Update Fall 2015

It has been an interesting 2015 for me philosophically. I’ve been writing feverishly because I had something published — to my great surprise — in Analysis. Figure I need something to follow up with. The paper is a modified version of my post Punny Logic, from back in January, and was the top download of both June and July. If you have institutional access, you can click here, else click here for the preprint. Hopefully I’ll have some new posts and papers to show soon.

As per usual the philosophy calendar is going strong. Lots of philosophy talks, workshops and conferences are scheduled for the coming semester in and around New York City. Even more will be posted as websites and departments update.

My only regret is that I don’t have plans to get to England in the next few weeks to witness the glory of Dismaland:


Posted in news.

XKCD on the Ontological Argument


Posted in fun, internet.

The Tortoise and the HareLoon


Achilles glanced up from his writing atop the Tortoise[1] and exclaimed, “Look! The Hare has caught up.”

“No,” said the Tortoise apprehensively, “that isn’t the Hare, but the Hare’s all too clever cousin, the HareLoon.”

“A real HareLoon! I’ve only ever seen them in pictures.”

“Don’t get so worked up. She is always in a hurry but I can never tell if she is coming or going.”

“Ah, but you should know the HareLoon coming and the HareLoon going are one and the same,” said the HareLoon. She then faced Achilles, “I heard that Tortoise had you write many logical steps after starting with a mere three.”

With a wan smile Achilles murmured, “We’ve moved on from that now…”

“Yes” said the Tortoise firmly. “Have you heard of Moore’s Proof of the External World? It is just as short as the three lines of Euclid:

(A) Here is a Hand.
(B) Hands are external things.

(Z) The external world exists.

Achilles said, “We are now in agreement that Z follows logically from A and B. But…”

“But only if we accept A and B, does Z follow,” the Tortoise interjected. “However, I’m skeptical that hands are real at all.”

“Whatever do you mean?” asked the HareLoon, looking rather concerned for Achilles.

“Well, I might just be dreaming that there is a Hand in front of me. Or I could have eaten something disagreeable that is making me imagine things. Or someone is playing a trick on me.” The Tortoise continued, “I need a further statement to guarantee A:

(C) I am not being fooled into thinking a Hand is here.

Achilles cringed, palm to face.

“Fair enough, and I think I know where you are going with this,” said the HareLoon. “But before we worry about the External world, have you a proof of the Internal World?”

“What do you mean: Proof of the Internal World?” asked Achilles.

The HareLoon queried, “Let me ask you first: Would you know a HareLoon if you saw one? If so, please tell me how.”

In an official sounding voice the Tortoise recited: “The chief characteristic of a HareLoon is that it appears to be a Hare at some times, and appears to be a Loon at others.”

“Excellent,” replied the HareLoon. “Would you agree that the HareLoon does not itself change when it takes on these different guises? That is: the appearance of the Loon and the appearance of the Hare are in the thoughts of the beholder.”

“I suppose… The change is in the onlooker,” agreed the Tortoise.

“Then,” continued the HareLoon,

(A’) Here is a HareLoon.
(B’) HareLoons are internal things.

(Z’) The internal world exists.

“I distinctly remember Moore talking about hands and not HareLoons,” grumbled the Tortoise.

“Perhaps, but unlike hands you cannot be fooled into thinking HareLoons exist! We exist when, without change, we can appear to be a Hare or a Loon. Since we have agreed that this change is in your head, you can’t be mistaken about us switching in appearance between Hare or Loon. Hence when you think you see a HareLoon, you do see a HareLoon!

“Very Clever!” returned the Tortoise. “But what we want is the external — not internal — world. You’ve just argued yourself into my head and out of external existence. If you are only in my thoughts, it is a quick matter of logic to say that you aren’t anywhere eles.”

“Why Tortoise, that is the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me! To think, you’ve kept me in mind and maintained my existence, all these years. I should be flattered — or flattened, like you. I would take this paper thin existence (Cogito me papyrum esse, ergo sum)[2] but I don’t think I need to any longer.

