Evaluate An Argument With Just ONE Flowchart

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

Sexual Harassment Accusations & The Acceptance Principle

A public figure is accused of a sexual misdeed. You know nothing about the accused besides their name and their alleged crime. And you know nothing about the accuser except their name and their accusation. Can you believe the accuser? We often learn about such sexual harassment accusations. So it behooves us to find a principled response. The Acceptance Principle suggests that we can accept this kind of accusation. Why? I’ll explain in this post. Continue reading Sexual Harassment Accusations & The Acceptance Principle

Domain-familiarity & The Cognitive Reflection Test

This week I’m commenting on Nicholas Shea and Chris Frith’s “Dual-process theories and consciousness: the case for ‘Type Zero’ cognition” (2016) (open access) over at  the Brains blog. My abstract is below. Head over to Brains for the full comments and subsequent discussion.


Type 1 and type 2 cognition are standard fare in psychology. Now Shea and Frith (2016) introduce type 0 cognition. This new category of cognition manifests from existing distinctions — (a) conscious vs. unconscious and (b) deliberate vs. automatic. Why do existing distinctions result in a new category? Because Shea and Frith (henceforth SF) apply each distinction to a different concept: one to representation and the other to processing. The result is a 2-by-2 taxonomy like the one below. This taxonomy classifies automatic processing over unconscious representations as type 0 cognition. And, deviating from convention, this taxonomy classified automatic processing over conscious representation(s) as type 1 cognition.

REPRESENTATIONUnconsciousType 0?
ConsciousType 1Type 2

According to SF, we deploy each type of cognition more or less successfully depending on our familiarity with the domain. When we’re familiar with the domain, we may not need to integrate information from other domains (via conscious representation) and/or deliberately attend to each step of our reasoning. So in a familiar domain, type 0 cognition might suffice.

SF briefly mention how this relates to the cognitive reflection test (CRT) (Frederick 2005). There is a puzzle about how to interpret CRT responses that do not fit a common dual-process interpretation of the CRT. In what follows, I will show how SF’s notion of domain-familiarity can make sense of these otherwise puzzling CRT responses.


Image: “Wiffel ball” from Andrew Malone as modified by Nick ByrdCC BY 2.0


Why Critical Reasoning Might Not Require Self-knowledge

I recently reread Tyler Burge’s “Our Entitlement to Self-knowledge” (1996). Burge argues that our capacity for critical reasoning entails a capacity for self-knowledge.

Like a lot of philosophy, this paper is barely connected to the relevant science. So when I find myself disagreeing with the authors’ assumptions, I’m not sure whether the disagreement matters. After all, we might disagree because we have different, unfalsifiable intuitions. But if we disagree about facts, then it matters: one of us is demonstrably wrong. In this post I will articulate my disagreement. I will also try to figure out whether it matters. Continue reading Why Critical Reasoning Might Not Require Self-knowledge

Research Questions & Mental Shortcuts: A Warning

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.

1.  Substitution

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 QuestionEasier 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

Implicit Bias & Philosophy

This week, I’m talking about implicit bias over at The Brains Blog. I’m including my portion of the discussion below.

1.  The Implicit Association Test (IAT)

The implicit association test (IAT) is one way to measure implicitly biased behavior. In the IAT, “participants […] are asked to rapidly categorize two [kinds of stimuli] (black vs. white [faces]) [into one of] two attributes (‘good’ vs. ‘bad’). Differences in response latency (and sometimes differences in error-rates) are then treated as a measure of the association between the target [stimuli] and the target attribute” (Huebner 2016). Likewise, changes in response latencies and error-rates resulting from experimental interventions are treated as experimentally manipulated changes in associations.

2.  The Effect Of Philosophy

As philosophers, we are in the business of arguments and their propositions, not associations. So we might wonder whether we can use arguments to intervene on our implicitly biased behavior. And it turns out that we can — even if the findings are not always significant and the effect sizes are often small. Some think that this effect of arguments on IAT performance falsifies the idea that implicitly biased behavior is realized by associations (Mandelbaum 2015). The idea is that propositions are fundamentally different than associations. So associations cannot be modified by propositions. So if an arguments’ propositions can change participants’ implicitly biased behavior — as measured by the IAT — then implicit biases might “not [be] predicated on [associations] but [rather] unconscious propositionally structured beliefs” (Mandelbaum 2015, bracketed text and italics added). But there is some reason to think that such falsification relies on oversimplification. After all, there are many processes involved in our behavior — implicitly biased or otherwise. So there are many processes that need to be accounted for when trying to measure the effect of an intervention on our implicitly biased behavior — e.g., participants’ concern about discrimination, their motivation to respond without prejudice (Plant & Devine, 1998), and their personal awareness of bias. So what happens when we control for these variables? In many cases, we find that argument-like interventions on implicitly biased behavior are actually explained by changes in participants’ concern(s), motivation(s), and/or awareness, but not changes in associations (Devine, Forscher, Austin, and Cox 2013; Conrey, Sherman, Gawronski, Hugenberg, and Groom 2005). Continue reading Implicit Bias & Philosophy