Browse by Title
Ability and Possibility
According to the classical quantificational analysis of modals, an agent has the ability to perform an act iff (roughly) relevant facts about the agent and her environment are compatible with her performing the act. The analysis faces a number of problems, many of which can be traced to the fact that it takes even accidental performance of an act as proof of the relevant ability. I argue that ability statements are systematically ambiguous: on one reading, accidental performance really is enough; on another, more is required. The stronger notion of ability plays a central role in normative contexts. Both readings, I argue, can be captured within the classical quantificational framework, provided we allow conversational context to impose restrictions not just on the “accessible worlds” (the facts that are held fixed), but also on what counts as a performance of the relevant act among these worlds.
|Wolfgang Schwarz||vol. 20||2020|
Abortion, Ultrasound, and Moral Persuasion
We ought to treat others’ moral views with respect, even when we disagree. But what does that mean? This paper articulates a moral obligation to make ourselves open to sincere moral persuasion by others. Doing so allows us to participate in valuable relationships of reciprocal respect for agency. Yet this proposal can sound tritely agreeable. To explore its full implications, the paper applies the general obligation to one of the most challenging topics of moral disagreement: the morality of abortion. I consider and reject arguments that abortion decisions have special features exempting them from the obligation to be open to moral persuasion. Further, I argue that viewing fetal ultrasound images can accomplish morally persuasion. Accordingly, in at least some cases a woman seeking abortion has an obligation to view fetal ultrasound images as a means of being open to moral persuasion. However, this conclusion does not support recent laws compelling women seeking abortion to view ultrasound images; such laws are in fact incompatible with the respect for agency that underwrites the obligation to be open to persuasion.
|Regina Rini||vol. 18||2018|
The Absence of Reference in Hobbes’ Philosophy of Language
Against the dominant view in contemporary Hobbes scholarship, I argue that Hobbes’ philosophy of language implicitly denies that linguistic expressions (names) refer to anything. I defend this thesis both textually, in light of what Hobbes actually said, and contextually, in light of Hobbes’ desertion of the vocabulary of suppositio, which was prevalent in semantics leading up to Hobbes. Hobbes explained away the apparent fact of linguistic reference via a reductive analysis: the relation between words and things wholly reduces to a composite of the relation of signification between words and conceptions on the one hand, and the relation of representation between conceptions and things on the other. Intentionality, for Hobbes, accrues to conceptions, not words.
|Arash Abizadeh||vol. 15||August 2015|
Abstraction and the Origin of General Ideas
Philosophers have often claimed that general ideas or representations have their origin in abstraction, but it remains unclear exactly what abstraction as a psychological process consists in. We argue that the Lockean aspiration of using abstraction to explain the origins of all general representations cannot work and that at least some general representations have to be innate. We then offer an explicit framework for understanding abstraction, one that treats abstraction as a computational process that operates over an innate quality space of fine-grained general representations. We argue that this framework has important philosophical implications for the nativism-empiricism dispute, for questions about the acquisition of unstructured representations, and for questions about the relation between human and animal minds.
|Stephen Laurence; Eric Margolis||vol. 12||December 2012|
Accuracy and the credence-belief connection
Probabilism says an agent is rational only if her credences are probabilistic. This paper is concerned with the so-called Accuracy Dominance Argument for Probabilism. This argument begins with the claim that the sole fundamental source of epistemic value for a credence is its accuracy. It then shows that, however we measure accuracy, any non-probabilistic credences are accuracy-dominated: that is, there are alternative credences that are guaranteed to be more accurate than them. It follows that non-probabilistic credences are irrational. In this paper, I identify and explore a lacuna in this argument. I grant that, if the only doxastic attitudes are credal attitudes, the argument succeeds. But many philosophers say that, alongside credences, there are other doxastic attitudes, such as full beliefs. What's more, those philosophers typically claim, these other doxastic attitudes are closely connected to credences, either as a matter of necessity or normatively. Now, since full beliefs are also doxastic attitudes, it seems that, like credences, the sole source of epistemic value for them is their accuracy. Thus, if we wish to measure the epistemic value of an agent's total doxastic state, we must include not only the accuracy of her credences, but also the accuracy of her full beliefs. However, if this is the case, there is a problem for the Accuracy Dominance Argument for Probabilism. For all the argument says, there might be non-probabilistic credences such that there is no total doxastic state that accuracy-dominates the total doxastic state to which those credences belong.
