Why Phi Needs XPhi

exhibition-posterby Mark O’Brien

Humans are alone in the natural world (as far as we know) in the richness of our dealings with other members of our own species and in the fact that we have a complex language with which to negotiate these interactions. We have evolved a sophisticated suite of concepts and intuitions, and a correspondingly complex brain to help us succeed in this challenging social environment.

But as the products of evolution (whether biological or cultural), notions such as morality, justice, love, beauty, knowledge, truth, duty, loyalty and so on are only required to be useful heuristics. They are usually not, in their “native” states at least, the result of a robust foundation in rational analysis. These concepts are instead understood and recognized on a basis best described by Justice Potter Stewart with the famous words “I know it when I see it” (regarding obscenity). [1]

Unfortunately, this is hardly a satisfactory situation for either law enforcement or eroticists. If obscenity is to be censored, then it would be helpful to have a more precise account of what is obscene. Presumably Justice Stewart will not always be available for consultation, not least because he is deceased. In this particular case, it may be sufficient to legislate specifically for certain kinds of depictions, but even so one runs into occasional legal nonsense, as with the decision in Australia that drawings of the Simpsons having sex could be considered illegal child pornography. [2]

Ideally, this is where philosophy comes in.

In my view, one of the major tasks of philosophy, not only in the interpretation of law but in the resolution of all kinds of conundrums, is to put our intuitions on a firmer footing, and so a substantial body of philosophical work is devoted to debating how we ought to define and delineate these concepts. For an example, we need look no further than our own Massimo Pigliucci’s latest book (co-edited with Maarten Boudry), Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering The Demarcation Problem, which seeks to pin down the demarcation between science and pseudoscience and in so doing proposes a robust account of each. [3]

Some of our natural concepts have been contentious for millennia. For instance, ever since Socrates [4], and perhaps before, the foundations of morality have been a topic for philosophical debate, and very little has been settled. Attempts to define what is moral have fallen into four major camps: those who define morality in terms of virtue, those who talk in terms of maximizing well-being or utility, those who believe that morality consists of following commandments, and those who deny that moral questions are meaningful at all.

Other concepts seem at first to be easier to define. Plato’s take on knowledge as “justified true belief” stood for over two thousand years. Even so, some issues with this were brought to light by Edmund Gettier as recently as 1963, in a paper which illustrated with examples that this definition fails in certain unusual scenarios. [5] One way for a definition to fail might be its incoherence, but this is not what Gettier showed. Instead, he demonstrated that there are cases of justified true belief which we would nevertheless intuitively hesitate to call “knowledge.”

And so, in general, it seems that the definitions proposed by philosophers for natural human intuitions can fail if they do not accurately reflect those intuitions.

For Gettier and perhaps for most philosophers, introspection is considered a sufficient means of assessing human intuition. It was after all Gettier’s own intuitions regarding knowledge that he found to disagree with Plato’s definition, while the intuitions of his colleagues were consulted during peer review. However, philosophers do not have a monopoly on human intuition, and I see no reason to privilege the intuitions of philosophers. To provide a solid foundation for the philosophy of natural human concepts, we should have a more robust way to discover and document human intuitions across and within different cultural milieus.

And this is where experimental philosophy comes in.

Experimental Philosophy [6] (sometimes abbreviated as XPhi) is an emerging discipline which seeks to study human intuitions by collecting empirical data by conducting surveys or psychological experiments. It might, without too much distortion, be characterized as introspection with a sample size greater than one. It can therefore provide a relatively objective, empirical and quantifiable basis for the premises and assumptions philosophical arguments are built on, at least as compared to the traditional alternative which consists of assertions derived from the introspections of individual philosophers. This article will not delve too deeply into what XPhi is or how it works. All that we need to know is that one of its major areas of concern is what laypeople believe regarding the intuitions which philosophers analyze, and that some philosophers regard these beliefs as irrelevant to their work.

Last year, Massimo Pigliucci revealed himself to be such a philosopher. [7] In his critique of Experimental Philosophy, he noted that while XPhi might tell us what laypeople think about “knowledge,” what philosophers should really be interested in is what other philosophers believe and argue. In the viewpoint exemplified by Pigliucci, the intuitions of laypeople are simply irrelevant to working philosophers, just as mathematicians do not care what laypeople think of Fermat’s Last Theorem. Philosophy is seen as a technical field like mathematics, studying topics about which ordinary people are not expected to have any special insight.

However, in my view this misses the point that, unlike mathematicians, what philosophers are analyzing are those same lay intuitions. There is no syllogistic argument to justify Plato’s definition of knowledge, nor can there be for definitions in general. Definitions are simply declared by fiat, and if a coherent definition is rejected it can only be because it contradicts our intuitive understanding of the defined term. Gettier rejected “justified true belief” because he found that it didn’t match his intuitive concept of knowledge, an intuition he came by not through his philosophical training, but simply by virtue of his membership of the human race (and more specifically of his culture). If Gettier had relied not only on introspection but also conducted a survey and found that few other people (whether philosophically trained or not) viewed the Gettier cases as problematic, he would have had no grounds to find fault with Plato. The fact that his paper has gained traction is only because his own intuitions happen to have coincided with those of most people.

There is certainly a place for technical definitions of technical concepts, but these should be given appropriate technical names and not confused with the natural human intuitions they seek to model. To do otherwise leads to confusion, grandiose claims and failure to communicate effectively. For example, Sam Harris is often criticized for claiming that science can determine human values, but had he instead made the more modest claim that science can guide consequentialist morality (as he actually argues in his book), I suspect the philosophical community would have met his thesis not with derision but with bemused indifference.

Richard Carrier’s account of objective morality [8] is less well known but is an even clearer example of the problem. Carrier seems to believe he has found the definitive answer to the question of objective morality by essentially taking morality to mean rational self-interest. Carrier’s argument, in condensed form, is that morality is what one ought to do, and what any rational agent ought to do is to maximize its own satisfaction. He suggests that the best way to maximize satisfaction is to be kind, generous, considerate, charitable etc, and that when people behave otherwise they are simply mistaken about which choices will bring them happiness.

Perhaps Carrier has a point on this, but it could be that he is wrong in his assumptions. It is plausible that, at least for some people, satisfaction might best be achieved by behaving in ways which are widely regarded as immoral. Carrier is quite doubtful of this possibility, but untroubled even should it prove to be true. In Carrier’s view, which choices maximize satisfaction is simply an empirical question, and if lying, cheating and stealing is the way to go about it, then that is what is moral for that person. If laypeople disagree, they are simply wrong.

