Thursday, February 04, 2016

Cheerfully Suicidal A.I. Slaves

Suppose that we someday create genuinely conscious Artificial Intelligence, with all the intellectual and emotional capacity of human beings. Never mind how we do it -- possibly via computers, possibly via biotech ("uplifted" animals).

Here are two things we humans might want, which appear to conflict:

(1.) We might want them to subordinately serve us and die for us.

(2.) We might want to treat them ethically, as beings who deserve rights equal to the rights of natural human beings.

A possible fix suggests itself: Design the A.I.'s so that they want to serve us and die for us. In other words, make a race of cheerfully suicidal A.I. slaves. This was Asimov's solution with the Three Laws of Robotics -- a solution that slowly falls apart across the arc of his robot stories (finally collapsing in "Bicentennial Man").

What to make of this idea?

Douglas Adams parodies the cheerily suicidal A.I. with an animal uplift case in The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

A large dairy animal approached Zaphod Beeblebrox's table, a large fat meaty quadruped of the bovine type with large watery eyes, small horns and what might almost have been an ingratiating smile on its lips.

"Good evening," it lowed and sat back heavily on its haunches. "I am the main Dish of the Day. May I interest you in parts of my body?" It harrumphed and gurgled a bit, wriggled its hind quarters into a comfortable position and gazed peacefully at them.

Zaphod's naive Earthling companion, Arthur Dent, is predictably shocked and disgusted, and when he suggests a green salad instead, the suggestion is brushed off. Zaphod and the animal argue that it's better to eat an animal that wants to be eaten, and can say so clearly and explicitly, than one that does not want to be eaten. Zaphod orders four rare steaks.

"A very wise choice, sir, if I may say so. Very good," it said. "I'll just nip off and shoot myself."

He turned and gave a friendly wink to Arthur.

"Don't worry, sir," he said. "I'll be very humane."

Adams, I think, nails the peculiarity of the idea. There's something ethically jarring about creating an entity with human-like intelligence and emotion, which will completely subject its own interests to ours, even to the point of suiciding at our whim. This appears to be so even if the being wants to be subjected in that way.

The three major classes of ethical theory -- consequentialism, deontology, and virtue ethics -- can each be read in a way that delivers this result. The consequentialist can object that the good of a small pleasure for a human does not outweigh the potential of the lifetime of pleasure for an uplifted steer, even if the steer doesn't appreciate that fact. The Kantian deontologist can object that the steer is treating itself as a "mere means" rather than as an agent whose life should not be sacrificed by itself or others to achieve others' goals. The Aristotelian virtue ethicist can say that the steer is cutting its life short rather than flourishing into its full potential of creativity, joy, friendship, and thought.

If we can use Adams' steer as an anchoring point of moral absurdity at one end of the ethical continuum, the question then arises to what extent such reasoning transfers to less obvious intermediate cases, such as Asimov's robots who don't sacrifice themselves as foodstuffs (though presumably they would do so if commanded to, by the Second Law) but who do, in the stories, appear perfectly willing to sacrifice themselves to save human lives.

When a human sacrifices her life to save someone else's it can be, at least sometimes, a morally beautiful thing. But a robot designed that way from the start, to always subordinate its interests to those of humans -- I'm inclined to think that ought to be ruled out, in the general case, by any reasonable egalitarian principle that treats AIs as deserving equal moral status with humans if they have broadly human-like cognitive and emotional capacities. Such a principle would be a natural extension of the types of consequentialist, deontologist, and virtue ethicist reasoning that rules out Adams' steer.

Thus, I think we can't use the "cheerfully suicidal slave" fix to escape the dilemma posed by (1) and (2) above. If we somehow create genuinely conscious, general-intelligence A.I. with a range of emotional capacities like our own, then we must create it morally equal, not subordinate.

[image source]

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Related article: A Defense of the Rights of Artificial Intelligences (Schwitzgebel & Garza, Midwest Studies in Philosophy 2015).

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Rik Peels' Defense of the Reliability of Introspection

In a paper forthcoming in Philosophical Studies (also here), Rik Peels defends, against a variety of scientifically inspired objections, the traditional philosophical view that introspection is a reliable source of knowledge. He focuses especially on arguments I developed in my 2011 book Perplexities of Consciousness.

Peels considers arguments for the unreliability of introspection based on: the sometimes large effect of reporting method (e.g., button press vs. verbal report) on the content of introspective judgments; cultural variation in whether dreams are seen as colored; the poor correlation between self-reported visual imagery and performance on cognitive tasks often thought to be facilitated by visual imagery (such as mental rotation or folding tasks); people's ignorance of their capacity for echolocation; and people's ignorance of the lack of detail and precision in the visual field. In each case, Peels presents the skeptic's argument in a couple of pages and then offers a couple of pages of objections.

For example, Peels offers three responses to my observation that self-reports of mental imagery tend not to correlate with behavioral performance on seemingly related cognitive tasks. First, he points out that since people don't have access to other people's imagery, terms like "vivid" might be interpreted quite differently between subjects -- and thus people might be accurate in their own idiolect even if not in an outwardly measurable way. Second, he suggests that the aspects of mental imagery being reported (such as vividness) might not be relevant to the cognitive tasks at hand (like mental rotation), in which case lack of correlation is to be expected. Third, he notes that some studies (a minority) do report positive correlations. While in my discussion of this topic, I have given reasons to be leery of psychological findings that fail to replicate -- such as experimenter bias, "file-drawer" effects, the existence of confounding or intervening variables, and participants' tendency to confirm perceived research hypotheses -- Peels argues that I have presented insufficient positive evidence that such factors are at work in these cases.

The imagery case is, I think, illustrative of the debate in two ways: First, a lot hinges on examination of the empirical details, such as the precise nature of the measures. And second, a lot hinges on judgments of plausibility about which reasonable people might differ. For example, looking at hundreds of studies of visual imagery self-report and cognitive performance, a literature with lots of null results and non-replications, does one think (as I do), "That looks pretty bad for the reality of an underlying effect" or does one think (as Peels seems to), "There probably is an effect in there somewhere that the null studies aren't effectively getting at". This sort of thing is a matter of judgment. (And no, I don't think the typical statistical meta-analysis will yield a straightforward answer that we should take at face value.)

One's sense of plausibility, in such matters, comes close to being something like one's general academic worldview -- about philosophy, about psychology, and about their interaction. Here, I find the introduction and conclusion of Peels' essay interesting.

In the introduction, Peels lists four reasons the question of the reliability of introspection is important:

(a.) Ordinary "common sense" tends to treat introspection as a reliable source of knowledge. To reject its reliability is to challenge common sense.

(b.) There's a philosophical tradition from Descartes to Chalmers of taking introspection (appropriately restricted) as infallible. To reject introspection's reliability means abandoning the infallibilist tradition.

(c.)There's a contrary "scientistic" tradition that emphasizes science as the only secure source of knowledge and regards introspection as non-scientific. To reject introspection's reliability plays into the hands of those who want to privilege the epistemic role of science.

(d.) There's a debate within science about how to treat introspective self-reports.

As these observations make clear, issues about introspection are inextricable from one's general sense of what philosophers and psychologists should be doing. I suspect that it is background differences between Peels and me on these sorts of questions that drive our different senses of plausibility in interpreting the empirical details.

I want to resist the infallibilist tradition in philosophy, and the philosophical tradition that emphasizes "common sense", and other philosophical and metaphilosophical positions that seek to insulate philosophical reasoning from science. This is fundamental to my worldview and my vision of the nature of philosophy. My views on introspection are of a piece with this general worldview -- supporting that worldview, I think, but also supported by it. Other considerations that support such a worldview are (I argue) the incoherence and cultural variability of "common sense" and philosophical fashion, and evolutionary, cultural, and psychological reasons to think that people would likely be much worse reasoners about philosophical issues than they are about mundane, practical affairs.

I would add to Peels' four considerations also a fifth consideration of a somewhat different sort: People usually want to be taken at their word when they say they're not angry, not racist, happy with their life choices. To express doubt is to deny people a certain sort of authority over the story of what is going on in their own minds. An introspection-friendly approach tends to cede people that sort of self-authority; an introspective-skeptical approach denies that self-authority. Again, there are big-picture worldview questions at stake, which both inform one's sense of how to interpret the psychological evidence and are in turn either supported or undercut by some of that same evidence.

