:: The End Times

On The Nature Of Normativity published 26/08/2016


I just got gripped by the central question of ethics, which Socrates poses so insistently: How should we live? While this is the central question of ethics, in my view answering this question also involves epistemology – since to know how we should live, we need to understand what we should believe, and how we should form and revise our beliefs in response to experience and reflection; and the question as I see it also involves the theory of rational choice or decision—since to know how we should live, we need to understand how we should make choices or decisions, and how we should revise our plans or intentions as we acquire new information over time.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Ralph Wedgwood.

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Having Cake and Eating it With Hume and Spinoza published 19/08/2016

Hume makes both a metaphysical claim and a psychological claim. The metaphysical claim is that the mind is in fact a complex bundle of different perceptions standing in causal relations to one another. A consequence of this is that, while the bundle may be made possible by a continuing but changing human brain, a person is not an immaterial soul or self underlying and in addition to the bundle itself. The psychological claim is that we ascribe unity (simplicity at a time and identity through time) to this complex bundle only because of the power of mental association operating on perceived relations of causation and resemblance.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Don J Garrett.

Painting by Mark Manning aka Z.

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On Pope’s Philosophical Poem: ‘An Essay on Man’ published 18/08/2016

I knew that Pope, like many others, put sexual desire at the heart of human sociability: people are attracted to one another sexually, reproduce, discover the intergenerational contract that gives us an interest in loving children and loving parents. But I was surprised to see him present sexual desire as one of the appetites that is thwarted by scarcity of resources – but that need not be if things were only slightly different. Pope imagines an earlier stage in social life where nature’s resources are sufficient to satisfy all the wants of a community, including sexual wants. He says that ‘half the cause of Contest was remov’d, / When Beauty could be kind to all who lov’d.’

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Tom Jones.

Painting by Mark Manning aka Z

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Thought in Action, Panpsychism (and Not Using the F-word) published 12/08/2016

I think that the type of high level of expertise demonstrated by professional athletes, performing artists, grandmaster chess players and other individuals is (generally) infused with conscious concepts. This is not to say, of course, that every aspect of expert action is conscious—it’s not permeated with consciousness. When athletes consciously focus on one aspect of their movement, other aspects run offline. But I do think that the conscious mind in expert action is typically directed at some aspect or aspects of skill. This might be a high-level aspect, such as speed, or low-level, such as hip rotation.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Barbara Gail Montero.

Painting: Mark Manning aka Z

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What We Owe Each Other published 05/08/2016

I agree that science is the best way of understanding the natural world, and therefore that we have reason to believe what the best science tells us about the objects in that world and the relations between them. But this does mean that the natural world is the only thing we can have true beliefs about. The status of material objects such as the desk I am writing on as things that are “real” is a matter of their having physical properties, such as weight, solidity, and spatio-temporal location. In order to be real, such things need not have, in addition to these properties, some further kind of metaphysical existence.

Continuing the End Times series Richard Marshall interviews T.M. Scanlon.

Painting: Mark Manning aka Z

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The Tyranny of the Ideal published 29/07/2016

Morality is, in my view, the crowning achievement of humanity: in our evolutionary development we made it, as it made us into the cooperative, fair-minded, deeply social species that we are. As a species we are up to morality and justice because we made it up. Many, I suspect, think this demeans morality, just as some Christians think that evolution demeans human dignity. I draw a very different conclusion: what an incredible species we are to invent this way of living together!

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Jerry Gaus.

Painting: Billy Childish.

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The Philosopher’s Library (Part 3) published

But let me mention two ways in which things outside philosophy, especially in the arts (novels, films, plays, dance, visual art), are important to my work in philosophy. First, novels, movies, etc., stimulate the imagination, which is very important for doing philosophy: for drawing new connections, for contemplating new concepts, for seeing things from new perspectives, and so on. Second, they give us a sense of a very deep kind of truth, different from the kinds of truth I have investigated so far, but one that I hope to incorporate into my study of truth in the future.

Philosophers recommend books for your bookshelves taken from the End Times series.

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In Praise of Desire and Some published 22/07/2016


People of relatively low intelligence can be morally wonderful if they desire the right and the good (not necessarily under the description “right” or “good”). Their low intelligence sometimes results in their accidentally doing something wrong, but doing something wrong out of low intelligence alone is like stepping on a person’s foot because you are (literally) blind or missing a cry for help because you are (literally) deaf. We do not judge the blind or deaf person as morally bad. This is a lot of what motivates my view that virtue is about wanting right and good things, not about being particularly good at thinking.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Nomy Arpaly.

Image: Billy Childish.

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Frege and Necessary Beings published 15/07/2016

I’m still inclined to believe that numbers are abstract objects, but there’s been quite a bit of work recently, partly by people who know a lot more about linguistics than I do, arguing that contrary to some appearances, number-words are best understood as predicates rather than names or singular terms. Given my broadly Fregean view of the relations between syntactic and ontological categories this might be the basis of an argument for viewing numbers as properties rather than objects. I used to believe that there was a compelling argument for taking them to be (abstract) objects, but now I am not really sure about this. What seems to me far more important is not whether numbers are objects rather than properties, but whether, and in what sense, they exist.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Bob Hale.

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evolution, bioethics and human nature published 08/07/2016

Once we acknowledge that ‘human nature’ can include abilities, beliefs or values that have become widespread throughout our species because of learning processes, it’s clear that we will have to be rather liberal when it comes to what we include as part of human nature. Very large numbers of people can eat with chopsticks, very large numbers of people can recognize David Beckham. It’s hard to keep these traits out of ‘human nature’, while keeping imitation in.

Continuing the End Times series, Richard Marshall interviews Tim Lewens.

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