1923-ramsey.pdf: “Review of _Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus_ by Ludwig Wittgenstein”, Frank P. Ramsey ( )
1925-ramsey.pdf: “Universals”, Frank P. Ramsey ( )
1926-ramsey.pdf: “Symposium: Universals and the "Method of Analysis"”, H. W. B. Joseph, Frank P. Ramsey, R. B. Braithwaite
1927-ramsey.pdf: “Symposium: Facts and Propositions”, Frank P. Ramsey, G. E. Moore ( )
1939-moore.pdf: “Proof of an External World”, G. E. Moore ( )
1956-austin.pdf: “A Plea for Excuses: The Presidential Address”, (1956-10-29; ):
Summary by The Philosogist:
Excuses are offered when a person is said to have done something bad or wrong
To justify means to admit to performing the action but argue that it was good, right, or permissible, either in general or under the circumstances
- To justify is to accept responsibility but deny its wrongness
To excuse is to admit the action wasn’t good, but assert that there are extenuating circumstances, e.g., that it was an accident, or one was forced to do perform the action
- To make an excuse is to accept its wrongness but deny responsibility
- Few excuses are entirely exonerating
The theory of excuses will have major implications on moral philosophy · To attain a foundation for moral philosophy, it’s necessary to better understand what it means to do an action · Studying excuses, which are a type of abnormal action, will facilitate understanding and classification of actions in general, and clarify the notions of and relationship between freedom and responsibility
Doing an action is more complex than merely making a physical movement with the body · It’s misleading to take “doing an action” as a concrete description rather than abstract stand-in for a verb · What constitutes an action is a complex question that can involve difficult questions of motive and classification The theory of excuses has practical implications for ordinary language
It is a good thing to have a clear understanding of the words we use and how to use them
Excuses present a good field of language for study, due to its rich, subtle, and practical nature, and the fact that it is relatively untouched by traditional philosophy
The fact that people may differ in use of terms is no barrier, but actually may help illuminate subtle distinctions
Ordinary language is not a perfect or finalized system; it is rather a starting point
Some ways to systematically understand excuses are as follows:
- Dictionary · Law, especially common law, and specifically tort law · Psychology, including anthropology and zoology · These sources will aid in providing a classification, understanding, and definition of many expressions and actions
Aim and general lessons to be learned from the study of excuses (numbered as follows):
- Normal actions should not be modified by adverbs; adverbs are only used to mark peculiar or abnormal instances of actions
- Adverbs generally apply only to a narrow range of verbs
- Pairs of words that are ostensibly opposites, like voluntarily/
involuntarily, are not necessarily so, and many words such as “inadvertent” have no clear opposite
- Adverbs describe different machineries of action, such as the decision stage, the planning stage, and the executive stage (carrying out the action)
- There are unacceptable excuses, but standards for acceptance vary by situation
- It’s important to pay attention to subtle differences between similar words (such as “intentionally” and deliberately")
- The 1874 court case of Regina v. Finney, in which a man accidentally scalds a mental patient to death in the bath, is illustrative of the differences in clarity with which excuses can be described
- The object of the study of excuses is to clearly distinguish between terms through illuminating examples
- It’s necessary to pay attention to the context and expression in which the word is used, not merely to the meaning of the word in isolation
- Adverbs may also describe a style of performance, such as a deliberate or careless manner of action
- An adequate account of actions, i.e., the stages or stretches of an action and what constitutes an action, is vital to the study of excuses (that is, to know what is being excused)
- Etymology can help shed light on difficult words like “result” and “intention” · One must avoid the danger of believing that words should fit neatly together into a single conceptual scheme –terms may overlap, conflict, or be disparate · This is a problem in philosophy more generally, in that key terms like “right” and “good” are often assumed to have the potential to fit in a unified framework
- Modern science, such as zoology, has revealed gaps in the capacity of language to describe certain actions, such as compulsive behavior
1969-quine.pdf: “Natural Kinds”, Willard Van Orman Quine ( )
1969-west.pdf: “An Atomist Illustration In Aristotle”, (1969; ):
[Textual criticism of translations/
interpretations of a Democritus passage in Aristotle. West argues that the translation of a passage generally translated as the generic observation
Tragedy and comedy come out of the same letters.
or the more abstract observation
Tragedy and Comedy come out of the same letters.
should be read as Democritus engaged in word play:
For ‘Tragedy’ [τραγωδία] and ‘Comedy’ [τρυγωδία] come to be out of the same letters.
Because the surrounding passage in Aristotle strongly implies that Democritus is defending the position that small changes (in atoms) can yield large changes (in observed appearance or behavior or property), in the same way that a word can alter its meaning completely based on a single letter (emphasis added):
A similar criticism applies to all our predecessors with the single exception of Democritus. Not one of them penetrated below the surface or made a thorough examination of a single one of the problems. Democritus, however, does seem not only to have thought carefully about all the problems, but also to be distinguished from the outset by his method. For, as we are saying, none of the other philosophers made any definite statement about growth, except such as any amateur might have made. They said that things grow ‘by the accession of like to like’, but they did not proceed to explain the manner of this accession. Nor did they give any account of ‘combination’: and they neglected almost every single one of the remaining problems, offering no explanation, e.g. of ‘action’ or ‘passion’ how in physical actions one thing acts and the other undergoes action. Democritus and Leucippus, however, postulate the ‘figures’, and make ‘alteration’ and coming-to-be result from them. They explain coming-to-be and passing-away by their ‘dissociation’ and ‘association’, but ‘alteration’ by their ‘grouping’ and ‘Position’. And since they thought that the ‘truth lay in the appearance, and the appearances are conflicting and infinitely many, they made the ’figures’ infinite in number. Hence—owing to the changes of the compound—the same thing seems different and conflicting to different people: it is ‘transposed’ by a small additional ingredient, and appears utterly other by the ‘transposition’ of a single constituent. [For Tragedy and Comedy are both composed of the same letters.]