|Richard Pettigrew||vol. 15||June 2015|
The Act of Choice
Choice is one of the central elements in the experience of free will, but it has not received a good account from either compatibilists or libertarians. This paper develops an account of choice based around three features: (i) choice is an action; (ii) choice is not determined by one's prior beliefs and desires; (iii) once the question of what to do has arisen, choice is typically both necessary and sufficient for moving to action. These features might appear to support a libertarian account, but they do not. Instead it is argued that all three features can be accommodated within a compatibilist account, where choice is needed because of agents' inabilities to arrive at judgements about what is best. Choice differs though from random picking: in choosing, agents frequently (though not always) deploy abilities that enable them to make good choices. In such cases, judgements about what is best will frequently follow the choice. Finally, choice is distinguished from agency and, on the basis of the distinction, the claim that choice is an action is made good.
|Richard Holton||vol. 6||September 2006|
The Aesthetics of Actor-Character Race Matching in Film Fictions
Marguerite Clark as Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1918). Charlton Heston as Ramon Miguel Vargas in Touch of Evil (1958). Mizuo Peck as Sacagawea in Night at the Museum (2006). From the early days of cinema to its classic-era through to the contemporary Hollywood age, the history of cinema is replete with films in which the racial (or ethnic) background of a principal character does not match the background of the actor or actress portraying that character. I call this actor-character race-mismatching. In this paper, I mainly explore whether a coherent and plausible account can be given of race-matching in terms of purely aesthetic considerations, i.e., an account that absent moral considerations can nevertheless coherently and productively answer the following questions: can race-mismatching itself ever be an aesthetic defect of a film, and if so, under what conditions can race-mismatching be such an aesthetic defect. I claim that once we have in place a precise account of the nature of race-matching, it becomes clear that films for which race-mismatching appears to constitute an aesthetic defect are actually films with which properly engaging requires audiences to satisfy inconsistent epistemic conditions. In such cases, I claim, race mismatching constitutes an aesthetic defect for the film-fiction because—in virtue of the inconsistency underwritten by the race-mismatching—that film-fiction undermines the very uptake it prescribes. I then argue that if what’s defective about race-mismatching aesthetically is predicated on something being defective about race-mismatching epistemically, then if there is nothing in principle defective about race-mismatching epistemically, then so too for mismatching aesthetically (and so too for mismatching morally). From this I conclude that reasons stemming only from race-matching/mismatching itself lack the normative force sufficient to warrant the claim that film-fictions ought not race-mismatch.
|Christy Mag Uidhir||vol. 12||January 2012|
Against Utopianism: Noncompliance and Multiple Agents
Does it count against a normative theory in political philosophy that it is in some important sense infeasible, that its prescriptions are unlikely to be complied with? Though a positive answer seems plausible, it has proved hard to defend against the claim (most forcefully made by David Estlund) that this is not how normative theories work - noncompliance shows a problem with the noncomplying agents, not with the normative theory. I think that this line of thought - this defense of Utopianism - wins the battle but loses the war. It’s right about what does and what does not refute a normative theory. It’s wrong in misidentifying the problem. The right way to think about the feasibility worry is as essentially involving multiple agents, and how expected noncompliance by one agent may refute a normative claim addressed at another. Thus understood, feasibility problems may very well refute a theory in political philosophy. In this paper I develop this understanding of the feasibility worry, tie it to more general discussions in normative ethics (about the morally right way to take into account expected violations by others), and in political philosophy (about ideal and non-ideal theory; a long appendix engages that debate in detail).
