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Philosophers’ Carnival: October 10th, 2011

October 10, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Welcome to the October 10th, 2011 edition of the Philosopher’s Carnival! The goal of this Carnival is to highlight the best and most engaging blog posts in the area of philosophy, and I have opted to showcase academically oriented posts. There are some really exciting discussions going on, so let’s get started!

Philosophers’ Carnival #132

First up, Thomas Rodham presents Democracy is not a truth machine posted at The Philosopher’s Beard. Rodham broadly argues that the idyllic spirit of liberal democracy (aiming for truth through public debate, discourse, and  referendum) obscures the line between subjective opinion and objective fact. Here’s a snippet:

But opinions, whether ethical precepts like ‘don’t lie’, religious beliefs like ‘Jesus loves you’, or literary judgements like ‘Ulysses is the best book ever written’, have the peculiar character of being part of the human world, not about the objective world. In this important sense they are quite different from objective truths, such as rational truths (as produced by rational enquiry, such as science) or facts (such as historical events). As Hannah Arendt noted in Truth and Politics*, these have quite a different epistemic status in which whether or not people believe in them is quite irrelevant (sorry, post-modernists and social constructivists). That makes their evaluation quite different from opinions, which are assessed in terms of how agreeable they are to us. Objective truths are not amenable to democratic debate or discussion since whether or not people agree with them or not is quite irrelevant.

Continuing in the vein of opinion versus fact, Luke Muehlhauser presents Philosophy by Humans, 1: Concepts Don’t Work That Way posted at Common Sense Atheism. Muehlhauser seeks to advance two claims: first, that conceptual analyses, in the form of crafting definitions containing necessary and sufficient conditions, is part and parcel to traditional and contemporary philosophical discourse, and second, that such  an approach to philosophical discourse is threatened by  recent advances in neuroscience surrounding the way the human brain classifies objects and categories. Intricately researched, here is a taste:

Category-membership for concepts in the human brain is not a yes/no affair, as the ‘necessary and sufficient conditions’ approach of the classical view assumes. Instead, category membership is fuzzy. Another problem for the classical view is raised by typicality effects …[where] people agree that some items are more typical category members than others, but do these typicality effects manifest in normal cognition and behavior? Yes, they do.

Next up, in a brief post concerning epistemology, Richard Chappell presents The Kripke-Harman Dogmatism Paradox posted at Philosophy, et cetera. Chappell offers a common-sense response to the Kripke-Harman dogmatism paradox (wherein the revision of beliefs regarding facts about the universe seems impossible given that the original affirmation of fact F ought to incline us to disregard future evidences against F, since we already know it to be true) and the comments section develops quite nicely. Chappell adds to the traditional response:

You’re only justified in believing that ‘any evidence against h is misleading’ insofar as you’re justified in believing that there isn’t any such (sufficiently weighty) evidence against h.  After all, if there were sufficiently weighty evidence against h, then that’d undermine your basis for believing h, and hence for believing that the evidence against h is misleading.  And, indeed, that’s exactly the position you end up in if such evidence later comes to light.

Moving away from epistemology, but sticking with avoiding a potential paradox, Vihvelin Kadri presents Time Travel: Horwich vs. Sider posted at Vihvelin.com. The most recent iteration in a longer conversation, Kadri offers some points of clarification in the ongoing debate surrounding the nature, possibility, and constraints surrounding time travelers, murder, and altering the past. Specifically, Kadri argues that in this context it is inappropriate to replace indicative conditionals with counterfactual conditionals:

We are not ordinarily  entitled to infer, from the truth of an indicative, to the truth of the corresponding counterfactual, and Sider gives us no reason to think we are  entitled to infer from ‘if many many time traveler go back in time…, there will be a long string of co-incidences’ to ‘if many many time travelers went back in time…there would be a long string of co-incidences.”   On the contrary, we have reason to suppose that ‘counterfactuals of co-incidence’ are false, at least for the general case of time travelers trying to change the past (eg. by killing babies before the day of their death).  For if it really is just a co-incidence that all actual attempts by time travelers to kill their targeted babies have been thwarted by banana peels, etc., we have no grounds for supposing that counterfactual attempts would also fail due to thwarts. Only lawlike generalizations sustain counterfactuals; accidental generalizations do not.

Changing gears to Philosophy of Mind, Eric Schwitzgebel presents Dualists’ Troubles with Common Sense posted at The Splintered Mind. Schwitzgebel begins with the recent evidence that most ordinary views of human agency are inherently dualist and goes on to ask why, if dualism is common sense, dualist metaphysical pictures are frequently so strange and counter-intuitive. He quickly covers the problems of interaction and reductionism, as well as the difficulties in qualifying the entities who would and would not possess powers of agency. He concludes:

Any well developed metaphysical substance dualism must make choices on such matters.  And all the choices seem weird.  If you think otherwise, I suspect philosophy has dulled your sense of what’s weird.  But weird does not imply false!  We have good independent reasons to think, on physical and cosmological grounds, that the world is a pretty weird place, not well matched with our commonsensical intuitions about what must be so.

Continuing in the line of Philosophy of Mind, Neil Levy presents Libertarian Physics posted at Flickers of Freedom. Levy questions the line of reasoning an incompatibilist might follow in order to endorse a libertarian worldview and underscores the dubious nature of arguments that place epistemic weight upon subjective perceptions of freedom. As is par for the course, there is an excellent discussion in the comment section following the post. Here is a snippet from  Levy’s post:

In their paper, Nahmias et al. take issue with the libertarian description of the phenomenology of action, and call for a more detailed investigation. I have a different view. I don’t much care what the phenomenology of action is (in this context), because I doubt very much that careful attention to this phenomenology can bear on premise (2) [cited earlier]. We have no reason to think that the content of our phenomenology can give us evidence about the causal structure of the universe, because we have no reason to think that the phenomenology is veridical.

Philosophy News, etc.

And now for some short plugs/re-posts on updates in academics and other philosophy-related events in the blogosphere, courtesy of some submissions as well as links culled from other blogs:

-The winners of the 3 Quarks Daily 2011 Philosophy Prizes are in, and the submissions were judged by none other than Patricia Churchland. Check out her reflections on the posts, as well as links to the winners, here.

-Two new sites are up and running that will host verified philosophy job postings, Phylo Jobs and PhilJobs.

-Good news for fans of Experimental Philosophy: Oxford University Press is starting up a new series entitled Oxford Studies in Experimental Philosophy. Some information can be found here, and here is the Call for Papers for those so inclined.

-Two prominent philosophers, Patricia Churchland and Ned Block, have been elected as 2012 Fellows of the Cognitive Science Society.

That wraps up this edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival. Thanks for reading, and be sure to check out the Carnival’s website to see who’s hosting the next edition!

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  1. January 14, 2012 at 8:09 PM
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