Category Archives: Metaphysics

Philosophers’ Carnival #174

The 174th Philosophers’ Carnival is now on at Aesthetics For Birds.
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Philosophers’ Carnival 173

Welcome to the Philosophers’ Carnival #173. This edition contains a selection of some of the best philosophy blog posts to recently hit the web. Not all of these articles are easy reading, but they are all worth tackling nonetheless.

Two posts this month had stage magic as their theme. Tharindra Galahena explores why magic shows are interesting in How does a Rabbit Come out of a Top Hat? : Philosophy in a Magic Show. In Philosophy, Science, and Magic,  Nick Byrd takes a different angle and discusses how learning some things in philosophy (or science) can leave us feeling like we just saw a magic trick as our pre-reflective intuitions are undermined.

This is a feeling I’m familiar with, and still got a hint of when reading some of the posts featured below. Where things appear magical, or as Nick puts it, “they do violence to our assumptions about the world”, philosophers  and philosophy students alike would do well to recall Jonathon Creek‘s approach to solving mysteries – “We mustn’t confuse what’s impossible with what’s implausible.”

I shan’t editorialize any further except to say that if you have anything to say about any of these posts, in agreement or otherwise, please comment – the authors of these blogs will appreciate your interest. I hope you enjoy the carnival.

Posting on The Brains Blog, Brie Gertler presents an interesting discussion of privacy and dispositional beliefs. Implications for issues of privacy and the significance of a belief being occurent are also raised by John Danaher in his  discussion concerning Two Interpretations of the Extended Mind Hypothesis.

Richard Chappell from Philosophy, et cetera wonders if  Mark Schroeder’s Implicature is a satisfactory response to Parfit’s Trivality Objection.

Alexander Pruss explores the puzzle of  grounding overdetermination.

Tristan Haze presents the first of a proposed series of posts on de re modality in De Re Modality and Quantifying In.

Wolfgang Schwarz provides a detailed post on Robert Stalnaker’s account of self-location.

Hilary Putnam continues to generate well reasoned answers to interesting questions. This month we feature his post on Rational Reconstruction.

The authors at PEA Soup were certainly hard at work on their meta-ethics over February. argues that normative necessity is not distinct from metaphysical necessity – or at least that Fine (in Gendler and Hawthorne, Conceivability and Possibility, Oxford, 2002) does not show that it is. Following from this, Finally, Doug Portmore argues that appealing to parsimony is not a good reason to defend metaphysical naturalism against metaphysical pluralism. (For what it’s worth, I’m inclined to agree with Doug on this).

In considering a cross-over between the Problem of Evil and the Ontological argument , Michael Almeida of The Prosblogion asks, Which Worlds are Possible? Some that are quite bad, apparently.

At Practical Ethics, Carissa Véliz argues that we shouldn’t necessarily hold ethicists to higher moral standards, though we should commend them for intellectual honesty even if they are sometimes morally inconsistent.

In Moral Blindness, Cruelty, and Three Faces of Responsibility, Paul Boswell  argues that even if an agent is morally blind, they can still be considered to be cruel.

Following from Peter Railton’s Dewy lecture, Eric Schwitzgebel considers Depressive Thinking Styles and Philosophy, wondering if some of the thinking styles associated with depression might actually be an aid to  working as a philosopher.

Finally, Walter Sinnott-Armstrong  asks, Does Philosophy Matter?  (Spoiler Alert: Yes. Again, I’m inclined to agree)

If you have some philosophy, or philosophy-related posts on your blog, and you would like to see included in subsequent carnivals, please go to the Philosophers’ Carnival homepage and make use of the submission form. Thanks for reading.

Submissions Wanted for Upcoming Philosophers’ Carnival

Philosophers’ Carnival #173 will be happening soon. And unless there’s been some change of plans, it will be happening here! (And if not here, then somewhere). So, if you have some philosophical content on a blog that you would like to be included, please go here and use the submission form – soon!

Please be aware that I’m happy to consider contributions from across the breadth of philosophical disciplines, practices and traditions. That said, I’ve got a soft spot for all things science-fiction, so if your post has some SF-meets-philosophy action going on, I’d be especially thrilled.

Brains (or Hands) in Vats

Tristan Haze over at Sprachlogik wrote this post about a particular argument relating to being a Brain in a Vat (BIV) a while ago. I started to write a comment on it this morning, but it got slightly too long, so here we are.

I have to agree that much ink has been spent on the following kind of argument:

  1. If you’re a brain in a vat then you don’t have hands
  2. You don’t know that you’re not a brain in a vat
  3. Therefore you don’t know that you have hands

Haze argues that the there is good reason to not accept (1). Essentially, he claims, there is a sense in which if you were a BIV, that hand-talk still expresses a proposition. Despite what Putnam said, even if you were a BIV, ‘hands’ still means something.

