Sunday, January 20, 2013

What I Believe, part two.

When I started this blog, I made a post attempting to condense my philosophical views on things.  It has proven useful in debates, and provoked comments, and I'm more or less proud of it.  However, it has also been a work in progress, and I have updated it several times since then.  Here is another update, taken from my responses to the 30-question philpapers.org survey.  If you'd like to take the survey as well, just go to the site and register - it will ask for your name and email and other stuff, and you can just answer questions and opine from there.  The issues are all Google-able, though you may or may not need to do hours upon hours of research to answer a question you're unfamiliar with.  For my part, I was able to identify all but a few of those questions, and say, "I am insufficiently educated on the subject," which means that I don't want to spend two weeks reading what everyone has to say before I make up my mind.  :)

Interestingly, they provide a multiplicity of options for answering each question:  you can agree with a side, or say that there's insufficient information to decide the matter, or admit that you're insufficiently educated to answer the question (which I had to do a few times).  I know, right?  Leave it to philosophers to provide weasel options on a multiple-choice test.

Anyway, my answers (and their corresponding elaborations) are below the cut.  I will probably integrate them into my introductory post in the coming week.  Either that, or I'll just forget about it all and write about how the Hunters are trying to recruit Stephen (Willy's preferred initiate for the Winslow pack) for their purposes.  Have a great one!

A priori knowledge: yes or no?
No.

We cannot know about the world except by looking at it.

Abstract objects: Platonism or nominalism?
Accept: nominalism

The categories we hold in our minds are the categories we hold in our minds. There is no "higher realm" in which the names of things objectively denote "thing-ness" in any connotation-free way.

Aesthetic value: objective or subjective?
Accept: subjective

While we can certainly lay out objective criteria for aesthetic values, the basis on which we assign those "objective" criteria is inextricably subjective.

Analytic-synthetic distinction: yes or no?
Lean toward: yes

The analytic-synthetic distinction is one of those things where it seems like we ought to be able to draw a hard and fast line, yet we cannot. Words, and the categories we make with them, are ultimately artifacts: therefore, anything we take the time to do with them is ultimately artificial. While there are lots of interesting isolated cases to write papers and stuff on, the fact of the matter comes down to that some statements do boil down to mere language games, while others at least gesture at the "outside" world (and words being artifacts, we should at least take those gestures seriously). While we can't ever get "outside" our own heads or "away" from the ultimately internal use of our words, the attempt to do so is intelligible and so we must be content with "pointing at" a "ding an sich" even though we can never have "true" access to it.

Epistemic justification: internalism or externalism?
There is no fact of the matter

Epistemic justifications *ought* to be external, but we only have access to internal information (even when processing "external" stimuli). Coherentist theories of truth are great and all, but without any demonstrated correspondence to reality, they amount to private games. As for how our knowledge is actually justified, since we cannot get "outside" of ourselves, there can be no fact of the matter.

External world: idealism, skepticism, or non-skeptical realism?
Insufficiently familiar with the issue

This is another of those matters where I think I ought to take a course on the subject before deciding what I think. I feel qualified to participate in (or even moderate) a discussion on the subject, but I couldn't really tell you what I think without communicating with a few experts over beers for some hours.

Free will: compatibilism, libertarianism, or no free will?
Accept: no free will

I have yet to encounter a definition of "free will" that doesn't at least dabble in loose metaphysics and freewheeling theories of causality.

God: theism or atheism?
Accept: atheism

I am not a theist.

Knowledge: empiricism or rationalism?
Accept: empiricism

The only way to learn about the world is by looking at it.

Knowledge claims: contextualism, relativism, or invariantism?
Lean toward: relativism

Knowledge claims are sticky because they rest on so much. At the end of the day, though, we all have a highly contextualized and holistic worldview, and so our claims to "knowledge" (whatever that may mean) can only rest upon the webs of meaning and experience that we've built up over our lifetimes. Gettier problems are cute ways of pointing out where our definitions of the word "knowledge" become problematic; we must, however, make our way in the world without anything like perfect knowledge. This is frustrating. To quote Faust, "And up and down, wherever it goes, I lead my students by the nose, and see that for all our science and art, we can know nothing. It burns my heart."

Laws of nature: Humean or non-Humean?
Insufficiently familiar with the issue

I'm honestly not sure what this question is about. I suspect that I'd probably try to straddle the fence, though. "Laws of nature" are ridiculously sticky, especially in light of quantum physics.

Logic: classical or non-classical?
Accept: classical

Logic follows rules. It's a system we made up, to be sure, but all rules are made-up and classical logic is the best system we've got so far.

Mental content: internalism or externalism?
The question is too unclear to answer

This is one of those things that is too complicated to answer as the question is phrased. The meanings we bring to bear in our answering of the question have such a huge impact that it is easily decidable when we fix our meanings, but the Devil's in the details.

Meta-ethics: moral realism or moral anti-realism?
Lean toward: moral anti-realism

This is so thorny an issue that it's inherently hard to decide. Yet it seems obvious to me in any case that moral questions lean so heavily on our feelings that we must rely on our guts to decide them. This is problematic, to say the least.

Metaphilosophy: naturalism or non-naturalism?
Accept: naturalism

Naturalism, to my mind, is the only tenable position (though, as a naturalist, I am probably heavily biased). While we may never fully "settle" the matter in debate, we at least have an intelligible and functional definition of what is "natural." The same cannot be said of the non-, super-, or para-natural. When "nature" is defined to mean "all that is; all that exists," I simply cannot understand what is meant to be outside that aside from the imaginary and the unreal. When someone says, "Here there be dragons," my gut instinct is to say that they have abdicated reality.

