Monday 7 December 2009

Towards a Teleological Logic (Part 4)

In this post, I wish to consider a pair of objections to the account of a T-world defended thus far. One putative difficulty with characterising T-worlds as possible worlds in which every telos is realised is that it seems to preclude compensatory and/or conflicting purposes. The notion of a compensatory purpose applies to teleological objects that have the telos of “filling in” for when some other teleological object fails to realise its telos. For example, we can imagine a system equipped with an emergency self-destruct sequence that only initiates if there is a failure in all other safety protocols. If we conceive of T-worlds as worlds in which every telos is realised, then such a self-destruct mechanism will never have the opportunity to realise its telos since there will never be the required failure elsewhere in the system. This suggests that in a given T-world, compensatory purposes are never realised. However, if compensatory purposes remain unrealised, then a T-world cannot really be a world in which every telos is realised. Thus, the possibility of compensatory purposes appears to threaten the concept of a T-world with incoherence.

One possible reply to the above objection, which will ultimately prove inadequate, is to distinguish between cases in which some X does not have the opportunity to fulfil the function for which it is designed and cases in which X is presented with such an opportunity, but fails to do so. Moreover, we may say that a teleological object only fails to realise its telos in the latter case. This suggestion appears to have some intuitive traction since few would regard a safety mechanism as somehow defective simply because it never had the opportunity to perform its function. On this view, some world Γ counts as a non-T-world just in case some X in Γ is presented with an opportunity to realise its telos and yet fails to do so. Thus, far from implying the failure of compensatory purposes, T-worlds virtually guarantee that such purposes are realised by removing the antecedent conditions for their failure. Consequently, the concept of a T-world remains coherent, even if there are teleological objects with compensatory purposes.

The above reply seems right, as far as it goes. But there are at least two reasons for thinking that it does not go very far. First, while it appears to avoid the problem posed by compensatory purposes in the case of artefacts, it is not clear that the reply generalises to biological systems. We can certainly imagine a biological system or process that has the function of “filling in” for some other biological system or process, should the latter fail to realise its telos. Moreover, we can imagine such a system evolving in the actual world since individuals within a biological population with such a system acting as “back-up” would display greater reproductive success than their conspecifics that lacked such “safety nets”. However, it is not clear that such a “back-up” system could ever evolve in a T-world. Since the original system will always realise its telos, the presence of a “back-up” system will never offer any evolutionary advantage to its possessor, and will therefore never become subject to selective pressures. The upshot is that there could never be a biological system with a compensatory purpose in a T-world.

Second, the definition of T-worlds as possible worlds in which every telos is realised seems to be at odds with the fact that there may be conflicting purposes. The notion of a conflicting purpose applies to teleological objects whose telos involves preventing some other teleological object from realising its telos. For example, we can imagine a type of antibiotic whose purpose it is to prevent the DNA found in a particular bacteria from performing its replicatory function. Insofar as we define a T-world as one in which every telos is realised, then both the bacterial DNA and the antibiotic cannot coexist in the same T-world. But since we have assumed a constant domain semantics, and since there are possible worlds in which both the bacterial DNA and the antibiotic exist (e.g., the actual world), this appears to throw the notion of a T-world into jeopardy.

I believe we may overcome the challenge posed by both compensatory and conflicting purposes via a multimodal teleological logic, in which the accessibility relation Ri is indexed to a particular biological system or human artefact, i. Instead of a single “common” accessibility relation R, there is a series Ri, Rj, Rk . . . , indexed to sets of teleological objects (e.g., the set of human eyes, the set of human ears, the set of hammers). The Kripke frame for the corresponding language, L, in which {□i|i ∈ I} represents the set of necessity operators of L, consists of a non-empty set of possible worlds G, and the binary relation Ri, for each i ∈ I. The satisfaction relation for □i is defined as follows:
(5.1) w ⊩ □i φ if and only if ∀u(Ri(w,u) → u ⊩ φ).
According to (5.1), φ is true in all T-worlds relative to some biological system or artefact i just in case φ holds in any world that stands in the relation R to some other world. Instead of speaking of T-worlds in which every telos is realised, we now speak of T-worlds indexed to some biological system or artefact, i, such that i always realises the telos for which it was selected or designed in the actual world.

On this view, the possible worlds in which the antibiotic performs its function constitutes the set of T-worlds indexed to that antibiotic, while the possible worlds in which the DNA of a particular bacterium realises its telos represents the set of T-worlds indexed to that bacterial DNA. Since each teleological object is now indexed to its own set of T-worlds, there can be no conflicting purposes within T-worlds. Thus, the coherence of the concept of a T-world is preserved. The multimodal account also avoids the problem posed by biological systems with compensatory purposes. Since the set of T-worlds indexed to some biological system i includes worlds in which some other biological system j fails to realise its telos, this allows i to increase the reproductive fitness of its host when i serves as a “back-up” system in the eventuality of j failing to realise its telos. The upshot is that on the multimodal account, there is no difficulty posed by cases of compensatory or conflicting purposes.

Saturday 28 November 2009

Towards a Teleological Logic (Part 3)

Thus far, I have tried to provide an intuitive feel for a basic teleological logic (henceforth, BTL). We may now introduce some additional regimentation by specifying the syntax of BTL. Let us assume that we have a simple propositional language, L. The alphabet of L consists of:
(i) a denumerable set Π of propositional variables p, q, r, p1 ,p2, . . .

