Philosophy of science, statistics, and machine learning all recommend the selection of simple theories or models on the basis of empirical data, where simplicity has something to do with minimizing independent entities, principles, causes, or equational coefficients. This intuitive preference for simplicity is called Ockham's razor, after the fourteenth century theologian and logician William of Ockham. But in spite of its intuitive appeal, how could Ockham's razor help one find the true theory? For, in an updated version of Plato's Meno (...) paradox, if we already know that the truth is simple, we don't need Ockham's help. And if we don't already know that the truth is simple, what entitles us to assume that it is? (shrink)
According to classical arguments, language learning is both facilitated and constrained by cognitive biases. These biases are reflected in linguistic typology—the distribution of linguistic patterns across the world's languages—and can be probed with artificial grammar experiments on child and adult learners. Beginning with a widely successful approach to typology (Optimality Theory), and adapting techniques from computational approaches to statistical learning, we develop a Bayesian model of cognitive biases and show that it accounts for the detailed pattern of results of artificial (...) grammar experiments on noun-phrase word order (Culbertson, Smolensky, & Legendre, 2012). Our proposal has several novel properties that distinguish it from prior work in the domains of linguistic theory, computational cognitive science, and machine learning. This study illustrates how ideas from these domains can be synthesized into a model of language learning in which biases range in strength from hard (absolute) to soft (statistical), and in which language-specific and domain-general biases combine to account for data from the macro-level scale of typological distribution to the micro-level scale of learning by individuals. (shrink)
Introduction Future HIV vaccine efficacy trials with adolescents will need to ensure that participants comprehend study concepts in order to confer true informed assent. A Hepatitis B vaccine trial with adolescents offers valuable opportunity to test youth understanding of vaccine trial requirements in general. Methods Youth reviewed a simplified assent form with study investigators and then completed a comprehension questionnaire. Once enrolled, all youth were tested for HIV and confirmed to be HIV-negative. Results 123 youth completed the questionnaire (mean age=15 (...) years; 63% male; 70% Hispanic). Overall, only 69 (56%) youth answered all six questions correctly. Conclusions Youth enrolled in a Hepatitis B vaccine trial demonstrated variable comprehension of the study design and various methodological concepts, such as treatment group masking. (shrink)
Poetry, drama and the novel present readers and viewers with emotionally significant situations that they often experience as moving, and their being so moved is one of the principal motivations for engaging with fictions. If emotions are considered as action-prompting beliefs about the environment, the appetite for sad or frightening drama and literature is difficult to explain, insofar nothing tragic or frightening is actually happening to the reader, and people do not normally enjoy being sad or frightened. The paper argues (...) that the somewhat limited and problematic epistemological framework for dealing with the question of fiction-induced emotions has been enhanced by a better empirical understanding of the role of the emotions in social animals and in our individual hedonic economies, as well as by a more generous philosophical assessment of what counts as ‘real’. Literary works can be understood further as monuments to experiences of loss that memorialize the highly pleasurable attachments associated with them. (shrink)
This paper argues that we can acknowledge the existence of moral truths and moral progress without being committed to moral realism. Rather than defending this claim through the more familiar route of the attempted analysis of the ontological commitments of moral claims, I show how moral belief change for the better shares certain features with theoretical progress in the natural sciences. Proponents of the better theory are able to convince their peers that it is formally and empirically superior to its (...) rivals, and the better theory may be promoted to the status of the truth. Yet there is no 'decision-procedure' for ethics any more than there is for molecular biology. The betterness of true theories can be grasped through what I term 'undirectional narratives' of progress. And while there are true moral claims and perhaps numerous moral truths yet to be discovered, we should reject currently popular forms of moral realism with bivalence. Some moral claims lend themselves to the construction of fully reversible, bi-directional narratives and are likely neither true nor false. (shrink)
Moral properties are widely held to be response-dependent properties of actions, situations, events and persons. There is controversy as to whether the putative response-dependence of these properties nullifies any truth-claims for moral judgements, or rather supports them. The present paper argues that moral judgements are more profitably compared with theoretical judgements in the natural sciences than with the judgements of immediate sense-perception. The notion of moral truth is dependent on the notion of moral knowledge, which in turn is best understood (...) as a possible endpoint of theory change for the better. (shrink)
This landmark study examines the role played by the rediscovery of the writings of the ancient atomists, Epicurus and Lucretius, in the articulation of the major philosophical systems of the seventeenth century, and, more broadly, their influence on the evolution of natural science and moral and political philosophy. The target of sustained and trenchant philosophical criticism by Cicero, and of opprobrium by the Christian Fathers of the early Church, for its unflinching commitment to the absence of divine supervision and the (...) finitude of life, the Epicurean philosophy surfaced again in the period of the Scientific Revolution, when it displaced scholastic Aristotelianism. Both modern social contract theory and utilitarianism in ethics were grounded in its tenets. Catherine Wilson shows how the distinctive Epicurean image of the natural and social worlds took hold in philosophy, and how it is an acknowledged, and often unacknowledged presence in the writings of Descartes, Gassendi, Hobbes, Boyle, Locke, Leibniz, Berkeley. With chapters devoted to Epicurean physics and cosmology, the corpuscularian or "mechanical" philosophy, the question of the mortality of the soul, the grounds of political authority, the contested nature of the experimental philosophy, sensuality, curiosity, and the role of pleasure and utility in ethics, the author makes a persuasive case for the significance of materialism in seventeenth-century philosophy without underestimating the depth and significance of the opposition to it, and for its continued importance in the contemporary world. Lucretius's great poem, On the Nature of Things, supplies the frame of reference for this deeply-researched inquiry into the origins of modern philosophy. (shrink)
An overview of the influence of Lucretius poem On the Nature of Things (De Rerum Natura) on the renaissance and scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, and an examination of its continuing influence over physical atomism in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
This symposium provides five case studies of the ways that John Dewey's philosophy and practice were influenced by women or "weirdoes" (our choices include F. M. Alexander, Albert Barnes, Helen Bradford Thompson, Elsie Ripley Clapp, and Jane Addams) and presents some conclusions about the value of dialoging across difference for philosophers and other scholars.
