Monday, July 31, 2006

The Paradox of the Preface

You write a book. You believe every single sentence in that book. Yet you also write a preface in which you acknowledge that probably something you've said in the book is false. It seems that you believe each claim p1, p2, p3, ... pn, individually but you disbelieve the conjunction (p1 & p2 & p3 & ... & pn). But of course, it follows straightfowardly from p1, p2, p3, ... pn, that their conjunction is true. In denying it, you commit yourself to an inconsistent set of beliefs. We ordinarily think holding an inconsistent set of beliefs is irrational; yet your acknowledging the likelihood of error in the preface seems eminently rational. Hence, the paradox of the preface.

Much has been written about the paradox of the preface, but I want to focus on just one issue here: The challenge it poses for the idea, raised last Monday that we cannot have flatly contradictory beliefs. For if we accept what we might call the conjunctive principle of belief attribution -- the principle that someone who believes A and who believes B also believes A & B -- then it seems to follow that the preface writer has baldly contradictory beliefs: (p1 & p2 & p3 & ... & pn) [from repeated applications of the conjunction principle] and -(p1 & p2 & p3 & ... & pn) [from what he says in the preface].

The solution, I think, is to deny the conjunction principle. On a representational warehouse model of belief, according to which to believe something is to have representations of the right sort stored in an appropriate location in the mind, denying the conjunction principle invites the unsavory conclusion that in order to believe that I got in the car and drove to work I have to represent both "I got in the car" and "I drove to work" and "I got in the car and drove to work". (On the other hand, if the warehouse-representationalist accepts the conjunction principle, she risks sliding into the even more unsavory position of holding that we believe all the logical consequences of our beliefs.)

On a dispositional approach to belief, according to which to believe something is to act, cogitate, and feel in ways concordant with the truth of the proposition in question, there may be room to deny the conjunction principle, without dragging in a suite of redundant representations. The key is to notice that one needn't be absolutely consistently disposed to act in accord with some proposition P to count as believing that P. For example, one can believe in God despite passing fits of irreligiosity. One need only act appropriately generally speaking, most of the time, and when excusing conditions are not present. One need only match the profile of the full and complete believer to a certain degree. (For more on this, see my Phenomenal, Dispositional, Account of Belief.) And what comes in degrees doesn't conjoin.

To see this last point, consider the lottery paradox: It's approximately certain that Jean won't win and approximately certain that Bob won't win and approximately certain that Sanjay won't win, ..., but it doesn't follow that it's approximately certain that no one will win. The uncertainties compound with conjunction. So also, likewise, in the paradox of the preface: I come pretty close to matching the profile of a full and complete believer in each of p1, p2, p3, ... pn, considered individually, but it doesn't follow that I come at all close to matching the dispositional profile of a full believer in the conjunction (p1 & p2 & pn & ... & pn). This point is often made in terms of Bayesian degrees of belief; but I intend it here as a point of set theory, where the relevant sets are sets of dispositions. Having most of the elements of set A and most of the elements of set B does not necessarily imply that one has most of the elements of A+B.

(By the way, I believe it was Jay Rosenberg who first raised this as a puzzle for my rejection of baldly contradictory beliefs, at an APA meeting some years ago.)

Friday, July 28, 2006

Depression and Philosophy

John Fischer once suggested to me that many of the best philosophers are mildly depressed: This gives them the lack of confidence necessary to recheck and rethink their arguments with paranoid care; it prompts them to toss what's less than excellent in the trash; it gives them a realistic appreciation of how someone opposed to their point of view might react to their writing. The average person generally accepts her first thought with blithe confidence and is satisfied to stop there until someone points out a flaw. The mildly depressed philosopher worries that her first thought is off-target or too simple, that there are important objections she hasn't considered, and that her opponent may be right after all. Consequently her thinking deepens.

