Friday, December 15, 2006

Brief Hiatus

I'll be off skiing with my family at Mammoth Mountain next week -- so definitely no blogging for me Sunday-Wednesday. I might be able to squeeze a little in next Thursday or Friday, or I might not! (I'll try at least to respond to comments.) Then the week after, too, I'll be in and out of town, so I won't be back on my regular schedule until the new year.

My mother (67 years old) is a maniac skier, and used to sometimes race Super G in the 55+ category. When I was a kid, she did a lot of part-time ski patrol in the mountains near L.A., and I'd tag along. By the time I was 17, the only people better than me were professionals. I had a particular affection for cutting new lines through the crud between the trees -- the steeper the better (Alta, with its weird traverses, was great for this). I haven't skied much since then, but if my son (now seven) takes to it, maybe I will!

A Sampled Experience: Beep 1.1

Regular readers may know that Russ Hurlburt and I have a book forthcoming with MIT Press. Russ and I interviewed a woman -- "Melanie" -- about randomly sampled moments of her experience while wearing a beeper. The book centers on lightly edited transcripts of those interviews. The reader can see what Melanie says about her experience, how Russ and I, in our different ways, question her further about it, and -- both in the dialogue and in side boxes -- how Russ and I disagree about how far to believe her and how to connnect what she says with existing literature in philosophy and psychology.

I'm thinking that periodically, I may feature one of the "beeped" experiences on this blog. Today: Beep 1.1. Melanie says that she has an episode of inner speech or inner hearing paced faster than normal speech, but not rushed; and she says she experiences the humorousness of that thought (the one expressed by the inner speech/hearing) as a kind of "rosy-yellow glow" surrounding her. Two of the interesting questions -- interesting to me at least -- that arise from this sample are:

* Does inner speech normally transpire at the same rate as outer speech, or does it often go faster?

* Do normal (non synaesthetic) people often experience color with their emotions -- like "seeing red" when angry? Or should we take attributions of color to emotions more metaphorically?

Let me invite you to read the transcript for yourself. Comments welcome!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

A Curious Effect of Vibrating Phones

Sometimes -- not often, actually -- I set my cell phone on vibrate. I keep it in my left front pocket. Now, it seems to me that I feel vibrations at the top of my left leg periodically, even when the phone is not vibrating, even when the phone is not in my pocket at all. I was reminded of this a few days ago when a colleague remarked on a similar experience.

My question is: What's going on here?

Here's one possibility. Primed to feel subtle vibration against that part of my leg, I sometimes misjudge whether there is vibration. Well, maybe! But here are my qualms. On the one hand, if the judgment here is supposed to about the vibration of an external object against my leg, I don't think I'm actually (or at least not usually) making that judgment. Rather, I'm judging that there's a vibrating feeling resembling the feeling when an object vibrates against my leg. But -- and this is the "other hand" -- if the judgment is just about my experience, it seems at least a little strange to say that I'm wrong in that judgment, i.e., wrong that I am experiencing a buzzing feeling of a certain sort -- though maybe!

Here's another possibility: My body is constantly -- or frequently -- abuzz with vibrations, or vibration-feelings, of various sorts, but I rarely notice them. Having the cell phone has attuned me especially to vibrations at the top front of my left leg, so now I notice them there, whereas I didn't before. Quite possibly so! But that's a pretty rich view of experience. It doesn't seem now, as I've been sitting here typing, thinking about buzzing feelings, and even pausing occasionally to reflect on whether anything is buzzing, that my bodily experience is so rich with sensation. On the other hand, it has only been about 20 minutes. If I feel five hundred buzzes a day, and one -- the one I notice -- is in that exact location on my leg (which I'd estimate to be about 1/500 of my body surface), then I should expect a buzz only about... well, doing the math (assuming 16 waking hours), actually about every two minutes! Hm!

Or maybe the buzzing is a new experience, arising somehow from the fact that I have a readiness to feel buzzing in the location, and accurately apprehended as an experience when it occurs. I do now occasionally "buzz" at the top of my leg, as a result of carrying that phone in my pocket, whereas I didn't before. Though this also seems slightly strange, it is perhaps the most appealing possibility -- intellectually appealing I mean! At another level, I'm not sure I like the idea that I've added a buzz to my stream of somatic experience....

Monday, December 11, 2006

When Do You Know You're Speaking to Yourself?

Here's an issue Al Mele and I discussed last week during his visit to UCR: Let's say you're talking silently to yourself and you are aware of the fact that you are doing so. Are the inner speech and the awareness of it strictly simultaneous? Or might there be a delay, on the order of some tens of milliseconds, between the phenomenology of inner speech -- the subjective experience of speaking -- and the knowledge or judgment that you are innerly speaking?

Why do I care about this? Well, the question is diagnostic of more general views about consciousness and self-knowledge. For example, if you think -- as I am inclined to think -- that our phenomenology, or subjective experience, is one thing and our judgments about that phenomenology or experience are quite another -- then you might assume that there must be some sort of causal process, and hence delay, between inner speech and the knowledge of it. On the other hand, if you think that phenomenology or subjective experience essentially involves self-awareness, then you'll probably reject the possibility of any delay between the felt experience and the judgment or knowledge that one is feeling the experience. (I think the latter assumption was implicit in Mele's talk, which is how we got started talking about it.)

More complicated views are possible, too. For example, one might draw a distinction between "dispositional" knowledge (a mere readiness to reach the right judgment about your inner speech, say) and "occurrent" judgment (an actually occuring thought about your inner speech), and say the first is simultaneous with the inner speech, the second slightly delayed. Or one might think that the felt experience of innerly speaking is part of the judgment that one is innerly speaking (a la Shoemaker); and then the exact causal and temporal relationships might be hard to tease out. Or like Dennett, you might resist the idea that there are temporal facts this precise about consciousness.

Another complication is that if the inner speech is intentionally excuted, you have a kind of ongoing knowledge of it as it is occuring as a result of the fact that you know you are (or are about to) put your intention into action. Correspondingly, if I plan to type a word, I know that I am doing it as I am doing it not entirely by virtue of seeing it spelled out on the page. But given my propensity for typos, it's probably true to say that I don't really know that I've typed a word until I actually see it correctly on the page; so the knowledge is delayed, after all. Likewise, perhaps, if we don't always execute the inner speech we plan to -- and that itself is an interesting question: can we, and if so how often do we, err in executing our inner speech intentions? -- the knowledge might not come until after we have, as it were, innerly heard our inner speech. On the other hand, there's something weird -- too many moving parts? -- in the idea that we have to innerly hear (or the like) our inner speech to know that we've said something to ourselves....

Friday, December 08, 2006

Do Ethicists Steal More Books? More Data

I've finished collecting data relevant to the question of whether ethics books are more likely to be missing from libraries than non-ethics books in philosophy. You might think ethics books would vanish at a lower rate, if the people interested in them were influenced by the contents! (See this post for some earlier discussion.)

I was led to gather these data by what I call The Problem of the Ethics Professors -- the fact, or apparent fact, that ethics professors seem to behave no better than the rest of us. This is perhaps one small, imperfect way of assessing the presupposition behind that question. If I'm wrong, and ethicists really do behave better than the rest of us, perhaps this will reveal itself in their library habits?

It doesn't. For this analysis, I constructed a list of ethics books in philosophy and a comparison list of non-ethics books. The ethics list was derived from all the ethics books reviewed in Philosophical Review from 1990-2001 -- mostly technical work in philosophy principally of interest to advanced graduate students and professors -- combined with all the books originally published after 1959 that appear it at least five different bibliographies in the ethics entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (including political philosophy, legal philosophy, and history of ethics, but excluding philosophy of action and moral psychology). The comparison list was composed of about 1/3 of the non-ethics books from the same issues of Phil Review (randomly selected, and excluding philosophy of action, moral psychology, and philosophy of religion), combined with books appearing in at least five different SEP entries on philosophy of mind or language (excluding philosophy of action and moral psychology).

I then looked at the holdings of these books at the libraries in UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UCLA, UC Riverside, UC San Diego, UC Santa Cruz, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Michigan, and Texas, as well as all the COPAC libraries in Britian, which includes all the major university libraries. (I won't get into the principles of library selection.) A paid research assistant helped me with some of this!

I sorted the information into five categories: On shelf; checked out but not overdue; overdue one year or less; "missing" or more than one year overdue (which I will interpret as also missing); uninterpretable (e.g., "record unavailable").

Here are the uninterpreted numbers:
Ethics books:
Total holdings: 14,551
Total out or missing: 3,708
Total overdue or missing: 780
Total missing: 305

Non-ethics books:
Total holdings: 9,584
Total out or missing: 1,764
Total overdue or missing: 176
Total missing: 113

Obviously more ethics books are overdue and missing, but of course more are also held and checked out. The most interesting figures, I think, are these:

Overdue or missing, as a percentage of those off shelf:
Ethics: 21.0%
Non-ethics: 10.0%

Missing, as a percentage of those off shelf:
Ethics: 8.2%
Non-ethics: 6.4%

An ethics book is more than twice as likely to be overdue, given that it is off the shelf, and about 25% more likely to be missing!

The first difference is statistically significant at p < .001, the second at p = .02, using a simple one-proportion test (two-tailed, of course!).

Now obviously there are confounds. I'm trying to work on straightening those out, and I'll hopefully report more on them next week. I'd be interested to hear suggestions for further analyses.