In his own words: “Maybe we shouldn’t always be concerned about the welfare of others. If that’s the fact, then you have to live with it. But whether it’s a fact has to be determined. Empirically.” [9]

What he is saying is that, in the unlikely event that we find that selfishness leads to happiness, then morality dictates that we ought to be selfish. To me, this is clearly nonsense, and yet it is interesting because I think it arises from much the same kind of thinking as seen in the rejections of Experimental Philosophy from those such as Pigliucci: that philosophy is the study of technical concepts with technical definitions and that lay intuitions have nothing to do with it.

Carrier’s mistake is to overlook the simple fact that morality is a human intuition, so any definition of morality which does not agree with that intuition cannot be accepted. The best we can say is that Carrier has defined something, but to call it “morality” is an error. If no coherent universally-accepted definition of morality is possible, then that is the fact we have to live with. We need to accept it and move on.

In my view, the opinions of lay people are not only relevant but at the heart of some debates, not least that surrounding free will. In the recent back and forth between Sam Harris and Daniel Dennett, the two agree on all the facts of the matter, but disagree on whether the term “free will” is appropriate for the physically-determined actions of biological robots. Harris says it is not, because true “free will” is the libertarian kind which is incompatible with naturalism [10]. Dennett says it is, because the “free will” worth wanting is the one that actually exists and that can be used to justify moral responsibility on consequentialist grounds [11].

It seems to me that the two are really arguing about terminology. On this particular debate, I side with Harris, but only because, by introspection, I find that the concept evoked in my mind by the term “free will” is not compatible with naturalism. Both men make claims about what the wider public understands by the term, and so it seems to me that the debate ought to be settled with a little experimental philosophy. If Dennett is right that his account of free will matches the intuitions of the public, then he is right to call it so. If he is wrong, then he should call it something else.

Before we finish, let us return to the demarcation problem for a moment. Suppose, hypothetically, that the definition of “science” proposed by Pigliucci and Boudry were not accepted by the majority of scientists. It seems to me that they could respond in at least two ways. One tactic might be to dismiss the scientists as non-philosophers, to maintain that the proposed definition of “science” is technical and not to be confused with the term as used outside of technical philosophy. This would achieve little but to consign their book to irrelevancy. I submit that a better approach would be to survey the scientists and to probe the ways in which the proposed definition failed in the hopes that a better definition could be formulated. This is experimental philosophy in action.

In conclusion, philosophers should feel free to use whatever technical terms and definitions they find useful, but if they ever attempt to define terms which are in general use, and especially if they make use of such definitions in the public space, then they need to know that their definitions match the public understanding of these concepts, or if they do not, they need at least to know that they do not.

And for that, they need experimental philosophy.

_____

Mark O’Brien is a software developer and amateur philosopher who despite never having achieved anything in the field has an unjustified confidence in his own opinions and sees it as his sacred duty to share them with the world. The world has yet to notice. You might very well think that his pseudonymous alter ego is a regular on Scientia Salon, but he couldn’t possibly comment. He is Irish and lives in Aberdeen, Scotland.

[1] Justice Potter Stewart, concurring opinion in Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184 (1964).

[2] Judge rules characters in Simpsons-style sex cartoon are child pornography.

[3] Philosophy of Pseudoscience: Reconsidering The Demarcation Problem, by Massimo Pigliucci and Maarten Boudry, Chicago Press.

[4] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Socrates’ Euthyphro Dilemma.

[5] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Knowledge.

[6] The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy on Experimental Philosophy.

[7] Rationally Speaking: Philosophy is not an Elephant, by Massimo Pigliucci.

[8] What exactly is objective moral truth?, by Richard Carrier.

[9] A comment from Richard Carrier in the discussion of [8].

[10] Free Will and “Free Will,” by Sam Harris.

[11] Reflections on FREE WILL, by Daniel C. Dennett.

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172 thoughts on “Why Phi Needs XPhi

  1. DM,
    Not that I’m aware of, but then I wouldn’t be.
    Surely the question is of vital importance!

    A discipline based on experiments that has produced no useful results looks like an irrelevant dead end. Quite frankly I am gobsmacked, breathless, bothered, buggered, bewildered and totally bemused that all this hype has been about a field of endeavour that has produced no results.

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  2. Yes, that is the test. If it is not relevant to philosophy then it is another discipline such sociology, psychology or neuroscience.

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  3. Disagreeable Me: “The only way to be sure that your a priori physics calculations is actually correct is do do an experiment.”

    Indeed, you view is the majority view, but it is wrong. The major problem is from the confusion among the terms of truths, facts, events and knowledge. When knowledge is defined as “justified true belief”, then a ‘6,000 years young Earth’ is definitely a ‘justified true belief’ for anyone who deeply believes that Jesus is the creator God (according to the ‘Gospel’ John “… the Word was ‘with’ God, and the Word was God”). No, knowledge is not a belief regardless of whether it is justified or not.

    There are nature facts going-on on its own regardless of whether it is recognized by anyone (human or else). I was created by my parents after they had a happy event. This is a nature ‘fact’ regardless of whether I ‘know’ this fact or not. Every nature fact has a true-truth value.

    There are events. One day one person at one place painted a ‘unicorn’, and this is an event. Every event has a true-truth value as an event although its context might not correspond to any nature fact. So, Shakespeare plays and Alice’s Wonderland are events.

    If I do not know where I came from = my ignorance, not that ‘fact’ is false. If I do not know anything about Shakespeare’s plays = my ignorance, not that ‘event’ did not produce a wonderful intellectual space. Knowledge is the result of a process (knowing process) which connect the facts and events to us (human). The correctness of a thing does not depend on the knowing process.

    They are many pathways for this knowing process: observations, learning (from books), introspections, intuitions, rationale, and many, many more. Of course, all these are empirical, even the introspection and intuition. Experiment is absolutely not a major pathway for the knowing process, and it does not even reach a status as a supporting actor.

    As the knowing process is not absolute, the ‘knowledge’ is always fallible, especially on its frontal edge. But, an anchoring procedure should make this fallibility issue becoming minimal. When a ‘knowledge’ is repeatedly verified to be making contact with the facts (or events), it becomes an anchored knowledge (the a-knowledge). When a new ‘speculation (via guessing, intuition, or else)’ is making ‘contact’ to one established a-knowledge, it becomes a good ‘candidate’ to be as a ‘knowledge’. When it makes contacts to many (perhaps 3) a-knowledge, it becomes an acceptable ‘fact’. This procedure is much more powerful (with much higher bar) than any experiment (which shows only that a ‘speculation’ makes contact to a specially designed ‘data’). Why should experiment-contacting (the data) is more valuable than the contacting of many a-knowledge?

    My example above is first not an a priori as it is a derived equation. Second, it does make ‘contact’ with a well-established a-knowledge (the uncertainty principle). Yes, one contact is not enough. I should show you more contacts, but it is off-topic here. But, No, a big No, the correctness of a thing (anything) does not depend on experiment (although it is indeed a good knowing process, but not the only one).

