Benj Hellie University of Toronto, University of Toronto at Scarborough

My philosophical views

The answers shown here are not necessarily the same provided as part of the 2009 PhilPapers Survey. These answers can be updated at any time.

See also:

A priori knowledge: yes or no?The question is too unclear to answerI accept the first-person Moore-equivalence among P, I believe that P, and I know that P. I think that third-person knowledge-ascriptions are something like instructions to regard the beliefs of others as authoritative. I think that collectively these rules exhaust the concept of knowledge. So what could a priori knowledge be? Presumably something like a belief of mine, or a 'deemed-authoritative' belief of another, that does not in some sense 'stem from' perception -- that did not come about by conditionalization on perceptual evidence. Here I see two possibilities: a belief that is 'written in' to one's system of categorization (perhaps by being a commitment of the logic-plus-identities one accepts), and a belief one 'voluntarily' endorses as a requirement of an action one has in progress. I suppose the former looks a bit like a priori knowledge in the traditional sense; still, the picture is relativist and Carnapian in a way that is more at odds with the tradition.
Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?There is no fact of the matterI want to endorse claims like '2+2=4' and 'these paint chips are the same color'. But I'm inclined to an ontological anti-realist position which renders the commitments of these claims into bookkeeping issues.
Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?The question is too unclear to answerBeauty is understood primarily from the first-person perspective. From here, it looks objective. That thing is beautiful: so I perceive it. But I understand the perceptions of beauty of other subjects in a way strongly disanalogous to the way I understand my own. I have no genuine first-person access to your mental life. I can of course simulate your mental life by treating the first person perspective as emanating from you, but thinking from your perspective is distinct from thinking simpliciter. As a result, I am forced to discuss something like structural isomorphisms of your mind as tokens that substitute for the real thing. But in this case it is easy to see that there is no real connection between externalia and these tokens: so beauty starts to look subjective. Since I don't understand whether the question is intended to be taken from the first person or the third person, I don't know which answer to give.
Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?The question is too unclear to answerMy views here are somewhat similar to my views on the a priori.
Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?The question is too unclear to answerI think our concepts of rationality are grounded in a notion of first-person coherence, and that one endorses the Moore-equivalence among P, I believe that P, and I know that P on pain of incoherence. So from the first-person, epistemic justification looks internalist. If the question of epistemic justification is more third-personal, along the lines of 'did Sam come about this belief in a way that I regard as worthy', then my purposes may require me to accommodate all sorts of facts external to Sam's perspective in answering this question. So from the third-person, epistemic justification looks externalist.
External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?Accept more than oneI don't think a person has a set of beliefs simpliciter: rather, one's beliefs are relative to ongoing strands of action. As actions get more and more abstract, beliefs get more and more skeptical: perhaps my maximally governing action is a Cartesian skeptic. But from the perspective of my highly specific actions, I am a non-skeptical realist. This is all from the 'empirical' perspective: the philosophical machinery running in the background suggests something like a transcendental idealism. But I don't think there is any special weight to the transcendental perspective over the empirical perspective, so for this reason I endorse all of these positions.
Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?Agnostic/undecidedI don't know what to think here. If I tell a story about Sam's rational motivations in A-ing, I do not know what would be lost or gained if I added to that that Sam's action was not chosen out of libertarian freedom. In particular, arguments that moral responsibility would be lost strike me as premature. Morality is a species of rational evaluation. Would Sam's action be arational if it were not chosen out of libertarian freedom? I do not know.
God: theism or atheism?OtherDecline to answer. I don't think my philosophical program has this issue in its ambit, and I imagine this survey as not being concerned with my views except qua scholar.
Knowledge: empiricism or rationalism?The question is too unclear to answerSee my views on the a priori. Here I might add that I am also a voluntarist about a lot of our knowledge.
Knowledge claims: contextualism, relativism, or invariantism?Accept: relativismI think that 'Sam knows that P' entails 'I know that P', and that P and 'I know that P' are first-person Moore-equivalent. I also think one doesn't have a single coherent set of beliefs. I think these commitments push me into relativism.
Laws of nature: Humean or non-Humean?The question is too unclear to answerIt certainly seems as if we perceive natural necessary connections in the course of quotidian experience. Mundane experience supports a non-Humean perspective. But arguably a scientific theory just advances a distinctive regularity as holding throughout all cases it hopes to address. If so, science encodes a Humean perspective. I'm not sure whether the question is hoping me to wear my science hat or my quotidian hat.
Logic: classical or non-classical?The question is too unclear to answerWhich logic governs a person's mental life is subjective and pragmatic.
Mental content: internalism or externalism?The question is too unclear to answerThe answer here is somewhat similar to the answer on aesthetic value. The contents of my thoughts are as it were given to me. So from the first person perspective, internalism looks true. However in exploiting the apparatus of content in understanding others, I make reference to our shared environment. So from the third person perspective, externalism looks true.
Meta-ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?The question is too unclear to answerI am not sure what is meant by 'moral' here. I'm inclined to think that in one sense, morality is something like subjectively impartial rationality: one does the moral thing just if, adopting the perspective of the golden rule and generalizing to all subjects, one does the rational thing. That seems like something we could be 'realists' about. The golden rule can also be applied less inclusively: not to all subjects but to one's nears and dears. This less demanding standard is also a form of morality. Here what is morally binding on one differs from person to person. Whether this is compatible with realism depends on what is meant by 'realism'. Another pole of use takes 'morality' as rather more like etiquette. That seems like something we shouldn't be realists about in any plausible sense of 'realism'.
