Thursday, 29 December 2016

The Varieties of Self-Knowledge

Today's post is by Annalisa Coliva on her new book The Varieties of Self-Knowledge

I am Professor of Philosophy at the University of California, Irvine. My main interests lie in epistemology, philosophy of mind and the history of analytic philosophy.

The Varieties of Self-Knowledge (Palgrave 2016) is a sustained defence of pluralism about self-knowledge. I argue that, contrary to what behaviourists, several cognitive scientists, theory-theorists and inferential theorists have maintained in the last seventy years or so, there is an asymmetry between first- and third-personal self-knowledge. Hence, empirical studies that tend to show that we can be mistaken about, or ignorant of several mental states of ours do not in fact impugn the existence of first-personal self-knowledge. Rather, they show that the scope of first-personal self-knowledge is more limited than philosophers have thought. Hence, in many cases, we do know our own mental states in a third-personal way.

That is to say, we know our own dispositional mental states and character traits based on third-personal methods. By contrast, when we do know our occurrent phenomenal mental states, but also our intentions, passing thoughts, basic emotions, perceptions and commissive propositional attitudes, we know them in a distinctively first-personal way. Hence, in my view, both first- and third-personal self-knowledge are philosophically interesting and in need of explanation.

In particular, it should be recognized that the ways we gain third-personal self-knowledge are many and diverse. There is not just inference to the best explanation, starting with the observation of our own overt linguistic and non-linguistic behaviour and further inner promptings. There is also inductive inference, simulation, inferential conceptual deployment (or “hermeneutics”) and—last but not least—testimony. Indeed, we can get to know some of our dispositional psychological properties by trusting what other people tell us about ourselves.

Tuesday, 27 December 2016

Aiming at the Truth and Aiming at Success

In this post, Lubomira Radoilska (pictured above) summarises her paper "Aiming at the Truth and Aiming at Success", which is forthcoming in a special issue of Philosophical Explorations on false but useful beliefs. The special issue is guest edited by Lisa Bortolotti and Ema Sullivan-Bissett and is inspired by project PERFECT's interests in belief. Lubomira has a new project on Reassessing Responsibility which underlies some of the themes in this post.

Are the demands we face as believers compatible with the demands we face as agents? In other words, is our aiming at the truth consistent with our aiming at success? Since our lives as believers and agents are inexorably intertwined, it seems vital to find out whether and how the normative requirements that apply to us as believers relate to the normative requirements that apply to us as agents.

Until very recently, theorists of normativity discussed the spheres of belief and action as though they were governed by two separate sets of norms with no significant overlap. Yet, on closer inspection, if the relationship between these two sets of norms remains unspecified, it is likely to result in practical contradictions for human beings, who are at the same time believers and agents and so are subject to both sets of norms. This is particularly the case when tracking the available evidence is interpreted as the only way of satisfying the most fundamental norm of belief, which is the truth norm.

I propose a new account, which enables us to resolve these contradictions by establishing the significance of believers’ own agency in satisfying the truth norm of belief, in addition to tracking the available evidence. On this account, there is a robust two-way connection between the requirements we are expected to meet as believers and the requirements we are expected to meet as agents. In sum, this means that it is o.k. to get it right by succeeding, i.e. to acquire a true belief in virtue of achieving one’s goal as an agent.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Relatedness and Relationship Workshop

On 12th September 2016, Zoë Boden and Michael Larkin organised a workshop on Relatedness and Relationship in Mental Health at Park House, University of Birmingham. Experts came from psychology, psychiatry, sociology, philosophy, mental healthcare professions, and there were also several experts by experience, that is, people with lived experience of mental distress and carers. The workshop was the output of a project funded by the Independent Social Research Foundation.

