A further comment about payoffs in will to believe cases

It occurs to me that there is a mistake in my previous post, but it can be patched up.

To review: Considerations of inductive or ampliative risk can make the difference between it being appropriate to believe something and it being inappropriate. If the stakes are high, then you might demand more evidence than if the stakes are low.

Schematically, what’s relevant are conditional values: the benefit of believing P if it is true, the cost of believing P if it is false, the cost of not believing P if it is true, and the benefit of not believing P if it is false.

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Payoffs in will to believe cases

In thinking about James’ Will to Believe (in a blog post and a draft paper) I distinguish two kinds of cases.

In cases of ampliative risk, the evidence does not overwhelmingly speak for or against. So the determination to believe or not depends in part on the stakes involved. I’ve typically put this in terms of conditional values: the benefit of believing P if it is true, the cost of believing P if it is false, the cost of not believing P if it is true, and the benefit of not believing if it is false. Heather Douglas calls this values playing an indirect role.

Implicit in this is that believing P if it is false is a cost. And so on. Ending up with accurate beliefs is generally good, and ending up with inaccurate beliefs is bad. What’s at issue is not the general valence of certain outcomes but instead their intensity.

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Having been written, more like is to believe

The paper which began as a blog post now exists as a draft.

Risk and Efficacy in ‘The Will to Believe’

Abstract: Scott Aikin and Robert Talisse have recently argued strenuously against James’ permissivism about belief. They are wrong, both about cases and about the general issue. In addition to the usual examples, the paper considers the importance of permissiveness in scientific discovery. The discussion highlights two different strands of James’ argument: one driven by doxastic efficacy and another driven by inductive risk. Although either strand is sufficient to show that it is sometimes permissible to believe in the absence of sufficient evidence, the two considerations have different scope and force.

Portrait of William James by John La Farge, circa 1859. via Wikimedia.

How do matters lie with the polygraph dissertation?

I’ve been thinking lately about dissertations. The traditional model is for a PhD student to write a book-length exploration of a topic. A newer model is for the student to write several publishable papers on related topics. I’ve heard the former called the monograph dissertation, which naturally makes the latter a polygraph dissertation.1

I have met some philosophers who are hostile to the polygraph dissertation, but not for any clear reasons. I’ve met others who welcome the new model. As someone advising graduate students, I would like to have a better sense of what the disciplinary norms are.2

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New scribbles from the past

I’ve had the Font Monkey website for many years, but it has been a while since I updated. Just now, three new fonts!

Tye Spices is a recent creation that’s meant to be suggestive of typewritten letter forms. The first draft was monospaced, but that looked stultified. The final version is neat and tidy the way a lived in room might be neat and tidy, rather than in the way a cathedral might be.

I hammered out Carrollus Magnus,which has the worst pun-name I’ve given to a font. I’m rather font of a free font from almost twenty years ago which was patterned after the handwriting of Lewis Carroll. I often try to use it in various projects, but usually give up because of its erratic line weight. This is my take on the same problem. So it’s distally from Carroll and proximally from me.

While preparing these, I came across a font that I’d saved under the name “mildhand” without giving it a proper name. The file record indicates that I drew it in late March of 2008, but I honestly have no recollection of it. Since I was posting the others, though, I gave it a proper name and posted it too: Mild Hand Jive.

font specimens
font specimens for Carrollus Magnus, Mild Hand Jive, and Tye Spices

I also updated the version of the Ninjascript font family that’s on the site. I’ve made various small improvements to it over the years, and the version on the site was a few generations behind.

These are offered under the Open Font License, which is a long thing with definitions and disclaimers. My fonts have always been free, because I’ve never felt like trying to wring money out of them, but I used to just give give informal and hand-waving terms in the readme file. Even though I’m using the OFL, the readme file still asks that anyone who uses the font for anything nifty reach out to let me know about it.

Cyberpunk ambitopia

When I got my first iPhone, I wrote that its “compressed functionality underscores the extent to which the internet has changed things. If you had told me about it when I was a kid, I would not have been able to wrap my head around it.” It’s a camera, a calendar, an address book, a pocket watch, a GPS. It also takes calls, although I use it for text messaging more than voice.

When I imagined future technology as a kid, I often imagined smart houses. There was recently an on-line ad targeted to me for a front door lock that you can control from your phone. This is like the computerized houses of my elementary-school imagination. I should be excited, but I’m not.

The future has gritty problems that 1980s cyberpunk novels didn’t prepare me for.

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