Although Peels' essay focuses on the empirical details of a few cases, this larger context both informs and motivates all work on the epistemology of introspection. Are we basically right about ourselves, and is philosophy of mind safe from radical scientific critique? Or is self-knowledge fragile and the armchair a tempting cozy spot to doze away into ignorance?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

New Essay in Draft: Is the United States Phenomenally Conscious? Reply to Kammerer

Francois Kammerer has a forthcoming piece in Philosophia responding to my 2015 paper, "If Materialism Is True, the United States Is Phenomenally Conscious". I've drafted a reply to Kammerer.

Abstract:
In Schwitzgebel (2015) I argued that the United States, considered as a concrete entity with people as some or all of its parts, meets all plausible materialistic criteria for consciousness. Kammerer (forthcoming) defends materialism against this seemingly unintuitive conclusion by means of an "anti-nesting principle" according to which group entities cannot be literally phenomenally conscious if they contain phenomenally conscious subparts (such as people) who stand in a certain type of functional relation to the group as a whole. I raise three concerns about Kammerer's view. First, it does not appear to exclude the literal phenomenal consciousness of actually existing groups of people, as one might hope such a principle would do. Second, Kammerer's principle appears to make the literal phenomenal consciousness of a group depend in an unintuitive way on the motivations of individuals within the group. Third, the principle appears to be ad hoc.

Many thanks for reader comments on this earlier post, and especially to Francois Kammerer. Further thoughts, concerns, and comments welcome, either in the comments field below or by email to me.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Publications By Black Authors in Leiter Top 15 Journals 2003-2012

Guest post by Liam Kofi Bright

In 2014 Tina Fernandes Botts, Liam Kofi Bright, Myisha Cherry, Guntur Mallarangeng, and Quayshawn Spencer published the paper “What is the state of blacks in philosophy?” This paper produced a count of the number of “US BIPs”. This term was defined as follows: “a black person with a Ph.D. in philosophy from a U.S. philosophy program, a Ph.D. student in a U.S. philosophy program, or a non-retired employee of a U.S. philosophy program who is employed in an academic capacity (e.g., postdoc, adjunct professor, tenure track professor, etc.)” In that paper we concluded that as of May 2013 there were 141 US BIPs, and arguments were given (236) for taking this to be an accurate count. Note that this figure led the authors of What is the state of blacks in Philosophy? to estimate that 1.32 percent of the philosophy profession in the US are BIPs. This coheres well with the finding in a previous post on this blog that “[t]he percentage of non-Hispanic Black or African American U.S. PhD recipients [has been] hovering around 1.4% to 2.2%” since the 1970s.

A previous post on this blog examined the rate at which women were publishing in leading philosophy journals. In that work gender was coded by first name and familiarity; since it is even more difficult to code race by means of first name than it is for gender, extending this mode of analysis to the examination of racial publication patterns in philosophy would not be possible. However, as a consequence of the aforementioned work, the authors of What is the state of blacks in philosophy? have a database of US BIPs which there is some reason to trust. One of the authors of What is the state of blacks in philosophy? (also the author of this post), Liam Kofi Bright, has therefore produced a study of the publication patterns of US BIPs in leading philosophy journals.

Method

The publication records of 15 journals were used for this study: Philosophical Review, Journal of Philosophy, Nous, Mind, Philosophy and Phenomenological Review, Ethics, Philosophical Studies, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Philosophers' Imprint, Analysis, Philosopher's Quarterly, Philosophy & Public Affairs, Philosophy of Science, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, and Synthese. These journals were chosen since they were the top 15 of a journal survey ran on Leiter Reports in 2013. Noisy a signal though it may be, the results of this survey give some indication as to what were then perceived to be high prestige journals in philosophy. Publication records were sought for the years 2003-2012, that is to say the decade leading up to the point at which the US BIP database was compiled.

For each person on the database of US BIPs I ran a search on Excel to see if their last name appeared in the author list of the journal in question. Even granting the approximate completeness of the 2012 US BIP database, three obvious weaknesses of this search method ought to be acknowledged. First, if a US BIP was active in the years up to 2012 but had dropped out of the labour force sometime before 2013, they would likely not appear in the US BIP database and so would be missed by this search method. Second, if authors have changed their last name (say, due to marriage or divorce) in the time between publishing during 2003-2012 and the compilation of the 2013 database, their old publications under their previous name would likely be missed by this search method. In one case where I was aware that this may be an issue special effort was made to search alternate names. However, I cannot rule out the possibility that this occurred in other cases I was not aware of. Third, it is possible that there are non US BIPs publishing in these journals during this time period – these people would not be apparent given this search method.

To partially address the third problem, an attempt was made to estimate the proportion of US philosophers in the total population of authors. I did this taking a random sample of 200 authors from the total population of authors for all 15 journals in the time period under study. I google searched each of these authors to see if they either got their PhDs from a US philosophy department, or were employed by a US philosophy department during the period under study when their article was published. This brings the definition of US philosopher used here into line with the definition of US BIP. For the most part I was easily able to identify whether or not they met this definition of a US philosopher, and where I had difficulty (because there was no easy way of ascertaining their PhD granting school or employment history) I leaned towards not counting the person as a US philosopher. (I was uncertain in 23 of the 200 cases.) This method thus likely undercounts US philosophers.

From applying this procedure I took 123/200, or 61.5%, as the proportion of US philosophers. Thus, if US BIPs are publishing in these journals at about the same rate as are US philosophers as a whole, they should have published approximately 1% of the total articles.

Results

There are not many publications by US BIPs journals during this period. In total there were 30 publications by US BIPs for all journals during this period. By contrast, there were 10659 publications overall during this period. This means that publications by US BIPs were 0.28% of the publications during this period. Of the 30 publications, 15 were research articles as opposed to book reviews. There were 7638 research articles overall in this period, meaning that research articles by US BIPs were 0.19% of the research articles published. Assuming that 61.5% of the population were US philosophers, this would make black philosophers 0.46% of the US philosopher authors. Likewise US BIPs would be 0.32% of US authors of research publications.

In line with the findings of What is the State of Blacks in Philosophy? I found that the publications of US BIPs were clustered around certain topic matters. In the 2014 article we found that the top 5 most common AOS among US BIPs were (1) Africana, (2) Race, (3) Social and Political, (4) Ethics, and (5) Continental philosophy. I hand coded the topic matters of the 15 research articles on the basis of their titles and abstracts. Almost two thirds (9 of them) concerned at least one of: philosophy of race, political philosophy, or ethics. One journal, Ethics, accounts for almost half of the US BIP publications (13 of them). Note that in the 2014 article we coded people’s AOS by self-identification on their CV or webpage rather than looking at their publications, so this is not circular. None the less, any bias towards certain AOS’ that was involved in producing the initial database of US BIPs may have been reproduced in this count.

Not many US BIPs published research articles in this period. The 15 journal articles were produced by 11 US black philosophers, 9 of whom were men and 2 of whom were women. For some perspective, Timothy Williamson published 15 research articles in the journals under study during this time period.

Conclusion

Unless there has been a sea change in the years since 2012, US BIPs are not publishing much in journals which are considered high prestige in philosophy. Given the limitations of the method of analysis and the sort of data available, no firm conclusions about the causes of the low publication rate of US BIPs in these journals may presently be reached.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Percentages of U.S. Doctorates in Philosophy Given to Women and to Minorities, 1973-2014

The Survey of Earned Doctorates is a questionnaire distributed by the U.S. National Science Foundation to doctorate recipients at all accredited U.S. universities, which draws response rates over 90% in most years. The survey includes data on gender and ethnicity/race. Data for 2009-2014 are readily available online here. At my request, the NSF sent me gender and ethnicity/race data for philosophy going back to 1973.

With the NSF's permission, here are the raw data. Philosophy response rates averaged 92% per year, and were over 85% in all years but two.

(Note: "Ethics" started being collected as a separate doctoral subfield in 2012. For gender analysis, I have merged the 83 recipients in that category with the 1442 "philosophy" doctoral recipients during the same period. Given the small numbers, much of the race/ethnicity data were suppressed, so for race/ethnicity analysis I have excluded the "ethics" recipients. The numbers are not sufficiently different from "philosophy" to make a material analytic difference in a pool of over a thousand (54/83 [65%] male; among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, 52/68 [76%] non-Hispanic White).)