West states that if Democritus had not intended this wordplay, he would have used other terms for ‘tragedy’ and ‘comedy’. Hence not using his alternative reading and translation renders the passage ‘unintelligble’.]
1972-perry.pdf: “Can the Self Divide?”, John Perry
1973-herbert.pdf: “Listening To The Left Hand: The dangerous business of wishing for absolutes in a relativistic universe”, Frank Herbert ( )
1978-dennett.pdf: “Why you can't make a computer that feels pain”, Daniel C. Dennett ( )
1983-mellor.pdf: “The eponymous F. P. Ramsey”, D. H. Mellor
1985-cuda.pdf: “Against Neural Chauvinism”, (1985-07-01):
John R. Searle () has argued that functional equivalence to a human being, even at the level of the formal structure of neuron firings, is not a sufficient condition for an organism’s having conscious states…To begin this argument we must imagine that we have access to a large pool of homunculi that know a great deal about neurophysiology, and that each homunculus is equipped with a tiny device that can both read the state of a neuron, and change the state of a neuron. Now, one day we talk someone, call him Fred, into undergoing the following series of operations: During the first operation Fred’s skull is opened up and one of his neurons, call it the A neuron, is removed. But right before the neuron is removed, a homunculus is placed in Fred’s skull to take over its functional role. [and so on]
…This paper has, I hope, supported the conclusion that functional equivalence to a human at a very fine level, is a sufficient condition for an organism to have conscious states. It has done this by arguing that the contrary position entails a proposition (i.e., (2)) that we have good reason to believe to be false. The fine level of functional organization alluded to, involves reproducing the functional role of each neuron in a normal human brain. Call this circuit functional equivalence.
However functional theories are more attractive, if they do not require as a necessary condition for conscious states, anything as fine grained as circuit functional equivalence. So one thing that would be worth doing would be to show that functional equivalence at some coarser level is sufficient for having conscious states. And I think that this paper can help do this by weakening one’s beliefs to the contrary. (By a coarser level, I mean any level of description X, such that circuit functional equivalence entails equivalence at the X level but equivalence at the X level does not entail circuit functional equivalence.)
To be more specific, consider some of the arguments of Block, Searle and others to the contrary ( and ). In these arguments, creatures are described which are, at some level coarser than the circuit functional, functionally equivalent to a human, but which are, according to these authors, such that they lack conscious states.
However, there seem to be at least two reasons why one might believe that these creatures are not conscious. One reason might be based on the belief that the functional equivalence that the creatures share with a human, is not at the relevant level of organization. The other reason, and I believe the dominant reason, is that one feels at first glance, that they are just not made of the right kind of stuff (e.g., they are made of homunculi).
This paper then, should help to weaken intuitions that are based on what the organisms are made of. I say this because I think it has been shown that what is important is not what an organism is made of, but rather functional organization at some level. Hence, if one wishes to maintain that such organisms do not have conscious states, then one is going to have to do this on the grounds that the functional equivalence that they share with a human is not at the relevant level, and not on the grounds that they are not made of the proper material.
1991-worth-geoffreysonnabendobliscencetheoriesofforgettingandtheproblemofmatter.pdf: “Geoffrey Sonnabend: Obliscence, Theories of Forgetting and the Problem of Matter - An Encapsulation (Fourth Edition, abridged)”, Valentine Worth
1995-mellor.pdf: “Cambridge Philosophers I: F. P. Ramsey”, (1995-01-01; ):
Frank Plumpton Ramsey was born in February 1903, and he died in January 1930—just before his 27th birthday. In his short life he produced an extraordinary amount of profound and original work in economics, mathematics and logic as well as in philosophy: work which in all these fields is still, over sixty years on, extremely influential.
1996-worth-bernardmastondonaldrgriffithdeprongmoritripsicumplateau.pdf: “Bernard Maston, Donald R. Griffith, and the Deprong Mori of the Tripsicum Plateau”, Valentine Worth
1997-mikkelson.pdf: “Who Is Arguing About the Cat? Moral Action and Enlightenment According to Dōgen”, (1997-07; ):
Once Ejo asked: “What is meant by the expression: ‘Cause and effect are not clouded’?” Dogen said: “Cause and effect are immovable.” Ejo asked: “If this is so, how can we escape?” Dogen replied: “Cause and effect emerge clearly at the same time.” Ejo asked: “If this is so, does cause prompt the next effect, or does effect bring about the next cause?” Dogen said: “If everything were like that, it would be like Nan-ch’uan cutting the cat. Because the assembly was unable to say anything, Nan-ch’uan cut the cat in two. Later, when Nan-ch’uan told this story to Chao-chou, the latter put his straw sandal on his head and went out, an excellent performance. If I had been Nan-ch’uan, I would have said: ‘Even if you can speak, I will cut the cat, and even if you cannot speak, I will still cut it. Who is arguing about the cat? Who can save the cat?’”
