Tuesday, 25 September 2018

Hypnosis and Automatic Behaviours

Vince Polito is is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Macquarie University, and member of the Belief Formation Program at the ARC Centre of Excellence in Cognition and its Disorders. His work investigates alterations of agency and body representation associated with hypnosis, virtual reality, flow, meditation, and psychoactive drugs. You can find him on twitter here.

Hypnosis is used clinically as a treatment for conditions such as chronic pain, and is also becoming more commonly used as a research tool in cognitive science. Despite growing levels of interest in hypnosis, the mechanisms that underlie hypnotic effects are still not agreed upon. A common view amongst researchers is that hypnosis can profoundly influence the way that individuals monitor and evaluate their experiences but that it is not able to influence behaviours that are normally outside of conscious control.

A recent study we completed provides evidence that, in certain contexts, hypnosis may actually be able to inhibit typically automatic responses.

Our study adapted an intriguing experimental paradigm developed by Daniel Wegner: the Clever Hands task.

In this task participants are given a series of trivia quiz questions. These are all binary choice, yes/no questions. Most of the questions are incredibly easy (e.g., ‘Is the sky blue?’) but a small number of questions are extremely difficult (e.g., ‘Are there 7107 islands in the Philippines?’ There are not. The correct answer is 7641, in case you were interested). But there is a catch: participants are instructed to answer all the questions randomly. It turns out people are terrible at this task.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Working With Goals in Psychotherapy and Counselling

Duncan Law is a consultant clinical psychologist at the Anna Freud National Centre for Children and Families and University College London. He is interested in quality improvement across child mental health systems, better collaborative practice, Goals Based Outcomes (GBOs), better use of evidence informed practice, and authentic participation.

Mick Cooper is a professor of Counselling Psychology at Roehampton University. He is the author of Existential Psychotherapy and Counselling (Sage, 2015).

In this blog post, Duncan talks about their new co-edited volume Working with Goals in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Recent evidence suggests that working with goals in counselling and psychotherapy can support positive therapeutic change. Goals can empower clients and give them hope: helping them feel that they have the capacity to act towards achieving their desired futures. Goals can help focus, and direct, clients’ and therapists’ attention, building a better therapeutic alliance.  Goal-setting and goal-tracking can help to ensure that therapy is personalised to the individual client: so that they are working towards objectives that are of genuine importance to them.

The different motivations for seeking, and offering, counselling and psychotherapy link with the debate around the use and usefulness of goals in therapy.  The best kind of therapy is the one that fits the needs and wishes and preferences and context of the client. But here is the crux of the matter: before therapists can offer the right kind of help or guidance or facilitation, they need to ask the client (perhaps not so bluntly): ‘What do you want?’

‘What do you want?’ is a deceptively simple question that draws on complex psychological processes and requires great therapeutic skills to help a client answer. From the perspective developed in this book, the client’s answer to this question should set the over-arching direction for the therapeutic process itself. Unless we know the client’s reasons for embarking on a therapeutic journey we cannot be as helpful as they or we might wish. 

How we help and how we understand the question, how we support and facilitate the client to find the answer that is right for them and the myriad potential answers to it, is the starting point for how we help and how we go on being helpful. This is about how we help the client start, and how we remain flexible and open to changes in the directions and reasons for travel, and how we seek to work to be as helpful as we can in joining the client on their journey.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Vaccine Hesitancy and Trust

This post is by Elisabetta Lalumera (University of Bicocca, Milan). In this post she summarises a paper forthcoming in Rivista di Estetica, entitled: "Trust in healthcare systems and vaccine hesitancy."

Healthcare systems can positively influence our personal decision-making and health-related behavior only if we trust them. What does it take for the public to trust a healthcare system? I propose that the trust relation is based on an epistemic component, epistemic authority, and on a value component, the benevolence of the healthcare system. I argue that it is also affected by the vulnerability of the pubblic on healthcare matters, and by the system’s credibility.

My proposed analysis of public trust in health care systems can be used to better understand the phenomenon of vaccine hesitancy, the tendency to question vaccine policies, and to seek alternative vaccine schedules or refuse vaccination.


Trust in health care is a three-place relation, involving an institution (a community’s health care system), a collective entity (the public), and a field of application, which is what the public trusts a health care system for. The public is the varied group of consumers, seekers and providers of health to which a health care system addresses its services, which in national health care systems virtually coincides with the whole population. Examples of fields of application are information (about, for example, the risks of smoking), prevention (as in immunization campaigns, and screening tests), diagnosis, therapy, hospitalization, but also organ and blood donation.

Public trust in health care involves vulnerability in two respects: (1) we trust someone because we cannot personally take care of all our material and immaterial goods and in particular, we trust an institution because we are unable to manage some area of our life by ourselves, as individuals; (2) we trust healthcare systems with our personal health, and the health of our families and our communities. 

When is it appropriate to trust? First, public trust in health care is grounded on the epistemic authority of health care practitioners, and of the system collectively taken. We can’t expect the health care system to promote, maintain or restore our health unless we assume that it embodies sufficient knowledge, competence, and skills to do so. Second, public trust in health care depends on the confidence that healthcare practitioners will act on the knowledge, competence and skills they possess in order to promote, maintain or restore our health, and not with other goals in view.

Though normatively public trust is founded on epistemic authority and value sharing, in fact it correlates with the credibility of the trusted part. Credibility in this context is the capacity to produce in others the impression that one is epistemically authoritative and benevolent. The public is willing to grant trust if the health care system is credible enough.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Memory, Narrative, and the Autobiographical Process

Jens Brockmeier is a Professor in the Psychology department at the American University of Paris. With a background in philosophy, psychology, and language studies, he is concerned with the cultural fabric of mind and language - language understood as a form of life and central dimension of human development.

He is the author of Culture and Narrative (Mimesis, 2014) and a co-editor (with L.-C Hyden and H. Lindemann Nelson) of Beyond Loss: Dementia, Memory, and Identity (OUP, 2014). In this blog post he talks about his latest book Beyond the Archive: Memory, Narrative, and the Autobiographical Process

In recent work, Brockmeier has been investigating narrative as psychological, linguistic, and cultural practice. His main interest is in the function of narrative for autobiographical memory, personal identity, and the understanding of time, issues he has explored both empirically and philosophically – empirically, in various languages and sociocultural contexts, and under conditions of health and illness; philosophically, in terms of a narrative hermeneutics.

