Sunday, July 26, 2009


I fly to Seattle tomorrow! I'll be there from July 27-31, hanging out with Donkeylicious co-blogger Nick and grad school friends Justin and Ariela. Probably I'll be in Tacoma for the latter half of that. Then it'll be back to SF for a couple more days before I go back to Singapore.

Friday, July 24, 2009


I just had lunch with Brad DeLong!

The counterfactual in his post came up in conversation when I was explaining Possible Girls to him. Discussing that paper with famous people in academia will, I suspect, be a recurring source of joy in my life.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What is the answer to a riddle?

Julian Sanchez writes:
“In a riddle whose answer is chess, what is the one word you must under no circumstances use?” The question comes from Borges’ short story “The Garden of Forking Paths,” in which the narrator’s ancestor (we’re told) aspired to create an infinite labyrinth. He ultimately constructed his labyrinth not in space but through time and narrative, writing a great sprawling novel in which many possible—and contradictory—futures coexist, converge, and splay off into variegated chaos again. The forbidden word, of course, is “chess”—making that opening question a riddle in violation of its own rule.
I was thinking that the use/mention distinction would save the riddle from self-violation. We should regard the word "chess" as being mentioned and not used by Borges in stating the riddle. (For the time being, let's set aside the issue of whether the question actually counts as a riddle.)

Might we instead say that the locution "A riddle whose answer is X" involves the use of X, rather than the mere mention of X? Well, I would've thought that answers were linguistic entities, so when you talk about the answer to any riddle you're talking about a linguistic entity, and thus mentioning the term rather than using it.

Also, it would be a surprise if questions and answers had different ontological status. While there's a theoretical option of considering answers to be nonlinguistic entities, since they refer to things, I don't see a similar option with questions. A question has to be a series of words, or some abstract entity expressible in words. Unlike an answer, there's no object it can be taken to refer to. If there's good reason to regard answers as the same things as questions, we should regard both as linguistic entities.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Inter-philosophical sloth

After giving nine talks this summer, I'm now back in San Francisco visiting Mom and Dad. I've been sleeping and blogging about politics and generally being unproductive. Maybe later this evening after dinner I'll get to revising my paper on the double-Humean view. Or maybe tomorrow. Anyway, it's going to be revised and sent off to a journal before I go back to Singapore. Mark my words.

Today it turned out that conversations about my research (in particular, stuff on dispositional desires and rationality that's in my paper about the double-Humean view) informed other people's political blogging! They were talking about requirements that restaurants print calorie information on their menus. How is this relevant? Well, I wrote a big post at Donkeylicious explaining it so you can go there and see.