—Dogen, Shobogenzo Zuimonki, 1.61
…“One day a student asked me, ‘Does a man of enlightenment fall under the yoke of causation or not?’ I answered, ‘No, he does not.’ Since then I have been doomed to undergo five hundred rebirths as a fox. I beg you now to give the turning word to release me from my life as a fox. Tell me, does a man of enlightenment fall under the yoke of causation or not?” Hyakujo answered, “He does not ignore [cloud] causation [cause and effect].” No sooner had the old man heard these words than he was enlightened.2
“Causation” in this passage refers to “moral causation.” The Buddhist concept of karma acknowledges that good/
bad deeds, thoughts, and so forth result in good/ bad effects. Thus the import of the question posed by the “fox” is whether or not the enlightened person is subject to karma. Hyakujo’s answer, in effect, affirms that the enlightened person is subject to moral causation. Katsuki Sekida offers a common Zen interpretation of this passage in his comment: “Thus to ignore causation only compounds one’s malady. To recognize causation constitutes the remedy for it.”4
Dōgen’s employment of this story in the “Daishugyo” chapter of the Shōbōgenzō implies that, on one level, he thinks Hyakujo’s answer indeed provides a “remedy” for the old man’s predicament.5 Yet Dogen was rarely content with merely citing traditional Zen interpretations of passages; typically, he sought to push his students to a further understanding by a creative reinterpretation of a passage. Lest his disciple therefore think this not-ignoring/
recognition of causation is de facto a release from it in an ultimate sense, Dogen answers that the passage means “cause and effect are immovable.” In other words, moral causation, for Dogen, is an inexorable fact of human existence.
Given this fact, Ejo then asks how we can ever “escape” moral causation. Dogen’s response is enigmatic: “Cause and effect arise at the same time.” Nowhere in the Shōbōgenzō Zuimonki does he further clarify this passage. However, the key to understanding this statement can be gleaned from his discussion of causation in the “Shoakumakusa” chapter of the Shōbōgenzō, wherein he observes that “cause is not before and effect is not after.”6 As Hee-Jin Kim explains, Dogen saw cause and effect as absolutely discontinuous moments that, in any given action, arise simultaneously from “thusness.” Therefore,
no sooner does one choose and act according to a particular course of action than are the results thereof (heavens, hells, or otherwise) realized in it…. Man lives in the midst of causation from which he cannot escape even for a moment; nevertheless, he can live from moment to moment in such a way that these moments are the fulfilled moments of moral and spiritual freedom and purity in thusness.7
…Dogen’s own proposed response helps us to see the point he is trying to make via the words of the old Master: “In expressing full function, there are no fixed methods.” In other words, there is no fixed formula for expressing and eliciting without-thinking. Nan-ch’uan, in Dogen’s view, betrayed an attachment to only two positions—to kill or not kill the cat. He was “fixated,” we might say, by these two possibilities. This is evidenced by the fact that he does indeed carry out one of them precisely as he said he would.
2000-simons-tellthebeesbeliefknowledgehypersymboliccognition.pdf: “Tell The Bees... Belief, Knowledge & Hypersymbolic Cognition”, Sarah Simons
2001-collins.pdf: “Tacit Knowledge, Trust and the Q of Sapphire”, (2001-01-01; ):
Russian measurements of the quality factor (Q) of sapphire, made 20 years ago, have only just been repeated in the West. Shortfalls in tacit knowledge have been partly responsible for this delay. The idea of ` tacit knowledge’, first put forward by the physical chemist Michael Polanyi, has been studied and analysed over the last two decades. A new classification of tacit knowledge (broadly construed) is offered here and applied to the case of sapphire. The importance of personal contact between scientists is brought out and the sources of trust described. It is suggested that the reproduction of scientific findings could be aided by a small addition to the information contained in experimental reports. The analysis is done in the context of fieldwork conducted in the USA and observations of experimental work at Glasgow University.
2004-wallace-considerthelobster.html: “Consider the Lobster: For 56 years, the Maine Lobster Festival has been drawing crowds with the promise of sun, fun, and fine food. One visitor would argue that the celebration involves a whole lot more”, (2004-08-01; ):
[Originally published in the August 2004 issue of Gourmet magazine, this review of the 2003 Maine Lobster Festival generated some controversy among the readers of the culinary magazine. The essay is concerned with the ethics of boiling a creature alive in order to enhance the consumer’s pleasure, including a discussion of lobster sensory neurons.]
A detail so obvious that most recipes don’t even bother to mention it is that each lobster is supposed to be alive when you put it in the kettle…Another alternative is to put the lobster in cold salt water and then very slowly bring it up to a full boil. Cooks who advocate this method are going mostly on the analogy to a frog, which can supposedly be kept from jumping out of a boiling pot by heating the water incrementally. In order to save a lot of research-summarizing, I’ll simply assure you that the analogy between frogs and lobsters turns out not to hold.
…So then here is a question that’s all but unavoidable at the World’s Largest Lobster Cooker, and may arise in kitchens across the U.S.: Is it all right to boil a sentient creature alive just for our gustatory pleasure? A related set of concerns: Is the previous question irksomely PC or sentimental? What does ‘all right’ even mean in this context? Is it all just a matter of individual choice?