|David Enoch||vol. 18||2018|
Agency and Evil in Fichte’s Ethics
This paper examines Fichte's proof of evil in §16 of the System of Ethics. According to the majority of commentators, Fichte was mistaken to consider his proof Kantian in spirit (Piché 1999; Kosch 2006, 2011; Dews 2008; and Breazeale 2014). For rather than locate our propensity to evil in an act of free choice, Fichte locates it in a natural force of inertia. However, the distance between Kant and Fichte begins to close if we read his concept of inertia, not as a material force, but as a tendency to resist the work of agency and autonomy. There are, I argue, both textual and conceptual reasons in support of a figurative interpretation. In the course of presenting these reasons, I also uncover an important insight guiding Fichte's analysis of evil in the System of Ethics: namely, his claim that we can never fully step back from ourselves in reflection. In the concluding sections of the paper, I argue that Fichte's insight may solve a particular skeptical threat facing recent Kantian accounts of normativity.
|Owen Ware||vol. 15||March 2015|
The Allegedly Cartesian Roots of Spinoza's Metaphysics
There is a familiar story about Spinoza on which his substance monism arises straightforwardly from Descartes’ own conception of substance, which the latter combines—not entirely consistently—with substance pluralism. I argue that this story is mistaken: substance pluralism is fully consistent with Descartes’ conception of substance; it is also consistent with his claim that the term ‘substance’ is non-univocal. In defense of these claims, I argue that Descartes denies, whereas Spinoza accepts, that causation precludes the kind of independence that is characteristic of substance; further, I show how Descartes’ denial is based on his view that causal relations do not belong to the natures of their relata, whereas Spinoza’s acceptance follows from his commitment to an intimate link between causation and conception (conceiving-through), which Descartes also rejects.
|Anat Schechtman||vol. 18||—|
Amo on the Heterogeneity Problem
In this paper, I examine a heretofore ignored critic of Descartes on the heterogeneity problem: Anton Wilhelm Amo. Looking at Amo’s critique of Descartes reveals a very clear case of a thinker who attempts to offer a causal system that is not a solution to the mind-body problem, but rather that transcends it. The focus of my discussion is Amo’s 1734 dissertation: The Apathy [ἀπάθεια] of the Human Mind or The Absence of Sensation and the Faculty of Sense in the Human Mind and their Presence in our Organic and Living Body. Amo’s discussion of the interaction, or lack thereof, of the mind and body hinges on the essential feature he identifies for the human mind—apathy, that is, impassivity. In this work, Amo engages explicitly with Descartes’s writing, which allows us to more precisely see the nature of his agreement and disagreement with the Cartesian metaphysics of mind. I proceed by treating Amo’s five stated criteria for spirit-hood which, in turn, reveal the kinds of causal connections that are possible for embodied spirits on his view. My aim is threefold: (1) To lay out what I take to be Amo’s view of and arguments for the five criteria he takes to be required for a substance to be spirit. (2) To locate Amo’s agreement and disagreement with Descartes. (3) To suggest that Amo’s view on mind-body interaction involves a kind of occasional causation.
|Julie Walsh||vol. 19||2019|
Anticipated Emotions and Emotional Valence
This paper addresses two questions: first, when making decisions about what to do, does the mere fact that we will feel regretful or guilty or proud afterward give us reason to act? I argue that these emotions of self-assessment give us little or no reason to act. The second question concerns emotional valence — how desirable or undesirable our emotions are. What is it that determines the valence of an emotion like regret? I argue that the valence of emotions, and indeed of feelings like pain more broadly, is a function of the sensations they involve. As I suggest, understanding the point about emotional valence helps us answer the first question about anticipated emotions. The paper concludes with a discussion of death-bed regrets, and of whether teenagers should listen to their annoying parents.
|Dan Moller||vol. 11||August 2011|
Anticipating Failure and Avoiding It
I argue for a conciliationist treatment of peer disagreement, on the grounds that the evidence that non-conciliatory theorists point to--the evidence that conciliatory-friendly independence principles would rule out--bears a troubling relation to accuracy. Namely, we can anticipate that trying to respond to it is a bad deal with respect to our expected accuracy. I consequently argue that we shouldn't try to respond to it. Instead we should ignore it, and be conciliationists.
