Saturday, February 28, 2009

Philosophers do it for reasons

As we all know. But when is it proper to treat something as a reason for action?

My discussion note, "On Treating Something as a Reason for Action", is now available on the JESP page for symposia and discussion notes. I won't say when it is proper, but I will say what you shouldn't say about when it is proper. (Not unless you are willing to say what I want you to say about justified belief. Which you aren't.)

Friday, February 27, 2009

Our petition is better than their petition

Their petition:
The American Philosophical Association currently allows institutions that prohibit homosexual acts among their faculty, staff, and students to advertise in 'Jobs for Philosophers.' [ed. I'm not sure that "allowed" is the right word. Cops don't "allow" pickpockets to pick pockets simply because they aren't paying attention or properly doing their job.] A petition recently submitted to the APA alleges that this practice is inconsistent with the APA's anti-discrimination policy and calls for the APA either to "(1) enforce its policy and prohibit institutions that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation from advertising in 'Jobs for Philosophers' or [to] (2) clearly mark institutions with these policies as institutions that violate our anti-discrimination policy."

We reject the suggestion that there is an inconsistency between the practice in question and the APA's anti-discrimination policy. Institutions can require their faculty to agree to abide by ethical standards that forbid homosexual acts while not ipso facto discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. The conceptual distinction between a certain kind of act and a disposition to perform that kind of act is one that no philosopher would fail to acknowledge in other ethical contexts. We fail to see why it should be ignored in this one. [ed. It could be that the people who wrote the statement reject the distinction as spurious in this context. For example, Scalia seems to think that you shouldn't give special protection to those who have the orientation that disposes homosexuals to engage in actions that are illegal. What's good for the goose...]

Historically, many of the greatest philosophers have argued that homosexual acts are morally objectionable. The position implied by the proposed policy--that this view is philosophically beyond the pale and should be stigmatized by the APA--is indefensible. [ed., I suppose a fallacious appeal to authority is a kind of argument]

Removing ads from these institutions from JFP would do a disservice to APA members by making it more difficult for them to learn about available jobs for which they might want to apply. It would also harm the profession by making it more difficult for institutions to find good philosophers. [ed., I don't think we're hurting from a short supply of good philosophers in need of work but if you want these schools to hire the best people you could start by convincing them to stop discriminating.]

The present policies of the APA prohibit discrimination based on religion or political convictions. [ed. Fail. It does so within limits.] But the policy recommended attempts to segregate and penalize religious institutions for abiding by their long-standing and coherent ethical norms. [ed. 'Coherent', that's both a stretch and underwhelming.] Moreover, this policy would foster an environment that would encourage discrimination against philosophers whose religious, political, or philosophical convictions lead them to disapprove of homosexual acts. [ed., I'm pretty okay with that.]

We therefore call upon the APA to reject the petition in question and to maintain its current practice without alteration.

JD and VR, I'm really disappointed in the two of you.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Good news!

Last week JESP accepted a discussion note I sent them not too terribly long ago and this afternoon they sent me a proof to correct. That's fast! "On Treating Something as a Reason for Action" is a response to critics who have attacked Hawthorne and Stanley's Knowledge-Reasons Principle:

(KRP) When S’s choice is p-dependent, it is permissible for S to treat the proposition that p as a reason for acting if and only if S knows that p.

The critics I'm concerned with think that a justified belief that p is the case (or that p is known to be the case) should suffice for a permission to treat p as a reason for action. I argue that this cannot be right (unless everyone is badly mistaken about what it is to have a justified belief, in which case KRP isn't wrong for the reasons critics say it is). All the pieces I criticize are forthcoming and shouldn't be in print until after my discussion note goes public, which makes this my first preemptive discussion note. Cool.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Naturalism defeated or supernaturalism disconfirmed?

This is a question for those of you who have greater facility with Bayes' Theorem than I do. (In other words, this is a question for just about everyone.) Let's suppose that either theism is true or evolutionary naturalism is true and to keep things simple let's say that neither hypothesis is more likely than the other. (This is a gross simplification, but let it slide to keep the calculations simple. The second assumption is an assumption Plantinga makes in his initial presentations of the EAAN.) Let 'T' stand for theism, let '~T' stand for evolutionary naturalism, and let 'R' stand for the proposition that our faculties are reliable. Suppose for the sake of this discussion that Plantinga is right that:

(1) P(R/T) > P(R/~T).
(2) P(R/T) is high.
(3) P(T) = P(~T).

