Free, online conference on the philosophy and science of mind!

The Minds Online conference starts today, has three week-long, and ends on September 29th. So mark your calendars and set aside some time to read and comment.

You will find that each Minds Online session has a keynote and a few contributed papers — each contributed paper with its own invited commenters. Papers are posted for advanced reading the Saturday before their session. And public commenting for each session runs from Monday (8am, EST) to Friday.

To be notified when papers go up, subscribe by email (in the menu) or to the Minds Online post RSS feed to receive be notified when papers go up. You can also subscribe to the Minds Online comment RSS feed to stay apprised of comments.

Conference hashtag: #MindsOnline2017. The full program is below: Continue reading Free, online conference on the philosophy and science of mind!

Experimental Philosophy 2.0: The Neuroscience of Philosophy

If our judgments are dependent on the brain, then maybe we can understand our judgments by studying our brains. Further, maybe we can understand our philosophical judgments by studying our brains. What do you think? Can neuroscience help us understand philosophy? Here are some studies which suggest that it can.

1.  Two Opposing Neural Networks/Judgments

Consider two different networks in the brain: the Default Mode Network (DMN) and the Task Positive Network (TPN). These networks are mutually inhibitory. When one network’s activity increases, the other network’s activity decreases. It’s a bit like a seesaw (Jack et al 2013).

Continue reading Experimental Philosophy 2.0: The Neuroscience of Philosophy

Do reflective people agree about ethics?

You might think that most people will share some big-picture beliefs about morality (a lacommon morality“). And you might think that this agreement is the result of reflective reasoning about ethics. For example, most people might think about ethics for awhile and accept a consequentialist principle like this: we should try to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. Well, it turns out that people don’t agree about such ethical principles — not even people who often reflect on such matters. Before I get to the evidence for that claim, take a look at someone who thought that reflective people do agree about ethics.

1.  Will Reflective People To Agree About Ethics?

Here’s Henry Sidgwick:

“The Utilitarian principle […that there is a] connexion between right action and happiness […] has always been to a large extent recognised by all reflective persons.” (The Methods of Ethics, Book I, Chapter 6, Section 3)

Sidgwick is claiming that…

  1. there is a connection between happiness and right conduct (and)
  2. all reflective people recognize this connection.

What do you think? Do these claims sound right?

2.  The Evidence

Notice that 2 requires evidence. Alas, 2 is not well-supported by evidence: reflective people do not seem to agree that there is an important ethical connection between happiness and right conduct.

Common Morality

Consider that there is widespread disagreement about 1 among philosophers. To quantify this disagreement a bit, let us look at some data. Of about 1000 philosophers surveyed in 2009, 25.9% of leaned toward or accepted deontology, 18.2% leaned toward or accepted virtue ethics, and 23.6% leaned toward or accepted consequentialism (Bourget and Chalmers 2013). Consequentialism is the view most associated with 1 — the idea that there is a connection between happiness and right conduct — and yet fewer than a quarter of philosophers are partial to it. So, contrary to Sidgwick’s claim, the consequentialist’s connection between happiness and right conduct does not seem to be recognized by all reflective people. Indeed, it does even seem to be recognized be even most reflective people.

Reflection

In situations like this, an intuitionist like Sidgwick might want to press on the notion of ’reflective’. After all, the finding (above) is only a problem for Sidgwick if — among other things — philosophers count as ‘reflective.’ If they do, then Sidgwick’s hypothesis is falsified. If they do not, then Sidgwick’s hypothesis might still be intact.

So if you want to defend Sidgwick’s hypothesis 2 from the evidence (above), then you need to argue that philosophers do not count as reflective — and do not thereby pose a counterexample to 2. One cannot, of course, merely stipulate that philosophers do not count as reflective. That would be ad hoc. In order to defend Sidgwick’s 2 from the aforementioned data, you will need to appeal to independent evidence. Fortunately there is independent evidence about the relative reflectiveness of philosophers and non-philosophers.

Alas, the evidence does not support Sidgwick’s hypothesis (2). Rather, the evidence suggests that philosophers are significantly more reflective than non-philosophers. In a sample of 4000 participants, those with training in philosophy performed up to three times better on tests of reflection — e.g., the Cognitive Reflection Test (Frederick 2005) — than those without such training (Livengood et al 2010). This result has been replicated and expanded. For example, those with (or a candidate for) a PhD in philosophy also performed significantly better than others — F(1, 558) = 15.41, p < 0.001, d = 0.32 (Byrd 2014). And these findings are not new. Over 20 years ago, Deanna Kuhn found that philosophers demonstrated “perfect” and domain-general reasoning competence (Kuhn 1991, 258-262).

So it seems that if any group of people should count as reflective, it is philosophers. And these reflective people do not — contrary to Sidgwick’s hypothesis 2 — unanimously recognize a connection between happiness and rightness.

