Philosophers' Carnival CXI

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Welcome to the 111th Philosophers' Carnival. For more information on the Philosophers' Carnival, please see here. Most hosts just present the posts neutrally, but sometimes they comment on them. I'm going to take the latter course this time around, although in some cases I'll have more to say than in others. I've extended a little grace and included posts outside the three-week range for this carnival if they otherwise met the criteria for inclusion and if the date wasn't too far back (the submitted post from May will not be appearing).

Metaphysics

Andrew Bernardin presents Give That Fern an Abacus at 360 Degree Skeptic. Andrew has found a nice example of the extremes of the dilution of mental state language. If plants can engage in strategies to pursue their goals, then something's gone truly wrong. There's a difference of opinion within evolutionary theory whether to speak like Aristotle, as if evolution has purposes that things tend toward (i.e. survival and reproduction) or the Epicurean approach that all such talk is mere metaphor, and there are no goals or purposes in nature. (There's also, I suppose, Thomas Aquinas' approach, which agrees with Aristotle that the natural teleology is present but also with the Epicureans that you can't get away with such talk without God. He rightly concluded that such a combination of views implies the existence of God, and thus we have the Fifth Way argument.)

But it's a stretch even for Aristotelians to think trees themselves are strategizing about how they should behave to maximize nutrient absorption. That sounds even stranger than when a functionalist once told me that his view rightly implies that sports teams have beliefs, and he didn't mean that they all shared a belief in common. He meant that the team itself believed things in addition to any beliefs of the players. But at least teams are composed of people who have beliefs. Trees? That's even worse than saying that lions do certain things in order to maximize their chances of reproduction, as if lions really have an obsession with having lots of offspring.

Gualtiero Piccinini gives us Connectionism Need Not Be (Strongly) Associationistic at Brains. Connectionist models of cognition may involve associationism, but other explanatory models are compatible with connectionism.

Nickolas Montgomery presents Body Switching and Multiplicity posted at A Concentrated Tincture. Assume first that chairs can be conscious. Then imagine a consciousness-switching device that would swap the consciousnesses of two people in the room. Use it on the chairs. What would happen? Nickolas argues that conscious chairs wouldn't be people, and thus their consciousnesses would switch without the chairs switching places (the way you and I would switch places if our consciousnesses did). What if you swapped two chairs when one is conscious and the other not? Nickolas claims that you create a third chair in such a case. I guess the idea is that the conscious chair has moved to inhabit a new body, the original chair now inhabited by the conscious chair is still around and is not conscious (despite having the original conscious chair's consciousness in it), and the matter composing the conscious chair is now just sitting there unconscious, as a new chair.

The obvious response seems to me to be the one Nickolas presents first and dismisses without argument. If you're going to have conscious chairs, and nothing in the chair explains their consciousness, then you're basically assuming substance dualism about conscious chairs. So the substance that is the chair and the substance that is the consciousness are separate substances. That means nothing new is created. The conscious mind just moved from one chair to the other. Nickolas says he can't swallow this kind of dualism. Then what is he doing postulating conscious chairs whose material structure doesn't explain their consciousness? Doesn't that cry out for the substance dualism of the first response that he rejects?

 Kenny submits Authority, Authoritativeness, and Objectivity at blog.kennypearce.net. Kenny distinguishes between authority, which is an ethical property making someone worth obeying, and authoritativeness, which is an epistemological property making someone worth believing. He looks at Berkeleyan John Foster's use of divine creation of the idealist world, together with God's divine authority, as a reason to think we should simply accept that creation as an objective fact and thus speak correctly when we say the world is objectively real. I would have the idea with authority is that God's declaration as creator makes it fact by divine stipulation, because God has the authority over creation to make authoritative statements. Is that what Foster is up to? I have no idea, but this sort of argument, if its what I think I is, is a divine voluntarist account that at least improves on the one Kenny is attributing to Foster. But perhaps a different tactic will convince some. If semantic externalism is true, then the facts about what we mean when call things real or speak of trees depend on how we use the words 'real' and 'trees' and which things we tend to apply it to.

Ethics

C. Bosco offers Justice of a Prisoner at Hammers of Flight. C. Bosco's argument is that Socrates was inadvertently serving the end of injustice by giving in to an unjust capital sentence. If Socrates argued that a more just outcome is obtained by going along with the laws even when they're unjust, then his argument is subject to failure when going along with the laws actually leads to a more unjust outcome through supporting an unjust system.

