Second Annual Notre Dame/Northwestern Graduate Epistemology Conference

Keynote Speaker: Ernest Sosa, Board of Governors Professor of Philosophy, Rutgers University. The philosophy departments at the University of Notre Dame and Northwestern University are proud to announce the second annual Graduate Epistemology Conference, including a Symposium on Disagreement.

Submission Guidelines: We welcome submissions in the field of analytic epistemology, broadly construed. The conference will include a small symposium on the epistemology of disagreement (whether religious, moral or theoretical), and papers in this area are especially solicited for inclusion in the symposium. Papers should be no more than 4000 words (approx. 13 pages), excluding notes. Papers should be prepared for blind review: include detachable cover page with paper’s title, abstract, author’s name, mailing address, email, phone number, school affiliation, and word count; please  omit any self-identifying remarks within the body of the paper.

Deadline: Papers must be received by January 10th, 2011. Papers should be emailed as an attachment to the conference organizers at nd.nu.gradconference@gmail.com preferably in PDF format.

Reposted from Certain Doubts

Montclair State University's Ed.D. in Pedagogy and Philosophy

imageMontclair State University's Ed.D. in Pedagogy and Philosophy is one of a very few programs in the country that bring the disciplines of pedagogy and philosophy into dynamic interaction. The program builds on the University's nationally recognized programs in teacher preparation and decades of leadership in critical thinking, precollege philosophy education, and inquiry into the public purposes of education. It provides a unique opportunity for those who wish to participate in the highest level of philosophical and empirical scholarship, to apply that scholarship to the work of teacher education, and/or to bring philosophical practices to the classroom.

Graduates from the Ed.D. in Pedagogy and Philosophy pursue careers in the following fields in higher education:

  • Philosophy of Education
  • Educational Foundations
  • Teacher Education

The program has also prepared students for, or advanced their positions in the following careers in precollege education:

  • Teaching philosophy in middle schools, high schools and community colleges
  • K-12 classroom teaching that employs philosophical methods, addresses philosophy of the school subjects, and/or engages children in philosophical practices

Applications for fall 2011 are being accepted until Feb. 1. We will be hosting an information session on December 1, 2010, from 6:00 - 7:00 p.m. at the University. To register for the session, visit http://cehs.montclair.edu. More information about the program is available online at http://cehs.montclair.edu/academic/cop/doc_programs.shtml and from program administrators at peph@montclair.edu.

Please forward this email and the attached flyer to colleagues and students who might be interested.

Program Web Flyer: http://cehs.montclair.edu/documents/PEPH_Flyer2.pdf

PhilPapers Philosophy Survey Updated

PhilPapers recently updated the home page for their 2009 Philosophical survey (see details below). The survey asked questions on a variety of topics and surveyed over 1800 faculty and PhDs as well as over 800 graduate students. Here are some of the results:

Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?

Accept or lean toward: externalism
398 / 931 (42.7%)

Other
287 / 931 (30.8%)

Accept or lean toward: internalism
246 / 931 (26.4%)

 

Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?

Accept or lean toward: compatibilism
550 / 931 (59%)

Other
139 / 931 (14.9%)

Accept or lean toward: libertarianism
128 / 931 (13.7%)

Accept or lean toward: no free will
114 / 931 (12.2%)

 

Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?

Accept or lean toward: physicalism
526 / 931 (56.4%)

Accept or lean toward: non-physicalism
252 / 931 (27%)

Other
153 / 931 (16.4%)

 

Truth: correspondence, deflationary, or epistemic?

Accept or lean toward: correspondence
473 / 931 (50.8%)

Accept or lean toward: deflationary
231 / 931 (24.8%)

Other
163 / 931 (17.5%)

Accept or lean toward: epistemic
64 / 931 (6.8%)

 

From PhilPapers:

We have just released a wealth of additional information about last year's PhilPapers Philosophical Survey.

First, we have posted detailed results regarding correlations between answers.  This includes correlations between answers to the main philosophical questions, and also correlations between these questions and background questions such as nationality, gender, age, and other factors.

Second, we have posted an attempt at a factor analysis, isolating a number of key factors that tend to predict an individual's responses to the survey.

