Archive for October, 2013


Pernicious Stipulations

October 25, 2013

Dave Colaco and Joe McCaffrey

Abstract: Stipulations abound in philosophical thought experiments: we are told that pushing a large man off a platform will stop a speeding trolley before it kills five hikers, we are told that Mary knows everything there is to know about neuroscience, and we are told that XYZ behaves exactly as H20 behaves. In this talk, we present a series of studies to suggest that the intuitions drawn from philosophical thought experiments are sensitive to a variety of stipulations that we find pernicious—that is, certain stipulations influence participants’ intuitions in ways that are predictable, yet independent of the alleged philosophical content of those thought experiments. At worst, these stipulations may bias participants toward particular readings of thought experiments, with this bias based on the discord between what a vignette stipulates and what the participant already knows or infers on the basis of other implicit information from the vignette. For instance, a thought experiment where an explicitly stated fact conflicts with an implied fact may bias participants’ judgments. We do not oppose the use of stipulations generally; we recognize that they are required to develop vignettes that effectively isolate philosophical issues. Rather, we introduce some examples of pernicious stipulations in famous and important thought experiments to develop a new theoretical vocabulary for talking about philosophical stipulation. Examples of this kind of pernicious stipulation include, but are not limited to, (1) vignettes where simultaneous events are stipulated as being coincidental, but seem as though they occur together for a non-coincidental (perhaps tacit or nefarious) reason, and (2) vignettes where actors are presented with a restricted set of mutually-exclusive choices though there are other (possibly preferable) implicit options that are not excluded. We then develop some metrics to operationalize a number of these exemplars and present designs for a series of tests probing how modulating these stipulations alone affects participants’ responses to philosophical thought experiments. These studies are presented along with a series of openended pilot studies to probe the relevant processes involved when participants make judgments about thought experiments. We hope these results illustrate that, when developing a thought experiment in either traditional or experimental philosophy, philosophers must examine what implications can (and cannot) be drawn from a vignette.


The Structure of the Scientific Realism Debate

October 18, 2013

Aaron Novick

In this paper/talk, I will try to use the structure of inference to the best explanation (IBE, Lipton 2004) to understand the structure of the epistemic scientific realism debate in what I believe is a novel fashion. To say inference to the best explanation is reliable splits into two claims: one about the reliability of the inference form, and one about the non-formal constraints that must be met for an IBE to be successful (i.e. are these constraints met in scientific practice). Anti-realists may be variously understood as attacking one or the other of these claims, and on this basis we can see the realist task as having two parts, corresponding to the defense of each claim. Using this structure, I will explore the prospects for constructing a realist defense of the second claim, with pessimistic results. This motivates an agnosticism about epistemic scientific realism that may better allow us to appreciate the methodological attitudes of working scientists (and others).