Papers on the JRD thesis

In several papers, I’ve made use of what I call the James-Rudner-Douglas (JRD) thesis: “Anytime a scientist announces a judgement of fact, they are making a tradeoff between the risk of different kinds of error. This balancing act depends on the costs of each kind of error, so scientific judgement involves assessments of the value of different outcomes.”

I have a paper forthcoming in Episteme which explores this theme as well as other issues in William James’ “The Will to Believe.” I just sent off my final draft and brought the version on my website up to date.

I’ve given a couple of talks in which I mull over possible counterexamples to the thesis. I recently wrote that as a paper, I’ve now posted a draft. Comments are welcome.

Irreconcilable differences

Last time I taught a seminar on pragmatism, I began to doubt that it made sense to see “pragmatism” as a movement and blogged about the fundamental differences between Peirce’s and James’ positions. I’m teaching pragmatism again, and the differences are even more salient this time.

What follows is a somewhat rambling discussion of differences between Peirce and James on method, on truth, and in their general outlook.

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Pragmatism texts

I’m teaching a seminar on pragmatism again this semester, so I’ve updated some of the texts in my pragmatism and American philosophy repository. My habits for using git are terrible, so lots of small changes got swept together in one giant update.

The big addition is LaTeX and PDF files for William Clifford’s “The Ethics of Belief.” Although it’s in the public domain, I was unable to find an unabridged version anywhere on the net.1 So I spent some time today making one.2 Starting from OCR on a scan of the 19th-century original, I fixed the formatting, cleaned up the transcription, and whatnot. There may still be some errors, but it’s better than anything else I could find.

The update also adds the third lecture to James’ Pragmatism.

Curation

In a recent blog post, Les Green draws a distinction between research and scholarship. The former he characterizes as “[finding] out something [you] didn’t know, but which was there to be known”; the latter involves keeping up with the literature and making novel arguments. He distinguishes both of those from another thing philosophers do which he calls curating. He characterizes it this way:

A curator attempts to care for knowledge and culture we already have. Not by freezing it or ensuring no others can touch it, but by conserving it while placing it in a new context, or displaying it from a new angle, or in the company of new ideas, so as to make it intelligible and perhaps useful to those who follow us.

This captures an important feature of philosophy which is absent from (e.g) physics.1

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Inflate and explode, analyze or explicate

Over at The Splintered Mind, Eric Schwitzgebel identifies what he calls the inflate-and-explode maneuver. Abstractly, the move is this: “Assume that things of Type X must have Property A, and then argue that nothing has Property A.”

Schwitzgebel is especially interested in the case of consciousness. On many accounts, one is supposed to have infallible access to the contents of one’s consciousness. However, one doesn’t have infallible access to anything. Having thus inflated consciousness with the pompous swell of infallibility, one blows it up— there is no such thing as consciousness!

Continue reading “Inflate and explode, analyze or explicate”

Philbio grad conference

For many years now, the graduate students in my department have hosted an annual graduate conference. This year’s topic is philosophy of biology.

I’ve gotten a lot out of attending over the years. There’s a specified topic, so all the papers are at least peripherally related. There’s only one track, so every speaker gets the attention of all the attendees.

If you are a grad student working in philbio, consider submitting an abstract. If you know a grad student working in philbio, consider nudging them to submit.

Here’s the official call:

The University at Albany Philosophical Association will hold its 13th Annual Graduate Conference on April 4th, 2020. Our topic is Philosophy of Biology, and our Keynote Speaker is Justin Garson (Hunter College, CUNY). The deadline is January 5th.1 We would greatly appreciate it if you would circulate the following call for papers amongst the graduate students in your Department.

https://philevents.org/event/show/77738