Friday, January 21, 2011

In Germany, Slacking on the Blog

I've been trying to post at least once a week recently, but I didn't manage to pull it off this week. I'm in Germany until the 28th, with a hectic schedule. It has been very interesting and productive!

Monday, January 10, 2011

Ethicists' Responsiveness to Student Emails: New Essay in draft

by Joshua Rust and Eric Schwitzgebel

Available here.

Do professional ethicists behave any morally better than do other professors? Do they show any greater consistency between their norms and their behavior? In response to a survey question, a large majority of professors (83% of ethicists, 83% of non-ethicist philosophers, and 85% of non-philosophers) expressed the view that “not consistently responding to student emails” is morally bad. A similarly large majority of professors (>80% of all groups) claimed to respond to at least 95% of student emails. We sent these professors, and others, three emails designed to look like queries from students: one concerning office hours, one about declaring a major, and a third about a future course of the professor’s drawn from posted schedules of classes. All three emails were tested against spam filters, and we had direct confirmation that almost all target email addresses were actively used. Professors responded to about 60% of the emails. Ethicists’ email response rates were within statistical chance of the other two groups’. Expressed normative view correlated with self-estimated rate of email responsiveness, especially among the ethicists. However, for all groups of professors, measured email responsiveness was virtually unrelated to either expressed normative view or self-estimated email responsiveness.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Two Approaches to Transparency about Self-Knowledge

According to transparency views of self-knowledge, we learn about our own mental states not by turning our attention inward to detect the presence or absence of those states (as "inner sense" and "self-monitoring" views suggest) but rather by turning our attention to the outside world. In Gareth Evans's (1982) example, if someone asks me if I think there will be a third world war, in answering that question, I don't think about myself; rather, I think about the state of the world.

Suppose I answer "yes" to Evans's question. I have reached some sort of judgment. But what exactly have I reached a judgment about? There are two very different options insufficiently distinguished in the literature. Option 1: I am reaching a judgment about the world. In the context of the question (which was, literally speaking, about what I think), that judgment about the world serves a self-ascriptive function. Option 2: I am reaching a judgment about my mind. I'm not attending to my mind as a means of reaching that judgment, but the judgment is still a self-directed one. Call Option 1 the Topic Shifting approach to transparency and Option 2 the Self-Judgment approach.

Topic Shifting and Self-Judgment have complementary virtues and vices. Topic Shifting fits nicely with the intuitive sense in Evans's and others' examples that I'm not really thinking about my own mind; but then it's not clear why the result is supposed to be self-knowledge. It doesn't even seem to be self-belief. Conversely, on the Self-Judgment approach it's clear why the conclusion might count as self-knowledge, but we seem to have abandoned the core idea that I am thinking about the world, not my own mind, in answering the question.

Why not have it both ways? Combining Options 1 and 2: The transparency procedure produces a judgment that is both about my mind and about the world. This Dual Content approach shares with the Self-Judgment approach that it's clear how the product of the transparency procedure could be self-knowledge. And yet we can retain much of the original transparency intuition: The conclusion of my reflections does involve, perhaps even is mostly, a judgment about the world.

Think about avowals. An avowal, as I intend the term, is an assertion with a dual fucntion: If I avow some proposition P (say "the world is flat") I am doing two things. I am asserting that the world is flat, and I am asserting that I believe (or judge) that the world is flat. This self-attributive aspect of avowals distinguishes them from simple assertions. On the Dual Content approach, the transparency procedure generates avowals.

Consider a spectrum from simple assertion to self-alienated confession: The simple assertion that P is not at all an assertion that I believe that P. The self-alienated confession that P is not at all an assertion that P is true, but only that I (seem to) believe it. Through the middle is a range of avowals with different degrees of emphasis on asserting P vs. asserting belief that P. Assertions containing self-ascriptive phrases like "I think" might tend, on average, to be somewhat more toward the confession side than assertions without self-ascriptive phrases.

Final thought: The public visibility of blog posts, Facebook status updates, and the like creates an atmosphere of self-observation that tends to convert simple assertions into avowals. We are thus becoming an avowal society.