Tuesday 25 April 2023
Tuesday 18 April 2023
Today's post is by Lieke Asma at Munich School of Philosophy, on her recent paper “The relationship between free will and consciousness” (Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 2022).
Even though Benjamin Libet’s experiments on voluntary action have been criticized extensively by both neuroscientists and philosophers, his ground-breaking research did put one topic firmly on the agenda: what exactly is the relationship between free will and consciousness?
Most philosophers agree that if all our conscious intentions would be epiphenomena, we would not decide for ourselves what to do. Self-determination, a crucial condition for free will, would be an illusion. Relatedly, many scholars have argued that Libet did not study those intentions relevant for free will proper.
Real choice is not about moving your wrist at a certain moment, but making plans for the future, for example to buy a house or to plan a trip. These intentions typically are the result of conscious deliberation. In this picture, the relationship between self-determination and consciousness is captured in terms of conscious formation of intentions.
In my recent paper The relationship between free will and consciousness, I argue that conscious formation intentions is neither sufficient nor necessary for self-determination. Firstly, it overlooks the problem of deviant causal chains. To use an example from Donald Davidson: a climber may consciously form the intention to loosen his hold of the rope in order to rid himself of the weight of another climber, but the intention may unnerve him so that he loosens the hold accidentally. Even though loosening his hold was caused by a consciously formed intention, what happened was still an accident.
Secondly, many philosophers have recently convincingly argued that in order to act for reasons, which is taken to be crucial for self-determination, we do not need to consciously deliberate. Often, we simply already know what the right course of action is. Conscious deliberation does not add anything to the quality of the action.
How, then, if at all, are self-determination and consciousness related? In my view, the answer lies in the character of the action itself. I adopt the view that reasons for action are not mental states or facts, but actions at a higher level of description. For example, the reason for which I choose to buy a house in a particular city is living in that city.
From that perspective, real choice, or free will proper, is not about whether I have consciously deliberated about what to do, but whether my decision amounts to a genuinely different action at a higher level of description. It matters whether I buy a house in that city or in a village close by, but it doesn’t matter whether I buy the fifth or sixth house in the same street. That is, to the extent that both houses fit my action at a higher level of description equally well; if one house has a larger garden and I enjoy gardening, I should choose that house.
In this proposal, more consciousness does amount to more self-determination: the better I understand what I am doing at a higher level of description, i.e., what a good life amounts to, the better I know which specific actions I need to perform in a particular situation. A person who can form the intention at a high level, for example to be compassionate, to be a good partner, or to take care of their health, and knows how to translate this into concrete, specific actions, is most free.
Tuesday 11 April 2023
The second talk, “Affective experiences of higher values”, was by Jonathan Mitchell (Cardiff University) and addressed Scheler’s understanding of happiness as having affective experiences that are of higher value. Higher values: (1) endure (we expect emotions to be lasting and make a demand on the future); (2) afford satisfaction (that’s about the depth of contentment we feel); and (3) apply to everyone or at least not be relative to the person having the experience. Happiness seems to have a structure that corresponds to persistent, blissful contentment that is not just a subjective feeling but something more objective. So, happiness can be occasioned in reception to affective experiences with positive higher values.
Alex Grzankowski (Birkbeck) and Mark Textor (King’s College London) presented the last talk of the first day, on “Happiness is a Mood”, where they discuss what it means to be happy at a time (different from being a happy person or from having a happy life). The talk was inspired by the poem “The Orange” by Wendy Cope and the view defended was that happiness at a time is a mood, a disposition to enjoy things.
But what are lives? Are they merely larger in scope than acts, series of acts considered together? Not really. Can we evaluate the goodness of a life while the life is being lived? Do we have to wait until death before making a judgement? After a very interesting discussion of what it is to try things out and learn from mistakes, and a detailed analysis of Greek philosophers’ views (especially Plato and Aristotle), McCabe argues that a life to be chosen, a meaningful life, involves both emotional and cognitive components. Eudaimonia consists in a complex of emotion and cognition.
Tuesday 4 April 2023
The collection is divided into four broad areas of interest:
The first section is devoted to the importance and beauty of smell. Smell is often described as the neglected sense and compared to sound and vision, the arts and sciences have engaged only sparingly with it. This limited engagement with the sense of smell reflects most people’s dismissive attitude toward their fifth sense. The first two chapters by Barry C. Smith and Ophelia Deroy address the neglect of smell, while Chiara Brozzo’s and Michael A. Lindquist’s chapters focus on the newest area of olfactory philosophy concerning the aesthetics of smell.
Section two is comprised by chapters by Clare Batty and Keith A. Wilson that progresses recent debates regarding smell in time and space. Compared to the other senses, the temporal and spatial structure of olfaction is impoverished. However, like all perception, smelling occurs in space and time and therefore has at least some spatiotemporal structure.
The third section encompasses the largest area of debate within olfactory philosophy concerning the still open question of what we smell. A central question of olfactory philosophy has been what we perceive through smell. Two possible answers are that we perceive the source objects, for example a banana, or the odor, for example the volatile molecules emitted by the banana.
Because neither of these answers is completely satisfying, there are several attempts to modify or combine them as well as alternative proposals. Chapters by Ann-Sophie Barwich, Andreas Keller, Benjamin D. Young, Harry Sherwood, and William G. Lycan all provide a state of the art engagement with this central debate with each building upon previously published theories, developing new avenues of research, as well as constructively criticizing each other’s published views.
The final section, smell and the other senses, handles the perennial topic of individuating the senses that is particularly vexed for the chemical senses. Most discussions of olfaction focus on orthonasal olfaction, which most naturally occurs during inhalation through the front of the nose. The equally important retronasal olfaction, which occurs during eating and drinking when odors from the oral cavity reach the olfactory epithelium, is part of the multisensory perception of flavors.
The complex relation of olfaction and gustation, and olfaction’s role in flavor perception have become increasingly more urgent research projects. Within this section Becky Millar’s and Błażej Skrzypulec’s chapters are devoted to the relation between smell and flavor perception, while Louise Richardson offers an argument that we can smell what many might consider to be proprietary gustatory properties such as sweetness or saltiness.
Smells for All!
The contributed essays bring together established and early-career philosophers working on smell in a format that allows for inclusive engagement with the emerging field and a starting point for philosophers new to olfaction with a resource to begin their journey. Additionally, the collection might be of interest to those in the chemosensory community with theoretical proclivities looking for an in-road into developing debates in olfactory philosophy. And while it is not written for a general audience the material is presented in a straightforward enough fashion that anyone with an interest in smell should be able to enjoy the collection.
Call for papers
While great strides have been made in olfactory philosophy it remains a fecund research area with many under-explored topics: such as olfactory attention, memory, and emotions within philosophy of mind; olfactory reference and concepts within philosophy of language; a swath of issues within ethics concerning personal use of fragrances, the role of industry in developing and deploying synthetics within food and fragrance products, and a wide open area of smell within world philosophy.
Since the collection emerged out of two previous international workshops, I would like to take this opportunity to invite you to consider working on any one of these topics or any other odorific topic and submit your work to our next workshop on Olfactory Philosophy to be held as part of the ESPP conference in Prague on September 1, 2023.