Category Archives: philosophy

Review: After Finitude and Facticality

[cross-posted at The Road to Sippy Cups]

Quentin Meillassoux’s After Finitude © has a very interesting discussion of Hume’s problem, Kant’s Copernican Revolution, the principle of sufficient reason and the relationship between dogmatism and fanaticism. Any one of his analyses on these topics makes the book worthwhile, but I’d like to focus on something different: the fundamental assumption of facticality.

Meillassoux has a factical view of the world, meaning that the world is made up of facts. He does not argue that facticality is a necessary position, though, but as it seems convenient for the rest of his arguments and has an impressive pedigree, he seems to feel this is good enough. He claims this pedigree stems from both Wittgenstein and Heidegger, among others.

This leads to two ways of criticizing his position: either by attacking the ground of the facticality of the world using Meillassoux’s own strategies or by using historic attacks on facticality of the world and applying them to Meillassoux’s position.

First let’s take a look at some historical arguments:

I do not know if Heidegger ever repudiated his views on this subject, but it was Wittgenstein of the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus © that propounded a factical world. Wittgenstein did repudiate this work, though it is not necessarily the factical world view that became offensive to later Wittgenstein.* However, what we do have is this quote from the Introductions (p. x) of the Philosophical Investigations ©:

For since beginning to occupy myself with philosophy again, sixteen years ago, I have been forced to recognize grave mistakes in what I wrote in that first book [the Tractatus]. I was helped to realize these mistakes—to a degree which I myself am hardly able to estimate—by the criticism which my ideas encountered from Frank Ramsey, with whom I discussed them in innumerable conversations during the last two years of his life.

Ramsey’s review of the Tractatus was published in October 1923 in Mind /©, and Ramsey died in 1930. Hence Ramsey’s review is five years prior to these discussions. Yet I do not know of any record of later conversations, so this Mind review remains the best source for Ramsey’s thoughts on the Tractatus. The task for me will be to show how his criticisms, which are directed at the Tractatus, can also be applied to the factical world view.

Ramsey criticized Wittgenstein’s concept of logical constants. Lighting upon 5.512

That which denies in ‘~p ‘ is not ‘~,’ but that which all signs of this notation, which deny p, have in common. Hence the common rule according to which ‘~p,’ ‘~~~p,’ ‘~p ∨ ~p,’ ‘~p & ~p,’ etc. etc. (to infinity) are constructed. And this which is common to them all mirrors denial.”

Ramsey says (p. 472)

I cannot understand how it mirrors denial. It certainly does not do so in the simple way in which the conjunction of two propositions mirrors the conjunction of their senses. This difference between conjunction and the other truth-functions can be seen in the fact that to believe p and q is to believe p and to believe q; but to believe p or q is not the same as to believe p or to believe q, nor to believe not p as not to believe p.

This criticism applies to the interpretation of logical constants within the Tractatus. Ramsey is arguing that Wittgenstein’s picture theory breaks down in its interpretation of logical constants since negation is not simply represented by a picture if pictures including negation also mirror denial. The situation for disjunction is worse, since it makes even less sense to say what a disjunction mirrors. The upshot is that there is more going on with logical constants than simply describing how facts can be broken down.

We can extend this criticism to the ontological, factical situation: In a factical world, everything can be otherwise. But if our logical constants cannot be pictured in certain ways — if our logical constants resist being viewed in certain ways since they are not strictly like other facts — then there are restrictions on our logical understanding of the world. Hence the factical world cannot be completely changeable: it is governed by the complex internal structures of logic. This means there are restrictions on what can be otherwise in terms of logic and a meta-restriction on how things can be otherwise: everything can still be otherwise, but not in every possible way.

This can be seen in another criticism of Ramsey’s. He said the Tractarian position commits one to holding, “the only necessity is that of tautology, the only impossibility that of contradiction.” (p. 473) He continues:

For example, considering between in point of time as regards my experiences; if B is between A and D and C between B and D, then C must be between A and D; but it is hard to see how this can be a formal tautology.

In terms of facticality we are dealing with absolute contingency, so everything must either be entirely contingent, or there is something necessary. But what this example shows is that if there is any sort of ordering that we can give to the world, then there are going to be necessarily existing facts about that world. So, again, everything could be different, but not in every possible way.

Worse, for QM, is that the factical position may then beg the question about what grounds for our scientific practice, since this is the sort of mathematical structure he wants to use to justify our understanding of the arche-fossil. So if there are mathematical systems built into the logical structure of facticality, then he will have to abandon his current project and start again without assuming facticality.

These two examples from Ramsey point out that the factical world is not an innocent assumption.

