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Modeled Behavior has a little post that is, I confess, somewhat too broadly aimed for it to be really clear what is being said. Indeed, it wouldn’t have been sufficiently interesting to be worth commenting on were it not for one particular claim and a follow up post. The claim is that “The baseline assumption… that obesity results from people eating too much and exercising too little” is “a maddeningly ridiculous non-answer”.

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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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Terry Christian was on Sunday Morning Live discussing whether or not national service might help reduce crime. For lots of reasons I don’t personally believe that national service is a good idea and I know of no good reason to believe that it would reduce crime, but whatever I think on the subject it is important that proffered arguments and statistics are meaningfully related to the question at hand. It’s incredibly important.

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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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Four Lions

Chris Morris’s sortie into the world of full length cinema has to be one of the most eagerly awaited comedy debuts of recent times. Anticipation is so often the enemy of enjoyment and there is a niggling feeling that perhaps it doesn’t quite live up to the illustrious successes of its ancestors, but it is a very funny farce with some genuine political targets.

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When I heard that the RSC were going to set up home at the Hampstead Theatre for a new writing season the only question for me was which of the various plays on offer should I attend. Rather randomly I settled on The Gods Weep because it was inspired by Lear and starred Jeremy Irons who, for some reason, I had never seen live. Perhaps it is unfashionable to “collect star performers”, but you can no more lay claim to a wide experience of theatre if you have missed key actors than if you have missed key writers or directors. So I’ll face the imaginary accusations of philistinism with pleasure.

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