Third, we have made available the answers of respondents who chose to make them publicly available. The list of these respondents is here. In addition, all respondents who have PhilPapers profiles can see who among public respondents have answers most similar to their own. If you have completed the survey, your answers will now be available through your profile and you can modify them if desired.  You can also modify settings to make your answers public or private as you choose.  If you have not answered the survey yet, you can now do so by following the 'My philosophical views' link from your profile.

The updated home page for the Survey is here.

Philosophy Conferences, November/December 2010

November 2010
15 Wellbeing: A Cure-all for the Social Sciences? Online Other
17 'Homo Ludens 2.0. Media, Identity & Play' Utrecht Netherlands
18 Comics Forum Leeds United Kingdom
20 Oxford Philosophy Graduate Conference Oxford United Kingdom
22 Development Philosophy of Osigwe Anyiam-Osigwe Ibadan, Nigeria
22 International Conference for Academic Disciplines Rome Italy
23 Chulalongkorn International Conference of Oriental Studies (CHICOS) Bangkok Thailand
25 Humanities and Social Sciences 2010 (HSS-2010) Lviv Ukraine
26 8th International Conference Cyberspace 2010 Brno Czech Republic
28 European Conference for Academic Disciplines Gottenheim near Freiburg Germany
29 International Conference on Islamic Education 2010 Shah Alam Malaysia

December 2010
01 Gendered Ways of Knowing? Gender, Natural Sciences and Humanities Interdisciplinary Congress Trento Italy
01 Metaphysics, Language, and Morality Zagreb Croatia (Hrvatska
02 40th Conference of the Philosophy of Education Society of Australasia Inc. Perth Australia
09 Contained Memory Conference 2010 Wellington New Zealand
10 Economics made fun in the face of the economic crisis Rotterdam Netherlands
10 ‘On or about December 1910 human character changed’:
Centenary reflections and contemporary debates: modernism and beyond
Glasgow United Kingdom
28 Meaning,Identity and Culture Kolkata India

Reposted from: http://www.conferencealerts.com/philosophy.htm

Workshop@CMU: Experience, heuristics, and choice: Prospects for bounded rationality

On December 1st there will be a workshop at CMU focusing on bounded rationality especially as applied to choice, featuring various central issues like the role of heuristics in choice and inference.  The program, and other details can be found here.  No registration is needed and attendance is welcomed.  For details about organization you can contact me at my CMU email address. The workshop celebrates the work of Herb Simon in this area and features Ralph Hertwig as one of the main invitees.  Ralph has made decisive contributions to bounded rationality in a series of recent papers.  He is a student and a frequent collaborator of Gerd Gigerenzer.

Reposted from: http://el-prod.baylor.edu/certain_doubts/?p=2252

Edinburgh: Epistemology and Extended Cognition Workshop

If you’re in the Edinburgh area on November 24th, then you might be interested in this workshop. As usual for our epistemology events, all are welcome (and attendance is free too).

Reposted from: http://el-prod.baylor.edu/certain_doubts/?p=2255

Is Faith Practical?

“Knowledge about life is one thing; effective occupation of a place in life, with its dynamic currents passing through your being, is another.” – William James

Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have remarked, “Nothing is more difficult, and therefore more precious, than to be able to decide.” Making a decision is difficult for many of us because most of the time we need to do so without having all the information necessary to make a choice that anticipates all outcomes and addresses all possible questions. I was reminded of this recently while giving my daughter a driving lesson. About to pull onto a busy road, she asked me whether it was safe to go. I evaluated the environment and, while a few vehicles were approaching some distance away in the right-hand lane, I anticipated that she had enough time to pull out safely and told her to go ahead. As she began to pull forward, I saw a altlarge pickup speeding past the other cars in the left-hand lane rapidly approach our entry point. But it was too late--she was committed. She cut off the driver in the truck and after I uttered a choice word or two, she scolded me for my obviously faulty advice. After we both calmed down, I explained to her that driving often involves making split-second decisions and often having to adjust to a rapidly-changing situation. I later realized that the near accident was my fault, not because I misjudged the situation, but because I attempted to make the judgment at all. As the driver, the decision should have been hers and she should have gone when she judged it was safe.