Die Ansicht, dass Leibniz urn 1700 oder einige Zeit danach ein überzeugter Idealist war oder wurde, der allein an die Realität der Geister und ihrer Ideen glaubte, hält sich merkwürdigerweise in der neueren Sekundärliteratur. In diesem Beitrag beurteilen wir die Textgrundlage für diese Behauptung nach von uns für solide gehaltenen Kriterien einer historischen Interpretation, wobei sich die Behauptung unserer Ansicht nach als unzureichend erweist. Obwohl Leibniz zur Überzeugung gelangt war, dass wirkliche "Atome" der Natur keine Ausdehnung hätten, war er sein (...) Leben hindurch auf die Geistesunabhängigkeit lebender Kreaturen festgelegt, in der Art, die eindeutig Idealismus ausschließt. Wir versuchen, die tieferen Gründe für die Beharrlichkeit der idealistischen Sichtweise, trotz ihrer textlichen und konzeptualen Schwierigkeiten, aufzudecken, indem wir sie letztlich in den ahistorischen Präferenzen der Kommentatoren lokalisieren. (shrink)
In this essay, I argu e that Descartes considered his theory that the body is an inn ervated machine in which the soul is situated to be his most original contribution to philosophy. His ambition to prove the immortality of the soul was very poorly realized, a predictable outcome, insofar as his aims were ethical, not theological. His dualism accordingly requires reassessment.
In Moral Animals, Catherine Wilson develops a theory of morality based on two fundamental premises: first that moral progress implies the evolution of moral ideals involving restraint and sacrifice; second that human beings are outfitted by nature with selfish motivations, intentions, and ambitions that place constraints on what morality can demand of them. Normative claims, she goes on to show, can be understood as projective hypotheses concerning the conduct of realistically-described nonideal agents in preferred fictional worlds. Such claims differ from (...) empirical hypotheses, insofar as they cannot be verified by observation and experiment. Yet many, though not all, moral claims are susceptible of confirmation to the extent that they command the agreement of well-informed inquirers. With this foundation in place, Wilson turns to a defense of egalitarianism intended to address the objection that the importance of our non-moral projects, our natural acquisitiveness and partiality, and our meritocratic commitments render social equality a mere abstract ideal. Employing the basic notion of a symmetrical division of the co-operative surplus, she argues that social justice with respect to global disparities in well-being, and in the condition of women relative to men, depends on the relinquishment of natural and acquired advantage that is central to the concept of morality. (shrink)
In this new introduction to a classic philosophical text, Catherine Wilson examines the arguments of Descartes' famous Meditations, the book which launched modern philosophy. Drawing on the reinterpretations of Descartes' thought of the past twenty-five years, she shows how Descartes constructs a theory of the mind, the body, nature, and God from a premise of radical uncertainty. She discusses in detail the historical context of Descartes' writings and their relationship to early modern science, and at the same time she introduces (...) concepts and problems that define the philosophical enterprise as it is understood today. Following closely the text of the Meditations and meant to be read alongside them, this survey is accessible to readers with no previous background in philosophy. It is well-suited to university-level courses on Descartes, but can also be read with profit by students in other disciplines. (shrink)
This is an essay review of Ted Honderich's recently published autobiography. Treating the work as both a study of philosophical and political culture in the second half of the twentieth century and as an exercise in self-evaluation, the reviewer discusses the problems of truth and explanation in narrative and the issues of professional and sexual morality raised by the narrative. Honderich's account is assessed as credible, illuminating, and well-written, even as questions are raised concerning the consistency of his political beliefs.
The claim that the level of well-beingeach enjoys ought to be to some extent afunction of individuals'' talents, efforts,accomplishments, and other meritoriousattributes faces serious challenge from bothegalitarians and libertarians, but also fromskeptics, who point to the poor historicalrecord of attempted merit assays and theubiquity of attribution biases arising fromlimited sweep, misattribution, custom andconvention, and mimicry. Yet merit-principlesare connected with reactive attitudes andinnate expectations, giving them some claim torecognition and there is a widespread beliefthat their use indirectly promotes thewell-being of all. (...) After critically evaluatingarguments for and against assigning a prominentrole to merit in a distributive protocol, it isargued that an entitlement to the ``doubtful andspeculative'''' but not the ``known andpresumptive'''' components of well-being can flowfrom perceived relative merit. However,statistical equality of outcome with respect togroups is mandatory. Semi-meritocracies aredefensible institutions, but existing rewardschemes by and large do not meet the conditionsof social justice. (shrink)