Monday, May 30, 2011

It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world

The other day my fellow grad students and I were having a chat about which living philosophers were defending the most out there views, and we came up with a top ten. Of course their real views are probably not so crazy once you understand them properly, but philosophers all like to stare incredulously at one another from time to time. It's fun. So here they are, starting with the craziest:

1.      Donald Baxter (instantiation is identity; so are most other things)
2.      Graham Priest (loads of contradictions are true; noneism is parsimonious)
3.      Terence Parsons (so Meinongian the cogito doesn’t work)
4.      Takashi Yagisawa (concretist about impossibilia)
5.      Peter Unger (no ordinary objects, ex-sceptic)
6.      Michael Bench-Capon (see below)
7.      David Benatar (coming into existence is a harm)
8.      Kit Fine (funny ideas about essence, time and vagueness)
9.      Meg Wallace (plurality of one world, irreducibly tensed properties might be parts)
10.  EJ Lowe (seriously old school metaphysics)

It’s obviously a parochial list drawn up by a bunch of primarily analytic philosophers, and I don’t flatter myself that my inclusion wasn’t partly due to a desire to include one of our own. Nonetheless, they chose me rather than another of our own for a reason. Here are some of the main offenders:
  • I’m a moral nihilist, in that I think everything is morally permissible, but I’m also an aesthetic objectivist, in that I think some things are objectively beautiful and others are objectively ugly.
  • I’m a counterpart theorist about de re modality, although I’m not a genuine modal realist, I think things have essences and I’m really strict about what counterpart relations are admissible.
  • I’m a stage theorist about persistence through time.
  • I think composition’s identity, not in the way that helped Baxter to the top spot, but not in the innocuous way David Lewis thought it was either.
  • I’m pretty sympathetic to Ryle and Wittgenstein in the philosophy of mind, and sometimes refer to central state materialism (with deliberate abusiveness) as ‘brain-body dualism’.
  • I’m a raving Millian in the philosophy of language, to the point that I think there aren't any analytic truths, and probably aren’t any a priori truths either.
  • I’m epistemicist about vagueness.
  • I’m sympathetic to dialetheism as a solution to the semantic paradoxes.
  • I think a sentence can be false, or even true, without expressing a proposition.

One of the reasons I’ve got funny ideas is that I’m very quick to form opinions: I tend to view philosophy as concerned with finding ways to think about things, and I’d rather have a slightly unsatisfactory way than no way at all. I haven’t been picking these views out of perversity though. They really seem like the sensible ways to think about the subject matters in question. Perhaps I’m just being neurotic and actually there’s nothing especially crazy in my repertoire, but if I do have a penchant for thinking things which by most accounts are neither true nor even plausible, is this something I should worry about?

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Dry spell over

Regular readers will know that I occasionally go through phases of writing poetry. Some of my friends know that once I even went through a phase of writing songs. I haven’t written anything decent for ages, and until this morning it had been quite a long time since I’d written anything at all. But this morning I wrote this:


There are places you can pay
To hide your stuff away
Where supply never outstrips demand for floorage
But there’s one thing they won’t hide
And that’s who you are inside
So it’s odd this industry is called self-storage

Not very good, is it? I tried developing it into a four-chord song, but I couldn’t get that to work at all. One of the reasons it doesn’t work (as a poem) is because it really ought to be called ‘Self-Storage’, but that’d give away the punchline. I’d call it ‘Untitled’, but I hate things being called that. The only titles I hate more than that are ones like ‘Untitled (Bowl of Fruit)’ and so on. Another problem is that most of line four and all of line five is deliberate clunking sixth-form poetry cliché, a device I've used more effectively in the past but which doesn't add much here. The other main defect is that "floorage" was chosen more or less solely because it was the least terrible rhyme I could think of for "storage". But although this one doesn’t work, it’s nice to be writing anything at all after such a long dry spell. I’ll let you know if I write one that doesn’t suck.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Yes please

Tomorrow my country is going to have an election. There will be some local and regional elections depending on where you live, but the really big one is the referendum on changing the way we elect people to the more powerful of our houses of parliament. (The other house is staying unelected.) Currently we have a First Past the Post (FPTP) system, and tomorrow we’re voting on whether to stick with that or change to Alternative Vote (AV), which is what they use for the House of Representatives in Australia.

Under both systems you say which candidate you like best, and under AV you can also put the others in order, so if your favourite candidate doesn’t have a chance of winning you still get a say. AV doesn’t completely eliminate the scope for tactical voting, but there’s much less of a dilemma between voting for your favourite and trying to influence the result. That dilemma’s pretty commonplace under FPTP. It’s not the only reason I’ll be voting for AV, but it’s one of them. Other reasons are that FPTP makes two-party politics more likely and creates more safe seats, that under AV it's even harder to win if most people hate you and that if the voters get to say more at the ballot box then the parties have to work more to influence what they say. For example, consider someone who pretty much always votes Labour. The politicians can more or less ignore her, because Labour are more or less guaranteed her vote and the others haven’t a hope. Under AV the other parties can work for her other preferences, and Labour can’t ignore her either because she’d be less reluctant to put someone else first if she could still put Labour second. Other things being equal, the more information the electorate can supply, the more work the politicians have to do. That means more accountability, and accountability is the reason democracy is better than all the other systems we’ve thought of. Unless you’re a big believer in the wisdom of crowds.

AV isn’t my favourite voting system, but I like it a lot better than FPTP, and that’s what we’re being asked about tomorrow, because the Tories are scared of asking us whether we’d rather have proportional representation, and nobody who counts has thought of this system yet. So tomorrow I’m voting Yes to AV, and if you’ve got a vote I’d like you to do the same.