Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Historians of Philosophy

I was wondering today whether it tends to be the case that historians of philosophy hold the view (or a similar position) of the figure(s) they focus on. So, do Kant scholars generally subscribe to some form of Kantianism, Mill scholars to some form of Millianism, etc?

My next question is about the direction of causation. Do scholars usually choose to study to a figure because they agree with their philosophical commitments generally or do they find themselves agreeing as a result of (or maybe just after) having looked closely at the figure's work and found it plausible?

I'm not sure whether anyone will be able to answer this question beyond their own experience, but even that would be interesting to me. This is part of a more general empirical question I have about how strongly people's non-philosophical commitments determine/guide/influence/play no part in the philosophical positions they hold.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Authority and Holding Responsible

There is currently a discussion going on at the Garden of Forking Paths blog about a hypocrite loses her moral standing to hold another responsible for his wrongdoing (where holding responsible means more than simply judging the act to be bad).

I am having trouble getting my head around idea that authority should have any deep importance in our practices of holding responsible. I have the intuitions about non-parents not having the authority to punish others' children and hypocrites not being able to hold others to their word in good faith. However, I'm not sure that the claim that authority is necessary for holding responsible is what follows from these intuitions. Or maybe the problem is just that I don't understand exactly how to understand what it means to appropriately "hold responsible" and "holding responsible" really is not what the hypocrite is doing. If that's the case, then what is the hypocrite doing when she appears to hold someone responsible for a bad deed she herself has done?

What is wrong with saying that anyone who recognizes another's act as wrong and engages in prototypical blaming behavior (holding attitudes and censuring) is holding the wrongdoer responsible?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Does Science Produce Knowledge?

The following seem to be an inconsistent triad:
  1. The ideal gas law is a paradigm case of scientific knowledge.
  2. All items of knowledge are true propositions.
  3. The correspondence theory of truth.
Since the ideal gas law, taken as a literal statement, either assumes the existence of things that don't exist or doesn't apply to anything and is thus empty, the ideal gas law is cannot be a substantive, literally true proposition. Either we have to deny that this is a major achievement of scientific knowledge, or we have to deny that truth is a necessary condition of knowledge, or we have to deny that an idealized law about non-existent entities is false.

For (1), you could substitute almost any bit of science you like, and it still raises the problem. E.g., Newton's Laws are a paradigm advancement of scientific knowledge. Copernican astronomy is an advance in knowledge over Ptolemaic astronomy. Most of science is either heavily idealized, has been shown to be (strictly speaking) false in the light of more recent theories, or will likely be shown to be false in the light of future theories.

One might consider various realist ways out of the problem. So, structural realists say that there is a certain core of science that is true, and so is knowledge. But then, the problem still applies for most of science. While we think that a certain law counts as knowledge, really only the structure underlying that law does. Other types of realist might argue that science at least gets approximate truth, but this requires that we weaken (2) such that knowledge only requires approximate truth.

How should we get out of this problem? And can you point to anyone who has explicitly wrestled with this issue?

Sunday, February 08, 2009


I have some questions and I figured my peers might help me answer them without having to do research on my own. That is what blogs are for, right? Ariana Huffington and Perez Hilton can tell me what to think about politics and how to buy Michael Jordan brand steaks.

My questions are about time in philosophy of physics and metaphysics. I realize there are lots of "time issues," but I'm thinking about the question about static blocks vs growing blocks vs presentism, etc:

1) Is the static block model of time by far the dominant position? Not at all dominant? Subject to criticism as often as not? Taken for granted in most writing on the subject?

2) Who, if anyone, are the influential opponents keeping other views on the table?

3) How separate and different are the disciplines and literature in philosophy of physics and, for lack of a better word, traditional metaphysics with regard to the time issue.

Just to give some context, I started wondering about these questions in part because all of the phil physics talks last quarter took the static block model as a starting point. The same is true with the few philosophy of physics papers I've read and understood. Also, my entire fatalism project may rest on the static block view. I just want to see if I have the dominant position on my side. It's like moving to New York and making sure you don't live somewhere where you have to root for the Mets.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Deliberation and Freedom

Hi everyone,

I'm not sure if everyone is on this any more. If someone who is and knows that others, new grad students for example, are not, maybe we could invite them.

I've been meaning to post for a while on a question I have about deliberation and free will. I don't have a well-developed view at all, but I have a strong intuition that seems to be at odds with at least a few claims made by people I don't immediately discount as crazy.

My question is: Why should we think that deliberation requires free will? That is, why should we think that, if determinism is true, and incompatibilism is also true, we could not truly deliberate? As I've said, my view is not well-developed. As of now, I just respond to those who think determinism + incompatibilism precludes deliberation with a confused look and a challenge to explain why my unfree actions cannot stem from deliberation. So, any thoughts on why?

From what I gather, the view that being unfree or determined precludes deliberation tends to stem from a conceptual argument. People like Peter van Inwagen argue that an unfree agent who recognizes her lack of freedom would be paralyzed and unable to deliberate because of her knowledge that only one road was truly open. Presumably this type of conceptual argument is backed up by intuitive cases. For example, if I know that there is no milk in the fridge, I do not deliberate about whether to get up and get myself a glass of milk. I recognize my desire for milk, but recognize also that deliberating about getting milk is precluded by facts about the contents of my apartment. Presumably lots of other everyday cases like these can be found.

However, it seems like the crucial detail in the milk case and others we might think about is our knowledge of the state of the world (i.e. whether milk is in the fridge). If we know there is no milk, we do not deliberate. If we did know there was milk, then we would dliberate about whether it was worth getting up for. Most importantly, if we did not know whether there was milk or not, we might still deliberate about whether to get up and get some.

I think that the last situation most closely resembles our hypothetical situation as determined or unfree agents. While we know that only one future state is possible, we do not know what that future state is and do not know which of our actions are determined and which precluded by determinism. Of course, we MAY have souch knowledge in some cases and in those I have no problem sayin that we would not (and probably could not) deliberate. Oedipus, for example, was fated and knew about his fate, even if he didn't believe it to be his fate, but was still able to deliberate about how to go about avoiding it. To say that he was not really deliberating about how to avoid his fate only on the grounds that he was fated and knew this fact seems silly.

Does someone knows this literature, of which I hear there is lots, including some work by Dana, and want to explain how I'm missing the point here? Lots of smart people seem to hold this view. Epicurus and his followers for example fall in the "no deliberation without free will" camp. Peter van Inwagen holds this position also.