Papers I almost Wrote

In celebration of my ten years of blogging I have been collecting some of my posts into thematic meta-posts. The previous two listed my writing on the higher-order thought theory of consciousness and my writing about various conferences and classes I have attended. Continuing in that theme below are links to posts I have written about various things that are not in either of the two previous categories. Some of these I had thought I might develop into papers or something but so far that hasn’t happened!

  1. Freedom and Evil
    • This was written for a debate at Brooklyn College entitled ‘If there is a God, Why does Evil Exist?” sponsored by the InterVarsity Christian Fellowship
  2. There is No Santa
    • Is it wrong to lie to children about the existence of Santa? I think so!
  3. What’s So Unobservable about Causation?
    • This is an excerpt from a paper I wrote while a graduate student at the University of Connecticut
  4. Freedom of Speech Meets Speech Act Theory
    • Freedom of speech means freedom of assertion but not the freedom to perform any speech act one wants
  5. Reason and The Nature of Obligation
    • A discussion of Locke and Hobbes on reason and obligation. I think this was first written for a class I had on social and political philosophy. I argue that both are committed to the view that reason is the source of moral obligation but fear (or some external motivator) is required to get people to conform to reason.
  6. Logic, Language, and Existence
    • I discover the problem of necessary existence, and, as usual, also discover that I have reinvented (a crappier version of) the wheel
  7. Timothy Williamson on Necessary Existents
  8. Stop your Quining!!!
    • Are there any counter-examples to some common analytic truths? I don’t think so
  9. What God Doesn’t Know
    • Can we invent Liar Paradox-type sentences involving God’s knowledge? Spoiler alert: yes!
  10. A Counter-Example to the Cogito?
    • Are you nothing more than an alternate personality of the all-power Evil Genius?
  11. Conceptual Atomism, Functionalism, and the Representational Theory of Mind
    • Can we construct quaility-inversion-type scenarios for the mental attitudes? I give it my best shot.
  12. Did Quine Change His Mind?
    • No he did not. The axioms of logic are revisable but we haven’t got any good reason to revise them (yet)
  13. God v. the Delayed Choice Quantum Eraser
    • one of my most popular posts.
  14. The Evolutionary Argument against Rationalism
    • Evolution may have built certain facts about our local reality into the brain, thus generating a priori justification (of a sort)
  15. The A Priori Argument against Rationalism
    • Is it conceivable that there are no necessary truths?
  16. The Empirical Justification of Mathematics
    • Could there be empirical disconfirmation of basic arithmetic?
  17. Invoking God Doesn’t Save Descartes from Skepticism
    • Doesn’t the case of Job from the bible undermine Descartes’ claim that God is not a deceiver?
  18. The (New) Agnostic’s Manifesto: Part 1 –Preamble
  19. Secular Ethics vs. Religious Ethics
  20. Breaking Promises
    • When is a promise broken versus excused?
  21. Second Thoughts about Pain Asymbolia
  22. Transworld Saints
  23. The Logical Problem of Omniscience
  24. Empiricism and A Priori Justification
  25. Reduction v. Elimination
  26. Why I am not a Type-Z Materialist
  27. Pain Asymbolia and a Priori Defeasibility
  28. Summa Contra Plantinga
  29. The Unintelligibility of Substance Dualism
  30. What is Philosophy that it Sucks so Bad?
  31. Identifying the Identity Theory
  32. Can we think about Non-Existant Objects?
  33. The Zombie Argument Depends on Phenomenal Transparency
  34. Bennett on Non-Reductive Physicalism
  35. News Flash: Philosophy Sucks!
  36. Kant’s response to Hume’s Challenge in Ethics
  37. The Identity Theory in 2-D
  38. Outline of the Case for Agnosticism
  39. Consciousness Studies in 100 words (more) or less
  40. The Argument from Photosynthesis
    • Could humans be photosynthetic? The answer seems to be yes and this i bad news for the problem of evil
  41. The Design Argument for the Simulation Hypothesis
  42. Consciousness as an M-Property (?)
  43. If Consciousness is an M-Property then it is Physical
  44. Do We Live in a Westworld World??
  45. Eliminativism and the Neuroscience of Consciousness

