Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Agency as a Force for Good

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One fundamental reason for favouring consequentialism is the basic teleological intuition that the primary purpose of agency is to realize preferable outcomes.  If you have a choice between a better state of affairs and a worse one, it's very natural to think that the better state of affairs would be the better option to choose.A slightly different way to put it is that if it would be good for something to happen, then it would be good to choose for it to happen.  Our agency is itself part of the natural world, after all, and while it is distinctive in being subject to moral evaluation -- misdirected exercises of agency may be wicked in a way that unfortunately directed lightning strikes are not -- it's far from clear why this should transform an otherwise desirable outcome into an undesirable one.  There's nothing obviously misdirected (let alone "wicked") about straightforwardly aiming at the good, after all.Consequentialism thus fits with an appealing conception of agency as a force for good in the world. Left to its own devices, the world might just as easily drift into bad outcomes as good ones, but through our choices, we moral agents may deliberately steer it along better paths.This suggests to me a (possibly new?) argument for consequentialism.  For it seems a real cost to non-consequentialist views that they must give up this view of agency as a force for good.  Instead, on non-consequentialist views, it could well be a bad thing for outcomes to fall under the control of -- even fully-informed and morally perfect -- agents.For example, consider a "lifeboat" case (with a choice between saving one or saving five others) where the non-consequentialist insists on flipping a coin rather than simply saving the many.  Imagine a variant of the case where, if the captain of the lifeboat hadn't been steering it, it would have naturally drifted towards the five -- resulting in the best outcome.  It's. . .

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News source: Philosophy, et cetera

Automated Assessment Instruments

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Another behind the scenes look at assessment. I will be presenting this on November 12. Introduction I am involved in assessment in three roles. The first is as the professor who completes the assessment plan and report for Philosophy & Religion. The second is as the chair of the General Education Assessment Committee (GEAC). The third is as a member of the Institutional Level Assessment Committee (ILAC). These roles have shaped my perspective on assessment in useful ways. I see it from the perspective of a person who provides data, but also from the perspective of a collector. I see it primarily from the perspective of a faculty member focused on teaching and research, but I also somewhat understand the administrative perspective.  My assessment journey began in 2004, so I have been doing it for a while. But my purpose here is not to expound on my backstory, but to discuss Automated Assessment Instruments.   The Challenges One fundamental challenge of assessment is getting the needed quantity of quality data. Within this challenge are various sub-challenges. One of these is motivating faculty to provide such data—that is, getting them to buy-into the data collection. If faculty buy-in is not earned, they are more likely to provide incomplete assessment data or even no data at all. They are also more likely to provide low-quality data and might even provide fabricated data to simply get the process over with. De-motivated faculty will tend to provide garbage data and, as the old saying goes, garbage in, garbage out. A second sub-challenge is that data collection costs resources. While people often think of monetary costs, there are also the costs of time, attention, motivation and so on. To illustrate, even if a faculty member is willing to collect data “for free”, it still takes up their limited time, diverts their attention from such tasks as teaching, and chips away at their motivation. Since resources are always limited (especially at public. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

Helen interviewed on Idealism

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In a rare online appearance, Helen is interviewed on Mind Chat by Philip Goff and Keith Frankish about her book-in-progress, The View From Everywhere: Realist Idealism Without God.For highlights, see especially:36:00 - Helen explains the basics of her novel form of idealism (and how it differs from Berkeley's).53:45 - Why idealism is more plausible than you might have thought.58:20 - How idealism enables a direct realist account of perception like no other.1:56:42 - Why philosophy monographs should be followed up with a "for kids" version.There's also a bunch of interesting meta-philosophical discussion throughout, reacting to Helen's explanation that she only has about 30% credence in idealism, and correspondingly aims not to convince others that it's true, but just that they should take it more seriously than they had previously.Check out the full interview on YouTube.

