Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Pandemic, precaution and moral obligation

The world has become a lot more dangerous and uncertain. We have not seen a pandemic the likes of COVID-19 for a century. Within three short months over 250,000 people have been confirmed to have the virus, while hundreds of thousands more are infected and undiagnosed. Naturally people are looking to scientists to provide answers for how we can and should respond to this pandemic.Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson has capitalised on this by seeking to dress his political decisions in the veneer of science. He has consistently referred to his ‘scientific’ and ‘evidence-based’ approach to justify his political decisions. He has enlisted the chief medical and scientific advisers to accompany him in speeches and interviews to reinforce this framing.Yet, despite this, many people have cogently criticised the UK for lagging behind our European neighbours and for essentially getting the science wrong. And it is true that the behavioural psychologists who have played a role in shaping the [More]

What Biological Functions Are and Why They Matter

2020.03.18 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Justin Garson, What Biological Functions Are and Why They Matter, Cambridge, 2019, 235pp., $99.99 (hbk), ISBN 9781108472593. Reviewed by Brandon A. Conley, Cornell University Why do zebras have stripes? While biologists worry about what the function of zebra stripes is, philosophers have long worried about what exactly biologists are worried about. What exactly is it for zebra stripes, or any other biological trait, to have a particular function? In his aptly titled book, Justin Garson develops and defends an account of biological functions he dubs the "generalized selected effects" (GSE) theory, and applies it to a laundry list of extant philosophical debates in which the concept of function looms large. According to selected effect accounts, an item's function is whatever it does that has been favored by a history of natural selection. GSE generalizes this approach by relying on a less restrictive notion of a selective process,... Read [More]

Groups and sets

Standard algebra texts define a group to be a set of objects together with a binary operation on those objects (obeying familiar conditions) — or indeed, they define a group to be an ordered pair of a set and a … Continue reading → The post Groups and sets appeared first on Logic [More]

"Lives" are the Wrong Measure

When thinking about triage situations, it's common for people to assume that saving lives (as many of them as possible) should be our moral goal.  But this is wrong, for the straightforward reason that some deaths are vastly more tragic than others.It's worth bearing in mind that lives can't be saved, but only extended.  So "saving lives" is not even a coherent goal.  You can aim to maximize the number of lives extended (for any period whatsoever), but we can now see that this is akin to trying to blindly maximize the number of patients treated.  By ignoring how much the patients gain from different treatments, you're clearly neglecting what actually matters -- the underlying health benefits that are the whole purpose of medical interventions in the first place.  Willfully blinding yourself to the magnitudes of different interests will lead to predictable injustice: you might foolishly prioritize two patients' papercuts over another's spreading gangrene, for example.  Raw numbers helped is not the important thing.  Moreover, this principle is as true of life-extending treatments as it is of any other.  (This is most obvious if you imagine a treatment that will extend life by mere minutes.)  I don't see how any remotely sensible person could possibly deny this.This has important practical implications. For example, reasons of utility and justice alike should lead us to view an extra five decades for [More]

Property and Ownership

[Revised entry by Jeremy Waldron on March 21, 2020. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] Property is a general term for rules governing access to and control of land and other material resources. Because these rules are disputed, both in regard to their general shape and in regard to their particular application, there are interesting philosophical issues about the justification of property. Modern philosophical discussions focus mostly on the issue of the justification of private property rights (as opposed to common or collective property). 'Private property' refers to a kind of system [More]

The demystification of consciousness

This article was written in response to Bernardo Kastrup's article 'The Mysterious Disappearance of Consciousness'Bernardo Kastrup is mystified by the view of consciousness that has come to be known as illusionism. He describes it as a “mind-bogglingly extraordinary claim”, which seems to be, simply, “nonsense”. He’s not alone. The philosopher Galen Strawson has called it “the silliest claim ever made” and likened it to Flat Earth theory, and I’ve no doubt that many others would agree.It seems to these people that illusionists such as myself are saying something utterly ridiculous — that we’re claiming that people are not conscious, don’t have experiences, don’t see or hear, don’t feel pain or emotion, don’t have an inner life. What’s going on? How could we possibly believe that, and, if we don’t, how could highly intelligent people such as Kastrup and Strawson have so radically misunderstood what we do mean? This is, Kastrup says, “an authentic and rather baffling mystery”, and I [More]