Tag: analytic philosophy

Professor masters art of filling bookshelf with books he will never read

EVANSTON, IL—A preeminent philosopher at an elite university has perfected the art of haphazardly filling his bookshelf with books he will never read.

Jacques Johnson, 63, said, “I have everything here. Like, everything. I’ve got Kant, Locke, Leibniz, Plato, Aristotle, the Presocratics, Russell, Kripke, Anscombe, Searle, Ryle, Ayer, Grice, Frege, and dozens of people who are still alive like Michael Huemer and whoever as well as Derrida. My pretheoretical intuition is that I will never read Derrida, since I know Derrida is full of shit even though I’ve never read his works and don’t ever want to. Well, I don’t think I’ll read any of the other stuff either.”

While his colleagues specialize in topics ranging from noncognitivism to meta-meta-logic, Johnson spends much of his time studying the philosophy of action and normative ethics, with a special focus on procrastination and bullshit. He explained: “To be honest, I haven’t really got around to reading Plato’s Republic, though I know it’s been assigned to me around a dozen times since college. My true passion, however, lies in arranging and rearranging my bookshelf in such a way that gives people, even scholars, the illusion that I know everything under the sun.”

Students reportedly asked Johnson if other philosophers ever accuse him of bullshitting. “I never bullshit. I bluff and lie and mislead and hoodwink and steal and rip off. But I don’t bullshit. Never. That’s an infamia,” he said, wagging an index finger.

Johnson pointed out that filling one’s bookshelf with books one does not intend to read is a habit shared by students and professors alike, with the most preeminent shelf-filler being Socrates. “I don’t think there’ s a greater philosopher than old Mr. Soccer Tease,” said Johnson. “He was the inimitable shelf-filler. It was both an art and a science to him, the way he amassed his books and displayed them like a modern art masterpiece. He was really ahead of his time.”

Johnson continues to fill his shelf with books he will never read. Sources confirmed that his latest writings will be published in top philosophical journals such as Mind and Noûs.



A sophomoric introduction to bullshit

In college, my adviser introduced me to elementary logic and opened my eyes to the beauty of academic philosophy, at once dispelling popular misconceptions of philosophy as mere intellectual masturbation and adumbrating the hows and whys of the bullshitty things that give philosophy a bad name. It’s been many years since I wrote my last paper on bullshit, and my life has taken numerous strange and shocking turns in the past year alone. Nevertheless, metaphysical and moral questions concerning bullshit still occasionally vex me, and if you are at all concerned about the current state of the world, then they should vex you too.

Here is the first paper I wrote on the topic way back when I first began to give a shit. This is also my first non-satirical blog post. I encourage all of you to earnestly discuss the phenomenon of bullshit and to write thoughtful blog posts about it.

A Handful of Bullshit and an Explanation of its Varieties

Perspectives on Bullshit

In common parlance, the term “bullshit” is frequently uttered, but usage of the term varies widely across situations. Sometimes, the term “bullshit” carries a connotation of insincerity (e.g., “There is so much bullshit in D.C.” or “Don’t bullshit me!”). Sometimes, the term is a pejorative dismissal of nonsense or deficiency in empirical evidence (e.g., “That’s pseudoscientific bullshit.”). Mild doses of bullshit can evoke chuckles. Large amounts of well-crafted, goal-directed bullshit, however, can be dangerous.

In this essay, I will first introduce Harry Frankfurt’s concept of bullshit. I will then contrast Frankfurt’s concept of bullshit with that of G.A. Cohen. I will explain “goal-oriented” bullshit and provide one case of how such seemingly innocuous bullshit, when abused, can be so powerfully destructive.

Frankfurt’s Bullshit

Harry Frankfurt provides an incisive analysis on bullshit in his essay, “On Bullshit”. The “essence of bullshit,” he asserts, is “a lack of connection to a concern with truth” (125)Consider Case 1:

(1) A college student must write a ten-page research paper on Latin American history, but he has only written nine pages’ worth of solid information. To meet the required page number, he changes the text font from Times New Roman to Arial, inserts a long quote by Fidel Castro, peppers his prose with space-consuming adjectives, and lengthens his title so that it covers two, instead of one, lines. He thereby satisfies the page requirement and turns in his work.

The college student in Case 1 exemplifies Frankfurt’s bullshit. Although the student has written a ten-page paper on Latin American history, he does not care about the truth or falsity of his essay’s content—he merely wants to impress his professor. To accomplish that goal, he inflates his paper. What is important here is not whether the content of the paper is flawed or unflawed, but that the student does not care about his work. The student’s attempt to hide his apathy does not necessarily render his work false ; his work is simply insincere. Frankfurt elucidates this distinction:

[…] the essence of bullshit is not that it is false but that it is phony […] What is not genuine need not also be defective in some other way. It may be, after all, an exact copy. What is wrong with a counterfeit is not what it is like, but how it was made.  This points to a similar and fundamental aspect of the essential nature of bullshit: although it is produced without concern with the truth, it need not be false. (128)

This distinction between falsity and phoniness allows us to understand another feature of Frankfurt’s bullshit: deceptiveness. One who detects Frankfurt’s phony bullshit may feel deceived, as if one has been lied to, but crucial to this issue is that Frankfurt’s bullshit is not the same as lying. Regarding this relationship between bullshit and lying, Frankfurt reasons that, while the liar attempts to deceive others about the reality (i.e., by reversing the truth value of a proposition), the bullshitter attempts to hide the fact that he does not care about the reality. The liar pays attention to the truth and defies it. The bullshitter does not care about the truth at all. By virtue of such apathy, what he utters is invariably bullshit (132).