Brockmeier has summarized much of his recent work in his book Beyond the Archive: Narrative, Memory, and the Autobiographical Process (Oxford University Press, 2015, paperback version 2018). The book’s basic assumption is that our longstanding view of memory and remembering is in the midst of a profound transformation. This transformation does not only affect our concept of memory or a particular idea of how we remember and forget; it is a wider cultural process. In order to understand it we need to step back and consider what is meant when we say “memory.”

Building on a number of far-ranging studies, Beyond the Archive offers such a perspective. It synthesizes our understanding of remembering in various fields (that most of the time work independently from each other): the neurosciences, social, historical, and digital memory studies, and the humanities. This spectrum of studies also includes analyses of key works of life-writing, specifically of autobiographical literature – by Marcel Proust, Walter Benjamin, Samuel Beckett, W.G. Sebald, and others. What’s more, there even is a memory sculpture/installation by the artist Anselm Kiefer, analyzed as meticulously as neuroscientific experimental data. (In a different work, Brockmeier deals with Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon as incorporating both individual and collective memories).

The aim of all this is to radically rethink our very notion of memory as a storage, an archive of the past. In a long history of scientific, philosophical, and cultural reflections, this notion has gained an undisputed solidity, suggesting the natural existence of a distinctive human capacity (or a set of neuronal systems) enabling us to “encode,” “store,” and “recall” (or “reconstruct”) past experiences, as the universal mantra of  neuro(cognitive) psychology goes.

However, this is only half of the story and, in fact, half of Brockmeier’s book. The other half presents a new picture emerging out of this transitional phase. There are, in fact, many cultural forms of remembering and forgetting that are different from the traditional archival model, forms and practices embedded not only in the brain or some of its parts, but in a wide range of human activities and artifacts. They now come to the fore, turning into subjects of inquiry. The emerging picture is more complex than any notion of memory as storage of the past would allow.

That is to say, there now are a number of alternatives to the archival memory. One of them is elaborated in this book under the name of the narrative approach (Brockmeier has outlined a slightly different approach shifting the focus to the conversational structure of much of human remembering in another recent publication).

The narrative approach, as Brockmeier demonstrates in Beyond the Archive, via several case studies of autobiographical narratives, not only permits us to explore the storied weave of our most personal, namely, autobiographical form of remembering. It also sheds new light on the interrelations among memory, culture, and self – which opens to a further field of research (and literature), that of “narrative identity.”

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Ageing Stereotypes and False Memories

Today's post is provided by Katya Numbers. She discusses her recent paper "Ageing stereotypes influence the transmission of false memories in the social contagion paradigm", which is forthcoming in Memory.

I am a Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of New South Wales as well as the Coordinator of the Sydney Memoryand Ageing Study. My research focuses on metamemory (our beliefs about our own and others’ memories) and ageing. Specifically, I am interested in whether peoples’ subjective beliefs about memory and age can predict and/or influence actual memory performance, both in younger and older adults.

If two people are recalling a shared event, and one person misremembers that event, it is very easy for their false memory to change the other person’s memory of what occurred. We call this the social contagion of memory.

It has been well established that the social contagion effect is influenced by how credible a person is seen to be. That is, people are more likely to adopt false memories from someone they view as a credible memory source compared to someone they see as less credible. The logic behind this is simple: if we think someone is credible, there is not much reason to pay close attention to what they are saying. This allows false suggestions to sort of seep into our memory without us noticing. Alternatively, if we don’t see someone as credible, then we are motivated to pay closer attention to what they are telling us. This makes it easier to first detect, and then later reject, any false information they might suggest.

In Western cultures, one way that a person’s credibility is challenged centres on stereotypes of memory and ageing. If you ask someone to describe a “typical old person”, words like forgetful, feeble and confused readily come to mind. Importantly, though, stereotypes of ageing are multidimensional. So, it’s possible that you may doubt the memory of an old person while at the same time appreciating the wisdom that comes with age. In this way, on older person can be viewed as either “feeble and forgetful” or “experienced and wise” depending on the type of information we have about them.

In a recent paper, myself and my co-authors examined whether manipulating stereotypes associated with an older person would influence the social contagion effect. To do this, we paired college-aged students with an older “partner” who was actually a confederate (someone who is in on the experiment). Next, we manipulated the type of age stereotype associated with her by providing participants with bogus background information about her.

For our negative stereotype condition, participants were told our confederate was retired, living in an aged care facility, and partook in sedentary activities (e.g., knitting). For our positive stereotype condition, participants were told the confederate was completing her Bachelor’s degree, living independently, and enjoyed challenging activities like learning German (all things that were true, by the way!).

Thursday, 6 September 2018

The Natural and the Human

This post is by Stephen Gaukroger, Emeritus Professor of History of Philosophy and History of Science at the University of Sydney.

In the course of the eighteenth century, philosophers, physicians, political economists and others began to think about how the study of human behaviour might be taken out of the hands of metaphysicians and theologians, and transformed into an evidence-based scientific enterprise. These projects fall under the general rubric of ‘naturalization’.

The Natural and the Human looks at late eighteenth and early nineteenth century attempts to naturalize the study of human behaviour, and at the way in which this general programmes lead to the naturalization of religion.

Four forms of naturalization of the human are explored. The first is anthropological medicine, in which traditional philosophical understanding of the human condition is replaced with a medical understanding, not least on the grounds that whereas philosophy confines itself to healthy minds and bodies, what is needed is an understanding of the mind and the body in healthy and unhealthy states. In particular, healing the mind becomes, like healing the body, an empirical matter.

Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Emotions, Practical Rationality and the Self

This post is by Tyler Flanagan, and in this post he briefly introduces and outlines his recent publication in Res Cogitans entitled “Emotions, Practical Rationality, and the Self.” He is a first year Master’s student in Philosophy at Virginia Tech.

