From the literature of 2015
The goal of The Philosopher’s Annual is to select the ten best philosophical articles of the last year. The nominating editors forward articles of exceptional merit, which are then collected together and returned to all nominating editors for a second review. We, the four editors, read the thirty top-ranked papers, and, over the course of a number of argument-filled days, ultimately decide on ten which stand out to us as the best of the bunch.
We are the first to acknowledge, however, that our method is not foolproof, especially in a field as diverse as ours. Thus, any claims to have selected ‘the ten best’ must be taken with a generous grain of salt. Some excellent papers undoubtedly slipped through the nomination process, and there were many more than thirty papers of special note in the wide range of articles received from the nominating editors.
Still, with this collection, we are confident that we have identified ten outstanding papers worthy of particular attention. What follows is a brief introduction to each of those papers.
It is widely agreed that interpersonal relationships, from the intimate to the professional, are of value for their own sake. But relationships can also be of instrumental value, from emotional support to financial investment, recognized in sociology as “relational capital.” In “Justice as Fairness and Relational Resources,” Chiara Cordelli argues that the freedom to form and participate in certain kinds of relationships should be regarded as a positive rather than merely a negative liberty, regulated by a principle of fair equality. The opportunity for relationships and their instrumental benefits should be treated much as is the distribution of economic resources. In critique of Rawlsian theories, some have called attention to the relational inequalities of hierarchy and domination. With an eye to dependency, other critics have called for an alternative ethics of care. Cordelli attempts to recognize, incorporate, and extend the issues raised by Rawls’ critics by a recognition of relational resources within what remains a basically Rawlsian framework.
We humans are, as Victoria McGeer puts it, “inveterate mentalizers.” We have an impressive capacity for explaining and predicting the behavior of other beings by way of the attribution of mental states. In “Mind-making Practices: The Social Infrastructure of Self-knowing Agency and Responsibility,” McGeer advances a novel, “regulative” account of our folk-psychological practices. In so doing, she argues against the dominant, “standard” view of folk-psychology, which conceives of our mentalizing capacity as an essentially epistemic and individual enterprise. According to the standard picture, we hypothesize about underlying, pre-existing mental states in order to explain and predict one another’s behavior. By contrast, the regulative view characterizes folk-psychology as a fundamentally interpersonal and mind-making practice that enables us to form and regulate our mental states in accordance with a rich range of socially-shared and socially-regulated sense-making norms. McGeer makes a compelling case that the regulative view not only beats the standard view at its own epistemic game, but is also able to make headway on two philosophical problemsnamely, the problem of first-person authority, and the problem of reactive responsivenessthat the standard view can’t account for. More broadly, the regulative view shows significant promise when it comes to meeting an even larger moral philosophical challenge: that of explaining the conceptual connection between our being reactively responsive to one another and what it takes for us to be genuinely responsible moral agents.
Formal logic is an area that is pervasive throughout contemporary philosophy and owes its beginning to Aristotle. In particular, it is widely agreed that the beginning of formal logic is to be found in Aristotle’s Prior Analytics rather than his Topics. In “The Beginnings of Formal Logic: Deduction in Aristotle’s Topics vs. Prior Analytics,” Marko Malink explores what it is that can be found in the Prior Analytics but not in the Topics that can account for the widespread agreement. Doing so requires us to look at more modern systems of formal logic, such as Frege’s Begriffsschrift, in order to identify what we take to be essential to the discipline of formal logic. This allows Malink to identify four distinctive features that can be found in the Prior Analytics that are missing from the Topics. When we look to the Topics, we can see two distinctive features in its “formal” system that that mean that it cannot be the starting point of formal logic as we know it: one, the system allows there to be ambiguous terms in the premises and two, it also allows premises to be missing but a deduction to go through anyway.
In the Transcendental Aesthetic of the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argues that space is the a priori form of outer intuition. His main argument for this claim comes from the section known as the “Metaphysical Exposition of the Concept of Space” (MECS). In “Conceptual Analysis and the Essence of Space: Kant’s Metaphysical Exposition Revisited,” James Messina argues that we need to situate MECS into the historical context in which it was written, as well as clarify the type of conceptual analysis Kant was actually employing in MECS. On the historical context, Kant’s work takes place after a debate about the correct analysis of space between Wolffians and Christian August Crusius; Kant agrees with the latter in this debate despite differing from Crusius’s account of space in three crucial respects. Messina also argues against the widespread view that takes Kant to view conceptual analysis as an instrument that merely clarifies our thought, and instead contends that conceptual analysis can yield substantive metaphysical insights for Kant. With the resources provided by the proper explication of these two areas, Messina is able to give an improved reconstruction of MECS as well as provide illumination on a number of otherwise mysterious claims that Kant makes about space in other parts of the Critique.
Charles Sebens offers a novel interpretation of quantum mechanicsan interpretation according to which the fundamental picture consists of nothing but particles in many worlds interacting according to Newtonian forces. According to the Everett interpretation, we have a universal wave function which evolves according to the Schrödinger equation. Meanwhile, Bohmian quantum mechanics suggests that we have a universal wave function, which evolves according to the Schroödinger equation, together with particles in definite locations, which obey a guidance equation. Sebens's approach, which he calls Newtonian Quantum Mechanics, is different from both. On his approach, we have particles in many worlds described by a world density and velocity fields which evolve according to a Newtonian force law. Sebens derives an equation of motion which does not reference the wave function. Sebens's approach is significantly different from and in many ways preferable to the prevailing interpretations. It does not require rethinking the axioms of probability for quantum phenomena, and it gives a novel interpretation of quantum uncertainty. Newtonian Quantum Mechanics does, however, come at a cost. Notably, it entails the existence of a large albeit finite set of fundamental, causally efficacious, non-branching worlds. Overall, this is a remarkable new approach to the measurement problem in quantum mechanics.