Here are three worries I have:
(1.) Ethics books are more checked out than non-ethics books, and there is a correlation in the data between number checked out and percentage of those off shelf that are missing or overdue.
(2.) Older books are more likely to be missing than more recent books, and the weighted average age of the ethics books (weighted by number of checkouts) is about two years earlier than that of non-ethics books (1989 vs. 1991).
(3.) It might be those pesky law students! How will things look if I exclude philosophy of law texts or exclude results from law schools?

As far as I can tell from preliminary analysis, controlling for (2) or (3) slightly reduces the effect, but a statistically significant difference remains. Controlling for (1) seems to eliminate the second effect, but not the first.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Ethics Books More Popular in Britain

I've been crunching numbers all day in service of my inquiry into whether ethicists steal more books. I was hoping to post results on the blog today, but it looks like it will have to wait 'til Friday. Now I have to dash off to dinner with Al Mele, who just gave a very interesting talk criticizing Libet's work on the timing of decisions and what that has to say about free will.

But here's a tidbit to reflect on in the meantime. In a sample of British academic libraries (those showing checkout information in COPAC -- virtually all the major universities in Britain), major ethics books are about 2.5 times more likely to be checked out than non-ethics books. This applies across the board, from major texts (like Theory of Justice) to texts primarily of interest to a narrow group of specialists. In the United States (looking at the UC's, Harvard, Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, Cornell, Michigan, and Texas), ethics books are still more likely to be checked out than non-ethics books (about 1.6 times), but that difference pretty much vanishes if one excludes a handful of exceptional texts with interdisciplinary appeal in law and women's studies.

Is this a sign that British academics take ethics more seriously than those in the U.S.?

Monday, December 04, 2006

Chalmers on "Modal Rationalism"

In my undergraduate/graduate seminar this quarter, we read David Chalmers's influential book, The Conscious Mind, and now we’re reading some of the subsequent criticism and discussion of it, and Chalmers’s replies.  A common theme in many replies -- and my sense, too, is that there’s something fishy about reflecting from the armchair about what we can conceive and reaching conclusions on that basis about the fundamental structure of the universe.

Chalmers’s response to this (in Philosophy & Phenomenological Research, 1999, p. 490; see also "Does Conceivability Entail Possibility?") is interesting. He insists -- correctly, I think -- that either you’re doing empirical exploration or you’re engaged in a “rationalist” enterprise centering on ideas such as “consistency, entailment, and ideal conceivability” -- that either you're doing scientific research or you’re exploring our concepts. In particular, he attacks the idea that something might be conceptually possible but still metaphysically impossible: Metaphysics just is about our conceptual space. This is hard for what Chalmers calls “Type B materialists” to swallow: They want to embrace materialism as a “metaphysical” thesis and at the same time allow that it’s conceivable that materialism is false, that it's conceivable (for example) that “zombies” -- beings physically identical to us but with no conscious experience -- exist.

As I said, I’m inclined to agree with Chalmers about this and disagree with the majority of his critics. But I think this only raises even more sharply the fundamental concern that seems to me to be driving them.  If Chalmers’s (and all of our) “metaphysics” is just exploration of our concepts, how can we claim to discover anything about the fundamental structure of the universe thereby -- anything about anything other than our concepts? Metaphysics seems then to become a branch of psychology.

Now, actually, I’m quite happy with that, but I’m not sure Chalmers should be, and it isn’t the tenor of The Conscious Mind as I read it. And if materialism is true, then I’d say it’s not -- or shouldn’t be -- construed as a metaphysical thesis at all, but rather as a scientific thesis, a claim only about the “laws of nature”, and not a claim about Kripkean “a posteriori metaphysical necessity” or the like.

Friday, December 01, 2006

New Book: Describing Inner Experience? Proponent Meets Skeptic -- Now Online

here! (forthcoming with MIT Press in 2007)

Russ Hurlburt, a psychologist at University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and I got together and jointly interviewed a subject, "Melanie", about randomly sampled moments of her "inner experience" while she was wearing a beeper. Russ has been using this methodology for decades to discover, he thinks, all kinds of interesting facts about people's inner lives. I've published a number of essays skeptical of our capacity accurately to introspect our experience, even under favorable conditions. At the center of the book is a lightly edited transcript of our six days of interviewing Melanie about 18 experiences.

In this book, Russ and I confront each other's views in the context of concrete, unselected reports by a particular person, Melanie. You get to see what Melanie says about her experience, how Russ tries to bring out what's accurate in her reports, and the sources of my doubts and criticisms. In side boxes, we continue our debates and connect what we say to contemporary and historical literature in philosophy and psychology. We've also written separate introductory and concluding chapters, each from our own point of view.

Right now I'm thinking I might present readers of the blog with one "beep" at a time every Friday, assuming people might be interested in that. Although Melanie’s experiences are in certain respects quite ordinary, we think the reader will find at least some of her descriptions surprising, intriguing, and suggestive -- even independently of Russ's and my disputes about how far to believe them.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Two Kinds of Habit?

Last week, Tim Schroeder spoke to the philosophy of action workshop here at UCR on habit and addiction. He gave a unitary account of "strength of habit", according to which a habit is strong to the extent it's difficult to extinguish.

It struck me, however, that there might be two different ways for a habit to be strong. Some habits are difficult to extinguish simply because we thoughtlessly repeat them, but if we pause to reflect they have no pull on us. For example: My new car has a foot parking brake and my old car (which I still sometimes drive) has a hand brake. Now that I've grown used to my new car, I find myself pushing on the floor with my foot even in my old car when I park. Or: I used to absently chew my fingernails, though I recognized this made my fingernails look unappealing. Though when I stopped to think about it, I found no particular impulse or craving to chew the nails, it was a hard habit to break simply because I would find myself chewing them without thinking about it.

Other bad habits -- perhaps these more closely resemble addictions -- are hard to break in a different way: Even when I reflect I find myself drawn to continue them. For example: Eating junk food at night when I'm stressed. It's not unusual for me to stop and reflect as I'm reaching toward the cookies -- but then I rationalize: It's just a little bit, or I'm already eating it, or just this one cookie, or it's a special occasion, or even "how interesting that I'm doing this -- an occasion to reflect on weakness of will!"... In contrast, there's no impulse to rationalize pressing my foot on the floor or chewing my nails!

If a habit is a repetitive pattern of behavior that proceeds somewhat independently of rational guidance (this is close to but not exactly Schroeder's definition), then there are at least two neurologically distinct ways to form a habit. One is mere repetition. Doing something over and over again tends to strengthen the neural pathways that generate that behavior and weaken the pathways to other behavior, independent of any particular reward. The other is reward: If a behavior is rewarded, especially if it is strongly rewarded, that tends to increase the likelihood of its occuring again. Maybe, then, these two different mechanisms of habit formation underwrite two different types of habit with different types of habit strength and different conditions of extinction -- and in particular, the first type of habit may be more thoughtless and more easily defeated by thought than the second.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Most-Cited Ethics and Mind/Language books in the Stanford Encyclopedia

Regular visitors to this blog will know that I'm working on assessing the rates at which ethics books are stolen from academic libraries, vs. non-ethics philosophy books. I've used the bibliographies in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy to generate my list of prominent books in ethics and, as a comparison group, philosophy of mind and language.

I divided SEP entries into three categories: (1.) ethics (including legal philosophy, political philosophy, and historical entries specifically focusing on ethics, but excluding moral psychology and philosophy of action), (2.) philosophy of mind and/or language (including historical entries on these topics but excluding logic, moral psychology, and philosophy of action), and (3.) other. I then generated two lists: A list of books appearing in at least 5 of the bibliographies of entries in group 1, and a similar list of books appearing in at least 5 bibliographies in group 2. I didn't distinguish between editions (so, for example, Rawls's original A Theory of Justice and his second edition count as a single book for this ranking).

Since rankings of prominence tend to attract attention, I thought readers might be interested in seeing the lists. The number preceding the bibliographic line is the number of bibliographies in which the book appears. Variations in format, and possible minor bibliographic errors, are due to the fact that the bibliographic information is pasted in more or less arbitrarily from one of the SEP entries.

Some of the caveats about this method are described in my rankings of highly-cited ethicists and philosophers of mind/language. I excluded works prior to 1960.

