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LINGUISTIX&LOGIK, Tony Marmo's blog
Thursday, 30 December 2004


On certain Arguments to Bring Scientists to Court

A Short Note

Freedom of Religion versus freedom of Science has again become a hot issue. I have seen in the web-site of the Earth Science Associates that a certain man and a certain organisation have filed a suit against a number of individual scientists and academic institutions. I shall not quote the names of either party here, although the reader can access the web-site mentioned above and see them. The Plaintiffs demand trial by jury for a number of the issues pled, arguing that the Defendants have violated their civil rights, i.e., have infringed the First, Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments to the United States Constitution.

As I do not know what really happened, I cannot comment on the case. But the web-site mentioned above contains a text with some of the main intellectual arguments of the Plaintiffs against the Defendants. I would like to consider two of such arguments from a more general point of view, not attached to the specific legal case. The two excerpts are from this link.

First, let me quote the part of their arguments that seems valid as an intellectual position:

Over the past several decades, the vast majority of both the academic and governmental science community has come to regard the "big bang" theory of the universe's creation as irrefutable fact. The scientific community has been extremely effective in disseminating this particular theory throughout the world. Until recently, this dissemination has occurred with virtually no dissent. Without such dissent, the major medias of the United States have reported this theory as scientific truth, influencing not only the taxpaying public, but also legislators in Congress who use this information as the basis for funding an increasing number of astrophysical projects. The federal and state governments have invested mammoth sums of money in such programs in the hope that the mysteries of the "big bang" theory will ultimately be revealed.

Now let me quote the part that for me sounds nonsensical:
Recently a small, but growing number of scientists, have advanced theories and offered evidence suggesting that the universe was indeed created in conformity with the literal text of the Bible. This "creationist" theory postulates that science and the Bible are not in conflict, and that indeed science supports the theory of a Biblical creation by God. These creationist theories have met with considerable skepticism, derision and open scorn by the mainstream scientific community. Many in this community see the creationist theory as not merely a philosophical threat to the "big bang" theory, but also a scientific threat, which if successfully validated would undermine the evolutionary science foundation, which has been considered the starting point for all astro-physical and cosmologist studies. Decades of "established" evolutionary theory would be subject to scientific refutation, potentially creating a scientific reawakening among the public and media. Consequently, there has been a concerted effort by academic and governmental theorists and researchers, as well as certain government officials, to suppress the creationist idea.

The first argument points to a real issue, specially in regard with the manner mass media tend to present scientific theories as absolute truths and unproblematic solutions. Perhaps, the big-bang theory is not better than any model of Universe that presupposed the existence of a giant turtle carrying our world on its backs, except for the crucial fact that the big-bang has been based on objective evidence and more complex theoretical reasoning. But the point is how the Plaintiffs establish a cause and consequence relation between the two arguments. They fail to do so on intellectual grounds.

Assume that a scientific theory T has problems p(1)...p(n). It does not follow from p(1)...p(n) that the best substitute for T is a religious taught. The fact that T has p(1)...p(n) problems only means that T has a number of problems to be considered. A solution to any of such problems must come from a precise formulation of the alternatives to T and not from the choice of the references.

Furthermore, for anthropological reasons, a holly book and its teachings cannot be reduced to a set of mere competitive scientific theories. Firstly because religious teachings and scientific hypotheses are not comparable things. Secondly and most importantly, religious teachings are and must be sacrosanct for the society wherein they are embraced, while scientific theories are not and cannot be. A scientific theory like the big-bang does not challenge any Religion and is not intended to do it. In the same manner, a sacred book like the Genesis does not offer an explanation to the formation of the Universe, nor is it intended to do so. It is not a book about Biology or Cosmology, as the Exodus is not a History book.

The general purposes of any holly writing are spiritual and ethical. The story of how Moses liberated the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt matters because of its meaning and not because it actually happened. Its message is clearly against slavery and unlimited power. In the same manner, the Genesis is about the spiritual questions that have been part of men's lives since ever. The story the expulsion of Adam and Eve, for instance, contains a very deep reflexion about human existence: man kind cannot live a paradisiacal existence, like the irrational animals, because humans know the difference between good and evil. None of these stories and their teachings can be compared or confronted with current scientific theories.

