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Over the weekend I made a website that lets you search through the works of David Lewis. It's not perfect: a lot of the documents contain garbled words from OCR, the character encoding is messed up, and it doesn't show page numbers of matches. Maybe I'll fix that eventually. Also, three papers are currently missing from the index because I don't have them in PDF form: "Nachwort (1978)", "Lingue e Lingua", and "Review of Olson and Paul, Contemporary Philosophy in Scandanavia".
This website is devoted to collecting information about women currently working in philosophy around the globe. This list includes information about women worldwide holding a Ph.D. or M.A. in philosophy who (1) has a job researching or teaching philosophy, (2) previously had a job in philosophy and is still active in philosophy, or (3) has published an article in a philosophy journal or a book in a philosophy list. Due to the purposes of the list, we have chosen not to include deceased philosophers or graduate students. Graduate students who have earned an M.A. but who have remained in a graduate program to complete a Ph.D. should wait until they have completed their highest degree before submitting their name for inclusion.
It is often thought that one central advantage of expressivism over subjectivism is that expressivism can make sense of moral disagreements. Whereas according to subjectivism, people end up talking past one another, expressivism enables speakers to express disagreements in attitude as Stevenson famously put it. This orthodoxy has been recently challenged in two ways. Subjectivists have tried to create new ways of making sense of disagreements, and it has turned out that the traditional expressivist accounts of disagreement are more problematic than previously thought. The latter issue has become even more pressing because of the negation problem. The questions of when two people disagree and when one person holds inconsistent attitudes seem to be very much the same question, and so many expressivists have thought that by giving an account of disagreement they can also give an account of inconsistency. In a recent paper entitled “Disagreement” (PPR) and in a corresponding chapter on disagreement in his new Impassionate Belief book, Mike Ridge has tried to develop a new account of disagreement (which he calls "disagreement in prescription") to solve these worries. I want to argue below that this account fails because it commits the conditional fallacy.
Here’s Ridge’s approximate version of the view (the later complications will not affect what I’ll say below):
Two people, A and B disagree in prescription about D’s phying in C just in case in circumstances of honesty, full candor and non-hypocricy, A would advise phying in C and B would advise psying in X, where phying and psying are incompatible.
Intuitively, this is a pretty attractive view. Think of a case in which Jane thinks that Mary ought to tell a lie in the circumstances she is in, whereas Jill thinks that Mary ought not to lie in her situation. Presumably, Jane would advise Mary to lie whereas Jill would advise her not to do so. This suggests that we could use these dispositions to give incompatible advice to make sense of what the disagreement between Jane and Jill consists of. For what it’s worth, I’d want to run the order of explanation the other way. I would want to say that Jill and Jane would give different advice just because they disagree about what Mary ought to do.
In any case, the reason I am sceptical about Ridge’s view is that it is formulated in terms of a counterfactual conditional and philosophical theories that are formulated in this way usually fail because they commit my favourite objection – the conditional fallacy. The right hand side of Ridge’s account first places A and B into idealised hypothetical conditions. The theory then says that A and B disagree if they do certain things in those new circumstances. The problem is that placing A and B in the idealised circumstances changes them and so what A and B do in the new circumstances will no longer be relevant for whether they disagree in the actual circumstances.
To see the problem consider the following two debates:
Ann: Harry ought to be honest to Larry.
Ben: That’s not true. He ought not to be honest to Larry.
Mark: Kerry should to give advice to Pam.
Val: that’s not true. Kerry shouldn’t advice anyone.
Intuitively, Ann and Ben disagree and so do Mark and Val. The problem is that Ridge’s account can’t make sense of their disagreements. Ann would advise Harry to be honest to Larry. In the real world Ben is against honesty. However, when we place Ben in the idealised world we have to change him so that he too is an honest person. Presumably honest people are for honesty. So in the idealised circumstances Ben too would advise Harry to be honest to Larry. This means that the right hand side of Ridge’s view is not satisfied and so Ann and Ben don’t disagree on his view in the actual world.
