Suppose a rational agent makes an observation, which changes the subjective probability she assigns to a hypothesis H. In this case, the new probability of H is usually sensitive to both the observation and the prior probability. Can we factor our the prior probability to get a measure of how the experience bears on the probability of H, independently of the prior probability?
A common answer, going back to Alan Turing and I.J.Good, is to use Bayes factors. The Bayes factor B(H) for H is the ratio (P'(H)/P'(not-H))/(P(H)/P(not-H)) of new odds on H to old odds. Thus the new odds on H are the old odds multiplied by the Bayes factor. For example, if the prior credence in H was 0.25 and the posterior is 0.5, then the odds on H changed from 1:3 to 1:1, and so the Bayes factor of the update is 3. The same Bayes factor would characterise an update from probability 0.01 to about 0.03 (odds 1:99 to 1:33) or from 0.9 to about 0.96 (odds 9:1 to 27:1).
Bayes factors satisfy the minimal conditions for an answer to our question:
(1) The new probability P'(H) is determined (in a simple, fixed way) by the old probabilities P and the Bayes factor B(H).
(2) A statement of the form B(H)=x entails nothing concrete about prior probabilities, except that P(H) is not 1.
Bayes factors also satisfy an attractive commutativity condition.
(3) Let E and F be two observations changing P(H) first to P'(H) and then to P''(H). In this case, the final result P''(H) is determined by the initial probability P(H) together with the Bayes factors for the two updates, irrespective of which Bayes factor belongs to E and which to F.
(Proof: consider two sequences of updates, one leading from P(H)=x via P'(H)=y1 to P''(H)=z1, the other from P(H)=x via P*(H)=y2 to P**(H)=z2. Let a, b, c, d be the Bayes factors for H in these four updates (so a = (P'(H)/P'(not-H))/(P(H)/P(not-H)), and so on). Since new odds result from previous odds by multiplication with Bayes factors, this means that z1/(1-z1) = b a x/(1-x) and thus z1 = b a k / (1 + b a k), where k = x/(1-x). Analogously, z2 = d c k / (1 + d c k). If the Bayes factors a and b are identical to d and c respectively, then b a = d c, and thus z1=z2.)
This somewhat strengthens the sense in which Bayes factors are independent of the priors. But in another, more intuitive sense, Bayes factor are not at all independent of the priors.
The direction and magnitude by which an observation affects the probability of a given hypothesis generally depends on the agent's background beliefs. Suppose you briefly see a table cloth in a dimly lit room. You can't clearly tell its colour, but it seems to be blue or maybe green. In the absence of relevant previous information, your new degree of belief in the hypothesis H that the cloth is blue might then change from 0.2 to 0.6. On the other hand, if this is the fifth time you've looked into the dimly lit room, your credence in H may remain almost unchanged at a little above 0.6. Alternatively, if you earlier saw the cloth in bright daylight where it looked green, your credence in H might remain unchanged at well below 0.1. Finally, if you have reason to believe that the light in the room makes green things look blue and vice versa, your credence in H might change from 0.2 to 0.1. The Bayes factor for your update is very different in these four cases. In the first it is 8, in the second and third 1, in the fourth around 0.44.
So the Bayes factors associated with an observation strongly depend on the agent's prior beliefs. That is, we cannot use Bayes factors to characterise the evidential relevance of an observation to a hypothesis in a way that is neutral on the background beliefs of the agent making the observation.
This is what Hartry Field overlooked in his 1978 paper on Jeffrey conditioning (as pointed out in Garber 1980). Strangely, it also seems to be overlooked by Good and Jeffrey when they suggest that Bayes factors can be used to communicate or transfer the effect of experience between different agents (e.g. on pp.7-9 of Probability and the Art of Judgment and pp.55-57 of Subjective Probability: The Real Thing), and by Ilho Park in his very interesting 2013 paper on how to formulate the Reflection Principle.
Consider a situation where you make an observation, and I would like to somehow take into account what you observed. Let's say you get to have a look at the table cloth in the dimly lit room and I don't. It would be nice if you changed your mind by conditioning on some observation sentence capturing the precise content of your visual experience; then I could take into account your observation by conditioning on this same sentence. According to Jeffrey, there is in general no such sentence: your experience directly changes your degree of belief in the hypothesis that the cloth is blue, without going through any observation sentences. Suppose you don't have any relevant prior information about the table cloth, and your credence in H (that the cloth is blue) changes from 0.2 to 0.6. Your new credence in H obviously depends on your prior credence, so I can't rationally take into account your observation by simply adopting your new credence in H. Instead, Jeffrey suggests that I should multiplying my own odds on H by the Bayes factor of your update, which is 8. But the Bayes factor of your update also strongly depends on your priors. In the example, it especially reflects the fact that you had no prior information about the cloth. If, unlike you, I have other reasons to believe that the cloth is blue (or not blue), then the inconclusive evidence you gathered should hardly affect my credence at all. Similarly, if I have reason to suspect that the light in the room makes green things look blue, the evidence you gathered should lower my odds on H. In either case, multiplying my prior odds by 8 would not adequately take into account your evidence.
Now Jeffrey doesn't quite say that I can always use your Bayes factors to take into account your new evidence. He says: "Others who accept your response to your experience, whether or not they share your prior opinion, can multiply their own prior odds [...] by your Bayes factor to get their posterior odds, taking account of your experience." Emphasis added. So I suspect he would have responded to the above counterexample by saying that this is not a case in which I "accept your response to your experience" in the relevant sense. The problem is that we hardly ever accept other people's response to their experience in this technical sense. The proposal works if I happen to have the exact same priors concerning the situation in which you make your observation. But then I could just as well adopt your posterior probability P'(H) instead of your Bayes factors. The proposal also works in a few special cases where we have different relevant priors, but it falls far short of a general solution.
