Consider the following claim: “If an agent comes to be bad through a process that entirely bypasses her ability to appreciate and to respond to reasons, including moral reasons, she is not a responsible agent at all” (Levy 2007). Psychopathy is a wonderful example here, since there’s reason to think it has a strong genetic component. But why should we accept this claim that we have to absolve those who are born irrevocably bad?
Exploring the Illusion of Free Will and Moral Responsibility is an edited collection of new essays by an internationally recognized line-up of contributors. It is aimed at readers who wish to explore the philosophical and scientific arguments for free will skepticism and their implications.
I discuss experimental work by Nichols, and Nichols and Knobe, with respect to the philosophical problems of free will and moral responsibility. I mention some methodological concerns about the work, but focus principally on the philosophical implications of the work. The experimental results seem to show that in particular, concrete cases we are more willing to attribute responsibility than in cases described abstractly or in general terms. I argue that their results suggest a deep problem for traditional accounts (...) of compatibilism, and that they may cast some light on the literature surrounding Frankfurt cases. I also suggest a way in which mature philosophical convictions about free will may reflect a contingent process of refining and defending either of two competing strands of intuitions, and suggest that this may partly explain the persistence of philosophical debates about free will. (shrink)
There are two standard theoretical responses to putative errors in ordinary thinking about some given target property: eliminativism or revisionism. Roughly, eliminativism is the denial that the target property exists, and revisionism is the view that the property exists, but that people tend to have false beliefs about it. Recently, ShaunNichols has proposed a third option: discretionism. Discretionism is the idea that some terms have multiple reference conventions, so that it may be true to say with eliminativists (...) that the property does not exist, and true to say with revisionists that the property does exist. This article explores the viability of discretionism, and argues that it faces serious difficulties. Even if the difficulties faced by discretionism can be overcome, it is unclear that discretionism secures anything beyond what is already available to standard revisionist views. The article concludes with some reflections about Nichols’ account of the bare retributive norm. (shrink)
The everyday capacity to understand the mind, or 'mindreading', plays an enormous role in our ordinary lives. ShaunNichols and Stephen Stich provide a detailed and integrated account of the intricate web of mental components underlying this fascinating and multifarious skill. The imagination, they argue, is essential to understanding others, and there are special cognitive mechanisms for understanding oneself. The account that emerges has broad implications for longstanding philosophical debates over the status of folk psychology. Mindreading is another (...) trailblazing volume in the prestigious interdisciplinary Oxford Cognitive Science series. (shrink)
Sentimental Rules is an ambitious and highly interdisciplinary work, which proposes and defends a new theory about the nature and evolution of moral judgment. In it, philosopher ShaunNichols develops the theory that emotions play a critical role in both the psychological and the cultural underpinnings of basic moral judgment. Nichols argues that our norms prohibiting the harming of others are fundamentally associated with our emotional responses to those harms, and that such 'sentimental rules' enjoy an advantage (...) in cultural evolution, which partly explains the success of certain moral norms. This has sweeping and exciting implications for philosophical ethics. Nichols builds on an explosion of recent intriguing experimental work in psychology on our capacity for moral judgment and shows how this empirical work has broad import for enduring philosophical problems. The result is an account that illuminates fundamental questions about the character of moral emotions and the role of sentiment and reason in how we make our moral judgments. This work should appeal widely across philosophy and the other disciplines that comprise cognitive science. (shrink)
ShaunNichols offers a naturalistic, psychological account of the origins of the problem of free will. He argues that our belief in indeterminist choice is grounded in faulty inference and therefore unjustified, goes on to suggest that there is no single answer to whether free will exists, and promotes a pragmatic approach to prescriptive issues.