Cohen’s Bullshit

In his essay, “Deeper into Bullshit,” G.A. Cohen explains the term “bullshit” as roughly synonymous with the term “nonsense” (332). Cohen proposes three distinguishing features of nonsensical bullshit: unclarifiable unclarity (i.e., hopelessly vague stuff), rubbish (i.e., “arguments that are grossly deficient in logic or sensitivity to empirical evidence”), and irretrievably speculative statements (Cohen quotes David Miller: “Of course, everyone spends much more time thinking about sex now than people did a hundred years ago”) (333).  Unlike Frankfurt, Cohen is less interested in the speaker’s mental state, but more in the product. By Cohen’s account, it is possible for a bullshitter to utter non-bullshit, and for a non-bullshitter to unwittingly utter bullshit (331). The latter is exemplified by Case 2:

(2) A man places his laptop on top of his lap. A child walks by. She stops. Horrified, she exclaims, “If you put that computer on your lap, the radiations will destroy your genitalia!”

 In this case, the young child utters empirically unverified bullshit about genitalia-destroying radiations. She speaks the proposition not because she is a bullshitter unconcerned about the truth, but simply because she does not know any better. By contrast, a deliberate bullshitter utters bullshit in this scenario:

(3) A cantankerous driver is stuck in traffic. Angry, the driver utters the proposition, “This traffic stinks,” followed by the conclusion, “All women are stupid.” The driver’s wife, an astute logician who happens to be in the car, asks her husband to justify his sexist proposition. The driver makes numerous specious and untenable arguments, all of which are defeated by his wife. They argue for two hours. The driver refuses to give in.

Case 3, by contrast, exemplifies a combination of Frankfurt’s and Cohen’s bullshit. The cantankerous driver has thoughtlessly uttered the proposition, “All women are stupid.” He acts like he believes in that proposition, but his wife suspects that he is bullshitting. The driver defends his arguments, which his wife obliterates. Without a tenable argument, the driver is left defending nonsense. Nevertheless, he continues to blabber. Indifferent to the authority of logic and truth, the driver is a Frankfurt-bullshitter. The product—his untenable nonsense—is Cohen’s bullshit.

Goal-oriented Bullshitters

(4) An attorney is defending his client, who is accused of murder. The attorney knows who the murderer is, so he knows that his client is not guilty. The attorney therefore wants to do everything in his power to help his client, but, at the same time, does not want to reveal the identity of the murderer. He thinks about bribing the jury, but that seems too risky. Instead, he gets several witnesses to testify in his client’s favor. He presents a great closing argument, which persuades the jury to acquit the defendant.

This case is slightly more complicated. The attorney seems to care about the truth, namely, that somebody else is the murderer, and his client is innocent. The case is not unclarifiable, illogical, empirically unverified, or irretrievably speculative nonsense—at least not from the judge’s perspective. The attorney therefore does not seem to be Frankfurt-bullshitting, nor does he seem to be producing Cohen’s bullshit. Nevertheless, I call him a bullshitter. Why?

We can decipher this scenario by heeding Cohen’s analysis on Frankfurt’s essay. Cohen notes that Frankfurt does not clearly distinguish between the bullshitter’s tactics from the bullshitter’s goal. Cohen points to Frankfurt’s example of the Fourth of July orator who “goes on bombastically about ‘our great and blessed country, whose Founding Fathers under divine guidance created a new beginning for mankind’” (121). The problem that Cohen sees is that, while the bullshitting orator is indifferent to the truth about the Founding Fathers, the orator is not necessarily unconcerned about what the audience thinks about the Founding Fathers. In fact, his goal might very well be to persuade his audience about the greatness of the Founding Fathers (Cohen 330). Cohen notes:

If the orator had been Joseph McCarthy, he would have wanted the audience to think that the “new beginning” that the Founding Fathers “created” should persuade the audience to oppose the tyranny supposedly threatened by American communism. The fact that it is not “fundamental” that “the speaker regards his statement as false” in no way implies that “he is not trying to deceive anyone concerning American history.” [emphasis added] (330)

This sheds light on our crafty attorney. The attorney is not guilty of Cohen’s bullshit because his argument is well-articulated and supported by evidence. He is, however, guilty of Frankfurtian bullshitting, because, as much as he cares about his client’s acquittal, the truthfulness of his tactic is irrelevant to him. As long as he can avoid getting caught, the attorney is just as inclined to bribe the jurors as he is to bullshit them with witnesses and rhetoric.


The goal of this paper is not to inveigh against bullshit, but to allow the reader to understand some of the types and subtypes of bullshit. Although the college student, the Fourth of July orator, the attorney, and Joseph McCarthy are all truth-indifferent Frankfurt-bullshitters, McCarthy and the lawyer bullshit in a less desultory, more goal-oriented manner. The lawyer bullshits to get his innocent client acquitted, and McCarthy bullshits to accomplish a hidden political agenda. The versatility and insidiousness of Frankfurt’s bullshit is quite clear.