I am pleased to announce this call-for-papers for the first annual Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference (PCPC), which will be held at the University of Tampa from Friday October 18th-Sunday October 20th, 2013. This conference will be unique in several respects:
To submit a paper to present at the PCPC, please email the following to firstname.lastname@example.org by July 1, 2013: (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 will be sent out around August 1, 2013. Finally, please bear the following in mind:
I’ve been recently interested in subjectivism and how serious the objections to it are in the end. In part, this is a project of thinking how well or badly off the view comes out when we compare it to expressivism. In this post, I am interested in the claim that subjectivism makes morality objectionably dependent on our attitudes. The strategy which subjectivists have often recently adopted is to try to argue that subjectivists can usually give similar responses to objections as expressivists. Here, I want to use this strategy to explore the mind-dependence objection.Here’s the objection as it is usually formulated against expressivists:
We all know Blackburn’s response to this objection. This is to deny that expressivism commits you to premise 2. According to him, 2. is a first-order moral claim. To utter 2. is to express approval toward a certain possible moral sensibility. This sensitivity is such that it lets its own attitudes toward kicking dogs be affected by what attitudes toward kicking dogs people have. As Blackburn put it in Spreading the Word (1984, 198):
“Suppose someone said ‘if we had different sentiments, it would be right to kick dogs’. Apparently, he endorses a certain sensibility: one which lets information about what people feel dictate its attitude to kicking dogs. But nice people do not endorse such sensibility. What makes it wrong to kick dogs is the cruelty and pain to animals”.
This response can be simplified by ignoring the higher-order attitude account of conditionals which Blackburn accepted at the time. As I see it, the basic idea is that we consider a scenario in which dogs are kicked and we do not disapprove of it. To utter 2. is to express one’s current lack of disapproval toward kicking dogs in those circumstances. Given that we currently do disapprove of kicking dogs in that counterfactual scenario, we cannot be asked to accept 2 according to expressivists. Rather, in order to express our disapproval toward kicking dogs in the described counter-factual scenario, we can only strongly assert 3.
A similar objection can be formulated against subjectivists:
A) For subjectivists, for me to think that kicking dogs is wrong is for me to believe that I disapprove of kicking dogs.
B) Therefore, if I didn’t morally disapprove of kicking dogs, it wouldn’t be wrong.
C) But, kicking dogs would be wrong even if I approved of it.
D) Therefore, subjectivism makes morality objectionably mind-dependent.
It seems to me that subjectivists could offer a similar response to this objection as expressivists. They too could understand B) as an internal, moralising claim. On this understanding, the antecedent of the subjunctive conditional describes a hypothetical situation in which I lack attitudes of disapproval towards kicking dogs. The wrongness-claim in the consequent then reports what my attitudes toward kicking dogs in those circumstances are. However, there’s no reason for the subjectivists to claim the consequent reports my attitudes toward kicking dogs as they are in the hypothetical situation. Rather, it can report my current actual attitudes toward dogs being kicked in those circumstances. And, because I currently am against kicking dogs even in the hypothetical circumstances in which I would not disapprove of kicking dogs, B) comes out as false and C) as true. As a result, the objection seems to fail for the same reason as it does against expressivism.
Thus, the way forward for subjectivists is to say that moral words like ‘wrong’ describe our actual attitudes even in the context of modal sentences that describe scenarios in which we have different attitudes. This is in the same way as according to expressivists these words express our actual attitudes even in the contexts of modal sentences that describe scenarios in which we have different attitudes.
If we understand subjectivism in this way, we end up with what is called ‘actually-rigidified speaker subjectivism’ (Schroeder 2008, 17, fn. 2). This is the view according to which ‘X is wrong’ is true iff and just because I actually now disapprove of X. Now, I know that there are objections to this kind of actualisation moves with the kind of modal problems I have been discussing. Here I would like to know what the most serious of these problems are.
I’m also interested in whether these are only objections to the subjectivist response to the problem or whether they also affect the expressivist response. Given that these responses are so similar to one another, it’s hard for me to see an objection here that could only affect Blackburn but not subjectivists or subjectivists but not Blackburn. So, for example, Zangwill’s claim that these responses make moral mind-independence a matter of having a certain moral stand rather than a matter of a conceptual truth seems to equally apply to both responses if it applies to one of them. I’d be delighted though if there were objections that only affected one of these responses and not the other.
I have been thinking for a while that it would be quite valuable if there were a list of philosophers that was searchable by area of research, gender, race, grad student/junior/senior status, etc. Such a list would appear to be useful to folks searching for appropriate referees for papers, for folks trying to make sure they are not overlooking excellent junior women for their volume or conference on Kantian ethics, or for folks trying to fill out an APA symposium on a particular topic.
After posting this idea on Facebook yesterday I learned from Sally Haslanger that the APA ad hoc committee on the status and future of the profession has determined that there is a need for such a database. I was especially happy to also learn from Dave Chalmers that the good folks who bring you Phil Papers (and such) are planning just such a database.
