Victor Kumar and Walter Sinnott-Armstrong on moral disgust.
Note: We recorded this episode on the fly at RoME in August 2014. The production quality is non-ideal (putting it mildly) but the audio is crystal clear.
How should we respond to the feeling of disgust? Is disgustingness evidence of immorality? There are some clear cases in which the disgust response is pernicious (e.g., disgust seems to underlie some racist and homophobic ideas), but this does not entail that disgust always leads us astray. In this conversation, Kumar and Sinnott-Armstrong evaluate disgust. Kumar distinguishes pathogen disgust from moral disgust (a.k.a. repugnance), and defends the utility of the latter. Sinnott-Armstrong asks whether moral disgust is really a form of disgust at all (10:03). They discuss whether disgust causes or is caused by moral judgment (20:28), and consider the epistemic credentials of disgust (23:47). Then they debate whether we should strive for emotionlessness in moral reasoning (40:15), and conclude by discussing whether the consequences of disgust are bad on the whole (46:52).
Al Mele and Eddy Nahmias on free will and science.
Mele and Nahmias start by explaining how they first became seriously interested in the relationship of free will to science. Then (12:44) they discuss the infamous Libet experiments, which are often interpreted as evidence that our conscious decisions are determined by earlier nonconscious brain activity, along with a range of other experiments in neuroscience that also bear on issues concerning human free agency. Next (25:31) they consider general worries that underlie neuroscientific investigations of free will. Then (41:28) they discuss whether (and how) results in social psychology could undermine free human agency. After that, they discuss future prospects for scientific investigation of free will (46:14), including Mele’s (exceptionally generous) Templeton-sponsored grants. They conclude (53:55) with some reflections on the definition of free will.
Sytsma and Arico begin with an overview of empirical investigations of folk intuitions about phenomenal consciousness. Then (15:03) they consider the landmark 2010 study by Sytsma and Machery, which produced evidence that the folk are largely willing to ascribe perceptual experience (“seeing red”) to a simple robot, but unwilling to ascribe bodily sensation (“feeling pain”) to the robot. (Interestingly, the same study also probed philosophers’ responses, which turned out to differ from those of the folk.) After that, they discuss (20:15) whether the Agency Model developed by Arico and colleagues can adequately account for the Sytsma and Machery results, and consider a range of other interpretations and follow-up studies. They conclude (53:58) by considering possibilities for future empirical work on folk views of phenomenal consciousness.
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).
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.
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!
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).
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).
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).
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).