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Micah Tillman

Thanks for this post! I've never heard these terms before (I've spent so much time in another school of philosophy), but it gives some helpful structure to issues that are always on my mind.

I'm working on Husserl's early text "Philosophy of Arithmetic," and it seems to me he would say that one's nose and foreign towers do form something called a "totality"/"multiplicity" (or I guess one could say "set"). But that goes for everything, he says, and I'm not sure how much hay one could make out of it.

What's true of everything might just be meaningless . . . .

Dan Korman

Hi Micah --

Universalists will typically deny that the thing composed of my nose and the Eiffel Tower is identical either to {my nose, the Eiffel Tower} or to the following multiplicity of objects: my nose and the Eiffel Tower. Rather, it is a single object that has those two objects as its parts.

If I remember right, Husserl thinks that (unlike a mere plurality) a single object, or "a whole" has to exhibit a certain kind of integrity that would just be missing in the universalist's strange fusions. Is this right?

Aidan McGlynn

"But why accept universalism, rather than an eliminativist view according to which composition rarely occurs, or never occurs? Evidently, the answer is that eliminativism is deeply counterintuitive."

Isn't Hudson's suggestion just that eliminativism is much more deeply counterintuitive than universalism (and a choice is forced by the absence of a principled way to find stable middle resting-ground)? The rest of the passage you partially quote from 108 seems to suggest that something like that is what's going on.

Dan Korman

Aidan --

You're right that that's what Hudson's saying. But you're wrong to suggest that a choice is forced. One could remain agnostic, on the grounds that there's no good evidence one way or the other.

And even if a choice were forced, it should be neither here nor there, from their perspective, that the pro-chair intuition is stronger. It's no different from the magic eight-ball's pro-chair response being stronger than its anti-fusion response.

Aidan McGlynn

I didn't suggest a choice is forced - I suggested that this was Hudson's idea. That seemed suggested by the passages surrounding those you quote - my own views, such as they are, weren't on the table at all.

Dan Korman

Ah, so you agree that there are tables? ;)

jonathan weinberg

This is part of my critique of the current philosophical practice of appeal to intuitions -- we don't really have anything substantive in place for weighing different intuition strengths, especially not across different individuals.

Moreover, if we turn our attention away from intuitions and towards our ordinary linguistic and practical practices, one could argue that universalism is consistent with everything we ordinarily say or do, in terms of picking out objects, being fine in its own terms. It also says that there are lots of things we _don't_ say, which we could truly say, about the odd compositions -- but since our ordinary practices are simply silent about such funky objects, they do not count as evidence one way or the other. But eliminativism says that practically every time we call something an object, we are strictly speaking wrong. It has ways of accommodating that, but it's still something that it _needs_ to accommodate, and thus a cost where universalism has none.

Aidan McGlynn

I'm down with tables.

Micah Tillman


That's an excellent question, and one I honestly do not know the answer to. Though I do believe Husserl would call the nose-tower thing an object, simply because you can "intend" it.

But just because you can intend a thing, doesn't mean it exists (as he insists so often). Attempting to confirm its existence would require an essential reference to the mind intending it (to supply any kind of connection between nose and tower that would warrant saying they form even such a loose whole as a "multiplicity").

So I'm not sure this would help the universalist position (of which I am skeptical anyway). That position seems to require something more than Husserl would be willing to give.

Dan Korman

Jonathan --

Universalism is in tension with *some* of the things we say, for instance, when we count up the number of things in the box (or whatever). Now, universalists have a rephrasal strategy for dealing with the apparent conflicts (which receives a proper burial in my forthcoming "Unrestricted Composition and Restricted Composition"), as do eliminativists (loose talk or fictionalism).

But here's the thing: The only reason we should ever care about "saving the appearances" and making the folk come out right is because (1) we're squeamish about saying that they're stupid, and (2) we take their discourse to reflect their unadulterated intuitions, which (for better or worse) we ordinarily take as evidence and therefore, in general, don't want to have to deny.

