Can we test philosophical thought experiments, such as whether people would enter an experience machine or would leave one once they are inside? Dan Weijers, responding to me "Can We Test the Experience Machine?" suggests that since “rational” subjects (e.g. students taking surveys in class) are believable, we can do so. By contrast, I argue that because such subjects have the wrong affect (i.e. emotional state), such tests are worthless. Moreover, understood as a general policy, such pretend testing would ruin (...) the results of most psychological tests, such as those of helping behavior, attitudes to authority, moral transgressions, etc. However, I argue that certain philosophical thought experiments do not require us to have any affect to understand them, and so can be tested. Generally, experimental philosophy must adhere to this limit, on pain of offering vacuous results. (shrink)
Robert Nozick famously asks us whether we would plug in to an experience machine, or whether we would insist upon ‘living in contact with reality’. Felipe De Brigard, after conducting a series of empirical ‘inverted’ experience machine studies, suggests that this is a false dilemma. Rather, he says, '…the fact is that people tend to prefer the state of affairs they are in currently,' or the status quo. In this paper, I argue that these studies are a test case for (...) ‘experimental philosophy’ as such. Specifically, I argue that De Brigard offers a series of faulty studies, and so, reaches unfounded conclusions. More generally, I argue that certain philosophical thought experiments cannot be tested empirically at all, and this limits what experimental philosophy can do. (shrink)
In this paper, I compare John Locke’s “memory theory” of personal identity and Memento (directed by Christopher Nolan). I argue that the plot of Memento is ambiguous, in that the main character (Leonard Shelby, played by Guy Pearce) seems to have two histories. As such, Memento is but a series of puzzle cases that intend to illustrate that, although our memories may not be chronologically related to one another, and may even be fused with the memories of other persons, those (...) memories still constitute personal identity. Just as Derek Parfit argues, perhaps there is no personal identity as such, since only survival (in some degree) matters to us. In Memento, Leonard Shelby is not identity to his former self, but survives to some extent. (shrink)
In this paper I outline Donald Davidson’s account of two forms of irrationality, akrasia and self-deception, and relate this account to ethical action and belief. His view of irrationality is generally a Freudian one, to the effect that agents must compartmentalize both offending particular mental contents, and governing second order principles. Davidson also hints that his account of akrasia and self-deception might show certain normative and meta-ethical theories to be irrational, insofar as they too engender irrationality. I explore these hints, (...) and hopefully show both that Davidson is correct about irrationality and correct that certain ethical theories (e.g. Kantian deontology and certain forms of moral realism) engender irrationality as well. I believe this to be no great loss to ethics generally, but will hopefully aid our understanding of how ethical action and belief actually happen. (shrink)
In Morality Without Foundations, Mark Timmons argues that moral judgments (e.g. “cruelty is wrong”) have what he calls “evaluative assertoric content,” and so, are true or false. However, I argue that, even if correct, this argument renders moral truth or falsity mysterious.
Alvin Plantinga argues that secular evidentialism is false because the criteria of properly basic beliefs are either too restrictive or incoherent. I argue that Wittgenstein provides a better position on basic propositions (e.g. in On Certainty), which amounts to a more psychologically plausible vision of our epistemic foundations.