Data on Women:

Almost all respondents reported gender as male or female, with only 25/14495 respondents (0.2%) declining to self-classify gender. The total number of respondents increased from an average of 354/year in available data from the 1970s to an average of 484/year for available data in the 2010s. The chart below shows the percentage of women by year, along with both a linear regression line (green) and the best fitting quadratic curve (red).

I tried a quadratic fit to test the hypothesis that the rate at which women are entering philosophy has flattened out in the 21st century, after an increase in the 20th (see for example, these data on publication rates in elite journals and this observation by Linda Alcoff).

The quadratic curve does indeed fit much better than the linear, with a difference of 11.0 in the AICc scores (which penalize models with more parameters): The AICc relative likelihood of the quadratic vs. the linear is .996 to .004. In other words, the visually apparent flattening is highly unlikely to be chance variation in a linear trend. (I use the quadratic only to test for flattening, not to extrapolate beyond the measurement years.)

Another way to see the flattening is to aggregate by decade. In the 1970s, 17% of the SED philosophy respondents were women. In the 1980s it was 22%. In the 1990s it was 27%. In the 2000s it was also 27%. So far in the 2010s it has been 28%.

Conclusion: Since the 1990s, the percentage of women receiving Ph.D.'s in philosophy in the United States has been virtually unchanged at about 27-28%.

Data on Ethnicity and Race:

For the analysis of ethnicity and race, I excluded the "ethics" data, which had too many suppressed cells, and I excluded respondents who did not report being a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, since race and ethnicity data were not available for those respondents. There were three ethnicity categories: "Hispanic or Latino", "Not Hispanic or Latino", and "Ethnicity not reported". Within "Not Hispanic or Latino", data were subdivided into "American Indian or Alaska Native", "Asian or Other Pacific Islander", "Black or African American", "White", "Two or more races", and "Race not reported".

As expected, the large majority of respondents reporting both ethnicity and race were non-Hispanic White. Here are the numbers, with a linear regression. I also tried a quadratic curve, since I'd done it for the gender data, but it lay literally right on top of the linear regression line (with differences < .01%), so the simpler linear model is preferred.

As is evident from the chart, although a large majority of respondents are still non-Hispanic White, the percentage has been decreasing since the 1970s, and (in contrast to the gender data) there is no apparent flattening of the trend.

The numbers in all other categories are small, and are better seen in a decade-by-decade aggregation. These numbers include only U.S. citizens and permanent residents, but I have re-included respondents not reporting ethnicity or race. They are arranged from highest number to lowest.

Ethnicity not reported:

1970s: 201/2294 (8.8%)
1980s: 66/2098 (3.1%)
1990s: 58/2635 (2.2%)
2000s: 77/3069 (2.5%)
2010s: 40/1820 (2.2%)

Hispanic or Latino (any race):

1970s: 21/2294 (0.9%)
1980s: 39/2098 (1.9%)
1990s: 80/2635 (3.0%)
2000s: 112/3069 (3.6%)
2010s: 115/1820 (6.3%)

Asian or Other Pacific Islander:

1970s: 28/2294 (1.2%)
1980s: 35/2098 (1.7%)
1990s: 81/2635 (3.1%)
2000s: 94/3069 (3.1%)
2010s: 58/1820 (3.2%)

Black or African American:

1970s: 31/2294 (1.4%)
1980s: 39/2098 (1.9%)
1990s: 46/2635 (1.7%)
2000s: 66/3069 (2.2%)
2010s: 34/1820 (1.9%)

Two or more races:

1970s: 13/2294 (0.6%)
1980s: 1/2098 (0.0%)
1990s: 8/2635 (0.3%)
2000s: 38/3069 (1.2%)
2010s: 42/1820 (1.3%)

Non-Hispanic race not reported:

1970s: 0/1914 (0.0%)
1980s: 10/2098 (0.5%)
1990s: 17/2635 (0.6%)
2000s: 34/3069 (1.1%)
2010s: 15/1820 (0.8%)

American Indian or Alaska Native:

1970s: 4/2294 (0.2%)
1980s: 4/2098 (0.2%)
1990s: 15/2635 (0.6%)
2000s: 8/3069 (0.3%)
2010s: 1/1820 (0.1%)

Most notable, of course, are the low percentages generally.

Also notable is the increase from 1-2% Hispanic or Latino in the 1970s-1980s to 6.3% in the 2010s. This is still, however, well below the approximately 17% of the U.S. population that is Hispanic. It is also matched by a sharp decline in "Ethnicity not reported", raising the possibility that it is in part a reporting effect.

The percentage of non-Hispanic Black or African American U.S. PhD recipients does not appear to have increased much if at all since the 1970s, hovering around 1.4% to 2.2%, compared to 13% of the U.S. population.

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HT Carolyn Dicey Jennings for her input. We are collaborating on a paper together on some of these topics. Comments, corrections, and new analyses welcome.

Thursday, January 07, 2016

So What If Moral and Philosophical Reasoning Is Post-Hoc Rationalization?

(co-written with Jonathan E. Ellis)

Rationalization, as we understand it, involves a mismatch between the justificatory grounds one offers for one’s beliefs and the real underlying causes of one’s beliefs. A particular conclusion is favored in advance, and reasoning is recruited post-hoc, more with the aim of justifying that conclusion than with the aim of ascertaining the truth whatever it might be. In rationalization, one wants to establish that a favored conclusion is true, or reasonable to believe, and it is this desire, more than a sober assessment of the evidence, that causally explains one’s argumentative moves. (See this post for one attempt to lay this out more formally.)

We think it's possible that a substantial portion of moral and philosophical reasoning -- including among professional philosophers (ourselves included) -- involves rationalization in this sense. The desire to defend a preferred conclusion -- a particular point one has recently made in print, for instance, or a favored philosophical thesis ("God exists," "Everything supervenes on the physical," etc.) -- might surreptitiously bias the employment and evaluation of plausibility, methodology, epistemic obligation, one's memories, one's starting points, one's feelings of confidence, and so forth, so thoroughly that that desire, rather than the reasons one explicitly offers, is the best underlying causal explanation of why one accepts the views one does.

Suppose, hypothetically, that lots of moral and philosophical thinking is like that. (We won't defend that hypothetical here.) An interesting epistemic question is, so what? Would it be epistemically bad if moral and philosophical thinking were, to a substantial extent, highly biased post-hoc rationalization?

Here are three reasons one might think rationalization may not be so bad:

(1.) On some topics -- including perhaps ethical and other philosophical topics -- our intuitive judgments may be more trustworthy than our reasoning processes. You know -- without having to work up some abstract argument for it -- that it's (normally) wrong to harvest organs from an unwilling donor; and if the first abstract argument you try to concoct in defense doesn't quite get you there, it makes perfect sense to hunt around for another argument rather than to decrease confidence in the moral conclusion, and it makes sense to give much more careful critical scrutiny to arguments in favor of forced organ donation.

(2.) Moral and philosophical reasoning is a group enterprise, and the community benefits from having passionate advocates with a variety of opinions, who defend their views come what may. Even if some of those people fail to be epistemically rational at the individual level, they might contribute to group-level rationality. Maybe the scientific psychological community, for example, needs people who support implausibly extreme versions of nativism and empiricism, to anchor the sides of the debate. Moral and philosophical communities might likewise benefit from passionate advocates of unlikely or disvalued positions. (See Kuhn and Longino on scientific communities.)

(3.) Even if rationalization is not epistemically beneficial, it might not be deleterious, at least in the context of professional philosophy. Who cares why a philosopher has the views she does? All that matters, one might think, is the quality of the arguments that are produced. Low-quality arguments will be quickly shot down, and high-quality arguments will survive even if their origins are not psychologically handsome. To use a famous scientific example: It doesn't matter if a vision of the structure of benzene came to you in a dream, as long as you can defend your view of that structure after the fact, in dialogue with your peers.

While acknowledging these three points, we think that the epistemic costs of rationalization far outweigh the benefits.

(A.) Rationalization leads to overconfidence. If one favors conclusion P and systematically pursues and evaluates evidence concerning P in a highly biased manner, it's likely (though not inevitable) that one will end up more confident in the truth of P than is epistemically warranted. One might well end up confidently believing P despite the weight of available evidence supporting the opposite of P. This can be especially dangerous when one is deciding whether to, say, convict the defendant, upbraid the student, do a morally questionable action.

