Monday, September 13, 2004

Philosophers' Carnival II


"I will not (as I might) point to the strong moral purpose of this poem itself, to the arithmetical principles so cautiously inculcated in it, or to its noble teachings in Natural History...."

Welcome to Siris (the name and description, of course, allude to Berkeley's work of the same name) and the second Philosophers' Carnival. Since we extended the submission time, I had time enough to consider a theme for this carnival. I had to pick a fairly flexible theme; and who allows for more philosophical connections than Lewis Carroll? And what metaphor could possibly convey the adventure and glory (and occasional snarkiness) of the philosophical pursuit than The Hunting of the Snark? There were several great submissions, and several great nominations, this time around. So get out your thimbles and rail-way shares; we're going hunting!

[Drolleries are borrowed from Mr. H's Giornale Nuovo in conformity with the conditions of the Attribution-Sharealike 1.0 Creative Commons License. This license opens the work to public use; however, all use must properly attribute the work and be in conformity with the original license. Hat-tip to Carnivalesque (the Early Modernists' Carnival) and particularly to Issue #1 for the discovery of these delightful little creatures.]

Fit the First
The Landing

Our story opens in Fit the First with the landing of our noble adventurers.

  "Just the place for a Snark! I have said it twice:
  That alone should encourage the crew.
  Just the place for a Snark! I have said it thrice:
  What I tell you three times is true."

Andy at Under the Sun has a brief reflection on Nietzsche, Emerson, authenticity, and God in Two Conceptions of Self:

"The terminology--Apollonian, Dionysian--is Nietzsche's. The book under discussion is a reading of two attempts to resolve that tension: Nietzsche's and Emerson's."

Since in Fit the First we are introduced to the crew, it seems a good place to view some of the difficult questions of personhood. In Abortion and Personhood, Jeremy Pierce at Parableman does just that, with his usual ability to set out a difficult subject clearly:

"The assumption is that moral status has something to do with developed intelligence, ability to think and plan, and moral reasonsing. I've never seen a decent argument for that sort of concept of personhood and the resultant claim that a fetus is not a person. In most ordinary speech, 'person' and 'human being' have always seemed to me to be synonymous, and even an embryo is clearly a human organism at least. I've been around enough pregnant women who talk about the little person inside them that I can't believe this use of 'person' matches up with the ordinary one, and I think the burden of proof lies with those who think they differ. The only reasons I've seen for the view that personhood involves extra traits not possessed by a fetus are question-begging, such as the claim that a brain-dead person (though no one will put it that way) is not really a person, something I would never grant."

Fit the Second
The Bellman's Speech

In Fit the Second we learn the ins and outs of Snark hunting.

   "Other maps are such shapes, with their islands and capes!
   But we've got our brave Captain to thank:
   (So the crew would protest) "that he's bought us the best--
   A perfect and absolute blank!"

A blank map is so much easier than one with all sorts of shapes like landmasses, with all the complications they bring! But Richard Chappell considers the importance of multiplicity in Multiplicities at Philosophy, et cetera:

"I hope that this synthesis of seemingly unrelated sources and ideas may help to highlight the common thread which runs through them all: namely, multiplicity. The world is full of it. Everyone and everything is so incredibly complex - so much more than "just one thing" - that we cannot even begin to understand them without employing some degree of abstraction. But we inevitably lose something in the process: the potential to consider something from a different perspective, and so attain an alternative understanding of it. The moral, I suppose, is that we need to recognise our cognitive shortcomings in this regard."

   The Bellman perceived that their spirits were low,
  And repeated in musical tone
  Some jokes he had kept for a season of woe--
  But the crew would do nothing but groan.

The new philosophy blog Doing Things With Words tackles a perpetual puzzle in the post, An open question: why aren't philosophers funny? Reflecting on Tom Stoppard's Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Dan suggests that we should expect philosophers to make more use of comedy:

"Much of our comedy is there to help us deal with our frailty. Philosophy often has the same aim, and there's no reason not to use the same means. Philosophers ought to be funny, I think, not only as part of being more accessible but also in order to gain some insight into the human condition."

   "The fourth is its fondness for bathing-machines,
  Which it constantly carries about,
  And believes that they add to the beauty of scenes--
  A sentiment open to doubt."

Bathing machines as abstract art, perhaps? In Whatever Happened to Exemplification? at Philosophy of Art, Brian Soucek suggests that Goodman's notion of exemplification should be more fully pursued:

"So why is this concept so important for aesthetics? For one thing, because it allows works to mean without requiring that they refer to anything outside of themselves. It thus avoids a standard formalist prohibition on reference "outside the frame". And yet it does so without sacrificing the notion that works of art might mean something."