So I was hoping to generate some discussion about what this database should look like. It seems clear to me that it should be at the individual’s option whether he or she is listed by sex or race. Should participation be entirely voluntary such that others may not list one as philosopher of science? This seems trickier. On the one hand, it would be nice if the list was complete or nearly so and there are some who may not object to being so listed but will not get around to bothering to register. On the other, it is possible that a person may be mislabeled if they do not do the labeling themselves. Seemingly it would be ideal if people had the option of adding their CV or a write up of their interests to their listing in the database. Another issue is if there should be a limit to the number of areas of philosophy a person can claim as areas of research. If there is such a limit, then people like Frank Jackson might be left off lists they belong on. But if there is no such limit people might exaggerate how many areas they are research active in. Also, what are the categories we want people to be able to register (or be registered) under? How fine-grained should those categories be?
I seek input on these and other questions concerning such a database of philosophers.
June 8th-9th, Northwestern University
Speakers & Commentators: Harry Brighouse (Wisconsin), David Ebrey (Northwestern), Kristján Kristjánsson (Birmingham), Rachana Kamtekar (Arizona), Gavin Lawrence (UCLA), Rachel Barney (Toronto), Randall Curren (Rochester), Agnes Callard (Chicago), Kyla Ebels-Duggan (Northwestern), Gabriel Richardson Lear (Chicago), Sophie Haroutunian-Gordon (Northwestern), Emily Fletcher (Wisconsin), Joseph Barnes (UC Berkeley / Humboldt), Richard Kraut (Northwestern), Darcia Narvaez (Notre Dame), Joseph Karbowski (Notre Dame)
Russ Shafer-Landau has just announced a Call for Papers for a new paper competition: the Marc Sanders Prize in Metaethics. The winner of the prize will receive $8,000, present his or her paper at the upcoming Wisconsin Metaethics Workshop (https://sites.google.com/site/wiscmew/), and have the winning paper included in a forthcoming volume of Oxford Studies in Metaethics. Details below the fold.
The Marc Sanders Prize in Metaethics
In keeping with its mission of encouraging and recognizing excellence in philosophy, The Marc Sanders Foundation seeks to highlight the importance of ongoing support for the work of younger scholars. As part of this commitment, the Foundation has dedicated resources to an ongoing essay competition, designed to promote excellent research and writing in metaethics on the part of younger scholars.
The Marc Sanders Prize in Metaethics is an annual essay competition open to scholars who are within fifteen (15) years of receiving a Ph.D. or students who are currently enrolled in a graduate program. Independent scholars may also be eligible, and should direct inquiries to the Editor of Oxford Studies in Metaethics Russ Shafer-Landau, at email@example.com. The award for the prizewinning essay is $8,000, and winning essays will be published in Oxford Studies in Metaethics. The recipient of the award will be expected to present his or her paper at the Annual Wisconsin Metaethics Workshop, this year held on September 27-29 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. More information about the Workshop can be found at https://sites.google.com/site/wiscmew/.
Submitted essays must present original research in metaethics. Essays should be between 7,500 and 12,000 words. Since winning essays will appear in Oxford Studies in Metaethics, submissions must not be under review elsewhere. To be eligible for this year’s prize, submissions must be received, electronically, by August 1st 2013. Refereeing will be blind; authors should omit remarks and references that might disclose their identities. Receipt of submissions will be acknowledged by e-mail. The winner will be determined by a committee of members of the Editorial Board of Oxford Studies in Metaethics and will be announced by mid- to-late-August.
Tom Hurka is back for a second helping of Soup! His post is below the fold.
“More Importantly Right”
In my first post I asked whether we can make sense of the idea that some acts are more seriously wrong than others. I suggested we can if the properties that make acts wrong admit of degrees, though there are different ways of doing so. We can say a wrong’s degree of seriousness depends on the absolute strength of the prima facie duties it violates, or on the size of the gap between those duties and the ones, if any, it fulfils, where this gap can be measured in either absolute or proportional terms.
I now turn to a different topic: whether there is or can be a parallel idea whereby some right acts are more seriously or importantly right than others.
We may well think there can’t, so rightness and wrongness differ in this respect. For one thing, many of the manifestations of more serious wrongness don’t seem present here. You deserve more severe punishment for a more seriously wrong act, but don’t deserve any reward at all for acting rightly – that’s expected rather than something specially commendable. And whereas you should feel more guilt after committing a more serious wrong, it can be argued that there’s no feeling that’s appropriate after acting rightly, or if there is, it’s the same mild satisfaction for all right acts.
Sergio Tenenbaum suggested to me that you should feel more satisfaction if you acted rightly in the face of greater temptation, but we should distinguish between attitudes to acts as right or wrong and attitudes to the motives behind them. Thus guilt, which is about acting wrongly, differs from shame, which can be about your motives. (You can only feel guilt about something you could have avoided, but can feel shame about something outside your control.) I think that in Sergio’s example what you feel satisfied about is that your desire to do what’s right was strong enough to overcome the temptation, so your object is your motivation rather than the rightness of your act.
It may be, then, that there’s no rightness-concept that admits of degrees, and Shelly Kagan suggested an elegant theory that explains why. An act is right so long as it meets some standard, which it either does or does not. But an act is wrong if it falls short of the standard, which it can do either more or less. And an act can also exceed the standard, as it does if it’s supererogatory, and it can do that more or less. So in the middle there’s a concept of rightness that in no form admits of degrees, while below and above it are concepts of wrongness and supererogation with forms that do. And an act’s degree of supererogatoriness can be determined in the same ways as its degree of wrongness: by looking at the absolute strength of the prima facie duty it fulfils, or the size of the gap, either absolutely or proportionally, between that duty and the weaker prima facie one you were required to fulfil.
But I’m not 100% certain this is right. First, the materials that allow a concept of more serious wrongness are also present for rightness, i.e., any right act has properties that make it so, and some right-making properties are more strongly right-making than others, such as saving 100 people vs. saving 2. Second, I think there are some concrete manifestations of more important rightness.