The same goes for Mark and Val. Mark would advise Kerry to give advice to Pam. In the real world, Val is against giving advice but in the hypothetical idealised circumstances we have to make her willing to give advice so we have to make her to be for advising others. This means that in the idealised circumstances Val too advices Kerry to give advice. So, against the disagreement between Mark and Val disappears on Ridge’s account.
Here’s what Ridge says about worries of this sort:
“These definitions are couched in terms of conditionals. One might worry that these should be read as counterfactual conditionals, and then object that in the nearest world in which a given person would offer advice of any kind, his state of mind would be quite different. This, though, is not the intended reading. The idea is rather that we keep the states of mind of A and B fixed and ask, given those states of mind, what each of them would advise D to do, if they had to advice one way or another, and moreover had to do so honestly, candidly, and without hypocrisy of any kind (Ridge 2014, 187).”
I don’t think this response works. Firstly, I am little worried about being told that I should not read a counterfactual conditional as a counterfactual conditional. If the theory is not based on a counterfactual conditional, then why formulate it in terms of one? The second thing to note is that the fix in the end of passage just replaces one counterfactual conditional with another. It says that when we place the agents in the idealised conditions, we make no psychological changes (we keep attitudes fixed) but rather we change the external circumstances so that they have to give advice honestly. (By the way, the only way I can make sense of this requirement to give advice is that now in the idealised circumstances there is a threat: think of a demon insisting that you give honest advice or they shoot you.)
The problem is that the conditional fallacy still doesn’t go away. Consider the following case:
Imagine that Freda’s states of mind is such that she is disposed to advice people not to tell lies except in situations in which she has to give advice one way or another and she has to do so honestly, candidly and without hypocrisy of any kind. In these situations, she gets so nervous that she advises people to tell lies. Erin in contrast is always disposed to advise people to tell lies. Then, assume that we are in an ordinary situation in which Freda doesn’t have to advise anyone even if she has an opportunity to do so. In this situation, Freda and Erin have the following discussion:
Freda: Olly should not tell a lie to Polly.
Erin: You’re mistaken. Olly should tell a lie to Polly.
Intuitively, Freda and Erin can sincerely say these things given their attitudes towards lying (Freda is against Olly lying to Polly whereas Erin is for this). And, intuitively they disagree. However, the revised version of Ridge’s view doesn’t support this intuition. If Freda had to give advice honestly, she would advise everyone to lie because of her nerves (note that Ridge explicitly says that we keep their states of minds fixed - I assume this includes the disposition to get nervous when under pressure and to advice people to lie in that case). And so, on Ridge’s view, there’s again no disagreement. So the conditional fallacy is still a problem. This makes me doubt that there’s a way to makes sense of disagreements in terms of dispositions to advise in idealised circumstances – the conditional fallacy is too much of a problem.
GOOD DONE RIGHT: a conference on effective altruism
7-9 July 2014, All Souls College, Oxford
Speakers include: Derek Parfit (Oxford), Thomas Pogge (Yale), Rachel Glennerster (MIT Poverty Action Lab), Nick Bostrom (Oxford), Norman Daniels (Harvard), Jeremy Lauer (WHO-CHOICE), Toby Ord (Oxford), William MacAskill (Cambridge), Larissa MacFarquhar (the New Yorker), Nick Beckstead (Oxford), Owen Cotton-Barratt (Oxford).
For further information and registration, please visit here.
May 16th and 17th.
Schedule here: http://valueandvirtue.weebly.com/schedule.html
For those of you interested in nonideal/ideal theory debates in political philosophy, I thought I’d let you know that Bowling Green State University is hosting a conference on the subject in three weeks. Registration is still open if you’re able to attend. We’re hoping to collect the papers in a volume following the conference. The line-up is great, and I expect the papers to advance the discussion.
Conference website here.
Conference flier here.
