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In his recently published two-volume work in epistemology, Alvin Plantinga rounds out the discussion (in characteristic fashion) with a subtle and ingenious argument for a striking claim: in this case, his conclusion is that belief in evolutionary naturalism is irrational. Now this claim is not of itself so very surprising; the tantalizing feature here lies rather in the nature of the argument itself. Plantinga contends that taking seriously the hypothesis of evolutionary naturalism (hereafter, N & E) ought to undermine one's confidence in the reliability of our basic cognitive faculties. And if one withholds belief in cognitive reliability, it seems that one ought likewise to refrain from believing propositions that are the output of such faculties. And, for evolutionary naturalists, one such output is belief in evolutionary naturalism itself. Hence, quite apart from comparative evidential considerations that might lead one to prefer theism (or one of its competitors) to N & E, but rather owing to a sort of internal inconsistency (in a suitably broad sense), belief in N & E is shown to be epistemically defective. This is a bold and intriguing suggestion indeed. Let us take a closer look.
‘When a child learns this ....’ ‘What is “learning a rule”?— This.’ Anyone familiar with Wittgenstein’s later philosophy recognizes these phrases as wholly typical of that philosophy. The appeals to the way in which a child learns, to learning in general, and to the italicized use of the indexical – all are familiar themes. In the Philosophical Investigations Wittgenstein develops his position on three crucial philosophical issues by beginning with the way in which a child learns. First, his critique of referential theories of meaning: ‘An important part of the training will consist in the teacher’s pointing to the objects, directing the child’s attention to them, and at the same time uttering a word’ (PI §6). Second, his attack on essentialist theories of understanding: ‘How does [the pupil] get to understand this notation? – First of all the series of numbers will be written down for him and he will be required to copy them .... And here there is a normal and an abnormal learner’s reaction’ (PI §143). And finally, his attack on the Cartesian model of consciousness: ‘A child has hurt himself and he cries; and then adults talk to him and teach him exclamations and, later, sentences’ (PI §244). These three critiques are the cornerstones for his later philosophy, and at the beginning of each he appeals to how children learn. Moreover, Wittgen-stein’s subsequent writings show an increase in the explicit appeal to learning and to a child’s learning. In On Certainty, Wittgenstein’s final work, virtually every page involves appeal to learning. In spite of this, most commentators treat the appeal as incidental.
Current discussion of the normative issues surrounding secession is both helped and hindered by the existence of but one philosophic treatment of these issues sufficiently systematic and comprehensive to qualify as a theory of secession - Allen Buchanan’s. He provides the unique focal point, and so simplifies the task of those who seek to begin from the present state of the art. But in providing the unique focal point, Buchanan complicates the task of those who view, or think they view, secession rather differently than he does. He defends ’a moral right to secede’ but a very qualified right, focusing on state-perpetrated injustice, the preservation of group culture and, in extreme cases, the literal survival of group members (152-3). And Buchanan further insists that where preservation of group culture is at stake, ’Neither the state nor any third party has a valid claim to the seceding territory’ -or such a claim is waived so that ’secession in order to preserve a culture is permissible if both parties consent to it’- a condition that he thinks may come to apply to the situation of Quebec.
Having explained the moral approbation attending merit or virtue, there remains nothing but briefly to consider our interested obligation to it, and to inquire whether every man, who has any regard to his own happiness and welfare, will not best find his account in the practice of every moral duty. (E 278)
[W]hat theory of morals can ever serve any useful purpose, unless it can show, by a particular detail, that all the duties which it recommends, are also the true interest of each individual? (E 280)
For most of this century, it has been taken for granted that the theoretical commitments of Marxism are difficult, if not impossible, to reconcile with any kind of objectivism in ethics, whether realist or constructivist. Commentators in the analytic tradition who have argued for this antiobjectivist interpretation have categorized Marx variously as a noncognitivist (moral judgments are not actually propositional, and so are neither true nor false) a sort of 'error theorist' (moral judgments are all false), or an ethical relativist (moral judgments are true/false relative to class or the mode of production). Other commentators, less charitable in their assessment, have found Marx to be irredeemably confused and inconsistent in his moral pronouncements, espousing not a consistent anti-objectivism, but rather simultaneously proclaiming the class-relativity and the objectivity of morality.
