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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Philip Goff and David Papineau

Philip Goff (left) and David Papineau (right) on physicalism.

Goff rejects physicalism. Papineau accepts it. In this episode, they examine the arguments on each side. They consider the much-discussed “knowledge argument” against physicalism (10:28), explore Goff’s own reasons for rejecting physicalism (17:23), weigh the dualist arguments of Chalmers and Jackson (27:21), discuss Papineau’s reasons to reject the transparency of phenomenal concepts (32:48), ponder what Levine calls the “explanatory gap” (36:19), and confront the specter of epiphenomenalism (47:35).

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Lawrence Krauss and Roy Sorensen

Lawrence Krauss (left) and Roy Sorensen (right) on origins and nothingness.

How did our universe get to be the way it is? Has our universe always existed, or did it arise from nothing? Is it even possible for something to come from nothing? Lawrence Krauss has argued that physicists have discovered some of the answers to these ancient philosophical questions; Krauss’s ideas are controversial among certain philosophers. In this conversation, Roy Sorensen and Krauss consider the connections between Darwinian evolution and Krauss’s views (13:50), discuss whether the scientific worldview is particularly depressing (22:41), examine the meaning of questions about “something rather than nothing” (35:25), and explore the nature of nothingness (47:18).

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Paul Humphreys and John Symons

Paul Humphreys (left) and John Symons (right) on emergence.

A property is said to be emergent if it arises from but is not reducible to some fundamental property (or set of properties). There is a wide range of properties that might conceivably be emergent; consciousness is the textbook example, which might explain why philosophers of mind are responsible for some of the most fully developed treatments of emergence. In this episode, after discussing some history of the concept of emergence, Humphreys and Symons wrangle over whether emergence is definable (10:01), discuss ways in which debates over emergence have spread beyond the philosophy of mind (15:12), and speculate about where those debates might lead in the future (41:01).

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Tuomas Tahko and Thomas Hofweber

Tuomas Tahko (left) and Thomas Hofweber (right) on the foundations of metaphysics.

If metaphysics is a form of genuine inquiry, then presumably metaphysicians investigate questions of fact. But it seems that for any given type of fact, there is already a discipline that investigates facts of that type. For instance, physicists investigate physical facts; mathematicians investigate mathematical facts—and so on. Perhaps there is a special realm of facts investigated only by metaphysicians, but it is unclear what such facts would be like. Alternatively, perhaps metaphysics plays the role of verifying results obtained in other disciplines, but it is unclear that metaphysicians are qualified to check the work of physicists and mathematicians. So what exactly is it that metaphysicians do? In this episode, Tahko and Hofweber grapple with this question.

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Kristin Andrews and Robert Lurz

Part 1:

Part 2:

Kristin Andrews (left) and Robert Lurz (right) on animals and mindreading.

In this two-part conversation*, Andrews and Lurz discuss whether (and to what extent) non-human animals are able to mindread, i.e., understand others’ mental states. In Part 1, they begin with a review of the history of inquiry into animal mindreading, and then examine (starting at 28:18) Andrews’s views about the evolutionary origins and explanatory and predictive roles of mindreading. In Part 2, they discuss Lurz’s plans for experimental investigation of animal mindreading (14:54), Andrews’s and Lurz’s differing views of the abilities of great apes (32:49), and the relative importance of fieldwork and laboratory evidence (48:47).

The drawing to which Lurz refers at 18:44 is in this paper (p. 25).

*=The conversation was interrupted by a tech snafu, so we divided the video in two.

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Shaun Gallagher and Karsten Stueber

Shaun Gallagher (left) and Karsten Stueber (right) on empathy.

Most people possess a substantial (although also limited) ability to know and understand the actions, intentions, and desires of other people. In this conversation, Gallagher and Stueber examine the notion of empathy and its importance for debates in the philosophy of mind. They ask: What is empathy? Is empathy an automatic process, or does it require effort? What are the neurological and psychological processes involved in empathy? Does our ability to empathize provide us with a reliable guide to the contents of others’ minds, or does empathy routinely mislead us?

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Katherine Thomson-Jones and George Wilson

Katherine Thomson-Jones (left) and George Wilson (right) on cinematic narration.

Some films feature voice-over narration, but most fictional films appear to lack a narrator. And it seems that a narrative requires a narrator. Yet film, like literature, is widely regarded as a narrative art—a story-telling art. So who (if anyone) tells the story conveyed by a film? Relatedly: Perhaps when we engage a fictional film, we imagine that we see the people, places, and events that make up the film’s fictional world. Yet we do not seem to imagine ourselves to be present in the film’s fictional world. (If it’s raining on screen, we do not reach for our umbrellas.) How can we imagine that we see events without imagining that we are present in the same world in which those events occur? In this conversation, Thomson-Jones and Wilson discuss these and other puzzles as they explore the nature and role of narrativity in film.

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