“Answer me this: Who lives in this internal world? I’m here, and so are you! We have just agreed that I exist by you thinking, Cogito Ergo Es, and this is just the same as you existing by you thinking, Cogito Ergo Sum. So if I am a figment of your imagination, then so are you.”

“I am most certainly not a figment of my own imagination! You always were Loony, using Hairy reasoning.” said the indignant Tortoise.

“I don’t want to deny my existence any more than you yours, but if, as a quick matter of logic, you exclude others from existing, it loses its sense to say that you exist, either[3]. The only other thing that could have gone wrong is B’, that HareLoons are internal things. So we now have:

(A’) Here is a HareLoon.
(B’’) HareLoons are external things.

(Z) The external world exists.

Achilles shook his head, “You should have known, Tortoise… you can be in your house, but you’re still outside. If only your cousin were here, the Mock-Turtle would say: that while Achilles skill kills and the Tortoise disorders us (what tsuris!), the HareLoon’s Hume’s heir.”

[1] Carroll, Lewis. (1895) What the Tortoise Said to Achilles. Mind 4, No. 14: 278-280.

[2] Bouwsma, O. K. (1949). Descartes’ evil genius. Philosophical Review 58 (2):141-151.

[3] Wittgenstein, Ludwig (1953/2003). Philosophical Investigations: The German Text, with a Revised English Translation. Malden, Ma, Blackwell Pub.
Relevant section §398 quoted below.

Philosophical Investigations §398

(Bold Added)

“But when I imagine something, or even actually see objects, I have got something which my neighbour has not.” — I understand you. You want to look about you and say: “At any rate only I have got THIS.” — What are these words for? They serve no purpose. — Can one not add: “There is here no question of a ‘seeing’ — and therefore none of a ‘having’ — nor of a subject, nor therefore of T either”? Might I not ask: In what sense have you got what you are talking about and saying that only you have got it? Do you possess it? You do not even see it. Must you not really say that no one has got it? And this too is clear: if as a matter of logic you exclude other people’s having something, it loses its sense to say that you have it.

But what is the thing you are speaking of? It is true I said that I knew within myself what you meant. But that meant that I knew how one thinks to conceive this object, to see it, to make one’s looking and pointing mean it. I know how one stares ahead and looks about one in this case — and the rest. I think we can say: you are talking (if, for example, you are sitting in a room) of the ‘visual room’. The ‘visual room’ is the one that has no owner. I can as little own it as I can walk about it, or look at it, or point to it. Inasmuch as it cannot be any one else’s it is not mine either. In other words, it does not belong to me because I want to use the same form of expression about it as about the material room in which I sit. The description of the latter need not mention an owner, in fact it need not have any owner. But then the visual room cannot have any owner. “For” — one might say — “it has no master, outside or in.”

Think of a picture of a landscape, an imaginary landscape with a house in it. — Someone asks “Whose house is that?” — The answer, by the way, might be “It belongs to the farmer who is sitting on the bench in front of it”. But then he cannot for example enter his house.

You’ve tossed the grin out with the cat.

Posted in metaphysics, mind, philosophy.

Awesome Tattoo!

DuckRabbit by itsch on DeviantArt

Posted in fun, internet. Tagged with , .

Punny Logic

Update 12 Feb: This post had been expanded upon and, after submission, accepted for publication in Analysis published by Oxford University Press. View the submitted ‘author original version’ here.


It is hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they take things literally.

On the surface, this statement is a statement of logic, with a premise and conclusion.

Given the premise:

Kleptomaniacs take things literally.

We may deduce the conclusion:

It is hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs.

Now, whether the conclusion strictly follows from the premise is beside the point: it is a pun, and meant to be funny. However, as a pun, it still has to make some logical sense. If it didn’t make any sense, it wouldn’t, and couldn’t, be funny either. While nonsense can be amusing, it isn’t punny.

What is the sense in which the conclusion logically follows from the premise then, and how does this relate to the pun?

Puns play off ambiguity in the meaning of a word or phrase. In this case the ambiguity has to do with the meaning of to take things literally. It can mean to steal, or it can mean to only use the simplest, most common definitions of terms.

In the first meaning, by definition, kleptomaniacs steal, i.e. they literally take things.

