Volume 15 (2015)
June 2015, vol. 15, no. 16, pp. 1-20
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.
June 2015, vol. 15, no. 15, pp. 1-32
The concept of practical knowledge is central to G.E.M. Anscombe's argument in Intention, yet its meaning is little understood. There are several reasons for this, including a lack of attention to Anscombe's ancient and medieval sources for the concept, and an emphasis on the (supposedly) more straightforward concept of knowledge "without observation" in the interpretation of Anscombe's position. This paper remedies the situation, first by appealing to the writings of Thomas Aquinas to develop an account of practical knowledge as a distinctive form of thought that "aims at production" of things that lie within an agent's power; and then by showing how this Thomistic understanding of practical cognition seems to have been Anscombe's, too. Having done this, I question whether the thesis that agential knowledge is practical knowledge entails that an agent always has non-observational knowledge of what she is intentionally doing. I answer "Not": Anscombe's claims to the contrary rest on a misleading assimilation of human beings' finite agency to that of an infinite agent like God.
April 2015, vol. 15, no. 14, pp. 1-23
This paper argues that Spinoza does not take extension in space to be a fundamental property of physical things. This means that when Spinoza calls either substance or a mode “an Extended thing”, he does not mean that it is a thing extended in three dimensions. The argument proceeds by showing, first, that Spinoza does not associate extension in space with substance, and second, that finite bodies, or physical things, are not understood through the intellect when they are conceived as extended in space. I conclude by articulating some suggestions about where we should go from here in trying to understand Spinoza’s account of the attribute of extension and of the physical world.
Benjamin Anders Levinstein
March 2015, vol. 15, no. 13, pp. 1-20
In this paper, I develop a new kind of conciliatory answer to the problem of peer disagreement. Instead of trying to guide an agent’s updating behaviour in any particular disagreement, I establish constraints on an agent’s expected behaviour and argue that, in the long run, she should tend to be conciliatory toward her peers. I first claim that this macro-approach affords us new conceptual insight on the problem of peer disagreement and provides an important angle complementary to the standard micro-approaches in the literature. I then detail the import of two novel results based on accuracy-considerations that establish the following: An agent should, on average, give her peers equal weight. However, if the agent takes herself and her advisor to be reliable, she should usually give the party with a stronger opinion more weight. In other words, an agent’s response to peer disagreement should over the course of many disagreements average out to equal weight, but in any particular disagreement, her response should tend to deviate from equal weight in a way that systematically depends on the actual credences she and her advisor report.
March 2015, vol. 15, no. 12, pp. 1-27
An approach to explaining the nature and source of logic and its laws with a rich historical tradition (particularly Kant and Frege) takes the laws of logic to be laws of thought. This view seems intuitively compelling, after all, logic seems to be intimately related with how we think. But how exactly should we understand it? And what arguments can we give in favour? I will propose one line of argument for the claim that the laws of logic are laws of thought. I will motivate the claim that there is a certain phenomenon, namely, that there are logical principles which are immune to rational doubt. I will then give an argument to the best explanation; I will argue that the best explanation of this phenomenon is to take the laws of logic to be constitutive-normative laws of thought. The proposal, and some responses to potential objections, will have a notably Kantian flavour.
March 2015, vol. 15, no. 11, pp. 1-21
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.
March 2015, vol. 15, no. 10, pp. 1-19
Self-representational theories of consciousness hold that a mental phenomenon is conscious if, and only if, it presents, among other things, itself. But in conscious perception one may lose oneself in the object perceived and not be aware of one’s perceiving. The paper develops a Brentano-inspired response to this objection. He follows Aristotle in holding that one is aware of one’s perceiving only ‘on the side’: when one perceives something one’s perception neither is nor can become observation of itself. I argue that the arguments Brentano gave for this claim in Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint are wanting. However, a promising argument emerges if one takes Brentano’s conception of noticing into account.