Metaphilosophy: naturalism or non-naturalism?OtherHere I worry about the presuppositions of these labels. Who does not want their philosophy to characterize nature? The alternative would seem to be the imaginary, or castles in the air. But the forces of scientism have managed to co-opt this label. I am opposed to scientism, so in this sense I am not a 'naturalist'. At the same time, I think scientistic philosophies mistake the (partial, parochial, and special-interest driven) map for the territory, and are in this sense not naturalistic; rather, my philosophy provides a superior characterization of nature. Because of the politically fraught characterizations of the label, I think it should be retired. So I decline to answer this question.
Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?Accept: non-physicalismThe physical sciences affect a sort of freedom from perspective as a key part of their intellectual culture. As a result, they might 'show' something about perspective, but are constitutionally incapable of 'saying' anything about it. Since the first-person perspective is the essence of the mind, the physical sciences can't say anything about the mind. I take it that this belief is contrary to the tenets of physicalism.
Moral judgment: cognitivism or non-cognitivism?The question is too unclear to answer'Sam did the morally right thing' seems to say that Sam acted in accord with the golden rule. That seems to admit of 'cognitivist' treatment. A claim like 'A-ing at this stage would be the morally right thing' could be intended in this spirit. Alternatively, it could be intended as an exhortation: to signal to the hearer that not only is this so, but moreover that if the hearer does not adopt the perspective of morality, the speaker will disapprove. This sort of judgement seems at least partly noncognitive. Finally, if 'judgement' is to be understood as an achievement in one's psychological life, my view is that judgements are something like episodes of transition between actions. In turn, actions of distinct types tend to go with dramatically different systems of credence and of value. In this sense, a judgement has both a credential and an evaluative component.
Moral motivation: internalism or externalism?Insufficiently familiar with the issue
Newcomb's problem: one box or two boxes?Agnostic/undecidedI should remark that the view that decisions like whether to vote can be readily translated into 1- or 2-boxing decisions strikes me as having some merit, but that this should not blind us to other accounts of these phenomena: for example, a theory of the rationality of voting tied to group identity.
Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?Accept more than oneIn my view the constitutive goal of action is to live a good life. Different people have different conceptions of the good life. The good life is not necessarily a self-regarding life: one may well value the self-regarding aspects of the lives of one's nears and dears. Who counts as a near and dear varies over time: morality could be understood as regarding every subject as a near and dear. This package makes morality look consequentialist and makes ethics in the broader sense of practical rationality look virtue-ethical. I am not sure I understand deontology well enough to see how it fits into my picture.
Perceptual experience: disjunctivism, qualia theory, representationalism, or sense-datum theory?Accept: disjunctivism
Personal identity: biological view, psychological view, or further-fact view?Accept another alternativeLives are occurrences; persons are as it were 'substantializations' of these occurrences. Lives are biological but also psychological; but I'm a dualist, so I suppose this makes the psychological look further-factish and the biological look vitalist.
Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?Reject all'Me against my brother; me and my brother against my cousins; me, my brother, and my cousins against the rest of our village; our village against the world'. Politics is a struggle among alliances for social and natural resources; alliances are constantly shifting, accreting, fragmenting. My vision of the good society is small-scale, sustainable, local, egalitarian, open-minded; but visions of the good society need to be compromised in the course of political struggle, so in a sense this vision is of diminished significance for politics.
Proper names: Fregean or Millian?The question is too unclear to answerThis is somewhat allied with my views on the a priori. From the first person terms look Millian; but in interpreting others or past selves we sometimes need to take a Fregean perspective.
Science: scientific realism or scientific anti-realism?The question is too unclear to answerWe can use or mention a theory. When using it we are realists; when mentioning it antirealism is an option. Some theories warrant belief; others don't. And then of course what warrants belief is not relative to subjects but relative to strands of action.
Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?Agnostic/undecidedI am an organism. An organism can cycle its matter out gradually. Can it cycle it out suddenly? I don't know, and I don't know how to go about answering the question.
Time: A-theory or B-theory?Accept: A-theoryLet's take the A-theory as consisting of the B-theory plus further perspectival facts. The moving now seems to be the most obvious thing in the world. Why we might want to revise this opinion is not clear to me; nor is how we might go about doing so.
Trolley problem (five straight ahead, one on side track, turn requires switching, what ought one do?): switch or don't switch?Accept: switchSwitching saves lives; so the answer of what to do seems pretty obvious I guess. Of course this judgement gets problematized pretty quickly in the literature, but my impression is that the best reaction is not to abandon the judgement but to uncover the factors that distinguish the simple case from its alleged analogues.
Truth: correspondence, deflationary, or epistemic?The question is too unclear to answerFrom the first-person perspective P and it is true that P are equivalent. This looks deflationary. From the first-person perspective, P and I know that P are equivalent. This looks epistemic. In interpreting others referential semantics can be helpful; referential semantics is a kind of correspondence theory.
Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible?The question is too unclear to answerI'm not sure I get the notion of metaphysical possibility. I get epistemic possibility in the sense of 'for all I know'. And I get epistemic possibility in the sense of '(maybe false but still) coherent by my lights'. And maybe I get epistemic possibility in the sense of '(maybe false and maybe even incoherent by my lights but still) coherent by some valorized system'. Is metaphysical possibility one of these? Is it to be understood as somehow first-person equivalent to one of these? Anyway I do think I can conceive of zombies; to the extent that coherence is first-person equivalent to metaphysical possibility, I guess I regard them as metaphysically possible.