Monday, February 26, 2007

Responding to Hilary Putnam's "Meaning and Reference"

The Meaning of Meaning

Putnam has two main conclusions in Meaning and Reference. He claims that the meaning of words are not individual mental states. Putnam also concludes that the meaning of words often involves a great deal of division of linguistic labor. In order to accomplish this, Putnam makes several assumptions about intension and extension. Following this framework of meaning, Putnam extrapolates several creative examples to persuade the reader to side with his philosophical position. However, Putnam’s analysis is not completely compelling. In this essay, I will review Putnam’s characterization of the extension/intension distinction. Finally, I will outline how Putnam’s interpretation of the intension/extension distinction leads him to derive some very peculiar conclusions from his thought experiments. In revising the characterization of intension/extension, we will notice that the outcome of Putnam’s examples will change.

Putnam’s main argument is, “The traditional concept of meaning is a concept which rests on a false theory” (p. 289). We can trace Putnam’s discomfort to one of the assumptions that Putnam attaches to the traditional concept of intension/extension:

(2) That the meaning of a term determines its extension (in the sense that sameness of intension entails sameness of extension).

I also have a discomfort with this second assumption, but we will probably disagree over what is troubling about this second assumption. I hold that the meaning of a term and the set of available ostensive examples to a speaker determines its extension.

Putnam makes an integral assumption when he conducts his thought experiments. He says, “Two terms cannot differ in extension and have the same intension” (p. 288). Putnam claims that philosophy never had occasions to analyze this argument due to the nature of the theory of intension/extension. I believe that Putnam’s assumption is faulty. Not only is it possible for two terms to differ in extension and have the same intension, but this scenario occurs quite frequently. This assumption is essential to Putnam’s conclusions. Therefore, by refuting this assumption, we will see that Putnam’s conclusions also change accordingly.

Consider the Twin Earth example. Putnam argues that the Twin Earthians are exact duplicates of Earthians (except perhaps that the “water” in their bodies has a different molecular structure), that the water on Earth is H2O, and that the water on Twin Earth is XYZ (a shortened formula). Putnam stipulates that in 1750 the Doppelgangers on Twin Earth have the same psychological states as their respective twins on Earth. This stipulation forces the mental criteria of water to be the same on Earth and Twin Earth. However, due to the differences in molecular chemistry, water on Earth is very different from the water on Twin Earth, except for the fact that the two versions of water have the same physical properties. H2O boils at the same temperature as XYZ—they also have the same freezing point. In fact, without equipment for molecular testing, Earthians and Twin Earthians have no way to discriminate between H2O and XYZ.

Given this example, Putnam makes several conclusions. The extension of water on Earth in 1750 is H2O, and the extension of water on Twin Earth is XYZ. Putnam also says that Oscar (on Earth) and his Doppelganger (on Twin Earth) understand water differently. Putnam says:

Oscar1 and Oscar2 understood the term ‘water’ differently in 1750, although they were in the same psychological state, and although, given the state of science at the time, it would have taken their scientific communities about fifty years to discover that they understood the term ‘water’ differently. Thus the extension of the term ‘water’ (and, in fact, its “meaning” in the intuitive pre-analytical usage of that term) is not a function of the psychological state of the speaker by itself. (p. 289)

A keen reader will notice that Putnam subtly introduces the term ‘understanding’ into his analysis. This move confuses Putnam’s argument, and the reader has to deal with this by conflating meaning with understanding. I interpret Putnam as saying that Oscar1’s meaning of water is different from Oscar2’s meaning of water. Putnam pairs this statement with the observation that the Oscars have the same psychological state. These two statements make for a strong conclusion: the psychological state of a speaker (by itself) does not determine the meaning (extension) of the speaker.

Putnam’s subsequent analysis makes this immediate argument more compelling, especially when we see that the previous conclusion is very specific. Putnam said that the speaker by itself does not determine the meaning of a term. This language opens up the possibility that a speaker’s individual psychological state contributes to the meaning of a term. This possibility is a part of Putnam’s sociolinguistic hypothesis.

Putnam’s example of gold distills a common structure of linguistic cooperation prevalent in human affairs. In particular, Putnam describes through an example that human society frequently commissions ‘experts’ to cooperatively define the meaning of a term and to prescribe that meaning to those individuals who are not ‘experts.’ This notion of linguistic outsourcing coheres with Putnam’s formal hypothesis:

Hypothesis of the universality of the division of linguistic labor: Every linguistic community exemplifies the sort of division of linguistic labor just described; that is, it possesses at least some terms whose associated “criteria” are known only to a subset of the speakers who acquire the terms, and whose use by the other speakers depends upon a structured cooperation between them and the speakers in the relevant subsets. (p. 292)

There are several important facets of this hypothesis. The hypothesis defines two subsets of a linguistic community: a subset of speakers “who acquire the terms,” and a subset of speakers who depend “upon a structured cooperation between them and the speakers in the relevant subsets.” This second subset refers to people who depend on the analysis of experts in order to create criteria for the meaning of terms.

It is possible that the above hypothesis is an answer to Putnam’s argument that meaning is not a matter of an individual person’s psychological state. The hypothesis opens the possibility that meaning is a matter of the psychological states of an array of people. It could mean that meaning spans the minds of a whole community of experts. Putnam’s metaphor of language as a tool is appropriate here: language is better conceived as a steamship that requires the work of many people, rather than a simple tool like a hammer that an individual can wield without the assistance of others.