I recently attended a history/political science conference (it happened to be about the 1963-68 Canadian government of Lester Pearson). One speaker quoted an apparently well-known poli sci view as saying that in evaluating a political leader the main question to ask is, was he right about the major issue of his day? He’ll have been right on some issues and wrong on others, but was he right about the most important one he faced? (The speaker thought for Pearson this was Canadian national unity; for George W. Bush it was presumably Iraq.)
That sounded right to me, and led me to think that a retired political leader looking back on his career should care most about how he handled his biggest issues and feel most satisfaction if got them, rather than any smaller ones, right. This looks similar to feeling most guilt about your most seriously wrong acts. And we may also give him something like rewards for getting his biggest issues right; you can get the Nobel Peace Prize for making large contributions to peace but not for small ones no matter how well judged. Which all suggests the presence of a concept of something like more important rightness.
This concept can be specified in ways that again parallel more serious wrongness. A right act can be more importantly right because the prima facie duties it fulfils are in absolute terms stronger, or because the gap between them and the duties fulfilled by some alternative is larger, i.e., because being right in this situation made a bigger difference. There are, however, some distinctive difficulties here.
First, it can’t be all absolutely strong prima facie duties that make for more important rightness. The duty not to kill – even more so, the duty not to commit genocide – is in absolute terms very strong, yet fulfilling it isn’t something you should feel great satisfaction about or for which you deserve a big reward. Maybe only the duties to promote good and prevent evil, or those plus a few others, are such that weightier instances of them make for more significantly right acts. And there’s a further difficulty about any kind of gap measurement. In the case of more serious wrongness, we compare the wrong act you did with just one alternative: the act or disjunction of acts you had a duty to do, or the moral standard you were required to meet. But here there are several possible alternatives to the right act: the least seriously wrong act you could have done instead, the wrong act you were most likely to do (but then does your act score higher if you were tempted by something worse?), the wrong act most people would do, and perhaps others. Which one of these should we use to determine the relevant gap? I don’t know how to answer this question or how a gap view could be applied to more important rightness.
Even if there is a concept of that type, it seems less important morally than that of more serious wrongness. It’s less clearly present in common-sense morality, which talks less about it, as are its manifestations. Even if it’s fitting to feel more satisfaction about more important right choices, it’s not as fitting as feeling more guilt about more seriously wrong ones. And rewarding right acts is surely something common sense cares less about than about punishing wrongs.
It may be that, taking everything together, there isn’t a coherent or useful concept of more important rightness. If so, that makes for an interesting asymmetry with wrongness, where there is a useful concept that admits of degrees. (Actually, if Shelly is right there isn’t an asymmetry, since including supererogation makes for an overall symmetrical view.) But I’m not sure. Part of me thinks that just as George W. Bush should be especially troubled that he made bad choices about Iraq, Lester Pearson should be especially pleased that he made good ones about Canadian unity. And that suggests that those decisions were, though not more right, more importantly right than many other right ones he made.
This is the 1000th post on PEA Soup—a milestone that seems a good occasion for reflection on the blog. We would welcome fond memories of past discussions on the Soup or suggestions for how to improve it. As the newcomer to Soup, I cannot give enough shout outs to the Fantastic 4 that created and sustained it for its first 9 years: Dan Boisvert, Josh Glasgow, Doug Portmore, and David Shoemaker. Thanks guys—all of us who have benefitted from the Soup owe you.
The blog is doing well. We are now averaging over 1000 visits a day. And there are a variety of new initiatives that we are excited about that are only just starting up. We have significantly expanded the excellent journals we are partnered with, started up the Featured Philosopher series, and encouraged our contributors to post a new thread at least once a year. As you can already see, the blog is becoming more active and there will be more posts than ever before.
On this score we can announce that we are now partnered with the Oxford Studies volumes. Watch for open access to, and high level discussions of, some of the papers published in those volumes. Happily Kate Manne and Hille Paakkunainen have agreed to expand their role at the Soup to include overseeing our partnership with Oxford Studies.
As the blog becomes more crowded it will become more important to observe the few simple rules for posting we mention under “Instructions to Contributors”—most importantly give previous substantive posts room to breathe, at least 24 hours and ideally more, before you initiate a new post and split your post so that only the start of it is seen on the main page so people can see the other recent posts on the main page as well. Also, check out the new handy “Calendar of Events” feature at the top of the blog before posting to make sure you are not posting just as some scheduled event is about to take place. Finally, please use common sense in avoiding posts that are mainly self-promoting. If folks announce their latest publication here, the blog will be overrun and become less interesting.
We are also proud to offer open access to a greatly expanded number of papers. All of our partnerships (including Ethics, Philosophy and Public Affairs, the Oxford Studies volumes, JESP, Philosophers Imprint, and PPE) will involve open access to the papers that are discussed here. At least 10 excellent papers a year that otherwise would only be available to those with a subscription will be available here open access (there will be well more than 10 papers discussed here, and all will be available open access, but some will have already been available free to all via Philosophers’ Imprint and JESP).
Hello all. It's my supreme pleasure to introduce our inaugural featured philosopher: Tom Hurka! I'm especially pleased because Tom has agreed to do not one but TWO posts on his current thinking. His first starts below the fold. (Second to follow on Friday.)
