UCSB Philosophy Blog

Members of the UCSB Department of Philosophy and anyone else are welcome to talk philosophy with us. Bring your own brain.

Friday, February 24, 2006

2006 Stanford, Berkeley, Davis graduate student conference...

...anyone game? It is still not too late to submit a paper, and get a chance to present in front of fellow grad students (which is a lot less intimidating than presenting at, e.g. an APA conference). I know that Jesse is going. I am, too. And I'm trying to get Dylan and Jake to go, too. If you're interested in presenting, here is the call for papers:


2006 Berkeley - Stanford - Davis
Graduate Student Philosophy Conference
April 8, Stanford University

Keynote Speaker: John Perry,
Henry Waldgrave Stuart Professor of Philosophy,
Stanford University

Submission Guidelines:
1. Paper length should be suitable for a 20 min.
presentation (approx. 15 pages, standard format)
2. Include a cover page with author's name, title of paper,
institutional affiliation, and contact information
(preferably email)
3. Body of the paper should be in blind review format with
no information identifying the author.
4. Deadline for submission is midnight, March 15.

Please email submissions and all inquiries to tokyodrifter@gmail.com
preferably with "2006 BSD conference" in the subject heading.

This conference is open to all graduate students in philosophy
currently studying in California. Submissions on any area of
philosophy are welcome.

Monday, February 20, 2006

Boghossian on the Compatibility of the First-person Knowledge and Content Externalism

I plan to write about (in)compatibility of the First-person knowledge and Content Externalism. As I understand, it is a worry of philosophers that the privileged status of the first-person knowledge seems to conflict with the main idea of content externalism. (So, e.g., when I sincerely utter, “water is wet,” I might not know that the content of my thinking was not: that twater is wet. This appears to conflict with the idea that I must know the content of my own thinking.) Boghossian argues that the compatibility of the two will generate a very absurd result – i.e. if compatibilism is true, then we would be led to know a priori certain facts about the world (which is clearly a posteriori). And I want to block his argument. So here’s his argument.

In his “What the Externalist Can Know A Priori” (1998), Boghossian says that a compatibilist (of the First-person knowledge and Content Externalism) is in a position to argue the following:

(1) If I have the concept water, then water exists.
(2) I have the concept water.
(3) Water exists.

According to Boghossian, if content externalism were true, then (1) is knowable a priori. Also, given the privileged status of the first-person, (2) is knowable a priori. From these, it follows that (3) is knowable a priori. [In arguing this, Boghossian holds that in a valid argument, the a priori knowability of the premises guarantees the a priori knowability of the conclusion.] However, (3) is clearly not knowable a priori. Thus, there is something wrong in the compatibilism.

Boghossian considers two routes of rejecting this argument. First, an externalist can argue that (the existence of) water is not required in order for one to obtain the concept water – thus (1) is not knowable a priori. Second, the externalist can argue that although (the existence of) water is required for one to obtain the concept water, that fact is not knowable a priori.

Admittedly (at least by Boghossian), the second route seems more promising. In taking this route, I would like to suggest two ways to show that (1) is not knowable a priori.

1. In order to know (1), I need to know (at least) both

(a) If I have a certain concept x, then the object(s) correlated with x (i.e. the extension of the term that expresses the concept x) exist(s).
(b) Water is correlated with the concept water.

Here, what I know a priori is only (a). I do not know (b) a priori; I know it a posteriori. As a result, I do not know (1) a priori.

2. It seems right to me to say that in holding content externalism, (the existence of) water is presupposed for one to obtain the concept water (rather than saying that in holding content externalism (the existence of) water is required for one to obtain the concept water). If the existence of water is merely presupposed, then the fact that water exists does not follow from the fact that I have the concept water. In other words, the externalist would not be committed to the claim that water exists from his holding that he has the concept water. Thus, an externalist need not take (1) as an a priori truth. For him, (1) is plainly false.

