## Thursday, May 14, 2009

### Propositional Functions

I do not claim to be a Frege Scholar, but I am interested in this distinction between propositions and propositional functions that Drew and Mark Textor talked about last night. My interest is of course epistemological and probabilistic. Take the assertion that:
Fido smokes.
Lets stipulate that there is a particular dog named Fido. Let's also disambiguate "smokes" so that it means inhales tobacco with the nicotine delivery mechanism known as "fags", not some wierdly tensed expression for the early signs of catching fire.
Now I gather that according to Frege there is a fundamental difference between "Fido" and "smokes", and we can pretty easily get a grip on what this difference is. One way of saying what the difference is is that Fido names an object, whereas "smokes" doesn't name anything but predicates of something. Therefore, in a sense, "Fido" stands alone, whereas "smokes" doesn't. Fido is complete, whereas smokes is incomplete. We can use the ontology of propositions to make this difference clearer. "Fido" names a dog, "Fido smokes" names a proposition (or a truth value) but "smokes" names nothing.
Drew made an interesting distinction between a variable and a gap. We can complete "smokes" with a variable easily. Someone smokes. Who smokes? Who smokes dies. If you smoke please do so outside. Smoking causes cancer. We can also names those who smoke "smokers". The thought begins to emmerge that "smokes" is little different from a collective name for all those who smoke. We can think of smokes as a set or class, constituted by its members. The only difference between "Fido" and "smokes" is that Fido names one thing, whereas "smokes" names many things.
Now we enter into epistemology. We have a grammatical trick for converting predicates into collective names. "Ravens are black", is no different in structure from "black things are ravens".
The switch involves a difference in meaning, but this is just because "are" is directional. Since there are more than one Raven and more than one black thing, we can see that these two statements fail to satisfy the law of excluded middle until we quantify the first term with "all" "some" "no" or any proportion or range. So "75% of Ravens are black" is true or false and this has a clear empirical meaning. The meaning is very different from "75% of black things are Ravens". A probabilistic account presents itself. "Ravens are black" is the probability X is black given x is a raven. We then can complete it by a number or a range. P(B R) = 0.75. for 75% of ravens are black. P(B R) = 1, for all ravens are black. P(B R) > 0 for some ravens are black, and P(B R) = 0 for no ravens are black.
Now I don't believe that "Ravens" or "black things" name sets, or are constituted by their extension. The reason I don't believe this is because we can understand and act upon P(B R) = 0.75 without being acquainted with all the ravens that every have been or will be, and without being acquainted with all the black things. All we need are two independent criteria, one for verifying that x is a raven, and one for verifying that x is black. Our belief P(B R) = 0.75 is justified by its success, without the need to be true or false. 0.75 is the success rate of inferences from x is a raven to x is black.
So we still have "x", we still have these objects that underlie everything. This is because Fido smokes does not work like this at all. Fido smokes is a stand alone proposition that automatically obeys the law of excluded middle. We might be able to wonder what P(smokes Fido). But it would be a mistake to think there is any objective answer to this other than 0 or 1. If we were forced to bet, we might consider the classes to which Fido belongs and derive a probability this way. P(smokes dog) is probably very low, I don't know the exact figure. But if we knew that Fido was a circus dog, then we might be better off using P(smokes circus dog) which could be a lot higher. However, both these probabilities would be informed by our coming to know propositions of the form Fido smokes. Finding out that Fido is a circus dog and that Fido smokes would inform our P(smokes circus dog). If our prior belief was 0, we could not thereby reject the testimony of our own eyes when we see Fido lighting up. Our experience of particulars are the foundations on which the whole edifice rests. It is through dogs like Fido that we learn about dogs, and philosophers like Socrates that we learn about Philosophers. But it is not through "smokes" that we learn about Fido, or through "is mortal" that we learn about Socrates.

## Friday, July 25, 2008

### Concepts

CONCEPTS, THE REALLY CURRENT VIEW

Anneli Jefferson gave an interesting talk about the subject that I am most confused about: the meaning of concepts. It seems that even within London there is no shared idea of what concepts are at all. This is alarming since philosophy is sometimes thought to be about conceptual analysis.
So here is a brief statement of a view that we can call the epistemological view:
[1] A concept is individuated by its possession conditions.
Fodor apparently calls this the “Current View”
The other option, the “Classical view” is that
[2] A concept is individuated by whatever it is that the concept represents.
I think this could even be called the Current Current view and I’ve got a feeling it is what David Papineau holds.
Anneli seemed to think that the possession conditions of a concept are a list of beliefs that one has that include the concept. Something like a Ramsey sentence. The problems with this are twofold
1. Publicity. What if two people have different beliefs including the same concept?
2. Error. How can a belief containing a concept be wrong?
There are of course various ways of addressing these problems. One being molecularism, which has it that there are a subset of core beliefs that it is necessary to have to possess a concept. These core beliefs then constitute the concept.
Fodor seems to be defending a more extreme Atomism, which is a combination of the Classical view, with the idea that all that is required to possess a concept is to be able to use it to represent the things the concept refers to.
Here is an example of a person who can clearly make statements including the concept that are true or false without any beliefs including the concept at all.
Mary is blind and has been brought up in a language community that were careful to never use colour words around her. Then she is given a spectrometer that tells her what colour things are when she points it at them. Mary can now have the following thought. “I wonder if the rose in the vase is red? I bet it is” I argue that Mary wins the bet if and only if the rose is red. She has no beliefs concerning red things whatsoever. She would still win the bet if and only if the rose is red even if she sold her spectrometer. The mere act of selling a piece of machinery cannot change the truth conditions of your thoughts or utterances.
Also she can wonder if her spectrometer is faulty and reports that green things are red. This thought is true iff her spectrometer is faulty and reports that green things are red. To have a reason to believe this she would need some beliefs about red things, but you don’t need any reasons at all to entertain a hypothesis.
Anneli might argue that Mary does have a red containing belief and that is that the spectrometer detects red things. But Mary can suspend belief in the existence of red things, in which case she can suspend belief in the ability of the spectrometer to detect red things.
What is clear is that she can form hypotheses and make statements involving the concept red that have empirical content. To anybody who has some method of settling whether things are red or not, she can represent things as red, truly or falsely. Neither party need have any beliefs about red things at all, they need not even be committed to the existence of anything red. What is important is that there are beliefs containing the concept red that it is possible for Mary to know. Let’s call this the Really Current view.
[3] Concepts are individuated by bet settlement criteria.

