A few days ago, while trying to open the interwebs thingy to allow me to start entering my grades, I was prevented from doing so by a pop-up menu that referenced LSU's Policy Statement 67. The text included unsubstantiated and highly dubious claims such as that most workplace problems are the result of drugs and alcohol abuse by workers. And this was only a few weeks after all of the chairs at LSU had to provide verification that every single faculty member had read a hysterical message from our staff and administrative overlords that justified expanding the extension of pee-tested employees at LSU to now include faculty. The wretched communiqué justified pee-testing faculty because of new evidence showing that marijuana is harmful to 13 year olds.*
Anyhow, when I scrolled to the bottom of the popup, I had to click a button saying not only that I read the document but also that I "agreed" with it.
I honestly don't get this. Are my beliefs a condition of employment at LSU? There was no button that said I read it but didn't agree with it.
The first is the most obvious, the disconnect between contemporary science and pop-culture treatments: "In recent months, a new book co-authored by best-selling author John Gray hit the shelves that, like his many other books, claims there are ‘hardwired’ differences in thebrains of females and males..."
This sort of thing could occur in many domains of science. What is more interesting, and provocative, is the second disconnect they identify, within science itself, which amounts to a refusal to take plasticity seriously:
Humans have evolved an adaptively plastic brain that is responsive to environmental conditions and experiences, and the modulation of endocrine function by those experiential factors contributes to that plasticity. Why, then, do popular understandings of female/male behavior as rooted in a biological core remain entrenched in scientific ideas characteristic of the previous century? Is it, in part, because the sex/gender science within these three fields is similarly entrenched?
Last year I had twoposts up where I compared genital cutting in males and females, and claimed that ultimately there aren’t any real, substantive differences between the two cases. The posts provoked heated reactions, as could have been expected on the basis of the reactions that anti-circumcision advocates usually receive.
Well, today I came across an article by Rebecca Steinfeld over at The Conversation that says everything I would like to say on the topic, but much more eloquently: 'Like FGM, cut foreskins should be a feminist issue'. In particular, she discusses why our perception of genital cutting of boys is so different from our perception of the same practice with girls. I copy some passages below, but everyone should really read the whole thing! (And yes, I’m ready for more heated discussion in comments. But let me just be clear that my issue is with the genital cutting of non-consenting children; what consenting adults do with their genitalia is none of my business.)
But this isn’t a harm competition. It’s about how FGC [female genital cutting], often referred to as female genital mutilation because it’s widely seen as a violation of women’s rights and a form of oppression and sexual control, is easily accepted when that girl is a boy.
If Elisabeth Lloyd’s take on the female orgasm is
correct—i.e. if it is homologous to the male orgasm—then FEMALE ORGASMis not a proper evolutionary category. Homology is sameness. Hence, male and female orgasms belong to the same category. The orgasm is an adaptation, whether male or female (and
Lloyd should agree). It is not a spandrel or by-product.
I’ll get back to this in a moment, but first some background. There are five NewAPPSers who have a particular interest in the
philosophy of biology. Roberta Millstein, Helen De Cruz, Catarina Dutilh Novaes, John Protevi, and myself. Aside from Roberta, each of us comes at it from a related area in which biological insight is
important. For me, that area is perception. I have written quite a bit about
biology, but my mind has always been at least half on the eye (and the ear, and
the nose, and the tongue, . . .).
There is a divide among us with respect to a leading controversy
in the field. Catarina is strongly anti-adaptationist and I am strongly
adaptationist (perhaps because of my motivating interest in perception, which is exquistely adaptive). Roberta, Helen, and John are somewhere in between, but likely closer to Catarina than to me. You can gauge where I stand when I tell you that in my view, Gould and Lewontin’s 1979
anti-adaptationist manifesto, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian
Paradigm” is one of the worst, and certainly one of the most mendacious, papers I have
ever read in any field. Among the five of us, I am sure I am alone in this.
Given all of this, my take on adaptationism with regard to the orgasm may get a
hotly negative response from my co-bloggers. Nevertheless, I’ll get on with it.