There's much right in this, I suspect. Surely you can think of philosophers (I won't name any names!) who are rather too satisfied with their own work and their first thoughts in response to challenges, whose philosophy would profit from a loss of self-esteem! (Perhaps in their early careers, before they earned their flattering students and editors, they were rather more depressed?) And contrary to what one might superficially think, a depressive lack of confidence is quite compatible with the seemingly arrogant conviction, essential to the boldest, most creative philosophy, that every other scholar in the world (and Kant) is farther wrong than you.

On the other hand, there's something to be said for euphoric philosophy, too -- philosophy that strikes out in new directions, without too much looking back, philosophy that doesn't detain itself overmuch with fine distinctions and robotic consistency. And of course even mild depression is enervating, making it hard to take up the bold project or even just to sit down and write or revise what one has already planned out. The inner critic speaks too loudly after each sentence, each paragraph -- they don't come out, or half come out, or come out and get deleted.

The best pathology for a philosopher is probably mild manic-depression. The ephoria, self-confidence, and energy of a mild hypomania can drive the drafts, enliven one's thinking, encourage new starts, new directions, bold ideas. The subsequent depression puts one's feet back on the ground when it comes time to revise, rethink, and often just completely abandon the thing. The philosopher's ideal condition is one of gentle fluctuation.

The implications of this for the proper use of caffeine and diurnal rhythms I leave as an exercise for the reader.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

Do the Mundane Think in Prose?

Do you tend to think in strings of words or in successions of images? (You probably think you know the answer to this question. I'd wager that you don't, but let's bracket my outrageous skepticism for today.) Russ Hurlburt (with Chris Heavey and Sarah Akhter) claims that those who think primarily in inner speech tend to be (among other things):

- above average in logical capacity,
- good at planning sequential operations,
- unimaginative, focused on prosaic facts,
- narrow-minded and overconfident,
- less interested than others in relationships and artistry.

Those who tend to think primarily in images, on the other hand, Hurlburt claims, tend to be

- energetic, optimistic, impatient, and fast-talking,
- creative and visionary,
- self-absorbed and poor at seeing things from another's perspective.

These bold claims (along with some caveats and disclaimers) can be found in Chapter 14 of Hurlburt's just-published book with Chris Heavey. Hurlburt, Heavey, and Akhter hint at some ways in which these different characteristics might follow from features of sentences (logical, sequential, matter-of-fact) vs. pictures (rich, vivid, depicting possibilities), but the main basis of their claims seems to be Hurlburt's decades of experience interviewing people about their everyday thoughts and experiences as sampled by a random beeper. Hurlburt, Heavey, and Akhter also describe a few other types.

I find at least two interesting matters to contemplate here: (1.) The potential truth of these claims, and how we can evaluate their truth or falsity. And (2.) my own jumble of defensive reactions. How easy it is, too, to get this defensive rise out of me ("I'm not unimaginative and narrow-minded!"), though of course Russ isn't claiming that everyone who tends to think in words has these traits. I recall my own occasional visual images. Maybe I'm the perfect blend of speaker and imager? Maybe some folks' inner prose (mine!) carries more than others'? Even before I accept the truth of Russ's claims, I find my self-image shifting defensively in reaction to it.

The mere utterance of generalities about groups, by anyone, tends to engage our defenses -- even when we have excellent reason to be skeptical of the claims. I think I'm now completely immune to horoscopes, but the visceral defensive reactions vanished only years after my intellectual dismissal of astrology. Likewise, two years ago, I read some Nazi-era portrayals of the personalities of different racial types, and (I blush to confess) I found myself having similar defensive and self-congratulatory reactions. Is it just me? How can my self-image and my thoughts be so easily commandeered by what I know to be ungrounded utterances!

Maybe Russ is right. I'm not saying his claims are entirely ungrounded. It does seem plausible that differences in the dominant form of one's stream of conscious experience would both reflect and cause differences in cognition and personality. We can and should investigate the matter more thoroughly. And maybe then I'll just have to buck up and accept my aloof logicistic mundaneness -- and you your impatient egoism!