This is not a question of believers against atheist. An atheist can perfectly understand what a holly book says, whilst a believer may misunderstand it completely. In the case of those believers that want to reduce their sacred writings into scientific manuals, it can be said that they may have an abundance of faith, but, from my humble point of view, they seem to lack understanding in crucial aspects.

In any case, although the intellectual debate may be interesting, I would suggest that scientists tried to discuss their different points of view with humanity, dignity and mutual respect and comprehension among themselves and preferably out of Courts. And, perhaps, for the benefit of general audiences and the freedom of thought, it would be interesting if some independent organisation built an internet archive with papers by authors from several denominations (not only Christians), who want to propose their own creationist theories in accordance with their construal of their respective holly books.

Posted by Tony Marmo at 02:17 GMT
Updated: Thursday, 30 December 2004 02:32 GMT
Monday, 27 December 2004


On the Logical Unsolvability of the Gettier Problem

By Luciano Floridi

The tripartite account of propositional, fallibilist knowledge that p as justified true belief can become adequate only if it can solve the Gettier Problem. However, the latter can be solved only if the problem of a successful coordination of the resources (at least truth and justification) necessary and sufficient to deliver propositional, fallibilist knowledge that p can be solved. In this paper, the coordination problem is proved to be insolvable by showing that it is equivalent to the coordinated attack problem, which is demonstrably insolvable in epistemic logic. It follows that the tripartite account is not merely inadequate as it stands, as proved by Gettier-type counterexamples, but demonstrably irreparable in principle, so that efforts to improve it can never succeed.


Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Monday, 27 December 2004 01:22 GMT
Friday, 24 December 2004


Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Tuesday, 21 December 2004


Roles and Deontic Logic

By F. Cuppens

The objective of this paper is to propose a new semantics for a class of normative positions that applies deontic operators to descriptions of possible act-positions. This semantics is based on the concept of role which represents a behavior an agent is authorized to play. Within this new semantics, we investigate several deontic problems such as the treatment of Chisholm's Paradox, moral dilemmas and defeasible deontic reasoning.

Get it

Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Tuesday, 21 December 2004 08:59 GMT
Monday, 20 December 2004


Semantics of Complex Sentences in Japanese

By Hiroshi Nakagawa and Shin-ichiro Nishizawa

The important part of semantics of complex sentence is captured as relations among semantic roles in subordinate and main clause respectively. However if there can be relations between every pair of semantic roles, the amount of computation to identify the relations that hold in the given sentence is extremely large. In this paper, for semantics of Japanese complex sentence, we introduce new pragmatic roles called observer and motivated respectively to bridge semantic roles of subordinate and those of main clauses. By these new roles constraints on the relations among semantic/pragmatic roles are known to be almost local within subordinate or main clause. In other words, as for the semantics of the whole complex sentence, the only role we should deal with is a motivated.

Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Monday, 20 December 2004 11:09 GMT
Saturday, 18 December 2004


The Quantificational/Referential Distinction and Negative Polarity

By Daniel Rothschild

There is an interesting class of expressions, including ever, any, and at all, called negative polarity items. They can only be used in certain linguistic contexts. We speak of such contexts as "licensing" the use of these terms. Some standard accounts of which contexts license negative polarity items (henceforth, NPIs) are inadequate. Here I will briefly discuss the problem with these accounts and propose new licensing conditions. Typically NPI's are thought to be licensed only in downward-entailing contexts (DE). I argue that they are rather only licensed in non-upwardentailing contexts. Then I give a semantic characterization of these contexts (non-UE contexts) in terms of domain-sensitivity. This proposal, I take to be roughly in line with some other proposals in the literature [Chierchia, forthcoming].
It turns out that the success of this account, or any account like it, requires examination of various questions about the semantics of noun-phrases. Definite descriptions, particularly, seem to provide a counterexample to my proposal for NPI-licensing. In order to handle this I examine a class of non-Russellian semantics for definite descriptions.
I then argue that NPI's indicate a fundamental semantic distinction between different forms of noun phrases. This distinction is meant to capture the intuitive distinction between quantificational and referential nounphrases. However, which noun phrases count as which is quite surprising.

