A forum for VE lucubration

Thursday, May 22, 2008

What is a Truism?

For some object O and proposition p, Suppose it is true that:

(1) P is a truism about O.

There are several ways to interpret (1). Here's a really weak way:

[WEAK]: P is true about O.

But this is surely too weak. Lots of propositions might be true about O and aren't such that we would say they are "truisms" about O.

How about something stronger:

[STRONG]: P is true about O, and is true about O in most nearby worlds in which O holds.

Hmm... maybe? This seems plausible, but it's not obvious.

What about something even stronger:

[SUPERSTRONG]: P is constitutive of the concept of O.

For example, that a bachelor is unmarried is constiutive of the concept of a bachelor, and is also surely a 'truism' about bachelors (if anything is a truism about anything.) Does "A bachelor is unmarried" just happen to be both a truism about bachelors and constitutive of the concept of bachelor? This is tricky. It seems as though it 's more than coincidence. However, we should probably be careful before endorsing 'superstrong' as something that follows from the claim that p is a truism about O. Consider that other plausible candidates for 'truisms' don't admit of such strong conceptual inferences. Consider:

(2) "What goes up must come down" is a truism about what goes up. If you think there is such a thing as a truism, you'd be hard pressed to claim that (2) isn't a truism; at least, you'd certainly fly in the face of the folk-approved norms that govern the use of truism.

But if (2) is a truism, then Superstrong is false. That something must come down is not constitutive of the concept of "goes up" or "ascends".

So what the heck is a truism???

Saturday, May 03, 2008

Episteme Conference at Northwestern

Northwestern University is hosting the 2009 Episteme Conference on the Significance of Disagreement. Here's a link which includes the call for papers:


Friday, May 02, 2008

Openmindedness and doxastic control

Alston and Michael Lynch put it nicely when they point out that, in the face of our lacking direct control over our beliefs, we nonetheless have in some important sense "indirect control." Lynch says that you can control how you go about pursuing the truth." This also seems right. For example, Sherlock Holmes will choose to go about pursuing the truth of a murder case in a certain way, and when (perhaps) he is at home and can't find a certain pair of socks, he might choose to pursue the truth of the matter (of where the socks are) with less tenacity than he chooses to exhibit on the murder trail.

Intellectual tenacity seems like a trait we can choose to exhibit in pursuit of the truth. But what about the intellectual virtue of openmindedness. Can we choose to be openminded in our pursuit of the truth? I think we should be careful before saying "yes."

Indeed, we talk as though we can choose to be openminded. For example, a juror can promise the judge that, if selected to the jury, she will be sure to go about the testimony openmindedly. Whether she can choose to do this though is another matter.

Here's a reason to think we might not be able to choose to be openminded in pursuing the truth.

Consider first the platitude that doxastic voluntarism is false. We can't choose what we believe. Indeed, this is the same claim Alston and Lynch make when pointing out that we don't have direct control over our beliefs. Why don't we have direct control over our beliefs? Plausibly, this is because our beliefs are "passive" responses to the world and the evidence it gives us. Relatedly, it is argued that beliefs are formed involuntarily. These platitudes seem to be at a tension with the thought that we could choose to be openminded. Presumably, if we could choose to be openminded, then we could choose to respond differently than we otherwise would to the world and the evidence it gives us. But this is precisely what doxastic involuntarism implies that we can't do.

Thursday, May 01, 2008

Epistemology Through Thick and Thin (call for papers)

Philosophical Papers is running a special edition on thick and thin concepts in epistemology. For those interested in VE, this will be an especially hot topic. The call for papers ends in late June; here's some more info.