Thursday, 19 September 2019

Why Philosophy?

This post is by Diego Bubbio (Western Sydney University) presenting a new book, Why Philosophy, co-edited with Jeff Malpas. The book also features a chapter by Kathy Puddifoot and myself on the themes of project PERFECT. We will blog about that next Tuesday!

Nowadays, very few people seem to care about philosophy. Why should we devote resources, and especially financial resources, to research in philosophy? Even more fundamentally – do we really need philosophy? In short – why philosophy?

The present collection of popular essays aims at answering this question – or better, at providing a series of answers. The essays of the book address, each from a different angle, the question of why philosophy matters. As we aim at engaging the intelligent but non-specialist reader, the essays are written in a ‘popular’ (jargon-free) rather than in ‘scholarly’ style. All the contributors have been carefully selected not only because of their excellent academic profiles, but also, and even more importantly, because of their ability to address the topic in a rigorous and yet challenging and entertaining way.

Each essay considers the central question (‘Why Philosophy?’) from different angles: the unavoidability of doing philosophy, the practical consequences of philosophy, philosophy as a therapy for the whole person, the benefits of philosophical analysis for improving public policy, and so on.owadays, very few people seem to care about philosophy. Why should we devote resources, and especially financial resources, to research in philosophy? Even more fundamentally – do we really need philosophy? In short – why philosophy?

The present collection of popular essays aims at answering this question – or better, at providing a series of answers. The essays of the book address, each from a different angle, the question of why philosophy matters. As we aim at engaging the intelligent but non-specialist reader, the essays are written in a ‘popular’ (jargon-free) rather than in ‘scholarly’ style. All the contributors have been carefully selected not only because of their excellent academic profiles, but also, and even more importantly, because of their ability to address the topic in a rigorous and yet challenging and entertaining way.

Each essay considers the central question (‘Why Philosophy?’) from different angles: the unavoidability of doing philosophy, the practical consequences of philosophy, philosophy as a therapy for the whole person, the benefits of philosophical analysis for improving public policy, and so on.

Tuesday, 17 September 2019

Stereotyping Patients

Today’s post is provided by Katherine PuddifootAssistant Professor of Philosophy, Durham University. Here, she introduces her article, "Stereotyping Patients", that has recently appeared in the Journal of Social Philosophy.

Should healthcare professionals respond to the social group status of their patients, automatically associating patients of particular social groups (e.g. certain races, religions, social classes) more strongly than they automatically associate patients of other social groups with certain concepts, traits and characteristics? In other words, should healthcare professionals be influenced in their clinical judgement and decision making by automatically activated stereotypes or implicit biases?

This can produce unethical outcomes (Matthew 2018). Where healthcare professionals associate members of some social groups with certain traits, for example uncooperativeness, this can lead to group members receiving poorer quality treatment. However, the association of social groups with characteristics can facilitate higher quality decision-making in the medical context.

If, for example, a medical condition is more prevalent in one social group than another, associating members of the social group more strongly than others with features associated with the medical condition can increase the chance of a correct diagnosis being made.

Healthcare professionals therefore appear to face a dilemma between achieving ethical goals of fair treatment and epistemic goals of making correct diagnoses and treatment decisions. (This outcome is fitting with recent arguments in philosophy about the impact of implicit biases in other contexts: that they seem to lead people to face an ethical-epistemic dilemma. See for example Gendler 2011.)

In my paper, however, I argue that it is misleading to portray healthcare professionals as facing a dilemma of this sort. I argue that healthcare professionals can often achieve their ethical and epistemic goals in the same way, eitherby responding to or failing to respond differentially to patients due to their social group status. However, I argue, they nonetheless face a serious difficulty: the difficulty of deciphering which response is best within a particular context.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Philosophical Posthumanism

Today's post is by Francesca Ferrando. She is Adjunct Assistant Professor of Philosophy at NYU-Liberal Studies, New York University. A leading voice in the field of Posthuman Studies and founder of the NY Posthuman Research Group, she has been the recipient of the Sainati prize with the Acknowledgment of the President of Italy. She was the first speaker to give a TED talk on the topic of the posthuman. US magazine "Origins" named her among the 100 people making change in the world. 

She is introducing here her new book Philosophical Posthumanism (Bloomsbury). 

We are no longer “human”. We live in a time of radical bio-technological developments, where human enhancement, designer babies and sentient AI are the next frontiers. We live in the era of the Anthropocene and of the sixth mass extinction of species caused, directly and indirecly, by human action. In light of the political and environmental imperatives of our age, the term 'posthuman' provides an alternative by addressing humanity not by itself, but in relation to technology and ecology.

The philosophical landscape which has developed as a response to the crisis of the human, includes several movements, such as: Posthumanism, Transhumanism, Antihumanism, New Materialism and Object Oriented Ontology. This rich variety of voices is very exciting and it shows that Posthumanism is the philosophy of our time; and still, it can be daunting and confusing. 

This book, written as questions and answers to facilitate the readers, offers a clear navigational tool to understand the similarities and differences between all these currents. Furthermore, it develops the reflection on Philosophical Posthumanism in detailed ways, from ethics to politics, from epistemology to ontology, emerging in the global call for social change, responsible science and multispecies coexistence. This book explains why the notion of 'the human' in the 21stcentury is in need of urgent redefinition and why we, as a species, have always been posthuman.

More information about Francesca's work can be found here. If you are interested in her book, you can receive a 35% discount ordering online and entering the code POST19 on the first page at checkout.

Tuesday, 10 September 2019

Is the Capgras Delusion an Endorsement of Experience?

This post is by Federico Bongiorno, a PhD candidate in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham working primarily in the philosophy of mind and cognitive science. Earlier this year, he was a visiting research fellow at Yale University. Here he offers an overview of his paper ‘Is the Capgras delusion an endorsement of experience?' which was recently published in Mind & Language.

The Capgras delusion is a condition in which a person believes that a loved one has been replaced by an identical or near-identical other (this can take a variety of forms, such as an imposter, clone, alien, robot, etc.). A more careful definition would specify two propositions that the person believes (Aimola-Davies & Davies, 2009): the proposition that someone is not a certain known individual (e.g., this man is not my father), and the proposition that someone has replaced a certain known individual (e.g., this is a replacer of my father). I name the content of the former proposition misidentification and the latter replacement.

