SJP Special Issue: The Lives of Human Animals

The Southern Journal of Philosophy has just published an annual Spindel Supplement on animalism and a new theory of personal identity. The problem of personal identity is one of the most bewitching puzzles in all of philosophy. Consider how much each of us changes during our lifetimes. In so many ways—biologically, psychologically, socially, physically—you are today very different from the person you were last year or twenty years ago or on the day of your birth. And yet just one person has persisted through these changes. The first facet of the problem of personal identity focuses our attention on this question: what exactly are the conditions under which beings like you and me persist through time and change?

Until quite recently, most philosophers subscribed to the answers to these questions advocated by the seventeenth-century British philosopher, John Locke. Locke held that our fundamental nature is given by our status as self-conscious, rational agents (“persons”) and that the conditions under which we persist through time and change are thus to be accounted for in terms of psychological continuity. Central to this view is a sharp distinction between the person and her animal body.

But today’s Lockeans face a powerful new challenge to the distinction underlying their core commitments. According to the view known as animalism, there is no distinction to be drawn between human persons and their animal bodies. You do not “have” a body in the sense that you are one thing and the animal located where you are is something else. Rather, on this view, human persons just are their animal bodies: the primate located where you are is you.

Though Aristotelian in spirit, animalism is a relative latecomer to the debate over personal identity, having been articulated and defended only within the past twenty-five years or so. During these first two and a half decades of work, advocates of the view sought mainly to specify and defend its central claims and to understand its relation to the Lockean opposition. While highly important work along these lines continues to be done, a second, overlapping wave of work on animalism seems now to be emerging. This new wave is beginning to broaden animalism’s import beyond metaphysics and philosophy of mind into a diverse array of fields and topics, including ethics, philosophy of language, conjoined twinning, epistemology, evolutionary theory, philosophy of religion, death, and so on.

The guiding aim of the thirty-second annual Spindel Conference on “The Lives of Human Animals” (University of Memphis, September 26–28, 2013) was to spotlight and facilitate this second wave of work by providing a forum in which metaphysicians and philosophers of mind working on animalism were brought together with philosophers who are presently engaged in pertinent debates in other areas of philosophy. The Spendel conference and supplementary issue were organized by Stephen Blatti, former SJP editor and associate professor of philosophy at the University of Memphis.

Read the full issue here!

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David Sosa on launching ‘Analytic Philosophy’

Starting in 2011, the journal Philosophical Books was renamed Analytic Philosophy. The journal features original peer-reviewed research in all areas of philosophy, along with other kinds of pieces like book symposia, critical notices, and reviews, etc. In this interview, we caught up with the editor, David Sosa, and asked him a little about the remit for the new project, and what he considers to be the most important questions in philosophy today.

Philosopher’s Eye: Starting in 2011, Philosophical Books has been renamed Analytic Philosophy. What were some of the reasons for the transition?

David Sosa: Philosophical Books was a great resource for the profession for many years (since 1960!), so the change was not without some regret. And we’ve kept the retro look-and-feel of the journal. But I thought there was an opportunity to do more for the discipline by emphasising original research articles and not limiting the journal to review-type essays. To highlight that evolution in the journal’s aims and scope, we also changed Continue reading “David Sosa on launching ‘Analytic Philosophy’”

Machine Math?

Calculators are an often used example in the philosophy of mind.  Sometimes they’re used analogously, to show how computational algorithms can be implemented in a variety of mediums (say, the very different circuitries of the calculator and the human brain).  Other times, they’re used metaphorically, as objects that we can attribute intentional states: the calculator ‘knows’ how to add and ‘believes’ that 2+2=4.  But how appropriate are comparisons between calculators and humans?  Is it a matter of implementing the same (or nearly the same) algorithm?  Or is the comparison a mere metaphor?   Stanislas Dehaene is the champion of the surprising view that neither of these (caricatured) approaches can be right: calculation is neither a matter of merely attributing intentional states, nor do humans and calculators implement algorithms in the same way.

(Apologies if this topic seems old hat to any – if you are a person already familiar with Dehaene, ‘cultural re-mapping’, number sensing, and the like, the payoff to re-reading this extremely cool and interesting stuff about human mathematical capabilities, is some very exciting and interesting new advances in brain localization and machine-learning)

Dehaene’s view is that our mathematical abilities result from the mixture of two evolved mechanisms, and, importantly, a sprinkling of language.  The first of these evolved mechanisms is a capacity to distinguish a certain amount of discrete quantities, or numerosity: the ability to tell apart one, two, three, and maybe four and five.  Then, there is the capacity to distinguish differences in quantity: that six is bigger than one, or that twenty is less than sixty.  Both of these abilities can be found in animals, and, yes, human children.  And it’s easy to understand why such mechanisms might persist over time*:  as an organism, it is very handy to have a capacity to determine between alternatives; whether option (a) was better than (b) because more nutrients, or less competition, or what have you. Continue reading “Machine Math?”

