Below is the program for the next SLACRR. You can learn more and register at the website.
I hope to see you in St. Louis this May!
SLACRR 2014 Program - May 18-20, 2014
John Broome (Oxford) - Normativity in Reasoning
Jennifer Frey (South Carolina) - Against autonomy
Chair: Samuel Asarnow (Stanford)
Jeff Behrends (Illinois State) - Problems and solutions for a hybrid account of normative grounding
Chair: Jennifer Morton (CCNY)
Daniel Wodak (Princeton) - Mere formalities
Chair: Douglas Portmore (Arizona State)
Barry Maguire (NYU) - There are no right kind of reasons for (non-epistemic) attitudes
Chair: Kathryn Lindeman (Pittsburgh)
Michael Bratman (Stanford) - Self-reinforcing norms of planning agency
Chair: Alida Liberman (Southern California)
Daniel Fogal (NYU) - The non-fundamentality of reasons
Chair: Elizabeth Harman (Princeton)
Justin Snedegar (St. Andrews) - Reasons, oughts, requirements
Chair: Bruno Guindon (McGill)
Lindsay Crawford (UC-Berkeley) - How does rational ability constrain epistemic obligation?
Chair: Abe Roth (Ohio State)
Jennifer Carr (Leeds) - Anything mushy can do, sharp can do better
Chair: Julia Staffel (Washington University)
Alex Worsnip (Yale) - The irrelevance of evidence (to rationality)
Chair: Caroline Arruda (UTEP)
In her 2012 paper "Subjunctive Credences and Semantic Humility" (2012), Sarah Moss presents an interesting case due to John Hawthorne.
Suppose that it is unlikely that you perform a certain physical movement M tomorrow, though in the unlikely event that you contract a rare disease D, the chance of your performing M is high. Suppose also that the combination of contracting D and performing M causes death. Then many judge that the objective chance of 'if you were to perform M tomorrow, you would die' is low, but the conditional objective chance of this subjunctive given that you perform M is high.
The intuitive judgments Moss reports are
(1) Ch(M => Die) 0.5
(2) Ch(M => Die/ M) > 0.5
where 'Ch' stands for objective chance and '=>' is the subjunctive conditional. Since the chances are known, it is also plausible that
(3) Cr(M => Die) 0.5
where 'Cr' denotes credence. After all, you're unlikely to have the disease, and you're not going to get it by performing M. So it's unlikely that you would die if you were to perform M.
Moreover, by the centring principle for conditionals, (2) simplifies to
(4) Ch(Die/M) > 0.5
This also looks plausible, and it can be justified by simple probabilistic reasoning. The crucial point is that M is much more likely given D than given ~D. For concreteness, let's say that
(5) Ch(M/D) = 0.99
(6) Ch(M/~D) = 0.01
(7) Ch(D) = 0.1
By Bayes's Theorem, it follows that Ch(D/M) = 0.917. And since D & M entails death, Ch(Die/M) is at least 0.917. So (4) is correct.
Together, (3) and (4) provide a counterexample to Skyrms's Thesis, which says that one's credence in subjunctive conditionals should equal one's expectation of the corresponding conditional chance. Somewhat simplified:
(ST) Cr(A => C / Ch(C/A)=x) = x
There are well-known limitations to Skyrms's Thesis, but they typically involve agents with "inadmissible information". Nothing like this seems to be going on in Hawthorne's scenario.
I think what the scenario brings out is that Skyrms's Thesis relies on a special conception of chance on which (4) is actually false.
Here is the argument against (4). Suppose you do not have the disease D. In this case, what's the chance that you die if you perform M? Practically zero. M is evidence for D, but it doesn't cause you to have the disease if you don't already have it. So on the assumption that you don't have the disease, Ch(D/M)=0. Similarly, if you do have the disease, then M won't cure it: Ch(D/M)=1. Now we don't know whether you have D, and so we don't know whether the conditional chance is 1 or 0, but it's much more likely to be 0 than 1. The expectation of the chance is below 0.5, as predicted by (ST).
So what's wrong with the above derivation of (4)? The derivation relied on a statistical conception of chance. Statistically, there is a high probability of M given D, and a high inverse probability of D given M: most agents who perform M have D, and most patients with D perform M. But subjunctive conditionals and subjunctive credence does not track mere statistical correlation. So the chance Ch in Skyrms's Thesis shouldn't be interpreted in this statistical way.
Statistically, there's a high chance that you're a woman if you by a certain magazine. That doesn't mean that a given male shopper would be a woman if he were to buy the magazine.
But the case does raise a worry. Philosophers with sympathies for Skyrms's Thesis (including Skyrms himself) often don't want to restrict chance to fundamental micro-physical propensities. They want to extend the principle to the higher-level probabilities of statistical mechanics. But aren't these statistical chances?
According to statistical mechanics, there's a high chance that an ice cube will melt if it is dropped in hot coffee. The chance is not 1 because there are unusual configurations of ice and coffee that would prevent the melting. Now suppose I have some ice and coffee in this unusual configuartion, so that the ice wouldn't melt if I were to drop it in the coffee. In a sense, there is still a high chance that the ice would melt, but this seems to be a merely statistical sense. Why does Skyrms's Thesis apply here, but not in Hawthorne's case or in the case of the shopper?
Many of you will know that John Stuart Mill advocates a scheme whereby college graduates, and the more educated more generally, would get more votes. Like some universities, he even accepts work experience in leiu of formal education:
If every ordinary unskilled labourer had one vote, a skilled labourer, whose occupation requires an exercised mind and a knowledge of some of the laws of external nature, ought to have two. A foreman, or superintendent of labour, whose occupation requires something more of general culture, and some moral as well as intellectual qualities, should perhaps have three. A farmer, manufacturer, or trader, who requires a still larger range of ideas and knowledge, and the power of guiding and attending to a great number of various operations at once, should have three or four. A member of any profession requiring a long, accurate, and systematic mental cultivation—a lawyer, a physician or surgeon, a clergyman of any denomination, a literary man, an artist, a public functionary (or, at all events, a member of every intellectual profession at the threshold of which there is a satisfactory examination test) ought to have five or six. A graduate of any university, or a person freely elected a member of any learned society, is entitled to at least as many ("Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform").