Now for an internal criticism of facticity.

Can facticity resist Meillassoux’s speculative move? If we can speculate on whether the world is factical or not, then must we still accept that the world is factical? I can’t see how since there is nothing about speculating on the factical world that should lead back to it; the factical world view was adopted on the principle that it worked with radical contingency. Also, seeing as Meillassoux is willing to apply speculation to his problems means that it is an available strategy to apply to his solutions. Hence we may engage in speculation before we accept facticity.

This leads to a dilemma of choosing between radical contingency and speculation: if we are speculative, then we no longer can accept the factical world and radical contingency theory based on it, but if we are radically contingent, then we accept the factical world and reject the speculative move, undermining the rest of the theory. Hence Meillassoux wielded too strong a weapon: using speculation without restriction is too dangerous for facticity, and this collapses the rest of his theory.


* Hintikka has put forward an analysis /© of Wittgenstein’s rejection of the Tractatus during 1929 based on his dated notebooks and other records, such as Vienna Circle commentary. He maintains that Wittgenstein repudiated the phenomenological view of language but not the picture view (facticality) of the world, at least at that time. See page 167.

Posted in metaphysics, ontology, philosophy, wittgenstein. Tagged with .

The Paradox of Unreasonability

“You’re being unreasonable!”

One or more of you may have had this directed at you. But what does the speaker mean by it?

Presumably the speaker believes that the listener is not acting according to some given standard. However, if the speaker had an argument to that effect, the speaker should’ve presented it. Hence, all the above statement means is that the speaker has run out of arguments and has resorted to name-calling: being unreasonable is another way of saying crazy.

Now, though, the situation has reversed itself. It is not the listener that has acted unreasonably, but the speaker. Without an argument that concludes that the listener is being unreasonable, then it is not the listener that is being unreasonable, but the speaker. The speaker is name-calling, when, by the speaker’s own standards, an argument is required. For what else is reasonable but to present an argument? So, by saying that the listener is being unreasonable, in essence the speaker is declaring themself unreasonable.

But, yet again, the situation reverses itself. If a person has run out of arguments, and makes a statement to that effect, then he or she is being perfectly reasonable. This returns us to the beginning! Therefore, by making a claim about someone else being unreasonable, you paradoxically show that you yourself are and are not reasonable, such that if you are, then you are not, and if you are not, then you are.

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

Philosophy Carnival #141

Welcome to the one hundred forty first philosophy carnival. In my internet travels I found some really cool philosophy inspired posters by Genis Carreras, which I have paired with the links to pretty up the carnival.

Zombies, because philosophers like zombies.

An introduction to the philosophical discussion of zombies
and dualism by Tom B. over at Philosophy of… which looks like a promising new blog contributing “in some humble way to this movement of the popularizing of philosophy, and try to convince a few of you that it’s not so boring, obscure and irrelevant as many assume.”

Jason Zarri at Philosophical Pontifications
posts a more in depth post on the consciousness of a scattered zombie brain. See what happens if at first we have zombie brain, except that this brain is made of people working all over China to simulate brain activity. What happens if parts of the brain (people) are replaced by neurons, ending up with a normal (if scattered) brain?

Professional level zombie discussion!
Richard Brown vs. Dave Chalmers, with Dr. Brown discussing the use modal operators when arguing for the conceivability of shombies (a subspecies of zombie). This discussion goes from possible worlds to identities, and leads to a revised argument which concludes that non-materialism is false. Go check out the argument!


This is my favorite post of the carnival: U-Phil: Deconstructing Dynamic Dutch-Books? by Deborah G. Mayo. It is about dogmatism in Bayesian epistemology when considering Dutch Book arguments, as viewed by a frequentist. This is great stuff.

Is There a Difference Between Memory and Imagination? Ok, this has little to do with dogma, but I had nowhere else to put it. Greg argues that remembering is closer to imagination since it is a reconstruction.

Experimental Issues

Tomkow proposes
that philosophical experimenters need to take more care in separating their philosophical intuitions from biasing their results. This makes me wonder if there are further chances for a philosopher to bias their test subjects beyond psychological factors– can philosophical opinions be projected in new and unusual ways beyond what we account for?

What happens when people are placed under linguistic constraints and need to communicate? Experimental semiotics provides some insight with combinatoriality (recurrence of basic forms), but Gualtiero Piccinini argues that natural language is more complex. He says it requires potential infinite complexity, which may not occur with only combinatoriality. Still, ES leads him to hypothesize the “Gavagai Game” of language generation, which could provide insight into language.