Given these three assumptions, doesn't evidence against R count as evidence against T? Playing with the numbers just a bit, suppose that we say that P(R/T) is .9 and P(R/~T) is .2. If we further suppose that P(T) = P(~T), P(~T/~R) is .8889. It seems that there is some evidence that we are unreliable in certain kinds of cognitive tasks that I'd think that we wouldn't expect ourselves to be particularly good at given the background assumption of evolutionary naturalism but would expect ourselves to be good at given the background assumption of theism. Having a bit too much fun with trolleys and chalk the other day, I discovered that the vast majority of my students start judging that they ought to engage in actions that they themselves deemed to be murderous only weeks earlier when we have 4 option trolley cases rather than the 2 option cases I initially presented to them. I started having my dose of Darwin's Doubt!

Now, I know there's the worry that if you accept ~T and P(R/~T) is low, you are supposed to acquire a defeater for everything you believe. But, it seems that this problem is easily avoided. I think Sober pointed this out in an article some years ago. We should focus on the reliability of certain kinds of methods and processes for discovering the truth instead of focusing on reliability across the board. There's ample evidence against reliability across the board but little evidence for the proposition that every faculty we have is unreliable. It would be self-defeating (perhaps) to believe that every faculty is unreliable, but not to believe that we are not reliable across the board. That we are unreliable moral judges does not mean that we oughtn't trust our scientific judgments. But, here's the kicker. This sort of move seems helpful to the naturalist but I don't think that the theist wants to say that the conditional probability that we are good moral judges on the assumption of theism is low or inscrutable.

Anyway, I think this is interesting. It seems that if the assumptions Plantinga often introduces in the course of setting up the EAAN he might have given the naturalist some assumptions to use to construct an empirical argument for God's non-existence. Roughly, we should expect to be competent moral judges if God exists but not if evolutionary naturalism is true. Given evidence of incompetence and the initial use of the principle of indifference to justify the starting assumption that P(T) = P(~T), we ought to decrease our confidence in theism accordingly.

I have no confidence in the above, by the way. I'm sure there are details that need to be ironed out, assumptions that need to be added in, and responses that are so damn obvious that any fool could see them. That's what the comments box is for.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Discrimination for the discriminating

I floated the suggestion that the APA update its anti-discrimination policy:
Further, The American Philosophical Association rejects as unethical all forms of discrimination based on race, color, religion, political convictions, national origin, sex, disability, sexual orientation, gender identification or age, whether in graduate admissions, appointments, retention, promotion and tenure, manuscript evaluation, salary determination, or other professional activities in which APA members characteristically participate. At the same time, the APA recognizes the special commitments and roles of institutions with a religious affiliation; it is not inconsistent with the APA's position against discrimination to adopt religious affiliation as a criterion in graduate admissions or employment policies when this is directly related to the school's religious affiliation or purpose, so long as these policies are made known to members of the philosophical community and so long as the criteria for such religious affiliations do not discriminate against persons according to the other attributes listed in this statement. Advertisers in Jobs for Philosophers are expected to comply with this fundamental commitment of the APA, which is not to be taken to preclude explicitly stated affirmative action initiatives. The APA Board of Officers expects that all those who use the APA Placement Service will comply with the letter and spirit of all applicable regulations concerning non-discrimination, equal employment opportunity and affirmative action.

I don't have a problem with it, but it seems that there are some who seem to think that a school that has a policy of refusing to hire "practicing" homosexuals conforms to the APA's standards because the standard only prohibits discriminating against orientation.

Mike Otsuka seemed to think that this was a bad idea (here) but I think our disagreement concerns the right way to respond to the unreasonable. I'd agree that anyone who reads this policy in such a way that schools that discriminate against behavior conform to the APA's policy are not giving this a reasonable interpretation. I could be wrong about this. It could be that there is a perfectly reasonable interpretation of this statute on which it says nothing about schools that discriminate against those who engage in homosexual conduct. To figure that out, maybe we could work out the answers to some questions.

First, when the APA wrote this policy were there schools that discriminated against those with homosexual orientation on grounds of their orientation? If it was believed that no such schools existed, I'd be completely at a loss as to why the APA would make any mention of "sexual orientation".

Second, are there any cases in employment law in which a company successfully defended itself from a discrimination lawsuit on the grounds that the laws that protected orientation did not protect conduct or behavior?

Third, are there any anti-discrimination laws that explicitly protect orientation rather than behavior? I can find some states that interpret "orientation" in such a way that it follows from their particular use that behavior and conduct is covered automatically. I cannot find any states that interpret "orientation" in such a way that the protection of the orientation fails to cover the behavior.