In a previous post I said that the study of Shakespeare was well outside the bounds of philosophy as it is practiced, though it easily have been inside. This was a mistake. Klaas Kraay pointed out to me that there is even an upcoming conference on Shakespeare: The Philosopher.
I’m very happy to have been proven wrong about this. Shakespeare’s connection to philosophy seems like a rich and interesting field of study, and I’m thrilled to see people working on it.
It is a little interesting that the conference doesn’t look like it is growing out of work in history of modern philosophy, or even history of Renaissance philosophy, but out of aesthetics. That wasn’t what I expected either, though perhaps I should have. I suspect in general there are interesting connections to be drawn between the work of the leading poets, playwrights and, eventually, novelists. I wonder if we’ll think of work looking at those connections as being part of aesthetics, or part of history of philosophy? Either way, it’s wonderful to see this kind of work being done.
It brings me great pleasure to introduce Cheshire Calhoun. Cheshire is Professor of Philosophy at Arizona State University, and Research Professor at the University of Arizona’s Center for the Philosophy of Freedom. Her work is extremely original, as I'm sure many Soupers will attest, covering a very wide range of areas including normative ethics, the emotions, feminist ethics, and gay and lesbian philosophy. Let's welcome Cheshire!
I have been thinking for some time about what philosophical conception of ‘meaningful living’ has most to recommend it. The diversity of ordinary language uses of “meaningful” and of intuitions about what count as meaningful lives suggest, to me at least, that there will be something to say for a plurality of quite different accounts of meaningful living and that in adjudicating between them it will be help to ask what conceptual purposes we want an analysis of ‘meaningful living’ to serve.
I have been trying to work out what I call a normative outlook conception of meaningful living. In brief: Spending your life’s time on an activity contributes meaning to your life when it is an end of yours that you take yourself, in your own best judgment, to have reasons to value and thus reason to use yourself up on. The distinctive features of this normative outlook conception are, first, that it takes meaningful living to involve the expenditure of one’s life’s time on one’s ends rather than, as on some other views, straightforwardly on what actually has “objective” (impersonal, agent-independent) value or on what one cares about or feels fulfilled by. Meaningful living is thus intimately tied to an important capacity of persons, namely the capacity to set ends and organize practical activity in light of those ends. Second, the emphasis is on the reasons that persons take themselves to have, in their own best judgment, to adopt the ends they do. This makes this account a variant of subjectivist conceptions of meaningful living. Like any subjectivist account of meaningful living, there will be a certain amount of permissiveness about the kind of lives that count as meaningfully lived ones. The permissiveness results from the fact that persons, even when exercising their best judgments about what reasons there are, can go significantly wrong because the reasons that there (really) are are not within their reach. That permissiveness extends, in theory, to lives devoted to trivial pursuits and immoral lives—although these are the kinds of cases where we may suspect the person has really just failed to set ends in light of her own best judgment about what reasons there are and how they are to be weighed (in which case, she is not in fact living meaningfully). Third, this is a conception of meaningful living on which ‘P is living meaningfully’ is only contingently connected with our thinking that P’s life is to be commended and recommended. That connection is contingent on our agreeing with P’s best judgment.
Since there are other candidate conceptions of meaningful living that might seem attractive, let me briefly indicate some of my reservations about them.
First, there certainly is a use of ‘meaningful’ to designate lives that are “objectively” good (or if you like, impersonally good, or good from an agent-independent perspective). Mother Teresa and Albert Einstein are sometimes proffered as examples of such meaningful lives. A central difficulty I see with “objectivist” accounts is that they end up equating ‘meaningful’ with some other evaluative notion such as humanly excellent, flourishing, significant, or (simply) good. No doubt in ordinary language ‘meaningful’ is used interchangeably with some other evaluative notion. But this makes ‘meaningful living’ a philosophically uninteresting notion and one that does no distinctive conceptual work. There is no special project that calls for an account of meaningful living that couldn’t instead be completed be a project about, say, humanly excellent, good, or significant lives. One could, of course, attempt to avoid this by equating ‘meaningful living’ with some subset of humanly excellent, good, or significant lives. But since it is the very fact that the lives appear humanly excellent, good, or significant that favors our counting the smaller subset as ‘meaningful,’ the singling out of a smaller subset is likely to appear wrongly exclusionary.
