Philosophy

Peer Reviewed

Stance Empiricism and Epistemic Reason

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Penultimate Draft

​Abstract:

​Some versions of empiricism have been accused of being neither empirically testable nor analytically true, and therefore meaningless or unknowable by their own lights. Carnap, and more recently van Fraassen, have responded to this objection by construing empiricism as a stance containing non-cognitive attitudes. The resulting stance empiricism is not subject to the norms of knowledge, and so does not self-defeat as per the objection. In response to this proposal, several philosophers have argued that if empiricism is a stance, then there can be no distinctively epistemic reasons in favor of adopting it, but only prudential or moral reasons. I defend stance empiricism against this objection by showing that stance empiricism furthers many plausibly epistemic goals, such as false belief avoidance, wisdom, and justification. I then defend my argument against two rival views of epistemic reason and against van Fraassen's objection to the premise that experience is the only source of information.

Empirical Significance, Predictive Power, and Explication

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Penultimate Draft

Abstract:

​Criteria of empirical significance are supposed to state conditions under which (putative) reference to an unobservable object or property is “empirically meaningful”. The intended kind of empirical meaningfulness should be necessary for admissibility into the selective contexts of scientific inquiry. I defend Justus’s recent argument that the reasons generally given for rejecting the project of defining a significance criterion are unpersuasive. However, as I show, this project remains wedded to an overly narrow conception of its subject matter. Even the most cutting edge significance criteria identify empirical significance with predictive power, and thereby rule out vocabulary with legitimate scientific functions. In a nutshell, the problem is that there are terms that reduce the computational burden of extracting predictions from theory, and that may therefore be scientifically useful, but that do not produce any additional predictions, and so are ruled scientifically inadmissibility by existing significance criteria. I spell out this objection by specifying terms of this kind that are ruled inadmissible by Creath’s and Schurz’s criteria. Having objected in this way to extant criteria, and to the equation of empirical significance with predictive power in general, I discuss an approach to defining empirical significance that is capable of avoiding my objection and, more ambitiously, that may break the cycle of “punctures and patches” that has plagued the project from the beginning: I gloss Goldfarb and Ricketts’s idea of “case-by-case” delineations of empirically significant terms as the provision of special rather than general explications of the informal concept of empirical significance.

But for the Grace of God: Abortion and Cognitive Disability, Luck and Moral Status

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​Penultimate Draft

Abstract:

​Many theories of moral status that are intended to ground pro-choice views on abortion tie full moral status to advanced cognitive capabilities. Extant accounts of this kind are inconsistent with the intuition that the profoundly cognitively disabled have full moral status. This paper improves upon these extant accounts by combining an anti-luck condition with Steinbock’s stratification of moral status into two levels. On the resulting view, a being has full moral status if and only if (1) she has moral status and (2) (a) has had advanced cognitive capacities, (b) has the potential to develop such capacities, or (c) would have had such capacities were it not for luck. I argue that modal accounts of luck provide a non-speciesist basis for attributing the lack of advanced cognitive capacities in humans to luck without doing the same for non-human animals.

Language, Ontology, and the Carnap-Quine Debate

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Penultimate Draft

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​On a widespread reading, the Carnap-Quine debate about ontology concerns the objectivity and non-triviality of ontological claims. I argue that this view mischaracterizes Carnap’s aims in “Empiricism, Semantics, and Ontology” (ESO): Carnap’s fundamental goal is to free up decisions about scientific language from constraints deriving from ontological doctrine. The contention, based on his internal/external (i/e) distinction, that ontological claims are either meaningless or trivial was Carnap’s means to achieving this more fundamental goal. Setting the record straight on this point brings out three important and often overlooked features of Carnap’s views on ontology. First, the target of Carnap’s critique in ESO is not Quine’s mature views on ontology, as laid out in “On What There Is”. Rather, Carnap is responding to arguments for nominalism that were given by Tarski, Goodman, and Quine in the 1940s. Second, a more general rejection of conservatism in theory choice is essential to Carnap’s aims and is implicit in his fundamental views on language. Third, even if it turns out to be tenable, the i/e distinction is not adequate for Carnap’s aim in ESO. Drawing on his basic conception of scientific language, I will suggest an alternative approach on his behalf.

The Bradleyan Regress, Non-Relational Realism, and the Quinean Semantic Strategy

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Penultimate Draft

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​Non-Relational Realism is a popular solution to the Bradleyan regress of facts or truths. It denies that there is a relational universal of exemplification; for an object a to exemplify a universal F-ness, on this view, is not for a relation to subsist between a and F-ness. An influential objection to Non-Relational Realism is that it is unacceptably obscure. I argue that Non-Relational Realism can be understood as a selective application of satisfaction semantics to predicates like ‘exemplify’, and that so understood, it is not obscure. This kind of selective use of satisfaction semantics may be feasible in other contexts as a means of making theories more parsimonious.

Embryonic Viability, Parental Care, and the Pro-Life Thesis: A Defence of Bovens

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Penultimate Draft

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​On the basis of three empirical assumptions about the rhythm method and the viability of embryos, Bovens concludes that the pro-life position regarding empbryos implies that it is prima facie wrong to use the rhythm method. Pruss objects to Bovens's philosophical presuppositions and Kennedy to his empirical premises. This essay defends two revised versions of Bovens's argument. These arguments revise Bovens's empirical assumptions in response to Kennedy and, in response to Pruss, supplement Bovens's argument with what I call ‘the principle of parental care’.

Other

Engaging Students in an Argument-Mapping-Centered Online Discussion Forum

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A discussion of an online forum prompt that combines argument mapping with elements of the Kolb cycle.

What Effects Are Social Media Sites Having on Our Lives?

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An interview I did with Bjorn Mercer (APUS) on the titular topic.

Social Media: The Case for Deactivation

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​Abstract:

According to rigorous psychological measures, social media do more harm than good. And because social media use our posts to become more irresistible to our friends, using them can make our friends crave something that's bad for them. So, we should opt out.