:: The End Times

Legitimacy and Epistemic Democracy published 20/04/2018

Yes, it is a problem for political legitimacy if political decisions are made that are in conflict with what we know would be the right thing to do. But sometimes we only have this knowledge in hindsight or in a form that is not easily shared and not sufficiently robust as a basis for political decision-making. Democratic decisions that are made on the basis of all participants responding rationally to the limited evidence that is available, are not illegitimate even if, in hindsight, we learn that they were the wrong.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Fabienne Peters.

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Wittgenstein and the Limits of Science published 14/04/2018

Wittgenstein’s hostility to the scientistic tendency to take science as the model for all enquiry. His objection here is not to the institution or methodology of science as such; it is to the overgeneralization of scientific thinking to forms of enquiry where it is not appropriate. He is thinking of two features of scientific thinking in particular: its focus on causal explanation and its aspiration to achieve generality in its explanations. There are many areas of human enquiry, Wittgenstein insists, where neither causal explanation nor the search for general laws are appropriate.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Bill Child.

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The Fragmentation of Being published 07/04/2018

I know that I exist, and I think I have very good evidence that I am a material object who is made of other material objects. So I have at least one good reason to believe that compositional nihilism is false. Is this a conclusive argument? It probably won’t convince the diehard compositional nihilist! But that doesn’t mean it is unsound, and it doesn’t mean that I don’t have a reason to believe the conclusion on the basis of that argument. But since I also think that being comes in degrees, there is a further question about how real I am that isn’t settled by this argument. Answering this further question is much harder I think.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Kris McDaniel.

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The Parochialism of Philosophy published 03/04/2018

Even though it is perfectly well known to everyone that there are rich and sophisticated philosophical traditions that span the globe – most obviously in China and India and across the Moslem world – this work has been almost entirely ignored by Anglo-American philosophy departments. That we do this is so commonplace as to rarely attract attention, but if one takes a step back and looks at our curricula with this issue in mind, our field is really just breathtakingly provincial. (That’s the most polite word I can think of. Other words come to mind.) Where philosophy is today is something like where literature departments were in the 1950s, but somehow the explosions of the canon that took place there, nearly half a century ago, simply passed right over philosophy departments. We’re the only place in the university where the West really is thought to be the Best.

Continuing the End Times, Richard Marshall interviews Robert Pasnau.

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minimalism published 31/03/2018

Why I call my approach ‘minimal’ is that I think we should adopt a minimal job description for a theory of meaning: a theory of meaning should explain how the meanings of complex expressions are determined given the meanings of their component expressions, together with those expressions’ mode of composition, but it shouldn’t have to explain other things people have sometimes wanted from a theory of meaning (like telling us about what things there are in the world). Perhaps more controversially, I’ve also suggested that a theory of meaning should not be required to explain our incredible communicative capacities. That is to say, a theory of meaning – a semantic theory – should capture the literal content of expressions and explain productivity and systematicity, but there will still be lots of contents we communicate when we speak which go beyond what a semantic theory can explain.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Emma Borg.

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On the Frontiers of Physics, Math and Philosophy published 24/03/2018

Quantum mechanics should be able to explain not just the results of highly esoteric experiments involving electrons and photons and particle collisions, but also why the ordinary world around us appears the way it is and why, for example, our macroscopic measuring devices actually yield results. I like to think about this as a constraint on the construction of quantum theories. We know that the old classical physics was able to give us a pretty good rough picture of how macroscopic objects like cannonballs and measuring devices behave when they’re thrown about. So any quantum successor to classical physics had better be able to explain why classical physics was and is so successful, even if it’s not completely correct.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Benjamin H Feintzeig.

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What’s Fair About Disability, Rationing Health Care, Ageing and Overpopulation? published 17/03/2018

I don’t think that equality in itself is valuable. We should care about inequalities, but we shouldn’t try to deal with them by making people more equal; rather, we should help those who are worse off. In philosophical terms, that makes me a prioritarian rather than an egalitarian. A prioritarian holds that a unit of benefit has more value when it goes to a worse off person, and the worse off the person is, the greater its value; but she does not think it’s worth pursuing equality for its own sake.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Greg Bognar.

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The Social Ontology of Power published 15/03/2018

In a much discussed article in Nature researchers Agnes Wold and Christine Wennerås showed that women had to be 2.5 times more productive than men to receive the same scientific competence score (in the context of post doc applications). Before the publication few people in Swedish society knew about this fact. And if we take this fact as an indication of a gender structure in Swedish (research) society, then we can see how this opaque power, which was disadvantageous to women and advantageous to men, depends on a gender structure to exist.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Åsa Burman.

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McTaggart and Metaphysics published 09/03/2018

The starting point of the argument is that an adequate conception of time is one that has to incorporate change, because the very idea of reality being in time has to do with change. McTaggart then moves on to offer a phenomenological analysis of how time appears to us in experience, in order to then consider if that appearance incorporates change of some kind.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Rognvaldur Ingthorsson.

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Davidson and Indeterminacy of Truth Conditions published 03/03/2018

I’m interested in the questions of what it is to understand a language, what it is to be able to communicate with others, and what kinds of knowledge these might involve. And my view is that a promising approach to foundational questions in semantics is one that’s guided by concerns with the nature of semantic competence and the communicability of meaning. My interest is in the nature of our linguistic practices and the capacities underlying them. My questions are not “What is a language? What is meaning?”, but rather, “What are we, as producers and consumers of language, doing here? What does it take for us to be able to do it?”

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Arpy Khatchirian.

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