March 2015, vol. 15, no. 9, pp. 1-24
In addition to full beliefs, agents have attitudes of varying confidence, or credences. For instance, I do not believe that the Boston Red Sox will win the American League East this year, but I am at least a little bit confident that they will – i.e. I have a positive credence that they will. It is also common to think that agents have conditional credences. For instance, I am very confident – i.e. have a conditional credence of very-likely strength – that the Red Sox will win the AL East this year given that their pitching staff stays healthy. There are good reasons to think that conditional credences are neither credences nor some combination of credences. In this paper, I show that similar reasons support thinking that agents have what we can call quantificational credences – attitudes like, thinking that each AL East team with a healthy pitching staff is at least a little bit likely to win the division – which are neither credences, conditional credences, nor some combination thereof. I provide a framework for assessing the rationality of credal states which involve quantificational credences. And I give a general picture of credal states that explains the similarities and differences between ordinary, conditional, and quantificational credences.
March 2015, vol. 15, no. 8, pp. 1-35
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.
February 2015, vol. 15, no. 7, pp. 1-16
Those who model doxastic states with a set of probability functions, rather than a single function, face a pressing challenge: can they provide a plausible decision theory compatible with their view? Adam Elga (2010) and others claim that they cannot, and that the set of functions model should be rejected for this reason. This paper aims to answer this challenge. The key insight is that the set of functions model can be seen as an instance of the supervaluationist approach to vagueness more generally. We can then generate our decision theory by applying the general supervaluationist semantics to decision-theoretic claims. The result: if an action is permissible according to all functions in the set, it’s determinately permissible; if impermissible according to all, determinately impermissible; and – crucially – if permissible according to some, but not all, it’s indeterminate whether it’s permissible. This proposal handles with ease some difficult cases (including one from Elga (2010)) on which alternative decision theories falter. One reason this view has been overlooked in the literature thus far is that all parties to the debate presuppose that an acceptable decision theory must classify each action as either permissible or impermissible. But I will argue that this thought is misguided. Seeing the set of functions model as an instance of supervaluationism provides a compelling motivation for the claim that there can be indeterminacy in the rationality of some actions.
February 2015, vol. 15, no. 6, pp. 1-19
Why is it that we cannot legitimately make certain aesthetic assertions – for instance that ‘Guernica is harrowing’ or that ‘The Rite of Spring is strangely beautiful’ – on the basis of testimony alone? In this paper I consider a species of argument intended to demonstrate that the best explanation for the impermissibility of such assertions is that a particular view of the norms of aesthetic belief – pessimism concerning aesthetic testimony – is correct. I begin by outlining the strongest instance of such ‘arguments from assertion’ and demonstrating that it presents a powerful motivation for embracing pessimism; the view that it is illegitimate to form aesthetic beliefs on the basis of testimony alone. I then go on to argue that, appearances notwithstanding, the pessimist’s opponents – optimists concerning aesthetic testimony – are able to provide an explanation for the impermissibility of these assertions which is at least as good as, and in some respects better than, that offered by their pessimist. The explanation I propose draws on some important work on signalling in aesthetics, by Denis Dutton and others, to argue that the problem with such assertions is closely parallel to the problem Dutton claims is generated by forgeries. Those making such assertions misrepresent a piece of aesthetic labour (in this case a critical judgement) as their own, when, in fact, it is the work of another. I also explore the wider implications of this view for debates in aesthetic epistemology and beyond.
February 2015, vol. 15, no. 5, pp. 1-20
Most promising responses to skepticism fall into “Moorean” or “rationalist” camps. Mooreans believe that some apparently circular forms of reasoning allow us to have justification to believe that skeptical hypotheses are false. Rationalists believe that we have a priori justification to believe that skeptical hypotheses are false. It can seem that anti-skeptics are stuck choosing between fishy circular reasoning and mysterious a priori justification. I present a new difficulty for rationalism by focusing on skeptical scenarios wherein our faculties of a priori reasoning are untrustworthy. In dealing with these scenarios, rationalists end up having to embrace the same sorts of circular reasoning that Mooreans use to deal with more familiar skeptical scenarios. As a result, there is no viable diagnosis of what's wrong with Moorean reasoning that does not also apply to rationalism: both anti-skeptical approaches are in the same boat when it comes to embracing circular reasoning.