Virtually everyone today agrees that this is a terrible idea. But why?
Some elaboration and clarification about Mill's thinking: Remember that he's writing in a context in which a largely uneducated working class is on the verge of being enfranchised. In the essay that I quoted above, he presents plural voting as necessary if there is to be universal suffrage. His aim to prevent it from being the case that working class candidates win in every district, so that only one point of view is represented in Parliament. In the slightly later Considerations on Representative Government he backs away from the claim that it is a necessary condition of universal suffrage, although he continues to endorse it in principle. (What happened in between is that he discovered proportional representation, and became convinced that universal suffrage would be tolerable as long as the intelligensia could band together and elect at least a few of their number.)
Mill is not especially attached to the numbers in the passage above; he doesn't even repeat them in Considerations on Representative Government. He is clear that those who get extra votes shouldn't get enough additional ballots to allow them outvote the "one-voters" if the one-voters stick together. In addition to accepting "work experience," he also calls for national examinations that would let anyone prove herself worth of additional votes regardless of formal education or profession. (The feminine pronoun here isn't ahistorical; Mill was the first to propose in Parliament that women be given the vote on equal terms with men.)
Mill offers three main lines of argument for plural voting. In short, these are that:
When all have votes, it will be both just in principle and necessary in fact, that some mode be adopted of giving greater weight to the suffrage of the more educated voter; some means by which the more intrinsically valuable member of society, the one who is more capable, more competent for the general affairs of life, and possesses more of the knowledge applicable to the management of the affairs of the community, should, as far as practicable, be singled out, and allowed a superiority of influence proportioned to his higher qualifications ("Thoughts on Parliamentary Reform").
An obvious question to have here is whether Mill believes that plural voting would still be justified in a polity in which virtually everyone has a decent education. While I seem to be in the minority of his interpreters here, I take his answer to be that he would, and indeed that he would even consider it to remain justified if people were so equally well educated that virtually everyone got the same number of votes; see the passage that I quoted above under point #2 (in connection with the "education" argument), in which he says that he would remain in favor even if plural voting lacked any "direct political consequences."
Everyone with whom I've ever discussed plural voting agrees that this is one of Mill's worst ideas. Indeed, it's so universally regarded as absurd that I seldom hear people offer actual arguments against it; arguments seem unnecessary. Nor have I ever really articulated why I think it's a clunker of an idea, although I am quite sure that it is; when it comes up in class I just tell students that no one who has been to a faculty senate meeting could be in favor. For a project that I'm working on now, though, it would be useful to hear from others precisely why they oppose it (as I assume that you all do). Is it merely impractible or wrong on principle? Do Mill's arguments not convince, and if so why not?
The Editors announce the first issue of Law, Ethics and Philosophy, a peer-reviewed international journal dedicated to work in ethics, legal theory, and social and political philosophy.
The issue was published in December 2013, and is freely accessible at http://www.leap-journal.com/current-issue.html. It contains essays by Michael Smith, Joanna Firth, and Travis Hreno, an exchange between Kasper Lippert-Rasmussen and Thomas Pogge examining the moral status of violent resistance to global injustice, and a symposium on Zoopolis: A Political Theory of Animal Rights by Alisdair Cochrane and Oscar Horta, with replies by the book’s authors, Sue Donaldson and Will Kymlicka.
Potential contributors to LEAP should consult the submissions guidelines available at http://www.leap-journal.com/submissions.html.
Many philosophers (such as J. H. Sobel, R. J. Wallace, G. Harman, M. Bratman, and J. D. Velleman) endorse something along the lines of the following normative requirement regarding intention:
R1: It is impermissible/irrational for S both to intend to X and to believe that she will not X (even if she intends to X).
And I think that most (all?) philosophers endorse something along the lines of this requirement of instrumental rationality:
R2: It is impermissible/irrational for S to intend to Y, believe that X-ing is a necessary means to Y-ing, but not intend to X.
But are there any philosophers who endorse the following requirement?R3: It is impermissible/irrational for S both to intend to X and to prefer some possible world in which S doesn't X to any possible world in which S does X and also impermissible/irrational for S both to intend not to X and to prefer some possible world in which S does X to any possible world in which S doesn't X.
[Updated 6:39 AM: Please see third comment below for a clearer formulation of R3.]
Regardless, is R3 plausible or not? And are there any other normative requirements regarding intention that seem at least as plausible as R1, R2, and/or R3?
I would welcome any thoughts or citations regarding these issues.
Warren Quinn’s puzzle of the self-torturer is supposed to show that cyclic preferences can be rational, and that, in cases where they are, rationality can require resoluteness so that the agent does not end up with an alternative that is worse than the one with which s/he started.
As Quinn makes explicit, his concern is with instrumental rationality. It is thus natural to interpret Quinn’s use of “worse” as “worse, relative to the agent’s preferences.” But how is “X is worse than Y, relative to the agent’s preferences” to be understood when X and Y are part of a preference cycle?
An amusing passage from a recent paper by Erik and Martin Demaine on the hypar, a pleated hyperbolic paraboloid origami structure:
Recently we discovered two surprising facts about the hypar origami model. First, the first appearance of the model is much older than we thought, appearing at the Bauhaus in the late 1920s. Second, together with Vi Hart, Greg Price, and Tomohiro Tachi, we proved that the hypar does not actually exist: it is impossible to fold a piece of paper using exactly the crease pattern of concentric squares plus diagonals (without stretching the paper). This discovery was particularly surprising given our extensive experience actually folding hypars. We had noticed that the paper tends to wrinkle slightly, but we assumed that was from imprecise folding, not a fundamental limitation of mathematical paper. It had also been unresolved mathematically whether a hypar really approximates a hyperbolic paraboloid (as its name suggests). Our result shows one reason why the shape was difficult to analyze for so long: it does not even exist!
