Some vegetative state patients show fMRI responses similar to those of healthy controls when instructed to perform mental imagery tasks. Many authors have argued that this provides evidence that such patients are in fact conscious, as response to commands requires intentional agency. I argue for an alternative reading, on which responsive patients have a deficit similar to that seen in severe forms of akinetic mutism. Akinetic mutism is marked by the inability to form and maintain intentions to act. Responsive patients are likely still conscious. However, the route to this conclusion does not support attributions of intentional agency. I argue that aspects of consciousness, rather than broad diagnostic categories, are the more appropriate target of empirical investigation. Investigating aspects of consciousness provides a better method for investigating profound disorders of consciousness.
After a sketch of the optimism and high aspirations of History and Philosophy of Science when I first joined the field in the mid 1960s, I go on to describe the disastrous impact of "the strong programme" and social constructivism in history and sociology of science. Despite Alan Sokal's brilliant spoof article, and the "science wars" that flared up partly as a result, the whole field of Science and Technology Studies (STS) is still adversely affected by social constructivist ideas. I then go on to spell out how in my view STS ought to develop. It is, to begin with, vitally important to recognize the profoundly problematic character of the aims of science. There are substantial, influential and highly problematic metaphysical, value and political assumptions built into these aims. Once this is appreciated, it becomes clear that we need a new kind of science which subjects problematic aims - problematic assumptions inherent in these aims - to sustained imaginative and critical scrutiny as an integral part of science itself. This needs to be done in an attempt to improve the aims and methods of science as science proceeds. The upshot is that science, STS, and the relationship between the two, are all transformed. STS becomes an integral part of science itself. And becomes a part of an urgently needed campaign to transform universities so that they become devoted to helping humanity create a wiser world.
The religious phenomenon is a complex one in many respects. In recent years an increasing number of theories on the origin and evolution of religion have been put forward. Each one of these theories rests on a Darwinian framework but there is a lot of disagreement about which bits of the framework account best for the evolution of religion. Is religion primarily a by-product of some adaptation? Is it itself an adaptation, and if it is, does it benefi ciate individuals or groups? In this chapter, I review a number of theories that link religion to cooperation and show that these theories, contrary to what is often suggested in the literature, are not mutually exclusive. As I present each theory, I delineate an integrative framework that allows distinguishing the explanandum of each theory. Once this is done, it becomes clear that some theories provide good explanations for the origin of religion but not so good explanations for its maintenance and vice versa. Similarly some explanations are good explanations for the evolution of religious individual level traits but not so good explanations for traits hard to defi ne at the individual level. I suggest that to fully understand the religious phenomenon, integrating in a systematic way the different theories and the data is a more successful approach.
In this critical notice to Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God, we focus on the question of whether Wright’s God is one which can be said to be an adaptation in a well defined sense. Thus we evaluate the likelihood of different models of adaptive evolution of cultural ideas in their different levels of selection. Our result is an emphasis on the plurality of mechanisms that may lead to adaptation. By way of conclusion we assess epistemologically some of Wright’s more controversial claims concerning the directionality of evolution and moral progress.
Reputation monitoring and the punishment of cheats are thought to be crucial to the viability and maintenance of human cooperation in large groups of non-kin. However, since the cost of policing moral norms must fall to those in the group, policing is itself a public good subject to exploitation by free riders. Recently, it has been suggested that belief in supernatural monitoring and punishment may discourage individuals from violating established moral norms and so facilitate human cooperation. Here we use cross-cultural survey data from a global sample of 87 countries to show that beliefs about two related sources of supernatural monitoring and punishment — God and the afterlife — independently predict respondents' assessment of the justifiability of a range of moral transgressions. This relationship holds even after controlling for frequency of religious participation, country of origin, religious denomination and level of education. As well as corroborating experimental work, our findings suggest that, across cultural and religious backgrounds, beliefs about the permissibility of moral transgressions are tied to beliefs about supernatural monitoring and punishment, supporting arguments that these beliefs may be important promoters of cooperation in human groups. © 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Hospital in Boston, Massachusetts. That report described the extraordinary surgery, immediately after birth, made possible by the use of computer—aided presurgical planning.1 The media picked up the story, and a first page arti— cle appeared in The New York Times on the same day.2 Two days earlier, on 8 August, conjoined twins were born in Malta in a case that stirred even more media attention. Eventually they underwent surgical separation in the Unit— ed Kingdom against the parents’ wishes.3
Reading Michael Fox’s "Animal Liberation: A Critique” in this issue was a chastening experience. In the past, when reading the complaints of authors that their critics have misunderstood them, I have tended to believe that some, at least, of the fault must lie with the author. If he has been misunderstood, he must have failed to make his views clear. Now that Fox’s article puts me in the position of complaining author, I wonder if my previous reactions were fair. I cannot find any obscurities in Animal Liberation which could have led Fox to his extraordinary presentation of "my" position.
