Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

2011 Oxford Studies in Metaphysics Younger Scholars Competition

Dean Zimmerman announces the imminent publication of the winning essay from the 2009 Oxford Studies in Metaphysics Younger Scholars Prize: “Ontological Nihilism”, by Jason Turner (University of Leeds). It will be the lead article in Vol. 6 of OSM, due early 2011 from Oxford University Press. It is also time to remind all the younger metaphysicians out there that the due date for submission to the 2011 competition is fast approaching! It is NOT January 15 (as last OSM reported), but January 30. The winning essay will be published in OSM (often alongside runners-up) and the author receives an $8,000 prize. You still have a whole month in which to prepare your submissions. Get to it! Full announcement

BSPR 2010 Conference - God, Mind and Knowledge

The British Society for the Philosophy of Religion 2011 Conference: God, Mind and Knowledge Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford ---Call for Papers--- The next conference of the British Society for the Philosophy of Religion will be at Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford from Wednesday 14th - Friday 16th September 2011. The theme for the conference will be God, Mind and Knowledge. The plenary speakers will be John Cottingham, Anthony Kenny, Robin Le Poidevin, and Charles Taliaferro. If you would like to present a paper, please send an abstract of a maximum of 300 words to Andrew Moore by the end of March. Papers need not be on the theme of the conference, although a preference may be displayed towards selecting those that are, other things being equal. Obviously time and space at the Conference will be limited, so we shall have to be selective, even allowing for the fact that we plan to run parallel sessions and encourage people presenting papers to keep to half-hour slots. In order to keep to the tight timetabling required to permit participants to hear (the whole of) as many papers as possible, papers should take ideally fifteen minutes and an absolute maximum twenty minutes to deliver, leaving ten minutes or so for discussion. Reposted from The Prosblogion

Eighth Annual Formal Epistemology Workshop

We are in the process of organizing our eighth annual formal epistemology workshop. The purpose of these workshops is to bring together faculty and graduate students with an interest in the use of formal methods in epistemology (broadly construed) in small, focused meetings. Topics of interest include (but are not limited to) the following: • Ampliative inference (including inductive logic); • Foundations of probability and statistics; • Epistemic Logics and theories of belief revision; • Game theory and decision theory (including social choice theory); • Issues at the interface between formal and traditional epistemology. The eighth workshop is scheduled for May 19 – 21, 2011 and will be held at the University of Southern California. The website for the workshop is (as usual): We are now accepting submissions for FEW 2011. Please send submissions by email to Branden Fitelson . Submissions are due — in the form of full papers — by March 1, 2011; notifications of acceptance either as definite presenters or as alternates will be sent out by April 1, 2011. It is likely that some of the papers presented at FEW 2011 will appear in a special issue of the Journal of Philosophical Logic. In addition to contributed papers, we will also have three keynote lectures. We are delighted to have the following three keynote speakers this year: Mark Colyvan, Chris Hitchcock, and Deborah Mayo. Those interested in participating in the workshop (e.g., by commenting on a paper or helping with organization, etc.) should contact one of the organizers listed below. We will be able to contribute $250 in travel funds for each graduate student who presents or comments on a paper. Our funding is limited this year, however, so it is unlikely that we will be able to provide funding for people who are not on the program. Kenny Easwaran Shieva Kleinschmidt USC Branden Fitelson Rutgers   Reposted from Certain Doubts

Religion and Psychology

The author of the site Epiphenom has compiled an interesting roll up of studies related to religion and social practice, mental health, and politics (among other things). His compilation includes the impact religious belief has on things like smoking and overeating, racism, sexual behavior, and giving blood. He links to studies that focused on religion and education particularly how religious people view science and the impact literature has on religious belief. See his report here. Link reposed from Common Sense Atheism