Ordinary language allows naming and quantifying over such objects, which suggests that they must have some kind of existence or being after all. Similarly, familiar systems of quantified modal logic entail that whatever might have existed (such as Vulcan or the hypar) actually exists. Since in fact none of these objects exist, we should reject the relevant systems of modal logic, and take care not to draw metaphysical conclusions from intuitive statements of ordinary language.
Metaphysicians often go the other way, claiming that phlogiston, Vulcan, along with Sherlock Holmes and Emma Woodhouse, all exist. On this view, when we allegedly discovered that Vulcan doesn't exist, we really only discovered that Vulcan is not a real planet but rather some kind of abstract object.
What about the hypar, the largest prime, or the quintic formula? These things were never meant to be concrete, so it is hardly reassuring to be told that they are real but abstract objects. Moreover, can't we prove that they don't exist? What's wrong with these proofs?
One might try to draw a distinction between Vulcan and the hypar and say that non-existent mathematical objects are genuinely non-existent. But that looks like a dangerous position, since most of the arguments that support the existence of Vulcan also support the existence of the hypar.
Commentary by Margaret Olivia Little and Jake Earl
Does a human baby have more moral status than a cat if they have similar occurrent cognitive and emotional capacities? For those not wishing to argue that mere membership in the kind ‘human being’ confers moral status, the question is a famously vexing one. It might seem that the difference in status between the cat and those reading this commentary, say, is explained by the latter’s sophisticated cognitive and emotional capacities (to reason, to care, to choose, etc.), which the cat lacks. Yet infants obviously have not (yet) obtained these capacities. More troubling still, there are humans with severe cognitive disabilities that will prevent them from ever obtaining these capacities. Must we then say infants and the cognitively disabled have the same moral status as cats?
In their article, Agnieszka Jaworska and Julie Tannenbaum offer a novel, deeply sophisticated, and fascinating theory to defend the intuition that such humans do have at least some degree of higher status than cats. The theory anchors that status in the infants’ capacity to engage in activities that could count, by virtue of reasonably being subsumed in a “person rearing relationship,” as the early, proto-stages of the very kinds of activities (reasoning, caring, choosing) whose value grounds the robust moral status of humans like you. Human infants have this capacity; no cat does. The capacity to engage in proto-versions of such status-grounding activities shares in at least some of the value of the capacity to engage in their matured versions, thus conferring higher moral status on those capable of them.
The theory begins with three key claims: First, the end that guides an activity can change what that activity is and the value that it has. Two physically identical activities can nonetheless differ in their nature and value depending on the aims under which they are subsumed: typing sentences can have the value of struggling to write one’s dissertation, or can be a much less valuable exercise of merely writing loosely related statements (246). Of course, there are various conditions that must be met for an end to transform the nature and value of activities in this way; critically, there must be a reasonable possibility of achieving the end (246-49). But when these conditions are met, ends have the power to alter or transform the value of a wide range of activities.
Second, our ends can be supplied by others besides ourselves. The ends of our teacher might transform our waxing a car into practicing martial arts; similarly, our otherwise praiseworthy activities might be worthy of regret when they have been unwittingly enlisted in a villain’s scheming. Though we may be ignorant of those ends, just in case they do counterfactually shape the form of our activities, our activities become subsumed by others’ ends and can thereby inherit at least degrees of their value (or disvalue) (246).
Third, efforts to model more sophisticated activities in an attempt to “learn by doing” qualify as incomplete realizations of the modeled skill or practice, and in so doing acquire some degree of its value (249). Even the earliest attempts can be proto-instances of a matured activity if they are directed toward developing that matured version. Efforts of a society to become just (think South Africa circa 1994), or playing to become a great tennis player, seem to share in at least some degree of the nature and value of the matured forms of the practiced activity, quite unlike half-hearted social reform or lazy tennis-playing (250-51).
Apply these three key claims to Jaworska and Tannenbaum’s central case of a cognitively normal infant – say, a 9-month old being reared by her parents (253). Many of the infant’s activities are incomplete realizations of the valuable activities of reasoning, caring, and choosing (253-55). Why? Because those activities are directed, and reasonably so, in part by the parents’ ends of teaching and developing the child into a mature (“self-standing”) person. It is more than simply peek-a-boo, it is an early lesson in rule-following; it is more than cuddling, it is an early form of emotional attachment and care for another. Playing peek-a-boo is not just a fun way to spend time, that is: like any number of other small and large efforts, it is also subsumed under the parents’ broad end of turning the infant into a reasoner, carer, and chooser. They are instances, as it were, of practicing, learning, and developing into a matured person. This is something one cannot do with a cat, however much one may try, for engaging with a cat cannot meet the reasonability constraints on the transformative power of ends. As early forms, these activities share in at least some degree of the value of those very activities more fully realized.
Now, often it is only activities, not the capacity for them, that carries value – it is the excellent tennis playing, not just the capacity to engage in it, that carries value. But the issues relevant to moral status are different. It is the capacity for reasoning, caring, and choosing – not just their discrete exercises of them – that carries value (256).