|Robert Steel||vol. 18||2018|
Aquinas on Free Will and Intellectual Determinism
From the early reception of Thomas Aquinas up to the present, many have interpreted his theory of liberum arbitrium (which for Aquinas is free will specifically as the power to choose among alternatives) to imply intellectual determinism: we do not control our choices, because we do not control the practical judgments that cause our choices. In this paper we argue instead that he rejects determinism in general and intellectual determinism in particular, which would effectively destroy liberum arbitrium as he conceives of it. We clarify that for Aquinas moral responsibility presupposes liberum arbitrium and thus the ability to do otherwise, although the ability to do otherwise applies differently to praise and blame. His argument against intellectual determinism is not straightforward, but we construct it by analogy to his arguments against other deterministic threats (e.g., the one posed by divine foreknowledge). The non-determinism of the intellect’s causality with respect to the will results from his claims that practical reasoning is defeasible and that the reasons for actions are not contrastive reasons.
|Tobias Hoffmann; Cyrille Michon||vol. 17||May 2017|
Aquinas on judgment and the active power of reason
This paper examines Aquinas’ account of a certain kind of rational control: the control one exercises in using one’s reason to make a judgment. Though this control is not itself a kind of voluntary control, it is a precondition for voluntariness. Aquinas claims that one’s voluntary actions must spring from judgments that are subject to one’s rational control and that, because of this, only rational animals can act voluntarily. This rational kind of control depends on a certain distinctive feature of the rational faculty. For Aquinas, reason differs from other faculties in that it can be exercised in a peculiarly self-reflective way: in exercising reason one can be grasping the point of what one is doing in that very exercise of reason. The sense in which one controls one’s rational judgment is that one is, in judging, guided by the norm of judging truly. Aquinas holds that it is only possible to be so guided because the power by which one judges (namely, reason) is self-reflective in this special sense: part of what it is to judge is to grasp the point of what one is doing in that very act of judging. The paper argues that the roots of this view can be found in neoplatonic discussions of self-constitution and self-knowledge.
|Ursula Coope||vol. 13||October 2013|
Of Archery and Virtue: Ancient and Modern Conceptions of Value
I argue that comparisons of Stoic virtue to stochastic skills — now standard in the secondary literature on Stoicism — are based on a misreading of the sources and distort the Stoic position in two respects. In paradigmatic stochastic skills such as archery, medicine, or navigation the value of the skill’s external end justifies the existence and practice of the skill and constitutes an appropriate focus of rational motivation. Neither claim applies to virtue as the Stoics understand it. The stochastic model of virtue almost certainly originated with Carneades and should be distinguished clearly from the Stoic account. Doing so clarifies the Stoic position and shows that it anticipates what Thomas Hurka calls a modern view of value.
|Jacob Klein||vol. 14||June 2014|
Are There Indefeasible Epistemic Rules?
What if your peers tell you that you should disregard your perceptions? Worse, what if your peers tell you to disregard the testimony of your peers? How should we respond if we get evidence that seems to undermine our epistemic rules? Several philosophers (e.g. Elga 2010, Titelbaum 2015) have argued that some epistemic rules are indefeasible. I will argue that all epistemic rules are defeasible. The result is a kind of epistemic particularism, according to which there are no simple rules connecting descriptive and normative facts. I will argue that this type of particularism is more plausible in epistemology than in ethics. The result is an unwieldy and possibly infinitely long epistemic rule — an Uber-rule. I will argue that the Uber-rule applies to all agents, but is still defeasible — one may get misleading evidence against it and rationally lower one’s credence in it.
