The Philosophy Museum (guest post by Anna Ichino)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 22/01/2020 - 12:38am in



The following is a guest post by Anna Ichino, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Milan. A version of it first appeared at the blog, Imperfect Cognitions.

The Philosophy Museum
by Anna Ichino

Have you ever visited a Philosophy Museum? I bet not. Apparently, though there have been some philosophy-related museum exhibits and temporary installations, there aren’t any permanent philosophy museums in the world. So my colleagues and I in the Philosophy Department of the University of Milan have decided that it is time to build the first one. In this post, I’ll tell you about this exciting project.

What we had in mind was not an historically-minded museum collecting relics about the lives and works of important philosophers, but something more dynamic and interactive—built on the model of the best science museums—where philosophical problems and theories become intuitively accessible through a variety of games, activities, experiments, aesthetic experiences, and other such things.

Easier to say than to do, no doubt. It’s an ambitious project, and to put it into action we had to proceed gradually. We started with a temporary exhibition, which took place in our University from November 5th to 21st. There, we created the first two actual halls of what we hope will soon become a permanent museum, together with a third ‘programmatic’ hall where we presented the plan for what still needs to be done.

Thanks to a generous funding awarded to our Department as a part of a MIUR Excellence Scheme, we could rely on professional help from museum experts, graphic designers, and multimedia studios, in order to build an aesthetically appealing environment where complex ideas were communicated in fun and engaging ways.

The first hall was quite introductory—devoted to the nature of philosophical problems and methodologies.

We used images like Mary Midgely’s ‘conceptual plumbing’ or Wittgenstein’s ‘fly bottle’ to convey the idea according to which philosophical problems are in important respects conceptual problems, which amount to analysing concepts that we commonly use in unreflective ways. Visitors were led to realise the difficulties that arise as soon as we try define common concepts like ‘self’, ‘freedom’, ‘time’, ‘moral responsibility’, etc… We then introduced two important tools that philosophers use to analyse such concepts: the construction of thought experiments, on the one hand, and the formulation of paradoxes, on the other.

On this basis, visitors were ready to move to the second hall, where they could literally play with paradoxes and thought experiments in order to appreciate their heuristic role in philosophical inquiry.

In the ‘Personal Identity Goose Game’, for instance, different theories of personal identity were illustrated through a journey into the relevant thought experiments. To begin, every player had to ‘adopt’ one theory—choosing between the psychological theory, the bodily theory, or the brain theory. Every square on the track corresponded to the scenario of a different thought experiment (scenarios like teletransportation, brain transplant, fission, metamorphoses, etc…); and when one landed on each of them, she had to guess whether or not, according to the theory she adopted, that was a scenario in which she’d have survived. If she guessed correctly, she could roll the die once again. She could also try to ‘kill’ her opponents (i.e. to make them miss a turn) by moving their pawns into squares-scenarios where, according to ‘their’ theories of personal identity, they wouldn’t have survived.

In the ‘paradox of fiction game’, the three mutually inconsistent propositions that give rise to the paradox corresponded to three different cards: players were asked to solve the paradox by discarding one of the three and finding a suitable alternative from a deck of cards describing different philosophical theories. So, for instance, one who ‘discarded’ the proposition according to which we can feel genuine pity for Harry Potter could pick the card describing Walton’s ‘quasi-emotions’ theory.

To further illustrate the complex relations between imagination, belief, and emotions, we also replicated a series of famous experiments in which participants were asked to do such things as eat chocolates shaped as cat excrement, sign a pact where they gave their soul away to the Devil, or wear the (perfectly sterilized) pullover that (so they were told) previously belonged to a serial-killer.

The second hall also included a ‘paradoxes of perception game’, a ‘trolley-problem game’, and several animation-videos devoted to other intriguing paradoxes and thought experiments.

To conclude the visit, there was the  ‘School of Athens’ game’—in which visitors had to decide whether to back Plato or Aristotle; then they could also take a souvenir picture portraying themselves in the shoes (and face!) of one or the other.

