Day Two of the Yale/UConn Conference

Earlier I began to give a brief report on the first day of the Yale/UConn Graduate Conference that I recently attended…while I have a minute today, and before I gorge myself on some veggie turkey, I figured I would finish up…

Sadly, I missed the morning sessions due to having a jaccuzi-tub at the B&B I was staying at 🙂 I intended to show up for the afternoon sessions, though I missed the first presentation on emodied cognition and mind reading (by Shannon Spaulding of the University of Wisonsin)…judging from the comments and questions the paper was very interesting.

The next talk was on Moral Advice and the Structure of Moral Explanation (by Uri Leibowitz of U Mass). He argued that normative theory and a theory of moral advice are seperate. For instance, our normative theory may be a utilitarian one, and our theory of moral advice may be ‘do what Grandma says to do’…totally seperate. He then argued that a plausible theory of moral advice is something like ‘if after reflection you do not judge the action to be immoral, then perform the action’ (this is an approximation…the conference was a couple of weeks ago!)…He then argued that utilitarians could not account for why this is good moral advice because they could not account for how agents could keep track of the ‘goodmaking’ properties that utilitarianism postulated.  Now I think that it is very odd indeed to think that our normative theory can be seperated from our theory of moral advice…I tend to think that a normative theory is a theory of moral advice…that to say that something is right just is to say that it ought to be performed…though I can see why utilitarians think they way that they do (and in fact I think maybe Kantians should to)…but at any rate, once you really seperate these two (as, for instance Sidgwick did) Leibowitz’s argument against utiliatarianism falls apart (this was brought out nicely by Jeff Sebo in discussion). The commentator on the paper (Gwen Bradford of Yale) pointed out that the moral advice that Uri argued for was wierd because it wouldn’t be of any help to someone who did not know what to do. During discussion he was pressed on this and he said that he would give that advice to anyone, no matter their moral thoery. So I pointed out that the relativist and ammoralists out there would use his moral advice to do some very immoral things, and that makes the claim that it is good moral advice seem very strange. His response was that, more people, on average, would do good acts when using this advice…I don’t share this intuition. It seems to me that most people would reflect and conclude, for some bs reason or another, that there was nothing imorral about the action and then proceed to do all kinds of immoral actions…

During the break I had some very interesting discussion about the aims of cognitive science. I was arguing that in order to have a ‘completed’ cognitive science we would have to have a ‘completed’ scientific understanding of the world. Cognitive science is not a special science in the sense that it is not autonomous from, say, physics. I was suprised to find that quite a few people disagreed with me. It seems that they thought that we could have a complete theory of the mind even if we did not fully understand the full nature of physical reality, or indeed, whether there were anything else besides the physical. This seems wrong to me because, for instance, in order to give a theory of mental content we have to assume that the world is some way or other. So, if we take the view that the causal theory of reference is right then we are committed to materialism or to the view that non-physical entities can causally interact with our mind. In both cases we have to wait until physics is decided until we can have a completed theory of mental content.

This discussion was interupted by Paul Horwhich’s keynote address (how rude! 🙂 ). The title of his talk was ‘The Nature of Paradox’. He spent a lot of time talking about Schiffer’s view that paradox arises from ‘defective concepts’…a defective concept is one whos possesion conditions pull us in different directions and so result in paradox. For instance, our concept of truth (i.e. that ‘p’ is true if and only if p) leads to the semantic paradoxes. Horwhich argued against this view and for the Witgensteinian view that paradox results from our bewhichment by language. So, in the case of the semantic paradoxes, we see that the ‘truth’ predicate works in a certain way in one kind of discourse (scientific discourse aimed at explanation and prediction) and then we over generalize and think that it must work that way in all cases. The job of philosophy is to correct this over generalizing tendancy that we have. Now this seems to me to be commiting the very same kind of mistake that he sees others as making. So in the one case we are being overly scientific and so think that all of language must be like the language we use when we are doing science. So we think that ‘true’ must stand for some property. But this is a mistake. Recognizing this mistake lets us see that the deflationary view of truth is correct and this resolves the paradox. But isn’t this still to be bewitched by language? Someone like Horwhich sees that there are different uses of the word ‘true’ and so concludes that there is no thing which ‘true’ stands for. The only difference is that he is bewitched by language use in general and not in one particular area (science). I raised this issue in discussion in the following way. He was arguing that the existence of the semantic paradoxes (and others as well) is evidence that our naive theories about truth are wrong and we should just reject the assumption that the truth predicate acts like the predicate ‘electron’. So his view recommends that we not hold on to assumptions inspired by the way language works if they lead to paradox. But his own view leads to paradox. So, we may have evidence against some view and yet not have a reason to reject that view (as in a known about Gettier example). This shows that he is overgeneralizing in the same kind of way as the people who he is critisizing…OK< but that is enough for now!  

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2 thoughts on “Day Two of the Yale/UConn Conference

  1. […] to head up to UConn to give a talk. I left UConn way back in 2003 to come to NYC and I went back in 2007 to participate in the Yale/UCONN graduate conference but I haven’t been back since then so I am looking forward to it! I figure since it is so […]

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