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival #33

The new Philosophers' Carnival is up at The Boundaries of Language. Check it out!

Monday, July 24, 2006

No Contradictory Beliefs?

I accept a dispositional account of belief. That is, I think of believing as being disposed to act and cogitate and feel in certain ways under certain conditions. An alternative approach holds that to believe is to have some sentence-like representation stored in one's mind. (See my forthcoming Stanford Encyclopedia entry on belief and my Phenomenal, Dispositional Account of Belief for more on this.)

One point of contrast between these two approaches: On a representational warehouse approach to belief, it seems perfectly natural to suppose that sometimes we have baldly contractory beliefs. One might believe both P and not-P simultaneously; one might believe, say, both that God exists and God doesn't exist, or that lighting the match is safe and that lighting the match is not safe. All that's required is that one has the sentences or representations of both P and not-P stored (in the right way) in one's mind.

Dispositional approaches generally don't countenance baldly contradictory beliefs. The dispositions to act in accord with one belief will tend to flatly contradict the dispositions to act in accord with its negation. One can't, for example, simultaneously be disposed both consistently to act as though God exists and consistently to act as though he does not exist. At most, one will have a muddled, mixed-up, in-betweenish set of dispositions, such that it's not quite right to say that you believe that P and not quite right to say you don't.

Is it ever compelling to suppose that a person genuinely has simultaneous and baldly contradictory beliefs?

Consider the self-deceived person who sometimes and in some respects acts as though she perfectly well knows that her son is a drug dealer and who at other times and in other respects perfectly sincerely denies that he is. We might say part of her believes it and part of her doesn't -- but that's merely metaphorical. She doesn't literally have different compartments in her mind, with divergent judgments, alternating control over her behavior, does she? Surely it's at least as plausible to say that she's in a confused state somewhere between believing it and failing to do so -- perhaps somewhat like H.H. Price's "half belief" (compare the case of Geraldine in my Phenomenal, Dispositional Account of Belief).

Or take the man who lights the match to see in the dark, momentarily disregarding the fact that there's a gas leak -- an example sometimes cited by philosophers as a case of baldly contradictory belief. Is it really compelling to say that he both believes that lighting the match is safe and that it isn't?

Can you think of a better case? (If the "paradox of the preface" comes to mind, I'll deal with that in a future post.)

Friday, July 21, 2006

Do You Have a Heart?

Of course you have an organ that pumps blood. The question is, do you have a heart in the sense often intended in everyday talk about the mind, in phrases like "he has a good heart" and "in my heart, I know that...", a heart in the Romantic sense of having a private emotional life that one can choose to show or to hide, be true or false to?

Maybe it's better to put the question less ontologically. Is the concept of a "heart" useful for philosophy? It certainly hasn't had much play in philosophy of mind!

We contrast the "heart" and the "mind". Your heart might tell you one thing; your mind another. Now of course, in the broad philosophical sense of "mind", the heart is just part of the mind. The heart/mind distinction, if it works, is meant only to capture a difference between judgments, values, or decisions that have some inchoate emotional basis and those that are more explicitly rational. Is this distinction useful?

Antonio Damasio and Nomy Arpaly might say no. Damasio suggests that emotion plays a crucial role in even seemingly "cool" reasoning. Arpaly suggests that the phenomenology of "cool-headedness" often masks what really is emotional and irrational. Maybe the "heart", then, deserves to be dead and buried; it's really just the mind. Yet something still pulls me toward the idea of the heart, maybe not as distinguished from the mind exactly, but as the metaphorical (and sometimes phenomenological?) locus of a certain kind of deep apprehension, a kind of "gut feeling", that's importantly different from abstract, explicit reasoning.