Alternatively, one might think the most attractive conception of meaningful living is a hybrid one of the sort Susan Wolf has developed. Not only must one’s life’s time be expended on what is good (or humanly excellent, etc.), but one must have attitudes toward those activities that fall in the range of caring about, loving, being engaged with, and the like. This hybridization of objective goodness and caring attitude might work in one of two ways. On the one hand, it might mean simply that one must care about an activity and that activity must be “objectively” valuable. On this simple interpretation, there is only one sort of reason that the person must have access to—her reasons for caring; she need not also have access to the reasons why the activity is objectively good. Consider for example a fictionalized Einstein who simply loves fiddling about with physics. We may suppose that he’s given no serious thought to any reasons for doing physics, either to what makes this objectively good or even to his own reasons for loving physics. He manages, however, to make exactly the same discoveries that the real Einstein did. His life, on this simple reading of the hybrid view, is as meaningful as the real Einstein whom we imagine having reasons for thinking that what he was doing was worthwhile as well as reasons for loving it. Let me just bluntly say, this doesn’t seem right.
A different version of the hybrid view might seem more appealing. On that view, we are to think about ‘meaningful’ on analogy with ‘knowing.’ Just as it isn’t sufficient, in order to know, that one accidentally latch onto true beliefs (one must also have access to justifying reasons), so it isn’t sufficient, in order to live meaningful, that one accidentally latch onto objectively good activities (as our fiddling Einstein did). One must also have access to the reasons why the activity is good. So we might say a meaningful life is one in which the agent expends her life’s times on activities for which she has both reasons of love and the correct evaluative reasons. This would bring us to something like a non-doxastic version of my own view (as Michael Smith has recently pointed out to me). I could have suggested: Spending your life’s time on an activity contributes meaning to your life when it is an end of yours that you have the right reasons (of both a personal and impersonal nature) to value and thus reason to use yourself up on. Why not say such a reasonable thing?
Here’s my concern. Let’s return to the case of Mother Teresa who is so often cited as an example of meaningful living. The reasons that she had access to for doing her good work in India included her hearing the voice of Jesus telling her “Come, come, carry Me into the holes of the poor. Come be My light” (Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light, p. 44) and her “longing to give all to Our Lord and make many souls do the same” (p. 57). Let us suppose, hypothetically, that her own reasons did not include respect for the poor and enabling them to lead dignified lives. If you are not inclined to think that hearing voices and evangelical aims are what make her work objectively valuable, then she has latched onto the wrong reasons. Her life on this second variant of the hybrid account wasn’t meaningful. And again, speaking bluntly, that doesn’t seem right either.
Now one might think this isn’t the right conclusion about Mother Teresa for one of two reasons. One could be persuaded that meaningful lives are ones devoted to objectively good things regardless of the agent’s access to those reasons. (This would take us back to my worries about collapsing ‘meaningful’ into some other evaluative notion, and/or my worries about counting the unreflective, fiddling Einstein as living meaningfully.) Or you might think it’s the wrong conclusion because the agent’s own meaning-making activities aren’t allowed to count. To my mind, Mother Teresa is a compelling example of meaningful living precisely because she had to think so carefully about what, in her best judgment, gave her a reason to adopt the work in India as an end. She was compelled to think carefully by her need to secure permission to conduct the work in the first place, by the work’s difficulty, and by her own despair at having been abandoned by God not long into her work. It is simply irrelevant to the meaningfulness of her life whether her best judgment tracks the reasons that there (really) are.