Ethics books:
41. Rawls, John, 1971, A Theory of Justice, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
22. Nozick, Robert, 1974, Anarchy, State, and Utopia, New York: Basic Books
16. Rawls, John. 1993. Political Liberalism. Columbia University Press.
14. Sandel, Michael, 1982, Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press.
13. Gauthier, David (1986). Morals By Agreement. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
13. Raz, Joseph (1986). The Morality of Freedom. Oxford: Clarendon Press.
13. Scanlon, T. M., 1998, What We Owe to Each Other (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
12. Hare, R. M., 1981, Moral Thinking, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
11. Brink, David O. 1989. Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics. Cambridge University Press.
11. Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.
11. Dworkin, Ronald., 1986. Law's Empire, Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
11. Gilligan, Carol. 1982. In a Different Voice. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
11. Griffin, J., 1986, Well-Being: Its Meaning, Measurement, and Moral Importance, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
11. Young, Iris Marion. 1990. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
10. Dworkin, Ronald, 2000, Sovereign Virtue, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, chapters 1-3.
10. Gibbard, Allan, 1990, Wise Choices, Apt Feelings: A Theory of Normative Judgment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press).
9. Brandt, Richard. 1979. A Theory of the Good and the Right. Oxford University Press.
9. Dworkin, Ronald (1978) Taking Rights Seriously. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press.
9. Hart, H.L.A., The Concept of Law (Oxford, 1961).
9. Steiner, Hillel, 1994, An Essay on Rights, Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
9. Temkin, Larry S., 1993, Inequality, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
9. Walzer, Michael. 1983. Spheres of Justice. New York: Basic Books.
8. Okin, Susan Moller. 1989. Justice, Gender and the Family. New York: Basic Books.
8. Parfit, D., 1984, Reasons and Persons, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
8. Rawls, John. 1999. The Law of Peoples.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
7. Habermas, J., 1996 Between Facts and Norms, Cambridge UK.
7. Jaggar, Alison M., 1983, Feminist Politics and Human Nature, Totowa, NJ: Rowman and Allanheld.
7. Kymlicka, Will, 1995, Multicultural Citizenship: A Liberal Theory of Minority Rights, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
7. MacIntyre, Alasdair. (1984) After Virtue. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
7. Pogge, Thomas (2002). World Poverty and Human Rights. (Cambridge, UK: Polity Press).
7. Smith, Michael, 1994, The Moral Problem, Oxford: Blackwell.
7. Tamir, Y., 1993, Liberal Nationalism, Princeton: Princeton University Press.
6. Ackerman, Bruce A., 1980, Social Justice in the Liberal State, New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press
6. Barry, Brian. 1989. Theories of Justice. University of California Press.
6. Barry, Brian. 1995. Justice as Impartiality. Oxford University Press.
6. Coleman, Jules (2001). The Practice of Principle.Oxford: Clarendon Press.
6. Cooper, John M., 1999, Reason and Emotion (Princeton: Princeton University Press).
6. Hayek, Friedrich A., 1960, The Constitution of Liberty, London: Routledge.
6. Korsgaard, C., 1996, The Sources of Normativity, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
6. Kymlicka, Will, 1990, Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Introduction, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
6. Mackie, J.L., 1977, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong, New York: Penguin.
6. MacKinnon, Catharine. (1987) Feminism Unmodified: Discourses on Life and Law. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
6. Nussbaum, Martha C. The Fragility of Goodness. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986. Chapters 8-9.
6. Nussbaum, Martha, 2000, Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
6. Rawls, John. 2001. Justice as Fairness: A Restatement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U.P.
6. Ruddick, Sara. 1989. Maternal Thinking: Towards a Politics of Peace. Boston: Beacon Press.
6. Taylor, Charles. 1989. Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
6. Williams, Bernard. 1985. Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy. Harvard University Press.
6. Williams, Bernard (1972), Morality: An Introduction to Ethics, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5. Annas, Julia, 1993, The Morality of Happiness (New York: Oxford University Press).
5. Barry, Brian. 2001. Culture and Equality. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
5. Blackburn, Simon, 1984, Spreading the Word, Oxford: Oxford University Press
5. Blackburn, Simon, 1998, Ruling Passions: A Theory of Practical Reasoning, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
5. Broome, John, 1991, Weighing Goods, Oxford: Blackwell
5. Butler, Judith.(1993). Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex.” New York: Routledge.
5. Chang, R. (ed.), 1997, Incommensurability, Incomparability, and Practical Reason, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
5. Christiano, Thomas, 1996, The Rule of the Many, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press.
5. Cohen, G. A., 1995, Self-Ownership, Freedom, and Equality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5. Dancy, Jonathan, 1993, Moral Reasons, Oxford: Blackwell
5. Darwall, Stephen L. 1983. Impartial Reason. Cornell University Press.
5. Feldman, F., 1997, Utilitarianism, Hedonism, and Desert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press).
5. Finnis, John. 1980. Natural Law and Natural Rights. Oxford University Press.
5. Fischer, John Martin and Mark Ravizza (1998) Responsibility and Control: A Theory of Moral Responsibility. New York: Cambridge University Press.
5. Foot, Philippa, 1978, Virtues and Vices and Other Essays in Moral Philosophy, Oxford: Blackwell.
5. Herman, Barbara. (1993) The Practice of Moral Judgement. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
5. Hurka, Thomas. (1993) Perfectionism. New York: Oxford University Press.
5. Irigaray, Luce. 1985. Speculum of the Other Woman. Trans. Gillian C. Gill. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
5. Kymlicka, W. ed., 1995. The Rights of Minority Cultures. Oxford: Oxford University Press
5. Lloyd, Genevieve, 1993, The Man of Reason: “Male” and “Female” in Western Philosophy, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
5. MacIntyre, Alasdair. 1988. Whose Justice? Which Rationality? Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press.
5. Miller, D., 1995, On Nationality, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
5. Nagel, Thomas., 1986, The View From Nowhere, New York: Oxford University Press.
5. Nagel, Thomas. 1991. Equality and Partiality. New York: Oxford University Press.
5. Sen, Amartya, 1992,  Inequality Reexamined, Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
5. Wolf, Susan, 1990, Freedom Within Reason. (New York: Oxford University Press).
5. Young, Iris Marion. 2000. Inclusion and Democracy. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Mind and Language:
21. Chalmers, D., 1996, The Conscious Mind. In Search of a Fundamental Theory, New York: Oxford University Press.
21. Kripke, Saul. 1980. Naming and Necessity. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
19. Dennett, D. C. 1991. Consciousness Explained. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
18. Fodor, J.A. (1987) Psychosemantics, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
17. Dretske, F. 1995. Naturalizing the Mind. MIT Press.
15. Tye, M. (1995). Ten Problems of Consciousness. (Cambridge, MA: Bradford Books/MIT Press.)
14. Searle, John. 1992. The Rediscovery of the Mind. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.
13. Dretske, Fred (1981) Knowledge and the Flow of Information, Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
13. Lycan, W. 1996. Consciousness and Experience. MIT Press.
12. Armstrong, D.M. (1968). A Materialist Theory of the Mind. (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.)
12. Millikan, R. G. (1984). Language, Thought, and Other Biological Categories Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
11. Fodor, J. (1975) The Language of Thought, New York: Crowell.
11. Quine, W., 1960. Word and Object. Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.
11. Stich, S. (1983). From Folk Psychology to Cognitive Science. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
10. Carruthers, P. (2000) Phenomenal Consciousness: A naturalistic theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
10. Dretske, Fred (1988). Explaining Behavior, Cambridge, Massachusetts: MIT Press.
10. Evans, Gareth, 1982, The Varieties of Reference Oxford: Clarendon Press.
10. Peacocke, C. 1992. A Study of Concepts. MIT Press.
10. Tye, M. 2000. Consciousness, Color, and Content. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
9. Siewert, C. 1998. The Significance of Consciousness. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
8. Levine, J., 2001, Purple Haze: The Puzzle of Consciousness, Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press.
8. McGinn, Colin, 1989, Mental Content Oxford: Blackwell.
8. Papineau, David (1993) Philosophical Naturalism. Oxford: Blackwell.
8. Peacocke, C. 1983. Sense and Content, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
8. Salmon, N. (1986) Frege's Puzzle. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
8. Strawson, G. 1994. Mental Reality. Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, Bradford Books.
7. Dennett, D. C. (1987) The Intentional Stance. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
7. Dennett, D.C. (1978) Brainstorms, Philosophical Essays on Mind and Psychology, Montgomery, Vt.: Bradford Books.
7. Jackson, F., 1977, Perception: A Representative Theory. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
7. McDowell, J. (1994). Mind and World. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
7. McGinn, C. 1991. The Problem of Consciousness. Blackwell.
7. Searle, J.R. (1983), Intentionality, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
7. Stalnaker, R. 1984: Inquiry. Cambridge MA: MIT Press.
6. Carruthers, P. 1996. Language, Thought and Consciousness. Cambridge University Press.
6. Chomsky, N., 2000, New Horizons in the Study of Language and Mind, Cambridge.
6. Dennett, D.C. (1969). Content and Consciousness. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
6. Dummett, Michael (1981): Frege: Philosophy of Language, 2nd edn. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
6. Fodor, J.A. (1990), A Theory of Content and Other Essays, Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press.
6. Hill, C., 1991, Sensations: A Defense of Type Materialism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
6. Lewis, David K. (1986), On the Plurality of Worlds, Oxford: Blackwell.
6. Lycan, W.G. (1987). Consciousness. (Cambridge, MA: Bradford Books / MIT Press.)
6. Rey, G., 1997. Contemporary Philosophy of Mind: A Contentiously Classical Approach. Oxford: Blackwell.
6. Thau, Michael, 2002, Consciousness and Cognition Oxford: Oxford University Press.
5. Armstrong, D.M. (1980). The Nature of Mind, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
5. Bach., K. (1987) Thought and Reference, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
5. Bermudez, J.L (1998) The Paradox of Self-Consciousness. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
5. Clark, Andy (1997) Being There: putting brain, body, and world together again. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
5. Devitt, Michael (1996). Coming to our Senses: A Naturalistic Program for Semantic Localism, Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.
5. Flanagan, O. 1992. Consciousness Reconsidered. MIT Press.
5. Jackson, Frank (1998): From Metaphysics to Ethics. Oxford: Clarendon.
5. Kim, J., 1998, Mind in a Physical World, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5. Kim, Jaegwon, 1993, Supervenience and Mind Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
5. Larson, Richard and Segal, Gabriel (1995) Knowledge of Meaning. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
5. Loar, Brian (1981), Mind and meaning (Cambridge: Cambridge).
5. Papineau, D. (1987), Reality and Representation, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers.
5. Papineau, D., 2002. Thinking about Consciousness, Oxford: Clarendon Press.
5. Penrose, R. 1989. The Emperor's New Mind. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 5
5. Perry, J. 2001. Knowledge, Possiblity, and Consciousness. MIT Press.
5. Pylyshyn, Zenon (1984). Computation and Cognition. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
5. Schiffer, Stephen (1987) Remnants of Meaning. Cambridge, Mass.: M.I.T. Press.
5. Sturgeon, S., 2000, Matters of Mind: Consciousness, Reason, and Nature, London: Routledge.
5. Williamson, T. 1994. Vagueness. London: Routledge.
5. Zalta, E.N. (1988) Intensional Logic and the Metaphysics of Intentionality, Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Most-Cited Philosophers of Mind and Language in the Stanford Encyclopedia

On Monday, I posted a list of the most-cited ethicists in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Today I'm posting my list of most-cited philosophers of mind and language. I've generated these lists in connection with a particular research project -- comparing the rates at which ethics and non-ethics philosophy books are stolen from libraries -- but the results are, perhaps, independently interesting.

