DiscoverJournal Entries
Journal Entries

Journal Entries

Author: Wesley Buckwalter

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Go behind the scenes with philosophers and cognitive scientists to get their take on published journal articles, what they like about papers, what they maybe don't anymore, and where inquiry should take us next.
8 Episodes
Complaining about our pains is often viewed as weak or soft. Kant and Aristotle went so far as to say that it should never be done. And they say it's something a real man would never do. But could complaining actually be a virtue, even when you can't fix the thing that makes you sad or mad? When done well, complaining can expose our vulnerabilities, invite others to commiserate over share pains, affirm and validate experiences, and just maybe--help us all feel a little less alone. Links and Resources Kathryn Norlock ( The paper ( Self-respect and protest by Bernard Boxill ( Whining, griping, and complaining: Positivity in the negativity by Robin M. Kowalski ( Complaint: From Minor Moans to Principled Protests by Julian Baggini ( Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics at 1171b10 ( Kant's Lectures on Ethics ( Recognition by Axel Honneth and Avishai Margalit ( Companions in Misery by Mariana Alessandri ( Paper Quotes Complaining offers important personal and interpersonal benefits, to oneself when one may otherwise feel isolated or wonder if one’s perceptions are correct, and to others when complaining fulfills social expectations to be a certain kind of cooperative and discursive companion. In short, minor complaints can fulfill the functions of affirmation of one’s own presence and perceptions, or affirmation of others’ perceptions, or both. The whinge can communicate one’s insistence on acknowledgement (“I am not alone”) and/or the interest in acknowledging others (“You are not alone”). Most pressing to me are those occasions when one’s complaint is a plea for validation that one’s pains are not insignificant, and one’s complaint further seeks company to attenuate isolation in suffering, because denial of recognition frustrates basic goods of self-knowledge and autonomy. The recognition of others provides us with options, sources of control, and assistance in integrating our self-narratives; the denial of recognition can leave us trapped within ourselves. Special Guest: Kathryn Norlock.
There is often resistance to the claim from feminist philosophy that knowledge is somehow "socially constructed", but what does that actually mean and is it really all that radical? Sometimes, our social situations or experiences dictate the kind of evidence we are likely to encounter and put us in a better position than others to know what's going on around us. Other times, these experiences can impact what we consider to be good evidence or what a community considers to be justified in the first place. Or maybe here's a simpler way to frame some of these ideas: when it comes to COVID-19 for example, who do you think knows best about what health care workers really need to do their jobs, CEOs or those on the front lines? Links and Resources * Natalie Alana Ashton ( * Robin McKenna ( * The paper ( * Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism by Paul Boghossian ( * Feminist Epistemology and Philosophy of Science ( * Uses of value judgments in science: A general argument, with lessons from a case study of feminist research on divorce by Elizabeth Anderson ( * Nancy Hartsock ( * Science as Social Knowledge: Values and Objectivity in Scientific Inquiry by Helen Longino ( * Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from Women’s Lives by Sandra Harding ( Paper Quotes Our aim is not so much to defend these feminist epistemologies – although we think they can be defended – but rather to urge that those who defend the classical conception of knowledge have focused on the wrong target. The kind of social constructivism present in (some) feminist epistemologies is much more modest and plausible than the radical social constructivist view Boghossian considers and rejects as incoherent. So, it’s not accurate to say that feminist epistemologists allow social factors to trump truth. They don’t dogmatically assert that justication lines up with beliefs which complement feminist aims, but instead show that certain of these feminism-complementing beliefs t with the evidence as well as, or better than, other beliefs, and that these have other (epistemic) benets to boot. Special Guests: Natalie Alana Ashton and Robin Mckenna.
