On Diachronic, Synchronic, and Logical Necessity
According to EJ Lowe, diachronic necessity and synchronic necessity are logically independent. Diachronic possibility concerns what could happen to an object over time and therefore concerns future possibilities for that object given its past history. Synchronic possibility concerns what is possible for an object in the present or at a past present moment. These are logically independent, given certain assumptions. While it may true that because I am 38, it is impossible diachronically for me to be 30 (at least once we restrict the degree of relevant possibility), it is possible, given that at some point in the past, I may have been conceived slightly earlier than I was, that I am now 37. Likewise, it is possible diachronically for me to be somewhere other than where I am, but given that one object cannot be in different places at the same time, it is impossible for me now to be somewhere other than where I am, and this is true at each past point in my history too. There are, then, two axis upon which to distinguish what is and is not possible: tensed possibilities and possibilities of degree, which include nomic, metaphysical, and logical necessities, among others. I examine the interactions between these possibilities and I come to the conclusion that logical necessity is not in fact logical necessity simpliciter. Whether something is logically necessary depends upon tensed possibilities. I argue that while synchronic logical necessity entails diachronic logical necessity, the reverse entailment does not hold. I explore the consequences of this for certain philosophical debates in semantics including the concept of rigid designation, and descriptive names.
It's Easy Being Free: Notes on Frankfurt-Style Real Self Conceptions of Free Will (with Noah Sider)
On Frankfurt's view of free will, in its simplest form, an agent is free just in case her second-order volitions -- those second-order desires she wishes to be effective -- are in accord with her first-order volitions -- those first-order desires that one actually acts upon. That is, an agent has free will just in case she has the desires she wants to have and they are the desires she acts upon. But now consider an agent who lacks free will because her first-order volitions and second-order volitions conflict. Suppose also that, with enough therapy, she could alter her first-order volitions to be in accord with her second-order volitions. So it is true that she can alter her first-order volitions. Still, there is the question of what she should she do. A natural response that a real self theorist might make is that the agent should change her first-order volitions in order to reflect her second-order volitions. But this is not, in principle, the only option available to our agent. Instead of changing her first-order volitions to reflect her second-order volitions, she might also consider simply revising her second-order volitions to fit with her first-order volitions. In fact, since second-order volitions are arguably more reasons responsive, it could turn out for our agent that changing her second-order volitions is actually the most rational option to take. This applies to even the most recent developments of real self, hierarchical, reasons responsive, and even intention embedded accounts of free will. Indeed, there is empirical evidence that people change their conceptions of themselves quite readily in the face of cognitive dissonance of the kind faced by desire conflicts. But this way of attaining free will does not seem to comport with our conception of a free agent. Free will seems too easy to obtain if all that is required is that our second-order volitions are in accord with our first-order volitions, and I see no particularly principled way of arguing that we shouldn't consider changing our second-order volitions instead of changing our first-order volitions. Secondly, this conception of free will is also subject to other counter examples. A person, for instance, may not be able to respect hierarchies due to some personality trait or other, but she might also be the kind of person for whom even were this trait lacking, still would not want to respect hierarchies. Here we have case in which a person's first order volitions and second order volitions coincide, but we do not want to call her free either. Additional evidence that this cannot be the right conception of free will comes from ideas put forth in the literature on practical rationality: I can be in situations in which the only rational action for me to take is to change my desires (MacIntosh), but if we cannot make irrational decisions, and these are understood as decisions to act in ways that go against our current desires, then being in a situation in which I choose to change my current desires should not be possible, thereby challenging any conception of free will that requires the changing of desires, whether first-order or second-order. I conclude, then, that any compatibilist conception of free will of the kind mentioned will be ultimately unsatisfying.
The Contingencies of Ontological Commitment
Some time ago, Quine once asserted that to be is to be value of a variable. This entails that if one wishes to accept any theory as true, we must be committed to the existence of those objects over which we existentially quantify. I suggest instead that we are committed to the existence only of those things that have at least some intrinsic contingent properties. Any discourse that involves existential quantification over entities whose instrinsic properties can change will, of necessity, be given an objectual interpretation. In contrast, by default, all discourse that involves existential quantification over objects all of whose instrinsic properties are essential will be given a substitutional interpretation, leaving open room for debate about whether the discourse in question ought to be given an objectual interpretation. This alternative conception of what constitutes ontological commitment does not entail that we must be committed to the existence of mathematical entities, sets, or even of properties. However, it can still make good sense of the disagreements over whether such entities exist. Those disagreements are disagreements about how to understand the relevant quantifiers.
Free Will and Foreseeability
For many of us, at least, some of the most important events in our lives were not foreseeable. Indeed, for many of us, the trajectory of our lives in retrospect is often completely unexpected. We can, it seems, predict very few of the results of our efforts at controlling our lives. Particularly troubling is that this phenomenon seems to affect us exponentially in the long term, and some of our most important goals in life are long-term goals. What's more, is that attending more closely to the micro-effects of our actions on the world does little to alleviate this problem, since our efforts alone are not sufficient to determine the outcomes of our actions, as Nagel's discussion of moral luck taught us. Of course, there are those whose life trajectory seems entirely predictable in retrospect, leading to the belief that we are in control of our lives after all. However, it is not clear that such reasoning is much more justified than the reasoning that leads people to conclude that Nostradamus must have been predicting the future given that things turned out as he said. Because the unpredictability of our lives is so prevalent and the status of cases in which they do seem predictable are unclear, I conclude that the existence of the kind of free will that seems matters to us, the kind that determines our life paths, is largely a myth. But, on the positive side, taking my cue from Wolf's work on moral saints, I also conclude that since having this kind of free will would likely make our lives much less interesting, perhaps we shouldn't care about having it after all.