The method and caveats are described in my post on the ethicists. Let me add a few more comments here:
* I excluded posts that I took to be closer to philosophical logic than philosophy of language; often this was a judgment call that could have gone either way.
* I excluded philosophy of action / moral psychology.
* The bibliography on mental imagery was huge, creating some overrepresentation of authors who have written prominently on that topic (esp. Kosslyn, Pylyshyn, Paivio).
* Only first authors are counted for multiply-authored essays.
* There are approximately 7000 mind and language bibliographic lines, compared to over 9000 in ethics.

Here's the list, then. The number indicates the number of bibliographic lines in the relevant SEP entries. I find Kripke's relatively poor showing rather strange. It's probably due to a combination of distortive factors in this method of ranking.

148. Fodor, J.
98. Dennett, D.
94. Block, N.
74. Lewis, D.
73. Chalmers, D.
67. Dretske, F.
67. Tye, M.
66. Davidson, D.
66. Jackson, F.
64. Shoemaker, S.
58. Putnam, H.
56. Searle, J.
49. Burge, T.
49. Lycan, W.
44. Armstrong, D.
44. Peacocke, C.
40. Churchland, P. (Paul)
38. Quine, W.
35. Stalnaker, R.
33. Horgan, T.
33. Kripke, S.
32. Davies, M.
32. McGinn, C.
32. Rey, G.
32. Salmon, N.
32. Soames, S.
31. Schiffer, S.
30. Carruthers, P.
30. Nagel, T.
29. Loar, B.
28. Chomsky, N.
28. Clark, A. (Andy)
28. Kim, J.
28. Sellars, W.
27. Crane, T.
27. Kosslyn, S.
26. Byrne, A.
26. Millikan, R.
26. Perry, J.
25. McDowell, J.
25. Papineau, D.
25. Rosenthal, D.
24. Stich, S.
23. Grice, P.
23. Pylyshyn, Z.
22. Devitt, M.
22. Evans, G.
21. Bach, K.
21. Harman, G.
21. Martin, M.
20. Dummett, M.
20. Kaplan, D.
20. Levine, J.
19. Chisholm, R.
19. Richard, M.
19. Stanley, J.
18. Bechtel, W.
17. Hardin, C.
17. Heil, J.
17. King, J.
17. Paivio, A. (all citations from mental imagery)
16. Hill, C.
16. Strawson, P.
15. Smolensky, P.
15. Yablo, S.
14. Boghossian, P.
14. Brook, A.
14. Church, A.
14. Churchland, P. (Patricia)
14. Haugeland, J.
14. Place, U.
14. Smart, J.
14. White, S.

Coming Monday: A list of books in Philosophy of Mind/Language and in Ethics that appear in at least five different bibliographical lists from the SEP.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Most-Cited Ethicists in the Stanford Encyclopedia

As part of my project of seeing whether ethicists (or at least readers of ethics) steal more or fewer books than non-ethicists, I need lists of eminent ethicists. (I can then look at the rate at which their books are stolen.) No easily-parsed list being handy, I created my own imperfect approximation by the following method:

I compiled all the bibliographies of ethics entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I included all areas of applied ethics and history of ethics, but I excluded moral psychology and philosophy of action. (Of course, in some cases this was a call that could have gone either way.) Then I looked for repeating names and counted the number of repeats. For example, if F.P. Wu had 4 articles cited in one entry, 2 articles cited in another, and one book cited in a third, he'd have a score of 7. I included only authors who published a substantial portion of their work after 1959.

Drawbacks of this methodology:
* The SEP still has large patches of incompleteness,
* The list will reflect the topical choices of the SEP editors (there are a large number of feminism-related entries, for example, and many fewer related to race).
* The bibliographies reflect the choices of the SEP entry writers, and disproportionately the choices of those who write long bibliographies.
* It's not always possible to determine which "Smith, L." (or whatever) is being referred to -- or at least not without more work than I am willing to do with the 9000+ bibliography lines.
* Authors who publish a number of articles may get a higher number of bibliographic lines than those who publish one (equally influential) book.
* Where an anthology is cited, it may not reflect the editor's research contributions. (However, normal practice in philosophy is not to cite the anthology but the essay within the anthology, leading with the essay-writer's name, unless the whole anthology is relevant.)

I'm sure there are other drawbacks to this method as well. Still, I thought some readers might find the results interesting. Here's the list, then:

93: Rawls, J.
77: Dworkin, R.
55: Williams, B.
51: Raz, J.
50: Nussbaum, M.
50: Feinberg, J.
49: Sen, A.K.
42: Kymlicka, W.
37: Scanlon, T.
36: Parfit, D.
36: Hart, H.
36: Frankfurt, H.
34: Walzer, M.
34: Foot, P.
33: Pogge, T.
32: Nagel, T.
32: Brandt, R.
30: Nozick, R.
30: Brink, D.
30: Arneson, R.
29: Young, I.
29: Waldron, J.
29: Hare, R.
29: Butler, J.
28: Vlastos, G.
28: Roemer, J.
28: Pettit, P.
28: Habermas, J.
27: Scheffler, S.
27: Blackburn, S.
27: Barry, B.
26: Taylor, C.
26: Railton, P.
26: Feldman, F.
25: Coleman, J.
24: Anderson, E.
23: MacIntyre, A.
23: Iragaray, L.
23: Gauthier, D.
23: Cohen, G.
23: Buchanan, A.
23: Benhabib, S.
22: Chisholm, R.
21: Temkin, L.
21: Okin, S.
21: Miller, D.
21: Kristeva, J.
21: Korsgaard, C.
21: Finnis, J.
21: Derrida, J.
21: Dancy, J.
20: Vallentyne, P.
20: MacKinnon, C.
20: Copp, D.
19: Sinnott-Armstrong, W.
19: Sandel, M.
19: Kagan, S.
19: Hurka, T.
19: Harman, G.
19: Fischer, J.
19: de Beauvoir, S.
18: Wolf, S.
18: Gibbard, A.
18: Code, L.
17: Singer, P.
17: Leiter, B.
17: Harsanyi, J.
17: Griffin, J.
17: Foucault, M.
17: Fleurbaey, M.
17: Cornell, D.
16: Thompson, J.
16: Sturgeon, N.
16: Sayre-McCord, G.
16: Narveson, J.
16: McDowell, J.
16: Jaggar, A.
16: Irwin, T.
16: Held, V.
16: Dworkin, G.
16: Darwall, S.
15: Smith, M.
15: Kraut, R.
15: Fraser, N.
15: Cohen, J.

Coming soon: A similar list in philosophy of mind and language.

UPDATE: Here's the philosophy of mind and language list.

Friday, November 17, 2006

"Habituation" and Moral Development

On Wednesday, Gavin Lawrence spoke here at UC Riverside on Aristotle's conception of moral development. Lawrence argued that Aristotle stood something like "habituation" -- the acquisition of habits -- near the center of moral development, especially early moral development. Unfortunately, Lawrence left the concept of "habituation" relatively undeveloped.

One issue I find intriguing is the proper method of encouraging the acquisition of moral habits early in development.

Consider first a non-moral example: If you want a child to learn to like broccoli, is it better to force him to eat it again and again, expecting he'll learn to tolerate it more and eventually develop a taste for it? Or is forcing it counterproductive, leading the child increasingly to dislike it?

Correspondingly, if you want a child to learn to share, is it better to force her to share, or does forcing moral actions, contrary to the inclinations of the child's heart, only poison morality for her and impair her moral development?

In asking this question, I had the ancient Chinese philosophers Xunzi and Mencius in mind. Xunzi seems to adopt the first perspective as a general policy, and Mencius may endore the latter (if P.J. Ivanhoe's interpretation is right, though I worry that Ivanhoe depends too much on a dubious interpretation of Mengzi 2A2). Ivanhoe's Mencius suggests that the best spur to moral development is encouraging people to reflect and discover their joy at behaving morally in certain situations; and as you act morally and reflect on this joy, the moral inclinations grow in breadth and strength.

I posed this question to Lawrence in the discussion period after his talk. He suggested that he doubted Aristotle would have thought there was one universally best way to encourage moral development. Maybe sometimes it's better to force, at other times to lay off. Surely that must be right (if a bit cagey). I wonder if we can't lay moral educators on a spectrum depending on the extent to which they see habituation by coercion as an important and non-damaging tool in moral education, and then dispute about how far to one end or the other of this spectrum it's best to go.

I posed the same question to my seven-year-old son Davy that evening, and here's what he said:
If you want a child to learn to like broccoli, put tasty sauce on it. If you want a child to learn to like to share, start with his sharing something he doesn't like anyway and make sure the other child has something really cool to share back.