Tom certainly needs no introduction, but just a cursory glance at his body of work shows that he's clearly one of the top moral philosophers of our time. His work on value theory, including Perfectionism; Virtue, Vice, and Value; and The Best Things in Life have certainly influenced the thinking of countless Soupers and others, including myself. I'm tempted to say a lot more, but I don't want to dilute his post with my blathering. So, without further ado, I'm very happy to introduce our first featured philosopher, and one of my philosophical heroes: Tom Hurka.
“More Seriously Wrong”
I’d like to raise some questions about a topic I’ve started to think about and discuss with other philosophers. It may be that there’s already a literature on the topic and I’m just repeating or ignoring points it’s made. If so, I’d be grateful for references.
The topic is the idea that among morally wrong acts some can be more seriously wrong than others. I take it this idea is part of common-sense morality, which thinks, for example, that cold-blooded murder is more seriously wrong than breaking a trivial promise. And the idea has concrete manifestations. If one act is more seriously wrong than another, you should feel more guilt after doing it; if retributivism is true, you deserve a more severe punishment for it. But how can an act be more seriously wrong? And if it can, what makes it so?
There’s a sense of ‘wrong’ that doesn’t admit of degrees. Here an act is wrong just in case it’s not permitted, and since any act either is permitted or is not, there’s in this sense no more or less wrong. But any wrong act is made so by certain properties it has, and if these wrong-making properties admit of degrees – if some are more strongly wrong-making than others – this can provide the materials for an account of “more seriously wrong.”
Not all theories of wrong-making do this. Consider the version of the first formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative that says an act is wrong if the attempt to universalize its maxim results in logical contradiction. (I think this is called the “contradiction in conception” test.) Since contradictoriness doesn’t admit of degrees – something either is contradictory or is not – any two acts that come out wrong by this test, as I take it murder and promise-breaking are both meant to, must be equally seriously wrong. I guess that means capital punishment for promise-breaking. (I’m indebted here to Todd Calder.)
But other theories do allow degrees of wrong-making. The paradigm is Ross’s theory of prima facie duties, each identifying a property of acts that tends to make them right or wrong. To judge an act on balance we identify all its right- and wrong-making properties, add up their respective weights, and then see on which side the greatest weight lies. It’s assumed here that some right- or wrong-making properties are weightier than others, i.e. do more to determine an act’s final deontic status, and this allows an account of more serious wrongness. But it can be constructed in different ways.
One view says a wrong’s degree of seriousness depends on the absolute strength of the prima facie duty or duties it violates, i.e. the ones you had a duty all things considered to fulfil. This gives the right result about murder and promise-breaking. The prima facie duty not to murder is very strong, outweighing duties to promote even significant amounts of good. The duty to keep a promise is much weaker, outweighing only duties to promote minor goods. So murder comes out more seriously wrong than promise-breaking. Call this the absolute-strength view of the seriousness of wrongs.
But there’s an alternative. It says a wrong’s degree of seriousness depends on the size of gap in strength between the prima facie duties it violates and the prima facie duties, if any, it fulfils. That this gap view can have different implications is shown by a pair of cases involving the duty of beneficence. In the first case you’re required to produce 100 units of good and produce 90; in the second you’re required to produce 20 and produce 5. On the absolute-strength view the wrong is more serious in the first case, because the duty to produce 100 is stronger than the duty to produce 20. But on the gap view your act is more seriously wrong in the second case, because a shortfall of 15 is larger than a shortfall of 10. (I assume for simplicity’s sake that the strength of the duty to produce an amount of good is proportional to that amount.)
There’s yet another possibility. In stating the gap view I assumed that what matters is the absolute size of the gap between what you did and what you should have done, but the gap can also be measured proportionally, so we see what percentage of the strength of the duties you violated the duties you fulfilled had. To see how this is different, consider a third case, where you’re required to produce 10 units of good and produce 1. On the first version of the gap view this is less seriously wrong than in the 20-5 case, because 9 is a smaller gap than 15. But on the second version it’s more seriously wrong, because 1/10 is a smaller proportion than 1/4. Call these the absolute-gap and proportional-gap views.
So far we have three views about what determines how seriously wrong a wrong act is: the absolute-strength, absolute-gap, and proportional-gap views. It may be that the best account of “more seriously wrong” uses only one of these views, though it could in principle be any of the three. The best account could also use any two of them together, or even all three, and the resulting combined views can then differ in how much weight they give their various components. One can say a wrong’s degree of seriousness is determined mainly by absolute-strength considerations with a small addition from absolute-gap and none from proportional-gap. Another can say it depends primarily on the proportional gap with a smaller contribution from absolute-gap and an even smaller one from absolute-strength.
There are further possibilities. So far I’ve considered only cases where you have one required act and one wrong one. But what if in the first case there are several acts that will produce the required 100 units of good? None of these is a duty but each is right in the sense of being permitted, and what you’re required to do is choose some one from among them. Or what if, as well as being able to produce 100 units of good, you can produce 99, 98, 97, or 96? Is your producing just 90 more seriously wrong in these cases, because there are more ways in which you failed to do something better? Is missing more opportunities to fulfil a stronger duty worse? (I owe this suggestion to Selim Berker.) If we think it is, we can switch from what I’ll call one-time to total versions of the above three views. A one-time version of the absolute-strength view measures the absolute strength of the one strongest duty you failed to fulfil; a total version adds the strengths of all the duties you violated. A one-time absolute-gap view measures the one gap between what you did and what you were required to do; a total version adds a number of gaps, for example, between 90 and 100, 90 and 99, 90 and 98, and so on. (There are obvious difficulties here about how to identify and count the better alternatives to a given wrong act. But I take it the general idea that an act is more seriously wrong when you missed more opportunities to do something better is clear.) If we add the difference between one-time and total versions to the three views distinguished above and their various combinations, there’s an even larger number of ways the seriousness of a wrong could be determined.