Evolutionary accounts of deductive reasoning have been
enjoying a fair amount of popularity in the last decades. Some of those who
have defended views of this kind are Cooper, Maddy, and more recently Joshua
Schechter. The basic idea is that an explanation for why we have developed
the ability to reason deductively (if indeed we have developed this ability!)
is that it conferred a survival advantage to those individuals who possessed it among our ancestors, who in
turn were reproductively more successful than those individuals in the
ancestral population who did not possess this ability. In other words,
deductive reasoning would have arisen as an adaptation
in humans (and possibly in non-human animals too, but I will leave this question
aside). Attractive though it may seem at first sight (and I confess having had
a fair amount of sympathy for it for a while), this approach faces a number of
difficulties, and in my opinion is ultimately untenable. (Some readers will not
be surprised to hear this, if they recall a previous post where I argue that
deductive reasoning is best seen as a cultural product, not as a biological,
genetically encoded endowment in humans.)
In this post, I will spell out what I take to be the main
flaw of such accounts, namely the fact that they seem incompatible with the
empirical evidence on deductive reasoning in human reasoners as produced by
experimental psychology. In this sense, these accounts fall prey to the same
mistake that plagues many evolutionary accounts of female orgasm, in particular
those according to which female orgasm has arisen as an adaptation in the human
species. To draw the parallel between the case for deductive reasoning and the
case for the female orgasm, I will rely on Elisabeth Lloyd’s fantastic book The Case of the Female Orgasm (which, as
it so happens, I had the pleasure of re-reading during my vacation last
When I studied philosophy in graduate school [in the 1990s--ES], my peers and I went to
classes where we were made to read Kripke and Davidson and Quine and
Putnam. Then, duty done, we met together at a coffee shop and discussed
the latest paper from Millikan, pens in hand, arguing passionately. I
cannot even recall how we found her work and knew we had to study it,
but somehow there was consensus among us that she was producing the most
exciting philosophy happening right then. Sometimes we were convinced
that Millikan got a problem wrong... more often we felt she had offered a
solution to some problem that other philosophers had mostly just
obscured. But that was not what made us study her work so eagerly. The
important thing was that Millikan gave us tools. Her theory of
proper functions was something we could actually use. It had wide and
general utility...And, as we contrasted her work with
what our instructors considered the contemporary canon, we felt certain
that Millikan represented the vanguard.
I mention all this because the second striking feature of Millikan's
responses to these thirteen criticisms is that she still seems the
radical maverick. If it is fair to consider her critics in this volume
as representative of current philosophy, then one gets the impression
that most of us are still catching up with Millikan....To see her respond to this
pressure, however, is very helpful to understanding the details and
applications -- and, ultimately, the novelty -- of her approach.--Craig DeLancey, reviewing Millikan and Her Critics [the volume includes a chapter by our very own Mohan--ES]
I sometimes wonder how common DeLancey's experience is of graduate students discovering and debating exciting work unrelated to one's instructors' sense of significance. I often have the disheartening sense that it is more common that graduates recycle the shared and undoubtedly sophisticated commitments of their graduate instructors (despite the now relatively easy access to other people's works). This recycling is often itself very sophisticated with accompanying mini-narratives that bolster the priority claims of privileged participants (see, for example, this interesting review). There is nothing dishonest about this kind of recycling and it allows the generation of progress, but one wonders if more frequent intellectual parricide/matricide wouldn't be healthier for the discipline.
Last week I had a post up on metaphorical
language in cognitive science, which generated a very interesting discussion in
comments. I don’t think I’ve sufficiently made the case for the ‘too much’
claim, and the post was mostly intended to raise the question and foster some
debate. (It succeeded in that respect!)
There is one aspect of it though, which I
would like to follow up on. One commenter (Yan) pointed out that it’s not so
surprising that digital computers ‘think’ like us, given that they are based on
a conception of computation – the Turing machine – which was originally
proposed as a formal explanans for some cognitive activities that humans in
fact perform: calculations/computations. It is important to keep in mind that
before Turing, Post, Church and others working on the concept of computability
in the 1930, computation/effective calculation was an informal concept, with no precise mathematical definition
(something that has been noted by e.g. Wilfried Sieg in his ‘Gödel on
computability’.). To provide a mathematically precise account of this concept,
which in turn corresponds to cognitive tasks that humans do engage in, was
precisely the goal of these pioneers. So from this point of view, to say that
digital computers are (a bit) like human minds gets the order of things right; but
to say that human minds are like digital computers goes the wrong way round.
"I have no great faith in political
arithmetick, and I mean not to warrant the exactness of either of these
computations." Adam Smith (1776) Wealth of Nations.
