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Agnes Callard: Aspiration | WSB #54

Agnes Callard: Aspiration | WSB #54

July 17, 2019

There's something puzzling about intentionally acquiring a new value: if we don't already have the value, what motivates us to acquire it? This is best understood through an example: a young student takes a music appreciation class in order to learn to appreciate the value of classical music. She doesn't already appreciate the value of classical music—if she did, she wouldn't need the class. But if she doesn't appreciate its value, why take the class? The class is hard work, after all: she must spend hours listening to music that she doesn't yet appreciate!

Philosopher Agnes Callard calls this kind of intentional value acquisition 'aspiration'. In this interview, we discuss a number of issues surrounding aspiration: how it is possible, how it begins, why one cannot aspire to be a gangster, and perhaps most surprisingly, how aspiration accounts for how we can author of our own lives. Along the way, we discuss the nature of motivation, future-to-past normative grounding, and the immortality of the soul. We end with a quick discussion of the value of public philosophy.

Visit http://williamnava.com for more info!

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Sources:

Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming (book)
Agnes Callard (YouTube channel)
Is Public Philosophy Good? (first in Prof. Callard's public philosophy series at The Point magazine)
Angry Rainbow Mermaids (Prof. Callard's blog)

Topics discussed:

0:02 - Intro to Agnes Callard
3:50 - What is aspiration?
5:13 - What aspiration is not
17:27 - Moral skepticism and aspiration
24:04 - Proleptic reasons and motivation
45:13 - Starting to aspire and the direction of self-creation
55:40 - Future to past normative grounding, ontological commitment, and motion
1:11:52 - The value of aspiration, the good life, and the immortality of the soul
1:28:42 - The value of public philosophy

Gillian Russell: Logical Nihilism | WSB #53

Gillian Russell: Logical Nihilism | WSB #53

May 22, 2019

In recent years, philosophers have debated the question of logical pluralism: the view that there is more than one correct logic (see my interview with Greg Restall on this very issue). The idea, roughly, is that which putative logical laws hold depends on what sorts of "cases" we take logic to be about; different kinds of cases yield different (but equally legitimate) logics. A common logical monist objection is to say that a form of argument is only a logical law if it applies in all cases. If this is true, it raises the question: what argument forms do hold in all cases? At this point in the debate, a third position becomes viable, defined by the answer: none.

Gillian Russell, a philosopher of language and logic, argues both that applying in all cases is necessary for qualifying as a logical law; and that no argument form applies in all cases. As such, she believes there are no logical laws. Much of our discussion surrounds her claim that no argument form applies to all cases. Is this really true even of the law of non-contradiction, the "law" that says that 'A and not-A' can never be true? Of conjunction elimination ('A and B' entails 'A')? Of identity ('A' entails 'A')? Russell runs through purported counterexamples to these laws; what's more, she illustrates a method for conjuring counterexamples to any proposed "law".

We conclude with a discussion of how we ought to respond to logical nihilism. We can throw up our hands and say "logic is dead!". We can call the problematic counterexamples illegitimate monsters and bar them from our vocabulary. Or — as Russell prefers — we can study under what conditions, or in what sorts of circumstances, certain logical regularities hold, even while knowing that none of them hold under all conditions.

For more on logical nihilism and Gillian Russell's other work, visit https://gillianrussell.net/research/

Visit http://williamnava.com for more info!

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Topics discussed:

4:01 - "Social Spheres" and applying logic to social and political philosophy
11:38 - Intro: logic, nihilism, pluralism
30:22 - Reasoning, generality
45:06 - The "law" of non-contradiction
54:20 - Context-sensitive counterexamples
1:24:00 - Response: lemma incorporation
1:36:10 - Williamson's objection to non-classical logics

William Gillis and Ryan Neugebauer: Anarchism | WSB #52

William Gillis and Ryan Neugebauer: Anarchism | WSB #52

January 27, 2019

A primer on anarchism from individualist anarchists William Gillis and Ryan Neugebauer. Anarchism is sometimes assumed to be synonymous with a call for chaos and disorder, a characterization which most of its adherents consider to be quite the opposite of what they strive for. But it is difficult to pin down just what unifies the many strands of anarchism under a single umbrella. In this interview, we discuss some of the central ideas behind most forms of anarchism: power dynamics in relationships, hierarchical vs. 'horizontal' organization, freedom as consent vs. freedom as the availability of options, among others. We conclude with a discussion on strategy: just what would bring about the end of the state? Does it require violence against the state? Is the aim of anarchism primarily a cultural shift, or is it something more concrete?

For more of Ryan Neugebauer's take on anarchism, see 'An Evolving Anarchism'.

For more of William Gillis's anarchist thought, found on his website Human Iterations, read 'Your Freedom is My Freedom: The Premise of Anarchism' and 'You Are Not the Target Audience'.