Let me end by briefly saying something about the conceptual purposes for which we might want a philosophical conception of meaningful living. It seems to me that we want a conception of meaningful living in order to specify why the human capacity to set ends matters and why beneficence should take the form of adopting others’ ends as our own. Even if we fail to latch onto the right reasons, and even if as a result we set ends that aren’t particularly objectively worthwhile, guiding our lives by our own best judgment as to the reasons we have for expending our life’s time one way rather than another enables us to find (or better, make) meaning in what we are doing.
Maxims and MRIs:
Kantian Ethics and Empirical Psychology
A two-day workshop to be held at the University of Toronto, Centre for Ethics, Toronto, ON, Canada
May 9-10, 2014
In recent years, many moral philosophers have drawn inspiration from the exciting new empirical research that is being done in moral psychology. And yet not all philosophers have been as eager to embrace this trend. In particular, there has been significant over-representation of sentimentalists and non-cognitivists among theorists who have chosen to engage with contemporary psychological research. The aim of the conference is help correct this imbalance, by discussing the significance of empirical psychology for moral cognitivism, with particular emphasis on Kantian moral theory (understood broadly, to include Kant's ethics, current Kantian ethics, and related versions of moral rationalism).
Friday, May 9
Heidi Maibom (University of Cincinnati) "Practical Reason in the Age of Neuroscience"?
Pauline Kleingeld (University of Groningen) “Debunking Confabulation: Emotions and the Significance of Empirical Psychology for Kantian Ethics”
Susan Dwyer (University of Maryland) "Is there a Junction for Judgment?"
Marijana Vujosevic (University of Groningen) "Conscience as the Specific Rational Deficit of Psychopaths"
Barbara Herman (University of California Los Angeles) “Love and Attachment: Just What Kantian Theory Needs”
Saturday, May 10
Joseph Heath (University of Toronto) "Why do People Behave Immorally When Drunk?"
Tom Bates (University of Groningen) "Mixed vs. Moderate Traits: On the Evaluative Status of Empirically Sound Character"
Patrick Frierson (Whitman College) "Character in Kant's Moral Psychology: Responding to the Situationist Challenge"
Jeanette Kennett (Macquarie University), “Reactive Attitudes, Reason, and Responsibility”
Hanno Sauer (Tilburg University) "The Weakest Link. Realism, Debunking, and the Darwinian Dilemma"
Joseph Heath, Pauline Kleingeld, Arthur Ripstein, Sergio Tenenbaum, Louis-Philippe Hodgson
Pauline Kleingeld: email@example.com
Joseph Heath: firstname.lastname@example.org
I’ve been thinking a bit about the ways in which Higher-Order Evidence cases might be like Pascal’s Wager. In each case, an agent is presented with a reason for changing their doxastic state that isn’t in the form of evidence for or against the propositions in question.
Since most philosophers don’t think that highly of Pascal’s Wager, this isn’t the most flattering comparison. Indeed, some will think that if the cases are analogous, then the discussion of higher-order evidence isn’t really part of epistemology at all. Even if Pascal had given us a prudential reason to believe in God, he wouldn’t have given us an epistemic reason. I suspect, though, that this is a touch too quick. There are a variety of Pascal like cases where it isn’t so clear we have left epistemology behind.
Melati and Cinta are offered epistemic deals by demons. Here is the deal that Melati is offered.
There is this proposition p that you know to be true. I have a method M1 that will yield great knowledge about subjects of great interest. It is perfectly reliable. The only catch is that to use the method, you first have to firmly believe that p is false. If you do, you’ll get lots of knowledge about other things, indeed you’ll learn over 100 things that are of similar interest and importance to p.
And here is the deal that Cinta is offered.
Here are 100 propositions that you believe to be true. As you know, most people are not that reliable about the subject matters of those propositions. I can’t say whether you’re better or worse than average, though your accuracy rate is comfortably above 50%. Here’s what I can say. I have a method M2 that will yield very reliable beliefs about these subjects. People who have used it are 99% reliable when they use it. And given the subject matter, that’s a very high success rate. The only catch is that to use M2, you have to start by doubting every one of those propositions, and then only believe them if M2 says to do so.