What I am attempting to do in my paper is defend the view that our emotions are quite amenable to the view of ourselves as rational beings. Rather than throw out the picture of the emotional human, I argue that we should embrace the view instead. Our emotions do not in any way stop us from reasoning properly, and in fact provide us with reasons for action that seem to outweigh even our most thoughtful contemplation (Arpaly, 2002; Jones 2004)

With this view in tow, I suggest that the emotions we have about ourselves, such as regret or shame, act as a guide to how well or how poorly we are attending to our goals and what we care about, and in some instances can show us when we are valuing what we should not. In these ways our emotions are an integral part of our rational agency.

Let me begin by explaining that emotions occur for reasons. When a loved one gets angry or holds a grudge towards us, we do not simply throw our hands up and accept it. We ask why they are angry; we ask them to give us reasons for their emotion, suggesting that emotions are in fact beholden to standards of justification and explanation in just the same way as we justify or explain our beliefs and actions.

Ultimately, our emotions are explained (though not necessarily justified) based on what we value. Whether I become angry or sad, joyful or remorseful, it is because I believe something good or bad has either happened or will happen to something or someone I value. If I see a crocodile rushing towards me and I become fearful, it is not only because I value my life, but also because I think the crocodile will in some way harm my life if he catches up to me. If I become sad over my mother’s death, it is because I valued my mother in many ways, and believe that I have experienced a great loss of what I value with her passing.

Thursday, 30 August 2018

Concern, Respect and Cooperation

Garrett Cullity is Hughes Professor of Philosophy at the University of Adelaide, where he teaches and writes on topics in practical, theoretical and meta-ethics. He taught previously at the Universities of Oxford and St Andrews. 

He is a co-editor (with Berys Gaut) of Ethics and Practical Reason (Clarendon Press, 1997) and the author of The Moral Demands of Affluence (Clarendon Press, 2004). In this blog post he talks about his new book Concern, Respect, and Cooperation.

Three things often recognized as central to morality are concern for others’ welfare, respect for their self-expression, and cooperation in worthwhile collective activity. When philosophers have proposed theories of the substance of morality, they have typically looked to one of these three sources to provide a single, fundamental principle of morality – or they have tried to formulate a master-principle for morality that combines these three ideas in some way.

In this book, I make the case for treating them instead as three independently important foundations of morality. The resulting plural-foundation moral theory belongs to the type pioneered by W.D. Ross. Like Ross, I think that there is a plurality of fundamental moral norms with no master-principle governing their contributions to overall moral rightness. However, my view departs from Ross both in its content and in the type of thing it claims is foundational to morality: it is not a theory of fundamental “prima facie duties”. It also gives a more elaborate account of the ways in which the content of morality is generated from its foundations.

Tuesday, 28 August 2018

The Functional Character of Memory

Today's post is by Jordi Fernández. He is an associate professor of philosophy at the University of Adelaide. Jordi's research interests are mainly in philosophy of mind, epistemology and metaphysics. He is particularly interested in self-knowledge and memory. 

He is the author of Transparent Minds (2013), a monograph on self-knowledge, and he is currently working on a monograph on memory. He is also interested in cognitive science and continental philosophy. Jordi's post is the second of a series on chapters from the New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory collection. (See here for the first in the series.) He discusses his chapter "The functional character of memory".

Consider the question of what is to remember something, as opposed to imagining it. This is a question that I have tackled in a recent article. I try not to appeal to the phenomenology of memories, or the content of memories, or the kind of knowledge that memories provide. The reason is that, once I determine what kinds of mental states qualify as memories, I intend to shed some light on what the typical phenomenological features of memories are, what their characteristic content is, and what knowledge they usually provide. So it would be circular to appeal to those aspects of memory to answer the more basic question of what mental states qualify as memories.

One answer, popular within philosophy, is the causal theory of memory: A mental state representing some event is a memory just in case it causally originates in the subject's past experience of the event. But this condition rules out cases in which the memory is 'reconstructed'. And it rules in cases in which, as far as the person themselves are concerned, the event being represented never happened to them. Neither of those outcomes, I argue, is desirable.

Another answer, popular within psychology, is the narrative theory of memory: A mental state representing some event is a memory just in case the subject can use that representation to tell a story of their own lives. But this condition rules out cases in which we are confident that we witnessed the represented event, but we cannot relate it to any other event in our lives. And it rules in cases in which the subject confabulates and the represented event never took place in the past. Neither of those outcomes is desirable either.

What we learn from those theories is that one needs to walk a fine line between, on the one hand, allowing for some error in a mental state while it still qualifies as a memory and, on the other hand, not allowing for just any mental representation that we can cook up in our minds to qualify as a memory. I draw on the literature on functionalism to try to achieve the required balance. My suggestion is that a mental state is a memory if it is typically caused by an experience of the event, and it typically causes, in the subject, both the belief that the event happened and the belief that they experienced it.

This allows for a memory of an event to be 'reconstructed' as long as, in normal circumstances, the reconstructed memory is the mental representation of the event that the subject would have had, had they witnessed the event. But it does not allow for a confabulatory experience to count as a memory. Typically, if the confabulatory patient had experienced the event that they claim to remember, they wouldn't be representing it mentally now. This last claim, which is crucial for my discussion of memory, hinges on confabulation involving amnesia

Thursday, 23 August 2018

Existential Medicine

This post is by Kevin Aho. Professor Aho is chair of the Department of Communication and Philosophy at Florida Gulf Coast University. He is the author of Existentialism: An Introduction, Heidegger’s Neglect of the Body and co-author of Body Matters: A Phenomenology of Sickness, Illness, and Disease.

The new edited collection Existential Medicine: Essays on Health and Illness gathers together a group of leading figures such as Havi Carel, Shaun Gallagher, Drew Leder, Matthew Ratcliffe, John Russon, Jenny Slatman, Robert Stolorow, Fredrik Svenaeus, and Kristin Zeiler who draw on the methods of existential and hermeneutic phenomenology to illuminate the lived-experience of illness.