(ii) the primitive logical connectives ⊤ (verum), ⊥ (falsum), ~ (negation), □ (teleological necessity), ◊ (teleological possibility), ∧ (conjunction), ∨ (disjunction), → (material implication), and ↔ (material equivalence).

(iii) the parentheses ( ).
The well formed formulas (wffs) of L consists of the smallest set Σ such that:
(a) every propositional variable in Π is in Σ,
(b) ⊤ and ⊥ are in Σ,
(c) If p is in Σ then so are ~p, □p and ◊p
(d) If p, q are in Σ, then so are (p ∧ q), (p ∨ q), (p → q) and (p ↔ q).
The sentences under (a) and (b) are the atomic sentences of L. ⊤ and ⊥ are 0-place connectives; ~, □ , ◊ are 1-place connectives; and all remaining connectives are 2-place. I propose the following axiom schemata for BTL:
A1. All tautologous wffs of L
A2. □(p → q) → (□p → □q)
A3. □p → ~ □~p
R1. If ⊢ p and ⊢ p → q, then ⊢ q
R2. If ⊢ p then ⊢ ⊤ p
It should be clear to the observant reader that BTL is simply modal system D, with the relevant notation amended to express a teleological interpretation. A1 is standard in all normal modal systems. According to A2, if a material conditional holds in all T-worlds, and its antecedent holds in all T-worlds, then the consequent of the material conditional also holds in all T-worlds. This is the K axiom present in all normal modal logics, also known as the distribution axiom.

A3 follows from conditions imposed on the binary relation R, which restricts access to worlds that are teleologically ideal (i.e., possible worlds in which every telos is realised). A3 tells us that for any world Γ that is a member of some frame G, there is some world Δ in G such that R(Γ,Δ). A3 guarantees that there is always a possible world fitting the conditions of the accessibility relation; thus ensuring that there is always a T-world we may refer to when we need to formerly represent a teleological claim. In addition to A1-A3, BTL includes Modus Ponens, which is represented by R1. When A1 and R1 are combined, they yield the full inferential power of the propositional calculus. R2 tells us that if p is a theorem, then the claim that p obtains in all T-worlds is also a theorem.

Taking BTL as our starting point, and using our quotidian intuitions about purposiveness as a guide, I believe we may assess which axioms should and should not be included in a plausible teleological logic. For example, we know that if Δ stands in relation R to Γ, such that R(Γ,Δ), and some world Ω stands in relation R to Δ, such that R(Δ,Ω), then Ω must itself be a T-world. Since (by definition) all T-worlds stand in relation R to Γ, it follows that Ω stands in the relation R to Γ, such that R(Γ,Ω). This means that, under a teleological interpretation, the relation R is transitive. This is equivalent to the following axiom:
A4. □p → □□p (□ -4)
Earlier, it was noted that the actual world is not a member of the set of T-worlds. Given a teleological interpretation of the accessibility relation, it follows that the actual world is not accessible from itself. This entails the denial of Reflexivity; the frame condition on R, according to which R(Γ,Γ) for every Γ that is a member of G. Thus, under a teleological reading of R, the following axiom turns out to be false:
(*) □p → p (□ -M)
Moreover, since some non-T-world Γ (i.e., the actual world) may fail to stand in the relation R with respect to some given T-world Δ, such that R(Δ ,Γ) is false, even though Δ stands in the relation R with respect to Γ, such that R(Γ,Δ) is true, the following axiom also turns out to be false:
(**) p → □◊p (□ -B)
The upshot is that under a teleological interpretation, R is not Symmetric. The denial of (**) follows from the fact that the actual world is not a world in which all the purposes found in a given T-world are realised. Consequently, while all T-world stand in the relation R to the actual world, the actual world does not stand in the relation R to any T-world. In fact, only another T-world Ω can stand in the relation R to some other T-world Δ since (intuitively) it is only in some other T-world Ω that every telos found in Δ is realised. However, this still falls short of the claim that R is Euclidean; the frame condition that if R(Γ,Δ) and R(Γ,Ω), then R(Δ,Ω). All that has been asserted so far is that if Ω stands in the relation R to some world Δ, then Ω must be a T-world. This is consistent with the possibility that Ω fails to stand in relation R to Δ. Nevertheless, there seems to be some intuitive traction to the idea that every telos found in some T-world is realised in all other T-worlds. This suggests that all T-worlds stand in the relation R to each other. When this observation is combined with the fact that all T-worlds stand in relation R to the actual world, this yields the following axiom:
A5. ◊p →□◊p (□-5)
A5 tells us that R is Euclidean. Moreover, if all T-worlds stand in the relation R to all T-worlds, then all T-worlds stand in the relation R to themselves. Consider: if T-worlds are possible worlds in which every telos is realised, then every telos found in a given T-world must be realised in that T-world. It follows that for any given T-world, it stands in the relation R to itself. However, as was noted earlier, the actual world is not a T-world, so that the actual world fails to stand in the relation R to itself. This, we noted, entails the denial of Reflexivity. However, any world which occupies the second position in the two-place relation R(Γ,Δ) must (by definition) be a T-world, which means that it must stand in the R relation with itself. It follows that R is Shift Reflexive, such that if R(Γ,Δ) then R(Δ,Δ). This yields the following axiom:
A6. □(□ p → p) (□-□ M)
Moreover, we noted that since the actual world does not stand in the relation R to any T-world (even though all T-worlds stand in the relation R to the actual world), R is not Symmetric. Even so, if R(Γ,Δ) holds for some world Δ, and Ω is accessible from Δ, such that R(Δ,Ω), then Ω must be a T-world. But if Ω is a T-world, and given that all T-worlds are accessible from each other, then Δ must stand in relation R to Ω, such that R(Ω,Δ). This means that R is Shift Symmetric, such that if R(Γ,Δ) holds for some world Δ, then R(Δ,Ω) only if R(Ω,Δ). Thus, we arrive at the following axiom:
A7. □ (◊□p → p) (□ - □ B)
Euclidean modal systems are usually assumed to be Transitive, Reflexive and Symmetric, as with system S5. However, while R is Transitive (given a teleological interpretation), it is not Reflexive and Symmetric. Instead, R is Shift Reflexive and Shift Symmetric. When Transitivity, the Euclidean axiom, Shift Reflexivity and Shift Symmetry are added to BTL, we arrive at what may be referred to as Sophisticated Teleological Logic (henceforth STL):