There are two big parallels between Melati’s and Cinta’s deals. Both of them are asked to change their attitudes because that is necessary for commencing to use a method. At some level, they are asked to change their beliefs on prudential grounds. But note the payoff is not Pascalian salvation; it is knowledge. And the payoff is pretty similar in the two cases; probably around 100 pieces of new knowledge, and 1 false belief.
Yet despite those parallels, the cases feel very very different. Melati has no epistemic reason to believe that p is false. Indeed, it isn’t clear that she has all things considered reason to believe that p is false. And if she’s anything like me, she wouldn’t be capable of accepting the deal. (Carrie Jenkins, Selim Berker, Hillary Greaves and several others have discussed versions of what I’m calling Melati’s case, and the intuition that Melati has no epistemic reason to accept the deal seems incredibly widespread.)
Cinta’s situation is quite different. After all, the deal that the demon offers Cinta is very similar to the deal that Descartes offered his readers. Doubt a lot of things, including some things that you surely know, apply my method, and you’ll end up in a better position than where you started. In Descartes’s case, it wasn’t clear he was able to keep up his end of the bargain. That is, it wasn’t clear that he really had the magic method he claimed to have. But if he did have such a method, it wouldn’t be clear he was offering a bad deal. Moreover, we teach Descartes inside epistemology. If Cinta is being offered a version of Descartes’s deal, then it is arguable that she really has an epistemic reason to accept the deal.
What interests me about the cases of Melati and Cinta is that they suggest a way to capture the asymmetry in intuitions about higher-order evidence. Many people think that higher-order evidence can be good grounds to lose a belief. But I’ve never seen a case where the natural intuition is that higher-order evidence gives the agent grounds to adopt a belief where the first-order evidence is insufficient. Here’s a hypothesis that explains that. Higher-order evidence should be grouped in with things like Descartes’s motivation for doubting all one’s prior beliefs, if not with Pascal’s motivation for belief in God. And it is plausible that these kind of considerations in terms of epistemic consequences can provide reasons, perhaps even epistemic reasons, to lose a prior belief, without providing reasons to adopt a previously unheld belief.
Just a quick note to remind you that Cheshire Calhoun will be joining us for a Featured Philosophers session on Sunday. Be sure to join us!
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Due to a failure to send out a final reminder, we are extending the deadline for submissions for the Second Annual Workshop for Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy from April 1 to April 15th.
The original call is repeated below.
We are pleased to announce that the Second Annual Workshop for Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy will be held at the University of Missouri, Columbia, MO, Sept. 4-5, 2014. There will be nine speakers:- 6 invited speakers:
• Dave Estlund (keynote), Brown University,
• Serena Olsaretti (keynote), ICREA-Universitat Pompeu Fabra, Spain,
• Dick Arneson, UC San Diego,
• Niko Kolodny, UC Berkeley,
• Dani Attas, Hebrew University, Israel, and
• Anna Stilz, Princeton University
- 1 graduate student, whose paper will be selected from invited submissions (based on nominations from our Board of Advisors and from the speakers at the previous workshop; there are no open submissions for this slot);
- 2 recent Ph.D.s, defined as scholars who, as of April 1, 2014, are within fifteen (15) years of receiving a Ph.D. Independent scholars may also be eligible and should direct inquiries to the Editors of the Oxford Studies in Political Philosophy, care of Peter Vallentyne at email@example.com.
Information on submitting papers, and other relevant information about the workshop, can be found at the workshop website:http://oxfordstudies.arizona.edu/. Submissions are now being accepted. Registration to attend the workshop is also now open.
We would greatly appreciate your forwarding this email to colleagues and/or graduate students in your department, and to any other philosophers you believe might be interested in participating in the workshop.
|Looking back from Calahorra Tower towards the Mezquita|
|The mysterious FCH cat..|
In a large election, an individual vote is almost certain to make no difference to the outcome. Given that voting is inconvenient and time-consuming, this raises the question whether rational citizens should bother to vote.