DOES MARY HAVE THE CONCEPT RED? a short play.

JOHN: Pass the red folder.
MARY: Ok, here you are.
JOHN: What colour is your front door?
MARY: Red.
JOHN: What colour shall we paint the kitchen?
MARY: I don’t mind, you choose.

THE END

## Monday, July 14, 2008

### Aristotelian Society and Mind Joint sessions, a personal view

A perspectival review of the Joint Sessions. By Jonny Blamey

In the Grim city of Aberdeen in perhaps the coldest July weekend I can remember, over two hundred philosophers gathered in what to me felt like a celebratary festival of rationality.
Kit Fine made an point about methodology in philosophy. He said that you could judge a theory internally, or externally. Internally means you look at the theory from the inside, examine how simple it is, and beautiful and neatly structured. Or you can judge externally, judge how well it does the job of explaining the facts that need to be explained, and how well it fits the facts. Fine suggested that philosophy too often judged theories internally, without paying attention to the facts.
But Kit Fine was talking about metaphysics! He was talking about whether when there is an alloy sphere, there are many things (pluralism) or one thing (Monism)! There are no facts in metaphysics! I thought that was the whole point of metaphysics.

I’m writing about Fitch’s paradox in my thesis at the moment, specifically about the debate between Williamson and Edgington. WIlliamson has got the last word, though I think it is clear that Edgington’s analysis is correct. I went and sat next to her and she said that she had just finished writing an article about it, since many people had nagged her to reply to Williamson’s 1987 paper. She said she’d send me a copy. In general philosophers are good people, and good philosophers are really good people. Dorothy Edgington has got to be one of the best living philosophers. You can see where this is going.

At lunch I sat next to someone I didn’t know and he asked me my name. When I told him, he said “Oh, you’ve just had an article in “Think”. This was genuinely news to me. I didn’t realise it had come out yet. What pleasure! It turned out that he was Julian Baggini, the editor of The Philosopher’s Magazine, who publish Think, so it wasn’t that surprising that he had read my article. We all got a copy of TPM for free at the entrance to the conference, and it is really good. I recommend a subscription to anyone who seriously loves philosophy.

I saw a mysterious looking man called Martin Cooke from Glasgow present a paper on a physically possible supertask that he thought proved that propensity theories were contradictory, or physical tendencies were, if there is a difference. There were a lot of structural similarities with the 2 envelope paradox, so I went over and started talking to him at lunch. We talked for quite along time before we realised that he had actually commented on Blogginthequestion! Under the pseudonym Enigman!
“So you are Enigman!” I declared and shook him firmly by the hand.

Another blog commentator in the graduate sessions was Lee Walters, who gave a talk on Morgenbesser’s coin and counterfactuals, a topic that has been thrashed on Blogginthequestion. I may make the grandiose claim that anything on at the Joint session, you are likely to have read on Blogginthequestion first, but I shan’t because it is false unless you have very low standards for “likely”, I reckon somewhere on 1/25. Dorothy Edgington asked a question and Lee responded with a counter argument that her objection was inconsistent with her general views, revealing that he had read practically everything she had written on the subject.

There was a Society for Women in Philosophy session, which is something I find conceptually interesting. They made it clear that every philosopher was welcome to attend. There were four talks, one male speaker, and one talk with absolutely no relevance to feminism, other than that the speaker was female.

The first talk was about Iris Murdoch and how she made very little mention of the fact that she was of the first generation of women who had been allowed in philosophy. There is something that makes me sad about Iris Murdoch, and perhaps a little angry, and Marije Altorf gave informed and articulate voice to these concerns. Her point was that although Murdoch was a great philosopher and an outstanding novelist, the biographies that came out after her death made very little mention of how she came to write her philosophical work “The Sovereignty of good”, concentrating much more on her sexual exploits and her senile dementia. Although it is inevitable in a biography that the biographer will discuss the sex life of the subject, you would think that any decent biography of a Philosopher as great as Iris Murdoch would pay considerable attention to the development of her ideas. Of the three biographies, there was little more than a page on her position in the history of philosophy and literature. This is really shocking, and forces me to accept the reality of a culture of sexism in philosophy. I told Marije about our Kalbir Sohi’s grad seminar talk and said she’d look him up.

Another interesting talk in this session was from Lina Papadaki from Birkbeck on Pornography. Now here was a talk that no one could deny was dripping with gender tension. The talk was (to over simplify) basically a refutation of the quite extreme view of Malinda Vadas and Catharine MacKinnon that when men use objects as women, the objects become women, since objects are constituted by their use, and this leads to an objectification of women in general, which then makes consent seem morally irrelevant. The talk was fascinating from a metaphysical point of view and an ethical one. If an object becomes a women, why is then consent irrelevant? What was also interesting was the question period, because to get at the issues involved talking about effective masturbation techniques, which has got to be the greatest taboo. Over all I was impressed by the very fact that the discussion was possible, although there was a bit of a gender division afterwards when all us men scurried off to compare notes on various pornography.
In the bar I met Dr Philip Goff, who, the last time I saw him, was looking for work. Now he’s got a job lecturing in Birmingham, so it does happen! People do get jobs in Philosophy. Also it turned out that he was teaching Florian Demont, who is coming to KCL next year and will be attending the Philosophy of probability seminar.

My own session was very intense (from my point of view). I was fourth and last and the session was the last of the conference and I was completely over stimulated. Everyone of the three proceeding talks were about the effects of Stakes in knowledge!! This is the very topic that I gave a talk about in St Andrews two years ago and is the main topic of my thesis. I couldn’t help it, but I lost control of my emotions. I was trembling, my mouth went dry, my eyes on fire and I had a bubbling up of passionate rage. Peter Baumann in the first talk expressed an objection to Stanley’s Subject Relative Invariantism in a brilliantly and beautifully clear and simple way. Briefly its this.