|Darren Bradley||vol. 19||2019|
Aristotle on Actions from Lack of Control
The paper defends three claims about Aristotle’s theory of uncontrolled (akratic) actions in NE 7.3. First, I argue that the first part of NE 7.3 (1146b30-47a24) contains the description of the overall state of mind of the agent while she acts without control. Aristotle’s solution to the problem of uncontrolled action lies in the analogy between the uncontrolled agent and people who are drunk, mad, or asleep. This analogy is interpreted as meaning that the uncontrolled agent, while acting without control, is still in possession of her knowledge (and so she can make use of what she knows) but she is unable to use it as knowledge due to the temporary disablement of her reason by appetite. Due to this disablement, the uncontrolled agent is temporarily unable to be motivated to act by her knowledge and acts merely on her appetite. Second, I argue that the second part of NE 7.3 (1147a25-b5) provides an analysis of the particular mental state from which the uncontrolled action issues. Its central passage (1147a31-5) is a description of the uncontrolled agent’s state of mind before the uncontrolled action and not, as it has been traditionally understood, a description of her state of mind during the uncontrolled action. Third, I argue that, on Aristotle’s view, the transition from the state before the uncontrolled action to the state in which the agent already acts without control does not involve any psychological state that would constitute the agent’s choice to abandon her decision and give in to her desires but proceeds on a purely physiological level.
|Jozef Müller||vol. 15||March 2015|
Aristotle on Induction and First Principles
Aristotle's cognitive ideal is a form of understanding that requires a sophisticated grasp of scientific first principles. At the end of the Analytics, Aristotle tells us that we learn these principles by induction (epagôgê). But on the whole, commentators have found this an implausible claim: induction seems far too basic a process to yield the sort of knowledge Aristotle's account requires. In this paper I argue that this criticism is misguided. I defend a broader reading of Aristotelian induction, on which there's good sense to be made of the claim that we come to grasp first principles inductively, and show that this reading is a natural one given Aristotle's broader views on scientific learning.
|Marc Gasser-Wingate||vol. 16||February 2016|
Aristotle on Self-Knowledge and Friendship
In Nicomachean Ethics 10.7, Aristotle says that the contemplative wise person living the happiest and most self-sufficient life will need other people less than a person living a life of practical virtue. This seems to be in tension with Aristotle’s emphasis elsewhere on the political nature of human beings. I analyze in detail Aristotle’s most elaborate defense of the need for friends in the happy life in Nicomachean Ethics 9.9 to see whether and how he resolves the need for friends with the self-sufficiency of the happy life. The virtue-friendship described in the chapter does turn out to be more compatible with the self-contained unity of a happy life than other sorts of friendship, because collaboration in virtuous activities integrates the friend into one’s activities. This is true even for contemplative friendship, where, as Aristotle suggests in the ornate final argument of 9.9, the friends collaboratively contemplate human nature and take pleasure in the goodness of human life. The unity achieved in this kind of friendship is an imitation of God’s self-contemplative and self contained unity. Nonetheless, I conclude, there is no evidence that Aristotle did not think that friendship was conditioned on human failings and so that friends would be less necessary for those leading the most excellent contemplative lives.
|Zena Hitz||vol. 11||September 2011|
The Artificial Virtues of Thought: Correctness and Cognition in Hume
In this essay, I discuss two familiar objections to Hume's account of cognition, focusing on his ability to give a satisfactory account of the more normative dimensions of thought and language use. In doing so, I argue that Hume’s implicit account of these issues is far richer than is normally assumed. In particular, I show that Hume’s account of convention-driven artificial virtues like justice also applies to the proper use of conventional public languages. I then use this connection between Hume’s conception of language and his moral theory to show how he can respond to a number of basic objections to his views. In doing so, I explore the sense in which human cognition is essentially linguistic, and so social, for Hume, as well as many other issues concerning the relationship between Hume’s philosophy of mind and language, his epistemology, and his ethics.
|Karl Schafer||vol. 19||2019|
The Arts of Action
The theory and culture of the arts has largely focused on the arts of objects, and neglected the arts of action – or, as I call them, the “process arts”. In the process arts, artists create artifacts to engender activity in their audience, for the sake of the audience’s aesthetic appreciation of their own activity. This includes appreciating their own deliberations, choices, reactions, and movements. The process arts include games, urban planning, improvised social dance, cooking, and social food rituals. In the traditional object arts, the central aesthetic properties occur in the artistic artifact itself. It is the painting that is beautiful; the novel that is dramatic. In the process arts, the aesthetic properties occur in the activity of the appreciator. It is the game player’s own decisions that are elegant, the rock climber’s own movement that is graceful, and the tango dancers’ rapport that is beautiful. The artifact’s role is to call forth and shape that activity, guiding it along aesthetic lines. I offer a theory of the process arts. Crucially, we must distinguish between the designed artifact and the prescribed focus of aesthetic appreciation. In the object arts, these are one and the same. The designed artifact is the painting, which is also the prescribed focus of appreciation. In the process arts, they are different. The designed artifact is the game, but the appreciator is prescribed to appreciate their own activity in playing the game. Next, I address the complex question of who the artist really is in a piece of process art — the designer or the active appreciator? Finally, I diagnose the lowly status of the process arts.