Mencius doesn't mean what we mean by "heart" -- as David Wong and Kwong-loi Shun suggest, he brings together our concepts of the heart and the mind -- but when Mencius says that something in our hearts is troubled by evil and pleased by good, I want to carry that forward into something more like the contemporary notion of the heart. Though we may at an explicit, conscious level, find nothing wrong in our evil actions -- the Nazi may have what seems to him perfectly rational reasons for exterminating the Jews, the professor may have an excellent defense of his abhorrent treatment of his graduate students in mind -- something deep in their hearts, as it were, still rebels.

I want to be able to say that. I think something in the idea of the "heart" is useful here. There's some emotional knowledge of good and evil that persists under our rationalizations. But Damasio and Arpaly worry me. So also does a strand in my own thinking that takes our actions, and our dispositions to act, as the most fundamental facts about our beliefs and values -- a strand in my thinking that wants to keep things on the surface, as it were, to say the man is his actions and the "inner heart" is a sham....

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Knowing What You Love

In her 1996 paper on self-knowledge, Victoria McGeer proposes that one of the main reasons a person's claims about her attitudes are likely to be true is this: Once you avow an attitude (whether to yourself or others), you are thereafter committed to living and speaking and reasoning in accord with it (unless you can give some account of why you're not doing so). Since you have considerable self-regulatory control over how you live, speak, and reason; and since all there is to having an attitude is being prone to live, speak, and reason in accord with it, you have the power to make what you say about yourself true. In short, you shape yourself to accord with the attitudes you express. In McGeer's view, self-knowledge has more to do with this sort of self-shaping than it does with any introspective phenomenon of discovering attitudes that already exist.

Now, I'm not sure our claims about our attitudes are as likely to be right as philosophers often assume -- especially our most morally relevant implicit habits of acting and reacting, valuing and disdaining, in the ordinary run of life -- but it seems to me that there's something importantly right in McGeer's view here, especially with respect to love.

Suppose I'm up late with some friends at a bar. They're talking jazz, and I'm left in the dust. More to participate in the conversation and to seem knowledgeable than out of any prior conviction, I say, "I just love Cole Porter ballads." I could as easily said that I love Irving Berlin or Rogers and Hart. About all these composers, I really only know a half-dozen songs, which I've heard occasionally performed by different artists. My friends turn to me and ask what I like about Porter; I say something hopefully not too stupid. Later, when we're driving in my car, they expect to hear Cole Porter. When a movie on Porter comes out, they ask my opinion about it. I oblige them. Let's say, furthermore, that such a pattern of behavior isn't just a show for them. In light of what I said, I find myself more drawn to Porter in the future. This isn't at all preposterous: The psychological literature on cognitive dissonance, for example, suggests that we tend to shape our genuine opinions to match what we have said, if it was said without obvious coercion.

Thus, I have transformed myself into a Cole Porter fan by means of an arbitrary remark. It wasn't true of me before I said it; but now I've made it true. If love is a kind of commitment to value something or pattern of valuing it, I embarked on that commitment and began that pattern by making the remark. Its truth derives not from accurate introspection but from the fact that I work to make myself consistent and understandable to myself and others.

If I say to myself -- or, shall we say, decide? -- in the scoop shop that I love Chunky Monkey ice cream, I am at least as much forming a commitment, establishing a pattern, or creating a policy as a reference point for future deliberation, as I am scouring my mind to discover a pre-existing love. (Of course it's highly relevant that I remember enjoying Chunky Monkey so much last time I had it.) If I tell someone for the first time that I love her, I am not -- I hope -- merely expressing an emotion (emotions pass so quickly!) but embarking on a commitment of a certain sort, making a decision, embracing a habit of valuing her in a certain way. (This is partly why first confessions of love are so frightening.) Though the various phenomena we call "love" differ in many ways, it seems to me they share a self-commissive aspect in their expression that makes them ripe for an analysis along McGeer's lines.

Of course, there's a very different kind of commitment involved in deciding one loves Chunky Monkey than in announcing one's love for another person, and we think very differently about people who back out of these different commitments. But even with respect to the smallest love, we need a certain amount of self-consistency. One cannot ceaselessly and arbitarily flop around in one's loves and values and continue to be a normal reasoner and normal member of a community.