In What a Plant Knows, Daniel Chamowitz reports what plant biologists apparently have known for a long time: although plants generally stay in one place (they’re sessile), they actively negotiate their environments. …
Plato’s Sophist and Statesman use a notion of a model (paradeigma) quite different from the one with which we are familiar from dialogues like the Phaedo, Parmenides, and Timaeus. In those dialogues a paradeigma is a separate Form, an abstract perfect particular, whose nature is exhausted by its own character. Its participants are conceived as likenesses or images of it: they share with the Form the same character, but they also fall short of it because they exemplify not only that character but also its opposite. Mundane beautiful objects are plagued by various sorts of relativity—Helen is beautiful compared to other women, but not beautiful compared to a goddess; she is beautiful in her physical appearance, but not in her soul or her actions; she is beautiful in your eyes, but not in mine, and so on. The Form of the Beautiful, which is supposed to explain her beauty, is simply and unqualifiedly beautiful (Symp. 210e5-211d1).
According to a number of theorists (Arpaly 2002, 2003; Arpaly and Schroeder 2014; Markovits 2010), a morally right action has moral worth if and only if it is performed for the right reasons, which are the reasons for which it is right, or the right-making features of the action. I have referred to morally worthy actions as “praiseworthy actions”, though, as we will see, perhaps “esteem-worthy actions” would be more precise, if one were to use Kantian terminology.
We get angry for reasons—or, at any rate, for what we take to be reasons. If asked, why are you angry?” you will cite something (that you think) someone did, or failed to do. That action or omission—we can call it “bad behavior”—is what you are angry about. Getting angry is easy to understand: I behave badly towards you, that makes you angry, and now you are angry, at me, for my bad behavior. What is harder to understand is why you might cease to be angry.
Some proponents of ‘experimental philosophy’ criticize philosophers’ use of thought experiments on the basis of evidence that the verdicts vary with truth-independent factors. However, their data concern the verdicts of philosophically untrained subjects. According to the expertise defence, what matters are the verdicts of trained philosophers, who are more likely to pay careful attention to the details of the scenario and track their relevance. In a recent paper, Jonathan Weinberg and others reply to the expertise defence that there is no evidence for such expertise. I reply to them in this paper, arguing that they have misconstrued the dialectical situation. Since they have produced no evidence that philosophical training is less efficacious for thought experimentation than for other cognitive tasks for which they acknowledge that it produces genuine expertise, such as informal argumentation, they have produced no evidence for treating the former more sceptically than the latter.
Scholars disagree about the nature of the doctrinal apparatus that supports Berkeley’s case for passive obedience to the sovereign. Is he a rule-utilitarian, or natural law theorist, or ethical egoist, or some combination of some or all these elements? Here I argue that Berkeley is an act-utilitarian who thinks that one is more likely to act rightly by following certain sorts of rules. I also argue that Berkeley mischaracterizes and misevaluates Locke’s version of the social contract theory. Finally, I consider the potentially practically self-defeating nature of Berkeley’s claim that there is no obligation to submit to the rule of “madmen” or “usurpers”.
This paper examines a constellation of ethical and editorial issues that have arisen since philosophers started to conduct, submit and publish empirical research. These issues encompass concerns over responsible authorship, fair treatment of human subjects, ethicality of experimental procedures, availability of data, unselective reporting and publishability of research findings. This study aims to assess whether the philosophical community has as yet successfully addressed such issues. To do so, the instructions for authors, submission process and published research papers of 29 main journals in philosophy have been considered and analyzed. In light of the evidence reported here, it is argued that the philosophical community has as yet failed to properly tackle such issues. The paper also delivers some recommendations for authors, reviewers and editors in the field.
Behind the various Christian ideas about heaven and hell lies the more
basic belief that our lives extend beyond the grave (see the entry on
afterlife). For suppose that our lives do not extend beyond the grave. In
addition to excluding a variety of ideas about reincarnation and
karma, this would also preclude the very possibility of future
compensation of any kind for those who experience horrendous
evil during their earthly lives. Indeed, despite their profound
differences, many Christians (though perhaps not all) and many
atheists can presumably agree on one thing at least. If a young girl
should be brutally raped and murdered and this should be the end of
the story for the child, then a supremely powerful, benevolent, and
just God would not exist.
It is not news that we often make discoveries or find reasons for a mathematical proposition by thinking alone. But does any of this thinking count as conducting a thought experiment? The answer to that question is “yes”, but without refinement the question is uninteresting. Suppose you want to know whether the equation [ 8x + 12y = 6 ] has a solution in the integers. You might mentally substitute some integer values for the variables and calculate. In that case you would be mentally trying something out, experimenting with particular integer values, in order to test the hypothesis that the equation has no solution in the integers. Not getting a solution first time, you might repeat the thought experiment with different integer inputs.