Cohen’s bullshit—nonsense—can be uttered by both naive speakers and deliberate bullshitters. The naive speaker (in our case, the little girl) utters bullshit much like a chess novice forgetting the rules of chess.  The deliberate bullshitter—the rationalizing driver—simply cheats.

I hope this paper can serve as an informative guide to recognizing insincere or nonsensical talk. But to borrow Cohen’s words, what I have presented are only a few “flower[s] in the lush garden of bullshit” (323).

Word Count: 1,500






Works Cited

Cohen, Gerald Allan. “Deeper into Bullshit.” Computational Philosophy of Science (1993): 321-44. MIT CogNet. Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Web.

Frankfurt, Harry G. “On Bullshit.” The Importance of What We Care About: Philosophical Essays. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1988. 117-33. Print.



Graduate student aspires to clean microwave oven for asshole colleagues

COLUMBUS—An ambitious PhD student at Ohio State was intent on cleaning the microwave oven in the graduate office, where 30 highly educated assholes reside.

24-year-old Rita Lin graduated from the prestigious Chinese University of Hong Kong with a degree in philosophy and the dream of becoming a well-read janitor in the land of the free. “Cantonese food is less greasy than American food,” she said. “But in grad school here, I also see a bunch of lentils and used teabags and other healthy vegan shit that philosophers of normative ethics need me to clean.”

But when Ms. Lin attempted to communicate with her colleagues about microwave sanitation, she was met with resistance.

“The aforementioned advantages that supposedly come from constitutivism are controversial. Without further argument to the contrary one need not grant that the constitutivist is exempt from accusations of committing the naturalistic fallacy. Nor need one immediately concede that we have to be agents, or that—even if agency is inescapable—authoritative, non-arbitrary moral norms somehow come out of constitutivism,” bellowed graduate student Dan Whitaker, as pieces of arugula and pimento cheese flew out of his philosophical orifice.

e is ES-evidence that h (with respect to an epistemic situation ES) if and only if e is true and anyone in ES is justified in believing that e is (probably) veridical evidence,” muttered colleague Curtis Peacock, while he rummaged through his beard in search of a piece of pepperoni.

First, admit that you have a model. Then, acknowledge that the model will never date you. Then you find one that’s isomorphic to that model,” said fellow intellectual asshole Sean White.

Ms. Lin dropped out of graduate school two semesters later. She never got to clean the microwave oven.

Chatty woman can’t stop talking about how boyfriend complains about how she talks too much

CHATTANOOGA, TN—An overly talkative woman talked nonstop about how her boyfriend complains about her talking too much.

Janelle Adams, 32, said, “He’s always, like, complaining about how I talk too much, and I know that I might like to, you know, express my opinions and viewpoints on things, but, like, at the same time I feel like he should be more understanding as a man, because we’ve been, like, dating for a while and, as you know, if you’ve been together with someone for so many days, then you should be able to empathize with me and know that I care a lot about you, you know what I mean? I mean, here’s the thing, like, last night I went out to the Cheesecake Factory, oh wait, it’s not the Cheesecake Factory, wait, what is it called … argh … I can’t remember! Anyway, so we were out at this place, you know, like how they have these nice table cloths and everything’s just super fancy and smooth jazz, so … oh wait … I remember, it’s this place called the Beagle Bar, anyway, what was I saying? Oh, right … So, like, there’s this guy there and he was sort of cute and I don’t mean to, like, cheat on my boyfriend or anything, but he’s just so impatient with me, you know, like he doesn’t listen and just zones out like a zombie, and I asked him, what’s the problem? And he says, nothing, and I’m like, don’t be all passive aggressive with me! And he’s like, I’m not being passive aggressive, I’m just tired, and I’m like, how is that possibly not passive aggressive? You just said that there’s nothing wrong with me and now you’re just sitting there like nothing’s wrong and I’m just talking too much? So that’s when things got really heated, you know, like, we literally started fighting and everything, and you know what he said? Guess what he said. No … I mean … guess … really … You know what he said? He said, he called me a bitch! I mean, it’s one thing to be all loquacious and all—wait what is that term?—loquacious, right? That means “talkative”? No, or is it logorrhea? Yeah, I think it’s logorrhea. Anyway, I think I’m gonna insert my chocolate cake recipe because you’re probably not reading this by now anyway, unless you’re like, a total freak, so first, you preheat your oven to 350 degrees, and then you get some butter, you know, like the kind you get from that store around the corner? What’s it called? Anyway, you get some butter and you butter three 9-inch cake rounds, so 9 inches is around this big, no, this big, and then you mix together flour, sugar, coca, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a stand mixer using a low speed until combined and then eggs, yes I know eggs are high in protein and might raise your cholesterol, so add eggs, and, um, and, and buttermilk, warm water oil, and vanilla, and you divide batter among the three pans and then you bake for 30 to—wait, are you listening? Because I feel like you aren’t listening, you are?—and then you bake for, what did I say? Oh right, 30 to 35 minutes until the cake meets the toothpick test, you know, like how my grandma used to stick a toothpick in and it comes out clean and all, oh I miss my grandma, she’s so sweet! And then you cool that on wire racks for 15 minutes and then turn out the cakes onto the racks and allow it to cool completely, and then frosting! Yay! You still with me? So yeah, as I was saying, my boyfriend complains that I talk too much, and I’ve been talking too much, probably, haha, so yeah, how was your day?”