In this paper I offer a probabilistic analysis of the notion of an event’s having an overall positive causal impact on a later event; that is, of overall positive causal impact. The analysis will be based on the notion of objective chance-like probability presented elsewhere. This paper deals only with token causal relations, i.e., those between particular actual event-tokens. (The corresponding generic relation will not be discussed here The key concept in the analysis of overall positive causal impact, I argue, is that of a clincher, roughly, an event which ‘seals’ (makes unreversed) a probability increase or a probability decrease condition. In the first part of the paper, I bring an example to illustrate the thesis that the presence of only an increaser-clincher yields overall positive causal impact (and correspondingly for a decreaser-clincher and overall negative causal impact). The more complex case in which both an increaser-clincher and a decreaser-clincher are present is then discussed, and a condition assessing their relative weight is proposed for determining whether a given case is one of overall positive causal impact or overall negative causal impact. Finally, the condition is modified to capture relative causal weight as opposed to the mere relative probabilistic weight of the two clinchers.
Derek Allen, Richard Boyd, and Alan Gilbert have suggested that Marx’s normative political views should be reconstructed as a sophisticated version of moral consequentialism. This paper investigates whether Marx’s ostensible anti-moralism differs in any interesting way from Mill’s sophisticated utilitarianism plus some Marxist social science. I present an account of the social meaning and implications of moral language and argument, based on Marx’s description of morality as a social practice based on distinctive motives, emotions and sanctions, to explain why Marx would reject moral consequentialism. This account will explain how Marx can consistently reject morality yet retain a normative basis for his social criticism.
Spinoza semble adopter une position pleinement nominaliste lorsqu'il discue des notions universelles dans YEthique, mais on y trouve aussi plusieurs arguments ou, semble-t-il, des universaux sont presupposes. La solution avance par plusieurs commentateurs, y compris Haserot, est que le systeme spinoziste est d'inspiration platoniste, et qu'il faut reinterpreter les passages d'apparence nominaliste pour les accorder avec le platonisme ou l'essentialisme. J'argumente qu'un tel procede n'est justify ni par le texte ni par la structure du systeme de Spinoza. L'interpretation du spinozisme que je propose le place dans le cadre logique du nominalisme contemporain, k l'instar du systeme de Nelson Goodman, par exemple.
A common theme of libertarians is that there is a conflict between the values of liberty and equality. Achieving equality, so libertarians often argue, would require frequent interference in individuals’ lives, creating constraints on freedom and obstacles to the development of individuality. Although not himself endorsing a libertarian conception of liberty, Oxford philosopher G.A. Cohen recently has advanced the surprising thesis that there is a tension in Marxist normative thought that in an interesting way parallels the often heard libertarian challenge to egalitarianism.
Traditional debates about scientific realism tend to focus on issues concerning scientific representation (broadly speaking) and de-emphasize issues concerning scientific intervention. Questions about the relation between theories and the world, the nature of scientific inference, and the structure of scientific explanations have occupied a central place in the realism debate, while questions about experimentation and technology have not. Ian Hacking's experimental realism attempts to reverse this trend by shifting the defense of realism away from representation to intervention. Experimental realism, according to Hacking, does not require us to believe that our theories are true (or approximately true), nor does its defense depend on inference to the best explanation. For Hacking, the strongest proof for realism is that we can manipulate objects: 'So far as I'm concerned, if you can spray them, then they are real' (ibid., 23).
I want to discuss a certain class of paradoxes, which I will call ‘pragmatic paradoxes.’ The term reflects the role of indexical elements in some familiar instances of the class, such as the statements ‘I am not here,’ or ‘I am not now speaking,’ and serves to distinguish the paradoxes in which I’m interested, from the semantic paradoxes, like the Liar.
An analysis of the Surprise Exam paradox affords a natural approach. Here is one version of the paradox. On Friday the teacher informs the class that one day next week (Monday- Friday) an exam will take place, and that it will be unexpected until announced, on the day it is to take place. The students reason that it can’t take place on Friday, since, were it not to occur by Thursday, they would be expecting it Friday, contrary to the teacher’s specification. If it can’t take place Friday, then it can’t take place Thursday either, for similar reasons. And so forth. The students conclude that no such exam can take place. But of course it can. So, what went wrong?
David Hume’s critique of religion reveals what seems to be a vacillation in his commitment to an argument-based paradigm of legitimate believing. On the one hand, Hume assumes such a traditional (argumentbased) model of rational justification of beliefs in order to point to the weakness of some classical arguments for religious belief (e.g., the design argument), to chastise the believer for extrapolating to a conclusion which outstrips its evidential warrant. On the other hand, Hume, ‘mitigated’ or naturalist skeptic that he is, at other times rejects an argumentbased paradigm of certainty and truth, and so sees as irrelevant the traditional or ‘regular’ model of rational justification; he places a premium on instinctive belief, as both unavoidable and (usually) more reliable than reasoning. On this view, a forceful critique of religion would have to fault it, not for failing to meet criteria of rational argument (failing to proportion belief to the evidence), but (as Hume sometimes seems to) for failing to be the right sort of instinct.