Are games art and if so, why? Are they important or valuable and if so, how? A lot of work tries to answer these questions in aesthetics by comparing games to various properties of traditionally acknowledged works that scholars already agree are art. But does this obscure basic features of what games are all about? Unlike most fictions, game designers don't just create a stable object, like a book or a movie. Insead, they create goals, rules, and abilities that people slip into when playing and that guide their experiences. In other words, to some extent games also recreate us, which both reveals what’s beautiful about them--and kind of like yoga--forces us to try out unfamiliar ways of being. Links and Resources * C. Thi Nguyen ( * The paper ( * The Grasshopper: Games, Life and Utopia by Bernard Suits ( * Lady Blackbird: Adventures in the Wild Blue Yonder ( * Games and the Good by Tom Harkin ( * Achievement by Gwen Bradford ( * Defining Game Mechanics by Miguel Sicart ( * Spyfall ( * Imertial ( * Root: A Game of Woodland Might and Right by Patrick Leder ( * Apocalypse World ( Paper Quotes In game playing, we take on alternate agencies. The game designer can shape a specific form of agency and then pass it to the player. The clarity of the rules and the crispness of the goals make it easier for us to find our way to a novel form of agency. Thus, games allow for the curious possibility of communicating agencies. Games join, then, the various methods and technologies we have invented for recording aspects of our experience. We record sights in paintings, photographs, and movies. We record stories in novels, movies, and songs. And we record agencies in games. By letting us inscribemodes of agency in stable artifacts, games can help constitute a library of agencies. It is easier to start trying out an unfamiliar way of being when somebody tells you exactly what to do. This is true with yoga and other physical training. If there is a mode of movement or a postural stance that is unfamiliar to me, the easiest way for me to find my way there is to submit myself to very precise direction about where to stand, where to put my feet, and how to move. A new agential mode is likewise easier to find through precise directions about what goals to pursue and which means to use. In this way, we can find our way to a greater flexibility with our agency, by temporarily submitting ourselves to strictures on that agency. Games are yoga for your agency. Special Guest: C. Thi Nguyen.
How well do you know your own feelings? Is our ability to know this about ourselves less reliable than what we know about the outside world around us? Is there anything we can do to make ourselves less "naive" and improve the reliability of introspection about conscious experiences? Links and Resources * Eric Schwitzgebel ( * The Paper ( * The Splintered Mind ( * Alison Gopnik ( * Introspection ( * Self-Knowledge ( * Edward Titchener ( * Introspective Training Apprehensively Defended: Reflections on Titchener's Lab Manual ( Paper Quotes Descartes, I think, had it quite backwards when he said the mind—including especially current conscious experience—was better known than the outside world. The teetering stacks of paper around me, I’m quite sure of. My visual experience as I look at those papers, my emotional experience as I contemplate the mess, my cognitive phenomenology as I drift in thought, staring at them—of these, I’m much less certain. My experiences flee and scatter as I reflect. I feel unpracticed, poorly equipped with the tools, categories, and skills that might help me dissect them. They are gelatinous, disjointed, swift, shy, changeable. They are at once familiar and alien. I know better what’s in the burrito I’m eating than I know my gustatory experience as I eat it. I know it has cheese. In describing my experience, I resort to saying, vaguely, that the burrito tastes “cheesy,” without any very clear idea what this involves. Maybe, in fact, I’m just— or partly—inferring: The thing has cheese, so I must be having a taste experience of “cheesiness.” Maybe also, if I know that the object I’m seeing is evenly red, I’ll infer a visual experience of uniform “redness” as I look at it. Or if I know that weeding is unpleasant work, I’ll infer a negative emotion as I do it. Indeed, it can make great sense as a general strategy to start with judgments about plain, easily knowable facts of the outside world, then infer to what is more foreign and elusive, our consciousness as we experience that world. I doubt we can fully disentangle such inferences from more “genuinely introspective” processes. Special Guest: Eric Schwitzgebel.
Are decisions made by scientists one century ago still with us and weigh down science? One decision involves the rules scientists play by when it comes to statistical significance, and more specifically, the rule that results fall below a .05 threshold to count as significant. The point of this threshold is to help minimize false positives. But .05 is consistent with at least 33% of results being false...or worse! Links and Resources * Edouard Machery ( * The paper ( * What a nerdy debate about p-values shows about science — and how to fix it ( * The Alpha War by Edouard Machery ( * Justify your Alpha by Lakens et al. ( * Should We Redefine Statistical Significance? A Brains Blog Roundtable ( * Abandon Statistical Signifcance by McShane et al. ( Paper Quotes "Ronald Fisher understood that the choice of 0.05 was arbitrary when he introduced it. Since then, theory and empirical evidence have demonstrated that a lower threshold is needed. A much larger pool of scientists are now asking a much larger number of questions, possibly with much lower prior odds of success. For research communities that continue to rely on null hypothesis significance testing, reducing the P value threshold for claims of new discoveries to 0.005 is an actionable step that will immediately improve reproducibility." Special Guest: Edouard Machery.