As Putnam continues (in the Indexicality and Rigidity section), it is difficult to say whether this answer is appropriate. Putnam obviously wants to go in a different direction, because his next observation is that the Twin Earth water example features no division of linguistic labor, because he claims that there were no ‘experts’ in the Twin Earth example in 1750. Putnam’s analysis involves a theory of reference, rather than a theory of the universality of the division of linguistic labor. Putnam presents two hypotheses, rejects the first, and affirms the second. The first hypothetical theory of reference is this:

(1) One might hold that ‘water’ was world-relative but constant in meaning (i.e., the word has a constant relative meaning). On this theory, ‘water’ means the same in W1 and W2; it’s just that water is H2O in W1, and water is XYZ in W2. (p. 292)

This hypothetical theory denies Putnam’s assumption that “two terms cannot differ in extension and have the same intension” (p. 288). Putnam wants terms to have a complete meaning and have a one-to-one relation with the world, so he prefers the second hypothetical thesis:

(2) One might hold that water is H2O in all worlds (the stuff called “water” in W2 isn’t water), but ‘water’ doesn’t have the same meaning in W1 and W2. (p. 292)

This hypothetical theory coheres with Putnam’s assumption. If we agree with the conclusions that Putnam makes from his examples and his claim that “two terms cannot differ in extension and have the same intension” (p. 288), then this second hypothesis is right.

But in the context of water in 1750 between Earth and Twin Earth, water is not a rigid designator. According to Kripke (quoted by Putnam), a designator is rigid if “it refers to the same individual in every possible world in which the designator designates.” Water is not a rigid designator in the Twin Earth example, because the Twin Earthians point to XYZ and call it water, and the Earthians point to H2O and call it water. In fact, there probably are cases where water is not a rigid designator even on Earth. Consider an Earthian that does not have the training or equipment to test the salinity of water. If water has enough salt dissolved in it, then the water has different properties. In some respects, salt water is not the same as water, but small amounts of salinity are sufficient to change its properties of electrical conductivity without affecting a person’s palette.

Consider this thought experiment. I took a glass and filled one with salt water. I bring a child into the room, and describe to her that there is a glass on the table. Then, I ask the child to tell me if the glass really is water. The intelligent child tells me, “Yes it is water.” I thank the child and ask her to send in her brother. Before the brother comes in, I drain the salt water and refill the glass with water from the tap. The brother comes in, and I describe to the other child that there is a glass on the table, and I ask him to tell me if the glass is water. As before, the intelligent child tells me, “Yes it is water.”

Putnam characterizes a term’s intension as the criteria for belonging to a certain extension, or the “necessary and sufficient condition for falling into the extension of the term” (p. 288). Because we are talking about two children making similar decisions at a similar time, I can safely stipulate that the two siblings employ the same intension for identifying water. The only difference between the two children and me is that the children are not aware of additional criteria that are important for discriminating salt water from tap water. This example points out that it is possible for a single intension to have different extensions, because I engineered a difference between the two glasses of water while keeping the two children unaware of that fact.

The same thing happens in the Twin Earth example. The Earthians and the Twin Earthians employed the same intension for water in 1750. These intensions only changed after each of the two planets’ inhabitants discovered the chemical composition of their respective waters. The Earthians and the Twin Earthian’s would now look at each other’s water supply in a strange way, but in 1750 nobody would notice a thing, except Hilary Putnam and his readers. The two children would only have to drink the salt water to discover that it was not water. This awareness alters the criteria of water, and it subsequently alters the ostensive glasses of water that the children identify as water. The same phenomena occurs in Putnam’s Twin Earth example.

How Gendered Communication Styles Affect Source Credibility:
Attributions in Computer-mediated Communication

