From the literature of 2018
Each year, the editors of The Philosopher’s Annual face a seemingly impossible task: to choose the best ten philosophy articles published within a given year. We end up debating not only the merits of the nominated papers, but also the merits of these merits. After engaging in days of first- and second-order discussions, we are confident that the ten articles selected offer some of the most exciting advances in philosophical issues, ranging from semantics to metaethics and from metaphysics to social philosophy, with many articles bridging multiple intradisciplinary divides.
In light of recent upsurges of political extremism, there has been increasing concern about the role that the Internet plays in radicalizing its users. In “Technological Seduction and Self-Radicalization,” Mark Alfano, J. Adam Carter, and Marc Cheong identify a mechanism by which online media platforms facilitate self-radicalization. On their view, when creating media platforms, web designers implement choice architectures that “seduce” users into endorsing a prescribed worldview. The more a user engages with a platform, the more that worldview is reinforced. This explains why the world looks very different to, say, a Breitbart reader than it does to a reader of Huffington Post. The problem is exacerbated by predictive and prescriptive analytics—which generate search suggestions for users based on their internet history or the internet of history of people like them—as these tools make Internet users passive, leading them to engage with media that further reinforce the worldview they have come to endorse. Alfano, Carter, and Cheong’s argument forces us to rethink the way we respond to online self-radicalization. Existing strategies such as community policing and public education must be supplemented with efforts to improve technological design and cultivate intellectual virtues in Internet users.
Cultivating intellectual virtues is difficult, often demanding changes in policy. In “When Journal Editors Play Favorites,” Remco Heesen argues that this point is true not only in politics but in publication review processes. In particular, he invites us to consider the merits of triple-anonymous review: a procedure on which authors’ names and affiliations are hidden from editors as well reviewers. In contrast, single- and double-anonymous review procedures provide the editor with that information, despite differing as to whether reviewers are given information about authors’ identities. Heesen identifies two ways that an editor’s judgment about an article may be affected by knowledge of the author’s identity: the editor may give preferential treatment to the author if the editor knows her (a phenomenon that Heesen calls connection bias) or the editor may treat the author differently based on some aspect of the author’s identity, such as her race or gender (identity bias). Both connection and identity biases are epistemic injustices insofar as they cause authors to suffer unjust credibility deficits. However, Heesen’s model of connection bias reveals a surprising result: although connection bias is frowned upon in the academic community, in some fields connection bias may increase the quality of published papers. In particular, in the lab sciences, knowing the identity of the author may give the editor information about the lab where the experiments were conducted, which may affect the editor’s confidence that the experiments were performed correctly. Deciding whether triple-anonymous review is favorable in the lab sciences therefore requires thinking about how the negative effects of identity bias trade off with the positive effects of connection bias. Ultimately, it remains unclear on Heesen’s model whether triple-anonymous review leads to a higher average quality of published papers than double-anonymous review does. Nevertheless, Heesen advises that journals from all fields use triple-anonymous procedures to avoid the epistemic injustice of connection and identity bias.
Some social phenomenon can more easily be ameliorated with norms for discourse. In “The Aptness of Anger,” Amia Srinivasan provides a response to the counterproductivity critique of anger and offers a suggestion for how to talk about anger. This critique holds that the counterproductivity of one’s anger is a dispositive reason not to get angry. A wide variety of authors have deployed this critique, from Seneca to Martin Luther King, William Buckley, Martha Nussbaum and Nicholas Kristof. In response, Srinivasan does not challenge the claim that anger can be counterproductive, but rather adds a new element in the evaluation of anger: its aptness. A particular subject’s anger is apt, according to Srinivasan, only if the object of that anger constitutes a genuine moral violation and constitutes a personal reason for the subject. With this mode of evaluation in place, Srinivasan argues that anger can be counterproductive but apt. In these circumstances, defenders of the counterproductivity critique face the burden of explaining why reasons of prudence trump reasons of aptness. This account also provides multiple explanatory benefits. First, it highlights how facing apt, counterproductive anger is a distinctive form of affective injustice, over and above the initial injustice that prompts one’s anger. In addition, Srinivasan argues that the way that we think and talk about anger serves the interests of the powerful, and emphasizes the importance of working to make anger less counterproductive in an attempt to eliminate these conflicts.