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  4. I think that’s being far too charitable to Harris
    That’s the problem of dealing with people who don’t have free will. They are reduced to predetermined, rote responses that try the patience of a saint. It’s terribly tiresome to debate with biological robots.

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  5. Hi Massimo,

    Wait, are you arguing on behalf of XPhi in principle? Without evidence? That seems deliciously self-contradictory, no?

    🙂

    I realise you are probably just joking, but in case there was a point there:

    I’m aware of the apparent irony, but I don’t see a problem. I am not after all arguing that there is something wrong with reasoning from the armchair, only that XPhi could help answer certain questions relating to the definitions of familiar terms.

    Now, suppose that a XPhi study comes in and shows that the majority of folks endorse (ii). Would that somehow change the debate?

    I think it would. It would not in any way show that (ii) is a reasonable position. In fact, let’s rule libertarianism out as incoherent, as both Harris and Dennett do. The question then is should we prefer (i) or (iii)/(iv).

    The finding that (ii) is the position usually associated with the term “free will” would in fact bolster the case for (iii) and (iv) because it is clearer to say that free will does not exist than to say it does in a sense which most people would misunderstand. For instance, I could argue that I believe in compatibilist ghosts by defining ghosts as the memories we have of the dead. I’m sure you would regard this as an unhelpful answer to the question of whether ghosts exist or not, because this is simply not what most people mean by the term ‘ghost’.

    And this is even assuming that “the folks” actually hold to anything like a coherent position on free will.

    But we need make no such assumption. I would say that (ii) is incoherent all by itself, and this is precisely Harris’s motivation for arguing that free will doesn’t exist.

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  6. Clever, but no. Your attempt at “stipulating” that two is incoherent is simply a move to avoid my conclusion: that finding out what the majority of the folks think isn’t going to solve the philosophical issue.

    And let’s remember that the issue isn’t whether “free will” exists, really, but how is it possible for human beings to make apparently autonomous decisions in the face of what physics seems to tell us about how the world is structured. If you agree that that is the actual problem, then the four possibilities in logical space seem to me to exhaust such space, and it is a philosophical task (informed by science) to analyze them, regardless of how many people support one or the other.

    As for you making an argument on behalf of XPhi without evidence, I was joking, but only up to a point. XPhi makes a huge claim, and so far has come up pretty much empty handed. I do think the burden of proof is on its supporters.

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  7. Hi tienzengong,

    Indeed, you view is the majority view, but it is wrong

    Perhaps. I spent quite a while discussing your a priori physics with you on Rationally Speaking, and was left decidedly unconvinced. Unfortunately I have relatively little interest in getting back into it again.

    No, knowledge is not a belief regardless of whether it is justified or not.

    It has to be both justified and true. Both of these concepts are supposed to be objective. A belief in a 6,000 year old earth is neither true nor justified. A creationist might think that this claim is both justified and true, however I would suggest that he or she is wrong on both counts.

    No, a big No, the correctness of a thing (anything) does not depend on experiment

    Of course it doesn’t. But I didn’t say it did. I said that you need experiment in order to know if it is correct. The experiment is the justification you need for your true belief (or part of it).

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  8. Hi Massimo,

    And let’s remember that the issue isn’t whether “free will” exists, really, but how is it possible for human beings to make apparently autonomous decisions in the face of what physics seems to tell us about how the world is structured.

    Actually, no, this is not the issue. Remember that I was referencing the Harris/Dennett debate. Both of them agree on how human beings make apparently autonomous decisions. They only disagree on whether it is reasonable to say that “free will” exists in light of this understanding.

    This is the whole point. XPhi cannot help to resolve debates on how the world actually is or how we ought to understand it. It can help to resolve debates on what terminology is most appropriate for the concepts we discuss.

    It’s useful in other words for those debates that are (dare I say it) “just semantics”.

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  9. Couldn’t disagree more. The Harris-Dennett debate is about semantics only insofar Harris simply doesn’t get it. If he did, he would realize that he has nothing whatsoever to contribute to it that hasn’t been rehashed a number of times in the philosophical literature.

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  10. OK, so let’s assume Harris doesn’t get it then.

    I agree with you that the questions of whether determinism is true or not and of how we ought to think about human decision making are more profound and more interesting, but these are not the only questions.

    Harris writes a book arguing that free will doesn’t exist, because he wants to write a popular philosophy book to educate the public on all the reasons why libertarian free will does not make sense. It does not pretend to be breaking new ground.

    In the book, he mentions compatibilism because this is a view he rejects simply because he doesn’t like the terminology.

    Dennett responds by explaining all the reasons why the terminology is appropriate.

    So, though you may not find this question very interesting, the terminology is the beginning and the end of the debate between Harris and Dennett. If this is because Harris doesn’t get it, so be it.

    Besides, even if it were not the question in this debate, it is a question that is worth asking if only for the sake of clear communication. Like the demarcation problem, sometimes philosophy is not so much about determining what is actually out there and more about trying to define terms appropriately.

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  11. DM,
    only that XPhi could help answer certain questions relating to the definitions of familiar terms.
    You can clarify that by proceeding along the following lines(traditional experimental science):

    1) pose a philosophically interesting question;
    2) create an hypothesis(needing an experiment) that would answer the question;
    3) devise an experiment to test the hypothesis.

    I invite you to choose an example and walk through those three steps to show us that X-Phi can, in principle, produce relevant results. Remember this is not about psychology, sociology or neuroscience so stay away from those kinds of questions. This must be a genuine philosophical problem.

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  12. I think you just conceded my point in a back handed way: no, I have no interest in Harris’ misunderstandings of philosophy, and I don’t really care what he likes or doesn’t like. The point is, he ain’t doing philosophy. At best he is popularizing bad philosophy.

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  13. DM,
    sometimes philosophy is not so much about determining what is actually out there
    I would put it differently. Let’s begin with the observation that we are an extremely curious species. We satisfy that curiosity in part by observing ‘what is actually out there‘ and that is the realm of science. But another part of that curiosity is to make sense of it, in other words we try to understand and that is the realm of philosophy. Understanding is a conceptual activity that is not bounded by the empirical space so our efforts at understanding roam over the entire empirical and conceptual space. Within the empirical space philosophy has an interpretive role to aid understanding and outside in the broader conceptual space philosophy has a creative role, to create new understanding.

    I say all this to emphasize that philosophy is not about determining ‘what is actually out there‘, it is about creating understanding.

    However, between the empirical space and the conceptual space is a shadowy borderland. In this shadowy borderland both science and philosophy operate. In this case philosophy acts as the precursor to science, or to put it in military terms, it is the advance reconnaissance unit that guides science.

