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Eric Schwitzgebel
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Right, the evolution of scientific language including from metaphorical to literal, is the kind of thing Carrie has in mind. The loading dock guy's usage is charming, and we all know what he means. Presumably there will be linguistic tests for metaphor, polysemy, and literalness that could be applied to his idiolect; and I'm not sure which way those results would go. If it turns out literal, and if his usage becomes widespread in that literal way by linguistic standards, then the meaning of "want" will be much more liberal than most of us currently think it is. Of course, "want" has already gone through some changes. In Shakespeare's day, it often meant something closer to "lack".
I would tie together my answers to your second question and your first. The remnant of dualism (in my interpretation of Carrie) is that mental state verbs should travel together, because there are some minded beings and other unminded beings. Minds are these privileged spaces where consciousness and all mental events occur. Carrie's work challenges this conception by allowing some terms ("preference") to be widely applicable even to entities that we would not normally think of as minded, while other terms stay more narrowly confined. And with that in mind, your first question will be ill-posed from her perspective. Yes, "the whole network" of psychological states won't apply to neurons. But that's the interesting feature of her view, not a problem with it.
by Eric Schwitzgebel Carrie Figdor has been arguing that they do. Consider these sentences, drawn from influential works of neuroscience (quoted in Figdor forthcoming, p. 2): A resonator neuron prefers inputs having frequencies that resonate with the frequency of its subthreshold oscillations (Izhikevich 2007). In preferring a slit specific in... Continue reading
A project in the "experimental philosophy of cosmology". Official version here. Free MS version here. Abstract: In the first experiment, I exhibit unreliable judgment about the primeness or divisibility of four-digit numbers, in contrast to a seeming Excel program. In the second experiment, I exhibit an imperfect memory for arbitrary-seeming... Continue reading
Posted Oct 13, 2015 at Experimental Philosophy
... has been publishing philosophers' op-eds recently -- a couple by me (here and here), and this past week Harry Frankfurt on why inequality isn't immoral and an adaptation of Regina Rini's Splintered Mind guest post on microaggression. The new op-ed editor Juliet Lapidos is behind this trend. Encourage Juliet... Continue reading
by Eric Schwitzgebel Intuitive physics works great for picking berries, throwing stones, and walking through light underbrush. It's a complete disaster when applied to the very large, the very small, the very energetic, or the very fast. Similarly for intuitive biology, intuitive cosmology, and intuitive mathematics: They succeed for practical... Continue reading
I feel pretty mixed about free speech vs sensitivity issues in general -- I suppose I tend a bit more to the free speech side -- but this does seem like a consideration to bear in mind, esp. if there's reason to think it might be upsetting to the particular audience.
by Eric Schwitzgebel As a fan of profane language judiciously employed, I fear that the best profanities of English are cheapening from overuse -- or worse, that our impulses to offend through profane language are beginning to shift away from harmless terms toward more harmful ones. I am inspired to... Continue reading
Comment approval might be delayed, since I am heading off now for two weeks of travel with limited internet access.
by Eric Schwitzgebel Academic philosophers in Anglophone Ph.D.-granting departments tend to have a narrow conception of what counts as valuable philosophical work. Hiring, tenure, promotion, and prestige turn mainly on one's ability to write an essay in a particular theoretical, abstract style, normally in reaction to the work of a... Continue reading
Oh wow, n., that's just so horrible! The fact that it's final, and how it fits into a narrative due to its finality, definitely fits with the theme of this post -- but its publicity does take it in a different direction. Maybe a topic for another post later, as you suggest.
bzfgt: I find it disturbing, too! At first past it seems funny and trivial, but actually it was the last utterance of someone who was being executed in Oklahoma in 1995. He's calling out the government on not adhering to a reasonable standard of giving someone the last meal they request, even when that request is a humble one. It's emblematic of other ways in which we are less humane to prisoners, in ways large and small, than we would like to think of ourselves as being.
by Eric Schwitzgebel Here's a particularly unsentimental view about last, dying thoughts: Your dying thought will be your least important thought. After all (assuming no afterlife), it is the one thought guaranteed to have no influence on any of your future thoughts, or on any other aspect of your psychology.... Continue reading
Thanks for the tip on that, Dan! Yes, that's a cool paper. Nick Bostrom's "Pascal's Mugging" is also pretty interesting in this connection.