While Ancient writers (Pliny) certainly noted the existence of
fossils, the meaning of the existence fossils was explosive during the eighteenth
century. In posthumously published work on Discourse on Earthquakes (1705), the secretary
of the Royal Society, Robert Hooke, had while surveying fossil evidence suggested that "There
have been many other Species of Creatures in former Ages, of which we can find
none at present; and that 'tis not unlikely also but that there may be divers
new kinds now, which have not been from the beginning." (here)
As it happens, Adam Smith's two best friends in old age, James Hutton and Joseph Black, the editors of his posthumous (1795) work, Essays on Philosophical Subjects (EPS), understood what was at stake. For, in 1785 Hutton gave
a public lecture, “Concerning the System of the Earth, Its Duration, and
Stability,” at University of Edinburgh. Due to Hutton's illness, Black gave
the lecture on Hutton’s behalf. In the lecture Hutton used geological and
fossil evidence to argue that the Earth was almost certainly older than 6000
years. We do not know for sure if Smith attended the lecture,
although he was in town.The argument was elaborated in far greater detail in Hutton's (1788) Theory of the Earth, which made him an international celebrity. The significance of this episode to the history of geology and Darwinism is much studied.
But what does this have to do with the history of economics?
Smith's closeness to Hutton may provide additional clues for one of the enduring mysteries of the history of economics: why did Adam Smith forsake the deployment of a mathematical model in the Wealth of Nations (1776)?
Three illustrations of why scientists need to know history:
 Biologists often appeal to founders in the field such as Darwin or
Haeckel, either as a point of contrast or as intellectual ancestor - but
are their depictions accurate?
 Scientists need to know the nature of the scientific practice, e.g.,
the refutations of well accepted theories, the failures, the dead ends.
 Terms like "fitness" may be loaded with historical baggage that scientists are not aware of, but which affects their reception.--Roberta Millstein. [Numbers added to facilitate discussion.--ES]
The image(s) of science that philosophers of (the) science(s) describe and promote often has an afterlife in (the) science(s).
Ever since Kuhn projected his experiences within and about physics onto a persuasive and widely discussed image of science, philosophers of science and the scientists that embrace Kuhn and his image [see here], have thought that progressive science requires certain features (paradigmatic consensus, mythic history, puzzle-solving, etc.)* In the exchange over her post, Millstein offered three reasons for thinking that praticing scientists need to know an accurate history. Let's grant a critic that  is not very persuasive. For those kind of appeals are primarily rhetorical techniques; there is a sense in which the truth does not matter in such appeals. Let's grant a critic that  can be achieved without knowledge of history (which now is conceived as a repository of error). So,  is not intrinsic to scientific practice, but it does not mean that history does not have this useful, therapeutic role.
I certainly applaud and concur with the spirit of Gary Gutting's recent piece, "Science’s Humanities Gap." He agrees with Steven Pinker that specialists in any area are likely to benefit from acquaintance with relevant work beyond their disciplinary boundaries, but thinks that Pinker errs in saying that it is humanists who need to pay more attention to science. Instead, Gutting says, "it’s humanists who are the choir and scientists who need a call to grace." Gutting then goes on to characterize all of the areas in which philosophy has been informed by a deep knowledge of science. All well and good.
However, I have a bone to pick with Gutting. Here is the sum total of what he has to say about the philosophy of biology: "Philosophers of biology like David Hull have been similarly well versed in that discipline [as philosophers of physics have been versed in physics]." It is true that Hull is a fine example of someone who was well-versed in biology, who engaged with biologists, and who inspired many other philosophers of biology to do likewise. But that is just the point. Many, many other philosophers of biology since Hull have immersed themselves in various areas of biology – far too many to list here, since such philosophers comprise a substantial portion of the field. What I can attempt to list, however, is all of the different areas of biology that philosophers of biology engage with, knowing that I will miss some: systematics (an area that Hull particularly focused on), genetics, population genetics, paleobiology, developmental biology, evo-devo, molecular biology, genomics and other -omics, ecology, conservation biology, cell biology, behavioral biology. Once all these areas are listed, it becomes clearer just how empirical the philosophy of biology has become.
