You might be living in barn facade county if...

Something happened to me last week that was weird enought that I felt like I was living out a philosopher's thought-experiment. I can't figure out what philosophical thesis this supports, so I figured I'd throw it out to the blogosphere, and let sharper people appropriate it if possible. Here goes...

Before I was married, my name was Greg Frost. I did many things while my last name was Frost, including buying a car. The title of the car was in the name of Greg Frost, and I've been too lazy and cheap to get it switched in the interim. But since we just moved out to Las Vegas, I wanted to get the title switched from a Pennsylvania title to a Nevada one. Now, when you switch titles, what you have to do is sell your car to yourself (for free) -- don't ask me why, I don't know. But at the Nevada DMV, I ran into a problem: I had to be Greg Frost as the seller, and Greg Frost-Arnold as the buyer. But Greg Frost hasn't existed for the last 2.5 years... yet he had to be "brought back" for this transaction. [This is sloppy and metaphorical, but you get the idea.]

There has to be a new theory of reference somewhere in here...


Two improvements to the internets

For those of you not on the HOPOS distribution list: the Royal Scociety is making every single one of the journals its ever published freely available online for 2 months -- all the way back to the first issue of The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society in 1665. These are some of my favorite documents in the history of science to look through, because (like many texts in the history of science) it seems so foreign, yet traces of current practices are nonetheless there.

Also, the fearless leader of my department, Todd Jones, has just started a new blog, Anthrophilosophy. He has formal training in philosophy, anthropology, and cognitive science, so he brings a new perspective on many issues, different from the way most philosophers look at them. His first post is an interesting anthropological explanantion of recent election results -- if that's the sort of thing that floats your boat, please check out his blog and leave a comment, if you are so inclined.

Hopefully there will be a real post soon, but I haven't had any good blog-sized thoughts lately...


Doctrine of double effect & the Knobe effect

On Monday, Carl Ficarrotta gave a colloquium talk here on the Principle (or Doctrine) of double effect (PDE), focusing especially on applications of that principle in military targeting. The principle is (quoting from the Stanford Online Encyclopedia, which quotes from Joseph Mangan (1949)):
"A person may licitly perform an action that he foresees will produce a good effect and a bad effect provided that four conditions are verified at one and the same time:
(1) that the action in itself from its very object be good or at least indifferent;
(2) that the good effect and not the evil effect be intended;
(3) that the good effect be not produced by means of the evil effect;
(4) that there be a proportionately grave reason for permitting the evil effect” (1949, p. 43).
Ficarrotta suggested that the justification or grounds for (3) -- something in the neighborhood of Kantian respect for a might make the majority of cases of 'collateral damage' morally impermissible -- even though the PDE is often invoked to justify such military actions.

I'm interested in something else about the PDE; specifically, it seems like the Knobe effect shows that (2) is untenable. Roughly, the Knobe effect is: people judge bad side-effects to be intentionally caused, though people do not judge good side-effects to be intentional. The problem for (2) is obvious: if there's an evil side-effect of an action, then that side-effect will be judged to be intended. (Ficarrotta's own formulation of (2) perhaps makes the problem even more perspicuous: "Evil consequences are foreseen, but not intended." If the folk's attributions of intentionality are accepted, then there won't be any foreseen evil consequences that are not intentional.)

The New Catholic Encyclopedia version of (2) (again, this is in the Stanford Online Encyclopedia entry) actually reflects the Knobe idea: such actions are called 'indirectly voluntary', i.e., intentional, but somehow in a second-class sort of way.

And finally, a google search reveals that the PDE and the Knobe effect are briefly dealt with in a footnote to this paper by Jen Wright and John Bergson, which was recently posted to, and discussed on, the Experimental Philosophy blog. They make the good point that there is a further experimental question to ask the folk: do ascriptions of intentionality track blameworthiness or responsibility? Someone in a PDE situation appears to be responsible for the evil side-effect, even though she is not to be considered blameworthy on that account (at least, if the PDE is right).

Labels: ,


Bioethicists take note

One of the bigger areas in bioethics is the cluster of questions involving the end of life, such as, Is euthanasia morally permissible? Some folks are attracted to the idea that, if a person is in a vegetative state, then they may lack conscious awareness, and as a result, euthanasia may be permitted for certain vegetative patients.

A new article in Science looks like it provides evidence that undermines one of the above premises, namely, that patients in vegetative states are not conscious. Here's the abstract:
We used functional magnetic resonance imaging to demonstrate preserved conscious awareness in a patient fulfilling the criteria for a diagnosis of vegetative state. When asked to imagine playing tennis or moving around her home, the patient activated predicted cortical areas in a manner indistinguishable from that of healthy volunteers.
The authors of course do not claim that every (or even many) vegetative patients maintain this level of consciousness. Furthermore, they recognize that some people may not consider even this amount of brain activity to amount to conscious thought. But their next step is an encouraging one: developing a battery of fMRI tests to determine whether a particular patient has this degree of consciousness or not -- so we no longer have to guess at whether someone who's been unresponsive for 5 months (as their test subject had) is conscious or not.

UPDATE: I now see that Brains not only beat me to this story, but Pete Mandik has much more insightful commentary on it too. Oh well.

Labels: ,


Two bits of good news

First, the current issue of Nature contains an article providing evidence that the new pope is about to demur endorsing intelligent design, just as John Paul did before him. Since it's hidden behind a subscription wall, I'll reproduce the first 1.5 sentences:
Religion is religion, science is science, and good fences make good neighbours. That seems likely to be the thrust of an expected clarification by the Roman Catholic Church of its position on biological evolution.

Second, the program for the Philosophy of Science Association 2006 meeting is up, and it looks very interesting. I'm especially glad to see that the program committee selected Rick Creath's paper on the historical trajectory of Quine's use of the concept of simplicity in various arguments ("The Career of Simplicity in Quine's Philosophy of Science"). Rick has been a leader in the revival of Carnap (and logical empiricism more generally) as a legitimate object of study for philosophers of science (his "Was Carnap a Complete Verificationist in the Aufbau?" was part of the PSA all the way back in 1982). For my own sake, I'm glad to see that Quine is now on the radar as a figure who needs to be understood historically, instead of merely as an interlocutor or colleague.