Genoveva Marti and Edouard Machery

Genoveva Marti and Edouard Machery on reference and experimental philosophy.

Note: This is part of a series of PTV discussions involving contributors to Machery and O’Neill (eds.), Current Controversies in Experimental Philosophy (2014)

According to descriptivist theories of reference, when a given word refers to a given individual, it’s because the individual satisfies a description associated with the word. (For example, on this view, “Barack Obama” refers to Barack Obama because Barack Obama satisfies a certain description: he is the 44th president of the United States, etc.) By contrast, according to causal theories of reference, what makes it possible for a word to refer is that it is part of a chain of communication that leads back to the introduction of the word as a name for its referent. (For example, on this view, “Barack Obama” refers to Barack Obama just because Barack Obama was given that name by his parents.)

In this conversation, Machery and Marti debate the implications of empirical studies, conducted by Machery and others, that explore folk judgments about reference. After an overview of the main theories of reference, they discuss studies by Machery et al. on cross-cultural differences in so-called “metalinguistic judgments” (10:14). These studies, Machery argues, suggest that North Americans’ intuitions about reference are in line with a causal theory of reference, whereas East Asians’ intuitions are in line with a descriptivist theory. Marti raises doubts about the relevance of such studies for semantic theorizing (19:11), and Machery responds (27:52). Then they discuss whether Marti’s critique amounts to a call for reform in theorizing about reference (30:39), debate whether metalinguistic judgments reflect an implicit theory of proper names (36:12), and revisit their 2009 Analysis exchange (44:27).

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Gregg Caruso and Neil Levy

Gregg Caruso and Neil Levy on consciousness and moral responsibility.

It seems that consciousness and moral responsibility are somehow connected. For example, intuitively, a person who is completely unconscious—e.g., a sleepwalker, or a person in a coma—cannot be responsible for what she does or fails to do. Levy has recently argued that moral responsibility for one’s actions requires consciousness of certain relevant facts; he has also argued that we can (sometimes) achieve the requisite level of consciousness, and that we are thus (sometimes) morally responsible for our actions. Caruso, by contrast, regards moral responsibility with heavier skepticism. In this conversation, after an overview of Levy’s position, Caruso and Levy discuss a range of issues: whether there could be a morally responsible zombie (16:29); somnambulism and other cases of global automatism (22:27); implicit bias (27:51); and other cases of nonconscious influence (33:58). They discuss introspection (53:09) and the “deep self” (61:06). They conclude (63:08) by discussing Levy’s views on consciousness and responsibility in the context of his other work.

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2nd Annual Online Undergraduate Philosophy Conference

The Jackson Family Center for Ethics & Values at Coastal Carolina University, the Philosophy Department at University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth, and Philosophy TV are proud to present an online undergraduate conference on the theme of meaning (broadly construed).

Each session in the conference will be a video-recorded conversation between an undergraduate author and a commentator. (In each case, the commentator is a professional philosopher: either a graduate student or a faculty member.) This week and next, we’ll post a series of sessions, one per day. All of the sessions will be linked from the list below.

Many thanks to all of the students and philosophers who have generously devoted time and energy to this project!

First session: “Minds, Brains, and Contents” by Chris Crogan (UMass-Dartmouth). In conversation with Pete Mandik (William Paterson University).

Second session: “A Minimalist Theory of Emotional Valence: A Response to Jesse Prinz” by Norah Hannel (Connecticut College). In conversation with Jesse Prinz (CUNY).

Third session: “The Photographer as Bergsonian Philosopher” by Nick McKinney (Coastal Carolina University). In conversation with Chris Nagel (University of Minnesota).

Fourth session: “Foucault’s Truth and Power: A Truth Function and the Individual” by Kirk Raikes (Fort Lewis College). In conversation with Todd May (Clemson University).

Fifth session: “Plato and Schiller on Aesthetic Education and Moral Development” by Lilian Gonzalez (Eckerd College). In conversation with Nils Rauhut (Coastal Carolina University).

