Friday 1 November 2013

On Kripke's "Identity and Necessity"

In this blog post, I will like to consider the implications (if any) of the intelligibility of the following scenario for Kripke’s claim that identity statements involving rigid designators are necessarily true.  Suppose that the Messenger space probe were to send back pictures revealing that “Venus” is actually a binary planetary system—two planets orbiting around a common gravitational midpoint.  Moreover, as luck would have it, when viewed from the northern hemisphere on any given morning, one of the twin-planets (let’s call it V1) would stand perfectly in front of the other (let’s call the second V2), so that only V1 could be seen.  But in the evening, the planets would switch positions so that V2 would obscure V1 such that only the former would be visible.  The upshot of this is that the heavenly body that was visible (from Greece or Italy) in the morning and that was “tagged” with the name Phosphorus would actually be distinct from the heavenly body seen in the evening and which was “tagged” with the name Hesperus.  Now such a scenario is clearly fictional and may, given what we know about the laws of planetary motion, even be physically impossible.  However, it certainly strikes me as intelligible and I wish to consider what follows (in anything) from the simple fact that it is intelligible. 

Suppose, after considering the above scenario, I were to say something to the effect: “If Phosphorus and Hesperus turned out to be different heavenly bodies, then Kripke would be left without a cogent illustration for his identity thesis.”  Presumably, Kripke would hold that it is impossible for the antecedent of the above counterfactual statement to be true.  Moreover, the kind of impossibility that Kripke would have in mind would be logical and not merely physical.  In brief, Kripke holds that both names, Phosphorus and Hesperus, are rigid designators.  Even so, this does not impugn the intelligibility of anything said thus far since we do often employ counterfactuals in which the antecedent is logically impossible (such as in reductio arguments). 

In Kripke’s version of the Phosphorus-Hesperus scenario, the gravitational influence of a passing comet causes Venus to be moved from its normal position and Mars to take its place.  He then suggests that under such circumstances, the thing to say would not be that Phosphorus is not Hesperus (i.e., the two names designate different heavenly bodies), but that Phosphorus has been moved so that it no longer occupies its normal position in the night sky.  Now, it does not seem to me that this reply works in the case as I have described it.  This is because in the binary-planet case we are not simply imagining a case in which another heavenly body, say Mars, is occupying the position we once thought was occupied by Venus.  Rather, we are imagining a case in which what we took to be a single object, Venus, actually turns out to be two distinct objects.  What would Kripke say in response to the above example?

In attempting to answer this question it may be helpful to consider the following question:  “In the aforementioned counterfactual, which of the two heavenly bodies, V1 or V2, should we identify with Venus?”  Given the parity between the two cases (we can suppose that in astronomical observations V1 was identified as Venus just as often as V2) it would seem arbitrary to say that one, and not the other, ought to be identified with Venus.  Since both could not be Venus (personally I’m not convinced of this, but it seems like the position that Kripke would hold) then the only available option would be to say that neither heavenly bodies are to be identified with Venus.  If this is right, then the proper name “Venus” would cease to refer to anything.  (This conclusion seems to jive with Russell’s requirement for successful reference.)

Let us suppose that in the binary-planet example, the proper name “Venus” ceases to refer.  What about the status of the proper names “Phosphorus” and “Hesperus”?  Stated in the terminology of possible worlds, a rigid designator is defined as one that designates the same thing in all possible worlds in which it designates.  Suppose that the names “Phosphorus” and “Hesperus” are both rigid designators, and that “Phosphorus is Hesperus.”  (Strictly speaking, there is no need for imagination here, since this is what Kripke takes to be the case in the actual world.)  Since they are rigid, they each designate the same thing in all possible worlds in which they both designate. That is to say that “Phosphorus is Hesperus” is true in all possible worlds in which “Phosphorus” and “Hesperus” both designate, and hence that “Phosphorus exists & Hesperus exists → Phosphorus = Hesperus” is true in all possible worlds, and is therefore necessarily true.  This, according to Kripke, is all we mean when we say that “Phosphorus = Hesperus” is a necessary truth. 

In my binary-planet example, the antecedent of the conditional (Phosphorus exists & Hesperus exists) is true and the consequent (Phosphorus = Hesperus) is false.  It therefore appears to represent a counterexample to Kripke’s claim that Hesperus and Phosphorus are rigid designators.  Now, I have already conceded that the situation described in the antecedent may be impossible.  Moreover, perhaps Kripke should be interpreted as allowing that even a rigid designator may designate different things in impossible worlds.  If so, then perhaps there is also an expectation on Kripke’s part, that we restrict ourselves to counterfactuals with possible antecedents whenever we unpack the definition of rigid designator in terms of possible worlds. 

