Neutral monism is a position in metaphysics defended by Mach, James, and Russell in the early twentieth century. It holds that minds and physical objects are essentially two different orderings of the same underlying neutral elements of nature. This paper sets out some of the central concepts, theses and the historical background of ideas that inform this doctrine of elements. The discussion begins with the classic neutral monism of Mach, James, and Russell in the first part of (...) the paper, then considers recent neo-Russellian versions in the second half. The chances for a revival of neutral monism are probably slight; its key ideas and starting points lie far from those in contemporary philosophy of mind. A better route might be through the philosophy of science and a deeper understanding of causation. (shrink)
According to the “Textbook View,” there is an extensional dispute between consequentialists and deontologists, in virtue of the fact that only the latter defend “agent-relative” principles—principles that require an agent to have a special concern with making sure that she does not perform certain types of action. I argue that, contra the Textbook View, there are agent-neutral versions of deontology. I also argue that there need be no extensional disagreement between the deontologist and consequentialist, as characterized by the Textbook (...) View. (shrink)
The increasingly common use of inclusive language (e.g., "he or she") in representing past philosophers' views is often inappropriate. Using Immanuel Kant's work as an example, I compare his use of terms such as "human race" and "human being" with his views on women to show that his use of generic terms does not prove that he includes women. I then discuss three different approaches to this issue, found in recent Kant-literature, and show why each of them is insufficient. I (...) conclude that the tension between gender-neutral and gender-specific views in Kant's work should be made explicit, and I offer several strategies for doing so. (shrink)
It is argued that when it comes to the hard problem of consciousness neutral monism beats out the competition. It is further argued that neutral monism provides a unique route to a novel type of panentheism via Advaita Vedanta Hinduism.
The distinction between the agent-relative and the agent-neutral plays a prominent role in recent attempts to taxonomize normative theories. Its importance extends to most areas in practical philosophy, though. Despite its popularity, the distinction remains difficult to get a good grip on. In part this has to do with the fact that there is no consensus concerning the sort of objects to which we should apply the distinction. Thomas Nagel distinguishes between agent-neutral and agent-relative values, reasons, and principles; (...) Derek Parfit focuses on normative theories (and the aims they provide to agents), David McNaughton and Piers Rawling focus on rules and reasons, Skorupski on predicates, and there are other suggestions too. Some writers suspect that we fundamentally talk about one and the same distinction. This work is about practical reasons for action rather than theoretical reasons for belief. Moreover, focus is on whether reasons do or do not essentially refer to particular agents. A challenge that undermines the dichotomy in this sense is posed. After having rejected different attempts to defend the distinction, it is argued that there is a possible defence that sets out from Jonathan Dancy’s recent distinction between enablers and favourers. (shrink)
In this paper, I criticize David McNaughton and Piers Rawling's formalization of the agent-relative/agent-neutral distinction. I argue that their formalization is unable to accommodate an important ethical distinction between two types of conditional obligations. I then suggest a way of revising their formalization so as to fix the problem.
The claim to be defended may be called phenomenological neutral monism: phenomenological neutral monism about perception (or selfless perception): ordinary perception does not intrinsically present us with the distinction between itself and its objects, that is, with the fact that its objects exist (or seem to exist) independently of the perceptual act.