Avoiding Responsibility in Ten Easy Steps

UPDATED: 1/1/2011 I had a fruitful discussion with Jack Angstreich about Strawson’s article below. Based on that discussion and other material by Strawson that Jack pointed me to, it’s become clear to me that my analysis below is wrongheaded and that I initially badly misunderstood Strawson’s argument in the NYT piece. I read the argument in haste and wrongly made the assumption that Strawson both assumed a materialist view of the mind and also was attempting to argue that individuals are not morally responsible based on that fact. Jack pointed out that Strawson’s argument makes (or at least requires) no  metaphysical assumptions in order to work and that his argument is focused on mental states regardless of the metaphysical view one has regarding the mind. I think this is mostly correct and have come to see that Strawson’s argument is quite strong. As I now see it, Strawson is attempting to argue that individuals cannot be morally responsible because one’s moral decisions are an outcome of the way one is at the time the decision is made. I originally took this to mean that the state of one’s brain and body prior to a moral act (antecedent conditions) determines one moral actions. But I now see that Strawson is only concerned with the state of one’s mental life at the moment of a moral decision—it doesn’t matter whether determinism is true or indeterminism is true, whether one is a dualist or a materialist. The reason it doesn’t matter is because the argument claims that a moral decision is the outcome of the mental state of the person (the development of much of that mental state being out of the persons direct or indirect control) and this is true regardless of one’s metaphysics. Suppose you face the decision to put money in the Oxfam tin. The following may be true: ~ You want to help the poor person ~ You believe you can afford it ~ You want to feel better about yourself But suppose the follow also are true ~ You want cake really badly ~ You're tired of people begging for money and don't want to support it ~ You promised your spouse you'd bring home the cake Let’s suppose you choose not to put money in the tin. One could argue that the above six antecedent beliefs and desires are in moral parity for you: they neither determine that you’ll act (put money in the tin) or refrain from acting (withhold money from the tin). Now let’s also suppose the following: dualism is true (you have a non-material soul) that possesses an active power over which you have control and that you’re rational (generally considered three necessary conditions for a free act on Libertarianism). Let’s also assume that it makes sense to say you can choose to act or refrain from acting in this case. This means that your action is strictly uncaused but choose to act or refrain from acting in order to meet some yet not-realized goal. Since the antecedent conditions do not determine your actions, why did you make the choice you did? If we ask why you refrained, there either is an answer to that question or there isn’t (this isn’t merely an epistemological claim—I’m saying there is or is not a metaphysical antecedent that explains the decision). If there isn’t, then the choice appears to be random and violates the third of the three necessary conditions for a free act. If there is a reason (let’s say you acted because you put more value in the second set of beliefs and desires more than the first), then that value judgment would be included in the first of Strawson’s premises in the Basic Argument: You do what you do — in the circumstances in which you find yourself—because of the way you then are. In this situation, we could capture this by asking, “why did you value the second set over the first such that it influence your decision?” If your decision was truly yours, it came out of the state you were in at the time of the decision the development of which may be partly or entirely out of your control. How, then, could you be responsible for the choice to value the second rather than the first set and thus for the choice to refrain from putting money in the tin? Of course Libertarians would not say that one’s character (I think we could substitute “the state of one’s mental life”) at the point of any moral decision is not important in decision making. However Libertarians would argue, I think, that it’s possible to act in a way other than what your character might dictate (without this power, one might run into problems similar to the one presented in the Reformer’s Dilemma). Instead of the second set of reasons functioning as efficient causes (“that by means of which”), they function as final causes (“that for the sake of which”). The problem for this response is in how one ought to understand how the notion of final causality works here. If a person chooses to refrain from putting money in the tin for the sake of meeting the goal of valuing the second set of beliefs and desires, isn’t it true that the person is in a state where she values the second set of beliefs and desires or at least in a state where she wants to be in a state where she values them? If the answer is yes, then we’re back to Strawson’s first premise; if no then we’re on the road to an infinite regress. There is much more to explore here but I acknowledge that Strawson’s argument is powerful and strikes at the heart of the free will debate. Thanks to Jack for setting me straight and for some thought-provoking discussion. Original post of July 23, 2010. Philosopher Galen Strawson for The New York Times philosophy column“The Stone” presents an argument (well, one argument in three different forms)--the logic of which he believes is irresistible--for why persons cannot be “ultimately” responsible. He argues that for any given choice we make, we do what we do based on the way we are at the moment. But the way we are is not under our control but is a product of our genes and previous experiences. If we did not choose and cannot change the way we are, and our choice is based on the way we are, then we are not ultimately responsible (I wonder if we’re proximately responsible—Strawson does not say) for the choice. Ian McEwan calls the argument watertight. The argument ends up being a reductivist argument popularly written. But reductionism is very much like behaviorism in that it fails to account for first person experience. If an argument proves I don’t see the color red when I’m looking at a red object, then so much the worse for the argument. (As Professor Daniel Robinson has said, “If your doctor tells you you’re not in pain when you are in pain, it’s time to find another doctor.”) Strawson’s argument also seems to be question begging. If he is attempting to ask whether our perception of freedom really is actual freedom, then his first premise (in the first version of the argument) seems to sneak in the conclusion: “You do what you do — in the circumstances in which you find yourself—because of the way you then are". But isn’t that what we want to know? Is it the case that we do what we do because of the way we then are or is it that we can act in ways other than the way we are? Perhaps we do what we do because of the way we want to be. Perhaps our perception that we are goal directed beings is an indication that we are goal directed beings and that the background belief that selves are completely governed by natural law is incomplete (or just plain false). Why does Strawson seem to think his argument is so strong? And I’m confident he would reject the claim that it’s question begging. Why does he deny that our experience of free acts are “feelings” only and do not represent any actual choice we’re making? Jaegwon Kim’s exclusion argument provides an answer. The argument goes like this. Physicallists (Kim would put himself in this camp) believe in the causal closure of the physical domain which he takes to involve the following conditional: if a physical event has a cause (occurring) at time t, it has a sufficient physical cause at t. But, says Kim, this principle causes problems when it comes to mental events. More...