The problem with giving short shrift to philosophy of biology is that one might actually walk away with the opposite impression of what was intended, i.e., one might get the mistaken impression that not much science-oriented philosophy of biology is going on. And that would be a shame, particularly since Pinker could do with a greater appreciation of the philosophy of biology, such as Elisabeth Lloyd's excellent shredding of his views in"Kanzi, evolution, and language."
In a previous post, I pointed out that a proper understanding of "population" is central for claims about the endangered status of gray wolves under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA).* The same is true for a recent ruling reaffirming the endangered status of southern resident orcas. Endangered "distinct population segments" are recognized under the ESA, but even the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) seems to acknowledge that their interpretation of this term may be faulty, having explicitly called for comment on it in their wolf delisting proposal. The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), who issued the ruling on orcas, uses a more bare-bones interpretation of "distinct population segment" than the FWS does, considering only whether the population is "discrete" and "significant."
It is time for the FWS and the NMFS to recognize a more robust concept of population, based on the interactions among organisms. As I have argued elsewhere, populations ought to be characterized in terms of survival and reproductive interactions among organisms, with the boundaries of the population as the largest grouping for which the rates of interaction are much higher within the grouping than outside. The Pacific Legal Foundation, on behalf of the Orwellian-named "Center for Environmental Science Accuracy and Reliability" and two farms in central California,** argued that the southern resident orcas were not genetically distinct from other orcas. The NMFS found that the scientific evidence did not support this claim, and that, moreover, there are significant behavioral differences between the southern resident orcas and the other orcas: "differences in morphology, behavior, diet and feeding ecology, acoustical dialects and practices." In particular, the practice that orcas are most well known for, i.e., killing other whales (a practice that gives rise to the name "killer whale"), is not one that that the southern resident orcas engage in; rather, the southern resident orcas eat salmon. These differences are sometimes, perhaps with good reason, described as differences in culture.
In many respects, Hume was a cognitive scientist of religion avant la lettre: his Natural history of religion, Enquiry and Dialogues concerning Natural Religion contain bold hypotheses about the origins of religion in human nature (NHR), the reason why people believe in and transmit miracle stories (Enquiry, On Miracles), and the intuitiveness of intelligent design/creationism (NHR and Dialogues). Many of these hypotheses are still being explored by current cognitive scientists of religion (CSR for short) who share Hume’s taste in making bold conjectures about the cognitive, historical and cultural factors that underlie widespread religious beliefs and practices. Recent Hume scholarship asks whether Hume thought that belief in creationism/intelligent design is a natural belief. The answer is not at all obvious, since Hume voices several seemingly conflicting opinions. In this blogpost I want to argue that Hume’s ideas about the intuitiveness of creationism/IDC are very relevant to cognitive science today, and that belief in intelligent design is not a natural belief, but that some of its constituent beliefs are.
You'd literally have to change the human genome to stop wealth discrepancy.... We have biological systems built into us that were very advantageous for us, up until we became a functioning civilisation 10,000 years ago. We are literally genetically coded to preserve life, procreate and get food – and that's not gonna change. The question is whether you can somehow overpower certain parts of that mammalian DNA and try to give some of your money out, try to take your wealth and pour it out for the rest of the planet.
Evelyn Fox Keller (whom I cited yesterday) has long been one of my favorite philosophers. No small part of that attraction has been her critique of the search for "master molecules." As I put it here in the article I did on her for The Edinburgh Dictionary of Continental Philosophy, a "master molecule" is
an isolated and transcendent command centre
whose unidirectional commands account for the order of an otherwise chaotic or
passive material. Against all such hylomorphism – which has been consistently gendered in Western
culture and science (the active command centre figured as masculine and the
passive or chaotic matter figured as feminine) – Keller points us to the study of the
morphogenetic patterns of complex interactive systems, that is, to processes of
immanent self-organisation across multiple levels.
So I was greatly interested in recently coming across these 2009 lectures, where Keller writes about a stage in the origin of life that falls between physical self-organization and cellular autopoiesis, what she calls "smart matter":
I don’t begin a novel with a shopping list—the novel becomes my shopping list as I write it. It’s like that joke about the violin maker who was asked how he made a violin and answered that he started with a piece of wood and removed everything that wasn’t a violin. That’s what I do when I’m writing a novel, except somehow I’m simultaneously generating the wood as I’m carving it.
