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Timothy Williamson: Vagueness | WSB #33

Timothy Williamson: Vagueness | WSB #33

March 27, 2018

The problem of vagueness stems from the sorites paradox. A heap of sand cannot be turned into a non-heap by removing a single grain of sand. A short person cannot become tall by growing one millimeter. Someone who is sober cannot become drunk by ingesting one tenth of a milliliter of alcohol. These conditionals hold regardless of what we take as our starting conditions. But if this is true, we can iterate the conditionals many times over, until we can prove that one grain of sand makes a heap, an 8-ft. tall man isn't tall, and someone who's just ingested a liter of alcohol is sober.

This ancient paradox has become one of the toughest puzzles in contemporary metaphysics and philosophical logic. During our conversation, Professor Timothy Williamson explains and rejects a few approaches, including supervaluationism, fuzzy logic, nihilism, and contextualism. His preferred solution, known as epistemicism, is much simpler: all vague predicates have a precise cutoff point - we just can't know where it is. Williamson supports this counterintuitive view with compelling accounts of meaning and knowledge. Meaning, he explains, is determined in part by aggregate use; since we cannot know all of the factors of aggregate use, we cannot know the exact meanings of vague terms. From this, we can infer that there are many cases in which we know something but do not know that we know it.

Next week: Bryan Caplan: The Case against Education

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

Interested in vagueness? Check out my interview with Graham Priest on the sorites paradox.

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:
Vagueness (Timothy Williamson)
Tetralogue: I'm Right, You're Wrong (Timothy Williamson)
"I Do Not Exist" (Peter Unger)
"Vagueness Without Paradox" (Diana Raffman)

Topics discussed:

0:20 - Intro to Timothy Williamson
1:01 - Teaser for "Tetralogue: I'm Right, You're Wrong"
2:33 - The sorites paradox and vagueness
9:14 - Is it really a problem?
13:32 - Intro to epistemicism
17:32 - Supervaluationism
20:46 - Objections to supervaluationism
28:58 - Limits of iteration?
32:49 - Degrees of truth and fuzzy logic
40:44 - Peter Unger's nihilism: there are no heaps, or people, or any everyday things or concepts
44:43 - Vague claims aren't propositions?
47:23 - Contextualism
51:50 - Epistemicism: inexact knowledge and margins of error
58:51 - Meaning and use
1:03:01 - Knowledge sorites: not knowing what we know
1:06:47 - Indiscriminate appearances sorites
1:15:58 - A stipulated vague language?
1:20:31 - The meaning formation process
1:26:38 - Changes in the world and changes in language

Michael Huemer: Ethical Intuitionism | WSB #32

Michael Huemer: Ethical Intuitionism | WSB #32

March 20, 2018

Are there moral facts? If so, are they objective? Where do they come from? Do we have reason to think - or doubt - that our immediate ethical intuitions tell what us they are?

These are the questions I discuss this week with professor Michael Huemer. The metaethical landscape can be split up as follows: realists (those who think there are objective ethical facts) and anti-realists (those who don't). Realists, in turn, fall into two further camps: naturalists, who think objective ethical facts can be reduced to descriptive facts about the world; and ethical intuitionists, who think ethical facts (or "evaluative" facts) are of a different sort and cannot be reduced to descriptive facts. As Huemer puts it, ethical intuitionists argue that ethical facts have a different type of ontology. We go on to discuss the reasons we should trust our ethical intuitions to reveal moral facts, why ethical intuitions seem shakier than perceptual ones, and what the source of moral facts is. Finally, Huemer gives us a teaser for his upcoming book, Paradox Lost, in which he claims to solve ten famous paradoxes, including the Liar, Sorites, Newcomb's, and the Sleeping Beauty problem.

Next week: Timothy Williamson: Epistemicism

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

Interested in metaethics? I've discussed it before, with Tomasz Kaye.

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:
Ethical Intuitionism (Michael Huemer)

Topics discussed:

0:57 - Metaethical landscapes: two ways to draw the map
5:24 - Reasons people dislike ethical intuitionism
9:52 - Why not doubt our ethical intuitions?
16:33 - What are moral facts?
19:25 - Is there a source of moral facts?
25:19 - Ethical versus perceptual appearances
27:30 - New book: Paradox Lost (Liar, Sorites, Newcomb's)

Michael Huemer: Skepticism and Direct Realism | WSB #31

Michael Huemer: Skepticism and Direct Realism | WSB #31

March 13, 2018

Do we have any reason to doubt appearances? And does perception show us intermediary mental representations or real objects themselves?

