Rationality nihilism

I’ve been teaching epistemology this semester, and we’ve recently been talking about permissivism. The setup is this: Let E be the total evidence, and let P be some claim. One might believe P, believe not-P, or suspend judgement; call these doxastic attitudes towards P.

With that formalism in place, we can define Uniqueness: Given E, there is exactly one doxastic attitude that one may rationally adopt toward P.

In the article I’d assigned for class, Permissivism is defined as the negation of Uniqueness. The idea is that there are at least some situations in which, given E, one might rationally adopt different doxastic attitudes.1 For example, it might be rational to find the evidence convincing (and believe P) but also rational to be unconvinced (and suspend judgement).

Students found the readings less than clear, and I was trying to concisely formulate the opposition on the whiteboard. I stopped mid-sentence when I realized that I couldn’t just define Permissivism as the negation of Uniqueness. There’s a third possibility!

Call this Nihilism: Given E, there is no rationally permitted doxastic attitude that one may adopt.

I don’t know of an epistemologist who explicitly formulates Nihilism, nonetheless one who advocates it. I have a perverse impulse to write something arguing for it, just because it is a logically possible position, but that way lies madness.

Picture: Some logic books.

Pedagogy and the early modern syllabus

Ruth Boeker’s syllabus for teaching early modern philosophy is featured today at the Blog of the APA.

Ruth was a visiting assistant professor here in Albany several years ago, and her current practice reflects things she did here. Our campus teaching center has been a big promoter of Team-Based Learning for many years. She first encoutnered it here and recommends, as further reading on TBL for anyone interested, a pair of articles written by our local experts. (One of whom is Philosophy PhD alum Kimberly Van Orman.)

So, yay! Cheers to all.

Revising details in forall x

I’m teaching Introduction to Logic for the first time in several years. The course text is my own forall x. It’s always been an open textbook, even back before I had good vocabulary for explaining what that means. But now it’s available from SUNY OER Services, and they’ve partnered with SUNY Press so that my students are able to buy a hardcopy from the campus bookstore for just $8.50.

Working through it this time, I’ve hit a couple of things which I am considering changing.

Continue reading “Revising details in forall x”

What might be said about pragmatism

Today was the last class meeting of my pragmatism seminar. I had the students each make a presentation on their seminar papers in-progress. Some students were further along in their thinking others, but it gave everyone a chance to try out arguments and to exchange ideas.

The course syllabus covered more than 20 authors, but student interest was fairly focused.

  • 2 students are writing on issues of truth and objectivity.
  • 3 students are writing on Jane Addams and ethical method.
  • 2 students are writing on issues of ethical method and objectivity, one with an eye toward Nelson Goodman and the other by way of C.I. Lewis.

All the projects sound interesting, but I wouldn’t have expected this distribution.

Because this was me, the readings were weighted more toward philosophy of science and epistemology than toward ethics and value theory. But nobody is writing about philosophy of science. 😒

Jane Addams was a late addition to the syllabus, and I wasn’t sure how it was going to work out until the class meeting on her work. She was a hit. 😃

Now it’s just grading and administrative work between me and the end of the semester. 😰

Obliterative and therapeutic pragmatisms

I’ve been blogging recently about whether “pragmatism” is a sufficiently precise term to be one which we ought to use, apart from its being historically entrenched. In the course of reading Dewey again, I’m thinking about another aspect of the pragmatist tradition.

James says that pragmatism is, in one sense, a method. It’s typically expressed by the pragmatic maxim that discovering the meaning of a concept is best done by tracing out its practical consequences.

This method alone can still lead to abstruse metaphysics. Continue reading “Obliterative and therapeutic pragmatisms”

Boyd’s pragmatist theory of reference, maybe

In the previous post, I suggested that there might be no unified “pragmatism”. By this I meant that we wouldn’t (as a matter of philosophical method) want to invent the term if it weren’t (as a matter of the history of philosophy) already entrenched and an actors’ category. I’m not sure if I want to take that back, but I do want to talk about something in the neighborhood of “pragmatism” that probably deserves a name.

In the Pragmatism lectures, William James insists that pragmatism makes meaning and truth a matter of what will happen in the future. Continue reading “Boyd’s pragmatist theory of reference, maybe”

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”

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”