Thanks for that very interesting comment, Owen! I'd actually already been thinking about exactly those two cases as potential problems, so we're on the same wavelength. On the ethical case: It's somehwat harder to make the diminishing returns argument for this case, but I do think it can still be argued, at least. It's not clear that killing two people is twice as bad as killing one or that killing a billion is a million times as bad as killing a thousand -- though my intuitions here are pretty shaky. Similarly for creation or reward: It's not clear that creating or rewarding a billion is a million times more choiceworthy than creating a thousand. One way of thinking that greases my intuitions a bit toward this conclusion is something in the ballpark of goldfish-pool / eternal return / identity of indiscernibles thinking. At some magnitude, one is likely just to be creating lots of duplicates of (almost?) exactly the same thing. On Pascal's mugging: I agree that in this case there is some reason not to accept symmetry. I could justify reestablishing symmetry by thinking that it's just as likely to be a prank with as negative utils if I fall for it -- or perhaps thinking that whatever credence I give to the mugger's promise I should give many orders of magnitude more credence (though still very small credence) to this whole series of events being some practical joke by beings who might punish or reward anything. Still, it seems a little forced to insist that symmetry will be precisely restored -- so it's nice that I have my second and third arguments still to rely on!
David: I'm inclined to agree, and prefer to work with bounded utilities. But if I can make it work for unbounded utilities too, then bonus! I won't be too worried if my approach fails in St. Petersburg cases, as long as it works in bounded cases.
by Eric Schwitzgebel In 1% Skepticism, I suggest that it's reasonable to have about a 1% credence that some radically skeptical scenario holds (e.g., this is a dream or we're in a short-term sim), sometimes making decisions that we wouldn't otherwise make based upon those small possibilities (e.g., deciding to... Continue reading
Thanks for those comments, folks! Sorry for the slow approval. akreider: bad/regrettable needn't involve moral disapprobation -- but if you mean "morally bad" and also "part of my psychology for which I merit evaluation", then maybe that's close enough to "blameworthy" for my purposes. I'm not sure about praising for traits rather than actions -- consider moral luck cases, for example. Alexander: Maybe not so prevalent until recently. However, it is one reaction I've seen, at least in conversation, to the literature on bias, and some authors (Neil Levy) seem to say something approximately in that direction, though more nuanced. Izzy: I kind of want to take that "true self" stuff and turn it on its head. Your true self if the self revealed in your behavior and choices, not the one revealed in your sincere endorsements, if those two things tend to come apart. But I agree with you when it comes to disability, especially compulsive negative ideation, and I should have been more careful in the original post to exclude those cases.
David: Yes, exactly! In the longer version of this, I cite both Adams and Smith as those whose views are probably closest to my own.
We might be starting out from some pretty different places, LK, so it might take a longer conversation than this for me to understand where you're coming from. Hopefully, we'll have a chance for that conversation sometime!
Clement: I'm inclined to agree that those circumstances are more favorable for forgiveness -- though I would resist leaning too rigidly on either their necessity or sufficiency.
LK: Quite a range of questions! I find blameworthiness intrinsically interesting in its own right. But a major part of my concern here is to resist the following thought pattern: "I have all these implicit biases and spontaneous reactions, but they're not under my control and I don't endorse them, so I can't blame myself for them; so I'm cool." On undressing people in your mind: I do think that is, or can be intrinsically blameworthy because disrespectful, in certain contexts, even independent of outward behavioral consequences. (Compare with Angela Smith and Robert Adams.) I also think one is a more praiseworthy person if one does not feel disgust than if one does feel disgust toward Hemlata; I think that's a standard we should hold ourselves to and blame ourselves (not too harshly, though) for failing to meet if we do fail to meet it. I'm not sure about what you're asking in your penultimate paragraph: I don't deny credit for praiseworthy outward action, nor deny blame for failing to engage in required action. Action is more important than thought. Maybe you'll see better where I'm coming from if I contextualize this post a bit with my general theory of attitudes, which is that pretty speech and conscious endorsements and what you sincerely endorse in your reflective moments are only a small part of what it is to have an attitude. What matters more is how you generally live your way through the world.
by Eric Schwitzgebel As Aristotle notes (NE III.1, 1110a), if the wind picks you up and blows you somewhere you don't want to go, your going there is involuntary, and you shouldn't be praised or blamed for it. Generally, we don't hold people morally responsible for events outside their control.... Continue reading
p: Both ancient Roman culture and modern Indian culture are the types of large, enduring cultures that I have in mind (unlike ISIS, which others have raised in comments), so I won't try to weasel out in that way! My thinking here is that it's a mistake to treat either official state doctrine or majority opinion as definitive of the moral range of the culture's attitudes. Not all Romans were cool with slaving, killing, and raping -- as you can see expressed in the attitudes of philosophers during the period. The diversity of moral opinion within Roman culture about such topics, at least to judge by the written philosophical works available, was large. I do think that the 21st century U.S. tends to be less okay (at least officially and in academic circles) with slavery and rape than has been common in many cultures, so those are some of the better cases for difference, I think, than some other issues. But broadly, I'd make a similar point here as the one I made about ancient China: Reading Seneca, Cicero, Epictetus, etc., does not plunge one into a radically alien perspective; most of the issues and debates cover similar ground. I don't know as much about India, but I'd guess that the case is similar.