However, on pain of circularity, such a move seems illegitimate at this stage.  Kripke is supposed to be offering us an argument for necessity of identity from his definition of rigid designation.  But if Kripke’s definition of rigid designation already required us to omit impossible worlds, it would be to argue for the conclusion that a certain identity is necessary from the starting assumption that the identity failing to hold is impossible.  But that would be to settle before hand the position one wished to achieve by argument.  If Kripke’s argument is to be cogent, it must be possible to begin with the initial supposition that the antecedent it possible.  Then if the argument is successful, we would be led to reject our initial supposition.  But once we grant that the antecedent is possible (i.e., that Phosphorus is not Hesperus), it is not clear that any argument can be given to show that the possibility that has been assumed for the sake of argument should be rejected.  In sum, without some independent argument showing that the binary-planet counterfactual, in which the names “Phosphorus” and “Hesperus” designate different objects, is impossible, it is not clear that Kripke’s argument that the names are rigid designators gets off the ground.

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Nietzsche on Good and Evil/Bad

Since today is Nietzsche's birthday, I thought it would be a good idea to compose a blog post in his honour.  

In his essay, “‘Good and Evil,’ ‘Good and Bad’”, Nietzsche describes the evolution of two different sets of moral codes: the “knightly-aristocratic” or “master” morality and the “priestly” or “slave” morality.  He takes as his point of departure the genealogical accounts of the “English psychologists” who he criticises as lacking the “historical spirit.”  As Nietzsche describes them, the English psychologists claim that our concept of “good” is actually derived from our concept of the “useful”, though we eventually forget this initial association.  By Nietzsche’s lights, the psychologists’ account is unhistorical in at least two respects:  First, it projects the psychologists’ own preoccupation with “utility” unto the subject of their enquiry, giving rise to a theoretical anachronism in their history of morality.  This prompts them to mistakenly conceive of the goodness of a deed as originally determined from the point of view of the recipient of the deed rather than that of the doer.  (Nietzsche, by contrasts, argues that the goodness of an action was initially defined from the perspective of the actor, a novel and fascinating idea I will not take up at present.)  Second, by ignoring the historicity of their own preoccupation with utility, the psychologists give the impression that the moral concept of the “good” is unilateral, singular and fixed.  By contrast, Nietzsche argues that moral codes are fluid, so that what was once considered “good” may literally come to be considered “bad” (or “evil”). The upshot of Nietzsche’s analysis is that our present evaluation of what is good is historically contingent, and a story needs to be told about how and why we have the particular moral code that we do.

Nietzsche sets out to tell just such a story.  To this end, he argues that our present moral code is actually a product of Jewish ressentiment, or resentment.  This claim presents a two-pronged challenge to Nietzsche’s German audience.  First, it implies that the morality that pervades modern Europe is the morality of the slaves and the weak; hardly a flattering indictment.  Second, the claim that the values in question are of Jewish origin is a remonstrance against Christian anti-Semites who tend to think of their own values as distinct from, and even opposed to, that of the Jews.   

Even if one were sympathetic to Nietzsche’s overall goals, one might have some reservations about the rhetorical manoeuvres Nietzsche employs towards achieving them.  For one thing, Nietzsche’s distinction between the morality of the weak the morality of strong seems racist in the most literal sense of the word.  That is, Nietzsche seems to depict the various groups of human beings as different in some essential sense, akin to the difference between a bird of prey and a lamb.  This observation, if accurate, amounts to a criticism of Nietzsche, not because racism is inherently problematic (i.e., it violates our contemporary standards of political correctness), but because it seems uncorroborated by the bulk of recent scientific work on the subject. 

However, it is not clear that it is mandatory to attribute to Nietzsche such strong racial essentialism.   According to the anti-essentialist, we can imagine a state of affairs in which the Jews were the masters and the Romans were the slaves.  In such a case, Nietzsche may well insist that the Jews would be the ones exhibiting the master values.    Thus, the fact that it was the Jews that played the part of representatives of slave values is a matter of historical accident.  Of course, Nietzsche seems to think that the Jews were specially equipped to accomplish this task in that they, unlike other oppressed groups, were willing to take on the task of supplanting the master values.  But again, this may simply be a function of the level of hatred the Jews had for their masters (which in turn was a function of there singularly oppressed position), rather than a reflection of some essential trait of the Jewish race.  Thus, it seems as if Nietzsche’s position may be divorced from any type of empirically implausible racial essentialism.   (There is a further and equally interesting question, which I will not get into here, of how the above anti-essentialist reading of Nietzsche relates to his thought that there are only deeds but no doers.)