    The debate about free will is the perfect example of this reconnaissance role that philosophy plays. Ultimately science will decide the debate but today the science is too immature. Philosophy has reconnoitred the free will terrain and defined four broad cases that science can investigate, as Massimo showed in his neat table. In the same way philosophy has reconnoitred the nothingness terrain and defined the useful areas for investigation. Science will follow behind the advance scouts of philosophy to do the grunt work of actual observation and experiment.

    The point of all of this is that experiment and observation properly belong in science while philosophy can act as the advance reconnaissance unit in the shadowy border lands, delineating interesting areas where the shock troops of science can advance.

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  14. DM,
    I will illustrate the difference between reconnaissance units(philosophy) and shock troops(science) with a fascinating story of what happened to me in my young, foolish and impetuous days. I was a member of a heavy machine gun unit. Our infantry advanced to a mountainous ridge under cover of darkness and at dawn would launch a large assault. I followed with the infantry to determine a suitable location for our machine gun emplacements, which would provide covering fire during the attack. Having determined this I walked back through the night over unfamiliar terrain to find my machine gun unit. But I got horribly lost(no GPS in those days) and eventually walked through an enemy camp site. Astonishingly they were all asleep, even their guards. I should have thanked my guardian angel and slunk away undetected, after all my role was that of scout and not combatant. Instead I did the most stupid thing imaginable, I sneaked up to their water tankers and opened all the taps, grinning at the thought of them waking up to a waterless day in our hot, hostile climate. Amazingly, I did get back to my unit and guide them into place. It was a long night and by stupidly confusing my roles nearly caused a lot of damage.

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  15. Hi Thomas,

    Robin, I just don’t believe this to be a particularly useful or feasible approach to X-phi. But Mark, and maybe you, seem to think that the philosophic community is acting as a quasi-French Academy. I don’t.

    It may or may not be a useful or feasible approach but we still have Daniel Dennett and Sam Harris premising a debate on what they suppose is the belief that “everyday folk” and “the average Joe” have about their volition.

    Without any way of testing these claims their debate is based upon pure unsupported assumptions about the beliefs of most people.

    Do you think, then, that Daniel Dennett should not be debating issues like this at all, or do you think that it OK to base a debate on pure unsupported assumptions – assumptions which you claim it is not feasible to support?

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  16. labnut, I tend to agree with you but think that you (and Massimo – and practically everyone on this site) may have too much invested in the importance of philosophy. The problem is that humans can’t, or at least so far haven’t figured everything out. My hope is that AI will some day make significant advances (which we may not be able to comprehend). In the mean time, sites like this only serve to keep scientific arrogance at bay. That is, in its way, a noble cause, but, from my point of view, academic philosophy is not much of a countervailing force. Note that the emphasis here is on definitions – how important is that ever likely to be? Lexicographers aren’t Newtons of Einsteins.

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  17. Massimo Pigliucci wrote (quoted by Thomas):

    “My take on this first part is that lay people’s opinions about *technical philosophical issues* are entirely irrelevant to the practice of philosophy,

    But I can show you a number of places in Daniel Dennett’s recent debate where he made claims about what “everyday folk” and “the average Joe” think about their volitional processes.

    Shouldn’t you be able to support any claim you make in philosophy? Shouldn’t this be even more important if you are basing part of your argument on it?

    Can you see why someone might find this response unsatisfactory:

    Philosopher: Everyday folk think X”

    Lay person: Are you able to support the claim that everyday folk think X?”

    Philosopher: The opinions of everyday folk about technical philosophical issues are entirely irrelevant to the practice of philosophy“.

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  18. As I say below, if the intuitions of lay people about things like free will are of no relevance to philosophy then philosophers, llke Dennett, should leave it out of their arguments. But they don’t.

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  19. Hi Massimo,

    I think you just conceded my point in a back handed way

    Well, sure, I concede the point about Harris because that’s not really what the original post is about. You’re not interested in Harris so we can take it back to a question you are interested in, the demarcation problem. I claimed that the intuitions about scientists about what constitutes science is relevant to you. Do you agree? Is this not a case of the intuitions of laypeople* being of interest to philosophers?

    *Ok, so scientists are not laypeople, but they are not philosophers. I think their opinion is important because they practice science. By the same token, I think the opinion of sportspeople is relevant to the philosophy of sport, the opinions of politicians to the philosophy of politics and the opinions of ordinary people for the philosophy of human universals.

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  20. Hi labnut,

    1) pose a philosophically interesting question;
    2) create an hypothesis(needing an experiment) that would answer the question;
    3) devise an experiment to test the hypothesis.

    1) What is naturalism?
    2) Naturalism is the view that physical phenomena are happen according to laws of physics, expressible mathematically
    3) Probe the intuitions of people regarding various hypothetical phenomena to see whether they would classify them as supernatural or natural, and see how this matches the proposed definition. I have some ideas about how this might look but I’m not going into it here. Maybe on a future article, if Massimo would accept one from me again.

    On your next comment, I was with you up to this line.

    Ultimately science will decide the debate but today the science is too immature.

    This is far from clear. There doesn’t seem to be any real doubt among naturalists that libertarianism is nonsense. As such we have a broad strokes picture of how human volition works — essentially we are machines. If this is true (and I’m not arguing this for now), then science will only offer more detail to this picture. It will not settle the debate over whether we ought to think of humans as operating freely or not, because both views are compatible with the empirical facts but differ in how we think about and discuss them.

    With regard to philosophy doing “reconnaissance” and science doing the “attack”, sure it works like that sometimes. I don’t think that really has much bearing on the conversation though. I also think it doesn’t happen much like that any more. These days it seems scientists pay little heed to philosophy, but they do sometimes discovers some weird stuff that provides fodder for philosophical analysis (e.g. the philosophy of quantum mechanics). In cases like these, it seems the roles you propose are reversed.

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  21. Yes, to the extent that philosophers make those claims about folks they are making statements that should be checked empirically. I just don’t think those claims are much more than rhetorical flourish, most of the times.

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  22. Ah, yes, the opinions of scientists are very much important to philosophers of science. But a) that’s because they are a category of experts, and b) those opinions tend to be well substantiated by an analysis of the scientific literature. Besides, I’m not aware of XPhi work on the opinions of scientists…

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  23. In this particular case it was the crux of the issue though, because Harris’s attack on Dennett’s usage of the term “free will” was based on the argument that he had “changed the subject” from what ordinary people understand “free will” to mean.

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  24. Ah, yes, the opinions of scientists are very much important to philosophers of science.

    Might you go so far as to offer them a survey to probe what they consider to be science or pseudoscience? I would call this XPhi.

    You need to know what scientists know and what scientists believe in order to do philosophy of science, but you do not think that a scientist is likely to have a superior insight into the philosophy of science than an actual philosopher of science. This is certainly correct.