[One might] consider the mature mRNA transcript formed after editing and splicing to be the “true” gene. But if we take this option (as molecular biologists often do), a different problem arises, for such genes exist in the newly formed zygote only as possibilities, designated only after the fact. A musical analogy might be helpful here: the problem is not only that the music inscribed in the score does not exist until it is played, but that the players rewrite the score (the mRNA transcript) in their very execution of it. (63)
[UPDATE 8 August, 2:25 pm CDT: comments by Roberta Millstein and by "bizarre" have convinced me that the author of the review, David Haig, is better seen as *diagnosing* tough guyism in his neo-Darwinist colleagues rather than as exemplifying it. My thanks to them for pushing me to see this. I'll leave the post as is -- for the record, as it were -- but ask readers to keep this change of view in mind in reading it.]
This is a fine review of Transformations of Lamarckism, ed. Gissis and Jablonka (MIT, 2011), but its conclusion is somewhat marred by a classic flaw: it attributes an "emotional reaction" to its targets without acknowledging that its own position is also emotionally inflected rather than being simply "intellectual." We can call this the self-denying political affect* of tough guyism.
over sixty years it has been widely accepted that twinning, the process
that results in identical or conjoined twins, normally occurs about two
weeks after fertilization, or conception. This assumption has been used
as a premise in what philosophers call the "twinning argument." The
idea behind the twinning argument is that since one thing cannot be
identical to two things, a twin cannot be identical to a zygote, or
fertilized egg. Arguing from that
to the general conclusion that none of us is identical to a zygote is
more complicated and involves the further premise that it is not fully
determined at the time of fertilization whether a zygote will undergo
In the Philosophical Lexicon, we find the entry for outsmarting, in tribute to one of the favorite rhetorical / conceptual moves of JJC Smart in defending his act utilitarianism: to accept, affirm, and even exaggerate the attempts at a reductio sent one's way. "Of course I would torture an innocent child in order to save the universe. Wouldn't you? What kind of moral monster wouldn't do that?"
We see an example of the outsmarting maneuver in Christopher Boehm's Moral Origins, this time directed at Nietzsche: "Of course the herd of weaklings ganged up and killed the solitary strong ones! You say that like it's a bad thing, when in fact, it's the secret of human evolution!"
If you find it useful, please feel free to share with students and colleagues. And if you see things that are missing or mistaken, please let me know. I am happy to make additions and corrections. Apologies in advance if I have overlooked your page of publicly available HPB articles or other important internet source for HPBers.
But mainly, having put in the effort to maintain it, I'd love to know that others besides myself are using it!
I think the discussions in the books demonstrate a slogan of mine, that "our nature is to be so open to our nurture that it becomes second nature."* What I mean by this is that we are "bodies politic," that is to say, due to our neuroendrocrinological plasticity, social experience will shape our bodies in accord with the subjectification practices in which we participate more or less consciously and willingly. Experience goes deep, you could say, right down to the brain's neurons and hormones. But there's a variation in that depth, I think; some depths are deeper than others.
In two earlier posts, I summarized John
Hawthorne and Daniel Nolan’s analysis of teleological causation (here),
and examined the question of what kind of evidence would persuade us that
single particles were teleologically directed (here),
as, in Aristotle’s system, where heavy particles are teleologically caused to
travel to and rest at the centre of the Earth. My conclusion was that unless
the dynamics of such a particle’s movement was different from that predicted by
contemporary mechanics, there would be no reason to adopt teleology.
What about systems and wholes? Under what
circumstances should we say that the Universe or Earth’s ecosystem is
teleologically directed, or that an organic system is?
We should note first of all that this
question is (as H&N fully realize) completely distinct from that of
analysing the meaning of the words ‘function’ and ‘goal’, as scientists use
these terms today.
I’ve been much too silent on the blogging front the last
couple of weeks, as I was evaluating a big pile of grant applications – an activity
that seems to have sucked all intelligent life out of my brain. I have a few ‘real’
blog posts in mind, but for now let me just direct your attention to an awesome
tumblr, ‘WTF, Evolution?’ (which I came across via Hugo Mercier on Facebook). It
posts pictures of very strange-looking animals, which by itself is already
rather cool, but the best part are the comments. For example, for this animal
Here is an excellent interview with Jesse Prinz (H/T Markus Schlosser) on the
themes of his new book, Beyond Human
Nature (which I still haven’t gotten around to reading). The main idea of the book is
that experience and culture, as opposed to genetic and biology, play a much larger
role in determining our behavior than is often thought. Some excerpts:
“If we are interested in differences in intelligence, the
thing we should be interested in is learning and culture.”