A Research Project

Julia Leslie

Presented to: Dr. Gass; HCOM 308; Fall 2006
The advent of the digital age mandates that communication researchers take a special interest in computer-mediated communication (CMC). In particular, CMC presents scholars with an interesting context in which they can further test and refine communication theory. Gender is an important variable in virtually all contexts of communication, and CMC is no exception.
Communication research shows that a person tends to have more success persuading another person if the two people are opposite genders (Gass & Seiter, 2003, p. 102; Ward, Seccombe, Bendel, & Carter, 1985). For example, men tend to have more success in persuading women than women do. In addition, women tend to have more success in persuading men than men do. This phenomenon, known as the “cross-sex effect” in speech communication, became apparent after the 1970s, because studies at and before that time primarily featured men as confederates in persuasion studies (Gass & Seiter, 2003, p. 102; Ward et al, 1985).
However, these studies do not seem to identify what causes the cross-sex effect in persuasion. Specifically, the cross-sex effect does not yet discriminate between message-sender sex and the gendered language style of the message-sender. In face-to-face communication, a communicator’s sex is readily apparent to the communicators, so researchers cannot easily isolate message content from the message-sender’s sex. Thomson (2006) identifies gendered communication styles typical of both men and women. In addition, Thomson points out in his study of CMC that “people are very flexible in the language style they use” (2006, p. 167). Text-based computer-mediated communication has both the virtue and the vice of being a medium where a communicator can use a communication style typical of a member of the opposite sex without disclosing his or her true gender. For example, an Internet game, known as the Turing Game, features people pretending to be of the opposite gender. In a real-time text-based CMC environment, these individuals perform their pretend gender in the ‘e-presence’ of a panel of judges. These judges then vote what they believe is the gender of the contestant. According to Herring and Martinson, the Turing Game’s judges typically “base their assessments mostly on stereotyped content, leading to a high rate of error” (2004, p. 424).
Fortunately, one can attribute that high rate of error to the intention of the participants, which is deception. In other contexts, however, where a conversant does not have a motive to mask his/her gender, the rates of predictive error lower dramatically. For example, in a classroom study, confederates asked students to write an impromptu essay describing a picture, then the researchers studied the essays for signs of gendered language (Mulac & Lundell, 1986). “A discriminate analysis found that the frequencies of a set of 17 linguistic variables could be used to classify the participants’ gender with 87.5% accuracy” (Thomson & Murachver, 2001, p. 193).
Various scholars argue that CMC limits nonverbal and social cues. For example, “the reduced context cues perspective (Kiesler et al., 1984; Sproull & Kiesler, 1986) similarly assumes that CMC filters out elements that regulate interaction and impression formation between communicators” (Pena, 2006, p. 96). Additionally, Anderson and Emmers-Sommer present the “cues filtered out perspective” (2006, p, 154). This perspective “advocated that CMC was not conducive for forming close ties online due to the minimal social context and nonverbal cues inherent in CMC” (Anderson & Emmers-Sommer, 2006, p. 154). Furthermore, Gibbs, Ellison, and Heino agree that CMC offers “relatively limited nonverbal cues” (2006, pp. 154-155).
Other research indicates that proficient CMC users have developed ways to convey information that simulates nonverbal and social cues (Krohn, 2004). These proficient CMC individuals use text to form emotive icons, called emoticons, to convey emotion through the use of as few as two characters of text. For example, the emoticon =( could demonstrate sadness, and the emoticon =) could demonstrate happiness. However, although there are more complex emoticons (e.g. m( . . ) m showing a person using his/her fists in a combat stance), and adroit CMC participants use a variety of onomatopoeia, these techniques may or may not match authentic nonverbal communication.
While CMC significantly masks nonverbal cues, not all researchers agree that CMC masks social identity. In the context of discussion in Internet chat rooms, for example, Thomson argues, “there are frequently cues to social identity, such as the nature of the topic being discussed” (2006, p. 168), and, “participants shifted toward group norms when social identity was salient and away from group norms when personal identity was more salient” (2006, p. 168). Thomson also indicates that “self-stereotyped behavior is accentuated when individuals are anonymous compared with when they are individuated” (2006, pp. 168-169). In short, not only does CMC leave many signs of social identity intact, but also anonymity in CMC may increase self-stereotyped behavior, including amplifying gendered language (Thomson & Murachver, 2001, p. 196).
The facet of CMC that limits nonverbal and social cues may permit research to refine the theory of the cross-sex effect of persuasion. For example, in face-to-face communication, if a female speaker chooses to use a male, perhaps assertive, communication style, others will have a difficult task of ignoring the fact that the speaker is female. In short, mediated communication before CMC (i.e. face-to-face, audio-only) did not allow communicators to separate nonverbal gender cues from verbal gender cues. The only exception to this rule is text-based communication. CMC may allow research to acquire a more intimate understanding of the cross-sex effect of persuasion. Does the persuader’s communication style matter, or does the effect merely originate from a communicator’s perceived sex? In pursuit of this research interest, I present the following research question:
How do gendered communication styles affect source credibility attributions in text-based computer-mediated communication?
Gendered communication styles will be the independent variable. Source credibility will be the dependent variable. Text-based computer-mediated communication will be a constant. Gender of both the sender and receiver of messages will be an important moderating variable.
At this time, certain terms need definitions. I will begin with gendered communication style. Thomson (2006) identifies gendered communication styles in terms of speech preferences. In general, Thomson points out “female-preferential features” of speech, which include:
Personal information, reference to emotion, asking a question, referring to a previous comment, agreeing with another’s statement, apology, compliment, self-derogatory statement, modal or hedge, intensive adverb, subordinating conjunction, stating an opinion, and statements of emphasizing similarities or solidarity with others. (2006, p. 169)
Thomson also identifies “male-preferential features” of speech as “giving a directive, disagreeing, insult, adjectives, statements emphasizing differences between group members” (2006, p. 169).
In order to better measure gendered language, the experiment will operationalize gendered communication by conducting a content analysis on the text in the CMC experiment. Researchers appear to have already constructed a framework for studying gendered language. Several studies define various language features, count the number of times that the language feature appears in a given text, and then correlate totals with the person who authored the text. Two studies utilize 13 separate language features (Thomson & Murachver, 2001; Thomson, Murachver, & Green, 2001). These studies utilize many of the same features above: adjectives, intensive adverbs, subordinating conjunctions, opinions, compliments, modals/hedges, apologies, insults, questions, references to previous message and answers, self-derogatory comments, emotion, and personal information. In addition, a later study utilizes 18 separate language features, adding six features to the list: agreement, disagreement, solidarity, differences, boasts, and directives (Thomson, 2006, p. 170). Thomson found that adjectives became a statistically insignificant language feature, and he removed it from the list (2006, p. 171). A scale count can measure these textual components as a variable, and tracking variations to the number of these language features can serve to make gendered language an independent variable. This scale count will not allow the experiment to determine that a text falls within a discrete category of female or male style. However, the ratio of male to female language features will allow the experiment to determine degrees to which a text expresses a stereotypical female or male style.