The dispute between Kantians and Humeans over whether practical reason can justify moral reasons for all agents is often characterized as a debate over whether reasons are hypothetical or categorical. Instead, this debate must be understood in terms of the distinction between agent-neutral and agent-relative reasons. This paper considers Alan Gewirth’s Reason and Morality as a case study of a Kantian justification of morality focused on deriving categorical reasons from hypothetical reasons. The case study demonstrates first, the possibility of (...) categorical agent-relative reasons, and second, that inattention to this possibility has caused considerable confusion in the debate between Kantians and Humeans. (shrink)
After thousands of years of work, the mind-body problem endures as one of the most tantalizing issues in metaphysics. For my purposes I formulate the question as: What is the relation between consciousness and matter? The solution to the mind-body problem that I offer is a version of neutral monism, the view that mental and physical events are both to be derived from some stuff that in itself is neither physical nor mental. This paper specifies the conditions under which (...) consciousness and matter occur, rather than implying that thought and extension must be pervasive or that the difference between the mental and the physical is merely one of perspective or of conventional groupings of events, approaches that fail to do justice to our experience. My thesis is that neither consciousness nor matter is derived from the other, but rather both are constructions out of two relations of a single principle to itself, consciousness occurring within I-You, matter being an abstraction from I-it. An advantage of the proposal of the social character of consciousness is that it explains a feature of our world, the nearly identical extension of consciousness and reportability, which many commentators have noted but none explains. It may be thought that this coextension is logically or metaphysically necessary, but I show that this is false. (shrink)
This paper formulates and axiomatizes utility models for denumerable time streams that make no commitment in regard to discounting future outcomes. The models address decision under certainty and decision under risk. Independence assumptions in both contexts lead to additive or multiplicative utilities over time periods that allow unambiguous comparisons of the relative importance of different periods. The models accommodate all patterns of future valuation. This discount-neutral feature is attained by restricting preference comparisons to outcome streams or probability distributions on (...) outcome streams that differ in at most a finite number of periods. (shrink)
The paper begins with a more carefully stated version of ontologically neutral (ON) logic, originally introduced in (Hailperin, 1997). A non-infinitistic semantics which includes a definition of potential infinite validity follows. It is shown, without appeal to the actual infinite, that this notion provides a necessary and sufficient condition for provability in ON logic.
In the first part of my paper I discuss eight arguments in favour of the theory-dependence of observation: realistic content, guidance function of theories, perception as cognitive construction, expectation-dependence of perception, theory-dependence of scientific data, continuity between observational and theoretical concepts, language-dependence, and meaning holism. I argue that although these arguments make correct points, they do not exclude the existence of observations that are weakly theory-neutral in the sense that they don’t depend on acquired background knowledge. In the second (...) part I suggest an experimental method, the method of ostensive learning experiments, by which the degree of theory- and language-independence of a concept can be tested. (shrink)
The book revives the neutral monism of Mach, James, and Russell and applies the updated view to the problem of redefining physicalism, explaining the origins of sensation, and the problem of deriving extended physical objects and systems from an ontology of events.
The ecologist today finds scarce ground safe from controversy. Decisions must be made about what combination of data, goals, methods, and theories offers them the foundations and tools they need to construct and defend their research. When push comes to shove, ecologists often turn to philosophy to justify why it is their approach that is scientific. Karl Popper’s image of science as bold conjectures and heroic refutations is routinely enlisted to justify testing hypotheses over merely confirming them. One of the (...) most controversial theories in contemporary science is the Neutral Theory of Ecology. Its chief developer and proponent, Stephen Hubbell, presents the neutral theory as a bold conjecture that has so far escaped refutation. Critics of the neutral theory claim that it already stands refuted, despite what the dogmatic neutralists say. We see the controversy through a Popperian lens. But Popper’s is an impoverished philosophy of science that distorts contemporary ecology. -/- The controversy surrounding the neutral theory actually rests on a methodological fault. There is a strong but messy historical link between the concepts of being neutral and being null in biology, and Hubbell perpetuates this when he claims that the neutral theory is supplies the appropriate null for testing alternative theories. What method is being followed here? There are three contenders: -/- Null hypothesis testing tests for whether a there is a pattern to be explained. Null modeling tests for whether a process is causally relevant to a pattern. Baseline modeling apportions relative responsibility to multiple processes each relevant to a pattern. -/- Whether the neutral theory supplies an appropriate “null” depends upon whether null hypothesis, null modeling, or baseline model is intended. These methods prescribe distinct inference patterns. If they are null hypothesis testing or null modeling, the neutralists’s reasoning is invalid. If they are baseline modeling, the justification of a crucial assumption remains opaque. Either way, the neutral-null connection is being exploited rhetorically to privilege the neutral theory over its rivals. Clarifying the reasoning immunizes us against the rhetoric and foregrounds the underlying virtues of the neutralist approach to ecology. -/- The Popperian lens distorts theoretical development as dogmatism. Lakatos’s view of science as the development of research programmes clarifies the epistemology of the neutral theory. Focusing philosophical attention on the neutralist research programme illuminates (1) the synchronic uses of the neutral theory to make predictions and give descriptions and explanations; (2) its diachronic development in response to theoretical innovation and confrontation with data; (3) its complex relationships to alternative theories. For example, baseline modeling is now seen to be its primary explanatory heuristic. The justification for baseline modeling with the neutral theory, previously hidden from view, is seen in the logic of in the neutralist research programme. (shrink)
