serious problems. The problems concern whether and how the minimalist can establish that the entities the existence of which she accounts for have other properties that such entities are supposed to have by definition. For example, can she combine minimalism about the existence of a mereological fusion of A and B with the supposedly conceptual truth that the fusion of A and B has A and B as parts? I trace the problems back ultimately to the notion of application conditions. If one distinguishes bewteen different kinds of application, it becomes apparent why the minimalist cannot, through the definitions of concepts, simultaneously establish that entities falling under those concepts exist, and that they have other properties. The minimalist thus faces a dilemma: to keep the minimalist approach to existence, and let the other properties go – thereby ensuring that the entities in question are very minimal indeed; or to retain a conceptual route to ensuring the other properties are true of such entities – thereby requiring some regular first-order metaphysics to help establish their existence.
"'But Is It Science Fiction?': Science Fiction and a Theory of Genre" Midwest Studies in Philosophy 39 (2015)
If science fiction is a genre, then attempts to think about the nature of science fiction will be affected by one’s understanding of what genres are. I shall examine two approaches to genre, one (genres as regions of conceptual space) dominant but inadequate, the other (genres as historical particulars) better, but only occasionally making itself seen. I shall then discuss several important, interrelated issues, focusing particularly on science fiction: what it is for a work to belong to a genre, the semantics of genre names, the (in)validity of attempts to define genres, and the connections between genre and normativity. One important but neglected clue to the nature of genres lies in the kinds of disagreements they generate over the assignment of works to genres. I conclude by explaining why these disagreements tell us something about the nature of genres, and discussing in some detail two famous cases of disagreement about whether some work or works are science fiction.
"Essentially Contested Concepts and Semantic Externalism" Journal of the Philosophy of History 8 (2014)
In 1956, W.B. Gallie introduced his idea of essentially contested concepts. In my paper, I offer a novel interpretation of his theory and argue that his theory, thus interpreted, is correct. The key to my interpretation lies in a condition Gallie places on essentially contested concepts that other interpreters downplay or dismiss: that the use of an essentially contested concept must be derived “from an original exemplar whose authority is acknowledged by all the contestant users of the concept.” This reveals a similarity between Gallie’s views and the semantic externalist views of Hilary Putnam, and others, about natural kind terms like “water” and “tiger.” I argue that natural kind terms and terms for essentially contested concepts are two species of a single semantic genus. In the case of natural kind terms, a term refers to a natural kind, the exemplars are instances of that kind, and the relation between the exemplars and anything to which the term applies is co-membership of the kind. In the case of terms for essentially contested concepts, a term refers to an historical tradition, the exemplar is a stage or temporal part of that tradition, and the relation between the exemplar and anything to which the term refers is being the heir of. This allows me to understand the contests that alerted Gallie to the phenomenon of essentially contested concepts as contests over the ownership of historical traditions.
"Ready-Mades: Ontology and Aesthetics" British Journal of Aesthetics 53 (2013)
I explore the interrelations between the ontological and aesthetic issues raised by ready-mades such as Duchamp’s Fountain. I outline a hylomorphic metaphysics which has two central features. First, hylomorphically complex objects have matter to which they are not identical. Secondly, when such objects are artefacts (including artworks), it is essential to them that they are the products of creative work on their matter. Against this background, I suggest that ready-mades are of aesthetic interest because they pose a dilemma. Is there really an object, a sculpture, that is distinct from its matter, a urinal, which object is created merely by the artist’s choice of the urinal? Or are we dealing with a case in which an artist passes off something, a urinal, as if it were a sculpture, even though it is not one?
"Constitution and Composition: Three Approaches to their Relation" ProtoSociology 27 (2011)
Constitution is the relation between something and what it is made of. Composition is the relation between something and its parts. I examine three different approaches to the relation between constitution and composition. One approach, associated with neo-Aristotelians like Mark Johnston and Kathrin Koslicki, identifies constitution with composition. A second, popular with those sympathetic to classical mereology such as Judith Thomson, defines constitution in terms of parthood. A third, advocated strongly by Lynne Baker, takes constitution to be somehow inconsistent with relations of parthood. All of these approaches, I argue, face serious problems. I conclude, tentatively, that constitution and composition have nothing to do with each other.