3. So what now?

The idea that people share a “common morality” via “reflective equilibrium” might fly in the face of evidence. It certainly does for Sidgwick. After all, it seems like reflective people (e.g., philosophers) simply don’t agree about the alleged connection between happiness and right conduct. And if you try to respond to this evidence by denying that philosophers are reflective, then you run into another problem: that claim also flies in the face of evidence. So those objections won’t work.

A better strategy might be to reject my claims about the association between Sidgwick’s claims and consequentialism. That is, you might say that non-consequentialist approaches to ethics acknowledge the connection between happiness and right conduct just as much as consequentialist approaches — sort of like Andy Hallman does in the comments. If that claim is right, then Sidgwick might have been on to something. I leave it to you to decide if that kind of objection is promising.

 

 

Featured image: “Extermination of Evil Sendan Kendatsuba” via Wikipedia Commons (in the public domain).

Philosophers’ Reasoning Errors and Their Beliefs: Related?

Philosophy helps us reason better, right? I mean, taking courses in analytic philosophy and argument mapping does more for students’ critical thinking than even critical thinking courses do (Alvarez-Ortiz 2007). And the more training one has in philosophy, the better one does on certain reasoning tasks (Livengood et al 2010). So it’s no accident that philosophy majors tend to outperform almost every other major on the GRE, the GMAT, and the LSAT (“Why Study Philosophy…“; see also Educational Testing Service 2014). That’s why people like Deanna Kuhn have such high praise for philosophers’ reasoning (Kuhn 1991, 258-262).†

Reasoning expertise: We turn now to the philosophers…. The performance of the philosophers is not included in table form because it is so easily summarized. No variation occurs…philosophers [show] perfect performance in generation of genuine evidence, alternative theories, counterarguments, and rebuttals…. The philosophers display a sophisticated understanding of argumentative structure…. None of the philosophers [had] any special expertise in any of the content domains that the questions address…. The performance of philosophers shows that it is possible to attain expertise in the reasoning process itself, independent of any particular content to which the reasoning is applied.

But there’s much more to say about this. For instance, we might ask two questions about this evidence.

Two Questions

It’s one thing to claim that philosophers are better reasoners, but that’s not the same as being perfect reasoners. After all, philosophers might reason better than others and yet still be vulnerable to systematic reasoning errors. So we need to ask: Are philosophers’ prone to cognitive errors like everyone else

Also, if philosophers do err systematically, then we might worry that philosophers arrive at their views in systematically erroneous ways. One way to address this worry is to ask a second question: If philosophers are prone to cognitive error, do their errors predict their views? 

Spoiler: The answer to both questions is yes. More detailed answers are in the rest of this post. Further details can be found in Byrd 2014 and other papers.  Continue reading Philosophers’ Reasoning Errors and Their Beliefs: Related?

Intermountain Philosophy Conference: Abstract

(Image credit: “Legacy Bridge, University of Utah” by Daderot via Wikipedia [public domain])

I will be at the University of Utah presenting a paper at the Intermountain Philosophy Conference tomorrow entitled “Neurobiological Correlates of Philosophical Belief & Judgment: What This Means for Philosophy.” An abstract is below. The conference website is here.

It is becoming increasingly common to find journals publishing articles that demonstrate psychological correlates (e.g. Adelstein, Deyong, Arvan) and biological correlates (e.g. Harris, Hsu, Stern) of various self-reported beliefs and judgments. It is perhaps most common to find articles reporting the correlates of political beliefs and judgments (e.g. Amodio, Arvan, Hatemi, Kanai, Tost). This paper sets out to show that philosophical beliefs are also worth experimental attention. But that is not all: I hypothesize that variations in peoples’ biology—perhaps their neurobiology in particular—could correlate with variations in their proclivity towards or aversion to particular philosophical beliefs and judgments. In the first section of the paper, I lay out what we might expect to learn about our philosophical beliefs from our neurobiology. Before I conclude that philosophical beliefs (or philosophical cognition) are worthy of experimental attention, I mention some philosophical and methodological concerns and some objections to the suggested research. I am careful to note along the way that while many of the conclusions reached by this research could be illuminating, we none of it should be devastating to philosophy. That is not to say that the research wouldn’t inspire some methodological reform (e.g., whether and how philosophers appeal to intuition or exploit certain language), but it would by no means “end” philosophy.

Philosophers’ Brains

This link is a poster I presented in Tuscon at the Towards a Science of Consciousness Conference (April 2012). Use the link to see a full size PDF that will allow you to zoom ad nauseum without the usual blurriness—vector graphics are so cool!

Summary: we should not be surprised if some of the philosophical differences between philosophers correlate with neurobiological and cognitive differences between philosophers. Whether or not this discounts philosophy or not is an open question, but it sure would be an interesting research program either way!