One popular idea within the background of cognitive neuropsychiatry is that the Capgras delusion is grounded in an irregular experience, whereby a person sees a familiar face but lacks the characteristic affective response (Ellis & Young, 1990; Stone & Young, 1997). The problem, then, is to clarify the specific role played by the experience in originating the delusional content. An influential approach to the problem is the endorsement model which claims that the experience encodes the content of the delusion. As such, all that it suffices to lead from the experience to the delusion is that the subject accepts her experience as veridical (Pacherie, Green, & Bayne, 2005; Pacherie, 2009).

Endorsement theorists take the irregular experience to be a perceptual state, where the content amounts to misidentification or replacement. There are a number of problems with this, which I discuss in the paper. Here, I mention one: it is unclear whether the experience can encode the sort of contents that the model says it does. I call this the experiential encoding problem (following Langdon & Bayne, 2010).

Thursday, 5 September 2019

Phenomenology and Qualitative Health Research

The Phenomenology and Mental Health Network organized a workshop last June 20th at the Collaborating Centre for Values-based Practice in Health and Social Care at St. Catherine’s College, University of Oxford. The theme was Phenomenology and Qualitative Health Research.

The aim of the workshop was to explore different ways in which philosophical phenomenology is applied in qualitative research and address issues that arise from the increasingly collaborative nature of these fields. The organizers were Anthony Fernandez, Marcin Moskalewicz and Dan Zahavi. I was very glad to be included among the speakers and have the chance to present some of my work. This report includes a detailed summary of everyone’s talks. I thank everyone for sharing their notes to make this report.

The first talk was Applied Phenomenology by Dan Zahavi, professor of philosophy and director of the Center for Subjectivity Research (University of Copenhaghen and University of Oxford) Zahavi addressed some fundamental questions that arise from the influence that phenomenological philosophy has had on empirical science: 
  • How is phenomenology best applied in non-philosophical contexts? 
  • What are the conditions for qualitative research to qualify as phenomenological? 
  • Is it sufficient to simply consider the first-person perspective of the informant? 
  • Should research employ interpretation or remain mainly descriptive? 
  • Should it investigate essential structures or focus on the particularity of individuals? 

Zahavi mainly addressed Max van Manen’s work but he also reviewed some common assumptions and made some recommendations.

The common assumption in van Manen’s work (and in applied phenomenology in general) is that because we have beliefs, biases and other presuppositions that structure our view and impede our access to the things themselves, if we want access to the things themselves, it is necessary to bracket such theoretical presuppositions and prejudices (and perform the epoché). 

But Zahavi argued that this view is mistaken. In early works of phenomenology (such as in Husserl’s descriptive phenomenology in Logical Investigations or in Reinach’s 1914 lecture What is Phenomenology?) we find discussions of the return to the things themselves and detailed descriptions of experience without there being any reference to the reduction or the epoché.

Zahavi recommended that there are several other features of philosophical phenomenology that are more relevant to the qualitative researcher than the epoché and the reduction. Phenomenological tools can be employed in a way that can allow new insights and create better therapeutic interventions and this is does not necessarily need to be achieved by following a rigorous method. One of the possible ways to achieve this could be, for instance, by developing a toolbox.

Lastly, Zahavi suggested that van Manen’s book Phenomenology of Practice offers a presentation of the phenomenological method that is problematic. One of the reasons for this is that when it comes to characterizing phenomenological research, van Manen presents conflicting views. 

For instance, in some occasions van Manen proposes that phenomenology is a philosophy with an interest in the particular, and in others that phenomenology should aim to capture essential aspects of the lived experience. Conflicting statements of the sort together with an insufficient guidance for the clear use of terms such as pre-reflective self-awareness, lifeworld or intentionality, are likely to make it a complex endeavour for researchers who are not professional philosophers to apply the method in their practice.


Tuesday, 3 September 2019

Minds, Mental Disorders and Processes

This post is by Elly Vintiadis, a philosopher based at the American College of Greece and interested in metaphysics and philosophy of mind.

In most discussions about the mind and mental disorders the metaphysical framework within which they take place is rarely questioned. It is however, important to check our metaphysical beliefs--including our beliefs about what the world is made up of--because whether they are held consciously or not, they affect the way we understand the world and how we approach it scientifically. 

For this reason, in my recent work I explore what seeing the world--and biological organisms in particular--within a metaphysical framework that puts at its centre the notion of a process can add to our understanding of the mind and its disorders. I contend that seeing the world as fundamentally ‘processual’ in nature rather than in terms of substances and things, provides the best explanation of what we know about the mind and mental disorders. In addition, pragmatically it opens up the way for better treatment and prevention options. 

Traditional metaphysics has seen the world as made up of things that are in turn made up of smaller things--and so on all the way down. In contrast, according to process metaphysics the world is made up of processes that can be understood as occurrences that take place in time and that essentially involve change. That is, the world is made up of a hierarchy of intertwining processes that exist at different time scales--and whatever stability we experience in the world is the result of processes in dynamic interaction. 

Viewing brains and minds within a processual framework--and therefore as dynamic and physically, socially and historically situated- can not only make better sense of the plasticity and complexity of our brains but also allows us to give pivotal importance to the self-organization - through constant feedback and feed forward loops with their environment--of the brain and the mind.

Thursday, 29 August 2019

The Biopsychosocial Model of Health and Disease

Today's post is by Derek Bolton. He is Professor of Philosophy and Psychopathology at King’s College London. His latest book co-authored with Grant Gillett is The Biopsychosocial Model of Health and Disease: Philosophical and Scientific Developments (Springer Palgrave, 2019, Open Access).

Imagine how odd this would be: You or the family were attending clinic (say neurology, orthopedic, pediatric or psychiatric), enquired about causes and cures, and the reply referred to complexity and the Biopsychosocial Model. You go home and look this up, and happen upon criticism by many authoritative commentators to the effect that the Biopsychosocial Model, popular though it is, is scientifically, clinically, and philosophically useless. This is actually where we are and this is the problem we diagnose and address in our book.

