Saturday, December 10, 2005

AAPC Summary: Part I

A few thoughts on some of the AAPC talks I went to...

David Ward's Presidential Address on Saturday evening offered an analysis of 'fun' as 'amusement born of rational detachment'. We may enjoy becoming engaged in more serious activities, but a game isn't really "fun" (in the playful sense) unless we aren't too heavily invested in the outcome. To enable such detachment, Ward suggested that an element of chance or randomness is important, to provide an excuse for losing.

Sunday began with Justine Kingsbury and Tim Dare arguing that differential distributions of the burden of proof between disputants in rational discourse are generally unwarranted. Most apparent cases to the contrary (e.g. where someone postulates entities unnecessarily, such as ghosts or deities) are simply ones where the one side already has reasons on their side (say, reasons of parsimony, or the general success of the naturalistic worldview), rather than being a case where one side was genuinely the "default" position in the sense of not needing the weight of (even existing) reasons to support it. Other cases, where we appeal to "common sense" - say against the radical skeptic - may be more a matter of bailing out of the debate, rather than engaging the opposition but demanding stronger reasons of them. As a couple of us pointed out in quesiton time, this methodological position (that unequal BoPs are unwarranted) seems to beg the question against epistemological conservatism (the view that there is a presupposition in favour of our existing beliefs, or "common sense"). But perhaps that's no great loss.

Canterbury's own Cynthia MacDonald spoke about introspection. An interesting question there is whether (some of) our introspective beliefs are somehow indubitable, infallible, or incorrigible. It touches on issues of subjectivity which I've tackled before. For example, it seems that any sincere utterance of "It seems to me that X" couldn't possibly be false. But perhaps we need to distinguish between actual seemings (the objective version) and seemingly actuals (the subjective version), where only the latter judgments are infallible -- since only there do the judgments themselves constitute the fact. The difference is brought out by imagining a case of memory manipulation. You have a false belief about the way things actually seemed at the time, but it nevertheless truly seems actual to you now.

Next, Otago grad students Charles Boulton and Ian Lawson argued for a metaphysics informed by physics (a project I'm certainly sympathetic to). They focussed on the metaphysics of time in particular, outlining arguments against presentism like the one I've made here. An additional point they made was that, though the presentist can avoid the objection by insisting that there is some privileged or 'absolute' frame of reference which determines "true" simultaneity and thus existence, we have no reason to think that it is our (Earthly) frame. Given all the alternative possibilities, it seems more likely that the presentist would end up having to deny that all the things that seem simultaneous and real from our point of view really are so. (I should add that Charles was generous enough to billet several of us Canterbury students while we were there, and is an all-round great guy.)

More to come...


  1. The difference is brought out by imagining a case of memory manipulation. You have a false belief about the way things actually seemed at the time, but it nevertheless truly seems actual to you now.

    Well, you needn't invoke sci-fi memory manipulation; faulty memory happens all the time, in small ways. But isn't this just a case of distinguishing a difference in scope, rather than any kind of burly objective-subjective distinction? "It seems to me that I did in fact tell you 'Happy anniversary'" [= S(P(T(i,u, h)))] and "It did in fact seem to me that I told you 'Happy anniversary'" [= P(S(T(i, u, h)))] are just two different propositions on the face of it, because the scope of the past-tense qualifier is different. (Indeed, it's not hard to see how different the conditions for their appropriate use are.) I think pretty much everyone who's discussed the seeming infallibility of first-personal mental ascriptions has then limited it to first-personal present mental ascriptions, haven't they?

  2. Thanks Richard, you are too kind :)

    It was a pleasure having three such erudite Canterbury philosophers stay.

  3. Hi Charles, nice to hear from you!

    Rad Geek - Yes, I was thinking of it as a scopal difference like that. I haven't a clue what other people have talked about though.


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