Exploring Ontology

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Category Archives: Philosophy of Mind

My Philosophical Beliefs

As a bit of a background to my other posts, it often helps to know where I’m coming from. So, I’ve decided to chronicle my personal beliefs in all manners philosophical. Philosophical jargon is usually linked to a corresponding article (usually wikipedia when applicable) to give a brief overview of the term for convenience. For those who want to look into it further, I highly recommend the corresponding entry in The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. This post will probably be updated every now and then since my beliefs change pretty often, relatively speaking. Here it goes!

Formal Epistemology: Bayesian. Although I recognize that it needs to have some of the details scrutinized (for example the problem of old evidence presupposes logical omniscience), I largely believe it is on the right track. An excellent “updater” for your beliefs given the evidence.

Traditional Epistemology: Some work in traditional epistemology I find useful (combatting skeptical arguments and arguing over various epistemological theories), and some work I find not so useful (conceptual analysis on the word “knowledge” and debates over the viability of meaningful a priori knowledge). Overall, I think I find a modest foundationalism most attractive, even though it can result in a weak form of skepticism.

Ethics: For me, there are deep unsolved questions in meta-ethics that must be tackled first before we are willing to accept any view in normative ethics. Mackie’s classic “Inventing Right and Wrong” has been very influential on me however, so I identify as a tentative error theorist. Even though I do hold this view, morality definitely is a useful fiction that we should all abide by (See here). So, I do think that moral issues are important in this regard. I became a vegetarian for example through arguments from the animal rights movement.

Free Will: Source incompatibilist (first couple of paragraphs define it). Its unfortunate that this problem has to drag out for millennia in philosophy. It almost seems to me that philosophers agree on the facts of the matter; they just disagree on whether the facts are sufficient for a robust form of free will. People who believe in free will acknowledge that if determinism is true than our actions are sufficiently caused by events thousands of years ago (by definition). Most also agree that we have no ultimate control over the way we are. Still further most agree that a large bulk of our actions seem to have their source in unconscious processes. Similarly, those who reject free will recognize that we do behave in an orderly way according to our desires and beliefs, and we have the power to deliberate over “potential” (or perceived) outcomes and choose among them. They also believe that, intuitively, it is obvious that we have free will (they just reject those intuitions).

Philosophy of Math: Structuralist with an anti-realist bent.

Metametaphysics: In metaphysics there seem to be 2 types of questions, those that are substantial and based on non-linguistic truths such as “Does God exist?”, and those that are not (mereological composition anyone?) Unfortunately, in my personal readings it seems as though there are more of the latter. I am skeptical of most things metaphysical.

Consciousness: Surprisingly, I find myself increasingly persuaded by the property dualist view (this is very tentative). Hence, I am driven to reject physicalism (tentatively).

Philosophy of Religion: Strong atheist, weak adeist (if I can coin that word). I certainly do not find any argument for the existence of God persuasive. I do think that there are strong arguments against the traditional conception of God as actively performing miracles, as having a peculiar fascination with one species in the universe (homo sapiens, lucky us), and who is all loving, all good, etc. As for a deistic conception of God, it is sufficiently vague that I think it cannot have a strong refutation. Hence, weak a-deist.

Philosophy of Time: B-theory


Random thoughts 2: Qualia and Moral Value

Recently it occurred to me that qualia, or the raw subjective phenomenal feel of things, has close conceptual ties to moral value. It seems to me that, intuitively, any agent that lacks qualia would also necessarily lack moral value. The converse of that statement also seems to hold. Any agent that lacks any moral value, must lack qualia. This is easier to see through its contrapositive, any agent that has qualia has some moral value. Could the statement “An agent has moral value if and only if it has qualia” be true? Certainly it seems to depend on the kind of qualia present. If an agent could experience no pain/joy but could experience colors, tastes, etc. would he have moral value? Is such an agent even possible? Nevertheless, if it were true, then it would have some interesting consequences. For example, the problem of other minds would morph into some sort of problem of moral nihilism as well. Furthermore, ethical theories that focus on the increase of happiness or the decrease of harm do not mean any sort of functional account of happiness or pain, rather they focus exclusively on the phenomenal aspects of those feelings. Lastly, a pretty well known consequence would be the ethical dilemma of machines. Their inclusion or exclusion into the moral sphere (perhaps sometime in the not-so-distant future) would hang crucially on the factual question as to whether they possess qualia or not. This seems to spell a lot of trouble seeing how any science of consciousness is still well into its infancy.