The primary aim of the collection is to challenge the detached and objectifying standpoint of mainstream medical science in order to deepen and broaden our understanding of health and illness and offer more sensitive and humane approaches to healthcare. To this end, the volume is not so concerned with the application of medical science to fix the biological body. Rather, the essays are focused on the body as it is lived, and the various ways in which the lived-body’s relationship to the world is modified and disrupted in illness.

The volume is conceived in four parts. Part one, “New Currents in Existential Psychiatry,” examines contemporary issues in the interpretation, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness, the relationship between mental illness and authenticity, and the importance of situating the experience of psychopathology within the context of a life-world. The second part of the book, “Phenomenologies of Anxiety, Pain, and Death,” explores existential, diagnostic, and relational issues associated with experiences of chronic pain, live organ donation, medically unexplained syndromes (MUPS), and the meaning of death.

The third part of the volume, “Ethics, Medicalization, and Technology,” consists of chapters devoted to the intersection of themes in biomedical ethics, phenomenology, and technology studies. The volume’s final part, “Existential Health,” turns to the ways in which the methods of phenomenology can be employed to critique an overly instrumental and technical approach to healthcare and aging and to reframe our current understanding of what it means to be healthy.

The essays in Existential Medicine illuminate a growing and increasingly influential area of research for philosophers, biomedical ethicists, medical humanists, and health care practitioners. Drawing on the insights of phenomenology, the authors expand our understanding of ‘what it feels like’ to be ill and the ways in which illness disrupts our relationship to the world.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

Testimonial Insult and Moral Reasons for Belief

Today's post is by Finlay Malcolm, a Research Fellow at the University of Hertfordshire. He is currently researching on the nature, value and epistemology of faith, the ethics of testimony, and non-realist approaches to religion.

Imagine that you’re having lunch with a good friend. You’re discussing work and you tell her that you were recently given an award for excellent achievement – something you’re very proud of. She has no reason to disbelieve your testimony: she knows that you’re a good worker, and that you don’t make things up. Nevertheless, she doesn’t believe what you say. What’s more, she explicitly informs you that she doesn’t believe your testimony.

Why won’t she believe what you’ve told her? Suppose that her reasons are that she thinks you’re making things up to make yourself sound better at your job than you actually are. That is, she thinks that you’re lying. But of course, she has no good reason to think that you’re lying. The fact that she doesn’t believe you for the reasons she doesn’t may strike you as insulting and may make you feel offended. According to some writers, you would be warranted in feeling as though you have been insulted in this case. For instance, G.E.M Anscombe remarked that ‘It is an insult and it may be an injury not to be believed’ (1979, 150).

In a recent article, I have defended an account of when and why ‘testimonial insults’ occur within the practice of testimony. The example above is insulting because the speaker has her sincerity called into question on a significant matter when dialoguing with someone of importance. You can also be insulted when you have your competence as a knower called into question, as when, say, you reject the testimony of a scientist because you think that he or she is poorly skilled qua scientist.

Insults can be quite useful devices in some contexts. Telling corrupt and abusive politicians that they are a disgrace to their office may encourage a change of behaviour. But in some cases, we may have distinctly moral reasons to refrain from insulting others. For instance, when insults cause offence, and when they undermine collective and individual flourishing. These reasons are outweighed in the case of the politician, but what about cases of special relationships, like friendship? If we can insult a friend when we don’t believe her testimony, do we then have moral reasons to believe her testimony?

Non-epistemic reasons for belief are controversial. It’s contentious even whether it’s psychologically possible to base a belief on non-epistemic reasons. Even granting the possibility of non-epistemic reasons for belief, in another paper, I argue that for many cases, testimonial insults do not need to be the basis of a person’s acceptance of some piece of testimony.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Developing Rights in a Developing World

This post is by Helen Ryland. Helen Ryland is a Philosophy PhD student at the University of Birmingham and funded by Midlands3Cities (AHRC).

A philosophy student and a law student walk into a room. This is essentially how the ‘Human Rights in the 21st Century: Developing Rights in a Developing World’ conference was born. After discussing our PhD projects at an induction event (and then again over several coffees), myself and Sarasvathi Arulampalam (Law, University of Birmingham) realised that we wanted to work on an interdisciplinary conference that would allow researchers from a variety of fields to get together and actually discuss the changes and challenges that human rights are currently facing, and how we might go about responding to these issues.

With the blessing of Alice Storey (Law, Birmingham City University), we applied to take over the organisation of her previous Midlands3Cities (M3C)- funded ‘Human Rights Challenges in the 21st Century’ conference. Our new conference was funded by a partnership between M3C (AHRC) and The Rights Lab, Nottingham, and we added three further members to the organising committee – Hannah Spruce (English and American Studies, University of Leicester), Amna Nazir (Law, University of Birmingham/Birmingham City University), and Thomas Crawley (Philosophy, University of Nottingham).

The conference featured two keynote speeches from Professor Zoe Trodd (The Rights Lab, Nottingham) and Dr Illan Wall (University of Warwick). We were delighted that both accepted our invite to speak, and they delivered brilliant, informative keynotes on two very different topics. Professor Trodd discussed her work with The Rights Lab, Nottingham, specifically she explained a freedom blueprint that would allow us to tackle modern slavery as a problem of sustainable development. Dr Wall argued against an absolute commitment to rights. He ultimately concluded that we would do better by allowing for strategic engagement with human rights.

Alongside our keynotes, the conference also featured four panels in which postgraduate students presented their research. In panel one – human rights and belonging – Bradley Hillier-Smith argued for our moral obligations to refugees. Bradley ultimately argued that we have a stronger moral obligation to aid those who are suffering as a result of severe human rights violations than we do to those suffering as a result of natural causes. This was followed by Nicholas M. Schenk’s discussion of statelessness, justice, and the protection of human rights, in which he explained how the global birth lottery is arbitrary.

Tuesday, 14 August 2018

The Roots of Remembering

Today's post is by Daniel D. Hutto and Anco Peeters.

Daniel D. Hutto (above right) is Senior Professor of Philosophical Psychology and Associate Dean of Law, Humanities and the Arts, at the University of Wollongong. and member of the Australian Research Council College of Experts. His recent research focuses primarily on issues in philosophy of mind, psychology and cognitive science. He is best known for promoting enactive and embodied cognition that is non-representational at root, and for his narrative practice hypothesis about folk psychology.