Mind: physicalism or non-physicalism?
Accept: physicalism

While I accept a generally physicalist theory of mind, it is only in a default way. Everything - every single thing - that we have ever discovered or investigated has turned out to be physical in nature. For a non-physicalist explanation to have a snowball's chance in Hell, someone needs to win a Nobel prize in physics showing how non-physical things can exist, let alone interact with the physical (keeping in mind that photons and electromagnetic fields are still physical).

Moral judgment: cognitivism or non-cognitivism?
Lean toward: non-cognitivism

Our moral judgments are messy and sloppy things. They have overwhelmingly to do with the baggage we bring to the table.

Moral motivation: internalism or externalism?
There is no fact of the matter

I think this varies from individual to individual, and the internalist vs. externalist theories are only "presently" true or false relative to the contingent fact of how the population itself is actually statistically motivated.

Newcomb's problem: one box or two boxes?
Accept: two boxes

No matter what kind of person I am (which I cannot change before meeting the computer - I am whatever kind of person I am), I am better off taking the additional reward because the computer has made its decision before I have made my own. Whatever I decide to do cannot travel back in time and affect the computer's decision one way or the other. It's a simple matter of disjunctive reasoning: whatever is in the opaque box, I am just plain better off with whatever is also in the transparent box; the fact that I don't know what's in the opaque box is immaterial. I used to be a one-boxer, though, because if I got nothing in my opaque box I could then say, "HA! The computer was WRONG!" But "winning" the "fight" has since taken a back seat to getting more money.

Normative ethics: deontology, consequentialism, or virtue ethics?
Lean toward: consequentialism

Our moral intuitions derive from all three camps; this much is obvious from surveys on trolley problems. Nevertheless, it seems obvious in any case that we ought to base our decisions on how things come out. But at the same time, we should probably temper our decisions with theories of duty and virtue. It's complicated.

Perceptual experience: disjunctivism, qualia theory, representationalism, or sense-datum theory?
Lean toward: representationalism

From the experiment where a monkey was killed while looking at a pattern (and that pattern was found more or less drawn upon its visual cortex), I think the representationalist view of experience is the best explanation we have so far. Natural selection plays into this, too: our experiences will best prepare us to project our genes into the next generation to the extent that they faithfully represent our interactions with reality. While other explanations are possible, representationalism strikes me as the inference to the best explanation, and the most feasible one to boot.

Personal identity: biological view, psychological view, or further-fact view?
There is no fact of the matter

"Personal identity" leans so heavily on personal definitions of those words that there really can't be a fact of the matter. Like "pornography," it's one of those things that everyone knows when they see it, but is frustratingly problematic to articulate. Like a coastline, personal identity has interesting features at all levels of detail and changes in interesting ways on all timescales. As things stand, there can be no fact of the matter until our terms are more rigidly defined and those definitions gain acceptance.

Politics: communitarianism, egalitarianism, or libertarianism?
Insufficiently familiar with the issue

I generally hate politics. Human beings are not fully rational creatures; our gut feelings inform too much of our lives to make this a decidable question.

Proper names: Fregean or Millian?
Insufficiently familiar with the issue

From Googling the issue, I have concluded that this matter requires an entire course of study. I really don't know how to decide this matter, nor do I really know what this matter is "all about."

Science: scientific realism or scientific anti-realism?
Lean toward: scientific realism

We have done the experiments we've done, and we've gotten the results we've gotten. From there, the matter is highly subject to politics and interpretation; nevertheless, the numbers point where they point. We cannot ever "fully" decide any fact of the matter, yet we must act just the same, and this forces us to interpret data from our hopelessly subjective viewpoints.

Teletransporter (new matter): survival or death?
Accept: death

I'm not entirely convinced that I don't cease to exist and come into a new existence every night when I go to sleep and then wake up the next morning. With a "teletransporter," it seems blatantly obvious that one instantiation of "me" is utterly destroyed, and a new one just like it (complete with all my memories) is built from scratch at the target location. The teletransporter could (in principle) create the new me by scanning the old me without destroying it; it therefore seems obvious that the old me is not "moved" but "destroyed," and I am not "transported" but "reborn."

Time: A-theory or B-theory?
Accept another alternative

I see "time" as a dimension that we are all helplessly and haphazardly falling through. We are insufficiently able to manipulate our position in time to allow us to make such distinctions, though we know from relativity that time is flexible and not as invariant as it seems to our gut instincts. Until or unless we are more able to manipulate our movement through time than we are at present, I see this matter as basically a meaningless quibble. There certainly may be a fact of the matter one way or the other, but I don't think we can determine it right now.

Trolley problem (five straight ahead, one on side track, turn requires switching, what ought one do?): switch or don't switch?
Accept: switch

I'm a consequentialist. It's ugly and counterintuitive at times, but I truly believe that what matters is how things turn out, regardless of how they're set up.

Truth: correspondence, deflationary, or epistemic?
Lean toward: correspondence

Any theory of "truth" worth its salt must be checked against an external standard. The trouble in doing that is that we can never get "outside" our own heads. Ideally, we would check our theories of truth against reality, but we can never have a "full" data set, and so we have to settle for doing the experiments we do and getting the results we get (with all the messiness that entails).

Zombies: inconceivable, conceivable but not metaphysically possible, or metaphysically possible?
Accept: metaphysically possible

Atoms are more or less zombies. I see no reason that groups of atoms, no matter their configuration, could not be reduced to zombies by some means or another.

1 comment:

Steve Bowen said...

You inspired me to write today
http://stevebowen58.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/thoughts-on-my-own-moral-philosophy.html