There is an additional problem with regards to the self-consciousness with which Nietzsche seems to suggest that the Jews went about the task of overthrowing the values of their Roman masters.  This is most clearly brought out in his discussion of Jesus’s crucifixion as the event that clinched the deal in the overthrow of the master values.  One is left with the impression that the crucifixion was just the final step in some masterfully orchestrated conspiracy in which the Jews got their enemies to appropriate their (i.e., the Jews) values by making it appear as thought it wasn’t really their (i.e., the Jews) values.  The suggestion that the Romans were basically duped into accepting priestly morality via a clandestinely orchestrated bit of historical reverse psychology seems, to say the least, a stretch.  However, perhaps we may remove the initial implausibility of this idea by taking these events as purely descriptive of what actually happened, without suggesting that the Jews arranged for things to happen as they did.  On this purely descriptive account, the crucifixion, though not a premeditated strategy in an elaborate ideological chess-game, was just the sort of event needed to distance Jewish priestly values from their original source, thereby bestowing them with a certain faux neutrality, ahistoricity and authority. 

Significantly, even if we did accept the conspiracy reading of Nietzsche, one would need to exercise some caution in attributing belief in such a conspiracy to Nietzsche himself.  Given Nietzsche’s rhetorical goals, it may very well be that Nietzsche deliberately leaves room for (even if he doesn’t explicitly advocate) the conspiracy interpretation.  The suggestion that the values which Nietzsche’s German readers have embraced may be the product of a Jewish conspiracy would serve to heighten their discomfort since it further underscores the possibility that they may have been duped.  The upshot of Nietzsche’s analysis may be put as follows:  not only is the fact that we have the values we have a matter of historical accident, and not only are our values that of the nebbish, weak and insipid, but we have all been bamboozled into accepting them. 

This reading of Nietzsche’s rhetorical goals offers an interesting spin on his often disparaging remarks about the Jews.    By belittling priestly values and emphasising their Jewish origins, Nietzsche infuses his criticisms of his complacent (and in some instances anti-Semetic) German readers with even greater force.  If you believe a morality born of weakness and resentment is inferior, then how much worse must be those who have been hoodwinked into accepting such a moral code by the very one’s described as weak and nebbish. 

Significantly, the reading of Nietzsche adumbrated above fails to take a stand on whether or not he was personally opposed to priestly morality.  For all that has been said, it may very well be the case that Nietzsche himself thinks of master and priestly moralities as simply different, with neither inherently better than the other, or he may view priestly morality as deeper and therefore superior to master morality.  However, by adopting a rhetorical stance against priestly morality and then showing how priestly morality has been blindly embraced by his German audience, Nietzsche attempts to challenge their self-gratifying smugness.  One suspects that it is German complacency, rather than priestly morality per se, that constitutes the real target of Nietzsche’s criticisms.  

Monday 26 August 2013

Workshop on Imperative Aspects of Perceptual Experience

Time and place:

Are there imperatival aspects to perceptual experience? Do any experiences have intrinsic motivational powers? If so, is this at odds with their being correct or incorrect? If not, what are they correct or incorrect about? One way to approach them is by comparing perceptual experiences to speech acts. If perceptual experiences were modeled by speech acts, would the best models be assertions, imperatives, or neither? If in some ways, or on some occasions, experiences are more like imperatives than assertions are these imperatival aspects of experience reflected in any way in their accuracy conditions? Are they at odds with their having accuracy conditions at all? Are they at odds with representationalism? In this workshop we explore these and related questions.


Wednesday August 28
9:30 Welcome and Introduction (Sebastian Watzl and Susanna Siegel)
10:00-11:30 John Bengson (University of Wisconsin-Madison): “Practical Perception”
Commentator: Avery Archer (University of Tennessee, Knoxville)
11:45-13:15 Susanna Siegel (Harvard University, CSMN): “Affordances and the Contents of Perception”
​Commentator: Anna Bergqvist (Manchester Metropolitan University)
14:15-15:45 Sebastian Watzl (University of Oslo, CSMN): “Perceptual Guidance”
Commentator: Dagfinn Føllesdal (Stanford University, University of Oslo)
16:00-17:30 Gabriel Greenberg (UCLA): “The Representation of Space in Visual Sequences”
Commentator: Farid Masrour (Harvard University)