The workshop started with a brief introduction by Zoë and Michael who talked about the themes emerging from a previous series of workshop they had run on relatedness. They listed three:
  1. Relationships can be either good or bad for mental health
  2. Distributed recovery, where recovery is seen as a feature of a system and not of an individual
  3. The contract between independence and dependance, and how the latter gets a bad press.
Further overlapping themes were pictured in the diagram below, delegates discussed them in groups after the more formal presentations:

Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc: Some Benefits of Rationalization

Jesse Summers (pictured above) is Adjunct Assistant Professor at Duke University, where he is also a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics, and a Lecturing Fellow for the Thompson Writing Program. In this post he writes about rationalization and some of its benefits, summarising his paper "Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc: Some Benefits of Rationalisation", which is forthcoming in a special issue of Philosophical Explorations on false but useful beliefs. The special issue is guest edited by Lisa Bortolotti and Ema Sullivan-Bissett and is inspired by project PERFECT's interests in belief.

You really shouldn’t trust me. At the very least, you shouldn’t trust me when I tell you why I’ve acted.

Part of the reason you shouldn’t trust me is that I often—much more often than I realize—don’t know why I’m doing something. The neuroscientist tells you that my brain predisposes me to act. Psychologists, too, assume that many factors and forces move me—my mood, habits from my youth, my environment, etc.—and I cannot hope to understand the way all of them influence me. And our folk psychological explanations of each other’s actions change how we praise and blame each other: “I’ll tell you why she really cancelled her trip to see you…”

Not only am I ignorant, but, despite that, I confidently explain my own actions. I confidently and sincerely explain why I left my current job, though no one else believes the explanation. It’s not just the neuroscientist and the psychologist who doubt my explanation: so does everyone who knows me well.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Eighth Meeting of SEFA

The eighth meeting of the Spanish Society for Analytic Philosophy (SEFA) took place in Oviedo, Spain, from 10th–12th November, 2016. Over 70 speakers presented their research during the three-day conference, and here I summarise just some of the papers given on topics in the philosophy of mind and epistemology.

Juan Comesaña, of the University of Arizona, gave the first keynote talk, on rationality and falsity in belief and action. He proposed that some false beliefs can be rational. Consider, for instance, the pre-Einsteinian belief in the additivity of speed. There is a persuasive sense in which this belief was once rational, even though strictly speaking it is false. In defence of the notion that falsehoods can sometimes be rationally believed, Comesaña argued that rational action requires rational belief, and that we can sometimes act rationally on the basis of false beliefs. He demonstrated that this view survives translation into a traditional decision theoretic framework of credence ascription, and that when we update credences based on false propositions, we can be considered to be doing so rationally.

Matilde Aliffi, of the University of Birmingham, presented her research on the relation between the content of emotions and the content of appraisals. She argued that (i) the content of the emotion is not identical to the content of the appraisal which activated it, and (ii) the content of the emotion supervenes on the value presented in the appraisal. In defence of (i), Aliffi presented a range of situations in which the content of the emotion and the content of the appraisal appear to come apart. In defence of (ii), she demonstrated that which emotion is activated depends on the kind of appraisal that takes place.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Irrational Emotions and their Cognitive Impenetrability

Raamy Majeed (pictured above) is a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Faculty of Philosophy, University of Cambridge, and a member of the John Templeton Foundation Project ‘New Directions in the Study of Mind’. He is also a By-Fellow at Churchill College, University of Cambridge.  In this post he writes about emotional recalcitrance. 

‘Irrational’ or ‘recalcitrant’ emotions are those emotions that are in tension with our evaluative judgements. For example, you fear flying despite judging it to be safe, you are angry at your colleague even though you know her remarks weren't offensive, and so on. Much of the present philosophical work concerning these emotions involves spelling out the precise nature of the conflict. Some argue that such emotions involve rational conflict, where subjects undergoing such emotions are endorsing two conflicting judgements, e.g. that flying is both safe and unsafe. By contrast, others argue that subjects are undergoing some other form of conflict, say endorsing a judgement that runs counter to an evaluative feeling, e.g. judging that flying is safe and yet feeling negatively towards it.