Similar observations hold, in varying degrees, for other attitudes: beliefs, desires, fears, hopes, plans. The introspective views of self-knowledge that dominate philosophy (e.g., Nichols and Stich, Goldman) don't give sufficient attention to this self-shaping aspect.

By the way, I'm tempted to think that this kind of self-knowledge through self-shaping can sometimes find a parallel in other-knowledge through other-shaping: Imagine a mother who announces that her four-year-old son loves baseball and then works to make it true. Or imagine Stalin announcing that his people despise Zinovievites.

Monday, July 17, 2006

Emotional Engagement Vs. Philosophical Reflection

More and more, I'm finding myself inclined to think that philosophical reflection about ethical issues is, on average, morally useless. Central to my thinking about this is what I've been calling The Problem of the Ethics Professors -- the fact (I take it to be a fact) that ethics professors do not behave particularly better or worse than others of similar social background, despite (presumably!) a greater penchant for philosophical reflection about ethical issues.

Still, I want to hold onto the idea that ethical reflection is morally profitable. It would be despairing counsel indeed to say that there's no point in thinking about the ethical dimensions of one's behavior! My current thought is this: The kind of ethical reflection that leads to moral improvement is reflection that's emotionally engaged with the affected parties -- reflection that involves empathy, sympathy, trying to see things from the other's perspective, keying into one's feelings of shame, disgust, and visceral approval.

Philosophical reflection (as actually practiced by philosophers) is typically "cooler" than this, more abstract and theoretical. While it may benefit us morally in certain ways -- for example, by revealing the consistency or inconsistency of certain principles -- it may also distract us from a more profitable type of moral reflection. Worse, it may conceal and rationalize immoral desires that we might discover if we reflected with more (or more explicit) emotional engagement. It might, thus, be positively harmful as often as it is helpful.

There are problems, of course, with a simplistic approach to letting one's emotions guide one's moral reflections. For example, if you focus entirely on, say, the wrong done to a member of your group, you may work yourself up into a lather of revenge. A judge needs to avoid being overwhelmed by sympathy for the criminal. But this is merely to say that emotionally engaged reflection needs to be balanced and sophisticated in certain ways -- and perhaps some of what philosophers do can be helpful with that.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Attunement to the Unknown

The fly ball is up. You put your mitt out and... you either caught it or you didn't. Let's say you caught it. You know you did. How do you know?

Maybe you know because of a certain sound? Maybe you know because the mitt tugs at your hand in a particular way when a ball lands in it? Maybe you know because you feel some pressure and resistance in your arm? Or something else? Maybe some combination of these things?

Let's say that you know principally because of how the mitt tugs at your hand. The mitt doesn't tug in that hard-to-define way unless you've caught the ball. If it does tug that way, you think you've caught the ball; if it doesn't you don't. Yet here are two things you might not know: (1.) that the mitt tugged at your hand in that particular way (as opposed to some other way, or not at all), (2.) that if the mitt tugs in that way, you've caught the fly. In fact, you might well deny (1) and (2). If inference requires accepting the premises, you don't reach the judgment that you've caught the ball by inference.

Let's say then that you're attuned to some fact or contingency, if you make judgments in a way that shows sensitivity to that fact or contingency -- judgments that may count as knowledge -- but without necessarily being able to reach an accurate judgment about the fact or contingency to which you are sensitive.

Other examples: I might be attuned to the lift of the interior portion of the eyebrows that often expresses sadness, and know on that basis that someone is sad, and be quite ignorant or mistaken about the position of the eyebrows. I might be attuned to the echoic properties of my footfalls in judging how far away a wall is that I cannot see, yet think I'm judging the distance of the wall on the basis of air pressure on my face. (For an extended discussion of this last example, see my paper on human echolocation.)