Michael Huemer's first book, Skepticism and the Veil of Perception, tackles both these questions at once. Huemer is a direct realist: he thinks that when we perceive, we're perceiving reality directly. This contradicts the common philosophical position ("indirect realism") that our perception is of mental objects which are images or representations of real objects to which we have no direct access. The usual challenges against direct realism involve an appeal to illusion and hallucination, though Huemer argues that these are less problematic than is often suggested. Huemer also argues that a direct realism (along with a correct general approach to epistemology) helps refute the famous skeptical arguments: the infinite regress of justification (the "Agrippan trilemma"), the "problem of the criterion", the famous brain in the vat, and Hume's argument against the possibility of induction.

Next week: Michael Huemer: Ethical Intuitionism

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:
Skepticism and the Veil of Perception (Michael Huemer)
An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (David Hume)

Topics discussed:

0:42 - Introduction to Michael Huemer
2:15 - Types of skepticism
7:10 - Skeptical arguments
9:27 - Direct realism and Hume's induction argument
12:12 - Perception as foundational belief
17:25 - Inferences about experiences?
22:02 - Burden of proof
23:31 - Radical fallibilism?
29:40 - Kinds of appearances
30:55 - Problem of criterion and burden shifting
34:09 - Is skepticism self-defeating? Provision belief
37:24 - Peter Klein's infinitism
40:10 - Fallibilism and burden
42:17 - Objection from illusion and hallucination
44:57 - Direct v. indirect realism: what are representations?
50:00 - Brain in the vat
53:44 - Mary's room and qualia

Daniel Howard: Philosophical Novels and Relativism | WSB #30

Daniel Howard: Philosophical Novels and Relativism | WSB #30

March 6, 2018

What counts as a philosophical novel? What is it about philosophical novels that makes them philosophical? And what sort of work is involved in writing them? Is the job of the novelist at all like the job of the philosopher?

These are some of the questions I discuss with fiction writer Daniel Howard. He suggests strong parallels between the forces of antagonism that must be set up against the protagonist in a novel and the objections that a great philosopher must subject his thesis to in order to make a case for it. In the process, we discuss Plato's dialogues, Dostoevsky, Camus, Ayn Rand, Nietzsche, Hegel, Rorty, Shakespeare, Dante, John Fowles, and a number of other philosophers and fiction writers.

We end on relativism. Daniel defends relativism against its usual charges, then makes a case that relativist writers perhaps shouldn't be writing relativist novels.

Next week: Michael Huemer: Skepticism and Direct Realism

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:
"The Gift" by Daniel Howard (track 14)

Topics discussed:

0:18 - Introducing Daniel Howard
1:35 - What are philosophical novels and who writes them? (Fowles, Rand, Nietzsche)
17:00 - Plato, Parmenides, Symposium, Linklater: artistic form v. philosophical form
26:11 - Philosopher as artist: dialectic process, thought experiments, Descartes
33:36 - Novelists' philosophical positions: Dostoevsky, Shakespeare, Dante
43:07 - Dialectical process: Hegel, story structure, contradiction, William James' depression
53:04 - Relativism, skepticism, Rorty, self-defeat, brainwashing, intuition
1:13:34 - Relativists shouldn't write relativistic novels (Gardner, The Stranger, Robbe-Grillet)

David Rosenthal: Consciousness | WSB #29

David Rosenthal: Consciousness | WSB #29

February 27, 2018

Continuing my discussion with philosopher of mind David Rosenthal, we now focus on consciousness itself. There are two plausible theories, says Rosenthal: that consciousness is an "inner sense" or that it is a kind of thought. He argues for the latter, claiming that awareness is a "higher order thought": that is, a thought about a mental state. When we are conscious, according to Rosenthal's theory, all that's going on is that we are having a thought about the mental state we are in. Notice that, since you're not usually having a thought about your own awareness (unless you're a philosopher), your consciousness is not itself usually conscious. He fills out the details of this theory and defends it against some objections.

