Every year, we at the Philosopher’s Annual select and anthologize what we consider to be the ten best articles of the previous year’s literature. To the best of our knowledge there is no algorithm for separating the best from the merely good in philosophy (though if you know differently you should let us know!), so the selections below should be taken with a grain or more of salt. Nevertheless we do feel confident that the procedure we follow uncovers some truly excellent philosophical work. The Nominating Editors forward articles of exceptional merit, which are then collected together for a second review by the Nominating Editors as a whole. We, the four Editors, thoroughly read and discuss the merits of the top thirty or so papers from this group, eventually settling upon the ten which stand out to us as the best.
What follows is a introduction to each of those papers, starting with Robert Adam’s “Malebranche’s Causal Concepts”.
It can be daunting to fill out Malebranche’s occasionalism and render it coherent with the rest of his views on knowledge, the divine nature, and free will, driven as it was as much by religious conviction as philosophical argumentation. But Adams takes on the task fearlessly and skillfully. According to Malebranche, does God will every particular effect of an occasional cause in conformity with his general volitions? Or do the general volitions merely set out the structure of the determined universe in a deistic fashion? Neither, Adams tells us: the general volitions are themselves efficacious in producing all the effects that conform to them. Among other benefits, this brings the result that God determines everything that is, even though he does not will the murderer’s ax to fall as such. Freedom of the human will is in turn preserved by holding that God determines only what is real, and that the operations of the human will, limited as they are to acts of consenting or withholding consent to what God has proposed, are not part of genuine reality. Adams also renders careful and subtle discussions of the nature of divine simplicity and of how we can know that God’s volitions are the only genuine causes even though we cannot know exactly how they bring their effects about.
Can visual experience be characterized entirely in terms of an individual’s apparent perspective on an external reality, or must we admit—in at least some cases—of visual experience characterizable only in terms of something like visual sensations? Afterimages have long been offered as primary evidence for the latter. G. E. Moore cites afterimages as incontestable examples of sense-data. Even Ryle admits to a “residual embarrassment” regarding afterimages, “stumped” to provide a more public account. In “Afterimages and Sensations,” Ian Phillips contests the role of this common example in philosophy of perception, considering in turn a number of characteristics commonly cited. Afterimages don’t appear to be material objects, they remain with eyes closed, and they seem to violate characteristics of size constancy. Phillips argues that if afterimages are thought of as ‘light illusions’—on the order of shadows, rainbows, light beams, and mirror images, for example—none of these characteristics need exclude them as apparent presentations of a public realm. It has also been claimed that afterimages aren’t independent of an individual’s movement, that they don’t offer multiple perspectives, and that they aren’t occludable. In each case Phillips summons empirical evidence suggesting the contrary. Phillips seeks to rescue Ryle from embarrassment: perhaps afterimages should not be thought of as a trump card for the sensationalist after all.
A range of philosophers take causality to be essential to scientific explanation. In the piece included here, Marc Lange proposes that such an emphasis leaves out an important class of non-causal scientific explanations. We throw a bunch of sticks into the air with a lot of spin. They twirl and tumble as they fall. We freeze the scene. Why do we find more sticks nearly horizontal than nearly vertical? As another example, why has no one ever succeeded in crossing all of the bridges of Königsberg exactly once? In “What Makes a Scientific Explanation Distinctively Mathematical?” Lange works from an intuitive set of examples like these, arguing that they qualify as distinctively mathematical not because they abstract from causal histories or natural laws—they need not do so—but because the explanatory connection at issue is modally stronger than causal law. Distinctively mathematical explanations work not by describing a real-world network of causal relations but by describing a framework that would be satisfied by any possible causal network of a given type. As such, distinctively mathematical explanations contribute something to scientific practice that no causal explanation ever could.
A plausible (some epistemologists might even say primary) goal for a rational agent is to have credences which represent the world as accurately as possible. Probabilism is the view that rationality requires an agent’s credences to be probabilistically coherent. A widely accepted justification for probabilism is that the goal of accuracy is best served by having credences which are probabilistically coherent. In his “Rational Probabilistic Incoherence” Michael Caie disputes probabilism by introducing a number of cases designed to showcase two objections. First, Caie purports to show that maintaining probabilism will sometimes cause an agent to face the dilemma of having to choose between failing to be sensitive to her own credal state or failing to have a high credence in an obvious truth. Second, Caie maintains that the goal of accuracy is in fact sometimes best served by having probabilistically incoherent credences—that is, “there are cases in which the most accurate credal state than an agent can have is one that is probabilistically incoherent”. No matter the success of his arguments, Caie certainly seems to have shown that the link between accuracy and probabilism is more complicated than once thought.
In his “Multiple Studies and Evidential Defeat”, Matthew Kotzen also provides compelling reasons to reject an intuitively plausible epistemic position. Imagine that, after reading a study which reports a statistically significant correlation between peanut butter consumption and low cholesterol, you discover that the researchers conducted many other relevantly similar studies testing for correlations between peanut butter and a variety of health benefits. Should the existence of these other studies do anything to undermine your confidence in the evidence provided by the cholesterol study? That is, can the existence of multiple studies ever “defeat the evidence that one particular study provides for its conclusion?” Kotzen takes an anti-defeatist stance and maintains that in the vast majority of cases the answer is, surprisingly, no. In addition to offering several direct arguments for anti-defeatism, Kotzen also sets out to explain why we often mistakenly believe that we should lower our confidence in a particular study once we learn about the existence of related others.