“It was good. This morning I checked out that art museum you talked about—”

“—Oh, great! Oh, I love the that place so much! I can’t believe you went there. So how was that?”

“It was—”

“—It was great! I know, right! So, like, I went there last time three months ago, no, was it three months? Right, it was three months ago when I went there with Gabriela, and she was so stoked, I mean, I’m not sure whether she’s artistically, what’s the word? Sophisticated? Right, sophisticated enough to understand the artistic value of those artworks and stuff and so we went to this coffee shop across the street and … oh yeah … before I forget, do you remember Jason? Jason, the bald guy that lives across the street from me, anyway, he made me go all the way to Kroger to pick up some calamari the other night, I know, right? So he’s  there and then, Wikipedia says that warts are typically small, rough, and hard growths that are similar in color to the rest of the skin. They typically do not result in symptoms except when on the bottom of the feet where they may be painful. While they usually occur on the hands and feet they can also affect other locations. One or many warts may appear. They are not cancerous.

“Warts are caused by infection with a type of human papillomavirus (HPV). Factors that increase the risk include use of public showers, working with meat, eczema, and a low immune system. The virus is believed to enter the body through skin that has been damaged slightly. A number of types exist including: common warts, plantar warts, filiform warts, and genital warts.Genital warts are often sexually transmitted.

“Without treatment, most types of warts resolve in months to years. A number of treatments may speed resolution including salicylic acid applied to the skin and cryotherapy. In those who are otherwise healthy they do not typically result in significant problems. Treatment of genital warts differ from that of other types.

“Warts are very common, with most people being infected at some point in time. The estimated current rate of non-genital warts among the general population is 1–13%. They are more common among young people. Estimated rates of genital warts in sexually active women is 12%. Warts have been described at least as far back as 400 BC by Hippocrates.

“So, as I was saying, my boyfriend was gonna leave me because my warts talk too much when I’m eating chocolate cake, you know, like how warts tend to get into chocolate cakes and stuff, and then you gotta eat them and your boogers, by the way, did you know that booger eating is actually healthy for you? No, really! It contains mucin, which, as it turns out, works very well and is basically too slipper for bacteria to thrive in, so

“The PSR, not the PC, is what rules out your doing otherwise. This distinction between the PSR and the PC is important, because the PSR ensures that the agent’s action is determined by what she thinks is good. The PC, on the other hand, cannot do make the agent’s action to be determined by what she thinks is good. Judging something good or bad requires one to exercise intelligence and rationality.

“Mark Schroeder (2008) distinguishes two types of attitudinal inconsistency: A-type and B-type. He sets the latter aside as deeply implausible for a successful expressivist account for compositional semantics, and argues instead that a respectable compositional semantics for expressivism can only appeal to A-type inconsistency.[1] While Schroeder proposes ‘being for’ as an inconsistency-transmitting, noncognitive attitude that can (1) deal with logically complex sentences that have both normative and nonnormative predicates and express both normative and descriptive mental states, and (2) help construct a compositional semantics for expressivism, he leaves much to be explained. For one, it is not clear what makes an attitude inconsistency-transmitting. For another, it is not even intuitively clear whether ‘being for’ is an inconsistency-transmitting attitude. Moreover, it is unclear whether two attitudes that generate a B-type inconsistency are in fact always “distinct and logically unrelated,” as Schroeder puts it, nor does Schroeder’s claim that the expressivist cannot appeal to B-type inconsistency because “there are no good examples of it” seem plausible.

The purpose of this paper is to propose a brief account of what might make an attitude inconsistency-transmitting. Specifically, I will evaluate whether being for is, on my account, inconsistency-transmitting. It may be helpful at this juncture to define A-type inconsistency and inconsistency-transmission.

A-type inconsistency: A set of attitudes is A-type inconsistent if and only if the set of attitudes is inconsistent in virtue of being a set of attitudes of the same type with inconsistent contents.[2]

 Inconsistency-transmitting: An attitude A is inconsistency-transmitting just in case two instances of A are inconsistent just in case their contents are inconsistent.[3]

We shall later investigate these definitions in further detail. For now, consider the implications of these definitions as they apply to the attitude being for.

If being for fails to be an inconsistency-transmitting attitude and Schroeder’s account of expressivism is the only one we have to go by, then the costs for expressivists are hefty. Either (1) a new and presently mysterious inconsistency-transmitting attitude will have to be posited in place of being for, so that a compositional semantics that rests on a univocal treatment of logical operators in normative-descriptive complex sentences is possible. So far, we have no idea what this mysterious attitude might be. Or (2) the expressivist will have to abandon Schroeder’s compositional semantics and appeal to B-type inconsistency, therefore having to explain where the inconsistency of two distinct attitudes is located. Or (3), for expressivists who are also quasi-realists, the bifurcation thesis may have to be eliminated (or at least attenuated), in which case the realism-antirealism distinction that expressivists sympathetic to quasi-realism cleave to will also become unclear.

In Section 1, I propose a way to think about inconsistency-transmission in terms of interpretive coherence and functional role. More specifically, I propose that only when there are both interpretive incoherence and a contravention of functional role will an attitude be inconsistency-transmitting. In Section 2, I propose that the expressivist might still be able to continue her project by appealing to B-type inconsistency.