I’m not suggesting common sense has a clear view about which of these views is best – its thinking about the topic is far too inchoate. But common sense does, I think, believe that some acts are more seriously wrong than others, and if that’s so, it should be possible to say something about what makes that the case. Is one of the views I’ve distinguished more plausible than the rest? Should they all figure in a combined view, and if so, what should their respective weights be? Or is some view I haven’t mentioned even more plausible? I don’t have clear views on these questions and am interested to read comments from others.
In a follow-up post I’ll ask whether there’s a parallel concept of a more seriously or more importantly right act. Can we construct a notion that admits of degrees for right as well as for wrong?
In this essay I shall offer a brief appreciative overview of the philosophical system of British philosopher Timothy L.S. Sprigge (14 January 1932—11 July 2007). In so doing I shall be emphasizing the importance in that system of subjectivity—of the existence of centers (he writes “centres,” but here I follow the US spelling convention) of consciousness, sentience, and experience, characterized essentially by the fact that there is ‘something that it is like’ to be them.Sprigge had adopted this way of talking about subjectivity—as involving what it is “like” to be something—before it was made famous by Thomas Nagel in his 1974 paper “What is it Like to Be a Bat?” Subjectivity was a theme of Sprigge’s philosophical work from the very beginning, well before he had fully worked out his mature views. Indeed, “The Importance of Subjectivity” was the title of his inaugural lecture upon his appointment to the Chair of Logic and Metaphysics at the University of Edinburgh in 1982, and was chosen (by his friend, colleague, former student, and literary executor Leemon McHenry, at the suggestion of Pierfrancesco Basile) as the title of a posthumously published collection of his papers.My aim is to provide, for interested readers, a short and accessible (though of course very far from complete) account of the main lines of Sprigge’s system in a way that will provide a quick and ready grasp both of the overall unity of that system and of the fundamental and far-reaching importance of subjectivity within it.
Dilip Ninan has also argued on a number of occasions that attitude contents cannot in general be modelled by sets of qualitative centred worlds; see especially his "Counterfactual attitudes and multi-centered worlds" (2012). The argument is based on an alleged problem for the centred-worlds account applied to what he calls "counterfactual attitudes", the prime example being imagination.
Since the problem concerns the analysis of attitudes de re, we first have to briefly review what the centred-worlds account might say about this. Consider a de re belief report "x believes that y is F". Whether this is true depends on what x believes about y, but if belief contents are qualitative, we cannot simply check whether y is F in x's belief worlds. We first have to locate y in these qualitative scenarios. A standard idea, going back to Quine, Kaplan and Lewis, is that the belief report is true iff there is some "acquaintance relation" Q such that (i) x is Q-related uniquely to y and (ii) in x's belief worlds, the individual at the centre is Q-related to an individual that is F. For example, if Ralph sees Ortcutt sneaking around the waterfront, and believes that the guy sneaking around the waterfront is a spy, then Ralph believes de re of Ortcutt that he is a spy.
Ninan now asks us to consider not belief but imagination. Suppose Ralph imagines that he didn't see Ortcutt sneaking around the waterfront. Applying the above recipe, we might try to analyse this as true iff there is some acquaintance relation Q such that (i) Ralph is Q-related uniquely to Ortcutt and (ii) in the worlds of Ralph's imagination, the individual at the centre is Q-related to someone he didn't see sneaking around the waterfront. But since the only relevant acquaintance relation between Ralph and Ortcutt is the "seen sneaking around the waterfront" relation, this can't be right: condition (ii) is impossible.
To get a correct analysis of imagination de re, Ninan suggests that the content of imaginations, and attitudes in general, should be modelled not by a set of centred worlds, but by a set of multi-centred worlds. A multi-centred world consists of an uncentred world w, a time t, and a suitable tagging function f, where f is defined as follows. Again assume x is the subject of the attitude (i.e. Ralf, in the example). Then the domain of the tagging function f consists of all pairs (y,Q) consisting of an individual y and a relation Q such that x bears Q to y. Each such pair is mapped by f to an individual that exists at t in w.
The basic idea is this. Our attitudes ascribe properties to actual individuals y only relative to an acquaintance relation Q. For example, when Ralph imagines that he never saw Ortcutt, his imagination attributes never-having-seen to Ortcutt, relative to the acquaintance relation having-seen-sneaking which captures how Ortcutt is known to Ralph. The multi-centred worlds simply encode facts like these: the content of Ralph's imagination consists of multi-centred worlds (w,t,f) such that f maps (Ortcutt, having-seen-sneaking) to somebody or other who has never been seen by the individual at the (w,t,f) centre, i.e. by the individual at (w,t) to which f maps (Ralph, identity).
Ninan takes it for granted that the content of an imagination can be specified by saying which properties and relations the subject imaginatively attributes to which individuals relative to which acquaintance relations. Imagination is, at bottom, a relation between a subject x, an uncentred qualitative content p, and a function that maps actual individual-relation pairs to individuals figuring in p. But is this a good way to think about imaginations? The model assumes that there is a difference between x imaginatively attributing F to y under Q1 and x attributing F to y under Q2, even if x is certain that he bears Q1 and Q2 to the very same individual. For example, I know my office both as the room in which I am now (Q1) and as the room in which I was 5 minutes ago (Q2). I am certain that I've been in this room throughout the last hour. Now I imagine that a possum came into my office last night. Do imagine this relative to Q1 or Q2? I don't know. I don't even know how to make sense of the question.
