A new version of my discussion of Quine’s “argument from below” is now up online (shorter! punchier! better!) Turns out it was all to do with counterpart theory all along.
Here’s the blurb: Gavagai gets discussed all the time. But (unless I’m missing something in the literature) I’ve never seen an advocate of gavagai-style indeterminacy spell out in detail what exactly the deviant interpretations or translations are, that incorporating the different ways of dividing reference (over rabbits, rabbit-stages or undetached rabbit-parts). And without this it is to say the least, a bit hard to evaluate the supposed counterexamples to such interpretations! So the main job of the paper is to spell out, for a significant fragment of language, what the rival accounts of reference-division amount to.
One audience for the paper (who might not realize they are an audience for it initially) are folks interested in the stage theory/worm theory debate in the philosophy of persistence. The neuvo-Gavagai guy, according to me, is claiming that there’s no fact of the matter whether our semantics is stage-theoretic or worm-theoretic. I think there’s a reasonable chance that that he’s right.
Stronger than this: so long as there are both 4D worms and instantaneous temporal parts thereof around (even if they’re “dependent entities” or “rabbit histories” or “mere sums” as opposed to Real Objects), the Gavagai guy asks you to explain why our words don’t refer to those worms or stages rather than whatever entity you think *really are* rabbits (say, enduring objects wholly present at each time).
By the way, even if these semantic indeterminacy results were right, I don’t think that this forecloses the metaphysical debate about which of endurance, perdurance or exdurance is the right account of *persistence*. But I do think that it forces us to think hard about what the difference is between semantic and metaphysical claims, and what sort of reasons we might offer for either.
Back in Atlanta waiting to reboard a flight to the UK. Trying not to miss the flight this time (interestingly, the plane from SF was an hour out on the “local time” it displayed on board, which might explain the previous problems).
The APA was really fun. Highlights for me included the Hudson-fest, featuring comments from Josh Parsons, Mark Heller and Michael Rae, and interesting replies to each from Hud. Also the author-meets-critics session on dialethism which Brit mentions here. I’ve been thinking a lot about open futures following Brit’s talk on sea battle semantics, and may have some thoughts to post soon (on the plane over to Atlanta, my frantic drawing of dots and arrows trying to figure out how counterfactuals interact with open future semantics convinced my neighbour I was an astrophysicist. Must be the big axes with “time” and “reality” on them…). Andy Egan gave two really interesting papers, on fragmented minds and aesthetic disagreement, and I really enjoyed Alyssa Ney‘s talk on how different theories of causation fit together (or not). And lots more nice people met and good stuff talked about!
It was fun also meeting various bloggers for the first time in the flesh.
The tale of the 14 philosophers and the limousine is already legendary, I gather (I wasn’t there).
San Francisco! I’m staying at a hotel with a very posh lobby, the Sir Francis Drake, just down the street from the APA venue. I’ve enjoyed a hour-long double-decker train journey, and am just being struck once more about the strangeness of being in a different country.
I think food may be in order, then recovery before the hard philosophical slog restarts…
The Boise metametaphysics conference finished today. A really fun event! I gave quick versions of my comments on Ted’s naturalness paper this morning.
One thing that was kind of surprising to me is that there weren’t many people defending the sort of “realist Quinean” view that I (along with a lot of people) took to be the orthodoxy. Carnapians (of various flavours), Aristotelians, and the like were more in evidence.
I found the framework and ideas in Dave Chalmers’ “Ontological anti-realism” paper particularly stimulating. It suggests to me some nice ways of extending some of the views I have on ontic vagueness. Lots to think about.
Anyway, I’m now about to get on a plane for San Francisco, for the Pacific APA. It was very exciting seeing the Pacific for the first time as I flew in to SF on the way to Boise; I’m really looking forward to seeing the city and attending the conference.