The debate over off-line simulation has largely focussed on the capacity to predict behavior, but the basic idea of off-line simulation can be cast in a much broader framework. The central claim of the off-line account of behavior prediction is that the practical reasoning mechanism is taken off-line and used for predicting behavior. However, there's no reason to suppose that the idea of off-line simulation can't be extended to mechanisms other than the practical reasoning system. In principle, any cognitive component (...) can be taken off-line and used to perform some other function. On this view of off-line simulation, such accounts differ radically from traditional information-based accounts of cognitive capacities. And cognitive penetrability provides a wedge for empirically determining whether a capacity requires an information-based account or an off-line simulation account. Stich and Nichols (1992) argued that the simulation theory of behavior prediction was inadequate because behavior prediction seemed to be cognitively penetrable. We present empirical evidence that supports the claim that the behavior prediction is cognitively penetrable. As a result, the simulation account of behavior prediction still seems unpromising. However, off-line simulation might provide accounts of other cognitive capacities. Indeed, off- line simulation accounts have recently been offered for a strikingly diverse set of capacities including counterfactual reasoning, empathy and mental imagery. Goldman, for instance, maintains that counterfactual reasoning and empathy clearly demand off-line simulation accounts. We argue that there are alternative information-based explanations of these phenomena. Nonetheless, the off-line accounts of these phenomena are interesting and clearly worthy of further exploration. (shrink)
Iteration presents opposing puzzles for a theory of the imagination. The first puzzle, noted by David Lewis, is that when a person pretends to pretend, the iteration is often preserved. Let’s call this the puzzle of ‘pre- served iteration’. At the other pole, Gregory Currie has noted that very often when we pretend to pretend, the iteration does collapse. We might call this the puzzle of ‘collapsed iteration’. Somehow a theory of the imagination must be able to address these two (...) puzzles. I argue that an empirically inspired cognitive theory of the imagination (Nichols & Stich 2000) can accommodate both puzzles. (shrink)
In this paper we propose to argue for two claims. The first is that a sizeable group of epistemological projects – a group which includes much of what has been done in epistemology in the analytic tradition – would be seriously undermined if one or more of a cluster of empirical hypotheses about epistemic intuitions turns out to be true. The basis for this claim will be set out in Section 2. The second claim is that, while the jury is (...) still out, there is now a substantial body of evidence suggesting that some of those empirical hypotheses are true. Much of this evidence derives from an ongoing series of experimental studies of epistemic intuitions that we have been conducting. A preliminary report on these studies will be presented in Section 3. In light of these studies, we think it is incumbent on those who pursue the epistemological projects in question to either explain why the truth of the hypotheses does not undermine their projects, or to say why, in light of the evidence we will present, they nonetheless assume that the hypotheses are false. In Section 4, which is devoted to Objections and Replies, we’ll consider some of the ways in which defenders of the projects we are criticizing might reply to our challenge. Our goal, in all of this, is not to offer a conclusive argument demonstrating that the epistemological projects we will be criticizing are untenable. Rather, our aim is to shift the burden of argument. (shrink)
The everyday capacity to understand the mind, fancifully dubbed 'mindreading', plays an enormous role in our lives. In the latter half of the 20th century mindreading became the object of sustained scientific and theoretical research, capturing the attention of a wide range of disciplines, including philosophy, developmental psychology, behavioral ecology, anthropology, and cognitive psychopathology. What has been missing is a detailed and integrated account of the mental components that underlie this remarkable capacity. Nichols and Stich develop and defend a (...) new account of the psychological mechanisms underlying mindreading. They maintain that it is, as common sense would suggest, vital to distinguish between reading others' minds and reading one's own. In reading other minds, the imagination plays a central role. As a result, the authors begin with an explicit and systematic account of pretence and imagination which proposes that pretence representations are contained in a separate mental workspace, the 'Possible World Box', which is part of the basic architecture of the human mind. The mechanisms underlying pretence get recruited when people attempt to understand others and predict their behaviour. In some cases, we use our own mental mechanisms to simulate the mental processes of another, as suggested by the 'simulation theory' of mindreading. However, mindreading also implicates very different kinds of mechanisms that rely on rich bodies of information, as suggested by information-based accounts of mindreading. In addition, the authors argue, reading other minds involves important processes that don't fit into either category. None of these mechanisms, though, explain how we read our own minds, which, according to the authors, requires invoking an entirely independent set of mechanisms.What we find, then, is an intricate web of mental components to explain our fascinating and multifarious knack of understanding minds. This account provides a valuable framework for future work on mindreading and has broad implications for philosophical debates that have surrounded the issue for the last quarter century. (shrink)
An empirical study of people's intuitions about freedom of the will. We show that people tend to have compatiblist intuitions when they think about the problem in a more concrete, emotional way but that they tend to have incompatiblist intuitions when they think about the problem in a more abstract, cognitive way.