It obviously depends on the citizen's values. For a completely selfish person, the answer may well be 'no'. Different election outcomes typically don't matter too much for an ordinary citizen's selfish interests; and a miniscule chance of a medium-sized gain does not offset the cost in time and inconvenience.
But most people aren't completely selfish. (And if the few completely selfish voters stay at home, that's no reason for concern.)
What if a potential voter cares about the outcome for others? To simplify, what if she is a pure act-utilitarian who wants to maximize the total expected happiness (or whatever) in the electorate? It is often said that this would still not make voting rational, so that we need to postulate some intrinsic value to voting, or a non-consequentialist obligation to vote.
Along the same lines, in his 1980 paper "Rule utilitarianism, rights, obligations and the theory of rational behavior", John Harsanyi uses the voting case to argue that rule utilitarianism leads to better outcomes than act utilitarianism: rule utilitarians would vote, act utilitarians would abstain.
But let's think this through. Here is one of Harsanyi's examples.
EXAMPLE 1. 1000 voters have to decide the fate of a socially very desirable policy measure M. All of them favor the measure. Yet it will pass only if all 1000 voters actually come to the polls and vote for it. But voting entails some minor costs in terms of time and inconvenience. The voters cannot communicate and cannot find out how many other voters actually voted or will vote.
Under these assumptions, if the voters are act utilitarians then each voter will vote only if he is reasonably sure that all other 999 voters will vote. Therefore, if even one voter doubts that all other voters will vote then he will stay home and the measure will fail. Thus, defeat of the measure will be a fairly likely outcome.
Is this correct? Let's figure out the decision matrix for an arbitrary member of the group.
We'll assume that everyone loses 1 util by voting. If everyone votes, this means that the group has lost 1000 utils in total. To get an interesting social dilemma (or an argument for rule utilitarianism), we want the state in which everyone votes to be better than the state in which everyone stays at home. So the net utility of the "very desirable measure" M must exceed 1000 utils. Let's say it is 2000 utils. The decision matrix for an arbitrary act-utilitarian voter now looks like this.
... 998 others vote 999 others vote vote ... -999 1000 don't vote ... -998 -999
Here, voting has highest expected utility iff the probability of 999 others voting is at least 1/2000. Our voter does not have to be "reasonably sure", as Harsanyi claims, that all the others will vote. Only if she is very confident that some of the others will stay at home is it rational for her to abstain.
Admittedly, in real life it may be reasonable to assign a probability of less than 1/2000 to the assumption that everyone else in a large group will do their share. But in real life we also rarely need absolutely everyone to do their share in order to reach a desirable outcome. Moreover, if we may be confident that at least one person will not show up, this is typically because it is reasonable to expect that at least one person isn't motivated or has forgotten or is unable to come. But if the chance of such a disturbance is in fact greater than 1/2, then groups of (act-utilitarian) non-voters perform better, in the long run, than groups of (rule-utiliarian) voters who often waste almost everyone's efforts.
So Harsanyi's example doesn't work. Nor do his other examples.
I think this illustrates a general fact: people aren't very good at calculating expected utilities -- not even experts in decision theory. We often use heuristics, such as only looking at the most probable state. Of course the (by far) most probable state is that your vote will make no difference. Similarly: reducing your carbon-offprint won't affect global warming, donating to cancer research won't affect whether new cures will be found, going vegetarian will not prevent the rise of antibiotic resistant bacteria. But for rational decision-makers, this is irrelevant. What matters is the expectation of the difference. It's worth sitting down and doing the math.
Religion, Philosophy and Ethics: The Examined LifePlato famously said that an unexamined life was not worth living. But what is an unexamined life? How would you live a life that had no religion, philosophy and ethics in it, and if you did, would that really be a problem?