The Inevitability of Death: Going from an Is to an Ought
Since Hume, many ethicists have assumed that inferring normative claims from descriptive claims is fallacious. Some classic examples that illustrate this fact are those in which everyone commits some act, but we do not therefore conclude that it is the right thing to do. Everyone may jump off a bridge, asserts your mother, but that does not entail that you should. However, not all such claims illustrate this. In fact, some of them illustrate precisely the opposite claim. For example, consider the person who repeatedly bemoans the unfairness or sadness of dying, and who is often faced with the response that this happens to everyone. What should she do? One plausible response is that she should accept the fact that this occurs and make her peace with it, an unequivocally normative directive. This example, then, is a prima facie counterexample to the infamous gap between is-claims and ought-claims.
The Voluntarist's Argument Against Ethical and Semantic Internalism
A parallel argument to the doxastic voluntarist argument -- a general voluntarism argument -- can be constructed against both ethical and semantic internalism. In the ethical case, this parallel argument begins with the idea that if ethical internalism is true, that is, if we cannot help but be motivated to do the right thing internally, then it would appear that our being moved to do the right thing is involuntary in the same was as our beliefs are involuntary. If correct, this leaves the ethical internalist with a dilemma. Like the epistemologist faced with the doxastic voluntarism argument, she can either deny the plausible ought implies can principle in order to maintain that the idea that ethical obligations make sense, or she must rest content with the idea that ethical internalism has the status of a descriptive account of moral behavior rather than a prescriptive theory. Of course, the ethical internalist is engaged in giving an account of the nature of moral action, but if she is correct in her description of it, it is entirely unclear what differentiates moral behaviors from any other kind of internally motivated actions -- the normativity of morality is lost. If we believe that normativity is constitutive of morality, then ethical internalism fails even as a description of its nature. In the semantic case, if we cannot for instance simply decide that 'Glory' means the same as 'There's a nice knockdown argument for you', it is unclear how meaning could be determined internally and yet be normative at the same time. If ought implies can, and we cannot change the meaning of our expressions internally, then the normativity of meaning cannot come from the inside, it must come from without, thereby ruling out an entirely internalist approach to semantics.
Philosophy of Language
Performative Meta-linguistic Actions
At least one of the issues surrounding proper names is how to understand the act of naming itself. Thus far, there has been little in the way of analysis of this phenomenon, save for using certain buzz words like "dubbing" or "christening" or "baptizing." The views that have been developed -- the causal theory, and the property attribution theory -- fail. Unlike the latter, I hold that an act of naming must in some way be meta-linguistic. And, unlike the former, I also hold that naming is not grounded in objects of reference themselves, but rather speakers' intentions. There are, however, several objections to this understanding of naming. I will argue, by relying on a distinction due to Austin -- the performative-constative distinction -- that we can understand naming as fundamentally a meta-linguistic action so long as we recognize performative meta-linguistic types of speech acts. Austin pointed out that by using certain expressions, we could thereby make certain things true. My claim is that we can achieve the same effects, at least in cases of naming, simply by mentioning an expression.
The Problem with Meta-linguistic Analyses of the Meanings of Proper Names
Some time ago, Kripke argued that meta-linguistic analyses of proper names were utterly uninformative. I suggest here that his objection relies on conflating the language used to talk about a particular language L -- the meta-language -- with direct speech reports made within a language -- the object language. Making this distinction leads to an understanding of meta-linguistic analyses of proper names that are not simply tautologous, so long as we do not understand the meta-linguistic analysis of, say, the expression 'quark' in the following way: the expression 'quark' is whatever we call a 'quark'. Instead, we should understand the analysis in the following way: the expression 'quark' is whatever we call a "quark," where the double quotes represent an act of reporting on direct speech, leaving open the possibility that a theorem like this can be informative insofar as we might be able to learn the meaning of the expression 'quark' by examining instances of the use of the expression "quark."
Philosophy of Mind
Against False "Pretences"
Any plausible account of the act of pretending, either by presupposition or constitution, involves an assumption that the facts are other than what they are. An examination of various accounts of pretence shows this to be the feature that distinguishes it from other actions such as imagining, fantasizing, creating, or hypothesizing. This discovery has implications for standard analyses of the nature of fiction. To wit, whatever is occurring when engaged in reading a work of fiction, it is not an act of pretence, since in reading a work of fiction, whether the facts are other than what they are is irrelevant to understanding and enjoying the story. The rather long history of appeals to pretence to explain the nature of fiction and our engagement with it, then, fail.
Social and Political Philosophy
"No" means "No:" Feminist and Victim Understandings of Sexual Assault (public address)
While there are many different motivations for raising questions about the Sexual Assault Awareness Movement, at least one motivation comes from feminist controversies about what counts as consensual sex. Historically, this controversy arose between those known as "anti-pornography feminists", and "sex positive feminists" whose proponents had very different understandings of what counts as sexual autonomy for women. It is important to understand that questioning the current definitions of what counts as an instance of sexual assault does not entail an anti-feminist agenda. There is not a unified feminist front on this topic. To assume otherwise is to risk silencing victims of sexual assault even further by imposing a particular conception of sexual assault upon them that they might themselves reject. If we are to properly address sexual assault as feminists we must listen to victims of sexual assault and develop a theory of consent in tandem with victims' own understanding of that concept.