So then “take things literally” is true.

In the second meaning, by deduction, since puns play off multiple meanings of things, it is hard to explain a pun to someone who only uses the single, most common definition of a term. That is, if they take things literally, they won’t recognize the multiple meanings required to understand a pun.

So if someone “takes things literally” it is true that it is hard to explain puns to them.

Therefore, between the two meanings, we can informally derive the statement: it is hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they take things literally.

However, if we wanted to write this out in a formal logical language, then we would need a formal way to represent the two meanings of the single phrase.

Classically, there is no way to give a proposition multiple meanings. Whatever a proposition is defined as, it stays that way. A can’t be defined as B and then not defined as B: (A=B & A≠B) is a contradiction and to be avoided classically. But let’s start with a classical formulation:


TTL1 mean to Take Things Literally, in the 1st sense: to steal

TTL2 mean to Take Things Literally, in the 2nd sense: to use the most common definitions of terms.


  1. ∀x [ Kx → TTL1x ]
    For anyone who is a Kleptomaniac, Then they take things literally (steal)
  2. ∀y[ TTL2y → Py ]
    For anyone who takes things literally (definitionally), Then it is hard to explain puns to them

What we want, however, is closer to:

  1. ∀z [[ Kz → TTLz] → Pz ]
    For anyone who is a Kleptomaniac, Then they take things literally, Then it is hard to explain puns to them

with only one sense of TTL, but two meanings.

Since TTL1 ≠ TTL2, we can’t derive (3) from (1) and (2), as is. And if TTL1 = TTL2, then we would have (1) A→B, and (2) B→C, while trying to prove (3) A→B→C, which logically follows. However, there would no longer be a pun if there was only one meaning of TTL.

What is needed is to be able to recompose our understanding of ‘to take things literally’ in a situation aware way. We need to be able to have the right meaning of TTL apply at the right time, specifically Meaning 1 in the first part, and the Meaning 2 in the latter.

Intuitively, we want something like this, with the scope corresponding to the situation:

  1. ∀z [ Kz → { TTLz ]1 → Pz }2

In this formula, let the square brackets [] have the first meaning of TTL apply, while the curly braces {} use the second meaning. Only the middle — TTL — does double duty with both meanings.

Achieving this customized scope can be done by using Independence Friendly logic. IF logic allows for fine-grained scope allocation.

So let:

S mean to steal.

D mean to take things definitionally.


  1. ∀x ∀y ∃u/∀x ∃v/∀y [ Kx → ( x=u & y=v & Su & Dv → TTLvu ) → Py ]
    If anyone is a kleptomaniac then there is someone who is identical to them who steals… and if there is someone who takes things definitionally then there is someone identical to them for whom it is hard to explain puns to… and the person who steals and the person who takes things definitionally then both Take Things Literally.

The scope gymnastics are being performed by the slash operators at the start and the equality symbols in the middle part of the equation. What they are doing is specifying the correct meanings — the correct dependencies — to go with the correct senses: Stealing pairs with Kleptomania and taking things Definitionally pairs with being bad at Puns, while both pairs also meaning Taking Things Literally. With both pairs meaning TTL, and each pair being composed independently, Equation (5) therefore provides a formalization of the original pun.


Finding new applications for existing logical systems provides a foundation for further research. As we expand the range of topics subject to logical analysis, cross-pollination between these subjects becomes possible.

For instance, using custom dependencies to associate multiple meanings to a single term is not only useful in describing puns. Scientific entities are often the subjects of competing hypotheses. The different hypotheses give different meanings — different properties, relations and dependencies — to the scientific objects under study. Logically parsing how the different hypotheses explain the world using the same terms can help us analyze the contradictions and incommeasureabilities between theories.

On the other hand, while this article may have forever ruined the above pun for you (and me), it does potentially give insight into what humans find funny. Classically, risibility, having the ability to laugh, has been associated with humans and rationality. Analyzing this philosophical tradition with the new logical techniques will hopefully provide existential insight into the human condition.

Posted in independence friendly logic, logic. Tagged with , , , .

Xmas post

Happy Holidays!

