Wednesday, September 28, 2016

New Essay in Draft: The Pragmatic Metaphysics of Belief

Available here.

As always, comments and criticisms welcome, either by email to my address or in the comments section on this post.


Suppose someone intellectually assents to a proposition but fails to act and react generally as though that proposition is true. Does she believe the proposition? Intellectualist approaches will say she does believe it. They align belief with sincere, reflective judgment, downplaying the importance of habitual, spontaneous reaction and unreflective assumption. Broad-based approaches, which do not privilege the intellectual and reflective over the spontaneous and habitual in matters of belief, will refrain from ascribing belief or treat it as an intermediate case. Both views are viable, so it is open to us to choose which view to prefer on pragmatic grounds. I argue that since “belief” is a term of central importance in philosophy of mind, philosophy of action, and epistemology, we should use it to label most important phenomenon in the vicinity that can plausibly answer to it. The most important phenomenon in the vicinity is not our patterns of intellectual endorsement but rather our overall lived patterns of action and reaction. Too intellectualist a view risks hiding the importance of lived behavior, especially when that behavior does not match our ideals and self-conception, inviting us to noxiously comfortable views of ourselves.

The Pragmatic Metaphysics of Belief (in draft)

(I'll be giving a version of this paper as talk at USC on Friday, by the way.)

Related Posts:

On Being Blameworthy for Unwelcome Thoughts, Reactions, and Biases (Mar 19, 2015)

Against Intellectualism about Belief (Jul 31, 2015)

Pragmatic Metaphysics (Feb 11, 2016)

Monday, September 26, 2016

Cory Doctorow Speaking at UC Riverside: "1998 Called, and It Wants Its Stupid Internet Laws Back"

Come one, come all! (Well, for certain smallish values of "all".)

Cory Doctorow

"1998 Called, and It Wants Its Stupid Internet Laws Back"

Wednesday, September 28, 2016
INTS 1113

The topic will be digital rights management and companies' increasing tendency not to give us full control over the devices that matter to us, so that the the devices can "legitimately" (?) thwart us when we give them orders contrary to the manufacturers' interests.

The Jerk Quiz: New York City Edition

Now that my Jerk Quiz has been picked up by The Sun and The Daily Mail, I've finally hit the big time! I'm definitely listing these as "reprints" on my c.v.

Philosopher James DiGiovanna suggested to me that the existing Jerk Quiz might not be valid in New York City, so I suggested he draw up a NYC version. Here's the result!

New York City Jerk Test

by James DiGiovanna

1. You have a fifteen-minute break from work, a desperate need for a cigarette, and a seven-minute-each-way walk to the bank on a very crowded sidewalk. Do you:
(a) Calmly walk the 14-minute round-trip handling the cigarette cravings by reminding yourself that you only have a scant 7 more hours of work, a 49-minute commute on the crowded and probably non-functional F train, and then a brief walk through throngs of NYU students before you can reach your undersized apartment for a pleasant 4 minutes of smoking.
(b) Curse the existence of each probably mindless drone who stands between you and your goal.
(c) Find a narrow space just off the main thoroughfare and enjoy 5 quick drags meant to burn your entire cigarette down to the filter in under 30 seconds.
(d) Light up a cigarette as you walk, unconsciously assuming that others can dodge the flaming end and/or enjoy the smoking effluvia as they see fit, if indeed they have minds that can see anything at all.

2. You are waiting at the bodega to buy one measly cup of coffee, one of the few pleasures allowed to you in a world where the last tree is dying somewhere in what was probably a forest before Reagan was elected. However, there is a long line, including someone directly in front of you who is preparing to write a check in spite of the fact that this is the 21st century. You accidentally step on this person’s toe, causing him or her to move to the side yelping in pain. Do you:
(a) Apologize profusely.
(b) Offer the standard, “pardon me!” while wondering why check-writers were allowed to reproduce and create check-writing offspring at this late point in history.
(c) Say nothing, holding your precious place in line against the unhygienic swarm of lower lifeforms.
(d) Consider this foe vanquished and proceed to take his or her place as you march relentlessly towards the cashier.