Fit the Third
The Baker's Tale

In Fit the Third the adventurers learn of the terrible peril of hunting a Snark; for although most snarks are perfectly harmless, some Snarks are Boojums!

   " 'But oh, beamish nephew, beware of the day,
  If your Snark be a Boojum! For then
  You will softly and suddenly vanish away,
  And never be met with again!' "

One of the great perils of Snark hunting is our fallibility in identifying whether Snarks are Boojums. This issue arises at Certain Doubts when Jon Kvanvig looks at Openmindedness:

"Wayne Riggs has a new paper up on his website that has me thinking about openmindedness again....Two questions are central here: what is openmindedness and why is it a valuable character trait? On the latter score, I recall Pappas’s answer was metaphysical: openmindedness is important because the world is in flux, and without openmindedness, our belief system would be frozen while the world changed. This answer seems to me mistaken on two grounds. "

   "But if ever I meet with a Boojum, that day,
  In a moment (of this I am sure),
  I shall softly and suddenly vanish away--
  And the notion I cannot endure!"

The Baker has strong intuitions on the matter. Brian Weatherson tackles the difficult issue of Intuitions at Thoughts Arguments and Rants:

"The main point I want to defend is that intuitions about particular cases are not of that much evidential value in doing conceptual analysis. Intuitions about borderline particular cases are of even less value. Moreover, most of the cases epistemologists look at, including the cases that WNS investigate, are somewhat borderline. So even if everyone’s intuitions lined up with these cases, we should be suspicious of their evidential value."

Fit the Fourth
The Hunting

In Fit the Fourth the hunt begins!

   "You may charge me with murder--or want of sense--
  (We are all of us weak at times):
  But the slightest approach to a false pretense
  Was never among my crimes!"

At Philosophy of Art, Adele Tomlin considers the ethics of deception as it relates to certain kinds of provocative conceptual art in the post Conceptual Art: Deception, provocation and 'bad' jokes:

"Goldie claims that the deception involved in an artwork can increase its aesthetic merit even though it is an ethical demerit. In my opinion, although it is clear that deception was involved in the production of both the artworks mentioned, Goldie has given the deceptive element way too much priority over the central content and aim of the works which is 'provocation'. To discover that one has been deceived is ultimately to be provoked in some way."

  "For England expects--I forbear to proceed:
  'Tis a maxim tremendous, but trite:
  And you'd best be unpacking the things that you need
  To rig yourselves out for the fight."

In a slightly older post at The University Without Condition, à Gauche examines the argument of an essay by Anthony Burke on "The Perverse Perseverance of Sovereignty" in Response to Burke (1): The Emergence of Empire. This one is hard to excerpt; but here's just a sample of the discussion:

"We should not ignore the argument about the uniqueness of the US Constitution and of the Republic which, according to Hardt & Negri, contained the germ of the now-emerging imperial sovereignty: it replaced the medieval transcendent constitution with an immanent body-politic and united this more representative state form with a citizenry understood primarily as agents of production. As capitalism developed and expanded, it forced gradual changes in the structures of the republic - they mark the importance of Woodrow Wilson's League of Nations - until we find that the present-day expressions of US sovereignty only appear 'modern' in the instance of a fantastically regressive (and probably one-term) administration."

Fit the Fifth
The Beaver's Lesson

In Fit the Fifth the Beaver and the beaver-killing Butcher become friends when, faced with the terrible cry of the JubJub bird, the Butcher is forced to teach the Beaver mathematics and natural history.

   It felt that, in spite of all possible pains,
  It had somehow contrived to lose count,
  And the only thing now was to rack its poor brains
  By reckoning up the amount.

Uriah at Desert Landscapes considers the possibility of Modal Realism without Possible Worlds:

"Here’s a view: modal statements have truthmakers, but there are no possible worlds other than the actual world. How does this work? I am brown-eyed, but it’s true that I could have been blue-eyed. “Uriah could have been blue-eyed” therefore has a truthmaker. Traditionally, most people think of this truthmaker as the fact that it is possible for me to instantiate the property of being blue-eyed. But I have a different suggestion: the truthmaker is the fact that I *do* instantiate in the actual world the property of *being possibly blue-eyed*. The property of being blue-eyed is one that (allegedly) I *possibly* instantiate, but the property of being possibly blue-eyed is one that I *actually* instantiate."

  "Taking Three as the subject to reason about--
  A convenient number to state--
  We add Seven, and Ten, and then multiply out
  By One Thousand diminished by Eight.

  "The result we proceed to divide, as you see,
  By Nine Hundred and Ninety Two:
  Then subtract Seventeen, and the answer must be
  Exactly and perfectly true."

