The Carnival is Dead. Long Live The Carnival.

I have almost no philosophical associations at this point. I have been out of school for years and my philosophical interests have little impact on how I feel about philosophies and philosophers on which I don’t work. One of the things I have tried to live by is that I don’t know where the next interesting thought will come from.

Of course, if I have experience with individuals or philosophies then I can make determinations about their worth.

I run this philosophy blog which has a very limited readership. It is always fun to host a philosophy carnival, which I have done three times, and get a boost in traffic. By a vast amount, the link Brian Leiter placed on his blog provided the most visitors.  And it is no secret that his blog is the most, or at least one of the most, trafficked philosophy blogs.

So when he did not link to my last carnival, I thought it was a mistake, but then it dawned on me that he could be angry that I had posted links to something that was critical of The Philosophical Gourmet Report, which he runs.  As I said above, there is no conspiracy here, I just thought the posts were interesting. Then he did not link to further carnivals, which removed major support from the carnival. The explanation given on the new philosophy carnival is that Dr. Leiter was unhappy with the quality of the philosophy carnivals.

This is nonsense.  The philosophy carnivals have been about the same for years.  Also, I put a good deal of effort into my carnival and made sure to have lots of high quality links. Dr. Leiter himself put up a link to the same philosophy posters that I had used in my carnival. Moreover, if Dr. Leiter is happy to regularly link to Philosopher’s Anonymous, which is often enough a philosophical bitchfest (not that I am saying there is anything wrong with P.A.), he isn’t in the least worried about “philosophical quality.”

I really can’t speculate on his exact motives, but, whatever they are, it is odd that the issues are so big that he is willing to be so petty. The carnival provides an opportunity for anyone to write something philosophically interesting and then have an audience, if only the carnival host. It is noble in its modest goal. There is no reason not to support it, even if some random person on the internet links to something critical of something you work on, or you don’t like some of what gets posted.

Regardless of these issues, I am happy to see the return of the Philosophy Carnival. Hopefully the new direction will inspire greater participation and, importantly, support.

EDIT: Maybe I’m just pissed because it looks like I killed it seeing as I was the last regular post before it went on hiatus and then spluttered.

Posted in news, philosophy, random idiocy.


via M-Phi (A blog dedicated to mathematical philosophy)

Posted in fun, philosophy.

For the Classy Wittgensteinian

Stylish Wine Filled Fly-Bottle

Posted in design, products, wittgenstein. Tagged with .

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 .

Metta World Peace, James Harden and Furbizia

Everyone is saying that Metta World Peace (the basketball player formerly known as Ron Artest) is crazy for elbowing James Harden in the face. I can’t say that I disagree, but I think there is more to the story.

Did no one else notice that James Harden walked right into World Peace while he was celebrating? Watch the video. Harden walks directly into MWP. He doesn’t do anything that would cause a foul, but if he were going to actually try to receive an inbound pass, he would have walked away from opposing players, not at them.

Instead he gets real close to an ecstatic opponent known for outbursts. I’m sure he didn’t want to get elbowed in the head, but he did put himself in a position to get fouled, to take the charge as it were. If he had only been fouled, not elbowed, by a jumping MWP then people might be talking about how Harden had cleverly gotten another foul on one of the Laker’s best players through strategic gamesmanship alone.

When asked if he would shake Harden’s hand, Metta World Peace said he wouldn’t. Everyone condemned him for this too, but I’m with MWP this time. If MWP sees Harden as having taken advantage of his celebration as a cheap way to get him in trouble, then it is understandable that he wouldn’t want to shake the man’s hand. This doesn’t excuse the elbow, but it does explain the attitude.

Posted in economics, game theory. Tagged with , .

Trembling Hands 2: Inducing Irrationality

Given an intelligent rational opponent, one who has complete information of the decision tree in a game, it may be very difficult to implement an optimal strategy. All possible moves may be accounted for and hence a stalemate may exist from the outset.

One way to proceed is to act as if your opponent may make a mistake — her hand may tremble — allowing your optimal strategy to obtain. Previously I argued that there is more too the story than merely hoping that your opponent will err at some probabilistic rate. I gave examples where errors were induced, such that they were more likely at certain times or under certain conditions.

The cannonical example given was that of furbizia (gamesmanship or guile), which causes a football opponent to make a mistake. By acting in certain ways — eg “time-wasting, physical or verbal provocation and all related psychological games, arguably even diving” — it can cause an opponent to wear out and crack. Since furbizia, by definition, occurs outside the rules and regular strategies of the game of football (and without breaking any rules), how are we to account for it?