3. You are in hell (midtown near Times Square) where an Eastern Hemisphere tourist unknowingly drops a wallet, and an elderly woman wanders out in front of a runaway hot dog stand, risking severe cholesterol and death. Do you:
(a) Shout to the Foreign Person while rushing to rescue the elderly woman.
(b) Ignore the neocolonialist tourist and his or her justifiable loss of money earned by exploiting the third world and attempt to save the woman because, my God, that could be you and/or your non-gender-specific life partner someday.
(c) Continue on your way because you have things to do.
(d) Yell so that others will see that there is a woman about to be hotdog-carted, assuming this will distract the crowd from the dropped wallet, making it easier for you to take it and run.

4. You have been waiting for the A train for 300 New York Minutes (i.e. five minutes in flyover state time.) Finally, it arrives, far too crowded to accept even a single additional passenger. Do you:
(a) Step out of the way so others can exit, and allow those on the platform in front of you to enter the train, and then, if and only if there is ample room to enter without compressing other persons, do you board the train.
(b) Wait calmly, because when his happens, 9 times out of 10 an empty train is 1 minute behind.
(c) Mindlessly join the throngs of demi-humans desperately hoping to push their way into the car.
(d) Slide along the outside of the car to the spot just adjacent the door, then slip in the narrow space made when a person who is clearly intending to get back in the car stepped off to make way for someone who was disembarking to pass.

5. It is a typical winter day in New York, meaning at the end of each sidewalk is a semi-frozen slush puddle of indeterminate depth. Perhaps it is barely deep enough to wet your boots, perhaps it drains directly into a C.H.U.D. settlement. You see a family, the father carrying a map and wearing a fanny pack, the mother holding a guide which say “Fodors New York för Nordmen,” the blindingly white children staring for the first time at buildings that are not part of a system of social welfare and frost. They absentlly march towards the end of the sidewalk, eyes raised towards New York’s imposing architecture, about to step into what could be their final ice bath. Do you:
(a) Yell at them to stop while you check the depth of the puddle for them.
(b) Block their passage and point to a shallower point of egress.
(c) Watch in amusement as they test the puddle depth for you.
(d) Push them into the puddle and use their frozen bodies as a bridge to freedom.


(I interpret James's quiz as a commentary on how difficult it is, even for characterological non-jerks, to avoid jerk-like behaviors or thoughts in that kind of urban context.)

For more on Jerks see:

A Theory of Jerks

How to Tell If You're A Jerk

Friday, September 23, 2016

Call for Abstracts: Workshop in Graz on Dissonance and Implicit Bias

I'll be presenting at the following workshop. There's a call for abstracts. Submit something and let's chat!

4th Fragmentation Workshop: Dissonance and Implicit Bias

Graz, 25-26 May 2017

The 4th Fragmentation Workshop: Dissonance and Implicit Bias is organized by the research project The Fragmented Mind and will take place at the University of Graz, Austria, on May 25-26, 2017. We welcome submissions of anonymized abstracts of 500–1000 words for 45 minutes presentations on any of the workshop topics — see below — made by December 15, 2016 at

Keynote speakers:
• Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside)
• Jules Holroyd (Sheffield)

It is highly disputed what the psychological underpinnings of assertion-behavior dissonance and implicit bias are. Under some interpretations, these are special cases of belief fragmentation, i.e., the view that a single agent has various separate systems of belief, which need not make for a consistent and deductively closed overall system. Under other interpretations, dissonance does not represent a state of fragmentation nor does implicit bias involve the presence of conflicting beliefs.

The objective of this workshop is to explore the adequacy and limitations of the notion of fragmentation (as advanced, for example, by Davidson, Lewis, Stalnaker, and Rayo), when applied to cases of dissonance and implicit bias.