Ontologically discusses an problem that has been raised about naturalized philosophies of mathematics in Putnam, Lewis, and the Necessity of Naturalized Mathematical Truth:

"Ask the naturalist: are the truths of mathematics necessarily true? Quine famously argued that mathematical and even logical truths are revisable given the right evidentiary pressure. Revisability is a modal concept, so to assess this claim we need to begin with a solid philosophy of modality. How about David Lewis' modal realism?"

  And when quarrels arose--as one frequently finds
  Quarrels will, spite of every endeavor--
  The song of the Jubjub recurred to their minds,
  And cemented their friendship for ever!

The voice of the JubJub is perhaps found elsewhere: The Picket Line has a reflection on Gandhian politics in the post Satyagraha - do certain means protect against certain ends?:

"Satyagraha includes a more radical limitation than the renunciation of violence – in its purest forms it also includes the renunciation of force – except perhaps persuasive moral force – and sets much loftier political goals. It does not claim victory in the defeat or subjugation of its foes – victory comes when those foes, under no threat aside from that of their own awakened consciences, willingly and gladly change their behavior."

Fit the Sixth
The Barrister's Dream

In Fit the Sixth the Barrister dreams that the Snark takes over a surreal court.

   "The fact of Desertion I will not dispute;
   But its guilt, as I trust, is removed
  (So far as related to the costs of this suit)
  By the Alibi which has been proved."

Neil Levy discusses Pathologies of volition, attributability and responsibility at The Garden of Forking Paths:

"Intuitively, it seems that attributability (the degree to which an action can be attributed to an agent) and responsibility are, if not synonymous, nevertheless inextricably linked. That is, the higher the degree of one of them, the higher the degree of the other. When I am compelled to act by an outside force, if I am not responsible for the action it seems that this is because it is not attributable to me. Here I shall argue that though attributability and responsibility come in degrees, they can come apart. I shall use some pathologies of volition (as I shall call them) to illustrate."

   The Judge left the Court, looking deeply disgusted:
  But the Snark, though a little aghast,
  As the lawyer to whom the defense was entrusted,
  Went bellowing on to the last.

The Snark took over the entire trial (and misused a number of words in doing so). In On Dissent, Bill Vallicella at Maverick Philosopher looks at the issue of dissenting from such linguistic hijacking:

"Dissent is a good thing and we need more of it. We need dissent against professional activists and agitators; against the fetishizers of dissent; against those who allege that consent is manufactured, as opposed to arising spontaneously by the individual exercise of good judgment; against those who value diversity to the detriment of unity; against those who prefer the BSA (Balkanized States of America) to the USA; against the identity politicians; against the cultural relativists, und so weiter."

Fit the Seventh
The Banker's Fate

In Fit the Seventh, the Banker meets the terrible Bandersnatch, and goes insane.

   Down he sank in a chair--ran his hands through his hair--
  And chanted in mimsiest tones
  Words whose utter inanity proved his insanity,
  While he rattled a couple of bones.

Some have thought that there's a bit of an inanity (and perhaps a bit of insanity) involved in the use of the word 'knowledge'. Wo's weblog has a discussion of whether slight differences in the way people use words like "knowledge" is really so earth-shattering for epistemology in the post Conceptual Differences:

"But anyway, suppose knowledge (that is, what we Western, High-SES philosophers mean by "knowledge") really plays a central role in epistemology. Does it matter if other people lack a word for it, and use "knowledge" for something else? I don't think so. Why should it? Supervenience plays an important role in metaphysics despite the fact that most people don't have a word for it."

Fit the Eighth
The Vanishing

In Fit the Eighth the Baker finds the Snark! Alas, it is a Boojum, and he softly and silently vanishes away, just as he thought he would.

   They hunted till darkness came on, but they found
  Not a button, or feather, or mark,
  By which they could tell that they stood on the ground
  Where the Baker had met with the Snark.

How do we know what happened to the Baker? We can only make a causal inference on the basis of the evidence available. This puts me in mind of Lady Mary Shepherd's causal theory, which I summarize in the imaginatively titled post, A Summary of Lady Mary Shepherd's Causal Theory at Houyhnhnm Land.

In the midst of the word he was trying to say,
In the midst of his laughter and glee,
He had softly and suddenly vanished away---
For the Snark *was* a Boojum, you see.

And so we come to the end of our adventure. Be sure to submit, or keep an eye out for nominations, for the next Philosophers' Carnival.

Also, hosts are still needed. If you would be interested in hosting the next the Philosophers' Carnival, contact Richard Chappell at:

r {dot} chappell {at} gmail {dot} com

(with, of course, . for {dot}, @ for {at}, and no spaces).