A1. All tautologous wffs of L
A2. □(p → q) → (□p → □q)
A3. □p → ~ □~p
A4. □ p → □□p
A5. ◊p → □◊p
A6. □ (□p → p)
A7. □ (◊□ p → p)
R1. If ⊢ p and ⊢ p → q, then ⊢ q
R2. If ⊢ p then ⊢ ⊤ p
In my next post on this topic, I will consider a few objections to STL (especially the concept of a T-world limned thus far) which will motivate a multimodal teleological logic; one in which T-worlds are indexed to sets of teleological objects.

Friday 30 October 2009

UW Graduate Student Conference

November 13 & 14, 2009
Theme: Moral Psychology




“Responsibility and Mental Agency”
Pamela Heironymi (UCLA)
Savery Hall, Room 264

5:30 PM RECEPTION (Savery Hall Third Floor Philosophy Department Table)

Saturday (all sessions in Savery Hall Room 264)

9:00 – 9:30 LIGHT BREAKFAST PROVIDED (Savery Hall Room 264)

9:30 – 10:20 SESSION 1: “Responsibility and Affective Skills in the Psychopath”
Garrett Pendergraft (University of California, Riverside)
COMMENTS: Janice Moskalik (University of Washington)

10:30 – 11:20 SESSION 2: “Irresistible Motivation”
Todd Beattie (Princeton University)
COMMENTS: Jason Benchimol (University of Washington)

11:30 – 12:20 SESSION 3: “Hard Feelings and Forgiveness”
Grant Rozeboom (Stanford University)
COMMENTS: Patrick Smith (University of Washington)

12:20 – 1:30 LUNCH

1:30 – 2:20 SESSION 4: “Evaluation without Hyper-intellectualisation”
Avery Archer (Columbia University)
COMMENTS: Rachel Fredericks (University of Washington)

2:30 – 3:20 SESSION 5: “Liberal Universalism and How We Understand the Past”
George Tsai (University of California, Berkeley)
COMMENTS: Amy Reed (University of Washington)

3:30 – 4:20 SESSION 6: “Is Self-Binding Morally Wrong?”
Jeff Sebo (New York University)
COMMENTS: Fareed Awan (University of Washington)

4:30 – 5:20 SESSION 7: “Why So Serious? An Inquiry On Racist Jokes”
Luvell Anderson (Rutgers University)
COMMENTS: Elizabeth Scarbrough (University of Washington) &
Jonathan Rosenberg (University of Washington)

5:30 – 7:00 BANQUET (Savery Hall Third Floor Philosophy Department Table)

8:00 – ? PARTY (at the “Philosophy House”)

Monday 26 October 2009

Towards a Teleological Logic (Part 2)

How are we to formerly represent the claim that the purpose of the human eye is to perceive visual stimuli? One suggestion, which will ultimately prove insufficient, may be put as follows: Let E refer to the set of human eyes, and let P refer to the set of things that perceive visual stimuli. The claim that the purpose of the human eye is to perceive visual stimuli may be formerly represented as follows:
(1.1) (∀x)(E(x) → P(x))
According to (1.1), for something to be a member of the set of human eyes is sufficient for that thing to be a member of the set of things that perceive visual stimuli. However, (1.1) clearly fails to capture what we mean when say that the purpose of the human eye is to perceive visual stimuli. Cases of blindness represent a counterexample to (1.1), but they do not represent a counterexample to the claim that the purpose of the eyes is to perceive visual stimuli. Thus, the former is not equivalent to the latter. The take home message seems to be that the claim that something has a telos allows for exceptional cases, and therefore cannot be represented by the universal quantifier. Another suggestion, which will also prove to be insufficient, is to replace the universal with an existential quantifier. This yields:
(1.2) (∃x)(E(x) & P(x))
(1.2) offers a clear advantage over (1.1) since it does not require that all members of the set of eyes also be members of the set of things that perceive visual stimuli. However, (1.2) also fails to capture what we mean when we say that the purpose of the human eye is to perceive visual stimuli since we can imagine a situation in which the former is false and the latter is true. For example, suppose that a global pandemic, a virulent eye-infection let us say, rendered everyone on earth blind. In such a case (1.2) would be false, and yet we would still wish to say that the telos of the human eye is to perceive visual stimuli.

I believe that (1.1) and (1.2) both fail because they attempt to represent the claim that the human eye has a certain telos by focusing solely on how things are in the actual world. However, I believe that our concept of what it means for something to have a purpose is an essentially modal notion; one that appeals to how things are in worlds other than the actual world.