But once we accept that there's special reason to think that anti-fusion and pro-chair intuitions are junk, there's just no work for the rephrasals to do, and no reason to worry about transgressing folk discourse. The folk have these strong pro-table intuitions, so it's in no way irrational for them to say that there are tables (that takes care of (1)), and we (allegedly) have independent reason for thinking that those intuitions about what kinds there are are junk (that takes care of (2)).

So why should the fact that universalism is truer to folk discourse than eliminativism be any reason to favor universalism, once one admits that the folk intuitions that give rise to this discourse are junk?

Bryan Pickel

Hi Dan,

I'm a little confused about the structure of the dialectic. Why in the world does Hudson say that we have INTUITIONS that some of the consequences of universalism are false? Couldn't he just say that universalism conflicts only with some ordinary beliefs which are not jusified by intuition? Consider your example of an ordinary judgement which universalism conflicts with: you count the objects in a box and then report "There are n objects in this box", whereas if universalism is true, there are 2^n-1 objects in the box. I agree that universalism conflicts with what we ordinarily report. But, I don't see why intuition - as you conceive it - always enters into the justification for this ordinary judgement. Rather, the justification came from (a) perception and (b) counting. Perhaps a similar line could be offered as regards the purported object composed of your nose and the Eiffel tower. Perhaps, our justification for making this judgement has to do with theoretical simplicity and not intuition. That is, perhaps some fragment of our theory is simpler if we don't admit the fusion (though the universalist will contend that the total theory becomes simpler if we admit the fusion).

If Hudson can avoid saying that we appeal to intuition to justify the judgements which count against universalism, would he then be in a better position to then discount those judgements without discounting the judgements against nihilism? (Come to think of it: why say that those judgements are justified by intuition either?)

I guess this amounts to is that I don't see how your reply to Jonathan can be correct. You say,

"The only reason we should ever care about "saving the appearances" and making the folk come out right is because (1) we're squeamish about saying that they're stupid, and (2) we take their discourse to reflect their unadulterated intuitions, which (for better or worse) we ordinarily take as evidence and therefore, in general, don't want to have to deny."

But it seems to me that we might be tempted towards this sort of interpretative strategy for ordinary judgements for reasons that have nothing to do with preserving intuitions, as happens in your example of counting the number of objects in a box.

Dan Korman

Hi Bryan --

Not sure I share your confusion about why Hudson says we have intuitions that tell against universalism. We have excellent introspective evidence in support of this claim.

Of course, the universalist has strategies for avoiding having to say this, e.g., he can say that when it seems (introspectively) that we're having the intuition that there's nothing composed of my nose and the Eiffel Tower, we're really having the intuition that there's no *ordinary* thing composed of my nose and the Eiffel Tower. But this is a substantive psychological hypothesis for which there seems to be no evidence whatsoever. So, while Hudson could have gone down that road, one can see why he didn't.

jonathan weinberg

"The only reason we should ever care about "saving the appearances" and making the folk come out right is because (1) we're squeamish about saying that they're stupid, and (2) we take their discourse to reflect their unadulterated intuitions, which (for better or worse) we ordinarily take as evidence and therefore, in general, don't want to have to deny." Eek, no, I don't think that this at all exhausts our reasons for deferring to folk usage in our philosophizing! Goodness, why must it be all intuitions, all the time, with you metaphysicians? Why isn't the existence of the usage itself perfectly good (if, like everything else, defeasible) evidence about the world?

Here's a famous quote from Austin, that I think encapsulates a very important thought here: "Certainly ordinary language has no claim to be the last word, if there is such a thing. It embodies, indeed, something better than the metaphysics of the Stone Age, namely, as was said, the inherited experience and acumen of many generations of men. But then, that acumen has been concentrated primarily upon the practical business of life. If a distinction works well for practical purposes in ordinary life (no mean feat, for even ordinary life is full of hard cases), then there is sure to be something in it, it will not mark nothing: yet this is likely enough to be not the best way of arranging things if our interests are more extensive or intellectual than the ordinary. And again, that experience has been derived only from the sources available to ordinary men throughout most of civilized history: it has not been fed from the resources of the microscope and its successors. And it must be added too, that superstition and error and fantasy of all kinds do become incorporated in ordinary language and even sometimes stand up to the survival test (only, when they do, why should we not detect it?). Certainly, then, ordinary language is not the last word: in principle it can everywhere be supplemented and improved upon and superseded. Only remember, it is the first word."