Theories of reference have been central to analytic philosophy, and two views, the descriptivist view of reference and the causal-historical view of reference, have dominated the field. In this research tradition, theories of reference are assessed by consulting one’s intuitions about the reference of terms in hypothetical situations. However, recent work in cultural psychology (e.g., Nisbett et al. 2001) has shown systematic cognitive differences between East Asians and Westerners, and some work indicates that this extends to intuitions about philosophical cases (...) (Weinberg et al. 2001). In light of these findings on cultural differences, two experiments were conducted which explored intuitions about reference in Westerners and East Asians. Both experiments indicate that, for certain central cases, Westerners are more likely than East Asians to report intuitions that are consistent with the causal-historical view. These results constitute prima facie evidence that semantic intuitions vary from culture to culture, and the paper argues that this fact raises questions about the nature of the philosophical enterprise of developing a theory of reference. (shrink)
It is common in various quarters of philosophy to derive philosophically significant conclusions from theories of reference. In this paper, we argue that philosophers should give up on such 'arguments from reference.' Intuitions play a central role in establishing theories of reference, and recent cross-cultural work suggests that intuitions about reference vary across cultures and between individuals within a culture (Machery et al. 2004). We argue that accommodating this variation within a theory of reference undermines arguments from reference.
Recent work by Joshua Knobe indicates that people’s intuition about whether an action was intentional depends on whether the outcome is good or bad. This paper argues that part of the explanation for this effect is that there are stable individual differences in how ‘intentional’ is interpreted. That is, in Knobe’s cases, different people interpret the term in different ways. This interpretive diversity of ‘intentional’ opens up a new avenue to help explain Knobe’s results. Furthermore, the paper argues that the (...) use of intuitions in philosophy is complicated by fact that there are robust individual differences in intuitions about matters of philosophical concern. (shrink)
For the last 25 years discussions and debates about commonsense psychology (or “folk psychology,” as it is often called) have been center stage in the philosophy of mind. There have been heated disagreements both about what folk psychology is and about how it is related to the scientific understanding of the mind/brain that is emerging in psychology and the neurosciences. In this chapter we will begin by explaining why folk psychology plays such an important role in the philosophy of mind. (...) Doing that will require a quick look at a bit of the history of philosophical discussions about the mind. We’ll then turn our attention to the lively contemporary discussions aimed at clarifying the philosophical role that folk psychology is expected to play and at using findings in the cognitive sciences to get a clearer understanding of the exact nature of folk psychology. (shrink)
Thought experiments have played a central role in philosophical methodology, largely as a means of elucidating the nature of our concepts and the implications of our theories.1 Particular attention is given to widely shared “folk” intuitions – the basic untutored intuitions that the layperson has about philosophical questions.2 The folk intuition is meant to underlie our core metaphysical concepts, and philosophical analysis is meant to explicate or sometimes refine these naïve concepts. Consistency with the deliverances of folk intuitions is a (...) sign that the philosopher is making contact with his object of interest. In order to explore folk concepts, people are often asked to provide their intuitions about a state of affairs in some alternate universe or possible world, one that differs in particular, precise ways from the way things are in the actual world. Here we provide evidence that people’s intuitions about moral responsibility sometimes diverge across worlds even when the facts about these worlds are the same. Which world one considers actual affects at least some philosophical judgments, suggesting that it is not just possible worlds to which our intuitions are tied. We will present several possible explanations for the asymmetry we have identified, and we’ll consider some implications for philosophical intuition. (shrink)
