Thursday, 16 February 2017

Addiction and Choice

Today's post is by Nick Heather and Gabriel Segal on their new edited collection Addiction and Choice: Rethinking the Relationship.

Nick Heather (pictured below) is a clinical psychologist by training and is now Emeritus Professor of Alcohol and Other Drug Studies at Northumbria University. He has over 500 publications, mostly in the area of addictions, with an emphasis on treatment and brief intervention for alcohol problems.

Gabriel Segal (pictured below) is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at King’s College, London. He has published extensively in philosophy of psychology, cognitive science and philosophy of language.

In 1997, Nick Heather, together with Ian Robertson, published the 3rd edition of a book called ‘Problem Drinking’. It argued that there is no such thing as ‘alcoholism’ in the sense of a discontinuous form of drinking problem and that it was not helpful to see problem drinking as a disease. Rather, people drink in problematic ways for a variety of reasons that can be understood from the point of view of social learning theory.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Neil Levy on "Do religious beliefs respond to evidence?"

Neil Levy (pictured above) is Professor of Philosophy at Macquarie University (Sydney) and Senior Research Fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford. Here, he replies to last week's post by Neil Van Leeuwen. Neil Levy's post draws on themes from his paper recently published in Cognition.

There are two central strands to Neil Van Leeuwen’s post (hereafter NVL). One is the claim that there is a class of representational state (in the post he focuses on religious belief, but in his paper in Cognition he suggests that ideological beliefs belong to this class too) which fail to be evidentially vulnerable in the same way as more mundane beliefs. The second strand is the one developed in his paper in Philosophical Explorations, arguing that we best understand the limited signs of evidence responsiveness exhibited by these beliefs in terms of a kind of imaginative play. People who respond to evidence with regard to their religious beliefs typically do so because the apparent evidence is assigned a role within a circumscribed Evidence Game.

The suggestion that we sometimes engage in a game of make believe unbeknownst to ourselves in the way NVL suggests is fascinating and deserves exploration. It may even be true. As he mentions, Tanya Luhrmann’s subjects seem to take such an attitude toward their religious beliefs, and some people who profess belief in UFOs or ghosts may be only half serious in their beliefs. It is noteworthy, though, that Luhrmann’s subjects were at least half aware that their attitude to their religious beliefs had an element of playfulness; we should be careful about generalizing from this sample of charismatic Christians to other believers. Luhrmann’s sample is whiter, better educated and more affluent than most religious believers worldwide, and WEIRD people differ in important and relevant ways from other people. In particular, being educated correlates with a higher capacity to detect contradiction. It may be that WEIRD people can maintain their religious beliefs only by taking a semi-serious attitude toward them, but this attitude is not typical of religious believers.

Thursday, 9 February 2017

The Virtue of Defiance

In this post, Nancy Nyquist Potter introduces her new book, The Virtue of Defiance and Psychiatric Engagement.

I am a Professor of Philosophy at the University of Louisville, an Associate with the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, and a core faculty member of the Interdisciplinary Master’s Program in Bioethics and Medical Humanities. My main area of focus is in the intersection of philosophy and psychiatry, where I’ve published on topics on Borderline Personality Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, self-injury, trauma, and related nosological, epistemic, and ethical issues.

Because I have spent over 10 years working in the university’s Emergency Psychiatric Services and the Mood Disorders Clinic, I also write on therapeutic issues that are implicated in diagnosis and treatment. I always examine issues through a feminist lens and am increasingly including critical race theory in my work. I am a board member of the Association for the Advancement of Philosophy and Psychiatry, an organization that fosters interdisciplinary work and provides invaluable scholarly support for this field.

Tuesday, 7 February 2017

Do religious “beliefs” respond to evidence?

This post is by Neil Van Leeuwen (pictured above), Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and Associate of the Neuroscience Institute at Georgia State University. What follows is a synopsis of his new paper, which is forthcoming in a special issue of Philosophical Explorations on false but useful beliefs. The special issue is guest edited by Lisa Bortolotti and Ema Sullivan-Bissett and is inspired by project PERFECT's interests in belief.

One might argue that the answer to my title question is just blindingly obvious. Religious “beliefs” don’t respond to evidence, because no beliefs do! After all, human belief formation processes are a motley crew, including such ignobles as confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance, wishful thinking, the availability heuristic, post hoc ergo propter hoc, the base rate fallacy, the genetic fallacy, ad hominems, prestige bias, framing effects, and many, many…many more.

This cynical view, however, grows out of a diet of focusing on the bad and ignoring the good. In short, I agree with Donald Davidson’s view that irrationality is only possible against a large background of rationality. So I think, at least when it comes to the mundane, that the vast majority of factual beliefs (like my factual belief that there’s a tree in my backyard or my factual belief that my bank balance is such-and-such) in fact do respond to evidence quite well (though not perfectly).

The situation, in any case, looks far different when we turn from factual belief to the mental state that I call religious credence.