In attempting to formerly represent our notion of purposiveness I will be taking as my starting point the accessibility relation introduced by Saul Kripke. Within the Libnizian framework, to say that φ is necessarily true means that φ obtains in all metaphysically possible worlds. By contrast, Kripke-style possible world semantics relativises the notion of necessary truth to a subset of the metaphysically possible worlds; namely, the set of accessible worlds. The upshot is that modal statements (it is necessary that φ, it is possible that φ) need not take the same truth value in all possible worlds.

For example, suppose that Δ is the only world accessible from Γ and that Γ and Δ are both accessible from Δ. Moreover, let us suppose that Δ ⊩ φ and that Γ⊮ φ. On the present model, it is necessarily true that φ relative to Γ since φ obtains in all worlds accessible from Γ. However, it is not necessarily true that φ relative to Δ since φ does not obtain in all worlds accessible from Δ. Significantly, Kripke-style semantics allows for the possibility that a given world may fail to be accessible from itself (as is the case with Γ but not the case with Δ in our preceding example). As we shall soon see, this feature of Kripke-style semantics will be crucially important when we attempt to formerly represent the concept of purposiveness. As has become standard, I will be defining the relation of accessibility as an (uninterpreted) binary relation R(Γ,Δ) that holds between possible worlds Γ and Δ just in case Δ is accessible from Γ. If we let Γ denote the actual world, then we have the following two fundamental translational schema for possible world sematics:
(2.1) □φ =def φ is true at every world Δ such that R(Γ,Δ)

(2.2) ◊φ =def φ is true at some world Δ such that R(Γ,Δ)
There are numerous applications of Kripke-style semantics. For example, in physics the accessibility relation is construed in terms of nomological accessibility. φ is nomologically necessary just in case φ is true at all possible worlds that are nomologically accessible from the actual world. In short, φ is true at all possible worlds that obey the physical laws of the actual world. In deontic logic, the accessibility relation is construed in terms of morally perfect worlds. φ is obligatory just in case φ obtains in all morally perfect worlds and permissible just in case it obtains in some morally perfect world.

An important difference between nomological necessity and obligatoriness (or deontic necessity) is that the class of nomologically accessible worlds includes the actual world (since the actual world is a member of the class of worlds that obeys the physical laws of the actual world), but the class of morally perfect worlds does not include the actual world (since the actual world is not a member of the class of morally perfect worlds). Thus, if we were to restrict the universe to the class of morally perfect worlds, the actual world would be omitted. The accessibility relation enables us to avoid this unwelcome result by allowing for imperfect moral worlds in our universe (a class that includes the actual world), while restricting deontic access to those worlds that are morally perfect.

The notion of purposiveness seems to fall somewhere between nomological necessity and obligatoriness. When applied to purposiveness, the accessibility relation may be seen as restricting access to the set of teleologically ideal worlds, defined as the set of worlds in which all aims are achieved, all functions are fulfilled and all purposes are realised. (Henceforth, I will refer to teleologically ideal worlds as T-worlds.) This yields the following fundamental translational schema for purposiveness:
(2.4) □φ =def φ is true at all T-worlds

(2.5) ◊φ =def φ is true at some T-world
Like nomological necessity, and unlike obligatoriness, purposiveness is a descriptive concept, it tells us something about the way the world actually is, and not merely about how the world ought to be. We may identify the descriptive dimension of purposiveness with the fact that an object’s purpose is determined by facts about the actual world. For example, in the case of a biological system, its purpose is determined by what that system was selected for in the actual world. In the case of a human artefact, its purpose is determined by the intentions of the human designer in the actual world. Thus, just as we can only tell which worlds are nomologically accessible by inquiring about which physical laws obtain the actual world, we can only tell which possible worlds are teleologically accessible by inquiring into what a biological system was selected for, or what an artefact was designed for in the actual world.

However, since purposes often go unfulfilled in the actual world, the actual world is not a member of the class of T-worlds. Consequently, there is also a prescriptive dimension to the concept of purposiveness. In this respect, purposiveness is like obligatoriness; both concepts construe the accessibility relation in terms of a set of worlds that excludes the actual world.

Monday 12 October 2009

Towards a Teleological Logic (Part 1)

Teleology, broadly construed, is the study of design or purpose. Let us say that some object is teleological just in case it has an aim, function or purpose (what I will henceforth refer to as an object’s “telos”). For example, we may say that the telos of a hammer is to drive nails, and that the telos of the eyes is to perceive visual stimuli. Thus, both hammers and eyes may be described as teleological objects. Alternatively, we may say that an object is teleological just in case it displays design. In the case of artefacts, like hammers, the design is due to human ingenuity. In the case of biological systems, like the visual system, the design is due to evolution by natural selection. In sum, the telos of an object is the aim or purpose for which it is designed.

But how are we to formally represent the idea that some object has a telos? I wish to propose a Kripke-style modal semantics that has specific application to teleological objects. For example, let A be “X has eyes” and B be “X perceives visual stimuli”. To say that B is the telos of A means that, if all goes well (e.g., if the visual system is functioning as it ought), B follows from A. Of course, as in the case of blindness, having eyes is not always sufficient for perceiving visual stimuli; B does not always follow from A. In order to preserve the idea that B is the telos of A even in cases in which A is not sufficient for B, we must relativize the sufficiency claim. In keeping with our emphasis on design, we may say that A is prototypically sufficient for B, where the word “prototypical” is treated as a monadic modal operator. I will use □ to represent this operator. The claim that B is the telos of A may be formally represented as follows:
□(A → B) (literally: “prototypically, A is sufficient for B”)
The semantic elements here are in large part analogous to that of standard deontic logic. Roughly, let Γ be a world in which A: “X has eyes” gets ⊤, and let Δ be a world in which B: “X perceives visual stimuli” gets ⊤. We may represent the fact that B is the telos of A in terms of the two-place relation ΓAΔ (literally: “Γ aims at Δ”). I will refer to any world that is aimed at by another world as a “target world”. Target worlds are ones in which the relevant aim, function or goal is fulfilled. The □ and ◊ of standard modal logic becomes:
□P = in all target worlds, it is true that P