How we think and talk about matters is often influenced by background social norms. In “Practical Reason Not as Such,” Kenneth Walden argues that such norms, as well as forms of embodiment, can serve as the starting points for normatively correct judgments. In making this claim, he expands the range of factors to which constructivists can appeal as grounds of normative correctness beyond practical reason as such (the generic faculty for practical deliberation) and particular, contingent attitudes (e.g., a preference for a certain kind of tea in the afternoon). Kantians see the former as entailing substantive moral conclusions, while Humeans do not. Walden argues that further factors, such as psychological schemata and forms of embodiment, also have significance for the correctness of normative judgments. These factors make a significant and distinctive contribution to our practical reasoning by structuring our choice architecture, organizing our experience into discrete practical problems, and making particular solutions more salient. For example, whether we have reason to challenge someone to a duel in response to an insult depends on our internalization of certain schemata of social roles and norms around honor. In addition to raising the possibility of new forms of constructivism, Walden’s argument also raises new questions that follow from the etiology of normative facts. For example, how an agent responds to the reasons they have might depend on whether those reasons are rooted in personal evaluative attitudes or grounded in the agent’s internalization of a social schema. In particular, the latter might require more radical transformation of the agent’s practical reasoning and the social structures that influence it.
Whereas Walden draws from social philosophy to advance debates in metaethics, Selim Berker draws from ethics to advance debates in metaphysics, specifically in debates about grounding relations. Grounding relations, which are expressed by ‘in virtue of’ or non-causal ‘because’ claims, have become an important metaphysical topic du jour. Some grounding theorists argue that there are multiple, fundamentally distinct grounding relations. For example, [The ball is red and round] is metaphysically grounded in [The ball is red] and [The ball is round], while [His action was wrong] is normatively grounded in [His action was performed with the sole intention of causing harm]. In “The Unity of Grounding”, Selim Berker defends an ambitious thesis, arguing that there is only one fundamentally unique grounding relation (pace grounding pluralists) and that this relation is indispensable for normative theorizing. Berker’s primary argument is abductive: he identifies logical principles that hold in cases that exclusively involve the same kind of grounding relation (transitivity and asymmetry), demonstrates that these same principles hold in cases that involve more than one kind of grounding relation, and then suggests that the best explanation of these facts is that there is one fundamentally unique grounding relation. Furthermore, Berker argues that this unitary grounding relation best characterizes key normative debates: 1) the disagreement between consequentialists and non-consequentialists over the priority of the right or the good and 2) the ‘reasons first’ view that other normative notions can be analyzed in terms of reasons. The combination of these claims, Berker concludes, leads to the surprising consequence that many central claims in normative ethics are simultaneously claims in metaethics.
While metaethicists debate whether moral realism is true, it is widely regarded as a defensible position. By contrast, aesthetic realism—the view that there are facts about beauty that are robustly mind-independent—is not. What difference between the moral and aesthetic realms justifies this asymmetry claim? In “Moral Realism, Aesthetic Realism, and the Asymmetry Claim,” Louise Hanson examines five differences that might be proposed between the moral and aesthetic domains, but argues that none of these justify a different treatment with respect to realism. Consider, for instance, the claim that beauty depends on sensuous properties like colors and sounds, while moral goodness does not depend on properties that are similarly mind-dependent. Could this account for the asymmetry claim? Hanson argues that it cannot; moral goodness, after all, may depend on beliefs, intentions, and hurt feelings which, like colors and sounds, are mind-dependent, yet we are not inclined to reject moral realism on this basis. Indeed, it appears that none of the purported differences between the moral and aesthetic realms commonly used to ground the asymmetry claim—that beauty depends on pleasure but moral goodness does not; that moral judgments can be made on the basis of accurate descriptions but aesthetic judgments cannot; that aesthetic judgments require acquaintance with its object but moral judgments do not; and that moral principles may be used to make moral judgments but aesthetic principles cannot be used to make aesthetic judgments—do so successfully. The asymmetry claim is therefore left on shaky ground. Without a relevant difference between the moral and aesthetic domains to point to, it seems that proponents of moral realism should start taking aesthetic realism seriously, and proponents of aesthetic antirealism should start taking moral antirealism seriously.