Second, I need to define text-based computer-mediated communication. Spitzberg (2006) identifies computer-mediated communication as “any human symbolic text-based interaction conducted or facilitated through digitally-based technologies.” Spitzberg includes some media in this category, such as cellular phone conversations and digital video-conferencing, but the inclusion of “text-based” into the research question narrows the context and excludes cellular phone conversations and video-conferencing. The justification for narrowing the CMC context to text-only is to examine mediated communication that filters nonverbal cues (i.e. speaking tone, body appearance).
Finally, the dependent variable, source credibility, needs to be measured. The most efficient and appropriate way to measure the attribution of source credibility will be to have the subject of the experiment complete the Measure of Source Credibility scale (McCroskey & Teven, 1999; see also Brann, Edwards, & Myers, 2005). Using that scale, each subject of the study will rate his or her conversation partner’s source credibility.
Many studies explore the effects of gender on communication. As a result, a number of scholars make conclusions that do not cohere with the rest of research. This literature review will begin by exploring the topic of gender and its relation to credibility and social influence. This review will examine the studies that support and contradict the assumptions of the cross-sex effect. In addition, this review outlines important studies that examine relevant CMC topics and communication theory.
Review of Theory
The majority of communication theory that relates to gender assumes that gender is an obvious facet during interaction. This review of theory will outline several communication theories, the correlations that those theories predict, and their limitations.
Social Role Theory
Carli reminds us that “the association of men with powerful, high-status roles has resulted in their generally gaining higher status than women” (Carli, 2004, p. 135). According to Alice Eagly’s Social Role Theory, “men and women are distributed differently into social roles” (Carli, 2004, p. 135). In traditional communication contexts (i.e., not CMC), roles are generated and adhered to every day, presumably because the factors of a person that produce expectations are salient to the people around a communicator. However, in CMC, those cues do not meet other communicators through the same channels. For example, in text-based CMC, a communicator could only discover the other person’s gender via the text that the other person generates.
Expectation States Theory
Expectation States Theory states that “gender acts as a diffuse status characteristic, a general attribute that is associated with an individual’s relative status in society” (Carli, 2004, p. 135). Carli also reports that diffuse status characteristics include gender, race, degree of physical attractiveness, and education (2004, p. 135). Building on Social Role Theory, we can conclude that diffuse status characteristics are basic cues for building social roles. In general, we could scarcely consider more basic cues for social roles than gender, race, physical attractiveness, and education. Also, in considering the CMC context, text-based communication seems especially apt to masking these diffuse status characteristics. Of course, the existence of these characteristics will leak through a CMC medium. A communicator may disclose, intentionally or unintentionally, overtly or discretely, any of these characteristics. As communicators tend to be more consciously aware of overt disclosures in face-to-face communication, we can assume that conversants would be more consciously receptive to overt disclosures in CMC.
According to Berger et al (as cited by Carli, 2004, p. 135), people generally attribute a high-status individual with more competence than a low-status individual. Carli adds that “people seek the opinions of high-status people and yield to their influence more than to people of low status” (Berger et al, 1977 as cited by Carli, 2004, p. 135). According to Carli, this tendency turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy. The question for CMC is whether diffuse status characteristics are salient enough in CMC to influence source credibility attributions. This question may hinge on whether those characteristics manifest themselves in the CMC medium.
Review of Research
In addition to theory, research experiments are important to the influence of gendered language on source credibility in CMC. Research that applies to this topic will fall into two categories. On one hand, most traditional research on gender and social influence surveys how men and women interact in face-to-face communication. The theories reviewed above rely on decades of research that falls into this category. On the other hand, recent research in CMC affords detailed experiments on gender and social influence. Furthermore, while most of this CMC research does not disconfirm current theory, it suggests areas where more research can further refine those theories.
Traditional Experiments
Carli (2004, p. 138) reports a meta-analysis of studies, all of which study the degree that men and women separately influence others. Lockheed conducted this meta-analysis of 29 studies in 1985, and concluded that “men exert greater influence and exhibit more leadership behaviors than do women” (Carli, 2004, p. 138). In addition, this difference is apparently not due to performance differences or message differences. According to Propp, “In group interactions members were more likely to attend to ideas contributed by men and to use them in solving group problems than to the identical ideas contributed by women” (1995 as cited by Carli, 2004, p. 138).
These “identical ideas” may leave room for interpretation, leaving researchers wondering whether a communicator can moderate an identical idea with language styles and minor differences in word choice. However, other studies seem to point to the fact that the male and female agents may have well used the same words. According to Carli:
Research has shown that men remain more influential than women, even when the persuasive messages of the male and female agents are manipulated to be identical (Altemeyer & Jones, 1974; DiBerardinis, Ramage, & Levitt, 1984) or when the performances of the male and female agents are manipulated to be equally good (Schneider & Cook, 1995; Wagner, Ford, & Ford, 1986). (2004, p. 138)
These studies all clearly support the accepted fact that gender affects social influence. However, these research experiments do not occur in environments where the genders of the interactants are hidden or obscure. We have to assume that if the gender of the communicators is salient, then that variable will eclipse the effect of gendered language, which may moderate social influence.
While some researchers believe that men are more persuasive than women, regardless of the situation, the cross-sex effect is a phenomena that communication researchers have known about for decades. According to Ward et al, the first person to devote scholarly attention to the cross-sex effect was Alice Eagly (1985, p. 269). There are several competing explanations for the cross-sex effect. Shaffer provides one explanation, arguing that “communicator sex may influence sex differences in opinion change though interpersonal attraction” (1975 as cited by Ward et al, 1985, p. 269). Eagly (as cited by Ward et al, 1985) contends:
