Volume 17 (2017)
October 2017, vol. 17, no. 21, pp. 1-8
Tom Stoppard’s "Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead" opens with a puzzling scene in which the title characters are betting on coin throws and observe a seemingly astonishing run of 92 heads in a row. Guildenstern grows uneasy and proposes a number of unsettling explanations for what is occurring. Then, in a sudden change of heart, he appears to suggest that there is nothing surprising about what they are witnessing, and nothing that needs any explanation. He says ‘…each individual coin spun individually is as likely to come down heads as tails and therefore should cause no surprise each individual time it does.’ In this article I argue that Guildenstern is right – there is nothing surprising about throwing 92 heads in a row. I go on to consider the relationship between surprise, probability and belief.
October 2017, vol. 17, no. 20, pp. 1-30
A crucial test for the dominant Rawlsian ‘consensus’ brand of public reason is whether it is complete – sufficient in content, that is, to yield determinate answers to the political questions put before it. Yet while doubts about the incompleteness of Rawlsian public reason have been often voiced, critics have thus far carried out relatively little of the philosophical spadework needed to substantiate them. This paper contributes to remedying this omission, via a detailed analysis of the implications of Rawlsian public reason for an important bioethical problem arising at the end of human life. This is the problem of how to define and diagnose the death of a person, or determine at what point the clinical and legal practices conventionally associated with death, such as the removal of vital organs, may take place. My thesis is that this is a matter on which Rawlsian public reason does indeed have a grave incompleteness problem: the model produces indeterminacy, I argue, between a broad range of legal definitions of death (at least bracketing the socially contingent effects which candidate policies might have on third parties). I also aim to go beyond existing articulations of the incompleteness objection, moreover, by examining what Rawlsian consensus liberalism implies about how decision-makers ought to respond to indeterminacies in public reason. Insofar as the route to a reasoned choice between competing criteria of death is foreclosed, I contend, the Rawlsian view requires that selection among policy options proceed in an intolerably arbitrary fashion. The latter finding alters the cast of the familiar incompleteness objection, by closing the gap between it and what I have elsewhere called the ethical objection – the objection, that is, that public reason can in some cases generate (or be at undue risk of generating) determinate but morally unacceptable decisions.
J. Katzav and K. Vaesen
September 2017, vol. 17, no. 19, pp. 1-20
Recently, mainstream philosophy journals have tended to implement more and more stringent forms of peer review (e.g., from double-anonymous to triple-anonymous), probably in an attempt to prevent editorial decisions that are based on factors other than quality. Against this trend, we propose that journals should relax their standards of acceptance, as well as be less restrictive about whom is to decide what is admitted into the debate. We start by arguing, partly on the basis of the history of peer review in the journal Mind, that past and current peer review practices attest to partisanship with respect to philosophical approach (at least). Then, we explain that such partisanship conflicts with the standard aims of peer review, and that it is both epistemically and morally problematic. This assessment suggests that, if feasible, journals should treat all available and proposed standards of acceptance in philosophy as epistemically equal, and that philosophical work should be evaluated in terms of the novelty and significance of its contribution to developing thought in ways that are of value. Finally, we show, in a programmatic way, that improving the current situation is feasible, and can be done fairly easily.
Samuel Lebens and Tyron Goldschmidt
August 2017, vol. 17, no. 18, pp. 1-25
In light of Jewish tradition and the metaphysics of time, we argue that God can and will change the past. The argument makes for a new answer to the problem of evil and a new theory of atonement.
August 2017, vol. 17, no. 17, pp. 1-10
It is common to think of the attitude of trust as involving reliance of some sort. For example, Annette Baier (1986) argues that trust is reliance on the good will of others, and Richard Holton (1994) argues that trust is reliance from a participant stance. However, it is puzzling how trust could involve reliance, because reliance, unlike trust, is responsive to practical reasons: we rely in light of reasons that show it worthwhile to rely, but we don’t trust in light of reasons that show it worthwhile to trust. To address the puzzle, I sketch an account of reliance, according to which reliance consists in action, and I sketch an account of trust, according to which trust consists in belief held from a participant stance. I conclude that it is plausible to see trust as the grounds for reliance.
August 2017, vol. 17, no. 16, pp. 1-22
Many philosophers hold constitutive theories of self-knowledge in the sense that they think either that a person’s psychological states depend upon her having true beliefs about them, or that a person’s believing that she is in a particular psychological state depends upon her actually being in that state. One way to support this type of view can be found in Shoemaker’s well-known argument that an absurd condition, which he calls “self-blindness”, would be possible if a subject’s psychological states and her higher-order beliefs about them were wholly distinct existences. A second reason to endorse a constitutive theory is the widespread conviction that first-person access is epistemically special. In this essay, I shall argue that even if self-blindness is impossible, the best explanation for this does not deny that a person’s psychological states are wholly distinct from her beliefs about them. I shall then attempt to account for the epistemic distinctiveness of first-person access on the basis of fundamental features of rational cognition. One advantage of this account over constitutive theories of self-knowledge is that it is better placed to explain our fallibility and ignorance.
July 2017, vol. 17, no. 15, pp. 1-17
Disgust originated as an evolutionary adaptation for avoiding disease, but it has since infiltrated morality. Many philosophers are skeptical of moral disgust. Skeptics argue that disgust is unreliable and harmful, and that we should eliminate or minimize feelings of disgust in moral thought. However, these arguments are unsuccessful. They do not show that disgust is more problematic than other emotions implicated in morality. Moreover, empirical research suggests that disgust supports important norms and values. Disgust is frequently elicited by “reciprocity violations,” i.e., acts of cheating, dishonesty, and exploitation. The emotion is a fitting response because it accurately reflects the ability of these moral wrongs to pollute and to circulate. Repurposing its original functions, moral disgust motivates social exclusion, tracks the spread of immorality, and acts as a signaling system to coordinate sanctioning. Instead of expunging ourselves of moral disgust, then, we should seek to understand its virtues and its vices.
July 2017, vol. 17, no. 14, pp. 1-23
Human beings pose a problem for Descartes’ metaphysics. They seem to be more than a mere sum of their mental and bodily parts; human beings, Descartes insists, are unions of mind and body. But what does that union amount to? In the first, negative, part of this paper I argue that, by Descartes’ own lights, there is no way for us to answer this question if we are looking for a proper metaphysics of the union. Metaphysics is the job of the intellect; it involves understanding. On Descartes’ considered view, we don’t understand the union; we feel it through the internal senses. In the second, positive, part of the paper I argue that, while Descartes does not (and cannot) give a properly metaphysical account of the union, he does provide a rich phenomenology of it that is of both theoretical and practical interest. Along the way, I suggest a phenomenological reading of a number of important passages that scholars have interpreted as Descartes’ attempt to provide a metaphysics of the union.
July 2017, vol. 17, no. 13, pp. 1-36
Anne Conway disagrees with substance dualism, the thesis that minds and bodies differ in nature or essence. Instead, she holds that “the distinction between spirit and body is only modal and incremental, not essential and substantial” (CP 6.11, 40). Yet several of her arguments against dualism have little force against the Cartesian, since they rely on premises no Cartesian would accept. In this paper, I show that Conway does have at least one powerful objection to substance dualism, drawn from premises that Descartes seems bound to accept. She argues that two substances differ in nature only if they differ in their “original and peculiar” cause (CP 6.4, 30); yet all created substances have the same original and peculiar cause; so, all created substances have the same nature. As I argue, the Cartesian is under a surprising amount of pressure to accept Conway’s argument, since its key premise is motivated by a conception of substance similar to one endorsed by Descartes in his Principles of Philosophy.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 concept 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.