We propose a formulation of the problem along the following lines: The 1960s and ‘70s saw the beginnings of systems theory approaches in biology, in principle extendable to psychological and social phenomena. George Engel was among those who saw quickly the relevance to health and disease. Especially that the exclusively biological focus of biomedicine could and should be expanded to include psychosocial factors in a new biopsychosocial medicine/healthcare. Since that time, evidence has accumulated from a wide range of epidemiological and clinical studies suggesting the involvement of psychosocial factors in the aetiology and course of a wide range of physical and mental health conditions. While the Biopsychosocial Model has stood ready to accommodate these findings, its ability to theorise them has not been updated since the programmatic formulations of systems theory. Especially problematic are deep scientific, philosophical assumptions about the impossibility of psychosocial causation in long traditions of dualism, physicalism and reductionism.

Tuesday, 27 August 2019

Should Technology Erase Biases?

Today we continue our mini series exploring issues regarding technological enhancement in learning and education, featuring papers from the Cheating Education” special issue of Educational Theory. This week, Sophie Stammers discusses her paper “Improving knowledge acquisition and dissemination through technological interventions on cognitive biases”.

When we think about the role that technology could play in enhancing cognition, much of the literature focuses on extending faculties that are already performing well, so that they perform even better. We also know that humans possess a range of cognitive biases which produce systematically distorted cognitions. Could we use technology to erase our cognitive biases? Should we?

In this paper I wanted to think about the specific threats that cognitive biases pose to learning and education, and focused on two commonly recognised types of cognitive bias in particular: 

Thursday, 22 August 2019

Ignorance and Irrationality in Politics

To what extent should citizens be informed about the issues on which they vote for democracy to function? When ideology, biases and motivational processes drive political belief formation, should voters be considered irrational? These questions and more were the focus of the Ignorance and Irrationality in Politics Workshop organised by Michael Hannon, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Nottingham, and held on 10th – 11th June at the University of Nottingham. In what follows, I summarise a few of the workshop talks.

Zeynep Pamuk, Supernumerary Fellow in Politics at St. John’s, Oxford, discussed how decisions about which science projects to fund can both ameliorate and exacerbate ignorance. Zeynep explained how choices at the level of how to distribute funding and conduct research determine what we know and don’t know, through:

(i) the selection of research questions: what’s seen as worthy of pursuit is somewhat determined by a researcher’s context, background, biases, etc.

(ii) disciplinary norms. Consider the study of GMOs for instance, where the majority of early researchers were genetic engineers, and the study of impacts was confined to the cellular level – only later did environmental scientists study the broader effects and discover that some GMOs could be detrimental to seeds in other areas.

Tuesday, 20 August 2019

Human Memory and Technology in Education

This is the first in a mini series of posts exploring issues regarding technological enhancement in learning and education, featuring two papers that have appeared in the “Cheating Education” special issue of Educational Theory. This post is provided by Kathy Puddifoot, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at the University of Durham and Cian O’Donnell, Lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Bristol. They introduce their paper "Human Memory and the Limits of Technology in Education".

Have you ever had the intuition that there are risks associated with students or teachers supplanting traditional methods of learning with the use of technologies that store and provide easy access to information, such as cloud storage, note-taking applications, open access sources like Wikipedia, or social media resources?

It can be difficult to articulate exactly what is problematic about the use of such technologies. They provide a way of storing accurate representations of information that can be easily searched, edited, copied and shared. The technologies can compensate for the limits of human memory, which is limited in terms of accuracy, storage capacity, and the ability to search and access information. 

However, the task of our paper is to articulate one specific risk associated with the use of the target technologies. We argue that the use of the technologies risks impeding one of the most important goals of education: the transference of learning.

Transference of learning occurs when information that is learnt in a certain educational context is used in another context, either inside or outside of education. 

Thursday, 15 August 2019

Mental Health Interventions in Schools

On 5th June, the Royal Society for Medicine hosted a workshop to explore the some of the issues - particularly the practicalities surrounding mental health interventions in schools. The event brought together medical and educational professionals and provided a forum to discuss ongoing projects supporting young people’s mental health, difficulties and potential courses of action for improvement. In the following, I summarise some of the talks.

Lord Richard Layard, Director of the Wellbeing Programme at the Centre for Economic Performance, London School of Economics, discussed the idea of schools having wellbeing as an explicit goal. The next step is to have as many schools as possible measuring progress towards this goal.

Richard proposed that one way to do this is through a wellbeing code debated on by children, teachers, parents, (every 2 years) regarding how people relate to each other in classrooms, assemblies, the playground, and so on. Such a code would cover not simply anti-bulling policies, but would take a broad and deep perspective on emotions and social relations across all young people’s experiences.

He discussed how the Healthy Minds project, a four year programme for secondary schools, is working towards some of these goals – its primary outcome for participating schools being a ten percentile point improvement in life satisfaction compared to the control.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Are clinical delusions adaptive?

Eugenia Lancellotta is a PhD student in Philosophy of Psychology at the University of Birmingham. Under the supervision of Lisa Bortolotti, she works on the adaptiveness of delusions, especially outside schizophrenia spectrum disorder. In this post, she discusses her paper “Are clinical delusions adaptive?” co-authored with Lisa Bortolotti, that recently appeared in WIREs.

In popular culture, and even in part of the scientific culture, delusions are still considered as the mark of madness. It would then seem to be counterintuitive to ask whether such bizarre, irrational and often harmful beliefs can be biologically or psychologically adaptive. 

A trait or mechanism is considered to be biologically adaptive when it favours the reproductive success and survival of the organism it belongs to (Wakefield 1992). By analogy with biological adaptiveness, a trait is deemed to be psychologically adaptive when it delivers psychological benefits which support the wellbeing and good psychological functioning of a subject. How then can delusions and adaptiveness - be it biological or psychological – fit together, if they seem to be one the opposite of the other? 

In our overview article (here), we try to reconcile the terms of this apparent contradiction, showing how delusions can be both adaptive and harmful at the same time. Our thesis is that, although data show that delusions are most likely psychologically and biologically maladaptive in the long run, they might be psychologically adaptive in the short term, by delivering psychological benefits which help people cope at times of difficulty. 

Delusions are defined as fixed, irrational beliefs which are particularly resistant to counterevidence (DSM V). They span from the exotic to the common - from believing that one is the left foot of God to thinking that one is the target of an international conspiracy - and they are symptoms of a number of illnesses, such as schizophrenia, depression, OCD and dementia. 

