We outline a cognitive and computational account of causal learning in children. We propose that children employ specialized cognitive systems that allow them to recover an accurate “causal map” of the world: an abstract, coherent representation of the causal relations among events. This kind of knowledge can be perspicuously represented by the formalism of directed graphical causal models, or “Bayes nets”. Human causal learning and inference may involve computations similar to those for learnig causal Bayes nets and for predicting with (...) them. Preliminary experimental results suggest that 2- to 4-year-old children spontaneously construct new causal maps and that their learning is consistent with the Bayes-Net formalism. (shrink)
We argue that Parfit's "Triviality Objection" against some naturalistic views of normativity is not compelling. We think that once one accepts, as one should, that identity statements can be informative in virtue of their pragmatics and not only in virtue of their semantics, Parfit's case against naturalism can be overcome.
We argue against a positive case Enoch offers for thinking that there are non-natural normative properties. Enoch had argued that there is a general difference in how we should treat preference disputes and factual disputes--a difference that shows that normative disputes look more like factual disputes than like preference disputes. We argue that that is not so.
Libertarian self-ownership views in the tradition of Locke, Nozick, and the left-libertarians have supposed that we enjoy very powerful deontological protections against infringing upon our property. Such a conception makes sense when we are focused on property that is very important to its owner, such as a person’s kidney. However, this stringency of our property rights is harder to credit when we consider more trivial infringements such as very mildly toxic pollution or trivial risks such having planes fly overhead. Maintaining (...) that our rights against all infringements are very powerful threatens to implausibly make such pollution and trivial risk broadly impermissible. This paper suggests that self-ownership views have tended to inappropriately conflate the seriousness of different types of infringements and that treating all infringements so seriously is implausible because it would make too much impermissible. I consider several ways to avoid this result within a self-ownership framework and conclude that the best approach is to allow that the strength of the protection against infringements should be tied to the seriousness of the harm of the infringement. (shrink)
Libertarian self-ownership views have traditionally maintained that we enjoy very powerful deontological protections against any infringement upon our property. This stringency yields very counter-intuitive results when we consider trivial infringements such as very mildly toxic pollution or trivial risks such having planes fly overhead. Maintaining that other people's rights against all infringements are very powerful threatens to undermine our liberty, as Nozick saw. In this paper I consider the most sophisticated attempts to rectify this problem within a libertarian self-ownership framework. (...) I argue that all of these responses are significantly flawed. (shrink)
People are adept at inferring novel causal relations, even from only a few observations. Prior knowledge about the probability of encountering causal relations of various types and the nature of the mechanisms relating causes and effects plays a crucial role in these inferences. We test a formal account of how this knowledge can be used and acquired, based on analyzing causal induction as Bayesian inference. Five studies explored the predictions of this account with adults and 4-year-olds, using tasks in which (...) participants learned about the causal properties of a set of objects. The studies varied the two factors that our Bayesian approach predicted should be relevant to causal induction: the prior probability with which causal relations exist, and the assumption of a deterministic or a probabilistic relation between cause and effect. Adults’ judgments (Experiments 1, 2, and 4) were in close correspondence with the quantitative predictions of the model, and children’s judgments (Experiments 3 and 5) agreed qualitatively with this account. (shrink)
Richard Kraut's neo-Aristotelian account of well-being, Developmentalism, aspires to explain not only which things are good for us but why those things are good for us. The key move in attempting to make good on this second aspiration involves his claim that our ordinary intuitions about what is good for a person can be successfully explained and systematized by the idea that what benefi ts a living thing develops properly that living thing's potentialities, capacities, and faculties. I argue that Kraut's (...) understanding of such proper development plays no serious constraining role in shaping the details of the account. If this is correct, Developmentalism lacks the potential to explain or vindicate the intuitions about what is good for us that it champions. In effect, Kraut offers us a list of things that he claims benefits a person, but he lacks a theory of what those things have in common such that they benefit him. (shrink)
Consequentialism, many philosophers have claimed, asks too much of us to be a plausible ethical theory. Indeed, the theory's severe demandingness is often claimed to be its chief flaw. My thesis is that as we come to better understand this objection, we see that, even if it signals or tracks the existence of a real problem for Consequentialism, it cannot itself be a fundamental problem with the view. The objection cannot itself provide good reason to break with Consequentialism, because it (...) must presuppose prior and independent breaks with the view. The way the objection measures the demandingness of an ethical theory reflects rather than justifies being in the grip of key anti-Consequentialist conclusions. We should reject Consequentialism independently of the Objection or not at all. Thus, we can reduce by one the list of worrisome fundamental complaints against Consequentialism. (shrink)
Can we adequately account for our reasons of mere taste without holding that our desires ground such reasons? Recently, Scanlon and Parfit have argued that we can, pointing to pleasure and pain as the grounds of such reasons. In this paper I take issue with each of their accounts. I conclude that we do not yet have a plausible rival to a desire-based understanding of the grounds of such reasons.
This essay focuses on three recent books on morality and virtue, Michael Slote's 'Morals from Motives', Rosalind Hursthouse's 'On Virtue Ethics', and Philippa Foot's 'Natural Goodness'. Slote proposes an "agent-based" ethical theory according to which the ethical status of acts is derivative from assessments of virtue. Following Foot's lead, Hursthouse aims to vindicate an ethical naturalism that explains human goodness on the basis of views about human nature. Both Hursthouse and Slote take virtue to be morally basic in a way (...) that Foot, to her credit, does not. We argue that all three views face a range of serious difficulties. (shrink)
These days, just about every philosophical debate seems to generate a position labeled internalism. The debate I will be joining in this essay concerns reasons for action and their connection, or lack of connection, to motivation. The internalist position in this debate posits a certain essential connection between reasons and motivation, while the externalist position denies such a connection. This debate about internalism overlaps an older debate between Humeans and Kantians about the exclusive reason-giving power of desires. As we will (...) see, however, while these debates overlap, the new debate is importantly different from the old debate. (shrink)
We argue that beliefs and desires cannot be successfully explicated in terms of direction of fit. It is more difficult than has been realized to do so without presupposing these notions in the explication.
We propose that children employ specialized cognitive systems that allow them to recover an accurate “causal map” of the world: an abstract, coherent, learned representation of the causal relations among events. This kind of knowledge can be perspicuously understood in terms of the formalism of directed graphical causal models, or “Bayes nets”. Children’s causal learning and inference may involve computations similar to those for learning causal Bayes nets and for predicting with them. Experimental results suggest that 2- to 4-year-old children (...) construct new causal maps and that their learning is consistent with the Bayes net formalism. (shrink)