Rosenthal spends the second half of the episode arguing that consciousness has little to no utility. He speculates as to why this idea seems so intuitively repugnant, and as to why we might have developed consciousness despite its lack of utility.

Next week: Daniel Howard: Philosophical Novels and Relativism

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:

David Rosenthal (homepage)
"Explaining Consciousness" by David Rosenthal
"Consciousness and Its Function" by David Rosenthal

Topics discussed:

0:45 - Conscious versus unconscious perception
4:45 - Awareness: inner sense
6:06 - Awareness: higher order thought
15:19 - Regress of higher order thought?
17:32 - Disposition to higher order thoughts
22:13 - Consciousness has little or no utility
29:12 - Why did we develop consciousness if it's not useful?

David Rosenthal: Mental Qualities | WSB #28

David Rosenthal: Mental Qualities | WSB #28

February 20, 2018

Suppose you see a round red ball. This appearance of redness and roundness - what is it?

David Rosenthal, a philosopher of mind, lays out two ways of approaching "mental qualities". There is the consciousness-based approach, which posits that only consciousness gives us access to perceptual "qualia" like color and smell. And there is the perceptual-role approach: the view that we know about mental qualities through their role in perceptual discrimination. Rosenthal argues for the latter and develops a "quality space theory" to describe what mental qualities are in these terms. Along the way, he discusses subliminal perception and priming effects, the "undetectable inversion" hypothesis (basically this idea), and why he thinks there is no "hard problem of consciousness" at all.

Next week: David Rosenthal: Consciousness

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:

David Rosenthal (homepage)
"How to Think about Mental Qualities" by David Rosenthal

Topics discussed:

0:20 - Intro to David Rosenthal
1:02 - Consciousness based approach to mental qualities
7:23 - Perceptual role approach to mental qualities
9:55 - Immediacy?
13:32 - First v. third person access
20:22 - The hard problem of consciousness
31:13 - Subliminal perception and priming
40:15 - Quality space theory
45:49 - Undetectable inversion hypothesis

Catarina Dutilh Novaes: Logic as Social Practice | WSB #27

Catarina Dutilh Novaes: Logic as Social Practice | WSB #27

February 13, 2018

The practice of logic is not an eternal given. It has a history. The logical tradition, as we know it, began as debating practices in ancient Greece. Catarina Dutilh Novaes examines the implications of this historical insight and from it develops a dialogical account of logic: deductive logic is an inherently conversational and social practice, even when engaged privately. This has huge implications for any theory of what logic is and what it should be.

Dutilh Novaes also investigates the cognitive impact of formal logic. Formalisms, she argues, are best seen as cognitive tools, which aid both in calculation and in counterbalancing belief bias. But, as with logic, she doesn't view cognition as primarily an internal affair. Rather, she presents an extended view of cognition, in which cognitive processes are inseparably integrated with the external world.

Next week: David Rosenthal: Mental Qualities

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:
Catarina Dutilh Novaes (homepage)
The Roots of Deduction (C. Dutilh Novaes, project)
Formal Languages in Logic: A Philosophical and Cognitive Analysis (C. Dutilh Novaes)
"A dialogical, multi-agent account of the normativity of logic" (C. Dutilh Novaes)
"Reasoning biases, non-monotonic logics, and belief revision" (C. Dutilh Novaes, H. Veluwenkamp)
"Conceptual genealogy for analytic philosophy" (C. Dutilh Novaes)
"What is logic?" (C. Dutilh Novaes, Aeon article)
"Cognitive Motivations for Treating Formalisms as Calculi" (C. Dutilh Novaes, YouTube vid)
"The Normativity of Logic - A Dialogical Account" (C. Dutilh Novaes, YouTube vid)
What Does It Mean to Say that Logic is Formal? (John MacFarlane)
"In what sense (if any) is logic normative for thought?" (John MacFarlane)
Change in View: Principles of Reasoning (Gilbert Harman)
"The extended mind" (Andy Clark, David Chalmers)
Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness (Peter Godfrey-Smith)

Topics discussed:

