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Mid-career reflections - part 8: on fear in the discipline

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When I started the Cocoon a little over six years, I didn't have many hopes for it. I was just a struggling early-career scholar with few friends or professional contacts in the discipline (due, admittedly, to some bad choices I made early on). I started the Cocoon not because I expected anyone to read it, but simply because I was sick of feeling isolated and alone in a discipline that seemed to me to incentivize those things. My only hope in starting the blog was that I might find a few similarly-minded others: people like me who were sick of feeling alone, and who wanted to help each other make their path through the discipline just a little bit better. In some ways (many ways), the Cocoon succeeded beyond my wildest hopes. It seems to be widely read, at times has had a good stable of contributors, has been a wonderful way to get to know other people (and helped me feel far less isolated), and I've often heard people say complimentary things about it (though maybe. . .

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News source: The Philosophers' Cocoon

Short Little Lessons in Logic: Statements

Lesson 3: Statements

What you'll learn in this lesson:

  • The semantic and syntactic structure of premises and conclusions
  • What a declarative statement is
  • How declarative statements are used in logic

In a previous lesson, we learned that arguments form the basis of logical analysis and they're what we use to convince others that something is true. We also learned that logical arguments are made up of premises (the reasons given), a conclusion (the idea you want to show is true), and a logical relation. In this lesson and the next lesson, we're going to look at two important concepts that will help us better understand the syntactic and semantic nature of the parts of an argument. By 'syntactic' I mean how the grammar or the structure or form of the argument functions. By 'semantic' I'm referring to how the elements of the argument function in the understanding of the person making and hearing the argument. This may sound a bit technical but I'll explain these ideas more clearly in this and the following lessons.

Statements and Logic

As we've seen, in formal logic, the person making the argument uses the premises and the conclusion to make truth claims. That is, the person intends to state things that are true or probably are true (arguments present facts that represent the way the world is or might be). As we'll see in a later lesson, it's not always important that you know up front whether the claims are actually true only that the intention of the person presenting the argument is to make truth claims. Because of this, all claims in logic take the grammatical form of declarative statements or just statements.

The examples we use in these lessons are in English but the principles apply to any language that can declare or state that something is true in the mind of the person hearing the language. Since language is symbolic---it points to something else as we'll see in the next few lessons---the language could be something as simple as Morse code.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines 'declare' as a type of action: "to assert, proclaim, announce or pronounce by formal statement or in solemn terms". In other words, a statement is just making an assertion that the world is a specific way at a specific time. We'll define a logical statement then as:

a claim made in some language (a sentence) that asserts that something is true or possibly true.

Here are some examples:

  • The total land area of Australia is approximately 2.97 million square miles
  • Objects fall to the earth in a vacuum at 9.8 meters per second squared
  • Sigmund Freud was born in London
  • The coffee has been on the counter for 15 minutes so it probably is cold

Each of these statements declares that something is true. The first two statements actually are true and the third statement is false (Freud was born in the town of Freiberg in the Czech Republic). The fourth statement declares that something most likely is true but could be false.

Other Types of Sentences

When constructing arguments in logic only declarative sentences can be used. The way to test whether you can use a particular sentence in logic is to ask whether it possibly could be true or false. If your answer is 'no' then it can't be used for your premises or conclusion. If it can be true or false, then it's permitted in your premises and your conclusion. Here are some examples of other types of English sentences that can't be used for premises or conclusions in logic:

  1. Questions or interrogatives: "What day of the week is this?"
  2. Commands or imperatives: "Bring me some water!"
  3. Exclamations or exclamatory: "Wow!"
  4. Performatives: "I solemnly vow"

We now have a better understanding of the syntactic nature of premises and conclusions in logical arguments. Later on in the course, we'll study more about syntax and how it relates to constructing arguments. Next, we'll need to look at the semantics of premises and conclusions. The semantics or "meaning" of a declarative statement is essential to understanding how the logical relation works and will help us analyze arguments. But first, we need to spend some time on this concept of 'truth value.' We'll turn to that in the next lesson and then move on to learning about semantics.

Try this quick review to test your understanding.

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Challenging the Modern Synthesis: Adaptation, Development, and Inheritance

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2018.08.03 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Philippe Huneman and Denis M. Walsh (eds.), Challenging the Modern Synthesis: Adaptation, Development, and Inheritance, Oxford University Press, 2017, 368pp., $74.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780199377176. Reviewed by Ehud Lamm, Tel Aviv University This collection joins a long parade of attempts to slay an aging, decrepit, beast. This beast of mythical status being the Modern Synthesis in evolutionary biology. As some of the authors in this collection note, it is far from clear whether these attempts do not in fact invigorate the beast, keeping it alert and nimble. As someone in the business of developing traps for the monster and its lookalikes, reading this collection I found myself identifying with the beast, clearly the underdog here as in many philosophy of biology circles, if not in Real Life, that is, in university biology departments. I also ended up not sure if everyone is chasing the same monster or maybe we. . .

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News source: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // News

Would you choose your AOS again?

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In the comments section of our most recent "how can we help you?" thread, Amanda asks: "if you were starting your PhD (in philosophy) over again, would you study the same AOS, why or why not?"  Great question! A while back at an Eastern APA meeting, I had a good discussion with another early-career philosopher who said he thought many grad students don't give their choice of AOS nearly enough thought. As he put it, many of the grad students he knew just picked whatever AOS interested them the most. While there may be something admirably authentic about this, his sense was that many of them found themselves in a bad position later on because they picked an AOS where there were too few jobs. And indeed, readers may recall I've done some informal reporting in recent years of jobs by AOS...and the data are pretty striking. Some AOS (particularly ethics) have consistently comprised a large proportion of advertised jobs, whereas other AOS (aesthetics. . .

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News source: The Philosophers' Cocoon

Do people owe a debt for investments made in them which they never had an option

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ShareEthicsRead another response about EthicsDo people owe a debt for investments made in them which they never had an option to refuse? Some examples might be: Debt to society for paying for your childhood education Debt to parents for raising you Should it be considered ungrateful for someone to discontinue their affiliation with the investor if they feel that the relationship isn't beneficial to them? View the discussion thread.

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News source: AskPhilosophers Questions

Negative Utility Monsters

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Many consider Nozick's "utility monster" -- a being more efficient than ordinary people at converting resources into wellbeing, with no upper limit -- a damning counterexample to utilitarianism.  It doesn't seem intuitively right, after all, to give all our resources to this one individual and deprive everyone else in the world, even though this would (ex hypothesi) maximize aggregate welfare.A standard response is to question the coherence of the scenario.  It doesn't even seem like a good outcome, after all, which may be taken to cast doubt on whether we are really imagining sufficiently high monster welfare to really outweigh all the suffering of everyone else in the world.  More directly: I don't think I can positively conceive of arbitrarily high welfare packed into a single life. Further, I think there are principled reasons to think this impossible -- but even if I'm wrong about that, our imaginative resistance is enough to explain away our intuitions. . .

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News source: Philosophy, et cetera

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