Memory of past episodes provides a sense of personal identity — the sense that I am the same person as someone in the past. We present a neurological case study of a patient who has accurate memories of scenes from his past, but for whom the memories lack the sense of mineness. On the basis of this case study, we propose that the sense of identity derives from two components, one delivering the content of the memory and the other generating (...) the sense of mineness. We argue that this new model of the sense of identity has implications for debates about quasi-memory. In addition, articulating the components of the sense of identity promises to bear on the extent to which this sense of identity provides evidence of personal identity. (shrink)
Recent experimental research has revealed surprising patterns in people's intuitions about free will and moral responsibility. One limitation of this research, however, is that it has been conducted exclusively on people from Western cultures. The present paper extends previous research by presenting a cross-cultural study examining intuitions about free will and moral responsibility in subjects from the United States, Hong Kong, India and Colombia. The results revealed a striking degree of cross-cultural convergence. In all four cultural groups, the majority of (...) participants said that (a) our universe is indeterministic and (b) moral responsibility is not compatible with determinism. (shrink)
The idea that incompatibilism is intuitive is one of the key motivators for incompatibilism. Not surprisingly, then philosophers who defend incompatibilism often claim that incompatibilism is the natural, commonsense view about free will and moral responsibility (e.g., Pereboom 2001, Kane Journal of Philosophy 96:217–240 1999, Strawson 1986). And a number of recent studies find that people give apparently incompatibilist responses in vignette studies. When participants are presented with a description of a causal deterministic universe, they tend to deny that people (...) are morally responsible in that universe. Although this suggests that people are intuitive incompatibilists, Eddy Nahmias and Dylan Murray, in a recent series of important papers, have developed an important challenge to this interpretation. They argue that people confuse determinism with bypassing, the idea that one’s mental states lack causal efficacy. Murray and Nahmias present new experiments that seem to confirm the bypassing hypothesis. In this paper, we use structural equation modeling to re-examine the issue. We find support instead for an incompatibilist explanation of the bypassing results, i.e., incompatibilist judgments seem to cause bypassing judgments. We hypothesize that this phenomenon occurs because people think of decisions as essentially indeterministic; thus, when confronted with a description of determinism they tend to think that decisions do not even occur. We provide evidence for this in three subsequent studies which show that many participants deny that people make decisions in a deterministic universe; by contrast, most participants tend to allow that people add numbers in a deterministic universe. Together, these studies suggest that bypassing results don’t reflect a confusion, but rather the depth of the incompatibilist intuition. (shrink)
There is a large tradition of work in moral psychology that explores the capacity for moral judgment by focusing on the basic capacity to distinguish moral violations (e.g. hitting another person) from conventional violations (e.g. playing with your food). However, only recently have there been attempts to characterize the cognitive mechanisms underlying moral judgment (e.g. Cognition 57 (1995) 1; Ethics 103 (1993) 337). Recent evidence indicates that affect plays a crucial role in mediating the capacity to draw the moral/conventional distinction. (...) However, the prevailing account of the role of affect in moral judgment is problematic. This paper argues that the capacity to draw the moral/conventional distinction depends on both a body of information about which actions are prohibited (a Normative Theory) and an affective mechanism. This account leads to the prediction that other normative prohibitions that are connected to an affective mechanism might be treated as non-conventional. An experiment is presented that indicates that “disgust” violations (e.g. spitting at the table), are distinguished from conventional violations along the same dimensions as moral violations. (shrink)