"Constitution and Qua Objects in the Ontology of Music" British Journal of Aesthetics 49 (2009)
Musical Platonists identify musical works with abstract sound structures but this implies that they are not created but only discovered. Jerrold Levinson adapts Platonism to allow for creation by identifying musical works with indicated sound structures. In this paper I explore the similarities between Levinson's view and Kit Fine's theory of qua objects. Fine offers the theory of qua objects as an account of constitution, as it obtains, for example, between a statue and the clay the statue is made out of. I argue that Fine's theory does not adequately characterize the constitution relation and that the problems it faces extend to Levinson's account of musical works as indicated structures. I develop an alternative theory of constitution, based on the notion of being made out of. This approach to constitution enables me to offer an account of musical works as abstract objects that are constituted by sound structures. I argue that my account has several advantages over the Levinson/Fine approach.
"Kinds and Conscious Experience: Is There Anything It is Like to Be Something?" Metaphilosophy 39 (2008)
In this paper, I examine the notion of what it is like to be a certain kind of creature, a common trope of contemporary philosophy. This notion is to be distinguished from the idea of what it is like to have some kind of experience. I propose four ways of understanding what it is like to be something. 1) Minimally. "There is something it is like to be an F" is just a pleonastic transformation of "F's have conscious experience." This proposal is inadequate to allow the notion of what it is like to be an F to play any significant philosophical role. 2) Primitively. What it is like to be an F is just a kind of ontological hum that accompanies existence as an F. On this view, it is false that there is anything it is like to be an F. 3) Extrapolatively. What it is like to be an F is somehow extrapolated from the "what it is like"s of the kinds of experience of an F. 4) Aggregatively. What it is like to be an F is simply the aggregate of the "what it is like"s of the kinds of experience of an F. These last two approaches are the most promising but run into various epistemological and ontological problems. I conclude that there is no analysis of what it is like to be an F that is at once clear and such that, on that analysis, there is indeed something it is like to be a certain kind of creature.
"Personhood and Future Belief: Two Arguments for Something Like Reflection" Erkenntnis 67 (2007)
This paper offers two new arguments for a version of Reflection, the principle that says, roughly, that if one knew now what one would believe in the future, one ought to believe it now. The most prominent existing argument for the principle is the coherence-based Dutch Strategy argument advanced by Bas van Fraassen (and others). My two arguments are quite different. The first is a truth-based argument. On the basis of two substantive premises, that people's beliefs generally get better over time and that being a person requires having knowledge of this fact, it concludes that it is rational to treat your future selves as experts. The second argument is a transcendental one. Being a person requires being able to engage in plans and projects. But these cannot be meaningfully undertaken unless one has Reflection-like expectations about one's future beliefs. Hence, satisfaction of Reflection is necessary for being a person. Together, the arguments show that satisfaction of Reflection is both rational and necessary for persons.
"Containing Multitudes: Reflection, Expertise and Persons as Groups" Episteme 2 (2005)
The thesis of the paper is that persons are similar to a kind of group: multiple-expert epistemic unities (MEUs). MEUs are groups in which there are multiple experts on whom other members of the group model their opinion. An example would be a group of children playing Telephone. Any child nearer the source is an 'expert' for any child further away. I argue that, with certain important qualifications, it is both rational and necessary for persons to treat their future selves as experts (i.e. to satisfy Bas Van Fraassen's Principle of Reflection). This makes a person a kind of MEU. (The paper "Epistemic Unities" gives more details about different kinds of epistemic unities.)
"Frege on Truth, Beauty and Goodness" Manuscrito 26 (2003)
The paper attempts to shed light on Frege's views on the relation of logic to truth by looking at several passages in which he compares it to the relation of ethics to the good and aesthetics to the beautiful. It turns out that Frege makes four distinct points by means of these comparisons only one of which both concerns truth and makes use of distinctive features of ethics and aesthetics. This point is that logic is about reaching truth in the way that ethics is about reaching the good and aesthetics the beautiful. I then sketch how Frege can plausibly maintain this view about logic. (A more detailed version of Frege's positive view is given in my unpublished "Frege on the Relations Between Logic and Thought.")