Stanley and Hawthorne both look at a timetable and then get on a train that the timetable says stops at Toy town. It is desperately important to Stanley but not important at all to Hawthorne that the train stops at Toy Town (TT). So, though they have the same evidence, Stanley doesn’t know (TT) but Hawthorne does. Now Stanley, using his own theory works out that Hawthorne knows that (TT). But if Hawthorne knows that (TT) then from factivity, (TT) is true. SO, if Stanley knows that Hawthorne knows, then Stanley knows that (TT). But Stanley doesn’t know that TT, therefore SRI leads to contradiction.

Baumann himself pointed out the obvious counter to this objection, that Stanley doesn’t know that Hawthorne knows (TT), since Stanley himself doesn’t know (TT). At best Stanley knows that Hawthorne will correctly attribute knowledge to himself if (TT) is in fact true. But if (TT) is not true, then Hawthorne will falsely attribute knowledge to himself. But, by hypothesis, Stanley doesn’t know whether or not (TT) is true, so Stanley doesn’t know whether or not Hawthorne knows (TT). Baumann seem to think this counter doesn’t work, since, when Stanley is judging Hawthorn’s knowledge, then the stakes are lower, since whether Hawthorne knows or not is of little importance to Stanley. But I don’t think this works, since it involves shifting Stanley’s interest in the matter. Anyway, I got quite worked up.

I didn’t calm down during the next two talks. I even started ranting a bit, and got the killer “Is that a question?” from Burcu Erciyes. I was in what psychologists used to call “A high state of arousal”, my dopaminergic system was glowing like a Christmas tree. The third talk was by Christoph Kelp, and I was so giddy that I could scarcely listen, my head filling with white noise. It didn’t stop me from raising scatter gun objections.

My turn came and I had an amazing lucid moment where I saw my whole thesis like a crystal in all its awe inspiring over ambitious beauty. I also saw painfully the impossibility of explaining it all in twenty minutes to an audience of people who I had just recently viciously attacked. However I gave it a pretty good shot, and though no one, I suspect, did understand it, the wonderful Herr Baumann did ask some brilliantly pertinent and general questions, which I answered in full pulpit mode and felt like I’d got at least a glimmer of my wider picture across.

It turned out that Kelp had got the job that I think was made for me, in the formal epistemology project in Leuven. I’m thinking about going for a visit.

I talked to Alison Hall, from UCL who gave one of the graduate sessions on linguistics and I told her all about our hero Tim Pritchard. She had heard of him through reputation, and was going to a conference where he was giving a talk somewhere glamorous, Geneva?

Ned Block’s talk rounded off the formal events, and it was so well presented it felt like going and seeing a hollywood film. It was about change blindness with slides. Block reckons that there is evidence of accessible phenomenal content that is not actually accessed, whereas I guess the mainstream view is that in change blindness there is no phenomenal content whatsoever. I wonder if you could rig up some kind of Fitch’s argument to show that in this case there is phenomenal consciousness that is necessarily inaccessible.

To round off the conference we all went to the bar where everyone is friendly and everyone know lots of interesting things, and then we went to a pub which was the same, then we got kicked out of there, got threatened by a professional boxer who used to be in the army, then ended up talking about the fact that Philosophers should get paid huge salaries whilst drinking gin in armchairs in a private granite house. I was thinking, this is it! This is it! And in my mind I flew thrice round the globe in an ecstasy of optimism.

## Monday, June 30, 2008

CONCIOUSNESS AND THE MYTH OF THE SELF. Jonny Blamey 29.06.2008

The aim of this talk is to dispel a philosophical myth and this myth is the myth of the self, where the self consists in consciousness. In order to effectively dispel a myth it is best to say what the myth actually is, and to check whether anybody believes it in the first place. So here goes:

THE MYTH OF THE SELF.

The myth is that we all have an inner world which is transparently available to ourselves but invisible to everyone else. This world is the world of our consciousness. Without this world there would be nothing that corresponds to our self, and we would not exist in a first personal way. In this world are all our thoughts, our beliefs and desires, our emotions, our sensations and even the way things look to us and taste. Nobody else has access to this inner world but our selves. No one can know our thoughts, our emotions or even how things appear to us. According to this myth we are completely alone in our inner world.

Once we adopt the Myth of the Self, many problems instantly arise. How do we know that anyone else has this inner world, given that we have no access to it? All we have access to is our own inner world. And in that world are various sense impressions or sense data. These consist in patches of colour and light and shade, sounds and smells. From this raw data we build up pictures of whole bodies and in this way we can observe the behaviour of other people. But according to the Myth of the Self, we cannot deduce from these impressions that any body has thoughts and feelings like our own. For all we know, we could be alone in a planet of Zombies, who, although they move around and talk, have no consciousness. Why is this possible? Because we know about our own inner life though introspection, we are conscious of our beliefs and desires directly in a way that gives us certainty. But other people we only know about through exteroception, we only can guess at their inner life. We can only hope that they too have feelings and emotions like ours, we can never be certain. This is the myth of the self. It is the myth that we know everything about ourselves and nothing about anybody else.

BELIEFS, DESIRES AND ACTION

To dispel the Myth of the Self I will show that when we think about it correctly it is clear that we are often conscious of other peoples so called “inner world”, and sometimes we can even be conscious of someone else’s beliefs and desires when they themselves are not. We can feel other people’s feelings without their feelings therefore becoming our feelings. We can act on other peoples desires without them becoming our desires and we can accept other people’s beliefs without them becoming our beliefs.

To do this I need to give a brief account of what beliefs and desires are, and what it is for us to be conscious of them. Beliefs and Desires are mental entities and therefore, according to the Myth of the Self, are accessible to our consciousness but are inaccessible to anyone else. But beliefs and desires issue in action and actions happen in the public world that is accessible to everyone through light and sound. Beliefs and desires are in the mind, whereas actions are in the world. For example, I believe my hat to have fallen on the floor. I desire that my hat should be on my head, so I act: I pick up the hat and put it on my head. The belief and desire came first, and they were in a way invisible. But they caused the action, and the action is perfectly visible. A belief is a kind of representation of how the world is. A desire is a representation of a way the world ought to be. So in general we believe what is true, and want what is good, or at least we try to.

