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Tuesday, June 14, 2011


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Hi Bill,

Thank you for this post.

Consider this. We have at hand a good example of why we might want a Court of Philosophy and why such a venue could be useful. Peter claims he can prove in 1st order QL that a contingent existential follows from two tautologies. (Also he asserts a modalized version of this argument, but let’s leave that for now.)

Peter certainty bears a strong BOP for this heterodox claim, doesn’t he? None of us who know and have taught QL seem to think his argument works—but in fairness we are not best experts in QL. Let’s give Peter his day in court before a panel (jury) of true experts. Some group of the editors of the JSL would do nicely. Can you think of any better experts in QL proof theory than these professional logicians at JSL? I assume we would all agree to let them sit in judgment on our dispute. Peter then needs to submit what he considers a sound version of his argument. I or you or someone else would submit our criticism(s), and then this jury of experts would consult and tell us who is right. Maybe they would tell that we both don’t understand how domains are set up and UI works in QL! Whatever the verdict, I think we would all need to accept it as the most knowledgeable pronouncement on the issue. End of the debate. Somebody is right and somebody is wrong and that’s how it is.

The leading journals in math and physics get letters every day from crackpots telling them that they don’t know math or physics. How dare these journals reject the crackpot’s proof that the universe is 42 days old! If we don’t want to join the crackpot file at the JSL, we need to recognize that those people know how basic QL works and we are just the amateurs. If they tell we are wrong, beyond any reasonable doubt we are wrong. This is how progress is made. As Popper said, most good conjectures turn out to wrong and provably wrong. People can of course still write books in favor of a provably false idea (Holocaust denyers), and even get them published by some or other vanity press, but no rational intelligent person pays any attention to these crackpots and bigots, do they?

Don’t we want more parts of philosophy to be like formal logic where claims and arguments already get authoritatively adjudicated? Don’t we want to make progress by discarding obviously bad theories? The meta-disciplines like phil of science, phil of math, phil of mind, and phil of language, which are heavily dependent on understanding real scientific advances, seem especially promising venues for something like Courts of Philosophy.

Wouldn't a Court of Philosophy be an attempt at normal science for philosophy? Not to end the debate, but to shape the current debate.

For example: consider some thesis brought before the COP during the high day of logical positivism. Relative to what was widely accepted and contested, the BOP would aid them in sorting out theories.

But that can be consistent with saying "no definite decision could be arrived at." I am not in the field, but assume that a threshing machine like this is used for research grants. For better or worse! But all threshing machines are subject to dispute. So we need a meta-COP!


I am strongly inclined to agree that the BOP is on Peter given the heterodoxy of his claim. And I can't think of a better jury than one composed of editors and refs for J. Symbolic Logic.

And since none of us are logicians strictly speaking -- let the criterion be: one or more publications in JSL or NDJFL -- we would most likely be shown the errors of our ways by the jury you would enpanel. And most likely there would be clear-cut errors on one side or the other.

But now consider those eds and refs, consider the very best professional logicians. There are disputes that divide them. Let D be one such dispute. You will not get a resolution of D, or an ending of debate about D among the intelligent and well-informed, by any court of philosophy. And this for the reason stated at the end of my post: >>For what would go on in that court would not be philosophy, but rather a sort of dogmatically constrained quasi-philosophy. One would get answers all right, but only because various arbitrary decisions had been made, decisions that would be philosophically questionable.<<

And there is also the issue of 'crackpottery.' I don't doubt that some consider me a crackpot. Some (many?) of the topics on which I blog are topics about which I have and claim no expertise. My excuse for that, if an excuse is needed, is that that is in the nature of blogging: a weblog is an on-line journal or notebook. I assume that people understand that.

Blogging is a way of conducting one's education in public in a medium which, when things go well, others are lured in to contribute to one's ongoing education. For example, I have no expertise in the law or in the philosophy of law. (And of course I don't claim to or posture as if I do.) And yet I made some statements recently in the philosophy of law, statements which you disagree with, and which you seem to think can be refuted by the actual practice of those who work in the justice system.