Also discussed:

Center for Stateless Society (where William Gillis is Coordinating Director)
The Seasteading Institute

Visit http://williamnava.com for more info!

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

David Ripley: Curry’s Paradox and Substructural Logic | WSB #51

David Ripley: Curry’s Paradox and Substructural Logic | WSB #51

September 15, 2018

Consider the sentence C: "If this sentence is true, then David Ripley is a purple giraffe". Suppose the sentence is true. Then the antecedent of the sentence ("this sentence is true") is true. According to the inference rule modus ponens, if an if-then sentence (such as C) is true and its antecedent is true, then its consequent ("David Ripley is a purple giraffe") must be true. It follows that if C is true, then David Ripley is a purple giraffe. But this conclusion is C: in other words, by simply supposing how things might turn out if C were true, we have proved that C, in fact, is true. So C is true, and since C's antecedent is the claim that C is true, its antecedent is true as well. Now we can use modus ponens again to show that C's consequent must be true. In other words, David Ripley really is a purple giraffe. QED.

This argument is Curry's paradox. Obviously, the choice of "David Ripley is a purple giraffe" is arbitrary; a sentence of the form of "If this sentence is true, then X" can be used to prove any claim X. Now, in actual fact, David Ripley is not a purple giraffe, but a philosopher of language and logic. According to Ripley, solutions to paradoxes like Curry's (as well as the Liar and the Sorites) fall into two broad categories: those that solve the paradoxes by messing with the meanings of important concepts (such as the meaning of "if-then", truth, "not", etc.) and those that solve them by changing the structural rules of inference by appeal to substructural logics. The latter approach, says Ripley, is preferable because it allows us to keep the intuitive meanings of these important concepts. There are various structural rules that can be modified to avoid the paradoxes, but the one that Ripley prefers is the denial of transitivity. This would mean that even if we prove that a implies b and that b implies c, we have no guarantee that a implies c. Ripley tells a story about assertion and denial conditions to argue that, precisely because of the paradoxes, the denial of transitivity conforms to natural language inferential norms. We conclude with a discussion of "revenge" Curry paradoxes for Ripley's approach, and of frontiers for substructural logic.

Visit http://williamnava.com or more info!

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Sources:

David Ripley (website)
Curry's paradox (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
"Comparing Substructural Theories of Truth" (David Ripley)
"Revising Up: Strengthening Classical Logic in the Face of Paradox" (David Ripley)

Topics discussed:

0:19 - Introduction to David Ripley
3:17 - Logic, reasoning, and ways to approach paradox
11:00 - Curry's paradox
25:19 - The Liar as analogous to Curry
34:34 - Taxonomy of solutions: vocabulary-based vs. structural-based
45:35 - Logical connectives and natural language analogues
49:55 - Optimism vs. pessimism in responses
55:23 - Substructural solutions: non-contractive
59:42 - Substructural solutions: non-transitive
1:06:52 - Assertion and denial conditions
1:20:44 - Gaps and gluts and revenge
1:33:01 - History of and horizons for substructural logic

Jody Azzouni: Ontology without Borders | WSB #50

Jody Azzouni: Ontology without Borders | WSB #50

July 31, 2018

An old problem: I say, "Santa Claus is fat". I am saying something true about Santa Claus. But (content warning) Santa Claus doesn't exist. So what is it that I am correctly saying is fat? And what - if not its ostensive subject - makes the sentence true?

This problem is at the center of ontology. The most influential approach in the 20th century was offered by W. V. O. Quine, who argued that we're committed to the existence of any object that we must quantify over in order to state the truths of physics in first-order logic. At first, this seems rather arbitrary. Why first-order logic? What makes quantifiers so special? Why physics? And what does what we're "committed to" tell us about what actually exists? For roughly the first half of this interview, philosopher Jody Azzouni unpacks the thinking behind Quine's famous criterion. In the second half, he expounds his own view: he rejects Quine's criterion, and so sees no problem with referring to that which doesn't exist. This leaves Azzouni open to embrace a radical nominalism, in which almost none of the objects we typically think of as existing really do. This is because, as Azzouni explains, "ontological borders" are projected. There is nothing "out there" that separates one object from another. The fact that our language is built around distinct objects tells us plenty about our psychology, but nothing about the world itself, which comes with "features" but not individual objects.

Want to hear a different take on the same questions? Check out my interview with Amie Thomasson.

Visit http://williamnava.com or more info!