Two different ethical views are propounded this carnival:

James Armstrong discusses a humanistic approach to the basis of certain rights, namely the right to freedom of movement. The argument is grounded in “the right of individuals to live a minimally decent life,” justifying a strong position on immigration.

Richard Chappell, however, outlines a position where acts are evaluated on utility, not the character of the person doing them. By evaluating acts and not the person’s character, individual accidents of psychology which may make one person much more (in)sensitive to certain issues than others may be separated from their moral will. He argues that this position is highly practical.

The Business of Philosophy

Gregory Wheeler has an interesting set of posts about sampling problems in our favorite school ranking system, the Philosophical Gourmet Report: The Sampling Problem and Educational Imbalance.

Secondly the smokers have posted and been discussing some cool research done in the area of tenure-track philosophy hiring by Carolyn Dicey Jennings. So you want a philosophy job? Take a gander and these numbers! [Go BU!]

Two takes on Rule Following

Murali at the Leage of Ordinary Gentlemen argues for a basis of law on a two tier system, the distinction between habit and rule following, and an internal point of view.

Dave Maier discusses semantic rule following in Wittgenstein. This is actually a really good discussion of how we get caught in a bind of wanting both definitions and revisability when it comes to identifying fundamental measures, but I’m actually posting this because I want to point out that my duckrabbit is better (and more stylish) than his duckrabbit. My duckrabbit should be the standard duckrabbit. And what if my duckrabbit were to significantly change? Would we have to revise all other duckrabbits to account for the change? Of course not. Since it is so inconceivable that my duckrabbit should become fundamentally different, if it were to change, it would signify that we had lost our minds. So there is no problem here at all.

But What is Philosophy

Another article by Dave Maier, What is philosophy, again?, but this one over at 3 Quarks Daily.

My contribution to the carnival is that I am starting a new blog, The Road to Sippy Cups. My inaugural post is I Sneeze, Therefore I Am. I say on the about page, “Philosophy’s goal is to wean us off ideas — even if they had sustained us — because those ideas no longer provide us with what we need, and, hopefully, onto better ones.” And I will be writing, “metaphysics with an eye towards values, humans and society.” So I encourage you to go check it out.

If you have made it this far…

… you might be an internet philosopher!

So go over to the philosophy carnival page and sign up to host or submit your work!

Posted in fun, internet, philosophy. Tagged with , .

Carnival 141 Here

I’ll be hosting the next philosophy carnival, so please submit some fun links over at

Posted in fun, internet, philosophy. Tagged with , .

Holy crap, it’s The Matrix for chickens

No, really:

[Sent to me by my brother. Thanks bro!]

Posted in ethics, philosophy, products, technology. Tagged with , , .

The Rationality Cone

There are different sorts of constraints on thought.  We forget things, we fail to infer consequences of our beliefs and we have features of perception, like blind spots, that affect our understanding of our surroundings.  We also can be greatly affected by our emotions: when we are angry — when we see red — we are unable to see the anything but the things that are making us mad; when we are infatuated we are, conversely, unable to see anything wrong with our object of desire.

This account of emotional states — moods — is interesting because moods affect our overall reasoning ability.  Given one mood, we will be able to make certain inferences; given another, we will make different inferences.  Moreover, what seems to be a rational inference in one mood may be irrational in another mood.

At this point we have thought, which is comprised of our knowledge, perception and deductions we make, and mood, which modifies and constrains thought.  If we consider the situation over time, then at any point a person has a history of thoughts and moods, which has led up to the current state, and a potential future of moods and thoughts based on where that person is now.   Going from one mood to another, or one thought to another, can only be done within a limited range, i.e. no thoughts or moods can be completely detached from prior thoughts or moods.  This gives us a perspective on the relation between rationality, consciousness and thought:

Considering a person’s consciousness at some point, we can map what we consider rational and irrational based upon the potential mood and thought changes.  Any possible future belief (a combination of thought and mood) will be a combination of changes in prior moods and thoughts.  Beliefs that require too great a change in both thought or mood may be outside the realm of rationality for a person, while beliefs that require little effort will fall within the realm of rationality.  Hence, the rationality cone

Rationality Cone Diagram

The Future Rationality Cone illustrates how, given changes in thought or mood, a person’s beliefs can become different from their current beliefs.  The edge of the cone is the limit of what that person could possibly rationally believe:  anything outside the edge requires too great a jump in thought or mood from where they currently are.  Any point inside the cone represents a set of beliefs that the person could rationally have, given different circumstances.  The bottom half of diagram shows the past rational states that could have led up to the current state, as represented by the Past Rationality Cone.