See also

Posted by Tony Marmo at 09:42 GMT
Friday, 17 December 2004


Why Surprise-Predicates do not Embed Polar Interrogatives

By Klaus Abels

This paper is about the observation that certain predicates (like be surprised) do not embed polar interrogatives, i.e.
*John is surprised whether Mary was a the party.
Developing insights by Heim (1994) and d'Avis (2001, 2002), I claim that this observation follows from the independently motivated presuppositions of predicates like 'be surprised' and, crucially, the assumption that polar interrogatives denote singleton sets of propositions. Special clause type features as proposed for example in Grimshaw (1979) turn out not to be necessary.

Reference: lingBuzz/000061

Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Friday, 17 December 2004 22:58 GMT
Thursday, 16 December 2004


Sententialism and Berkeley's Master Argument

By Zolt?n Gendler Szab?

Sententialism is the view that intensional positions in natural languages occur within clausal complements only. According to proponents of this view, intensional transitive verbs - such as `want', `seek', or `resemble' - are actually propositional attitude verbs in disguise. I argue that `conceive' (and a few other verbs) cannot fit this mold - conceiving-of is not reducible to conceiving-that. The path of the argument is somewhat unusual. I offer a new analysis of where Berkeley's Master Argument goes astray, analyzing what exactly is odd about saying that Hylas conceives a tree which in not conceived. It turns out that a sententialist semantics cannot adequately account for the source of absurdity in attitude ascriptions of this type; to do that, we need to acknowledge irreducibly non-propositional (but nonetheless de dicto) conceiving.

This paper is forthcoming in Philosophical Quarterly.


Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Thursday, 16 December 2004 03:57 GMT
Tuesday, 14 December 2004


Contextual Variables as Pronouns

By Luisa Marti

In this paper I pursue the hypothesis that contextual variables of the kind associated with quantificational expressions like every, most or usually, abbreviated as C from now on, are covert pronominal items. An important advantage that this hypothesis offers is that, if true, then the grammatical tools needed to explain properties of pronouns can be used to explain properties of C, i.e., no new machinery needs to be introduced into the grammar to deal with C. If C is a pronoun, then we expect the behavior of C to be like the behavior of pronouns. What I do in this talk is show that the behavior of bound C is indeed like the behavior of bound pronouns. In particular, I show that C is subject to Weak Crossover (WCO).

Tell me more

Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Tuesday, 14 December 2004 12:15 GMT
Sunday, 12 December 2004

Topic: Cognition & Epistemology

On Williamson's Arguments that Knowledge is a Mental State

By Adam Leite

Is knowledge a mental state? For philosophers working within the idealistic tradition, the answer is trivial: there is nothing else for knowledge to be. For most others, however, the claim has seemed prima facie implausible. Knowing that p requires or involves the fact that p, or p's truth, and that - with certain specifiable exceptions - is quite independent of my (or anyone's) mind; so while knowledge may require or involve certain mental states, it itself is not a state of mind.
More generally, it is very natural or intuitive to think in the following terms. On the one hand, there is the world apart from my mind. On the other hand, there is my mind. In many cases in which I have knowledge, I have it because of something about how the world is apart from my mind and because of something about me (my mind) which could be as it is even if the world were not that way. For instance, consider thewell-known example of Henry who is driving down the road and observes a barn in a field. In the ordinary case, he thereby comes to know that there is a barn in the field. But he does not come to know this in an unusual case in which, unbeknownst to him, there are barn facades in the vicinity which are not visually discriminable from real barns when viewed from the road.

Read this and other papers by Adam Leite.

Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Friday, 10 December 2004 19:11 GMT
Friday, 10 December 2004


On the Complexity of Propositional Knowledge Base Revision, Updates, and Counterfactuals

By Thomas Eiter and Georg Gottlob

We study the complexity of several recently proposed methods for updating or revising propositional knowledge bases under the principle of minimal change. In particular, we derive complexity results for the following problem: given a knowledge base T, an update p, and a formula q, decide whether q is derivable from Tp, the updated (or revised) knowledge base. Note that this problem includes the evaluation of the counterfactual p > q over T, that is a conditional statement 'if p, then q' where p is known or expected to be false. We consider the general case where T is an arbitrary propositional formula (or theory) as well as restricted versions of this problem, in particular where T is a conjunction of Horn clauses, or where the size of the update p is bounded by a constant.


Related post

Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Tuesday, 7 December 2004 23:02 GMT
Monday, 6 December 2004

Deontics between Semantics and Ontology

By Carlos Alarcon Cabrera

The term Deontics, with its current meaning, constitutes a remarkable contribution to the Philosophy of Normative Language by Amedeo G. Conte. Going back to Aristotle, Conte defines Deontics as theory of 'Sollen' qua 'Sollen', as theory of 'ought' qua 'ought'. The same way Metaphysics, as theory of 'Sein' insofar as 'Sein' , studies Sein in its constitutive onticity, Deontics studies Sollen in its constitutive deonticity.
Unlike the term Deontics, the expression Deontic Logic was first used before, with its current meaning, by Georg H. von Wright (1951) when he mentioned the deontic modal concepts (what is obligatory, what is permitted, what is forbidden) together with the alethic modal concepts (necessity, possibility, contingency -- concepts which are studied in modal logic), the existential modal concepts (universality, existentiality, emptiness -- concepts which are studied in the theory of quantifiers) and the epistemic modal concepts (what is verified, what is undecided, what is falsified).
As an adjective, the term Deontic became more common in the philosophical lexicon. As Tecla Mazzarese points out, it was particularly used both in a pragmatic sense and a semantic sense: a) Pragmatically, as a synonym for directive, preceptive, prescriptive, normative, as opposed to descriptive, declarative, assertive; b) Semantically, in the sense of concerning ought, to designate what constitutes the scope of ought or what describes the scope of ought.
As a noun, Deontics concerns the formal systems of deontic calculus from the point of view of their theoretical-philosophical foundations, in virtue of which Deontic Logic analyzes technical problems peculiar to those calculi.
In this paper I will focus on five of Amedeo G. Conte's main contributions to the Philosophy of Normative Language:
In section 2, on the distinction between categorical constitutivity and hypothetical constitutivity.
In section 3, on the typology of the concept of validity.
In section 4, on the notion of pragmatic ambivalence of deontic utterances.
In section 5, on the conception of repeal as an act of rejection.
In section 6, on the reinterpretation of the Is-ought question.


First appeared in:
SORITES, Issue #05. May 1996. Pp. 18-34.

Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:15 GMT
Sunday, 5 December 2004

Continuation from previous post.
Comments of na excerpt from page 7:

(Huitink, 2004) is the most recent attempt to solve the puzzle of anankastic conditionals. Huitink argues that if there are several non-conflicting goals at stake and several ways to achieve the goal in the antecedent, the anankastic reading cannot obtain. So anankastic sentences are false in such cases. However, they can be predicted true under the analysis in (Fintel and Iatridou, 2004). The scenario that should make the argument clear is the following:
(16) a. To go to Harlem, you can take the A train or the B train.
b. You want to go to Harlem.
c. You want to kiss Ruud van Nistelrooy (Dutch soccer star).
d. Ruud van Nistelrooy is on the A train.

The designated goal analysis would predict that the Harlem sentence is true at least in its ought-version:
(17) If you want to go to Harlem you ought to take the A train.

What we get is that in the best Harlem worlds, i.e. the worlds in which you kiss Ruud, you take the A train. This follows from the facts in the described scenario. So the sentence is true but it shouldn't, because the A train is not the necessary condition for going to Harlem in (16).