Thursday August 29
9:30-11:00 Hilla Jacobson (Ben-Gurion University): “Not only a Messenger: From a Purely Representational to a Hybrid Account of the Phenomenal Character of Pain”
Commentator: Maja Spener (University of Birmingham)
11:15-12:30 Ole Koksvik (University of Bergen): “Pushiness”
13:30-15:00 Manolo MartĂ­nez (University of Barcelona): “Imperativism about Perceptual Experience – The Case of Disgust”
Commentator: Michael Brady (University of Glasgow)
15:15-16:45 Tim Bayne (University of Manchester): “Phenomenal Attitudes”
Commentator: Anders Nes (University of Oslo, CSMN)

Thursday 30 May 2013

Two Senses of Providing Reasons

I will like to introduce a distinction between two senses in which a psychological state, X, may provide one with a reason to adopt a belief or intention.  My hope is that the distinction is both clear and intuitive. So here it is:
(1)  X provides us with a reason to adopt Y by putting us in touch with a consideration that speaks in favour of adopting Y. 
(2)  X provides us with a reason to adopt Y by constituting a consideration that speaks in favour of adopting Y.  
The difference between (1) and (2) is the difference between the perceptual appearance that it is raining outside giving one a reason to believe that it is raining outside, and the fact that one has the perceptual appearance that there is a pink elephant in the corner of the room giving one a reason to check oneself into a hospital.  In the first case, the perceptual appearance provides one with a reason by putting one in touch with a consideration that is independent of the perceptual appearance itself and which speaks in favour of adopting the belief that it is raining outside—namely, the fact that it is raining outside.  The fact that it is raining outside is independent of the perceptual appearance of it raining outside in the sense that the fact would obtain (and constitute a reason to believe that is raining outside) even if one did not have the perceptual appearance in question.  By contrast, the fact that one has the perceptual appearance of a pink elephant in the corner of the room does not put one in touch with some independent consideration in favour of adopting the intention to check oneself into the hospital.  Rather, the perceptual appearance itself constitutes the relevant consideration. 

Significantly, when a psychological state provides one with a reason in the first sense, it does so in virtue of the fact that it is an intentional state with objective purport.  The perceptual appearance that it is raining provides one with a reason to believe it is raining because it purports to put one in touch with a mind-independent fact—to wit, the fact that it is raining.  If (following Franz Brentano) we assume that psychological states are distinctive because they have the property of intentionality or aboutness, then we can say that when a psychological state provides one with reasons in the sense described in (1), it is doing so qua psychological state.  

By contrast, when a psychological state provides one with a reason in the sense described in (2), it does not do so qua psychological state (i.e., in virtue of being a state with the property of aboutness).  Rather, it provides one with a reason in the very same way that any old fact might.  For example, the fact that I’m bleeding profusely gives me a reason to check myself into the hospital in the very same sense that having the perceptual appearance that there is a pink elephant gives me a reason to check myself into the hospital. If this is right, and given that the former lacks the property of aboutness, then it follows that the latter does not provide rational guidance of the relevant kind in virtue of having the property of aboutness.  Hence, only (1) describes a type of rational significance that is uniquely had by psychological states.

Is the preceding distinction clear? Is it plausible? Your thoughts... 

Wednesday 30 January 2013

On the Nonexistence of Practical Withholding

In this post, I wish to highlight what I take to be an important but under-appreciated disanalogy between rationally permissible belief and rationally permissible action. I will say more about why I think this disanalogy is under-appreciated in later posts. For now, I will simply attempt to identify the disanalogy, and say something about why it exists.

Consider the following example of an agent engaged in a piece of practical deliberation:

Example 1: Lorry Driver Intention
A lorry driver, Jesse, is trying to decide between continuing to drive down a long stretch of road or stopping for a break.  After weighing all the considerations in favour of continuing to drive (e.g., she is more likely to make her delivery on time) and all the considerations in favour of taking a break (e.g., she would be able to get some much deserved shut-eye), she comes to the conclusion that the total evidence available is inconclusive either way.  She has just as much reason to continue driving as she does to stop and take a break. Jesse decides to flip a coin: ‘head-side-up’ for continuing to drive, and ‘tail-side-up’ for stopping for a break.  When the coin lands ‘tail-side-up’, Jesse pulls the lorry off to the side of the road and removes the key from the ignition. 

