Friday, December 31, 2010

The way things will and should be.

In the future, all interviews will take place on twitter. Until then, we should move to skype.

We should immediately disband the APA and use our dues to hire a lobbyist to represent our interests in Washington. Could it really be that hard to get some earmark spending? Give us half of what they gave for a bridge to nowhere, and most of the current members of the APA could retire very comfortably and very early.

Friday, December 24, 2010

The only thing to fear was fear itself

UTSA has moved to online teaching evaluations. I thought this was a horrible idea. We used to have students write evaluations in class and so only the students who came to class would write evaluations. Under the new set up, students who don't attend either because they can't be bothered to show or because they've been failed for plagiarism are given the opportunity to write evals. Actually, they are encouraged to write evals. If they evaluate all of their courses, their names are entered into drawings for free ipads. (How about a drawing to reward attendance?)

Received my eval scores this afternoon braced myself for the worst. Students failed for academic dishonesty were going to let me have it. Someone who noticed that I wear the same outfit everyday would let me know the noticed. (Not the same token pants and shirt, but the same type. I did wear the same cardigan nearly every day.) The sleepers and the texters would explain why they had better things to do in class than pay attention.

Not to fear. Didn't happen. They didn't write evaluations. I had 1 student write an eval for phil law. 6 students in logic and another 6 for analytic phil. I think it was less than 10% response rate. They were all positive. My fears were unfounded, but it doesn't restore my confidence in the system.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Sigurdur Gudmundsson

Will someone write a phil mind book so they can use this as the cover?

If I had a choice, I'd think seriously about this for a cover of a book on norms:

Friday, December 17, 2010

Exciting news!

Received word that the referee reports on my manuscript look promising, so there's a chance that my book on epistemic justification just might be a go. I'll hopefully have something definite to report come some point in January! Now, I need a better title. I've been working with The Nature of Belief's Justification. Sort of dull, I think.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Eastern APA

I'll be giving a talk in Boston on the 28th @ 3:00 p.m.. I'd tell you where if I knew, but I don't. It's the second talk in the "What Epistemology is Not" colloquium (III-H).

Here's a handout.

Abstract: Mentalists say that two subjects have the same evidence if these subjects are in the same non-factive mental states. Mentalism doesn’t tell us what evidence is. Mentalism doesn’t tell us it is to have evidence. The mentalist could say that evidence consists of facts or true propositions. The mentalist could say that our evidence will include any proposition that we know by means of observation. Mentalism could say either of these things, but it cannot say both of these things. That’s why we know that the mentalist is mistaken. Or, so I argue. After showing that we have evidence the mentalist says we cannot, I offer an argument for externalism about justified belief. I argue that our experiential beliefs can be non-inferentially justified only if they are true.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Thomson on the Doctrine of Double Effect

Consider Thomson's example:
Suppose a pilot comes to us with a request for advice: “See, we’re at war with a villainous country called Bad, and my superiors have ordered me to drop some bombs at Placetown in Bad. Now there’s a munitions factory at Placetown, but there’s a children hospital there too. Is it permissible for me to drop the bombs?” And suppose we make the following reply: “Well, it all depends on what your intentions would be in dropping the bombs. If you would be intending to destroy the munitions factory and thereby win the war, merely foreseeing, though not intending, the deaths of the children, then yes, you may drop the bombs. On the other hand, if you would be intending to destroy the children and thereby terrorize the Bads and win the war, merely foreseeing, though not intending, the destruction of the munitions factory, then no, you may not drop the bombs.” What a queer performance this would be! Can anyone really think that the pilot should decide whether he may drop the bombs by looking inward for the intention with which he would be dropping them if he dropped them?

Thomson observes in the passage above that in deliberating about what to do, our attention is turned outwards rather than inwards. This is correct, but it's not clear why this should be trouble for the friends of intention. In deliberating about what to do, our attention is focused outward rather than inward upon the facts as we take them to be rather than our taking the facts to be a certain way. Many of us would still want to leave it as an open question as to whether the permissibility of an action depends upon the facts and not at all upon our beliefs about the facts. This is particularly true in epistemology, where there is nearly universal agreement that the permissibility of belief depends (in part) upon relations among beliefs and not just relations among the facts the agent happens to have in mind. Theoretical deliberation might be concerned with the question whether p is true, but it hardly follows that the normative standing of beliefs formed in response to that question depends entirely upon the external matters one focuses one's attention on in trying to settle that question. Why should things be different with practical deliberation?

