Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Schechter from WUSTL to Indiana

Elizabeth Schecter, previously in the Department of Philosophy and the Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program at Washington University in St. Louis, is now associate professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Cognitive Science Program at Indiana University, Bloomington. Professor Schechter works on psychological unity and its connection to questions about personal identity, self-knowledge, the unity of consciousness, the nature of belief, and related matters. Her book, Self-Consciousness and ‘Split’ Brains: The Mind’s I, came out last year. You can learn more about her work here. The post Schechter from WUSTL to Indiana appeared first on Daily [More]

Mental Illness & Gun Violence

It seems a matter of common sense to think that a mass shooter must have “something wrong” with them. Well-adjusted, moral people do not engage in mass murder. But are mass shooters mentally ill? Mental illness is a medical matter, not a matter for common sense pop psychology to resolve. Looked at in strict medical [More]

What Do We Know? A Quantum Perspective

Nowhere does science meet philosophy more profoundly than in quantum physics. Intellectual excitement, and sometimes also frustration, is tangible in the thriving debates about what our best physics is telling us about the world. Much publicised conceptions of the 'many worlds' and 'pilot waves' of quantum physics represent radically different ways of making sense of the theoretical framework that revolutionised 20th century science, and there is no shortage of alternative ideas. It is undeniable that central notions of quantum theory — superposition, entanglement, spin, and the like — capture strange features of the physical world. But which features exactly? Many old controversies surrounding this question are still fiercely debated, fuelled by often unacknowledged presuppositions that are as much philosophical as they are scientific. The unabating uncertainty about what exactly quantum physics is telling us about the world also raises an important issue about the very nature of [More]

Barry Stroud (1935-2019) (updated)

Barry Stroud, professor emeritus of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, died last week. Professor Stroud was known for his work in epistemology and metaphysics, particularly on philosophical skepticism, as well as on Hume and other figures in the history of philosophy. Stroud received his Ph.D. from Harvard University and his undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto. He took up an assistant professorship at UC Berkeley at 1961, retiring in 2016 as the Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor of Philosophy. UPDATE: “His body of work, his influence on generations of students, his imprint on the character of our department, the example that he set of the purest philosophical inquiry—all of it is beyond reckoning” — from a brief memorial notice posted at the UC Berkeley Department of Philosophy site. UPDATE (8/19/19): “Rather than taking it for granted that we understand what philosophical problems are and so can set ourselves to the task of solving them, Stroud repeatedly called attention to the possibility that philosophers lack a proper understanding of what we ourselves are doing” — from a philosophical obituary for Barry Stroud by John Schwenkler (Florida State) at 3 Quarks Daily. The post Barry Stroud (1935-2019) (updated) appeared first on Daily [More]

A Moral Duty to Share Data? AI and the Data Free Rider Problem

Image taken from Roche et al 2014A lot of the contemporary debate around digital surveillance and data-mining focuses on privacy. This is for good reason. Mass digital surveillance impinges on the right to privacy. There are significant asymmetries of power between the companies and governments that utilise mass surveillance and the individuals affected by it. Hence, it is important to introduce legal safeguards that allow ordinary individuals to ensure that their rights are not eroded by the digital superpowers. This is, in effect, the ethos underlying the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).But is this always a good thing? I have encountered a number of AI enthusiasts who lament this fixation on privacy and data protection. Their worry seems to be this: Modern AI systems depend on massive amounts of data in order to be effective. If they don’t get the data, they cannot learn and develop the pattern-matching abilities that they need in order to work. This means that we need mass data collection in order to unlock the potential benefits of AI. If the pendulum swings too far in favour of privacy and data protection, the worry is that we will never realise these benefits.Now, I am pretty sure that this is not a serious practical worry just yet. There is still plenty of data being collected even with the protections of the GDPR and there are also plenty of jurisdictions around the world where individuals are not so well protected against the depredations of digital [More]

The Limits of Blame: Rethinking Punishment and Responsibility

2019.08.19 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Erin I. Kelly, The Limits of Blame: Rethinking Punishment and Responsibility, Harvard University Press, 2018, 229pp., $35.00 (hbk), ISBN 9780674980778. Reviewed by Christopher Heath Wellman, Washington University in St. Louis This book offers a comprehensive challenge to the retributivist conviction that our criminal legal institutions are justified because they mete out the suffering deserved by morally blameworthy wrongdoers. Erin I. Kelly does not merely contend that retributivists cannot justify anything like our existing penal practices, she offers subtle and sophisticated arguments of moral and political philosophy in defense of her striking conclusion that our inclination to blame should play no part in criminal law. To begin, it is worth noting why retributivism is so attractive. Punishment is typically reserved for those who are duly convicted of committing a bad act (actus reus) with a guilty mind (mens rea). If one did nothing wrong, or if one's wrongdoing was entirely excused, then... Read [More]

Normativity for Value Realists

At the recent Rocky Mountain Ethics Congress (great conference, btw), I was surprised to learn that Alastair Norcross doesn't believe in normative reasons.  He's happy to speak of "moral reasons", "prudential reasons", and even "Nazi reasons", but seems to view these all as objectively on a par. He happens to prefer the morality framework of standards to the Nazi one, and will condemn Nazis accordingly, but not in any way that implies that they are making an objective, framework-independent practical error.  In interpreting this view, since I don't think that framework-relative "reasons" are genuinely normative reasons at all ("Nazi reasons" do not count as providing genuine considerations in favour of genocide), Alastair's view strikes me as a form of normative nihilism.Interestingly, though, Alastair is a value realist.  He thinks there is intrinsic value (and disvalue), and seems to accepts a traditional hedonistic account of these (the wrong view, IMO, but not our topic for today).  Such Value Realism may naturally lead one to a broader Normative Realism, I think, in a couple of ways.  So I'll address the rest of my post to any readers who share Alastair's starting point of Value Realism without Normative Realism, and see whether either of these arguments is persuasive.First, we can ask whether you'd like to give up your Value Realism in favour of a relativistic view on which there's "hedonistic value", "desire-fulfilment value", and "Nazi [More]