…As far as I can tell, my own main way of dealing with this conflict has been to avoid thinking about the whole unpleasant thing. I should add that it appears to me unlikely that many readers of gourmet wish to think hard about it, either, or to be queried about the morality of their eating habits in the pages of a culinary monthly. Since, however, the assigned subject of this article is what it was like to attend the 2003 MLF, and thus to spend several days in the midst of a great mass of Americans all eating lobster, and thus to be more or less impelled to think hard about lobster and the experience of buying and eating lobster, it turns out that there is no honest way to avoid certain moral questions.
2004-wisnewski.pdf: “A Defense of Cannibalism”, J. Jeremy Wisnewski
2005-huemer.pdf: “Is Critical Thinking Epistemically Responsible?”, (2005-07-06):
There are at least three strategies we might take in approaching controversial issues: (1) we might accept the conclusions of experts on their authority, (2) we might evaluate the relevant evidence and arguments for ourselves, or (3) we might give up on finding the answers. Students of “critical thinking” are regularly advised to follow strategy (2). But strategies (1) and (3) are usually superior to (2), from the standpoint of the goal of gaining true beliefs and avoiding false ones.
2006-harris.pdf: “Trust in Testimony: How Children Learn About Science and Religion”, (2006-05-09; ):
Many adult beliefs are based on the testimony provided by other people rather than on firsthand observation. Children also learn from other people’s testimony. For example, they learn that mental processes depend on the brain, that the earth is spherical, and that hidden bodily organs constrain life and death. Such learning might indicate that other people’s testimony simply amplifies children’s access to empirical data. However, children’s understanding of God’s special powers and the afterlife shows that their acceptance of others’ testimony extends beyond the empirical domain. Thus, children appear to conceptualize unobservable scientific and religious entities similarly. Nevertheless, some children distinguish between the 2 domains, arguably because a different pattern of discourse surrounds scientific as compared to religious entities.
2008-sinhababu.pdf: “Possible Girls”, (2008-05-25; ):
I offer a method for uniquely picking out possible people who are in love with us and not with our counterparts. Impossible lovers and trans-world love letters are considered.
Anticipating objections, I argue that we can stand in the right kinds of relations to merely possible people to be in love with them and that ending a trans-world relationship to start a relationship with an actual person isn’t cruel to one’s otherworldly lover.
2009-schwitzgebel.pdf: “The Moral Behaviour of Ethicists: Peer Opinion”, (2009-11-16; ):
If philosophical moral reflection tends to improve moral behaviour, one might expect that professional ethicists will, on average, behave morally better than non-ethicists. One potential source of insight into the moral behaviour of ethicists is philosophers’ opinions about ethicists’ behaviour.
At the 2007 Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, we used chocolate to entice 277 passers-by to complete anonymous questionnaires without their knowing the topic of those questionnaires in advance. Version I of the questionnaire asked respondents to compare, in general, the moral behaviour of ethicists to that of philosophers not specializing in ethics and to non-academics of similar social background. Version II asked respondents similar questions about the moral behaviour of the ethics specialist in their department whose name comes next in alphabetical order after their own. Both versions asked control questions about specialists in metaphysics and epistemology.
The majority of respondents expressed the view that ethicists do not, on average, behave better than non-ethicists. Whereas ethicists tended to avoid saying that ethicists behave worse than non-ethicists, non-ethicists expressed that pessimistic view about as often as they expressed the view that ethicists behave better.
[See further: Ethicist Ethics.]
2010-shwed.pdf: “The Temporal Structure of Scientific Consensus Formation”, (2010-12-13):
This article engages with problems that are usually opaque: What trajectories do scientific debates assume, when does a scientific community consider a proposition to be a fact, and how can we know that?
We develop a strategy for evaluating the state of scientific contestation on issues. The analysis builds from Latour’s black box imagery, which we observe in scientific citation networks. We show that as consensus forms, the importance of internal divisions to the overall network structure declines. We consider substantive cases that are now considered facts, such as the carcinogenicity of smoking and the non-carcinogenicity of coffee. We then employ the same analysis to currently contested cases: the suspected carcinogenicity of cellular phones, and the relationship between vaccines and autism.
Extracting meaning from the internal structure of scientific knowledge carves a niche for renewed sociological commentary on science, revealing a typology of trajectories that scientific propositions may experience en route to consensus. [Keywords: sociology of science, consensus, black boxing, network analysis, citations]
2010-weinberg.pdf: “Are philosophers expert intuiters?”, (2010-06-24):
Recent experimental philosophy arguments have raised trouble for philosophers’ reliance on armchair intuitions.
One popular line of response has been the expertise defense: philosophers are highly-trained experts, whereas the subjects in the experimental philosophy studies have generally been ordinary undergraduates, and so there’s no reason to think philosophers will make the same mistakes. But this deploys a substantive empirical claim, that philosophers’ training indeed inculcates sufficient protection from such mistakes.
We canvass the psychological literature on expertise, which indicates that people are not generally very good at reckoning who will develop expertise under what circumstances. We consider 3 promising hypotheses concerning what philosophical expertise might consist in:
- better conceptual schemata;
- mastery of entrenched theories; and
- general practical know-how with the entertaining of hypotheticals.
On inspection, none seem to provide us with good reason to endorse this key empirical premise of the expertise defense. [Keywords: armchair philosophy, conceptual schemata, configural rules, experimental philosophy, expertise, intuitions, restrictionist challenge]
2010-yvain-inverselawofscientificnomenclature.html: “Inverse Law of Scientific Nomenclature”, (2010-10-23; ):
It is, of course, a notable prediction of this theory that the least scientific idea possible would end up called “Scientology”.
