New draft “How (not) to respond to Putnam’s brain in a vat argument”

Among students and colleagues I’m known for defending Putnam’s brain in a vat argument against all comers, be it incredulous stares or heated objections. Although I’m still a big fan of it, I have come to the conclusion that scepticism can escape it after all. (Some may think that was obvious all along. Alas, for me that is a new insight.) I started writing the paper with the intention to explain why sceptical scenario must not mess with memory, but couldn’t find a convincing reason to ban memory-alteration from sceptical scenarios. Unfortunately, Putnam’s argument is powerless against recent memory-altering envatment. After some tweaking of this scenario, I ended up with a scenario that is sufficiently radical for a successful sceptical argument, or so it seems to me. – As always comments are very welcome! But please don’t cite without asking for the latest version.

Paper: PDF

Keywords: Cartesian scepticism · Putnam · brains in a vat · constraints on sceptical scenarios · scepticism and content externalism · memory

Abstract:  Putnam’s argument that we are not brains in a vat has recently seen a resurgence in interest. Although objections to it are legion, an emerging consensus seems to be that even if it successfully refutes one version of the scenario, lifelong envatment, it is powerless against the recent envatment version of the scenario. Although initially appealing, this strategy generates problems of its own. In this paper I argue that merely switching to recent envatment is indeed a bad response to Putnam’s argument, yet there is a different version, recent memory-altering envatment, that Putnam’s argument does not refute and is also sufficiently radical. The crucial issue turns out to be which epistemic sources sceptical scenarios may attack. It is argued that there is no convincing reason for exempting memory from the sceptical attack. Putnam’s argument does not fail because of some ‘deep’ philosophical mistake, but because it overlooks how flexible and adjustable sceptical scenarios are.

Update: Slides (Issues in Philosophy of Memory, July 2017, Cologne)

New Paper “How to read the Tractatus sequentially”

My paper “How to read the Tractatus sequentially” is currently up for open review at the Nordic Wittgenstein Review. That means you can comment on it or discuss it with me on their website (until Dec. 7). The paper is here, additional background here.

Update: The final version is here. David Stern’s paper in the same issue contains a short comment on my paper.

Philosophie im Straßenverkehr, heute: Supererogation

Dem großartigen Vorbild Eike von Savignys folgend (Die Signalsprache der Autofahrer, 1980) glaube ich, dass sich so ziemlich jedes interessante philosophische Thema sehr passend mit Beispielen aus dem Straßenverkehr erklären lässt. Jedenfalls kenne ich noch kein Gegenbeispiel… Thema diesmal: Supererogation und Supererogationslöcher. Continue reading Philosophie im Straßenverkehr, heute: Supererogation

Upcoming Poster Presentation “Scepticism, Closure and Folk Epistemology”

This Friday I’m going to present a poster “Scepticism, Closure and Folk Epistemology” at the first conference of the Experimental Philosophy Group Germany at Bochum. You can find the poster here.

The central thesis of the poster is that closure of knowledge under known entailment is a principle of folk epistemology. Pace other studies, folk ascriptions are sensitive to logical relations. As always comments are most welcome (or have a chat with me at the conference)!

Upcoming talk “Optimism and the Value of Truth” (GAP.9)

Together with Christian Wirrwitz I will give a talk at GAP.9 next week (Tuesday 14:15): “Optimism and the Value of Truth”. Our starting point is a type of conversation we probably all have taken part in several times in our lives (both in the role of A and in the role of B): A and B are talking about some episode of their past or future lives. A paints it black, B reprimands A for being such a pessimist. A replies that she is not a pessimist, but a realist. Three observations about this type of conversation are important to us:

  1. Optimism is assumed to be good, at least by B.
  2. Having true beliefs (aka realism) is assumed to be good, at least by A.
  3. These two values are assumed to clash with each other, otherwise A’s reply wouldn’t make sense.

Drawing on several ideas (self-fulfilment and feedback loops, semantic indeterminacy, rejection of uniqueness/underdetermination principle) we offer an explanation of how optimists can value truth and need not be epistemically irrational.

For the full show come along on Tuesday (or have a chat with us at GAP.9)!