◊P = in some target world, it is true that P
Significantly, the □ and ◊ of teleological logic satisfies Aristotle’s modal square of opposition; which is widely taken to be a minimal requirement for a modal logic. ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­
(1A) □P = It is prototypical that P
(1B) ~◊~P = It is not true, in some target world, that not P

(2A) □~P = It is prototypical that not P
(2B) ~◊P = It is not true, in some target world, that P

(3A) ~□~P = It is not prototypical that not P
(3B) ◊P = It is true, in some target world, that P

(4A) ~□P = It is not prototypical that P
(4B) ◊~P = It is true, in some target world, that not P
Each of the above A-B pairs are equivalent. (1) and (2) represent contraries (cannot both be true), and (3) and (4) are subcontraries (cannot both be false). (1) and (3), and (2)and (4), respectively, are subalternatives (the former implies the latter). (1) and (4), and (2) and (3), respectively, are contradictories (cannot have the same truth value). This represents a rough outline of what may be referred to as a teleological (modal) logic. I will have more to say about the axioms, motivations and applications of a teleological logic in future posts.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Philosophy Workshop Series - New School

Beginning this semester, the Department of Philosophy at the New School for Social Research will be hosting an ongoing series of workshops on a range of themes inspired or influenced by the work of Ludwig Wittgenstein. The workshop, in continuation of the workshops organized by Alice Crary last Spring, aims to foster intellectual community and conversation in an informal setting among those working not only on Wittgenstein but also more generally on themes in analytic and European philosophy, including ethics, aesthetics, action, normativity, mind, and meaning.

This semester we have scheduled three events. Each will feature a presentation, followed by a careful and brief consideration by a commenter and then a general discussion.

Thursday October 29th, 11-1pm, Rm. 802 at 80 Fifth Avenue
Speaker: James Dow, CUNY, "Shoegenstein on Self-Ascription and Immunity to Error"Commentator: Adam Gies, NSSR

Thursday November 19th, 11-1pm, Rm. 802 at 80 Fifth Avenue
Speaker: Will Small, University of Chicago, "Intention, Belief, and the Future"Commentator: Felix Koch, Columbia University

Thursday December 17th, 11-1pm, Rm. 802 at 80 Fifth Avenue
Speaker: Alex Madva, Columbia University, "Wittgenstein, the Psychology of Unconscious Bias, and the Publicity of Moral Experience"Commentator: TBA

As the dates approach we will send out a reminder email and an a bstractof the presentation. If you come, please come with your coffee and bagels and in a frame of mind conducive to collegial conversation! All are welcome.

We aim to make available the paper a week before each meeting. If you wish to receive the paper beforehand or have any question about theevents please send an email to Mark Theunissen (

Monday 5 October 2009

USC/UCLA Graduate Student Conference

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

At the University of Southern California, Los Angeles

The graduate students of the University of Southern California and the University of California, Los Angeles, invite graduate students to submit papers in all areas of contemporary philosophy to be considered for presentation at the fifth annual USC/UCLA graduate student conference.

Submission Guidelines:

The deadline for submitting papers is November 1, 2009. Papers should be suitable for a 25-30 minute presentation (less than 4,500 words). Submissions should be suitable for blind review and include a cover letter and one-paragraph abstract. Please email papers as .doc or .pdf attachments to:

For more information, please contact Alida Liberman at

Notice of acceptance will be sent by December 20, 2009.

If electronic submission is impossible,please mail submissions to:

USC Mudd Hall of Philosophy
c/o A. Liberman
3709 Trousdale Parkway
Los Angeles, CA 90089

Thursday 1 October 2009

Intelligent Emotions

It has been suggested, most notably by Robert Solomon, that emotions are ways of engaging the world. This is an idea I find very appealing. Solomon has also insisted that emotions are a form of intelligence. The second claim—that emotions are a form or intelligence—is based on the thesis that emotions involve concepts. For example, Solomon claims that fear involves the concept of danger and that being angry involves the concept of offensiveness. There are at least two ways of interpreting what it means for emotions to involve concepts. On one reading, having an emotion requires that the agent be able to deploy certain concepts. So, being afraid actually requires that the agent possess and deploy the concept of danger. At times, Solomon seems committed to this view. However, he also attributes something like emotions (let’s call them proto-emotions) to animals that clearly lack conceptual capacities. (For example, he describes roaches that scatter when the light is turned on as exhibiting “something like” fear.)

I am reluctant to attribute anything like fear to roaches and other invertebrates that only exhibit (what ethologists refer to as) “fixed action patterns”; preferring to reserve the attribution of contentful mental states only to creatures that are capable of “instrumental learning”. Still, there seems to be a danger of hyper-intellectualisation in the claim that having an emotion requires the possession and deployment of certain concepts. It seems to me very implausible that, for example, a human infant can only be said to experience fear if it has the concept (in any robust sense of the word) of danger. I should, however, hasten to add that whether one finds the aforementioned proposal tenable depends on how one defines a concept. I tend to think of a concept as (at the very least) an inferentially promiscuous item; the upshot being that an infant who cannot employ the concept of danger in an inferentially promiscuous manner does not count as possessing the concept of danger. Still, there seems to be many different conceptions of concepts, and so there appears to be some wriggly room on this particular point.