  1. Inconsistency-transmission

Schroeder does not give us a clear account of A-type inconsistency, but I take it to be something along the lines of the following:

A-type inconsistency: A set of attitudes is A-type inconsistent if and only if the set of attitudes is inconsistent in virtue of being a set of attitudes of the same type with inconsistent contents.[4]

The paradigmatic case of A-type inconsistency seems to be beliefs. So, our paradigmatic case is that it is A-type inconsistent to simultaneously believe P and believe ~P. Quite plausibly, intentions are also A-type inconsistent. It is inconsistent to simultaneously intend that P and intend that ~P.

But notice that our current definition of A-type inconsistency overgenerates. I can suppose P and suppose ~P, wonder P and wonder ~P, question P and question ~P, imagine P and imagine ~P, and, arguably, desire P and desire ~P without thereby being inconsistent in doing any of the above. Indeed, as Schroeder puts it, “there is nothing inconsistent about wondering whether p and wondering whether ~P—in fact, there would be something weird about wondering the first without wondering the second.”[5] However, Schroeder holds that beliefs “can be inconsistent in the sense that it is inconsistent of you to have both beliefs.”[6] Now the vexing question is: In virtue of what are mental states such as belief and intention—rather than mental states such as supposing, wondering, questioning, imagining, and desiring— inconsistency-transmitting? Schroeder proposes the following:

Inconsistency-transmitting: An attitude A is inconsistency-transmitting just in case two instances of A are inconsistent just in case their contents are inconsistent.[7]

But this is no solution at all! The question of what makes two instances of A inconsistent just in case their contents are inconsistent remains unanswered.

As a first pass, let’s say that mental states are inconsistency-transmitting if they are representational. After all, beliefs are representational. But this is no solution, for it both overgenerates—in such cases as supposing and imagining, which I take to be representational—and undergenerates—in such cases as intention, which I take to be nonrepresentational. Thus, let us revise our definition of inconsistency-transmitting. Perhaps introducing a set of criteria that invokes the ideas of what it means to have two inconsistent mental states and of what a mental state does might work. After all, we can’t make sense of inconsistencies and we don’t know what, if anything, inconsistent attitudes do. I propose the following solution:

Inconsistency-transmitting (2): An attitude A is inconsistency-transmitting just in case two instances of A are inconsistent just in case their contents are inconsistent in virtue of a failure of interpretive coherence and a contravention of its functional role.

Notice that this is already extremely controversial, for an appeal to interpretive coherence and functional roles inevitably mires us in further debate about what constitutes interpretive coherence and what the functional roles of certain mental states are. Let me set this issue aside for now and make the case even more controversial by offering a brief, provisional account of interpretive coherence and functional role as they apply to our discussion of mental states, as well as the functional roles that correspond to certain mental states.[8]

Functional role: The functional role of a mental state individuates that mental state from other mental states in terms of one or more of its functions, which derives from the constitutive feature(s) of the mental state in question.

Interpretive coherence: A set of mental states is interpretively coherent iff, based on the most charitable interpretation of the semantic content expressed or conveyed by the set of mental states, an articulation of that set of mental states intelligibly communicates the set of mental states of the individual.

Now, let us consider what bearing these accounts have given a plausible stipulation of the functional role of belief and intention.

Functional roles

Belief: To represent the world

Intention: To direct action

So, having stipulated that the functional role of belief is to represent the world, let us see if a failure of interpretive coherence and a contravention of its functional role occur if the semantic contents of two belief-states are contradictory. Say that John both believes that there is beer in the fridge and believes that there is no beer in the fridge. Given that there is either beer in the fridge or no beer in the fridge, the functional role of belief is contravened—for no accurate representation of the world is possible on account of John’s belief-state. Moreover, there appears to be a failure of interpretive coherence. John’s belief that there is beer in the fridge and that there is no beer in the fridge seems at best a failure to communicate and at worst an instance of nonsense. We are completely at a loss as to what mental state John is in.

Similar failures seem to occur when this account is applied to intention. We have stipulated at the outset that the functional role of intention is to direct action. Say that John both intends to grab a beer from the fridge and intends not to grab a beer from the fridge. Here, the functional role of intention is undermined by the semantic inconsistency arising from grabbing a beer and not grabbing a beer, for John is paralyzed by inaction despite the fact that there is presumably some action to which he must be directed in virtue of his intention.

What bearing does our account of interpretive coherence and functional role have on such mental states as supposing, imagining, and wondering? A gloss of the issue reveals that there is either no interpretive coherence or no contravention of functional role, both of which are individually necessary conditions for establishing A-type inconsistency. Let us stipulate the functional roles of these mental states.

Functional roles

Supposing: To consider where a hypothesis leads

Imagining: To make a mental representation of what might not correspond to the world as it is

Wondering: To question or cast doubt on a thought one is entertaining

If these stipulations are plausible, we can go back to the example of John. Say John simultaneously supposes that there is beer in the fridge and supposes that there is no beer in the fridge. It is unclear whether the supposition that there is both beer in the fridge and no beer in the fridge is interpretively coherent: It is hard to make sense of what communicative act is performed by someone who supposes a contradiction. Yet, the functional role of supposing is not contravened here. With some grasp of logic, John will soon see that his contradictory hypothesis leads to the conclusion that anything can be proved. In the same vein, it is hard to understand what it means for one to imagine a contradiction, for reality as we know it does not admit of a situation in which there is both beer in the fridge and no beer in the fridge. However, since the functional role of imagination is not to represent the world as it is, the functional role of imagination is not thereby contravened.