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Sources:

Jody Azzouni (Tufts faculty page)
"On What There Is" (W. V. O. Quine)
Word and Object (W. V. O. Quine)
Ontology without Borders (Jody Azzouni)
Ontology Made Easy (Amie Thomasson)

Topics discussed:

0:19 - Trends in contemporary philosophy
5:37 - Contested objects and proposed principles
12:11 - Quine's criterion of ontological commitment
18:43 - Why quantifiers?
20:53 - Quine's Word and Object: "exercise in sophisticated paraphrase"
27:39 - Evaluating paraphrases
37:16 - Against Quine's criterion
42:07 - Other metaontological criteria
48:18 - Nominalism
51:02 - Reference failure and the aboutness illusion
57:49 - Object projectivism
1:02:42 - Does the world come with implicit boundaries?
1:10:02 - Truth about non-existent objects
1:11:51 - Stuff, features, and individuation conditions
1:20:45 -  Amie Thomasson's easy ontology
1:26:54 - The role of natural language

Michael Hicks: Fiction-Directed Thought | WSB #49

Michael Hicks: Fiction-Directed Thought | WSB #49

July 17, 2018

I have a (true) thought that Sherlock Holmes lives on Baker Street. But what is this thought about? Is it about Sherlock Holmes? If so, is it about something that doesn't exist? Can we really have thoughts about non-existent objects? What makes those thoughts true or false, if there is no object for the thought's content to correspond to?

Philosopher Michael Hicks distinguishes fiction-directed thought from world-directed thought. A fiction-directed thought is knowingly about fiction; it is a kind of pretense. It is crucial that thoughts about fictional entities be fiction-directed. If if I think my "thought" about Sherlock Holmes is about a real person - in other words, if it is world-directed - then I don't have a thought at all, because the ostensive object of my thought does not exist. According to Hicks, world-directed thought is "environment dependent". It takes the intentional state and the object of the intentional state to make a thought. If the latter is missing, then there is no thought. Thoughts about fictional entities, as well as about hallucinations and other non-existent objects, must be fiction-directed in order to qualify as thoughts. Put another way, thought about fiction only successfully happens when we play a game of pretense set up by the author.

Be sure to listen to part 1 of this interview first.

If you're interested in the metaphysics of thought, I discuss higher-order thoughts in this interview with David Rosenthal.

Next week: Jody Azzouni: Ontology without Borders

Visit http://williamnava.com or more info!

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Sources:

Michael Hicks (homepage)
"Pretense and fiction-directed thought" (Michael Hicks)
"A note on pretense and co-reference" (Michael Hicks)

Topics discussed:

0:51 - Environment dependence
4:11 - Shared hallucinations and optical illusions
15:25 - Russell and risk of error
23:24 - Thinking about Sherlock Holmes
46:24 - Difference in the content of fiction-directed thought?

Michael Hicks: What Is Thought? | WSB #48

Michael Hicks: What Is Thought? | WSB #48

July 10, 2018

What is a thought? There are two ways to approach the problem, says philosopher Michael Hicks. One is as a question about introspective experience. The other - favored by Hicks - is as asking about the nature of interpersonal understanding. We do understand each other; and this is what constitutes the existence of thoughts. With this approach established, Hicks explains to what extent it does or doesn't imply an "external" view of mind. We also compare this conception of thought to Gottlob Frege's, and discuss whether it involves a commitment to a "third realm" of abstract objects.

Next week: Michael Hicks: Fiction-Directed Thought

Visit http://williamnava.com or more info!

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Sources:

Michael Hicks (homepage)
"The Thought" (Gottlob Frege)
"The Extended Mind" (Andy Clark, David Chalmers)

Topics discussed:

0:20 - Introduction to Michael Hicks
2:42 - What are thoughts?
14:15 - Internal or extended thinking
23:46 - Meta-ontology
35:03 - Frege and abstract objects

Left Market Anarchism | WSB #47

Left Market Anarchism | WSB #47

July 3, 2018

Political philosophy begins with the question: who should have political authority and why? Anarchism answers: no one. Popular mythology tells us this is synonymous with chaos and disorder, but there are many reasons to doubt this must be so. In this episode, I argue that anarchism - properly understood - is in fact the correct answer to the problem of political authority; it is the only answer that avoids unjust hierarchies, provides for individual and social freedom, and optimizes for general welfare. This is because, in a word, society is best seen (and run) as a web, not as a pyramid.

Much of my focus is on specifying what I mean by anarchism, and which version of anarchism I'm arguing for. Specifically, I argue that the notion of a free market - again, properly understood - is at the heart of anarchism. At the same time, I argue against "capitalism" as being a confused and rather unhelpful notion, quite removed from the notion of a free market. I also argue against popular libertarian approaches to free markets and anarchism, such as the so-called "non-aggression principle" and property rights. Instead, I zero in on a notion of free market defined as a cultural norm in which monopolies are viewed as unacceptable. This definition, I argue, properly communicates what a free market really is and it provides the necessary conditions for a free and prosperous society. It is, at the same time, a maximally permissive definition: it requires no particular views on interpersonal ethics or lifestyle, and is as compatible with (for example) communism as it is with more familiar notions of "free markets".