Do non‐symmetric relations apply to the objects they relate in an order? According to the standard view of relations, the difference between aRb and bRa obtaining, where R is non‐symmetric, corresponds to a difference in the order in which the non‐symmetric relation R applies to a and b. Recently Kit Fine has challenged the standard view in his important paper ‘Neutral Relations’ arguing that non‐symmetric relations are neutral, lacking direction or order. In this paper I argue that Fine (...) cannot account for the application of non‐symmetric relations to their relata; so far from being neutral, these relations are inherently directional. (shrink)
This paper, for two upcoming volumes, makes what I consider to be the definitive textual case for finally rejecting the phenomenalist interpretation of Ernst Mach's works, and his customary association with the Vienna Circle, in favor of a stronger realistic neutral monist reading connecting him to James, Russell and the American realist movement and today's neutral monism (for example my 2014). I hope that this reading will eventually supplant the previously mistaken view of Mach's work and that his (...) views of science and philosophy of space and time can be revised as well. (shrink)
In his recent book Slaves of the Passions , Mark Schroeder defends a Humean account of practical reasons ( hypotheticalism ). He argues that it is compatible with 'genuinely agent-neutral reasons'. These are reasons that any agent whatsoever has. According to Schroeder, they may well include moral reasons. Furthermore, he proposes a novel account of a reason's weight, which is supposed to vindicate the claim that agent-neutral reasons ( if they exist), would be weighty irrespective of anyone's desires. (...) If the argument is successful, it could help avoid an error-theory of moral language. I argue that it isn't, and that we should reject a Humean approach to reasons. (shrink)
In this paper, I argue that a definition of paternalism must meet certain methodological constraints. Given the failings of descriptivist and normatively charged definitions of paternalism, I argue that we have good reason to pursue a normatively neutral definition. Archard's 1990 definition is one such account. It is for this reason that I return to Archard's account with a critical eye. I argue that Archard's account is extensionally inadequate, failing to capture some cases which are clear instances of paternalism. (...) I refine each of his three conditions, ultimately providing an improved definition of paternalistic interference. This revised definition meets specific methodological constraints, offering a definition that is both neutral between anti- and pro-paternalistic intuitions, but that also explains why paternalism is normatively significant. Specifically, this definition captures the conflict between interfering with an individual's choices and treating the individual benevolently, without making paternalism permissible or impermissible by definition. (shrink)
I argue that there is methodological space for a functional explanation of the nature of law that does not commit the theorist to a view about the value of that function for society, nor whether law is the best means of accomplishing it. A functional explanation will nonetheless provide a conceptual framework for a better understanding of the nature of law. First I examine the proper role for function in a theory of law and then argue for the possibility of (...) a neutral functional theory, addressing issues raised by Leslie Green, Stephen Perry, Michael Moore and John Finnis. (shrink)
The issue of whether biological and psychological properties associated with disability can be harmful, beneficial, or neutral brings up an important philosophical question about how we evaluate disability, and disability’s impact on well-being. The debate is usually characterized as between those who argue disability is intrinsically harmful, and disability rights advocates who argue that disability is just another way of being different, in part, because disability can also provide important benefits. I argue that this debate is a false one, (...) as neither view can capture the more complicated relationship between disability and well-being. I argue that many disabilities are best understood as a kind of pro-tanto extrinsic harm that is characterized in counterfactual terms. This means that our judgments concerning disability and harm must be context-sensitive. (shrink)
It has become increasingly popular to argue that legal positivism is actually a normative theory, and that it cannot be purely descriptive and morally neutral as H.L.A. Hart has suggested. This article purports to disprove this line of thought. It argues that legal positivism is best understood as a descriptive, morally neutral, theory about the nature of law. The article distinguishes between five possible views about the relations between normative claims and legal positivism, arguing that some of them (...) are not at odds with Hart’s thesis about the nature of jurisprudence, while the others are wrong, both as expositions of legal positivism or as critiques of it. Legal positivism does not necessarily purport to justify any aspect of its subject matter, nor is it committed to any particular moral or political evaluations. (shrink)
In this paper I am concerned with an analysis of negative existential sentences that contain proper names only by using negative or neutral free logic. I will compare different versions of neutral free logic with the standard system of negative free logic (Burge, Sainsbury) and aim to defend my version of neutral free logic that I have labeled non-standard neutral free logic.