Anco Peeters (above left) is a doctoral student and tutor at the University of Wollongong. His doctoral project investigates the compatibility of functionalism and enactivism and compares these frameworks in terms of their explanatory power with respect to mind-technology interaction.

Attempts to accommodate a range of empirical findings about memory have provoked daring new thinking about what lies at the roots of remembering. Our chapter, 'The Roots of Remembering' in the New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory collection, develops an enactive account of remembering – one that casts remembering as fundamentally constructive, re-creative, and world-involving.

The position we advance not only rejects standard cognitivists proposals: it goes further than conservative embodied and enactive approaches to memory in denying that the best explanations of remembering ever involves the retrieval of stored contents.

Many regard acts of procedural remembering, such as the favourite example of remembering how to ride a bicycle, as essentially non-declarative. Remembering how is, arguably, like knowing how – namely, both are unlike remembering or knowing that in that they are not intrinsically contentful states of mind. Interestingly, there are a number of memory theorists that also hold that the retrieval of stored contents plays not part in the best explanations of procedural remembering.

Our position is marked out in that it extends this line of thought about the non-contentful basis of procedural remembering and apply it to more sophisticated kinds of remembering, such as episodic and semantic remembering. Despite this, we argue that our account can still accommodate experientially rich forms of contentful declarative memory. This is because contents can be outcomes of acts of remembering even if the retrieval of stored contents plays no part in the basic processes that explain how we remember.

Our chapter shows how theoretically reconceiving the basis of remembering along radically enactivist lines fits with and allows us to integrate three important experimental discoveries about the nature of memory. Firstly, it provides a new way of thinking about successful remembering can involve heavy scaffolding by the environment and other individuals. Consider a case that is prominently discussed in the literature on the extended mind – the plight of the Shakespearean stage actor in Elizabethan times (Sutton 2010). Such actors could be asked to retain command of lines for over seventy different roles (Tribble 2005).

Obviously, the demands on their memory was immense. They would have been forced to make use of mnemonic techniques that depended heavily on the environmental cues and prompts provided by the playhouse and other actors. This an example of so-called distributed or extended remembering. Several theorists have sought to explain such Shakespearean actors memorize by appealing to processes that are not wholly and solely inside the head. However, we propose going further, arguing that such cases of extended remembering can be adequately explained without appealing to the idea that processes in question involve the retrieval of stored information or content that was previously off-loaded onto the environment (Tribble 2005, p. 151). Such extended remembering can be achieved by cleverly rallying environmental clues and prompts that serve to trigger familiar, practised responses so as to generate the relevant lines and appropriate performances.

Secondly, new work on episodic remembering has explored the idea that such remembering may be best understood as a kind of active, creative imagining (Michaelian 2016). Our radical, non-contentful account of remembering agrees. We propose that, instances of episodic remembering are grounded in a reconstructive process. Memories are simulatively imagined, where, again, we argue, that the process that underwrites such imagining does not involve passive recollection or retrieval of stored contents.

Thirdly and more generally, our non-contentful approach to understanding the roots of remembering fits perfectly with a wide range empirical findings that have put pressure on the traditional idea that memory is fundamentally about accurately representing the past (De Brigard 2014). Our account, we contend, much more readily accommodates these empirical results than its traditional cognitivist competitors do.

The chapter has already provoked some interest among memory theorists. At the Naturally Evolving Minds conference in in February 2018, Kourken Michaelian presented his paper 'Radical enactivism and (post)causal theories of memory' in response to our position. He investigates how our proposal fits the latest thinking about causal and post-causal theories of memory. Interestingly, if he is right radical enactivist and post-causal theories of memory may both be moving towards a contentless conception of the roots of remembering.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

PLURAL-MENTE: Subjectivity and Relationships

PLURAL-MENTE is a new Research Group on the Philosophy and Psychology of Subjectivity and Relationships funded by Marco Castiglioni with the collaboration of Mauro Antonelli and Mario Vergani. In this post they tell us about the aims of the group and give us some information about how to follow their activities.

Objectives of the research group

The research group “PLURAL-MENTE” promotes in-depth studies about the complex interactions between philosophy and psychology in their different disciplinary branches. It aims to advance philosophic reflection on the various theoretical and applied perspectives inherent in the psychological disciplines, while also examining their historical and cultural roots.

The name “PLURAL-MENTE” explicitly recalls the epistemological and methodological pluralism required for the study of psychological phenomena, and promotes a critical engagement with the reductionist positions prevalent today. The subtitle recalls, on the one hand, the centrality of the subject and of “first-person” approaches, and, on the other hand, the intrinsically relational constitution of subjectivity.

Main activities

Promoting awareness of the diverse lines of research, debates, and activities that focus on the philosophical problems underlying the psychological disciplines, in order to define a shared identity for the members of the research group, that is recognizable both within and outside our University.

Promoting, developing, and coordinating studies and investigations in the various areas of the philosophy of psychology (philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, philosophy of science, phenomenology, philosophies of difference and of alterity), while critically engagingwith neighboring disciplines such as psychiatry, the cognitive neurosciences, ethno-psychiatry, sociology of science, political science, psycho-pedagogy, etc.

Fostering initiatives of mutual engagement and scientific exchange (seminars, conferences, symposia, cycles of formative events, promotion of scientific literacy, etc.) on themes of shared interest;

Developing a shared strategy for the organization of and participation in national and international scientific-cultural initiatives, and for disseminating scientific studies and publications by the members of the research group.

Whenever appropriate, encouraging the members of the research group to apply to international, national, and regional grant competitions.

Favoring the scientific-cultural exchange,in relation to the research group’s core themes, with other universities, foundations, and research institutions in Italy and abroad, and initiating inter-disciplinary collaboration with other departments and university institutions, as well as with national and international research centres, both public and private.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Adaptive Misbeliefs, Value Trade-Offs, and Epistemic Consequentialism

Today's post is provided by Professor Nancy Snow.