Surely attunement is an interesting concept. I'll talk more about a couple things I'd like to do with the idea of attunement in the philosophy of perception and in introspection in a future post.

There are connections here to the epistemological literature on information and tracking, but most epistemologists (that I'm aware of) who talk about tracking and information don't draw as clean a distinction as I'd like between responsiveness to facts that involves judgment, belief, and knowledge, and responsiveness that is non-judgmental.

There are also connections to the philosophy of mind literature and cognitive psychology literature on subpersonal information processing and inference, but I'd prefer to avoid the idea of inference here. One's judgments can be responsive to something without representing that thing in the sense of traditional cognitive science, as long as they are contingent on that thing, by whatever mechanism.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Does Social Approval Excuse Vice More Than It Deflates Virtue?

Jennifer Matey, in a recent email, got me thinking about whether there might be differences in the conditions under which we attribute characterological virtues versus vices. Here's my thought: If the people around you all tend to approve of a certain kind of virtuous behavior, and you exhibit that approved behavior, we tend to ascribe characterological virtue to you. But vice may work differently. If the people around you all tend to approve of a certain kind of vicious behavior, and you exhibit that approved behavior, we're somewhat more reluctant to attribute you the characterological vice.

Consider these cases.

(1a.) Everyone in Adam's immediate environment thinks one should flee from battle once the bullets start flying. The bullets start flying and Adam flees. He wouldn't have fleed if it weren't generally approved of. Is he a cowardly person?

(1b.) Everyone in Adam's immediate environment thinks one should stand one's ground in battle once the bullets start flying. The bullets start flying and Adam stands his ground. He wouldn't have stood his ground if it weren't generally approved of. Is he a courageous person?

(2a.) Everyone in Belle's immediate environment thinks one shouldn't give money to neighborhood kids who knock on the door raising funds for extracurricular activities. A neighboorhood kid knocks on her door to raise funds for karate equipment and Belle doesn't give money. She would have given money if it weren't generally disapproved of. Is she a stingy person?

(2b.) Everyone in Belle's immediate environment thinks one should give money to neighborhood kids who knock on the door raising funds for extracurricular activities. A neighboorhood kid knocks on her door to raise funds for karate equipment and Belle gives money. She wouldn't have given money if it weren't generally approved of. Is she a generous person?

(3a.) In Charlie's country, there is a persecuted ethic group, the Junnels. Everyone in Charlie's immediate environment thinks one should offer no quarter to the persecuted ethnic group. A Junnel wants to hide in Charlie's basement and Charlie offers her no quarter. Charlie would have offered her quarter if it were generally approved of in her immediate environment. In Charlie an unkind person?

(3b.) In Charlie's country, there is a persecuted ethic group, the Junnels. Everyone in Charlie's immediate environment thinks one should help the persecuted ethnic group. A Junnel wants to hide in Charlie's basement and he lets her. Charlie wouldn't have let her hide if it weren't generally approved of in her immediate environment. In Charlie a kind person?

Now you might just reflexively say "no" to all these questions, on the general principle that characterological virtues and vices shouldn't be attributable in such cases, where the response is contingent on social approval. But my guess is that if you don't consciously hew to such a principle, you will -- or most people will -- find the social approval to be more excusing in the a-cases than it is deflating in the b-cases. That is, speaking roughly and generally, we're somewhat inclined attribute the virtues in the b-cases, despite the contingency of the act on social approval, but we're disinclined to attribute the vices in the a-cases, because of the acts' contingency on social approval. I suspect this holds for a wide range of virtues, though probably not all of them.

Maybe we simply have a higher threshold, or slightly different standards, for attributing vice than virtue because there's something awkward, conflictual, ungenerous, etc., in attributing vice? Or is that just my own softheartedness?