Now it is perfectly clear that, even according to the myth of the self, we can be conscious of other people’s beliefs and desires in a kind of indirect way. But all this means is that we believe that other people have desires, and we are conscious of those beliefs. Suppose Susan were to see me pick my hat and put it on my head. It would be easy for her to deduce that I wanted my hat to be on my head, and that I believed it to have fallen to the ground. So in her inner consciousness she is conscious of me picking up my hat and she is conscious of her belief that I desire it to be on my head. But she is not conscious, according to the myth of the self, of my desire to put it on my head. Because if she was, then it would be necessarily her desire because one cannot be conscious of anyone else’s desire but one’s own. The difference between believing someone to have a desire, and being conscious of that desire, is that when one is conscious of a desire, then that desire has a motivating force. One is conscious of the motivating force in its effect on one’s action. To be conscious of a desire is to be conscious of a reason to act. To simply observe that someone has a particular desire in no way constitutes a reason to act in order to satisfy that desire.

The same distinction can be made of beliefs. I can be conscious in an indirect way that Susan believes that the winning lottery numbers will be 17 23 43 65 79. But, given that I desire to win the lottery, this does not motivate me to buy those numbers. Whereas if I was conscious that I believed those numbers would win, then I should be motivated to rush out and buy them immediately. According to the myth of the self, I can only be motivated in this way by my own beliefs, since these are the only ones that I can be conscious of directly.

CONSCIOUSNESS OF THE BELIEFS OF OTHERS

So according to the myth of the Self, we can only be conscious of our own beliefs directly, and other people’s beliefs indirectly. This means that if it can be shown that we can be directly conscious of the beliefs of other people, then the Myth of the Self is proven to be false.

The place to start is to observe that quite often we are not conscious of our own beliefs. I do not just mean suppressed Freudian type unconscious beliefs, but also everyday background assumptions that we don’t even think about. For example, how many times in a day do you presuppose that the person you are talking to can understand English? For most of the people that you talk to, you already know they speak English. You’ve talked to them many times before and they’ve never had any difficulty understanding what you say, so it is perfectly reasonable to believe that they understand English. If you didn’t have this belief, then you would act differently. You wouldn’t talk to them in English, or perhaps you would talk slowly with accompanying hand gestures. So this belief has a causal influence on your behaviour.

But are you conscious of this belief?

Not necessarily. It is not obvious that this belief is a part of your consciousness, accessible only to you and to no one else. The act of talking to someone involves all sorts of assumptions, and although these assumptions are in some way being made, it can’t be that we are conscious of all of them. Most of these background assumptions are correct, otherwise the conversation would break down and end in misunderstanding. But it just can’t be that we are conscious of all these thousands of necessary background beliefs.

Here is a little story:

Hans is a German on holiday in the Falklands. Hans does not know what language people speak in the Falklands. He goes into a pub where he sees Jim talking English to Joan, the attractive woman at the bar. Hans realises that Jim believes that Joan can understand English, and thereby Hans deduces that English is the language of the Falklands. This belief has an effect on Hans’ behaviour since from this point on he will initiate conversations in the Falklands in English.
In this little story, Jim’s belief that Joan can understand English is in Hans’ consciousness, but not in Jim’s consciousness. Notice that Hans does not even have to believe that Joan can speak English for this belief to be in his consciousness. Perhaps he has already discovered that Joan can’t understand a word of English. He can still be conscious of Jim’s belief and make the inference that English is the language of the Falklands, without actually believing himself that Joan can speak English.

When we engage in a good conversation, there are many beliefs we hold in common. Normally the beliefs we hold in common are not the subject of the conversation, why would they be? Because they don’t need to be said, or argued for, they are not present before our minds. We are not conscious of them. It is undoubtably true that such common beliefs exist. Without them we would not be able to communicate at all.

But under the model of the mind presented in the Myth of the self, this seems incredible. If my own beliefs are directly accessible to me through introspection, whereas I can only infer your beliefs from your behaviour, how could I ever know that we have the same beliefs? And how could the beliefs really be the same at all?

CONSCIOUSNESS OF OTHER PEOPLES DESIRES

Can we be conscious of other people’s desires? According to the myth of the self, we can only be indirectly conscious of the desires of others, but we are directly conscious of our own desires. It is only through this direct consciousness that a desire has any motivational force. On this picture the consciousness of a desire is in and of itself a reason to satisfy it. But while we can be indirectly conscious of the desires of others, we cannot feel their motivational force.

Now I think this is just flat wrong, and it is easy to come up with examples where a person is not conscious of their own desire while a third party is directly conscious of the desire’s motivational force.

It is best to break this down in to stages. The first stage is to give cases where a subject is directly conscious of their own desire without recognising its motivational force. Here’s another simple story: Fred has recently given up smoking. Bert offers Fred a cigarette using the conventional phrase “Do you want a cigarette?” Fred is honest and does not want to lie to Bert. He introspects. He is conscious of his desire to smoke a cigarette and so answers Bert’s question literally: “Yes I want a cigarette.” But he does not take one, because, although he recognises that he wants a cigarette, this desire has no motivational force. It does not provide him with a reason to smoke. In fact, in a way, its very strength provides him with a reason to be more resolute in his decision to stop smoking. Still, we want to say that he is conscious of his desire to smoke and that this desire is painful. Bert can recognise this desire and the pain it causes and resolve not to offer Fred any more cigarettes. Or alternatively, if Bert is not interested in Fred’s project of giving up smoking, Bert may try to persuade Fred to take a cigarette, since Bert himself may feel the motivational force of Fred’s desire in a way that Fred doesn’t.

ORDERS ARE NOT PROPOSITIONS

Wittgenstein, when he wrote the posthumously published Philosophical Investigations, made the observation that there is a lot more to language than propositions. Propositions are whatever is capable of being true or false. The philosophical background to Wittgenstein’s change in direction is complicated and controversial. Simply put the project of analytical philosophy exemplified in Wittgenstein’s earlier work, the Tractatus, had been to analyse language in terms of truth conditions of sentences. But a moment’s thought reveals that many sentences do not have truth conditions at all. One species of sentence that do not have truth conditions are Orders. In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein uses the example “Bring me a yellow flower!”

If we attempt to translate this into a proposition, with the myth of the self, we can suggest that such an order is actually the expression of a desire: “I desire that you bring me a yellow flower”. Or perhaps a threat “If you do not bring me a Yellow flower, then I will punish you.” The first is a report of an inner mental entity that the speaker is conscious of through introspection. The latter is a conditional prediction. As such both are either true or false and are therefore propositions. But why should we even try to translate orders in this way? In seems that if anything is basic to the use of language, it is an order.