Well I have two objections against saying that (17) is not true in the scenario above.
The first objection is that intuitively (17) is true in the scenario described, accordingly to my judgment as speaker of human languages.
The second objection comes from the application of simple Logic. Assume two propositions in the described situation
Proposition 1. x must take train A=O(A)
Proposition 2. x must take train B=O(B)

Now consider that the disjunction containing the two is true:
(DISJ) T(O(A) OR O(B))

For this conjunction to be true, there are three possibilities:
a. T(O(A)), T(O(B));
b. T(O(A)), F(O(B));
c. F(O(A)), T(O(B)).

But, in such case, (17) is true in two of the possibilities. And if the first possibility is the case in the described scenario, then (17) is true.
Thus, if any formal semantic analysis predicts that (17) is true in the described scenario, such analysis is correct.
Now, remember that the Classic Maxim O(P)-->P of earlier deontic logic is not valid. So the impossibility of x to take both trains at the same time does not constitute a real problem. By claiming that O(A) is, true one does not claim that x takes train A, nor O(B) implies that X takes train B.

Posted by Tony Marmo at 04:46 GMT
Updated: Sunday, 5 December 2004 14:21 GMT
Saturday, 4 December 2004




By Arnim von Stechow, Sveta Krasikova & Doris Penka

In von Fintel's blog I have already made two questions about the paper mentioned above. Here I would like to add other three. Let us consider the following excerpt:
The first extensive discussion of the "anankastic conditionals" is due to (S?b?, 1986), who discovered that these conditionals are reluctant to a standard modal treatment. A number of recent papers on this topic refreshed linguistic interest in this phenomenon and motivated further research in the semantics of modality. To illustrate the problem, let us look at the sentences we will focus on:
(1) a. You have to take the A train if you want to go to Harlem.
b. If you don't take the A train you can't go to Harlem.
c. To go to Harlem you have to take the A train.

This paradigm was brought into light by (S?b?, 1986), who followed (Bech, 1955/57) in assuming the equivalence of the conditional in (1a) and the infinitival construction in (1c). The conditionals in this list are called "anankastic", a term due to (Hare, 1971). They have the special property that the truth of the consequent is the only way that guarantees the truth of the antecedent. Or, the consequent is a necessary condition for the truth of the antecedent. While Hare had in mind constructions like (1a), a better construction to make the semantics clear is (1c) with the clause "you to go to Harlem" as antecedent A and the clause "you take the A train" as consequent C. The truth of C is the only way to entail the truth of A.

As I do not see why those claims would be the case, let me present some of my interrogations:

[1]. Firstly, the sentence (1a) is not you go to Harlem, you take train A. The sentence has an if and the verb to want, which make a lot of difference than simply saying you go to Harlem.
This reminds me of the paper by Fodor and Lepore, Why Compositionality Won't Go Away, posted here, containing a reaction to Paul Horwich?s comments. At least some the passages of von Stechow and ali sound like the Horwichian claim:
The if-clause, which contains "want", adds a further condition, which does not have much impact on the truth condition, if it has any impact at all.(..)
Note that this paraphrase ignores the contribution of "want"(...) In his lecture notes, von Stechow (cf. (Stechow, 2004)) proposes that the "want" in the antecedent is empty at the logical form. (...)
Want does not contribute to the meaning of the sentence.

The following passage from the same article sounds like a contradiction to the claims above:
The presence of want/be to in the antecedent is obligatory, but as S?b? (2001) accurately observes, the subject of want must corefer with the subject of the matrix clause for the anankastic reading to obtain (...). This requirement on coreference/disjoint reference suggests that want/be to, whatever their semantic contribution is, see to it that the necessary referential relations are established. So the presence of these modals is essential for the [anankastic] reading to be available.

