Back to the Grind & Meta-Metaethics

So, I am back from the Yale/UConn conference (semi-summary here), which was a huge success! A very well organized and interesting conference. Hats off to all involved! Things have not changed much since I left in 2003…it is still cold as ever (but it was nice to see some familiar faces)

I have a little time today before I have to re-work the final chapter of my dissertation (and avoid playing Manhunt 2) so I figured I figured I would report on the conference…but first…

The Importance of Graduate Conferences

It’s funny because I know a certain UConn alum who is famous for arguing that graduate conferences are a wast of time. His point is that when you are on the job market no one cares about your presentations at graduate conferences. All that matters to search committees is your presentations at ‘real’ conferences.  I must say that I was convinced by this for a while, but I think I have come to change my mind a little about the overall importance of graduate conferences.

For one, they are often far more competitive than regular conferences. They are usually only one day, with no concurrent sessions, which means far fewer slots. So, for instance, their were only 8 papers accepted out of hundreds submitted (I am assuming this from my experience with the CUNY grad conference). This makes for something like a 4% acceptance rate. Also, each paper has a large audience, say 20-30 people, and will usually include some well known philosophers (in this case Paul Horwich and Austen Clark); an audience like that at a regular conference is unusual (unless the person is well known). Not only that, but with fewer papers presented there is the opportunity to actually have a semi-significant amount of time for discussion. Whereas I have been to many regular conferences where there is five minutes for discussion, which in my opinion is something like absurd! Lastly, we were all treated to dinner, courtesy of the organizers!

So, why aren’t hiring committees more interested in graduate conferences?

A Brief Summary

Sadly, I showed up two seconds before the session I was commenting in began; It was a bit dramatic. Jeff was arguing that there is something right about the Korsgaardian strategy of arguing for a constructivist metaethic based on the success of constructivism as a normative theory. Any one who is interested can see my comments here. The jist is simple. I argued that 1. Either constructivism is not a distinctive metaethical position or it is just a version of relativism 2. The success of the normative claim that the constructivist makes is not evidence for any metaethical view. Any metaethical view is compatible with any normative view. 3. The success of the normative claim is not evidence against the semantic claim that the realist makes. Imagine that there were a group of people who were taught the Platonic semantics for ‘good’ and ‘right’. They were told that the word ‘good’ stood for some mind-independent property and that the role of the word in a sentence was to predicate that property of some object (ditto for ‘right’). It seems to me that these people would eventually start using those words to talk about the things that they value (i.e. constructed properties). If this is true then the fact that people use these predicates to talk about constructed properties (if they in fact do) can’t be evidence against the claim that the realist makes.

After this session, Austen Clark gave his talk on modeling sensory awareness. His was trying to answer the question ‘how could we build a creature that could have an experience of purple?’ During the course of this he presented the evidence ofr what is called ‘proto-objects’. A proto-object is a term for what happens at the early stages of visual processing. The idea is that the brain processes information about the ‘basic features’ of objects (info about shape, orientation, color, etc) and then stores this info without putting the basic features together. So, the proto-object is ‘a shapeless bundle of features’. It is not until selective attention is focused on the proto-objects that they are arranged into the shape that the stimulus has. During discussion I asked why we should think that there are proto-objects. It seems to me that what is likely going on here is that the stimulus produces a representational state in the perceiver which is a representation the fully formed object and  that the reason why subjects are unable to report accurately is due to the fashion which their higher-order state is representing the first-order representation (of the fully formed stimulus). Austen responded that this is unlikely because we don’t see the ‘pop-out effect’ in these experiments. But how do we know that. So, I tried to think of an experiment that might show something one way or the other. This is what I came up with. We take the standard pop-out effect stimulus and present it subliminally, so that the subjects cannot consciously detect its presnce. We then put soem markers up on the screen (one of which is at the location where the attention would have been drawn had the subject consciously saw the stimulus). We then force the subject to pick a marker by saying ‘I know you did not see anything, but if you had to pick a marker, which one would you pick?’. If they picked the one that marked the pop-out location then we could conclude that there was unconscious pop-out and so conclude against proto-objects.

Shesh! That’s a lot!! And I still have the second day to talk about…I guess I’ll do that some other time.

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