Note: new deadline! (March 15th)
I am pleased to announce this call-for-papers for the Second Annual Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference (PCPC), which I have tentatively scheduled to occur at the University of Tampa on Saturday July 19 through Sunday July 20th, 2014. As was the case at this year's conference, the Second Annual PCPC will be unique in several respects:
It would be great to have some experimental philosophy talks. I hope to stream all talks live via the internet and, if time permits, take some audience questions from internet viewers by email.
To submit a paper to present at the PCPC, please email the following to firstname.lastname@example.org by MARCH 15th, 2014: (1) a blinded (i.e. anonymized) paper, (2) a separate title page with the author's name, contract information, and brief paper abstract, and (3) a statement concerning whether you intend to attend the conference in person or only via Skype.
Decision emails indicating whether your paper has been accepted should be sent out around May, 2014. Finally, please bear the following in mind: In order to ensure that the conference is well-attended, there will be relatively few Skype sessions -- so the probability that your paper will be accepted is higher should you state in your submission email that you can attend in person. Submission of a paper comprises a tacit agreement to serve as a commentator or session chair should your paper be accepted and you accept the invitation to present.
Just a quick note to let y'all know that, together with Andrew Higgins and Jacob Levernier, I've started to map human values by data-mining obituaries. The basic idea is to display networks of the traits and other good-making features attributed to people in their obituaries. Here's an example, based on obituaries from Eugene, Oregon:
The size of the words indicates the number of other words that co-occurred with them in a single obituary. The thickness and brightness of the edge connecting a pair of terms indicates how many times those terms co-occurred. Terms that share their color grouped together in much the same way that items in a factor analysis group together: they tend to co-occur with each other and not with other terms. The pink and light-blue groups are probably too small to interpret, but the others seem to meaningful. For instance, the green group is centered on humor and agreeableness. The red group seems to be mostly a matter of political liberalism. And the dark-blue group seems to be about commitment to the local community.
I'll be putting up more of these and discussing them at my blog.
The problem of how best to explain the truth-making relation is a vexed one for truth-maker theory. As Raimi points out in his introductory survey, theories of this relation face four main difficulties:An adequate definition of the truth-maker relation must satisfy at least four conditions. It should not fall victim to any of the following problems: (i) the problem of counterintuitive truth-makers; (ii) the problem of excluded truth-makers; (iii) the problem of missing truth-makers; and (iv) the problem of unnecessary truth-makers. A definition falls victim to the first problem if it classifies as truth-makers for a certain proposition entities that are intuitively not truth-makers for this proposition. It falls victim to the second problem if it fails to classify as a truth-maker for a certain proposition an entity that intuitively is a truth-maker for this proposition. It falls victim to the third problem if it fails to account for any truth-maker for a certain proposition that intuitively has a truth-maker. Finally, it falls victim to the fourth problem if it classifies a truth-maker for a proposition that intuitively has no truth-maker. (Truth and Truth-Making, pp 13-4)In this paper I propose an account which I hope will not succumb to any of these problems. Section 2 sketches a couple of the major accounts that have been given of the truth-making relation, and explains what their problems are. In Section 3 I explain the basic ideas behind my own proposal, where I introduce the idea of reference-making, and use it to account for the idea of truth-making for subject-predicate sentences, taking a truth-maker to be a reference-maker for a sentence. In Section 4, I give a quasi-formal account of how it can be applied to truth-functional compounds, quantified sentences, and modal sentences. Section 5 gives a reply to Greg Restall’s arguments that logical considerations lead quickly to the trivialization of the truth-making relation: that everything is a truth-maker for every true truth-bearer. I show that this does not hold for my approach, and in the process show how it avoids problem (i). Next, in Section 6 I discuss some of its philosophical implications. Then, in Section 7, I show how my account, contrary to first appearance, can be tweaked to avoid truth value gaps. Section 8 answers objections to my views. Finally, I conclude the paper in Section 9.