    My view is that ordinary people (including philosophers, by the way) are the experts on the experience of ordinary human intuitions in the same way that scientists are the experts on the practice of science. I am not saying that ordinary people are experts on the philosophical analysis of these concepts, just as scientists are not experts on the philosophy of science.

    If you were not a human but a robot or an alien, you could regard Joe the Plumber as an “expert” on the natural human concepts of justice, fairness, equality and so on. But you are a human, so you don’t need an expert because you have this expertise yourself. All you need is introspection.

    However different people may have different intuitions, so a survey is a better basis for a conclusion than a private introspection even though introspection is better than nothing.

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  25. Robin, if I thought the substance of Dennett’s remarks were only based on some notion of what a theoretical “average joe” thinks, I would be highly suspicious. But I suspect he was simply being supercilious. This happens. The average joe’s opinions-like it or not–is relevant as a concern of demographers, propagandists, marketers, and politicians.

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  26. Paul,
    labnut, I tend to agree with you
    thanks.

    sites like this only serve to keep scientific arrogance at bay
    Philosophy is the conscience of science but not everyone is guided their conscience!

    think that you (and Massimo – and practically everyone on this site) may have too much invested in the importance of philosophy.
    Ethical behaviour is arguably as important as science and some would say more important. Outside of religion the only systematic study of ethics is conducted by philosophy. Bioethics is today very important.

    Lexicographers aren’t Newtons of Einsteins.
    Philosophers are not lexicographers despite what DM says.
    You could have rephrased that as ‘Philosophers aren’t Newtons or Einsteins.‘ and I would have replied that they are instead Aristotles or Platos.

    from my point of view, academic philosophy is not much of a countervailing force.
    As I said above, philosophy is the conscience of science, moderating it. Its action is usually subtle but sometimes direct. The disinvitation of David Albert by Neil deGrasse Tyson(http://nyti.ms/1lT3QWm) is a graphic illustration of the corrective power of philosophy.

    The problem is that humans can’t, or at least so far haven’t figured everything out.
    Thankfully academia is assured of employment for a long time to come.

    My hope is that AI will some day make significant advances
    Don’t hold your breath. The reconnaissance units of philosophy have been diligently scouting this terrain and have reported back that the way is blocked by impenetrable marshes. Not everyone agrees and tried to construct paths through the marsh but they have all ended in quicksands. The destiny of computers is increasingly being seen as an aid to our intelligence, a tool in our cognitive hands(think of Google, Google Glasses and Google cars). People like DM disagree but all they have to show so far are the vague promises that have been dangled in front of us for the last 20 years with no progress whatsoever.

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  27. DM, As a test of X-Phi, I proposed that you
    1) pose a philosophically interesting question;
    2) create an hypothesis(needing an experiment) that would answer the question;
    3) devise an experiment to test the hypothesis.

    You replied
    1) What is naturalism?
    Your philosophically interesting question, presumably you mean ‘what is the definition or description of naturalism?’ and not ‘is the naturalism viewpoint a true description of the world?’

    2) Naturalism is the view that physical phenomena are happen according to laws of physics, expressible mathematically
    Your hypothesis. Whose views are you talking about? Philosophers or lay people? Is this an abstract definition or are you asserting that this is a widely held view or partially held view?

    3) Probe the intuitions of [presumably lay] people regarding various hypothetical phenomena to see whether they would classify them as supernatural or natural, and see how this matches the proposed definition.
    Your test of the hypothesis. How does it test the hypothesis? Your hypothesis is too vaguely expressed to allow the useful formulation of a test.

    (1 & 2), You are asking a question about the truth of the definition of naturalism. To answer that all you need do is consult the relevant philosophical literature, no experiment needed. The opinions of lay people about the existence of supernatural events are not relevant to the definition used by philosophers. A technical definition is defined by the domain experts, not by an experiment and not by lay people. The definitions provided by lay people will vary greatly and we will end up with tables like that provided by PEW surveys. Very interesting, I am sure, but it will only tell us the obvious, that humans have great diversity, however, this will not change a definition carefully crafted by philosophers. Nor will it tell us if the definition is a true description of the world.

    (3), your experiment is not a test of the hypothesis (2). It does not speak to the truth or falsity of the hypothesis.

    Sorry, DM, I must ask you to redo this assignment. As it stands, X-Phi looks like a thin gruel, lacking substance.

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  28. labnut,
    Re: AI, yes, progress has been disappointing to Utopians like me. However, AI is still a young field. Ray Kurzweil may be overly optimistic, but I think something resembling “the singularity” will occur eventually. Unless one rejects theories like physicalism, it is easy to imagine a brain-like machine that takes in a very wide range of information at a much higher rate than a human brain, processes it much faster and with greater complexity than we do, and remembers more than any human can. I think it is more or less inevitable that this will occur if we continue research. As Richard Dawkins said, Darwin’s main ideas were pretty obvious and could have been figured out thousands of years ago – but they weren’t.

    Re: ethics: science hasn’t done much with this, but it could. I don’t think human eusociality has been studied enough. From my point of view, there is very little that is of conceptual significance about ethics beyond the basic fact that we are inclined to cooperate with each other for the benefit of the group. Many of the problems of the world are related to the fact that different groups are increasingly forced to interact with each other. Under these circumstances, I believe that philosophers who try to think their way to better ethical systems are naive, because they are not addressing the problem. They would do better to devise ways of tricking people into thinking that they are all members of the same group.

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  29. Hi labnut,

    Your philosophically interesting question, presumably you mean ‘what is the definition or description of naturalism?’ and not ‘is the naturalism viewpoint a true description of the world?’

    Indeed, because the latter question is meaningless until the former is answered. Furthermore, as I have tried to explain, XPhi does not provide knowledge about anything outside the domain of human thinking and intuitions, so it cannot answer the second question.

    Is this an abstract definition or are you asserting that this is a widely held view or partially held view?

    The hypothesis is that this definition of naturalism concisely captures and represents the intuitions of philosophers and lay people regarding what is considered to be natural or supernatural.

    How does it test the hypothesis?

    I’m not going into detail on this now, but we can imagine asking people about fantastical scenarios where a block made of ‘unobtainium’ is made to levitate by a variety of different causes, e.g. the speaking of a certain word, or the proximity of a certain element. We find out which cases strike people as supernatural and which strike people as the discovery of a new natural principle, and see whether the responses predicted by the proposed definition are borne out.

    Your hypothesis is too vaguely expressed to allow the useful formulation of a test.

    I disagree.

    To answer that all you need do is consult the relevant philosophical literature, no experiment needed.