|C. Thi Nguyen||vol. 20||2020|
Assurance and Warrant
Previous assurance-theoretic treatments of testimony have not adequately explained how testimonial warrant depends specifically on the speaker’s mode of address – making it natural to suspect that the interpersonal element is not epistemic but merely psychological or action-theoretic. I aim to fill that explanatory gap: to specify exactly how a testifier’s assurance can create genuine epistemic warrant. In doing so I explain (a) how the illocutionary norm governing the speech act proscribes not lies but a species of bullshit, in an extension of Harry Frankfurt’s sense, (b) how that norm makes testimony fully second-personal, in Stephen Darwall’s sense, or bipolar, in Michael Thompson’s sense, and (c) how that species of second-personality or bipolarity is more fundamental than the practical species that Darwall and Thompson discuss. One attraction of this new Assurance View of testimony is that it allows us to reconceptualize the natures of normativity and responsibility more generally, viewing the assurance as implicating us in normative relations of recognition, and therefore of justice, that are not yet moralized with reactive attitudes.
|Edward S. Hinchman||vol. 14||June 2014|
Austerity and Illusion
Many contemporary theorists charge that naïve realists are incapable of accounting for illusions. Various sophisticated proposals have been ventured to meet this charge. Here, we take a different approach and dispute whether the naïve realist owes any distinctive account of illusion. To this end, we begin with a simple, naïve account of veridical perception. We then examine the case that this account cannot be extended to illusions. By reconstructing an explicit version of this argument, we show that it depends critically on the contention that perceptual experience is diaphanous, or more minimally and precisely, that there can be no difference in phenomenal properties between two experiences without a difference in the scenes presented in those experiences. Finding no good reason to accept this claim, we develop and defend a simple, naïve account of both veridical perception and illusion, here dubbed Simple, Austere Naïve Realism.
|Craig French; Ian Phillips||vol. 20||2020|
Autonomy Without Paradox: Kant, Self-Legislation and the Moral Law
Within Kantian ethics and Kant scholarship, it is widely assumed that autonomy consists in the self-legislation of the principle of morality (the Moral Law). In this paper, we challenge this view on both textual and philosophical grounds. We argue that Kant never unequivocally claims that the Moral Law is self-legislated and that he is not philosophically committed to this claim by his overall conception of morality. Instead, the idea of autonomy concerns only substantive moral laws (in the plural), such as the law that one ought not to lie. We argue that autonomy, thus understood, does not have the paradoxical features widely associated with it. Rather, our account highlights a theoretical option that has been neglected in the current debate on whether Kant is best interpreted as a realist or a constructivist, namely that the Moral Law is an a priori principle of pure practical reason that neither requires nor admits of being grounded in anything else.
|Pauline Kleingeld; Marcus Willaschek||vol. 19||2019|
Avicenna's Emanated Abstraction
One of the largest ongoing debates in scholarship on Avicenna (Ibn Sīnā) concerns his epistemology of the first acquisition of intelligible forms or concepts. “Emanationists” hold that intelligibles are emanated by the separate Active Intellect (AI) directly into human minds. “Abstractionists” hold that intelligibles are abstracted by the human intellect from sensory images. Neither of these positions has a satisfactory grip on Avicenna’s philosophy. I propose that the two positions can be reconciled because Avicenna states in many texts that what the AI emanates is a power, and not the various intelligible forms. I argue that this can only be the power of abstraction itself. This new interpretation does greater justice to Avicenna’s system and reveals his unique place in the history of epistemology.
|Stephen R. Ogden||vol. 20||2020|