This criticism is strong if (1) Socrates' argument is intended to be consequentialist and (2) furthering the unjust system really does lead to a worse outcome than running away and thus undermining the laws. I have nothing to say about (2), but I'm not sure (1) is correct. Socrates' two main arguments, as I see it, are backward-looking and thus deontological. You ought to follow the law because you consented to it by participating and benefiting, and it's hypocritical to go along with it when it benefits you but not when it harms you. Furthermore, you have obligations to your parents because of how they raised you, and similarly you have obligations to the laws for protecting you and educating you all your life. So to go back on the laws now would violate the strong duty of gratitude that you owe them.

I'm not sure if Socrates was a Kantian absolutist. Perhaps certain consequences would be so great that they would outweigh deontological principles. If Republic book I is accurate to Socrates' own views, then he does have room for that, e.g. the case of returning borrowed weapons to a person intent on murdering someone. But does Socrates' going along with his death contribute so much to the perpetuation of injustice on an ongoing basis as to override strong deontological obligations? For Bosco's argument to succeed, the answer would have to be yes.

Joseph A Pinkley presents The Evil of Extreme Individualism at Critiquing Humanity. Joseph distinguishes between individuality, which he sees as a perfectly healthy and good genetic imperative, and individualism, which he sees as one of the chief sources of evil. The main argument seems to be that people do all sorts of bad things out of too much of a focus on self-interest I'd have to see more to have a sense of where I'd agree or disagree, but I can tell from the pictures used that I'd disagree quite strongly on particular assignations of blame.

I'm not sure how the cross, a symbol of complete self-sacrifice on behalf of others, can count as Dangerous in this way. Any Christian will admit that it's dangerous, in the same way that Aslan in the Chronicles of Narnia is dangerous despite being good. But dangerous because it's inividualist? I can't see that. Christianity that starts with the cross is pretty anti-individualist. Also, I'm sure I'd disagree with Joseph's political assumptions given his choice of the elephant and omission of the donkey as More Dangerous. I'm sure a huge part of the disagreement would be with his assumptions about the basis of the more considered conservative views, given that he thinks the Republican party is self-interested in a More Dangerous way. The reality is that both major American parties are individualist in different ways, on different kinds of issues, and I'd say sometimes for good and sometimes for ill. Wall Street I'll go along with, however. New York City driving is Most Dangerous, and I believe Wall Street is right in the middle of the business district, a pretty busy section of town.

Richard presents Abortion Review at Philosophy, et cetera. He finds two arguments that might be offered in support of the claim that embryos have moral status that makes it wrong to kill them and proceeds to explain why he's unconvinced. Richard is one of the fairest philosophers in the blogosphere toward those who disagree with him, and I usually appreciate the spirit in which he argues, but it turns out I'm a hard-core nutter by his reckoning. Some of his intuitions, in turn, strike me as odd, to return the compliment, but his premises are very clear, as strongly as I disagree with them, so it's pretty easy for me to indicate where I get off the boat in each argument.

He first criticizes what he calls the humanity argument, which takes a human being (i.e. human organism) to have full moral status apart from capacities. His main resistance is because he doesn't think a brain-dead human organism has any moral rights whatsoever. He concludes, "Does anyone really want to say that this permanently non-sentient body retains a 'right to life'?" Actually, yes. I know quite a lot of people who thinks so and wouldn't see this as a reductio of their position. I'm one of them. In fact, I think the bullets Richard bites -- killing infants might not be intrinsically wrong, and killing a fetus is no worse than disrespecting a corpse -- are about as close to a reductio as you can get in terms of radical conclusions that seem to me to be obviously false.

He also takes on Don Marquis' argument that anything with a future like ours has moral status like ours, because by killing it you rob it of the same thing you'd be robbing me of if you killed me. This approach applies straightforwardly in abortion cases but not in end-of-life euthanasia cases, so Richard's intuition on that case faces no problems here. Richard's main resistance to applying this view to an embryo is that he doesn't think the embryo would be the one who would have the future experiences, because he doesn't think a bodily conception of personal identity is correct. I don't think you need a bodily conception of personal identity. You don't even have to deny the psychological conception of what makes a person continue to be a person, which seems to be Richard's account of personal identity. (I myself don't think any of these materialist-compatible views will work to ground personal identity, which I think requires dualism, but I don't think you need dualism to defend Marquis.) As long as you think something can continue to be the same thing while gaining essential properties that can no longer be lost but didn't have to be there all along, you can maintain a psychological account for continuing persons but have something that isn't a person eventually become a person. This is in fact Marquis' own view, as I understand it, and I think it's one of the two options Eric Olson has for getting out of a big problem with his view (but I'm not sure if he ever does say it).

Philosophy of Religion

My post this week is Age of Accountability posted at Parableman. Some religious traditions assume a doctrine of an age of accountability, which leads to problems similar to those raised in Ted Sider's "Hell and Vagueness", at least if you hold to a few other commonly-held assumptions (except that this time I think the argument succeeds, whereas I don't think Ted's does). I agree with this post more than any of the others in this carnival, or at least I did when I wrote it. If you want a full sense of the discussions on this one, you should check out the cross-postings on other blogs I contribute toward, which are linked at the bottom.

