Philosophers are often trying to understand their intuitions about thought experiments. Traditionally, philosophers do this via introspection. But these days, some philosophers do it more scientifically: they survey people’s’ intuitions and use quantitative arguments for theories about the intuitions. In this post, I want to point out that one of philosophers’ traditional methods might be a kind of proto-psychology. And if that is right, you might wonder, “Is one method better than the other?” By the end of the post, you’ll know of at least one philosopher who argues that the more scientific approach is better.
I love philosophy and science. I also love flowcharts because they can compress many pages of instruction into a simple chart. And three researchers from George Mason University and the University of Queensland have combined these three loves in a paper about climate change denialism. In their paper, they create a flowchart that shows how to find over a dozen fallacies in over 40 denialist claims! In this post, I’ll explain this argument-checking flowchart. First, we will identify a common denialist claim and then evaluate the argument for it. Continue reading Evaluate An Argument With Just ONE Flowchart
You might be familiar with what philosophers call an “appeal to nature“. It is a claim that something is good or right because it’s natural. Sometimes an appeal to nature is a fallacy. In this post, I discuss the possibility that an appeal to intuition is that kind of fallacy.
1. Different Brain, Different Intuition
First, imagine that your brain and my brain are radically different from one another. If this were the case, then it would be unsurprising to find that your intuitions were different than mine. Indeed, evidence suggests that even minor differences between brains are linked to differences in intuition (Amodio et al 2007, Kanai et al 2011).
This implies that our appeals to intuition (etc.) might be contingent upon brains being a certain way. In other words, differences in intuitions seem to be the result of differences in natural properties.†
Daniel Kahneman talks extensively about how we make reasoning errors because we tend to use mental shortcuts. One mental shortcut is ‘substitution‘. Substitution is what we do when we (often unconsciously) answer an easier question than the one being asked. I find that I sometimes do this in my own research. For instance, when I set out to answer the question, “How can X be rational?” I sometimes end up answering easier questions like, “How does X work?”. In an effort to avoid such mistakes, I will (1) explain the question substitution error, (2) give an example of how we can distinguish between questions, (3) give a personal example of the substitution error, and (4) say what we can do about it.
In case you’re not familiar with Kahnemen’s notion of ‘substitution’, here is some clarification. In short, substitution is this: responding to a difficult question by (often unintentionally) answering a different, easier question. People use this mental shortcut all the time. Here are some everyday instances:
|Difficult Question||Easier Question|
|How satisfied are you with your life?||What is my mood right now?|
|Should I believe what my parents believe?||Can I believe what my parents believe?|
|What are the merits/demerits of that woman who is running for president?||What do I remember people in my community saying about that woman?|
For further discussion of mental shortcuts and substitution, see Part 1 of Kahneman’s Thinking Fast and Slow (2012).
Now, how does this mental shortcut apply to research? Continue reading Research Questions & Mental Shortcuts: A Warning
I am sometimes that stereotype of a socially inept philosopher. I fail to realize the difference between hyperbole or sarcasm, on the one hand, and seriousness, on the other hand.1 I say things that are technically correct, but socially incorrect. And I take casual claims way too seriously. In short, I go into philosophical reflection mode when I’m probably not supposed to:
(X and Y are discussing plans for the weekend.)
[X]: I don’t know, man. That sounds like a bad idea.
[Y]: That’s cuz it is a bad idea!
(Nick overhears this.)
Me: Uhh, I don’t know about that. Sounding like a bad idea doesn’t make it a bad idea. Surely bad sounding ideas can be—
[X]: Chill out, Nick. No one actually thinks that it’s a bad idea just because is sounds like a bad idea. It’s just a thing people say.
Learning From The Socially Inept Philosopher
Two things about my social ineptitude stand out to me:
- My inept responses are often instances of overthinking.
- Overthinking seems to prevent me from realizing something that would have otherwise been obvious.
My overthinking seems to be a form of philosophical reflection. And if that is right, then my ineptitude might demonstrate that philosophical reflection is sometimes inappropriate. In what follows I’ll mention two examples of misunderstanding the use of philosophical reflection. This will lead me to a provisional conclusion: philosophical reflection is ill-suited for certain social situations.
The Philosophers’ Mistake
Philosophers spend their days thinking critically. This often involves suspending judgment(s) until they’ve had a chance to reflect. So when philosophers are faced with a claim — even in casual conversation — it would be understandable for the philosopher’s first response to be some form of philosophical reflection (…at least that’s what I tell myself when I am socially inept).
Philosophical reflection is not always bad, of course. Sometimes it’s crucial! It can help us identify Continue reading Is Philosophical Reflection Ever Inappropriate?
This is a revised version of an old post about a problem with appealing to intuitions. Many of the original premises were overcomplicated and controversial — and, looking back, I am not even sure that the argument is valid…wow, that’s embarrassing. In this post, I try to make the argument less complicated and less controversial. The new argument yields a new conclusion, I think.
P1. The truth-value of a non-contingent premise is not contingent on anything. [Tautology]
P3. Our cognitive capacities are contingent on our physical properties [assumption].
C1. Our intuitions and ability to imagine is contingent on our physical properties [P2, P3: HS]. Continue reading A(nother) Puzzle About Appealing to Intuition?
I’d like to get some feedback on an argument. Here’s the rough outline of the premises.
- Our intuitions and our ability or inability to imagine (i.e., “conceivability“) are contingent upon cognitive capacities.
- Our cognitive capacities are contingent upon our material composition (e.g., the structure and function of our brains [Assumption].
- Our intuitions and ability (or inability) to imagine is contingent upon our material composition [1,2 HS]. Continue reading An Argument against the reliability of intuition