(B.) Rationalization impedes peer critique. There's a type of dialectical critique that is, we think, epistemically important in moral and philosophical reasoning -- we might call it "engaged" or "open" dialogue -- in which one aims to offer to an interlocutor, for the interlocutor's examination and criticism, one's real reasons for believing some conclusion. One says, "here's why I think P", with the aim of offering considerations in favor of P that simultaneously play two roles: (i.) they epistemically support P (at least prima facie); and (ii.) acceptance of them is actually causally effective in sustaining one's belief that P is the case. Exposing not only your conclusion but your reasons for favoring that conclusion offers your interlocutor two entry points for critique rather than just one: not only "is P true or well supported?" but also "is your belief that P well justified?" These can come apart, especially in the case where one's interlocutor might be neutral about P but rightly confident that one's basis for belief is insufficient. ("I don't know whether the stock market will rise tomorrow, but seeing some guy on TV say it will rise isn't good grounds for believing it will.") Rationalization disrupts this type of peer critique. One's real basis remains hidden; it's not really up for peer examination, not really exposed to the risk of refutation or repudiation. If one's putative basis is undermined one is likely simply to hunt around for a new putatively justifying reason.

(C.) In an analogous way, rationalization undermines self-critique. An important type of self-critique resembles peer critique. One steps back to explicitly consider one's putative real reasons for believing P, with the idea that reflection might reveal them to be less compelling that one had initially thought. As in the peer case, if one is rationalizing, the putative reasons don't really explain why one believes, and one's belief is likely to survive any potential undercutting of those putative reasons. The real psychological explanation of why you believe remains hidden, unexamined, not exposed to self-evaluation.

(D.) As a bit of a counterweight to point (2) above, concerning community benefits: At the community level, there's much to be said in favor of a non-rationalizing approach to dialogue, in which one aims to frankly and honestly expose one's real reasons. If you and I are peers, the fact that something moves me is prima facie evidence that it should move you too. In telling you what really moves me to favor P, I am inviting you into my epistemic perspective. You might learn something by charitably considering my point of view. Rationalization disrupts this cooperative enterprise. If I offer you rationalizations instead of revealing the genuine psychological grounds of my belief, I render false the first premise in your inference from "my interlocutor believes P because of reason R, so I should seriously consider whether I too ought to believe P for reason R".

The force of consideration (1) in favor of rationalization depends on recognizing that intuition can be more trustworthy than argument in some moral and philosophical domains. It's possible to recognize this fact without endorsing rationalization. One approach is to frankly admit that one believes on intuitive grounds. A non-rationalizing argument for the conclusion in question can then be something like: (i.) I find conclusion X intuitively attractive, and (ii.) it's reasonable for me to accept my intuitive judgments in this domain. That argument can then be exposed to interpersonal critique and self-critique.

It’s also unclear how much comfort is really justified by consideration (3), concerning quality detection. In moral and philosophical reasoning, quality can be difficult to assess. We are not confident that a philosophical community full of rationalizers is likely to reject only low-quality arguments, especially if patterns of motivated reasoning don't scatter randomly through the community, but tend to favor certain conclusions over others for reasons other than epistemic merit.

For these reasons we think we ought to be disappointed and concerned if it turns out that our moral and philosophical reasoning is to a large extent merely post-hoc rationalization.

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A special thanks to Facebook friends for their helpful thoughts about on this earlier post on my wall:

Proposition: Most philosophical reasoning is post-hoc rationalization (in the sense that the reasons offered aren't in...

Posted by Eric Schwitzgebel on Friday, December 11, 2015

Friday, January 01, 2016

Writings of 2015

I guess it's a tradition for me now, posting a retrospect of the past year's writings on New Year's Day. (Here are the retrospects of 2012, 2013, and 2014.)

Three notable things this past year were (a.) more commitment to writing in popular venues, including three pieces in the Los Angeles Times, (b.) a couple of journal articles on skepticism, bringing together some of my work on the psychology of philosophy with my long-standing (but mostly unpublished) interest in skeptical epistemology, and (c.) work connecting my interest in science fiction with issues in philosophical methodology and the ethics of technology. I am also continuing to work on some of my other favorite topics: self-knowledge, moral psychology, the nature of attitudes, classical Chinese philosophy, and the moral behavior of ethicists.

Full-length non-fiction essays appearing in print in 2015:

Full-length non-fiction finished and forthcoming:
  • The behavior of ethicists” (first author, with Joshua Rust), in W. Buckwalter and J. Sytsma, eds., Blackwell Companion to Experimental Philosophy (Wiley-Blackwell).
Shorter non-fiction in print or forthcoming:
Editing work:
Non-fiction in draft and circulating:
Science fiction stories:
  • Out of the Jar”, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction 128, 118-128.
  • The Tyrant's Headache”, Sci Phi Journal 3, 78-83.
  • Momentary Sage”, The Dark 8, 38-43.
  • The Dauphin's metaphysics”, Unlikely Story 12 [Locus recommended by Lois Tilton].
  • (reprint) “Reinstalling Eden”, (first author, with R. Scott Bakker), StarShipSofa 392.
  • (reprint forthcoming) “Reinstalling Eden” (first author, with R. Scott Bakker), in S. Schneider (ed.) Science Fiction and Philosophy, 2nd ed. Wiley-Blackwell.
Some favorite blog posts:
Selected interviews:
Here's hoping for a similarly fun and productive 2016!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

How Prominently Is Women's Philosophical Work Discussed? One Empirical Measure

Citation is one thing. Discussion is another. You can drop a reference without really engaging someone's work (e.g., Snerdfoot 2011). But as Helen de Cruz has emphasized, discussing a possible Bechdel test for philosophy papers, citation analysis is insufficient as a measure of serious engagement with someone's work. I propose two rough measures of "discussion".

"Discussion" itself I operationalize as follows: A person is discussed if that person's name appears in the abstract of an article. Looking at the Philosopher's Index database, I have examined discussion arcs over time for various well-known philosophers in a series of blog posts (e.g., here, here, here, here).

"Extended discussion" I operationalize as follows: A person receives extended discussion if that person is referred to at least twice in the abstract of the article, by either name or pronoun. The nominative pronoun might be especially telling, since its presence suggests that the person is being referred to repeatedly in independent clauses. For example:

Later, Nussbaum gradually reconsidered the notion of patriotism in texts that remained largely unknown and rarely discussed. This article begins with a brief account of her shift from cosmopolitanism to what she terms 'a globally sensitive patriotism,' and the task assigned to education within this framework....

This suggests a possible rough and simple measure of the relative rates at which women receive extended discussion in philosophy articles compared to men: Compare the ratio of "he" to "she" in philosophy abstracts, then remove cases in which those words are used with generic intent (e.g., "If the agent wouldn't have done otherwise whether or not she could have....") or otherwise not referring to an individual philosopher whose work is being discussed (e.g., reference to historical leaders, or third-person references to the author herself for abstracts written in the third person).

Method:

I searched Philosopher's Index for all appearances of "he" or "she" in abstracts from 1970 to the present in a sample of ten ethics journals and ten general philosophy journals. [See Note 1 for journal details.] This yielded a total of 2321 abstracts. I then skimmed each abstract to remove all cases in which the pronoun was not used to refer to a specific philosopher whose work was being discussed. [Yes, I looked at over 2000 abstracts! Obviously, my determinations had to be quick, but in almost every case it could be made confidently within just a few seconds.] To examine temporal trends, I grouped results by decade. I also separated citations of pre-20th-century historical figures from 20th and 21st century figures.

Results:

Percentage of recipients of extended discussion (as measured by nominative pronoun use in abstracts) who are women:

1970s
Ethics: 8/92 (9% women) [so 91% of those receiving extended discussion are men]
General journals: 4/134 (3%)
1980s
Ethics: 3/77 (4%)
General: 0/137 (0%)
1990s
Ethics: 20/147 (14%)
General: 9/189 (5%)
2000s
Ethics: 16/184 (9%)
General: 16/229 (7%)
2010s
Ethics: 19/120 (16%)
General: 27/244 (11%)
Merging the ethics and the general journals, so far in the 2010s, approximately 13% of philosophers receiving extended discussion in these journals are women.

