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.

Adaptive misbeliefs point to complexity and possible tensions in the kinds of value that constitute our well-being as a whole. If our overall well-being consists of epistemic and pragmatic value (in addition to other kinds of value), then adaptive misbeliefs suggest a possible disconnect between what we should believe to be good “knowers” as opposed to what we should be believe to be good “doers.”

I explore this puzzle from a variety of angles, including cases of what I call ‘game-changing’ adaptive misbeliefs. These are false beliefs that contribute to bringing about the conditions under they become true. (E.g., my belief that I am a good swimmer causes me to jump in the water, which causes me to realize I am not a good swimmer, which causes me to take lessons, which cause me to become a good swimmer.) I argue that it is epistemically irresponsible to hold adaptive misbeliefs, even game-changing ones, for the sake of trade-offs between epistemic and pragmatic value that result in overall increases in value. That said, there are cases in which such epistemic irresponsibility is forgivable.

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.