Just so with the infant’s capacities: The infant has the capacity to perform highly incompletely realized versions of status-conferring activities, whether or not any adult has actually subsumed the infant’s activities as part of a person-rearing relationship. She has those capacities just in case someone could reasonably subsume them under the end of developing her into a cognitively and emotionally mature human – a “self-standing person,” as they put it. Hence, whether or not a cognitively normal infant is being reared, she now has the capacity to engage in those proto-versions of status-conferring activities. (256-57). Exercising the capacity requires being in relationship, but the capacity for such activity inheres in the child herself. Hence, while Jaworska and Tannenbaum’s theory grounds the higher moral status of infants in a relational element, it yields objective and impartial reasons for moral regard of infants even in cases where no such relationship actually exists. (256-7)
It is a rich and fascinating theory. Some will balk at the claims about how ends, including those of others’, can transform the nature and value of activities and capacities. But the theory is deeply important for those who are friendly to these ways of understanding ontology, since it shows that such approaches have the resources for dealing with difficult questions about moral status. Indeed, much of their theory overlaps with the psychological notion of proleptic engagement – engagements that turn someone into (the next stage of) a person by treating them as already belonging in that next stage. In this article, the general idea of proleptic engagement cantilevers the intuition that it is our capacities for sophisticated cognitive function that grounds our higher moral status, thereby extending it to possession of the capacity to engage in proto-versions of the activities indicative of high moral status.
What, then, should we think of the theory? In particular, what should we think of the relational element in the explanation of infants’ high moral status? Given the modality of this grounding (it is the capacity to be in a person-rearing relationship), it does not require that there currently be a person on the scene who could engage in a relationship of developing, but that there could be. This is crucial to the view’s intuitive appeal, since most will want to say that the infant now has the capacity, even if there is no one now available to engage in the relationship.
Still, one may begin to wonder how far this goes. If there were creatures who were able to take our modest abilities and scaffold them into a matured activity valuable beyond our current ken, does that mean we (currently) have higher moral status than we thought? It seems that determining relative moral status could be difficult, if my status is fixed by my capacities to participate in relationships, and the possibility space for relationships is an unknown variable, given that it depends in large part on the abilities of possible rearers.
In the same vein, what kinds of activities count as learning depends in part on various contingent factors in the environment. Does a child with severe ADHD have the capacity to learn calculus? Many will say yes, even if it can only be achieved with the aid of medicine. But if the alien beings had a medicine that could similarly help us, in conjunction with a relationship, to develop a yet higher valued capacity (not just reasoning and caring but some jazzy, even angelic capacity), does that now give us that higher value? Or does the fact that they have an enhancement drug that would allow us to rear our cats now give them higher status?
We ask these questions to point to a broad question about just how extensive the capacity for incompletely realized activities might be, given that whether one has the capacity depends upon what others – and potentially factors in the contingent environment – are able to do.
The second half of the paper goes further yet, extending higher moral status to human beings that are now the cognitive equivalent of that 9-month old, but have no chance for developing sophisticated cognitive capacities, whether because of severe disability or a fatal disease. It might seem that Jaworska and Tannenbaum have painted themselves into a corner here, given that it is unreasonable for someone to engage such infants in a person-rearing projects (since they will never be sophisticated reasoners, carers, choosers, no matter what we do with them). However, the authors argue for an ingenious work-around for this difficulty.
Parents of infants have a special obligation to adopt the end of their flourishing, which includes developing them into a self-standing person; if the infant has some tragedy that impairs the possibility of her developing – a cognitively disabling condition, or an illness that will strike her down before she can fully develop, the parents still have an obligation to regulate the relationship by a ‘second best’ standard, doing what they can to approximate the (admittedly unreachable) goal of their child’s flourishing (259-62). Taken together, these considerations argue that the reasonability requirement for the transformative power of ends can be met in the case of children without hope of ever developing sophisticated cognitive and emotional capacities: given a parent’s special obligations to a child, it is reasonable, as a second-best option, to engage the child in a person-rearing project, which in turn confers higher moral status (264-67).
On this extension of the central account, then, the child’s higher moral status does not merely depend on her capacity to do an activity whose value can be transformed by a person-rearing relationship: it also depends on a prior moral obligation of someone to be in that relationship with her. This is a significant further condition, and warrants a few thoughts.
First, some will wonder whether the claim about parental obligation doesn’t put the cart before the horse. On many theories of special obligations, including parental ones, such obligations essentially serve to offer special protections of morally important interests; but the parental obligations cannot serve that purpose here, since they are antecedent to the very interests whose moral importance we are trying to establish. In other words, if the child does not have high moral status (higher than cats, that is) prior to her parents being specially obligated to care for her, then why should we take those obligations so seriously?
Another question is whether one party’s special obligation is the right sort of thing to ground impartial moral status. An alternative theory might say that the obligations Jaworska and Tannenbaum cite explain why parents, and by extension we, have obligations to their highly compromised infants – because whether or not they are persons, they are children, and that this explains why other participants in our form of life (but not, say, Martians) owe stronger protections to them than to cats with similar capacities. An alternative theory, that is, might say that the appeal to obligations of the second-best are insightful explications of deep obligations that are nonetheless partialist.
Assuming these concerns can be addressed, what are we to think about severely cognitively disabled children who have no moral parents? Perhaps someone is specially obligated to enter into a parent-child relationship with such children, but absent someone actually entering into such a relationship, it would seem that the cognitively disabled orphan has a lower status that that of his parented counterparts. Here it seems that we cannot advert to the capacity of the child to be engaged in a person-rearing project, as was done in the case of orphaned cognitively typical children, since the disabled child has no such capacity absent the existence of an adult who has special obligations to provide for his flourishing.
A final point. In the course of defending the moral obligation of parents to rear children like Ashley, we noted that the theory makes two key claims: that parental obligation here is conceptually prior to and exists independent of children’s moral status, and that parents have an obligation to protect and further the flourishing of their children. While questions of abortion are not the focus or interest of this paper, we wonder whether these two claims carry independent implications for that issue. Just in case one believes (as we think Jaworska and Tannenbaum may, given the Aristotelian flavorings they embrace) that the human organism at even its early stages has conditions of flourishing, it may well be that, whatever the impartial reasons others have toward the fetus, it would thus be highly problematic for a woman to abort the fetus she carries. This points to interesting – and themselves vexed issues in status – about when in the life of a human organism it has the capacity for flourishing, in general, when that life counts as a child, and the whether and in what sense the gestating woman is a parent.