I don’t really want to get into Putnam today, but as a defender of a kind-of causal theory of reference, I would agree for slightly different reasons. Meaning, for a word like ‘hands’ comes from the causal chain of use and it would not really matter if the chain were partly (or even entirely) in a simulated environment.

What I was interested in, and was happy to see that Haze acknowledged, was that knowing that her have hands says nothing either way about whether or not we are living in a simulation or not.

Since premise (1) isn’t unambiguously true, the modified argument ends up something like this:

  1. If you’re a brain in a vat then you have hands in a different way than if you weren’t a brain in a vat.
  2. You don’t know that you’re not a brain in a vat
  3. Therefore you don’t know that you have ‘real’ hands or simulated hands that are, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from ‘real’ hands.

Is the conclusion worth worrying about? For everyday purposes, probably not, since the only doubt you have about your hands is unrelated to the everyday experience of your hands. Imagine  someone in a Matrix-style simulation, whose simulated body has no hands, while their real body still has them (even if, as in the movie, they don’t actually use them). Would this person be particularly comforted to be told that it’s OK because they ‘really’ have hands? I think not.

My conclusion indicates that I’ve assumed the simulation to be perfect in the sense that (unlike Neo’s experience of the Matrix) there is nothing in what we perceive  or experience that gives us reason to think that the world around us is not what it seems. For those not familiar with BIV and deceiving demon scenarios, this is normal – we would hardly worry about whether or not we were in a simulation if we could tell the difference between it and reality.

What is important to note is this: you can’t perceive your way out of a perfect simulation.  “But I have hands!” you cry, whilst gesturing dramatically. Yes, you perceive and experience your hands, but since the problem is trusting one’s perceptions, this doesn’t tell us much either way.

Can you reason your way out of the vat? I don’t have a definite opinion. But at this point, I suspect not.

172nd Philosophers’ Carnival

The next Philosophers’ Carnival is on at elisafreschi.com.  It features an interesting selection of articles across a wide range of areas – mainly analytic, but with plenty of ‘non-Western’ and a little bit of continental as well.

I haven’t read them  all yet (still catching up on last month), but I do like the first two – the Leveling Argument and Playing Outside Your Wheelhouse.

My note on a feature of some conspiracy theories snuck in as well. I’m pretty excited to be involved in the Philosophers’ Carnival again and am looking forward to hosting the March installment.

Dhalgren

I’ve just started reading the second book in a week that has a foreword by William Gibson.(This was by coincidence, but since I average at least 2 novels per week, I wouldn’t read too much into it.) The first was Random Acts of Senseless Violence, by Jack Womack. The second is Dhalgren, by Samuel R. Delany and it’s that book that I feel compelled to write about today.

I haven’t gotten very far into it – about 120 pages, so I can’t yet talk about the book as a whole. What I can say is that I was struck very early on by a number of things and that I’m well and truly hooked on this story.

The foreword really impressed me, especially the part about the riots in Washington DC. It’s almost the favorite thing of his that I’ve ever read. I thought it was amazingly evocative. There is something about the way Gibson describes a scene that brings a sense of texture, movement and immediacy.

Delany’s city of Bellona is a setting that is deeply intriguing but at the same time, familiar. It reminds me a little of Steve Aylett’s Beerlight, if that city were a few steps further down the entropy spiral. On reflection, it’s more like the post-invasion London of Michael Moorcock’s A Cure for Cancer. On that note, I think the Kid and Jerry Cornelius have a more than little in common, despite the Kid’s rough exterior.

That blur, that feeling of being unsure of what’s real and what isn’t, feels similar to M. John Harrison’s Light. But where in Light it is ubiquitous, in Dhalgren (so far) it is ostensibly isolated to Bellona and produces such horror in those inculcated with the ideals of empiricism and modernity, that the rest of civilization turns it’s back and pretends nothing is happening. As with the Jerry Cornelius stories, the emotional response isn’t just just inspired by the physical & social chaos. It’s that the metaphysical assumptions that everyone takes for granted (and consequently never thinks about) are no longer reliable predictors of the way the world works. In some readers, and some of the characters, this inspires fear – in others this creates elation.  The comforting foundations of one person’s world-view can be the bars of someone else’s psychological cage. Paradoxically, both attitudes can (and do) occur at the same time, in the same individuals. This drives the internal tension and external behaviour of fictional characters and ‘real’ people alike.

(Well, that paragraph didn’t end up where I thought it would.)

It’s time for me to do some work now, but I’ll be returning to this book tonight to see what unfolds. If it continues in the way it started, I think it will be well worth the time spent.