Monday, July 10, 2006

Thoughts That Linger

Further reflections on inner speech (see here and here and here and here and here for earlier posts on inner speech):

Does it ever happen to you that you have a thought "in inner speech" as it were -- seemingly embodied by a sentence of English running silently through your head -- and the thought continues to linger after the inner speech has ceased? You've thought, maybe, "I shouldn't be spending so much time blogging" (not that you ever have that thought!) and for some moments after that sentence is done, you have no additional inner speech or imagery that you can discern, and yet the thought is kind of still with you?

I wore one of Hurlburt's beepers and took random samples of my daily experience (by being beeped at random intervals, then reflecting on what my experience was at the last undisturbed moment prior to the beep, as far as I could discern), and it seemed to me occasionally that I was caught in just such moments.

If this occurs, it undermines simplistic views of thought as transpiring in inner speech. The inner speech is gone, but the thought is not. In this way, it's a complement to my earlier post about interrupted inner speech, where the thought seems complete before the inner speech is.

It also raises the question of whether one could have such a "lingering thought" without the inner speech (or any other sort of imagery) preceding it at all....

Friday, July 07, 2006

The Philosophy of Hair

When I was a graduate student at Berkeley in the 1990s, the philosophy graduate student lounge had a billboard on which we posted philosophical humor. (Leo Van Munching, bless him, kept it organized; there never was, by the way, a more beautiful unpublished philosophical prose stylist.) Among the items that lived a span upon that board was a newspaper clipping in which a French coiffeur claims not to be a barber but rather "a philosopher of hair". Part of the humor in this, presumably, derives from the strange idea of a philosophy of hair. (Another part of the humor comes from its playing upon the different perceptions of philosophy in France and the U.S.)

But why not a philosophy of hair? It seems to me the following are recognizably philosophical questions:

(1.) What distinguishes a haircut from other events in which one's hair ends up shorter (e.g., fire, lawnmower accident)?

(2.) Is a good haircut timelessly good, or does the quality of a haircut depend in part on the tides of fashion?

(3.) Must a haircut please its bearer to be good? Are there, perhaps, several different dimensions of "goodness" to be pulled apart here?

(4.) To what extent should a haircut be judged by the intent of the hairdresser?

Now maybe these aren't earthshakingly important philosophical questions; but they do bear a certain resemblance to philosophical questions in other branches of philosophy (especially aesthetics). Yet they aren't merely derivative of those other questions: One's answers probably need to involve factors particular to hair. They can't simply and straightforwardly be derived from one's general stances about authorial intent, the quality of works of art, etc. And I don't doubt that our French coiffeur would have opinions on all of them!

Why do I care whether there is a philosophy of hair? Here's why. If there is, it suggests that philosophy is not a subject area. It is an approach, a style of thinking, a willingness to plunge in and consider the deepest onotological, normative, conceptual, and broadly theoretical questions regarding anything. Any topic -- the mind, language, physics, ethics, hair, Barbie dolls, carpentry, auto racing -- can be approached philosophically. For all X, there is a philosophy of X. Ain't that grand?

Consequently, when people say "this is my philosophy of X", I think they are generally using the word "philosophy" quite correctly. We should not cringe. John Madden is a philosopher of football!

Thursday, July 06, 2006

Philosophers' Carnival #32

I should have posted this link a few days ago, but it's never too late to play in the carnival!

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Inner Speech and Motor Imagery

More on "inner speech". (For earlier posts on inner speech see here and here and here and here.)

Say something silently to yourself. "Peter Piper picked a peck of pickled peppers." If you're like most, you'll have, in some sense, imagined the words auditorially. You'll have heard the words in an "inner voice" of some sort. At least, this is how it seems to me! Here's one way of expressing that fact, if it is a fact: Inner speech involves auditory imagery.

Now, some of the philosophers and psychologists who discuss the phenomenon of inner speech simply call inner speech auditory imagery, as if the auditory experience exhausts the phenomenology of it.

Maybe it does. Or maybe there's something else -- motor imagery perhaps? Just as one can (I think one can) motorically (as opposed to visually) imagine swinging one's leg or raising one's arms, or preparing to leap from a high place (I spent the last two nights in a 35 story hotel, so that particular vertiginous experience is vivid in my memory), so also can one motorically imagine speaking.