Visit http://williamnava.com or more info!

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Sources:

"'Capitalism' and 'socialism' are anti-concepts" (Roderick Long, video)
"Market Anarchism as Constitutionalism" (Roderick Long)
Pressing the Button (website)

Topics discussed:

0:20 - Intro and disclaimers
5:09 - The question of political authority
7:49 - "The will of the people" justification
12:19 - Resource allocation and "a web, not a pyramid"
14:49 - Unjust hierarchies: the state, capitalism, and others
21:48 - What is capitalism?
26:33 - What is a free market?
31:05 - Against free markets as non-aggression
36:23 - Against free markets as property rights
40:04 - Free markets as anti-monopoly cultural norm
42:35 - Competition as the source of regulation
48:18 - Property rights compatible tyranny
52:44 - Cultural norms
56:12 - Scale, weakness, communism
1:01:50 - More on monopoly, hierarchy, and coordination
1:07:32 - Objections: social order, market regulation, collusion
1:12:44 - Objections: public goods, externalities, defense
1:20:46 - Objections: rent & interest, natural monopolies, epistemic conservatism
1:25:01 - Objections: utopian, people are evil
1:26:26 - Competition as cooperation

Kit Fine: Metaphysical Ground | WSB #46

Kit Fine: Metaphysical Ground | WSB #46

June 26, 2018

Some things are true in virtue of other things. For example, the fact that it is either raining or snowing today is true in virtue of the fact that it is raining today (if, indeed, it is). Or consider another example, put in different terms: the fact that my cat Irene exists is sufficient to account for the fact that at least one cat exists. We might then ask: what is this being in virtue of, or accounting for?

Philosophers call this metaphysical ground. Thus, the existence of my cat Irene grounds the fact that at least one cat exists. But how does this grounding relation work? How is it related to logical entailment? To cause? To essence? Is it possible for there to be partial grounding? Can a fact ground itself? If not, does a vicious regress emerge? What is the role of ground in metaphysics? In this interview, metaphysician Kit Fine covers these questions and more before zeroing in on a logical puzzle of ground, related to the paradoxes of self-reference such as the Liar.

Next week: Left Market Anarchism

Visit http://williamnava.com or more info!

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Sources:

Kit Fine (homepage)
"Vagueness, truth, and logic" (Kit Fine)
"A Guide to Ground" (Kit Fine)
"Some Puzzles of Ground" (Kit Fine)

Topics discussed:

0:20 - Intro to Kit Fine
2:50 - Vagueness
6:44 - What is ground?
10:40 - Realism
16:15 - Two notions of necessary ground
19:10 - Relevance and ground
24:35 - Ground and philosophy, cause and science
28:00 - Ground and ontological reduction
35:18 - Regress, circularity, and weak ground
44:55 - Types of ground and the "source" of logic
52:50 - Ground of ground
1:03:02 - Essence and ground
1:09:10 - A puzzle of ground

Nicolas Langlitz: Psychedelics and Philosophy | WSB #45

Nicolas Langlitz: Psychedelics and Philosophy | WSB #45

June 19, 2018

Psychedelic substances, such as psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, and ayahuasca, do much more than generate sensory hallucinations. Users often come away with a sense of having gained deep insight into the nature of reality - even if what that insight is, and what is so special about it, can be hard to communicate. Anthropologist Nicolas Langlitz associates it with the "perennial philosophy" - an old idea, popularized by Aldous Huxley, that all world religions communicate the same basic truth. Years after writing the book The Perennial Philosophy, Huxley tried mescaline and LSD and became convinced that psychedelics provide a shortcut to the kinds of mystical experiences that would put us in touch with that basic reality - what he called the "world mind". Langlitz is skeptical that psychedelics really do communicate some kind of metaphysical truth. In this interview, we discuss what psychedelics do reveal, if anything, and what the relationship is between experience and knowledge.

Next week: Kit Fine: Metaphysical Grounding

Visit http://williamnava.com or more info!

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.
Click here for the full list of episodes!

Sources:

Neuropsychedelia: The Revival of Hallucinogen Research since the Decade of the Brain (Langlitz)
"Is There a Place of Psychedelics in Philosophy?: Fieldwork in Neuro- and Perennial Philosophy" (Langlitz)
Heaven and Hell (Huxley)
The Doors of Perception (Huxley)

Topics discussed:

0:20 - Intro to Nicolas Langlitz
1:05 - Anthropology and philosophy
10:06 - Nick's research on psychedelics
22:23 - Perennial philosophy (Huxley)
29:20 - Indescribable?
33:09 - Materialism and mysticism
41:14 - Diversity v. unity of psychedelic experience
47:40 - Validity and expression of the psychedelic experience
59:50 - Place of psychedelics in society