(Non-exhaustive) list of topics:
• What are the psychological underpinnings of assertion-behavior dissonance?
• What are the psychological underpinnings of implicit bias?
• Are dissonance and implicit bias overlapping phenomena?
• Does fragmentation help explaining cases of assertion-behavior dissonance?
• Does fragmentation help explaining implicit bias?

Submission format:
Submissions of anonymous abstracts of 500-1000 words (excluding bibliography), prepared for anonymous peer-review, should be sent to by December 15, 2016. Abstracts should be submitted in pdf format, in English.

Authors will be notified of decisions by January 31, 2017. Please indicate the title of your paper in your email.

Some support for travel and accommodation might be available.

Organizers: Cristina Borgoni, Dirk Kindermann, Andrea Onofri


Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Jerk Quiz

Take this simple quiz to figure out if you're a jerk!

(George Musser and the folks at Nautilus thought it would be fun to have a quiz alongside my essay "How To Tell If You're a Jerk", but we didn't quite pull it off before release of the issue.)

The Jerk Quiz

1. You're waiting in a line at the pharmacy. What are you thinking?
(a) Did I forget anything on my shopping list?
(b) Should I get ibuprofen or acetaminophen? I never can keep them straight.
(c) Oh no, I'm so sorry, I didn’t mean to bump you.
(d) These people are so damned incompetent! Why do I have to waste my time with these fools?

2. At the staff meeting, Peter says that your proposal probably won't work. You think:
(a) Hm, good point but I bet I could fix that.
(b) Oh, Loretta is smiling at Peter again. I guess she agrees with him and not me, darn it. But I still think my proposal is probably better than his.
(c) Shoot, Peter's right. I should have thought of that!
(d) Peter the big flaming ass. He's playing for the raise. And all the other idiots here are just eating it up!

3. You see a thirty-year-old guy walking down the street with steampunk goggles, pink hair, dirty sneakers, and badly applied red lipstick. You think:
(a) Different strokes for different folks!
(b) Hey, is that a new donut shop on the corner?
(c) I wish I were that brave. I bet he knows how to have fun.
(d) Get a job already. And at least learn how to apply the frickin lipstick.

4. At a stop sign, a pedestrian is crossing slowly in front of your car. You think:
(a) Wow, this tune on my radio has a fun little beat!
(b) My boss will have my hide if I'm late again. Why did I hit snooze three times?
(c) She looks like she's seen a few hard knocks. I bet she has a story or two to tell.
(d) Can't this bozo walk any faster? What a lazy slob!

5. The server at the restaurant forgets that you ordered the hamburger with chili. There's the burger on the table before you, with no chili. You think:
(a) Whatever. I'll get the chili next time. Fewer calories anyway.
(b) Shoot, no chili. I really love chili on a burger! Argh, let's get this fixed. I'm hungry!
(c) Wow, how crowded this place is. She looks totally slammed. I'll try catch her to fix the order next time she swings by.
(d) You know, there's a reason that people like her are stuck in loser jobs like this. If I was running this place I'd fire her so fast you'd hear the sonic boom two miles down the street.

How many times did you answer (d)?

0: Sorry, I don't believe you.

1-2: Yeah, fair enough. Same with the rest of us.

3-4: Ouch. Is this really how you see things most of the time? I hope you're just being too hard on yourself.

5: Yes, you are being too hard on yourself. Either that, or please step forward for the true-blue jerk gold medal!

(As my scoring system suggests, this quiz is for entertainment and illustration purposes only. I don't take it seriously as a diagnostic measure!)

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

How to Tell If You're a Jerk

[excerpted from my new essay in Nautilus]

Here’s something you probably didn’t do this morning: Look in the mirror and ask, am I a jerk?

It seems like a reasonable question. There are, presumably, genuine jerks in the world. And many of those jerks, presumably, have a pretty high moral opinion of themselves, or at least a moderate opinion of themselves. They don’t think of themselves as jerks, because jerk self-knowledge is hard to come by.

