Saturday, December 06, 2008

Big Questions

Clark asks: What are the fundamental issues you are most interested in and see as very important? I've offered such a list before, but here's an updated (though no doubt similarly incomplete) list:

(1) Is value purely additive? Is the value of a whole (life, society) simply the sum of the intrinsic values of the parts (moments, individual lives), or do the relations between the parts also have non-instrumental import? See, e.g., my post distinguishing Welfare and Contributory Value. Related questions ask whether more pain is thereby worse, and whether duplication may be discounted. [Update: see here for my new paper on this topic, which should give a better sense of what these questions are getting at.]

(2) How should we understand Consciousness and Time? In particular, how radically could objective and experienced time diverge? (If we accept that the brain can represent time using something other than time itself, is there any necessary connection here at all? How exactly do temporally extended or 'smeared' representations work?)

(3) How objective is rationality? Is there any genuine sense in which one "ought" to believe as the 'equal weight' and 'automatic adjustment' views claim?

(4) Does rationality require impartiality? Are there agent-(time-)relative values/reasons?

(5) What's the relation between Rationality and Reflective Endorsement? If certain biases are good to have, is there some less-strict but still genuinely normative framework (perhaps what's "reasonable", rather than strictly "rational") for human beings to live by? How coherent will this be?

(6) Is Rational Pluralism possible, or is there one ideally rational belief (and desire?) set -- one objectively privileged 'prior'?

(7) Are there substantive facts about identities and essences, or are the 'base facts' of the world purely qualitative? (In other words: Kripke or Lewis?)

(8) What are the truth-makers for a priori philosophical truths? Is some form of meta-philosophical Constructivism defensible? Or some alternative view?

What 'big questions' most interest you, dear reader?


  1. At the moment, I'm interested in what makes a philosophical question interesting. Why, for example, are you interested in (1)? I can see that as philosophical questions go it's interesting in the sense of being a) complex and b) not intuitive. But those features only turn up in a question that's already been posed, so I'm left wondering what it is that led you to pose it. Also, is there a common thread directing your interest in any or all of the eight questions you posed? That is, is there some more general issue at stake in some or all of them?

  2. My primary philosophical interest is free will/moral responsibility and related issues in agency. I can't quite explain why I'm so interested in it.

  3. Amos - interesting question! (But why? Maybe recursion is inherently interesting.)

    (1) is especially significant from a consequentialist standpoint. It has all sorts of implications for applied questions from population ethics (should we prefer more people, driving down average welfare, if the sum is thereby greater?) to longevity research and the rationality of suicide (under what conditions would living longer make one better or worse off?).

    'Rational normativity' may be the closest thing to a common thread running through (many of) my questions. For example, (3), (4), and (5) might all be understood as asking, in their various ways, about the stringency of rational normativity, and what sorts of ideals can guide non-ideal beings like ourselves. And if rational pluralism (6) is possible, that will have significant implications for the constructivist claim (8) that a priori truth just is whatever would be ideally rational to believe.

  4. I would be interested to know who think the most important thinkers in these eight areas are..
    But really interesting, key questions you are spending your time answering. Good on ya!


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