Volume 20 (2020)
February 2020, vol. 20, no. 06, pp. 1-21
According to the classical quantificational analysis of modals, an agent has the ability to perform an act iff (roughly) relevant facts about the agent and her environment are compatible with her performing the act. The analysis faces a number of problems, many of which can be traced to the fact that it takes even accidental performance of an act as proof of the relevant ability. I argue that ability statements are systematically ambiguous: on one reading, accidental performance really is enough; on another, more is required. The stronger notion of ability plays a central role in normative contexts. Both readings, I argue, can be captured within the classical quantificational framework, provided we allow conversational context to impose restrictions not just on the “accessible worlds” (the facts that are held fixed), but also on what counts as a performance of the relevant act among these worlds.
February 2020, vol. 20, no. 05, pp. 1-26
Lipsey and Lancaster's "general theory of second best" is widely thought to have significant implications for applied theorizing about the institutions and policies that most effectively implement abstract normative principles. It is also widely thought to have little significance for theorizing about which abstract normative principles we ought to implement. Contrary to this conventional wisdom, I show how the second-best theorem can be extended to myriad domains beyond applied normative theorizing, and in particular to more abstract theorizing about the normative principles we should aim to implement. I start by separating the mathematical model used to prove the second-best theorem from its familiar economic interpretation. I then develop an alternative normative-theoretic interpretation of the model, which yields a novel second best theorem for idealistic normative theory. My method for developing this interpretation provides a template for developing additional interpretations that can extend the reach of the second-best theorem beyond normative theoretical domains. I also show how, within any domain, the implications of the second-best theorem are more specific than is typically thought. I conclude with some brief remarks on the value of mathematical models for conceptual exploration.
January 2020, vol. 20, no. 04, pp. 1-21
Modal logicism is the view that a metaphysical possibility is just a non-absurd way for the world to be. I argue that modal logicists should see metaphysical possibility as "open ended'': any given possibilities can be used to characterize further possibilities. I then develop a formal framework for modal languages that is a good fit for the modal logicist and show that it delivers some attractive results.
Samuel C. Fletcher
January 2020, vol. 20, no. 03, pp. 1-22
How can inferences from models to the phenomena they represent be justified when those models represent only imperfectly? Pierre Duhem considered just this problem, arguing that inferences from mathematical models of phenomena to real physical applications must also be demonstrated to be approximately correct when the assumptions of the model are only approximately true. Despite being little discussed among philosophers, this challenge was taken up (if only sometimes implicitly) by mathematicians and physicists both contemporaneous with and subsequent to Duhem, yielding a novel and rich mathematical theory of stability with epistemological consequences.
Michael Glanzberg and Jeffrey C. King
January 2020, vol. 20, no. 02, pp. 1-29
In this paper, we defend a traditional approach to semantics, that holds that the outputs of compositional semantics are propositional, i.e. truth conditions (or anything else appropriate to be the objects of assertions or the contents of attitudes). Though traditional, this view has been challenged on a number of fronts over the years. Since classic work of Lewis, arguments have been offered which purport to show that semantic composition requires values that are relativized, e.g. to times, or other parameters that render them no longer propositional. Focusing in recent variants of these arguments involving quantification and binding, we argue that a correct understanding of how composition works gives no reason to relativize semantic values, and that propositional semantic values are in fact the preferred option. We take our argument to be mainly empirical, but along the way, we defend some more general theses. Simple propositional semantic values are viable in composition, we maintain, because composition is itself a complex phenomenon, involving multiple modes of composition. Furthermore, some composition principles make adjustments to the meanings of constituents in the course of composition. These adjustments are by triggered syntactic environments. We argue such small contributions of meaning from syntactic structure are acceptable.
Sara Aronowitz and Tania Lombrozo
January 2020, vol. 20, no. 01, pp. 1-18
Mental simulation — such as imagining tilting a glass to figure out the angle at which water would spill — can be a way of coming to know the answer to an internally or externally posed query. Is this form of learning a species of inference or a form of observation? We argue that it is neither: learning through simulation is a genuinely distinct form of learning. On our account, simulation can provide knowledge of the answer to a query even when the basis for that answer is opaque to the learner. Moreover, through repeated simulation, the learner can reduce this opacity, supporting self-training and the acquisition of more accurate models of the world. Simulation is thus an essential part of the story of how creatures like us become effective learners and knowers.