Monday, June 28, 2010

The 110th Philosophers' Carnival

OK, that was the opening credit sequence for the HBO show Carnivale, which might not actually be strictly relevant to the Philosophers' Carnival. Good show, though.

Moving on to actual philosophy, over at Chaospet, cartoon philosophers Gabe and Nestor discuss a problem with the Cosmological Argument for the existence of God.

At Flickers of Freedom, Randolph Clarke wonders about Frankfurt-style omission cases:

"It's widely accepted that in a standard Frankfurt-style case, the agent can be responsible for what she does, despite the presence of something poised to make sure that she does that very thing. These standard cases involve agents who ACT and, despite the would-be intervention, are responsible for their ACTIONS. Are there similar cases in which agents OMIT to act, there's a similar would-be intervention, but the agents are still responsible for their OMISSIONS?"

Read The Rest Here

Elsewhere in he same tent, Roy Baumeister wonders why addicts don't just man up and decide to stop being addicted. How hard can it be?

OK, actually, the previous paragraph represents an extremely unfair caricature of what's actually a quite nuanced and interesting discussion of the relationship between free will and addiction, which you can read here.

"I have been wondering about what we can learn from the addiction literature about free will. I'd like to hear people's thoughts on this. I am not an expert on the philosophy of drugs (i am experimental social psychologist with expertise in self-regulation and a smattering of other stuff), and i am just going in and reading the literature to see what i can see. I try to have no preferences other than to figure out what's up, and simply to follow the data.

"It seems there are two very different positions. One is that addicts lose free will, though only specifically with respect to the addiction, and they retain free will (and moral responsibility) in most or all other respects. The other position is that there is no loss of free will and that maintaining addiction is voluntary behavior.

"It looks like addicts themselves and the medical establishment firmly favor the no-free-will position. But then it is self-serving for them, and they do not mostly have large impartial data sets. In contrast, the researchers, who do have these broad data sets, are somewhat more divided..."

Keep Reading

At the next tent over, they're still talking about free will. Hey, anyone who's ever taught an Intro class knows that this is one of the philosophical subjects that beginning students get the most fascinated by. It only stands to reason that a *carnival* of philosophy should include a decent helping of it. Cotton candy, rollercoasters and free will! Also some other philosophical subjects in the next tent over, but meanwhile, at On The Human, Christopher Suhler and Patricia Churchland raise concerns about whether recent empirical work undermined the kind of control that would seem to be necessary for free will and moral responsibility.

"An important notion in moral philosophy and many legal systems is that certain circumstances can mitigate an individual’s responsibility for a transgression. Generally speaking, such situations are considered extenuating in virtue of their exceptional influence on a person’s ability to act and make decisions in a normal manner. The essence of the case for diminished responsibility is that these special circumstances impede the ability of a normal person to exercise self-control.

"In recent years, however, this notion of diminished responsibility has come to wider attention in a quite unexpected way. Some researchers, drawing on findings from social psychology, have argued that situational forces may play a much larger role in behavior than traditionally assumed. The situational forces in question are often entirely ordinary, mundane and seemingly trivial. Given that such influences are pervasive, the general issue raised concerns control in commonplace cases. According to a condensed version of this view – which we call the Frail Control hypothesis for convenience – even in unexceptional conditions, humans have little control over their behavior...."

Keep Reading. And do be sure to check out the comment thread, where Gil Harman, Eddy Nahmias, John Martin Fischer and many others pile on to raise various interesting objections to and questions about all of that.

Moving on to the epistemology tents, at Certain Doubts, Keith DeRose explores the relationship between experimental philosophy and epistemic contextualism.

"The tale that Jonathan Schaffer and Joshua Knobe (henceforth, 'S&k') tell in 'Contrastivism Surveyed' is a tragic one for what we may call 'standard contextualists' about knowledge attributions. First, they report (word of this has been 'out on the street' for a while now) that a recent wave of work in Experimental Philosophy threatens to undermine the intuitive basis that contextualists have claimed for their view. Given the importance of that intuitive basis for the view, this would be very bad news indeed for contextualists."

You, dear reader, will be shocked to learn that not everything about this story is as it initially appears. To read the rest, see the blog post here or jump straight to the paper here.

Over at Experimental Philosophy, Jonathan Weinberg responds:

"I've had a chance to read Keith DeRose's very interesting & rich engagement with some of the experimental epistemology literature, and there's a lot in it that's clearly going to be useful to x-phi practitioners to learn from & absorb. (See some nice discussion of it already ongoing here.) But I also think that there are some ways, in a couple of places, in which Keith is subtly underestimating some of the ways in which one can conduct a different kind of investigation with survey methods than one can from the armchair....."