In contrast with my earlier data on authorship in the most elite journals, this does appear to be a statistically significant increase since the 1970s (5% vs. 13%, z = 3.2, p = .001).

If we remove discussion the pre-20th century figures (Kant, Plato, etc.), then numbers look like this:

1970s
Ethics: 8/64 (13% women)
General journals: 4/97 (4%)
1980s
Ethics: 3/54 (6%)
General: 0/106 (0%)
1990s
Ethics: 19/94 (20%)
General: 9/144 (6%)
2000s
Ethics: 15/140 (11%)
General: 16/184 (9%)
2010s
Ethics: 18/95 (19%)
General: 26/210 (12%)
Still only 14%!

(Since ethics is a minority of the discipline, it makes sense that the center of gravity would be closer to the general journals.)

These numbers are consonant with two other measures I've done that suggest that at the very highest levels of prestige our discipline is still predominately male.

  • Among the 267 most-cited contemporary philosophers (in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy) only 10% are women.
  • About 13% of authors in the most elite philosophy journals are women.
  • For the discipline as a whole, percentages of faculty in the 21st century are typically in the low 20%'s (U.S. data here).

    The outlier analysis here is my analysis of American Philosophical Association meetings, where women were 35% (144/413) of the invited symposium speakers on the main program, and 32% of main program participants overall.

    ----------------------------------------------------------

    Note 1: Ethics and non-ethics were analyzed separately because previous analyses have found differences by area, and because journals divide fairly naturally into those specializing in ethics/political, "general" journals that publish proportionately little ethics, and other types of specialty journals (like philosophy of science).

    Ethics journals were the top ranked journals in surveys by Brian Weatherson and Brian Leiter (excluding the non-ethics journals appearing in the latter) and include Ethics, Philosophy & Public Affairs, Journal of Political Philosophy, Utilitas, Social Philosophy and Policy, Journal of Ethics, Ethical Theory & Moral Practice, Journal of Social Philosophy, Journal of Value Inquiry, and Journal of Moral Philosophy.

    The comparison list was a stratified sample of "general" philosophy journals drawn from Leiter's surveys here and here and included Nous, Midwest Studies in Philosophy, Synthese, Mind, Philosophical Studies, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, European Journal of Philosophy, Dialectica, Philosophical Topics, and Theoria. The sample was stratified so that the selected journals would not differ too much in overall prestige from the ethics journals. ----------------------------------------------------------

    For a related post, also including discussion of the use of "he" and "she" and generic pronouns, see Use of "She" and "He" in Philosopher's Index Abstracts (Sep. 16, 2014). See also Kieran Healy's nice analysis of gender citation patterns in four leading philosophy journals.

    Wednesday, December 23, 2015

    A Response to Critiques of Cushman's and My Work on Philosophers' Susceptibility to Order Effects

    The order in which moral dilemmas are presented matters to people's judgments and can substantially influence later judgments about abstract moral principles. This is true even among professional ethicists with PhD's in philosophy. In 2012 and 2015, Fiery Cushman and I published empirical evidence supporting these claims. We invite a metaphilosophical conclusion: If even professional philosophers' expert judgments are easily swayed by order of presentation, then such judgments might not be stable enough to serve as secure grounds for philosophical theorizing.

    Synthese has recently published two critiques of the literature on order effects in philosophy, which address Fiery's and my work (HT Wesley Buckwalter). Both critiques make valuable points. However both also admit of some clear replies.

    To fix ideas, consider two versions of the famous Trolley Problem:

    Push: A runaway boxcar is headed toward five people it will kill if nothing is done. Jane can stop the boxcar by pushing a hiker with a heavy backpack in front of the boxcar, killing him but saving the five.

    Switch: A runaway boxcar is headed toward five people it will kill if nothing is done. Vicki can stop the boxcar by flipping a switch to divert it to a sidetrack where it will kill one person instead of the five.

    Fiery and I presented Push-type and Switch-type scenarios (fleshed with a bit more detail) to professional philosophers and two comparison groups of non-philosophers. We found that when professional philosophers saw a Push-type scenario before a Switch-type scenario, 73% rated the two scenarios equivalently on a 7-point scale. Then later in the questionnaire when asked about the Doctrine of the Double Effect -- a moral principle often interpreted implying that Push-type cases are morally worse than Switch-type cases -- only a minority, 46%, endorsed that principle. In contrast, among philosophers who saw Switch before Push only 54% rated the two scenarios equivalently, and then later a majority, 62%, endorsed the Doctrine of the Double Effect. Endorsement of the principle thus seemed to shift, post-hoc, to rationalize philosophers' order-manipulated judgments about the scenarios.

    We found similar effects for Action-Omission, Moral Luck, and "Asian disease" type cases (though not consistently for every measure across the board). Philosophers with PhDs and self-reported competence or specialization in ethics showed no smaller effects than other philosophers or than comparison groups of non-philosophers -- and in fact trended slightly (non-significantly) toward showing larger order effects.

    In general, we found pretty substantial effect sizes, suggesting substantial instability of judgment even in philosophical respondents' areas of expertise. Hence the metaphilosophical worry.

    ----------------------------------------------

    Critique by Zachary Horne and Jonathan Livengood.

    Horne and Livengood make three main points about the literature on order effects in philosophy:

    (A.) First, they helpfully distinguish between what they call "updating effects" and "genuine ordering effects". Genuine ordering effects, in their terminology, are effects measured only after all the stimuli have been presented. "Updating effects" are measures taken along the way, and might well reflect participants' learning. There is of course nothing irrational in judging Scenario B differently as a result of seeing Scenario A because one learned something by seeing Scenario A. Most philosophical research on order effects, they note, takes the measures along the way -- and thus might be measuring learning rather than true order effects.

    (B.) Second, they point out that perceptual judgments also show order effects. Thus, if we are to reject any type of evidence that shows order effects, then we must reject perceptual evidence too, which would lead to radical skepticism.

    (C.) Third, they point out that order can sometimes reasonably make a difference to the evaluation of evidence. For example, a smile followed by a frown, on the same person's face, is a different type of evidence than a frown followed by a smile.

    On (A): I find the labels tendentious (since if we know there isn't learning-type updating going on, what we might want to call "genuine order effects" can plausibly be measured mid-stream), however it probably is correct that most studies do not sufficiently rule out the possibility of learning or updating in the course of the experiment, if they have novice participants and take the measurements after each scenario rather than after both scenarios. However, since our participants were experts, we think it unlikely that a significant number learned anything in the process of our brief experiment that would rationally justify shifting their judgment about the equivalency or non-equivalency of Push and Switch. And as Horne and Livengood note, our measure of endorsement of the Doctrine of the Double Effect is a measurement of a "genuine ordering effect" even by their own lights.

    On (B): Yes, of course it would be silly to reject all means of learning that are subject to any order effects! The epistemic sting, as they note, depends not on the mere existence of an order effect in one case, but on how large and how prevalent the order effects are. This is an open empirical question. But the limited empirical evidence that exists suggests that order effects are substantial and prevalent in moral dilemma cases. So far, we have found order effects in all of the scenario types we've tried, with about a 10-20% shift in opinion on the moral equivalency of our scenario pairs and in preference for the risky option in the "Asian disease" cases.

    On (C): It's interesting to consider cases in which earlier evidence rightly colors our reaction to later evidence, but trolley problems presented to disciplinary experts seems a different kind of case.

    Finally, Horne and Livengood suggest that exposure to a pair of dilemmas in our study is unlikely to have a long-lasting impact on professional philosophers' beliefs. I agree. They continue, "But if there is no long-lasting impact, then we think the effect is unlikely to matter to actual philosophical practice outside of the laboratory" (p. 17). I don't think this follows. Fiery's and my view is not that philosophers' opinions are permanently influenced by the order in which the scenarios are presented on any single occasion, but rather that their opinions are unstable -- possibly influenced one direction on one occasion, in another direction on another occasion. This instability is what drives the metaphilosophical worry.

    ----------------------------------------------

    Critique by Regina Rini:

    Rini -- a recent guest blogger here at the Splintered Mind -- looks only at our 2012 study. (Our 2015 study wasn't published until after her paper was in press.) She finds it plausible that if professional philosophers were already familiar with these cases they would not exhibit order effects of the sort Fiery and I find. She suggests that perhaps respondents were not previously familiar with the cases -- or at least not familiar in the right sort of way. She calls this the "familiarity problem" and offers four possible explanations:

    (1.) The respondents were not really experts. She wonders if our participants, recruited through the internet, really had the degrees they claimed to have.