Wondering is an interesting case in which we can have both interpretive coherence and no contravention of functional role. We can make sense of what it means for John to simultaneously wonder whether there is beer in the fridge and wonder whether there is no beer in the fridge: By wondering whether there is beer in the fridge, John has doubts about whether there is beer in the fridge. He thereby wonders also whether there is no beer in the fridge. Again, the functional role of wondering here is left intact despite content-inconsistency.

  1. Being for and B-type inconsistency

In this section I propose two ways of locating B-type inconsistency. First, we can employ our previous strategy of invoking the concepts of functional role contravention and interpretive incoherence. Second, we can evaluate whether the judgments to which one is committed in virtue of having two mental states are contradictory. To start this section off, however, let us take a small detour and take a brief look at the attitudes liking and disliking, before we take a second look at the attitude being for in terms of our functional role/interpretive coherence strategy.

Before considering the attitude being for, it will be helpful to think of two mundane attitudes: liking and disliking.

(1) John likes dancing.

(2) John likes not dancing.

Liking certainly is not an inconsistency-transmitting attitude. That John both likes dancing and likes not dancing just makes him a laidback person to hang out with at a ballroom. Similarly, disliking is not inconsistency-transmitting.

(1) John dislikes dancing.

(2) John dislikes not dancing.

John is not being inconsistent here. He is, perhaps, a grouchy person, or perhaps he does not like to drink anything at all.

Does this generalize to being for? In light of what we know about liking and disliking, there is reason to be suspicious of the assumption that being for, like liking and disliking, is not inconsistency-transmitting. What does it mean for John to be for dancing and be for not dancing? Again, it seems to mean that John is a laidback person. However, a more charitable reading of Schroeder suggests that being for is a much stronger attitude than liking, that, by being for dancing, John is taking a committed stance to dancing that precludes him from being for not dancing. But this account of being for seems too fast. Surely, the United States can be for Taiwanese independence and be for Taiwanese non-independence, while being committed to both—this is in fact the stance that the United States seems to take with regard to Taiwanese independence. Neither is it the case that the United States takes no stance with regard to Taiwanese independence; for if that were the case, then the United States could have remained silent on this issue over the course of the last forty years. Perhaps the United States’ seemingly contradictory stance amounts to an attitude of being noncommittal and the stance they have publicly avowed throughout the years is political nonsense. But that is not a view we should accept at face value. At any rate, it seems that the United States’ stance on Taiwanese independence is interpretively incoherent. But keep in mind that the functional role of the United States’ stance is plausibly not contravened, and a contravention of functional role is one of the two necessary conditions for inconsistency-transmission. What the functional role of being for, understood as some sort of political commitment, is elusive and might depend largely on sociopolitical context. If the functional role of the United States’ committed stance is to be on good terms with both Taiwan and mainland China, then it seems that they have succeeded—no functional role is contravened here.

At any rate, the question of what makes being for an inconsistency-transmitting attitude remains mysterious, and there is so far no good reason to accept that it is inconsistency-transmitting other than a mere desire to make Schroeder’s account of expressivism work.

So far, we do not have a plausible enough account of why being for is inconsistency-transmitting. Neither do we have another inconsistency-transmitting attitude at the top of our heads with which we can replace being for. Expressivists who agree with the thrust of Schroeder’s account of expressivism can continue to search for an explanation of why being for is inconsistency-transmitting, or look for another attitude that is more plausibly inconsistency-transmitting, but such a project seems overly ambitious for a paper of this scope. Perhaps, contra Schroeder, expressivists can return to an appeal to B-type inconsistency. Schroeder makes two objections to B-type inconsistency: First, “there is no good example of it,” and second, any appeal to B-type inconsistency amounts to the postulation of an infinite number of attitudes whose inconsistency relations will remain logically unrelated and inexplicable. The first objection can more easily be addressed. The second objection is more powerful, but there are plausible answers to that one as well.

We can be more optimistic about B-type inconsistency than Schroeder makes it seem. For one, Schroeder’s objection that there is no example of B-type inconsistency flies in the face of the inconsistency between approving of P and disapproving of P. But at any rate, there are more examples.

Let us reconsider liking and disliking. Again, it is not A-type inconsistent to like P and like ~P, and neither is it A-type inconsistent to dislike P and ~P. It is, however, patently inconsistent to like ice cream and dislike ice cream, to like Paul and dislike Paul, or to like rum and dislike rum. Granted, one can like rum in one respect (perhaps because it’s tasty) and dislike rum in another respect (perhaps because it’s alcoholic), but it’s inconsistent to like rum and dislike rum in the same respect.