One reason to think that our attention will be directed outwards rather than inwards when deliberating about what to do is that practical deliberation is concerned with what to do. While acting for some intention rather than another is something that happens and happens just when we do something, it is not itself something done. To see this, remember that the agent who decides to V could potentially V from any number of intentions. If she were obliged to V from one intention as opposed to another and this was something she did, it too could be the sort of thing that could be done from one intention as opposed to another. Again, if this is a doing, to be done from one intention rather than another, the agent would have to select between possible intentions. A vicious regress looms. It would seem that doing something from one intention rather than another would require completing an endless series of prior acts, something we cannot do. So, since doing something from one intention rather than another is not something we do, it is not something that we concern ourselves with in practical deliberation.

But doesn't this show that we have to reject the DDE since the DDE tells us that moral status depends, in part, upon intention? If acting for some particular intention rather than another is not something that we do, it is not something we can do, and so not something we can be obliged to do. This is correct, but this misses two things of potential significance. The first is that in the examples we are looking at, it is easy to follow the prohibition against V-ing from such and such an intention--do not V. So, there is no conflict between DDE and the principle that states that “ought” implies “can”. Second, it is not clear whether DDE is concerned in the first instance with acts or actions. Or, if you prefer, it is unclear whether the DDE is concerned in the first instance with types or tokens.

Thomson's point has bite, in part, because it would be absurd for the agent who realizes that the situation is the sort of situation in which someone may or must V in light of various considerations having to do with the nature of the situation to then ask whether she may V in light of the psychological factors that would explain her V-ing. If the question the DDE asks us is whether an agent could act from a suitable intention given the nature of the choice situation she faces, the reason Thomson's inward looking question is one we should not ask is that the question does not address something that the DDE is concerned with. If the DDE is concerned with act-types in the first instance, it tells us that the permissibility of an action will depend upon whether the agent could have acted for a sufficient reason, not whether her reasons for acting were sufficient.

Should we say that the DDE is concerned with acts rather than actions? I think we should. Moral principles like the DDE are in the business of telling us what our obligations are. What we are obliged to do is an act, not an action. When the reasons that apply to you demand that you do something (or refrain from doing something), the reasons are not concerned with the concrete details that distinguish two actions if they are of each of the same act-types. Also, as others have noted, the opposite view has trouble with negative obligations and the prospective nature of obligation. If you fulfill one of your negative obligations by not performing an act of a type, the omission does not seem to be a good candidate for an event and so we do not have a good candidate action to be the action that fulfilled the obligation. If you have an obligation you leave unfulfilled, there is something that is an obligation and we again have no good candidate action to be that obligation. [Some of these points are taken from Wedgwood and Schroeder from a discussion over at PEA Soup.]

Acting from such and such an intention or for such and such a reason is not something done, so it is not a type of act. Since what we are obliged to do is perform an act of a certain type, not any token action, and the DDE is concerned with our obligations, it is concerned with acts, not actions and the particular psychological antecedents that explain them. The question to ask, then, is not whether the agent's intentions in acting were such that they involved an intention to harm someone who had a claim against being so harmed but whether the agent could have acted as she did without such an intention. Thus, the fact that we do not look inward in deliberating about what to do is not a reason to think that intention has no bearing on permissibility.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Ugly story coming out of Texas

The Texas Observer is running some stories concerning the race for the Speaker of the House. Is John Cook of the State Republican Executive Committee motivated by anti-Semitism? Consider:
"We elected a house with Christian, conservative values," SREC member John Cook wrote Tuesday morning to other SREC members. "We now want a true Christian, conservative running it. This is not about Straus, this is about getting what the people want."

In case you were wondering, Straus is Jewish and his challenger is not.