Ah, the wisdom of those on whom moral education (and broccoli) is inflicted!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Can You Introspect Your Judgments?

Here's an issue I find weirdly difficult: Can you introspect your judgments -- that is, your "occurrent", happening-now assessments of (for example) the truth or falsity of some proposition? (I distinguish such judgments from standing, dispositional beliefs.)

Surely we can, often, know what our judgments are. I'm thinking about whether there will be a department meeting next week. I reach the judgment that there won't be, and I can accurately tell myself and others that this is my judgment. But is such knowledge of our judgments generally derived through introspection, exactly?

Well, what is introspection? Here's a narrow definition I find attractive: Introspection is a species of attention to ongoing (or maybe very recently past) conscious experience. If, then, there is a conscious experience of judging that there won't be a department meeting next week, and if I get to know that that's my judgment by attending, in some way, to that conscious experience, then I've learned about my judgment through introspection. But does that happen? Can that happen? If it can happen, is it ordinary or exceptional? (Alvin Goldman and David Pitt seem to think it's ordinary, and indeed the rule in self-knowledge of attitudes.)

A number of philosophers, including Gareth Evans, Robert Gordon, Richard Moran, and Dorit Bar-On, have given non-introspective accounts of self-knowledge in such cases. Roughly speaking, on such views, we think about or attend to the world -- not our own minds -- and self-ascriptive statements like "I think there won't be a department meeting" are simply expressions of such external, world-oriented judgments, but in self-ascriptive language. We do not cast our eyes introspectively inward, as it were, every time we say that we think such-and-such is the case.

It's quite plausible that at least some of our self-ascriptive statements are non-introspective in (roughly) this way -- but are they all? Must they be?

Suppose, turning my mind to the question of whether there will be a department meeting next week, I find myself uttering, silently to myself in inner speech: "No, no department meeting". It seems I can discover this inner-speechy fact about myself though introspection, no? But introspecting inner speech isn't the same as introspecting judgment, is it? For example, if I'm reciting lines from a play silently in my head, or an advertising jingle, I may have inner speech without the corresponding judgment. It also seems that judgment often precedes inner speech.

Similar considerations apply to the visual imagery that may accompany (partly constitute?) a thought.

So is there some distinctive phenomenology specifically of judgment that we often are, or sometimes are, or at least in principle can be, introspectively attuned to, that serves or can serve as a basis for our knowledge about our judgments? I find it slipping my grasp....

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Those Annoying Security Warnings

So I updated my blog to the new Blogger Beta. (I didn't realize it was still in beta when I did so, though!) There are a few cool new features, like categories (finally!), but now Internet Explorer (not Firefox) gives all kinds of annoying pop-up "Security Information" windows on the comments pages.

Please be patient with that. Hopefully Blogger will resolve the issue. In the meantime, as far as I can tell the only thing you miss out on if you decline to show the "nonsecure items" is the beautiful photos of the comments' authors.

I seem to be having to log in more, also, rather than having the website recognize me.

Let me know if there are any other annoyances or inconveniences, and I can think about possible work-arounds.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Best-Guess Phenomenon and Degree of Belief

You're a lost tourist. You hit up a local for directions. With apparent confidence and fluency, the local sends you in utterly the wrong direction. I experience this so regularly in travelling that I now no longer ask a single local for directions. About half the time, the second gives a completely different version from the first. Occasionally, someone will express a degree of uncertainty. Almost always, if she's at all uncertain, she's completely wrong; and many who seem perfectly confident are equally wrong.

I've been on the other end of this, too, at least twice, realizing that my directions were seriously mistaken only after having given them. In one case, I sent a Mexican family so far astray that I fear it would take them at least an hour recover, were they unwise enough to trust me!

Similarly, but more serious: The doctor tells you you have disease X, with evident assurance, no visible uncertainty. Another tells you you have disease Y. Or even: The doctor starts out seemingly uncertain, undecided, then settles on something as -- you might think, her best guess -- then, as she spells out the guess to you becomes seemingly confident about it, confident enough, apparently, to stake your health on it. But she's wrong, and in fact changes her opinion easily when the next doctor you see calls up the first and describes his different, better diagnosis.

Let's call this the "best guess phenomenon". In certain situations, when Person A is presumably an expert and Person B has no resources to challenge Person A's opinion, Person A will give her best guess, conveying it with authority and confidence regardless of how well-founded the opinion is. No malice is intended, nor any disguise. It's not that Person A knows she's uncertain and aims to conceal that fact. Rather, the situation invites Person A to take on the mantle of expertise, with very little sensitivity to the proper degree of confidence.

One model I think won't suffice for such cases: Conventional philosophical/economic treatments in terms of "degree of belief" on a scale from 0 to 1. Best-guess phenomena are not, I think, best described as cases in which Person A has an irrationally high degree of confidence. For example, if asked to make a serious wager -- for example, if the local wanted to get there herself, or if the doctor's own health were at stake -- she'd balk, admit uncertainty, consult elsewhere. Rather, it's more like degree of confidence doesn't arise as an issue: Person A is neither certain nor uncertain, really. She's just talking, playing authority as part of a social role, without much thought about how much certainty is justified.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Moral Philosophy as Pathology?

Well, that title is a bit strong! But here's my thought (developed, in part, in conversation with someone at the Philosophy of Science Association meeting last week; I'll protect his privacy, though, unless he tells me he wants acknowledgement).

In psychology, there's a joke, which seems to have some truth in it (how much, exactly, is an interesting empirical question!), that the clinical psychologists are all crazy, the social psychologists are all socially awkward, the developmental psychologists act like children, etc. People are sometimes, it seems, drawn to fields that reflect something of their personal habits of thinking or problem areas in their lives. What about ethicists?

One way of developing the idea is this: Many philosophical ethicists like to approach ethics through explicit reasoning. That may reflect a durable habit or character trait that predates their choice of ethics as a field of study. And I'd wager, also, that there's a weakly negative correlation between being prone to reason in a cool, academic way about ethical matters and having strong gut reactions about such matters. Maybe if your gut doesn't tell you what to do morally, you're more prone to look toward explicit reasoning for moral guidance.

This raises the possibility -- I don't put this forward as a hypothesis, but merely as a possibility -- that a certain portion of those drawn to ethics as a discipline are so drawn because they're attracted to philosophical reasoning about ethical matters as compensation for weaker-than-average moral gut reactions. For them, moral philosophy is, perhaps, a sort of accommodation or crutch. We might then expect them to do morally well when faced with moral decisions of the sort fairly tractable to explicit reasoning and less well with other sorts of moral decisions.

I'd be interested to hear what you think, and also whether you think there's any way to cast empirical light on the matter.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival #38

Welcome to The Splintered Mind's hosting of The Philosopher’s Carnival! My seven-year-old son, Davy, has been asking me what philosophers do, so I thought I’d cast things in playground terms.

The Metaphysical Whirligig:
Whoa, I’m dizzy! Justin Kahn poses some cute and interesting problem cases for the principle of Ockham’s Razor. What kind of sick person would put razors on a children’s whirligig! Wa Salaam gives us mystical reflections on the moon. Phil for Humanity tells all the little children on the gig that Santa Claus – wait, no, I mean God – doesn’t exist, making them cry. How cruel! Ken Taylor claims that smart children can believe in Santa Claus -- or is that God? -- but the question is, how, given that the bad children seem to get just as many toys! Kenny Pearce isn’t so sure that it follows from the fact that he has hands that the physical world exists. The Boundaries of Language reflects on the scope of Dummett’s anti-realism; this is for serious and scholarly children. Heterodoxia warns us that some insights are just too cold for our little hands to handle. We are fearful, hubristic, romantic. The children boo! But Heterodoxia knew they would! Glittering Muse ponders on “nothing” in a way that reminds my son of Heidegger’s remark that “nothing noths” – uh-oh, now there’s this little kid calling himself Carnap who wants to push him off the gig. No, no – Carnap wants to explode the whole gig. Bail out! I here at The Splintered Mind simply wish I knew what metaphysics was.

The Philosophy of Mind Sandpit:
Brain Hammer manages to get the children arguing loudly about whether there’s a difference between the sand’s seeming wet and our simply having the disposition to judge that it’s wet. (But why is it wet, I worry?) Neil Levy reflects on whether the mind stays within the skull or drips and fiddles all over the place. Maybe mine is buried even, right here in this sand! Whoops, not here -- David Chalmers, who is known sometimes to play in the external mind-sands, discovers instead an old, almost entirely ignored article by Fred Dretske spoofing sense-data theories. The Philosopher’s Playground, unearthing a copy of Alice in Wonderland, invites us to reconsider the question of whether we can intentionally believe that the Queen is 101 years old, five months, and a day. Aaron Cotnoir wonders if Alice shouldn’t be blamed if she can’t, or should be if she can. Salamander Candy reflects on what raccoons think of all us children, and how we know whether there’s anything we do look like to raccoons, and how we know there’s anything, indeed, we look like to ourselves. And, if I remember correctly, Philosophy of Memory[sorry for the unspecific link; there seem to be server problems] invites us to think about individual differences in memory.

