Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Explanatory Judgment, Moral Offense and Value-Free Science



My name is Matteo Colombo. I am an Assistant Professor in the Tilburg Center for Logic, Ethics and Philosophy of Science, and in the Department of Philosophy at Tilburg University in The Netherlands. My work is mostly in the philosophy of the cognitive sciences, in the philosophy of science, and in moral psychology. I am interested in questions about evidence and explanation, and in how resources from the sciences can help address philosophical puzzles about mind and moral behaviour. I pursue these interests by combining experimental and non-experimental methods.

In a recent experiment study, Leandra Bucher, Yoel Inbar, and I investigated how moral value can bias explanatory judgement. Our general goal was to assess the empirical adequacy of a popular view in the philosophy of science, which contends that scientific reasoning is objective to the extent that the appraisal of scientific hypotheses is not influenced by moral, political, or economic values, but only by the available evidence. In particular, Lea, Yoel, and I wanted to understand how the prior credibility of scientific hypotheses, their perceived moral offensiveness, and the motivation to be accurate in judging their explanatory power affect one’s assessment of a scientific report.

We asked our participants to express their opinions on the quality of a series of scientific reports. Imagine, for example, that you are asked to evaluate a report that provides evidence that being raised by a same-sex couple increases the chances of suffering from certain developmental disorders. This hypothesis does not apparently carry any moral value and can be objectively tested. Although you may find it morally offensive, you are sure that your personal values will not influence your appraisal of the quality of the report. You are also confident that the fact that you have a monetary incentive to properly assess how the evidence bears on the hypothesis will not make any difference in your considered judgement. But will these convictions of yours be borne out in practice? Will your personal values play no significant role in your assessment of the evidence?

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Bias in Context: Psychological and Structural Explanations


On 5th and 6th September the University of Sheffield hosted the conference Bias in Context: Psychological and Structural Explanations, organized by Erin Beeghly and Jules Holroyd (pictured above). Here I summarise the seven papers given at the conference.

Joseph Sweetman (pictured below) opened day one with his paper ‘Evidence-based Social Equality: Current Problems and Future prospects’. The talk was structured around answering five questions related to identifying the phenomenon of social inequality, whether we should do anything about social inequality, and what we should do, what the evidence for social inequality is, and the efficacy of unconscious bias training in Higher Education. After giving answers to the first four questions, Joseph reported on his evaluation of an unconscious bias training programme in order to speak to the fifth. He found that though post-training awareness of unconscious bias was higher in the participants, there were no significant differences on measures of willingness to take action, or on the particpants’ results in an Implicit Association Test for gender and career. In light of this Joseph suggested that we need to focus our attention on interventions targeting unconscious bias, stereotypes, prejudice, and behaviour.



Next up was Robin Zheng, giving her paper ‘Bias, Structure, and Injustice: A Reply to Haslanger’. In her paper, Robin outlined Sally Haslanger’s view that although there is space for attention to implicit bias in social critique, it is only a small space. Haslanger poses a challenge to theorists interested in implicit bias, namely, that theorists pursuing an account of how bias functions need to situate their accounts within a range of social structures and structural injustice. Robin sought to take up this challenge. She distinguished between Attributability and Accountability accounts of responsibility for structural injustice, advocating a version of the latter kind of account.

The penultimate paper of the first day was given by Saray Ayala, entitled ‘Structural Explanations and Agency’. Saray began by outlining two kinds of explanations of social injustice: structural explanations according to which social behaviour is determined by structural forces, and agency explanations according to which such behaviour is determined by individual choices. She discussed a worry with structural explanations, namely that they challenge agency. This is because if what explains some forms of social injustice is structural factors, and not mental states (like, for example, implicit biases), the picture we are left with is one of structures and not agents. Saray argued that structural explanations do not, after all, challenge agency, and that psychological explanations should trigger the same kind of worry, and yet they do not. Saray considered three possible factors which might explain why psychological explanations do not raise this kind of worry, and concluded by raising two problems with psychological explanations. 

Lacey Davidson and Daniel Kelly closed the first day of the conference with their paper ‘Informal Institutions and the Double Life of Social Norms’. They wanted to develop conceptual tools which could be used in social philosophy and ethical theory, in such a way that they could be integrated with and continue to be informed by current empirical work on moral psychology and cognitive science. They drew on Charlotte Witt’s work on social reality, drawing on her notions of social roles, social norms, and her ascriptivism about the relationship between individuals and the roles and norms to which they are bound. They argued that an empirical account of human norm psychology dovetails with Witt’s picture, which together provide a toolkit for thinking about bias.