In his fine book, The Metaphysical Club , Louis Menand describes William James (d. 1910) as a man who viewed the ability to make decisions in the teeth of risk and uncertainty as a mark of true character. James came to realize very early in life that for many of the choices we face, we lack conclusive reasons (and don’t have prospects for gathering them) and that to be human is to take risks about the things we believe. But James himself found it difficult to live with his own philosophy. Earning an M.D. from Harvard, James (whose his sister referred to as a “blob of mercury”) changed disciplines not once but three times moving from medicine, to psychology, to philosophy. It is no wonder then that his Gifford Lectures, The Varieties of Religious Experience, is a project in which he attempts to develop a philosophy, Pragmatism, that attempts to find equal epistemic standing to both science and religion. Why settle for one when you can have both? By briefly examining Pragmatism, we can get a better handle on some of the essential concepts that drives existentialist thought and look at how that thought informs our understanding of religious belief.1

I claimed in previous essays that in many communities (confining my analysis to fairly traditional communities in the West) religious belief is grounded by way of an existential leap of faith. Fundamental to this move is the idea that a rationalist approach to belief—deciding to believe in God based on whether one determines there is enough evidence to do so—is itself a leap of faith but of the entirely wrong kind. Religious commitment is just that: a decision to commit oneself wholly to a person experientially not adhering to an idea intellectually. But what does one do with the apparent evidence that would seem to conflict with such a commitment?  Hasn’t science provided us with models of biological development and cosmology that undermine any rational belief in a divine being?  Hasn’t it demonstrated that miracles can’t occur, that belief in divine activity a delusion, that religious commitment is sociologically dangerous? Hasn’t science removed any explanatory role religion might play in a reasonable person’s worldview? If so, then the person that wishes to be rational (or at least believe that the scientific method is truth conducive) and still maintain religious beliefs is a bifurcated individual that lives in a world where reality has to live alongside fantasy.

James attempted to show that this decidedly is not the case. At the root of his argument was a rejection of the idea that the scope of the explanatory power of science and reason should take pride of place in our epistemology. In fact, James says, when it comes to understanding what it means to be human (or to use language I introduced in an earlier essay: to understand existence rather than essence), science is rather weak. He writes,

Nevertheless, if we look on man's whole mental life as it exists, on the life of men that lies in them apart from their learning and science, and that they inwardly and privately follow, we have to confess that the part of it of which rationalism can give an account is relatively superficial. It is the part that has the prestige undoubtedly, for it has the loquacity, it can challenge you for proofs, and chop logic, and put you down with words. But it will fail to convince or convert you all the same, if your dumb intuitions are opposed to its conclusions. If you have intuitions at all, they come from a deeper level of your nature than the loquacious level which rationalism inhabits. Your whole subconscious life, your impulses, your faiths, your needs, your divinations, have prepared the premises, of which your consciousness now feels the weight of the result; and something in you absolutely knows that that result must be truer than any logic-chopping rationalistic talk, however clever, that may contradict it.2

William Barrett, who we met in an earlier essay, confirms that Existentialism essentially agrees with James here. Existentialist thought is essentially at odds with any thoroughgoing scientism—the view that the methods of the hard sciences can fully explain our essence as well as tell us what it all means. American philosophy is dominated by analytic philosophy (Barrett says "Logical Positivism" is another term for this) which has at its core science--the defining feature of modern culture. However analytic philosophy then goes on and attempts to establish the unsupportable idea that "science is the ultimate ruler of human life, which it never has been and psychologically never can be. Positivist man is a curious creature who dwells in the tiny island of light composed of what he finds scientifically 'meaningful,' while the whole surrounding area in which ordinary men live from day to day and have their dealings with other men is consigned to the outer darkness of the 'meaninglessness' " 3

In order to understand this idea, we need to grasp a key concept in both Pragmatist and Existentialist thought. That is, that reason is epistemically limited. For James (and otheralt Pragmatists like C.S. Pierce and Blaise Pascal), there are certain beliefs about which reason is unable to help us decide. There are ideas for which, either due to their complexity or nature, reason can play little or no role.  In these cases, we are forced to start with our intuitions and experiences and make judgments solely based on their overall value in holding them or the overall value in the means by which the judgment is made. For example, if a lifelong friend is accused—ostensibly on the basis of solid but inconclusive physical evidence--of a crime, say murder. You know your friend to be gentle, kindhearted, a lover of humanity, and not prone to rash action, you may choose to believe in his innocence even if the authorities claim they have strong but inconclusive evidence of his guilt. You maintain your friend’s innocence because of the experiences you’ve had and because you deem it more valuable to be loyal than to make a judgment when you are unable to draw a conclusion based on the evidence.

