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Archive for the ‘Considerations’ Category

Davidson’s anomalous monism is an account of the relationship between the mental and the physical. As a stalking horse for some of the issues, I discuss the extent to which Kim’s causal exclusion argument poses a problem for Davidson.
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Hume famously argued that we cannot have any experience of causation. I outline one interpretation of his argument before turning to consider some aspects of the argument that seem to me to be worthy of further consideration.
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A central concern of the epistemology of testimony is to explain how we acquire knowledge through the testimony of others. We do, of course, acquire many beliefs through testimony and many of those beliefs are true, but if we believe something which happens to be true we do not necessarily know that which we believe. A child might believe there is life on Mars because he has read too many comic books and it might turn out that the planet does harbour microbial life, but the child does not know that there is life on Mars. Knowledge requires more than true belief. How are we epistemically justified in believing something on the basis of testimony?

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“The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” introduced the phrase ‘paradigm change’ into the philosophy of science and with that phrase came a radical new view of scientific progress. The abandonment of one scientific theory and replacement with another was no longer to be considered as an objective process. It is “not the sort of battle that can be resolved by proofs”[1]. To discuss the mechanism of theory change is therefore to talk “about techniques of persuasion, or about argument and counterargument in a situation in which there can be no proof”[2]. This has led many commentators to interpret Kuhn as a relativist. If Kuhn’s analysis were accurate then scientific advancement would be just a “matter for mob psychology”[3], not “based on good reasons of any kind, factual or otherwise”[4]. Kuhn spent much of his later life arguing against this analysis of his position. I consider part of his argument, predominantly from “Objectivity, Value Judgement, and Theory Choice”, in an attempt to elucidate Kuhn’s defence.

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Strawson’s “Freedom and Resentment” was responsible for a significant shift in the debate about free will. The prevailing wisdom prior to its publication was that the truth or otherwise of determinism was a critical issue for morality. For an agent to be morally responsible for an action it was generally held that it had to have been possible for that agent to have done otherwise. There were two main lines of attack to justify the idea of moral responsibility in a deterministic setting. Firstly, the weaponry of analytical philosophy could be deployed to investigate the meaning of the phrase ‘could have done otherwise’ in such a way as to dissolve the apparent contradiction. Secondly, our moral practices of praise and blame could be justified operationally as a mechanism to improve the behaviour of deterministic, learning agents. The first of these may yet be required to resolve issues within our moral framework, of which more later. The second is successful enough on its own terms, but is generally held to fail to explain how we are morally justified in punishing people that break our moral codes. By contrast, Strawson claims that the question whether determinism is true is irrelevant to our practice of moral praise and blame. I review his reasons and consider some challenges to them.

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