Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Have Conee and Feldman infiltrated Fox News?

Headline: White House Releases ‘What It Says’ Is The President’s Birth Certificate

See here.

[Explanation: Conee and Feldman are just way too modest in describing our evidence. Post on this to follow.]

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Quick question on the badness of death

I'm sympathetic to the idea that the badness of a death depends upon what would have happened if the person lived rather than died. So, I'm sympathetic to the idea that it's worse for the healthy individual to be struck by a bus and killed than it is for an otherwise similar subject who would have died of a burst aneurysm if he hadn't been struck by a bus and killed. (Keep all else similar.) While I'm sympathetic, I do have a worry.

Damien is pretty good at his job. He's a demon bent in killing the young and the healthy. Alice is an angel who isn't powerful enough to prevent Damien from killing. Still, she wants to make things better. So, she might try to hasten a birth so as to extend life on the front end if she thinks Damien will strike the subject down on some particular date. (Maybe she sees that he's penciled in a trip to Detroit twenty years hence.) I think on some occasions, she might make a death less bad by extending life this way. Does she make a death less bad, however, if she straps a ticking time bomb to Damien's victims set to go off after the time of the death Damien intends for them? Intuitively, I don't think this makes the deaths less bad even if it means that Damien's victims don't lose out on as much as other subjects that are victimized in similar ways. Similarly, I don't think Damien can make his subjects' deaths worse by defusing these bombs so that if his attack on them failed they would have lived long lives.

Just curious if others share this sort of intuition and worry about the idea that the badness of a death is a function of the difference the death made.

One potential problem with the example is that the second potentially fatal sequence only determines the magnitude of the difference made by the first potentially fatal sequence if these processes are independent. My initial hunch is that the worry doesn't turn on constructing examples in which the processes are linked in the way I've described, but that's just a hunch. I do feel the pull of the claim that the badness of a pedestrian's death depends upon how long they would have lived if they hadn't been struck by the bus (and the quality of life that awaited them in the nearest world(s) where the pedestrian isn't struck).

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Motive & Rightness

Received two books today. My copy of Bradley's Well Being and Death arrived at the office and Sverdlik's Motive and Rightness was waiting for me at home. I'm really excited to read Steve's book. I'll try to post some thoughts about it in the days to come. One of the things I miss most about life in Dallas is talking shop with Steve. Spent a considerable amount of time talking with him about the moral status of motives and intentions. Never could quite convince myself to believe everything he said, but I often thought that I probably should. I've long been in the camp that says that motives and intentions have little to do with the deontic status of an action. What we learn by scrutinizing someone's motives or intentions is something about the person and something about the moral worth of the agent's action. The permissibility of the action itself, however, never turns on what moved the agent to perform the action but only on whether there was a sufficiently good reason to act as the agent acted.

One of the reasons I was convinced that this view is the right one is that I'm convinced that our obligation is always to perform an act of some type or types and that doing something from one reason rather than another available reason isn't going to determine whether the thing you do is fitting or not. That needs to be spelled out and I've tried to do that. What I'm interested in seeing is why Steve thinks otherwise. Well, I have some idea as to why he thinks otherwise, but that's from reading papers that were available before the book. Now I'm interested to see how he's tied it all together.

So, the plan is to blog about the book in the weeks to come.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Evidence and Thought Experiments

Machery has posted an interesting paper over at the Experimental Philosopher's blog and I've banged out some comments in reply. Not terribly well organized, but my worry had to do with the conception of evidence that seemed to figure in his discussion. To bang a drum I've been banging a lot recently, I think we ought to say the following about evidence:

(i) Your evidence consists of facts (it's propositional and it's not evidence if it's not true);
(ii) Your evidence will include any fact you know non-inferentially.

Suppose you combine these two points about the constitution and possession of evidence with the further claims that Machery seemed to want to make about evidence:

(Mi) Your evidence is provided by your judgments about thought experiments.
(Mii) Those judgments are the evidence you have.

I think (Mii) is a category mistake, but I take it that the real idea is that facts about the judgments that you make are the evidence you have when evaluating the merits of, say, consequentialism in light of various thought experiments. So, rewrite (Mii) accordingly.

Some worries. First, do you have any reason for those judgments? If so, what are they? If not, what sort of evidence are they? If I believe that my shoes are filled with rats and I'm aware that I have no reason to think this, this is a reason to believe that it's a good idea to get professional help. No, not help from the exterminator. If you have reasons for these judgments and they're epistemic reasons, shouldn't these reasons be part of your evidence? I think so.

Second, if you combine (Mii) with (i) and (ii), you get all the skeptical conclusions you want without any empirical work at all. You don't need cross cultural surveys to establish skeptical views since it follows from these trio of claims that our non-inferential judgments about thought experiments never themselves constitute knowledge. The only knowledge you could have about the thought experiments would be inferential judgments and I worry that these wouldn't be good candidates for knowledge if none of our spontaneous judgments about cases could constitute knowledge. Happy result, of course, if you're pushing the skeptical line. Cheating, you might think, since the skeptical line is derived from a skeptical conclusion. Skeptical conclusions shouldn't be premises in arguments for skepticism, you might think.

Now, to be fair, the experimentalist skeptics who want to say that our judgments about thought experiments don't constitute knowledge do offer empirical evidence that they take to show that our judgments have what we might think of as epistemically problematic features. For example, our judgments are subject to order effects, there's widespread disagreement across cultures and within the philosophical community, etc... Fine. Why do we think these features are epistemically problematic in the sense that they prevent judgments from constituting knowledge? Take the disagreement issue. On the view I like, your evidence is what you know directly, we can have non-inferential knowledge about thought experiments, we ought to be conciliatory only if someone disagrees with us and their evidence is as good as ours. In the cases described if I'm "in the know", anyone who disagrees with me has evidence that differs in kind from the fabulous evidence I do, so I don't see why my learning of their existence defeats my knowledge or justification.

Alright, so that's not really my view. It's a view, however. Given that view, a reaction to the empirical evidence is that it's interesting but not epistemically interesting to me (i.e., it tells us little if anything about my privileged epistemic position). And what do they have to reject this view? Intuitions about epistemic propriety? Can the skeptics we're talking about appeal to such intuitions?

Blood and oil don't mix

Recent comment:
The invasion of Libya was nothing more than yet another move by the west to interfere somewhere that they have no business doing so. Do you really think the U.S. wants to help "protect" innocent lives? Especially after Iraq and Afghanistan. I think it has something more to do with... oil. Three wars now for the states. When will it stop?!

I've heard people make this sort of point frequently and I honestly don't get what people mean when they make it. Suppose nobody in the U.S. wants to help protect innocent lives. So, suppose the worst case scenario is true. Is that supposed to show that there's not sufficient reason to intervene in the way that the U.S. has? That hardly follows. Certainly self-interested people with no concern for others manage to act rightly. Isn't this a point familiar from Kant? We can use the law to modify behavior and when people conform to it, their acts are legal even if they don't have moral worth.

It certainly doesn't follow from the fact that everyone pulling the strings here is motivated only by oil that there's no humanitarian case to be made for intervention. Whether there is or isn't depends upon what's happening in Libya, not the heads of people in Washington.

Am I just missing what the point is supposed to be or am I just wrong about motives and justification? Not trying to be difficult, just trying to get what the point is supposed to be.