“Brazilians are super-nice.”
I find myself agreeing with pretty much everything that
Prinz says in the interview (including the bit about Brazilians…), which is not
so surprising, given that, like him, I am very much of a ‘nurture-culture’
person on the nature-nurture dimension. (A bit of self-promotion: here is a recent paper of mine, "A dialogical account of deductive reasoning as a case study for how culture shapes cognition", forthcoming in the Journal of Cognition and Culture.) But more importantly, to my mind he
manages to set up the debate in a very subtle and informative way, so I very
much recommend the interview to anyone interested in this debate. (Btw, I’ve posted
on my enthusiasm for his work before.)
Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself...I agree with Alvin Plantinga that...the application of evolutionary theory to the understanding of our own cognitive capacities should undermine, though it need not completely destroy, our confidence in them. Mechanisms of belief formation that have selective advantage in the everyday struggle for existence do not warrant our confidence in the construction of theoretical accounts of the world as a whole. I think the evolutionary hypothesis would imply that though our cognitive capacities could be reliable, we do not have the kind of reason to rely on them that we ordinarily take ourselves to have using in them directly--as we do in science. Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, 27-28 (emphasis in original)
A non-trivial (albeit not the most fundamental) feature of Nagel's book (recall my here, here, here; see Feser's response to me and also Mohan's posts: here, here, here and here) is his reliance on Plantinga's so-called evolutionary argument against naturalism (hereafter EAAN; see also pp. 74-78). Let's leave aside the fact that Nagel pretends in his book that this (evolving) EAAN argument has not been subject to significant criticism. (It must be convenient to think that one is obliged to engage only with one's referee [Sober, although even his criticism of EAAN is ignored], one's colleague [Street], one's cheerleader [Plantinga], and one's deus ex machina [Hawthorne & Nolan].) Here I explore a response to this style of argument that is overlooked by Nagel and, I think, not explored in the literature (but would love to learn otherwise--it's not my field). So, let's grant -- for the sake of argument -- the claim that "Mechanisms of belief formation that have selective advantage in the
everyday struggle for existence do not warrant our confidence in the
construction of theoretical accounts of the world as a whole." What follows from this?
My quick and dirty answer is: nothing. For the crucial parts of science really do not rely on such mechanisms of belief formation. Much of scientific reason is or can be performed by machines; as I have argued before, ordinary cognition, perception, and locution does not really matter epistemically in the sciences.
It is always impressive when someone is willing to publicly state that they were wrong about a controversial topic. Such things happen rarely, but there have been a number of recent cases. For example, last July Richard Muller declared himself to be a "converted skeptic," saying that he now acknowledges that global warming is real and that humans are almost entirely the cause. Two days ago, another such example emerged when Mark Lynas publicly apologized for having helped to start the anti-GM movement in Europe, thus "demonising an important technological option which can be used to benefit the environment."
However laudable such recantations are, they can still be called into question, and indeed, I question the basis for Lynas's, as least as it is presented in the transcript linked to above. He begins by calling the anti-GMO movement "anti-science," a claim that I debunked here and here, at least with respect to the labeling of GMOs. Lynas subsequently states that "one by one [his] cherished beliefs about GM turned out to be little more than green urban myths," and lists six such purported myths. Below, I examine each of these, and show why they are not, in fact, myths.
This NYT article (h/t Greg Downey on FB; check out his Neuroanthropology blog) lays out research on the effects of social conditions (isolation vs integration) on PTSD. Greg excerpted this quote:
It turns out that most trauma victims — even survivors of combat, torture or concentration camps — rebound to live full, normal lives. That has given rise to a more nuanced view of trauma — less a poison than an infectious agent, a challenge that most people overcome but that may defeat those weakened by past traumas, genetics or other factors. Now, a significant body of work suggests that even this view is too narrow — that the environment just after the event, particularly other people’s responses, may be just as crucial as the event itself.
I thought this one about Nepalese ex-child soldiers provided a good concrete example:
But in villages that readily and happily reintegrated them (usually via rituals or conventions specifically designed to do so), they experienced no more mental distress than did peers who had never gone to war. The lasting harm of being a child soldier, it seemed, arose not from the war but from social isolation and conflict afterward.