Political Philosophy

Nandini Ramachandran presents Library Daze posted at ChaosBogey. It takes awhile to get going, but eventually it's a review of Joseph Raz's The Morality of Freedom. Raz argues that a value-neutral government is impossible and that the best approach is to ensure freedom in the form of individual autonomy is not by having a limited government but by having government actively take steps to put individuals in positions where they can make reasoned choices. Nandini sees some of this enforced autonomy as enforced conformity and thinks it interferes with freedom a lot more than a more limited government would. One basic difference of opinion is that Raz doesn't seem to have room for allowing people to be evil, but Nandini thinks we should. All I have to say is that this seems to be an interesting case where the rightward movement is more tolerant than the leftward movement. That isn't always the way it is, but I think when it is that way it's too often not noticed.
   

Epistemology

Jason Streitfeld sends in Getting Past Gettier posted at Specter of Reason. Jason points out an interesting feature of Gettier cases. Smith hears that Jones will get a job rather than Smith and knows that Jones has ten coins in his pocket. Smith concludes that the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket. But he is wrong about who will get the job, since he will, and he also happens to have ten coins in his pocket. Gettier said Smith had a true, justified belief that the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket. Jason says the belief is in fact false, since Smith's belief is about Jones, not about himself.

Jason says the editor who reviewed his paper says he needs to take into account the de re and de dicto distinction, and I agree. Smith believes of the person who will not get the job that he has ten coins. He doesn't believe that of the person who will get the job. Those are de re beliefs. He does, however, have a true de dicto belief -- that the person who will get the job (whom he happens to have a false belief about de re) has ten coins in his pocket. It's the de dicto belief that Gettier says is the true one, not the de re ones that Jason says are false. So I think Jason's argument needs to be that there is no such belief as the de dicto one. I think that's where he wants to go, anyway. If I wanted to resist Gettier, I'd question whether the beliefs are justified, not whether they're true, but I found this an interesting tactic if he can pull off what is in effect his claim, which is that the sort of de dicto belief Gettier is dealing with isn't a real belief that we have in such circumstances.

We have several submissions related to Keith DeRose's bank cases arguing for contextualism. The original bank case is that if you need your check deposited on Saturday, then the stakes are much higher than if you can wait until Monday. Whether you know the bank is open on Saturdays depends on how high the stakes are. In the former case, knowing that it was open last Saturday is not sufficient given the higher stakes, but it is sufficient given the lower stakes.

Josh Knobe presents New Experiment on Bank Cases at Certain Doubts, in which in he summarizes the conclusions of some experimental philosophy studies that argue that it's not higher or lower stakes that really make the difference but whether the possibility of error is mentioned. In other words, whether error is possible affects people's intuitions on whether a case counts as knowledge but how probably the error is has little or no effect. If this is right, then the ordinary person's understanding of how knowledge works doesn't match up with what contextualists say about knowledge. There's a nice, long comment discussion.

Angel Pinillos in New experiments (perhaps) support the thesis that knowledge is sensitive to stakes at Experimental Philosophy argues against these new studies, giving some data that supports the contextualist claim. There's a significant discussion in the comments here as well.

Jonathan Phillips' Further Experimental Work on the Bank Cases at Experimental Philosophy puts some of the data into some nice graphics if you can take the time to figure out what the charts illustrate. I'd have to spend more time than I have at the moment.
 

Meta-Philosophy

James gives us On the Wealth of Nations, #1 at Moral Fideism. . Starting with a quote from Adam Smith about the good of sub-dividing philosophy into sub-fields for the specialization of experts, Jongsuh argues that, since it's worth there being some generalists in philosophy, who seek to understand the discipline as a unity, it thereby has a unity of a certain sort, that the specialist can't improve upon over the generalist.

I have two questions about this argument. Does it follow from its being a unity worth pursuing as a unity that specialists can't add anything to the generalist? The point of specialization is to divide tasks. Someone can learn a lot more about logic by focusing on logicians' work, and someone else can learn a lot more about metaphysics by focusing mostly on metaphysicians' work. When they get together, they know a lot more together and can communicate about how the logical work is relevant to the metaphysical work, for example. Isn't that an improvement over both philosophers trying to learn about every sub-field but not learning much about each?

I'm also unsure about the inference from someone's specialization in a sub-field to the conclusion that the person isn't pursuing a general knowledge of philosophy. I'm a generalist in many ways. I care about virtually every sub-field. There are figures I don't like and entire strains of philosophy that some people specialize in that I'm not interested in, mostly because I think their methods are dead-ends, their writing is incomprehensible, or the particular issues in question seem less important or interesting to me than some other issue that I'm more focused on. But I have an interest in every major branch of philosophy to some degree, I'd like my views to fit together across those sub-fields, and I can imagine myself at some point coming up with papers worth publishing across the spectrum of philosophical thought.