To be honest, I do not know if 2 is the right way to go. More specifically, I do not know:

(i) whether or not in holding content externalism, (the existence of) water is presupposed (rather than required) for one to obtain the concept water,
(ii) whether or not the blue-colored sentence is correct,
(iii) if I am right about (i) and/or (ii), what would be the good strategies to show that (the existence of) water is merely presupposed (rather than required), and that the externalist would not be committed to the claim that water exists from his holding that he has the concept water.

So I will appreciate greatly if you guys can share some thoughts. The comments about my (poor) wording would be of great help as well.

Tuesday, February 14, 2006


Woo lord, we have quite a sequence of events lined up for this weekend. The superconference supertrain hits UCSB, and the big-shots will be duking it out for the championship belt. "And just how do I get in on this action?" you ask. Check our conference page for all the gritty details, lads and lasses. Also you can listen to the chairman of the board, Nathan Salmon, on the Guerrilla Radio Show, talking about Philosophy of Language and the superconference. The show was first run last week, but for legal reasons and to honor the Queen, it's being re-run tonight (7pm Pacific time). You can catch it on 91.9 FM within listening area of UCSB (that includes much of southern California, from what I hear), or on the webcast at KCSB, or in the Guerrilla Radio Show archive (where you can also hear the street inverviews that didn't get played on the show due to time constraints). It was a fun show, one of our best I think, and gives a good short introduction to some of what will be discussed at the conf-- I mean Superconference!. I hope to see you all there.
Oh, and thanks to you folks for posting! I'm happy to see some other people use this blog to get some of their ideas out there. Have fun with it, and be excellent to each other!

Monday, February 13, 2006

Jason Stanley's comments about our upcoming conference

I'm sure a lot of you have come across the above comment that Jason Stanley made about our upcoming conference. I'd like to hear some of your thoughts about his comments.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Putnam's Elm/Beech Example

Hi, guys. Just an observation on Putnam's Elm/Beech example.

In “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’,” Putnam points out that the traditional theory of meaning rests on two fundamental assumptions:

(TR1) Knowing the meaning of a term (i.e. grasping the intension) consists in being in a certain psychological state.
(TR2) Intension determines extension.

(TR1) and (TR2), respectively, have the following corollaries:

(TR1´) The sameness of the psychological states (of two persons) entails the sameness of the intension (that they grasp when they are uttering or thinking some words or sentences).
(TR2´) The sameness of intension entails the sameness of extension.

From (TR1´) and (TR2´), it follows that:

(TR3) The sameness of psychological states entails the sameness of extension.

Aiming to refute the traditional view, Putnam proffers some counterexamples to (TR3). One of them concerns the concepts of two terms whose stereotypes are quite similar. Suppose I do not competently distinguish elms from beech. I might have some experiences like touching or seeing elms and beeches, but let us say that the concept that I associate with the word ‘elm’ has no difference from the concept that I associate with the word ‘beech.’ If (TR3) is true, Putnam says, the extension of ‘elm’ in my idiolect must be the same as the extension of ‘beech’ in my idiolect. Yet, the extensions of ‘elm’ and ‘beech’ are different from each other — I will refer to elms when I utter ‘elm,’ and to beeches when I utter ‘beech.’ Thus, Putnam concludes, this example also shows that (TR3) is based on a false theory of meaning.

Through the refutation of the traditional view, Putnam, as an externalist, attempts to establish the thesis that the meaning of a term, for the most part, is determined by the external linguistic environments of the speaker. On the other hand, Searle, defending the internalist view, tries to challenge the counterexamples provided by Putnam.

In the course of his objection to the elm/beech example in Intentionality (1983), Searle interprets Putnam’s argument as being based on the following:

(i) The concept of ‘elm’ in my idiolect = the concept of ‘beech’ in my idiolect
(ii) The extension of ‘elm’ in my idiolect ≠ the extension of ‘beech’ in my idiolect

Searle’s strategy is to deny (i). He asks how I (i.e. the speaker of (i) and (ii)) can know (ii) is right. According to Searle, my knowing (ii) depends on my knowledge of the following:

(K) Beeches are not elms and elms are not beeches.

Searle contends that (K) constitutes a part of my conceptual knowledge regarding elms and beeches. From this, he argues that, contrary to (i), my concept of ‘elm’ cannot be the same as my concept of ‘beech.’