"Epistemic Unities" Erkenntnis 59 (2003)
I bring together social ontology and social epistemology by considering social entities ("epistemic unities") that are constituted by the holding of epistemic relations between their members. In particular, I focus on the relation of taking someone as an expert. Among the types of structures examined are ones with a single expert and one or more nonexperts who may or may not know of each other's situation; and ones with more than one expert, including cases in which the relation between the experts is hierarchical and cases in which it is symmetrical. These structures model a variety of social situations which can thus be given a unified treatment. Among the cases I discuss are persons, which I argue are multiple-expert unities of persons at times. Taking a person as a social unity like this offers a clear sense in which some groups can also be person-like. (This theme is developed further in "Containing Multitudes: Reflection, Expertise and Persons as Groups.")
"Learning from One's Mistakes: Epistemic Modesty and the Nature of Belief" Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 82 (2001)
I argue that it is not ideally rational to believe that some of one's current beliefs are false, despite the impressive inductive evidence concerning others and our former selves. One's own current beliefs represent a commitment which would be undermined by taking some of them to be false. The nature of this commitment is examined in the light of Nagel's distinction between subjective and objective points of view. Finally, I suggest how we might acknowledge our fallibility consistently with this special attitude to our own beliefs.
"The Universality of Logic: On the Connection between Rationality and Logical Ability" Mind 110 (2001)
I argue for the thesis (UL) that there are certain logical abilities that any rational creature must have. Opposition to UL comes from naturalized epistemologists who hold that it is a purely empirical question which logical abilities a rational creature has. I provide arguments that any creatures meeting certain conditions - plausible necessary conditions on rationality - must have certain specific logical concepts and be able to use them in certain specific ways. For example, I argue that any creature able to grasp theories must have a concept of conjunction subject to the usual introduction and elimination rules. I also deal with disjunction, conditionality and negation. These cases are not intended to be exhaustive of universal logical abilities. Finally, I put UL to work in showing how it could be used to define a notion of logical obviousness that would be well suited to certain contexts - e.g. radical translation and epistemic logic - in which a concept of obviousness is often invoked.
"Believing Conjunctions" Synthese 118 (1999)
I argue that it is rational for a person to believe the conjunction of her beliefs. This involves responding to the Lottery and Preface Paradoxes. In addition, I suggest that in normal circumstances, what it is to believe a conjunction just is to believe its conjuncts.
"On the Way to Language" The Philosophy of Donald Davidson (Library of Living Philosophers) (1999)
The paper is an examination of how Davidson's holism constrains his account of language learning. The problem is that holism implies that in learning a language we cannot pass through stages of knowing part of the language. Rather, some sense must be found for the notion of partly knowing the whole language.
Foreword to the Japanese Edition of Donald Davidson (1996)
The foreword to my book Donald Davidson, written especially for the Japanese translation. In it, I deal with Davidson's triangulation argument about the objectivity of content, and also with the debate over the alleged epiphenomenalism of the mental in Davidson's philosophy of mind. Neither of these developments of Davidson's work made it into the original English version of my book.
"Hume, Conjectural History, and the Uniformity of Human Nature" Journal of the History of Philosophy (1993)
In this paper I argue that, in at least two cases - his discussions of the temporal precedence o f polytheism over monotheism and of the origins of civil society - we see Hume consigning to historical development certain aspects of reason which, as a comparison with Locke will show, have sometimes been held to be uniform. In the first of these cases Hume has recourse to claims about the general historical development of human thought. In the second case, the origin of the civil institution of justice and government is not linked directly to external circumstances and the principles of human nature, as it is in contractarian theories, but makes a detour through the historical acquisition of certain concepts. Because Hume's position does not conform in any simple sense to Dugald Stewart's 'incontrovertible logical maxim' that the capacities of the human mind have been the same in all ages, Stewart's account of the method of conjectural history is, in any simple sense, inadequate as a description of Hume's practice.
"Freud's Ambiguous Concepts" Journal of Speculative Philosophy 3 (1989)
In this paper I propose to say something about why certain key psychoanalytic concepts, particularly that of the unconscious, are special because of a studied, and therapeutically important, ambiguity or paradoxicality which affects them. Before I examine these concepts, however, the first section of this paper discusses some of Sartre's views on psychological explanation. On the one hand, this gives me a way of introducing the dichotomy of self-evident irreducibility and existential lucidity which underlies my account of the unconscious. On the other hand, it is important because I take Sartre to be addressing, less successfully, the very same question that Freud dealt with by introducing his ambiguous concepts.
