Volume 17 (2017)

    Individuality and Rights in Fichte's Ethics

    Michelle Kosch

    June 2017, vol. 17, no. 12, pp. 1-23

    I propose solutions to two longstanding interpretive questions about J.G. Fichte’s 1796–97 Foundations of Natural Right: 1. What does Fichte mean when he describes the theory of right as ‘independent’ of moral theory, and what motivates that independence thesis? 2. What does Fichte mean when he describes requirements of right and the principle of right as ‘hypothetical’ imperatives, and how is that characterization consistent with his claim to have derived the concept of right as a condition of possibility of self-consciousness? Answers to both questions are motivated by an approach to the text that looks at it through the lens of Fichte’s 1798 System of Ethics, into which its results must fit if, as Fichte believes, the possibility of morally sanctioned interactions with others requires standing in some law-governed political relationship with them.

    The Ground Between the Gaps

    Jonathan Schaffer

    May 2017, vol. 17, no. 11, pp. 1-26

    According to a line of thought tracing from Descartes, Leibniz, and Locke through to Kripke, Levine, and Chalmers, there is a special explanatory gap arising between the physical and the phenomenal. I argue that the physical-phenomenal gap is not special but rather that such gaps are pervasive, lurking in the transition from the physical to the chemical and in every concrete transition from more to less fundamental. Correlatively, I argue that such gaps are unproblematic, so long as they are bridged by substantive principles of metaphysical grounding. So I articulate a form of physicalism — “ground physicalism” — on which the physical grounds the chemical, the biological, and the psychological, and explain how ground physicalism resolves explanatory gap worries.

    Aquinas on Free Will and Intellectual Determinism

    Tobias Hoffmann and Cyrille Michon

    May 2017, vol. 17, no. 10, pp. 1-36

    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.

    Spinozistic Expression

    Zachary Micah Gartenberg

    April 2017, vol. 17, no. 9, pp. 1-32

    I investigate the meaning and significance of Spinoza’s elusive concept of “expression”. I do so by situating expression among his canonical relations of conception, causation, and inherence. I argue that, for Spinoza, expression necessarily corresponds to what is sufficient for conception, but implies neither causation nor inherence. This correspondence with sufficient conditions on conception and the pulling apart of expression from causation and inherence has important consequences for our grasp of the interconnections among Spinoza’s key metaphysical relations. But it also has profound implications for our understanding of the essential structure of Spinoza’s ontology itself, and for the proper assessment of his rationalism. I explore these consequences by explicating Spinoza’s assertion that substance and each of its attributes are “conceived through themselves”, and by demonstrating that, on his view (though contrary to that of most commentators), the relation of conception is not to be accounted for in causal terms. A systematic treatment of the expression relation sheds new light on these issues. The result is a view of the underpinnings of Spinoza’s metaphysics that is as surprising as it is compelling.

    A Causal Understanding of When and When Not to Jeffrey Conditionalize

    Ben Schwan and Reuben Stern

    April 2017, vol. 17, no. 8, pp. 1-21

    There are cases of ineffable learning — i. e., cases where an agent learns something, but becomes certain of nothing that she can express — where it is rational to update by Jeffrey conditionalization. But there are likewise cases of ineffable learning where updating by Jeffrey conditionalization is irrational. In this paper, we first characterize a novel class of cases where it is irrational to update by Jeffrey conditionalization. Then we use the d-separation criterion (from the graphical approach to causal modeling) to develop a causal understanding of when and when not to Jeffrey conditionalize that (unlike other norms on offer) bars updating by Jeffrey conditionalization in these cases. Finally, we reflect on how the possibility of so-called “unfaithful” causal systems bears on the normative force of the causal updating norm that we advocate.

    Kantian Decision Making Under Uncertainty: Dignity, Price, and Consistency

    Adam Bjorndahl, Alex John London, Kevin J.S. Zollman

    April 2017, vol. 17, no. 7, pp. 1-22

    The idea that there is a fundamental difference in value between persons and things, and that respecting this difference is an important moral requirement, has strong intuitive appeal. Kantian ethics is unique in placing this requirement at the center of a moral system and in explicating the conditions for complying with it. Unlike challenges to Kantian ethics that focus on tragic cases that pit respect for one person against respect for another, this paper focuses on the question of how we can respect the value distinction between persons and things under conditions of uncertainty. After exploring why decision making under uncertainty is a neglected topic among Kantians and demonstrating how uncertainty challenges our ability to comply with this norm, we propose a notion of morally insignificant risk within a framework that allows agents to navigate real-world decisions involving material benefit and some risk to dignity without violating the Kantian’s core commitments. We conclude by exploring some of the challenges facing this approach.