Want to see what the subtle mistake is? Read on.

Elsewhere in the Experimental Philosophy tent, Joshua Knobe discusses an overlap between recent x-phi work and something he heard on NPR:

"A recent episode of the NPR show 'This American Life' takes up the question of group agency and, in particular, the degree to which people are willing to ascribe psychological states to corporations.

"Oddly enough, the presenters end up getting into an argument about precisely the issue that Adam Arico addressed in his very nice experimental paper...."

Just between the two of us, reader, I must admit that my first reaction was "wow, he got through a whole episode of 'This American Life' without falling asleep? Huh." That said, the issue itself is interesting, so do read on.

(And, speaking of Knobe, do check out the bloggingheads video thingie he did with the previously mentioned Roy Baumeister.)

At Clear Language, Clear Mind, Emil Kirkegaard provides a helpful review of Quine 101, on the refutation of scientific theories:

"This will not involve many science facts as the discussion is wholly philosophical in nature. This is an epistemological, not scientific essay, it just happens to use some facts of science...."

Of course, in Quine 102, we learn that the categories of "scientific" and "epistemological" are continuous with each other, but that's next semester. For know, you can read the rest of Emil's post here.

Speaking of the interface between science and philosophy, Brian Leiter speculates that a recent government study from the U.K. about fetal sentience will "drive the anti-abortion crazies...well...crazy."

Of course, those who are convinced by Judith Jarvis Thompson's sick violinist argument (and, for the sake of full disclosure, I'm fairly strongly on record on that subject), would continue to be pro-choice even if the Royal College had found that fetuses were fully-developed little people, composing haikus and pondering their own existential dread in there, but the empirical results that Leiter cites are still interesting.

Finally, since every carnival has to end, drunken revelers vomiting out cotton candy and the creepy, mysterious voice of Management directing the carnival further down south--no, wait, I may be confusing the Philosophers' Carnival with the tv show Carnivale again, my bad--we finish up with a bit of applied philosophy. Here's Wooler.Scottus on the Knobe Effect:

"In this posting I want to consider one of the most famous findings in experimental philosophy. In 2003 Joshua Knobe discovered there is an asymmetry in the way we ascribe intentional acts . The Knobe effect might be described as follows. If the manager of a company knowingly damages the environment in his search for greater profits then his action in damaging the environment is regarded as intentional. However if the same manager of the company knowingly benefits the environment in his search for greater profits then his action is regarded as unintentional. Logically it would seem the two situations are equivalent and we should regard both acts as either intentional or unintentional. Is it possible to explain the Knobe effect?"

Read on to find out.

That's it for the carnival this time. Check out the Philosophers' Carnival site to see future and past hosts and to submit your favorite blog posts. (And please, for the sake of the sanity of the next host, do try to restrain yourself from sending posts about financial planning tips or how Ayn Rand makes you feel about life, and stick to things that would, in some reasonably broad sense, be recognizable as philosophy!) The next carnival will feature on July 19th at Parableman - email Richard Chappell if you would like to host the carnival at some point in the future.


John Jones said...

I don't understand what's going on with all the Philosophers Carnival promo's. I received an email inviting me to tune in to find out about the coming 110th carnival only to find that people have already submitted their articles for it. Huh?

So then I thought that perhaps the next carnival is actually the 111th carnival, hosted by Preamble. But when I tuned into Preamble I saw no mention of the Philosophers carnival.

This isn't the first time this has happened. Which carnival are you promoting and when is the deadline for submissions? Please make it clear right at the start what carnival edition is being promoted and when articles are due for it. Right now, I really don't know what to do.

Ben said...

This was the 110th carnival. The next one is the 111th on July 19th, at Parableman. I provided the link for where to submit posts, which is always the same link, regardless of who's hosting. (The 109th, at Practical Ethics, had that link at the end, and I put it on the plug I put here the week before last.)You can submit whenever, and the submission will got to whoever's hosting next. I was looking at submissions up until about half an hour before I posted the 110th.

If you're confused about the future schedule, look at and click on "future hosts."

chaospet said...

I mentioned this to you already, but it's worth saying here. If fetuses can compose haikus, then Thomson's argument falls apart. OBVIOUSLY one is not obligated to remain attached to a violinist. But a haiku poet? In that case, it seems intuitively obvious that you are required to stay attached for the rest of your life if necessary.

Ben said...

As always, Ryan, I am in awe of your powers of intuition.