    You’re missing the point. The very first sentence in the SEP article on naturalism says “The term ‘naturalism’ has no very precise meaning in contemporary philosophy”. We’re trying to propose and justify a particular definition as Plato did for ‘knowledge’ and Massimo/Boudry do for science/pseudoscience.

    A technical definition is defined by the domain experts, not by an experiment and not by lay people.

    I could propose a technical definition of ‘natural’ to mean ‘blue’ and ‘supernatural’ to mean ‘red’, but this would serve no purpose. Technical definitions of familiar terms like ‘natural’ and ‘supernatural’ are irrelevant if they bear no relationship to what ordinary people (and indeed philosophers) mean by these terms.

    however, this will not change a definition carefully crafted by philosophers.

    But the point of this exercise is for philosophers to address the lack of an agreed definition by carefully crafting one which is believed to capture the common intuition and then justifying it. We’re not blindly creating a definition with philosophy by survey, we’re proposing a definition and justifying it with a survey.

    Nor will it tell us if the definition is a true description of the world.

    Of course it won’t. It is not intended to. But we need to agree what naturalism means before we can discuss whether it is true or not.

    Again, I just don’t think you understand the point. You think that all disputes over terminology can be resolved by looking up a dictionary, yet they cannot because dictionaries contain multiple conflicting definitions. The point of XPhi is not to answer questions about the world but to provide a basis for preferring one definition over another so that sensible conversation is possible without constantly talking past each other and getting into futile debates about what terms ought to mean, as with Harris/Dennett on the subject of free will and me/Aravis on the subject of religion on a previous thread..

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  30. “Carrier’s mistake is to overlook the simple fact that morality is a human intuition, so any definition of morality which does not agree with that intuition cannot be accepted.”

    Would the author (DM) care to explain how these “intuitions” have changed mightily over recent years, (e.g. moral oughts in regards to racial, gender, sexual discriminations) at a pace far outstripping that of biological evolution? Did they not change from excellent arguments made by a minority of people who used reason better than the majority of people did in the past? Morality may have had its origins in intuitive emotions, and it may still gain power from emotional responses, but it is still highly shaped by reason, and therefore by people who reason well (i.e. philosophers, in the non-academic, wisdom loving sense).

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  31. Hi Ed,

    Would the author (DM) care to explain how these “intuitions” have changed mightily over recent years…?

    Sure. By philosophical arguments which showed that these attitudes were predicated on falsehoods and were inconsistent with more powerfully felt intuitions, e.g. that we ought to feel concern for others.

    Did they not change from excellent arguments made by a minority of people who used reason better than the majority of people did in the past?

    Certainly.

    Morality may have had its origins in intuitive emotions, and it may still gain power from emotional responses, but it is still highly shaped by reason, and therefore by people who reason well (i.e. philosophers, in the non-academic, wisdom loving sense).

    Agreed. But any proposed definition of morality must have some connection with the basic intuition (which is something like that we ought to care about the well-being of others). Carrier’s argument lacks that connection in my view, and that’s what I was trying to get at.

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  32. DM,
    Carrier’s mistake is to overlook the simple fact that morality is a human intuition, so any definition of morality which does not agree with that intuition cannot be accepted.

    We have been examining ethical thought for over 2,300 years and constructed a rigorous and well thought out body of ethical theory.

    Now please explain how X-Phi applied to intuitions is going to change this? How will you conduct the X-Phi experiments? What will the research question be? What will the hypothesis be? How will you test this hypothesis? What ethical thought will it invalidate and why?

    We have already established in my earlier question you will simply be collecting lay persons’ opinions of naturalism to no discernible effect. Do we need more PEW surveys masquerading as science?

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  33. Hi labnut,

    We have been examining ethical thought for over 2,300 years and constructed a rigorous and well thought out body of ethical theory.

    Well, we’ve worked out several rigorous mutually contradictory ethical frameworks.

    Now please explain how X-Phi applied to intuitions is going to change this?

    It isn’t, but it gives a means for spotting irrelevant moral frameworks such as Carrier’s.

    How will you conduct the X-Phi experiments?

    With regard to morality, I’m not really sure that further XPhi work is required because I think we have a good enough understanding of moral intuitions already. The point was really to argue that human intuitions are important for philosophers, and Carrier’s moral framework is irrelevant because he doesn’t appreciate this.

    What ethical thought will it invalidate and why?

    Carrier’s, because Carrier’s moral framework has the potential to disagree radically with all human intuition regarding morality, providing a potential justification for gross selfishness and disregard for others.

    Do we need more PEW surveys masquerading as science?

    Or masquerading as philosophy. If such surveys are well done, they provide a basis for preferring some rigorous formulations of intuitive concepts to others.

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  34. DM, so far I can only say the case you have made for X-Phi is unconvincing, which is a pity because I can actually see one powerful use for it.

    You have not seen the opportunity because you are a moral consequentialist. I however believe in virtue ethics (inevitably, because I am a Catholic) and it is in virtue ethics that the best case can be made for X-Phi. Massimo is an atheist and also believes in virtue ethics which illustrates the great power of virtue ethics to reconcile different belief systems(my point below).

    But first we must consider why virtue ethics is potentially so important. Very briefly, it can be seen as the one moral system that acts as a bridge and meeting point between all belief systems, secular, religious or other. It is belief system agnostic. Secondly, it carries within it a psychologically sound basis for moral motivation. Thirdly, there is the importance of the concept of excellence which underlies the virtues. Successful societies are characterised by an almost obsessive concern with excellence.

    When implementing a virtue ethics system one is confronted by several questions. What are the virtues? Which virtues are appropriate for the particular context? What is the telos or end in the particular social context? How can the virtues become habituated? Do we need moral exemplars? The concept of virtue is an intuition which is widely shared but differs greatly between societies and belief systems. The concept of telos also varies. It seems to me that X-Phi would have a valuable application in probing intuitions to discover the answers to these questions in virtue ethics. That is because virtue ethics cannot be a one size fits all solution. It must be tailored to the context and X-Phi can give us understanding of the context.

    For example, ubuntu expresses a kind of African humanism which is prevalent among the Xhosa peoples where I live. Ubuntu can roughly be expressed as ‘I am because of you’, ‘by valuing others I become valuable’. It embraces a set of communitarian virtues that are at odds with the fierce individualism found in the US. X-Phi would expose these different intuitions and lead to a different emphasis in the application of virtue ethics. X-Phi would also reveal the commonality, showing where we agree and where we need to adapt our emphasis.

    X-Phi could also probe the strength of our intuitions about virtue and reveal factors that strengthen or weaken these intuitions. Moral behaviour requires moral motivation and moral motivation is a fertile field for research. The objection could be raised that this is now research in psychology, and that is quite true. X-Phi becomes another term for collaboration between philosophy and psychology to research the intersection between psychology and philosophy, which is exactly where virtue ethics lies. X-Phi helps to define valuable questions for research in psychology by psychologists at this intersection. This is where I differ from you, DM. Philosophers should remain in their arm chair(burning or not) but define and initiate interesting research programmes in other disciplines such as psychology and sociology where they intersect with philosophy(typically ethical behaviour).