Despite their being usually defined in negative terms, by the harm and the difficulties they cause, in recent years research has suggested that delusions can also present some positive features (Bortolotti 2015; Fineberg and Corlett 2016; Mishara and Corlett 2009). 

In our article we highlight these features, weigh them up against the well-known detrimental effects of delusions, and consider if the benefits exceed the disadvantages or vice-versa, I.e. if delusions are adaptive or maladaptive. Our conclusion is that, although delusions seem to be psychologically harmful and biologically maladaptive in the long run, in the short term their adoption can be seen as psychologically adaptive, as it delivers some psychological benefits in the face of difficulties that the subject is experiencing.

Such benefits vary depending on the type and content of the delusions, spanning from the relief from anxiety given by delusions in schizophrenia, to the restoration of intrapsychic coherence of delusions in depression and most likely in OCD, as well as to the negotiation of emotionally overwhelming circumstances found in many cases of motivated delusions. However, what all these apparently distant cases share is that delusions seem to be an (imperfect) solution to an already existing biological or psychological problem rather than the beginning of it. 

To use a popular metaphor in the literature on the topic (McKay and Dennett 2009), delusions would be similar to shear pin mechanisms. Shear pins are emergency mechanisms installed in some machines, whose function is to break in times of emergency. By breaking, the shear pin allows the machine to keep functioning, although in a less than optimal manner. Similarly, by delivering some psychological benefits, delusions would allow a subject to keep functioning (in a less than optimal manner) in times of emotional or biological struggle, preventing the complete breakdown of the emotional, epistemic or biological machinery.

Although further studies are needed to investigate the precise role of delusions, a more complex picture, which takes into account both the costs and benefits of this phenomenon, has started to emerge.

Thursday, 8 August 2019

On the Power of Imagination: Two Events

As announced, project PERFECT organised and co-hosted two public engagement events as part of the Arts and Science Festival at the University of Birmingham. Both celebrated the role of imagination and the importance of relationships in growing and healing.

Here I report on how they went!

Red Hands Film Screening

A scene from Red Hands

Director and screenwriter Francesco Filippi presented his short film in 2D and stop animation, Mani Rosse (Red Hands), to an engaged and diverse audience at the Midlands Arts Centre on 18th June. The film has been honoured with awards at film festivals worldwide and sparked lots of interest. The screening was followed by a panel discussion featuring experts in youth mental health and experts with lived experience of domestic violence, one of the themes of the film.

Panel discussion: Lucy

Some of the audience's comments and questions were about how the film was made, what it was inspired by, and what some specific scenes or symbols recurring in the film meant. The development of the two leading characters (Luna and Ernesto) was also object of some discussion: we were lucky to be joined by the director and animator Francesco Filippi and Lucia Gadolini, psychologist and actor, who helped develop the characters and gave her voice to Ernesto. We learnt that Luna and Ernesto's story was inspired by two real-life stories of domestic abuse, and that the key concepts of freedom and friendship were represented not just in the plot and the dialogue but also in the choice of landscape and in Ernesto's dream sequences.

Francesco Filippi

Other comments and questions, mostly directed at the panel of experts, concerned the effects of domestic violence on mental health, and the psychological realism of the film. From our experts from experience, Lucy Wright and Gemma Hickman, we learnt that whilst the decision to leave an abusive relationship needs to be owned by the victim of abuse and nobody can 'save' them unless they are ready to leave, friendship is a very important source of support, especially for young people. 

Michael Larkin and Bonny Astor also remarked on the many layers the film has, some of which can be appreciated only after a number of viewings, and the ambiguities left in it, that is, aspects of the story of Luna and Ernesto which need to be inferred or reconstructed and are not openly revealed. Finally, they both pointed to the role of colour in the film and the power of expressing oneself, dreaming, and imagining.

Panel discussion: Michael

Participants' feedback showed a thorough engagement with the topics of the discussion. The film generated strong reactions, as was to be expected, and the audience found the opportunity to engage with the director and the experts very useful and stimulating. Many were struck by the sheer beauty of the film and some expressed disagreement with some of the director's choices. 

Here are some of the participants' comments:
  • "The film was aesthetically great and the topic and the theme was thoughtful and inspiring."
  • "I enjoyed very much the discussion about the ambiguities in the movie and the female/male roles."
  • "I have definitely deepened my understanding of domestic abuse and more or less explicit forms of violence."
Overall, as project PERFECT's first film screening, it was a success! 

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Double Bookkeeping and Doxasticism about Delusion

In this post, José Eduardo Porcher, Research Fellow at the Rutgers Center for the Philosophy of Religion working primarily in the philosophy of psychiatry and philosophical psychology, outlines his target paper “Double Bookkeeping and Doxasticism about Delusion” in the newest issue of Philosophy, Psychiatry & Psychology.

Doxasticism about delusion is the theoretical stance according to which delusion is a kind of belief. Although doxasticism is taken for granted in the psychiatric literature, it has been a major point of contention in the philosophical literature, where it has faced many objections and alternative accounts (see e.g. Bortolotti, 2018). In my paper, I show how double bookkeeping, a distinctive characteristic of delusional patients, motivates two kinds of argument against doxasticism. I then examine these arguments and find them inconclusive.

So what is double bookkeeping? Consider the following excerpt of an interview with a patient who showed symptoms of Capgras delusion and reduplicative paramnesia, maintaining that both his house and his family had been replaced by duplicates.

E: Isn’t that [two families] unusual?
S: It was unbelievable!
E: How do you account for it?
S: I don’t know. I try to understand it myself, and it was virtually impossible.
E: What if I told you I don’t believe it?
S: That’s perfectly understandable. In fact, when I tell the story, I feel that I’m concocting a story . . . It’s not quite right. Something is wrong.
E: If someone told you the story, what would you think?
S: I would find it extremely hard to believe. I should be defending myself.
(Alexander, Stuss & Benson, 1979, p. 335)

Thursday, 1 August 2019

Conscious Will, Unconscious Mind

It was a pleasure be invited to the “Conscious Will and the Unconscious Mind” workshop, held at the Department of Philosophy, University of Duisburg-Essen, on the 28th of June this year. Organised by Astrid Schomäcker and Neil Roughley, the workshop intended to explore whether influences like implicit biases present a threat to free, responsible agency and a series of related questions. The following is a summary of the talks by the three speakers.