Whilst building all this was a really hard work, it was definitely compensated by the enthusiastic response of the public. We had more than three thousand visitors in less than three weeks (including thirty-four high-school classes), who gave us very positive and stimulating feedback.

We now hope to find soon a permanent home for our Philosophy Museum.

In the meanwhile, you can visit the project’s website and follow us on Facebook and Instagram. You can also purchase the Museum’s catalogue and watch this short video presenting the Museum’s project:

(Unfortunately, all this material is currently in Italian only; but English translations are on their way!)

Some further images are here.

Related: “Coming in 2020: Gallery of Art and Philosophy“, “What Would Be in a Philosophy Museum?“, “The Art of Philosophy

The post The Philosophy Museum (guest post by Anna Ichino) appeared first on Daily Nous.


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 5:40am in


Links, philosophy

A new collection of philosophy-related links…

  1. Bond evolution, breaking and formation — recorded on film, at the atomic scale, for the first time
  2. Love and lust in Lolita — Jennifer Frey (South Carolina) & Becca Rothfeld (Harvard) on “the tensions we readers are forced to navigate between the awesome beauty of Nabokov’s prose and the ugly perversion that is the central focus of our attention in the novel”
  3. “Who, on Earth or on distant planets, would aim to engineer consciousness into AI systems themselves?” — Susan Schneider (Connecticut) on why there may be nothing that it’s like to be a superintelligent alien
  4. A summer institute to help philosophy instructors design courses that convey the value of philosophy — put on by the Council of Independent Colleges, it is directed by Ned Hall (Harvard)
  5. New research on the logical operations that the brain’s individual dendritic compartments can perform — one possible upshot: “Brains may be far more complicated than we think”
  6. The impeachment of Donald Trump is a teaching moment — especially if you’re teaching Rousseau, says David Williams (DePaul)
  7. “What It Is Like To Be” is an anamorphic sculpture by Thomas Medicus made of 144 hand-painted glass strips — it was inspired by Thomas Nagel’s “What Is It Like To Be A Bat?”. Watch the video. (via Colossal)

Mini-Heap posts appear when 7 or so new items accumulate in the Heap of Links, the ever-growing collection of items from around the web that may be of interest to philosophers. Discussion welcome.

The Heap of Links consists partly of suggestions from readers; if you find something online that you think would be of interest to the philosophical community, please send it in for consideration for the Heap. Thanks!


The post Mini-Heap appeared first on Daily Nous.

$2.6 Million Funding for Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 4:39am in

An interdisciplinary research group has received funding totalling approximately US$2.6 million to pursue its study of  “the world’s largest research instrument”: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva.

Inside the Large Hadron Collider

The Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider “builds on the expectations today’s high energy physicists of a fundamental change in their theories and epistemic practices and links them to the complex conditions of large-scale research,” according to a press release. “It regards the complexity of these conditions as a challenge for the quest towards ever more encompassing and simpler descriptions of nature that has traditionally been associated with particle physics.”

This new round of funding for the project, which was established in 2016, comes from the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF).

Based in cities around Germany and Austria, the project is composed of several subprojects on various topics, including: the history and use of virtual particles in physics research; the development and status of the related problems of naturalness, hierarchy, and fine-tuning; the relation between standard model research at the LHC and gravitational phenomena, including dark matter and modifications to Newtonian gravity; the way computer simulations and machine learning are used in particle physics research, including the epistemic status of the data resulting from such simulations; the dynamics of model choice and development; sociological aspects of the production of novelty and how credibility is established for experimental results.

The project will use its funding to, among other things, support Ph.D. students and postdoctoral researchers. Information about those positions and the project as a whole can be found here.

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Scholars Object to Publication of Paper Defending Race Science

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 1:27am in

Scholars are objecting to the decision of the editors of the journal, Philosophical Psychology, to publish an article that calls for “free inquiry” into possible inherited genetic bases of group differences on IQ tests.