Image by Dick Thomas Johnson - flickr
Let’s talk about Davecat. Davecat is the pseudonym of a Michigan-based man. He is married and has one mistress. Neither of them is human. They are both dolls — RealDolls to be precise. …
Philosophy of medicine is a field that seeks to explore fundamental
issues in theory, research, and practice within the health sciences,
particularly metaphysical and epistemological topics. Its historic
roots arguably date back to ancient times, to the Hippocratic corpus
among other sources, and there have been extended scholarly
discussions on key concepts in the philosophy of medicine since at
least the 1800s. Debates have occurred in the past over whether there
is a distinct field rightly termed “philosophy of
medicine” (e.g., Caplan 1992) but as there are now dedicated
journals and professional organizations, a relatively well-established
canon of scholarly literature, and distinctive questions and problems,
it is defensible to claim that philosophy of medicine has now
The ethical writings of the Oxford Idealists, T. H. Green and
F. H. Bradley, reflect the influence of Kant and Hegel on English
moral philosophy in the latter part of the Nineteenth Century. To the
extent that either draws on other sources it is to Aristotle that they
turn rather than to British moral philosophers such as Butler, Hume or
Reid; a point which is evident both from the fact that Green and
Bradley offer a type of perfectionist account of morality that is
articulated in terms of the concept of self-realization and from the
appearance of Aristotle's man of practical wisdom (the
phronimos) in the fifth essay of Bradley's Ethical
Alice has a paper due the day after Thanksgiving. She’s already gotten all the extensions she can, and she can’t get it done except by working through Thanksgiving. She is thinking of not going to the big Thanksgiving dinner that her grandfather organizes every year, even though it brings together relatives she hasn’t heard from for a long time, has much warm family fellowship, and great food. …
Torturing someone is gravely wrong because it causes grave harm to the victim, and the wickedness evinced in the act is typically proportional to the harm (as well as depending on many other factors). …
The ancient Chinese philosopher Mengzi and the early modern French philosopher Rousseau both argued that human nature is good. The ancient Chinese philosopher Xunzi and the early modern English philosopher Hobbes argued that human nature is not good. …
When it comes to knowledge about the scientific pasts that might have been — the so—called ‘counterfactual’ history of science—historians can either debate its possibility or get on with the job. Taking the latter course means re—engaging with some of the most general questions about science. It can also lead to fresh insights into why particular epi— sodes unfolded as they did and not otherwise. Drawing on recent research into the contro— versy over Mendelism in the early twentieth century, this address reports and reflects on a novel teaching experiment conducted in order to find out what biology and its students might be like now had the controversy gone differently. The results suggest a number of new options: for the collection of evidence about the counterfactual scientific past, for the development of collaborations between historians of science and science educators, for the cultivation of more productive relationships between scientists and their forebears, and for heightened self—awareness about the curiously counterfactual business of being historical.
[Trigger Warning: This post is about trigger warnings]
I have taught a number of controversial topics in my time. I have taught about the ethics of sex work, the criminalisation of incest, the problems of rape and sexual assault, the permissibility of torture, the effectiveness of the death penalty, the problems of racial profiling and bias in the criminal justice system, and the natural law argument against homosexuality (to name but a few). …
The petition against Donald Trump’s ‘state visit’ to the United Kingdom has gathered over 1.8 million signatories. (I am one of them). Of particular concern to many of these signatories has been Trump’s ‘Muslim ban’, and its perceived infringement of international human rights law. …
Pornography is now ubiquitous. If you have an internet connection, you have access to a virtually inexhaustible supply of the stuff. Debates rage over whether this is a good or bad thing. There are long-standing research programmes in psychology and philosophy that focus on the ethical and social consequences of exposure to pornography. …
Impartiality is sometimes treated by philosophers as if it were
equivalent to moral impartiality. Or, at the very least, the
former word is often used, without the qualifying adjective
‘moral’, even when it is the particularly moral concept
that is intended. This is misleading, since impartiality in its
broadest sense is best understood as a formal notion, while moral
impartiality in particular is a substantive concept – and one
concerning which there is considerable dispute. This entry will be
predominantly concerned with moral impartiality – the sort of
impartiality, that is, that commonly features in normative moral and
I've been waffling about this for years (e.g., here and here). Today, I'll try out a multi-dimensional answer. 1. My first thought is that it would be unfair for us to hold ethics professors to higher standards of personal behavior because of their career choice. …
The theory of linguistic relativity—the idea that our language influences our thinking— has a long history in the humanities. Speakers of different languages may systematically think and behave differently. This phenomenon has only recently attracted attention from economists. This paper provides the first comprehensive review of this nascent literature. First we explain the linguistic relativity thesis. Then we summarise the empirical evidence on the relationship between linguistic structures and economic outcomes. We follow up with a discussion of empirical design and identification. The paper concludes by discussing implications for future research and policy.
The mainstream tradition in recent Anglophone Zhuangzi interpretation treats spontaneous skillful responsiveness – similar to the spontaneous responsiveness of a skilled artisan, athlete, or musician – as a, or the, Zhuangzian ideal. However, this interpretation is poorly grounded in the Inner Chapters. On the contrary, in the Inner Chapters, this sort of skillfulness is at least as commonly criticized as celebrated. Even the famous passage about the ox-carving cook might be interpreted more as a celebration of the knife’s passivity than as a celebration of the cook’s skillfulness.