My name is Nancy Snow and I am a Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Institute for the Study of Human Flourishing at the University of Oklahoma (see here for more information). My paper, “Adaptive Misbeliefs, Value Trade-Offs, and Epistemic Consequentialism,” was recently published in the volume Epistemic Consequentialism, edited by Kristoffer Ahlstrom-Vij and Jeffrey Dunn (Oxford University Press, 2018).

As the book’s title suggests, the collection is about various aspects of epistemic consequentialism. This is a view in the theory of knowledge (epistemology), according to which the production of epistemic value is the end at which beliefs or belief-producing processes aim. Epistemic consequentialism parallels ethical consequentialism in structure. I.e., just as ethical consequentialism tells us we should maximize happiness or utility in our actions, so epistemic consequentialism tells us we should maximize epistemic value in our beliefs. Epistemic value can take a variety of forms, such as increases in true or justified beliefs, understanding, insight, accuracy, and so on.

A problem for epistemic consequentialism parallels a problem for ethical consequentialism. Some forms of ethical consequentialism condone performing apparently immoral actions for the sake of achieving greater good, e.g., telling a lie for the sake of making everyone happy. Similarly, some versions of epistemic consequentialism seem to condone holding false or unjustified beliefs when doing so will result in a net gain in epistemic value. My paper examines a larger problem for epistemic consequentialists involving possible trade-offs between epistemic value and pragmatic value. My position is that even when holding false or unjustified beliefs leads to an overall increase in value tout court, having them is, nonetheless, epistemically irresponsible.

My paper focuses on adaptive misbeliefs. These are false beliefs, which, despite their falsity, help us to navigate the world and be effective agents. There is a lively literature on adaptive misbeliefs arguing that these beliefs are sometimes essential parts of our operating systems and help us to be functioning agents in a complex world. An example of an adaptive misbelief is my false belief that I am a good speaker. Having this false belief might buoy my confidence and keep me going through my class lectures, thus contributing to my ability to function in the world.

Thursday, 2 August 2018

Society for Applied Philosophy conference

In this post, I report from our applied epistemology panel at the Society for Applied Philosophy Annual Conference 2018, held in Utrecht from 29th June – 1st July.

When you think about typically ‘applied’ sub-disciplines of philosophy, epistemology might not be the first area of study to cross your mind. But Boudewijn de Bruin and Lisa Warenski, two speakers from last year’s panel on Applied Epistemology in the Professions decided that an applied epistemology panel should be a fixture of the SAP annual conference, and together with Anneli Jefferson and myself, put together a proposal, looking at deepening understanding of the application of the concept of epistemic injustice to topics in both mental health and finance for this year. (Unfortunately Lisa couldn’t make it on the day, so I report on just the three talks, but do keep an eye out for her work in this area!)

First Boudewijn explored epistemic injustice in consumer markets, starting from the observation that on some views of market forces and the relevant agents involved, increased competition ought to decrease discrimination – but this is not what we in fact observe: legislation, not competition, protects against discrimination. Boudewijn then outlined a number of areas where, despite the relevant civil rights acts, epistemic injustice crops up. 

Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Big Data Analysis of Conspiracy Theorists

Today's post on conspiracy theories is by Colin Klein, Peter Clutton and Vince Polito.

Colin Klein works on the philosophy of neuroscience at The Australian National University, and is interested in delusions and related phenomena.

Colin Klein

Peter Clutton is a graduate student in philosophy at The Australian National University, working on delusions and beliefs. is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University, interested in belief formation, self representation, and altered states of consciousness. 

Peter Clutton

Vince Polito is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the Department of Cognitive Science at Macquarie University, interested in belief formation, self representation, and altered states of consciousness.

Vince Polito

Conspiracy theorists are often thought to be distinctively irrational. When you picture a conspiracy theorist, you might imagine someone scouring the internet and joining dots between seemingly unrelated events, constructing a grand web of interconnected conspiracies in order to explain the mundane chaos of everyday life. Intuitively, it seems, there must be some fundamental epistemic or psychological error behind such activity.

For example, it has sometimes been claimed that conspiracy theorists possess a “monological” belief system, in which belief in one conspiracy leads to belief in others, until eventually a person explains every significant event, however unrelated, through the same conspiracy “logic”. This conception of conspiracy theorists has also influenced the philosophical and psychological literature on delusions.

As philosophers and cognitive scientists interested in rationality, beliefs, and delusions, we found this picture highly suspect. Surely there can be many ways into conspiracy beliefs, just as there can be many ways into other kinds of beliefs. Perhaps the “monological” view arises from a selection bias: typical “monological” conspiracy theorists do exist, but their voluminous, florid outpourings tend to stand out more, obscuring a greater heterogeneity among conspiracy believers generally.

Thursday, 26 July 2018

Minorities and Philosophy: Public Philosophy

This post is by Ji-Young Lee.

This year’s Minorities and Philosophy (MAP) @ Bristol conference theme was ‘Public Philosophy’. We hosted a number of talks exploring the conceptual and practical issues related to the idea of philosophy as a ‘public’ endeavour. Four current Philosophy PhD students are responsible for organizing the event: Chengxiao Dang, Chia-Hung Huang, Ji-Young Lee, and Denise Vargiu. We would also like to acknowledge Minorities and Philosophy, The Marc Sanders Foundation, and the University of Bristol Philosophy Department for kindly supporting this event.

We commenced our morning session with a talk from Jane Gatley, on justifying philosophy in secondary schools. She discussed how justifying teaching philosophy through the positive benefits associated with the P4C movement risked ‘conflating claims about philosophy with claims about the distinctive P4C pedagogy’. The benefits attached to P4C might have more to do with dialogue and child-centered learning, rather than philosophical content. She also suggested that we need greater justification for bringing philosophy into the secondary education curriculum, and that arguing for philosophy to take up valuable school time would require careful tandem consideration of the aims of secondary education.

Our second speaker, Chia-Hung, explored the question of how academics ought to participate in ‘public philosophy’. Against the more widely held view that philosophy accessible to the general public helps them become ‘better citizens’ and enhance their critical thinking skills, he claimed that exposure to 'public philosophy' tends to be too unstructured and sporadic to be helpful. Instead, it is the civil duty of academically trained philosophers to dispense with their philosophical expertise by way of individual consultations on matters that capture their recipients’ interest.