Detail of Redlining Map of San Francisco (1937)

The article, “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry,” is by Nathan Cofnas, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Oxford. Here’s its abstract:

In a very short time, it is likely that we will identify many of the genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence. We should be prepared for the possibility that these variants are not distributed identically among all geographic populations, and that this explains some of the phenotypic differences in measured intelligence among groups. However, some philosophers and scientists believe that we should refrain from conducting research that might demonstrate the (partly) genetic origin of group differences in IQ. Many scholars view academic interest in this topic as inherently morally suspect or even racist. The majority of philosophers and social scientists take it for granted that all population differences in intelligence are due to environmental factors. The present paper argues that the widespread practice of ignoring or rejecting research on intelligence differences can have unintended negative consequences. Social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences may fail to achieve their aims. Large swaths of academic work in both the humanities and social sciences assume the truth of environmentalism and are vulnerable to being undermined. We have failed to work through the moral implications of group differences to prepare for the possibility that they will be shown to exist.

In acknowledgment of the provocative potential of the piece, the editors of Philosophical Psychology also published an editorial note defending its decision. It concludes:

Cofnas’ paper certainly adopts provocative positions on a host of issues related to race, genetics, and IQ. However, none of these positions are to be excluded from the current scientific and philosophical debates as long as they are backed up with logical argumentation and empirical evidence, and they deserve to be disputed rather than disparaged.

Water Bottles, Flint, Michigan

A petition has been launched objecting to the publication of the paper.

Started by Mark Alfano, a philosopher at Macquarie University, the petition disputes that Cofnas’s points were sufficiently “backed up with argumentation and empirical evidence,” and claims the paper was not competently reviewed. The main complaint noted in the the petition is that Cofnas’ paper “neglects the role played by environmental injustice, housing segregation, and related forms of discrimination in producing [IQ score] differences.”

If the editors and referees at Philosophical Psychology had competently reviewed the paper, they would have noticed this glaring error and insisted on revisions (or simply rejected the paper). Instead, it was accepted and published alongside an editors’ note defending the decision to publish that refers to the value of free speech and free inquiry. We also support free speech and free inquiry, but insist that free inquiry should be guided by norms of accuracy and expertise. Indeed, that is the point of academic peer-review. This paper does not respect those norms, and so should not have been published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The petition calls for a boycott of the journal until the journal’s leadership responds. The journal is edited by Cees van Leeuwen (University of Leuven) and Mitchell Herschbach (California State University, Northridge). The petition states:

Potentially responses include apology, retraction, or resignation (or some combination of these three). Should they choose to resign, we demand that a new group of leaders openly and honestly articulate a plan to reform the peer-review practices of the journal. Until the leadership respond in an acceptable way, we call upon philosophers and other researchers to boycott the journal by refusing to submit papers to it or referee for it.

The petition is here.

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Online Philosophy Resources Weekly Update

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 21/01/2020 - 12:02am in

Here’s the weekly report on new and revised entries in online philosophy resources and new reviews of philosophy books.



  1. Reichenbach’s Common Cause Principle, by Christopher Hitchcock (California Tech) and Miklós Rédei (London School of Economics).


  1. Influence of Arabic and Islamic Philosophy on the Latin West, by Dag Nikolaus Hasse.
  2. Abraham Ibn Daud, by Resianne Fontaine and Amira Eran.
  3. Hasdai Crescas, by Shalom Sadik.
  4. Paul-Henri Thiry (Baron) d’Holbach, by Michael LeBuffe.
  5. Seneca, by Katja Vogt,
  6. Epistemology, by Matthias Steup and Ram Neta.
  7. Plato’s Parmenides, by Samuel Rickless.
  8. Practical Reason, by R. Jay Wallace.