Psychologist Simine Vazire at the University of California, Davis argues that we tend to have good self-knowledge of our own traits when those traits are both evaluatively neutral (in the sense that it’s not especially good or bad to have those traits), and straightforwardly observable.

For example, people tend to know whether they are talkative. It’s more or less okay to be talkative and more or less okay to be quiet, and in any case your degree of talkativeness is pretty much out there for everyone to see. Self-ratings of talkativeness tend to correlate fairly well with peer ratings and objective measures. Creativity, on the other hand, is a much more evaluatively loaded trait—who doesn’t want to think of themselves as creative?—and much less straightforward to assess. In keeping with Vazire’s model, we find poor correlations among self-ratings, peer ratings, and psychologists’ attempts at objective measures of creativity.

The question “am I really, truly a self-important jerk?” is highly evaluatively loaded, so you will be highly motivated to reach a favored answer: “No, of course not!” Being a jerk is also not straightforwardly observable, so you will have plenty of room to reinterpret evidence to suit: “Sure, maybe I was a little grumpy with that cashier, but she deserved it for forgetting to put my double shot in a tall cup.”

Academically intelligent people, by the way, aren’t immune to motivated reasoning. On the contrary, recent research by Dan M. Kahan of Yale University suggests that reflective and educated people might be especially skilled at rationalizing their preexisting beliefs—for example, interpreting complicated evidence about gun control in a manner that fits their political preferences.

I suspect there is a zero correlation between people’s self-opinion about their degree of jerkitude and their true overall degree of jerkitude. Some recalcitrant jerks might recognize that they are so, but others might think themselves quite dandy. Some genuine sweethearts might fully recognize how sweet they are, while others might have far too low an opinion of their own moral character.

There’s another obstacle to jerk self-knowledge, too: We don’t yet have a good understanding of the essence of jerkitude—not yet, at least. There is no official scientific designation that matches the full range of ordinary application of the term “jerk” to the guy who rudely cuts you off in line, the teacher who casually humiliates the students, and the co-worker who turns every staff meeting into a battle.

The scientifically recognized personality categories closest to “jerk” are the “dark triad” of narcissism, Machiavellianism, and psychopathic personality. Narcissists regard themselves as more important than the people around them, which jerks also implicitly or explicitly do. And yet narcissism is not quite jerkitude, since it also involves a desire to be the center of attention, a desire that jerks don’t always have. Machiavellian personalities tend to treat people as tools they can exploit for their own ends, which jerks also do. And yet this too is not quite jerkitude, since Machivellianism involves self-conscious cynicism, while jerks can often be ignorant of their self-serving tendencies. People with psychopathic personalities are selfish and callous, as is the jerk, but they also incline toward impulsive risk-taking, while jerks can be calculating and risk-averse.

Another related concept is the concept of the asshole, as explored recently by the philosopher Aaron James of the University of California, Irvine. On James’s theory, assholes are people who allow themselves to enjoy special advantages over others out of an entrenched sense of entitlement. Although this is closely related to jerkitude, again it’s not quite the same thing. One can be a jerk through arrogant and insulting behavior even if one helps oneself to no special advantages.

Given the many roadblocks standing in the way, what is a potential jerk interested in self-evaluation to do?

Find out what to do by continuing here.


Coming soon: The Jerk Quiz!

Related essay: A Theory of Jerks (Aeon Magazine, Jun 4, 2014).

[image source: Paul Sableman, creative commons]

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Momentary Man

Momentary Man has all the moral virtues. He is a man of exceptional character! He is courageous, kind, fair, open-minded, creative, honest, generous, wise, sympathetic, a good listener. He is gently self-deprecating, witty, a pleasure to be around. He has an egalitarian spirit, free of racist, sexist, classist, and ableist inclinations; he is ready to see and appreciate people for who they are in all their wondrous individuality.