    Some may respond by asking, what’s the beef? Things are just fine, why should we bother? I could give a long list of reasons why things are not just fine. Six obvious symptoms should be enough to make the case, the vast US prison population, the soaring inequity in wealth distribution, a maleficent banking system, a Congress held hostage by moneyed interests, our inability to stop climate change and a culture of sexual abuse in business, colleges, the military and in politics.

    Massimo is the expert in virtue ethics so his authoritative opinion would be welcome and definitive.

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  35. Hi labnut,

    I don’t disagree with you that we could all benefit from being a bit more virtuous.

    Where I do disagree is that I don’t see how a study of the virtues that are out there in different cultures would in any way tell us how we should behave. Some “virtues” may be abhorrent, such as the virtue of a man being able to control his woman in some cultures. Therefore I don’t see how any study of what virtues are out there might give a compelling basis for morality or help us to choose which virtues we should endorse.

    My argument for XPhi is that it can help us to choose helpful definitions of terms. It cannot be a guide to fundamental truths, whether on morality or on any other subject.

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  36. DM,
    we could all benefit from being a bit more virtuous.
    This seems to reflect a belief that basically there is not much morally wrong with the world and so we need no more than being a bit more virtuous. The one in five college students who have been sexually assaulted would not agree with you. The families of the 36,000 homicide victims in 2010 would not agree with you. The millions trapped at the bottom of the income ladder by the greed of the one percent would not agree with you. We need a great deal more than ‘being a bit more virtuous’ and especially we need far less complacency.

    Your choice of words also shows poor understanding of virtue ethics. It is not a simple matter of being ‘a bit more virtuous’. It is instead a case of developing a habituated disposition to reliably act in a certain way that is described by the virtues(http://bit.ly/1nlr0UA).

    I don’t see how a study of the virtues that are out there in different cultures would in any way tell us how we should behave
    You have mis-characterized what I said. A study won’t ‘tell‘ anyone how to believe. A study will, in part, elucidate the virtues that best characterise flourishing in a given social context(what Alisdair MacIntyre calls a ‘practice’). Your use of the phrase ‘tell us how we should behave’ shows that you have a basic misunderstanding of virtue ethics. Your prescriptive phrase is typical of deontology and is wholly out of place in virtue ethics.

    Some “virtues” may be abhorrent
    Then it is not a virtue, it is a vice.

    such as the virtue of a man being able to control his woman in some cultures
    That is decidedly not a virtue. It seems you need to come up to speed in the field of virtue ethics. I recommend Julia Annas book – Intelligent Virtue. Look at chapter 2 where she discusses the nature of virtue.

    I don’t see how any study of what virtues are out there might give a compelling basis for morality
    Once again you mis-characterize what I say(perhaps you should quote my actual words so we don’t keep going down this dead end). I am asserting that virtue ethics is our best choice of moral framework for the three reasons I listed above in my original comment(paragraph 3). I am also asserting that the particular virtues we wish to emphasize are context dependent, therefore we should research that context. Two examples suffice to make my point. The Character Counts Coalition selected a subset of virtues relevant to the schooling setting(http://bit.ly/1jsRvna). This paper (http://bit.ly/1fXNjAX) showed that a very different set of virtues were selected for free enterprise activities.

    This does not invalidate or make the other virtues irrelevant. It is all a matter of emphasis. Virtues are complex, multi-track dispositions(Julia Annas) that form a mutually supportive and cohesive framework.

    My argument for XPhi is that it can help us to choose helpful definitions of terms
    As it happens philosophers are rather good at doing this. You have failed to show any additional benefit. It all comes down to this – show us the goods. Massimo has already pointed out there have been no useful experimental benefits to philosophy. What you described looks like a sterile dead end.

    It cannot be a guide to fundamental truths
    We are not asking it to be a guide to fundamental truths. Please quote my words where I suggest this. Once again you mis-characterize my words. We are asking it(in part) to elicit the set of virtues that are characteristic in a given ‘practice’ or social context. We are asking that it guide or initiate research by psychologists to better understand moral motivation. Moral behaviour has to be motivated. What motivates it and how should we motivate it? We can do pilot studies of virtual ethics implementations and measure the outcomes. These are just three examples of what I mean. Do you see any mention there of fundamental truths? No, nor do I!

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  37. Hi labnut,

    Firstly, I’m not mischaracterising you. I am honestly expressing my understanding of your position. If you don’t recognise what I say that’s good because you can set me right. If I parrot your words back at you then we won’t get anywhere.

    I don’t see a substantial difference between “we could all be a bit more virtuous” and “developing a habituated disposition to reliably act in a certain way that is described by the virtues”. This is pretty much what I meant, although I do recognise and apologise for a tone that was unnecessarily flippant.

    I also do not find it particularly convincing when people list out all kinds of human misery to make a point. I know that lots of very bad things happen. I am not ignorant. Quoting these statistics at me is both condescending and implies that my position is in some way associated with this misery, which puts me on the defensive and makes me less disposed to reply to you with equanimity.

    A study won’t ‘tell‘ anyone how to believe. A study will, in part, elucidate the virtues that best characterise flourishing in a given social context

    I don’t see much difference. Elucidating the virtues that best characterise flourishing is implicitly telling us how to behave.

    Then it is not a virtue, it is a vice.

    Says who? If some cultures are simply wrong on which qualities they call virtuous, then on what basis do we choose which are virtues and which are vices? On the basis of which promote flourishing? Is that not just a kind of indirect consequentialism?

    Look at chapter 2 where she discusses the nature of virtue.

    Perhaps you can summarise the main points for me as it pertains to my question or direct me to a more immediately accessible resource.

    As it happens philosophers are rather good at doing this.

    Some are, some aren’t. Carrier, for instance. How do you respond to Carrier’s definition of objective morality? I would think you would rightly reject it as flawed. But on what basis?

    You repeatedly claim that I have failed to show the use of XPhi (by which I mean the relevance to philosophers of the intuitions of laypeople), but you haven’t really explained why I am wrong with regard to the cases I think most powerfully prove my point.

    What motivates it and how should we motivate it?

    Good questions, but not philosophical ones in my view.

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  38. Hi DM,
    I don’t see a substantial difference between “we could all be a bit more virtuous” and “developing a habituated disposition to reliably act in a certain way that is described by the virtues”. This is pretty much what I meant,
    I am happy to see that. Virtue ethics is a substantial commitment to something that defines one’s life.