This objection can be interpreted to indicate that, given my conceptual knowledge of the dissimilarity between elms and beeches, my psychological state in entertaining ‘elm’ will not be the same as my psychological state in entertaining ‘beech.’ However, this difficulty can be easily avoided with a slight change of the example. Suppose Arnold, an Austrian immigrant in the United States, is a German-English bilingual.[1] He knows that ‘elm’ designates certain types of trees he has observed in the United States, and he also knows that the German word ‘Buche’ designates certain types of trees he had seen in Austria. Given that he is not much into botany, the concept he associates with ‘elm,’ may well be just the same as the concept he associates with ‘Buche’ (= a German word for ‘beech’). He might not realize that the two concepts associated by him are the same (maybe he has never compared them before), or even he might think (mistakenly) that ‘elm’ is an English translation of ‘Buche.’[2] In either case, however, the extension of ‘elm’ in his idiolect is elms and the extension of ‘Buche’ in his idiolect is beeches. Everything is just the same as in the original elm/beech example except that Arnold does not possess the conceptual knowledge that beeches (as extension of ‘Buche’) are not elms (as extension of ‘elm’). Thus, Searle’s objection does not seem to refute the heart of Putnam’s elm/beech example.

[1] This example was inspired by another example offered by Putnam in “The Meaning of ‘Meaning’,” which is close to but slightly different from this example. Putnam’s example aims at making a different point: i.e. to show one can have two synonyms, like ‘beech’ and ‘Buche,’ in his idiolect and not know that they are synonyms.

[2] In fact, we do not need to assume that Arnold is from a foreign country. It may well be the case that a natural born American (or Englishman, whatever) associates exactly the same concepts with both ‘elm’ and ‘beech’ without realizing that he does. Or, he might (mistakenly) think that ‘elm’ and ‘beech’ are exact synonyms.

Probability & the Existence of God

Hi all. Just something I've been wondering about...

When someone asks me if I think that God exists, is there anything wrong in responding with a probability? For example, suppose I say, "I think there's about a 15% chance that such a being exists." (Note: Talking here, of course, about the omni-being that philosophers talk about, not any particular religion's conception of God.) I feel much more comfortable and reasonable talking about it this way (at least regarding the debate as a whole), even though I may not be sure exactly why. I mean, I wouldn't want to respond to someone this way about a particular deductive argument concerning God's existence, like the Ontological Argument.


(1) Your probability claim isn't a good statistic or wasn't arrived at via reliable statistical analysis.

Sure, but I'm not claiming that it's good science or stats or anything. I'm just wondering if it's reasonable to respond with a probability. I'm just acknowledging my own epistemic limitations. I'm not making a metaphysical claim that God's existence is probabilistic. All I'm just saying is that, given the evidence I have acquired so far, I think that it's unlikely (or likely, if you respond with a greater probability), but not willing to make the claim that such a being does or does not exist for sure.

(2) That's just agnosticism.

Maybe if I claimed that the probability was 0.5. But even that doesn't strike me as agnosticism, exactly. Maybe it's a kind of jury-still-out agnosticism. I dunno.

(3) Are you saying God's existence is a matter of chance, like a lottery? 'Cause that's hella stupid.

I don't want to be committed to that, but maybe it seems to. As I've said, I just think that some (but not all) talk of God's existence can be taken as probabilistic. For example, many think that the Problem of Evil isn't a knock-down argument against God's existence, but that it renders it unlikely or counts against it to a certain degree. That is, it's an inductive, rather than a deductive argument.

(4) You hate freedom and bald eagles, you America-hating terrorist!

That only works on the O'Reilly Factor... c'mon. (My objectors are always bumbling fools... it makes my argument sound better.)

So, in conclusion, I don't know what I'm pushing for exactly. It's an idea. Comments, please.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Nathan Salmon's collected works (vol. 1) now available

Congratulations to our distinguished chairman! Needless to say, I've already ordered my copy.

On the philosophy job market

Some sobering observations by a graduate student who's served on a search committee. See here.