0:20 - Catarina Dutilh Novaes: chronology of work
9:30 - Dialogical account of logic (historical, cognitive, and philosophical approaches)
15:30 - Why did we forget the dialogical origins of logic? (philosophy in the mind v. in debates)
22:54 - Is logic less important than we thought?
26:10 - Normative status of deductive logic
40:49 - Genetic fallacy and genealogy
48:52 - Conversational nature of philosophy (inner dialogue and the inner skeptic)
57:55 - Incorporating empirical findings
1:00:09 - Extended cognition
1:07:00 - Debiasing - confirmation bias and making new discoveries
1:12:38 - Social epistemology of argumentation

Steve Patterson: Certainty and Logic | WSB #26

Steve Patterson: Certainty and Logic | WSB #26

February 6, 2018

Steve Patterson's book Square One: The Foundations of Knowledge begins with the bold claim: "Truth is discoverable. I'm certain of it." The rest of the book is an attempt to prove that there are certain truths for which there is not a sliver of doubt.

I am, to say the least, unconvinced. Universal fallibilism - the claim that all knowledge leaves room for doubt - is, ironically enough, a view I'm particularly confident of (though, obviously, not certain of). Indeed, I did a two-part podcast on this topic (Against Certainty: Knowledge and Experience and Against Certainty: Logic). In this interview, I challenge Steve's claims to certainty with my skeptical doubts. The conversation takes us through the Münhhausen Trilemma, the nature of justification, subjective experience, and, of course, the ever-popular liar paradox.

Next week: Catarina Dutilh Novaes: Logic as Social Practice

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:
Square One: The Foundations of Knowledge by Steve Patterson
"How to Resolve the Liar's Paradox" by Steve Patterson (video)

Topics discussed:
0:41 - The goal of certainty
2:59 - Agrippan trilemma
6:37 - Certainty v. necessity (epistemology v. metaphysics)
19:08 - Justification (grounds for belief)
25:42 - Certainty about experience v. certainty about logical truths
29:03 - Meditating on experience
31:40 - Presuppositions of skepticism?
41:50 - Negation
43:32 - "Logic and existence are inseparable"
47:28 - Philosophy of language
49:50 - Liar paradox, negation, and the possibility of contradiction

Steve Patterson: Against Academia | WSB #25

Steve Patterson: Against Academia | WSB #25

January 30, 2018

Is academia the best place to do philosophy?

Independent philosopher Steve Patterson became disillusioned with academia during his time in college and has since decided to pursue philosophy full time outside the academy. He doesn't mince words when it comes to his views on academic philosophy. For Steve, the university system is perverted by poor incentives, which has resulted in badly written, dogmatic work on irrelevant subject matter with unexamined premises. After recounting his journey to becoming an independent philosopher (which starts with discovering the Santa lie), he lays out his arguments against academia, citing economics, "fandom", false axioms, religiosity, and arguing over strands of leaves without first settling on the trunk of the philosophical tree.

Next week: Steve Patterson: Certainty and Logic

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:
What's the Big Deal about Bitcoin? by Steve Patterson
Square One: The Foundations of Knowledge by Steve Patterson

Amie Thomasson: Objections to Easy Ontology | WSB #24

Amie Thomasson: Objections to Easy Ontology | WSB #24

January 23, 2018

Last week, Amie Thomasson explained "easy ontology", her preferred approach to resolving the proliferation of ontological debates in recent decades. This week she addresses objections.

Perhaps most pressingly: is easy ontology too easy? There might be a feeling that this is all a linguistic trick that is sidestepping the real question of the actual existence of something. Another important objection is that easy ontology grants existence to way too much. Do we really want to accept that "the sum of my nose and the Eiffel Tower" is a thing that really exists? And what about vagueness - doesn't easy ontology fall prey to the sorites paradox? Professor Thomasson tackles these and other objections to her method. She concludes with a picture of what would be next for ontology if we accepted easy ontology as the solution to the metaontological debate.

Next week: Steve Patterson: Against Academia

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

Special thanks to Jackie Blum for the podcast art, and The Tin Box for the theme music.

Sources:

Ontology Made Easy by Amie Thomasson
Ordinary Objects by Amie Thomasson
"Metaphysical Disputes and Metalinguistic Negotiations" by Amie Thomasson