Sven Walter Osnabrück, Professor of Philosophy at the Institute of Cognitive Science, University of Osnabrück, began by outlining two opposing ideas about the role of science in the free will debate. Firstly: free will incompatible with a naturalistic view of world (a view that often crops up in popular science magazines and journals). Secondly: the question of what free will amounts to is a philosophical one, and so empirical science is not the appropriate disciplinary home for an investigation into free will. For Sven, neither of these ideas are quite right.

Sven argued that there are two distinct projects to be done in each discipline. Project 1: we need to establish what conditions would need to hold in order for free will to obtain. This is a conceptual question, and the appropriate work is philosophical. Only then comes project 2: using the methods of empirical science, we need to establish whether those specified conditions in fact obtain.

Sven then considered various free will theories to come out of project 1-type work, and whether any project 2-type work shows whether that sort of free will does not obtain. For instance, if project 2-type work shows that determinism is true (or, perhaps, is our best model of the world) then this would only rule out libertarian kinds of free will - those that rely on a strong interpretation of the possibility of doing otherwise, compatibilist free will accounts are safe.

Project 2 work demonstrating that unconscious influences on action which render our actions normatively detached from our system of reflected preferences and values might show that free will is limited. Sven went over some examples of this sort of work that might show that free will is impaired, but qualified the claims with the acknowledgement of the replicability crisis in social psychology (like this, for example). He discussed whether a capacity for reasons responsiveness (such as in the theory of Fischer and Ravizza 1998) could save free will in these cases, but worried what the use of a capacity is if we regularly fail to exercise it in a wide variety of circumstances.

Beate Krickel, Principal Investigator and Scientific Coordinator of the Situated Cognition Group at Ruhr-University of Bochum, gave the next talk. Beate started by drawing on research showing that implicit biases are sometimes available to awareness. For instance, in a study by Hahn et al. (2014), participants were able to predict the content of their biases. Beate also drew on Gawronski and Bodenhausen’s (2014) APE model, in which the rejection of propositions contrary to those already accepted appears to be a conscious process. And yet, as Beate pointed out, people are still often surprised to learn they have implicit biases. What should we make of this?

Beate suggested we could draw on work on repression in the Freudian tradition to understand the puzzle. Repression starts with an inner conflict between beliefs and desires. Beate drew on an example in which a person desires her best friend’s partner, but also believes that if she pursued the desire, she’d hurt her friend. This conflict triggers an unconscious process that leads to an unconscious product: the desire becomes unconscious and the inner conflict is resolved.

Beate used an account of repression in which the state becomes access-unconscious. Access consciousness is usually tested for by asking the subject for a report. As Beate showed us, the process preceeding the report of a conscious stimulus is complex. It could comprise: some early visual processing, attention to this, categorization, storage in short term memory, semantic processing, and finally motor activation necessary for speech. There are many stages at which this process might be halted, all of which lead to failure to report a stimulus.

Beate then presented her model, in which we might often be driven by self-image concerns and internalized social norms to repress certain feelings so they end up not being categorised and ultimately available to access consciousness. However, these mental states still drive behaviour (for instance, they may be picked up by an Implicit Association Test). Beate concluded by demonstrating how her model solves a number of difficult problems in the self-deception literature, and outlined the need for a future research project to deliver a taxonomy of difference kinds of unconsciousness. 

In my talk, I wanted to explore the nature and measurement of the attitudes (often described as our sincerely held beliefs and values) that implicit attitudes are supposed to stand in contrast with. Implicit attitudes are usually postulated to explain systematically biased behaviours observed in both lab tests (e.g. time-pressured categorisation tasks like the Implicit Association Test – see an excellent discussion on recent issues here) or real world decision making (e.g. lawyers evaluating a piece of legal writing as in Reeves 2014: unbeknownst to the lawyers, their responses were collected by experimenters, who found that errors were more readily identified (in one and the same piece of writing) when the author was presumed to be black vs. white).

Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Psychopathy, Identification, and Mental Time Travel

Luca Malatesti and Filip Čeč collaborated on the project Classification and explanations of antisocial personality disorder and moral and legal responsibility in the context of the Croatian mental health and care law (CEASCRO), funded by the Croatian Science Foundation (Grant HRZZ-IP-2013-11-8071). 

Both are based in the Department of Philosophy of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences in Rijeka (Croatia). Luca is associate professor of philosophy and works mainly in philosophy of mind and philosophy of psychiatry. Filip is assistant professor of philosophy and his interests include the metaphysical problem of free will and moral responsibility, and the history of psychiatry. In this post Luca and Filip summarize their chapter "Psychopathy, Identification and Mental Time Travel", that is contained in the collection edited by Filip Grgić and Davor Pećnjak, Free Will & Action.

Psychopaths are characterised by a callous, manipulative and remorseless behaviour and personality. In recent years, scientific research on psychopathic offenders, but also on the so-called successful psychopaths, who do not necessarily offend, has increased considerably. Robert Hare’s Psychopathic Checklist Revisited (PCL-R) is a diagnostic tool that has played an important unifying role in this research (Hare 2003).

The issue of the legal and moral responsibility of persons classified as having psychopathy has attracted philosophical attention (Kiehl and Sinnott-Armstrong 2013; Malatesti and McMillan 2010). Some have maintained that the capacity for mental time travel might be relevant for moral responsibility and that psychopaths lack these capacities (Kennett and Matthews 2009; Levy 2014; Vierra 2016). In relation to the past, mental time travel is the capacity to have memories of past episodes in which the agent was personally involved. In relation to the future, mental time travel involves prospection, the capacity to imagine future situations where the agent might be involved.

Thursday, 25 July 2019

Care and Self-harm on Social Media: an interview with Anna Lavis

Anna Lavis is a Lecturer in Medical Sociology and Qualitative Methods in the Social Studies in Medicine (SSiM) Team in the Institute of Applied Health Research at the University of Birmingham. She also holds an honorary research position in the Institute of Social and Cultural Anthropology, University of Oxford.

Her work explores individuals’ and informal caregivers’ experiences and subjectivities of mental illness and distress across a range of social and cultural contexts, both offline and on social media, with a particular focus on eating disorders and self-harm. 