This paper offers a defence of the distinction between agent-neutral and agent-relative reasons for action from scepticism aired by Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen. In response it is argued that the Nagelian notion of an agent-neutral reason is not incomprehensible, and that agent-neutral reasons can indeed be understood as obtaining states of affairs that count in favour of anyone and everyone performing the action they favour. Furthermore, I argue that a distinction drawn between agent-neutral and agent-relative reason-statements that express (...) the salient features of reason-constitutive states of affairs is neither reductive in the sense of reducing normative reasons to the propositional content of an agent’s mental state, nor trivial in the sense of locating the distinction merely in an agent’s description of the world. (shrink)
Is there a justification of concern for one's own integrity that agent-neutral consequentialism cannot explain? In addressing this question, it is important to be clear about what is meant by 'agent-neutral', 'consequentialism', and 'integrity'. Let 'consequentialism' be constituted by the following two theses.
The neutral and nearly neutral theories of molecular evolution are sometimes characterized as theories about drift alone, where drift is described solely as an outcome, rather than a process. We argue, however, that both selection and drift, as causal processes, are integral parts of both theories. However, the nearly neutral theory explicitly recognizes alleles and/or molecular substitutions that, while engaging in weakly selected causal processes, exhibit outcomes thought to be characteristic of random drift. A narrow focus on (...) outcomes obscures the significant role of weakly selected causal processes in the nearly neutral theory. (shrink)
Bare plurals (dogs) behave in ways that quantified plurals (some dogs) do not. For instance, while the sentence John owns dogs implies that John owns more than one dog, its negation John does not own dogs does not mean “John does not own more than one dog”, but rather “John does not own a dog”. A second puzzling behavior is known as the dependent plural reading; when in the scope of another plural, the ‘more than one’ meaning of the plural (...) is not distributed over, but the existential force of the plural is. For example, My friends attend good schools requires that each of my friends attend one good school, not more, while at the same time being inappropriate if all my friends attend the same school. This paper shows that both these phenomena, and others, arise from the same cause. Namely, the plural noun itself does not assert ‘more than one’, but rather the plural denotes a predicate that is number neutral (unspecified for cardinality). The ‘more than one’ meaning arises as an scalar implicature, relying on the scalar relationship between the bare plural and its singular alternative, and calculated in a sub-sentential domain; namely, before existential closure of the event variable. Finally, implications of this analysis will be discussed for the analysis of the quantified noun phrases that interact with bare plurals, such as indefinite numeral DPs (three boys), and singular universals (every boy). (shrink)
This essay argues for three theses. The first is that the notion of agent-neutral value, or more accurately, the promotion of agent-neutral values, is what truly defines consequentialism as a type of moral theory. A state of affairs is of agent-neutral value if it is capable of generating reasons for action for everybody. The second is that the existence of agent-neutral value has never been proven, and no known account of this notion has made clear what (...) kind of things these are. In particular, I argue that both the non-moral approach and the moral approach to make good the claim about the existence of agent-neutral values are unable to deliver the desired results. The third thesis is that moral philosophy should exorcise the notion of agent-neutral value, not only because we do not know what type of things these are, but also because we do not need this notion in order to have good moral philosophy. I offer, basically, two arguments here. One is that when the justificatory issue is properly formulated, the so-called 'agent-relative rules' appear to be justifiable. The other is that the duty of beneficence can be accounted for on grounds other than that of agent-neutral value. (shrink)
I argue, contra Dreier, Blackburn, and others, that there are no morally neutral metaethical positions. Every metaethical position commits you to the denial of some moral statement. So, for example, the metaethical position that there are no moral properties commits you to the denial of the moral conjunction of 1) it is right to interfere violently when someone is wrongly causing massive suffering and 2) it is wrong to interfere violently when only non-moral properties are at stake. The argument (...) generalizes to all metaethical positions. (shrink)
Bertrand Russell in "My Philosophical Development" claimed he converted to neutral monism in 1919, in the essay "On Propositions." I question whether Russell was really a complete neutral monist in the style of Mach and James and conclude that he was not. Russell's lingering commitment to image propositions and a linguistic theory of meaning and truth and falsity separate him from the more naturalistic causal theory of knowledge and error one finds in James and Mach.