What, if anything, does "fake news" or "post truth" actually mean? Are they thinly veiled political strategies that do as much harm to democracy as the things they attempt to describe? And if so why did so many academics and philosophers get caught up in using a series of terms with such serious problems? Links and Resources * Joshua Habgood-Coote ( * The paper ( * Blog version of the paper ( * Response articles to the original paper by Etienne Brown ( and Jessica Pepp, Eliot Michaelson & Rachel Sterken ( * Wardle: Let's retire the phrase 'fake news' ( and Fake news. It's complicated. ( * The Trouble With ‘Fake News’ by David Coady ( * Fake News: A Definition by Axel Gelfert ( * there’s no such thing as fake news (and that’s bad news) by Robert Talisse ( * What to Do with Post-Truth by Lorna Finlayson ( * Fake Democracy, Bad News by Natalie Fenton and Des Freedman ( * How Propaganda Works by Jason Stanley ( * Algorithms of Oppression by Safiya Noble ( available on JSTOR ( * Linguistic Disobedience by Yuliya Komska, Michelle Moyd, and David Gramling ( Paper Quotes According to all these diagnoses, communication using ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ is problematic. If the terms are nonsense, any communication using these terms simply fails. If they are contested we face problems with talking across contexts, and if they are contested, we face the possibility of mistaking metalinguistic disputes for first order disagreements. ‘Fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ are perhaps better off than ‘bryllg’ – we do at least have some sense what kinds of things might constitute their extensions – but they are very different from established terms with clear meanings like ‘cat’ and ‘blue’. Some basic questions about the extensions of these terms are up in the air. I haven’t come down on which diagnosis is correct – people with different views in the philosophy of language will be attracted to different diagnoses – but I think that because it is the worst outcome, we should take extremely seriously the possibility that ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’ are nonsense. This suggests a short argument for abandonment: if we want to be sure that we are saying something by our sentences, we should avoid using ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’. Special Guest: Joshua Habgood-Coote.
"Nietzsche was friends with Wagner, Copperfield with Steerforth, Rick Blaine with Louis who enters into a friendship with a bad person very much seems to have gone wrong somewhere," writes Isserow. But what is wrong, exactly, with choosing to make friends with bad people? Does it tell us something important about ourselves and could this fact maybe even reveal a glimmer of truth about cancel culture? Links and Resources * Jessica Isserow ( * The paper - "On Having Bad Persons as Friends" ([j.isserow_website]_on_having_bad_persons_as_friends.pdf) * Background on philosophy of friendship ( * Interview with Alexander Nehamas ( * Paper by Cocking & Kennett "Friendship and moral danger" ( * Recent work in philosophy of friendship ( Paper Quotes "Some values are incredibly weighty, and as such, they ought to occupy an important role in our moral priorities. One could understand an individual who was willing to forgive a friend’s failure to recycle; for this is a fault in spite of which we could plausibly accept someone. But an individual who discounted a friend’s rampant racism would suggest to us that she could not care less about the values which tell against racism, or for the potential victims of racist attitudes. At the very least, she would suggest to us that she does not stand for (or is not standing up for) such values in the fullest sense. Her willingness to discount vices of this extreme sort would suggest that there are certain values to which she is not properly responsive." "I think that this gets right to the heart of where our individual goes wrong in counting a bad person as a friend. The problem is that she likes him in spite of his shortcomings, and the shortcomings in question are incredibly weighty. But it would seem that they are not sufficiently weighty for her, and this points towards something worrying about her moral priorities. In choosing to pursue a friendship with a bad person, she effectively suggests that a serious moral flaw—vehement racism, say—is a minor vice that can be outweighed by a person’s other recommending qualities." Special Guest: Jessica Isserow.
Can the absense of something ever be a cause? For example, image you forget to water your plants and your plants all die. Did your failure to water them cause the plants to die? Many people report the intuition you obviously have caused your plants to die, but shocking as it may at first seem, could this intuition actually be wrong? Links and Resources Helen Beebee ( The paper - "Causing and Nothingness" ( The volume - Counterfactuals and Causation ( Background on The Metaphysics of Causation ( On the Notion of Cause 'Philosophically Speaking' by Helen Steward ( Background on the philosophy of David Lewis ( Overview paper by Sara Bernstein "The metaphysics of omissions" ( New work in cognitive science by Henne et al. "A Counterfactual Explanation for the Action Effect" ( "A Demonstration of the Causal Power of Absences" by Tyron Goldschmidt (via DailyNous) get ready to lol ( Paper Quotes "The causal history of the world is a mass of causal processes: events linked by a vast and complex web of causal relations. In order that the causal history of the world should look the way it does look, rather than some other way, there must have been no extra events impinging on it - for those extra events would have had effects that would have changed the causal history of the world in various ways. If Godzilla had impinged upon the causal history of the world, that causal history would have gone very differently. We might even, if circumstances demanded it, want to explain happenings in the world by citing Godzilla’s absence (though it’s hard to imagine that we should ever want to do so). But I see no need to think of Godzilla’s lack of impingement as a kind of causation." "There just isn’t any objective feature that some absences have and others lack in virtue of which some absences are causes and others are not. So any definition of causation by absence which seeks to provide a principled distinction between absences which are and are not causes is bound to fail: no such definition will succeed in carving nature at its joints." Special Guest: Helen Beebee.
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