Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Intuitions, Reasons, and Compatibilism

In class yesterday, we discussed the role of intuitions in philosophy. It came up because John Martin Fischer has a chapter in the book we're reading in which he seems to rely on a kind of epistemic principle involving intuitions. We had trouble articulating the principle in class. Perhaps the entry on intuitions in the SEP will be helpful in clearing up some of the questions that arose in my class and will help us spell out the principle that Fischer seems to have in mind.

Here's a principle like one we considered in class (and which is not that far from one mentioned in the SEP entry). I'll call it principle "P"
P = If a theory (generalization, etc.) contravenes the content of an intuition, then that intuition should be treated as (defeasible) evidence against the theory.  
Fischer doesn't explicitly endorse this principle, but he does seem to think that, all else being equal, our theories (beliefs, views, etc.) should be in keeping with our intuitions. That is, he seems to think that if a theory is not in keeping with an intuition, then this is a reason (albeit a defeasible one) for thinking that the theory is false.

The majority of students in my class didn't take issue with this sort of principle, but a number of them were skeptical of the reliability of intuitions in providing reasons to endorse a theory (have a belief, etc.). I was surprised, in fact, by the level of skepticism about principles like P.

A related issue that we discussed involved how we ought to unpack Fischer's argument at the beginning of the chapter (and whether he was intending to really offer an argument).

We might read Fischer as having put forward the following argument:
(1) We have the intuition that we're sometimes free and morally responsible for what we do, and we would have this intuition even if determinism turned out to be true.
(2) We thus have the intuition that compatibilism is true.
(3) Incompatiblism contravenes the content of this intuition (i.e., the intuition that compatibilism is true).
(4) Principle P.
(5) Therefore, the intuition that compatibilism is true provides (defeasible) evidence against incompatibilism.  
Is this an accurate way to unpack Fischer's argument? Even if it's not, what do you make of the argument and what do you think about Principle P?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

A "Philosophical Climate Survey"

A survey is being conducted about the climate in philosophy departments (having to do with how people feel about the level of sexism, racism, etc.). You can take it anonymously here.

Here's the blurb about the survey:

One of the most important factors when determining which graduate schools to apply to, and what school to eventually attend, is how that program treats its students. While campus visits and correspondence with graduate students can give prospective students some evidence, anonymous reports from current graduate students may also be valuable. Our goal in distributing this survey is to provide another insight about how graduate programs (especially in philosophy) treat their students. In the interest of all prospective graduate students, the survey will not only ask questions about the atmosphere for women, but also the atmosphere for racial minorities, the disabled, and those in the LGBTIQ community. 

An anonymous survey has its drawbacks. For one, there is no way to ensure that all reports are made by actual students of the department. Additionally, any individual report may be inaccurate, and may not reflect how the department actually is. We feel that these sacrifices in accuracy are worth the increased honesty that anonymity may provide. An anonymous survey allows graduate students in their respective departments to voice their opinions without fear that their correspondence will be made public, or that they will suffer any negative repercussions from their university. Any results eventually published from this survey must be looked at with these concerns in mind. 

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Marist College Undergrad Philosophy Conference

Marist is in a beautiful part of the country and the conference should be a stimulating one....

The Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Marist College will host the Fourth Mid-Hudson Valley Undergraduate Philosophy Conference April 4-5, 2014. Undergraduates are encouraged to submit papers on any topic in philosophy. The conference accepts at most six papers, and there are no concurrent presentations.

The keynote address will be given by Catherine Wilson. Professor Wilson is the Anniversary Professor of Philosophy at the University of York. She is the author of many articles in ethics and the history of early modern philosophy, and her most recent book is Epicureanism at the Origins of Modernity (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

Please send papers of no more than 3,000 words by February 15, 2014. We are accepting electronic submissions by attachment in PDF or MS Word format. Please send submissions to James Snyder at