Next, Professor Chris Bertram gave us a presentation on the ways that hate speech and immigration policies contribute to what he terms a ‘hostile environment’. Drawing on philosophy of language, he discussed some of the very visible and public ways that this hostile environment manifests in day to day life. It is, as he mentioned, not just politicians and the state at large who contribute - ordinary citizens who occupy roles as employer, landlord, etc. are made complicit in the perpetuation of this hostile environment. His claim was that this hostile environment constitutes a form of exclusion and discrimination, depriving many immigrants of full citizenship.

Tuesday, 24 July 2018

Bias, Structure and Injustice

Today's post is provided by Robin Zheng. In this post she introduces her paper "Bias, Structure and Injustice: A reply to Haslangar", published in Feminist Philosophical Quarterly. Robin Zheng is an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Yale-NUS College. Her research focuses on issues of moral responsibility and structural injustice, along with other topics in ethics, moral psychology, feminist and social philosophy, and philosophy of race. 

Some of her other works on topics related to this post include “Attributability, Accountability, and Implicit Bias” in Implicit Bias and Philosophy: Volume 2 (eds. Michael Brownstein and Jennifer Saul), “A Job for Philosophers: Causality, Responsibility, and Explaining Social Inequality” in Dialogue: Canadian Philosophical Review, and “What is My Role in Changing the System? A New Model of Responsibility for Structural Injustice” (forthcoming in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice). For more information, visit her website here.

In her 2015 “Social Structure, Narrative, and Explanation,” Sally Haslanger raises a highly influential critique of the philosophical literature on implicit bias. Her target is a kind of explanatory and normative individualism: she argues that implicit bias is neither necessary nor sufficient for explaining ongoing injustice; and that it wrongly locates the badness of injustice in individuals rather than social structures.

She demonstrates this with several examples in which inequalities arise even when it is stipulated that no one has racist, sexist, or inegalitarian attitudes of any kind: a husband and wife whose decision to make her the primary caregiver (because only she receives parental leave) results in unequal incomes, a teacher whose fair disciplining of a Black student leads him and his non-White friends (because they have experienced long patterns of racism) to disengage and perform badly in her classroom, and a worker who loses his job due to the city’s cancelling (because they are strapped for cash) his bus route to work.

One of things I do in my paper is defend a certain kind of normative individualism by arguing that we need a theory of individual responsibility in order to hold particular persons accountable for the day-to-day work of collectively organizing to transform social structures. For example, if a political ally of mine makes an implicitly biased remark, I face the immediate problem of how to feel and respond to that particular person – should I call them out? Should I modify my beliefs or attitudes toward them? Should I continue working with them? A theory of individual responsibility can offer me some guidance in answering these live, practical questions in ways that a structural theory might not.

In the paper I also propose a theory of implicit bias that draws on Pierre Bourdieu’s work on social structures. My suggestion is that we can understand implicit biases to be themselves a type of social structure. The two key Bourdieusian concepts here are field and habitus. Bourdieu conceives of social structures as “fields,” that is, as configurations of relationships between social positions.

Agents occupy different positions in the field according to how much and what sorts of capital (i.e., social, material, and cultural resources) they possess. Over time, an agent will acquire a “habitus” from the field, which Bourdieu describes as “schemes of perception, thought and action [that] tend to guarantee the ‘correctness’ of practices and their constancy over time.” There is a kind of mutually reinforcing fit between field and habitus; and while habitus is “deposited” in agents by a field, that field persists only insofar as people remain invested in acting in accordance with its rules. According to Bourdieu:

Social reality exists, so to speak, twice, in things and in minds, in fields and in habitus, outside and inside of agents. And when habitus encounters a social world of which it is the product, it is like a “fish in water”: it does not feel the weight of the water, and it takes the world about itself for granted. . . . It is because this world has produced me, because it has produced the categories of thought that I apply to it, that it appears to me as self-evident.

This seems to me like a wonderfully apt description of implicit social cognition. In other words, implicit biases are not ordinary “attitudes.” They are the thing in our heads that “fits” us in to social structures – that lock us into forms of behavior which sustain those structures over time, because they are themselves a species of micro-level social structure that interlocks with the macro-level field.

As Omar Lizardo puts it: “The habitus is itself an objective structure albeit one located at a different ontological level and subject to different laws of functioning than the more traditional ‘structure’ represented by the field” (emphasis mine). This is what it means for social reality to exist “twice.”

The upshot, I argue, is that part of the work of structural transformation begins from the inside out, with the construction of new habituses (i.e. new social structures) that serve to challenge existing injustice. Those of us committed to working together in the long run for a radical transformation will need practices of self-reflexive criticism and constant inspection – our “habit-busting habits” – to become second nature.

That is, we will need to develop “radical habitus” or “habitus of resistance” (Clarke 2000) alongside anti-oppressive fields that cultivate them. Becoming aware of our own implicit biases and putting measures in place to block them, I believe, is an important part of this process.

Thursday, 19 July 2018

Mind Reading 2018

Mind Reading is the yearly conference of the collaboration between UCD Child & Adolescent Psychiatry, researchers at the University ofBirmingham, and the Diseases of Modern Life and Constructing Scientific Communities Projects at St Anne's College, Oxford.

Organised by Elizabeth Barrett (Consultant in Liaison Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at Children’s University Hospital) and Melissa Dickson (Lecturer in Victorian Literature at the University of Birmingham) the conference, and project more generally, focuses on two simple questions: Do doctors and patients speak the same language, and how can we use literature to bridge the evident gaps? In what follows, I summarise just some of the talks and workshop sessions.

How do cultural norms and expectations shape diagnosis and the experience of illness? Melissa Dickson showed us that, in 19th Century Britain, there were multiple literary and medical accounts of a psychosis-like state brought about by…green tea. It was an unfamiliar substance from a culture about which many British people were suspicious, and which, unlike black tea, did not arrive through an established colonial trade route. Following this, and other examples (my all-time favourite being “bicycle face”) we were encouraged to think about how contemporary cultural expectations might shape experiences and clinical practices around different illnesses.