  1. Peter Godfrey-Smith (Sydney) reviews Self-Consciousness and ‘Split’ Brains: The Minds’ I (Oxford), by Elizabeth Schechter.
  2. Eric J. Silverman (Christopher Newport University) reviews Love: A New Understanding of an Ancient Emotion (Oxford), by Simon May.
  3. Nathan Ballantyne (Fordham) reviews On Evidence in Philosophy (Oxford), by William G. Lycan.
  4. Laura S. Keating (Hunter College/CUNY) reviews Locke’s Ideas of Mind and Body (Routledge), by Han-Kyul Kim.
  5. Monte Ransome Johnson (California-San Diego) reviews Aristotle’s Revenge: The Metaphysical Foundations of Physical and Biological Science (Editiones Scholasticae), by Edward Feser.
  6. Timothy Stoll (Franklin and Marshall College) reviews Forming Humanity: Redeeming the German Bildung Tradition (Chicago), by Jennifer A. Herdt.

1000-Word Philosophy

Wireless Philosophy

Recent Philosophy Book Reviews in Non-Academic Media

  1. Brandom M. Terry interviews Judith Butler about her latest book, The Force of Nonviolence, at Boston Review.

Compiled by Michael Glawson

BONUS: Robot agency.

The post Online Philosophy Resources Weekly Update appeared first on Daily Nous.

The Economic Consequences of the Peace

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/01/2020 - 7:37pm in

These are some quick notes on listening to a Libravox recording of Chapter Three of Keynes’ Economic Consequences of the Peace the text of which can be found here. I was stunned at how good it was. It was like listening to a phone message from another planet.

  • The overarching casting of the drama in terms of looking forward and the loftiness of the future which seems possible for Western Civilisation (and that this is not only the best course but also the only rational one) and looking backwards (which ends in the magical thinking of basing one’s thinking on the impossibility of recovering the past).

[Clemencau’s position] is the policy of an old man, whose most vivid impressions and most lively imagination are of the past and not of the future. … My purpose in this book is to show that the Carthaginian Peace is not practically right or possible. Although the school of thought from which it springs is aware of the economic factor, it overlooks, nevertheless, the deeper economic tendencies which are to govern the future. The clock cannot be set back. You cannot restore Central Europe to 1870 without setting up such strains in the European structure and letting loose such human and spiritual forces as, pushing beyond frontiers and races, will overwhelm not only you and your “guarantees,” but your institutions, and the existing order of your Society.

  • The picture it paints of the ever-presence of vanity in the world. And what is to be done in the face of vanity. A well considered argument is the only cure we have.  Of course it’s only a ‘talking cure’ – exceptionally weak in its effects in the world, but what else is there? As Johh Henry Newman wrote and Manning Clark quoted: “Quarry the granite rock with razors, or moor the vessel with a thread of silk; then may you hope with such keen and delicate instruments as human knowledge and human reason to contend against those giants, the passion and pride of man.”
  • The issue of sensibility is front and centre – the need for sensibility to navigate the world and the way in which we all have only so much of it and need a division of labour in it – and Woodrow Wilson’s utter failure on that score
    • That this is an ethical as well as a cognitive matter (something more and more eclipsed in modernity)
    • The idea of Woodrow Wilson as the philosopher king with feet of clay – devoid of sensibility. Here’s a fabulous passage:

When President Wilson left Washington he enjoyed a prestige and a moral influence throughout the world unequalled in history. His bold and measured words carried to the peoples of Europe above and beyond the voices of their own politicians. The enemy peoples trusted him to carry out the compact he had made with them; and the Allied peoples acknowledged him not as a victor only but almost as a prophet. In addition to this moral influence the realities of power were in his hands.

With what curiosity, anxiety, and hope we sought a glimpse of the features and bearing of the man of destiny who, coming from the West, was to bring healing to the wounds of the ancient parent of his civilization and lay for us the foundations of the future.

The disillusion was so complete, that some of those who had trusted most hardly dared speak of it. Could it be true? they asked of those who returned from Paris. Was the Treaty really as bad as it seemed? What had happened to the President? What weakness or what misfortune had led to so extraordinary, so unlooked-for a betrayal?

Yet the causes were very ordinary and human. The President was not a hero or a prophet; he was not even a philosopher; but a generously intentioned man, with many of the weaknesses of other human beings, and lacking that dominating intellectual equipment which would have been necessary to cope with the subtle and dangerous spellbinders whom a tremendous clash of forces and personalities had brought to the top as triumphant masters in the swift game of give and take, face to face in Council,—a game of which he had no experience at all.