Philosophy of Language’s Curving Tunnel:
John Greco starts the children off with a serious lesson on contextualism vs. interest-dependent invariantism. Good stuff, but most of the children can’t even pronounce the title. Into the darkness you go! Lemmings asks whether Leibniz would tell all the children that if this piece of play-doh is cruddy but the sculpture they make with it is not cruddy, then the sculpture is not identical to this piece of play-doh. My, my – but I can barely even see it at all, Brit! Dinner Table Don’ts asks about the transitivity of subjunctive conditionals. If only he didn’t talk about this, we’d finally start having fun. If there was a nuclear holocaust, he wouldn’t talk about this. Therefore, if there was a nuclear holocaust, we’d finally start having fun. Wait, that doesn’t seem quite right.... Is this why Gregory Wheeler says conditionals are bad for your health? Benjamin Nelson curves into the deepest darkness of what he calls “Pattern-Oriented Relational Grammar”; too much for a simple seven-year-old like me!

The Epistemic Slide:
Fred Vaughan gives us The Given, but the other children aren’t sure we shouldn’t start our epistemic slide with stainless steel instead. Do you want to stand atop an idea, looking down?

The Moral Teeter-Totter:
Daylight Atheism sets the moral teeter-totter rocking: What we approve of and condemn is historically contingent! Suggested are some issues that future generations might see in a different light. Carnival maven Richard Chappell warns against vigilantism against the Atheistic kid, even if he seems unreasonable – for which the Atheist had better be thankful, I say! Joseph Orosco, however, asks whether “choosing torture might be a democratic prerogative”; playground bullies everywhere agree! Andy Egan wonders if it's fair to ask, though, what the idealized bully self would do. Hell’s Handmaiden argues against the electoral college. College?! Heck, we’re barely in elementary school, shout the kids. Funkified rides the teeter-totter without thinking, purely spontaneously, which he thinks [?] is best! Hueina Su reminds all children that they must love themselves. Westminster Wisdom inquires into the principles of judicial independence; the children make it plain that they like clear rules and consistency, except when the contrary is to their advantage! Moralheath claims that moral objectivity has “fallen upon hard times”, explaining our bad behavior. As though to prove him right, Francios Temblay jumps entirely off the teeter-totter arguing that all morality is just a “religo-political smokescreen”! (But he falls into Pea Soup, where the distinction between moral realism and anti-realism is viscous and murky.)

Philosophy of Science Picnic Table:
The Voltage Gate tells all little children about the politics in the history of the science of human racial diversity. Children of all colors gather round, but they can’t tell each other apart! They may lie about their data, though. Janet Stemwedel wants to know why. Well, of course it's that their parents didn't raise them right! Humbug Online warns all children about too easily dismissing induction. Hasn’t the Humbug learned that each time someone raises this problem it only causes piss and consternation among the boys and girls at the table? Or will it be different, finally, this time?

The Historical Jungle Gym:
A Brood Comb invites us to think about Hegel’s dialectics with the example of left-right. Oh no! Soon the other children are upside-down and reaching the wrong direction, falling off the jungle gym into the deep sand of dialectic! Rethink rails on poor Cleitophon from Plato’s republic, for being concerned only about his reputation and nothing for the common good, a malady he finds all too common. Frankly, I’m surprised to see someone so long dead still taking insults on the jungle gym. But actually, it seems that Cleitophon hasn’t moved much recently – in the last, say, 2000 years at least. Phluaria takes on Socrates himself, asking if he was schizoid! And somewhere in the sand under the Jungle Gym, The Skwib found some of Henri Bergson’s lost PowerPoint slides!

A number of children submitted political diatribes of various sorts. That's not the sandbox I remember! With apologies to them, and in keeping with The Splintered Mind's largely apolitical spirit, I have chosen not to include in this week’s carnival anything that seemed to me more politics than political philosophy.

A Plea for Chaperones:
There is no volunteer for the next carnival. Bloggers: If your blog is listed here, and you have never hosted, I herewith assert that you are morally obligated to host. No, no, children, don’t run away! It’s not as bad as having to set the dinner table, I promise. Go here and sign up! (Or else the Carnival will crumble, and that's the end of all your juicy links....)

Thursday, November 02, 2006

PMS-WIPS: The Unreliability of Naive Introspection

Tomorrow I'll be at the Philosophy of Science Association meeting in Vancouver. In lieu of my usual Friday post, I offer a link instead to PMS-WIPS over at The Brain Hammer, where the paper under consideration is my The Unreliability of Naive Introspection (which, by the way, is also what I'll be presenting at the PSA).

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


In virtue of what am I conscious, while chicken soup is not? Most philosophers regard this as a metaphysical question. It is widely held that something about my internal structure – the organization of my material parts – makes me conscious. Perhaps there is something special about neurons, or perhaps the relevant feature is the abstract functional relationships between my internal states, and between those states and my environment and behavior. Or maybe internal structure is irrelevant: If I possess the right causal relationships to my environment and/or the right behavioral dispositions, I am conscious, regardless of my internal organization.

Or one might reject materialism. Perhaps an immaterial soul is necessary, or the possession of immaterial properties. But in virtue of what do I have an immaterial soul or immaterial properties, while chicken soup does not? One might invoke a powerful, soul-imbuing deity, or one might relate the immaterial somehow to internal, material structure or to material causes and behavior patterns. Or perhaps everything is conscious, including the chicken soup; or material things do not exist at all. Or maybe there's some flaw in the very idea of "material".

If this doesn’t exhaust the alternatives, at least it comes close. Unfortunately, every one of these alternatives has seriously counterintuitive consequences. Most people find it intuitively plausible that alien or artificial beings, entirely lacking neural structures like our own, could at least in principle be conscious. Holding neurons to be uniquely capable of grounding consciousness contradicts that intuition. On the other hand, Block and Searle have shown that it is counterintuitive to regard as conscious everything with the right functional organization, or the right causal relationships to the environment and behavioral dispositions, regardless of composition – for example if the structure is implemented by a vast population of people communicating by radio, or by beer cans and wire in outer space. One might suggest that although neurons aren’t strictly necessary, something resembling neurons in some important way is necessary, but it is doubtful that one can escape the dilemma by that maneuver. Any organization functionally similar to human neural structure could probably be implemented in a system to which it would be counterintuitive to ascribe consciousness. More biochemical measures of similarity seem bound to exclude conceivably conscious aliens of some stripe. Insistence that the system be naturally evolved rules out some of the weirdest systems, but it also rules out the intuitively appealing possibility of conscious robots or conscious brains grown in vats.

Non-materialist views suffer similar difficulties. Naturalistic dualism faces the problems described in the previous paragraph with respect to classifying the kinds of systems that have immaterial souls or immaterial properties. Supernatural dualism faces issues of how immaterial substances could have physical effects and of the apparent smooth gradation from beings without consciousness to beings with consciousness in both phylogeny and development, as well as general arguments against the existence of supernatural entities. Panpsychism and idealism are counterintuitive from the outset. And, finally, it's hard to see how some weak notion of "material" could be fundamentally and ineliminably flawed or what it would buy us if it were.

None of this should be news to anyone who has taught a survey course in philosophy of mind. Every metaphysician of mind has to “bite the bullet” on some issue or other – that is, accept certain counterintuitive consequences of his or her position. But how to know which bullet is best to bite? We could try somehow to compare the relative unintuitiveness of various positions - but even if we could do that in some plausible way, using it as our metaphysical method presupposes that our everyday and philosophical armchair intuitions are a good guide to the nature of consciousness, including in strange cases involving aliens, etc. - and that seems to me a rather doubtful position (see my post "Metaphysics, What?"). But, on the other hand, it doesn't seem that there's any straightforward empirical, scientific way to determine whether a silicon-based alien that behaved much like us (for example) has genuine conscious phenomenology (as opposed to merely behaving as though he does), without begging the metaphysical question at the outset. So I'm at a loss.

Let me dub the view that something weird must be true about the mind, but who knows what weird thing is true, weirdism.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Can You See the Insides of Your Eyelids?

Visitors to The Splintered Mind in August and September will know I have this weird fascination with the question of what we see with our eyes closed. Admittedly, maybe the issue is not quite as important as the nature and pursuit of happiness, which I wrote about Friday.

Setting aside issues about afterimages, "light chaos", visual imagery, etc., here's one possibility: we see the insides of our eyelids. What do you think?

If I close one eye and hold one hand about a foot before the other eye, it's clear that I see my hand, right? Now I bring it slowly closer to the open eye until it eventually covers it completely, blocking out all light (though my eye remains open). Is there a point at which I go from seeing the hand to not seeing the hand? Or, as I sit here hand over eye am I see seeing the hand, though no light whatsoever is reflecting off it or coming into my eye?

It seems to me slightly more natural to say that I see "nothing" than to say that I still see my hand. Maybe, then, we can say that when the hand stops reflecting light into my eye I stop seeing it? But reflecting light into the eye is a strange criterion for seeing, since it implies that I could never see anything that was absolutely black. And we don't want to say that: A good enough coat of black paint doesn't make things invisible -- just very black!

Maybe we can say that I see things as long as they would reflect light shining on them, into my eye, if they were not completely light-absorbent? No, that doesn't work either: Translucent things are visible, so reflecting light into my eye can't be a condition of seeing. And, indeed, my hand is partly translucent, as can be seen if I shine a flashlight through it, while sitting in the dark.

So say I do sit in the dark with a hand completely over an open eye and shine a light through that hand into the eye. Now am I seeing the hand? -- the redness of its blood, say? Or am I just seeing the light? Or both? And if I do see the hand in this case, do I also see it in the case when there is no detectable light coming through? Maybe we should say this, at least: I can see that something (mostly) opaque is covering my eye, even if I can't see the object itself?

All the same questions arise, of course, in the more normal case where one's eyelids are doing the occluding rather than one's hand.

What a magnificent tangle!

