8/30/2006

Helpful site: Philosophy Conferences in Europe

A new member of my department, Marion Ledwig, alerted me to this very nice list of conferences in Europe for 2006-07. Speaking of which, I am very sorry to be missing GAP.6 [Gesellschaft fur Analytische Philosophie] two weeks from now, and especially their Carnap workshop organized by my man Steve Awodey.

In other news, I now feel a bit less guilty/ fraudluent about claiming philosophical logic as one of my Areas of Specialization on my CV: I just heard back from the Journal of Philosophical Logic that they'll be publishing a paper of mine. (The paper is the same one I presented at the 2005 Eastern APA, on formal semantics for languages containing confused/ ambiguous terms; if you want to look at it and help me improve it before the final submission, it's on my webpage.)

8/22/2006

Israel, Lebanon, and the Knobe Effect

Despite the title, this post is not about politics. The Knobe Effect is roughly the following: people consider foreseen side effects to be (more) intentional (or on purpose) if those side effects are bad than if they are good. That is, if you do something that has a beneficial foreseen side-effect, you won't be seen as bringing about that side-effect on purpose, but you would if the side effect was harmful or bad. This result has been shown to be experimentally robust in several groups of subjects.

Disputes concerning the Knobe effect arise in the interpretation of this experimental finding. Knobe himself takes these results to show that our concept of intentional action is essentially tied by our moral sensibilities -- somewhat surprising, since we don't usually think of intention and morality as closely linked. Other philosophers have suggested more 'deflationary' readings of the experimental results; for example, we want to blame someone for bringing about a foreseen, bad side effect of their actions -- and as a general rule of thumb, we only legitimately blame people for things they do on purpose. So on this interpretation, the Knobe effect is seen as a sort of confabulation or rationalization for our practices of praising and blaming -- not as bearing on the very concept of intention itself. Several papers by Knobe and co-authors are available on Knobe's webpage, along with papers responding to his work. If you prefer your philosophy in blog form, there has been a great deal of discussion of this work over at Experimental Philosophy.

Recent events in Lebanon provide an example of the type of situation in which the Knobe Effect appears. Israel intends to destroy Hezbollah's military capabilities, and used various forms of military force as a means to that end. Since much of the Hezbollah forces are located in places with high civilian population density, one foreseen side effect of Israel's use of force to disarm Hezbollah is a tragically high number of civilian casualities.

On NPR, I heard a high-ranking Israeli military official justify his country's military action by saying, in effect: We Israelis are not aiming to hurt any civilians -- our goal is only to stop Hezbollah from launching strikes into Israeli territory. There's two things I wanted to say about this:
(1) If only this high-ranking Israeli offical had read the work of Knobe et al., he would have known that this excuse would not carry much water, if any at all -- we are blamed for foreseen bad side-effects, even if they are unintentional.
(2) My reaction/ intuition in this case is against Knobe's stronger interpretation of the experimental results, and with the deflationists': I think the defense official has a perfectly good grasp of the concept of purpose or intentional action, even when he says "We're not harming Lebanese civilians on purpose." This doesn't sound like "John is a married bachelor" or "This is a square circle" to me.

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8/13/2006

Now broadcasting from the desert

I have not posted in a long time -- I've been busy with my move from Pittsburgh to Las Vegas, and with all the craziness that attends moving cross-country and starting your life over. But we are starting to settle in, so blogging may pick up again soon.

Several months ago, Doug Patterson asked me if I could contribute something to a volume he's editing for OUP called Alfred Tarski: Philosophical Background, Development, and Influence. I was honored, since many of the other contributors breathe rarified logico-philosophical air, so I cobbled an article together out of various bits of my dissertation. I now have a draft of the paper, boringly entitled "Tarski's Nominalism," and I would greatly appreciate any and all feedback from interested readers. To help you determine whether you are an 'interested reader,' I've cut-and-pasted a bit of the intro:
"This essay aims to answer three related questions about Tarski's self-described 'nominalism with a materialistic taint' through an examination of Carnap’s 1941 dictation notes. First, what is Tarski’s view? Second, what are the rationales for his view? Finally, how does Tarski attempt to reconcile his nominalist philosophical scruples with mathematics, since mathematics deals with paradigmatically abstract objects, such as numbers and sets, whose rejection is a standard sine qua non of modern nominalism?"

As a brand-new Pitt HPS alumnus, I wanted to sing the praises of a couple members of the incoming class. First, Jonah Schupbach, of Berkeley, Bacon, & Bird blog-fame, just had a paper published in Philosophy of Science on one of my favorite topics, the evidential and explanatory role of unification in science. And Jason Byron (nee Baker) has written an article, forthcoming in BJPS, that argues for a point that I became convinced of while doing work for my dissertation. Just to get a sense for what the logical empiricists were thinking about in 1940, I flipped through a few journals from the 1930s that they were reading and publishing in, especially Erkenntnis and Synthese. I was very surprised to find that there were lots of articles on philosophical details related to biology -- some of them dealing rather closely with the science. This was surprising because the usual story among current philosophers of biology is that philosophy of science completely (or almost completely) ignored biology until the late 60s. Jason has now done the detailed spade-work needed to substantiate that impression I had.

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