The key here is that adjudicating between the guilt or innocence of your friend is impossible solely based on the evidence. This is not a trivial point which we’ll return to momentarily. In this case, you draw a conclusion (make a decision) on other grounds—practical grounds—that have little to do with where you think the evidence leads. James argues that reason is just as inadequate a guide when it comes to religious matters. So to accept the pragmatist position, one first has to believe two key propositions. First, that adjudicating between the truth claims of religion and the truth claims of atheism is not possible. Second, that given the truth of the first proposition, believing religious truth claims is still valuable.

The first proposition is essential to understanding the Pragmatist solution and without fully embracing it, Pragmatism appears to be grossly ad hoc. The Pragmatist does not need to deny the value of reason entirely. However for certain questions, reason is limited if not altogether irrelevant. Religion should be accepted because of it’s overall practical usefulness (consider Pascal’s famous “wager” argument). “If we pass from disbeliefs to positive beliefs, it seems to me that there is not even a formal inconsistency to be laid against our method.” says James. “The gods we stand by are the gods we need and can use, the gods whose demands on us are reinforcements of our demands on ourselves and on one another….Religions have approved themselves; they have ministered to sundry vital needs which they found reigning. When they violated other needs too strongly, or when other faiths came which served the same needs better, the first religions were supplanted.”4 In one step James not only provides a ground for religious belief but also for adjudicating between religious truth claims. If you want to decide which religion to believe in, you must first decide which beliefs are pragmatically live options for you.

Notice here that James isn’t considering the truth of the belief because such consideration is not possible. That is, we not only cannot determine the truth value of the claim “God exists” but we have no prospects for determining its truth. I don’t think James’ position is that knowing that God exists (or does not exist) is logically impossible. Only that given our current epistemic situation, it’s practically not viable. Philosopher Peter van Inwagen explores this possibility at the end of his excellent Metaphysics. He suggests that certain questions in metaphysics and theology may be beyond the intellectual capacity of humans. “If we cannot know why there is anything at all, or why there should be rational beings, or how thought and feeling are possible, or how our conviction that we have free will could possibly be true, why should that astonish us? What reason have we, what reason could we possibly have, for thinking that our intellectual abilities are equal to the task of answering these questions?”5 Perhaps questions about specific religious beliefs fall into this category and if so, religious belief, if it is to be held at all, won’t be grounded on reason.

When faced with the option of believing in religious truth claims, then, you have to decide what you will do with them. If your experience leads you to believe in a higher power or an ethical system that only makes sense on religion, then turning to reason to help you decide may be a fool’s errand. But decision-making in the Jamesian model appear to be intensely personal. And this leads to a consequence I’ve been flirting with in this series and one we’ll have to examine more closely later: if deciding to believe is a personal matter and not publicly falsifiable, either the believer should refrain from making public claims about the implication of those beliefs or the beliefs themselves have no public relevance.

A driver who chooses to believe that her vehicle may be able to fly (who can know, really?) either should leave the car in the garage or drive as if it can’t.

Copyright © 2010 Philosophy News Service


1. Purists will undoubtedly (and rightly) object to placing pragmatism under the broad rubric of existentialism. I will attempt to call out the distinctions in these views both in this essay and in future essays. I’m categorizing pragmatism as a form of existentialism—at least when it comes to religion--mainly because I think their similarities far outweigh their differences and for ease of exposition.

2. James, W. (1997). The Varieties of Religious Experience. New York: Touchstone. (74)

3. Barrett, W. (1963). Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books. (21)

4. James, 1997. (264-265)

5. Inwagen, P. v. (1993). Metaphysics. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press. (201)

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Study Breaks: In the mind or the body?