Even so, I wish to point out that there is a weaker (and what I believe to be more plausible) reading of the claim that emotions involve concepts. On the weaker reading, emotions involve concepts in the sense that we must deploy certain concepts if we are to fully characterise or describe certain emotions. For example, when we describe what it means to be afraid, we must deploy the concept of danger. Otherwise, our description of the emotion will be incomplete. (In other words, merely referring to a set of physiological processes won’t be enough.) However, being afraid does not require that the agent experiencing the fear actually have and deploy the concept of danger. In short, we need to distinguish between needing concepts to describe a phenomenon or state of affairs and needing concepts to instantiate a phenomenon or state of affairs. For example, one needs the concept of mammary glands to describe what it is to be a mammal, but one does not need the concept of mammary glands to instantiate being a mammal. I believe an analogous point holds with respect to the emotions.

Monday 28 September 2009

Ayer on Logical Positivism

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Monday 21 September 2009

Philosophical & Psychological Issues Conference

This weekend James Dow (of Selbsttatigkeit) and I will be taking part in the 2nd annual Interdisciplinary Approach to Philosophical & Psychological Issues Conference at the University of South Alabama. Below is a copy of the conference schedule with links to the abstracts of the various papers.

Friday Speaker Topic and Abstract


Michael S. Gordon

On the Division of the Senses


Jack Shelley-Tremblay

Event-related Potentials Index Aspects of Attention: A Cognitive Neuroscience Perspective


David Bunch, Jonathan D. Walker & Alen Hajnal
Lateralization of sequence learning and transfer in a tactuo-spatial task


Kenneth Aizawa

Noe‘s Strong and Weak Enactivism


John Bickle

From Psychological Generalizations to Neuromolecular Mechanisms: Explanations ‘in a Single Bound'

Lunch at facility


James Beebe

Surprising Connections Between Knowledge and
Intentional Action: The Robustness of the Epistemic Side-Effect Effect


Daniel A. Weiskopf

The Architecture of the Embodied Mind



Unconscious Emotions: Respectable, Useful, and Probably


9:30 - 10:10

Avery Archer

Desires as Sub-agential Evaluations of the Good

10:15 - 10:55
Elise Labbé-Coldsmith
Mindfulness: Defining and Measuring from a Biopsychosocial Perspective


Richard Hine

Attention as Phenomenal Consciousness: For Richer, For Poorer


James Dow

Against Cognitive Descriptivism: Self-Ascription, Identification, and the Subject Principle

For more information, see the conference website here.

Monday 24 August 2009

Williamson Interview

I came across this interview of Timothy Williamson by 3:AM Magazine (via Nothing of Consequence). Here are two questions from the interview, both of a meta-philosophical nature, that I found particularly interesting:

3:AM: In your last book you again insinuate yourself into contemporary philosophical thought and say that not only has it made errors but it has actually taken a disastrous wrong turn. You call this the ‘linguistic turn’, which develops into ‘the conceptual turn’. This is radicalism without a hat. Could you briefly outline the main argument that philosophy that thinks that its sole job is to analyse language/concepts is wrong and why this is such an important point?

TW: The linguistic turn and the conceptual turn took many different forms. All of them were, in one way or another, responses to a methodological challenge to philosophy that the development of modern experimental science has made more and more urgent: how can philosophers expect to learn about the world without getting up out of their armchairs to see what it’s actually like? The idea was that whatever philosophers have to do, they can do on the basis of their understanding of their native language, or perhaps of some ideal formal language, or their grasp of the corresponding concepts, both of which they already have in the armchair. In some sense philosophical questions are linguistic or conceptual questions, either because they are about our own language or thought, or because they are the kind of questions that can be answered from principles that we implicitly accept simply in understanding the words or grasping the concepts. In reply, I argue that the attempts to rephrase philosophical questions as questions about words or concepts are unfaithful to what contemporary philosophers are actually interested in. For example, philosophers of time are interested in the underlying nature of time, not just the word ‘time’ or our concept of time. As for the principles that we implicitly accept simply in understanding words or grasping concepts, I argue that there aren’t any. A language is a forum for disagreement; contrary to what many philosophers have thought, it doesn’t impose an ideology. People who take wildly unorthodox views, even about logic, are not ‘breaking the rules of English’. Although the linguistic turn and the conceptual turn involve radical misconceptions of philosophy, in my view, I don’t regard them as avoidable accidents. Probably they were stages that philosophy had to go through; we can only determine their limitations if lots of able people are doing their utmost to defend them. But by now we can see their limitations. As an alternative, I show how we can answer the methodological challenge to armchair philosophy without taking the linguistic or conceptual turn. For example, thought experiments, which play a central role in contemporary philosophy, involve offline applications in the imagination of cognitive skills originally developed through online applications in perception. Those skills go well beyond the minimum required for understanding the words or grasping the concepts. Our ability to perform thought experiments is really just a by-product of our ability to answer non-philosophical questions of the form “What would happen if …?” Philosophy is much more like other forms of inquiry than philosophers have often pretended.

And the second question, which I'm sure will get a few people worked up:

3:AM: Many of my friends are Wittgensteinians, others phenomenologists. Should they stop?

