Religion and Problems of Scope

November 5, 2007

Certain theistic stories seem to have some problems of scope. Melville, in his “Moby Dick” (ch.10) presents one of them.

“What is worship? –to do the will of God- that is worship. And what is the will of God? –to do to my fellow man what I would have my fellow man to do to me – that is the will of God. Now, Queequeg is my fellow man. And what do I wish that this Queequeg would do to me? Why, unite with me in my particular Presbyterian form of worship. Consequently, I must then unite with him in his; ergo, I must turn idolator.”

Some theistic stories seem to have this problematic principle, also known as “The Golden Rule”, according to which one should do onto others what one wants them to do upon oneself. The sheer existence of different, incompatible, theistic stories, adds another problematic element: not everyone, even among theists, share the same story. But that is not all, there’s a third problematic element: theistic stories tend to be universal in scope. They intend to be true of everything everywhere.

These three elements, golden rule, incompatible theistic stories, and universality, get theists into trouble. The latter makes it so that no other, incompatible, story can be true. This, in turn, makes it desirable (when not necessary) to evangelize the mislead believers without, of course, misleading yourself. This evangelical obligation, however, conflicts with the golden rule. It seems as if it is inherent to the evangelical purposes that believers are not created equal: some are correct and some are mistaken. How can we fix these theistic stories?

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What is Contagious about Imaginative Contagion?

November 4, 2007

In most cases, our pretense episodes are quarantined from reality. This is usually taken to mean that the imaginings have no effect outside of the pretense, particularly with regards to behaviors. But imaginative quarantine also fails systematically. Broadly speaking, imaginative contagion are cases where imaginings do have effects outside of the pretense, noticeably with behaviors. Tamar Gendler (2006) points to three sets of cases: visual and motor imagery, affective response, and social priming.

I think imaginative contagion is a really interesting phenomenon. There is a rich body of empirical evidence, and it seems like accounting for the phenomenon should impact our functional analysis of the mind. I am puzzled, though, about how exactly to interpret the phenomenon. What part of the mind is affected in contagion cases? Or, to put it metaphorically, what is contagious about imaginative contagion?

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