Or so I thought! Last night, I discovered there was a movement called “Factology”. Obviously this requires further investigation!
…But surely they don’t just randomly draw crazy conclusions based on a few words that sound the same, do they? Well, here’s a quote from their Wikipedia article, about “examples of movies with encoded content about the reality of aliens among us”:
Yoda…is short for Judah. Freemasons are inspired by one entity and that is a grey, by the name of Yoda. Yoda guides Freemasonry back to Judah, with the ancient Israel masonry. The British “Covenant Of Man” symbolizes the empire striking back. America is the empire fighting to overthrow Europe…The word Yoda is not an English word as you have been led to believe. Its root word yawdaw appears 111 times in the Old Testament, means “to give thanks or praise, throw down, cast, shoot.” The word Yadah meaning, to “to praise, give thanks” stems from the root word Yawdaw and appears only two times in the Old Testament (Daniel 2:23, Daniel 6:10). Not to mention the fact Yoda played in [the film] Return of the Jedi, and the word jedi is the same as yeti, it’s just a matter of a letter, it’s really the same word. Yeti is the name of Sasquatch (Bigfoot), also called Seti which is equivalent to the Extraterrestrials called the Seirians.
…Okay, so Uncle Sam is a gnostic demon, as revealed by Dr. Seuss who is secretly the king of the pagan gods. But can they get even crazier?:
White people were bred to be food, and the ‘rapture’ expected by Christians is really the return of the ‘raptors’ who will dine on the now-ripe delicious white flesh.
2011-sandberg.pdf: “Cognitive Enhancement in Courts”, (2011-04-01):
Human cognitive performance has crucial importance for legal process, often creating the difference between fair and unfair imprisonment. Lawyers, judges, and jurors need to follow long and complex arguments. They need to understand technical language. Jurors need to remember what happens during a long trial. The demands imposed on jurors in particular are sizeable and the cognitive challenges are discussed in this chapter. Jurors are often subjected to both tremendous decision complexity and tremendous evidence complexity. Some of these problems could be ameliorated if we can somehow enhance the cognitive capacities, including attention and memory, of various players in trials. There are multiple ways in which cognition can be improved either by external tools or by an increasing number of biomedical interventions that act directly on the brain. The article surveys a range of beneficial and detrimental effects that substances can have on cognition. [Keywords: cognitive performance, cognitive challenges, jurors, decision complexity, external tools]
2011-schwitzgebel-2.pdf: “Ethicists'' courtesy at philosophy conferences”, (2011-09-06; ):
If philosophical moral reflection tends to promote moral behavior, one might think that professional ethicists would behave morally better than do socially comparable non-ethicists.
We examined three types of courteous and discourteous behavior at American Philosophical Association conferences: talking audibly while the speaker is talking (versus remaining silent), allowing the door to slam shut while entering or exiting mid-session (versus attempting to close the door quietly), and leaving behind clutter at the end of a session (versus leaving one’s seat tidy).
By these three measures, audiences in ethics sessions did not appear to behave any more courteously than did audiences in non-ethics sessions. However, audiences in environmental ethics sessions did appear to leave behind less trash. [Keywords: ethics, ethics professors, etiquette, metaphilosophy, morality, moral behavior, philosophers, psychology of philosophy, sociology of philosophy]
[See further: Ethicist Ethics.]
2011-schwitzgebel.pdf: “The Self-Reported Moral Behavior of Ethics Professors”, (2011-03-16; ):
We examine the self-reported moral attitudes and moral behavior of 198 ethics professors, 208 non-ethicist philosophers, and 167 professors in departments other than philosophy on eight moral issues: academic society membership, voting, staying in touch with one’s mother, vegetarianism, organ and blood donation, responsiveness to student emails, charitable giving, and honesty in responding to survey questionnaires. On some issues we also had direct behavioral measures that we could compare with self-report.
Ethicists expressed somewhat more stringent normative attitudes on some issues, such as vegetarianism and charitable donation. However, on no issue did ethicists show statistically-significantly better behavior than the two comparison groups.
Our findings on attitude-behavior consistency were mixed: Ethicists showed the strongest relationship between behavior and expressed moral attitude regarding voting but the weakest regarding charitable donation. [Keywords: ethics, moral psychology, moral behavior, attitude-behavior consistency, experimental philosophy, applied ethics, vegetarianism, charity, voting]
[See further: Ethicist Ethics.]
2012-09-27-nagel.txt: “A Philosopher Defends Religion [review of Plantinga, Where the Conflict Really Lies]”, (2012-09-27; ):
The gulf in outlook between atheists and adherents of the monotheistic religions is profound. We are fortunate to live under a constitutional system and a code of manners that by and large keep it from disturbing the social peace; usually the parties ignore each other. But sometimes the conflict surfaces and heats up into a public debate. The present is such a time.