Nevertheless, my primary training is in analytic metaphysics and philosophy of religion, and my dissertation is in the philosophy of race. I'm a specialist in those three areas. Yet I've also done some specialization in my teaching in ancient, medieval (especially Augustine and Aquinas), early modern, and ethics in addition to my other specializations. I'm playing catch-up now with philosophy of biology for a chapter in my dissertation that relies heavily on natural kinds and species classification. The metaphysics of social kinds has required some familiarity with philosophy of social science and some of the loosely-classified socio-political philosophy that goes along with philosophy of race, and the ethical issues with race have come up and have been part of my teaching. So I'm a specialist who is heavily invested in a wide swath of philosophical issue, and thus I'm pursuing a generalist course despite my specialization.

6 Comments

Thanks for the helpful comments on my "Getting Past Gettier" entry. I think your presentation of my argument is about right. I don't frame it in terms of a de dicto/de re distinction, but I think I do make the argument you are suggesting.

It is Josh Knobe, not Josh May, who presents New Experiment on Bank Case at Certain Doubts.

Josh May submitted it, so when he was addressed as Josh in the comments I assumed "Knobe" was an alias or something. This is why the Philosophers' Carnival site instructs people to indicate when they submit a post that isn't their own, to avoid this kind of confusion.

Thank you for your comments Jeremy. I offer below one concession and two clarifications.

First, you are right in arguing that merely because general philosophy is a unity worth pursuing, this doesn’t entail that specialists cannot add to the pursuit of that unity. I erroneously claimed this when I wrote that general philosophy appears before us “as a speculative field, the products of which not merely will not, but cannot be improved by specialization.” Indeed, insofar as I am a general practitioner of philosophy, and I am helped in my practice by the writings and interactions of specialists, I am committed to this revision not merely by theoretical concerns, but also by pragma.

This said, I believe that we are using the terms “general philosophy” and “special philosophy” in different senses. You take these terms to indicate the extension of a scholar’s topical interests; I understand them to indicate her intension in approaching her field—whatever its scope. I certainly do not, by advocating the generalist’s case, mean to defend the end of so-called Renaissance Men; I do not mean by saying that there should be more generalists, that we should be competent metaphysicians and logicians, much less sociologists, physicists, historians, biologists, political scientists, etc. Indeed, insofar as I am a general practitioner of philosophy, and I am little versed in some of these fields, here too I am committed not merely by my speculative position, but also in the pragma of my practice, to reject that what it means for one to be a generalist is for him to be an “all-rounder.”

Rather, what I defended in my entry was a certain methodological temperament—an attitude of openness to the phenomena of our world; a sensitivity to the “pressure and feel of the cosmos entire,” as opposed to that certain narrowness of spirit and approach often imposed by the discipline of the particular sciences or their parochial combinations. Some instances of the last include analytic philosophers allergic to the fine arts and dismissive of all mysticism; scientists who reject offhand the a priori and empirically unverifiable; and theologians that seek universal resolution in fine exegesis. But surely it is possible to practice philosophy rigorously without the exclusive binary of reason or void; it is definitely conceivable that a scientist may pry apart the satin of experience; and it is real that many Christians are thoroughly Biblical, but revere the natural light and common grace bestowed by Him.

Hence, one can be “specialist” in your sense while being “generalist” in mine, and be “specialist” in my sense while being “generalist” in yours, though of course, to be both “generalist” and “specialist” in my meaning would be a contradiction of character. Finally, to point the obvious, one may be “specialist” in my sense, as well as “specialist” in yours, and “generalist” in my sense, while being “generalist” in yours. I find these last combinations the most empirically common, though all are logically possible.

As an endnote: I doubt the honesty of the above reply; my metaphor of atoms and partitions and quoting of Smith all too clearly shows my sympathy with your use of the words in contention. But be that as it may—I promise little system and coherence; my retort works as an improvement despite its unconscientiousness, and some traces of it figure in my original entry.

James, I think we're actually a lot more in agreement than not. These distinctions are helpful.

On rereading your comments about my "Getting Past Gettier" entry, I think you do make one mistake. The editors I mention do not say I need to take the de dicto/de re distinction into account. They just say that I need to connect with more of the literature on the topic. As I said, I think I do make the argument you say I should make; I just don't frame it in terms of a de dicto/de re distinction. So, to make my paper stronger, I need to reframe my arguments (basically, just mention the de dicto/de re distinction) and better situate it with respect to the literature.

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