Friday, October 27, 2006

The Pursuit (or Not) of Happiness

The Founding Fathers of this country famously ranked "pursuit of happiness" right up there with life and liberty, among our unalienable rights. Psychological hedonism, historically a very important doctrine in philosophy, holds that we in fact pursue nothing but our own happiness. We (or at least Americans) tend to say that "happiness" is among the most important goals in life. But I wonder whether we pursue it very much at all.

Let's assume that happiness is some kind of durable positive mood or emotion or disposition toward positive moods and emotions. (Happiness has of course been defined numerous ways. It's too good a word not to be fought over for its positive resonances.) Something in that ballpark, anyway, seems to be what many Americans have in mind by "happiness".

Now consider this: How does sleep affect your moods and emotions? Surely, it has some important effects. Have you studied them? I seem to have the impression from some of my reading (though I won't look it up now) that mild, short-term, sleep deprivation has a slight mood-elevating effect while longer-term sleep deprivation worsens mood. But I don't really know; and neither you do. (Confess!) But if one of your most important goals in life is your own happiness, shouldn't you try to gain some understanding of this? Most Americans, I think, are mildly sleep-deprived. Is it better for your happiness to stay up that extra half-hour watching TV or reading the newspaper or whatever, or to go to bed more directly?

You say you want happiness over all things, yet you let yourself be sleep-deprived and crabby all day?

Given a choice between going to a restaurant with my family and weeding or doing the dishes, I'd choose going to the restaurant every time. I'm even willing to pay for it -- and if I had more money I'd pay someone else to weed and clean. But I wonder, if I stepped back, whether I'd find myself happier in the restaurant or out in the yard.

I've played a few computer games in my day. Now I can watch my son doing it. What do I see? Often this: Frustration, frustration, frustration, relief. Is the pleasure of relief enough to compensate hedonically for the hours of frustration? Wouldn't I, and wouldn't my son, have been happier enjoying the sunset?

Why aren't we all happiness experts, and remarkable for our hedonic self-care?

Can you say, then, that we really are pursuing happiness, but only doing so with remarkable stupidity? No, no -- better and more natural to say that despite the lip service happiness is not very high among most people's favored pursuits.

(I'm trying to convince Dan Haybron to guest blog here next term. Go check out his website, in the meantime, if you want to learn more about happiness. And shouldn't you want to?)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006


In his 1913 essay "Psychology as the Behaviorist Views It", which is widely credited with (or blamed for!) launching the behaviorist revolt against early introspective psychology, John B. Watson complains

Take the case of sensation. A sensation is defined [by introspective psychologists] in terms of its attributes. One psychologist will state with readiness that the attributes of a visual sensation are quality, extension, duration, and intensity. Another will add clearness. Still another that of order. I doubt if any one psychologist can draw up a set of statements describing what he means by sensation which will be agreed to by three other psychologists of different training.... I firmly believe that two hundred years from now, unless the introspective method is discarded, psychology will still be divided on the question as to whether auditory sensations have the quality of 'extension,' whether intensity is an attribute which can be applied to color, whether there is a difference in 'texture' between image and sensation and upon many hundreds of others of like character (p. 164).

Of course, consciousness studies and introspective psychology are back; and anyone who has delved into the details of scientific or quasi-scientific introspective reports will see the considerable merit in Watson's complaint. And yet it does not follow that there are no facts of the matter to be explored here; maybe it's just hard.

Take the attribute of "clearness". Watson surely has E.B. Titchener in mind here. Titchener characterizes clearness thus:

Clearness... is the attribute which distinguishes the 'focal' from the 'marginal' sensation; it is the attribute whose variation reflects the 'distribution of attention' (1908, p. 26).

Since the term "clearness" has a number of resonances and senses in ordinary language that muddy the issue, Titchener and his students later came to substitute a neologism for it: "attensity". Now, here is the question we must assess to determine if attensity is an attribute of visual sensation: Can two visual experiences be alike in intensity of color, in shape, in resolution of detail, etc., yet differ experientially only in respect of how closely one is attending to them or to their objects -- i.e., in their "attensity"? There are two ways to say no: One might say that degree of attention does not affect visual experience at all, but only later processing, so that my visual experience of this hat before me is exactly the same when I'm attending to it and when I'm not attending to it (assuming all else, such as lighting, angle of eyes, etc., is held constant). Or one might say that degree of attention does affect visual experience but only by means of changing something else, such as the vividness of color or resolution of detail (which of course is another, non-Titchenerian, meaning of "clearness").

Now is this the kind of question we can ever expect an introspective science to answer authoritatively? Or should we join Watson and declare it hopeless? I confess that I myself am torn. I see no reason in principle that we couldn't resolve such matters. Yet the historical divisions of opinion and the muddiness of the answers I expect I would get if I polled people on the matter, and the feeling of lack of progress and the irresolvability of debates between entrenched opponents -- all that gives cause for pessimism....

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Brief Hiatus

Regular visitors will know I usually post on a MWF schedule. I'll be out of town for a long weekend, Friday through Monday, and I won't be able to post again until next Wednesday. (I'll be away for my annual "Geekend": Some old friends and I rent a cabin in the mountains near Palm Springs and do old-fashioned pencil-and-paper roleplaying games morning to midnight for three days straight, fueled mainly by coffee and Doritos. Yes, yes, I know. That's why we call it Geekend.)

A Plea for Stories about Virtue and Wickedness in Ethicists

I beg a favor. Tell me stories about the ethics professors you've known -- stories of their virtue or malfeasance, the more detail the better. Post them as comments on this post, or email me at eschwitz at domain:

I ask you this not out of pure gossip-love, but to good philosophical ends -- in connection, that is, with my reflections on the relationship between moral reflection and moral behavior.

I'm interested in anecdotes here, not generalizations (to get generalizations, I will be conducting a survey in December), with enough detail to give a real flavor of the incident.

(If you write a long comment, I recommend that you do so first in your word processing program, then paste it into the comments section. Occasionally Blogger crashes posting a comment, and it can be frustrating when that comment is long!)

Philosophers' Carnival #37...

... is at Hell's Handmaiden. (Thanks to the Handmaiden!)

The next carnival, Nov. 6, will be right here at The Splintered Mind. I see that no one has signed up yet to host the Nov. 27 carnival. So if you have a blog of your own, think about volunteering!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Metaphysics, What?

Philosophers, I suppose, sometimes do metaphysics. No, let me put it more cautiously. Philosophers engage in certain practices, which they sometimes call "metaphysics". I can tell fairly well what sorts of practices will be labeled in this way -- e.g., much of David Lewis's work and the ensuing discussions, analytic philosophy of mind as driven by thought experiments, discussions of "personal identity". But is this really metaphysics? What the heck is metaphysics, anyway?

Here's one view. Let's call it the "mystical view" -- because really it is rather mystical, though many hard-nosed, atheistic philosophers seem implicitly (or even explicitly) to accept it. Metaphysics is the discovery, by a priori armchair reflection without depending upon anything empirical, of necessary truths of the universe -- truths such as that causes must precede effects, and that a functional duplicate of me must necessarily have (or will not necessarily have) conscious experience. Such facts are supposed hold true regardless of our concepts, to be independent of our (contingent) ways of thinking about things. We tap into them not by looking at the world but rather by... well, that's the mystical part. How, exactly, do we learn about the outside universe (not just our own minds) without looking at it? Those philosophers who have gamely tried to explain the process in question -- George Bealer and Laurence BonJour, for example -- have tied themselves in such knots, been forced to wave their hands at such absolutely crucial junctures, and if I may be frank have failed so utterly as to make the hopelessness of their project even more evident after having read them than one might have thought beforehand.

Here's another view of what's going on. Call this the "no metaphysics" view. What philosophers learn from their armchairs, without looking at the world, are facts not about remote possible worlds accessible in no other way, or facts about the deep metaphysical structure of the universe, but rather facts about their own minds -- facts, especially, about their concepts. What else would one learn about, sitting in one's armchair? We learn that our concept of "cause" is a concept involving the temporal priority of the cause to the effect, our concept of a person is thus-and-such, etc.

But of course learning about our concepts is learning not metaphysical truths in the sense that philosophers ordinarily mean the phrase but rather learning contingent empirical facts about how we think. The concepts so delivered may be revisable in the face of empirical evidence (see Friday's post). And furthermore, they are empirically, psychologically explorable: There's more than one way to learn about "our" concepts. Philosophers in the armchair might not be getting the story right, or they may be an unrepresentative sample.

The philosophical practices labelled "metaphysics", then, have two uses, as I see it, neither of which is the discovering of metaphysical truths: (1.) They provide a kind of evidence about how people (a certain type of people, with certain habits of reflection and standards of inquiry) happen to conceptualize things; and (2.) (more interestingly, to me) they provide recommendations about how we should conceptualize things. If construed in this way, such recommendations should be evaluated pragmatically, in terms of their usefulness in organizing our way of thinking about matters of concern to us.

Getting clear about the pragmatic standard of evaluation can, I think, help us sort through and evaluate competing "metaphysical" claims about personal identity, causation, and the like. So, for example, in my work on belief, which could easily be misconstrued as metaphysics, I advocate a broad dispositional approach as giving us the best tool for talking about and characterizing the kinds of case that interest me most in believing -- what I call the "in-between" cases of gradual learning and forgetting, self-deception, confusion, ambivalence, irrationality, and failure to think things through.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Intuitions in the Sandbox

A graduate student recently reminded me of an essay I'd written in 1998 with Alison Gopnik, a developmental psychologist at U.C. Berkeley. He appears to be just about the only person who liked it. But maybe I'm wrong about that -- maybe he was merely being polite!