But so far you have not shown me the error of my ways. I don't think this is due to a lack of intelligence on my part or a lack of expository skills on your part. I think we genuinely differ in the philosophy of law (not in the law) and that this difference cannot be settled by empaneling some experts in the law. In fact, there are experts in the phil. of law who differ as you and I differ. If that is right, then no court of philosophy could resolve our difference.

If you and I differ as to what the law states or how the law works or the actual practice of legal professionals, then I agree that I could be shown to be wrong by a panel of experts.

But the claim that our disagreement is about the law and not about the phil. of law is itself a phil. claim and not one that could be resolved by any panel of legal professionals.


Just to defend myself against Philoponus' charges of logico-blasphemy, I am willing to submit my arguments in front of such a court (since I have already verified them with a logician who is a reviewer on JSL). State time and place and I shall be there! Hehe!

Interesting comment, David. I't try to respond later. Right now I need to clear brush behind my house given the high fire danger in these parts. Holy Moly, the sun is already well up and its is only 6:10!

Hi Peter,

"State the time and place and I shall be there." That sounds a lot like being called out to a showdown. T'was not my intent to issue a challenge that in Arizona real men can only settle with six guns! So high-noon in Tombstone by the corral,...but wit, maybe I could buy you and Cari an apology dinner instead?

Seriously, please note that I said heterodox not heretical. I agree with Bill that that there are a lot of issues that cannot be settled by calling a COP--thank you, David--but our little exchange about QL seems to call out for an authoritative answer (and I think there is one). We don't need to be world-class experts to raise and discuss these issues in this forum, but it would be nice if some of our issues had a place to go for authoriative answers.


Eric is a ref for JSL? I'm impressed.


Cari and I accept the dinner offer instead the shootout at the OK Coral in Tombstone. Cari loves Indian. How about a meet at your favorite Indian Restaurant in Scottsdale this weekend? Friday OK for us. Let me know.


Eric has refed several papers for JSL. I do not know how often he does it though.


Yes, if there is a COP, then there will presumably be appeals some of which would terminate only with the SCOP, the counterpart of SCOTUS.

You mention logical positivism. A stock criticism of the Verifiability Principle is that it is meaningless by its own lights; it is neither a logico-analytic truth nor empirically verifiable in principle. In a positivist COP it could play the role of a presumption rule: the statements of philisphers are presumed meaningless until proven meaningful either by showing their logico-analytic or empirically verifiable status.

But now it is even more obvious why there can't be a COP. In philosophy, de omnibus dubitandum incl. any and all COP presumption rules.

In a court of law all sorts of presumption rules are taken for granted. Philosophy by its very nature couldn't allow such a thing.

Bill, Philoponus, Peter,

Bill says: "I think we genuinely differ in the philosophy of law (not in the law) and that this difference _cannot be settled_ by empaneling some experts in the law." He also says: "... there _can't_ be a COP." (My emphasis.)

Philoponus agrees: "I agree with Bill that that there are a lot of issues that _cannot_ be settled by calling a COP ..."

That's all plausible. But what kind concept of impossibility do we have in mind when we are making these judgment? Do we mean that the said things are formally contradictory or ruled out analytically? That would seem too strong. So which modality, exactly, is on our mind?

More generally, and more importantly, Bill thinks (typical) philosophical problem are intractable: they cannot be settled. E.g., in his recent post "What is Man", he wrote: "... live so as to deserve immortality. Live as if you have a higher destiny. It _cannot_ be _proven_, but the arguments against it can all be neutralized." (My emphasis.) I do not want to deny this. But again, do we mean mean it is analytically false that some human settles a philosophical problem (say, proves he's immortal)? If not, then what? I'm asking because I've made similar claims, too, and since long time ago. But I realized recently I am not very sure how should I explain the involved modal concept. This question is lurking in some of Bill's recent threads, including this one. So I'm raising the question here, in the hope of receiving some fitting suggestions.


When I say that there cannot be a court of philosophy I mean that this is ruled out by the nature of philosophy. I don't mean that this is a formal-logical impossibility but that it is a broadly-logical impossibility.