So, while I don't particularly care about whether individual folk do or don't have "strong" intuitions (whatever that really means here) about the existence or nonexistence of tables, nonetheless the practice itself is something over and very much above such things, and carries its own evidential weight. And, if that's right, it gives us a way that we could chunk the philosophers' esoteric intuitions out the door (if we so choose), but still give us a good source of friction in our theorizing.

(For what it's worth (not much, probably), I don't have the intuition in question, and I suspect that a fair number of non-metaphysicians don't have it, either. My reaction -- both initial and considered -- to the question of the existence of funky compositions as objects is, "well, ok, if someone wants them, why not?")

* * * * *

Now, there's a completely orthogonal question as to whether universalism does a better job of respecting ordinary practice than eliminativism. (And it might well be that something in between the two handles the practice better than either!) But I think that, in your paper, you do overlook the way that I would find most natural to approach the question of restricted quantification; namely, that such restrictions are done inclusively, not exclusively. Any particular time that we say "how many X", for some sortal X, there is an implicit background restriction to a reference set of some sort, and any Xs outside of that reference set just don't (literally) count. Now, in ordinary usage, I suspect that the reference set will most always be "good visual gestalt entities", but sometimes other sets are used, according to conversational & practical salience. Importantly for the universalist, we need that much machinery to make sense of ordinary practice, even if we just totally ignore the question of funky compositions; e.g., to handle the fact that everyone knows when to ignore various perfectly respectable subparts of objects at some times, and to count them as distinct objects at other times.

But then there's no need for a _special_ restriction to rule out funky compositions. Since funky compositions will lie outside every reference set that shows up in ordinary discourse, they will simply _fail to be included_. (Indeed, it might be very hard for non-philosophers to come to understand the reference set that _could_ include funky compositions.) Funky compositions' non-appearance in ordinary discourse thus would require no special motivation, because it is taken care of by machinery that is entirely independently motivated. So it would not matter that, as you argue, "Positing a tacit restriction that excludes strange fusions seems to do no explanatory work," because there is no _special_ tacit restriction here. It's just something that will go along with & be entailed by all the tacit restrictions that _do_ perform the relevant explanatory work. It's a freebie! Funky compositions would thus stand to universalism as multiple-center-embedding sentences do to classical generative grammars of English -- they count as kosher because they are entailed by the best set of rules that make sense of what we do actually ordinarily say, while having an unproblematic account of why we don't actually tend to make use of them in our everyday conversations. They are an extremely odd, but ultimately cost-free, byproduct of the ordinary.

Bryan Pickel

Hi Dan,

I think lots of philosophers use 'intuition' to mean something like what I would mean by 'ordianry, pre-theoretical judgement', and do not mean to refer to some sui generis propositional attitude. Call the former intuitions, and the latter *intuitions*. I'm not sure how Hudson is using the word. But it seems to me that he should mean that he has intuitions, and not *intuitions*.

I guess you can claim that the universalists have an *intuition* that there is nothing composed of your nose and the Eiffel tower. But that doesn't strike me as particularly plausible. We have ordinary routes to account for how these beliefs get justified. So I don't see the need to posit some additional faculty to account for how someone could justifably believe that there's nothing composed of your nose and the Eiffel tower.

You may have such *intuition*s. But it seems a bit hasty to ascribe these to all universalists. But depending on what Hudson means, maybe he does claim to have *inutitions* about your nose and the Eiffel tower. I know I don't.

Bryan Pickel

Come to think of it, it strikes me as very implausible that the claims Hudson uses to reject elimiitivism are *intuitions*. He says that he has strong intuitive evidence that there are chairs? If 'intuitive' here gets interpreted as *intuitive*, then that claim is almost certainly false, no? After all, I don't come to believe that there are chairs by intuiting that they exist. (Or, that they must exist.) I see them. Or, am I missing something?