I take the following three claims to be uncontroversially true about the agent is Example 1:
(1)  The fact that Jesse decided to flip a coin and the coin landed tails-side-up explains why she decided to stop driving. 
(2)  The fact that Jesse decided to flip a coin and the coin landed tail-side-up does not justify her decision to stop driving. 
(3)  Jesse is not guilty of any irrationality for basing her decision to stop driving on the fact that she decided to flip a coin and the coin landed tail-side-up. 
Now, consider the following modified version of the Lorry Driver Intention example:

Example 2: Lorry Driver Belief
Jesse, the lorry driver, is trying to determine if the following the proposition is true: (H): “My lorry will run out of petrol before the next station”.  However, suppose that all the evidence available is inconclusive.  Jesse has just as much evidence in favour of (H) as she does against (H).  She therefore decides to flip a coin.  Assigning the value of ‘true’ to head-side-up, and ‘false’ to tail-side-up, and proceeds to flip a coin.  When the coin lands head-side-up, Jesse comes to believe (H).  Jesse radios her dispatching and reports that she believes her lorry will run out of petrol before the next station.  When she is asked why she believes this, she explains that since all the evidence she has available was inconclusive, the decided to flip a coin.  Incredulous, the dispatcher points out that a coin flip fails to constitute evidence one way or the other.  Jesse agrees, but insists that the coin flip remains the basis of her belief.

I take the following three claims to be uncontroversially true about the agent in Example 2:
(1)  The fact that Jesse decided to flip a coin and the coin landed heads-side-up explains why she believes the lorry will run out of petrol. 
(2)  The fact that Jesse decided to flip a coin and the coin landed heads-side-up does not justify her belief that the lorry will run out of petrol. 
(3)  Jesse is guilty of irrationality for basing her belief that she will run out of petrol on the fact that she decided to flip a coin and the coin landed heads-side-up. 
In contradistinction to the first example, the agent in the second example appears to display gross irrationality.  This suggests an important disanalogy between rationally permissible belief and rationally permissible action. While an agent’s actions may be rationally permissible even though the explanation of her action fails to justify her action, the same cannot be said of an agent’s beliefs.  

I will now attempt to offer an explanation of why the above disanalogy between rationally permissible belief and action exists:  

Theoretical deliberation always involves a choice between three doxastic attitudes: believing, disbelieving, or withholding belief and disbelief.  This means failing to believe that P does not entail disbelieving P and failing to disbelieve P does not entail believing P.  Withholding P always remains an option. Withholding P, as I am using the expression, is not the same as failing to adopt an attitude of belief and disbelief towards P.  One may fail to adopt an attitude of belief and disbelief towards P because one has simply not considered P.  In such a case, one neither believes nor disbelieves P.  But one is not withholding P either.   One simply has not taken any attitude towards P.  In short, withholding P is as much an attitude towards P as believing or disbelieving P.  
I believe that the disanalogy between reasons for belief and reasons for actions, highlighted in the previous section, is tied to the absence of a practical analogue to withholding. Consider once again the lorry driver who has to decide between continuing to drive and stopping for a break.  The lorry driver’s decision has a zero-sum structure. If she adopts the intention to continue driving, she has ipso facto adopted the intention not to take a break.  The same is true, mutatis mutandis, if she adopts the intention to take a break. There is no attitude of practical withholding that she may adopt as an end point of her deliberative process. In sum, while there are three possible doxastic attitudes one can take towards P—believing P, disbelieving P, and withholding P—there are only two possible volitional attitudes one can take towards an outcome—intending to bring about P and intending not to bring about P.  On the present analysis, not intending to bring about P is not an attitude towards bringing about P but rather the absence of an attitude towards bringing about P.
In cases in which the weighing of evidence is relevant, one must have net evidence in favour of believing or disbelieving in order for either attitude to be rationally permissible.  Believing P is rationally permissible only if one’s net evidence is in favour of P.  Disbelieving P is rationally permissible only if one’s net evidence is against P.   If one lacks any evidence for or against P or if one has equal amounts of evidence both for and against P, then one is rationally obligated to withhold P. Hence, since the agent in the second example has equal amounts of evidence both for and against the truth of the claim that her lorry will run out of petrol, she is rationally obligated to withhold belief.  By contrast, she could have no analogous obligation when it comes to the question of whether she should continue or stop driving since withholding from both is simply not an option.  Hence, even if she has equal amounts of evidence in favour of continuing to drive and stopping for a break, she still has to do one or the other.  Simply put, practical withholding is not an option.  The upshot is that, unlike belief, there cannot be a requirement that an agent's net evidence favour a course of action in order for that course of action to be rationally permissible.