SATISFYING THE DESIRES OF OTHERS

Here is another story. Princess Beth tells her faithful knight Alfred to bring her a yellow flower. Alfred knows exactly what she means. He goes off and searches for a yellow flower. The Princess does not think much of Alfred and quickly forgets all about him and her order. Alfred however is unshakably obedient to Beth and his consciousness is filled with his mission to fetch a yellow flower. Meanwhile her consciousness is filled with Sir Cuthbert, the dashing Red Knight.

Alfred is conscious of the Princesses desire and feels its motivational force. Her desire fills his consciousness and guides his actions. When he finds a yellow flower and brings it back, he will feel the satisfaction of her desire. Yet the Princess, once she has issued the order, need do nothing further. She need not even be conscious that the order has been satisfied. But it was her desire that was satisfied, not his. At no point do we need to suppose that Alfred wanted to fetch a yellow flower. If he had wanted to do this on his own account, then it would not have been a demonstration of his blind loyalty.

To put this into a more mundane setting, suppose Beth was a business women and Alf was a keen employee. Beth tells Alfred to organise a party for the employees to show the companies gratitude for their good work. However, she asks him to do it when she is away, since she finds such events painfully embarrassing. She also tells him to just get on with it and not trouble her with the details. Consequently she forgets all about it. Alfred organises a fantastic party and it is a great success. The employees feel valued and are more productive as a result. In this case, Alfred has satisfied Beth’s desire, and this is true whether or not Beth even bothers to enquire about the employee’s party. The desire, its motivational force and its satisfaction are all present in Alfred’s consciousness, whereas Beth is not conscious of the desire at all. But the desire is still Beth’s. Alfred may have had the opinion that employee’s parties are a waste of time and not wanted to organise one at all. In this story Alfred is conscious of Beth’s desire while Beth is not conscious of it. The desire, however, is Beth’s not Alf’s.

The most important species of consciousness of other people’s desires is in charitable giving. I am not talking about writing a cheque for Oxfam, I’m talking about acts that are aimed at satisfying someone else’s desire with no ulterior motive.

The story here is that Alfred is talking very earnestly with Fred about a game of football he watched. He is so engaged in his conversation that he does not notice that he is really thirsty and wants a drink of water. Beth, however, does notice that Alfred wants a glass of water, and without a thought for herself she pours him a glass of water and sets it at his elbow. Alfred picks up the glass and drains it off in a single swig. Alfred is so engaged in his conversation that he is not even aware that he is doing it. Beth, however, sees how his thirst is quenched and feels the satisfaction of it.

In this story, Beth became conscious of Alfred’s thirst, consciously took action to satisfy it, and was conscious of its satisfaction. Alfred however, was never conscious that he was thirsty, nor that his desire for water was satisfied. However, the desire for water was Alf’s, not Beth’s. Beth did not want to give Alfred water. She gave him water because he wanted water.

CONSCIOUSNESS OF WHAT OTHER PEOPLE ARE FEELING

So it seems we can be conscious of other people beliefs and desires in a way that motivates us, even if they themselves are not conscious of those beliefs and desires.. But can we be conscious of other people’s feelings? The Myth of the Self says no, but once again I think the Myth of the Self is wrong.

In the previous examples it was already apparent that we can be conscious of the satisfaction of other peoples desires, desires that we are in the business of satisfying. When we are set a task by somebody, or organise a surprise for somebody or help somebody get something they want, we feel a sense of satisfaction, and this feeling is the satisfaction of their desire.

Compassion is possible. Compassion involves feeling somebody else’s feelings with them. People are more or less compassionate and some people have no compassion at all. Those with no compassion are considered to be mentally deficient and are diagnosed as psychopaths. The Myth of the Self can have no account of compassion. If other people’s suffering is inaccessible to us, then how can anybody be anything other than a psychopath? People in the grip of the Myth of the Self tend to think of themselves as being sensible and realistic. Economists and Biologists act as if the Myth of the Self is hard fact. But how realistic is it to suppose that we are all psychopaths?

Cruelty is also difficult for the Myth of the Self. It is well known that children are cruel. Then can spot very quickly when a certain phrase will cause somebody discomfort or embarrassment and repeat it endlessly. School bullies also delight in the physical suffering of their victims. In darker days, physical punishments meted out by the state drew large crowds. In Roman times the citizen would pay to watch people eaten alive. What is this cruelty? The simple answer is that it is the taking pleasure in someone else’s pain. But if people’s feelings are inaccessible, hidden from view, then what are these people taking pleasure in? Surely it is not the wincing of the face, or the flailing of the arms. These are just the signs of pain. The bully is exalting in the pain he is inflicting in itself. And it is an important part of this exaltation that the pain is felt by someone else. The bully has to be conscious of the feelings of another.

Can one feel somebody else’s happiness? Yes. Here is a story: A couple of newly weds who’ve just come in to a pile of money burst into a room babbling their good news and the whole room brightens up. Even poor Mavis who is terribly alone and grieving for her dead husband starts to smile.. Mavis can still feel the happiness of the young couple, and for a moment forgets her own grief. She is not feeling her own happiness, because she is unhappy. She is feeling the happiness of the young couple and their good luck.

Perhaps easier than happiness is laughter. Laughter is renowned for being infectious. What is it to be conscious when you are laughing? It is certainly a good thing. I even think that it is perhaps the best form of consciousness. A distinction is often made between laughing with someone or laughing at them. What is it to laugh with someone? Sometimes lovers or friends can just look at each other and begin laughing for no apparent reason, and laugh this way for a long time. Whole comedy audiences can laugh together at some shared joke. Pre lingual infants can laugh. When you are fully conscious of someone else laughing, then you often can’t help laughing yourself. Laughter is by its very nature shared. It doesn’t seem to fit the model of an inaccessible private feeling. Yet it feels like something to laugh. It feels good.