Do you enjoy puzzles? Yeah? Well then, let me share one with you. John Basl (Northeastern University) and I have had some fruitful conversations about it; and we have some views about how to address it (and some views about how not to); but in the spirit of collective inquiry and intellectual theft let me take this opportunity to solicit your initial responses.
The puzzle might be construed either in terms of rationality or theoretical justification, but it is roughly as follows:
Why are we permitted to revise our moral/normative/evaluative beliefs in light of non-moral beliefs but not vice versa?
Indeed, while it’s clear we are often guilty of sub-consciously shaping the facts to fit our evaluative commitments (e.g. the powerful correlations between political ideology “climate skepticism”, 911 conspiracy theories, and beliefs about the president’s religion and birthplace), we all disavow this a proper way to form our non-moral beliefs.As obvious as this may seem, the puzzle is how to best explain why this is so and then sorting out what the implications may be for meta-ethics, moral epistemology, and even epistemology more generally....A related illustration and way of framing the issue might help get your intellectual juices flowing:
While there is significant doubt about the possibility of deriving a normative conclusion from purely descriptive premises, deriving an is from an ought seems relatively straightforward:
A. Act utilitarianism is true
B. It is always morally wrong to kill an innocent child.
C It never maximizes utility to kill an innocent child.
Though C is logically entailed by A and B, it also seems clear that one makes some serious mistake were they to infer C from A and B. Imagine a sheltered scientist or an isolated hermit who decides to give up direct empirical investigation and instead turns to learning about the empirical world via a study of morality. For example, he might appeal to powerful intuitive responses to killing innocent children, and then appeal to what he takes to be unique and compelling theorhetical virtues of act utilitarianism, and thus some justification for both A and B. So does he thereby have some (defeasible) justification for C? If not, why not? What exactly is wrong with our scientist/hermit’s research program?
So here are some specific questions you might use to frame your response.
1. Can we agree these inferences are problematic?
2. If so, to what extent and why?
a. Is there a general problem with moral to non-moral inferences?
b. Is it a unique problem with respect to the moral?
I’m excited to hear what you have to say, and please say hello and introduce yourself to John when he chimes in during the exchange.
Christian (and John)
I hope many of you can join the discussion!
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?
Once again, it's my great pleasure to welcome you to another edition of the Featured Philosophers. I hope you all will welcome Justin D'Arms and Daniel Jacobson!
Thanks very much to the editors of PEA Soup for this opportunity, and thanks in advance to any Soupers who are willing to put their brainpower to work on our project for bit. We have been only occasional participants here over the years, because it is a struggle for us to operate at the speed of Soup. But we admire those of you who do, and we’re excited to have a chance to try out some ideas on this excellent group of philosophers. So we’ll do our best to keep up for a little while.
We are working on a book, Rational Sentimentalism, about a class of values that we call sentimental values. These are values like shameful, funny, disgusting, and fearsome, which have an essential connection to natural emotions: emotions such as shame, amusement, pride, etc. which we contend are pan-cultural psychological kinds that can be characterized independently of the values we want to use them to explain. We defend a sentimentalist theory of these values, which will be familiar to most of you as a form of fitting attitude theory, on which the emotions are amenable to rational justification. Roughly: to think something F (shameful, funny, etc.) is to think it fitting to feel F (shame, amusement) toward it. Equivalently, this is to think the object merits response F. Among our goals in the book is to convince philosophers that these are important human values, which deserve more attention than they have yet received; that they require a sentimentalist treatment in virtue of their essential connection to the human emotional repertoire; and that the nature of these emotions lay down substantive constraints on what it is tenable to claim about the shameful, disgusting, funny, and so forth.
We have written a number of papers bearing on different aspects of this project, and we are happy to talk about any of them. But here we are going to try out a new line of argument on you, from a draft of one of our chapters. The argument is our response to a line of thinking that is skeptical about sentimental values. We often encounter it in discussion, and a version of it has been developed nicely by Francois Schroeter. It goes like this:
(1) The natural emotions are fast and frugal heuristics that are pretty good, but imperfect, devices adapted to track and respond to certain response-independent features of our environment that are important for our survival: things like danger (for fear), contamination (for disgust), and so on.
[D/J: We accept something like this as a functional characterization of the natural emotions and a breezy explanation of their place in human nature.]
(2) Insofar as the emotions are concerned with anything significantly valuable, it is with the dangerous, the contaminated, and so forth.
[We will ultimately accept this, but only by arguing that these concepts are covertly response-dependent.]
(3) So if the fearsome and the disgusting are stipulated to be whatever merits fear and disgust, then either they should be identified with these response-independent properties, or else they don’t matter much in comparison.
[This is the claim we reject, of course, and our purpose here is to argue against it.]
We call this line of thought shadow skepticism, because it suggests that the sentimental values are mere shadows of response-independent properties—specifically, emotion-independent properties. This challenge can be launched against sentimentalism across the board, on the grounds that the sentimental values are mere shadows of what really matter: response-independent properties, whether empirical or evaluative, to which the emotions are sensitive. But shadow skepticism seems much more tempting about some sentimental values than others, and nowhere more so than with the fearsome. Why care about the fearsome, understood as what merits fear, unless the fearsome just is the dangerous? This is a natural thought, since accounts of what fear concerns, its generic appraisal (or core relational theme), inevitably point to danger or some near synonym, such as the threat of harm. And it is generally assumed that dangerousness is independent of fear. Thus Jesse Prinz (2006: 64) claims: “Fear represents the property of being dangerous…[it] does not represent a response-dependent property.” Now the shadow skeptic can press his dilemma: If what merits fear is simply the dangerous, then it seems that the putatively sentimental value can be reduced to a response-independent one; but if it is anything other than the dangerous, then surely the fearsome is much less important.
