Founded in 1947, dialectica is the official journal of the European Society for Analytic Philosophy (ESAP), publishing first-rate articles predominantly in theoretical and systematic philosophy. Although edited in Switzerland with a focus on analytical philosophy undertaken on the continent, dialectica publishes articles from all over the world and has a truly global relevance. It is ranked A on the European Research Index for the Humanities of the European Science Foundation. Click here to view recent submission statistics and here to read some highlights from the journal over the years.
Continuing the work of its founding members, dialectica seeks a better understanding of the mutual support between science and philosophy and promotes that both disciplines need and enjoy in their common search for understanding. In this exciting virtual issue, the editorial team has selected some recent articles to showcase content from dialectica that particularly reflects the journal’s relevance to a US audience. These articles are representative of the many domains in which dialectica publishes, from ontology to epistemology and philosophy of mind or the theory of rationality. dialectica has recently published special issues on vectors, concepts, emotions, colours, and the philosophy of Kit Fine. We are confident that you will find this virtual issue interesting and informative.
People often have problems reasoning effectively. Everyone of us fails to understand or misinterpret information many times each week, month or year. But from personal experience I believe that there is no one area in which people so frequently commit so many logical fallacies and fail so spectacularly to apply their reason, and with such potentially catastrophic consequences, as in discussions about climate change.
Climate change is now scientific mainstream. Scientists from any discipline with any amount of credibility who still refuse to believe that the Earth’s temperature is increasing and humans are the cause of it are few and far between. The Earth’s temperature is increasing and there is only one explanation which succeeds over reasonable doubt (abductive reasoning would be very useful here. We should be able to apply inference to the best explanation and close the chapter). Continue reading “Climate change and wilful misunderstandings.”
When you really need someone to do the right thing, don’t pick an atheist. That, anyway, seems to be the opinion of the majority of Americans. According to a 2007 Gallup Poll, 53% of eligible voters would not cast their ballots for a well-qualified atheist presidential candidate endorsed by their party. In fact, American voters are less willing to vote for godless candidates than they are for a homosexual (43%), a seventy-two year old (42%), or a Mormon (24%).
Although the poll does not reveal the reasons behind the public’s suspicion of atheists, a variety of arguments endorsing suspicion of atheists can be gleaned from public discourse. Perhaps the most common motivation for questioning the moral commitments of atheists is a certain view of the relationship between God’s will and morality: morally good actions (character traits, etc.) just are the ones God wills, and morally bad ones just are the ones God forbids. This view of the basis of morality, which philosophers call Divine Command Theory, is often used to condemn various practices believers find unsavory, such as homosexuality. It also gives believers a way to explain their suspicion of atheists: being moral amounts to doing what God commands, and atheists don’t care about that – they don’t even believe a god exists!
Despite its appeal to certain segments of the American public, philosophers have long noted that Divine Command Theory has its own serious problems. After all, we can ask, does God will actions because they are good, or are actions good because God wills them? If it’s the former, then Divine Command Theory doesn’t give us an account of what makes things morally good or bad, and the grounds for denying atheists moral motivation or access to moral truths dissolves away. If it’s the latter, then we are committed to apparently implausible conclusions, such as that sacrificing and torturing a few children for a community party would be morally good if God willed it. Although contemporary philosophers have developed more subtle versions of Divine Command Theory as part of an attempt to avoid these problems (see Mawson 2009), the existence of plausible non-theological accounts of the foundations of morality indicate that the atheist is nowhere near being on the ropes.
Indeed, atheists have started to throw punches of their own. This holiday season in New York, a billboard financed by the group American Atheists greeted passersby with a challenge. Over a depiction of the three wise men walking towards a stable, was the message: “You KNOW It’s a Myth. This season, celebrate Reason.” The British Humanist Association ran a similar advertising campaign, emblazoning buses with the slogan “There’s probably no god. So stop worrying and enjoy your life.” Philosophers are currently exploring questions about the rationality or reasonableness of religious belief that could help us evaluate these claims. Does the existence of rational life on Earth give us reason to conclude there is a divine creator (see Manson 2009)? How can we rationally decide which religious tradition, if any, actually gets things right (see King 2008)? Is it morally responsible to be a believer even if we cannot give evidence to justify our religious beliefs (see Bishop 2006)? With any luck, careful attention to these questions will help us get closer to deciding what, if anything, being religious or believing in God has to do with being rational, reasonable, or moral. At the very least, we can hope that public debates about such things will move beyond mere jabs and unreflective suspicion.
How many stars do you think there are in the universe? If you are anything like me, who has a rather casual knowledge of science, you’ll feel completely unqualified to even hazard a guess. If you were to try, you could be forgiven for getting it wrong because the answer keeps changing. Once upon a time, it was thought there was only one star (in the sense in which we understand it), and the things we saw were holes through which we could glimpse this light of heaven. Not so long ago it was thought there were infinite stars in an infinite universe (we now know that our universe is not infinite) and it seems that the answer was, until recently, 100 sextillion stars (it looks more impressive with the numbers actually written down: 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000). This answer is rather out of date with the publication of a report in the journal Nature by Dr Pieter van Dokkum from the University of Yale (http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/80beats/2010/12/01/the-estimated-number-of-stars-in-the-universe-just-tripled/). It has been reported by van Dokkum that the number of stars in the universe is three times what we previously thought. The study’s main focus was the class of star known as Continue reading “How many stars are there in the universe?”
In the course of any given day, the number of snap decisions we are called upon to make is staggering. Simply getting to the office in the morning demands decisions about what to wear, when to leave the house, what route to take, where to park the car, and so on. Many of these involve considerable deliberation, especially when something sudden and unexpected happens that interferes with the decisions we would normally have made – the car not starting, high density traffic on our regular route, a meteor striking our office building, etc.
However, the vast majority of our decisions are made on the fly – they seemingly involve no deliberation at all. Should I use the big black coffee mug, or the smaller blue one? Having left the house, do I then go on the paved path, or simply cut through the lawn towards my car? Fiddle with the radio and only then drive, or the other way around? Even more subtle examples are ubiquitous. How should I pick up the coffee mug, left hand, right hand, by the handle, from above? How firmly should I press the toothbrush to my teeth, and when have I brushed sufficiently? How much pressure on the gas pedal would allow me to bypass that geriatric SUV safely? The list is endless.
Most of these decisions seem to involve no deliberation that we are aware of at all, and yet, it seems obvious that we are there, making them. In a sense, they are automatic, and yet, we’re the ones making them. At the very least, it seems to us that we could have done otherwise.