Throughout the 20th century, an enormous amount of intellectual fuel was spent debating the merits of a class of skeptical arguments which purport to show that knowledge of the external world is not possible. These arguments, whose origins can be traced back to Descartes, played an important role in the work of some of the leading philosophers of the 20th century, including Russell, Moore and Wittgenstein, and they continue to engage the interest of contemporary philosophers. (e.g., Cohen 1999, DeRose 1995, (...) Hill 1996, Klein 1981, Lewis 1996, McGinn 1993, Nozick 1981, Schiffer 1996, Unger 1975, Williams 1996) Typically, these arguments make use of one or more premises which the philosophers proposing them take to be intuitively obvious. Beyond an appeal to intuition, little or no defense is offered, and in many cases it is hard to see what else could be said in support of these premises. A number of authors have suggested that the intuitions undergirding these skeptical arguments are universal – shared by everyone (or almost everyone) who thinks reflectively about knowledge. In this paper we will offer some evidence indicating that they are far from universal. Rather, the evidence suggests that many of the intuitions epistemologists invoke vary with the cultural background, socioeconomic status and educational background of the person offering the intuition. And this, we will argue, is bad news for the skeptical arguments that rely on those intuitions. The evidence may also be bad news for skepticism itself – not because it shows that skepticism is false, but rather because, if we accept one prominent account of the link between epistemic intuitions and epistemic concepts, it indicates that skepticism may be much less interesting and much less worrisome than philosophers have taken it to be. (shrink)
Part I: Building blocks. 1. Folk convictions -- 2. Doubts about libertarianism -- 3. Nihilism and revisionism -- 4. Building a better theory -- Part II. A theory of moral responsibility. 5. The primacy of reasons -- 6. Justifying the practice -- 7. Responsible agency -- 8. Blame and desert -- 9. History and manipulation --10. Some conclusions.
Recent work shows an important asymmetry in lay intuitions about moral dilemmas. Most people think it is permissible to divert a train so that it will kill one innocent person instead of ﬁve, but most people think that it is not permissible to push a stranger in front of a train to save ﬁve innocents. We argue that recent emotion-based explanations of this asymmetry have neglected the contribution that rules make to reasoning about moral dilemmas. In two experiments, we ﬁnd (...) that participants show a parallel asymmetry about versions of the dilemmas that have minimized emotional force. In a third experiment, we ﬁnd that people distinguish between whether an action violates a moral rule and whether it is, all things considered, wrong. We propose that judgments of whether an action is wrong, all things considered, implicate a complex set of psychological processes, including representations of rules, emotional responses, and assessments of costs and beneﬁts. q 2005 Published by Elsevier B.V. (shrink)
Experimental philosophy is a new interdisciplinary field that uses methods normally associated with psychology to investigate questions normally associated with philosophy. The present review focuses on research in experimental philosophy on four central questions. First, why is it that people's moral judgments appear to influence their intuitions about seemingly nonmoral questions? Second, do people think that moral questions have objective answers, or do they see morality as fundamentally relative? Third, do people believe in free will, and do they see free (...) will as compatible with determinism? Fourth, how do people determine whether an entity is conscious? (shrink)
We sometimes fail unwittingly to do things that we ought to do. And we are, from time to time, culpable for these unwitting omissions. We provide an outline of a theory of responsibility for unwitting omissions. We emphasize two distinctive ideas: (i) many unwitting omissions can be understood as failures of appropriate vigilance, and; (ii) the sort of self-control implicated in these failures of appropriate vigilance is valuable to us. We argue that the norms that govern vigilance and the value (...) of self-control explain culpability for unwitting omissions. (shrink)
We have recently presented evidence for cross-cultural variation in semantic intuitions and explored the implications of such variation for philosophical arguments that appeal to some theory of reference as a premise. Devitt (2011) and Ichikawa and colleagues (forthcoming) offer critical discussions of the experiment and the conclusions that can be drawn from it. In this response, we reiterate and clarify what we are really arguing for, and we show that most of Devitt’s and Ichikawa and colleagues’ criticisms fail to address (...) our concerns. (shrink)
In this essay, two different forms of debunking arguments are distinguished. On the type of debunking argument that I will promote, one attempts to undercut the justificatory status of a belief by showing that the belief was formed by an epistemically defective psychological process. I argue that there is a promising application of such a process debunking argument in metaethics. In normative ethics, however, process debunking arguments face greater obstacles.
