Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007: My Web of Beliefs

This annual tradition makes slightly less sense now that I'm in the northern hemisphere and we're only half way through the academic year. Oh well.

Overview: Aside from a few handy lessons in moral theory, I think my general views are not much changed from last year (but see also 2005, 2004).

My 'Research Interests' post outlines the topics that most interested me going in to grad school (and still do - it's only been a couple of months). 'Beyond the Ivory Tower' describes my extracurricular interest in bringing philosophy to a wider audience, in hopes of building a more rational society. Here is my interview with The Philosophers' Magazine on philosophy and blogging.

'Core' analytic philosophy 

As far as metaphysics is concerned, I've mostly been developing my ideas about Constructivism and meta-ontology. (For example, I'm skeptical that questions of persistence through time have substantive answers.) My most questioning post is here (hopefully next year I'll have some answers).

In phil mind, Dualist Explanations defends property dualism as a better theory than materialism. Why do you think you're conscious? then deals with the paradox of phenomenal judgment.

Representational Content explains some Jacksonian views at the intersection of mind and language. Linguistic Paternalism relates my (partly) subjectivist views about meaning and reference.

Is Normativity Just Semantics? shows how to rebuff claims that different theorists of welfare (etc.) are merely engaged in a terminological dispute. This post defends the possibility of rational persuasion occurring through philosophical argument.

- Does Philosophy Need Science? (short answer: no, but it helps). See also my skeptical take on 'Experimental Philosophy'.
- Scientism laments the common failure to appreciate the possibility of a priori or non-scientific rational inquiry (i.e. philosophy).
- Some pitfalls of evolutionary psychology are exposed in Darwinian Blinkers.
- Finally, this post repudiates a scientist's claim to have found something relevant to the ethics of abortion.

Moral Theory
- In Intention and (Im)permissibility, I learn an important lesson from Scanlon: surprisingly, intentions are rarely relevant to questions of moral permissibility.
- From Raz I learnt that rational capacities include more than just reasoning, and that practical reasoning cannot be defined by its end point (action or intention rather than belief, as some would have it). - Agency and the Will looks at why there must be more to our psychology than the mechanistic interplay of beliefs and desires.
- Regulating Aims infers from Railton an important lesson about moral psychology and how to understand the so-called "sophisticated hedonist" (and, similarly, the indirect utilitarian!)
- Examples of Irrational Desires: worth having on hand in case you happen across a Humean.
- Evaluating (and Enumerating) Pains - an holistic perspective leads to some surprising conclusions.
- Value, Alienation and Choice applies my ethical holism to the problem of demandingness and vocational choice.
- Imperfectly Right reiterates my old concerns with maximizing consequentialism.
- Context and Relativism clarifies an important distinction that seems to confuse many people.
- Moral Asymmetries of Existence uses my indirect-utilitarian framework to refute Benatar's arguments from Better Never to Have Been that it is bad to exist.
- In Half-pie Atomism? I suggest that we can construct interpersonal (communitarian) values in much the same way as we do intertemporal persons.
- Finally, in What is "collectivism", and why is it bad? I argue that libertarians are confused and mistaken when they call their utilitarian opponents 'collectivists'.

Applied Ethics 

I don't have very systematic offerings here, but the recent discussion of Handicapping Children was fun, as were my earlier posts on Virtual Rape, Posthumous Procreation, and Is Corporal Punishment So Bad?. On a more mundane note, problems inherent in Splitting Chores and Doing Your Fair Share led to many a scratched head. The Examined Life assesses Socrates' famous maxim, in light of the value of autonomy. Self-Idolatry looks at the risk of virtue-fetishism, or 'conceited good intentions', i.e. how a concern for seeming good can get in the way of actually being good.

One issue that continues to bother me is the extent to which we should accommodate unreason in others, especially as it approaches the point where we would be denying their agency or responsibility for their own actions. - I'm also not too sure what to think about self-exposure and Nagelian reticence, as discussed here. - Finally, I offer a moderate defense of moderated comment threads, guided by the value of free speech inquiry.

Politics: proceduralism and rationalism were two common themes here, again.
- Opinions are worthless, it's reasons that we should care about.
- This post, on broad vs narrow conceptions of deliberative democracy, received some helpful comments.
- What is Democracy? explores the question of what it would take for a state to be truly describable as one that is 'ruled by (all) the people'. (In particular, I explain why majority rule is insufficient.)
- Implicit Interference exposes the fallacy behind the common assumption that wealth redistribution reduces negative liberty (and, along the way, shows that Pettit's non-domination is a merely derivative value). Indeed, I'm convinced that most popular thought on Property and Coercion is simply confused.
- Banning Smacking: a rare topical post analyzing current legislation that was under consideration (and, lamentably, passed).
- Bad Means Have Consequences defends my liberal-proceduralist values, and the importance of intellectual honesty.
- Conservative Progressivism likewise emphasizes the long-term consequences we should be especially concerned about.
- Patriotism and Tough Love defends patriotism, properly understood.

- Is Spending Ever a Waste? - an untutored attempt to reason about the implications of my (potential) spending habits.
- Fair Pay and Price Signals warns against the inefficient means that leftists too often advocate in the pursuit of social justice.  

Social Commentary and Miscellany
- Reading Benkler's Wealth of Networks - a 6-part series on the internet and society.
- The Multicultural Mystique reviews H.E. Baber's book on the downsides of multiculti ideology from a liberal perspective.
- Gender as Cultural Specialization offers a sympathetic reading of Baumeister's notorious article debunking the explanatory power of "patriarchy" in the social sciences.
- Untouchable highlights one of the most pressing (and yet rarely acknowledged) cases of systematic sexism still prevalent in modern society: the treatment of male primary school teachers.
- My thoughts on how parents (and children) should treat the Santa myth. (Relatedly: Merry Christmas! defends the secular appropriation of this holiday, and the reconstruction of cultural meaning more generally.)
- Exclusive Philosophy questions what it would mean for the discipline to be more "inclusive", and whether this is necessarily desirable.
- "Protesting" Philosophy laments an absurd call for feminist philosophers to start "protesting" against their colleagues for making philosophical arguments that might hurt others' feelings. (Less Sensitivity, please!)
- 'Misfit' is a relative term highlights a neglected social symmetry, and so suggests a rethinking of certain social norms and assumptions.


My most substantial post here would be 'New Atheism as a Positive View' (for background, see: The Atheism Wars). In hopes of improving the sloppy quality of public discourse on this topic, I expose the Radical Skepticism vs. Anything Goes false dilemma that desperate theists are so fond of employing. I also question the popular assumption that Faith is somehow preferable to knowledge. As a positive atheistic argument, I develop The Problem of Unfreedom (and related worries about Divine Double Standards). Finally, 'The Idea of God - who needs the reality?' delivers a devastating riposte to those who think we need God to ground "objective standards" for morality and whatnot. All the same objective standards may be grasped via the counterfactual, "what would God have recommended, if he had existed..."

Done. Hopefully this overview of the year's postings provides you with a better indication of the overall structure of my views (or at least some interesting new posts to read). Feel free to take pot-shots -- preferably in the comments thread of the appropriate post...


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