Just Walk Away

First let’s define the Walk Away principle. The Walk Away principle states that any subgame can be walked away from, just dropped, at any point in a game. For example, during football match a player may just walk off the field and go home. Not only are all the payoffs of the game lost when a person walks away, even further payoffs, such as loss of fans and teammate’s respect, can be lost. Still, this is an option for any player at any point of a match. Imagine that news of a family member being gravely injured reached the player mid-game. Then it might make sense to just walk off the field. Another example is that of a stock portfolio. Given a certain stock portfolio, grave penalties may be incurred if money is taken out of it too soon. However, if a disaster strikes, large sums of money are needed quickly and it makes sense to liquidate the stock portfolio during those times. In this case, the economic subgame represented by the portfolio is being walked away from.

The Walk Away principle highlights that no sub-game is played in a vacuum, that there are always global variables — emergency or other unusual situations — that could radically change a person’s decision making.

Consider this scene from the movie Out of Sight: George Clooney is a fugitive and Jennifer Lopez is a marshal pursuing him. The FBI has George Clooney trapped in a hotel and Jennifer Lopez is watching one of the exits. As George Clooney goes by Jennifer Lopez, he waves at her in a friendly way – they had already been aquainted. Instead of reporting seeing him to the other officers, she freezes and does nothing, allowing Clooney to escape. Instead of playing the subgame that would have gotten her a reward by bringing in a fugitive, she, in essence, (mentally) walked away from it. From the perspective of her job and other officers, she acted irrationally. However, she decided to play a different game. That game included extending the relationship with Clooney, which would have ended had he been arrested. From that perspective, she acted rationally.

I mention this example because it shows two games that had mutually exclusive payoffs, arresting the fugitive vs. continuing the relationship, and that even though she was playing the former game, Clooney’s action — waving at her — induced her to play the latter game. Also important is that if she had not already had some relationship with Clooney, his actions would not have had such an effect on her.

Trembling hands, in these cases, may then be seen not so much as an opponent acting irrationally, but as having been induced to play a subgame with mutually exclusive payoffs from the current game (like boxing during football). However, as mentioned, it is a necessary condition that there is something prior which allows a person to be induced to play a different game. How to know who is susceptible to being so induced, and what will induce them?

Counter Intelligence and Psychological Hacking

Knowing who is susceptible and how to induce irrationality them is a counterintelligence problem. If you knew ahead of time that a company had backdated stock options, you might suspect that they would be very worried about anyone looking into their procedures. If you were then able to find a way to publicize these nefarious dealings, you could blackmail them into acting in what would otherwise be considered irrational. But the opportunity only comes with the right intelligence.

In general, unless we are personally very wealthy or in charge of a wealthy organization, we will not have an intelligence service. But this doesn’t mean we can’t gather intelligence, even over the course of a sports game. Trash talking can be seen as a psychological search strategy: by liberally insulting every competitor and saying how great you are, anyone who rises, who argues –who doesn’t walk away– may be potentially unfocussed on the game at hand. Trash talking costs very little, just some breath, but getting angry and distracted can be very costly. The more clever the trash talk, the strategic fouls, and gamesmanship in general, the wider and more sophisticated the search, the psychological hacking, becomes.

Given the results of the search, eg player 15 is most affected by being called $%!#, the gamesmanship can then be focused on the candidates most likely to react badly and at the worst possible times. This is an exploitation of the Walk Away principle. Instead of walking away from the insults, the opponent walks away from the game, if only for a few seconds: the candidate is induced into playing a subgame with mutually exclusive payoffs.

Often stakes are very high in competition and hence gathering intelligence is important. Yes the intelligence gathering and implementation/ furbizia requires effort, but as Sun Tzu notes, “Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity.” (The Art of War  XIII.2) What is some trash talk in the face of winning a championship, or paying off a spy when thousands of lives are on the line? Intelligence gathering and strategic implementation generally dominates simply playing by the rules.

This interpretation of furbizia/ gamesmanship as an intelligence search explains its utility and provides a way to understand furbizia in a wider setting. The high return and low relative cost explains its prevalence.

Wave-Decision Duality

Different situations and search procedures need to be combined with traditional trembling hands dynamics to better evaluate decision strategies. For example, if an intelligence search yields results according to some function of time and factors x, then the chances of an opponent making a mistake will vary according to (f(x, t), σ), where σ is the chance of a non-induced trembling hands error. If f(x, t) finds results quickly compared to the game length, then the chance of the opponent making a mistake becomes high, and a radically different strategy should be employed to maximize upon these errors. If f(x, t) predicts when a mistakes will occur, then too a strategy tailored to these circumstances will be needed.