Aristotle on Pleasure

Is pleasure an intrinsic good according to Aristotle? Let’s say that something is intrinsically good when it is valuable just because of the kind of thing that it is and never valuable for relational reasons. To answer this question I had to re-read Book VII ch. 11-14 of the Nicomachean Ethics (forget about Book X -for now-). At first it may seem that he does think so. He certainly seems to think that pleasure is necessarily good and to be honest, I find that I am mostly sympathetic to the kinds of things he says (e.g. that pleasure must be good in some sense for otherwise it could not be a part of the virtuous life, that if pain is bad then pleasure must be good, that both humans and animals pursue it and that should tell us something, that it is a mistake to think that if it is bad for this or that task then it is bad full stop, that pleasure is a byproduct of an activity rather than a state, etc). But after thinking about it a bit I think that he is committed to the claim that pleasure is not intrinsically good. Let us turn to the text.

In particular in Book VII ch 12 he seems to be making a distinction between that which really is a pleasure and that which merely seems to be a pleasure. For instance at 1152b 30 he says

…while others are not even pleasures, but seem to be so, viz. all those which involve pain and whose end is curative, e.g. the processes that go on in a sick person” (Barnes translation, yes I am old).

Further on, at 1153a 5, he elaborates this into a distinction between pleasures that are so by nature and those that are merely incidentally pleasures.

…that the others are incidental is indicated by the fact that men do not enjoy the same things when their nature is in its settled state as they do when it is being replenished, but in the former case they enjoy the things that are pleasant without qualification, in the latter state the contraries as well; for then they enjoy even sharp and bitter things, none of which is pleasant either by nature or without qualitifaction. Nor then are the pleasures; for as pleasant things differ, so do the pleasures arising from them.

The idea here seems to be that that natural pleasures are produced by those things which are naturally pleasant and so if something which is not naturally pleasant produces something then whatever it produces cannot be naturally pleasant.

He goes on to say a bit later in ch 14 (1154b 15-20),

But the pleasures that do not involve pains do not admit of excess; and these are among the things pleasant by nature and not incidentally. By things pleasant incidentally I mean those that act as cures…things naturally pleasant are those that stimulate the action of a healthy nature

Ok, so it seems clear that Aristotle thinks that when we are not in our natural healthy state we may mistake as a pleasure something which really isn’t a pleasure (or: the pleasure is merely incidental pleasure not natural pleasure). But then the crucial questions is: Is the vicious person in their natural and healthy state? It seems to me that the only answer we can give, from Aristotle’s point of view, is that they are not. But if that is the case then we seem to be lead to the conclusion that the ‘pleasure’ derived from wicked activity is not really pleasure, it merely seem to be pleasure to the vicious person. Or to put it the other way, these are only incidental pleasures and are not natural pleasures.

So now it seems to me the lesson from the above is that pleasure is not to be desired for its own sake but rather is only desirable when it ‘stimulates the action of a healthy nature’. That is, whether we should desire a certain pleasure is a function of how that pleasure was produced and not merely a function of the kind of thing it is (pleasure). The alternative to this, it seems, is to hold that only the natural pleasures are really pleasures and they are intrinsically good. But this seems like a very strange view. The pleasure the serial killer experiences as he sees his victim squirm and beg for their life is (I assume) phenomenologically indistinguishable from the pleasure one may have when they see their offspring flourishing. If so then it is highly artificial and contrived to call only one of those ‘pleasure’.

If this is right then pleasures must be instrumentally good, and this seems right to me (on Aristotle’s view). They are instrumentally good in that they are the chief sources of actions and so can be used to produce virtuous activity. In fact this seems to be what he recommends when he discuses moral education.

[P.S. in case anyone cares, this was prompted by my writing an exam for my Ethics and Moral Issues course :]

Zombies vs Shombies

Richard Marshall, a writer for 3am Magazine, has been interviewing philosophers. After interviewing a long list of distinguished philosophers, including Peter Carruthers, Josh Knobe, Brian Leiter, Alex Rosenberg, Eric Schwitzgebel, Jason Stanley, Alfred Mele, Graham Priest, Kit Fine, Patricia Churchland, Eric Olson, Michael Lynch, Pete Mandik, Eddy Nahmais, J.C. Beal, Sarah Sawyer, Gila Sher, Cecile Fabre, Christine Korsgaard, among others, they seem to be scraping the bottom of the barrel, since they just published my interview. I had a great time engaging in some Existential Psychoanalysis of myself!