At his blog Edward Feser has been responding to Thomas Nagel's
critics (no, not me (yet)!). In response to Sober's review he concludes
with the following sociological remark:
think, is precisely what is going on -- the “presuppositions that Nagel
trying to transcend” run so deep in contemporary academic philosophical
that it is difficult for most philosophers to get any critical distance
on them. They lack, as Nietzsche might have said, the courage
for an attack on their own convictions. And
yet the evidence that there is something deeply wrong with the
consensus is all around them even in “mainstream” academic philosophy --
work of renegade naturalists like Nagel, Searle, Fodor, McGinn, et al.;
like Chalmers, Brie Gertler, Howard Robinson, John Foster, et al.; and
like the “new essentialist” metaphysicians and philosophers of science
Ellis, Martin, Heil, Mumford, et al.) and the analytical Thomists
Haldane, et al.). It’s psychologically
easy (even if philosophically sleazy) to dismiss one or two of these
as outliers who needn’t be taken seriously.
But as their ranks slowly grow, it will be, and ought to be, harder both
psychologically and philosophically to dismiss them.
Which is no
doubt why the more ideological naturalists would very dearly like to strangle
this growing challenge to the consensus while it is still in its crib -- hence
the un-philosophical nastiness with which Nagel’s views have been greeted in
some quarters. But Sober, to his credit,
is not an ideologue, and is sober enough to acknowledge at least the possibility that Nagel is on to something.--Edward Feser.
Thomas Nagel’s recent attack on Darwinism
raises important metaphysical questions about methodology, which Eric has
begun to explore. Here, I want to muse on a no doubt unintended effect of
Nagel’s argument—a rumoured small boost in the regard accorded to Fodor’s
earlier attack on Darwinism (aided by Massimo Piattelli-Palmarini, whose complicity in this is a mystery to me). True, Fodor's little dagger looks philosophically cautious by comparison to Nagel's WMD. My purpose here is simply to
remind you, dear reader, that like Generalissimo Francisco Franco, Fodor’s
negative critique is Still Dead. And it's feeling No Better.
Analytical philosophy has made great
progress over the last century. But its original, necessary biases did some
harm, too. In particular, detailed working knowledge of the history of
philosophy and metaphysics was banished for several generations. While
metaphysics is thriving again, we still lack (despite the brilliance of David
Lewis' modular approach) complete systems of thought that can rival in depth
and interlocking breadth the past masters (say, Suarez, Leibniz, etc.). The
damage has also been more narrow. For example, one of the most obvious
so-called ‘Kuhn Losses’ is our
relative ignorance of the nature and implications of the Principle of Sufficient Reason (PSR). This is no
surprise because analytical philosophy was founded in the act of rejecting PSR.
Our forefathers’ attempt to balance between common sense and the truths of
science meant -- as science and the PSR parted ways -- the willing submission to brute, ultimate facts (recall this post).
In Mind & Cosmos, Thomas
Nagel happily embraces “a form of the principle of sufficient reason” (17) in
support of his "common sense" (5, 7, etc.) and against the recent
“orthodox scientific consensus.” (10; 5) Rather than accepting this
"ideological consensus," (128) Nagel insists -- regularly using
language reminiscent of the great Feyerabend -- that "almost
everyone in our secular culture has been browbeaten into regarding the
reductive research program as sacrosanct." (7) While Nagel insists that
the champions of scientific enlightenment are bullies, he treats the
"defenders of intelligent design" with "gratitude" (Plantinga returns the gratitude),
even though Nagel clearly recognizes that once one embraces one's inner sensus
divinitatis one is also compelled in one's judgments. (12)
A classic statement of the PSR is Spinoza's
"For each thing there must be assigned a cause, or reason, both for
its existence and for its nonexistence." (Ethics 1p11d2) That is to
say, any PSR worth having imposes significant explanatory demands (especially
of non-arbitrariness) on any philosophical system in which it is deployed.
Below the fold I critically discuss Nagel's way of combining the PSR and his
attempted revisionary science, but here I just register the marvelousness
of Nagel's deployment of the PSR as an instrument in the service of common
sense! (cf. 91-2) This is certainly an original move in the history of
metaphysics--one that, in a single, magical stroke overturns Lovejoy's long narrative.