Fourth, what does Scalia have to say about this? This seems relevant:
I turn next to whether there was a legitimate rational basis for the substance of the constitutional amendment -- for the prohibition of special protection for homosexuals. It is unsurprising that the Court avoids discussion of this question, since the answer is so obviously yes. The case most relevant to the issue before us today is not even mentioned in the Court's opinion: In Bowers v. Hardwick (1986), we held that the Constitution does not prohibit what virtually all States had done from the founding of the Republic until very recent years -- making homosexual conduct a crime. That holding is unassailable, except by those who think that the Constitution changes to suit current fashions. But in any event it is a given in the present case: Respondents' briefs did not urge overruling Bowers, and at oral argument respondents' counsel expressly disavowed any intent to seek such overruling. If it is constitutionally permissible for a State to make homosexual conduct criminal, surely it is constitutionally permissible for a State to enact other laws merely disfavoring homosexual conduct. And a fortiori it is constitutionally permissible for a State to adopt a provision not even disfavoring homosexual conduct, but merely prohibiting all levels of state government from bestowing special protections upon homosexual conduct.

But assuming that, in Amendment 2, a person of homosexual "orientation" is someone who does not engage in homosexual conduct but merely has a tendency or desire to do so, Bowers still suffices to establish a rational basis for the provision. If it is rational to criminalize the conduct, surely it is rational to deny special favor and protection to those with a self-avowed tendency or desire to engage in the conduct. Indeed, where criminal sanctions are not involved, homosexual "orientation" is an acceptable stand-in for homosexual conduct. A State "does not violate the Equal Protection Clause merely because the classifications made by its laws are imperfect."

Monday, February 23, 2009

The new Philosophical Gourmet Report is out

Nebraska didn't rank, but it was close (here). The good news is that they seemed to do pretty well in the specialty rankings: Epistemology (Group 5), Ethics (Group 5), and Metaethics (Group 4).

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Epistemic Goodness & Criticism

Get yer abstracts here. One paper in particular caught my attention:

ABSTRACT. It is wrong everywhere, always, and for anyone to believe anything on insufficient evidence. Let’s just take that as given. Is it wrong anywhere, ever, for anyone to believe anything on sufficient evidence? Not if the evidentialists are right. Are they right? I shall argue that they are not.

On a completely unrelated note, I'm having a hard time making sense of this passage from Lackey's "Norms of Assertion":
[T]here is an intimate connection between our assessment of asserters and our assessment of their assertions. In particular, asserters are in violation of a norm of assertion and thereby subject to criticism when their assertions are improper. An analogy with competitive basketball may make this point clear: suppose a player steps over the free throw line when making his foul shot. In such a case, there would be an intimate connection between our assessment of the player and our assessment of the free throw—we would, for instance, say that the player is subject to criticism for making an improper shot.

I'd say that about the free throw case, but isn't that case an exception to the rule. When you are given the rule book as referee, I thought that the rules did not have any sort of due care clause. These are strict liability rules in all the sports I know of. And, unless you are just overly critical you don't typically criticize agents while acknowledging that they took all the care that could reasonably be expected to avoid violating some rule. The free throw case is exceptional in this regard because it is hard to imagine realistic cases where the agent takes due care but shoots while stepping over the line. Is she just using 'criticize' in a funny way or do I just not know enough about rule books and refereeing? It seems that the analogy with competitive basketball just makes it clear that she's wrong and there is nothing like an intimate connection between assessment of the agent and the agent's deeds. If the norms of assertion are anything like the rules of basketball, we should expect there to be cases where an agent fails to keep within the rules/satisfy the norms even though they are beyond criticism.

This is not a clear parody of a current news event

I'm trying, but I can't see how this isn't a racist cartoon. And, I don't quite see that this is an explanation of anything:
The cartoon is a clear parody of a current news event, to wit the shooting of a violent chimpanzee in Connecticut. It broadly mocks Washington's efforts to revive the economy. Again, Al Sharpton reveals himself as nothing more than a publicity opportunist.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sign the Petition!

Charles Hermes has started an online petition that you can sign to urge the APA to either either enforce its policy and prohibit institutions that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation from advertising in 'Jobs for Philosophers' or identify these institutions as institutions that violate the APA's own anti-discrimination policy. You should sign it and consider withholding dues if that fails. The petition is here.

Meanwhile, Brian Leiter has started another thread to discuss the issue here.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Pragmatic Implicature in Action!

The headline on Yahoo! homepage:
Poll: 38% want probe of 'war on terror' excesses under Bush

The facts:
Two-thirds of Americans favor investigating whether the George W. Bush administration overstepped legal boundaries in its "war on terror," according to a poll released Thursday by USA Today and Gallup.

A majority of respondents said a probe should be launched into allegations that the Bush team used torture to interrogate terror suspects.

Investigators also should look into the former president's program of wiretapping US citizens without first securing court-issued warrants, respondents said.

About four respondents in 10 polled by USA Today (38 percent) favored criminal investigations, while about a quarter (24 percent) said they want an investigation without criminal charges being filed.

Some one-third of those polled (34 percent) said they want nothing done at all, the pollsters said.

[The AP headline read, "Americans favor probe of 'war on terror' excesses" so I'm guessing that a probe is a probe even if legal sanctions are taken off the table. It's a lame probe, but that's something different entirely.]