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1. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Neil Levy

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Why do people endorse conspiracy theories? There is no single explanation: different people have different attitudes to the theories they say they believe. In this paper, I argue that for many, conspiracy theories are serious play. They’re attracted to conspiracy theories because these theories are engaging: it’s fun to entertain them (witness the enormous number of conspiracy narratives in film and TV). Just as the person who watches a conspiratorial film suspends disbelief for its duration, so many conspiracy theorists do not believe the theories they endorse; rather, they suspend disbelief in them. I argue that the serious play hypothesis explains some characteristic features of conspiracy theories, such as their gamification and the kind of relationship they have to evidence.

2. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Marianna B. Ganapini

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At times, weird stories such as the Pizzagate spread surprisingly quickly and widely. In this paper I analyze the mental attitudes of those who seem to take those absurdities seriously: I argue that those stories are often imagined rather than genuinely believed. Then I make room for the claim that often these imaginings are used to support group ideologies. My main contribution is to explain how that support actually happens by showing that motivated cognition can employ imagination as a seemingly rational tool to reinforce and protect ideologies.

3. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Daniel Williams

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When membership of a community depends on commitment to shared beliefs, the community is a belief-based coalition, and the beliefs are identity-defining beliefs. Belief-based coalitions are pervasive features of human social life and routinely drive motivated cognition and epistemically dysfunctional group dynamics. Despite this, they remain surprisingly undertheorized in social epistemology. This article (i) clarifies the properties of belief-based coalitions and identity-defining beliefs, (ii) explains why they often incentivize and coordinate epistemically dysfunctional forms of communication and cognitive labor, and (iii) argues that they provide a better explanation of many epistemic problems on social media than the concepts of epistemic bubbles, echo chambers, and gamification.

4. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Eric Funkhouser

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Self-deceptive projects are frequently supported by our social environment, with others influencing both our motives and capacities for self-deception. Digital spaces offer even more opportunities for interactive self-deception. Digital platforms are incentivized to sort us and capture our engagement, and online users also have desires to be sorted and engaged. The execution of self-deception is partially offloaded to algorithms and social networks that filter our evidence, selectively draw our attention to evidence, offer rationalizations, and give us repetitive and emotion-laden feedback. Nevertheless, this is not so different from what we find in offline environments. Further, most of this offloading of information processing is willingly accepted by users and is in line with their desires. As such, responsibility for any motivationally biased beliefs largely lies with the individual internet user.

5. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
David Barrett

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A popular claim is that social media is a cause of contemporary high levels of political polarization. In this paper, I consider three of the most common kinds of arguments for the thesis. One type lays out a narrative of causes, tracing the causal steps between logging on to social media and later becoming more polarized. Another type uses computer modeling to show how polarized effects can arise from systems that are analogous to use of social media. The final type considers straightforward experimental evidence for the polarizing effect. I reject each of these arguments and explain why they are unconvincing.

6. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Kenneth Boyd

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According to many theories of testimony, acts of testimony confer certain epistemic rights upon recipients, e.g., the right for the recipient to complain or otherwise hold the testifier responsible should the content of that testimony turn out to be false, and the right to “pass the epistemic buck”, such that the recipient can redirect relevant challenges they may encounter back to the testifier. While these discussions do not explicitly exclude testimonial acts that occur online, they do not specifically address them, either. Here, then, I will ask the following questions: do the differences between communicating in online and offline spaces affect our testimonial epistemic rights, and if so, how? While there is no singular “online space”, here I will focus on such spaces in which users communicate with one another, and in which communicated information can be vetted by other users (for example, social media). I argue that the characteristics of online testimony should make us think about testimonial epistemic rights differently, in two ways. First, whereas such rights have traditionally been conceived of as existing between the recipient and testifier, in many different types of online communication these rights exist between the recipient and a community. This is a result of the fact that online testimony is mediated, and in some cases partially determined by, a community of users. As such, testimonial epistemic rights in online spaces may be widely extended: while the original testifier still bears the brunt of responsibility for challenges, and is the primary buck-passee, all other members of the relevant community will also bear some such responsibilities. Second, the grounds of testimonial epistemic rights may differ in online spaces. Existing theories tend to ground such rights either in assurances provided by the testifier, or else norms that govern speech acts. I argue that testimony in online spaces should cause us to look to a third option, what I call norms of information sharing. The idea is that, given the highly social nature of online communication, a recipient acquires testimonial epistemic rights in virtue of having a reasonable expectation that information that is shared and vetted by the community meets certain standards. The grounds of online testimonial epistemic rights, then, is not primarily interpersonal or norms-based, but social.

7. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 2
Aydin Mohseni, Cailin O’Connor, James Owen Weatherall

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Scientific curation, where scientific evidence is selected and shared, is essential to public belief formation about science. Yet common curation practices can distort the body of evidence the public sees. Focusing on science journalism, we employ computational models to investigate how such distortions influence public belief. We consider these effects for agents with and without confirmation bias. We find that standard journalistic practices can lead to significant distortions in public belief; that preexisting errors in public belief can drive further distortions in reporting; that practices that appear relatively unobjectionable can produce serious epistemic harm; and that, in some cases, common curation practices related to fairness and extreme reporting can lead to polarization.

8. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Jaroslav Pergrin, Matej Drobňak

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9. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Hans-Johann Glock Orcid-ID

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This article addresses the two most important areas of potential conflict between inferentialism and naturalism, namely normativity and rationality. Concerning the first, it sides with inferentialism, while at the same time developing a normativist position less vulnerable to naturalistic objections. There is nothing problematic or mysterious about semantic normativity or normativity in general. But one needs to distinguish different types of normativity and recognize that statements of norms can be perfectly truth-apt. Concerning the second area of conflict, my verdict is partly naturalistic. It rejects overly intellectualist accounts of the normative practices that underlie meaning and content. The article ends with a plea for an ‘anthropological’ naturalism that eschews both ontological supernaturalism and epistemological naturalism.

10. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Jaroslav Peregrin

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Brandom’s inferentialism explains meaning in terms of inferential rules. As he insists that “the normative” (including meanings) is not reducible to “the natural,” inferentialism would seem an unlikely ally of naturalism. However, in this paper I suggest that Brandom’s theory of language harbors insights which can promote a naturalistic theory of meaning and language, and that a naturalistic version of Brandom’s inferentialism might have great potential. Also I sketch the lines along which such a theory could be built.

11. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Bernhard Weiss

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The paper is interested in likely routes for the evolution of normative practice, which, it is here assumed, is a necessary precursor to the development of language. It argues that each normative practice requires a policing practice, consisting of, at least, moves of commendation, condemnation, and retraction, and it contrasts policing with mere monitoring practice. So the evolution of norms can be seen to be the development of policing from mere monitoring practice. It conjectures that a likely site for such a development to take place is in the active transmission of technology, notably, toolmaking technology. Using data and observations drawn from the archaeological record and the psychology of mimicry, it attempts to illustrate the likely emergence of policing practices.

12. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
María J. Frápolli Orcid-ID

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The background of this paper is what I call “pragmatic inferentialism,” a view that I attribute to Robert Brandom. Here, I develop Brandom’s view and argue (i) that it is a kind of subject naturalism, in Price’s sense, and (ii) that the charge of idealism sometimes addressed against it is unwarranted. Regarding (i), I show that pragmatic inferentialism finds support from evolutionary psychology and developmental psychology. Regarding (ii), I present what I call “level 0 expressivism,” which I take to be the semantic counterpart of some aspects of evolutionary psychology and developmental psychology. Besides, I resort to Brandom’s defense of Hegel’s conceptual realism. The conclusion of the paper is a vindication of objective truth in the inferentialist framework.

13. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Preston Stovall

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Despite increasing interest in shared intentionality in both philosophy and the sciences over the last three decades, there has been little comparison of philosophical with empirical accounts of the phenomenon. At the same time, both philosophical and scientific investigations into shared intentionality as a ground of our cognition have developed into widespread research programs during this period. This has laid the groundwork for a productive conversation, across the sciences and humanities, about the nature of human cognition qua discursive or rational. In this essay, I map some of the conceptual terrain such a conversation would cover, and I consider some of the extant efforts to build explanatory bridges across research and conversational contexts—using the resources of one domain of understanding to help structure our understanding of another—to the benefit of both philosophical and scientific approaches to the study of human cognition.

14. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Antonio Scarafone, John Michael

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Paul Grice’s theory of meaning has been widely adopted as a starting point for investigating the evolutionary and developmental emergence of linguistic communication. In this picture, reasoning about complexes of intentions is a prerequisite for communicating effectively at the prelinguistic level, as well as for acquiring a natural language. We argue that this broadly ‘Gricean’ picture rests on an equivocation between theories of communication and theories of cognition, and that it leads to paradoxical or implausible claims about human psychology. We defend an alternative conception of prelinguistic communication, inspired by Bart Geurts and based on the notion of commitment. Adopting a commitment-first approach makes it possible to avoid the pernicious equivocation, and it provides a better systematization of the key empirical findings. We develop our argument with respect to (1) infants’ sensitivity to ‘ostensive signals’; (2) infants’ pointing; (3) and infants’ endorsement of normative attitudes in joint activities. Finally, adopting a commitment-first approach makes it possible to argue that sophisticated forms of psychological reasoning are enabled by the mastery of a rich natural language, rather than being a prerequisite for acquiring one.

15. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Diego Marconi Orcid-ID

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There are two prevalent accounts of semantic normativity: the prescriptive account, which can be found in some of Wittgenstein’s remarks, and the regularity account, which may have been Sellars’s view and is nowadays defended by some antinormativists. On the former account, meanings are norms that govern the use of words; on the latter, they are regularities of use which, in themselves, do not engender any prescriptions. I argue that only the prescriptive view can account for certain platitudes about meaning, which motivate the very idea of semantic normativity. After some preliminary clarifications about the form that alleged semantic norms should take in order to be prima facie plausible, I argue—against some antinormativists—that whatever normativity is involved in the meaning of words cannot be brought back to a general norm of truth as distinct from specifically semantic norms, for semantic norms already involve a norm of truth (or truthfulness, depending on how they are phrased). Next, I examine what I take to be the strongest objection to semantic normativity, namely the identification of meaning with use: as use is just a bunch of facts, it cannot be attributed any normative import. Nowadays, this view has been defended by Paul Horwich. After criticizing Horwich’s claim that meaning, though not normative in itself, has unmediated normative implications, I propose a different view of the relation between use and meaning, on which meaning is not quite identical with use but (in most cases) is grounded on use. I propose as a model the idea of a hyperconformist social system: a system in which customs, and only customs, generate norms. I suggest that language is such a system, and describe two reasons why it is plausible for language to work like that. Finally, I analyze statements of meaning (“w means such-and-such”) on the model of Ruth Millikan “pushmi-pullyu” representations, i.e. as having both descriptive and normative import. I point out that, however, there are exceptions to meaning’s being grounded on use, as there are cases in which semantic norms are dictated by authorities of several kinds. Lastly, I briefly discuss the suggestion that meaning supervenes on use, showing that, aside from its inherent difficulties, it does not explain why meaning would supervene on use.

16. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Ulf Hlobil Orcid-ID

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The paper presents teleo-inferentialism, which is a novel meta-semantic theory that combines advantages of teleosemantics and normative inferentialism. Like normative inferentialism, teleo-inferentialism holds that contents are individuated by the norms that govern inferences in which they occur. This allows teleo-inferentialism to account for sophisticated concepts. Like teleosemantics, teleo-inferentialism explains conceptual norms in a naturalistically acceptable way by appeal to the broadly biological well-functioning of our innate capacities. As a test-case for teleo-inferentialism, I discuss how the view handles Kripkenstein-style meaning skepticism.

17. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Ladislav Koreň Orcid-ID

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In their own way, inferentialists and interactionists both trace the roots of reflective reasoning to practices and skills for making, assessing, and responding to public performances in communicative practices of giving and asking for reasons. Inferentialists have developed the idea mostly on conceptual grounds. Interactionists ask, in a more empirical spirit, why and how such practices and skills might have evolved. Thus they promise complementary “anthropological” insights of foremost interest to inferentialists. But interactionist theories advance a number of controversial claims that deserve careful scrutiny. In this essay I focus on one such claim: namely that confirmation bias can be plausibly explained as a design feature that promotes postulated functions of interactive reasoning. And I argue that each of three extant proposals fails to make the claim good.

18. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Anke Breunig

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This paper explores some ideas of Wilfrid Sellars to raise two difficulties for a naturalistic approach to the mind. The first difficulty, which is methodological, is a corollary of Sellars’s distinction between two images of man-in-the-world, the manifest and the scientific image. For Sellars, taking science seriously requires that we think of it as constructing a unified image of man-in-the-world of its own. I argue that it is the rivalry between the manifest and the scientific image which gives rise to the mind-body-problem. The challenge for a naturalistic solution to the mind-body-problem is that it is not legitimate to isolate single scientific results from their theoretical context in order to integrate them piecemeal into the manifest image. According to Sellars, a satisfactory solution to the mind-body-problem must attempt nothing less than a fusion of both images which somehow respects and preserves the unity of each. The second, substantial difficulty for a naturalistic approach to the mind is that of coming to terms with the normativity of the mental. Many interpreters take Sellars to hold that normativity sets the mental apart from the rest of nature. Against this I argue that according to Sellars the living is governed by norms of its own. It follows that normativity cannot serve as the mark of the mental. I argue that according to Sellars the distinguishing feature of the mental lies elsewhere, namely in the way in which normative force comes about. Unlike biological norms, the norms of thought owe their force to a common practice of mutual evaluation. However, the assumption that there are norms in animate nature should make it easier for naturalists to accept that the mental is characterized by norms of its own.

19. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Kareem Khalifa, Jared Millson, Mark Risjord

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This essay presents a fully inferentialist-expressivist account of scientific representation. In general, inferentialist approaches to scientific representation argue that the capacity of a model to represent a target system depends on inferences from models to target systems (surrogative inference). Inferentialism is attractive because it makes the epistemic function of models central to their representational capacity. Prior inferentialist approaches to scientific representation, however, have depended on some representational element, such as denotation or representational force. Brandom’s Making It Explicit provides a model of how to fully discharge such representational vocabulary, but it cannot be applied directly to scientific representations. Pursuing a strategy parallel to Brandom’s, this essay begins with an account of how surrogative inference is justified. Scientific representation and the denotation of model elements are then explained in terms of surrogative inference by treating scientific representation and denotation as expressive, analogous to Brandom’s account of truth. The result is a thoroughgoing inferentialism: M is a scientific representation of T if and only if M has scientifically justified surrogative consequences that are answers to questions about T.

20. Philosophical Topics: Volume > 50 > Issue: 1
Huw Price Orcid-ID

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In Expressing Our Attitudes (OUP, 2015), Mark Schroeder speculates about the relation between expressivism and relativism. Noting that “John MacFarlane has wondered whether relativism is expressivism done right,” he suggests that this may get things back to front: “it is worth taking seriously the idea that expressivism is relativism done right” (Schroeder 2015, 25). In this piece, motivated both by Schroeder’s suggestion and by recent work from Lionel Shapiro, I compare and contrast my version of expressivism with MacFarlane’s version of relativism. I identify some significant differences concerning the treatment of linguistic disagreement, but conclude that despite these differences, MacFarlane’s version of relativism counts as a version of expressivism in my sense, in most of the respects that matter.