Normative pressures governing the expression of opinions may vary with the make-up of the communicator-recipient dyad. Female recipients may follow a norm of deference to male authority and consequently manifest more opinion change when exposed to a male communicator, whereas males may adhere to a norm of chivalry and hence show more opinion change when exposed to a female communicator (Eagly, 1978:97). This explanation stems from the theory that greater female influenceability in cross-sex contexts stems from role-related expectancies derived from status inequalities found in the larger society. (p. 269)
Any of these explanations, if true, would lead research to conclude that gendered language does not affect source credibility attributions in CMC, unless the gendered language of one person in a dyad caused the other person to make a conclusion about the other’s gender.
Few experiments confirmed the cross-sex effect in 1985 (Ward et al, 1985, p. 270). In response to those mixed results in the research, Ward et al make one requirement among others in order to maintain the validity of the above explanation. According to Ward et al, “The persuasive messages must be presented by communicators who are physically present rather than presented through more remote channels of communication such as written messages or audio tape recordings” (1985, p. 270). Audio tape filters visual cues, and written messages filter not only visual cues, but also all nonverbal cues. Therefore, Ward’s et al analysis indicates that a cross-sex effect in CMC should either not exist, or be greatly mitigated. However, since gendered language may cue communicators to make a conclusion regarding the gender of their interactant, this effect will still appear.
CMC Experiments
Three research articles that focus on CMC are particularly relevant to the present inquiry. All three of these articles were published in the last five years, and all three of them featured Rob Thomson as their main author.
In 2001, Thomson and Murachver argued that content analysis could predict the gender of a communicator in CMC. In this study, the researchers applied 17 linguistic variables to predict a participants’ gender with 87.5% accuracy (Thomson & Murachver, 2001, p. 193). Although 87.5% is a high rate of accuracy, it is far from deterministic. Thomson and Murachver recognize this, and attribute the indeterminacy partially to variations from person to person (2001, p. 194). In addition, Thomson and Murachver argue, “When conversing with a member of the other sex, both women and men change some aspects of their language style towards the gender-preferential style of their partner” (2001, p. 194).
In an effort to isolate what causes a communicator to change his or her communication style, Thomson, Murachver, and Green conducted another study in 2001. They paired subjects into e-dyads and recorded their conversations via e-mail, although the subjects did not know the gender of their partner. This time, Thomson et al conclude:
Analysis revealed that the netpal’s language style, and not the participants’ gender, predicted the language used by participants in their e-mail replies. Female and male participants used the gender-preferential language that matched the language used by their netpals. (2001, p. 171).
In this study, Thomson et al conclude that gender and social identity may be particularly salient in CMC, due to the absence of many other cues (2001, p. 171).
As a follow-up to this topic, Thomson published another research experiment in 2006. This experiment centered on the notion that the language features that a communicator uses depend on a number of factors. Thomson’s experiment explored the possibility that the topic of discussion could affect the gendered language in CMC discussion. Thomson’s experimental analysis concludes that the topic affects gendered language. In particular, “There was a higher frequency of female-preferential features in discussions about male-stereotypical topics and a higher frequency of male-preferential features in discussions about male-stereotypical than in discussions about other topics” (Thomson, 2006, p. 172). In addition, “Discussions about neutral topics, however, showed a low frequency of both female and male features rather than a mixture of both” (Thomson, 2006, p. 172). This latter phenomenon indicates that topic does more than empower a person to talk about something of which they are expert (Thomson, 2006, p. 172). This study confirms that topic can operate as an independent variable in a research experiment. It also suggests that the current study should introduce topic as an additional moderating variable.
Participants and Design
The experiment will attempt to recruit speech communication students on a volunteer basis. The recruiters will ask the students to participate in a research experiment that will explore how people communicate using computers. During the recruitment process, the experimenter will inform the students that participation in the experiment will be completely voluntary and confidential, and participants will have the option to withdraw from the experiment at any time. An experimenter will ask each participant to read a consent form with this information, sign it, then return it to the experimenter. This consent form will describe the cross-sex effect as scholars currently understand it and what information the experiment promises to contribute to that phenomenon. After the experiment concludes, the experimenters will disclose the details of the experimental design, including the data collected, and the measurement techniques. The experimenters will give the students an opportunity to ask questions. In addition, if a dyad consents to disclosing their identities to each other, the experimenters will disclose that information to the dyad partners.
When the students consent to the experiment, the experimenters will divide the students into dyads. The experimenters will randomly assign each participant to one of two groups. The first group will be same-sex dyads. The second group will be cross-sex dyads.
The experiment will utilize Internet e-mail as a mode for the dyads to interact. After the experiment assigns participants to their dyads, each partner will be assigned an email address and access to a web-based email client (which will record the emails for coding). The participants will also receive training on how to use the email client. The name of the email address will be a random word, chosen to obscure the identity and gender of the dyad partner. The experimenters will inform the participants that they will correspond with their partner exclusively through e-mail. In addition, the experimenters will inform the participants that the design of the experiment requires the participants not to disclose either their real names or their gender to their partner. The experimenters will ask the participants to exchange as many emails as possible for a period of two weeks.
After this period, each participant will rate his or her partner using the Measure of Source Credibility scale (McCroskey & Teven, 1999; see also Brann, Edwards, & Myers, 2005).
Coding the gendered language that each participant uses will require a content analysis, targeting Thomson’s (2006, p. 170) 18 language features. In order to obtain an accurate content analysis, two independent analysts will tally the occurrences of language features. The experiment will only consider the occurrences that both of the analysts tally. In addition, the analysts will count the total number of words that each participant used in the emails. This content analysis will supply the experiment with a number of male stereotypical language features, a number of female stereotypical language features, and a number of email words. Therefore, each participant will exemplify a certain degree of male stereotypical and female stereotypical language per email word.
Coding the overall source credibility attributions is a matter of deriving a mean average of the McCrosky’s and Teven’s 18 inventory areas of ethos/source credibility. Individual mean averages within competence, goodwill, and trustworthiness may provide useful results for the experiment.