We will argue, to the contrary, that dangerous only captures the value that matters in the vicinity of fear insofar as it is covertly response-dependent. There is no good response-independent notion of danger of which the fearsome might be a mere shadow. Hence to ask whether something is dangerous, at least in the most important sense of the term, just is to ask whether it merits fear. This comports with our general response to shadow skepticism, which we think drastically underestimates the degree to which people care about when emotional responses are and are not fitting. We aim to meet the shadow skeptic here, on what we take to be his strongest ground: fear and danger.
What is at issue between the sentimentalist and the shadow skeptic is whether there is a property to which the emotion is plausibly sensitive, and which can be characterized independently of that sentiment (and related emotional responses). In order to succeed, shadow skepticism must meet both criteria. Without independence, the theory is sentimentalist. Without sensitivity, it is a different and more radical skeptical claim, akin to the claims of the Stoics who proposed that one should ignore emotional concerns (with danger, contamination, slights, and so forth) because these are matters of indifference. On this view, one should not care about the sentimental values at all. Rather than take up this radical suggestion, here we address a form of skepticism that grants that fear, shame, and disgust track significant properties, but which aims to capture those properties in response-independent terms. We contend that it is more difficult than it appears to give a response-independent account of the dangerous, and that attempts to do so fall prey to the same problems besetting incongruity and contamination as accounts of the funny and disgusting. Schroeter’s attempt to explicate dangerousness is illustrative of the general problem. He (2006: 343; emphasis added) writes:
[S]omething is dangerous just in case it is liable to cause harm. The crucial question one needs to answer when it comes to evaluations of danger is whether an object or situation poses a threat, especially to the relevant subject’s bodily integrity.
This exemplifies the shadow skeptic’s impulse to find some empirical property that our emotions evolved to respond to, and then argue that it is what matters in the vicinity. But though it seems plausible to claim that something is dangerous just in case it is liable to cause harm, what exactly does that mean? There are two issues here, concerning the concepts of harm and liability, which we will treat sequentially.
Consider what Schroeter identifies as the crucial question: does something pose a threat to the subject’s bodily integrity? Since the goal is to locate a (perhaps complex) property to which fear is sensitive, such a narrow focus on the subject and her bodily integrity will not suffice. Many other things than the subject’s bodily integrity have to count as dangers, as Schroeter (2006: 344) ultimately concedes, though he seems to consider this a minor difficulty that can be solved by extending the notion of harm to include “damage to the subject’s mental well-functioning and even to conditions which might incapacitate subjects in fulfilling important functions in their lives—as, for instance, loss of economic independence or social status.” Even this expansion is inadequate, though, since dangers need not threaten one’s basic capacities or mental functioning. We are here supposing that harm is intended to be an empirical notion, connected in the first place to something like bodily integrity and now widened to include psychological damage and even vague malfunction; but this progression in what must be allowed to count as a harm demonstrates the difficulty facing the shadow skeptic. Minor threats to bodily integrity, such as trivial pains or the loss of some hair, pale in comparison to serious threats to other things we care much more about. A broken nail is nothing as compared to a broken heart. Various misfortunes count as things that merit fear even if they do not threaten one’s independence or status, or have consequences that can be captured with an empirical notion of incapacitation.
The crucial point here is that if harm really is so circumscribed, say to mental or physical injuries—even granting that we can operationalize the notion of a mental injury—then, if danger is liability to just such harm, the dangerous no longer seems more important than the fearsome after all. Grave threats to your well-being, such as the collapse of a marriage or financial disaster, matter more than harms so understood. Moreover, the suggestion that danger must threaten harm to the subject himself is surely wrong; it can also threaten other people and things he cares about deeply. Hence the range of what can be threatened must be expanded considerably, moving away from any empirical notion of harm (or function) toward some broader category of bad things that can happen to you and the things you care about, which better captures what merits fear.
The shadow skeptic need not claim that the sentimental values are shadows of valuable empirical properties, in order to threaten sentimentalism, just that they can be given an emotion-independent explication. So for the sake of argument, let us grant the shadow skeptic a notion of self-interest that, although not an empirical notion, might take the place of harm without trading illicitly on fear. He can then say that something is dangerous just in case it is liable to significantly damage one’s interests. This comes at a cost, since the idea that fear is a fast-and-frugal detector of whatever counts as a threat to one’s interests gives up some of the intuitive (naturalistic) rationale behind the shadow skeptic’s quest for an emotion-independent notion of danger. But even if the skeptic is willing to accept this cost, we doubt that he can specify a response-independent disvalue to which fear might be responsive.
The trouble is that liability is as problematic as harm when it comes to specifying the dangerous. If liable means possible, then the claim is false; plenty of things that could possibly damage one’s interests are not dangerous—if only because anything can be bad for you under some possible circumstances. If liable means likely, that too is false; some things that probably won’t harm you, like a game of Russian roulette, are nevertheless dangerous. But if liability is neither of these things then it is not at all clear what it is, and the attempt to specify a response-independent notion of danger is in jeopardy. This is the problem to which fear can be seen as the solution. What is dangerous is whatever counts as sufficiently likely and sufficiently bad that it merits my immediate and complete attention—the control precedence that characterizes emotional motivation: for fear, the demand that one focus attention (almost) exclusively on avoiding some threat.