Can one be conscious of friendship? Of course. Sometimes people yearn to talk to their friend or even just enjoy being silently in their company. What are they yearning for? They are yearning for the presence of their friend, and this is something consciously felt. When you are conscious that your friend is walking behind you, it is the friend who is in your consciousness. Not such and such a view of their body or such and such a facial expression. This consciousness of your friend is not a feeling of friendliness that only you are aware of and is hidden from view. You are conscious of your friend and that they are your friend and that the friendship is mutual. Friendship is impossible according to the Myth of the self, since the mutual feeling involves an infinite regress. I infer from his actions that he infers from my actions that I infer from his actions that etc. etc. etc. But people are friends and so we must be able to directly apprehend this relation. The Myth of the Self cannot tolerate friendship.

Much the same can be said of love. In fact love is the vehicle by which we can become conscious of the beliefs, desires and feelings of another. The examples I have given do not involve telepathy or anything mysterious like this. I leave it to neuro scientists to learn how it is we can be conscious of the minds of others. But it is abundantly clear from my own experience that when someone loves someone, they can often know exactly what they are thinking and feeling, and what is more, feel the motivational force of their desires and the credible force of their beliefs. It is a common phenomena that a man and wife will have a furious row over some trivial disagreement, a disagreement that they would shrug off in a stranger. Why is this? A contradiction in the shared beliefs of lovers is an intolerable thing. They can feel the credible force of their own beliefs, and equally strongly the credible force of their spouse’s beliefs. Agreeing to disagree is not an option, because both beliefs have a motive force in one consciousness. Without love, then it may be that the beliefs and desires of others are truly inaccessible. The myth of the self ignores the possibility of love.

Love, laughter, happiness and suffering it seems we can share. But these are complex things, and maybe a good proponent of the myth of the self will have a complex answer to all of these points. A much simpler feeling is raw physical pain. Is it possible to feel someone else’s pain? Surely pain is a private thing that only the person who is in pain can be conscious of? Philosophers of love and laughter are few and far between, but, especially since Wittgenstein, Philosophers of pain are two a penny. And the myth of the self, as I am calling it, is of such consensus with regard to pain that it is reported as fact without argument in the Stanford Encyclopaedia of philosophy. Here are two quotes:

“Like other experiences as conscious episodes, pains are thought to be private, subjective, self-intimating, and the source of incorrigible knowledge
Pains are said to be private to their owners in the strong sense that no one else can epistemically access one's pain in the way one has access to one's own pain, namely by feeling it and coming to know one is feeling it on that basis”
[Murat Aydede (2005). http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/pain/]

The Stanford reports this as the common sense theory of pain. But is this common sense?

Here is a picture of what it would be like to feel someone else’s pain. I see someone bump their head and my experience includes a painful feeling. Surely I am not alone in seeing someone bump their head and feeling the pain myself. I am not some telepath, or extraordinary person. Even the most low brow football fan can be heard to say “Ooh, I felt that,” when seeing a particularly nasty tackle. When carried away by a film we can feel the pain of various sympathetic characters. Not as our pain, but as their pain. It is common enough in films and doubtless in real life too, that when a violent man wants to extract information from someone who is strong enough to resist torture, they will instead torture the girlfriend or the children, since it takes a different kind of strength to ignore the pain of your loved ones. The logic of this needs no explaining to men of violence, but to philosophers of the mind it is unaccountable. What is worse: being tortured, or knowing that your wife is being tortured? According to the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy this is not a well formed question since pain is essentially private, so you can never know that your wife is in pain.

Perhaps I will be accused of playing with words here. It is one thing to prefer to suffer yourself than to have someone else suffer. It is another thing to be able to literally feel their pain. But if a cinema showed someone getting their fingers jammed in a door and there is a collective sharp intake of breath from the audience, is it really playing with words to say that the audience felt the pain? Of course it wasn’t their pain they were feeling, they felt the pain of the person in the film. Perhaps a proponent of the myth of the self would want to say that the audience weren’t literally feeling the pain. But if they weren’t literally feeling the pain then what? Were they symbolically feeling the pain? Metaphorically? Were they going through the motions? None of this makes sense to me, let alone common sense.

Perhaps this idea of the privacy of pain is a result of philosophy being done in lonely offices and bedrooms. When a philosopher wraps his knuckles against his desk while writing an article about pain, then it is true that no one else felt his pain apart from himself. But then no one else could see him wrap his knuckles against the desk either. It is not his feeling of pain that is essentially private, but his office.

The idea that pain is epistemically private also results from of a kind of naïve picture of how the body works. I have a nerve that runs from my toe to my brain, so when I stub my toe, the pain messages go from my toe to my brain. But when Jack stubs his toe, there is no nerve that goes from Jack’s toe to my brain. Therefore I cannot feel his pain. This is a kind of Victorian plumbing model of consciousness.

This simple argument involves accepting this simple model of pain. But the simple model doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. It is appealing, but it is not scientific. It is easy to disprove it. If we could only feel pain when there was a nerve connecting the painful area to the brain, then there could be no phantom pain. Phantom pain is when an amputee feels pain in an absent limb. There is no nerve where he feels the pain. Such a patient is still thought of as being in pain. The naïve model of pain that asserts the privacy of felt pain would deny that phantom is really pain at all.

Another reason to suspect the model of being false is the consideration that pain can be abated by distraction. A tooth that throbs appalling in a darkened room, can be completely forgotten about when the room fills with people. But presumably the nerve signals from the damaged tooth are constant, so why is there a variation in the pain?

One cannot deny the phenomena just because it doesn’t fit in with one’s theory. We can be conscious of other peoples feelings, beliefs, desires and motives. How we do this is a matter for scientists to work out. An interesting aside here is that there are quite plausible hypotheses that link emotional experiences to status. In the human case, one can be directly conscious of the status of somebody else and this consciousness will be causally effective in one’s attitudes toward them. (fawning to high status, condescending to low status) This status awareness is well documented in other animals and zoologists have little difficulty spotting “Alpha Males” and dominance hierarchies. Some very convincing experiments have shown that status is directly correlated to blood serotonin levels. So much so that in experiments on Rhesus monkeys it was found that one could artificially increase the status of a particular individual monkey by merely increasing its serotonin levels. (For a way in to this research go to this web address: Mhttp://nazaggression.tripod.com/brainfunction.html). The question might be asked “how can the other monkeys tell that the individual monkey now has increased serotonin levels?” A number of answers suggest themselves, but none follows directly from the data. If the serotonin levels really are the physical correlate of high status, then the question might be “how do monkeys recognise the status of other monkeys.” The very question shows that the fact that they do recognise the status of other monkeys is already established. People also clearly recognise when other people are in pain. How we do it is not known. The Myth of the self might impede a proper scientific enquiry into this interesting question.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion our conscious experience is filled with people and their thoughts and feelings, whether we are engaged in conversation, sharing time with friends or feeling compassion for a lover. We are not alone in our consciousness, it is not a private inaccessible world. Our consciousness is open to anyone who cares to love us, or even to hate us. And it is even possible that other people could be conscious of elements of our minds that we are not even conscious of ourselves.