If the above scheme is familiar, it is because it is modeled on the Light Cone from physics; the diagram is from the linked Wikipedia page.  I always found it fascinating that the light cone implies that there is part of the universe immediately surrounding each of us that we can never physically access.  Likewise, there are thoughts and moods that are just like our own that appear irrational to us—even if they are not—because they fall outside our capabilities.  Other people could, however, have these thoughts because their rationality cones are not exactly aligned with our own, or they started from another location, which enabled them to access that part of the mental universe.

Posted in metaphysics, mind, philosophy, physics.

Philosophy Carnival #2

Well, it’s the second philosophy carnival I’ve hosted.  So let’s get started.

Counterfactuals and time traveling cold-blooded murderers!  Why is it we always want to see what happens when we kill ourselves (or others) when time traveling?  Does time travel make one murderous?  Anyway, besides  the weird questions that occur to me, the discussion over at Kadri Vihvelin’s philosophy blog does try to tackle Counterfactuals, Indicatives and What Time Travelers Can’t Do.

If that isn’t your cup-o-tea, maybe you like smoking pipes.  But apparently not the pipe if you are from Utah.

And if you don’t like smoking pipes, nor counterfactual time travelers, then perhaps you like the movies.  Over at Pirates and Revolutionaries we have durationless movies that involve no time flow.    Lot’s of YouTube clips — which I did actually watch (most of them at least) and you should too. Because what good is anything without pictures or conversation?

Well, if you don’t like the movies, pipes or homicidal time travelers, try the news.  But not if you read the New York Times’ Stone, apparently, because over at The Consternation of Philosophy, Matt says they got the foundation of human rights wrong.  He writes that the reasons that are given not only do not show a foundation for secular human rights, they actually lead to dogmatism.

But maybe you like dogmatism.  I bet there are secretly lots of philosophers out there who, while publicly decrying dogmatism, are secretly delighted with their own.  I’m probably one of these people.  Then, perhaps we should be epistemological anarchists, as is suggested over at the Kindly Ones.  Paul writes on Feyerabend’s reductio directed at rationalist conceptions of scientific method, which concludes with: Anything Goes.  You should read this- it’s something I dogmatically recommend.

Fine, be that way.  Don’t do what I recommend.  Instead sit around and listen to the radio for all I care.  Actually, we’ve got some high quality internet radio going down at the Partially Examined Life: Pat Churchland on the Neurobiology of Morality (Plus Hume’s Ethics).  I surprised myself and listened to the whole thing.  Good talk.  Also, a book for sale.

If none of this armchair stuff has impressed you, I guess you might be one of those “go out and do stuff types.” [yeah right]  If that is the case, go check out some Experimental Philosophy.  Justin writes, ask not “what the history of philosophy can do for us, but rather what we can do for the history of philosophy.”  That’s the attitude!  (The post is actually on the place of x-phi in a historical and cultural setting.  Good stuff just the same.)

Or maybe you are just at The Ends of Thought, so frustrated with the difficulties that you’re left wondering where a lot of us went wrong (and I’m not saying who has gone wrong; you’ll have to read the post to see who Roman says did).

Lastly, zombies, because philosophers like zombies.

Posted in fun, philosophy.

Philosophy Carnival 8 August

I’m hosting the next philosophy carnival, on August 8th.  If  anyone is thinking about submitting to the next philosophy carnival, I have a preference for philosophy of science, though feel free to submit on any topic.  Also, I like to be entertained by my academic philosophy, so the more off the wall the better.

Posted in news, philosophy. Tagged with , .

The SEP on the Kindle

Reading on a computer screen is often not pleasant, especially when a lot of reading has to  be done. This is a general problem for philosophy since nearly everything is in PDF format and if you don’t want to print out a tree’s worth of paper you are stuck.

I got a Kindle.  Kindles can handle PDFs, but what I just found out is that Kindles can do the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy quite well.  KindleI downloaded the webpage and then deleted the content from the top of the page down to the start of the article.  Then I used Calibre to convert the webpage into Kindle format.  It looks great and the images come out well.

So I did some poking around, and found out that if you use a Firefox extension called “Download Them All” you can download a webpage and all the links on that webpage, i.e. you could go the contents page of the SEP and then download all the articles linked there.  Basically you could have the entire SEP on your Kindle and be good to go.

Posted in philosophy, products, technology. Tagged with , , .

IF Logic and Cogito Ergo Sum

(∃x∃x) → ∃x

Descartes Law

If something has informational dependence upon itself, then that thing exists.  For example, thinking that you are thinking is informationally self dependent and therefore a thinking thing (you) exists.

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