We see two possible responses for the shadow skeptic. First, he can reply that anything that can possibly damage your interests is indeed dangerous, though some things are much less dangerous than others. This response is not intuitively plausible, since unlikely prospects of minor inconveniences are not dangers and it makes no sense to treat them as such. This suggestion fails to capture the sensitivity constraint, because fear is not in the business of tracking merely possible setbacks. The two most commonplace criticisms of unfitting fear are that the feared prospect is either insufficiently bad (as with fear of spiders) or insufficiently likely (fear of flying). A second option seems more promising. The skeptic can reply instead that dangers are prospects that reach some threshold of expected badness. Since people routinely face small risks fearlessly while fearing greater ones, fear is evidently subject to some sort of threshold effect.
Although this proposal is on the right track, we think it ultimately runs run afoul of the independence constraint, because one must appeal to an emotion—specifically to fear—in order to set the danger threshold. The question is: what level of expected disvalue does some threat have to reach in order to count as dangerous? No doubt the boundary is vague, and where it gets set in a given circumstance is surely context-sensitive in various ways. From the response-independent (“objective”) point of view, however, there seems to be no rationale for distinguishing, among the many negative changes in one’s prospects, which to count as dangers. Any specification of likelihood or severity would be arbitrary, and it would create seemingly pointless distinctions between admitted dangers that just barely rise above the threshold and putative non-dangers that fall just short. We are not unreasonably insisting that the shadow skeptic owes us an account of danger with no vagueness at its boundaries. The point is rather that we cannot see what response-independent question you are trying to answer when you wonder whether a given prospect is sufficiently likely and sufficiently bad to count as dangerous. But there is a good question that you could be trying to answer: you could be wondering whether the expected disvalue merits fear. Because fear is costly and does not scale downward incrementally, one cannot help but set thresholds in thinking about what things are worth fearing. This suggests that the threshold approach too is ultimately response-dependent and does not help the shadow skeptic meet the independence constraint after all.
Indeed, we think the problem cuts even more deeply against the shadow skeptic. From the objective perspective, the very project of identifying a class of dangers seems wrong-headed. According to rational choice theory, a decision-maker should govern his actions on the basis of expected utility, not danger. Both the focus on risk and the concern with thresholds seem gratuitous from this perspective, which sees fear as a kind of predicable irrationality. None of this implies that humans would be better off fearless, however, and that conclusion seems highly unlikely to us. Insofar as humans are also subject to other forms of predictable irrationality, such as being overly tempted by salient goods in our immediate vicinity, a form of systematic negative bias such as fear might be salutary. Even if this advantage depends on other deeply seated human characteristics that look like flaws from the perspective of pure practical rationality, nevertheless we are stuck being human. The ideal decision-maker of rational choice theory, who is unencumbered by fear and other emotions, may not be a model that humans would generally be well advised to emulate. We take the sentimental values to be anthropocentric, of no inherent interest to rational but dispassionate aliens; they are human values.
Hence we conclude that in order for the dangerous to matter as the shadow skeptic intends—for it to be “what ultimately interests us in our most important evaluative judgments” (Schroeter 2006: 346) about the objects of fear—it must be covertly response-dependent. The human concern for threats and the dangerous leads inevitably to a response-dependent account. By contrast, a thoroughly objective point of view would treat all prospects equivalently, without giving any gratuitous privilege to threats. It thus requires a far more radical revision than the shadow skeptic can accommodate: one that gives up on danger as an important evaluative concept altogether. Although this radical suggestion eventually requires a response from the sentimentalist, for now we take ourselves to have shown that the dangerous is best understood as a response-dependent property. If so then the shadow skeptic is mistaken even about his most promising case.
D’Arms, Justin and Daniel Jacobson (forthcoming). “Sentimentalism and Scientism.” Forthcoming in Moral Psychology and Human Agency: Philosophical Essays on the Science of Ethics. Justin D’Arms and Daniel Jacobson, eds. Oxford University Press (Oxford).
Price, Carolyn (2006). “Fearing Fluffy: The Content of an Emotional Appraisal.” Teleosemantics: New Philosophical Essays. Graham MacDonald and David Papineau, eds. Clarendon Press (Oxford).
Prinz, Jesse (2006). Gut Feelings: A Perceptual Theory of Emotions. Oxford University Press (New York).
Schroeter, Francois (2006). “The Limits of Sentimentalism.” Ethics 116: 337-361.
 See Schroeter (2006). Our discussion abstracts away from some of the details of his discussion, but our treatment of these issues is indebted to his development of the challenge, which he applies not only to the fearsome but also to sentimentalism generally.
 Throughout this discussion, by response-dependent properties we mean properties that are independent of emotional responses specifically; we are not concerned with other forms of response-dependency.
 Cf. Schroeter (2006: 346): “Even if fear is one of our most important emotions, we don’t care that much about when it is appropriate: once we know whether a situation is dangerous, we typically have little interest in finding out whether it warrants fear.”
 All these terms (danger, threat, harm) have wobble. One might expand the notion of harm instead. But we will give ‘harm’ to the shadow skeptic, understood as something like bodily integrity plus psychological functioning and incapacitation. But danger must then include other threats than harm.
 This notion of self-interest might even be response-dependent, in a more capacious sense: it might appeal for instance to informed desires. Shadow skepticism about the sentimental values is committed to emotion-independence, in particular.
 In humans fear motivates not quite stereotypical action—such as fight, freeze, or flight—as it does with many lower animals, but it has a characteristic action tendency that is not fully plastic: not every kind of action that can be seen as threat avoidance can be taken out of fear. This is not to say that it is impossible for humans to calmly negotiate with some threat when that has the best prospects for success; the claim is rather that this cannot be done out of fear but must be done by overcoming fear and its motivational urge. Cf. Price (2006).
 Of course not all fear of spiders or of flying is unfitting. When there are deadly spiders around, or conditions are especially unsafe for flying, then such fear can be fitting. These examples are chosen because they are common phobias: dispositions to unfitting (and often recalcitrant) fear.