## Sunday, May 25, 2008

### 21st Century sophistry: The use of the opinions of social scientists as empirical fact.

There has been a tendency in philosophy to take some piece of research from social psychology to prove beyond doubt some point in favour of the philosopher’s favourite theory. Through a kind of slight of hand, the general maxim that one must not doubt hard empirical fact just because it conflicts with cherished beliefs, seems to forbid a questioning of the often highly subjective and biased interpretations of the evidence by the scientists who conducted the study. Whereas often, even a cursory examination of the original case study shows the results to be open to a number of equally valid interpretations. There is no general argument against this unhealthy philosophical strategy. It is incumbent on us all to remain vigilant against this pervasive bit of twenty first century sophistry.

In “Knowledge and its Place in Nature”, Kornblith develops an argument against the epistemic good of reflection by referring to some social psychology data about the “position effect”. The position effect is the tendency to select things to the right when asked to choose the most preferable out of a selection of similar consumer goods. Kornblith quoted an account of a study by Nisbett and Wilson.

“Passers-by in a shopping mall were invited to examine an array of consumer goods (four nightgowns in one study, four identical nylon panty-hose in another) and to rate their quality. There was a pronounced position effect on their evaluations, such that the right-most garments were heavily preferred to the left-most garments. When questioned about the effect of the garments’ position on their choices, virtually all subjects denied such an influence (usually with a tone of annoyance or of concern for the experimenter’s sanity)”

First let me point out that really we should ignore the parenthesis at the end. It must be annoying enough to be asked to rate the relative quality of identical panty hose. To then be asked whether you chose on a different basis from the one you were asked to choose upon just is annoying, and a peeved tone should be expected. The perceived tone of annoyance and concern for the experimenters sanity cannot be counted as data. It is Nisbett and Wilson’s interpretation of the subjects unspoken conversational intentions, which is already influenced by their hypothesis.

Kornblith explains the position effect by claiming that the subjects reconstruct the reasons for their choice after the event on the assumption that they made their choices on a rational basis. Kornblith asks the rhetorical question:

“How else could we possibly explain that those who are influenced by the position effect in judging the quality of consumer goods explain the source of their judgements as lying in objective features of the goods whose quality they judge?”

What would be the effect in the dialectic of giving a good answer to this question? Would it show that Kornblith’s theory of knowledge was false? Far from it. All it would show is that his use of empirical data is irrelevant to his argument. It merely has a rhetorical effect of luring the reader into thinking his arguments are supported somehow by hard psychological fact (if there is such a thing).
Here is how I answer Kornblith’s rhetorical question: the source of their judgements do actually lie in objective features of the goods whose quality they judge. The reason that the subjects deny the influence of the position in their decision is because the position didn’t influence their decision. This explanation has the wonderful bonus of fitting in with the first person reports of the people under investigation. Whereas Nisbett and Wilson’s bizarre hypothesis requires that they ignore this strong disconfirmatory evidence, claiming instead that the subjects are lying, or otherwise falsely reporting their own reasons and preferences.
But hang on, didn’t they prove empirically that the position influenced the subject’s preferences? No, all their results showed was that people tended to choose the far right item more often that the far left item. This is a lesser and distinct proposition from that the position of the item was a reason for their preference. This latter exciting hypothesis requires further argument. But the skewed preferences still need explaining. So here goes: people in general read from left to right and will survey a range of choices left to right. Nisbett and Wilson’s passers by had to make a single best choice out of 4 items. Let’s call them 1, 2, 3 and 4. A good cognitively efficient and time efficient strategy is to compare each one to its immediate predecessor. If you are by and large indifferent then there is no need to track back when you get to the end of your sequence. So you just choose the last one. This is making a selection as required over an issue that is of no importance when there really is no clear winner. It is not making a decision on the basis of position, but it does have the consequence that people will tend to choose 4 much more often than 1.
Perhaps this does not seem very convincing, so here is another problem. Which man do you settle down with and have a family? If you choose too early then you may settle for someone who is not as ideal as a later choice. If you wait too long, you may let the real love of your life go. It shouldn’t surprise a naturalist if human beings were very adept at solving this particular problem, since it is *the* problem of sex selection. With a little idealisation the problem can be solved mathematically. What you do is to estimate the number of eligible men you are likely to meet and think of them as a sequence. So let us suppose you are likely to meet 30 men in a life time if you keep breaking up after a year. What strategy will help you find the best man to marry? Well, we just need two values: best yet and over all ranking. Man 1, your first love, is clearly bound to be best yet, however much of an oaf he is. Man 2 has a 50% chance of being best yet, Man 3 has 33.3% of being best yet, etc. Now we can calculate the probability of any best yet being the best over all. The best yet Man 1 is 1 in 30, if Man 2 is best yet then he has 1/15 chance of being the best over all, etc. Given this model, it can be worked out that you should settle for any best yet after Man 11. This model assumes that you can’t go back to a previous relationship. In real life its obviously much more messy and complicated, but for a given socio economic climate we mind find that women tend to settle down with the next best yet man they meet when they reach a particular age, say, 28. If this were the case, would it be evidence that people’s selection of their beloved is based on or influenced by the age at which they met? Well, kind of, but you can expect some pretty hostile and annoyed looks if you were to tell somebody that the reason they married their husband was not because of his great beauty, wit, kindness or anything like that, but just because she was 28 when they met. This inference is absurd, and there would be some doubt as to the rationality of someone who thought that they had somehow established this as fact.
In selecting nylon pantyhose for the amusement of an on looking psychologist, the stakes are obviously not that high. In a tie situation the current choice may as well count as the best yet since it has the advantage of being fresher in your mind and nearer to hand. But because of the fact that in the panty hose experiment, you can go back, there is no disincentive to going to the end of the sequence. The result being that we should expect people with no pressing interest in the matter to tend to select the item on the furthest to the right if the qualities that inform the judgement of whether an item is the best yet are fairly uniform. (When I made the final decision, the last one I looked at came to mind most strongly) This is perfectly consistent with a denial that the position of the pantyhose influenced the decision. (I just love things that are furthest to the right).
How would I introspectively report how I had come to my decision if I used this strategy on four identical pantyhose?