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Thomson, R., & Murachver, T. (2001). Predicting gender from electronic discourse. The British Journal of Social Psychology, 40, 193-208.
Thomson, R. (2006). The effect of topic of discussion on gendered language in computer-mediated communication discussion. Journal of Language & Social Psychology, 25(2), 167-178.
Ward, D. A., Seccombe, K., Bendel, R., & Carter, L. F. (1985). Cross-sex context as a factor in persuadasibility sex differences. Social Psychology Quarterly, 48(3), 269-276.

APPENDIX: Measure of Ethos/Credibility
Instructions: Please indicate your impression of your email partner by circling the appropriate number between the pairs of adjectives below. The closer the number is to an adjective, the more certain you are of your evaluation.
Intelligent 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Unintelligent
Untrained 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Trained .
Inexpert 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Expert .
Informed 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Uninformed
Incompetent 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Competent .
Bright 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Stupid .
Cares about me 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Does not care about me .
Has my interests at heart 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Does not have my interests at heart
Self-centered 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Not self-centered .
Concerned with me 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Unconcerned with me .
Insensitive 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Sensitive.
Not understanding 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Understanding .
Honest 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Dishonest
Untrustworthy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Trustworthy .
Honorable 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Dishonorable
Moral 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Immoral
Unethical 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Ethical .
Phoney 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Genuine

Sunday, February 25, 2007

Relationships of Absence

I think I am done modifying this essay. I am posting it here just in case someone wants to read it for its philosophical content.

Relationships of Absence
A Metaphysics Essay
Julia Leslie
Essay Contest
April 2, 2007
2,986 Words
Acknowledgment: The author previously submitted an earlier version of this essay for course work in metaphysics during Fall 2006. As a result, JeeLoo Liu’s comments integrally affected the production of this text.