TW: It would be unhealthy as well as boring for philosophy if everyone did it in the same way. We need a wide gene pool of ideas and methods. Nevertheless, some ideas and methods are better than others. When it comes to writing the history of twentieth century philosophy, the works of Wittgenstein, Husserl and Heidegger will presumably remain major texts, given their originality and vast influence. But from a historical point of view, it also seems clear that in recent decades the Wittgensteinian and phenomenological traditions have not adequately renewed themselves. Although books continue to be published in both traditions, they are recycling old ideas rather than engaging with new ones. Part of the attraction of such a tradition for its adherents is that it constitutes an intellectual comfort zone in which they are given pseudo-justifications for not bothering to learn new ways of thinking. At their best, the Wittgensteinian and phenomenological traditions share the virtue of patient, accurate description of examples. In that respect the analytic tradition has learned from them, I hope permanently. But once the examples started giving results that didn’t suit them, Wittgensteinians retreated into their dogmatic theoretical preconceptions while pretending to do the opposite. As for phenomenology, if a phenomenological description of experience is one that mentions only facts the subject knows at the time, fine. But it shouldn’t be confused with a description of facts about appearances, since one often knows facts that go beyond them. You can know that you are seeing a computer screen, not just that you seem to be seeing a computer screen. I argue in Knowledge and its Limits that the privileging of appearances results from the fallacy of assuming that we must have a cognitive home.

Thursday 13 August 2009

A Counterexample to Setiya

In his book, Reasons Without Rationalism, Keiran Setiya posits the following necessary truth about intentional action:
Belief: When someone is acting intentionally, there must be something he is doing intentionally, not merely trying to do, in the belief that he is doing it.

Setiya’s requirement builds on Anscombe’s insight that “intentional actions are ones to which a certain sense of the question ‘why?’ has application.”(Anscombe [2000], Intentions. p. 11, §6.) In specifying precisely what that sense is, Anscombe notes that “this question is refused application by the answer: ‘I was not aware I was doing that’.” (Ibid.) Setiya takes this to suggest a conception of intentional action according to which an agent must know that she is performing a certain action in order to count as performing that action intentionally. Thus, we arrive at what may be called the Strong Knowledge Requirement for intentional action:
Strong Knowledge Requirement: For all agents, φ, if an agent is φ-ing intentionally then that agent knows she is φ-ing.
However, after considering Davidson’s example of the teacher who is intentionally making ten carbon copies as he writes even though he is unsure that he is pressing hard enough to successfully do so, Setiya concludes that the Strong Knowledge Requirement is unsound. Since there are times we do not know that we are successfully performing an action we are intentionally performing, such knowledge cannot be a necessary condition for intentional action.

The first revision Setiya makes to Anscombe is to switch from a knowledge to a belief requirement. This yields what may be called the Strong Belief Requirement for intentional action:
Strong Belief Requirement: For all agents, φ, if an agent is φ-ing intentionally then that agent believes she is φ-ing.
However, as Setiya acknowledges, the Strong Belief Requirement does little better than the Strong Knowledge Requirement vis-a-vis the carbon copy case. Insofar as the carbon-copier is unsure about whether or not he is making ten copies, he does not believe that he is making ten copies. Setiya therefore proposes a second modification to the Strong Knowledge Requirement. He claims that to count as φ-ing intentionally, one need not believe that one is φ-ing. One only needs to believe that one is performing some action ψ, where ψ is either identical with φ or an intentional action one is performing with the end of φ-ing. Moreover, he holds that one’s belief that one is ψ-ing must be true; to wit, ψ must be an action one is actually performing rather than merely attempting to perform. Thus, we arrive at what I take to be Setiya’s considered position with respect to intentional actions:
Moderate Belief Requirement: For all agents, φ, if an agent is φ-ing intentionally then that agent believes truly that she is ψ-ing, where ψ-ing is either identical to φ-ing or an intentional action performed with the end of φ-ing.
It should be clear that the Moderate Belie Requirement is nothing but a restatement Belief. This revision of Anscombe's (alleged) Strong Knowledge Requirement allows Setiya to successful address the carbon copy case since there is an intentional action (i.e., pressing hard while writing) that the carbon-copier believes truly that he is performing, and which is performed with the end of producing ten copies.

I wish to argue that Belief fails to capture a necessary truth about intentional action. To this end, I will be attempting to construct a counterexample to Belief; a case in which we would plausibly regard an agent as acting intentionally even though the agent fails to meet the necessary condition it specifies.

The Prosthetic Limb Example*:
Consider the case of an arm-amputee, Jesse, who has a thought-controlled prosthetic arm grafted to his shoulders. Let us suppose that Jesse has to demonstrate the functionality of his thought-controlled arm to a Research and Development panel. However, just before the demonstration, Jesse gets an anonymous letter saying that the researchers, out of fear that their funding will be cut, have conspired to trick him into thinking that his prosthetic arm is functioning properly even though it is not. According to the anonymous letter, the researchers will ask Jesse to perform a number of tasks and observe him closely for an indication that he is about to perform the requested action. Then they will remotely cause the arm to perform the various tasks using a wireless signal from a computer. Thus, according to the anonymous letter, while it would appear to him that he is controlling his prosthetic arm with his thoughts, it will actually be the researcher’s computers that will be determining the arm’s movements.

