Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Monotonicity and Inadvisable Oughts

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Daniel Muñoz & Jack Spencer have a great new paper, 'Knowledge of Objective ‘Oughts’: Monotonicity and the New Miners Puzzle' (forthcoming in PPR).  In it, they dispute that knowing that you objectively ought to do something entails that you subjective ought to do it, on the basis of non-maximal act-types, which might be performed in multiple ways (some ideal, some disastrous). Their argument depends upon 'ought' being upward monotonic (UM): "if you ought to do a certain act X, and X-ing entails Y-ing, then you ought to do Y."  I think their central case instead demonstrates why we should reject UM (and similar normative inheritance claims, as found, e.g., in Doug Portmore's Opting for the Best).In a classic mineshafts case, you know that (to save the most lives) either you objectively ought to block shaft A, or you objectively ought to block shaft B, but you don't know which.  Because blocking the wrong shaft would be disastrous, you rationally (or "subjectively") ought to block neither. M&S now highlight that the above disjunction, together with UM, entails the less-specific prescription that you objectively ought to block a shaft.  You could know this to be true, they argue, but still you (rationally) shouldn't block a shaft, given the risk of disaster.UM violates a plausible constraint on the objective ought: that if it would be morally worse for you to ϕ, then it is not the case that you objectively ought to ϕ.  Since you might block the wrong shaft, we cannot know that you objectively ought to block a shaft: depending on how you did it, you might kill everyone!  And it's certainly not the case that you objectively ought to do something that would kill everyone.  So we should reject UM.M&S write: "UM is backed up by some formidable arguments, and the objections to it, even if they work, don’t apply in the Miners case." (p.8).  Let's take a closer look.First, they offer a tendentiously. . .

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News source: Philosophy, et cetera

Luca Incurvati’s Conceptions of Set, 7

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In a couple of very well known papers, George Boolos argued that “the axioms of replacement do not follow from the iterative conception”. Was he right? Or can Replacement be justified on (some core version of) the iterative conception? This is the topic of the particularly interesting §3.6 (pp. 90–100) of Conceptions of Set, ‘The Status of Replacement’. Luca discusses three lines of argument to be found in the literature for the thought that the iterative conception does warrant Replacement. I’ll comment on two in this post. The first he calls Gödel’s Argument. Two quotes from Gödel: (i) “From the very idea of the iterative concept of set it follows that if an ordinal number α has been obtained, the operation of power set P iterated α times leads to a set Pα(∅)” And then (ii) “the next step will be to require that any operation producing sets out of sets can be iterated up to any ordinal number.” In response, Luca makes the following central points: Tait and Koellner have argued that elaborating Gödel’s claim (i) requires appeal to Choice. But not so. For we can work with the Scott-Tarski definition of an ordinal, and then, without needing an assumption of Choice, Gödel’s thought will at least warrant adding to Z+ the Axiom of Ordinals — the axiom that there is a level Vα for every ordinal α. This theory with the Axiom of Ordinals is rich, much more powerful than Z+, and in fact buys us the nice results that Boolos claimed for Replacement. However, the Axiom of Ordinals is weaker than full Replacement. A version of Gödel’s second claim (ii) is needed to get us from the iterative conception to full Replacement, and it isn’t clear why (ii) should be thought of as part of the iterative conception. On (1), accepting Gödel’s (i), Luca’s discussion seems spot on. On (2) quite a few readers (those familiar with ZFC but who haven’t read Potter’s book) might well have welcomed rather more at this point on the Axiom of Ordinals, on its. . .

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News source: Logic Matters

Why Italians are not singing anymore: the problem of a weak state

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Shows of brutality are used by politicians to look "tough on crime," but they are a mark of weakness, not of strength. Something similar has happened in Italy where a weak government imposed harsh confinement measures on citizens. They didn't arrive to force everyone to wear iron chains, but the idea was similar: politicians trying to look "tough on the virus. Image: convicted inmates from Brevard County Jail. In some places in the US, jail inmates are forced to wear black-and-white striped costumes and chains around the ankles. In some cases, even iron balls are attached to the chains. Without denying that there exists a crime problem, you may reasonably argue that this is not the best way to reduce it. But these spectacular measures are chosen by politicians competing against each other by showing that they are "tough on crime."Something similar seems to have happened in Italy, with local politicians competing against each other to impose on citizens harsher and harsher measures against the coronavirus epidemic. Also in this case, without denying the gravity of the epidemic, you may reasonably argue that most of these measures were not the best way to fight it.The Italian lockdown was probably the harshest seen anywhere in Europe. It involved a series of unclear and often contradictory orders from the government, sometimes looking like they were meant to harass citizens rather than stopping the epidemics. Just as a few examples, you could be fined if your spouse rode in the family car in the front seat rather than in the back seat. You could take your dog for a walk, but not your child. You could buy cigarettes, but not books. You could buy newspapers, but not office supplies. You could walk in the street, alone, but not run. In addition, your neighbors could report you to the police if they thought you were doing something that was not allowed by the government, and in many cases they did.So, why did the Italian government behave like a poor imitation of. . .