As is my Xmas tradition, I watched “Die Hard”. Surprisingly one of the characters reminded me of the current state of internet philosophy:

Posted in internet, news, philosophy. Tagged with .

xkcd on the Trolley Problem


Posted in internet. Tagged with .

On the Dangers of Running the PGR

Something that caught my eye in the recent PGR debate was a compliment of the anti-PGR faction’s organizational skills that was stated right along side an insult to their actions. Specifically:

“I really do not understand what is going on. You [did x]…  The response has been a well-organized attempt to force you to [do y]. But [doing x] had exactly nothing to do with [doing y].”

This well-organization stands in contrast to:

“I would rather not have had to make the decision in the face of a sometimes irrational cyber-mob”

I think this contradiction in characterization — either the anti-PGR faction is well-organized or it is an irrational mob, but not both — reveals something interesting going on with the PGR and philosophy.

I’d like to focus on the compliment of the organizational skills as it is the more revealing.

Let’s assume that complimenting your opponent’s organizational skills was not done out of magnanimity. Instead, it works to shift the blame away from the pro-PGR arguments and moral standing: the opponents won because of reasons that were not pertinent to the discussion, not “legitimate” reasons. That is, no one is paying attention to the pro-PGR arguments because they are so blinded by the ‘organization’ of the anti-PGR faction.

There are two ways to understand this:

  1. They are accusing the anti-PGR faction of running a conspiracy. Being well organized implies that there wasn’t really a consensus against the PGR. Instead, only the appearance of a consensus exists through the efforts of the anti-PGR leaders. These masterminds have engineered the appearance of a consensus to gather popular support for their illegitimate cause. The masterminds have fooled the masses into doing their bidding.

       Besides implying that there is no consensus, this is a clever strategy because it puts the the anti-PGR faction into the position of proving a negative: proving that they were not so well organized and hence that there is no conspiracy.

  2. Though the pro-PGR folks understand what has happened, they do not understand HOW it happened. The claim of well-organization is being used as a catch-all in place of a better causal explanation.

I think the latter is the more likely of the two options. Firstly, because confusion is admitted directly in the quote, and secondly because the PGR debate itself is exactly about how to evaluate different philosophies.

The PGR has systematically been evaluating philosophy for years, and hence inherently creates confirmation bias with respect to those rankings. The confirmation bias will, over time, overvalue philosophy at the top of the rankings and undervalue philosophy at the bottom.

What, then, may have happened is that the success of the PGR infected the minds of those most involved with it. The confirmation bias caused them to undervalue and overlook the capabilities of low-ranked philosophies, to the point of atrophy. So when those philosophies became mobilized against them, they couldn’t see or understand what was happening. They became inevitable victims of their own success.

Posted in argumentation, news, philosophy. Tagged with , .

Guidelines for Submitting to Philosophy Journals

Based on recent reviewers’ reports, I’ve come up with some quick guidelines to reference when submitting to philosophy journals:

1. Do not make an argument in your paper. If you do, it will be ignored, and hence is a waste of everyone’s time. Do not fear, though: The reviewer will tell you what argument should have been written and how you failed to provide sufficient supporting justifications for that argument.

2. Building and supporting the results of previous sections is likewise ill-advised. By having the sections relate to each other it ensures that they will be incompatible with the argument the reviewer is looking for.

3. Distinctions are dangerous! By associating two concepts together you will introduce complexity to your paper. The reviewer cannot be expected to remember which concept you are discussing, no matter how clearly you state which you are talking about.

4. Providing new definitions of traditional concepts should be avoided. As the old, contradictory, definition is so much more familiar, any new definition will inherently be too obscure to have any utility.

Conclusion: Basically assume the paper will be reviewed on a Friday night after heavy drinking.

OK. Done venting.

Posted in philosophy.

Site Update 2014

After running this site for 7 years, I have done a comprehensive update of the systems that run it, namely migrating it to a brand new database. This has increased the site speed, noticeable in page loading times especially on the calendar. The calendar is going strong, with many talks and events for the Fall of 2014. Please check it out if you are in the New York City metropolitan area.

Posted in internet, news. Tagged with .
website hit