12 March 2015
"Status Quo Bias and the Reversal Tests"
Bostrom and Ord (2006) develop two tests for status quo bias: the reversal test and the double reversal test. The reversal test has been appealed to uncritically by philosophers who seek to substantiate the charge that preferences for status quo options, across a range of domains of inquiry, are motivated by status quo bias. Here I subject the two tests to close scrutiny and clarify where the limits of their applicability lie. My findings are: (1) Bostrom and Ord’s treatment of appeals to ‘the argument from risk’ is overly restrictive and there are better prospects for meeting the burden of proof imposed by the reversal test, by appealing to it, than Bostrom and Ord allow; (2) that the wording of the reversal test needs to be revised and that once it is suitably revised it can been seen that there is a way of meeting the burden of proof imposed by it that Bostrom and Ord do not recognize; and (3) that the double reversal test is not a test of status quo bias at all.
2 April 2015
"Narrative, self-constitution and recovery from addiction"
Why do some addicted people chronically fail in their goal to recover while others succeed? On one established view, recovery depends, in part, on efforts of intentional planning agency. This seems right, however, first-hand accounts of addiction suggest that the agent's self-narrative is also relevant. I argue that self-narratives have an independent, self-fulfilling momentum that can support or undermine self-governance. The self-narrative structures of addicted persons can entrench addiction and alienate the agent from practically feasible recovery plans. Narrative momentum is amplified when the agent's self-narrative has come to focus narrowly on drug-use and treatment. Strategic re-narration can redirect narrative momentum and therefore support recovery in ways that intentional planning alone cannot.
30 April 2015
"Normativity in reasoning"
1 May 2015
"Are reasons fundamental?"
The dogma of the primacy of reasons has grown up in the philosophy of normativity during the last half-century. One part of it is the view that reasons are the fundamental feature of normativity. I shall examine the ontology of normativity and argue that reasons do not occupy a fundamental position in it.
7 May 2015
University of Connecticut
"From conversation to inference, via consequence"
This talk explores the notions of "positions" and "bounds" developed by Greg Restall in a series of works. Restall has used these notions to provide a novel account of consequence, of what it is for one claim to follow from another. In this talk, my purpose is twofold: to anchor these notions more securely in a theory of conversational norms, and to show how they can be used to give an account of deductive inference, in particular of what makes an inference non-ampliative.
21 May 2015
"Are Conservatives Risk Averse?"
Philosophers, as well as psychologists, often assert that political conservatives are risk averse. The only consideration that ever appears to be offered in support of this assertion is the observation that conservatives prefer to avoid the risks involved in significant social and political change, if they can. In this paper I argue that this observation cannot be an adequate basis for the conclusion that conservatives are risk averse. However, I do not conclude that we should give up on the conclusion that conservatives are risk averse. I draw on prospect theory to locate reasons that provide a separate source of warrant for this conclusion.
4 June 2015
Australian Catholic University
"Habit and addiction"
Addiction is sometimes regarded as no more serious than ‘a habit’. This description makes it sound like those with addiction problems could easily stop. For, as might be claimed, everyone has habits good and bad, and pretty much everyone is able, with some willpower and good tactics, to control their habits. It would be nice if this was true in all cases of addictions, particularly to highly addictive substances like tobacco. Unfortunately it is not. Nevertheless, it might be too hasty to give up on the idea that addiction is a kind of habit after all. To that end I intend to explore the conceptual territory of habit and addiction in order to see whether the former might shed any useful light on the latter. I am reasonably optimistic that it can for both interesting and surprising reasons.
16 June 2015
Arizona State University
Sometimes the performance of one option entails the performance of another. For instance, kissing my wife passionately entails kissing her. Given this, it seems that a theory of morality (or rationality) should tell us how the permissibility of the one relates to the permissibility of the other (assuming, that is, that the two are permissible), or tell us that there is no relation between the two. So one possibility is that it is permissible for me to kiss my wife because it is permissible for me to kiss her passionately, and it is permissible for me to kiss her passionately because kissing her passionately has some feature F (e.g., maximizes utility). A second possibility is that it is permissible for me to kiss my wife passionately because it is permissible for me to kiss her, and it is permissible for me to kiss her because kissing her has feature F. And a third possibility is that the two are unrelated: it is permissible for me to kiss her passionately because kissing her passionately has feature F, and it is permissible for me to kiss her because kissing her has feature F. I argue that we should accept the first possibility, and I explain the implications for theories of morality and rationality.
6 August 2015
"Is narrative an epistemically interesting category?"
The notion of narrativity has recently been widely used in some areas of philosophy, as well as in other humanities and social sciences. But some have questioned whether narrative is really an epistemically interesting category. In this paper I seek to support the view that narratives can be epistemically useful, by examining the sense in which narratives can be regarded as explanatory. I argue that narratives can explain in several non-causal senses, and develop an account of what is distinctive to narrative explanation, in contrast to other forms of explanation.
17 September 2015
"A Pluralistic Account of Epistemic Rationality"
In this essay, I motivate and defend a pluralistic account of epistemic rationality. Two central tenants of the view are that (1) epistemic rationality is essentially a species of practical rationality, where the latter is understood teleologically, and (2) there are many distinct characteristics of beliefs (or credences) that are epistemically valuable. I begin by sketching some closely related views that have appeared in the literature, typically under the label 'epistemic instrumentalism'. I then present my preferred version of the view and sketch some of its benefits. I conclude by raising some lingering worries and some possible ways to address them.
24 September 2015
"Unsound arguments are useless"
I argue that unsound arguments (i.e. arguments that have a false premise or are invalid, or both) are epistemically useless, in the following sense: an unsound argument cannot give us knowledge of its conclusion; it cannot give us justification to believe its conclusion; even if it can give us some degree of justification to believe its conclusion and/or justification to believe its conclusion to some degree it cannot give us justification to believe its conclusion outright; and no number of unsound arguments for the same conclusion can together give us justification to believe that conclusion. I consider what this means for the many arguments that have traditionally been thought to be unsound but still epistemically useful, particularly those used in science.
15 October 2015
"How to Endorse an Evidence Requirement, a Coherence Requirement, and the Possibility of Misleading Higher-Order Evidence"
Take this evidential requirement: If S’s total evidence supports taking a doxastic attitude, D, towards p, then rationality requires of S that she takes D towards p. This principle has been taken to be incompatible with the possibility of misleading higher-order evidence and coherence requirements on rationality. This is false. Evidentialists have nothing to fear from misleading higher-order evidence and coherence requirements. They need only observe a certain overlooked demand on doxastic justification (=rationality). In what follows I develop a view on which having a doxastically justified belief depends on the absence of “irrational trust” in certain propositions. I go on to argue that misleading higher-order evidence generates irrational trust and thus prevents one from having a doxastically justified belief.