    Towards a Neo-Brentanian Theory of Existence

    Mark Textor

    February 2017, vol. 17, no. 6, pp. 1-19

    The paper presents an account of the concept of existence that is based on Brentano’s work. In contrast to Frege and Russell, Brentano took ‘exists’ to express a that subsumes objects and explained it with recourse to the non-propositional attitude of acknowledgment (belief-in). I argue that the core of Brentano’s view can be developed to a defensible alternative to the Frege-Russell view of existence.

    Rational Delay

    Abelard Podgorski

    February 2017, vol. 17, no. 5, pp. 1-18

    Finite agents such as human beings have reasoning and updating processes that are extended in time; consequently, there is always some lag between the point at which we gain new reasons and the point at which our attitudes have fully responded to those reasons. This phenomenon, which I call rational delay, poses a threat to the most common ways of formulating rational requirements on our attitudes, which do not allow rational beings to exhibit such delay. In this paper, I show first how this problem undermines synchronic formulations of rational norms. Then I show how it likewise undermines the most natural diachronic modifications of these norms. Ultimately, I argue that a successful account of rational delay will reject norms that directly govern attitudes or states of mind like belief and intention altogether, in favor of norms that fundamentally concern temporally extended rational processes like deliberation.

    Civic Trust

    Ryan Preston-Roedder

    February 2017, vol. 17, no. 4, pp. 1-22

    It is a commonplace that there are limits to the ways we can permissibly treat people, even in the service of good ends. For example, we may not steal someone’s wallet, even if we wish to donate the contents to famine relief, or break a promise to help a col-league move, even if we encounter someone else on the way whose need is somewhat more urgent. In other words, we should observe constraints against mistreating people, even when violating a constraint is the only way to prevent further, similar violations or other, greater evils. But, despite its intuitive appeal, the view that there are constraints has drawn considerable criticism, and at-tempts to provide a rationale for constraints have been, at best, substantially incomplete. In this paper, I develop a novel rationale for constraints that fills important gaps left by views in the literature: put roughly, observing constraints is a condition for being worthy of a certain form of trust, which I call civic trust, and being worthy of such trust is an essential part of living with others in the kind of harmony that characterizes morally permissible interaction. By focusing, in ways that other accounts do not, on the role that observing constraints plays in our psychological lives, this approach not only makes the structure of constraints more intelligible, but also helps us better appreciate the reason-giving force of constraints, and better understand the kind of moral community to which we should aspire.

    How Mathematics Can Make a Difference

    Sam Baron, Mark Colyvan, David Ripley

    January 2017, vol. 17, no. 3, pp. 1-29

    Standard approaches to counterfactuals in the philosophy of explanation are geared toward causal explanation. We show how to extend the counterfactual theory of explanation to non-causal cases, involving extra-mathematical explanation: the explanation of physical facts (in part) by mathematical facts. Using a structural equation framework, we model impossible perturbations to mathematics and the resulting differences made to physical explananda in two important cases of extra-mathematical explanation. We address some objections to our approach.

    Jonathan Edwards's Monism

    Antonia LoLordo

    February 2017, vol. 17, no. 2, pp. 1-13

    The 18th-century American philosopher Jonathan Edwards argues that nothing endures through time. I analyze his argument, paying particular attention to a central principle it relies on, namely that “nothing can exert itself, or operate, when and where it is not existing”. I also consider what I supposed to follow from the conclusion that nothing endures. Edwards is sometimes read as the first four-dimensionalist. I argue that this is wrong. Edwards does not conclude that things persist by having different temporal parts; he concludes that nothing persists.

    Conventions of Viewpoint Coherence in Film

    Samuel Cumming, Gabriel Greenberg, Rory Kelly

    January 2017, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 1-29

    This paper examines the interplay of semantics and pragmatics within the domain of film. Films are made up of individual shots strung together in sequences over time. Though each shot is disconnected from the next, combinations of shots still convey coherent stories that take place in continuous space and time. How is this possible? The semantic view of film holds that film coherence is achieved in part through a kind of film language, a set of conventions which govern the relationships between shots. In this paper, we develop and defend a new version of the semantic view. We articulate it for a pair of conventions that govern spatial relations between viewpoints. One such rule is already well-known; sometimes called the "180° Rule," we term it the X-Constraint; to this we add a previously unrecorded rule, the T-Constraint. As we show, both have the effect, in different ways, of limiting the way that viewpoint (or camera position) can shift through space from shot to shot over the course of a film sequence. Such constraints, we contend, are analogous to relations of discourse coherence that are widely recognized in the linguistic domain. If film is to have a language, it is a language made up of rules like these.