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News source: Cassandra's Legacy

Previous epidemics might have prepared us for Covid-19 — if only their histories were better remembered and their victims duly honored. We could have been more like Venice, a city defined by disease

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Previous epidemics might have prepared us for Covid-19 — if only their histories were better remembered and their victims duly honored. We could have been more like Venice, a city defined by disease

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News source: Arts & Letters Daily

Critical Thinking & COVID-19 VIII: The Prediction Fallacy

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As politicians and pundits debate about reopening America, some make the case that we can and should reopen soon because the dire predictions turned out to be wrong. On the face of it, this seems like good reasoning: things are not as bad as predicted, so we can start reopening sooner than predicted. To use an analogy, if a fire was predicted to destroy much of your house, but it only burned your garage to the ground, then it is time to start planning on rebuilding and moving back in. While this line of thought is appealing, it also can be a trap. Here is how the trap works. Some politicians and pundits are pointing out that the dire predictions did not come true—for example, the governor of Florida recently noted that the hospitals were not overwhelmed as predicted and he wants to allow them to return to money making elective surgery. He also, like some other Republican governors, wants to reopen very quickly. This reasoning does initially seem sensible: the pandemic was not as bad as predicted, so we can quickly reopen. There are also those who sneer at the dire predictions and are upset at what they see as excessive precautions. This can also seem sensible: the experts predicted a really terrible outcome for COVID-19, but they were wrong. We overreacted and should roll back the precautions. So, re-open America. While it is reasonable to consider whether the precautions are excessive and to update our assessment of when to re-open, there is a tempting fallacy that needs to be avoided. This can be called “the prediction fallacy.” It occurs when someone uncritically rejects a prediction and responses to the prediction when the outcome of a prediction turns out to be false. The error in the logic occurs because the person fails to consider what should be obvious: if an effective response is made to a prediction, then the prediction is going to be “wrong.” The form of the fallacy is this:   Premise 1: Prediction P predicted X (if we do not do R). Premise 2:. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

The Tomb of the Artisan God: On Plato's Timaeus

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2020.04.13 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Serge Margel, The Tomb of the Artisan God: On Plato's Timaeus, Philippe Lynes (tr.), University of Minnesota Press, 2019, 146pp., $20.00 (pbk), ISBN 9781517906429. Reviewed by Annie Larivée, Carleton University Despite the complexity of its content and purpose, Serge Margel's book proceeds from one central intuition: that the demiurge in Plato's Timaeus, regardless of the excellence of his skills and aims, is a powerless god. The volume was originally published twenty-five years ago. Philippe Lynes's translation has an addition and a notable omission. While the addition is rather inconsequential -- a three-page preface in which Margel situates this his first book in the context of his subsequent work -- the omission is not. The original French version had a long introduction, "Avances", by Derrida, which has been omitted.[1] The question arises: can Margel's book stand on its own, or is its meaning tied to a symbiotic... Read More

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News source: Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews // News

Critical Thinking & COVID-19 VII: Argument Against Expertise

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In a previous essay I went over the argument from authority and the standards to use to distinguish between credible and non-credible experts. While people often make the mistake of treating non-experts as credible sources, they also make the mistake of rejecting credible experts because the experts are experts. This sort of fallacious reasoning is worthy of a name and the obvious choice is “argument against expertise.” It occurs when a person rejects a claim because it is made by an authority/expert and has the following form:   Premise 1: Authority/expert A makes claim C. Conclusion: Claim C is false.   While experts can be wrong, to infer that an expert is wrong because they are an expert is obviously absurd and an error in reasoning. To use a geometry example, consider the following:   Premise 1: Euclid, an expert on geometry, claimed that triangles have three sides. Conclusion: Triangles do not have three sides.   It must be noted that there are rational grounds for doubting an expert—as discussed in the essay on argument from authority. When a person rationally applies the standards of assessing an alleged expert and decides that the expert lacks credibility, this would not be an error. But to reject a claim solely because of the source is always a fallacy (usually an ad hominem) and rejecting a claim because it was made by an expert would be doubly fallacious, if there were such a thing. Since experts are generally more likely to be right than wrong, this sort of reasoning will tend to lead to accepting untrue claims. While this is a bad idea in normal times, it is even more dangerous during a pandemic. In the case of COVID-19, there are those who use this reasoning to reject the claims of medical experts. This can, obviously enough, lead to illness and death. Because the fallacy lacks all logical force, it derives its influence from psychological factors, and these are worth considering when trying to defend against and respond to this. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

Space for Concern: Trump’s Executive Order on Space Resources

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Among the bevy of executive actions undertaken by President Donald Trump during the COVID-19 crisis is, of all things, an executive order (issued on 6 April 2020) promoting the development of space resources, which states in part that: Americans should have the right to engage in commercial exploration, recovery, and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law. Outer space is a legally and physically unique domain of human activity, and the United States does not view it as a global commons. Accordingly, it shall be the policy of the United States to encourage international support for the public and private recovery and use of resources in outer space, consistent with applicable law. But what does this really mean, and is it a good or a bad thing? The executive order fits the mold of a common rallying call among space advocates that, confined to Earth, humanity exists in a closed society that stifles progress on all fronts, but especially on social and economic fronts.  Progress, we’re told, requires an ever expanding space frontier that will provide humanity with limitless resources, removing any need to be concerned about the rate at which we consume natural resources.  Further, we’re told, this progress requires a minimally-regulated, free market approach to space resources.  It is only through permitting the private sector free reign over space resources that humanity can even hope to see any benefits. In some respects this new executive order is nothing new at all when it comes to US space policy, given that the Commercial Space Launch Competitiveness Act of 2015, signed by then-President Barack Obama, had already codified the US government’s willingness to defend American firms’ claims to ownership over any resources they extract from space.  Questions still linger as to whether this law is compatible with Article II of the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, which prohibits national sovereignty claims over celestial bodies (such as the Moon, the. . .

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News source: OUPblog » Philosophy

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