    (2.) The respondents didn't carefully attend to our scenarios. Maybe they breezed through them so quickly that they failed to notice relevant features.

    (3.) The respondents might not have familiar responses to these types of scenarios. Perhaps they have so far refrained from forming judgments on such cases and principles.

    (4.) The respondents might not have diachronically stable familiar responses. This is the explanation Fiery and I favor. However, Rini helpfully points out that as long as philosophers are aware that their responses are not diachronically stable, the metaphilosophical threat is reduced: Presumably philosophers who are aware that their responses are not stable would be reluctant to ground their theorizing on those responses.

    On (1): I am not aware of a general problem in the survey literature of respondents' frequently misreporting their educational status -- though certainly a bit of misreporting is possible. One specific piece of evidence against this possibility in our own study is that we recruited philosophers mostly by asking department chairs to forward a recruitment email to faculty and graduate students in their departments. Most of our "philosopher" participants took the survey within just a few days of these emails.

    On (2): The median response time on the first scenario was 40 seconds, on the second scenario was 34 seconds. While these are not huge response times, if you stop to count out 34 seconds now, you'll probably notice that it's a reasonable amount of time for a thoughtful response to a brief scenario.

    On (3) and (4): These are potentially quite serious issues, and in fact our follow-up study in 2015 was designed specifically to address them, after we saw an early version of Rini's critique. In our 2015 study we specifically asked participants if they were previously familiar with the scenarios. We also asked whether they regarded themselves as "having had a stable opinion" about the issues before participating in the experiment, and whether they regarded themselves as experts on those very issues. We also added a "reflection" condition to help address concern (2). In the reflection condition we asked participants to reflect carefully before responding and enforced a minimum 15-second delay between when participants reported having finished reading the scenario and when their response options appeared.

    We did not find that self-reported familiarity or stability reduced the size of order effects in two different types of scenario pairs (trolley problems and risky-choice "Asian disease"-type problems), nor did we find reduced order effects in the reflection condition compared to a normal control condition without special instructions to reflect.

    For example, percentage rating the Push and Switch scenarios equivalently:

    Thus, I am inclined to think that Rini's fourth suggestion is the most plausible -- that participants do not have diachronically stable familiar responses, despite high levels of expertise. But since those who report having stable responses were no less subject to order effects than were those who reported not having stable responses, self-knowledge of stability appears to be largely absent. Despite Rini's interesting suggestion that instability is metaphilosophically non-threatening if people are aware of it, Fiery's and my results suggest that we should not hasten to that comfort.

    ----------------------------------------------

    Both Horne and Livengood and Rini emphasize that we only have very limited evidence about order effects on professional philosophers' judgments. I agree! Fiery's and my two studies are hardly decisive. Convergent evidence from several different labs would be necessary before drawing any confident conclusions, especially if those conclusions are at variance with what one feels one knows from personal experience. Rini also makes positive suggestions for follow-up experimental work that might be done, which I am inclined to support. Both critiques raise important methodological concerns that ought to help shape and direct future work on this topic.

    Tuesday, December 15, 2015

    Only 13% of Authors in Five Leading Philosophy Journals Are Women

    I was all ready for some happy news, or at least neutral news. Although the percentage of women in North American and British philosophy departments is low by humanities standards, maybe in the low 20%s, I found some evidence a few weeks ago of a sharp increase in the percentage of women on the program at meetings of the American Philosophical Association, from 6% in 1955 to 32% in 2015. In ethics, APA program participation might even be approaching gender parity, with 41% women (though non-ethics is still quite far from parity at 26% women).

    In the past week, I thought I'd confirm that trend by looking at five philosophy journals: Mind, Philosophical Review, Journal of Philosophy, Ethics, and Philosophy & Public Affairs. I chose the first three because they are the traditional "big three" philosophy journals, which have been viewed as the leading general philosophical journals for many decades. Since they publish proportionately little ethics, however, I added what are arguably the two leading ethics journals.

    Method:

    I looked at authorship of the main articles and also commentaries and responses (but not book reviews, editorial remarks, or the recent anniversary retrospects that Ethics has been publishing). All articles in Ethics and PPA were coded as ethics. Articles in the other three were coded either as ethics or non-ethics based on title and sometimes (for less clear cases) a skim of the article. Gender was coded by first name and by personal knowledge, and in cases of ambiguity I looked for disambiguating information on the internet, such as gender-typical photos or references to the person as "him" or "her" in discussions of the person's work. In only 11 cases out of 1202 was I unable to make a determination. I looked at two-year chunks from four periods: 1954-1955, 1974-1975, 1994-1995, and 2014-2015 (though since Phil Review and J Phil have not yet made all 2015 available, I examined back into 2013 to gather exactly two years' worth of data). Only 53 of 1143 (5%) articles were multiply-authored.

    Results:

    1954-1955
    Ethics: 5/107 (5%) of the authors were women
    Non-ethics: 12/236 (5%)

    1974-1975
    Ethics: 26/161 (16%)
    Non-ethics: 13/192 (7%)

    1994-1995
    Ethics: 21/119 (18%)
    Non-ethics: 11/127 (9%)

    2014-2015
    Ethics: 18/119 (15%)
    Non-ethics: 14/130 (11%)

    Here are the data in a graph, with 95% confidence intervals:

    As you can see from the CIs, the numbers are small enough to be consistent with considerable chance variation. Still, to me, three things are immediately striking:

    (1.) women publishing more frequently in ethics than in other areas of philosophy;

    (2.) low percentages of women overall;

    (3.) little progress in the numbers since the 1970s.

    Merging together the ethics and non-ethics (which probably somewhat overrepresents ethics relative to the profession as a whole), women are 32/246 (13%) of authors in these five journals in 2014-2015, with a 95% CI of 9% to 18%. If we assume that the proportion of women in the profession as a whole is at least 20%, then female authors are statistically significantly underrepresented in these journals relative to their population in the profession.

    Especially notable is the huge difference between women's participation in APA ethics sessions and their rate of publishing ethics in these elite journals: in the most recent data, women were 41% of ethics session participants but only 15% of ethics authors (p << .001 of course).

    Post-hoc analysis is always a little tricky, but the data suggest almost no increase in the percentage of women publishing in these journals since the mid-1970s, with merged percentages of 11% (1974-1975), 13% (1994-1995), and 13% (2014-2015). Sally Haslanger's data from 2002-2007 provide further corroboration of this flat trendline, with 12% female authors in a selection of elite philosophy journals, and 11% in the five journals I've analyzed.

    These data extend and confirm data from Kathryn Norlock that suggest underrepresentation of women in Ethics and the Journal of Moral Philosophy. (See also Meena Krishnamurthy's discussion.)

    Monday, December 07, 2015

    Will Your Driverless Car Kill You So That Others May Live?

    A new op-ed by me, in the Los Angeles Times (with the awesome illustration above, by Wes Bausmith, of car-as-consequentialist-philosopher.

    I argue that programming the collision-avoidance software of an autonomous vehicle is an act of applied ethics, which we should bring into the open for the public to assess and for passengers to see and possibly modify within ethical limits.

    --------------------------------------

    It's 2025. You and your daughter are riding in a driverless car along Pacific Coast Highway. The autonomous vehicle rounds a corner and detects a crosswalk full of children. It brakes, but your lane is unexpectedly full of sand from a recent rock slide. It can't get traction. Your car does some calculations: If it continues braking, there's a 90% chance that it will kill at least three children. Should it save them by steering you and your daughter off the cliff?

    This isn't an idle thought experiment. Driverless cars will be programmed to avoid collisions with pedestrians and other vehicles. They will also be programmed to protect the safety of their passengers. What happens in an emergency when these two aims come into conflict?

    Should your autonomous vehicle risk your safety, perhaps even your life, because a reckless motorcyclist chose to speed around a sharp curve?

    The California Department of Motor Vehicles is now trying to draw up safety regulations for autonomous vehicles. These regulations might or might not specify when it is acceptable for collision-avoidance programs to expose passengers to risk to avoid harming others — for example, by crossing the double-yellow line or attempting an uncertain maneuver on ice.