Now if I try, deliberately, to involve motor imagery in my inner speech, it seems that I can do so. But does inner speech normally involve such imagery? Hm! Why does this seem a hard question to answer?

Let's say it does. Here, then, is a further question: Is the motor aspect really only motor imagery? Some behaviorists speculated that what we call inner speech really involves subtle activation of the vocal apparatus -- actual sensed movement, not just private imagery. (I have the impression there's some work on this, but all I can seem to find right now are a few studies suggesting that the vocal apparatus is active during auditory hallucination in schizophrenia, and studies suggesting that brain areas associated with the motor aspects of speaking may be active during inner speech.)

Further: Is there a feeling of control or willing in inner speech? A number of people I've asked, including on this blog, seem ready to acknowledge an experiential difference between inner speech (experienced as actively created) and inner hearing (experienced as passively received).

So I'm puzzled about the phenomenology of inner speech. I don't want to overpopulate our inner lives with excessive complexity. Perhaps inner speech is pretty thinly experienced, and the richness we might be tempted to attribute to it -- feelings of motor imagery, feelings of control -- exists only when set our attention to such matters. (See my discussion of the refrigerator light error.) On the other hand, if such experiences generally belong to inner speech, that seems a fairly fundamental and basic thing to leave out in a phenomenological survey.

The cool thing here -- to my taste -- is that it seems like such matters should be obvious to a moment's reflection and introspection. And yet they're not, or not to me.

Monday, July 03, 2006

What We "Believe"

My six-year-old son Davy, after a long, exhausting day, and stuck in traffic for hours, was a bit drunk with sleepiness, I think, and began a disquisition on the nature of the universe. Among the various ideas he endorsed, and discussed at length, with all the metaphysical coherence available to a six-year-old, were that the universe has thousands of dimensions, not just three (or four, including time). Some of them are like ordinary spatial dimensions, perpendicular to our three (I had been talking to him about Flatland and spatial dimensionality a few days previously), while others, which he called "realms" (to distinguish them from the others) were like whole separate universes. Some of these "realms" had aliens with multiple heads. He concluded by saying, "That's what I believe".

Now in what sense does Davy "believe" this? I guess I've come to think that there is a genuine sense in which Davy believes this, and that his psychological state regarding the "dimensions" is not all that different from adult metaphysical stances. He can discourse semi-coherently on it at length. He'll probably endorse the views again in a few days if I remind him of our conversation. He'll draw obvious consequences from it, and argue against conflicting views.

But of course this "belief" has very little connection to his behavior. There's I think quite a different sense of belief in which I believe that this post will appear on the blog when I'm done with it -- a fact I've been taking for granted and which informs and drives my behavior. To give these different types of "belief" names, let's call the latter sort of belief "implicit" and the former "explicit".

Philosophy and ordinary folk psychology tends not to fully appreciate the vastness of the gulf between these two sorts of belief, perhaps. Often the two types of belief do co-occur: I both implicitly act as though my house is on Wilding Place and I verbally endorse the claim that it is. But the disconnection between them is often vast -- as in the cases, I think, of the implicit racist, the person who says she believes in Heaven and Hell but whose actions betray a surprising indifference to her eternal reward and punishment, and the immoral ethics professor. It's one thing to say "X" seriously and quite another to live it.

In a way, I suppose, this is old news and not surprising. But I think we too often overlook the gulf here, in philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, everyday life. Maybe we need two different words for these two different types of state, so as not to confuse things by applying the term "belief" to both. (Indeed, maybe the English "belief" does pretty much just capture the explicit, not-especially-well-connected-with-action type of state. "These are our beliefs....")

To the extent we have special "first-person privilege", near-infallible authority about what we "believe", it's really, I think (believe?), only regarding what we endorse in the explicit sense -- which is really the much less psychologically and morally important form of belief....