Surplus Ideas Depository / Philosophical Wishlist


As with wealth, so, too, ideas: some people have more than they know what to do with.

Last week on Twitter, Helen De Cruz (SLU) wrote:

Academics: I am curious–many of us (I do at least) have far more ideas than we can ever develop in papers etc. How do you decide what remains just a thought (or a blogpost, or tweet?) and what becomes a paper or a book?

That’s a reasonable question, and you can check out the Twitter thread for a discussion of it. But another question is: what do you do with the ideas you decide not to write up yourself? That seemed to be the question Jonathan Weisberg (Toronto) was answering when he tweeted in reply:

if i had more ideas than i could use i would simply donate some

But to where? You could tweet them out, but would they be sufficiently noticed in the torrent of Twitter by those who might benefit them? You could tell your students (as professors sometimes do, prefacing with “this would be a good idea for a dissertation”), but is that a large enough audience to make it likely the idea will be picked up?

What we need is a place where people can post ideas they have but are not planning on working up, and where others can browse them: a depository for surplus philosophical ideas.

It could also serve as a kind of philosophical wishlist: ideas you hope others take up and develop. Suppose the soundness of an argument of yours seems to turn on the truth of one particular premise that you’re not in a position to provide further argumentative support for (maybe it is beyond your area of expertise, for example). You might wish someone else would do this work. Letting others know about this wish would be to “donate” an idea.

So let’s try this out. Have a philosophical donation or wish to make? Post it in the comments here (one donation/wish per comment please). If you know of work that seems to develop the donation or wish mentioned, please reply to the comment saying so.

If there’s sufficient activity on this post, I can create a link to it in the header menu so it’s easy to find.

And thanks, Professor Weisberg, for the founding donation!

guest
22 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Richard Y Chappell
1 month ago

It seems like a good opportunity for collaboration.

E.g., I’ve dozens of old blog posts that could fruitfully be expanded into papers someday. (Indeed, that’s how most of my papers started.) I’m not really inclined to “donate” the ideas because (i) I’m not entirely sure which ones I might want to come back to, and (ii) I think originators should get more credit than that!

But it did cross my mind that I could write up a link-list of such “starter” posts, and invite any potential collaborators to get in touch if they’d like to coauthor a paper with me on the topic (with them expanding my starter post into a first paper draft, which we’d then jointly review and revise from there).

I haven’t actually done that yet, partly out of concern that it’d seem weird. But maybe this discussion is a chance to ask others whether they think such co-authorship could be a reasonable solution here?Report

Last edited 1 month ago by Richard Yetter Chappell
Peter Baumann
Peter Baumann
Reply to  Richard Y Chappell
1 month ago

Richard, many thanks for that! I like your idea of a link-list! Many promising but half-baked ideas that would otherwise get lost could this way, with co-authors, be developed into something more fully baked. I’d definitely be interested in this and would recommend it widely.Report

Peter Baumann
Peter Baumann
Reply to  Richard Y Chappell
1 month ago

ps: One can imagine a web-page (lightly moderated, perhaps) where anyone interested can post their starters and invitations to respond. A PhilPapers-to-be page.Report

David Gagne
David Gagne
1 month ago

Shouldn’t a “surplus ideas depository” simply be a waste basket?Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  David Gagne
1 month ago

It can be. But not necessarily since there are geniuses who decide not to even pursue professional philosophy.Report

Barry Lam
1 month ago

The goal is not to kick ass, the goal is to look good doing it; kinesthetic aesthetics and the aim of the martial arts.

On the same theme: The Granny Shot; masculinity, aesthetics, and the aim of basketball. (why basketball players will never use more effective shots when their aesthetic form implicates their masculinity)Report

Guy Crain
Reply to  Barry Lam
1 month ago

I like your second one, but I’ve always coupled that example in my head with football teams punting 4th downs as opposed to running the ball. Now I can’t decide if there’s a parallel between the two cases or not.Report

Harjit Bhogal
1 month ago

Someone should write a paper about how recent work in epistemology on the nature of higher-order evidence undermines the force of the pessimistic meta-induction in the philosophy of science. (I don’t know whether that’s actually true but someone should argue for it.)Report

Shay Logan
1 month ago

I think that pretty much the same thing those people did in that one paper can be done for the stuff I talk about in one of my papers.Report

Marc Bobro
1 month ago

Philosophical articles and books today seem to come with their own mini surplus-idea-depositories. I’m thinking mainly of footnotes/endnotes. I see many footnotes/endnotes as expressions of ideas related to the main text that the author likes but either doesn’t have the time to explore, or promises to explore, or even sometimes as a defense against the reader exploring the idea on their own…Report

Evan
Evan
1 month ago

I have several ideas I’ve been thinking about though I’m not sure how true they are. Lately, I’ve been getting into epistemology and so I noticed that the Gettier Problem contains several metaphysical assumptions about knowledge that have yet been adequately justified or at least addressed. It even has a semantic issue as well.