Disagreement about the properattitude toward disability proliferates. Yetlittle attention has been paid to an importantmeta-question, namely, whether ``disability'' isan essentially contested concept. If so, recentdebates between bioethicists and the disabilitymovement leadership cannot be resolved. Inthis essay I identify some of the presumptionsthat make their encounters so contentious. Much more must happen, I argue, for anydiscussions about disability policy andpolitics to be productive. Progress depends onconstructing a neutral conception ofdisability, one that neither devaluesdisability nor implies that persons withdisabilities are inadequate. (...) So, first, I clearaway the conceptual underbrush that makes usthink our idea of disability must bevalue-laden. Second, I sketch someconstituents of, and constraints upon, aneutral notion of disability. (shrink)
In this paper I argue that, according to a particular physicalist conception of information, information is both alethically neutral or non-alethic, and is intrinsically semantic. The conception of information presented is physicalist and reductionist, and is contrary to most current pluralist and non-reductionist philosophical opinion about the nature of information. The ontology assumed for this conception of information is based upon physicalist non-eliminative ontic structural realism. However, the argument of primary interest is that information so construed is intrinsically semantic (...) on a reductionist and non-alethic basis where semantic content is constituted by indication along causal pathways. Similar arguments have been presented by philosophers with respect to representation. I suggest the conception of information that I present is correct by the lights of the best applied mathematical and scientific theories of information. If so, there is no need for any separate theory of semantic information. Thus I present a theory of intrinsically semantic information which also constitutes an informational theory of truth where truth reduces to information. In the last section I discuss weakly and strongly semantic information, and reject them in favour of alethically neutral intrinsically semantic information. (shrink)
As some see it, an impasse has been reached on the mind- body problem between mainstream physicalism and mainstream dualism. So lately another view has been gaining popularity, a view that might be called the 'Russellian theory of mind' (RTM) since it is inspired by some ideas once put forth by Bertrand Russell. Most versions of RTM are panpsychist, but there is at least one version that rejects panpsychism and styles itself as physicalism, and neutral monism is also a (...) possibility. In this paper I will attempt to sort out these different versions with a view to determining which, if any, have a chance of breaking the perceived impasse. The unsurprising conclusion will be that there are a lot of challenges ahead for the RTM theorist. The surprising conclusion will be that it's not clear that pan- psychist RTM holds an advantage over the other versions in this regard. (shrink)
Is it possible to do a good thing, or to make the world a better place? Some argue that it is not possible, because perspective-neutral value does not exist. Some argue that ‘good’ does not play the right grammatical role; or that all good things are good ‘in a way’; or that goodness is inherently perspective-dependent. I argue that the logical and semantic properties of ‘good’ are what we should expect of an evaluative predicate; that the many ways of (...) being good don't threaten the thesis that some ways are perspective-independent; and that there are clear examples of perspective-independent goodness. (shrink)
This chapter examines the distinction that is sometimes drawn between neutral and relative attributions of value. It asks whether a plausible interpretation can be found for claims about relative value; whether an interpretation can be found for claims about neutral value which best captures the thoughts that people express by using this distinction; whether the distinction can be used to produce a satisfactory way of formulating a relative-value consequentialist theory; and whether a theory of that kind is plausible. (...) A positive answer is given to the first three questions, but a negative one to the fourth. (shrink)
The historical reconstruction of the origins of the Neutral Theory of Molecular Evolution (NTME) has been seen purely as an extension of a long-held theoretical debate between the classical and balance schools of Population Genetics. In this perspective, the NTME is but a different interpretation of the then recently published data on high intrapopulation genetic variability. In this paper we try to show that this thesis is deficient and partially incorrect. We show that the sources for the construction and (...) development of the NTME are more varied than this traditional account. We support the Dietrich Historical Thesis, which is the view that different versions of the NTME (Kimura, and King and Jukes) show different kinds of experimental and theoretical support and coincide in recognizing the importance of the then new molecular experimental approach and of its comparative results in evolutionary biology. We stress this case to show the limits of the traditional approach in history and philosophy of science that emphasizes the theoretical activities of scientists and the theoretical characterization of disciplines. (shrink)
