Evidential Decision Theory’s Misstep

August 6, 2010
Lewis 1981 writes:
Within a single dependency hypothesis, so to speak, V-maximising is right. It is rational to seek good news by doing that which, according to the dependency hypothesis you believe, most tends to produce good results. That is the same as seeking good results. Failures of V-maximising appear only if, first, you are sensible enough to spread your credence over several dependency hypotheses, and second, your actions might be evidence for some dependency hypotheses and against others. That is what may enable the agent to seek good news not in the proper way, by seeking good results, but rather by doing what would be evidence for a good dependency hypothesis. That is the recipe for Newcomb problems. (p. 11)

This, I think, is not right. It misdiagnoses evidential decision theory’s mistake. I’ll save what I take to be a better diagnosis for another post. For now, I’ll try to outline a counterexample that shows Lewis to be on the wrong track.

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When does a rule engender an outcome?

August 5, 2010

Say a rule R establishes some outcome O if it explicitly calls for the realization of O. Say R engenders O if the realization of O is merely a forseeable consequence of R. (Cf. Pogge 1989, p. 38) It seems obvious to judge a rule unjust if it establishes an unjust outcome. It’s perhaps more controversial in some cases but not uncommon to judge a rule unjust if it engenders an unjust outcome.

Suppose someone claims that a rule R (and our enforcement of it) is unjust because the rule incentivizes predatory conduct on the part of state leaders under certain domestic conditions C. (Thomas Pogge and Leif Wenar make such a claim with respect to the “international resource privilege”; see Pogge 2002 and Wenar 2008.) Suppose that R induces the predatory conduct only in the presence of C; in the absence of C, no predatory conduct ensues. In some cases, I want to claim that R does not engender the predatory conduct even if it does generate incentives to engage in predation. Here’s the argument.

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Elga’s Highly Restricted Principle of Indifference

July 24, 2010

In the Sleeping Beauty paper, Elga tells us that “Since being in [Tails and Monday] is subjectively just like being in [Tails and Tuesday], and since exactly the same propositions are true whether you are in [Tails and Monday] or [Tails and Tuesday], even a highly restricted principle of indifference yields that you ought then to have equal credence in each”.

Recall that the unrestricted Principle of Indifference says that when your evidence doesn’t give you any more reason to believe one proposition rather than another, you should assign credence to the possibilities equally.

The more restricted principle Elga seems to be endorsing here is this:

Highly Restricted POI: If some collection of situations are subjectively identical and exactly the same uncentered propositions are true at them, one ought to divide one’s credences among them.

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March Events in the Department

March 7, 2010

Hello Gruers,

This month is ridiculously busy and exciting at the University of Michigan Philosophy Department.  Here’s a sampling of this month’s events.  All are welcome to any of the listed events.

This week is ethics week (six ethics talks in five days).

* Tuesday, 3/9:  Steve Angle, Tang Junyi Lecture

* Wednesday, 3/10:  Sam Fleischacker, 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m   Tanner Library

“Hume and Smith on Sympathy: A Contrast, Critique, and Reconstruction”

* Thursday, 3/11:  Steve Angle, Tang Junyi Lecture

* Friday, 3/12:  Tim Scanlon 4:00 p.m. – 6:00 p.m., East Conference Room of Rackham

“Metaphysical Questions about Normative Reasons”

* Saturday 3/13: Sharon Street, 10:00 a.m.–12:00 p.m. East Conference Room of Rackham

“Coming to Terms with Contingency: Humean Constructivism about Practical Reason”

* Saturday 3/13: Michael Smith, 1:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.  East Conference Room of Rackham

“Four Objections to the Standard Story of Action (And Four Replies)

Next week is metaphysics and epistemology week:

* Tuesday 3/16: John Hawthorne, 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Tanner.

* Thursday 3/18:  John Hawthorne, 4:00 PM – 6:00 PM, Michigan League, Vandenberg Room

“How Many Angels Could Dance on the Head of a Pin?”

* Friday 3/19: John Hawthorne, 3:00 PM – 5:00 PM, 2036 Angell Hall.

Finally, we finish off the month with the Tanner Lecture

* Friday 3/26:  Susan Neiman 4:00 PM -6:00 PM, Michigan Union Ballroom

* Saturday 3/27 :  9:00-12:30, Tanner Symposium, Union Pendleton Room

9:00 – 9:45           Lorraine Daston

9:45 – 10:30         Philip Kitcher

11:00 – 11:45       Alexander Nehamas

On top of all this, the department is hosting a number of additional special visitors this month!