The problem of empty names has vexed some big names in philosophy in the last century, including Russell, Meinong, and Kripke. Andrew Bacon’s “Quantificational Logic and Empty Names” attempts finally to give a satisfying account of the role empty names play in language. On the straightforward interpretation of classical logic, any statement that says a name’s bearer exists ends up logically true. This offends intuition, for ‘Pegasus’ certainly seems to be a name, but ‘Pegasus exists’ is clearly false. To fix the problem, Bacon develops a positive free logic—a logic that allows some statements involving empty names to be true. The originality of the paper, though, lies in the way Bacon responds to various prima facie problems. An interesting one is this: if ‘Pegasus’ and ‘Sherlock Holmes’ are both empty names, how can they make different contributions to the truth conditions of the various sentences in which they occur? What makes it so that ‘Pegasus’ refers not to Sherlock Holmes but to Pegasus? Bacon’s answer involves suppositional baptisms, where what matters is the properties Pegasus and Holmes have in worlds where they are each picked out by those properties in order to be baptized with their names. There is much else of interest in the paper, including important discussions of “mere possibilia” views and impossible objects.
Intuitionistic logic and anti-realism seem made for one another. The now popular Brouwer-
Heyting-Kolmogorov constructionist and Kripke information semantics encourage this way of thinking, to say nothing of Dummett’s work. In “Truth-Maker Semantics for Intuitionistic
Logic”, Kit Fine attempts to break this connection by providing a technically satisfying realistic
semantics for intuitionistic logic. The paper is split into two parts, an informal “philosophical”
discussion of the semantics and a technical appendix in which Fine proves completeness and other results. Speaking generally, the approach involves using van Fraassen’s state semantics, in which states are not unlike Barwise and Perry’s or Kratzer’s situations. One of Fine’s major innovations is to take conditional states as primitive, the exact verifiers of conditionals. Fine ends the informal part of the piece with some illuminating thoughts concerning the relation between realism and intuitionistic logic. He sketches some principles that ought to appeal to the realist, and then discusses how many of them one needs to accept in order to avoid being committed to an intuitionistic consequence relation. As a bonus, his semantics allows us to distinguish the necessarily true from the logically true, the latter being sentences that require nothing of reality. Fine’s paper continues his tradition of making issues surrounding realism and anti-realism both more technically precise and philosophically satisfying.
What are logical principles and what are the good inferences? Gilbert Harman famously argued that these are conceptually distinct questions whose answers might differ. In “Free of Detachment: Logic, Rationality, and Gluts,” Jc Beall puts Harman’s distinction to work in attempting to dissolve a controversy in philosophical logic. It has long been considered a problem for glut theories—theories that allow some sentences to be both true and false—that they must render detachment (otherwise known as modus ponens) invalid. Beall agrees that on such theories detachment must be invalid, but he doesn’t think that’s a problem. Logic alone does not force one to recognize the goodness of detachment; one needs in addition the epistemological principle of contradiction avoidance. On Beall’s view, logic tells us what our inferential options are, leaving to epistemology the decision of which of the options we should take. If he’s right, Beall takes what seemed to be an obvious logical problem and relocates it to epistemology, changing our conceptions of both fields. Beall’s work is also of interest simply because it is one of a small number of audacious attempts to convince us that living without detachment isn’t the end of the world.
Something seems to be wrong with colonialism, it is often thought—not only with the way it has been carried out in practice, but inherently. Because colonialism involves the political or economic control of a dependent territory, many philosophers have thought its wrongness to be grounded in the territorial claims of indigenous groups. In “What’s Wrong With Colonialism”, Lea Ypi leads a forceful rebellion against this traditional account. Acquisition theories are insufficient, she argues, since many indigenous groups did not use their land in a way that clearly gives rise to ownership claims, and at any rate such claims could not be used to permanently exclude genuinely needy settlers. If instead territorial rights depend upon a group’s ability to carry out duties of justice, “[those] who fail at that task could arguably be colonized.” Ypi turns our attention rather to the wrongful ways in which colonizers create and structure political associations. In order for a political association to be truly equal and reciprocal it must not only embody principles of equality and reciprocity, but also receive uncoerced and informed consent. Colonial relations always fail on the latter and often the former condition, Ypi argues.
On Ypi’s analysis it is the fact that colonialism involves the domination of one political community by another which renders it objectionable. She argues that the inevitable interdependence of political communities prevents claims of territorial rights from condemning outright the kinds of occupational and commercial relations which also characterize colonial relations. In “Rousseau’s Critique of Economic Inequality”, Frederick Neuhouser argues that Rousseau would condemn economic inequality for a similar reason: While interdependence is inevitable (and even desirable) within a political community, when some members become so wealthy as to dominate others, that inequality becomes problematic. In his engaging discussion, Neuhouser emphasizes how Rousseau’s conception of domination as obeying a foreign will differs from the traditional republican notion of arbitrary interference. Rousseau’s conception, he argues, is better placed to account for the way in which economic inequality can produce domination even when the disadvantaged consent to the terms the advantaged dictate to them. He also points out that inequality also has a tendency to make one’s standing in society dependent upon standing above others, making recognition a scarce good. Thus according to Rousseau, in an inegalitarian society people’s amour propre (self-love) will lead only to general misery. Neuhouser then considers how this two-pronged Rousseauian critique of economic inequality relates to Rawls’ theory, concluding that we have much to learn about Rawls’ notion of society as a scheme of mutual cooperation by reflecting on Rousseau’s notion of domination.
Inevitably it appears immodest to claim that these ten are the best articles of 2013 in a field as diverse as ours. We nonetheless offer them as a bunch particularly worthy of attention, and hope you enjoy reading and discussing them as much as we have.