Sex Verification Test

Gender_neutralIn the weeks to follow, the International Association of Athletic Federations, IAAF, will decide whether South African runner Caster Semenya will be stripped of the gold medal, after winning the women 800-meter race last Wednesday in Berlin at the World Championships in Athletics. Semenya is not guilty of the usual: doping. What is at issue, instead, is whether Semenya was eligible to race as a woman. Continue reading “Sex Verification Test”

A Case of Miscalculation?

Cell_phone_use_while_drivingU.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, announced earlier this week that federal government will crack down on drivers’ cell phone use. The announcement comes a week after the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute issued a press release of a study that shows that texting and talking while driving dramatically increases the risk of collision. This is just one among many studies pointing to similar conclusions (including the infamous study that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration didn’t publicize for allegedly political reasons). The results are hardly surprising. As Secretary LaHood commented, “We all know texting and driving is dangerous.” So, then, if it is so dangerous and we know it, why do we do it?

Philosophers of action might be inclined to say that this is a textbook case of akrasia. Indeed, when you answer your cell phone behind the wheel you seem to behave like the dieter who, giving into temptation, accepts a second helping; or, the unhappy spouse who has a one-night fling. Some predominant desire of yours (e.g. to answer the phone right then) takes over, motivating you to act contrary to your better judgment.

Yet, is this right? When you answer the phone are you really acting against your better judgment? Don’t you, instead, act under the impression that, if you make the effort, you can do well both things, talking and driving? And isn’t this, rather, a textbook case of miscalculating one’s abilities.

However, if this is true about this case, then it also seems true about most alleged instances of akrasia. You know what you are doing is wrong. Yet you do it, because you over-estimate your capacity to compensate for it, or you under-estimate the impact that your decision will have. You say to yourself: “I can burn all these calories tomorrow,” “My spouse will never find out,” etc.

Related articles:
£1.99 - small Desire
By Tim Schroeder, Ohio State University
(Vol. 1, October 2006)
Philosophy Compass

£1.99 - small The Natural Philosophy of Agency
By Shaun Gallagher, University of Central Florida
(Vol. 2, Februrary 2007)
Philosophy Compass

(Failing) To See or To Remember

HippocampusA few seconds after being shown an image, an amnesiac is asked to find a match for it within a group of new images. She fails to do it. What is wrong with her? Is it just her memory? Does she also have a perceptual problem? How should we distinguish a purely mnemonic from a deficit that is also perceptual?

“Simple,” you might say. “Do a new experiment. Present the amnesiac simultaneously with the sample and the group of images, and ask her to find the match. If she finds it, the deficit is mnemonic. If she doesn’t, it might also be perceptual.”

Unfortunately, things are not as simple as this. Continue reading “(Failing) To See or To Remember”

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