If all politics is local, then any sensible political theory must be sensitive to the fine-grained features of the political landscape. No one thinks that one form of government is best for every situation, and a theory that fails to accommodate ‘local knowledge’ runs the risk of irrelevance. Yet we also think that political philosophy must rise above the particularities of context and transcend the muck-a-muck of daily politics.
Most theories, however, leave only a secondary role for context. They see it either as the basis for an excuse or merely as the data that must be plugged into a predetermined agenda. On the first view, contexts are only relevant when they prevent a society from achieving whatever the view regards as the best government for humans. If a society lacks the conceptual, technological, or economic resources to attain the best form of government, then its context absolves it from charges of illegitimacy. We find this view reflected in the attitudes of, say, those Americans who think every country should be a liberal democracy, but admit that some places are not yet developed enough to realize such a society.
The sort of knowledge we have with regard to the nature and kind of our own phenomenal states has enjoyed considerable prestige in the history of philosophy. Hume claims that ‘The only existences, of which we are certain, are perceptions, which being immediately present to us by consciousness, command our strongest assent, and are the first foundation of all our conclusions’ (A Treatise of Human Nature, I 4.2). In the New Essays (II 27.238), Leibniz remarks that ‘if the immediate inner experience is not certain, we cannot be sure of any truth of fact.’
Roy A. Sorensen has advanced an ingenious variation of the prediction or surprise event paradox, which he calls the designated student paradox. Sorensen reduces the temporal dimension of the problem by eliminating reference to future occasions on which an announced surprise event might occur, and substituting a surprise location to which epistemic agents have progressively limited spatial-perceptual access, in order to sidestep what he regards as inessential solutions to the standard formulation.
Human folly, it seems, traces not only to ignorance and impulsiveness but also to the power of wishes that the erring agent acknowledges as unfit to motivate him. The possibility of genuinely perverse preference can be either denied or explained. To explain it, sense must be made of how a person’s understanding of the choices before him could fail to decide his preference—how what convinces could fail to persuade. The question is how the influence a given consideration has over a person’s choice can be other than a function of the beliefs he holds about its merits, so that as between competing considerations the one esteemed best doesn’t win, despite continuing to be esteemed best.
Certain cases emphatically motivate the view that personal autonomy — autonomy as self-government — is a necessary condition of moral blameworthiness. The cases, that is, suggest that one cannot be morally blameworthy for performing an action unless one is autonomous with respect to that action, or one is autonomous with respect to the motivational underpinnings (the desires perhaps) that figure in the etiology of the action. Here is a typical, fanciful example. Unbeknownst to Bond, a minute electronic device has been implanted in his brain. Maxine can use the device to induce desires or intentions in Bond without her electronic manipulations being ‘felt’ or detected by Bond. Suppose Maxine implants in Bond a powerful desire to kill Oskar, a distant associate of Bond, together with the belief that the desire is irresistible. Though the electronically induced desire is not in fact irresistible, Bond could resist it only with a great deal of difficulty and only at the expense of suffering considerable psychological damage; Bond, to his astonishment, acts on this desire and does away with Oskar. This case (call it ‘Secret Agent’) is one in which Bond, it appears, is not morally blameworthy for killing Oskar. According to one strand of thought, the judgment that Bond is not blameworthy rests squarely on the view that Bond acts on a desire that is not truly his own;1 Bond is not his own master with respect to the implanted desire that causes him to kill Oskar.
When, if ever, are we justified in infringing a rights claim on the basis of benefit to the right bearer? If we assume that the rights of individuals can be overridden on the basis of what is at stake for others- that is, that rights have thresholds - we can ask how these thresholds are affected when the person who will benefit from the right being overridden is the right bearer herself.
In its earliest stages the macroscopic properties of a human embryo are merely those of a few-celled organism, not so very different from (say) a fly embryo. If all goes well, however, it will eventually develop into a human infant. Expectation of such future development leads to the absolutist view that from the moment of conception the zygote has the same moral status as an infant. When the absolutist view is based on this expectation, I shall say it is based on a potentialist intuition that sees fetal development as the unfolding of a pre-established essence. This intuition was expressed by a Tennessee judge dealing with a custody case concerning frozen embryos, who claimed that ‘the entire constitution of the man is clearly, unequivocally spelled-out, including arms, legs, nervous system and the like ....’ Singer and Dawson put the potentialist picture (with which they disagree) in these terms: ‘The development of the embryo inside the female body can be seen as a mere unfolding of a potential that is inherent in it.’