Causation lies at the foundation of metaphysical theory. Theorists must manage the commitments that a causal theory entails, and defend them. The problem of causation by absence presents an interesting dilemma for metaphysicians. How a causal theory deals with absences affects our willingness to accept them. I review two approaches to causation by absence. First, I review Beebee’s analysis of causation by absence, and conclude that her standpoint entails a commitment to uninstantiated universals. Second, I review Lewis’ analysis of causation by absence, and conclude that his perspective involves a faulty affirmation of how absences function. Beebee’s commitment to uninstantiated universals presents less of a problem than Lewis’s theory of causation. We should side with Beebee: absences cannot play any role in a causal relation.
The basic problem of causation by absence is a disagreement over whether absences have causal power. In short, absences are really nothing: they are nonevents, and nonentities. It seems counterintuitive that absences have causal power, but we talk about absences as if they do have that power. Researchers in space must wear space suits because they believe that space causes death. Law details many cases where a person is responsible for disregarding positive duties or violating negative duties. Causation by absence is a serious issue.
Beebee utilizes causal explanation to solve the problems surrounding causation by absence. In using intuition to test various metaphysical accounts of causation, Beebee argues that the winning argument lies in distinguishing between causal explanation and causal relations. Beebee concludes that while there is no such thing as causation by absence, all our examples of causation by absence are actually causal explanations. Beebee considers relational and nonrelational theories, concludes they neither framework is adequate, and then proposes a way to differentiate between genuine causes and dubious causal absences. As we will see, Beebee’s framework defends Platonic realism.
Among these theories that Beebee considers is Lewis’ counterfactual analysis. Beebee maintains that our intuitions compel us to accept certain causes from absence and reject others. However, a pure counterfactual analysis forces the philosopher to treat all absences the same. Consider Flora’s habit of watering her neighbor’s orchids. Flora usually waters her neighbor’s orchids, but for a time, Flora stopped. Unfortunately, no one else watered the plants and they died. Our intuitions indicate that the absence of Flora’s watering caused the plants to die. We also believe that other neighbors do not have the same causal power as Flora. Intuition can differentiate between Flora and everyone else, but a pure counterfactual analysis of causation by absence cannot discriminate between causes that we would accept and causes that are irrelevant (Beebee, 2004).
Hart and HonorĂ©’s book Causation in the Law presents another theory that may repair this problem. Beebee indicates that “what makes us single out omission as a cause but not another is abnormality” (2004, p. 295). Beebee’s objection against the abnormality standard comes from Stapleton: “There are many cases in which the abnormality criterion fails to explain our commonsense causal judgments” (Beebee, 2004, p. 295). These cases rely on norms of the abnormality standard, which require historical9 examples. In first-time examples, we cannot compare the occurrence to a historical regularity. Like Hume, the abnormality standard cannot answer Stapleton’s objection. Although our intuitions help us decide whether first-time causal absences can cause events, the abnormality standard cannot appeal to intuition (Beebee, 2004).
Another possible solution to the problem of causation by absence lies in the attempt to repair the nonrelationist account. Nonrelationists can appeal to Lewis’s discussion of possible worlds. Counterfactual dependence relies on possible worlds that match our world in every way except for the negated antecedent and consequent of a causal conditional. Beebee extends this approach by indicating that a possible solution for nonrelationists is to require that an absence may only qualify as a legitimate cause of an effect if that absent-event occurs “at a world that is reasonably close to the actual world” (Beebee, 2004, p. 298).
Beebee thinks that this proposal also fails. She argues, “Norms are doing the work by themselves, as it were, rather than merely informing our judgments about closeness of worlds” (2004, p. 299). The failure of the reasonably-close-world standard to provide a measurement of “reasonably close” forces us to fall back on our existing norms. As it stands, the reasonably-close-world standard still relies on our intuitions.
Beebee’s solution is to introduce a new category of pseudo-causation: causal explanation. This category does not meet the standards of genuine causation, and does not imply causation. Causal explanation is a new category for pseudo-accounts of causation. To make this work, Beebee needs to distinguish causal explanation from causation. Beebee quotes Lewis, saying, “To explain an event is to provide some information about its causal history” (cited by Beebee, 2004, p. 302). The “causal history of an event, he says, is ‘a relational structure’” (Beebee, 2004, p. 302). Since explanation does not identify causes, explanation is different from a relation between cause and effect.
The only task left for Beebee is to separate examples of causal explanation from causation. One source of difficulty in differentiation lies in the apparent ability of some sentences to switch between the form “A causes B” and the form “A because B,” which Beebee says is unacceptable in metaphysics. Explanation and causation should be mutually exclusive, so there should not be cases where a proposition could appear as both forms. The chief method of differentiating between causal explanation and causation involves forcing them to refer to two mutually exclusive types of statements. We can accomplish this by “saying that an event of such-and-such kind occurred, rather than that some particular event occurred” (Beebee, 2004, p. 302). This standard makes two restrictions. First, this standard restricts causal explanation to referring to universals. Second, this standard restricts causation to referring to particulars. Therefore, an example of a causal explanation would be, “The glass broke because glass is fragile.” In addition, an example of a causal relation would be, “The molecular structure of the glass caused it to break” (Beebee, 2004).
There are problems with this, since it does not satisfy the demand for a standard between explanation and causation in a non-Platonic world. Beebee’s analysis shows that causal explanations deal with universals and causal relations deal with particulars. When it comes to causation by absence, Beebee denies that causal relations link an absent cause and effect. Causation by absence occurs within causal explanations, but absences cannot appear in genuine causal relations. According to this standard, absences referred to by causal explanations must be universals, but they will never appear as particulars in causal statements. Absences detailed as causal explanations will never become instantiated by corresponding causal relations, since there are no particular causes and effects to make such a proposition possible. In other types of causation, ones that do not feature absences, causal explanations eventually give rise to causal relations when we deal with particular events. For example, fragility is a universal and plays a role in explaining why glass breaks. The universal of fragility becomes instantiated by a particular molecular structure. Unfortunately, causation by absence appears to be a case where a universal never becomes instantiated. Therefore, if Beebee intends to utilize causal explanation as a universal form of causation, then she must defend the existence of Platonic universals, because absences are truly uninstantiated universals.
I now turn my attention to Lewis’ theory of causation. Lewis’ theory contrasts competitively with Beebee’s theory of causal explanation. Lewis makes the opposite basic conclusion regarding the causal power of absences. He says that causation by absence occurs by following a nonrelational account of causation.
Lewis builds his case for causation by absence by first objecting to Menzies’ account of causation. Menzies’ most crucial position is that a causal relation is an intrinsic relation between cause and effect. This defines a set of philosophical commitments that Lewis does not want to accept wholly. Lewis, as we will see, advocates a nonrelational account of causation because of his commitment to using counterfactuals for analysis. Menzies, on the other hand, prefers a relational account of causation, and defends the commitments that the relational account entails. One of these commitments forces Menzies to derive the causal role from the relation between particular events. He accomplishes this by analyzing the instantiated relation for a given cause and effect. If the cause and effect are instantiated, then Menzies can derive the relation between cause and effect from the universal that instantiates that relation. This derivation allows Menzies to maintain that causation is an intrinsic relation between cause and effect (Lewis, 2004).