Can it be proven that man has a higher destiny (in the sense in which, to take a prime example, Christianity claims that man has a higher diestiny)? I maintain --tentatively, of course -- that it cannot be proven. Your question is a good one: what type of modality is in play here? I suggest that the modality is broadly-logical in Plantinga's sense. The nature of proof and the nature of discursive reason make it broadly-logically impossible to prove that man has a higher destiny.

Does that help?

It does help, Bill.

1. Broadly-logical necessity is a good candidate.

What about something weaker?

2. E.g., when we say that we (humans) cannot jump 5m high, do we mean broadly-logical impossibility? We mean, at least, that jumping 5m high is not within our capacities. This, maybe, is modally weaker than the claim that it is broadly-logically impossible for us to jump 5m high.

And maybe also when we say we cannot prove a particular answer to a particular and typical philosophical problem, the modality is rather that of universal (human) incapacity, and weaker, than that of broadly-logical impossibility (for humans).

3. Another candidate I want to suggest is counterfactual: we all would not jump 5m high. Similarly, we all would fail in proving our immortality. Maybe this (counterfactual) proposal is equivalent with the preceding one?

4. It seems, however, you would say these two, apparently weaker, suggestions are not enough. For once you wrote to me:

"When I say that the main problems are intractable, I mean that they are insoluble in principle, and not because of some contingent and remediable deficiency. It is not that we lack sufficient information or that we fail to think clearly about the information we have. We seem to have all the information we need to solve the problem of universals if it is indeed a genuine problem and one that can be solved. The same holds for the mind-body problem. Impressive advances in brain science since the time of Descartes have brought us no nearer a solution to the mind-body problem. And any additional information we acquire even up to the point of exhaustive information will not help. For what we lack is not information but understanding."

Here, you seem to me to be arguing as follows: (i) no amount of extra information and careful thinking settled the given problem; so, inductively and probably, (ii) no information and no careful thinking settle the problem; but (iii) if it is not broadly-logically impossible to settle the problem, some information or careful thinking settles the problem; so, probably, (iv) it is broadly-logically impossible to settle the problem. Is this a fair interpretation?

5. Interestingly, I’ve been also wondering how should we justify the claim that a particular (or, indeed, all) philosophical problem(s) cannot be solved, and I found out you made a general suggestion how to answer this question of mine in two old threads that were addressed to me. I've just quoted from the older one of the two threads, and I’ve just also indicated, in my interpretation of your line of thought, that your rationale is inductive. Indeed, in the same thread you make its inductive nature more explicit, by these words:

"... if over centuries the best minds have made no headway with them, then that would seem to count as evidence of intractability ..."

Finally, in a later thread of those two addressed to me, you wrote explicitly:

"... although the problems are genuine, deep, perennial, and important, they also seem intractable. The evidence for this is inductive: study the problems, study the solutions, and then ask yourself in all intellectual honesty and putting aside all one's ideological desires whether even one of the problems has been definitively solved." http://lists.powerblogs.com/pipermail/maverickphilosopher/2007-June/002228.html

If you have (or even wrote) other thoughts on how to justify the intractability claims, please let me know.




I've been trying for some time to write a book on metaphilosophy which deals with these and other issues. I have about three chapters so far.


That sounds very good. Could I see those three chapters? No sharing, no forwarding, no citing; I promise.


Thanks for your interest, but they are not ready to be sent out.

My wife is in Budapest as we speak and part of me regrets not having gone with her -- I could have jumped on a train to Prague. But I am deeply ambivalent about traveling . . . it would be good to meet you sometime, though.

Tell me what you think about my new post on the knowledge of contingency.

Thanks for your reply, Bill. You should be warned that so far my spoken English has been clumsy. But I have some fascinating and fluent colleagues who would like to meet you, too (esp. Daniel D. Novotný and Lukáš Novák). Incidentally, today and tomorrow, we will be seeing, in a Carmelite monastery near Prague, two Australian philosophers and mathematicians: James Franklin and Peter Forrest. Both are connected to David Armstrong. Franklin, in contrast to you, appreciates David C. Stove very much. Franklin has a good web site: http://web.maths.unsw.edu.au/~jim

As for the metaphilosophical drafts, why not to blog their crucial parts?

I will read and think about your post on the knowledge of contingency in few days.



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