Thursday, 8 December 2016

New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory Workshop

In this post Kourken Michaelian and Chloe Wall report from the workshop New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory.

Funded by a generous grant from the University of Otago's Division of Humanities, researchers from Australasia and Europe gathered in Dunedin, New Zealand on 25-26 October 2016 for a workshop on New Directions in the Philosophy of Memory. The workshop, organized by Kourken Michaelian, was the second of two events linked to a planned book—edited by Michaelian, Dorothea Debus, and Denis Perrin—featuring papers describing new lines of research in this burgeoning field; the first was held at the University of Grenoble earlier in 2016 as part of a broader interdisciplinary event.

The two days of the workshop included eight talks. On the first day, Kourken Michaelian’s “Confabulating, misremembering, relearning: The simulation theory of memory and unsuccessful remembering” argued against taxonomies of memory errors that are based on the causal theory of memory. The talk then developed an alternative taxonomy based on the simulation theory of memory.

Denis Perrin's “The procedural nature of episodic memory” showed that accessing declarative (especially episodic) memory requires skills held in procedural memory. It is therefore mistaken, he argued, to distinguish sharply between declarative and procedural memory, when in fact, procedural memory enables declarative memory.
André Sant’Anna, in “Thinking about events: A pragmatic account of the objects of episodic hypothetical thought”, argued that a pragmatist approach can help to distinguish memory from other forms of episodic hypothetical thought. In particular, he claimed, we can determine whether a given episodic hypothetical thought qualifies as memory by considering the habits of action that it recruits.

Finally, Jordi Fernández, in “Functionalism and the nature of episodic memory”, pointed to a number of problems for existing causal and narrative theories of remembering. The talk then developed an alternative functionalist theory designed to avoid these problems.
The first day of the workshop was followed by a public talk, delivered by John Sutton, on “Situating cognitive futures (and pasts): Small groups and shared histories”.

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Irrationality and Pathology of Beliefs

This post is by Eisuke Sakakibara (pictured above), psychiatrist working at The University of Tokyo Hospital and a graduate student of Graduate School of Medicine, The University of Tokyo, Japan. In this post he writes about recently published paper entitled “irrationality and pathology of beliefs” published online in Neuroethics, and its significance for his long-term project in philosophy of psychiatry.

Delusions are an oft discussed theme in philosophy of psychiatry. The most cited work on delusions is Lisa Bortolotti’s Delusions and other irrational beliefs, in which she discussed whether delusions are appropriately construed as a kind of belief.

I assume delusions are beliefs in order to concentrate on another problems about delusions: psychiatrists ponder on whether delusions indicate underlying grave illness, because irrational beliefs (or belief-like mental states) are not always symptoms of illness. Those with pathological delusions do not recognize their delusions as symptomatic of illness. However, differentiating pathological beliefs from normal irrational beliefs is vitally important: If a belief is pathological, psychiatrists must seriously consider treating the patient against her will. If it is not pathological, conversely, involuntary treatments are prohibited because they offend her basic autonomy

Pathological irrational beliefs are distinguished from non-pathological ones by considering whether their existence is best explained by assuming some underlying dysfunctions. Dominic Murphy asserted that the pathology of delusions rest in their uniqueness and un-understandability of their progression. I basically agree with Murphy, and supplemented four other features from which to infer the pathological nature of irrational beliefs: coexistence with other psychophysiological disturbances and/or concurrent decreased levels of functioning; bizarreness of content; preceding organic diseases known to be associated with irrational beliefs; treatment response to medical intervention.

Monday, 5 December 2016

Positive and Negative Implications of the Causal Illusion

This post is by Fernando Blanco (pictured below) who recently wrote a paper entitled, Positive and Negative Implications of the Causal Illusion. The paper is to appear in a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on unrealistic optimism, guest edited by Anneli Jefferson, Lisa Bortolotti, and Bojana Kuzmanovic.