"Understanding Madness?" Ratio 2 (1989)
The paper contrasts two ways of understanding the apparently strange assertions of mad persons, finds them both problematic, and proposes an alternative. The first approach, exemplified by R.D. Laing, is to suppose that the beliefs of the mad person are ordinary but expressed in terms that make them appear irrational. The other approach, advocated by Silvano Arieti, is to take the words at face value but to attribute to the mad person a kind of deviant logic. I suggest, on the basis of a Davidsonian approach, that the bizarre utterances of the mad simply cannot be understood adequately; they are, precisely, points at which accomodations of intepretation give out. This is what makes them symptoms of madness.
"Innate Principles and Radical Interpretation" The Locke Newsletter 18 (1987)
This paper suggests that Locke's arguments against innate principles rest on a particular conception of what it is for things to be "in the mind." Understanding that notion in terms of presuppositions for radical interpretation allows us to see how some principle might be considered innate after all.
Philosophy - Unpublished; Philosophy - Published; Miscellaneous
"Varieties of Hylomorphism"
I contrast my own variety of non-realist Hylomorphism with two varieties of realist Hylomorphism, those of Aristotle and Kit Fine.
"Frege on the Relations between Logic and Thought"
Frege's diatribes against psychologism have often been taken to imply that he thought that logic and thought have nothing to do with each other. I argue against this interpretation and attribute to Frege a view on which the two are tightly connected. The connection, however, derives not from logic's being founded on the empirical laws of thought but rather from thought's depending constitutively on the application to it of logic. I call this view 'psycho-logicism.'
"'Every Proposition Asserts Itself to be True': A Buridanian Solution to the Liar Paradox?"
In this paper, I try to understand what Buridan means when he suggests that "every proposition, by its very form, signifies or asserts itself to be true." I show how one way of construing this claim - that every proposition is in fact a conjunction one conjunct of which asserts the truth of the whole conjunction - does lead to a resolution of the Liar paradox, as Buridan says, and moreover is not vulnerable to the criticism on the basis of which Buridan came to reject this view. However, I go on to argue that the view causes Truth-Teller worries when applied to non-Liar propositions.
"Old Evidence Again"
A critique of Mark Kaplan's attempt to solve the problem of old evidence by restricting the principle of when something is evidence explicitly to cases in which we are less than certain of it.
"The Phenomenological Uniqueness of the Holocaust: Some Philosophical Remarks on Katz's The Holocaust in Historical Context"
Mostly a look at some of the logical confusions generated by Katz's own attempt to use logic to express his historical claims.
Miscellaneous; Philosophy - Published; Philosophy - Unpublished
"The Philosophical Basis of Midrashic Interpretation"
Much of traditional rabbinic hermeneutics, what I call "midrashic interpretation," appears to be of such a bizarre nature as to require some sort of explanation, or even justification. This essay attempts to provide a philosophical foundation for midrashic interpretation by placing it in the context of the idea (vaguely neo-platonic) that God is only fully realized as the result of a certain process, a process of which midrashic interpretation is an essential part. In the final section I attempt to spell out some connections between the specifically Jewish question of rabbinic hermeneutics and some more general ideas in philosophy and psychoanalysis.
"Interest in the Crotch: A Reply"
A reply to Sean Liam Kelly's analysis of Martial 7.35 in the Fall 1993 issue of Nexus. Although I am in substantial agreement with many parts of Kelly's analysis, one detail of the text which he did not pick up on leads me to offer a different route to Kelly's conclusion that, according to the narrator of the poem, Laecania insults his and his slave's virility, and that in response to this perceived unmanning, he replies with the charge of lesbianism. However, the route I propose introduces into the itinerary not only issues of gender and violence, but also those of race.
"How is UM Implicated in the Janitors' Strike?"
This, and the following two pieces, were published in The Miami Hurricane, the student newspaper at the University of Miami. They concern the strike by custodial workers at UM between February and May 2006. The first argues that although these workers were employed by a sub-contractor of the university, UNICCO, the university was nonetheless morally implicated in the strike.
"The Striking Janitors and the Free Market"
This piece argues that the market does not have to be the determining factor in setting people's wages.
"Not 'Let 'em vote' but 'Let 'em Choose'"
One of the main points of contention during the strike was the workers' demand to be allowed to unionize via a majority card check recognition process, rather than an NLRB-run election. UNICCO, their employer, and the university were insisting on an election, demonizing the workers' (and union's) insistence on card check as anti-democratic. I explain the short-comings of NLRB elections and why they do not promote genuine choice on the part of the workers.