But here is, perhaps, another account of B-type inconsistency that appeals less to our pretheoretical intuitions than it does to the form of such inconsistency. We can think of B-type inconsistency in terms of credence states, where a credence state is not understood as a belief that a state of affairs has a certain probability of being true, but as the level of confidence that one has that a state of affairs is true. If one has a 60% credence that P, then one is rationally required to have a 40% credence that ~P. In common parlance, the former can be said to evince a level of moderate confidence, while the latter can be said to be an instance of moderate doubt. A 90% credence that P translates to high confidence that P, and a 10% credence that ~P translates to strong skepticism or doubt that ~P. Take, for instance, this example from Baker and Woods:

Imagine that Bob is almost certain that there was a first president of the United States, is highly confident that the first president was George Washington, and is highly doubtful that it was some person other than Washington. His friend Steve, on the other hand, is certain that there was a first president of the United States, but is highly doubtful that the first president was George Washington, and is highly doubt that it was some person other than Washington. Steve’s attitudes are discordant, Bob’s are not. Yet the contents of their credences are identical. So Steve must suffer from a case of B-type discordance.[9]

Let us consider how Steve suffers from B-type inconsistency. Steve is “certain that there was a first president of the United States.” Say that his credence state in this proposition is 100%. Since he is “highly doubtful that the first president was George Washington,” say that his credence state in that proposition is 10%. He is thereby rationally required to be highly confident, i.e., to have a credence state of 90%, that “the first president of the United States was some person other than Washington.” Yet, he is also highly doubtful of this same proposition. Here, Steve suffers from B-type inconsistency: he has two different attitudes toward the same content.

Notice that Steve not only suffers from B-type inconsistency, but such inconsistency is explicable—contra Schroeder—in terms of interpretive incoherence and functional role, which we took to do the same explanatory work for A-type inconsistency. With regard to interpretive coherence, we cannot make sense of what is communicated by Steve’s simultaneously doubt and confidence that the president of the United States was someone other than George Washington. And if we take the functional role of credence states to be the same as that of belief—to represent the world—then this functional role is contravened, for Steve, in virtue of his doubt and confidence, fails to represent the world.

The second strategy that I proposed at the beginning of this section is to evaluate B-type inconsistency in terms of the judgment that one is committed to in virtue of having two seemingly unrelated mental states. Take the example of admiration and contempt. Following Ronald de Sousa, admiration and contempt are inconsistent attitudes in virtue of the content-inconsistency that arises from the judgments to which one is committed when having such attitudes.[10] Plausibly, when one feels admiration for someone, one judges that person to be worthy. When one feels contempt for that person, one judges that person to be unworthy. Here, a logical inconsistency arises from two seemingly unrelated attitudes, yet we have a plausible explanation as to why these two attitudes are inconsistent. This seems to be another reason for us to be optimistic that attitudes that are apparently logically unrelated can in fact engender an explicable content-inconsistency.

However, the problem whether a compositional semantics can be developed by appealing to B-type inconsistency remains. Specifically, Schroeder objects that

[e]very existing expressivist treatment of this problem takes as brute the hypothesis that there is an infinite hierarchy of distinct, logically unrelated attitude-kinds, which nevertheless are mysteriously hypothesized to bear primitive relations of consistency and inconsistency, or ‘agreement’ and ‘disagreement’ in Gibbard’s (2003) terms, with one another.[11]

We have already shown, in two different ways, how the inconsistency between two apparently unrelated attitudes can be explained—either by their interpretive incoherence and contravention of their functional roles, or by a logical inconsistency that arises from the judgments to which one must be committed upon having such attitudes. For those who appeal to B-type inconsistency, this is already a license for optimism. Moreover, that there is as of now no comprehensive compositional semantics that appeals to B-type inconsistency does not make such a compositional semantics impossible to develop—perhaps it would just be very difficult to develop such a project. B-type inconsistency may still serve as a useful resource for expressivists; there is no reason to abandon it now.

Now, one interesting problem remains. What should we make of Schroeder’s claim that a B-type “expressivist treatment of this problem takes as brute the hypothesis that there is an infinite hierarchy of distinct, logically unrelated attitude-kinds, which nevertheless are mysteriously hypothesized to bear primitive relations of consistency and inconsistency, or ‘agreement’ and ‘disagreement’ in Gibbard’s (2003) terms, with one another.”? One can either (1) deny that Gibbard’s semantics postulates an infinite hierarchy of distinct, logically unrelated attitude-kinds,[12] or (2) construe Schroeder’s claim as a reference to the ramifications that arise from one strategy of countering the Negation Problem. I will not delve into (1), but I think more can be said about (2). Consider Schroeder’s presentation of Nicholas Unwin’s Negation Problem:


  1. Jon thinks that grass is green.

n1. Jon does not think that grass is green.

n2. Jon thinks that grass is not green.



g*. Jon believes-green grass.

n1*. Jon does not believe-green grass.


In sum, if the Basic Expressivist Maneuver, as Schroeder puts it, aspires to create a compositional semantics for expressivism that mirrors that of descriptivism, there is simply not enough spaces for the expressivist to insert a negation in n2* such that the expressivist’s aforementioned goal can be achieved. One strategy is to posit that n2* can be formulated as ‘Jon believes-not-green grass’. Schroeder dismisses this strategy out of hand. As he puts it, it compels us to assume that

believes-not-green magically have the following property: that bearing the believes-green attitude and the believes-not-green attitude toward the same thing is always inconsistent. But of course, having assumed that these attitudes are both logically primitive, distinct, and unanalyzable, we would have no explanation of why this was so.[14]

Schroeder goes on to state:

All of this is patently ridiculous. Thinking that grass is green and thinking that it is not green are not sui generis attitudes toward grass which are inexplicably inconsistent. They are both beliefs about grass, but with different contents. It is because they have these contents, which are inconsistent, and because they are both cases of belief, which is an inconsistency-transmitting attitude, that they are inconsistent.