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News source: Philosophy, et cetera

Companies, Cities, and Carbon

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This is terrible journalism:While [donating $1 billion to protect forests] is certainly notable, Bezos’s commitment to protecting the environment serves as a stark reminder that much of his legacy and largely untaxed fortune was built by companies that have staggering carbon footprints. Amazon’s carbon emissions have grown every year since 2018, and last year alone, when global carbon emissions fell roughly 7 percent, Amazon’s carbon emissions grew 19 percent.Economic activity is (for the time being) carbon-intensive. Amazon constitutes a huge and (especially during the pandemic) growing portion of the US economy. There's nothing said here to suggest that Amazon is unusually inefficient (from an environmental perspective); the author is really just complaining that Amazon is a large and growing part of the economy. (Horrors! They even had the gall to keep the economy going during the pandemic, when other companies did the green thing and shut down, bless their empty coffers...)Obviously there are all kinds of climate policies that should've been passed long ago that would help to reduce the carbon intensity of the economy (carbon taxes, more investment in green energy & research, etc.). Our lack of those needed policies is the fault of politicians, voters, and the companies that lobbied against them. Blaming other companies that are simply involved in ordinary economic activity, by contrast, makes little sense.I think we all realize it'd be silly to blame, say, New York City for having a large carbon footprint. Sure, it contains a lot of people, and so inevitably has a large carbon footprint in absolute terms. But if NYC didn't exist those people would just live somewhere else -- and possibly somewhere much less carbon-efficient than a dense city can be. But isn't blaming ordinary large companies for their carbon footprints misguided in much the same way? No evidence tends to be offered to suggest that they're any worse proportionally than their. . .

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News source: Philosophy, et cetera

Race/Gender Swapping: Why Not Just Create New Characters (or focus on old ones)?

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In fiction, race/gender swapping occurs when an established character’s race or gender is changed. For example, the original Nick Fury character in Marvel is a white man, but this character was changed to a black man in the Ulimates and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. As another example, the original Dr. Smith in Lost in Space is a man; the Netflix reboot made the character a woman. As would be expected, some people get very angry when a character is race or gender swapped. Some are open about their racist or sexist reasons for their anger—they are clear that they do not want females and non-white people in certain roles. Other people criticize a swap by asking why there was a swap instead of either creating a new character or focusing on a less-well-known existing character. For example, a critic of the He-Man reboot might be angry that King Grayskull was changed from white to black and raise the critical question “what about Clamp Champ?” Such questions can be asked in bad faith; the person asking them makes it clear that they are angry that minorities and women are allowed to take traditional white male roles. As such, it is not that they want new women or minority characters or more focus on existing characters, this is just a cover for their racism and sexism. These questions serve very well in this role since they are not overtly racist or sexist. In fact, when raised in good faith, these are reasonable aesthetic questions. Unfortunately, these questions are now well-established as dog-whistles and allow people to hide their racism and sexism from “normies” while sending a clear signal to those in the know. The fact that other people do use them without racist or sexist intent helps maintain their innocuous appearance. Someone using them as racist or sexist tools can claim, in bad faith, that they are just asking reasonable questions. And then go on to rage against the “SJWS” ruining everything by compelling these race/gender swaps and forcing diversity.. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

Fictional Outrage at Fiction

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Inuendo Studios presents an excellent and approachable analysis of the infamous Gamer Gate and its role in later digital radicalization. This video got me thinking about manufactured outrage, which reminded me of the fake outrage over such video games as Cuphead and Doom. This sort of outrage has also manifested against the She-Ra and He-Man reboots. More mainstream fictional outrage against fiction involved the Republican’s rant about Dr. Seuss being “cancelled.” In the world of gaming and media, this fictional outrage can lead to real consequences, such as death threats, doxing, swatting, and harassment. In the political world, this fictional outrage is weaponized for political gain, ratchets up the political divide between Americans, and escalates emotions. In short, this fictional outrage at fiction makes our world worse. While it is probably obvious, I call this fictional outrage at fiction for two reasons. The first is that the outrage is fictional: it is manufactured on an imaginary foundation. The second is that the outrage is at works of fiction, such things as games, TV shows, movies, and books. Since Thought Slime, Innuendo Studios, Shaun, and others have ably gone through numerous examples in great detail, I will focus on some of the rhetorical and fallacious methods used in fictional outrage at fiction. These methods also apply to non-fiction targets as well, but I am mainly interested in fiction here—if only to point out that some people put considerable energy into enraging people about make-believe things like games and TV shows. While fiction is subject to moral evaluation, it should be remembered that it is fiction. Although our good dead friend Plato would certainly disagree with me here. While someone wishing to generate fictional outrage can simply lie, this is often less effective than basing the outrage on a particle of truth. One way to do this is to make use of the rhetorical tool of hyperbole. Exaggerating a true claim allows the user of. . .

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News source: A Philosopher's Blog

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