Colloquium, as you like it

Next month Kareem Khalifa (Middlebury College) is visiting Albany to present work that he developed in collaboration with Emily Sullivan (Delft University of Technology).

Will it turn out to be a comedy of errors, or can they show that the sound and fury about the epistemic role of idealization is just a tempest in a teapot? Either way would be interesting, and all’s well that ends well.

Idealizations and Understanding: Much Ado About Nothing?

3:00-5:00, March 9, 2018

UAlbany Humanities Building, room 354

Abstract: Idealizations frequently advance scientific understanding. Because of this, many have argued that understanding is non-factive or that falsehoods play a distinct epistemic role. In this paper, we argue that these positions greatly overstate idealizations’ epistemic import. We bring work on epistemic value to bear on the debate surrounding idealizations and understanding, arguing that idealizations qua falsehoods only have non-epistemic value. We argue for this claim by criticizing the four leading approaches that give epistemic importance to idealizations. For each of these approaches, we show that: (a) idealizations’ false components only promote psychological convenience instead of the epistemic good of understanding, and (b) only the true components of idealizations have epistemic value.

Emerson and the philosophy guru

On Facebook, Clayton Littlejohn posts this question:

Imagine there were a philosophy guru. You could ask the guru questions, get the guru’s answer, the answers would always be right, but the answers wouldn’t come with arguments or explanations. … If you wrote those answers down … would you be doing philosophy?

Numerous respondents say NO, on the grounds that philosophy involves giving arguments. It’s the game of giving and asking for reasons. Mere answers aren’t reasons.1

I’ve been mulling over related issues because I taught Emerson last week in my pragmatism seminar. Continue reading “Emerson and the philosophy guru”

The middle ground between light and shadow

Here is a thought experiment of the a demon creeps into your loneliest loneliness variety. Imagine this:

At a moment in time, everyone in the world is given this solitary choice: They must choose one person in the world, and that person will die immediately. Everyone knows that everyone has this choice and this power. Each may reflect on their choice for a while, but nobody gets to confer or coordinate.

Continue reading “The middle ground between light and shadow”

Some philosophy texts on github

Over the years, I’ve prepared a number of different texts to give to my own students. For example: cleaned up electronic versions of Peirce’s “Fixation of Belief” and Berkeley’s Principles. I’ve had occasional thoughts about sharing them, but didn’t have a sensible platform for doing so.1

In making the most recent update to forall x, I starting using github. It’s primarily a platform for writing software and maintaining code, but it is also well suited for hosting LaTeX documents. Keeping track of which version I used in which semester is a mess that git cleans up, and it’s no extra effort to share the files.

So I created three github repositories today:

  1. pragmatism: In addition to Peirce and James, this includes some Emerson.2 I may add more in the course of this semester.
  2. early-modern: I prepared Hume’s first Enquiry and Berkeley’s Principles for student use years ago. Both are nicely formatted complete books.
  3. understanding-science: I also added a repository for the notes on inference that I posted last year. I still mean to add to those, so I might as well set it up now.

The material in 1 and 2 is mostly in the public domain. Where I’ve written something, I offer it under an open license.

forall x v1.4

The new edition of forall x will be posted soon. Anybody who has used the book before will find the changes so small as to make almost no difference, but I wanted to discuss what I did beyond correcting typos. First, I’ve changed the formatting a bit. Second, I’ve changed the notation for substitution instances in proofs (again). Third, I’ve changed the license to be even more permissive.

Continue reading “forall x v1.4”

Quotidian superpowers

Today’s game: favorite practical superpower.

The rules: name a superpower that you would love to have and that make your life (or someone’s life) immensely easier, but which would be boring to read about or watch on TV.

This is a Facebook prompt from Carl Sachs.1 I gave several answers, most inspired by minor abilities of old GURPS characters.

Continue reading “Quotidian superpowers”

A big year, forall x

It’s been over a decade since I released the first edition of the open access logic textbook forall x. It’s been a few years since my last update, because it’s been a few years since I last taught logic.

A number of people have made their own editions of forall x over the years, but 2017 was a breakout year: Continue reading “A big year, forall x”

Cautious realism and middle range ontology

I was invited to participate in a book symposium about Anjan Chakravartty’s recent book Scientific Ontology. It is supposed to be a short, critical piece, so striking the right tone was difficult. I agree with Chakravartty on rather a lot, but there is little point in flagging where we concur. Also, because I focus on the issues that are of interest to me, there is the danger that it comes off as “so much about him, let’s talk about me”.

I’ve written it, though, and my final draft is up.