Pick a card, any card from a full randomized deck. What degree of belief should you accord ‘It’s an ace if it’s red’? Robert Stalnaker originally proposed that
|The degree of belief assigned to a conditional sentence ‘if A then B’ should be identical to one’s conditional degree of belief in B given A.
Given different contexts, however, there are many different propositions that could be expressed by a conditional sentence ‘if A then B.’ But only one conditional probability for the propositions expressed. With an eye to the context-sensitivity of conditionals, widely assumed within linguistics, Andrew Bacon offers “Stalnaker’s Thesis in Context”:
|The credence in ‘If A then B’ in evidential context E should be the same as the credence in B given A in that context.
In a full formal development, Bacon shows that the contextualized thesis accords with Bayesian updating via conditionalization and gives the right intuitive results for a range of intuitive cases, including embedded conditionals. He proves the thesis tenable within a possible world semantics based on probabilistic selection functions, but—perhaps most interestingly—not within a Stalnaker-Lewis semantics understood in terms of similarity. Bacon’s contribution is important for understanding probabilities and conditionals, for all that hangs on such an understanding, and for our views of possible worlds as well.
It is common to assume that degrees of belief (credences) are in some sense fundamental or real and that beliefs are defined in terms of them. In “Dr. Truthlove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Bayesian Probabilities,” Kenny Easwaran flips the traditional approach on its head, showing that under modest conditions, if an agent's set of beliefs is representable by a probability function, then it is coherent. This means, roughly, that there is no doxastic state which dominates it in terms of its closeness to truth. Easwaran's main result allows us to a find a coherent traditional doxastic state for every probabilistic representation of it, which may help us to think of an agent's belief state as doxastically fundamental, and her credence function as its representation. This enables Easwaran to addressor at least sidestepa number of foundational questions about the nature of credences, including their precision. At the same time, he opens up a number of avenues for further research. For example, what is left open is the precise conditions on a set of beliefs that are required for a probabilistic representation of it to exist.
Jeffrey Sandford Russell, John Hawthorne and Lara Buchak consider the relationship between the credence function of a collective and the individual credence functions of each of its members, especially as the group encounters new evidence. Their main result is a proof establishing that the only continuous aggregate credence function which obeys several plausible constraints on aggregation is the geometric mean of the individual member's credences. The result bears a resemblance to Arrow's well-known General Possibility Theorem, except whereas Arrow's Theorem is directed at group choice, Russell, Hawthorne, and Buchak's result is concerned specifically with group belief (the two are, of course, intimately related in expected utility theory). The result is very impressive in and of itself but it also has significant implications for a number of ongoing debates in epistemology and decision theory, especially with respect to cases of peer disagreement and in the context of decision making with imprecise credences, where the geometric mean of an agent's individual imprecise credences may be a natural candidate for computing the expectation value of the competing acts available to her.
If I make a mistake about some requirement of rationality have I thereby made some type of rational mistake? The intuitive answer to this question is that I have not. I have just made a typical type of mistake along the lines of having a false belief in any old proposition. While this answer might seem intuitive, in Michael G. Titelbaum’s “Rationality’s Fixed Point (or: In Defense of Right Reason)” we get an appealing argument that the intuitive idea cannot be correct. Titelbaum argues for this claim, called the Fixed Point Thesis, from a premise that is widely accepted throughout philosophy: that being akratic is irrational. That is, the principle that says that we’re not rationally permitted to hold an attitude A along with the belief that A is rationally forbidden to hold at that time. That the Fixed Point Thesis being could be correct and be argued from such a well accepted principle is nothing short of surprising on its own but Titelbaum goes on to claim that it shows us even more than we might have initially thought. In particular, the Fixed Point Thesis has strong implications about what type of evidence we can have towards rational requirements and what ought to happen in cases of peer disagreement.
What justifies our believing that two plus two equals four, say, or that Gettier’s Smith doesn’t know that the man who will get the job has ten coins in his pocket? Rationalism is the view that the epistemic source of justification for (or knowledge of) such propositions is given by intuition, which is decidedly non-empirical in character. Traditional rationalists, Plato and Descartes among them, endorsed the idea that intuition is a kind of direct, immediate apprehension, much like perception. However, rather than de-mystifying the nature of intuition and the distinctive epistemic role it is supposed to play, the perceptual analogy has instead fuelled the criticism that intuition as the rationalists conceive it is as obscure as crystal-ball gazing. In “The Intellectual Given,” John Bengson seeks to fend off this line of attack by developing an ambitious, informative, and systematically argued quasi-perceptualist view of intuition. First, Bengson argues that intuitions, like perceptual experiences, are presentations: conscious states that directly present the world as being a certain way, and are, importantly, distinct from a variety of other mental states. With this parallel ontological profile in place, Bengson goes on to argue that intuition and perceptual experience are, by their nature as presentations, structured in such a way as to justify belief without themselves needing justification. Bengson’s contribution demonstrates that, used carefully, the perceptual analogy brings clarity to a notoriously abstruse phenomenon.
If you could only read ten articles from the philosophical literature of 2015, we think you couldn’t do much better than the papers collected here. We pass them on to you for your consideration with the hope that you enjoy reading and discussing them as much as we did.