The Reports of Philosophy’s Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

John Haldane for First Things says no. In fact, says Haldane, their arguments for M-theory are philosophical in nature and thus demonstrate the continued relevance of philosophy particularly in theoretical phyisics. Even if one disagrees with his analysis of Hawking and Mlodinow’s arguments, I think he’s correct that their pronouncement that philosophy is dead is somewhat undermined by their reliance on it. Thanks to Greg Taft for the link.

Call for abstracts: Experimental Philosophy

Mark Phelan is organizing the second annual Experimental Philosophy Workshop in New York City, and the Call for Abstracts has just been posted. Abstracts are only 1,000 words and can present either experimental results or more theoretical work. The deadline is February 10th. The conference itself will take place on March 26th. Invited speakers include Alvin Goldman, Kurt Gray, Edouard Machery, Shaun Nichols, David Rosenthal, and Susanna Siegel. Although submitted abstracts can be on any aspect of experimental philosophy, the invited speakers will be focusing on folk attributions of consciousness.

Consciousness Online Final CFP

The deadline for contributed submissions to the 3rd Online Consciousness Conference at Consciousness Online is this Wednesday January 5th 2011. Submit papers to This year the conference has as its theme Neurophilosophy and the Philosophy of Neuroscience with invited talks by Paul Churchland, Kathleen Akins with commentary by Pete Mandik, Stevan Harnad, and Jesse Prinz. I am also pleased to announce a special session organized by Jacob Berger featuring a paper by Benj Heille on Direct Realism and Perceptual Justification and respondents tba. Papers need not be related to the theme to be considered for inclusion in the conference but papers that are related to the theme will, pending additional external review, be published in the special issue of Synthese "Neuroscience and its Philosophy". For more information see the conference website;

Kierkegaard and the Modern Religious Mind

For Søren Kierkegaard, being a Christian is like falling in love. Most passionate, erotic relationships are not rational nor should they be. They are not strictly irrational though reason doesn’t seem to apply to them. When two people fall in love, they may know very little about one another but this is not relevant; in fact its part of its virtue. Common sense becomes a ballast and the lovers discard it, intentionally or not, for the possibility that all the promises they hope are true will be realized. To those on the outside, their relationship may seem silly at best and dangerous or harmful at worst. Yet they jump in with both feet, critics and naysayers be damned. [More]

Good Even If Not True: Anderson on Religion

Bruce Anderson, for the Spectator, opines about his atheism and the factors that caused him to reject the Christianity of his youth. Religion is attractive, culturally indispensible, and may even be necessary. Unfortunately, it’s probably not true, says Anderson, and that creates his intellectual barrier. So why do I still abstain? For two reasons: realism, and science. The urgency of need cannot of itself summon the necessary help into being, as bank managers have been telling their customers down the ages. Although science cannot prove that God does not exist, it does make the search vastly more complicated. Thanks to Stan Dokupil for the link. Full article:

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