Sixth session: “Narrative as Coping: Rhetorical Questions” by Kylie Musolf (American University). In conversation with Quitterie Gounot (Cornell University).

Seventh session: “Is There Meaning that Does Not Derive from the Self Alone? A Consideration of Sartre’s Philosophy” by Sarah Horton (Grove City College). In conversation with Clifford Sosis (Coastal Carolina University).

Eighth session: “On the Knowledge of Primary Substances” by Helen Zhao (Johns Hopkins University). In conversation with Rosemary Twomey (CUNY).

Ninth session: “Beliefs and Blameworthiness” by Liz Jackson (Kansas State University). In conversation with David Killoren (Coastal Carolina University).

Tenth session: “On Quine’s Skeptical Philosophy: Its Ancient Roots and Constancy” by Matthew Margulis (University of California-Santa Cruiz). In conversation with Eric Brown (Washington University-Saint Louis).

Eleventh session: “On the Inescapable Meaninglessness of the Being-for-Itself” by Alexander Fred (University of Dayton). In conversation with Carl Sachs (Georgetown University).

Twelfth session: “Humean Linguistics: Hume, Meaning, and Cognitive Science” by Krivo Flores (Portland State University). In conversation with Jonathan Lang (University of Wisconsin-Madison).

Thirteenth session: “A Humean Theory of Vagueness” by Matthew Hernandez (Portland State University). In conversation with Nick Nash (Western University).

Jennifer Nagel and Joshua Alexander

Jennifer Nagel and Joshua Alexander on epistemic intuitions and experimental philosophy.

Note: This is part of a series of PTV discussions involving contributors to Machery and O’Neill (eds.), Current Controversies in Experimental Philosophy (2014)

Do you prefer Youtube? Go here.

After discussing the central role that intuitions have traditionally played in epistemology, Alexander and Nagel turn to problems raised by experimental work on cultural variation in epistemic intuitions. They discuss Weinberg, Nichols, and Stich’s influential 2001 study on Gettier intuitions—and subsequent failures to replicate the results of that study. Then (20:14) they discuss whether and to what extent intuitions are viable as data in epistemology (Alexander has often been more critical of the use of intuitions than Nagel). Along the way, Nagel makes the case for a plurality of methods (32:54). They discuss how we could tell whether a given empirical result undermines the reliability of intuitions (43:10); whether traditional “armchair” philosophy really is introspective in the way that it’s sometimes made out to be (47:00); and the nature of philosophical expertise (54:47).

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Joshua Knobe and Eddy Nahmias

Joshua Knobe and Eddy Nahmias on experimental approaches to free will.

Note: This is part of a series of PTV discussions involving contributors to Machery and O’Neill (eds.), Current Controversies in Experimental Philosophy (2014)

Do you prefer Youtube? Go here.

Knobe and Nahmias begin with an overview of the early history and aims of experimental philosophy. Then they discuss experiments on the contrast between bypassing and throughpassing intuitions about free will (8:57); Nahmias’s “theory lite view,” according to which ordinary people have no strong views about the relation between mind and brain (17:34); whether the folk have a causal or an interventionist view of agency (24:17); the effect of descriptions of determinism on folk intuitions (32:52); and Nahmias’s work on “willusionism,” inspired by his critical view of certain popularized versions of free-will skepticism (41:47). Finally, Knobe and Nahmias consider future results that could resolve some of their disagreements (48:49) and forecast the next big steps in experimental philosophy of free will (57:00).

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Christy Mag Uidhir and Aaron Meskin

Christy Mag Uidhir and Aaron Meskin on the definition of art.