Let's think about imagination as a psychological phenomenon, setting aside for a moment the semantics of imagination reports. Suppose Ralph imagines confronting Ortcutt as he sneaks around the waterfront. This could merely be an entertaining of a possibility, or it could be a vivid imagination in which Ralph somehow "simulates" what it would be like to confront Ortcutt: the visual impressions, the muscle movements, hearing Ortcutt's words in response, etc. In either case, what is imagined is first of all a scenario with certain qualitative features: a man is sneaking around, another man confronts him, etc. In addition, Ralph identifies various parts of the scenario with parts of the real world: the man who is sneaking around is identified with the man Ralph is (or was) observing, the man confronting him is identified with Ralph himself, the location with the actual location of the waterfront. Other aspects of the scenario, the spoken words for example, don't receive any such identification. In case of a vivid imagination, Ralph might additionally "put himself" into the scenario, simulating what it would be like to be there. This is independent of the previous step, since Ralph needn't imagine the scenario from the perspective of the person he identifies as himself; he could imagine it from Ortcutt's perspective, or from a birds-eye perspective. On the other hand, if the initial qualitative scenario is centred, the perspective could be given by the centre, so maybe we don't have to add a third ingredient.
In any case, we have two main ingredients: a qualitative scenario and an "identification" of various things in the scenario. Both parts belongs to the psychology of imagination. It would be wrong to suggest that psychologically, Ralph's imagination can be fully characterised by specifying the qualitative scenario, while the identifications merely track extra-psychological facts about Ralph. Contrast belief: when Ralph believes that Ortcutt is a spy, one can argue that the psychological content of his belief is the qualitative proposition that the man sneaking around is a spy, while the identification of the man as Ortcutt in the belief report tracks the extra-psychological fact that Ortcutt is in fact the man sneaking around. For imagination, the identification of the individuals in the imagined scenario makes a clear difference to the functional role of the imagination.
But the identification doesn't link individuals in the imagined scenario to actual individuals. Rather, it links these individuals to individuals in Ralph's belief worlds. Suppose Ralph is halluzinating and there is actually nobody sneaking around the waterfront. Still Ralph believes that somebody is sneaking around, and he imagines confronting that guy. Similarly, if Ralph falsely believes that the man he sees sneaking around is not identical to the friendly man he met on the beach, so that his belief worlds contain two different individuals playing the two roles, then he can imagine confronting one of them but not the other.
On further reflection, the other end of the identification relation -- let's call it the identification base -- isn't always given by the subject's beliefs. One can also imagine things based on a supposition: supposing that the men are different, Ralph can imagine how one of them meets the other, even if he actually suspects or believes that they are identical.
If this is on the right track, what shall we call the "content" of an imagination? We could reserve the term for the purely qualitative aspects of the imagined scenario, but then imaginations would have to be characterised by more than their content. Alternatively, we could say that the content somehow comprises both the qualitative scenario and the identification of its parts with individuals in whatever serves as the identification base. Should we also include the base itself? After all, to fully characterise an imagination and its cognitive role, you have to say whether it is based on the subject's beliefs or on a supposition, and if so on what supposition. On the other hand, it is unnatural to say that the subject imagines her beliefs (especially if she imagines something contrary to her beliefs), so it sounds a bit odd to include the beliefs in the content of the imagination.
I don't think it really matters how we use the term "content" for episodes of imagining. What's important is that we keep track of the main ingredients: the qualitative scenario, the identification base, and the identifying relations.
Back to Ninan. Ninan's identifying relations (represented by the tagging functions) link individuals in the imagined scenario to individuals in the real world. As a remnant of the identification base, these identifications are relativised to an acquaintance relation. We can see how this is supposed to work in simple cases: when Ralph imagines having never seen Ortcutt, he identifies the relevant man in the imagined scenario with someone in his belief worlds, namely with the man he saw sneaking around; according to Ninan, the content of the imagination is the qualitative scenario together with a tagging of the unseen man in the scenario by the pair (Ortcutt, having-seen-sneaking); the second part of this pair indicates which individual in the base is identified with the man in the scenario.
But this is a cumbersome way of representing the relevant facts, presumably motivated by the idea that all relevant aspects of the imagination should be accounted for by its "content", which should be a set of world-like entities. Unfortunately, it turns out that no world in any of Ralph's attitudes can also occur in the attitudes of other people, since only Ralph's attitude worlds contain tagging functions defined for (Ralph, identity). In addition, some important aspects of imagination are missing in Ninan's representation, such as the nature and content of the identification base. We also get the spurious differences mentioned above: if the identification base represents the F as identical to the G, and if an object in an imagined scenario is identified with this one object in the base, then there is no further question whether the object is identified as the F or as the G. Obviously, Ninan's proposal also breaks down if the identification base is sufficiently out of tune with reality, as when Ralph halluzinates Ortcutt. From his point of view, he still imagines that he never saw that guy, but "that guy" no longer picks out anyone real.
I guess Ninan concentrates on identifications with actual individuals because his starting point are de re ascriptions of imagination. When we say that Ralph imagines (de re) never having seen Ortcutt, we obviously imply that Ortcutt exists. The de re report identifies one of the individuals in Ralph's imagination with Ortcutt, the man in the real world. But this is not the psychologically relevant identification of that individual with an individual in Ralph's belief worlds (or supposition worlds).
