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Justin Snedegar
Los Angeles, CA
PhD Candidate in Philosophy at USC
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Marcus: I am still confused. Greatness, as used in the OA, is clearly not to be understood in terms of sheer numbers (or anything size-related). That seemed to be what you were assuming in previous comments (before the one at 2:31), and that was causing my initial confusion. Something like the 'cool properties' understanding that Andy proposes is a much better interpretation. You say you don't get the "identify greatness with cool things" move -- that it is not warranted. But surely there are very common uses of 'great' and 'greatness' on which they have to do with goodness, rather than largeness. That seems to me clearly the reading that advocates of the OA intend. Now you point out that the plurality of all possible things would have to include any possible gods. Fair enough. But just because something is a member of a collection doesn't mean the collection inherits all the properties (and in particular, the cool "great-making" properties) of that thing, right? The collection isn't omnipotent or omnibenevloent or whatever just because one of its members is. Maybe I'm still missing something.
I'm afraid I don't understand the worry about the ontological argument. Surely advocates of the argument don't mean by by 'the greatest possible being' the largest possible being?
Justin Snedegar (University of Southern California) hired by University of St Andrews. AOS: Ethical Theory, esp. Metaethics and Practical Reasoning.
I'm going to try to stop by, if I can drag myself away from all the fun at the Smoker.
David: Regarding the last point about your comment: Sorry, I wasn't very clear about that point. Yes, I understood your worry, and think you are right to be worried about it for the reasons you point out -- "inverse CP" isn't very attractive anyway, so friends of CP should just deny it.
Hi David and Moti, I just read over the paper, and really enjoyed it. Just a few points: First, you claim that the argument shows that defenders of CP are committed to the Moore's paradoxical claim, 'CP is true but I don't believe it'. But that isn't quite what it shows. Instead, it shows (if it works, of course) that defenders of CP are committed to something like 'CP is true, but I ought not believe it'. This isn't straightforwardly Moore's paradoxical, and in fact doesn't sound quite as odd to me (it sounds like the person is being epistemically irrational, or something, but not infelicitous.) Nevertheless, I think this is a small point, since this is still a troubling result for defenders of CP. Second, premise 3 states: If it's conceivable that CP is false, then it's possible that CP is false. But all we can get from the CP, as you've stated it in its weaker form, is: If it's conceivable that CP is false, then we have a prima facie reason to believe that it's possible that CP is false. Then other premises would have to change, too, saying, for example, that we have a p.f. reason to believe that there are possible worlds in which conceivability does not give us p.f. reasons to believe in metaphysical possibility, and so on. I wonder if everything will still seem plausible, if we rewrite things like that? I think that if you made these kinds of changes, you'd want to appeal to a principle like "If there's a pf reason to believe that p, then we ought to believe that p unless we have reason to believe that ~p, or the pf reason to believe that p is undercut". Then you could say that (i) we don't have a particular reason to believe that the actual world is one of the CP worlds, and (ii) there's no undercutter for our pf reason to think that it isn't. Third, like T. Parent, I'm confused by the physical possibility-metaphysical possibility analogy later in the paper. I'm just not sure what you mean by the claim that what humans can do does not fix what is physically possible. Here are two propositions, one of which is true and the other of which is false, where the 'can' is read as physical possibility: p1: Humans can fly unaided. p2. Birds can fly unaided. Surely facts about what humans can (phys. poss) do fix (/constitute) the truth of propositions like p2. They don't fix the truth of propositions about birds, like p1. But the 'what humans can (physically) do' in premise I of the argument about physical possibility seems to play a very different role than 'what humans can (physically/psychologically) do' would play in the analogous argument about metaphysical possibility. (I'm assuming here that what humans can conceive of is a physical/psychological fact about humans.) Finally, there's a note you've inserted attached to the sentence "...there may be scenarios that are m.possible even though we humans cannot conceive of them". The note worries that the defender of CP can just point out that all this would show is that inconceivability doesn't give us evidence for impossibility. But I think that this kind of principle is implausible anyway, since it seems likely to me that there are lots of things that are actually true, or even necessarily true, that are simply too complicated for humans to conceive of. So I don't think the defender of CP needs to be, or even wants to be, committed to this principle. That's it -- hopefully something there is helpful. Thanks for sharing the paper!
That's an interesting question. I am inclined to say that no, you don't have such an obligation. If you're convinced by an argument against p, or even just get sick of thinking about p, I don't think you have an obligation to continue defending it. But I do think it's important - though I wouldn't say obligatory, I guess - to not give up on p (or dismiss p, if you didn't defend it in the first place) without figuring out whether there's some way to defend it, and whether that way has unacceptable costs. There aren't likely to be many knockdown arguments either for or against most interesting philosophical positions, of course. So it's good to at least make clear the options open to those positions, and the corresponding commitments - e.g. which assumptions they need to make, or which assumptions of opposing positions they need to reject - so we can evaluate them. Defending some position in the face of objections seems like the best way to do this. So defending one's own turf about issue X seems to me to be in the service of seeking the truth about X. But again, I don't think you have an obligation to do this - it seems fine to me if you'd rather start working on issue Y, instead.
I agree with Nick and David that starting from the assumption that X is true doesn't mean that you're just trying to rationalize (in the pejorative sense) your belief in X. But I also want to suggest that seeking the truth about X may be aided by, or even require, what David describes as defending one's own turf. To really learn whether a particular view (or a particular kind of view, at least) is true, you need to figure out which options are open to defenders of that view, to see what's the best way to develop it. And in order to do that, it helps to have people who are defending the view as their own academic turf, as well as people who are objecting to it, usually in the service of defending their own turf. So I guess I just want to resist the characterization of philosophers as inquirers who do not see their primary duty as seeking the truth about X.