J.C. Beall offers a similar burden-shifting argument. His attempt in “The Simple Argument for Subclassical Logic” is to offer a philosophical picture of logic that changes the character of the debate between proponents of classical and non-classical logics. Logical consequence, he argues, should be taken as the “universal basement-level closure relation”’ involved in all of our true theories, marking only the “remotest boundaries” of theoretical possibility. As such, logic itself—as opposed to higher and more specific theories that might be constructed above it—should be treated as that “weakest skeletal structure” that is universal, topic-neutral, and “intransgressible.” On the basis of that philosophical approach, Beall concludes that the structure we should take as the theoretical basement is one which rules out fewer possibilities than does classical logic: FDE (for ‘first-degree entailment’), with a lattice of semantic values including not merely ‘true’ and ‘false’ but ‘both’ and ‘neither.’ Beall’s argument that we should adopt the subclassical FDE as our logical ground is then a simple one indeed: that we lose nothing and may gain something valuable. We lose nothing because we can always choose to build above it by adding further constraints. We may gain something valuable by retaining the possibility of true gaps or gluts.
Methodological considerations can also help us determine the best philosophical treatment of counterfactuals, statements that have metaphysically impossible antecedents. On the classical Lewis and Stalnaker treatment in terms of possible worlds, counterpossibles come out vacuously true, whether they are ‘If I were you, I wouldn’t do that’ or ‘If I were you, the earth wouldn’t have a moon.’ Matthias Jenny argues the case against this vacuity thesis and its contemporary defenders not merely on the informal grounds of intuition but on the formal grounds that counterpossible reasoning is essential and ineliminable in the field of relative computability theory. In “Counterpossibles in Science: The Case of Relative Computability” Jenny argues that counterpossibles both true and false are essential to the discipline, with careful replies to a range of possible attempts to wave them away. Jenny goes on, moreover, to offer a rival theory of counterpossibles in this particular context that doesn’t face the vacuity problem of classical possible worlds—a rival theory built on concepts from relative computability itself, specifically the concept of Turing degrees.
Two noteworthy articles in the philosophy of language also seek to offer novel solutions to familiar problems. First, in “Quantification and Epistemic Modality,” Dilip Ninan offers a novel solution to a puzzle regarding epistemically modalized predicates. Suppose there is a lottery with just two tickets, a blue ticket and a red ticket. These tickets are also numbered #1 and #2, but we don’t know how the colors and numbers correspond. A winner has been drawn, and we know the blue ticket won, but we don’t know which number won. How can it seem true that ticket #1 and ticket #2 might have been the winning ticket—and thus any ticket might have been the winning ticket, given those are all the tickets—but false that the red ticket is such that it might be the winning ticket? Ninan’s solution appeals to a Quinean Insight: whether an object satisfies an epistemically modalized predicate in some context depends on how the domain of quantification, rather than the object itself, is thought of in that context. Applied to the puzzle, whether it’s true that any ticket might have been the winning ticket depends on how we think about the tickets. If the color of the tickets is salient, then this sentence is unassertable; however, if we forget that we know the color of the winning ticket, it is assertable. With the Quinean insight defended, Ninan argues that accommodating it requires adopting a nonstandard theory of transworld representation. In addition to proposing a solution for a vexing puzzle about quantification and epistemic modality, Ninan offers insights on the choice between dynamic and static semantics, opting for the latter.
Modeling how the meaning of linguistic expressions can both vary with context and remain systematically constrained is another puzzle in the philosophy of language. In “Meaning, Modulation, and Context: A Multidimensional Semantics for Truth-conditional Pragmatics,” Guillermo Del Pinal offers an illuminating explanation of this Janus-faced nature of linguistic meaning in terms of a multidimensional ‘Putnam-style’ semantics. On this approach, lexical items encode both extension and non-extension determining information. The former aspect explains how meaning is systematically constrained, while the latter aspect explains semantic flexibility. Specifically, non-extension determining information in the form of beliefs about the expression’s extension can enter into the compositional process to enrich the meaning of more complex expressions. Drawing on a rich array of literature in psychology, linguistics, and philosophy, Del Pinal advances the project of ‘truth-conditional pragmatics,’ namely that of explaining this semantic flexibility within a truth-conditional framework.
The papers we’ve selected here cover a wide array of topics and represent a wide range of methodologies. Some offer new responses to familiar puzzles, while others make philosophical progress by marrying various subdisciplines within philosophy. Despite the difficulties in selecting the ten best articles, we collectively believe that these articles are fully deserving of your attention. We hope that they spur as much fruitful discussion for others as they did for us.