In this post Eugenia Lancellotta interviews Anna on her latest project, Virtual Scars: Exploring the Ethics of Care on Social Media through Interactions Around Self-Injury, funded by the Wellcome Trust, Seed Award in Humanities and Social Science.

EL: How did you become interested in the ethics of care in self-harming online communities?

AL: I started work on relationships between social media and mental health during my MSc in 2002/2003. At that time, my research was focused on Anorexia Nervosa and the investigation of pro-anorexia websites and I then completed a PhD in which I conducted an ethnography of pro-anorexia websites and an eating disorders unit side-by side. From this research it was clear that rather than solely promoting dieting and anorectic behaviours, pro-anorexia websites also offered a non-judgmental platform; people struggling through eating disorders shared their experiences and cared for one another in ways that were undeniably ambivalent and complex but also potentially life-saving.

More recently, I began to wonder whether similar dynamics of care were found in online discussions related to self-harm, and if so, what the meanings, ethics and implications of such care might be. This is how I got inspiration for the project on the ethics of care of self-harm interactions on social media.

EL: Why do you think people go online searching for self-harming communities?

AL: Mainly for two reasons. The first is because people who may be self-harming often feel misunderstood and stigmatized by society. The second is because offline support services are not easily accessible or may be difficult to access - such as at night - and they too are not free from prejudice. Social media may fill these gaps, offering a platform where people can share their experiences and get virtual support from other people with similar experiences 24 hours a day.

Policy makers should consider these aspects more carefully when banning some of the content of these interactions (such as self-harm imagery), as this risks also preventing access to what can be precious forms of support for a young person struggling with self-harm or an eating disorder. For example, on social media participants may provide mutual support by virtually 'sitting with' a person in crisis, or offering ways to resist the urge to self-harm.

Everyone wants to be listened and understood, it is a shared human need which society does not always meet when it comes to people suffering from mental health conditions or living through trauma and distress. Online communities can be a lifeline.

EL: You have highlighted some arguments in favour of self-harming online spaces. What do you think the drawbacks might be?

AL: The main one is that interactions on social media can contribute to normalizing behaviours that may be dangerous, such as self-starvation or self-harm. However, we must bear in mind that there is a difference between normalization and causation. There is no evidence, for example, that seeing self-harming imagery online causes a young person to self-harm. Our work has very strongly found that a young person seeking self-harm imagery or discussions on social media is already self-harming.

I am not denying that the normalization of self-harming behaviour may be dangerous, but at the same time online communities are a more complex reality than depicted by social media and politicians, as they often respond to needs that society is failing to meet. Banning the hashtags and the imagery related to self-harm – as Instagram has recently done – also denies access to the support linked to those resources.

EL: What has been the impact of your project so far?

AL: This project is having some impact on policymakers. This year we have presented findings to the APPG (All-Party Parliamentary Group Inquiry) into mental health and social media, as well as to clinicians, third sector organisations and national suicide prevention leads.

We also recently discussed our research in the online academic blogsite, The Conversation (here).

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

Biased by our Imaginings

Today’s post is written by Ema Sullivan-Bissett, who is a Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. Here she overviews her paper ‘Biased by Our Imaginings’, recently published in Mind & Language.

In my paper I propose and defend a new model of implicit bias according which they are constituted by unconscious imaginings. As part of setting out my view I defend the coherence of unconscious imagination and argue that it does not represent a revisionary notion of imagination.

Implicit biases have been identified as ‘the processes or states that have a distorting influence on behaviour and judgement, and are detected in experimental conditions with implicit measures’ (Holroyd 2016: 154). They are posited as items which cause common microbehaviours or microdiscriminations that cannot be tracked, predicted, or explained by explicit attitudes.

The canonical view of implicit biases is that they are associations. The idea is that one’s concept of, say, woman is associated with a negative valence, or another concept (weakness) such that the activation of one part of the association triggers the other. On this view implicit biases are concatenations of mental items, with no syntactic structure.

Recently though, there has been a move away from the associative picture to thinking of implicit biases as having propositional contents and as not being involved in associative processes. This kind of view is motivated by some empirical work (reviewed at length in Mandelbaum 2016). In light of this shift, new models of implicit bias have been proposed to accommodate their propositional nature, these include models according to which implicit biases are unconscious beliefs (Mandelbaum 2016), and patchy endorsements (Levy 2015).

Thursday, 18 July 2019

CauseHealth: An Interview with Rani Lill Anjum

Today I interview Rani Lill Anjum on her exciting project CauseHealth. Rani works as a philosopher of science at the Norwegian University of Life Sciences (NMBU) and is the Director of the Centre for Applied Philosophy of Science (CAPS), always at NMBU.

LB: How did you first become interested in causation in the health sciences?

RLA: I started thinking about causation in medicine back in 2011, when I was working on my research project Causation in Science. Many of my collaborators already had an interest in philosophy of medicine, and I started thinking that if causation was complicated in physics, biology, psychology and social science, then medicine must be the biggest challenge. After all, a person is the unity of them all, as physiological, biological, mental and social beings. Also, our health is causally influenced by or even the result of what happens to us at all these levels.

LB: What would you describe as the main finding of CauseHealth now that it is drawing to a close, and what do you expect its implications to be?

RLA: In the beginning, I didn't know very much about medicine or philosophy of medicine, so I had some naïve idea about who the target group from the health profession would be. Now I understand why we have met most enthusiasm from the clinicians, since they are the ones working with individual patients. In the last year of CauseHealth, we have therefore worked more toward clinicians, especially those who feel a squeeze between the public health agenda of evidence based medicine and the clinical needs of their individual patients.

In public health, the aim of medical research is to say something general to the population, typically based on statistics from clinical studies. However, in the clinic, one will also meet patients who are not represented in the clinical trials. In CauseHealth, we have emphasised a dispositionalist understanding of causation, as it was developed by myself and Stephen Mumford in Getting Causes from Powers (OUP 2011).

Here we argue that causation is essentially complex, context-sensitive, singular and intrinsic. In medicine, this translates to
  • genuine complexity rather than mono-causal models
  • heterogeneity instead of homogeneity
  • medical uniqueness rather than normal or average measures
  • intrinsic dispositions rather than statistical correlations.

