Sunday, January 27, 2008

Linguistic Intuitions Gone Badly Awry

The intuition that the derogatory content of an epithet scopes out of every linguistic context, regardless of its occurrence (e.g. embedded under negation, in quotation, in fiction, etc.) has lead to the racial harassment charge against Professor Donald Hindley at Brandeis University for his apparent mention, not use, of the term 'wetback'.  In his Fall 2007 Latin American Studies course, Hindley said:

Mexican migrants in the United States are sometimes referred to pejoratively as 'wetbacks'.

Notice that what he said was not only true, but informative and relevant in a discussion about racism.  For details, see Bill Poser's recent entry on the Language Log.

Before we start burning Twain novels from the university library, let's all reread Frege's 'On Sense and Reference' (1892), paragraph 6, along with the First Amendment, shall we?

Update, this quote seems particularly relevant:

“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent.  Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers.  The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

Justice Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court (dissenting opinion) Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 479, 72 L.Ed. 944, 957, 48 S.Ct. 564, 66 ALR 376 (1928)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Theories of Beauty - Spring 2008

The blog is open...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Robot Liars and Altruists!

This is amazing if true. It seems that these bots, programmed only to learn to find "food" and avoid "poison" in competition with other bot-tribes, learned to lie in order to improve their chances. Other bots evidently committed suicide for the sake of their kind!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why are our intuitions supposed to have some sort of privileged epistemic status?

I'm not an epistemologist, and my first pass through epistemology as an undergrad mostly left me confused. But I've had this question for a while now: What's so cool about our intuitions? Why is it, in (analytic) philosophy, that if something goes along with our intuitions, it provides some evidence to believe that it may be a more plausible? I noticed last semester that Kripke uses intuitions to get some good work done in Naming and Necessity, and I've heard a couple different professors use intuitions as a basis for some theory they're attempting to advance.

One interesting point is that the "intuitions" that we're supposed to have aren't always shared by everyone, especially non-Westerners. The article I linked to discusses this point in the context of "experimental" philosophy. Specifically, the bottom of page one and the top of page two.

At any rate, I just need someone to explain to me why intuitions do so much work for philosophy. It doesn't seem that other fields (like medicine) would accept people's intuitions as readily, and rightly so. Intuitions can be wrong, and I certainly wouldn't accept someone's intuitions as evidence when it comes to my health or something like that.

Also, it seems to me that such emphasis on intuitions only makes sense given some sort of foundationalist epistemology. At any rate, kindly remove me from the cave on this issue. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Something Stinks....

Philosophers of mind have been debating for many years whether there are subjective properties of experience --- it is sometimes said that those subjective properties are what make it true that there is "something it's like" to have an experience. (Have a look, for an example, at Thomas Nagel's "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?", Philosophical Review, pp. 435-50.) Well the article in Time magazine (linked from the title of this post), called "My Nose, My Brain, My Faith," reports on some new research suggesting that there may be something it's like to believe and to disbelieve, at least insofar as the brain regions associated with believing and disbelieving also seem to be active when we respond positively or negatively to smells. But philosophers have not traditionally thought that these states have a subjective character.