…In his absorbing new book, Where the Conflict Really Lies, Alvin Plantinga, a distinguished analytic philosopher known for his contributions to metaphysics and theory of knowledge as well as to the philosophy of religion, turns this alleged opposition on its head. His overall claim is that “there is superficial conflict but deep concord between science and theistic religion, but superficial concord and deep conflict between science and naturalism.” By naturalism he means the view that the world describable by the natural sciences is all that exists, and that there is no such person as God, or anything like God. Plantinga’s religion is the real thing, not just an intellectual deism that gives God nothing to do in the world. He himself is an evangelical Protestant, but he conducts his argument with respect to a version of Christianity that is the “rough intersection of the great Christian creeds”—ranging from the Apostle’s Creed to the Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles—according to which God is a person who not only created and maintains the universe and its laws, but also intervenes specially in the world, with the miracles related in the Bible and in other ways. It is of great interest to be presented with a lucid and sophisticated account of how someone who holds these beliefs understands them to harmonize with and indeed to provide crucial support for the methods and results of the natural sciences…Faith, according to Plantinga, is another basic way of forming beliefs, distinct from but not in competition with reason, perception, memory, and the others. However, it is
a wholly different kettle of fish: according to the Christian tradition (including both Thomas Aquinas and John Calvin), faith is a special gift from God, not part of our ordinary epistemic equipment. Faith is a source of belief, a source that goes beyond the faculties included in reason.
God endows human beings with a sensus divinitatis that ordinarily leads them to believe in him. (In atheists the sensus divinitatis is either blocked or not functioning properly.)2 In addition, God acts in the world more selectively by “enabling Christians to see the truth of the central teachings of the Gospel.”
If all this is true, then by Plantinga’s standard of reliability and proper function, faith is a kind of cause that provides a warrant for theistic belief, even though it is a gift, and not a universal human faculty. (Plantinga recognizes that rational arguments have also been offered for the existence of God, but he thinks it is not necessary to rely on these, any more than it is necessary to rely on rational proofs of the existence of the external world to know just by looking that there is beer in the refrigerator.) It is illuminating to have the starkness of the opposition between Plantinga’s theism and the secular outlook so clearly explained. My instinctively atheistic perspective implies that if I ever found myself flooded with the conviction that what the Nicene Creed says is true, the most likely explanation would be that I was losing my mind, not that I was being granted the gift of faith. From Plantinga’s point of view, by contrast, I suffer from a kind of spiritual blindness from which I am unwilling to be cured. This is a huge epistemological gulf, and it cannot be overcome by the cooperative employment of the cognitive faculties that we share, as is the hope with scientific disagreements….The interest of this book, especially for secular readers, is its presentation from the inside of the point of view of a philosophically subtle and scientifically informed theist—an outlook with which many of them will not be familiar. Plantinga writes clearly and accessibly, and sometimes acidly—in response to aggressive critics of religion like Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. His comprehensive stand is a valuable contribution to this debate.
2012-bakker.pdf: “The Last Magic Show: A Blind Brain Theory of the Appearance of Consciousness”, (2012-04-17; ):
According to the latest estimates, the human brain performs some 38 000 trillion operations per second. When you compare this to the amount of information that reaches conscious awareness, the disproportion becomes nothing short of remarkable. What are the consequences of this radical informatic asymmetry?
The Blind Brain Theory of the Appearance of Consciousness (BBT) represents an attempt to ‘explain away’ several of the most perplexing features of consciousness in terms of information loss and depletion. The first-person perspective, it argues, is the expression of the kinds and quantities of information that, for a variety of structural and developmental reasons, cannot be accessed by the ‘conscious brain.’ Puzzles as profound and persistent as the now, personal identity, conscious unity, and most troubling of all, intentionality, could very well be kinds of illusions foisted on conscious awareness by different versions of the informatic limitation expressed, for instance, in the boundary of your visual field.
By explaining away these phenomena, BBT separates the question of consciousness from the question of how consciousness appears, and so drastically narrows the so-called explanatory gap. If true, it solves the hard problem. But at what cost?
2012-schwitzgebel.pdf: “Expertise in Moral Reasoning? Order Effects on Moral Judgment in Professional Philosophers and Non-Philosophers”, (2021-02-04; ):
We examined the effects of order of presentation on the moral judgments of professional philosophers and two comparison groups.
All groups showed similar-sized order effects on their judgments about hypothetical moral scenarios targeting the doctrine of the double effect, the action-omission distinction, and the principle of moral luck. Philosophers’ endorsements of related general moral principles were also substantially influenced by the order in which the hypothetical scenarios had previously been presented.
Thus, philosophical expertise does not appear to enhance the stability of moral judgments against this presumably unwanted source of bias, even given familiar types of cases and principles.
[See further: Ethicist Ethics.]
2012-shenhav.pdf: “Divine intuition: cognitive style influences belief in God”, (2012; ):
Some have argued that belief in God is intuitive, a natural (by-)product of the human mind given its cognitive structure and social context. If this is true, the extent to which one believes in God may be influenced by one’s more general tendency to rely on intuition versus reflection. Three studies support this hypothesis, linking intuitive cognitive style to belief in God. Study 1 showed that individual differences in cognitive style predict belief in God. Participants completed the Cognitive Reflection Test (CRT; Frederick, 2005), which employs math problems that, although easily solvable, have intuitively compelling incorrect answers. Participants who gave more intuitive answers on the CRT reported stronger belief in God. This effect was not mediated by education level, income, political orientation, or other demographic variables. Study 2 showed that the correlation between CRT scores and belief in God also holds when cognitive ability (IQ) and aspects of personality were controlled. Moreover, both studies demonstrated that intuitive CRT responses predicted the degree to which individuals reported having strengthened their belief in God since childhood, but not their familial religiosity during childhood, suggesting a causal relationship between cognitive style and change in belief over time. Study 3 revealed such a causal relationship over the short term: Experimentally inducing a mindset that favors intuition over reflection increases self-reported belief in God. [Keywords: reasoning, religion, religiosity, reflection, atheism.]