A better way to analyse these de re reports, I think, would go as follows. The standard account of de re belief tells us what it is for a subject to belief or suppose of y that he is F: it is to believe that the Q is F for some Q that actually picks out y. Accordingly, x imagines de re that y is F iff (i) x imagines that someone is F, (ii) x identifies that someone with the Q individual in his belief worlds (or supposition worlds), and (iii) in reality y is the Q. This is what Ralph does. He believes that there's a unique man he saw sneaking around the waterfront. He imagines a scenario in which he has never seen a certain man, and he identifies that man as the man sneaking around in his belief worlds. In fact, Ortcutt is sneaking around. This is why we can report Ralph as imagining that he never saw Ortcutt.
In a sense, I agree with Ninan's claim that there is more to imagination than centred-worlds content. But the further ingredients aren't well captured by replacing the centred worlds with multi-centred worlds. Rather, they concern relations between the imagination and other mental states such as beliefs and suppositions. Taking these relations into account leads not only to a more plausible psychology of imaginations, but also to a better semantics of imagination ascriptions. It also highlights that there is something special about imagination (and perhaps other "counterfactual attitudes") that does not generalise to belief: beliefs do not have an identification component that links them to beliefs or suppositions. So there is no reason here to abandon the modelling of belief content by sets of qualitative centred worlds.
Genetic marketing is the logical next step if you believe human traits and (shopping) preferences are innate.
But it's a controversial idea.
On the other side, you have companies like Miinome who think otherwise. "The era of genetic-based advertising is coming".
Here's why Steve Jones and David Dobbs are confused about nature vs. nurture. While it's true that identical twins (having the same gene variants) are not alike in all traits, that doesn't prove environment trumps design. Identical watches don't always tell the same time, and identical elevators don't always travel to the same floor, but you wouldn't say an elevator is a product of its environment, would you? An elevator only responds to presses on its buttons, not to screams or smells.
Similarly, our genes constrain the possible environmental inputs and outputs we react to. Genes define the range of possible outcomes. While it's true that the environment selects the outcome, the genes constrain the menu of choices that are possible or desireable. In other words, our genes are designed to detect (and expect) certain environments and use them as (fully anticipated) trigger and branching points.
We humans each possess variants of the same underlying desires and passions. Yet our unique gene variants set the level of intensity of each desire. Our gene-designed cortex then arbitrates and balances each of our competing innate desires against each other. But that doesn't make human traits any less innate!
Since human design (including genes) is a product of ancient experience (natural selection), our traits are a result of ancient experience (genes) interacting with current (expected) experience.
However, if you still believe variations in human traits aren't genetic, then you have nothing to worry about, since genetic marketing won't work, will it?
Hot off the presses: two new articles on panpsychism.
"Panpsychism and Panprotopsychism" formulates what I call the Hegelian argument for panpsychism: arguing for it as a synthesis resulting from the thesis of materialism (especially the causal argument for materialism) and the antithesis of dualism (especially the conceivability argument for dualism). It also distinguishes numerous varieties of panpsychism, contrasts panpsychism and panprotopsychism, and examines problems for both. This article (when finalized) will be published as the Amherst Lecture in Philosophy and also probably in a volume on Russellian monism edited by Torin Alter and Yujin Nagasawa.
"The Combination Problem for Panpsychism" is an attempt at a systematic treatment of the combination problem: how does panpsychist microexperience add up to the macroexperience we know and love? I articulate a number of different subproblems here, try to turn them into arguments against panpsychism and panprotopsychism, and examine various proposals for answering them. This article will probably eventually appear in a collection on panpsychism edited by Godehard Bruntrup and Ludwig Jaskolla.
Together these articles are my best attempts to articulate the case for and against pan(proto)psychism. They're extremely drafty for now and any feedback would be welcome.
So to motivate someone, you need to tap into one of their existing desires, right? Yes, but think about what this implies...
No two people experience each desire with the same intensity. Some people have a burning desire for power or social status, for example, and other people don't. That difference is due to small genetic variations among us, that wire our brains differently. While it's true that the role of the higher brain is to reduce the dissonance between our competing desires - for example, vengeance vs. tranquility - it doesn't change the fact that individuals have different underlying set-levels and thresholds for each desire.
To motivate someone, you need to tailor your motivational strategy to suit the person - in other words, tailor it to their unique genes.
If you put it this way, people often recoil at the implications. We are loath to accept the fact that people innately differ on average. This affronts our sense of free will and equality. So we make up false explanations, and simply cover it up. Desires come and go, interacting with each other, so it can't be genetic! And since the level of one desire may alter the level of another desire (for example, if you desire acceptance by a group that only accepts members with intellectual curiousity, you might fake the latter to receive the former) doesn't that demonstrate that desires are not destiny?
Sorry. Innate differences do exist, despite our rationalizations. Anyone who advocates that it's best to tailor motivational strategies to individuals based on their unique desires is tacitly accepting this fact, and exploiting the innate difference.
No two people are motivated by the same things. There's a genetic inequality in society, that should be acknowledged and rectified, not covered up.
I don’t normally post announcements for conferences, but I’ll be speaking at this one and I got a special request to post a link here on TAR, so, just as an exception:
In a typical philosophy curriculum, there are some history courses, and some courses that are not history courses. A course on Plato’s metaphysics is a history course; a course on recent work on causation is not. Some courses have a history component. When I teach scepticism at upper levels (or graduate levels), I start with Descartes and Hume. I’m teaching history at that point; I’m not doing so when I go over the recent debate between Jim Pryor and Crispin Wright.
In that sense of ‘history’, which parts of the curriculum do you think count as part of history of philosophy? That is, when are you teaching history, and when are you not? To focus attention, consider which of the following works you would count as part of a history course, or part of the historical part of a course:
That’s probably enough to give you the spirit of the enterprise. My answer is in the comments.