Dan Korman

Jonathan --

Maybe I put things more strongly than I needed to. People say the things they do because of how things seem to them, either perceptually, introspectively, or intuitively (your experimental work is predicated on this assumption). The pre-Copernicans say 'the sun moved behind the elms', because it seems that the sun is moving and they have no reason to think it's not. Is an interpretation on which this sentence comes out true better all things considered? No, because we've found an obvious explanation of the error.

Bad intuitions, corrupted by practical interests, would be an obvious explanation of why the folk say 'there are only two things on the table', despite the fact that there's also the fusion of the two. No need to find an interpretation that verifies the remarks, once we've found an excellent reason for them to be uttering a falsehood.

Also, the fact that the folk speak as though they take there to be only good visual gestalt entities is no indication that they aren't quantifying over strange fusions. (Compare: Joe says something false when he says 'nothing travels faster than 10,000 mph', not something true but tacitly restricted to exclude speedy microscopic things that he's never heard of).

Bryan --

You're right. More cautiously, the intuition is that: given that things are as they seem perceptually to be (i.e., that there is stuff arranged chairwise), there are chairs. So we have excellent perceptual-cum-intuitive evidence that there are chairs.

As for intuitions and *intuitions*, it doesn't matter what you call them or what they are. Whatever they are, Hudson suggests that the ones about composition are corrupted by practical interests. That either does or doesn't entail that we can't trust them. If it does, then he shouldn't trust the pro-chair ones. If it doesn't, then he should worry more about the anti-fusion ones.

marc moffett

Just wanted to say nice post Dan. The preceding point about the role of intuition in perceptual judgment is important.

Jonathan, this is a serious question: why do you think (or do you think) that linguistic practices are less susceptible to cultural variation than intuitions? Do you have a story to tell?

jonathan weinberg

"Bad intuitions, corrupted by practical interests..." That's part of what I'm trying to resist here, and follow Austin in resisting. It's the intuitions (in the thin sense that you're using it here) that are _responsive to_ and _informed by_ our real practical interests that we should give strong evidential priority to. Those are the ones that have been shaped to fit the world. The ones we dream up in our comfy armchairs (and I am even now sitting in a _very_ comfy armchair in my office, btw) are the ones we should worry about being corrupt, or at least not ecologically valid.

As for Joe: there's no issue here about what the folk (or anyone else) _believes_ to exist. I mean, I guess I could imagine contexts in which that was the reference class to which we restricted ourselves -- maybe we're just chatting about our respective ontologies -- but you're surely right that that's not a very common way of speaking. But I don't see what that has to do with what I was talking about. Again: the methodological picture is one in which we figure out what commitments we need in order to make sense of what we do in fact find in ordinary practice. And we find that we need fairly arbitrary and context-dependent composition, just to handle ordinary variation in discourse (like sometimes counting the legs of the table, and other times not). And... that's all the universalist needs, on an analogy with the generative syntactician. If someone has a special independent argument for the falsity of universalism, then that could motivate wanting to take another approach. But if we just restrict ourselves to ordinary practice (no esoteric intuitions allowed), then no such alternate approach seems motivated.

jonathan weinberg

"why do you think (or do you think) that linguistic practices are less susceptible to cultural variation than intuitions?"

I don't; I'm just happy to be a relativist about them, especially when it comes to metaphysics. If East Asians turn out to carve up the universe with one sort of ontology of objects, and European types turn out to do it differently, and both sets of practices serve each group's real goals equally well, then there might not be any further fact to the matter. It's certainly not obvious that there should be any further fact to the matter, anyhow.

Now, if we want to answer questions that aren't so permissive of relativism -- serious normative questions, for instance -- then this isn't a good method to reach for. (And I also do think that if we want to be latter-day Austinians, we'd still better have some experimentalists on staff, too.)

Bryan Pickel


It seems to me to make a huge difference whether Hudson means intuitions or *intuitions*. At first your post seemed to say that Hudson undermines his right to appeal to *intuitions* by rejecting the *intuitions* against universalism.

But, if Hudson just means intution (pre-philosophical judgement), then it seems like good practice to sort out how these intuitions are generated. So, I don't see anything wrong with rejecting intuitions (again, pretheoretical judgements) generated by cultural biases, but holding on to those generated by perception (or perception w/ *intuition* if you are right).