We had indeed quite a wrong idea of the President. We knew him to be solitary and aloof, and believed him very strong-willed and obstinate. We did not figure him as a man of detail, but the clearness with which he had taken hold of certain main ideas would, we thought, in combination with his tenacity, enable him to sweep through cobwebs. Besides these qualities he would have the objectivity, the cultivation, and the wide knowledge of the student. [Wilson had been an academic.] The great distinction of language which had marked his famous Notes seemed to indicate a man of lofty and powerful imagination. … With all this he had attained and held with increasing authority the first position in a country where the arts of the politician are not neglected. All of which, without expecting the impossible, seemed a fine combination of qualities for the matter in hand. …

The first glance at the President suggested not only that, whatever else he might be, his temperament was not primarily that of the student or the scholar, but that he had not much even of that culture of the world which marks M. Clemenceau and Mr. Balfour as exquisitely cultivated gentlemen of their class and generation. But more serious than this, he was not only insensitive to his surroundings in the external sense, he was not sensitive to his environment at all. What chance could such a man have against Mr. Lloyd George’s unerring, almost medium-like, sensibility to every one immediately round him? To see the British Prime Minister watching the company, with six or seven senses not available to ordinary men, judging character, motive, and subconscious impulse, perceiving what each was thinking and even what each was going to say next, and compounding with telepathic instinct the argument or appeal best suited to the vanity, weakness, or self-interest of his immediate auditor, was to realize that the poor President would be playing blind man’s buff in that party. Never could a man have stepped into the parlor a more perfect and predestined victim to the finished accomplishments of the Prime Minister. The Old World was tough in wickedness anyhow; the Old World’s heart of stone might blunt the sharpest blade of the bravest knight-errant. But this blind and deaf Don Quixote was entering a cavern where the swift and glittering blade was in the hands of the adversary.

  • The way any interpretation and any explanation must try to comprehend the essential issues – which will also be multi-dimensional. So skill in economics is important, but so too are other areas. Note Keynes respect for ‘history’ as a discipline which he is not schooled in, but this doesn’t lead him to simply pass the buck (not my department), but rather to a certain humility and tentativeness alongside the observation that the synthesis nevertheless needs to be done, so he’s proceeding as best he can.

Yet, if I seem in this chapter to assume sometimes the liberties which are habitual to historians, but which, in spite of the greater knowledge with which we speak, we generally hesitate to assume towards contemporaries, let the reader excuse me when he remembers how greatly, if it is to understand its destiny, the world needs light, even if it is partial and uncertain, on the complex struggle of human will and purpose, not yet finished, which, concentrated in the persons of four individuals in a manner never paralleled, made them, in the first months of 1919, the microcosm of mankind.

  • The way in which morality enters in a kind of shadow play with sophistry protecting the high opinion the Great and the Good hold of themselves. Today the bullshit is piled higher and deeper, pervading not just politics and international relations but almost every aspect of our lives – certainly any with a mission statement. Speaking of Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points which were what the belligerents bound themselves to in the Armistice:

This wise and magnanimous program for the world had passed on November 5, 1918, beyond the region of idealism and aspiration, and had become part of a solemn contract to which all the Great Powers of the world had put their signature. But it was lost, nevertheless, in the morass of Paris;—the spirit of it altogether, the letter in parts ignored and in other parts distorted.

Having decided that some concessions were unavoidable, [Wilson] might have [used] the financial power of the United States to secure as much as he could of the substance, even at some sacrifice of the letter. But the President was not capable of so clear an understanding with himself as this implied. He was too conscientious. Although compromises were now necessary, he remained a man of principle and the Fourteen Points a contract absolutely binding upon him. He would do nothing that was not honorable; he would do nothing that was not just and right; he would do nothing that was contrary to his great profession of faith. Thus, without any abatement of the verbal inspiration of the Fourteen Points, they became a document for gloss and interpretation and for all the intellectual apparatus of self-deception, by which, I daresay, the President’s forefathers had persuaded themselves that the course they thought it necessary to take was consistent with every syllable of the Pentateuch.