John Cook's full email is here:
From: John Cook
Date: Tue, 30 Nov 2010 10:34:17 -0600
To: John Cook
Subject: Re: YouTube - The Battle for the Texas House

I agree that we need to be respectful of each other and that we need to tell the truth about the facts. Knowing the facts, I have to take exception to the response to David Barton's message and your contradictions of Mr Barton. And I say yours, because you are resending it, therefore, you must agree with it. How can you say work together and then demonize a great Christian, conservative.

Two really quick items come to mind. First, I know both Larry Phillips and Bryan Hughes and think highly of both. If they say something, I believe them! I talked to Larry, just a few minutes before he walked into the committee meeting to testify. I told him I was greatly disappointed in his phone call to Bryan Hughes and that he was not following the Christian conservative approach to politics we as Christians were to follow. And that to make amends he had to drop his support for Straus and go with a more conservative choice. In our conversation, he never said he didn't do it. He also didn't take the oath at the committee meeting and Bryan Hughes did. That disappointed me also.

Secondly, your analogy of comparing the senate to the house is preposterous. The senate is historically less conservative than the house by more than the 20 point difference you sight, apples and oranges. Also the Democrat chairmen under Straus is 16 D's and 18 R's of 34. Under Craddick his first session is 12 D's and 27R's. The second session under Craddick was 10 D's and 31 R's. The 3rd session under Craddick, his last, 11 D's and 29 R's. Where are you guys getting your FACTS?

And I have only started looking at your FACTS. But if your not accurate in these, why should I believe the rest.

Straus' record is not conservative. Period!!

Straus' pro-life. Wrong!!! Why do you not talk about recorded vote 672 right before the vote you sight, 676? When he was voting against the Republicans and with almost all the Democrats. You can't just believe someone when he says he is pro-life. There needs to be confirmation!

Also, if Straus wants to caucus, all he has to do is call the caucus. Has he done that? He has a supermajority you say. I want to see the voting take place by Republicans who own the house at this point and I mean conservative Republicans. We will see who votes for Straus.

WE elected a house with Christian, conservative values. We now want a true Christian, conservative running it. This is not about Straus, this is about getting what the people want.

I have seen the list of 5300 conservative leaders across the state against a moderate and for a conservative, now show your list of 4000 you speak about! Then show me your list of 130 reps that support Straus. Or is Straus wanting a floor fight so he can be elected by the 51 Democrats again. Does this not bother anyone else but me?
John Cook

Saturday, December 4, 2010

What's wrong with these people?

Someone asked in the comments why I hadn't said anything in response to the latest shameful display of bigotry from What's Wrong with These People (see their series of "disinviting" Islam (1, 2, 3). I did sneak in one sarcastic comment, but I'd like to give my time to the gentleman from somewhere or other (here):
Shari'a is just the way we live our lives: not eating pork, no drugs, or alcohol, prayers, etc. The punishments are deterrents -- if other deterrents suffice, like American laws, what reason do we have to cut the hand of the thief when we know they're gonna go to jail? We're not trying to overthrow the system. We're just trying to live our lives.

And jihad, even the military definition, is a struggle *in response to oppression.* As far as I'm concerned, I'm not being oppressed as a Muslim in America. And I'm very grateful to the Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the American system for it.

What you're saying though is that I NEED to be oppressed, like I'm some sort of animal or something. You sicken me. I'm a human being, no more a cultist of a socio-political ideology than fact, you friggin started a website to do this, who's the ideologue??

I play guitar, I go to soup kitchens with my MOSQUE's youth group, I'm on the track team. I own a Bible and it's a lot like the Qur'an. I'm not a bad person. You offend me.

I think this says everything that needs to be said on the matter.

The right to vote and a jackass

The founder of the Tea Party Nation says that it is "wise" to only let property owners vote (here). When I first read this, I thought the idea was that the right to vote would be limited to those who owned land, but it seems that historically you could vote if you had other sorts of property (e.g., tools of trade, livestock). In the comments, someone attributed this to Ben Franklin (who was against limiting voting to property owners): If a man gains the right to vote by ownership of a jackass and loses it when the jackass dies, where does the right to vote reside? In the man, or the jackass?

In other news, Rick Santorum for President? You gotta be kidding. No, no Santorum.