Archive for January, 2014


Which causes of moral beliefs matter?

January 31, 2014
Elizabeth O’Neill
Abstract: I argue that the distal causes of moral beliefs, such as evolution, are only relevant for assessing the epistemic status of moral beliefs in cases where we cannot determine whether a given proximal cause is reliable just by looking at the properties of that cause. This means that the influence of evolution will be relevant in some cases, but that any investigation into the epistemic status of moral beliefs given their causes should start with proximal causes. I provide two cases where information about the properties of a proximal cause is sufficient to conclude that in at least some contexts the cause pushes off track the moral beliefs it influences. I look at the influence of disgust and sympathy on moral judgments and show that these cases demonstrate two general strategies for drawing epistemic conclusions from information about the causes of beliefs while minimizing normative commitments.

Quantum Mechanics in Time and Space

January 27, 2014

Thomas Pashby

Abstract: There is a common understanding of quantum mechanics as a theory of instantaneous measurements of possible properties of systems.  I show that this view cannot account for typical experimental results concerning the time and location of detection events.  The alternative view I provide resists the idea that experimental physics consists of experiments performed at freely chosen moments of time.  This offers a potential resolution of conceptual difficulties surrounding measurement as characterized by Schroedinger’s famous cat paradox. Instead, I supply the means for a re-conceptualization of quantum mechanics as a theory of spatio-temporally located events.


Four Issues in the History of the Quinarian System

January 24, 2014

Aaron Novick

Abstract: The secondary literature on the Quinarian system in biology, developed in the early 1800s by William Sharp MacLeay, is sparse. As a result, it is beset by insufficiencies. In part, it is simply missing information. All descriptions of the system (that I have read, which is most of them) have left out important aspects that are clear even on a first reading of MacLeay’s main work. In other parts, it is flatly contradictory: no one can agree on MacLeay’s philosophical influences, and the two sentences that exist discussing how the system developed over time are polar opposites. In one part, at least, the story of the Quinarian system’s death, there is a received view. But we cannot breathe easily, because I suspect it is wrong or least only partial. My presentation is aimed at helping me move from this mess to a clear history comp topic. As such, I will isolate four promising issues—what was the Quinarian system?; how was it born?; how did it live?; how did it die?—and then solicit advice on how to proceed.


Scientific Representation

January 17, 2014

Elay Shech

Abstract: I show how certain requirements must be set on any tenable account of scientific representation, such as the requirement allowing for misrepresentation. I then continue to argue that two leading accounts of scientific representationthe inferential account (Suárez 2004) and the interpretational account (Contessa 2007)―are flawed for they do not satisfy such requirements. Through such criticism, and drawing on an analogy from non-scientific representation, I also sketch the outline of a superior account. 


Realism, Instrumentalism, and Uses of Models in Science

January 13, 2014

Yoichi Ishida

Abstract: This paper argues in support of Howard Stein’s idea that in successful scientific research, a scientist uses a model according to the methodological principles of realism and instrumentalism despite the tension that they create among the scientist’s uses of the model over time. After giving precise formulations of the realist and instrumentalist methodological principles, I argue for my thesis through a detailed analysis of successful scientific research done by Seymour Benzer in the 1950s and 60s. I then argue that epistemic realism or epistemic instrumentalism—forms of realism and instrumentalism familiar in the philosophical literature—by itself prohibits a scientist from adopting both the realist and instrumentalist methodological principles. Stein’s conjecture thus poses new challenges to realists and instrumentalists, and I briefly suggest possible avenues of response that realists and instrumentalists may take.

Reason and Passion in the State of Nature

January 10, 2014
Marcus Adams
Abstract: The relationship of the passions to reason has been a focal point of debate for philosophers generally and for scholars of Thomas Hobbes’s politics in particular. According to one recent view about this relationship, called the “definitional” view, the Laws of Nature in the Leviathan arise independently of the passions as edicts that follow from the command of reason alone, and it is reason that enables humans to escape from the state of nature. Such a view relies upon two widely-held assumptions about Hobbes’s project: first, that it was “scientific” because it was modeled upon a type of geometrical demonstration that began with axioms, such as the definition of a law of nature in Leviathan XIV, and proceeded by deduction to demonstrate the remaining Laws of Nature; and second, that it was grounded in a conception of reason as being in conflict with the passions, a conflict which ought to be resolved by reason’s intervention.
My goal in this paper is to reorient scholarship on Hobbes’s politics by providing a new way of understanding the politics as a science. I argue that Hobbes’s physics sheds light on this issue and clarifies the place of reason and the passions. Specifically, instead of deduction in an axiomatic system, I show that “geometrical” in this context means that one learns causal principles by engaging in a construction beginning with simple bodies and motions. This form of geometrical construction grounds geometry in a thought experiment in De corpore (“On Body”) and provides scientific knowledge of the motions of natural bodies; in the state of nature thought experiment this form of geometrical construction provides scientific knowledge of the passions as the only motions responsible for human action. Understanding the nature of Hobbes’s argumentative structure in Leviathan and De corpore is the key to understanding the relation between reason and the passions. Once this structure is understood, it becomes clear that passions are the only motives for human action.