What their exact position is? Do they claim that a verb like to want is empty in such constuctions or that its presence is obligatory?
Anyway, in order to ignore the contribution of a verb like to want in the if-clause it is necessary to abolish compositionality and the difference between extensional and intensional contexts. But was the abolition of such notions among the goals of the authors when they wrote the paper?
Now, if one takes the example (5a), it is visible the contrast between adding and not adding the verb to want to the if-clause:
(5a') i. If you want to have sugar in your soup, you should call the waiter.
ii. If you have sugar in your soup, you should call the waiter.

I do not want to be meanie, but perhaps these points should be made clearer in their paper.

[2]. Secondly, why the propostion you have to take the A train would have to be true to make you want to go to Harlem true also? Suppose that you have to take the A train is false. Then it does not mean that you do not want to go to Harlem.

The same applies to other passage (page 3):
Conditionals of the form (1a) are called anankastic conditionals. This is a sort of conditionals with the consequent expressing necessary condition for achieving the goal or wish contained in the antecedent. Thus, the if-clause always has a bouletic/teleological modal expression and the matrix clause an explicit necessity operator. Here is an example from (Bech, 1955/57):
(4) Wenn M?ller mit Schmidt verhandeln will/soll muss er nach Hamburg fahren.
`If M?ller wants/is to negotiate with Schmidt he must go to Hamburg'

Sentence (4) means that the only way for M?ller to negotiate with Schmidt is to meet him in Hamburg. Note that this paraphrase ignores the contribution of "want" to which we will return below.

This is not true either. Even if M?ller does not want to negotiate with Schmidt, still (C1) may be the case:

(C1) The only way for M?ller to negotiate with Schmidt is to meet him in Hamburg (Germany).

But assume that (C1) is not true. Assume that rather (C2) is the case:
(C2) The only way for M?ller to negotiate with Schmidt is to meet him in New Hamburg (Brazil).

Now (C2) does not cancel the truth of the clause M?ller wants/is to negotiate with Schmidt.

We could even imagine a third alternative. Assume that Schmidt never talks about work when he is Hamburg. In such case, the sentence (4') below is not awckward at all:
(4)If M?ller does not want to negotiate with Schmidt, he must go to Hamburg.

[3]. Finally, does the classic maxim of deontic logic (CM) guide their assumptions? I get the impression that it does:

(CM) O(A)-->A
If A is obligatory then A is the case

(CM) is indeed what underlies the reasoning below:

(R) (You must take the A train to go Harlem) --> (You take the A train to go to Harlem)

But (CM) is not accepted in deontic logic anymore. And (CM) is not only false in Logic. It is clear to me that (CM) does not apply to human languages either.

To be continued (...)

Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Sunday, 5 December 2004 04:52 GMT
Wednesday, 1 December 2004


Indexicality and context-shift

By Fran?ois Recanati

So far I have distinguished between four types of cases. For `intentional' indexicals we can shift the context at will. What can be shifted in this way includes -- inter alia -- the addressee feature of the context, the language feature of the context (including the standards of precision), or the reference of demonstratives. For other indexicals we can shift the context through pretense. Following a number of authors, I have distinguished two types of contextshifting pretense. The first type of context-shifting pretense is illustrated by direct speech reports, recorded utterances (on one analysis), the historical present (again, on one analysis), and the presentifying uses of `here' which are the spatial counterpart of the historical present. The second type of context-shifting pretense is illustrated by various sorts of displayed assertion (non-quotational echoes, irony, free indirect speech) and, again, by direct speech reports insofar as they involve the two types of shift simultaneously. The fourth type of case is that of expressions which are not really indexical, but perspectival, and for which we do not need to appeal to the notion of context-shift in order to account for their shifty behaviour. In this category I have placed the adverb `now', and the verb `come' in one of its uses; I have also mentioned a possible treatment of the English tenses as perspectival rather than indexical. The question arises whether all this complexity is needed. Maybe this is too much and some category can be dismissed as superfluous. But another possibility is that this is still not enough. Indeed there is a notion of context-shift that has been prominent in the recent literature on indexicality and which I have not dealt with yet. To make room for it it seems that we need a fifth category.


Posted by Tony Marmo at 00:01 GMT
Updated: Friday, 3 December 2004 04:14 GMT

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