However, let us suppose that (unknown to Jesse) the anonymous letter is completely unreliable, and that the researchers have concocted no such plot. All the movements his prosthetic arm makes are in fact being caused by his thoughts rather than by the scientist. As he is standing before the panel, a ball is thrown towards Jesse and he catches it with his prosthetic arm. He is then asked to throw the ball, and he complies. Moreover, let us assume that the thought process preceding the movement of the thought-controlled arm are of the same kind as that which would precede the movements of Jesse’s normal (i.e., non-prosthetic) arm. However, since he is unsure about the reliability of the anonymous letter, Jesse remains unsure that it is his thoughts that are causing the arm to catch the ball. Even as he is performing the action he can’t help but wonder if it is actually the researchers who are controlling the arm’s movements with a remote device. In short, there is no action (i.e., moving his arm, catching the ball, throwing the ball) that Jesse believes he is performing. Still, it seems perfectly natural to say that Jesse caught and threw the ball and that he did so intentionally. The upshot is that, contra Belief, Jesse intentionally catches and throws the ball even though there is no action that he believes he is performing.

There are two strategies for resisting the unpropitious consequences of the Prosthetic Limb Example that appear worth considering:
(Strategy 1): Argue that Jesse has not performed an intentional action when he catches or throws the ball.

(Strategy 2): Grant that Jesse has performed an intentional action, but argue that there is an intentional action that he believes he is performing with the end of catching and throwing the ball.
I believe that (Strategy 1) is moribund. Firstly, we may say that Jesse either intended to catch and throw the ball, or he did not so intend. These exhaust all the relevant possibilities. Now, it seems highly implausible to say that Jesse did not intend to catch the ball. Clearly, his catching and throwing the ball was no accident. Nor was it the side-effect of some other action Jesse was performing. Moreover, we may safely assume that Jesse went before the panel with the intention of performing the various tasks asked of him (even if he was unsure he would be the one performing them). Additionally, when the ball was thrown towards him, it is clear that Jesse meant to catch it; this was the goal he had in mind when he moved his prosthetic arm to intercept it. Once it has been acknowledged that Jesse intended to catch and throw the ball, it is natural to regard his intention as the cause (in the broadest sense of the term) of his arm’s movements. In fact, since (ex hypothesi) the arm’s movements are not being controlled by the researchers, it is unclear what other explanation there could be of his catching and throwing the ball besides Jesse’s intention to catch and throw it.

Secondly, suppose it is later revealed to Jesse that the anonymous letter was unreliable and that he was actually controlling the movements of the prosthetic arm. In such a case, I believe we can imagine Jesse thinking to himself, “so I did catch the ball after all!” In other words, it is plausible that Jesse would take ownership of the action in the way one would take ownership of something one intentionally performed. Moreover, it would be implausible to suggest that Jesse’s belief that he performed the action retroactively made his action intentional. Jesse’s belief does not change the (metaphysical) status of his action from unintentional to intentional; at most, it changes his knowledge of the action’s status. Thus, we must conclude that Jesse’s actions were intentional all along, if we are to hold that it is intentional at all. It follows that Jesse’s actions were intentional even when he did not believe he was performing them.

According to (Strategy 2), there is in fact some intentional action that Jesse believes he is performing—namely, whatever thoughts caused the movement of his thought-controlled prosthetic arm. Unfortunately, (Strategy 2) also seems moribund. Ex hypothesi, Jesse’s prosthetic arm is controlled by the same kind of thought processes that are at play when he moves his normal arm. There is some debate over whether thoughts—particularly of the kind that features in the aetiology of bodily movements—may be considered intentional actions. But let us grant, if only for the sake of argument, that the relevant thoughts are themselves a kind of intentional action. Even so, the present proposal only seems remotely plausible if we identify the thought in question with ‘trying’ to catch or throw the ball, in the sense of ‘trying’ that accompanies all cases of intentional action. This is the sense of ‘trying’ that Davidson attributes to the carbon-copier, and which Davidson takes to be sufficient for the carbon-copier’s actions to be intentional. Thus, if we buy into Davidson’s framework, we can easily accommodate the intuition that Jesse’s actions are intentional.

However, this is not an option available to Setiya, who explicitly denies that ‘trying’ (in the above sense) fulfils the criterion imposed by Belief. He writes:
Despite what Davidson suggests, it is not enough that the carbon-copier is intentionally trying to make ten copies, in the paradigm sense of “intentional action” that involves belief. He is and must be doing specific things—for instance, pressing hard on the paper—in that paradigm sense.
In brief, Jesse’s act of trying to catch the ball (even if it is regarded as an intentional action) fails to meet Setiya’s specifications. Consequently, Belief entails that Jesse does not catch the ball intentionally. It follows that, by Setiya’s own lights, (Strategy 2) gets things wrong. Assuming that (Strategy 1) and (Strategy 2) exhausts all remotely plausible strategies for responding to the Prosthetic Limb Example, it remains a counterexample to Belief.

Admittedly, the Prosthetic Limb Example is an unusual case. Moreover, it is clear that in the vast majority of cases of intentional action, the agent is not in the position that Jesse finds himself in. Consequently, I do not see the Prosthetic Limb Example as posing a challenge to the claim that when we act intentionally we prototypically know that we are acting. Moreover, since I take Anscombe to be offering a prototypical generalisation, I do not believe the Prosthetic Limb Example represents a refutation of Anscombe’s account of intentional action. However, what Setiya purports to provide is not a prototypical generalisation, but a necessary truth. Unlike prototypical generalisations, necessary truths allow for no exceptions. Thus, as unusual as the Prosthetic Limb Example may be, it is sufficient to undermine Setiya’s claim that Belief is a necessary truth.

*This example is loosely based on the real life case of Jesse Sullivan. Here is a short video of Jesse's arm in action:

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