Vol 1, Issue 1

Spring 2008
Artwork by David Alexander Smith

Table of Contents



  • Probability and Certainty

    Jonny Blamey (King's College London)

    Probability can be used to measure degree of belief in two ways: objectively and subjectively. The objective measure is a measure of the rational degree of belief in a proposition given a set of evidential propositions. The subjective measure is the measure of a particular subject’s dispositions to decide between options. In both measures, certainty is a degree of belief 1. I will show, however, that there can be cases where one belief is stronger than another yet both beliefs are plausibly measurable as objectively and subjectively certain. In ordinary language, we can say that while both beliefs are certain, one belief is more certain than the other. I will then propose second, non probabilistic dimension of measurement, which tracks this variation in certainty in such cases where the probability is 1. A general principle of rationality is that one’s subjective degree of belief should match the rational degree of belief given the evidence available. In this paper I hope to show that it is also a rational principle that the maximum stake size at which one should remain certain should match the rational weight of certainty given the evidence available. Neither objective nor subjective measures of certainty conform to the axioms of probability, but instead are measured in utility. This has the consequence that, although it is often rational to be certain to some degree, there is no such thing as absolute certainty.

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  • Justifying Humanitarian Intervention to the People Who Pay For It

    Ned Dobos (Melbourne)

    The practice of humanitarian intervention, which involves one state (or coalition) intervening militarily into another state in order to prevent abuses of human rights, raises a plethora of ethical and political issues. How is foreign intervention to be reconciled with state sovereignty? Is intervention a threat to international peace and stability? Are alien values being imposed on the target society? Each of these questions has been thoroughly explored by both philosophers and jurists. But the notion that a state infringes the rights of its own citizens by waging war to defend the human rights of foreigners has received relatively little attention. The only thorough philosophical exploration of this problem to date - Allen Buchanan's “The Internal Legitimacy of Humanitarian Intervention” (1999) - is the focus of this paper. My aim here is not to offer a resolution to the “internal” problem, but simply to show that Buchanan misrepresents it in several important respects. First, Buchanan understates the strength of this objection: it is much more resilient than he gives it credit for. Secondly, he overstates its scope, or the range of humanitarian interventions to which it applies. And finally, Buchanan is mistaken to think that whether or not an intervening state fulfils the rights of its own citizens can be determined prior to, and therefore independently of, the question of whether its actions are consistent with the rights of the society targeted by the intervention.

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  • Metaethical Moral Relativism and the Analogy with Physics

    Alexandre Erler (Lincoln College, Oxford)

    This paper deals with a specific version of metaethical moral relativism, known as “speaker-relativism”. It starts by explaining the position, focussing on the views of two prominent contemporary relativists, Gilbert Harman and James Dreier. Both authors draw an analogy between ethics and modern physics: just as Einstein showed that judgments about time or mass were always relative to a specific frame of reference, Dreier and Harman argue that “absolutist” judgments about moral rightness or wrongness need to be reinterpreted as relative to some particular moral system. They also claim that this analogy allows us to salvage ordinary moral talk. I consider a number of possible objections to their argument, beginning with one, concerning the possibility of moral disagreement, which I think can be successfully answered, and then presenting two criticisms that I take to be more problematic for the relativist. I argue that despite its initial appeal, Harman and Dreier’s suggestion regarding our use of moral language seems to be a source of confusion in certain cases of moral disagreement, and does not appear able to preserve specifically moral normativity – which leads me to conclude that it is best viewed as a variant of an error theory about morality, rather than as the distinct metaethical position it purports to be.

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  • The Nature of Applied Mathematics

    Davide Rizza (Sheffield)

    In this paper I raise some objections to Field’s characterization of applied mathematics, showing, by means of three examples, that it is too restrictive. While doing so, I articulate a different and wider account of applicability. I conclude with an argument supporting its compatibility with an anti-realistic view on the existence of mathematical entities.

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  • The Role of Affective States in Philosophical Inquiry

    Amanda Taylor (Durham)

    Affects have often been characterised as a hindrance to the rational thinker. In this paper I reconsider the role of affects in philosophical inquiry in the light of recent work on the emotions which suggests that affects play a role in framing the ways in which we experience the world. I explore affects as motivators and curtailers of philosophical inquiry drawing on work by Hookway (2002, 2003). I suggest that although Hookway is correct in identifying the motivating role of affects, his account is too sparse and does not take account of the wider role which affects play in philosophical inquiry. Drawing on phenomenological psychiatry I argue that affects play a pre-reflective role which enables successful ‘explicit’ reasoning to begin. Building on this I use accounts by de Sousa on emotions as salience providers (1980, 1987, 2004) and William James on the role of temperament in philosophical inquiry (1992) to supplement and fill the gaps left by Hookway’s account. Here I draw a distinction between sporadic and sustained affects, claiming that a full account of the role of affects in philosophy ought to take account of both. This paper ultimately provides an examination of how the recent work on emotions affects the way we may view philosophical inquiry.

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  • A Problem with Defining Testimony: Intention and Manifestation

    Mark Nicholas Wales (University of St. Andrews)

    Within current epistemological work in the field of testimony it is generally considered usual to accept cases of non-verbal testimony within definitions of testimony (testimony through manifestation); it is also considered usual to accept cases in which the speaker does not intend to testify (non-intentional testimony). In this paper I show that while considered individually these two cases are unproblematic, this is not the case when both are considered as part of a definition of testimony. I suggest a case in which a person testifying non-verbally and non-intentionally is uncomfortably close to a case which we must count as perception; this is undesirable, as we clearly want to separate cases of testimony from cases of perception. I then look at possible solutions to this problem rejecting a number of solutions; I settle on a solution based on Jennifer Lackey's work on testimony. I conclude that we need not worry about the conjunction of non-intentional testimony with manifestational testimony as long as we are careful when we are trying to define testimony.

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