The papers collected here represent our effort to showcase ten of the best philosophy articles published in the past year.
When a claim is made regarding the “best of,” caveats and qualifications are never far behind. So it is in our case; allow us to describe the process by which we arrived at this final ten and the criteria we used to guide our decisions.
We solicited nominations from a committee representing a diverse sample of philosophical sub-fields, and returned the original list to all nominating editors for a secondary review. On the basis of those reflections a pool of 60 was narrowed to 30. We as editors read all 30 of this pool, and over the course of several argument-filled days arrived at the selection you see before you. We would be at a loss to articulate the precise criteria which gave us these 10. To be honest, we doubt whether, in a field of such diverse concern and method as philosophy, one could formulate any precise criteria. Our aim was to demonstrate philosophy at its best, shown through the manifold lens of our profession.
Certain papers exemplified the quest for understanding through technical proficiency, evincing a keen ability to clarify and resolve longstanding debates through the judicious (but no less ingenious) application of formal methods. Titelbaum develops a technique for modeling probabilistic update in the notorious problem cases of de se and indexical information. That is striking in itself, all the more so in view of the results it generates for the Sleeping Beauty Problem. Von Fintel and Gillies usefully draw out the semantic commitments of relativism about epistemic modality, significantly expanding the empirical terrain over which the relativist-contextualist debate may be adjudicated. Schroeder takes important first steps in the task of developing the semantic program of metaethical expressivism within the paradigm established by generative linguistics. Cariani, Pauly and Snyder take important steps in spelling out the consequences of the problem of decision framing in judgment aggregation, and in particular the desirability and cost of demanding translation invariance. In each case we have work that allows us to examine old problems in a new light, establishing useful methods for future research.
Other papers take bold and novel programmatic approaches to some of philosophy’s hoariest puzzles. Rayo, for instance, proposes a radically instrumentalist view of assertoric content to accommodate vagueness. Our semantic theories are tools to make sense of linguistic practice, which is itself a tool speakers use to make semi-principled decisions regarding locally-salient sets of possibilities. From such a perspective the sorites dissolves; we need not worry about how many hairs a man needs on his head before he stops being bald. Maddy provides a nuanced, yet sweeping, consideration of the historical development of our thinking about the relationship between mathematics and the world. This survey informs how we should view that relationship today, and how much weight we should give to, among other things, the indispensability argument for the existence of mathematical entities and natural science justifications for mathematical methodology. Gendler proposes as novel and understudied a class of mental states called “aliefs”: mental states with associatively-linked content that is activated by our internal or ambient environment. Aliefs are meant to explain why, despite expressed beliefs, people are afraid to cross glass bridges over chasms and why we jump when obviously-harmless images flash at us on a television screen.
In still other papers authors play the gadfly, swimming against conventional wisdom by proposing new distinctions and approaches. Forster, for example, argues that our arguments in favor of the cumulative hierarchy were all along arguments in favor of a much broader iterative conception of set. This conception encompasses sets that are recursive, but not necesarily well-founded, a possibility the paper makes exciting and accessible even for non-specialists. Jacobson draws an independently-interesting distinction between deontic impartiality—the idea that everyone’s happiness counts equally in evaluating actions as right or wrong—and axiological impartiality—the idea that everyone’s happiness is of equal value. He puts this distinction to use in an interpretation of John Stuart Mill as a utilitarian but not a consequentialist. He thereby sunders two views long thought necessarily linked, and challenges orthodoxy in both history and meta-ethics. Last but not least, Misak challenges the dominion of “evidence-based” methodology in assessing a critically-ill patient’s ability to make decisions about their own care. Narrative reports from inside the experience of intensive-care dementia and other under-studied situations should play as much a role in such deliberation, she argues, as do surveys and double-blind studies.
We hope you enjoy perusing this collection as much as we enjoyed putting it together. Many thanks to our nominating committee for their fine selection of candidates, and to the Philosophy Department of the University of Michigan for their continued support.
Ian C. Flora