Alex Madva (pictured above) opened day two of the conference with his paper ‘A Plea for Anti-Anti-Individualism: How Oversimple Psychology Misleads Social Policy’. In his paper Alex was interested in prioritisim, the view that we should focus on changing structures, not individual attitudes. With respect to this claim he wanted to do make two points in the paper. The first point was that the conclusion that we should prioritize structural reforms over individual reforms does not follow, even if we grant the prioritizer’s empirical claims. Specifically, Alex argued that for every structural reform that we should prioritize, there exists some individual reforms to prioritize because those individual reforms promote the structural reform. The second point was that the empirical claims made by prioritizers are contestable after all, and that prioritism fails to appreciate the active role that individuals take in interpreting and reacting to their environments.


Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Rescuing the ‘Loss-of-Agency’ Account of Thought Insertion

Today's post is by Patrizia Pedrini (University of Florence). Here she summarises her recent paper, “Rescuing the ‘Loss-of-Agency’ Account of Thought Insertion”, which appeared in Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology in 2015.


Every day we think hundreds of thoughts. We form opinions, hold beliefs, develop intentions, feel desires, emotions, sensations, entertain fantasies. All this thinking activity typically comes to our consciousness with a fundamental feature that seems as natural as the thinking it accompanies: our capacity for self-ascription of it. When we think a thought, we also self-ascribe that thought, and such capacity for self-ascription is routine, immediate, unproblematic.

However, this is a capacity that can break down. There is a disorder, known as thought insertion, that occurs in people diagnosed with schizophrenia and related forms of mental illness, the puzzling feature of which appears to amount to the impairment of such capacity. The subject affected by thought insertion experiences his thinking activity as made for or done to herself by someone else – a person or intelligent form other than himself (cf. Graham 2004, p. 89).

In the attempt to specify how the capacity for self-ascription of a thought can break down, thought insertion has also often been explained as a failure of the “sense of agency”, not of ownership, which latter the patient is thought to retain. The “loss-of-agency” view of thought insertion has been held by a number of cognitive scientists, psychiatrists, and also philosophers (e.g., Stephens and Graham 1994a, 1994b, 2000; O'Brien and Opie 2003; Gallagher 2004; Peacocke 2008). Their main hypothesis is that a thought is pathologically “inserted” when it is not voluntarily caused by the subject, that is, when the subject has not formed it qua agent.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

University of Tokyo Philosophy of Mind and Mental Illness Symposium

On 30th-31st July, the University of Tokyo hosted a symposium on Philosophy of Mind and Mental Illness at its Komaba Campus. Today's blog post describes the talks presented at the symposium.

Akiko Frischhut’s (Akita International) (pictured below) talk “The Silencing Illusion and Its Philosophical Interpretations” was an investigation of the philosophical significance of the silencing illusion. The illusion seems to provide a counterexample to so-called “naive inheritance thesis” about the experience of temporal properties according to any temporal properties that are represented in experience are the properties of the experience itself too. However, Frischhut rejected this interpretation of the illusion. On the basis of a careful philosophical analysis, she concluded that the interpretation is either impossible or unintelligible.




In his talk “Targetless States: No New Problem for the Higher-Order Theory”, Graham Peebles (Geneva) (pictured below) discussed so-called "misrepresentation problem" for the higher-order theory of consciousness. The problem concerns the possibility that a higher-order thought misrepresents a first-order state, in particular, the possibility that it represents a first-order state that does not exist. After examining different versions of the problem, he claimed that the higher-order theory might just collapse into the first-order theory.



Phenomenology of visual experience was the focus of Kengo Miyazono's (Hiroshima) (pictured below) talk "Perception without Presentational Phenomenology". Many philosophers believe that visual is associated with the phenomenal feeling that objects of the experience are directly before the mind. Miyazono claimed that this phenomenal feeling (“presentational phenomenology”) is not an essential feature of visual experience. It can be lost from visual experience. In particular, the strange experience in the condition of derealization is an example of visual experience without presentational phenomenology.