A Question about Aristotle on Theft

Here is an issue that I thought of today as I was preparing for my class on Aristotle’s ethics. I thought I knew the answer, but after having thought about it a bit I am not sure, so I’ll ask you.

Suppose that you accepted Aristotle’s claim that there are somethings which are always wrong, like theft, murder, and adultery while with everything else the right action is that action which a virtuous person would perform. If we assume the standard interpretation of what this means then we end up with the view that the virtuous person is able to determine, or see, what the virtuous action is in the given situation they find themselves in. Does this mean, then, that Aristotle is committed to the claim that it is impossible that there could ever be a situation in which a virtuous person determined that theft was the proper action? A (seemingly) obvious counter-example would be the ‘looters’ in New Orleans who were taking bread and other supplies from a local store. Whatever one thinks about that, it seems possible that a virtuous person would act this way in some situation. Does anyone know of anyplace where this is discussed in the literature (or have any thoughts about what Aristotle is committed to here)?

Kant on Suicide

I am no Kant scholar (thankfully!) but I do regularly teach ethics and so am constantly re-reading the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. I have never really known what to think about Kant’s argument in the section where he is discussing the formula of the law of nature and how it applies to suicide. Here is what he says:

…[the] maxim…is: from Self-love I make it my principle of action to shorten my life when its longer duration threatens more troubles than it promises agreeableness. The only further question is whether this principle of self-love could become a universal law of nature. It is then seen at once that a nature whose law it would be to destroy life itself by means of the same feeling whose destination is to impel toward the furtherance of life would contradict itself and would not therefore subsist as nature…

I have always interpreted this passage as expressing some kind of natural law theory rather than a deliverance of the categorical imperative. The function or role of self-love is the preservation of life. Using it in this way violates that natural function and so results in a contradiction of a sort but not the usual sort you find in the case of perfect duties. Of course the flaw in that reasoning is that it is not obvious why it must be the case that to use something contrary to its function is immoral (is it immoral to use a butter knife to screw in a screw?).

For full disclosure, I take myself to be a Kantian of a sort, though I would probably not be viewed as an orthodox Kantian (I, for instance, think we can derive Utilitarianism from the Categorical Imperative (like Hare did as well) and I think we can derive duties towards animals in much the same way). And I also take it that suicide is morally permissible in at least some cases and so I have always been happy to see something odd about Kant’s argument against suicide.  Yet today in class I found myself wondering whether this natural-law-remnant theory is the most charitable reading of that passage.

In the case of the other perfect duties we seem to find a pattern where in the imagined world the very thing that we are trying to do becomes impossible. Thus in the lying promise case the very act of making a promise becomes impossible. Since we cannot be coherently described as promising in a world where everyone makes lying promises we arrive at a contradiction. So, too, in the case of lying in general. In a world where everyone lies to avoid discomfort lying itself is impossible. So too for stealing. In a world where everyone steals stealing is itself impossible (since there is no ownership in such worlds and when we steal we take ourselves to be owners). So if we are to extend this general line to what Kant says here then it must somehow be the case that in the world where the maxim in question is a universal law suicide itself is impossible.

This seems implausible but it might not be. Suicide is the act of taking one’s life out of self-love. If self-love is itself not possible then suicide is not possible. So maybe what Kant had in mind was that self-love is by definition the thing which impels us towards life and so in the suicide-maxim world there is no self-love since there is no universal drive towards life, but rather only a limited drive towards life-as-long-as-it-is-agreeable or some such. Since there is no self-love there can be no suicide (which requires that you act from self-love). This would still be a questionable argument (since the limited thing still seems like self-love enough to do its job in ‘normal’ circumstances) but might be a more fair way of reading Kant’s claim in the above passage.

