Tony Bruckner 1953-2014

Tony Bruckner, who died a couple of weeks ago, was my thesis advisor, having overseen my dissertation on Jerry Fodor and naturalized semantics. I also took a number of courses with him as a graduate student at UCSB. Tony was 61 and doubtless at the hight of his powers—this one of those untimely deaths that just seem particularly unfair. Though my philosophical interests have kind of drifted away from the close, rigorous analytic philosophy he excelled at, I’d like to think I acquired at least some small measure of his truly remarkable ability to work through an argument with exacting care, precision and detail. I’d also like to acknowledge a particularly good bit advice he offered when I began working on my dissertation, which was something to the effect that “you’ve read enough—start writing.” And so I did. One last thing has to be said in any remembrance of Dr. Bruckner: as anyone who knew or worked with him will tell you, he was an uncommonly generous and kind person.

More on Gender Roles

Why would we want gender roles? What good can they serve or further? The answer I want to consider is diversity understood in a specific way. For this I’ll rely on Peter Hershock’s gloss in his book Valuing DiversityDrawing on a particularly intriguing reading of the Buddhist idea of Interdependent Arising, Hershock distinguishes diversity from variation:

Variation is a means-to and has the meaning-of generating novel incidents of nonidentity—a process of increasing the quantity of individual things present. Diversity is a function of relational dynamics that are conducive to the production and sustained presence of a particular quality of interaction: a distinctive complexion of interdependence. Diversification is a means-to and has the meaning-of generating creatively enriching patterns of mutual contribution to sustainably shared welfare. It marks the advent of a distinctive qualitative shift in how things are present. (48-49) Keep reading…

Xunzi on Language III

One last bit on Xunzi and language. I think Xunzi holds to neither a realist nor a nominalist metaphysics—I don’t see that this question would have occurred to him either. Rather his view seems really rather straightforward. We should draw pragmatically valuable distinctions between things according to their type (lei), and we do this by looking at things to discover genuine similarities…continue.

Xunzi on Language II

I think a lot of the apparent inconsistencies in Xunzi, as well as a lot of the arguments his remarks on language have occasioned, are due to some confusions that can cleared up if we make more use of some modern analytic philosophy of language. In particular I’m inclined to argue:

1)       Xunzi does hold to an externalist account of reference in the neighborhood of those defended by Hilary Putnum or Tyler Burge. Read more…

Xunzi on language

Anyone with some familiarity with modern analytic philosophy of language will find the chapter on Zhengming—‘The Rectification of Names—in Xunzi to be tantalizing and probably a bit frustrating. Here we get hints of a sophisticated attempt to make sense of language and its essential role in social organization that makes clear contact with very current ideas about reference, metaphysics, and linguistic normativity. Or so it seems. It’s always a little unclear, as Xunzi is terse and brief in his explications, and by contemporary lights it can seem as though he no more than hints at one tantalizing idea—a direct reference theory of the theory of names, for examples—before asserting something seemingly incompatible with it. Hence the frustration, and a continuing debate among commentators as to just what Xunzi claims. Keep Reading


More on Nagel

The mistake people make with Nagel’s most famous work is focusing too much on the stupid bat, as neither the bat nor our inability to know what it’s like to be a bat is all the important to his argument. The misplaced emphasis makes people respond to Nagel as if he were making an epistemological point, rather than using an epistemological observation as part of an argument about ontology and science. As I read him, Nagel is arguing that the subjectivity of something like pain is essential–to talk meaningfully of pain is to talk about pain as experienced by a subject. This creates the epistemological gap highlighted by the bat example, but more importantly demonstrates the irreducibility of pain. Unlike phenomena that don’t have an essential subjective aspect, something like pain cannot be treated in the standard scientific way that strips away the subjective properties of our experience of a thing to arrive at an objective description it. Nagel’s example is lightening. As experienced lightning has various subjective properties. Strip these away and you still have lightening–being experienced as a bright flash in the sky is not part of what lightening is in itself. Not so, says Nagel, with pain. Strip away the subjective properties of pain and you’re changing the subject. Continued…


Meta-Ethical Musings

There are things we know about the world because of the achievements of the physical sciences and that are the bases for widely held beliefs. I have in mind things like the fact that the water is H20. It’s safe to say few people come to believe these scientific claims by way of scientific investigation of the world. Rather, most people–I would guess a vast majority of people–who believe water is H20 do so because they were taught to believe this rather than as a result of their own rigorous empirical explorations of chemistry. Consequently we can readily distinguish two kinds of questions here. One kind would concern the nature of a scientific claim like “water is H20”, and another would concern the processes by which people come to believe a claim like water is H20. At first glance anyway, it would be odd to think that we could learn much about scientific claims–whether they’re true or false, what makes them true or false, the basic nature of the world they try to describe–by looking at the processes by which people typically arrive at their scientific beliefs, the accuracy of those beliefs, the level understanding of science or the natural world evinced, and so on. Surely the burden would be on the person–a certain kind of scientific anti-realist–who thinks we can connect these two kinds of questions to make the case. Keep reading…