Gettier made several moves in his famous article: 1) conflating knowing (verb) with knowledge (noun) and 2) assuming that the *acquisition* of knowledge somehow changes or affects the *nature* of knowledge. Or at least, his argument assumes how we acquire knowledge X is a necessary condition for determining whether we truly have knowledge X.

It’s important to note that Gettier used the word “knowing” in the first sentence of his article already presupposing process and not substance (knowledge). In other words, for Gettier, the ‘how’ determines the ‘what’; process (knowing) determines substance (knowledge). This is a problem of metaphysics and not epistemology.

Here’s my challenge to the Gettier problem: How exactly does the acquisition of knowledge affect or determine the nature of knowledge? Why must our acquisition of knowledge be a necessary condition for determining the status of or definition of knowledge? If I accidentally acquire gold by chance, does that mean I no longer have gold or that the thing I acquired cannot and should not count as gold?

The Gettier Problem to me is more of a metaphysical problem of knowledge rather than an epistemological/conceptual one. Something Gettier failed to realize because he failed to distinguish between the acquisition of knowledge and the nature of knowledge.

Our acquisition of knowledge (process) can surely be faulty or unreliable. But I fail to see how such a process can change or determine whether or not our possession of our “lucky knowledge” is truly knowledge (substance).

A lot of theories of knowledge keep conflating acquisition with nature; process with substance (metaphysical concepts). For example, Goldman’s Causal Theory of knowledge can be read as concerning knowing rather than knowledge. Even Timothy Williamson made the same move when he suggested that knowing is central to his account of knowledge in his book Knowledge and It’s Limits: “Knowing is a state of mind. That claim is central to the account of knowledge developed in this book.”

My conclusion is to suggest that the Gettier Problem has more to do with the status of an agent’s epistemic competence as opposed to the status or definition of knowledge itself. I also think epistemologists and academics in general could benefit from brushing up on basic metaphysical categories: knowledge (substance), knowing (process), and happen to know (acquisition). Aristotle missed the matter.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Evan
1 month ago

Here is a simpler explanation. Gettier and others regard knowing as having knowledge. His examples describe someone who comes to have a justified true belief that p. But since the person does not know (i.e., does not have knowledge) that p, he came to have the belief without coming to have knowledge. This explanation doesn’t require that we think Gettier or others conflate knowing as a process with knowledge as a substance. Nor does it require that we think he or others assume the acquisition of knowledge determines its nature.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Jen
1 month ago

Thank you. Your comment is insightful. I guess my confusion resulted from the way Ernest Sosa et al‘s Table of Content was set up. The Gettier Problem falls under the “Definition of Knowledge” (not knowing) section. But some authors concentrated on knowing instead of knowledge in that section anyways. They also don’t have a “Acquisition of Knowledge” section in their anthology.

I guess I was expecting them to define knowledge (substance) only. Though it would fruitful for epistemologists to dive more into the nature of knowing vs knowledge. Or at least, appreciate the distinction more.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Evan
1 month ago

You’re welcome. One last thing. The question “what is knowledge?” is often understood as “what is it to know?,” a question about the definition of the mental or psychological state of knowing. So it makes sense to discuss knowing (in the state sense) when answering the question by offering a definition (or necessary and sufficient conditions for being in the state).Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Jen
1 month ago

Thank you, these are very subtle differences. Recently, Thomas Bogardus’ and Will Perrin’s article “Knowledge is Believing Something Because It’s True” also conflates substance (knowledge) with process (believing).

The definition of knowledge they provided contains a semantic and metaphysical contradiction. Even if we charitably suggest that knowING is believing something because it’s true, Bogardus and Perrin would still have not *actually* provided us with the correct definition of knowLEDGE. Their argument is ambitious, but not as successful as they assumed. Back to the drawing board for them.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Evan
1 month ago

I would also like to add that defining knowing as believing something because it’s true still has flaws. There are many cases in which we believe something because it is true, but still did not know.

