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Episode 61: Jeff Buechner discusses Kripke and functionalism

This month, we talk computers, brains, and minds with Jeff Buechner, Permanent Lecturer in Philosophy at Rutgers University, Newark.  Click here to listen to our conversation.

Jeff BuechnerBack in the 50s and 60s, a lot of philosophers were attracted to the idea that the human mind is basically a computer. Why would they find that idea attractive? Well, there was some excitement about the idea because it allowed us to characterize human minds not in terms of the stuff they’re made of (neurons, cells, brains, and so on), but in terms of what they do. Back when we were inclined to characterize human minds in terms of brains, we found it difficult to explain how e.g. I and my dog could both experience the same emotions, like fear or excitement. After all, we have totally different brains. But it seems comparably straightforward to say what a computer does in a way that abstracts over these distinctions: namely, it performs calculations. Think of a function as a rule that tells you how to transform an input into an output. In that case, you can think of what a computer does as computing the values of certain functions. For example, if you feed an adding machine the values 2 and 5, then it computes the value of the sum function for those two values, giving you 7. Thus, philosophers started calling the idea that minds are computers functionalism: if indeed the two are deeply similar, then maybe our minds are nothing more than mechanisms that compute certain functions.

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Posted in Podcast.


Further reading on oughts

If you’re interested in learning more about our distinguished guest’s proposed analysis of ‘ought,’ check out the following two papers:

Fabrizio Cariani, ‘Epistemic and Deontic Should
Fabrizio Cariani, ‘Deontic Modals and Probabilities: One Theory to Rule Them All?

Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.


On the Probabilistic Problem for A Single-Meaning Account of ‘Ought’

A central distinction in “Thoughts About Oughts” (Episode 60) is that between epistemic and deontic uses of ‘ought.’ As a quick review, here’s an example of an epistemic use of ‘ought.’ Imagine that you open the window in the morning, feel a strong breeze and suffocating humidity, and see a massive, dark wall of clouds on the horizon. You declare to your roommate:

(Ep) It ought to rain today.

And for an example of a deontic use of ought: Imagine that you have a final exam tomorrow, which you need to pass in order to graduate. You’ve been invited to catch up with some friends at the bar. Your roommate, ever loyal, reminds you:

(Dn) You ought to stay in and rest tonight.

In (Ep), you’re expressing an expectation about how the world will be in the future, given what you know now (the current weather conditions, and what sort of weather tends to follow such conditions). In (Dn), your roommate is suggesting what the proper course of action is for you, given what your goals are.

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Posted in Supplements.


Episode 60: Fabrizio Cariani shares some thoughts about oughts

This month, Fabrizio Cariani (Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Northwestern University) comes back for his second appearance on the program, this time to tell us about the meaning of the word ‘ought.’  You can listen to our conversation by clicking here.

cariani3‘Ought’ is a pretty important word in human affairs.  Most famously, we use it to describe ethical obligations: when I say that you ought to be nice to your mother, I’m getting at the fact that some sort of moral rule is in place.  But interestingly, the word also has lots of non-moral uses: if I say, ‘my keys ought to be on the kitchen counter,’ no allusion to ethics is intended!  I’m simply saying something like, ‘I’m pretty sure the keys have to be on the counter, based on the information I have.’

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Posted in Podcast.


Further reading on reproductive risk

If you’d like read more about some of the issues we discussed with Rebecca Kukla, take a look at these two articles:

Measuring Mothering,’ Rebecca Kukla
The ethics and cultural politics of reproductive risk warnings: A case study of California’s Proposition 65,’ Rebecca Kukla

Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.


Episode 59: Rebecca Kukla discusses reproductive risk

This month, we talk to Rebecca Kukla, Professor of Philosophy at Georgetown University and Senior Research Scholar at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics, about some of her work on reproductive risk. Click here to listen to our conversation.

Rebecca KuklaA pregnant woman is usually advised to be cautious about what products to purchase, whether to drink alcohol, and which locations to frequent. We tend to think that a pregnant woman is responsible not just for her own safety–she’s also the responsible for the safety of her unborn child. And of course that’s all true. But in this episode, our guest argues that the story doesn’t end there, and that many of the further details to how we think about these issues are problematic.

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Posted in Podcast.


Further reading on vagueness

If you’d like to poke through some of the details of Shapiro’s theory, take a look at this article from a collection called Heaps and Liars:

Vagueness and Conversation,’ Stewart Shapiro

Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.


Episode 58: Stewart Shapiro discusses vagueness (part II)

This month, we are delighted to make our return to the topic of vagueness, this time in conversation with Stewart Shapiro, Professor of Philosophy at The Ohio State University.  Click here to listen to our discussion.

shapiro2You may remember from our previous episode on vagueness that most of the adjectives, common nouns, verbs, and prepositions we use are vague.  To illustrate the idea, think of the adjective blue.  In the philosophical setting, to say that the adjective blue is vague is to say a couple of things. First, although some things clearly are blue (like bluejays) and some things clearly aren’t (like lemons), some things are right at the border (like this).  Should we call that last borderline case blue or not?  It’s not particularly clear.

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Further reading on virtue ethics

If that last episode whetted your appetite for virtue ethics (it certainly whetted mine), Julia Annas recommends the following references:

Intelligent Virtue, Julia Annas
On Virtue Ethics, Rosalind Hursthouse
Virtue Ethics: A Pluralistic View, Christine Swanton
A Theory of Virtue, Robert Merrihew Adams

Enjoy!

Matt Teichman

Posted in Further Reading.


Episode 57: Julia Annas discusses virtue ethics

This month we sit down with Julia Annas, Regents Professor of Philosophy at the University of Arizona, to talk about virtue ethics. Click here to listen to our conversation.

Today we’re used to thinking of ethics as the study of how to act in certain situations. Given any particular hypothetical scenario, what would be the right thing for you to do? If your friend wants you to stay up late to help him study for an exam, but you yourself need to go to bed early in order to get a good night’s sleep for the exam, what do you do? This is the sort of thing we usually have in mind when it comes to ethics: ethicists devise sophisticated theories that tell us the most general laws of good behavior.

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Posted in Podcast.