If you have questions about any of these events, please contact the department office.


Theories of Pretense

February 12, 2010

Ori Friedman and Alan Leslie, in their Cognition article “The conceptual underpinnings of pretense: Pretending is not ‘behaving-as-if’” (2007), argue against what they call behaviorist theories of pretense. As they characterize the debate, theories of pretense fall into the following two families:

Metarepresentational Theories: What is central to pretense is mentalistic: treating pretense as such through the possession and deployment of the concept PRETEND. (Leslie is the primary proponent of this view.)

Behaviorist Theories: What is central to pretense is behavioral: behaving “as-if” a scenario obtains–or rather, behaving in a way that would be appropriate if that scenario obtains. (On Friedman and Leslie’s characterization, pretty much everyone else–such as Perner, Lillard, Nichols and Stich, Harris, and Rakoczy–defends some kind of behaviorist theory.)

One central point in they make the paper is this: without making room for the concept PRETEND in their theories, behaviorists cannot adequately explain how children are able to recognize pretense as such. Here is how they put this central point on page 115:

But more importantly, the above makes clear what game the Behavioral theory perforce finds itself playing: namely, trying to get the child to think that someone is pretending without actually thinking pretend as such. If the Behavioral theory is to measure up to the phenomena of early human pretending, its success will depend on finding an exact conceptual paraphrase of PRETEND without using that concept. Moreover, the paraphrase must be strictly behavioral. … Propositional attitude concepts are the heart and soul of ‘theory of mind’ and utterly foreign to and rejected by behaviorism (Fodor, 1981; Ryle, 1949). ‘Pretend’ is just the name of a specific attitude.

In response, I have two small worries and a major one:

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What does consistency have to do with reasons?

December 11, 2009

I asked Allan Gibbard this post’s titular question earlier this year, and he patiently noted that many people value consistency because if one has inconsistent beliefs, one or more of one’s beliefs must be false. I responded that since he and I believe that all normative beliefs are, in some sense, false, this sort of consideration wouldn’t give us — or other anti-realists about value — any reason to want our “ethical beliefs,” whatever form they might take, to be consistent. I can’t remember where the conversation went from there, but I don’t think that he was particularly moved by my response.

But I was moved by it, and I still am. Sure, if I believe P and not-P, I must have a false belief. But if there aren’t any normative truths, then if I believe P and not-P with respect to some normative matter, I should probably just stop having beliefs of that sort, but if I’m unable to stop (as some anti-realists seem to hold), what harm could follow if I have inconsistent beliefs about such matters?

I recognize that only certain varieties of “anti-realism” about ethics hold that there are no normative truths. Perhaps Allan’s “quasi-realism” isn’t one of them — I can never keep track of what he does or doesn’t think can be true — which might explain his not being impressed with this line of thought. But if one doesn’t think that there are any truths of the form “X is good,” “X is right,” “X is reasonable,” etc., then it seems one doesn’t have any truth-related reasons to value consistency among one’s normative commitments, beliefs, statements, etc.

Leaving that aside, here’s another little pseudo-problem: Suppose, like Sharon Street, you hold that “to make a normative judgment is to ‘give laws to oneself.’ As soon as one takes anything whatsoever to be a reason, one thereby ‘legislates’ standards according to which, by one’s own lights as a valuing agent, one is making a mistake, … if one endorses certain other normative judgments.” (This is from Street’s “Constructivism About Reasons,” pp. 229-30.)

I take Street’s account of reasons and normativity to depend largely on an appeal to internal consistency of some sort. According to Street, one’s judgments about reasons can be judged as “correct” or “incorrect” from the standpoint of all one’s other judgments about reasons. Of course, since Street also holds that there are “ultimately” no normative truths or truths about reasons, I’m inclined to ask why we should continue to make “judgments about reasons” or take ourselves to have reasons if we agree with Street that there are ultimately no truths about these matters. She has an answer to this, of course: We can’t help but occupy the “practical standpoint,” and occupying this standpoint necessarily involves making normative judgments and taking oneself to have reasons. I’m not convinced that she’s right about that, but I’ll grant it for the sake of argument.

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Teaching Early Modern

December 3, 2009

There has been some very interesting discussions on how to teach an introductory early modern class. My own undergrad experience has been the standard “rationalist vs. empiricist” story line, and some of the improvements suggested sound very interesting. I’m especially pleased to learn that there is an anthology of women philosophers from that period, and wish I had read some of that in my limited exposure to history. Anyway, I thought these links would be of general interest.

[HT: The Ethical Werewolf]