I presented a poster a couple of years ago at RoME. I really enjoyed it, and it helped me make some great professional connections. So I recommend really spending some time on the poster, to make it catch the eye. (If you're interested, I can send you mine -- just email me.) Let me second the advice about using a pretty large, readable font and keeping blocks of text to a minimum. I organized my poster into outlined boxes to keep it readable. That said, I think David's point (7) is important to keep in mind. Don't expect everyone to stand there and read your poster -- have a spiel ready to go. On the other hand, expect some people to stand there and read it, and then walk away without saying much of anything. Finally, a suggestion about how to get the poster there: I just send a PDF to a print shop in Boulder (can't remember which one) and picked it up once I got there. I think the charge was something like 10 dollars for black & white, but would have been like 90 dollars for color -- stick with black and white; color isn't worth the price.
Toggle Commented Jul 25, 2012 on Poster Presentations at The Philosophers' Cocoon
Let me second the recommendation to read and read widely. At USC (and many other places, I'm sure) graduate students are required to pass a 3rd year area exam. You pick some relatively broad area of philosophy and read a bunch of stuff in that area, meeting with a faculty member to talk about everything, and then take an exam on it. The goals are (i) to make sure you know your field, and (ii) to walk you into a dissertation topic, to keep you from getting hung up in just the way Marcus mentions. As an example: I chose the practical reasoning list; this includes an ethics base list, with important historical works (Plato, Aristotle, Hume, Kant, and more) and contemporary works (Scanlon, Smith, Korsgaard, and many more), and a special practical reasoning list. People doing either the normative ethics or metaethics list (both of which further divide, and have their own base lists) also read the ethics base list. I personally did things a bit backwards - finding a topic, then deciding on a list. But it's worked in the expected way for most people. And it was still very useful for me because (i) I didn't have a super strong background in ethics prior to working through the reading list, and (ii) even though I had the main thesis of the dissertation prior to doing the reading list, I was able to find new objections, predecessors, and applications, not to mention both questions I had to take a stand on and questions I needed to announce that I was remaining neutral on, by working through it.
Matt, I should clarify that I had in mind that either (i) the author could present things in a different way in the part of the session where she is able to respond to the comments, or (ii) if the comments exhibited a misunderstanding that isn't likely to be shared, will likely distract everyone from the rest of the talk, etc., then the author and commentator might together decide it's better if the author tweaks how she presents the idea - possibly explicitly heading off the misunderstanding - in the talk. Scenario (ii) doesn't really seem to me to count as revising the paper in any objectionable way, assuming you aren't just reading it out loud, and assuming the commentator is in on the process and is happy to talk about more useful things in the commentary.
Toggle Commented Jun 29, 2012 on Conference Commentaries at The Philosophers' Cocoon
I think you should definitely send the comments to the speaker, and if possible more than a week ahead of time -- closer to 3 weeks or even a month is great, if you can swing it (I think the APA requires six weeks, for example). This helps both of the goals you list: there's more motivation for the author to think through things carefully if she has time to do so before the conference, and the discussion is likely to be more productive for everyone if the author has thought-out responses. On some occasions, I've gone back and forth a couple of times with the speaker/commentator (depending on my role). I think this is especially useful in giving the speaker a chance to think about the comments and improve the paper as a result. It also improves the session, since the speaker doesn't have to waste time clearing up misunderstandings (or at least can notice that something could be easily misunderstood, and think of a better way to present it during the response to comments).
Toggle Commented Jun 27, 2012 on Conference Commentaries at The Philosophers' Cocoon
Thanks, Kate. I still need to read your paper, but I'll just engage here anyway! Regarding your first comment, at least in some moods I agree with both you and Marcus, though I don't really have a settled view on the matter. But all of that makes sense as a way to push us towards reasons internalism. I'll just have to look at the paper to see how the other horn goes. Regarding the second comment, you say that reasons' fundamentality could mean two different things, but I'm not sure which of the two you list I meant to be talking about -- I think it fits better with the first. The people I have in mind do think that reasons are not explained by any other normative concept, and that they do figure into explanations of other normative concepts. So in that sense, they're the basic normative building blocks. But they would, I think, resist the claim that this makes them unexplained explainers, since (as reductive realists) they think they can explain reasons in wholly non-normative terms. Now, I'm not totally sure what you mean by the 'minimal unit of practical normativity', but that also sort of sounds like what I'm talking about. But these people would resist the claim that reasons are merely conveniently stipulated to be that, and say that in fact there are special reasons to use reasons instead of the other concepts -- namely, that we have to explain these other concepts in terms of reasons, and not vice versa.
OK, fair enough. I was going to add that I hadn't read Kate's paper yet, but just wanted to be sure we meant the same thing by 'normatively fundamental' first.
Hi, everyone! Here's my first comment on the blog -- I hope it makes sense. Marcus writes, "We ask, "Why should I think I have such-and-such a reason?" This very question -- the request for an explanation of what constitutes one's reasons -- suggests that (normative) reasons cannot be normatively fundamental." I'm afraid I'm missing a step (though you did just write 'suggests'...). For reasons to be normatively fundamental, I would think, is just for them to not be explained in terms of any other /normative/ concept (good, ought, etc.). But that doesn't mean they can't be explained at all. Some reductive realists like Schroeder, for example, seem to take reasons to be normatively fundamental, but go on to analyze reasons in non-normative terms (in Schroeder's case, in terms of desires, explanation, and promotion -- none of which are normative, on his view). If we have this kind of view, we can use reasons to explain other normative concepts, and then explain reasons in non-normative terms. So reasons are normatively fundamental, but we can still explain what constitutes your reasons, why you have them, and so on.
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May 23, 2012