He exists for exactly two seconds.

He was created by a magical act of God, or as a briefly existing future artificial intelligence, or through freak quantum accident. He thinks to himself, "Wow, it's great to be alive!" and then, as suddenly as he came into existence, he is swallowed by void.

What is it to be courageous, after all? Arguably, it's not a matter of actually doing courageous things all the time but rather a matter of being disposed or ready to do courageous things, if the situation calls for it. If danger presented itself, the courageous person would be undaunted, take the risk, face down her fears. To be courageous is not to always be acting courageously; rather it is to be prepared to act courageously if necessary. Of course we all have sufficiently complex lives that courageous action is sometimes required, and then our courage (or lack thereof) manifests itself. But the trait of being courageous, or not, was there or not there in the background of our personalities all along.

Arguably, kindness too, and open-mindedness, and all the rest, are dispositional traits. Virtues concern how you would tend in general to act in the relevant range of circumstances. If so, then Momentary Man can have all the traits I've ascribed to him, even if no situation ever arises in his life that draws out the associated actions.

Two questions:

First, does this merely dispositional approach to virtue seem right? Or do virtuous personality traits require actual manifestation in concrete action to be present in someone? Part of me wants to insist that some concrete action is required for the genuine presence of virtue. One cannot be an extravert on a desert island, no matter how much one would be the life of the party if only there were a party. Momentary Man has no virtues. But then "dispositional" approaches to personality (of the sort I favor) require clarification or modification.

A different part of me wants to say no, Momentary Man does have all these virtues; it's just a shame he cannot exist longer to manifest them.

Second, suppose that Momentary Man does indeed have all these virtues. Is the universe better for Momentary Man's having briefly existed? Is there some intrinsic value in the presence of even unexercised virtue? Or would the world have been just as good without him, or with a vicious version of him (cruel, obnoxious, greedy) who had the same two seconds of conscious experience before blinking out?

Here my inclination is to think the world is richer and better for Momentary Man's having existed. There's something wonderful about his configuration, his potentiality, even if none of his virtues are ever exercised. And if he is brief, well, so are we all.

[Cropped image from from image source]

Friday, September 09, 2016

Whirlwind Tour of New York City in October

Since I'm on vacation -- um, I mean sabbatical -- this term, I'm planning to relax by going to New York in October.

  • Oct 13, Columbia University, Society for Comparative Philosophy: "Death and Self in the Incomprehensible Zhuangzi"
  • Oct 14-15, New York University, Conference on the Ethics of Artificial Intelligence: "The Rights of Artificial Intelligences" (with Mara Garza)
  • Oct 16, Princeton University, Minorities And Philosophy mini-conference: "Encouraging Diversity in the Philosophy Classroom"
  • Oct 17-18 New York University and City University of New York guest visits to classes, one on belief and one on science fiction and philosophy
  • Maybe I can see some of you at one or more of these events. The Comparative Philosophy and Ethics of AI events are open to the public; probably also the Princeton MAP conference (though check); presumably the classes are not open. The Ethics of AI conference promises to be fairly large, with advance registration if you pay (free registration if you're willing to risk not getting a seat).

    Yes, talking about Chinese philosophy, robot rights, implicit bias in the classroom, science fiction, and the nature of mental states is what I want to do on my vacation.

    (Where I'm not going for my vacation.)

    Also this fall:

  • Sep 16, Florida State: "The Moral Behavior of Ethics Professors"
  • Sep 30, USC: "The Pragmatic Metaphysics of Belief"
  • Oct 25, UCLA, Marschak Colloquium: "The Rights of Artificial Intelligences" (with Mara Garza)
  • Nov 2, Occidental College: "Death and Self in the Incomprehensible Zhuangzi"
  • [image source]

    Thursday, September 08, 2016

    How Often Do Mainstream Anglophone Philosophers Cite Non-Anglophone Sources?

