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Nineteen of Anything

A great passage from J.L.Austin’s review (1950) of The Concept of Mind, a piece of timeless philosophical brilliance clothed in the all too familiar Oxonian wit:

Those who, like Professor Ryle, revolt against  a dichotomy to which they have once been addicted, commonly go over to maintain that only one of the alleged pair of opposites really exists at all. And so he, though he does not believe the body is a machine, does believe that it alone, and not the ‘ghost’, exists: he preaches with the fervour of a proselyte a doctrine of “one world”. Yet what has ever been gained by this favourite philosophical pastime of counting worlds? And why does the answer always turn out to be one or two, or some similar small, well-rounded philosophically acceptable number? Why, if there are nineteen of anything, is it not philosophy?

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The Zanni analyses (III): The Fifth Day

Photo #5, The Fifth Day

Released in January 2009, our third data cinema work by Carlo Zanni challenges the very essence of cinema by, in fact, not being a movie clip at all but giving the impression it is. The Fifth Day is a slideshow (for lack of a more flattering comparison) heightened with an extremely cinematic soundtrack. By the latter I mean to point to the relationship between the presented photographs, their transitions and the sense of movement created by their visual aspects in conjunction with the music. The narrative suggested, as Zanni himself clarifies, is the invisible protagonist’s taxi ride across Alexandria, Egypt (Zanni, 2009b). Ten stills portray the progression across the city, with no other semblance of coherence than an overall feel of spatial cohesion and the narrative music’s bonding presence (the stills are cataloged here). Continue reading

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David Copp and the Darwinian Dilemma

Do evaluative attitudes 'track' moral facts?

The Darwinian Dilemma, introduced by Sharon Street, is based on a simple empirical point: evolutionary forces have played a crucial role in the development of human evaluative attitudes. But, if this is the case, Street claims, then moral realists, who believe that there exist normative truths independent of our evaluative attitudes, have to explain the relation between those truths and the evaluative attitudes. The dilemma is simple. If realists accept that evaluative attitudes have evolved to track natural moral facts, then they have to provide an account of that tracking (which they have failed to do). If, on the other hand, they reject this assumption, then they are directly confronted with skepticism: there would be no reason (apart from a gigantic coincidence) to think that our attitudes reflect some independent moral facts. In his criticism of Street, David Copp attempts to provide a realist account of moral truths that will not be vulnerable to the Darwinian Dilemma. He proceeds by specifying the nature of the truth conditions of moral propositions, stipulating that a given moral proposition is true if a morally authoritative standard enjoys a particular truth-grounding status. For Copp, the morally authoritative standard is the normative code that would best serve the basic needs of a society, if it were to serve as its moral code (2008, p.199). According to this “society-centered” theory, morality has the function of “enabling society to meet its needs” (p.198). If we accept this account, Copp claims, then we can provide a realist account of morality compatible with the evolutionary explanation of the evaluative attitudes: the evolved attitudes would favor behavior that is very similar to the behavior favored my the social moral code; i.e. the evaluative attitudes effectively ‘track’ (or ‘quasi-track’) moral truths. Continue reading

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Naturalism Without Clout: Richard Joyce and Moral Authority

Is moral discourse futile in the absence of a categorical 'oomph'?

Is “practical clout” (the unique combination of inescapability and authority) an essential component of moral judgments? Richard Joyce’s case against moral naturalism is built exactly on such a premise: naturalism without clout is simply not acceptable. The reason, Joyce claims, is very simple: in the absence of clout (the motivator of inescapability), the moral deliberator may legitimately ask himself what kinds of reasons he has “to care about [the particular] instance of moral wrongness” (2006, p.205). And, the possible answers to this crucial question are simply not palatable. Namely, certain persons may reject the existence of any reasons to be concerned by the moral judgment. They may be blasé about stealing “the newspaper in the hotel hallway”, while calmly acknowledging the wrongness of the act. Alternatively, persons may ‘diagnose’ (weak or strong) reasons to perform the action they judge to be moral, and subsequently weigh the reasons for and against the action. But, if this is the case, Joyce is adamant, then surely the desires “to act immorally” can encourage the person to directly modify the pro-morality reasons and desires. That is to say, in the absence of the motivational ‘oomph’, the process of ‘weighing’ reasons can render moral discourse futile – if morality is not authoritative, one can simply discard it in the juggling deliberation of ‘pro’ and  ‘con’ personal reasons. Consequently, either we reject “naturalism without clout” or we acknowledge “moral psychopaths” and eschew the need for distinct moral discourse.

But, in his fervent defense of anti-realism, Joyce situates us on the horns of a false dilemma. Specifically, the absence of practical ‘oomph’ (the authoritative motivational pump) does not directly entail a cold deliberation of reasons. Continue reading

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A Critique of Cheap Internalism: Lynne Rudder Baker and The Extended Self

Do extended selves have an experiential unity?

Does the extended mind imply an extended self? In the penultimate paragraph of their groundbreaking essay The Extended Mind (1998), Andy Clark and David Chalmers answered this question in the positive. For them, the extension of mentality beyond the boundary of the skin entails an analogous extension of the self beyond that boundary (p.18). Not only are cognitive states and processes constituted by external components, but agents themselves are best seen as “spread into the world” (p.18).

Although somewhat tangentual to their main argument, this claim by Clark and Chalmers has stirred a significant debate in philosophical circles, a fact hardly surprising given the relevance of the issue both in philosophical and social domains. In her recent article Persons and the Extended Mind Thesis (2009), Lynne Rudder Baker has criticized Clark’s and Chalmers’ bold claim, arguing that the coryphaei of the EM thesis have gone “a step too far” in the direction of extension. Although, Baker claims, we are entitled to view cognitive processes as determined by both internal and external components, the same does not apply to persons. Strictly speaking, there are extended minds and cognitive systems, but there are no such things as extended selves.

Here, I will sketch the basic arguments proposed by Baker, focusing on her ‘qualms’ against the extended self thesis and her account of persons as constituted by bodies. I will argue that Baker endorses a methodologically cheap variant of internalism, rendering her criticism of “self-externalism” decisively trivial. I will claim that the principle of “bodily constitution”, as proposed by Baker, is not a serious obstacle to externalism, and is widely compatible with all variants of the “extended self” theory. Conclusively, I will argue for a positive answer to the central question: extended minds do imply extended selves. Continue reading

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