    I also do not find it particularly convincing when people list out all kinds of human misery to make a point. I know that lots of very bad things happen.
    I think it is necessary to make the point again and again, not necessarily for you (you are well read), but in general. The point is necessary because the extent of the problem requires that something must be done. That starts within an awareness, a sensitivity to the problem leading to a desire to do something. It so happens that I think a culture of virtue ethics is our best chance of addressing the problem because it is agnostic about belief systems, has a sound basis for moral motivation and appeals to our fundamental moral intuitions.

    Says who? If some cultures are simply wrong on which qualities they call virtuous, then on what basis do we choose which are virtues and which are vices?
    We already have pretty good agreement on the list of virtues and the Virtues Project has listed the 52 commonly accepted virtues. David Hume gave an even broader list of more than 70 virtues. What remains is the question of emphasis and that is determined by the context. We are rather unlikely to confuse vice with virtue.

    There is an amusing contradiction here. On the one hand you are advocating that we use X-Phi to clarify definitions and on the other hand you are opposing the use of X-Phi to clarify the virtues.

    Perhaps you can summarise the main points for me
    I sincerely recommend you make the effort and read it yourself.

    Some are, some aren’t. Carrier, for instance. How do you respond to Carrier’s definition of objective morality?
    Academics will always reach different conclusions. Conducting some opinion surveys in the name of X-Phi has zero chance of changing this.

    you haven’t really explained why I am wrong with regard to the cases I think most powerfully prove my point.
    Massimo has pointed out that X-Phi has produced no useful results.

    What motivates it and how should we motivate it? – Good questions, but not philosophical ones in my view.

    Precisely. My point is that X-Phi is more usefully deployed in initiating research in other disciplines and not to do the research itself. Those disciplines have the skills and the right mindset while philosophy should play to its own strengths of deep analytical insights. The question of moral motivation is important to virtue ethics so philosophy has an interest in initiating research by psychologists into this issue. Dan Ariely, for example, has done work showing the power of moral priming and this is directly relevant.

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  39. Hi labnut,

    The point is necessary because the extent of the problem requires that something must be done.

    Fine, but that doesn’t really lend much support that any particular solution or viewpoint is correct. As such I would personally prefer you left out the emotive arguments and concentrated on supporting your viewpoint (which of course you do elsewhere).

    We already have pretty good agreement on the list of virtues and the Virtues Project has listed the 52 commonly accepted virtues.

    So the distinction between vice and virtue is decided by majority vote?

    e are rather unlikely to confuse vice with virtue.

    There are numerous examples of just this happening. There are examples of honour killings, for example, where women are killed because their male family members believe it is virtuous to uphold some archaic concept of family honour.

    There is an amusing contradiction here. On the one hand you are advocating that we use X-Phi to clarify definitions and on the other hand you are opposing the use of X-Phi to clarify the virtues.

    If you are amused it is because you don’t understand my definition. I argue that X-Phi can give us a basis for preferring some definitions to others for the sake of facilitating communication. I have repeatedly said it cannot establish facts about who is objectively right or wrong. It can identify which virtues are out there, but it can’t establish which are actually vices in disguise. For that you need some other criteria.

    Academics will always reach different conclusions.

    Stop evading the issue, please. If you actually try to answer my question you may just understand where I’m coming from. You are an informed amateur philosopher. Try to assess Carrier’s argument and see what you come up with. Please.

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  40. DM,
    I would personally prefer you left out the emotive arguments
    Then let me remind of what you said:
    I don’t disagree with you that we could all benefit from being a bit more virtuous.

    In reply I pointed out the need for being more than a ‘bit virtuous’. I gave ascertainable facts and if you consider them to be emotive then that is just too bad. The simple fact of the matter is that great wrongs inspire strong emotions and that is exactly as it should be.

    But let me build on that thought. According to Hume, emotions are at the base of moral motivation as this quote from Linda Zagzebski (Divine Motivation Theory) explains:

    One of the most enduring legacies of David Hume is his claim in the Treatise of Human Nature that cognitive and affective states are distinct and independent states. The former is representational, the latter is not (Book II, section 3, p. 415). The latter motivates, the former does not (p. 414). The terminology for describing psychic states has changed since Hume, but the moral commonly drawn from Hume’s arguments is essentially this: No representational state (perceptual or cognitive) has the most significant property of affective states, the capacity to motivate. An affective state must be added to any cognitive state in order to motivate action, and the motivating state and the cognitive state are always separable; they are related, at best, causally.

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  41. DM,
    So the distinction between vice and virtue is decided by majority vote?
    Sigh, once more you mischaracterise what I say. You insist on recasting my words in an unfavourable light. That is no way to conduct a debate.

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  42. DM,
    are rather unlikely to confuse vice with virtue.
    There are numerous examples of just this happening. There are examples of honour killings

    But we, the independent third party observers, well versed in virtue ethics, are easily able to make the distinction by appealing to established literature in the field.

    Your suggestion, that when using investigatory tools to uncover perceptions of virtue in different societal groups, we are unable to discern the difference between virtue and vice, is plainly perverse.

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  43. Hi labnut,

    Again, I am not misrepresenting you but asking you to explain how your views, as I understand them, are not tantamount to determining what is virtuous with majority vote. Please stop reading everything as an attempt to deliberately mischaracterise what you are saying. We are not doing this for an audience. I have nothing to gain by mischaracterising you. I’m just explaining back to you how your views are coming across to me.

    But we, the independent third party observers, well versed in virtue ethics, are easily able to make the distinction by appealing to established literature in the field.

    OK, so when two fundamentalist Muslim scholars, well versed in (fundamentalist Muslim) virtue ethics come to a different conclusion by appealing to different established literature in the field, on what basis do we decide which of us is right?

    Your suggestion, that when using investigatory tools to uncover perceptions of virtue in different societal groups, we are unable to discern the difference between virtue and vice, is plainly perverse.

    I’m not saying that such discernment is impossible, I’m saying that the survey itself does not help us to discern. Our discernment must be grounded in something else. For me, it is consequentialism. What is it for you?

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  44. DM,
    Academics will always reach different conclusions.
    Stop evading the issue, please

    On the contrary, I am refusing to be drawn into a de-railing discussion. Carrier’s beliefs are not mundane to my assertions. It is well known that academics disagree profoundly on many positions. X-Phi, as defined by you, is extremely unlikely to resolve these differences. You have completely failed to show how your conception of X-Phi will change strongly held views of academics like Carrier.

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  45. DM,
    Again, I am not misrepresenting you
    Yes, you are when you use use the term ‘majority vote’.

    I nowhere suggested that and for you to drag in that term is disingenuous.
    Academic matters are never decided by majority vote and you already know that perfectly well. Therefore there was no need whatsoever for you to raise the matter.

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