Lewis says that Menzies’ account fails to account for causation by absence. Lewis reminds us that relations require relata, and any juxtaposition that fails to produce two events/objects/entities also fails to meet the demand for relata. A relation between an event and a nonentity cannot be a relation. Since absences are nothing and provide no point of reference, absences cannot be a constituent of a relation. A causal relation is still a relation, and as such, causal relations cannot involve absences. According to Lewis, “Any relation needs relata, whether it is intrinsic or not” (2004, p. 282). Lewis argues against Menzies by using causation by absence as a counterexample. Any example of causation that involves absences cannot be relational, which presents a problem for Menzies’ relational account. Lewis wants absences to have causal power, so Menzies’ theory is inadequate (Lewis, 2004).
Lewis must find some way to analyze causation without relying on a relational analysis. A counterfactual analysis is not relational, and Lewis uses counterfactuals as the basis for analyzing the causal power of absences. Lewis says, “The counterfactual analysis escapes the problem because, when the relata go missing, it can do without any causal relation” (2004, p. 283).
How does one build a counterfactual that deals with absences? When it comes to negating an absence in a counterfactual, we should not “attend to some remarkable entity and suppose that it does not exist. Rather, we need only suppose that some unremarkable entity does exist” (Lewis, 2004, p. 283). The difference between “attending to a remarkable entity” and “attending to an unremarkable entity” is subtle, but necessary in order to capture the spirit of how counterfactuals avoid dealing with relata. Lewis says that “we do not have to reify the void in order to ask what would have happened if the void had not been there” (2004, p. 282). In essence, Lewis says that negating an absence allows us to suppose that anything might have happened instead. Lewis wants us to construct the counterfactual that deals with absences by not repeating the absence in the counterfactual. Consider Lewis’ example: ‘If I were exposed to a vacuum, then I would be killed.’ Lewis does not want the counterfactual to be: ‘If I were not exposed to a vacuum, that I would not have been killed.’ Instead, the counterfactual should be: ‘If I were surrounded by protective objects (like a space suit), then I would survive.’
This is all well and good. If we abide by this guide for constructing counterfactuals, then counterfactuals will allow us to analyze the causal power of absences. Lewis details the example of such a counterfactual that obeys these guidelines. “The void causes death to one who is cast into it because if, instead, he had been surrounded by suitable objects, he would not have died” (Lewis, p. 282). This example utilizes a counterfactual, and it constructs the negation in the form of attending to the presence of an unremarkable entity (a space suit). This example also avoids Lewis’ lack-of-relata objection, because it does not utilize a relational analysis.
Ignore Beebee’s external objection for a moment. A counterfactual analysis would work for distilling the causal power of absences as long as Lewis stays away from relations. Our assumption in utilizing counterfactuals to analyze causation is that causation does not necessitate a relation. Absences, it would seem, are the examples that support this notion. However, Lewis does not content himself with treating the causal power of absences as a non-relation.
Lewis returns to Menzies’ analysis of causation and accepts that Menzies’ intrinsic relation does apply to regular forms of causation. Lewis invents a new word, ‘biff,’ and defines that word in terms of Menzies’ account of causation (A ‘biffs’ B). Then, Lewis incorporates biff into his own theory of causation. Whenever an instance of causation occurs, then Menzies’ analysis (biff) applies. Whenever an instance of causation by absence occurs, Lewis applies a counterfactual, and then biff applies.
Lewis argues that “causation by absence is not an instance of biff. Nevertheless it can be described in terms of biff.” (2004, p. 284). A causal absence is an absence of biff, and Lewis moves toward incorporating biff with his non-relational account of causation. For each example that involves an absence, Lewis constructs the counterfactual in a way that makes the counterfactual not mention the absence. Consider the counterfactual ‘If I were surrounded by suitable objects, I would survive being in a vacuum.’ The original situation, me being exposed to a vacuum, deals with the power of an absence (the vacuum), but Lewis constructs the counterfactual in a way that masks the absence. Lewis argues that once a causal conditional ceases to mention an absence, then biff is usable.
It is here that Lewis gets into trouble. Lewis uses biff as a negative replacement for an absence, and then pretends that biff will behave counterfactually similar to positive relata. This becomes evident when Lewis starts speaking of biff-relations and different varieties of causation, all of which involve causal relations, but should be impossible due to absences.
If we look at counterfactuals closely, we notice that many of them deal with absences. Recall the earlier example of the vacuum: we discover through a counterfactual that a vacuum causes death because if a person had been surrounded by suitable objects (e.g., a space suit), then that person would survive. The absence in that example is the vacuum. The absence does not occur in the counterfactual; it transforms into a space suit. However, if we consider ordinary examples, the absence occurs in the counterfactual. Consider Descartes’ example: if I exposed wax to heat, then it would melt. According to a counterfactual account, we know this is causal because if I did not expose the wax to heat, then it would not have melted. The absence exists in the counterfactual as the absence of heat. In the wax example, the counterfactual does not relate cause and effect.
Careful choosing between an original causal statement and its counterfactual for a relation does not work. We should look at the original statement, not the counterfactual, for the relation between cause and effect. If I apply heat to the wax, then the wax melts. We are looking for a relationship between my application of heat to the wax and its melting. We are not looking for a relationship between my not applying heat to the wax and its not melting. When it comes to causation by absence, we look to the original statement for a relation, not the counterfactual. Consider again the space example. If I were exposed to a vacuum, I would die. We are looking for a relationship between my exposure to a vacuum and my death. We are not looking for a relationship between my presence in a space suit and my continued survival.
Lewis may be content with treating biff and counterfactuals as sufficient for dealing with absences for a special reason. Lewis says, “Absences are spooky things, and we’d do best not to take them seriously” (2004, p. 283). This treatment of absences out of deference to its “spooky” quality hardly justifies giving causal relations back to absences. Lewis had the correct approach by first recognizing that absences may have causal power, so long as that power is nonrelational. When Lewis approaches biff as a way to return absences to causal relations, he runs into conceptual problems. Absences cannot enter into relations, and we cannot use biff as an intellectual shortcut around that. If biff involves a relation, then the existence of a relation rules out its compatibility with absences.
Going back to Beebee: her argument is complex, not only in the sense that it is sophisticated, but because Beebee’s arguments exhibit varying levels of intellectual commitment. Beebee’s has a certain level of commitment to denying the causal power of absences. However, that level of commitment is much higher than admitting that absences have explanatory power. Causal explanation is an answer to a challenge for clarity, so if there is a problem with Beebee’s integration of absences with explanation and causation, then Beebee can sever that commitment to causal explanation without abandoning the more significant claim that absences do not have causal power. There may be a more adequate explanation for absences than causal explanation, and that hope allows Beebee to maintain her basic position on the causal power of absences.
Beebee and Lewis leave us with deciding whether absences have causal power. Lewis says counterfactuals demonstrate that absences have causal power. Beebee argues that absences can fill the role of causal explanations, but cannot be particular causes. Beebee and Lewis both run into difficulties when we analyze their philosophical commitments, but Lewis appears to have more trouble, since he departs from his own philosophical commitment to the relata-requirement of relations. Beebee can sever her commitment to the difference between causal explanations and causation. For instance, we can reject Beebee’s differentiation and still agree that absences do not have causal power. In order to repair Lewis’ arguments, we would have to dissolve the combination of Menzies’ account and counterfactuals. If we discard this combination and simply utilize counterfactuals, then we have to address Beebee’s objection to Lewis’ theory. If we had to choose whether absences have causal power, Beebee’s philosophical position is preferable for its relative coherence.

Beebee, H. (2004). Causing and nothingness. In J. Collins, N. Hall, & L. A. Paul (Eds.), Causation and counterfactuals (pp. 291-308). MIT Press.
Lewis, D. (2004). Void and object. In J. Collins, N. Hall, & L. A. Paul (Eds.), Causation and counterfactuals (pp. 277-290). MIT Press.