    Google, which operates most of the driverless cars being street-tested in California, prefers that the DMV not insist on specific functional safety standards. Instead, Google proposes that manufacturers “self-certify” the safety of their vehicles, with substantial freedom to develop collision-avoidance algorithms as they see fit.

    Continued here.

    Friday, December 04, 2015

    A Theory of Rationalization

    The U.C. Santa Cruz philosopher Jon Ellis and I are collaborating on a paper on rationalization in the pejorative sense of the term. I'm trying to convince Jon to accept the following four-clause definition of rationalization:

    A person -- whom, following long philosophical tradition, we dub S -- rationalizes some claim or proposition P if and only if all of the following four conditions hold:

    1. S believes that P.

    2. S attempts to explicitly justify her belief that P, in order to make her belief appear rational, either to herself or others.

    3. In doing 2, S comes to accept one or more justifications for P as the rational grounds of her belief.

    4. The causes of S's belief that P are very different from the rational grounds offered in 3.

    Some cases:

    Newspaper. At the newsstand, the man selling papers accidentally gives Estefania [see here for my name choice decision procedure] a $20 bill in change instead of a $1 bill. Estefania notices the error right away. Her first reaction is to think she got lucky and doesn't need to point out the error. She thinks to herself, "What a fool! If he can't hand out correct change, he shouldn't be selling newspapers." Walking away, she thinks, "And anyway, a couple of times last week when I got a newspaper from him it was wet. I've been overpaying for his product, so this turnabout is fair. Plus, I'm sure almost everyone just keeps incorrect change when it's in their favor. That's just the way the game works." If Estefania had seen someone else receive incorrect change, she would not have reasoned in this way. She would have thought it plainly wrong for the person to keep it.

    Wedding Toast. Adrian gives a wedding toast where she tells an embarrassing story about her friend Bryan. Adrian doesn’t think she crossed the line. Yes, the story was embarrassing, but not impermissible as a wedding toast. Shortly afterward, Bryan pulls Adrian aside and says he can't believe Adrian told that story. A couple of months before, Bryan had specifically asked that her not to bring that story up, and Adrian had promised not to mention it. Adrian had forgotten that promise when preparing her toast, but she remembers it now that she has been reminded. She reacts defensively, thinking: "Embarrassing the groom is what you're supposed to do at wedding toasts. Bryan is just being too uptight. Although the story was embarrassing, it also shows a good side of Bryan. And being embarrassed like this in front of family and friends is just the kind of thing Bryan needs to help him be more relaxed and comfortable in the future." It is only because Adrian doesn't want to see herself as having done something wrong that she finds this line of reasoning attractive.

    The Kant-Hater. Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals -- a famously difficult text -- has been assigned for a graduate seminar in philosophy. Ainsley, a student in that seminar, hates Kant's opaque writing style and the authoritarian tone he thinks he detects in Kant. He doesn't fully understand the text -- who does? -- or the critical literature on it. But the first critical treatment that he happens upon is harsh, condemning most of the central arguments in the text. Because he loathes Kant's writing style, Ainsley immediately embraces that critical treatment and now deploys it to justify his rejection of Kant's views. More sympathetic treatments of Kant, which he later encounters, leave him cold and unwilling to modify his position.

    The Racist Philosopher. A 19th century slave-owner, Philip, goes to university and eventually becomes a philosophy professor. Throughout his education, Philip is exposed to ethical arguments against slave-ownership, but he is never convinced by them. He always has a ready defense. That defense changes over time as his education proceeds and his thinking becomes more sophisticated. What remains constant is not any particular justification Philip offers for the ethical permissibility of slave-ownership but rather only his commitment to its permissibility.

    These cases might be fleshed out with further plausible details, but on a natural understanding of them the primary causes of the protagonists' beliefs are not the justifications that they (sincerely) endorse for those beliefs -- rather, it's that they want to keep the $20, want not to have wronged a close friend at his wedding, dislike Kant's writing style, have a selfish or culturally-ingrained sense of the permissibility of slave-ownership. It is this disconnection between the epistemic grounds that S employs to defend the rationality of believing P and the psychological grounds that actually drive S's belief that P that is the essence of rationalization in the intended sense of the term.

    The condition about which Jon has expressed the most concern is Condition 4: "The causes of S's belief that P are very different from the rational grounds offered in 3." I admit there's something that seems kind of fuzzy or slippery about this condition as currently formulated.

    One concern: The causal story behind most beliefs is going to be very complicated, so talk about "the" causes risks sweeping in too much (all the causal history) or too little (just one or two things that we might choose because salient in the context). I'm not sure how to avoid this problem. Alternatives like "the explanation of S's belief" or "the real reason S believes" seem to have the same problems and possibly to invite other problems as well.

    Another concern: It's not clear what it is for the causes to be "very different" from the rational grounds that S offers. I hope that it's clear enough in the cases above. Here are some reasons to avoid saying, more simply, that the justifications S offers for P are not among the causes of S's belief that P. First, it seems typical of rationalization that once one finds some putative rational grounds for one's belief, those putative grounds have some causal power in sustaining the belief in the future. Second, if one simply couldn't find anything even vaguely plausible in support of P, one might have given up on P -- so the availability of some superficially plausible justifications probably often plays some secondary causal role in sustaining beliefs that primarily arise from other causes. Third, sometimes one's grounds aren't exactly what one says they are, but close enough -- for example, your putative grounds might be your memory that Isaura said it yesterday, while really it was her husband Jeffrey who said it and what's really effective is your memory that somebody trustworthy said it. When the grounds are approximately what you say they are, it's not rationalization.

    So the phrase "the causes... are very different" is meant to capture the idea that if you looked at the whole causal picture, you'd say that neither the putative justifications nor close neighbors of them are playing a major role, or the role you might normatively hope for or expect, in causing or causally sustaining S's belief, even as she is citing them as her justifications.

    What do you think? Is this a useful way to conceptualize "rationalization"? Although I don't think we need to hew precisely to pre-theoretical folk intuition, would this account imply any particularly jarring violations of intuition about cases of "rationalization"?

    I'd also be happy for reading recommendations -- particularly relevant philosophical accounts or psychological results.

    Our ultimate aim is to think about the role of rationalization in moral self-evaluation and in the adoption of philosophical positions. If rationalization is common in such cases, what are the epistemic consequences for moral self-knowledge and for metaphilosophy?

    [image source]

    -------------------------------------------

    For related posts, see What Is "Rationalization?" (Feb. 12, 2007), and Susanna Siegel's series of blog posts on this topic at the Brains blog last year.

    Wednesday, November 25, 2015

    Names in Philosophical Examples

    The most notorious men in philosophy used to be Smith and Jones. For example:

    Smith, who works in the country, has promised his wife to be in the city at four o'clock. It is now shortly before half past three, and Smith is seated at a small table in the country airport.... (Lehrer & Taylor 1965)

    ... suppose that Jones has been charged with Smith's murder and has been placed on trial.... (Donnellan 1966)

    Suppose, for example, both that Smith is to-day legally (morally) obligated to pay Jones $500.00 and that a week from to-day Smith will murder Jones.... (Castaneda 1967-1968).

    Concerning such a man we can make many successful predictions about his future actions like: "Smith will never accept a bribe, corrupt the innocent, commit murder or theft...." (Grant 1952)

    In the 1980s and 1990s, the culture of philosophy changed, and first names became more standard for these types of examples. Also, a wider range of names were used, though my impression is that "Alice" and "Bob" were common favorites:

    Al wishes to show Bob how much he appreciates his philosophical help over the years and he believes that an excellent way of doing this is to send Bob an autographed copy of his new book.... (Mele 1988).

    Suppose that none of three women, Alice, Beth, and Carla, has a special relationship with any of the others, and accordingly, none has special responsibilities to any of the others. (Scheffler 1999)

    To many, John has always seemed a model husband. He almost invariably shows great sensitivity to his wife's needs, and he willingly goes out of his way to meet them. (Railton 1984)

    "Smith" and "Jones" were always assumed to be male. In contrast, by the 1980s, philosophy was opening to a mix of male and female example protagonists.