Stanford researchers find that the “need” for study breaks has less to do with our biology and more to do with our beliefs. "If you think of willpower as something that's biologically limited, you're more likely to be tired when you perform a difficult task," said Veronika Job, the paper's lead author. "But if you think of willpower as something that is not easily depleted, you can go on and on." Of course if the mind just is the brain, then the distinction between biologically needing a break and believing that you need one becomes a false distinction. Isn't it?

I need a break.

http://news.stanford.edu/news/2010/october/willpower-resource-study-101410.html

Faith and Reason in Existentialist Thought

"There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart's desire. The other is to get it." – George Bernard Shaw

I sit here at 1am writing this essay. I put in a full day at the office, spend hours commuting to and from work, and then enjoy time with my family over dinner and a movie. I work on my finances, do some minor chores around the house and then retire to my study to read and write. I sip on a glass of wine and settle into a relaxing peace that only comes late at night among my books which force me to reflect on why I forego much-needed rest, rebelling against the requirement my bourgeois lifestyle has placed on me. My immediate, placating rationale for my rebellion is that I love philosophy—which I do. But that’s not it. Ultimately its because I want my life to mean something beyond mere being in the world. I want my life to mean something—however small--to the wider world in order to somehow flaunt the standard-issue fact that I merely spent time on this planet. It’s an ineffable pull to expand beyond myself, if such a thing is possible, and become something more than common. But the yearning is a black hole. The more of my life I throw into it, the more it demands. It’s insatiable and that insatiability is the ultimate human paradox. We are mortal animals with an inevitable expiration date and we have the unenviable capacity to know it.

There are both religious and non-religious interpretations of this struggle.1 But some thinkers have recognized a common thread that cuts along the religious axis. They have seen this paradox as the battle between what we are and what we strive to become. Our rational part demands that we acknowledge our animality and the place such creatures have in the world. Eat well, exercise, don’t be a burden and help where you can, raise the next generation, and when its time to go, leave the place pretty much as you find it and you can ensure a well-attended eulogy. This is what we are, this is our essence and we must deal with it. But to be human is to be dissatisfied with this cold, common evaluation. We are beings in the world who have the ability to make choices that shape what we can become.  We believe our future is not determined and that the inexorable laws of the universe can be heated just enough by our will to allow us to bend them and shape them into what we desire. Ultimately, the universe wins but in our short time here, we strive to become and not merely be. We work towards a kind of transcendence in the constant battle against finitude. This interpretation has broadly been labeled existentialism and the general framework has had strong religions and secular proponents.

Greek philosophy is based on the examination of essence. It attempts to analyze the way things are as the basis for what they can become. Put simply this approach places essence before existence. In terms of the human condition, it sought to first understand our essential properties and from there establish our contingent ones. Existentialism is the philosophy that this approach is, to our detriment, utterly wrong: it is existence that precedes essence. The essence of being human just is to live, to exist, to become. The person that lives solely based on the rude functioning of the animal—the thing that eats, sleeps, has sex, produces waste, and repeats the cycle day after day—isn’t a human. He is little more than an animal. To be human is to transcend the mere functions of the body and mind and to become something more.  But making this move has a frightening consequence. It unleashes humanity into a chaotic world that, as Hobbes observed, is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short. To be human, is to fully embrace that reality and acknowledge that each of us is that poor player that struts and frets his hour upon the stage to, at the end, be heard no more. To live existentially is to face that bracing truth and yet strive to become.

Sola fides quarens intellectum

The major theme of this series is that modern religion is made up of two seemingly incompatible epistemologies and it is the social implications of this amalgam that is driving much of the modern debate over religion. Modern faith is grounded on a commitment to a person and as such is thought to be isolated from any rationalist critique. At the same time, people of faith claim that their beliefs are true and as justified as any axiom in science. Religious belief, I’m claiming, is not formed or grounded in reason but many believers also want to insist that it is certainly not unreasonable. As I’ve stated previously, religious belief is grounded existentially. But what does this mean exactly?