This is very different from what one would get from other theories of causation, especially empiricist theories such as the regularity theory of David Hume or the counterfactual theory of David Lewis. Scientific methodology, however, actually relies heavily on these notions of causation, in the consistent search for regularities of cause and effect under some standard, normal or ideal conditions, using correlation data or difference-makers in the comparison of such data.

By being aware of how scientific methodology and practice is influenced by ontological and epistemological assumptions from philosophy, we can empower clinicians and other health practitioners to engage critically in the development of their own profession. Our experience is that medical professionals appreciate learning more about philosophy of science in this way, which is also why Elena Rocca and I established the Centre for Applied Philosophy of Science at NMBU.

LB: As you know, at Imperfect Cognitions we have a special interest in mental health. What notion of causation do you think captures the complexities of mental health challenges?

RLA: We started from the problem of medically unexplained symptoms, that are notoriously challenging to treat within the biomedical model. They are also not your typical one cause, one effect conditions, but have a mix of physical and mental causes and symptoms, often in a unique combination for each patient. After a year or so on the project, someone challenged me on our interest in these conditions, and said that all conditions are a mix of mental and physical causes and symptoms. Most illnesses also come in combinations with others, so-called co-morbidity, so a problem is that all of medicine is divided according to the Cartesian dualism: physical versus mental health.

A dispositionalist notion of cause will give a much more holist starting point for understanding health and illness, and the clinicians that we work with are often phenomenologists but therefore also sceptical of causal talk. This is an aversion that we try to cure in CauseHealth. From our perspective, genuine holism cannot be treated as a multifactorial matter. Instead, one must start by talking to the patient and finding out more about them and their story. Most of the causally relevant information will come from their medical history, biography, life situation, diet, genetics and so on. The medical intervention is only one single factor that will interact with this vast complexity.

LB: Your project has been genuinely interdisciplinary. What have been the advantages of interacting and collaborating with people from different backgrounds?

RLA: I have learned that all disciplines and professions use causal vocabulary in different ways. 'Causal mechanism' means something very different in medicine than in molecular biology, for instance. In medicine, one thinks of mechanisms as reductionist and determinist, based on lab research on animal models. This is why 'mechanistic evidence' ranks so low in evidence based medicine. I have now started to talk about causal theories instead of causal mechanisms.

Tuesday, 16 July 2019

Blended Memory

Tim Fawns is a Fellow in Clinical Education and Deputy Programme Director of the MSc Clinical Education at Edinburgh Medical School at the University of Edinburgh. He received his PhD from the University of Edinburgh in 2017, and his primary research interests are memory, digital technology and education. In this post, he discusses themes from his recent paper "Blended memory: A framework for understanding distributed autobiographical remembering with photography" in Memory Studies.

Recording live music on mobile phones, posting photos of breakfast on social media, taking the same photo six times when a friend with a better camera has already taken it... these are some of the many idiosyncratic photography practices I have encountered during my research into memory and photography, alongside traditional examples of family and holiday pictures.

From reading literature from cultural studies, media studies, and human computer interaction, followed by lots of informal conversations and, finally, a series of research interviews, it became clear to me that photography is an eccentric enterprise, and its relationship to how we remember our lives is highly complex. My research paints a very different picture from many cognitive psychology studies, where participants are, for example, shown a photograph (often, one that they have not taken themselves) and asked to recall something specific (e.g. a story or an event or a detail).

Controlled studies are often aimed at understanding the underlying mechanisms of memory or the effects of an intervention (e.g. using a photograph as a cue) on recall or recognition. I came to realise that photographs are not simply cues, and remembering with photography is not just looking at a photograph and then remembering. Practices of photography (taking photos, looking at them, organising them, sharing them with others) and the meanings we associate with our pictures are an integral part of the process of remembering. 

Thursday, 11 July 2019

Responsible Brains

Today's post is by Katrina Sifferd (pictured below). She holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from King’s College London, and is Professor and Chair of Philosophy at Elmhurst College. After leaving King’s, Katrina held a post-doctoral position as Rockefeller Fellow in Law and Public Policy and Visiting Professor at Dartmouth College. Before becoming a philosopher, Katrina earned a Juris Doctorate and worked as a senior research analyst on criminal justice projects for the National Institute of Justice.

Many thanks to Lisa for her kind invitation to introduce our recently published book, Responsible Brains: Neuroscience, Law, and Human Culpability. Bill Hirstein, Tyler Fagan, and I, who are philosophers at Elmhurst College, researched and wrote the book with the support of a Templeton sub-grant from the Philosophy and Science of Self-Control Project managed by Al Mele at Florida State University.

Responsible Brains joins a larger discussion about the ways evidence generated by the brain sciences can inform responsibility judgments. Can data about the brain help us determine who is responsible, and for which actions? Our book answers with resounding “yes” – but of course, the devil is in the details. To convince readers that facts about brains bear on facts about responsibility, we must determine which mental capacities are necessary to responsible agency, and which facts about brains are relevant to those capacities.

In Responsible Brains we argue that folk conceptions of responsibility, which underpin our shared practices of holding others morally and legally responsible, implicitly refer to a suite of cognitive known to the neuropsychological field as executive functions. We contend that executive functions – such as attentional control, planning, inhibition, and task switching – can ground a reasons-responsiveness account of responsibility, including sensitivity to moral or legal reasons and the volitional control to act in accordance with those reasons. A simplified statement of our theory is that persons must have a “minimal working set” (MWS) of executive functions to be responsible for their actions; if they lack a MWS, they are not (fully) responsible.

Some scholars claim that our sort of project goes too far. Stephen Morse, for example, worries that neurolaw researchers get carried away by their enthusiasm for seductive fMRI images and buzzy breakthroughs, leading them to apply empirical findings incautiously and overestimate their true relevance (thereby succumbing to “brain overclaim syndrome”). Other scholars, who think neuroscientific evidence undermines folk concepts crucial to responsibility judgments (like free will), may think we don’t go far enough. We remain confident in our moderate position: Neuroscience is relevant to responsibility judgements; it is largely compatible with our folk psychological concepts; and it can be used to clarify and “clean up” such concepts.