    But there's one thing "Smith", "Jones", "Alice", and "Bob" all have in common. They are bland. Bland, here, is not entirely a good thing. "Bland" is culturally relative. By choosing these names, 20th century philosophers were conveying certain ethnic expectations to their readers -- that their readers, too, will find these names bland, that they will think of people with these names as "like us". The hypothetical worlds of 20th century Anglophone philosophy were worlds populated almost entirely by Bob Smiths and Alice Joneses. Someone with a name like "Rasheed" might understandably find this somewhat alienating. Does he really belong in bed with Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, "considering the possibilities"?

    Also, if you do see these names as vanilla -- vanilla after vanilla gets a bit boring, don't you think? Even just on aesthetic grounds, why not mix it up?

    Recently, philosophers have begun drawing their names from a broader ethnic range. But still, few of us regularly mix Chinese, Indian, and Arabic names into our examples.

    Some care is warranted. If "Smith" commits a murder, that's one thing. If one "arbitrarily" picks "Jamal" as the name of the murderer, that's a bit different. One could try to go against the grain, making "Gertrude" the murderer and "Jamal" the aging florist, but that can seem forced and cartoonish, if done too often. My wife enjoys psychoanalyzing my name choices: Why is "Juliet" my racist and "Kaipeng" my Stoic?

    One approach might be to find some list of the most popular names in the world and draw randomly from it. I kind of like that idea. It will generate a lot of "Mohammad", "Qian", and "Aadhya" -- possibly a refreshing change, if done properly.

    But one probably needn't aim for total global egalitarianism in name choice. If a Swedish philosopher uses a representative mix of Swedish names, well, there's something fun about that. I wouldn't want to insist that she always use "Maria" and "Fatima" instead. And maybe for me, as a Californian, I could sample Californian names -- as long as I don't pretend that California is populated only by white, non-immigrant, native English speakers.

    If you're lucky enough to teach at a large, diverse university like my own, a wonderful source of diverse names might be your own student rosters. Sorting names randomly from my largest recent class, these 25 pop out near the top: Rainita, Acenee, Desiree, Rani, Marisa, Guadalupe, Vanseaka, Cameron, Joseph, Christian, Ibrahim, Christina, Jasmine, Marie, Jennifer, Stephen, Philip, Hsin En, Timothy, Elio, Ivan, Deyanira, Izamar, Danielle, and Dennis Yoon. What a wonderful set of names! California's future philosophers, I hope.

    Hey, you go do it some other way if you want. I'm not insisting. Maybe in a few days I'll think this is a totally stupid idea and I won't even do it this way myself. But if you do stick with Bob Smith and Alice Jones, could you least do it ironically?

    [image source]

    Wednesday, November 18, 2015

    Tuesday, November 17, 2015

    Percentage of Women at APA Meetings, 1955, 1975, 1995, 2015

    Last spring, I posted a gender analysis of the program of the Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association, broken down by ethics vs. non-ethics and by role in the program. I've been coding some other APAs along similar lines. For a broader picture over time, I have now examined gender data for all three divisional meetings of the APA for 1955, 1975, 1995, and the 2014-2015 academic year [note 1].

    Gender was coded by first name and/or by personal or professional knowledge as either "female", "male", or "other/indeterminable". [note 2] I coded the main program only, and I excluded sessions organized by special committees (and all other symposia listed at session end rather than session beginning). My idea in doing this was to capture the mainstream research sessions rather than sessions on the state of the profession, teaching, the status of different ethnic groups, etc.

    As expected, the majority of philosophers on the APA main program are men, but the gender ratios are less skewed now than they were a few decades ago. Overall, the proportion of women on the APA main program has increased from about one sixth in 1975 to about one third in 2015.

    Merging all three divisions, here is the gender breakdown by year:

    1955: 6% women (7/121, excl. 5 indeterminable)
    1975: 16% women (62/397, excl. 20)
    1995: 25% women (220/896, excl. 38)
    2014-2015: 32% women (481/1526, excl. 177 [note 2])

    All three of the 20-year-interval increases are statistically significant, considered individually (two-tailed z tests, p < .001). Differences between divisions were not statistically significant.

    Recent estimates of the percentage of women in philosophy in the United States are typically in the low 20%'s, with 21% the most commonly cited number. Interestingly, at 32% women, the 2014-2015 program data are significantly higher than women's overall representation in the profession (481/1526 vs. 21%, p < .001). Possible explanations: younger philosophers more likely to be women and more likely to attend conferences; non-U.S. participants who are more gender balanced; the gender-indeterminate category ("Chris", foreign names) being disproportionately male; women having more interest in participating in APA sessions; and/or the program committees working to reach out to women.

    I also divided sessions into "ethics", "non-ethics", and "excluded". "Ethics" was construed broadly to include social and political philosophy. Philosophy of action and philosophy of religion were excluded as borderline, unless they were on ethical topics in those sub-areas. My hypothesis was that within philosophy, a larger percentage of women specialize in ethics than in other areas. The results:

    1955 ethics: 5/32 (14% women)
    1955 non-ethics: 2/64 (3% women)

    1975 ethics: 16/110 (15% women)
    1975 non-ethics: 41/249 (17% women)

    1995 ethics: 101/275 (37% women)
    1995 non-ethics: 105/531 (20% women)

    2014-2015 ethics: 206/500 (41% women)
    2014-2015 non-ethics: 217/824 (26% women)

    The numbers are too small in 1955 and 1975 to draw firm conclusions. However, in both 1995 and 2014-2015 the predicted effect is large and statistically significant (p < .001 for both). Since at least 1995, ethics sessions at APA meetings have been much closer to gender balanced than non-ethics sessions.

    Here are the numbers in a graph with 95% confidence intervals:

    I also examined role in the program, to see if women were more or less likely to serve in roles that are typically regarded as more or less prestigious. I divided roles into five types: (1.) Presidential or named lecture / author in author-meets-critics / symposium speaker with at least one commentator on just her paper. (2.) Symposium speaker not in category 1, or AMC critic. (3.) Symposium commentator or introductory remarks for named lecture. (4.) Presenter or commentator in colloquium. (5.) Chair (timekeeper/moderator) in any session.

    The program role results are a bit difficult to interpret, with women more likely to appear as ordinary symposium speakers (role 2) and as session chairs (role 5) and perhaps least likely to appear in colloquia spots (role 4). The trend is evident both in the aggregate data and when only 2014-2015 is considered (for all other years, the individual-year analysis is underpowered). Here's the breakdown for the 2014-2015 data:

    Cat 1 (most prestigious): 27% (27/99)
    Cat 2 (ordinary symposium speaker): 37% (117/314)
    Cat 3 (symposium commentator): 30% (29/96)
    Cat 4 (colloq speaker/commentator): 26% (155/597)
    Cat 5 (chair): 36% (153/420)

    This is statistically significant variation (chi-square [DF 4] = 18.9, p = .001). Overall, I'd say that this tends to disconfirm the hypothesis that women are disproportionately likely to appear in lower-prestige program roles, but beyond that I hesitate to speculate.

    Carolyn Dicey Jennings and I are at work on other analyses of the percentages of women in ethics vs. other areas of philosophy. If other measures also suggest that ethics contains a higher percentage of women than do other areas of philosophy, then at least two conclusions appear to follow for those who wish to help steer philosophy closer to gender parity:

    First, in an ethics context, a proportion of women that is representative of philosophy as a whole might still constitute an underrepresentation of women relative to the available pool.

    Second, the situation outside of ethics might be even more unbalanced than one would guess from looking at philosophy as a whole.

    However, the long-term upward trends both within and outside of ethics are encouraging.

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    Note 1: The Eastern Division did not meet in 2015, shifting from a December to a January schedule, so I use the December 2014 data.

    Note 2: I coded as indeterminable: gender-ambiguous Anglophone names ("Pat", "Robin"), mere initials ("C."), and non-Anglophone names whose gender associations were unknown to me ("Asya", "Lijun"). I allowed personal knowledge to resolve ambiguities (e.g., "Pat Churchland" as female). Impressionistically, the higher rate of indeterminable in 2014-2015 (10% of participants, up from 4-5% in 1975 and 1995) was due to more participants with non-Anglophone names. If women are substantially more or less common among the indeterminable names than among the remainder, that might skew the results by a few percent either direction. Still, the overall trend remains clear.

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    Thanks to Mara Garza for help with coding some of the data. Thanks to Roger Giner-Sorolla for catching an error in the labeling of the Y axis, which has now been corrected.