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.
|The Francis Close Hall campus here in Cheltenham at the University of Gloucestershire|
Rutgers University will be hosting a five day metaphysics summer school for graduate students, running May 19th-23rd, 2014, and featuring Karen Bennett, Shamik Dasgupta, Laurie Paul, Jonathan Schaffer, and Ted Sider.
All local (NY/NJ area) graduate students are invited to attend.
Non-local graduate students must apply to attend, by sending the following to email@example.com by January 10, 2014:
• A single page cover letter
• A curriculum vitae
• A writing sample on any topic in metaphysics
• A brief letter of recommendation (which need be no more than one paragraph), sent from a professor familiar with your work
Applicants will be notified by February 1, 2014. Housing and possibly some limited financial support will be available for non-local graduate students.
On December 6-7 at NYU, we are hosting a conference on "The Brain Mapping Initiatives: Foundational Issues". The conference is devoted to foundational issues raised by recent brain mapping initiatives, such as the BRAIN initiative, the Human Brain project, the Human Connectome Project, and the Allen Brain Atlas. What can mapping the brain tell us about the human mind? What are the ethical implications? These issues will be discussed by leading cognitive neuroscientists and philosophers, including Cori Bargmann, Patricia Churchland, Nita Farahany, Sean Hill, Gary Marcus, Anthony Movshon, Anders Sandberg, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, Rafael Yuste, and Anthony Zador. Anyone who is interested is welcome. You can register (free but required) via the conference page.
The conference is co-sponsored by the NYU Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness and the Center for Bioethics. The Center for Mind, Brain, and Consciousness is a new center co-directed by Ned Block and me, devoted to foundational issues in the mind-brain sciences. It will be organizing many interdisciplinary events in the coming years, including annual conferences on foundational topics and regular debates at NYU. We will also be appointing post-doctoral fellows. In the short term, one of the Bersoff Fellowships currently being advertised at NYU will be assigned to the Center. Applications from people with interests in these areas are welcome. (The deadline is November 1; sorry about the short notice!)
I haven’t updated this for a while, have I? So it’s time for some updates.
Last weekend I was at a workshop on social epistemology at Arche. Miriam Schoenfield presented this great paper. I did a paper that was somewhat derivative of Jennifer Lackey’s work on generative testimony. (Well, perhaps more than somewhat – I’ll post it if I decide I really had anything interesting original to say.) I had to miss some papers so I could come back to America to work. But I did hear two interesting papers by Alvin Goldman and Jennifer Lackey on group belief. And I was wondering if anyone had defended the following idea for how to define the beliefs of a group in terms of the beliefs of the group members.
First, use some kind of credal aggregation function to get a group credence function out of the individual group member credences. This could be arithmetic averaging, or (better) it could be one of the more complicated functions that Ben Levinstein discusses in his thesis. Second, draw out one’s favourite theory of credal reductionism to define group beliefs in terms of group credences. My favourite such theory is interest-relative, and it’s possible that some propositions could be interesting to the group without being interesting to any member of the group, so this view wouldn’t be totally reductive.
This approach seems fairly simple-minded, but it does seem to avoid some of the problems that arise for other views in the literature. Hopefully I’ll get some time to read Christian List and Philip Pettit’s book on Group Agency, and see how the credence-first approach compares to theirs.
This will be the ninth bi-annual Young Epistemologist Prize (YEP) to be awarded. To be eligible, a person must have a Ph.D. obtained by the time of the submission of the paper but not earlier than ten (10) years prior to the date of the conference. Thus, for the Rutgers Epistemology Conference 8-10 May, 2015, the Ph.D. must have been awarded between May 8, 2005, and November 10, 2014.
The author of the prize winning essay will present it at the Rutgers Epistemology Conference and it will be published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. The winner of the prize will receive an award of $1,000 plus all travel and lodging expenses connected with attending the conference.
The essay may be in any area of epistemology. It must be limited to 6,000 words (including the footnotes but not the bibliography). Please send two copies of the paper as email attachments in a .pdf format to:
One copy must mask the author’s identity so that it can be evaluated blindly. The second copy must be in a form suitable for publication. The email should have the subject: “YEP Submission.” The email must be sent by 8 pm (EST) on November 10, 2014. The winner of the prize will be announced by February 16, 2015.
By submitting the essay, the author agrees not to submit it to another publication venue prior to February 16, 2015, and agrees i) to present the paper at the Rutgers Epistemology Conference, ii) to have it posted on the conference webpage, and iii) to have it published in Philosophy and Phenomenological Research.
All questions about the Young Epistemologist Prize should be sent to YEP@philosophy.rutgers.edu.
Sadly, it seems relevant to post another reminder about recent changes to UK Visa rules. Since 2012, it is impossible to (successfully) apply for a UK work visa if you have worked in the UK any time in the past 12 months. This will affect a lot of people who have rolling part-time positions in the UK. But what I hadn’t realised is that it is also hurting people moving between full-time jobs in the UK. And that’s a much more serious concern.
So in case you need (or will need) a UK work visa, and your would-be employer hasn’t kept up with all the visa changes that the Lib Dem/Tory government has brought in, it is very important to be aware of this rule.
I very much hope that the rule will be scrapped after the 2015 election; it seems to be causing harm without any obvious benefit. But I don’t think it would be a good idea to plan around that. For one thing, Labor might not win, or at least not win in their own right. (And I think we should act as if the Liberal Democrats are supporting policies that the government they partially constitute has introduced.) For another, new governments are often sadly tardy in fixing mistakes of the past governments, so even a Labor win doesn’t mean things start getting better that week. So even if your current UK visa expires after 2015, I’d start thinking about what you plan to do next, assuming that you can’t apply for another visa without a 12 month gap in employment.
|A student learning space at FCH|
|Journal of Buddhist Ethics|