A central goal of contemporary cognitive science is the explanation of cognitive abilities or capacities. [Cummins 1983] During the last three decades a wide range of cognitive capacities have been subjected to careful empirical scrutiny. The adult's ability to produce and comprehend natural language sentences and the child's capacity to acquire a natural language were among the first to be explored. [Chomsky 1965, Fodor, Bever & Garrett 1974, Pinker 1989] There is also a rich literature on the ability to solve (...) mathematical problems [Greeno 1983], the ability to recognize objects visually [Rock 1983, Gregory 1970, Marr 1982], the ability to manipulate and predict the behavior of middle sized physical objects [McClosky 1983, Hayes 1985], and a host of others. (shrink)
According to agent-causal accounts of free will, agents have the capacity to cause actions, and for a given action, an agent could have done otherwise. This paper uses existing results and presents experimental evidence to argue that young children deploy a notion of agent-causation. If young children do have such a notion, however, it remains quite unclear how they acquire it. Several possible acquisition stories are canvassed, including the possibility that the notion of agent-causation develops from a prior notion of (...) obligation. Finally, the paper sets out how this work might illuminate the philosophical problem of free will. (shrink)
This paper proposes the ‘AGENCY model’ of conscious state attribution, according to which an entity's displaying certain relatively simple features (e.g. eyes, distinctive motions, interactive behavior) automatically triggers a disposition to attribute conscious states to that entity. To test the model's predictions, participants completed a speeded object/attribution task, in which they responded positively or negatively to attributions of mental properties (including conscious and non-conscious states) to different sorts of entities (insects, plants, artifacts, etc.). As predicted, participants responded positively to conscious (...) state attributions only for those entities that typically display the simple features identified in the AGENCY model (eyes, distinctive motion, interaction) and took longer to deny conscious states to those entities. (shrink)
Recent accounts of pretense have been underdescribed in a number of ways. In this paper, we present a much more explicit cognitive account of pretense. We begin by describing a number of real examples of pretense in children and adults. These examples bring out several features of pretense that any adequate theory of pretense must accommodate, and we use these features to develop our theory of pretense. On our theory, pretense representations are contained in a separate mental workspace, a Possible (...) World Box which is part of the basic architecture of the human mind. The representations in the Possible World Box can have the same content as beliefs. Indeed, we suggest that pretense representations are in the same representational ``code'' as beliefs and that the representations in the Possible World Box are processed by the same inference and UpDating mechanisms that operate over real beliefs. Our model also posits a Script Elaborator which is implicated in the embellishment that occurs in pretense. Finally, we claim that the behavior that is seen in pretend play is motivated not from a ``pretend desire'', but from a real desire to act in a way that ®ts the description being constructed in the Possible World Box. We maintain that this account can accommodate the central features of pretense exhibited in the examples of pretense, and we argue that the alternative accounts either can't accommodate or fail to address entirely some of the central features of pretense. q 2000 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved. (shrink)
This paper relies on experimental methods to explore the psychological underpinnings of folk intuitions about free will and responsibility. In different conditions, people give conflicting responses about agency and responsibility. In some contexts, people treat agency as indeterminist; in other contexts, they treat agency as determinist. Furthermore, in some contexts people treat responsibility as incompatible with determinism, and in other contexts people treat responsibility as compatible with determinism. The paper considers possible accounts of the psychological mechanisms that underlie these conflicting (...) responses. (shrink)
Many prominent theories of moral responsibility rely on the notion of “tracing,” the idea that responsibility for an outcome can be located in (i.e., “traced back to”) some prior moment of control, perhaps significantly antecedent to the proximate sources of a considered action. In this article, I show how there is a problem for theories that rely on tracing. The problem is connected to the knowledge condition on moral responsibility. Many prima facie good candidate cases for tracing analyses appear to (...) violate the knowledge condition on moral responsibility. So, either we need to dispense with tracing approaches or we must refine our understanding of the knowledge condition or we are responsible less frequently than we suppose. (shrink)
