Wednesday, December 31, 2008

2008: My Web of Beliefs

Time for my annual blogging summary. (Cf. 2007, 2006, 2005, 2004.)


An early post set out what I see as "The Ultimate Question" in metaphysics: whether there are substantive facts about identities, essences, etc., or whether (as I'm inclined to think) it is all ultimately reducible to qualitative facts. I argue that this issue goes hand-in-hand with whether we prefer a Constituent- or World-based Ontology. I then consider a couple of objections to my anti-haecceitism.

One important shift in my views came in the post, 'Structure and Similarity', in which I argue that some properties are metaphysically privileged (e.g. green over grue). Speaking of 'grue', I argue here that - contrary to the standard presentation of the argument - the objectively gerrymandered nature of the grue predicate can be established (without question-begging) on epistemic grounds.

Finally, some methodological aids: I summarize Yablo's helpful take on 'Logical Subtraction and Partial Truth', quote Sider on Semantic and Metaphysical Intuitions, and spell out what I take to be involved in so-called 'Ontological Reduction' (e.g. of the mental to the physical).


My 'Zombie Review' gave a short but relatively comprehensive assessment of the 'zombie' argument against physicalism (and various objections). Perhaps the most interesting related post was the one on 'Zombie Rationality', though my curiosity was also piqued by the question whether there could be (metaphysical) constraints on qualia, and whether inverted emotions are possible.

Shifting gears, 'The Homunculus in the Chinese Room' explains why I think Searle's argument is deceptive and invites conceptual confusion. And I offer A New Knowledge Argument that pre-empts the standard 'ability hypothesis' objection.


Nothing really new here, though I recently diagnosed the flaw in the ontological argument with greater precision than I'd previously managed. 'Respect and Religious Belief' discusses exactly what you'd expect. 'The Logical Problem(s) of Evil' makes an important point against those who claim that the LPE has been refuted. And 'Human Sovereignty' discusses an interesting issue relating to the so-called 'free will defence' (a long-standing interest of mine).


My two main interests here have concerned (i) higher-order evidence and meta-coherence, and (ii) rational objectivity. These intersect in my arguments concerning Personal Bias and Peer Disagreement.

On more traditional topics, I propose a rather deflationary understanding of Knowledge as Sufficiently Safe Belief. And my discussion of 'Skepticism and Wacky Priors' raises some important issues concerning the commitments we incur by rejecting radical skepticism.

Philosophical Methodology

I already discussed some 'methodology'-related posts in the 'metaphysics' section, above. Another central point of interest concerned 'Assessing Arguments and Begging Questions', and (relatedly) the role of thought experiments in advancing the rational dialectic. On the other hand, I warn against 'Bigoted Moral Intuitions', arguing (in comments) that there are formal grounds for considering intuitions of impermissibility to be more easily debunked than intuitions of conceptual possibility (which I rely upon elsewhere). [See also the comments here.]

'Derivative Objections' makes an important point about confusing objections to an analysis with merely derivative objections against the analysans itself. A couple of more critical posts argued against the overuse of logical formalisms and substituting opinion polls for philosophical analysis (the latter post includes a must-see video clip).


Though never made explicit, I think I may have previously assumed a kind of naive 'egalitarian' ideal of discourse, whereby every online discussion is open to all (regardless of substantive ability, at least; there could be constraints against formal abuses), and one should try to reason with whomever one meets in the discursive space of the blogosphere. But frustrating exchanges with some unusually clueless interlocutors convinced me that I no longer have the patience for this. So my post on 'The End(s) of Discussion' set out my new thoughts on the matter. I've also grown more comfortable with the idea of deleting low-quality comments and banning repeat offenders (truly a blessing, as long-time readers might have noticed).

Moral Theory

One favourite topic is 'value holism', which I've recently discussed in relation to individual longevity, and earlier in terms of the world as a whole. See especially 'Welfare and Contributory Value', and 'World Consequentialism'.

I've discussed some standard objections to consequentialism, defending its 'Evaluative Non-Integration', and potentially self-effacing nature. I also argued that fairness considerations reinforce rather than mitigate the "demands" of benevolence (contra Liam Murphy) -- though I favour a 'minimalist' account of private obligation, on grounds that the impartial good is better advanced through political action.

The best objection to utilitarianism I've come across is G.A. Cohen's anti-fungibility argument. I guess I also have some concerns about how conservative our moral methodology should be, as discussed in 'Moral Roots and Alienating Aspirations'. (See also Rationality and Reflective Endorsement.)

Turning to some abstract advances in 'conceptual engineering', I struggled a bit to clarify for myself exactly what is involved in following a reason. I also learned a lot from summarizing Murphy's view on 'Moral Demands and Compliance Effects' -- arguing that the latter concept has greater moral significance. 'Theorizing about Desire' and 'Coercion isn't Compulsion' also argue about the theoretical roles of certain moral concepts.

[Update] I should also mention 'Reflecting on Relativism', which argues that sophisticated moral relativism (of a sort I'd previously had some sympathy for) is incoherent.

Applied Ethics

The only thing approaching a common thread here was my concern to pin down what, if anything, talk of 'authenticity' amounts to. My post on 'Authentic Development' is perhaps my primary effort, though my later discussion of 'Authentic Affect' also seems relevant. Along the way I explore how to define (gender) dysfunction, question the distinction between enhancement and curing impairments, and defend the desirability of 'Virtue Pills'. Related discussions of interest concern whether we owe recompense for turning someone evil (e.g. if police work causes officers to become racist), and whether it is preferable to be outstanding or well-rounded.

Other discussions of interest include 'Rape by Fraud', the moral implications of (our lack of concern about) spontaneous abortion, whether it's bad for babies to die, and whether there are Moral Experts. Finally, I'm very interested in assessing 'The Grim Aesthetic', or whether bubbly cheerfulness is a virtue.

Political Philosophy

'Initiating Force' undermines the standard basis for deontological libertarianism. (See also Libertarian Parables.)

I'm also bothered by common misunderstandings of civic virtue. See, e.g., Civic Virtue and Negative Campaigning, Bipartisanship and In-Betweenism, and (more recently) Obama, Warren, and Civic Inclusion.

A more traditional topic of interest is raised in 'Free Collective Speech': should states seek to "express" the "voice of the people", or merely provide a neutral liberal framework for the interactions of free individuals?

Happy new year!


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