Imagine you are one of the participants in the classic experiment conducted by famous researchers Lauren Alloy and Lynn Abramson in 1979. You sit in front of a device with one button and one lightbulb. Your task is to determine whether you can control the light onset. What would you do? If you are like most people, you would try pressing the button to see if the light comes on. Then, you would realize that pressing the button is very often followed by the light onset. After a series of trials, you would likely feel sure that you are effectively controlling the light with your button-pressings.

In fact, the researchers set up the experiment so that the light came on randomly, regardless of whether the button was pressed. Still, the many (yet fortuitous) coincidences between your actions and the light onset created a powerful belief that the light was under your control. This is an instance of a cognitive bias called “the causal illusion”, which consists of believing that one event is capable of causing another, when they are actually unrelated. Crucially, this is not a psychological disorder; it is just the way our cognitive system works.

In a recent paper, I have reviewed some of the consequences of developing causal illusions. This cognitive bias can clearly entail negative consequences. For instance, it has been proposed to underlie many irrational beliefs such as pseudomedicine usage. If people keep using ineffective treatments, but their health eventually improves (for reasons different from the treatment), the illusion would create a strong, but mistaken, belief that the treatment works, which can be dangerous. Other experiments link the causal illusion to additional negative outcomes, such as paranormal (superstitious) belief and pathological gambling.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Cognitive Decline: Presentations and Representations

In this post, Valeria Motta reports from the workshop Cognitive Decline: Presentations and Representations.

The event took place at Thinktank, Birmingham Science Museum, and was jointly organized by students from Biomedical and Natural Sciences and students from Liberal Arts of the University of Birmingham. The event was offered under the initiative called Café Culturel.

This initiative proposes multidisciplinary discussions on topics of current interest from the arts and the sciences which emerge from the cultural offerings in and around the area of Birmingham. Expert panellists are invited to give 10 minute presentations after which there is room for questions and discussion with the audience. The events are open not only for students but also for the general public; and the talks are meant to reach such wide audience.

In October, the Royal Shakespeare Company presented King Lear on Stratford-upon-Avon. On the occasion of this visit, the event Cognitive Decline: Presentations and Representations proposed a discussion on the topic of how neurodegenerative diseases are represented in the arts and in the clinical sciences. 

Neuroscientist Emil Toescu explained that King Lear has been regarded by the critics as a tragedy of a powerful figure whose material and mental world fall apart piece by piece, and that Lear’s journey could be interpreted an acute depiction of the behavioural changes associated with the cognitive decline produced by degenerative mental diseases.

One of the members of the panel was Dr. Femi Oyebode, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of Birmingham and Consultant Psychiatrist for Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health Foundation Trust. Oyebode provided conceptual precision on mental disorders, and talked about what he thinks psychiatrists, Shakespeare and theatre audiences share.

Oyebode explained that dementia is set of symptoms caused by a degenerative brain disease which is progressive and impairs the cognitive domain of the brain. He then distinguished dementia from delirium in that dementia features certain awareness. When asked, Oyebode described the state of awareness as some sort of ‘insight’ which is different from what could be described as a conscious state.

Oyebode's last book Madness at the Theatre investigates the representations of psychiatric disorder(s) in the western theatrical arts from ancient till present times. Oyebode talked about how both psychiatrists and dramatists are concerned with describing and portraying extreme mental states. He explained that Shakespeare’s description of Lear’s awareness of his own cognitive decline is a good example of descriptive psychopathology of the disintegrative disorder in theatre.

Oyebode drew attention to the interesting fact that there was something that made the play be understood and attractive to audiences in the early 600s even when his audience lacked the expertise in disintegrative disorders that have nowadays. Oyebode called this a ‘prior understanding’ which could possibly be explained by Shakespeare using the same system of meaning (perhaps linguistic frame) that his contemporaries were using.