2013-rust.pdf: “Ethicists' and Nonethicists' Responsiveness to Student Emails: Relationships Among Expressed Normative Attitude, Self-Described Behavior, and Empirically Observed Behavior”, (2013-04-03; ):
Do professional ethicists behave any morally better than other professors do? Do they show any greater consistency between their normative attitudes and their behavior?
In response to a survey question, a large majority of professors (83% of ethicists, 83% of non-ethicist philosophers, and 85% of non-philosophers) expressed the view that “not consistently responding to student e-mails” is morally bad. A similarly large majority of professors claimed to respond to at least 95% of student e-mails.
These professors, and others, were sent three e-mails designed to look like queries from students. Ethicists’ e-mail response rates were not statistically-significantly different from the other two groups’. Expressed normative view correlated with self-estimated rate of e-mail responsiveness, especially among the ethicists. Empirically measured e-mail responsiveness, however, was at best weakly correlated with self-estimated e-mail responsiveness; and professors’ expressed normative attitude was not statistically-significantly correlated with empirically measured e-mail responsiveness for any of the three groups. [Keywords: attitude-behavior consistency, ethics, experimental philosophy, moral psychology, morality, social psychology]
[See further: Ethicist Ethics.]
2014-melzer-appendix.pdf: “Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing, Appendix: A Chronological Compilation of Testimonial Evidence for Esotericism”, (2014-09-09; ):
Beginning with Homer and ending with Wittgenstein, I present here in chronological order all the major, explicit testimony concerning philosophical esotericism that I have found to date. It includes all the quotations of this kind used in the book as well as many others that were not used. Still, it is far from exhaustive. Readers with suggestions for additions can send them to email@example.com.
The compilation includes statements of several different kinds. First, declarations by an author of his own esotericism; second, other remarks concerning the phenomenon of esotericism in general; third, the author’s claim that some other writer wrote esoterically; and fourth, some other writer’s claim that the author wrote esoterically.
- Testimony about Ancient Philosophy as a Whole
- Aesop of Samos
- Simonides of Ceos
- Sigmund Freud
- Vladimir Ilyich Lenin
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
Do philosophy professors specializing in ethics behave, on average, any morally better than do other professors? If not, do they at least behave more consistently with their expressed values? These questions have never been systematically studied.
We examine the self-reported moral attitudes and moral behavior of 198 ethics professors, 208 non-ethicist philosophers, and 167 professors in departments other than philosophy on eight moral issues: academic society membership, voting, staying in touch with one’s mother, vegetarianism, organ and blood donation, responsiveness to student emails, charitable giving, and honesty in responding to survey questionnaires. On some issues, we also had direct behavioral measures that we could compare with the self-reports.
Ethicists expressed somewhat more stringent normative attitudes on some issues, such as vegetarianism and charitable donation. However, on no issue did ethicists show unequivocally better behavior than the two comparison groups. Our findings on attitude-behavior consistency were mixed: ethicists showed the strongest relationship between behavior and expressed moral attitude regarding voting but the weakest regarding charitable donation.
We discuss implications for several models of the relationship between philosophical reflection and real-world moral behavior. [Keywords: applied ethics, attitude-behavior consistency, charity, ethics, experimental philosophy, moral behavior, moral psychology, vegetarianism, voting]
[See Ethicist Ethics.]
2015-schwitzgebel.pdf: “Philosophers' biased judgments persist despite training, expertise and reflection”, (2015-08-01; ):
We examined the effects of framing and order of presentation on professional philosophers’ judgments about a moral puzzle case (the “trolley problem”) and a version of the Tversky & Kahneman “Asian disease” scenario.
Professional philosophers exhibited substantial framing effects and order effects, and were no less subject to such effects than was a comparison group of non-philosopher academic participants. Framing and order effects were not reduced by a forced delay during which participants were encouraged to consider “different variants of the scenario or different ways of describing the case”. Nor were framing and order effects lower among participants reporting familiarity with the trolley problem or with loss-aversion framing effects, nor among those reporting having had a stable opinion on the issues before participating the experiment, nor among those reporting expertise on the very issues in question.
Thus, for these scenario types, neither framing effects nor order effects appear to be reduced even by high levels of academic expertise. [Keywords: expertise, framing effects, loss aversion, order effects, reasoning, social cognition]
[See further: Ethicist Ethics.]
2016-schwitzgebel.pdf: “The Behavior of Ethicists”, (2016; ):
Arguably, one of the aims of studying ethics is moral self-improvement. In ancient philosophy, moral self-improvement is often treated as the foremost aim for the student of ethics—for example, in Aristotle (fourth-century BCE/1962), Confucius (fifth-century BCE/2003), and Epictetus (second-century CE/
2008). Twentieth-century and twenty-first-century philosophers might overall tend to aim their ethical reflections more toward theoretical discovery than toward self-improvement, but moral self-improvement plausibly remains among the goals of a substantial portion of professional ethicists to the extent they use their philosophical training in ethics to help them reflect on, for example, to what extent they have a duty to donate to charity or whether it is morally permissible to eat meat, with the thought of acting upon their conclusions.