I looked at the first one and it seemed ok, I looked at the second one and it seemed no different, maybe slightly better if anything, I looked at the third and again, no real difference, but perhaps slightly better, then I looked at the fourth, and really, I had no basis to prefer any but the last one did seem slightly better that the previous one. So I chose number 4.

This is what I would predict would be most peoples reflective assessment of their decision process. The seeming progressive improvement would be just on account of preferring the present choice to a previous one in tie situations to allow for the slight disutility of going back for another look. How often have you heard people saying that the book they are reading is the best book they have ever read? Americans in my experience have a tendency to be emphatic, and anyone with half a brain will not change their preferences on what looks like the prompting of a sales person. So a bit of “No way, number four is by way the best pair of pantyhose I have ever seen in my life,” is to be expected. But this verbal emphasis may be reduced somewhat if you offered them number 1, 2 or 3 for free, or 4 at the recommended retail price. The preferences that were so strong in the subjunctive tense would soon evaporate. That’s my prediction, test it if you like. I have no intention on wasting people’s time getting them to give a preference ordering over identical pantyhose. Whatever the results, they cannot possibly allow me to accept the conclusion that a good meditative reflection on difficult philosophical issues is not the best epistemic practice we have.
Jonny Blamey

## Monday, March 31, 2008

### The value of life and zero utility

My general question is whether there is such a thing as negative value. Perhaps especially relevant in 2008 when the world is just waking up from a collective delusion of limitless borrowing.
It is clearly possible to talk of negative holdings. We do so all the time. How much do you have for example? I give even odds that the answer will be negative. You have a current account balance of minus £800, or, if you are affluent, a mortgage of minus some much larger figure. But have you really got less than nothing? You seem to be clothed and fed, able to navigate around the capital, I've even seen you buying drinks.
Bernoullie counts the exhange value of our earning power and any other exchangeable goods as a part of our holdings, which seems to me to be eminently sensible and easily explains the above paradox. The reader with the overdraft is expected to be able to repay on future earnings. The reader with the mortgage likewise, but failing that can make up the debt by selling her house. So neither really has less than nothing.
We could work out the worth of a man as follows: [resale value of all goods + (expected earnings - minimum living expenses) multiplied by life expectancy] . Call this number L, then we could think of any citizen whose total debts exceeded L as being in possession of negative value. However this is not entirely realistic, since any person whose debts exceeded L could no longer be considered as a debtor, since they could be under no obligation to pay back their debts. They would flip over into being more a thief, beggar or charity case. Perhaps in earlier times it might have been thought possible to extract such debts through torture or other punishment. The logic of this, although eminently human, is, thank evolution, no longer considered rational.
So here's a thought: Perhaps at the moment of suicide we could conjecture that a person has completely nothing.
Now imagine this. We find a large sample of people on the point of suicide. (shouldn't be too difficult, its fast becoming one of the biggest killers, especially if they succesfully reclassify traffic accidents). We then offer them goods to see if we can tempt them to desist from suicide. The quantity of goods necessary to prevent suicide could then be consider equivalent to the negative utility of their holdings at the point of death. Their fate could be considered worse than death by a measurable amount, not just in utility, but in actual money. Since the moment of self slaughter must surely be counted as zero, then this would be a negative value.
Some may think this unromantic, but I think it opens up as yet unseen romantic vistas of great poetic power. Comparisons of value are the very constituents of romance and poetry. Fie on those who say that the most valuable thing in their lives is a two bedroom flat in Dulwich village. Surely the most valuable thing in most peoples lives is their union with their beloved. The greatest negative value at the point of suicide must have been that of Romeo when he thought his beloved Juliet dead. Had one of our hypothetical research team approached Romeo in his last soliloquy and offered him goods to prevent his suicide, what would have stayed his hand? Nothing but the sight of his Juliet alive. As it happens, quite an easy thing to acheive. But what else, had this been impossible? Nothing, (we romantics hope), not the wealth of kingdoms, nor the power of empererors, nor mastery of the seven seas. So now we have a measure of the negative utility of Romeo's holdings, and by comparison the positive utility of Juliet's life. The number we achieve is a kind of de facto infinity. For any sum of money, or office of power, there is something of higher value, and that is Juliet's life. And for any debt, however large, there is a greater possible debt, and that is the debt of someone who owed Romeo his life once Juliete was no more.
As a kind of punch line for affecionados of probability, if we offered Romeo the St Petersburg Game, then we could suppose that he was prepared to pay the ultimate price. But how many consecutive heads would Romeo have to toss before the casino would be obliged to ressurect his Juliet?

## Wednesday, March 26, 2008

### Fitch's argument. Where I have gone wrong?

Any metaphysical modal wizards out there that can help me? Here's a line of reasoning that I think is true:
1. In order to wonder whether p is the case, one must be able, at least partially, to understand the content of p.
2. To understand the content of p is to able, at least in some cases, to know that p when it is clearly evident that p.
3. If one didn't know that p when p was clearly evident, then one would not understand that p.

4. Therefore if S understands the content of p, it must be possible for it to be clearly evident that p.
5. If S wonders whether or not "p" where p is a proposition expressible by a declarative sentence, then it must be possible to for S to know that p.
6. If S wonders whether or not p, then (at least in some cases) it is possible that p is true and it is possible that p is false.
7. Therefore it is possible to know a proposition that is false.

Conclusion: Knowledge is not necessarily factive.

Applications

It is possible to know that (p and nobody knows that p).
There are many instances of contingently necessary propositions, for example
Jack doesn't know that (there is extra terrestial plant life and Jack doesn't know that there is extra terrestial plant life).

I'm not interested in hearing people disagreeing with the conclusion, I expect that most people do. But it is possible that most people are wrong. What I want to know is which bit of the argument is wrong. I expect there is a scope fallacy going on, or perhaps an illicit blurring of epistemic and metaphysical necessity.