Tuesday, 17 July 2018

Confabulation and Rationality of Self-knowledge

Sophie Keeling is currently a philosophy PhD student at the University of Southampton. She primarily works on self-knowledge which has allowed her to research a range of topics in epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of psychology. Sophie’s thesis argues that we have a distinctive way of knowing why we have our attitudes and perform actions that observers lack. She gives a brief overview here.

This post summarises my paper ‘Confabulation and Rational Requirements for Self-Knowledge’ (forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology). The paper argues for a novel explanation of confabulation:

Confabulation is motivated by the desire to have fulfilled a rational obligation to knowledgeably explain our attitudes by reference to motivating reasons.

(Following others in the epistemological literature, I term the reason for which we hold an attitude our ‘motivating reason’ for it).

I shan’t seek to define confabulation here (a task in its own right) but instead note the subtype I’ll explain. I’m interested in cases whereby subjects falsely explain their attitudes (e.g. beliefs, desires, preferences) in response to prompting. We see a paradigm example of this in Nisbett and Wilson’s (1977) experiment in which they arranged four pairs of identical stockings on a table and asked individuals which they preferred and why. Subjects picked a pair generally towards the right of the table. Instead of noting the real cause of their preference – the position of the tights – or admitting ignorance, subjects gave incorrect explanations. That is, they confabulated an answer, such as the pair’s supposedly superior ‘knit, sheerness, and weave’. Indeed, this is a commonplace phenomenon. We’ve all at one point adopted a stance which we’ve rationalised after the fact. (E.g. I kid myself that I prefer the expensive branded yogurt over the supermarket offering because it’s tastier, and nothing to do with the clever marketing).

The paper then introduces three explananda for our explanation of this phenomenon, and argues that the two main options in the literature fail to account for all these. For example, confabulation is first-personal – we make these sorts of mistakes more readily with ourselves than others. (Here I draw on work such as Pronin et al. 2002 concerning the ‘bias blind spot’). Yet some accounts (e.g. Nisbett and Wilson 1977, Carruthers 2013, and Cassam 2014) struggle to address this important asymmetry in our mistaken self-ascriptions.

I propose an explanation which does account for all three explananda. It appeals to what I call the knowledgeable reasons explanation (KRE) obligation:

The obligation to knowledgeably self-ascribe motivating reasons when explaining one’s own attitude.

We shouldn’t confuse this rational obligation with moral ones. It just captures the thought that I ought to, for example, explain my belief that it will rain by citing a motivating reason, such as the weather forecast. That we bear the KRE obligation is independently plausible: I seem to be doing something irrational and criticisable if I instead answer the question ‘why?’ with ‘no reason’, ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I’m generally pessimistic’.

I use KRE in the following explanation:

We confabulate, and indeed confabulate with the content we do, because we desire to have fulfilled the KRE obligation (i.e. the obligation to knowledgeably explain our attitudes by reference to motivating reasons)

We can now explain the stockings experiment in the following way. The desire to have fulfilled the KRE obligation leads the subjects to confabulate an answer in the absence of a true one they can provide – they did not form their preference on the basis of reasons. And further, they specifically self-ascribe the reason that the stockings were sheerer, say, because it is a plausible motivating reason. This proposal accounts for the explananda in a non-ad-hoc way. For example, confabulation is first-personal because we desire to have fulfilled the obligation to knowledgeably explain our own attitudes by reference to motivating reasons, not other people’s.

The final section raises an upshot for understanding self-knowledge. Contrary to popular assumption, confabulation cases give us reason to think we have distinctive access to why we have our attitudes. What exactly our special access amounts to, though, must be left for further papers!

Thursday, 12 July 2018

Political Epistemology

On 10th and 11th May in Senate House London Michael Hannon and Robin McKenna hosted a two-day conference on Political Epistemology, supported by the Mind Association, the Institute of Philosophy, and the Aristotelian Society. In this report I focus on two talks that addressed themes relevant to project PERFECT.

Robert Talisse

On day 1, Robert Talisse explained what is troubling with polarisation. In the past Talisse developed an account of the epistemic value of democracy in terms of epistemic aspirations (rather than democratic outcomes). In a slogan, "the ethics of belief lends support to the ethos of democracy". We can see this when we think about polarisation.

There are two senses of polarisation: (1) political polarisation and (2) belief (or group) polarisation. Political polarisation is the dropping out of the middle ground between opposed ideological stances. That means that opposed stances have fewer opportunities to engage in productive conversations. Belief polarisation instead is something that happens in like-minded political groups and concerns the doxastic content of people's beliefs. People tend to adopt a more extreme version of the belief they originally have when they discuss the content with like-minded people.

The problem is that the radicalisation of one's views does not depend on acquiring more or better reasons for one's original views, but on the social dynamics that is relevant to group discussion. Should people then discuss their views only with their opponents? Not really, as empirical evidence suggests that heterogeneous deliberation inhibits political participation.

What is wrong about belief polarisation and how can we address the problem? Belief polarisation impacts not only the content of the belief or the confidence about the belief, but one's estimation of the people who have opposed beliefs. So the belief-polarised person becomes increasingly unable to see nuances in the opposing view. Moreover, more and more of the behaviours of the opponents are seen in the light of their political views, and the opponents are seen as diseased or corrupted.

Finally, once the belief-polarised person knows that an expert has a different political view, then the opinion of the expert is rejected, even if the expert advice does not concern their political stance. Almost as if a sense of ideological purity compromises people's capacity to trust experts with different political views.

How can we overcome such challenges? Preventing belief polarisation is different from depolarising beliefs. More democracy may be good for prevention of belief polarisation. But once people are belief-polarised then more democracy does not seem to help. Maybe we sometimes need less democracy! Exposure to the other side entrenches polarisation.

A range of non-political behaviours and social spaces (consumer behaviours, community centres, workplaces, religious affiliations) become expressions of ideological stances which means that people are less and less likely to mix with people who have opposed political views. Humanising interactions across political divides are increasingly less likely to happen. This is due to the political saturation of social space.

So one possible solution is to carve out social spaces that are not already politically saturated. There must be activities where political affiliations do not matter.