New Online Conference: The Changing Face of War

Benjamin Gimmel, BenHur
Vietnamese refugee in a Malaysian camp (Image: Benjamin Gimmel)

Wiley-Blackwell is delighted to announce our next Exchanges Online Conference, entitled The Changing Face of War. Following on from the extraordinary success of our previous conference (Wellbeing: A Cure-All for the Social Sciences?), this exciting new conference again promises to set the benchmark for events within the social sciences and humanities communities.

As before, the conference is free to all, and will take place online over the course of one week. The conference will bring together academics from the disciplines of history, policy, philosophy, peace studies, religious studies, sociology, politics, cultural studies and more.

The conference will cover the following thought-provoking themes:

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Theory and Philosophy of War
Is war an inevitable feature of human society/progress?

War in Cultural Context
Is there a ‘Western Way of War’?

From Home Front to Front Line
What can military history specialists learn from social and cultural historians, and vice versa?

Evolution of Warfare
Are we witnessing ‘new’ kinds of war in the 21st century?

Peace Studies
Is all peace good peace?

The conference will include the following content:

  • Videocast keynote addresses from leading figures in the field
  • Scholarly articles with expert commentary
  • Publishing workshops
  • Live Q&A with presenters
  • A book and journal ‘reading room’, plus a generous delegates’ discount
  • Participate when it suits your schedule

The Evolution of Bioethics

 

Bioethics celebrates the publication of its 25th Volume with a Special Anniversary Issue! Click here to read for free online.

The special issue reviews how the nature of publishing bioethics and Bioethics, and the nature of the field, have evolved over the last quarter of a century. Contributors include: Anne Donchin, Nathan Emmerich, John Harris, Larry McCullough, Sue Sherwin and Heather Widdows, who reflect on different aspects of bioethics that were of particular importance to them. Some of these articles move ongoing discussions ahead, others reflect on the history of our field as well as its methods.

Flies Do It, Leeches Do It— Even Biologists Do It: Free Will Explained

Do both of these structures contain the capacity to exercise free will?

Philosophers shop for free will as hypochondriacs do for good health. Nothing but the real thing will do, and yet they refuse to trust the countless everyday indications that they already possess their quarry. Of course it seems to be the case that to act on one’s decisions is to exercise one’s freedom, but can it be true that, winding time back to the crucial moment, you or I could have done otherwise?

Enter the biologists. We can account for free will so long as we are willing to share it with flies, leeches, and all forms of life that enjoy a nervous system. As Bjorn Brembs has recently argued in The Royal Society, we should equate free will with variability, or an organism’s power to determine the precise way in which it responds to its environment. Variability, Brembs contends, is a (as yet little understood) neural process that amplifies random fluctuations in the brain in order to introduce non-sensory dependent variations into Continue reading “Flies Do It, Leeches Do It— Even Biologists Do It: Free Will Explained”

Students Possess Psychic Abilities!

Why study when you can foresee what the questions will be?

Apparently students possess psychic abilities, but only when it comes to porn. A study is soon to be published revealing statistically significant evidence that supports the existence of precognition, the ability to see into the future. Precise details are not yet available, but we can get a good impression of the experiment from the media reports. Each student was shown an image, and then a picture of two curtained screens on a computer monitor; behind one curtain was an image, behind the other a blank wall. The students were asked to click on the curtain that they thought had the image behind it. Some of the students were shown an “erotic” image beforehand, one assumes that others were shown “non-erotic” images of some description. Some, but not all, of the images behind the curtain were also of an erotic nature. The theory seems to be that if the participants were ‘primed’ erotically (i.e. by being shown an erotic image), and the end result is an erotic one (i.e. they see another erotic image if they successfully select the correct curtain) they might perform better at the task. Prof. Emeritus Daryl Bem hypothesised that 50% of participants would select the right curtain, but that those shown an erotic image would show a higher success rate. And indeed, it seems that his hypothesis was satisfied…statistically. Continue reading “Students Possess Psychic Abilities!”