How are we to understand the function f(x, t)? Since it represents a kind of search, we can expect that at least some instances will fall under existing research: search theory, human & machine learning, and associated disciplines have been the subject of much interest and study. However, though we do not know which search will be used to gather the intelligence, the idea that we are doing a search lets us assume that it will return a result at some varying probability.

Combining this probability with a game theory strategy yields a both decision-like and statistical (or wave) -like property for every move in a game. Considering a game tree, each node has value for irrational behavior given by the search function, and a rational decision determined by a Nash (or other) equilibrium solution.


Backwards Induction Paradox

Equilibrium solutions to a game can be calculated with equal justification starting from the top of the game tree and working towards the payoffs or from the bottom of the game tree and working backwards from the payoffs to the initial choices. This leads to the paradox of backwards induction, which occurs when the strategy that is suggested by backwards induction is based upon parts of the game that could never be reached by using that strategy, making that strategy based upon irrational results. The traditional trembling hands solution to this paradox states that one simply assumes the rational opponent could make a mistake, have their hand tremble, justifying the reliance on the otherwise unreachable parts of the decision tree.

Now, given an associated search function in the game tree, hoping for irrationality is replaced by a search that induces it. Since this search induces irrationality, it makes sense to allow for, if not expect, irrationality. This justifies using backwards induction as a strategy even if it relies upon parts of the game that should not ever be rationally reached, especially for iterated games.


Since the search finds information about the opponent to be used during the game — but doesn’t have to be found during the game — braggadocio and cultivating a personality off the field is a can reveal information about an opponent prior to the game, saving valuable time. Having a reputation may help prime opponents* to being induced before ever personally interacting with them. Though it may also warn opponents to be prepared, everyone should already know to be prepared due to furbizia’s high prevalence anyway, and hence little is lost by practicing gamesmanship. If anything, not playing with some degree of gamesmanship is the exception to the rule, witnessed by the comment that someone ‘plays the game the right way’ is said as a compliment: that person is so good that it is completely unnecessary to use gamesmanship.

You may not want to have a reputation for playing dirty in general, but this is outside the scope of the competitive struggle, especially if you are successful. And some people like anti-heroes and ‘bad-boys,’ so a less than straight-edge reputation is not strictly detrimental. Perhaps this interpretation of furbizia also helps explain the appeal of such types. Since furbizia is an effective strategy, there is value in being ‘bad.’ An ‘all options on the table’ strategy and reputation may also be worthwhile, too. Theoretically, then, although certain reputations can have ill effects, these consequences are not significant enough to rule out using effective strategies that lead to such reputations.

Moreover, having personality and reputation is not limited to the actual players, but may include the fans. Fans insulting or harassing opponent players, and cheering/ chanting loudly at key moments may help break an opponent’s concentration. All of these practices can help lead to a critical mistake by an opponent.

Defense and Counterintelligence

Is there a way to defend against furbizia? Though there are many types of games that allow for gamesmanship, I’ll make a few suggestions on defending against it.

One of the major differences between football/soccer and other sport is that the clock never stops in soccer. One half-time break and that is all. This is very different from, say, basketball, where time outs may be called. The time out allows players to take a break, catch their breath and reorganize.

Reorganization can break up a counter intelligence search: when the situation changes, prior searches may no longer be applicable, forcing the search to begin anew. For instance, a basketball the coach may recognize the symptoms of psychological stress and call a time out before any mistakes are made. Coaches and teammates who are able to diagnose warning signs, who understand furbizia themselves, will be able to take action such as calling time outs or separating teammates from dangerous situations before a problem occurs. Without any (or much fewer) breaks, such as in soccer, a chance to take a break and reorganize is harder to come by. Perhaps this is why furbizia in soccer is so well developed: it has the greatest opportunity to work in a game with fewer breaks.

Any and all other methods for disrupting the search, if only cracking a joke that makes the opponent laugh, calling the referee’s attention to the gamesmanship or being so friendly that your opponent feels bad insulting you, should be employed as applicable.

Alternatively, one can run counter-intelligence. If an opponent is committed to using furbizia, then the trick is to get them to over-commit to it. Either push them too far, so their gamesmanship does break an official rule of the game, or make them waste time and effort on it to the detriment of the rest of their play.  In the end, make furbizia work for you.

Posted in economics, game theory.

rip MCA

MCA of the Beastie Boys has died of cancer at 47.

Posted in art, news, NYC.

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 , .