Revisionism in the theory of moral responsibility is the idea that some aspect of responsibility practices, attitudes, or concept is in need of revision. While the increased frequency of revisionist language in the literature on free will and moral responsibility is striking, what discussion there has been of revisionism about responsibility and free will tends to be critical. In this paper, I argue that at least one species of revisionism, moderate revisionism, is considerably more sophisticated and defensible than critics have (...) realized. I go on to argue for the advantages of moderate revisionist theories over standard compatibilist and incompatibilist theories. (shrink)
This paper develops an empirical argument that the rejection of moral objectivity leaves important features of moral judgment intact. In each of five reported experiments, a number of participants endorsed a nonobjectivist claim about a canonical moral violation. In four of these experiments, participants were also given a standard measure of moral judgment, the moral/conventional task. In all four studies, participants who respond as nonobjectivists about canonical moral violations still treat such violations in typical ways on the moral/conventional task. In (...) particular, participants who give moral nonobjectivist responses still draw a clear distinction between canonical moral and conventional violations. Thus there is some reason to think that many of the central characteristics of moral judgment are preserved in the absence of a commitment to moral objectivity. (shrink)
Many philosophical problems are rooted in everyday thought, and experimental philosophy uses social scientific techniques to study the psychological underpinnings of such problems. In the case of free will, research suggests that people in a diverse range of cultures reject determinism, but people give conflicting responses on whether determinism would undermine moral responsibility. When presented with abstract questions, people tend to maintain that determinism would undermine responsibility, but when presented with concrete cases of wrongdoing, people tend to say that determinism (...) is consistent with moral responsibility. It remains unclear why people reject determinism and what drives people’s conflicted attitudes about responsibility. Experimental philosophy aims to address these issues and thereby illuminate the philosophical problem of free will. (shrink)
Williams (1970) argues that our intuitions about personal identity vary depending on how a given thought experiment is framed. Some frames lead us to think that persistence of self requires persistence of one's psychological characteristics; other frames lead us to think that the self persists even after the loss of one's distinctive psychological characteristics. The current paper takes an empirical approach to these issues. We find that framing does affect whether or not people judge that persistence of psychological characteristics is (...) required for persistence of self. Open-ended, abstract questions about what is required for survival tend to elicit responses that appeal to the importance of psychological characteristics. This emphasis on psychological characteristics is largely preserved even when participants are exposed to a concrete case that yields conflicting intuitions over whether memory must be preserved in order for a person to persist. Insofar as our philosophical theory of personal identity should be based on our intuitions, the results provide some support for the view that psychological characteristics really are critical for persistence of self. (shrink)
One of the central debates in the philosophy of language is that between defenders of the causal-historical and descriptivist theories of reference. Most philosophers involved in the debate support one or the other of the theories. Building on recent experimental work in semantics, we argue that there is a sense in which both theories are correct. In particular, we defend the view that natural kind terms can sometimes take on a causal-historical reading and at other times take on a descriptivist (...) reading. The meaning will shift depending on the conversational setting. The theoretical view has roots in work by Kitcher. We present some original experiments that support the thesis. (shrink)
Over the last 20 years, a number of central figures in moral philosophy have defended some version of moral rationalism, the idea that morality is based on reason or rationality (e.g., Gewirth 1978, Darwall 1983, Nagel 1970, 1986, Korsgaard 1986, Singer 1995; Smith 1994, 1997). According to rationalism, morality is based on reason or rationality rather than the emotions or cultural idiosyncrasies, and this has seemed to many to be the best way of securing a kind of objectivism about moral (...) claims. Consider the following representative statements. (shrink)