Saturday, January 30, 2010

Contest: Can a property be a person?

According to some versions of the doctrine of divine simplicity, God is identical with the property of divinity. I am planning on writing up a (limited) defense of this identity, and to that end I am hereby offering an argument contest with very modest prizes, with the hope of getting really good submissions to argue against in my paper (unless perhaps I am convinced by the submissions!).

Here is the task for the contest. Grant for the sake of the argument that:

  1. There is at least one necessarily existing person.
  2. Realism about properties is correct.
Given these assumptions, argue against the following thesis: There exists a property which is (also) a person.

The reason why I ask that the arguments grant these assumptions is that I am not interested in variants on the following two arguments: (1) All properties are necessary beings, every person is contingent, and, therefore, no property is a person; (2) There are no properties, and, therefore, no property is a person.

The deadline is the end of February, 2010, Central Time.

I will give a $50 gift certificate to the person who, in my subjective judgment, has submitted the most powerful, reasonably brief (there is an approximately 6000 character limit) original argument (of course, an original argument can build on arguments by others, including arguments submitted to this contest). If your argument has already appeared in published work, you may use it for the contest--but don't give a reference in your submission, because then I'll think that it's not original, because I'll be judging blindly. In case I can't decide on the winner, I will do a random draw among those I consider to be finalists.

However, it is not necessary to submit an original argument to enter. All entrants who give a serious argument that was not already posted by the time their entry was submitted, even if that argument is not their own (hopefully it comes with a reference!), will have a chance to win a $30 gift certificate by random drawing. While the best-argument prize you can enter several times to improve your chances (with different arguments!), the random drawing you get only one chance at, no matter how many entries you submit.

Submissions must be posted via the form in this link. This ensures that judging will be done blindly--the entries are separated from the entrant names. But to be eligible for a prize, you must include your real name.

From time to time, I'll be posting serious submissions as comments on this blog post, without the entrant's name. (What counts as original will be relative to what was posted at the time.) At the end of the contest, I may post a comment identifying by name those entrants who checked the box releasing their names.

Prior to posting, you might want to see this discussion of the issue, as well as the comments below. This may also keep down the submissions of non-original arguments.

The comments to this post are open to discussion of the arguments posted. I may, for instance, post critical responses. You are free to submit an improved version of your argument--or a supplement to your argument--to be judged together with your original argument (in that case, reference your first version by entry number). But only arguments submitted via the above-linked form count as entries.

I am the final arbiter of how the contest proceeds, and no appeal is possible. I reserve the right to disqualify entries for any reasons I see fit. If computer problems destroy entries or fail to record them correctly, then that's just your tough luck. The winner is responsible for all the tax implications of the prize.

The arguments should not be written as complete papers. A simple, fairly concise numbered or informal argument suffices.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Againt Armstrong on Causation

I’m working on a short paper arguing that Armstrong’s account of causation fails. The argument seems so simple that I’m worried I’ve missed something obvious. Any suggestions are much appreciated.

Armstrong identifies singular causal relations with instantiations of a law—with instances of the necessitation relation. Let N(P, Q) represent P’s necessitation of Q. In the case of determinism, N(P, Q) is something like P probabilifies Q to degree x.

I claim that Armstrong’s theory fails in indeterministic contexts. Whenever N(P, Q) holds, every instance of P is related by N to Q. After all, instances of universals are, according to Armstrong, nothing other than the universal itself. But then in cases where P occurs but does not cause Q, the instance of P is still related by N to Q. The law is instantiated, but causation does not occur. Hence, causation is not the instantiation of a law.

Here’s a slightly different way of putting the same problem: Assume indeterminism. Let it be an indeterministic law that N(P, Q). Assume there is an instance of P that is not followed by an instance of Q. (This is possible, given the assumption of indeterminism.) Either the instance of P is related by an instance of N to Q or it is not. Suppose it is. Then P caused Q, contrary to our assumption. On the other hand, suppose P is not related by N to Q. Then there is an instance of P not related by N to Q. But, then it can’t be a law that N(P, Q), contrary to our assumption.

It seems to me that Armstrong needs singular causal relations in addition to laws, so that in indeterministic contexts, the law can be instantiated without the singular causal relation holding.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Armstrong on Lewis on causation

Armstrong claims that truthmakers for causal claims, for Lewis, are entirely this-worldly:

"Lewis's talk of possible worlds here is to a degree miselading. It is important to realize, as I did not originally realize, and I think many others have not realized, that these counterfactuals are supposed to hold solely in virtue of features of the world in which the causal relation holds. As I would put it, the truthmaker for causal truths is to be found solely in the world in which the relation holds. (I think this follows straight from the contingency of the causal relation, a contingency that Lewis does not doubt.) In his theory of causation the possible worlds enter as mere calculational devices. He has given me as an example the way that we might say with truth that a person is a Montague rather than a Capulet, without being being committed to the view that these families are actual. The fictional families are used as no more than a calculational device." ("Going through the Open Door Again: Counterfactual versus Singularist Theories of Causation," p. 445)

I must confess that I don't understand, so perhaps you all can help me understand. If the possible worlds are merely a calculational device, then there should be some way to make the calculation with a different device. (I could explain what was meant by a person being a Montague rather than a Capulet with different concepts if you had never read Shakespeare.) Assume, then that there are no possible worlds. What is it, in this world, that makes causal counterfactuals—had c not occurred, e would not have occurred—true (when they are)? It must have something to do with laws, but I'm not sure how that would go.

(I assume that Armstrong does not mean merely that the possible worlds don't need to be Lewisian worlds, that they might be linguistic constructions or sets of abstract states of affairs. The claim is not that the truthmakers don't have to be other-worldly; it's that they are entirely this-worldy.)

I'm also puzzled by Armstrong's parenthetical remark, that the this-worldy nature of truthmakers for causal claims follows directly from the contingency of causation. How is that argument supposed to go?

Friday, January 15, 2010

CfP: The Architecture of Reality


The Architecture of Reality
Deadline for submissions: April 30, 2010
Advisory Editor: Matthew H. Slater (Bucknell University)

Humans are dividers and systematizers, confidently wielding the classificatory knife in the natural sciences and in metaphysics alike. But are we carving nature at its joints? We can identify distinct ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ components to this basic question. Horizontal: Is the world ‘intrinsically jointed’? Are there natural properties or natural kinds? Are there natural units which instantiate these properties and kinds? Vertical: Is reality divided into levels? If so, is there a fundamental level comprising reality’s ultimate furniture? If not, what? Presumably, these two sets of questions intersect. But how, precisely? What, in short, is the architecture of reality? Might we require multiple ‘architectural plans’ to describe nature correctly, or would just one do? We invite contributions on both the ground- level metaphysical issues (proposals for particular architectures or particular approaches to plan-drawing) and to methodological issues concerning these efforts.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Bellingham Summer Philosophy Conference (Bellingham, August 1-5)

The 2010 BSPC website is now online. There you can find a great deal of information about the conference as well as a call for papers, commentators, and chairs.

Although I've never been to the BSPC before, from what I've heard, it sounds like the ideal philosophy conference. One of my new year philosophy-related resolutions is to finally manage to go! Even if it's half as good as it seems on paper, I won't be disappointed.