Identity and agency

March 24, 2007

1. Sam, is there any way to get a log-in thingy on this page rather than having to go to the wordpress home page?

2. Scarily, I woke up this morning and the first thing I thought of was something that might help me solve a problem in my dissertation. I’m wondering whether this idea can fly.

How far can I go with a distinction between “identity” and “agency”? I mean ‘identity’ in the sense of who you live your life as (not yet sure if this is the best formulation for my purposes)—intended to be something related to but not completely conceptually identified with the usual metaphysical sense of personal identity. And I mean ‘agency’ as the thing the action theorists are after. These two things have in common the possibility of describing “where the agent really is”, but I think this phrase is ambiguous and I’m exploring whether it can be disambiguated.

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ADG: Canon and Fanon

March 16, 2007

This is the first, hopefully, in a series where I air out some thoughts after the aesthetics discussion group. Last Friday, our comrade Ian Flora presented ‘Canon, Fanon, and Fiction’, a paper that aims to explores the relationship between canonical fiction worlds and worlds of fan-fictions. I will only try to bring out the issues and raise some questions I find interesting. To know Ian’s view, you’ll have to ask him. I also have some view, but you’d have to buy me a beer to hear them. (And for them to make sense, you should buy yourself a keg.)

Roughly, we are interested in the relationship between canon and fanon, and what fits under those terms. To borrow Ian’s example of Harry Potter, canon is what officially happens in the Harry Potter books by Rowling and Movies, and fanon is what the fans accept as true as a result of fan-fiction. Note that neither canon nor fanon needs to only contain the propositions that are specifically mentioned in the story, but just what is reasonably implied. We may use the fictional world terminology loosely to talk about the what is true or implied true by the fiction. For example, the true propositions given by the Harry Potter stories compose the Harry Potter world; the true propositions given by the Harry Potter stories and a series of fan-fictions F compose the Harry Potter sub-F world. Notice I am also being rather sloppy in not distinguishing the world given by a fiction and the world that we imagine when we access a fiction. This is of course an important distinction that needs to be drawn out in the full account. For the sake of simplicity and interest, let’s continue with the sloppy intuitive notions and start asking some questions:

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Reasons ascriptions

March 12, 2007

(Note: this post is in large part a reprint of a couple posts I wrote on the subject a few weeks back on my own blog.)

1. The case

I take it that most people are familiar with what Williams’ petrol case (“petrol” cuz he was British lol), so my exposition will be cursory. Wilfrid wants a gin and tonic and has good epistemic reason to believe that the glass of clear liquid on the counter is a gin and tonic. Actually, though, it’s a glass of petrol. Consider the following two sentences:

(1) Wilfrid has reason to drink what’s in the glass.

(2) Wilfrid has reason to drink the petrol.

My intuition in the case is that (1) is true while (2) is false. In the comments to my first post on this topic, Pitt grad student Shawn Standefer offered the following diagnosis:

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Equivocation in Feinberg’s “Infinite Regress” Argument Against Psychological Egoism

March 11, 2007

What may not be evident from the title of this post is that I’m fairly sure that there is an equivocation in Feinberg’s “infinite regress” argument against psychological egoism. This appears in Section C of his article “Psychological Egoism” in the popular anthology Reason and Responsibility (12th ed., ed. Feinberg & Shafer-Landau).

Feinberg makes a point to distinguish the following:

(Mere) Desire Fulfillment (DF): DF is simply the “coming into existence of that which is desired” (479). For instance, a desire for the obtainment of some object x is fulfilled when and only when x is obtained. (With DF, there need not be the requirement that the bearer of a given desire experience its fulfillment. Death-bed wishes can be fulfilled.)

Pleasure2 (P2), or Satisfaction: This is the type of positive feeling/s that one tends to experience upon getting what s/he desired (and, of course, being aware that the desire was fulfilled). That is, P2 is the pleasure that often results from and in virtue of DF.

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Dawkins’ “ultimate Boeing 747” argument

March 10, 2007

In his recent best seller “The God Delusion”, Richard Dawkins seems to understand his “ultimate Boeing 747 argument” (henceforth, the “UBA”) as an argument against God’s existence. I think, however, that it is best understood as a refutation of an argument for God’s existence—namely, the design argument. If so, and if the design argument is the only argument for God’s existence which has prima facie plausibility, then the UBA is an argument against God’s existence only in so far as showing that we don’t have reason to believe that x exists is showing that we have reason to believe that x doesn’t exist (which is probably pretty far).