The essay begins with a dialogue pertinent to the relationship between empirical psychology and philosophical intuition, which is an increasingly hot topic these days. The dialogue is, I think, amusing, provocative, and self-standing (it was entirely written by Alison), and for some reason I feel like inflicting it on readers of this blog.

To understand the dialogue it's necessary to know that developmental psychologists now think that children progress from, at age 3, not realizing that beliefs can be false to knowing, by age 4, that beliefs can be false. (Surprising as this conclusion may be, it is now orthodoxy in developmental psychology and is supported by hundreds of studies.)

Here's the dialogue, conceived of as between two three-year-olds in a sandbox, Phil and Psyche.

Psyche: You know, Phil, something’s been bothering me. You know how beliefs are always true? Well, an odd thing happened the other day. My big brother saw my mom put a piece of chocolate in the cupboard and then left to play Nintendo, and while he was away my mom took the chocolate out of the cupboard and put it in the drawer. When my brother came back, he went straight to the cupboard and said loudly, several times, that he was sure the chocolate was in there. But of course, it was really in the drawer. So I have this idea: Could it be that he had a belief that was just like ordinary beliefs, except false?

Phil: My dear Psyche, as I have so often pointed out to you before, your confusion is due to a category mistake. You are treating the truth of beliefs as if it were an empirical matter. Actually, it is simply a conceptual fact about beliefs that they are always true. Indeed, we might say that it is criterial for a belief to be a belief that it be true. Look, consult your intuitions, consult the intuitions of anyone else in the sandbox. All of us agree, immediately, intuitively, without inference or theory, that all beliefs are true. Ask yourself what a belief is. What else could it be but a true representation of events?

Psyche: But couldn’t we all be wrong? Couldn’t there be an alternative way of conceiving of belief that none of us happen to subscribe to now?

Phil: Another category mistake. When I say that beliefs are necessarily true, this isn’t a mere contingent psychological fact about the concepts of all us three-year-olds. It’s an eternal, platonic, philosophical fact about the nature of belief and truth.

Psyche: Well, what about my brother?

Phil: He is probably participating in an alternative form of life. I always thought he was kind of weird.

Psyche: But you see, it isn’t just him. It even seems to be me. Since the chocolate incident, wherever I look, I see evidence that beliefs may be false. Why just yesterday, a woman came into the daycare center with a candy box and I said “Candy!” and then she opened the box and there were pencils inside. I know intuitively that I must have thought there were pencils in the box all along, and of course that’s what I told her when she asked me. But then why did I say “Candy!”? Am I turning into a madwoman?

Phil: (gravely) I fear you may have a worse affliction. I fear you are turning into a cognitive psychologist. As I was saying just the other day, “It would be dangerous to deny from a philosophical armchair that cognitive psychology is an intellectually respectable discipline, provided, of course, it stays within proper bounds.” [Apparently a copy of John McDowell's 1994 book, Mind and World found its way onto the picturebook shelf.] This is what happens when those bounds are breached.

Psyche: But surely there must be some explanation?

Phil: Philosophy does not provide explanations, only diagnoses. (Intones) Of that we cannot speak, thereof we must be silent....

The remainder of the essay was conceived of simply as the exposition of the main idea of this dialogue: that philosophers who think that their intuitions reveal necessary metaphysical truths about the world are as confused as Phil. Our intuitions derive from empirical sources (or else, no better, were written into us innately by natural selection), and we should hold them up to revision as new empirical evidence comes in. I don't think Quine or Carnap would have disagreed....

You can find the entire essay here.

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

The Nisbett-Wilson Myth

It seems like every time I present my work on our poor knowledge of our own conscious experience (e.g., here, here, and here) before a large group, someone says, "But didn't Nisbett and Wilson show that back in the '70s?"

Richard Nisbett's and Timothy Wilson's 1977 essay, "Telling More Than We Can Know" is one of the most-cited papers in the history of psychology. Looking at cases in which, for example, people seem to show amazing ignorance of the bases of their preference for a particular pair of socks, Nisbett and Wilson conclude that "people may have little ability to report accurately on their cognitive processes" (p. 246). In the psychological and philosophical lore, this conclusion has been amplified into a general repudiation of our knowledge of our own minds.

Yet Nisbett and Wilson themselves are quite clear that they do not intend their thesis that way. In a section titled "Confusion Between Content and Process" they draw a sharp distinction between "cognitive processes" (roughly, the causal process underlying and driving our judgments, decisions, emotions, and sensations) and mental "content" including those judgments, decisions, emotions, and sensations themselves. They explicitly limit their skepticism to the former. Regarding the latter they say that such "private facts... can be known with near certainty" (p. 255). In other words, despite the mythology, Nisbett and Wilson are not skeptics about introspective report of conscious experiences. They are skeptics about introspective knowledge of the causes of those experiences. They are skeptical about our knowledge of why we selected a particular brand of socks, not about the fact that we do judge them to be superior or about our sensory experience as we select them.

Wilson continues to be explicit about this. In his recent (2002) book Strangers to Ourselves, he argues that we have poor knowledge of "the adaptive unconscious". He distinguishes this from consciousness and restricts his skepticism to the former (e.g., p. 17-18).

So enough sloppy, second-hand references to Nisbett and Wilson! If you want to cite psychologists who truly argue for the view that we often go wrong in describing our stream of conscious experience, look neither to them, nor indeed to the behaviorists (who were often suspicious of the very idea that the phrase "stream of conscious experience" referred to anything worth exploring at all), but rather to early 20th-century introspective psychologists like E.B. Titchener and G.E. Mueller!

Monday, October 09, 2006

Ephemeral Belief?

I've often defended the view that we should think of beliefs (as opposed to temporary judgments) as involving a broad array of stable dispositions -- dispositions to act, react, think, and feel in ways appropriate to the belief, across a spectrum of situations. But here's an example that troubles me.

I'm at a party. Someone introduces himself -- "Jerry". I shake his hand and say "Hi, Jerry!" Five seconds later I cannot tell you his name. (Admit it, this happens to you too!)

Now in this case, it seems both that I believe (however temporarily) that his name is Jerry and that I don't form a broad array of stable dispositions pertinent to that belief. If so, of course, believing can't be a matter of having a broad array of stable dispositions -- contra me!

I see two responses. The first is to reject the intuition that I believe his name is Jerry (for those five seconds). (This is what Krista Lawlor said when I pressed her on the issue during her visit last week.) Maybe it's a weird, marginal case of the sort our intuitions really weren't meant to handle. We can, of course, (as philosophers) define the technical term "belief" however we want; we needn't hew to intuition in every case; and there's something valuable in reserving the term "belief" only for states in which one has a broad array of stable dispositions.

The second response is to reject stability: Maybe only breadth is necessary. For five seconds, my dispositions are all right, perhaps, across the board -- I would say "Jerry" to myself when thinking of him, I'd assume someone who said that name was talking about him, I'd greet him with that name, I'd feel surprised if someone called him "Larry", etc. -- and that's enough for belief. The broad array of dispositions changes quickly enough; it just won't stay put.

I'm not entirely happy with either answer.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Unqualified Judgment Without Belief?

Krista Lawlor gave a very interesting talk here at UC Riverside Wednesday, which has me thinking again about belief. (Admittedly, getting me thinking about belief isn't a very hard thing to do!)

It seemed implicit in her paper, and it came out more explicitly in discussion afterward, that Lawlor regards believing as a matter of having a broad, stable array of dispositions -- i.e., having general patterns of thought, reaction, planning, implicit assumption, etc., in conformity with the content of the belief -- as opposed to belief being merely a matter of having some thought or judgment or opinion occurring to one in a moment; and indeed the two phenomena often come apart. (For my endorsement of this view, see this post and this essay and this essay too.)

To use one of Lawlor's examples, someone raised in a family committed to the reality of homeopathy might as a result of taking a chemistry class become convinced that homeopathy doesn't work, in the sense of reaching a sincere judgment like this: "Something so diluted that not even a single molecule of the supposedly curative substance remains must be inert!" And yet that person might not yet be ready to throw his homeopathic remedies in the trash, might feel uncomfortable not taking those remedies in certain cases, might in unguarded moments find himself thinking "so-and-so needs such-and-such a remedy", etc. There's a certain amount of cognitive inertia between what we sincerely judge in the moment and what we enduringly, dispositionally believe.

Or here's an example from my essay linked to above: Someone might sincerely and unhesitantly and unqualifiedly endorse the proposition that all the races are intellectually equal, yet be so biased in her implicit reactions and background assumptions about people that we wouldn't want to say that she really should be described as fully, dispositionally believing that.

No one is more on board with Lawlor on such matters than I, yet my colleagues were not all entirely convinced!

Here's the most common objection I heard, in the comments and in discussion with Lawlor before and afterward: If your dispositions don't fall entirely into line with your judgment, then either your judgment must not be wholly unqualified, or you must be the victim of some sort of weird irrationality.

Now I'm not sure exactly what we ought to call "rational", but in some cases at least I think it makes considerable sense to have a sort of dispositional inertia. We don't want to cast aside long-held beliefs that ramify through our lives with the advent of a single unqualified judgment. Suppose the homeopathy case were, instead, a case of someone being converted to libertarianism by Ayn Rand. Fortunately, such conversions often fade quickly, fail to ramify, are conversions only of temporary judgment, not in the broad array of one's dispositions. (Apologies to libertarians!) So I hesitate to think of the divergence between unqualified judgment and broad, dispositional belief as simply irrational.