108th Philosophers’ Carnival

Welcome to the 108th edition of the Philosophers’ Carnival! I don’t know what is going on with the Carnival but  the last few editions have not had very many interesting submissions and I did not get a lot of acceptable submissions for this issue…but I know that there are interesting posts out there  so I scoured the internets to find the best that the philosophy blogosphere has to offer…I also checked a few other disciplines for some food for thought.
  1. Tuomas Tahko presents Draft: The Metaphysical Status of Modal Statements posted at
  2. Andrew Bernardin presents Beneath Reason: An Iceburg of Unconscious Processes posted at 360 Degree Skeptic.
  3. Eric Michael Johnson presents Chimpanzees Prefer Fair Play To Reaping An Unjust Reward posted at The Primate Diaries.
  4. Terrance Tomkow presents Means and Ends posted at, saying, “If your only available means of doing something are impermissible, does it follow that it is impermissible for you to do that thing? Judith Jarvis Thomson says, “yes”. Tomkow argues, “no”.”
  5. Thom Brooks presents The Brooks Blog: Thom Brooks on “A New Problem with the Capabilities Approach” posted at The Brooks Blog.
  1. Over at Conscious Entities Peter discusses Justin Sytsma’s recent JCS paper in Skeptical Folk Theory Theory Theory
  2. Over at Alexander Pruss’s Blog said blogger discusses Video Games as Art
  3. Not to long ago we had a very interesting post over at Brains on breeding pain free livestock. Anton Alterman has a somewhat polemical but interesting response at Brain Scam in Pains in the Brain: On LIberating Animals from Feeling
  4. Over at Siris we are reminded how malleable language is and the effect it has on reading past philosophers in Every Event Has a Cause
  5. Over at Practical Ethics Toby Ord asks Is It Wrong to Vote Tactically? I don’t want to spoil it for you but he thinks the answer is ‘no’
  6. Over at Evolving Thoughts John Wilkins discusses Plantinga’s argument that naturalism is self-refuting in You and Me, Baby, Ain’t Nothing But Mammals
  7. Did you know that a Quine is a computer program that can print its own code? It’s true and over at A Piece of Our Mind John Ku discusses them in Meta Monday: Ruby Quines
  8. Over at Neuroschannells Eric sums up his current views on perception and consciousness in Consciousness (13): The Interpreter versus the Scribe
  9. Over at Specter of Reason there is a discussion of Pete Mandik’s Swamp Mary thought experiment in Swamp Deviants, Part II
  10. Over at the Arche Methodology Blog Derek Ball asks Do Philosophers Seek Knowledge? Should They?
  11. Over at Philosophy on the Mesa Nina Rosenstrand wonders if Neanderthal’s raped early Humans in They Are Us? News from the Primate Research Front
  12. Is the idea that the mind in the head an a priori prejudice? Ken Aizawa thinks not in So, why does common sense say the mind is in the head?
  13. Over at Inter Kant Gary Benham discusses Free Speech and Twitter
  14. Over at The Ethical Werewolf Neil Shinhababu discusses his recent run on Bloggingheads and Hedonism
  15. Over at Logical Matters Peter Smith talks about Squeezing Arguments and comments on Fields characterization of them in Saving Truth from Paradox
  16. Over at In Living Color Jean Kazez discusses just how outrageous espousing moral realism really is in Torturing Babies Just for Fun is Wrong
  17. Over at Philosophy Talk: The Blog Ken Taylor discusses Culture and Mental Illness
  18. Over at In the Space of Reasons Tim Thornton discusses Aesthetic Self-Knowledge
  19. Over at the Philosophy North Blog Aiden McGlyn discusses The Problem of Vanishing Warrant
  20. Finally, have you heard about this Philosopher’s Football match? Virtual Philosopher has a nice report of the madness in Philosopher’s Football -Match Report from the Ref.
That concludes this edition. Submit your blog article to the next edition of philosophers’ carnivalusing our carnival submission form. Past posts and future hosts can be found on our blog carnival |

4th Annual Felician Ethics Conference

I have presented at two of these conferences and each time it has been a fun and rewarding experience. I strongly encourage people to submit something!

The fourth annual meeting of the Felician Ethics Conference will be held at the Rutherford campus of Felician College on Saturday, April 24, 2010, from 9 am – 6 pm. (Felician’s Rutherford campus is located at 223 Montross Ave., Rutherford NJ, 07070.)

The plenary speaker is Christopher Morris (University of Maryland, College Park), speaking on the topic, “Why Be Just?”

Submissions on any topic in moral philosophy (broadly construed) are welcome, not exceeding 25 minutes’ presentation time (approximately 3,000 words). Please send submissions via email in format suitable for blind review by Feb. 1, 2010

Alternatively, send surface mail to:

Irfan Khawaja, Conference Coordinator

Dept. of Philosophy

Felician College

262 S. Main St.

Lodi, NJ 07644

Undergraduate submissions are invited for a proposed session consisting of undergraduate papers.

If you have any questions, or would be interested in serving as a commentator and/or chair for individual sessions, please contact Irfan Khawaja, (201) 559-6000 (x6288),