  • And allow one quote from a later chapter – the denoument, or one among many where truth is spoken to propaganda. Thus the comments of the German Financial Commission on the way in which, having fought a war to make the world safe for democracy, the allies showed no regard for it in Germany, with the Versailles Treaty breaching German sovereignty in numerous egregious ways. This is all a bit rich from the Germans given their conduct of the war, but a reasonable critique nevertheless.

“German democracy is thus annihilated at the very moment when the German people was about to build it up after a severe struggle—annihilated by the very persons who throughout the war never tired of maintaining that they sought to bring democracy to us…. Germany is no longer a people and a State, but becomes a mere trade concern placed by its creditors in the hands of a receiver, without its being granted so much as the opportunity to prove its willingness to meet its obligations of its own accord. The Commission, which is to have its permanent headquarters outside Germany, will possess in Germany incomparably greater rights than the German Emperor ever possessed; the German peopleunder its régime would remain for decades to come shorn of all rights, and deprived, to a far greater extent than any people in the days of absolutism, of any independence of action, of any individual aspiration in its economic or even in its ethical progress”.

Jacobson from Michigan to Colorado

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 19/01/2020 - 8:09am in

Daniel Jacobson, currently professor of philosophy at the University of Michigan, will be moving to the University of Colorado, Boulder.

At Colorado, Dr. Jacobson will be a tenured professor in the Department of Philosophy and the holder of the Benson Chair, a position endowed through the Bruce Benson Center for the Study of Western Civilization. He will also serve as the director of the Benson Center.

Dr. Jacobson is known for his work in ethics, moral psychology, aesthetics, and the moral and political philosophy of John Stuart Mill.

He starts at Colorado in Fall, 2020.

The post Jacobson from Michigan to Colorado appeared first on Daily Nous.

Stoic Balance

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/01/2020 - 7:24am in



We need to balance our attitudes toward activity and rest. We need a mindset that helps us balance the pace of our lives.

A Philosopher Takes on Evolutionary Psychology

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 18/01/2020 - 3:22am in

“Evolutionary psychological inferences commonly fail to satisfy reasonable epistemic criteria.” The failures are so significant that good evolutionary psychology may not be possible. 

So argues Subrena Smith, a philosopher at the University of New Hampshire. Her paper, “Is Evolutionary Psychology Possible?“, was recently published in Biological TheoryIn it, she argues that the popular research program of evolutionary psychology is methodologically unsound.

Dr. Smith also wrote a shorter version of the argument that was published at The Evolution Institute. In it, she first presents a description of the aims of evolutionary psychology:

The mandate of evolutionary psychology is to give true evolutionary explanations for contemporary human behavior. Evolutionary psychologists believe that many of our behaviors in the present are caused by psychological mechanisms that operate today as they did in the past. Each mechanism was selected for its specific fitness-enhancing effects, and each of them is responsive only to the kinds of inputs for which it is an adaptation.

To achieve the aims of evolutionary psychology, researchers “need to show that particular kinds of behavior are underwritten by particular mechanisms.” More specifically, evolutionary psychology confronts what Dr. Smith calls “the matching problem”:

For a present-day psychological trait to be related to an ancestral psychological trait in the way that evolutionary psychology requires, the present-day trait must be of the same kind as the ancestral one. It must also have the same function as the ancestral one and must be descended from that ancestral trait as part of a reproductive lineage extending back to prehistory. Also, importantly, the present-day trait and the ancestral trait must be of the same kind and have the same function because the former is descended from the latter. This is key because it might be that a present-day trait and an ancestral trait are of the same kind and have the same function without one being descended from the other. The architecture of the modern mind might resemble that of early humans without this architecture having being selected for and genetically transmitted through the generations. Evolutionary psychological claims, therefore, fail unless practitioners can show that mental structures underpinning present-day behaviors are structures that evolved in prehistory for the performance of adaptive tasks that it is still their function to perform. This is the matching problem.   