Suppose a scientist named Melinda invented a machine X. The news reported it. We all believed she invented machine X because it’s true. She did in fact invent machine X. However, suppose there is a co-inventor we did not know about. This co-inventor is named Jim. Jim is very shy and private. He doesn’t want the public to know who he is so he allows Melinda to take the sole credit. And he tells her not to mention any co-inventor. The public believes that Melinda is the inventor of machine X because it is true. She is the inventor. But we still did not know that Jim is *also* the inventor of machine X. Claiming that Melinda is the inventor of machine X is partially true, but not completely true.

Bogardus’ and Perrin’s definition of knowing seems to allow only a minimum degree of truth. It raises the question: Does knowing require the whole or partial truth?Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Evan
1 month ago

In response, they would say that we know that Melinda invented the machine iff we are in the state of believing that she did, and our states arose because it’s true that she did. By hypothesis, she did invent it, so we hold true beliefs. And this is the “whole” truth as it pertains to our belief.Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Evan
1 month ago

As I understand the paper, they regard knowing as having knowledge, which is to be understood as being in a state of belief of a special sort. Very roughly, according to them:
A person knows that p iff he is in a state of belief that p, and the state arose because of the truth of p.

If they are correct, knowledge (in the state sense) is a species of true belief. More specifically, it is true belief (that p) explained by p’s truth.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Jen
1 month ago

I guess, I’m wondering what *kind* of truth is required for a TB to count as knowledge. Is it possible to acquire knowledge while still lacking other necessarily relevant truth(s) i.e the truth of Jim being the inventor?

Or is it just better or permissible to conclude that the public has one kind of knowledge and lacks another kind of knowledge (i.e. knowledge that Jim is the inventor of machine X)?Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Evan
1 month ago

It’s just ordinary truth. There are various relevant propositions toward which one can take the attitude of belief. For example, any of the following, among others:
1. Melinda invented the machine.
2. Melinda invented the machine with Jim.
3. Jim invented the machine.
4. Jim invented the machine with Melinda.
By hypothesis, each of these propositions is true, and its truth (in the ordinary sense) can explain a person’s state of belief in it. So, according to Bogardus and Perrin, a person can have knowledge of any of these things. In other words, in the following, replace the variable ‘p’ with any of the propositions above:

A person is in a state of belief that p, and the state arose because of the truth of p.

If the sentence generated by the replacement is true, the relevant person knows (or has knowledge) that p, according to Bogardus and Perrin.Report

Evan
Evan
Reply to  Jen
1 month ago

Thank you so much! You have a skill of making things clear. Epistemology can be very messy. I try to find the most recent articles on the analysis of knowledge.

My other worry is their section on inductive knowledge on pg. 14. For example, they wrote:

[9. You believe the sun rises every day because you’ve seen it rise many times in the past. (SEEN explains BELIEVE)
10. The fact that the sun rises every day explains why you’ve seen it rise many times in the past. (FACT explains SEEN)
11. So, the fact that the sun rises every day explains why you believe that the sun rises every day. (So, FACT explains BELIEVE)]

They claim in 10 & 11 that it is a fact that the sun rises every day. But they did not mention which temporal aspect of “every day”: every day in the past or future or both?Report

Jen
Jen
Reply to  Evan
1 month ago

You’re welcome. I’m glad you’ve found my comments to be helpful.

I don’t find their argument here to be convincing precisely because it’s not obviously a fact that the sun rises every day. And even if this part of the argument were modified so as to include a different purported fact, it’s not clear that that would improve the argument. For example, if instead of using the fact that the sun rises every day, the argument used the fact that the sun rose every day in the past, this fact perhaps can explain our belief that the sun rose every day in the past, but this belief cannot be used to competently deduce that the sun will rise tomorrow. So, their view wouldn’t be able to account for inductive knowledge in this way.

There is perhaps some hope for a variant of their argument that uses the purported fact that the sun will rise every day in the future. If it were a genuine fact, it could perhaps explain why we’ve seen the sun rise every day so far, because every day we’ve seen so far (except today) has been followed by a (future) day on which the sun did rise. This way, the fact could perhaps explain why we believe that the sun will rise every day in the future. And this belief could perhaps be used to competently deduce that the sun will rise tomorrow. However, I doubt that it’s true that the sun will rise every day in the future, so I doubt there is any such fact.

In the end, I agree with you: their view has a problem accounting for inductive knowledge.Report