Because the criminal law is a repository of folk psychological judgments and concepts about responsibility, we often test and apply our theory using criminal cases. For instance, we find support for our account in the fact that the mental disorder most likely to ground successful legal insanity pleas is schizophrenia. Most associate this disorder with false beliefs about the world generated by hallucinations and delusions, but—crucially—persons with schizophrenia may also have severely diminished executive functions, resulting in an inability to identify and correct those false beliefs. Such persons are, by our lights, less than fully responsible. 

Tuesday, 9 July 2019

What does debiasing tell us about implicit bias?

Nick Byrd is a PhD candidate and Fellow at Florida State University, working in the Moral & Social Processing (a.k.a., Paul Conway) Lab in the Department of Psychology, and in the Experimental Philosophy Research Group in the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University. In this post, he introduces his paper “What we can (and can’t) infer about implicit bias from debiasing experiments”, recently published in Synthese.

Implicit bias is often described as associative, unconscious, and involuntary. However, philosophers of mind have started challenging these claims. Some of their reasons have to do with debiasing experiments. The idea is that if debiasing is not entirely involuntary and unconscious, then implicit bias is not entirely involuntary and unconscious.

Sure enough, some evidence suggests that debiasing is not entirely involuntary and unconscious (e.g., Devine, Forscher, Austin, & Cox, 2012). So it seems that implicit bias can be conscious and voluntary after all—i.e., it can be reflective.

Now, why would philosophers think that debiasing is not associative? I worry that this non-associationism rests on a couple mistakes.

First, there is a philosophical mistake; it’s what I call the any-only mixup (Section 0 of the paper): the mistake of concluding that a phenomena is not predicated on any instances of a particular process when the evidence merely shows that the phenomena is not predicated on only instances of that particular process.

The second mistake is more empirical. It is the mistake of overestimating evidence. As you may know, the open science movement has been reshaping psychological science for years. Part of this movement aims to improve the power of its studies to find truly positive results by, among other things, increasing the sample size of experiments and taking statistical significance more seriously.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind

This post is by Josh May, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. He presents his book, Regard for Reason in the Moral Mind (OUP, 2018). May’s research lies primarily at the intersection of ethics and science. He received his PhD in philosophy from the University of California, Santa Barbara in 2011. Before taking a position at UAB, he spent 2 years teaching at Monash University in Melbourne, Australia.

My book is a scientifically-informed examination of moral judgment and moral motivation that ultimately argues for what I call optimistic rationalism, which contains empirical and normative theses. The empirical thesis is a form of (psychological) rationalism, which asserts that moral judgment and motivation are fundamentally driven by reasoning or inference. The normative thesis is cautiously optimistic, claiming that moral cognition and motivation are, in light of the science, in pretty good shape---at least, the empirical evidence doesn’t warrant sweeping debunking of either core aspect of the moral mind.

There are two key maneuvers I make to support these theses. First, we must recognize that reasoning/inference often occurs unconsciously. Many of our moral judgments are automatic and intuitive, but we shouldn’t conclude that they are driven merely by gut feelings, just because consciousdeliberation didn’t precede the judgment. Even with the replication crisis, the science clearly converges on the idea that most of our mental lives involve complex computation that isn’t always accessible to introspection and that heavily influences behavior. As it goes for judgments of geography, mathematics, and others’ mental states, so it goes for moral judgment. Indeed, the heart of the rationalist position is that moral cognition isn’t special in requiring emotion (conceived as distinct from reason), compared to beliefs about other topics. In the end, the reason/emotion dichotomy is dubious, but that supports the rationalist position, not sentimentalism.

Second, I argue that what influences our moral minds often looks irrelevant or extraneous at first glance but is less problematic upon further inspection. Sometimes the issue is that irrelevant factors hardly influence our moral thoughts or motivations once one digs into the details of the studies. For example, meta-analyses of framing effects and incidental feelings of disgust suggest they at best exert a small influence on a minority of our moral choices. Of course, some factors do substantially influence us but a proper understanding of them reveals that they’re morally relevant. For example, Greene distrusts our commonsense moral judgments that conflict with utilitarianism because they’re influenced by whether a harm is “prototypically violent.” But it turns out that involves harming actively, using personal contact, and as a means to an end, which together form a morally relevant factor; it’s not merely an aversion to pushing. Similarly, the well-established bystander effect shows that helping behavior is motivated by whether one perceives there to be any help necessary, but that’s a morally relevant consideration (contra Doris). After examining many kinds of influences, I build on some other work with Victor Kumar to develop a kind of dilemma for those who seek to empirically debunk many of our moral thoughts or motivations: the purportedly problematic influences are often either substantial or morally irrelevant but rarely both.

Tuesday, 2 July 2019

Autonomy in Mood Disorders

Today's post is by Elliot Porter. Elliot is a political philosopher. His research examines autonomy and abnormal psychology, focusing particularly on affective disorders. During his MSc he sat as the student Mental Health Officer on Glasgow University's Students’ Representative Council, and the university’s Disability Equality Group. He currently sits as a member of a Research Ethics Committee in Glasgow, which approves medical research for the Health Research Authority.


It is widely thought that serious mental disorder can injure a person's autonomy. Beauchamp and Childress list mental disorder among the controlling influences that render a person non-autonomous. Neither Raz nor Dworkin allow their theories to conclude that people with mental disorder are in fact autonomous. 

Happily, recent research tends not to take mental disorder as a homogeneous phenomenon, in favour of examining different disorders and symptoms individually. Lisa Bortolotti has examined the relationship between delusion and autonomy in detail. Lubomira Radoilska has characterised depression it as a state which injures autonomy by taking away our agential power. Both have sought to explain how and why these kind of mental disorder injure our autonomy. I am interested in taking a different approach.

During my MSc I looked at various kinds of mental disorder and examined the commitments that three theories of autonomy would have for each. As one would expect, different theories are committed to different judgements in certain cases, and turn on different features of a disorder. What was striking was the degree of detail required before a theory could safely compel a conclusion. 

Judgements about autonomy in psychiatry are made on a case-by-case basis, where this degree of detail is available. However, just as clinical decisions are better informed by understanding the common side-effects of treatments or diseases, these kinds of moral judgement will be better informed by knowing what sorts of moral implications different disorders have. We must be able to recognise which kinds of depression threaten autonomy and which (if any) do not. Clinicians can make safer judgements, and patients’ rights are more secure, if these individual judgements are informed by a systematic understanding of how different disorders interact with autonomy.