As to your point that we have both perceptual and *intuitive* evidence for the existence of chairs, I don't quite follow. Is your claim that we would not be warranted in our belief that there are chairs if we merely saw them. Rather, we must also have the relevant *intuition*? Or, is your point that we merely have both sorts of evidence.

For what it's worth, this isn't meant to be general *intution* skepticism. Whatever the plausibility of *intuition* to warrant some possibility and necessity judgments, it strikes me as implausible to extend it to my belief that there are tables.

marc moffett


So in effect you have no objection to an appeal to intuitions either except in those cases where you would also object to an appeal to linguistic practices. At least allowing, as I think you must, that linguistic attribution practices track intuitions. This would suggest that you do think that intuitions concerning metaphysics have evidentiary force (or you think it is ok to accept metaphysical claims without reasons). But then, why not accept them tout court? What reason do you have for thinking that normative claims are not relative?

(There is, of course, a straightforward sense in which it is metaphysics all the way down, so I think a bit of care is needed here. Indeed, if you hold any kind of supervenience view of the normative on the physical or mental-cum-physical, then metaphysical relativism might well imply normative relativism; it would depend on the plausibility of claiming that the same normative properties supervene on all permissable ways of chopping up the world.)

jonathan weinberg

"So in effect you have no objection to an appeal to intuitions either except in those cases where you would also object to an appeal to linguistic practices." That sounds pretty much right to me, though I would want to emphasize what I only noted parenthetically at the end of the previous comment: for the method to be done responsibly, it'll have to be done in active collaboration with experimental work, too. We can only go back to the armchair if we're also going back to the lab-bench, too.

"At least allowing, as I think you must, that linguistic attribution practices track intuitions. This would suggest that you do think that intuitions concerning metaphysics have evidentiary force...." We probably need to be careful with "track" here. I think (though I'm not sure) that for the argument you're offering here, we need a strong notion of track in which our having a folk practice in which we would say "p" makes it very probable that our proper intuition would yield p as well. But I just don't know whether that's true. Rather, I think there's a weaker notion of tracking, in which systematic differenecs in the folk practice predict that there should be some similar systematic differences in the intuitions. (Compare: the time displayed on my watch, set currently for EDT, does an excellent job of tracking the time in Addis Ababa in this weaker sense, but an absolutely terrible job of doing so in the stronger sense.) But I still might anyway be willing to grant some evidential status to intuitions appropriately restricted & calibrated by experimentation. It'd probably be best to think of there being multiple potentially-converging lines of evidence for the relevant kinds of claims -- both first-person-perspective intuitions about the cases and third-person-perspective observations about practice. Where they agree, then we are in a much better evidential situation than when they disagree.

I guess I don't see where it makes much sense to say that a group of people with well-worked-out linguistic practices can be wildly wrong about their fundamental metaphysical ontology, in terms of objects, universals, etc., so long as it is doing whatever work they need it to do. I just don't see what else there is for such a thing to be true of, beyond the well-functioning of those practices. (If the practice is _not_ well-functioning, though, then that would provide grounds for criticism. I am assuming that one could have a set of practices that are all equally well-functioning, but which are not consistent with each other. If that assumption is false, then it may contingently be the case that such a relativism would be false as well.)

But, even given all that, people might well be wildly mistaken about all sorts of other things, such as the correct fundamental physical ontology (e.g., whether their exist unobservably small particles). And epistemic norms seem to me largely to fall into this latter category: a bunch of folks could just all be going about things in a very bad way. Perhaps, given their epistemic goals, their norms are not doing as good a job as they could of helping the people pursue those goals. Or perhaps they are pursing epistmic goals that they ought not pursue (as we might say of a society of all sophists). Moreover, I don't see any reason to think that our intuitions about how to categorize funny cases in terms of "knowledge" or "justified belief" are a particularly good guide to the best epistemic norms. A better way to approach such questions is in the manner of Ed Craig's _Knowledge and the State of Nature_ (which includes a lovely indictment of analysis-by-cases in its early pages).

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