It is our lot to reason why

Abstract. An account of the nature of inference should satisfy the following demands. First, it should not be grounded in unarticulated stipulations about the proprieties of judgment; second, it should explain anomalous inferences, like borderline cases and the Moorean phenomenon; and third, it should explain why Caroll’s parable and tonk are not inferences. The aim of this paper is to demonstrate that the goodness-making approach to inference can make sense of anomalous inferences just in case we assume the proper functioning of two specific kinds of background capacities, related to the integration of information during categorization, and norms of disclosure which govern the conditions for assent. To the extent that inference depends on these background capacities, its normativity is best seen as partly deriving from facts about our cognitive lives, not from mere stipulation.

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Two is the loneliest number

Abstract: The solipsist believes himself to be the only thing that exists. That is, the solipsist thinks that there is only one thing that exists in the world, and further, thinks that that thing can be accessed through self-reference. Assuming they are rational, what argument could convince them out of this position? Well, it is sometimes thought that solipsism can only be refuted by begging the question against it – that no contrary arguments can find sufficient common ground to function as leverage against them. To the contrary, I will argue that it is possible to substantially refute the most persuasive variety of solipsism by taking its most plausible version seriously, and then showing that it is not rational to hold.

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Seeing philosophers as people

Originally posted at Talking Philosophy Magazine blog in a three-part series.

Abstract. Philosophers are best understood as people trying to better themselves and the world they are in. As members of a vocation, philosophers direct themselves to the pursuit of intellectual virtues: especially, in striving to be insightful and humble in belief, while being rigorous and cooperative in dialogue. Together, the virtues assemble into rough philosophical archetypes: what I call the ‘programmist’, the ‘lone wolf’, the ‘informalist’, and the ‘syncretist’. Typically, philosophers are both vilified for lacking in these virtues, and lionized when they possess them.

Autobiographical note: Originally published on Talking Philosophy blog, intended for a general audience, and written in a jocular style. It was generally well-received, and is a favorite of mine. Later, I learned that a similar typology was formulated on the basis of a statistical analysis of personality profiles (programmists as “builders”, informalists as “explorers”, lone wolves as “directors”, and syncretists as “negotiators”). That is a happy convergence of opinion.

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The value of doing philosophy

Abstract. There are four different views you might have about progress in philosophy. First, you can deny that philosophy makes progress, but say it is intrinsically valuable. Second, you can assert that it is valuable because it makes progress in knowledge production. Third, you can say it is valuable because it makes progress in molding our practices in dealing with the world. Fourth, you can deny that it makes progress, but say instead that it is valuable or productive insofar as it helps make sense of the world. I advocate the fourth view.

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Intuition and faultless assertion

Abstract. Here are three compelling proposals. a) Social ontology of speech acts: since the constitutive norms that give structure to our basic linguistic institutions are self-imposed restrictions upon the practice of participants, those linguistic institutions must be highly sensitive to the attribution of fault. b) Intuition-skepticism: intuitions do not count as evidence of the truth of an associated proposition. c) The knowledge norm: knowledge is constitutive of assertion. In what follows I demonstrate that the three theses are incompatible. For my part, I think we should abandon (c).

Biographical note: This short (2013) paper met a sudden death after I was advised by an editor at a flagship journal in professional philosophy that I could not take conclusions published by well-known and respected philosophers, Timothy Williamson and Margaret Gilbert, as premises in my own argument. The editor’s judgment strikes me as perverse unhelpful, and it was despiriting (which was presumably the intended effect). As a result I shelved the draft, and it quickly became obsolete as other authors published on similar themes in other venues.

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Morality — whether you want it or not

Originally published at Talking Philosophy Magazine blog.

Abstract. There are some good reasons for us to use the concept of “moral realism”, in the following sense: moral realism asks us to think of morality as independent of the will. It entails moral optimism — that all other things equal, the interests of the right will triumph. Moreover, it suggests that some interests are objective because we didn’t choose them. If moral claims are “real”, it’s because they have a force whether we want them or not. Yet if moral regularities are “real”, it is because it derives from instincts (sympathy and resentment) that are independent of the will. And, perhaps, instinctive sympathy and resentment are more important than the other parts of our psychology. If so, then moral realism is defensible because moral norms hold (for morally competent observers) whether we want them or not.

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Realisms [tpm]

[Originally posted at Talking Philosophy Magazine blog]

Abstract: Sometimes it is thought that the fate of philosophy itself is tied to the debate between realism and anti-realism. According to one plausible rendering of the difference between realism and anti-realism in metaphysics belonging to Crispin Wright, “realism” is a modest doctrine, while “idealism” is immodest. If anyone was an idealist, Bishop George Berkeley certain was one. I argue that, by most lights, Berkeley’s metaphysics was modest, which (surprisingly) makes him a realist. The upshot is either that Wright’s articulation of the realist/anti-realist distinction is off-base, or there is less to the realist/anti-realist distinction than meets the eye. I suspect the latter.

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Who needs sophistry, anyway?

An old article from 2006. Originally published at Butterflies and Wheels.

Scientists and philosophers need sophistry. This article will show why and how. The argument will need to draw from the history and philosophy of science of Pierre Duhem, as well as the concepts of intellectual property and the science of persuasion.

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