Howard Nye, David Plunkett, John Ku
January 2015, vol. 15, no. 4, pp. 1-28
Morality seems important, in the sense that there are practical reasons — at least for most of us, most of the time — to be moral. A central theoretical motivation for consequentialism is that it appears clear that there are practical reasons to promote good outcomes, but mysterious why we should care about non-consequentialist moral considerations or how they could be genuine reasons to act. In this paper we argue that this theoretical motivation is mistaken, and that because many arguments for consequentialism rely upon it, the mistake substantially weakens the overall case for consequentialism. We argue that there is indeed a theoretical connection between good states and reasons to act, because good states are those it is fitting to desire and there is a conceptual connection between the fittingness of a motive and reasons to perform the acts it motivates. But while some of our motives are directed at states, others are directed at acts themselves. We contend that just as the fittingness of desires for states generates reasons to promote the good, the fittingness of these act-directed motives generates reasons to do other things. Moreover, we argue that an act’s moral status consists in the fittingness of act-directed feelings of obligation to perform or avoid performing it, so the connection between fitting motives and reasons to act explains reasons to be moral whether or not morality directs us to promote the good. This, we contend, de-mystifies how there could be non-consequentialist reasons that are both moral and practical.
January 2015, vol. 15, no. 3, pp. 1-19
This paper identifies one way that a mathematical proof can be more explanatory than another proof. This is by invoking a more abstract kind of entity than the topic of the theorem. These abstract mathematical explanations are identified via an investigation of a canonical instance of modern mathematics: the Galois theory proof that there is no general solution in radicals for fifth-degree polynomial equations. I claim that abstract explanations are best seen as describing a special sort of dependence relation between distinct mathematical domains. This case study highlights the importance of the conceptual, as opposed to computational, turn of much of modern mathematics, as recently emphasized by Tappenden and Avigad. The approach adopted here is contrasted with alternative proposals by Steiner and Kitcher.
January 2015, vol. 15, no. 2, pp. 1-18
The epistemic closure principle says that knowledge is closed under known entailment. The closure principle is deeply implicated in numerous core debates in contemporary epistemology. Closure’s opponents claim that there are good theoretical reasons to abandon it. Closure’s proponents claim that it is a defining feature of ordinary thought and talk and, thus, abandoning it is radically revisionary. But evidence for these claims about ordinary practice has thus far been anecdotal. In this paper, I report five studies on the status of epistemic closure in ordinary practice. Despite decades of widespread assumptions to the contrary in philosophy, ordinary practice is ambivalent about closure. Ordinary practice does not endorse an unqualified version of the epistemic closure principle, although it might endorse a source-relative version of the principle. In particular, whereas inferential knowledge is not viewed as closed under known entailment, perceptual knowledge might be.
January 2015, vol. 15, no. 1, pp. 1-30
The paper takes an expressivistic perspective, i.e., it takes conditionals of all sorts to primarily express (features of) conditional beliefs. Therefore it is based on what it takes to be the best account of conditional belief, namely ranking theory. It proposes not to start looking at the bewildering linguistic phenomenology, but first to systematically study the various options of expressing features of conditional belief. Those options by far transcend the Ramsey test and include relevancies of various kinds and in particular the so-called “circumstances are such that” reading, under which also all conditionals representing causal relations can be subsumed. In this way a unifying perspective on the many kinds of conditionals is offered. The final section explains the considerable extent to which truth conditions for conditionals, which may seem lost in the expressivistic or epistemic perspective, may be recovered.