This paper challenges the claim that science is metaphysically neutral upheld by contenders of the separation of peacefully co-existent science and religion and by evolutionary theists. True, naturalistic metaphysical claims can neither be refuted nor proved and are thus distinct from empirical hypotheses. However, metaphysical assumptions not only regulate the theoretical and empirical study of nature, but are increasingly supported by the growing empirical body of science. This historically evolving interaction has contributed to the development of a naturalistic worldview (...) that renounces the necessity of a transcendent god and of purposeful design. The thesis presented here differs not only from the claims of the “separatists” and of evolutionary theists. In pointing to the metaphysical aspects of science, I also criticize the failure of some evolutionary naturalists to distinguish between empirical and metaphysical contentions. Most important, based on the examination of science suggested here, creationists’ false accusation that science is only a naturalistic dogma is refuted. Finally, the difficulties involved in the position endorsed here for the public support of evolution are acknowledged, taking into account the high religious profile of the American society and the social and political context in the US and in other countries. (shrink)
"I define the Neutral as that which outplays the paradigm, or rather I call Neutral everything that baffles paradigm." With these words, Roland Barthes describes a concept that profoundly shaped his work and was the subject of a landmark series of lectures delivered in 1978 at the Collège de France, just two years before his death. Not published in France until 2002, and appearing in English for the first time, these creative and engaging lectures deepen our understanding of (...) Roland Barthes's intellectual itinerary and reveal his distinctive style as thinker and teacher. The Neutral, as Barthes describes it, escapes or undoes the paradigmatic binary oppositions that structure and produce meaning in Western thought and discourse. These binaries are found in all aspects of human society ranging from language to sexuality to politics. For Barthes, the attempt to deconstruct or escape from these binaries has profound ethical, philosophical, and linguistic implications. _The Neutral_ is comprised of the prewritten texts from which Barthes lectured and centers around 23 "figures," also referred to as "traits" or "twinklings," that are possible embodiments of the Neutral or of the anti-Neutral. His lectures draw on a diverse set of authors and intellectual traditions, including Lao-tzu, Tolstoy, German mysticism, classical philosophy, Rousseau, Baudelaire, Walter Benjamin, and John Cage. Barthes's idiosyncratic approach to his subjects gives the lectures a playful, personal, and even joyous quality that enhances his rich insights. In addition to his reflections on a variety of literary and scholarly works, Barthes's personal convictions and the events of his life shaped the course and content of the lectures. Most prominently, as Barthes admits, the recent death of his mother and the idea of mourning shape several of his lectures. (shrink)
The neutral theory of biodiversity assumes that coexisting organisms are equally able to survive, reproduce and disperse, but predicts that stochastic fluctuations of these abilities drive diversity dynamics. It predicts remarkably well many biodiversity patterns, although substantial evidence for the role of niche variation across organisms seems contradictory. Here, we discuss this apparent paradox by exploring the meaning and implications of ecological equivalence. We address the question whether neutral theory provides an explanation for biodiversity patterns and acknowledges causal (...) processes. We underline that ecological equivalence, although central to neutral theory, can emerge at local and regional scales from niche-based processes through equalizing and stabilizing mechanisms. Such emerging equivalence corresponds to a weak conception of neutral theory, as opposed to the assumption of strict equivalence at individual level in the strong conception. We show that this duality is related to diverging views on hypothesis-testing and modeling in ecology. In addition, the stochastic dynamics exposed in neutral theory are pervasive in ecological systems and, rather than a null hypothesis, ecological equivalence is best understood as a parsimonious baseline to address biodiversity dynamics at multiple scales. (shrink)
Recent models of cognition in Posttraumatic Stress Disorder predict that trauma-related, but not neutral, processing should be differentially affected in these patients, compared to trauma-exposed controls. This study compared a group of 50 patients with PTSD related to the war in Bosnia and a group of 50 controls without PTSD but exposed to trauma from the war, using the DRM method to induce false memories for war-related and neutral critical lures. While the groups were equally susceptible to (...) class='Hi'>neutral critical lures, the PTSD group mistakenly recalled more war-related lures. Both false and correct recall were related more to depression than to self-rated trauma. Implications for accounts of false memories in terms of source-monitoring are discussed. (shrink)