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Mag Uidhir and Meskin begin with an overview of philosophical approaches to the definition of art since the 1950s: Morris Weitz’s anti-essentialism about art (0:44); George Dickie’s institutional theory of art (4:44); and the recent decline of interest among philosophers in the definitional project (7:46). Mag Uidhir attacks the institutional theory (9:18). Meskin talks about the recent surge of attention to particular art forms (16:48). Mag Uidhir describes his work with P.D. Magnus on pluralism about art concepts (21:10). Then Mag Uidhir and Meskin debate Mag Uidhir’s views on the possibility and significance of art failure (30:39). They conclude with a discussion of Meskin’s wide-ranging experimental work on the mere exposure effect, the semantics of aesthetic adjectives, and the nature of aesthetic testimony (49:59).

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Gregg Caruso and Bruce Waller

Gregg Caruso and Bruce Waller on free will and moral responsibility.

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Most people believe that we can and should be held morally responsible for our actions. Caruso and Waller both hold that this belief is not only false, but harmful. They recommend that we abandon the notion of moral responsibility. But they disagree about free will: Waller thinks that we can preserve a scientifically and philosophically respectable notion of free will without moral responsibility; Caruso thinks that free will and moral responsibility should both be rejected. They begin their discussion with an overview of the traditional problem of free will (1:09). Next, they discuss Waller’s view of free will (9:14) and debate whether the notion of free will ought to be given up (23:51). Then they lay out their reasons to be skeptical about moral responsibility (41:04) and consider some of the concerns that have been expressed by defenders of moral responsibility (54:05).

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Michael Strevens and J.D. Trout

Michael Strevens and J.D. Trout on explanation and understanding in science (and beyond).

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In science and in ordinary life, we want to explain and understand features of the world around us. How can we tell a good explanation from a bad one? What’s the connection between explanation and understanding? Strevens and Trout begin with an overview of accounts of explanation developed in the philosophy of science during the 20th century. Then they discuss the interrelations between explanation, understanding, grasping, and knowing (5:26). Next, they discuss Trout’s views on the role of empathy in explanation and understanding (16:35), evolutionary psychology in social science (21:37), and “the trap of the sense of understanding” (24:30). Then they turn to the practical benefits of explanation (37:11) and Strevens’s work on the level of detail in a good explanation (44:18). They conclude by discussing explanation outside of science (51:50).

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Matthew Haber and Joel Velasco

Joel Velasco and Matthew Haber on biological systematics.

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Biological systematics is about the classification of life given the diverse evolutionary history, morphology, and genetic features of living things. In this episode, Haber and Velasco discuss a range of philosophical issues raised by biological systematics, with a focus on species classification. They consider views of species as natural groupings (6:37), as lineages (17:26), and as natural kinds or homeostatic property clusters (33:38). Haber defends a view of species as individuals (44:28), and Velasco raises doubts about that view (55:33). Velasco presents a view of species as a rank (66:25). They conclude by discussing naming and reference in biological systematics (74:38).

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Amy Kind and Angela Mendelovici

Amy Kind and Angela Mendelovici on representationalism about moods.

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Note: This is the first in a series of collaborations between Philosophy TV and Routledge.

Representationalism is the view that the phenomenal character of any given mental state (what it is like to be in that state) is (or is reducible to) the intentionality of that state (the way that the state represents or is about something else). Mendelovici is a representationalist; Kind opposes representationalism. In this conversation, Kind and Mendelovici debate Mendelovici’s novel attempt at a solution to an important problem for representationalism: the problem of undirected moods.

Moods cause a problem for representationalism because certain moods do not seem to be about anything at all. For example, free-floating anxiety seems entirely undirected (unlike, say, fear in the presence of a wolf, which is about the wolf).

After introducing their topic (1:42), Kind and Mendelovici lay out the problem of undirected moods (10:03). Then (20:27) they consider some of the ways that representationalists have previously tried to handle this problem. Next (32:04), they discuss Mendolivici’s view, according to which undirected moods represent unbound properties, i.e., properties that do not attach to any object. They conclude (50:55) by discussing some of the reasons why someone would want to be a representationalist in the first place.

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