Existentialism, almost by definition, eludes analysis. Using language to describe existentialist thought, even by existentialists themselves, is difficult if not impossible. Existentialism is not a system, does not have creeds or a core set of doctrines, it’s resistant to slogans and labels. It is elusive, changeable, and essentially individualistic. William Barrett, who has attempted to gather the many loose threads of existentialist thought and perhaps done so more successfully than any other writer, describes existentialism not as a typical philosophy or a spectrum of philosophies, but as a philosophy that transcends philosophy. It is the “individual human personality itself struggling for self-realization."2 One does not arrive at existentialism as a conclusion to a set of arguments but lives “existentially.” Existentialism is the state of being in the world and the process of becoming a unified individual.

The individual is the start and end of existentialist thought and is why it serves such an important role in grounding faith. Perhaps existentialism is the only ideology that could fulfill this role. Thorough-going existentialists will insist that every worldview must start and end with the individual and one finds it difficult to argue against this conclusion. Somewhat obviously, each person gets at his or her world through their own perceptions which are colored by their dispositions, environment, and other beliefs. In other words, worldviews are not things that exist apart from the individuals that possess them. And it’s fairly safe to say that no two persons have ever shared or will ever share the same worldview. A key existentialist insight is that no doxastic practice makes sense apart from the individual.

As we’ll see later, Kierkegaard attempted to show (not argue) how such a view not only fits within the Christian worldview but how the Christian worldview doesn’t exist without it. But the focus on the individual sets the stage for the idea that religious belief is grounded inwardly and then expressed not vice versa. The individual chooses to put his or her faith in God, chooses to trust Him, chooses to give her life over to Him. Christianity is defined (if it can be defined) solely in terms of these choices and thus is not a product of some public,  rational, exercise. The true believer is one that lives for, not merely thinks about God. He is the servant and the lover, not the philosopher or the scientist. Many within modern religious circles resonate with these ideas though they are very uncomfortable with the dichotomy. Christianity, for example, allows one to be both a servant and a scholar and there is no need to choose between the two they say. And this is where the contemporary rub comes. 

Copyright © 2010 Philosophy News Service


1. Religious interpretations from Christianity to Buddhism (if the latter should rightly be called a religion) have provided a transcendental framework in which to understand this transcendental striving. Many theistic religions, for example, describe it as the soul’s latent desire to be one with its creator. It’s a “divine thirst” that can only be fully satiated when the soul leaves the body and is unified with God but can partially be slaked in this life by living for God (see 2 Corinthians 5: 6-9 in the Christian Bible for example).

2. (Barrett, W. (1963). Irrational Man: A Study in Existential Philosophy. Garden City, New York: Anchor Books., p. 13)

Copyright © 2010 Philosophy News

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Bookshelf: Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion Will Transform Your Life and Our World

Thank God for Evolution: How the Marriage of Science and Religion
Will Transform Your Life and Our World

Dowd's conclusions (insofar as they're decipherable) seem consistent with a desire to retain the engine of religion--what could broadly be called the existential urge--without having to invoke the God of traditional theisms as the object of religious sentiment. Dowd's god however is a personification of the universe as a whole and he views the universe as a living organism that is made conscious through the large mammalian brains of homo sapiens (as far as we can tell).

Unfortunately, Dowd does both religion and science a disservice. Religion without God is unintelligible and science characterized by excessive sentimentality is diluted. Dowd's narrative ends up being far too thick on sentiment and much too thin on substance. Dowd doesn’t argue for his positions, he preaches them. As with any sermon, one either chooses to accept it or reject it. Anyone looking for a religious version of Dawkins’ The Greatest Show on Earth should look elsewhere (The classic The Varieties of Religious Experience by William James is a good alternate).

For those who have ears to hear, Dowd’s narrative is also quite condescending to positions he finds anachronistic and outdated. His message to the modernist laggards is clear: get up to speed or you will be culpable for the world’s problems. Dowd casts himself as a visionary who peers in the not-so-distant future and has a sort of friendly contempt for those who remain stuck on a pre-enlightened worldview (in both science and religion). Dowd attempts a rich stew made up of equal parts religion and science but ends up creating a thin, bland, lukewarm swill garnished with rose petals.