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Essays in Philosophy

Volume 13, Issue 1, January 2012
Philosophical Methodology

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Displaying: 1-20 of 27 documents

editor’s introduction
1. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
James McBain Issue Introduction
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2. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Donald Cross Cartesian “Riddles”: Descartes, Words, and Deduction
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Traditionally, ‘René Descartes’ is synonymous with ‘method.’ The so-called father of modern science, he is perhaps the systematic and methodological philosopher par excellence, a fundamental motivation for his attempt to secede from contemporary thought being the possibility of establishing a universally valid method in the search for truth. In a passage in the Rules for the Direction of the Mind, Descartes contrasts his method with what he calls scholastic “[r]iddles,” verbal equivocations that hinder the acquisition of knowledge. In this paper I analyze this notion of riddling and the Cartesian method to posit that, finally, Descartes cannot avoid replicating the very riddles he criticizes, that his ‘revolutionary’ method only generates more riddles to be methodically solved. In short, Descartes’ method is dependent upon words but also calls for the effacement of the very words that constitute it. Words are both a methodological necessity and limitation; a double bind, there is no method without words, but, at the same time, there can be no method with words, that is, no methodo-logos. In its broadest formulation, Descartes must always at once say too much and too little.
3. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Elizabeth Shaw Is James’s Pragmatism Really a New Name for Some Old Ways of Thinking?
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Pragmatism may be the aspect of William James’s thought for which he is best known; but, at the same time, James’s pragmatism may be among the most misunderstood doctrines of the past century. There are many meanings of word “pragmatism,” even within James’s own corpus. Not a single unified doctrine, pragmatism may be better described as a collection of positions which together form a coherent philosophical system. This paper examines three interrelated uses of the term: (1) pragmatism as a temperament, (2) pragmatism as a philosophical method, and (3) pragmatism as a “humanistic” and “concrete” theory of knowledge and truth. Some critics infer that pragmatist truth is relative or subjective. This paper concludes with a consideration of James’s responses to such critics. Though James maintains truth is something both “made” and “satisfying,” he just as clearly affirms that as it develops, truth is ever constrained by the elements of extramental reality as well as previously vetted truths. This pragmatist truth is not a function of personal caprice, and the pragmatist is certainly not one who denies an objective order or bends the world to his wishes.
4. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Ben Gibran Philosophy as a Private Language
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Philosophy (and its corollaries in the human sciences such as literary, social and political theory) is distinguished from other disciplines by a more thoroughgoing emphasis on the a priori. Philosophy makes no claims to predictive power; nor does it aim to conform to popular opinion (beyond ordinary intuitions as recorded by ‘thought experiments’). Many philosophers view the discipline’s self-exemption from ‘real world’ empirical testing as a non-issue or even an advantage, in allowing philosophy to focus on universal and necessary truths. This article argues otherwise. The non-instrumentality of philosophical discourse renders it into a collective private language, impairing the discipline’s ability to judge the quality of its own output. The natural sciences and other technical disciplines offer the non-expert ‘windows of scrutiny’ into their respective methodologies, through numerous findings that can be easily and independently tested by amateurs. Such outside scrutiny provides a mechanism of external quality control, mitigating the internal effects of cognitive bias and institutionalised conformity upon the discourses of technical disciplines. In contrast, the conclusions of philosophy are not testable without in-depth knowledge of the methods by which they are arrived at; knowledge which can apparently only be gained through an extensive program of study, in philosophy. This epistemic circularity renders the program (even one of self-study) into a ‘black box’ in which the internal influence of cognitive biases and conformity effects cannot be independently assessed. The black box of philosophy is, in all relevant respects, analogous to the black box of the Cartesian mind that is the subject of Wittgenstein’s private language argument.
5. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Chrysoula Gitsoulis Wittgenstein and Surrealism
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There are two aspects to Wittgenstein’s method of deconstructing pseudo-philosophical problems that need to be distinguished: (1) describing actual linguistic practice, and (2) constructing hypothetical ‘language-games’. Both methods were, for Wittgenstein, indispensable means of clarifying the ‘grammar’ of expressions of our language – i.e., the appropriate contexts for using those expressions – and thereby dissolving pseudo-philosophical problems. Though (2) is often conflated with (1), it is important to recognize that it differs from it in imprtant respects. (1) can be seen as functioning as a direct method of ‘proof’ (i.e., attempt to convince the reader of some thesis), and (2) as an indirect method of ‘proof’ – proof by reduction ad absurdum. This essay will be devoted to clarifying (2) by forging an analogy with surrealism in art.
6. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Reshef Agam-Segal How to Investigate the Grammar of Aspect-Perception: A Question in Wittgensteinian Method
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I argue that the typical Wittgensteinian method of philosophical investigation cannot help elucidate the grammar of aspect-seeing. In the typical Wittgensteinian method, we examine meaning in use: We practice language, and note the logical ramifications. I argue that the effectiveness of this method is hindered in the case of aspect-seeing by the fact that aspect-seeing involves an aberrant activity of seeing: Whereas it is normally nonsense to say that we choose what to see (decide to see the White House red, for instance), it is possible to see aspects at will—e.g. to decide to see Jastrow’s duck-rabbit as a duck. I suggest an alternative method of investigation, one that reflects on language from a disengaged standpoint: a method that allows us to entertain a form of conceptualization of an object but does not commit us to adopting that way—namely, that does not involve us in a use of the object according to the norms that govern that conceptualization. This method, I argue, fits the subject matter of aspect-perception, since aspect-perception itself involves such a disengaged form of reflection.
7. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Bennett Gilbert Freshest Advices on What To Do With the Historical Method in Philosophy When Using It to Study a Little Bit of Philosophy That Has Been Lost to History
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The paper explores the question of the relationship between the practice of original philosophical inquiry and the study of the history of philosophy. It is written from my point of view as someone starting a research project in the history of philosophy that calls this issue into question, in order to review my starting positions. I argue: first, that any philosopher is sufficiently embedded in culture that her practice is necessarily historical; second, that original work is in fact in part a reconstruction by reinterpretation of the past and that therefore it bears some relation to historiographic techniques for the restoration of damaged objects and texts; and third that the special oddities of the relations of present and past do not fail to ensnare the philosopher, who must restore the past but freely break from it. I describe this relationship as proleptic. Finally, I argue that this is a moral imperative in writing philosophy, derived from the imperative to be honest.
8. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Brian Talbot Interest as a Starting Place for Philosophy
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This paper discusses a puzzle about philosophical beliefs. Core philosophical beliefs that are widely shared among philosophers, such as the belief that skepticism is false, are often held with extreme confidence. However, this confidence is not justified if these beliefs are based on what are traditionally seen as the sources of philosophical evidence, such as intuitions or observation (or reasoning on these bases). Charity requires that we should look for some other basis for these beliefs. I argue that these beliefs are based on our knowledge of what we find interesting. Further, I argue that this is a good basis for belief. Knowing what we find interesting allows us to tune our inquiry in ways we could not otherwise.
9. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Justin Sytsma, Jonathan Livengood Experimental Philosophy and Philosophical Disputes
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One view of philosophy that is sometimes expressed, especially by scientists, is that while philosophers are good at asking questions, they are poor at producing convincing answers. And the perceived divide between philosophical and scientific methods is often pointed to as the major culprit behind this lack of progress. Looking back at the history of philosophy, however, we find that this methodological divide is a relatively recent invention. Further, it is one that has been challenged over the past decade by the modern incarnation of experimental philosophy. How might the reincorporation of empirical methods into philosophy aid the process of making philosophical progress? Building off of the work of Sytsma (2010), we argue that one way it does so is by offering a means of resolving some disputes that arise in philosophy. We illustrate how philosophical disputes may sometimes be resolved empirically by looking at the recent experimental literature on intuitions about reference.
10. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Anthony Bryson, David Alexander The View from the Armchair: Responding to Kornblith’s Alternative to Armchair Philosophy
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In the last two decades, the greatest threat to armchair philosophy has been the natural kinds approach. On this view, philosophic theorizing should not be obsessed with the ideas of justice, goodness, and truth but should look outward to the world of objects to find these things. And if these things happen to be natural kinds, like kinds of rock or fish for instance, then clearly we should reject the armchair for the lab. The philosopher should leave the office and join the scientist out in the field. Philosophy should become a species of science. We attempt to defend traditional/armchair philosophy by examining Hilary Kornblith’s naturalistic methodological approach to epistemology. Among other things, we argue that Kornblith’s approach leads to some surprising, undesirable results (at least undesirable to the naturalist), one of which is that Kornblith cannot discount epistemic internalism as a viable contender in the search for the nature of knowledge. His methodology actually requires that we take epistemic internalism seriously.
11. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Dana Goswick Philosophical Methodology in Modal Epistemology
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This paper examines the legitimacy of two common methodologies within philosophy: thought experiments and conceptual analysis. In particular, I examine the uses to which these two methodologies have been put within modal epistemology. I argue that, although both methods can be used to reveal conditional essentialist claims (e.g. necessarily: if x is water, then x is H20), neither can be used to reveal the de re essentialists claims (e.g. x is water and x is essentially H20) they’re often taken to reveal.
12. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Philip Corkum Meta-conceivability
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In addition to conceiving of such imaginary scenarios as those involving philosophical zombies, we may conceive of such things being conceived. Call these higher order conceptions ‘meta-conceptions’. Sorensen (2006) holds that one can entertain a meta-conception without thereby conceiving of the embedded lower-order conception. So it seems that I can meta-conceive possibilities which I cannot conceive. If this is correct, then meta-conceptions provide a counter-example to the claim that possibility entails conceivability. Moreover, some of Sorensen’s discussion suggests the following argument: if the conceivability of some proposition entails its possibility, then the meta-conceivability of some proposition entails its possibility; but we can meta-conceive impossibilities; so conceivability doesn’t entail possibility. In this paper, I’ll argue that one cannot entertain a meta-conception without thereby conceiving of the embedded lower-order conception. And so we can neither meta-conceive impossibilities nor meta-conceive possibilities of which we cannot thereby conceive.
13. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Sophie R. Allen What Matters in (Naturalized) Metaphysics?
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Can metaphysics ever really be compatible with science? In this paper, I investigate the implications of the methodological approach to metaphysical theorizing known as naturalized metaphysics. In the past, metaphysics has been rejected entirely by empirically-minded philosophers as being too open to speculation and for relying on methods which are not conducive to truth. But naturalized metaphysics aims to be a less radical solution to these difficulties, treating metaphysical theorizing as being continuous with science and restricting metaphysical methods to empirically respectable ones. I investigate a significant difficulty for naturalized metaphysics: that it lacks the methodological resources to comparatively evaluate competing ontological theories, or even to distinguish adequately between them. This objection is more acute when applied to robust realist versions of naturalized metaphysics, since the realist should be able to say which theory is true of the objective world. If this objection holds, then it seems that the commitment to naturalized metaphysics, or to robust realism about the categories and processes in metaphysics, will have to be relaxed.
14. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
James O’Connor The Trolley Method of Moral Philosophy
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The hypothetical scenarios generally known as trolley problems have become widespread in recent moral philosophy. They invariably require an agent to choose one of a strictly limited number of options, all of them bad. Although they don’t always involve trolleys / trams, and are used to make a wide variety of points, what makes it justified to speak of a distinctive “trolley method” is the characteristic assumption that the intuitive reactions that all these artificial situations elicit constitute an appropriate guide to real-life moral reasoning. I dispute this assumption by arguing that trolley cases inevitably constrain the supposed rescuers into behaving in ways that clearly deviate from psychologically healthy, and morally defensible, human behavior. Through this focus on a generally overlooked aspect of trolley theorizing – namely, the highly impoverished role invariably allotted to the would-be rescuer in these scenarios – I aim to challenge the complacent twin assumptions of advocates of the trolley method that this approach to moral reasoning has practical value, and is in any case innocuous. Neither assumption is true.
15. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Jonathan M. Weinberg, Stephen Crowley, Chad Gonnerman, Ian Vandewalker, Stacey Swain Intuition & Calibration
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The practice of appealing to intuitive judgments concerning esoteric cases, long standard in analytic philosophy, has recently fallen on hard times. Various recent empirical results have suggested that philosophers are not currently able to distinguish good intuitions from bad. This paper evaluates one possible type of approach to this problematic methodological situation: calibration. Both critiquing and building on an argument from Robert Cummins, the paper explores what possible avenues may exist for the calibration of philosophical intuitions. It is argued that no good options are currently available, but leaves open the real possibility of such a calibration in the future.
16. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Anand Vaidya Intuition and Inquiry
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Recent work in philosophical methodology by experimental philosophers has brought to light a certain kind of skepticism about the role of intuitions in a priori philosophical inquiry. In this paper I turn attention away from a priori philosophical inquiry and on to the role of intuition in experimental design. I argue that even if we have reason to be skeptical about the role of intuition in a priori philosophical inquiry, we cannot remove intuition from inquiry altogether, because appeals to intuition are essential for experimental design.
17. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Federico Mathías Pailos Intuition as Philosophical Evidence
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Earlenbaugh and Molyneux’s argument against considering intuitions as evidence has an uncharitable consequence — a substantial part of philosophical practice is not justified. A possible solution to this problem is to defend that philosophy must be descriptive metaphysics. But if this statement is rejected, one can only argue (a) that experts’ intuition does constitute evidence, and (b) that philosophical practice is justified by the overall growth of philosophical knowledge it generates.
18. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Julia Langkau Towards a Non-Rationalist Inflationist Account of Intuitions
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In this paper, I first develop desiderata for an ontology of intuitions on the basis of paradigmatic cases of intuitions in philosophy. A special focus lies on cases that have been subject to extensive first-order philosophical debates but have been receiving little attention in the current debate over the ontology of intuitions. I show that none of the popular accounts in the current debate can meet all desiderata. I discuss a view according to which intuitions reduce to beliefs, Timothy Williamson's (2004, 2007) account of intuitions as beliefs or inclinations to believe, and traditional rationalist accounts of intuitions. I then show that a widely ignored account of intuitions as appearance states can meet the desiderata best.
19. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Damián Enrique Szmuc A New Hope for Philosophers’ Appeal to Intuition
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Some recent researches in experimental philosophy have posed a problem for philosophers’ appeal to intuition (hereinafter referred to as PAI); the aim of this paper is to offer an answer to this challenge. The thesis against PAI implies that, given some experimental results, intuition does not seem to be a reliable epistemic source, and —more importantly— given the actual state of knowledge about its operation, we do not have sufficient resources to mitigate its errors and thus establish its reliability. That is why PAI is hopeless. Throughout this paper I will defend my own conception of PAI, which I have called the Deliberative Conception, and consequently, I will defend intersubjective agreement as a means to mitigate PAI errors, offering empirical evidence from recent studies on the Argumentative Theory of Reason that favor the conception I defend here. Finally, I will reply to some objections that might arise against the Deliberative Conception, which will lead me to discuss some metaphilosophical issues that are significantly relevant for the future of the dispute about the appeal to intuition.
book reviews
20. Essays in Philosophy: Volume > 13 > Issue: 1
Peter Boghossian Review of The Ethical Treatment of Depression: Autonomy through Psychotherapy, by Paul Biegler
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