Two related questions thus invite empirical treatment: Is philosophical moral reflection of the sort practiced by professional ethicists in fact morally improving? And how do professional ethicists’ explicitly espoused moral principles relate to their practical moral behavior? Individual ethicists’ lives are sometimes examined with these questions in mind, especially the life of Martin Heidegger, notorious for his endorsement of Nazism (e.g., Sluga 1993; Young 1997; Faye 2005/
2009); and general claims about the behavior of ethicists are sometimes made based on personal experience or broad plausibility considerations (e.g., Posner 1999; Knobe and Leiter 2007; Moeller 2009). However, until recently, systematic, quantitative research on these issues has been entirely lacking. To date, all published quantitative studies of the issue have been led by Eric Schwitzgebel and Joshua Rust, the two authors of this chapter, mostly in collaboration with each other. Our general finding is this: On average, professional ethicists’ behavior is indistinguishable from the behavior of comparison groups of professors in other fields. Also, in one multivariable study, we find ethicists neither more nor less likely than other professors to act in accord with their expressed moral attitudes.
[See further: Ethicist Ethics.]
2017-gervais.pdf: “How Many Atheists Are There?”, (2017-05-16; ):
One crucible for theories of religion is their ability to predict and explain the patterns of belief and disbelief. Yet, religious nonbelief is often heavily stigmatized, potentially leading many atheists to refrain from outing themselves even in anonymous polls. We used the unmatched count technique and Bayesian estimation to indirectly estimate atheist prevalence in two nationally representative samples of 2,000 U.S. adults apiece. Widely cited telephone polls (e.g., Gallup, Pew) suggest U.S. atheist prevalence of only 3–11%. In contrast, our most credible indirect estimate is 26% (albeit with considerable estimate and method uncertainty). Our data and model predict that atheist prevalence exceeds 11% with greater than .99 probability and exceeds 20% with roughly .8 probability. Prevalence estimates of 11% were even less credible than estimates of 40%, and all intermediate estimates were more credible. Some popular theoretical approaches to religious cognition may require heavy revision to accommodate actual levels of religious disbelief. [Keywords: religion, atheism, social desirability, stigma, Bayesian estimation]
2017-healy.pdf: “Fuck Nuance”, (2017-06-26; ):
Nuance is not a virtue of good sociological theory. Although often demanded and superficially attractive, nuance inhibits the abstraction on which good theory depends. I describe three “nuance traps” common in sociology and show why they should be avoided on grounds of principle, aesthetics, and strategy. The argument is made without prejudice to the substantive heterogeneity of the discipline.
2019-schonegger.pdf: “The moral behavior of ethics professors: A replication-extension in German-speaking countries”, (2019-03-19; ):
What is the relation between ethical reflection and moral behavior? Does professional reflection on ethical issues positively impact moral behaviors? To address these questions, Schwitzgebel and Rust empirically investigated if philosophy professors engaged with ethics on a professional basis behave any morally better or, at least, more consistently with their expressed values than do non-ethicist professors. Findings from their original US-based sample indicated that neither is the case, suggesting that there is no positive influence of ethical reflection on moral action.
In the study at hand, we attempted to cross-validate this pattern of results in the German-speaking countries and surveyed 417 professors using a replication-extension research design. Our results indicate a successful replication of the original effect that ethicists do not behave any morally better compared to other academics across the vast majority of normative issues. Yet, unlike the original study, we found mixed results on normative attitudes generally. On some issues, ethicists and philosophers even expressed more lenient attitudes. However, one issue on which ethicists not only held stronger normative attitudes but also reported better corresponding moral behaviors was vegetarianism. [Keywords: Experimental philosophy, replication-extension, moral attitudes, moral behavior]
…In a series of studies by Eric Schwitzgebel, co-authored with Joshua Rust (2009, 2010, 2011, 2013, 2014 and Fiery Cushman (2012, 2015), the empirical relations between the normative attitudes and moral behaviors of professional ethicists have been investigated systematically. [See further: Ethicist Ethics.] Their research covered a variety of methodologies and topics like evaluations of peer opinion concerning ethicists’ moral behavior, research on order-effects concerning ethical intuitions in trolley cases, and ethicists’ voting behavior. In their most well-known study (2014), Schwitzgebel and Rust compared the self-reported and directly observed moral behaviors of professional ethicists with their espoused normative views to determine their consistency. As their findings proved to be both empirically informative and highly relevant to how one thinks about the relation between ethical reflection and action, this underscores the value of investigating ethicists to understand the nature and corollaries of ethical reflection. In order to contribute to and validate this pioneering work, we herewith conducted a replication attempt of Schwitzgebel and Rust’s seminal study in German-speaking countries.
2020-smilansky.pdf: “Should We Sacrifice the Utilitarians First?”, (2020-03-05):
It is commonly thought that morality applies universally to all human beings as moral targets, and our general moral obligations to people will not, as a rule, be affected by their views. I propose and explore a radical, alternative normative moral theory, ‘Designer Ethics’, according to which our views are pro tanto crucial determinants of how, morally, we ought to be treated. For example, since utilitarians are more sympathetic to the idea that human beings may be sacrificed for the greater good, perhaps it is permissible (or, even under certain conditions, obligatory) to give them ‘priority’ as potential victims. This odd idea has manifold drawbacks but I claim that it also has substantial advantages, that it has some affinities to more commonly accepted moral positions, and that it should be given a significant role in our ethical thinking.