    Spoiler Alert: Not much!

    I estimate that 97% of citations in the most prestigious English-language philosophy journals are to works originally written in English. In other words, the entire history of philosophy not written in English (Plato, Confucius, Ibn Rushd, Descartes, Wang Yangming, Kant, Frege, Wittgenstein, Foucault, etc., on into the 21st century) is referenced in only 3% of the citations in leading Anglophone philosophy journals.

    Let me walk you through the process by which I came to these numbers, then give you some breakdowns.

    I examined the latest available issue of twelve highly regarded Anglophone philosophy journals (the top 12 from Brian Leiter's 2013 poll results). [Note 1] From each issue, I analyzed only the main research articles in that issue (not reviews, discussion notes, comments, symposia, etc.). This generated a target list of 93 articles -- hopefully enough to constitute a fair representation of citation practices.

    I then downloaded the reference section of each of those 93 articles, or for articles with footnotes instead of a reference section, I hand-coded the footnotes. I included only actual references to specific works. For example, the word "Kantian" would not qualify as a reference to Kant unless a specific work of Kant's is cited. For each cited work I noted its original publication year and original publication language. [Note 2]

    This generated a list of 3566 total citations to examine.

    Of the 3566 citations included in my analysis, only 90 (3%) were citations of works not originally written in English. Sixty-eight of the 93 analyzed articles (73%) cited no works that had not originally been written in English. Eleven (12%) cited exactly one non-English work, either in its original language or in English translation. Fourteen (15%) cited at least two works originally published in a language other than English. The only source languages other than English were ancient Greek, Latin, German, French, and Italian. No African, Arabic, Chinese, Indian, or Spanish-language works were cited in this sample.

    Sometime after World War Two, English became the common language of most scholarship intended for an international audience, even when the writer's native language is not English. English-language articles citing only recent sources might therefore be expected to cite almost exclusively English-language sources. With this idea in mind, I divided the data into four time periods: ancient through 1849, 1850-1945, 1946-1999, and 2000-present.

    The breakdown:

  • Ancient through 1849: 51/63 (81%) non-English
  • 1850-1945: 30/91 (33%) non-English
  • 1946-1999: 8/1236 (1%) non-English
  • 2000-present: 1/2166 (0%) non-English
  • Obviously, there's a huge skew toward more recent work -- but even in the 1850-1945 category two-thirds of the citations in this sample are to works originally written in English.

    In my own writing, I also cite mostly English-language works. It's the tradition I operate in, and although I have some reading practice in French, Spanish, German, and classical Chinese, untranslated works are always a struggle. I don't intend to be too judgmental or blaming. But it does seem likely that the Anglophone philosophical tradition would benefit from more engagement with works not originally written in English.


    Note 1: The journals were: Philosophical Review, Journal of Philosophy, Nous, Mind, Philosophy & Phenomenological Research, Ethics, Philosophical Studies, Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Philosopher's Imprint, Analysis, Philosophical Quarterly, and Philosophy & Public Affairs. This list has surface plausibility as a list of the best-regarded journals in mainstream Anglophone philosophy. Philosophers Imprint publishes rarely and sporadically, so I just used all of 2016 up to Sep 7.

    Note 2: In some cases only the date of a recent edition was listed. In these cases I estimated publication year based on my knowledge of the history of philosophy. In some cases, only the English-language title was given -- and again I estimated the original language based on my knowledge of the history of philosophy. It is possible that I misclassified a few works in this way. However, for the estimate to rise to 3.5%, I would have to have misclassified 35 non-English works as English, which I believe is unlikely. (By the way, for these purposes, Web of Science is full of relevant mistakes. This more labor-intensive approach yields much cleaner results.)


    Related Posts:

    SEP Citation Analysis Continued: Jewish, Non-Anglophone, Queer, and Disabled Philosophers (Aug 14, 2014)

    The Ghettoization of Nietzsche (Aug 23, 2012)


    [image source]