Further scrutiny is in order. First, all of this is not “patently ridiculous.” Moreover, that the two attitudes in question are “both beliefs about grass, but with different contents” is an assertion in want of an argument, an assertion that presupposes the very issue in contention: whether A-type inconsistency is the only way to go for the expressivist. In short, he is begging the question. Second, in making this claim about an infinite hierarchy of attitudes, Schroeder seems to rely on a series of unwarranted assumptions about the primitivity and unanalyzability of seemingly unrelated attitudes. Thus, if it can be shown that believes-green and believes-not-green have an explicable inconsistency, then the worry that an appeal to B-type inconsistency leads to the proliferation of an infinitude of attitudes is defused. I shall discuss these two objections in turn.

Not much can be said about the first, for the assertion that “all of this is patently ridiculous” seems to be Schroeder’s implicit appeal to his own intuitions, which we need not take as authoritative. I can simply deny, pace Schroeder, that all of this is patently ridiculous and leave it at that.

Second, the primitivity and unanalyzability of seemingly unrelated attitudes is an assumption that we have already casted doubt on in our previous discussion of such mental states as credence states. Again, we can appeal to functional roles and interpretive coherence.

Now, one who simultaneously has the attitudes believes-green and believes-not-green fails to respect the communicative constraints we have placed in terms of interpretive coherence and contravenes functional role. First, we do not know what to make of what is communicated by somewhat who professes to believe-green and believe-not-green, and neither is it possible for one to avoid contravening the functional role of belief in this case if believes-green and believes-not-green has anything to do with a representation of the world. To be sure, the type of expressivist Schroeder is targeting may not wish to represent the world, but we simply need to identify a plausible expressivist account of the functional role of belief to defuse the worry that Schroeder poses. Let us modify the functional role of belief in a way that is friendly to the expressivist.

Functional Roles

Believes-green: To purport to express an affirmative attitude about the phenomenology of objects such as grass.

Believes-not-green: To purport to express a negative attitude about the phenomenology of objects such as grass.

Here comes functional role contravention. One fails to purport to express any attitude about the phenomenology of objects such as grass if one simultaneously expresses an affirmative attitude and a negative attitude. This account of functional role contravention appears to bleed in to our account of interpretive coherence, if we take the functional role of purporting to be to communicate an idea. Just as a sincere speaker could not purport to express these attitudes simultaneously without putting her recipient at a loss as to what she would be attempting to communicate, so too a liar would fail to falsely purport to express whatever set of attitudes she would have. Neither the sincere speaker nor the liar possesses a set of mental states that can be articulated in some communicative enterprise, for we cannot make sense of a sincere speaker who believes-green and believes-not-green, and neither can we make sense of the liar, who would have successfully lied had she possessed another set of mental states that are consistent. We now have B-type inconsistency in that two mental states correspond to a single content, grass, and such inconsistency is explicable—not mysterious, magical, primitive, or unanalyzable. And if this is the case, then the expressivist need not postulate an infinite hierarchy of attitudes.

  1. Conclusion

I began with a brief investigation of what it is in virtue of an attitude is inconsistency-transmitting. To answer this question I proposed using interpretive coherence and functional role to explain inconsistency-transmission. It seems that such an explanation generalizes to B-type inconsistency, as we have seen in such credence states as confidence and doubt. Moreover, B-type inconsistency may be explained in terms of the logical relation between two apparently unrelated attitudes, as it was in the case of admiration and contempt. Given that we don’t necessarily have to appeal to an infinitude of attitudes, as Schroeder suggests, this gives us hope that a compositional semantics that invokes B-type inconsistency can be developed, despite the difficulties that expressivists currently face.

So, yeah, in conclusion, my boyfriend thinks I talk too much.




Baker, Derek, and Jack Woods (2015). “How Expressivists Can and Should Explain Inconsistency.” Ethics 125.2: 391-424.

de Sousa, Ronald (2003). “Emotional Consistency.” Manuscript.

Gibbard, Allan (2003). Thinking How to Live. Cambridge, MA: Harvard UP.

Schroeder, Mark (2008). Being For: Evaluating the Semantic Program of Expressivism. Oxford: Clarendon.

[1] Schroder (2008: 48)

[2] This definition is derived from Baker and Woods (2015: 10).

[3] Schroeder (2008: 43)

[4] Again, this definition is derived from Baker and Woods (2015: 10).

[5] Schroeder (2008: 40)

[6] Ibid.

[7] Schroeder (2008: 43)

[8] I owe my account of these functional roles to Baker and Woods (2015).

[9] (2015: 20-21). Baker and Woods use the term “discordant” as a term of art that refers to attitudes that are inconsistent. For simplicity, I will continue to use the term “inconsistent.”

[10] (2003: 9)

[11] (2008: 7)

[12] This is the strategy employed by Baker and Woods (2015).

[13] (2006: 57)

[14] Emphasis mine.