For the matching problem to be overcome, three conditions must be met:

First, determine that the function of some contemporary mechanism is the one that an ancestral mechanism was selected for performing. Next, determine that the contemporary mechanism has the same function as the ancestral one because of its being descended from the ancestral mechanism. Finally, determine which ancestral mechanisms are related to which contemporary ones in this way. 

We can’t just assume that the identities required in these conditions are met. “They need to be demonstrated.” More specifically:

Solving the matching problem requires knowing about the psychological architecture of our prehistoric ancestors. But it is difficult to see how this knowledge can possibly be acquired. We do not, and very probably cannot, know much about the prehistoric human mind.

Some evolutionary psychologists dispute this. They argue that although we do not have access to these individuals’ minds, we can “read off” ancestral mechanisms from the adaptive challenges that they faced. For example, because predator-evasion was an adaptive challenge, natural selection must have installed a predator-evasion mechanism.

This inferential strategy works only if all mental structures are adaptations, if adaptationist explanations are difficult to come by, and if adaptations are easily characterized. There is no reason to assume that all mental structures are adaptations, just as there is no reason to assume that all traits are adaptations. We also know that adaptationist hypotheses are easy to come by. And finally, there is the problem of how to characterize traits. Any adaptive problem characterized in a coarse-grained way (for example, “predator evasion”) can equally be characterized as an aggregate of finer-grained problems. And these can, in turn, be characterized as an aggregate for even finer-grained problems. This introduces indeterminacy and arbitrariness into how adaptive challenges are to be characterized, and therefore, what mental structures are hypothesized to be responses to those challenges. This difficulty raises an additional obstacle for resolving the matching problem. If there is no fact of the matter about how psychological mechanisms are to be individuated, then there is no fact of the matter about how they are to be matched.

That is not the end of the problems, though. Dr. Smith says, “Even if these obstacles could be surmounted, the problem remains of identifying these behaviors with particular kinds of behavior that are hypothesized to have existed in prehistory,” and she goes on to explain the difficulties this further task faces.

You can read Dr. Smith’s full paper here and her summary of its argument here.

Over email, I asked Dr. Smith what the reaction to her argument has been amongst the evolutionary psychology crowd and she reported that there hasn’t been much of one, apart from some dismissiveness.

Discussion welcome, especially from those who work in psychology, biology, and philosophy of science.

The post A Philosopher Takes on Evolutionary Psychology appeared first on Daily Nous.


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 17/01/2020 - 1:47am in


Links, philosophy

New Mini-Heap…

  1. The meaning of nihilism — Nolen Gertz (Twente) distinguishes nihilism from other concepts in its vicinity, such as pessimism, cynicism, and apathy
  2. “What else from philosophy influenced the construction and design of LinkedIn?” — Tyler Cowen (GMU) interviews Reid Hoffman, who has an MA in philosophy and who helped develop PayPal, LinkedIn, & other ventures (via Robert Long)
  3. “At 97, he wondered whether he’d been deceiving himself about the meaning of life and death” — a documentary about philosopher Herbert Fingarette made during the last few months of his life
  4. “If our actions are harming other animals, then we have a responsibility to try to reduce or repair these harms” — Jeff Sebo (NYU) on what humans owe to animals
  5. “Philosophy has a profound impact on me” — an interview with Cixin Liu, author of the tremendous Three-Body Problem science fiction trilogy
  6. “The protests have been extraordinarily popular and remarkably effective—not in spite of but because of… tactics of uncivil disobedience” — Candice Delmas (Northeastern) on the uncivil disobedience of the Hong Kong protestors
  7. Scientists use frog cells to build the first “living robots” — this “new form of life” has “enormous potential” but it also “raises a bevy of ethical questions”

Mini-Heap posts appear when 7 or so new items accumulate in the Heap of Links, the ever-growing collection of items from around the web that may be of interest to philosophers. Discussion welcome.

The Heap of Links consists partly of suggestions from readers; if you find something online that you think would be of interest to the philosophical community, please send it in for consideration for the Heap. Thanks!


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