Here is how Plantinga (in his review) seems to think the UBA goes:

P1) Any being capable of designing and creating the world as we know it is as at least as complex and organized as the world as we know it.

P2) If God exists, then God designed and created the world.

From (P1) and (P2) it follows that

C1) If God exists, then God is at least as complex and organized at the world as we know it.

Now we add two more premises

P3) The world is extremely complex and organized.

P4) The probability of a things existence is inversely proportional to its level of complexity and organization.

From (C1), (P3), and (P4) it follows that

C2) The probability of God’s existence is extremely low.

I believe Plantinga is wrong in his interpretation of the UBA. Instead I propose the following. Read the rest of this entry »

Political Science and Political Theory

March 6, 2007

[Disclaimer: This turned out to be longer than I originally anticipated, so if it turns out to be too much, my apologies.]

What role should should the deliverances of political science play in theorizing about justice? (Of course, this is just a particular instance of a much more general question, viz., what role should the deliverances of any science play in theorizing about anything? I think the answer to this probably depends upon the domain in which the question is asked; that is, the answer probably differs depending on whether one is talking about, e.g., the role of physics in metaphysical theorizing vs. the role of psychology in ethical theorizing. But I’m not sure about this. In any case, I’ll restrict this post to asking about the role of political science in political theorizing.) It seems to me that the answer to this question depends upon how one intends to use the science.

It seems clear to me that political science shouldn’t play the role of telling us what counts as just, i.e., how things ought to be. Such a use would be clearly encounter Hume’s is-ought problem. So, e.g., if political science shows that democracy reduces income inequality, it doesn’t thereby show that democratic constitutions are just; if it shows that communist regimes never last longer than x number of years, it doesn’t thereby show that communism is unjust. Clearly, for the science to tells us what counts as justice, such statements would have to assume the justice of inequality reduction or that just regimes are enduring; but these conclusions don’t follow from any empirical study.

Another role that political science could play is that of indicating what is possible, thereby enabling us to bring our political theorizing in line with the ‘ought implies can’ principle. I.e., the science constrains what individuals and institutions can be obliged to do by telling us what in fact individuals and insitutions are able to do given their limitations. Read the rest of this entry »

An “At-At” Theory of Causal Influence

March 5, 2007

Salmon, in Causality and Explanation, suggests that causal processes are demarcated from pseudo-processes by their ability to transmit marks – causal processes can transmit marks; pseudo-processes can’t. About mark transmission: “A mark that has been introduced into a process by means of a single intervention at a point A is transmitted to point B if and only if it occurs at B and at all stages of the process between A and B without additional interventions.” (CaE, p. 197)

Here’s a simple example: There’s a rotating spotlight in the center of a circular room which casts a spot of light on the wall. The light ray traveling from the spotlight to the wall is a causal process; interpose a red filter in the beam near its source and the spot on the wall will be red. The spot of light moving around the wall is a pseudo-process; no interposing of a red filter (or intervention of any sort) can make the spot maintain its redness (or retain a mark of any sort) as it moves on.

We can ask this question, though: How does the process make the mark appear elsewhere within it? (CaE, p. 197) Salmon thinks the answer is ‘astonishingly simple’: it doesn’t (not in any deep sense, anyway). The transmission of a mark from point A in a causal process to point B in the same process just is the fact that it appears at each point between A and B without further interactions.(CaE, p. 197)

I don’t think this is right. It doesn’t get mark transmission right in close by possible worlds (maybe even in our world). Consider a world w. In w there’s a particle a. a can have properties P, Q, and R. Choose any time t. The probability that a will be P at t is 1/3. Likewise for Q and R. There’s another particle b in w. If b strikes a, a will be P, but only during the strike. Suppose b strikes a at t1. b then ricochets and barrells into space. a, then, is P at t1. Suppose also that, by chance, a is P at t2 and at all times between t1 and t2. It seems that, by Salmon’s criteria, a mark (i.e. P) is transmitted from t1 to t2 along the a’s-travels-process. But clearly it’s not. Mark transmission seems to not be as simple as Salmon takes it to be.