Theories of reference have been central to analytic philosophy, and two views, the descriptivist view of reference and the causal-historical view of reference, have dominated the field. In this research tradition, theories of reference are assessed by consulting one’s intuitions about the reference of terms in hypothetical situations. However, recent work in cultural psychology (e.g., Nisbett et al. 2001) has shown systematic cognitive differences between East Asians and Westerners, and some work indicates that this extends to intuitions about philosophical cases (...) (Weinberg et al. 2001). In light of these findings on cultural differences, two experiments were conducted which explored intuitions about reference in Westerners and East Asians. Both experiments indicate that, for certain central cases, Westerners are more likely than East Asians to report intuitions that are consistent with the causal-historical view. These results constitute prima facie evidence that semantic intuitions vary from culture to culture, and the paper argues that this fact raises questions about the nature of the philosophical enterprise of developing a theory of reference. (shrink)
Ron Mallon explores how thinking and talking about kinds of person can bring those kinds into being. He considers what normative implications this social constructionism has for our understanding of our practices of representing human kinds, like race, gender, and sexual orientation, and for our own agency.
It is common in various quarters of philosophy to derive philosophically significant conclusions from theories of reference. In this paper, we argue that philosophers should give up on such 'arguments from reference.' Intuitions play a central role in establishing theories of reference, and recent cross-cultural work suggests that intuitions about reference vary across cultures and between individuals within a culture (Machery et al. 2004). We argue that accommodating this variation within a theory of reference undermines arguments from reference.
Theories of reference have been central to analytic philosophy, and two views, the descriptivist view of reference and the causal-historical view of reference, have dominated the field. In this research tradition, theories of reference are assessed by consulting one's intuitions about the reference of terms in hypothetical situations. However, recent work in cultural psychology has shown systematic differences between East Asians and Westerners, and some work indicates that this extends to intuitions about philosophical cases. In light of these findings on (...) cultural differences, two experiments were conducted which explored intuitions about reference in Westerners and East Asians. Both experiments indicate that, for certain central cases, Westerners are more likely than East Asians to report intuitions that are consistent with the causal-historical view. These results constitute prima facie evidence that semantic intuitions vary from culture to culture, and that paper argues that this fact raises questions about the nature of the philosophical enterprise of developing a theory of reference. (shrink)
Our interest in this paper is to drive a wedge of contention between two different programs that fall under the umbrella of “experimental philosophy”. In particular, we argue that experimental philosophy’s “negative program” presents almost as significant a challenge to its “positive program” as it does to more traditional analytic philosophy.
In recent years, there has been a flurry of work on the metaphysics of race. While it is now widely accepted that races do not share robust, bio-behavioral essences, opinions differ over what, if anything, race is. Recent work has been divided between three apparently quite different answers. A variety of theorists argue for racial skepticism, the view that races do not exist at all.[iv] A second group defends racial constructionism, holding that races are in some way socially constructed.[v],[vi] And (...) a third group maintains racial population naturalism, the view that races may exist as biologically salient populations albeit ones that do not have the biologically determined social significance once imputed to them.[vii] The three groups thus seem to disagree fundamentally upon the metaphysical character of race. (shrink)
Recent work shows an important asymmetry in lay intuitions about moral dilemmas. Most people think it is permissible to divert a train so that it will kill one innocent person instead of ﬁve, but most people think that it is not permissible to push a stranger in front of a train to save ﬁve innocents. We argue that recent emotion-based explanations of this asymmetry have neglected the contribution that rules make to reasoning about moral dilemmas. In two experiments, we ﬁnd (...) that participants show a parallel asymmetry about versions of the dilemmas that have minimized emotional force. In a third experiment, we ﬁnd that people distinguish between whether an action violates a moral rule and whether it is, all things considered, wrong. We propose that judgments of whether an action is wrong, all things considered, implicate a complex set of psychological processes, including representations of rules, emotional responses, and assessments of costs and beneﬁts. q 2005 Published by Elsevier B.V. (shrink)
We have recently presented evidence for cross-cultural variation in semantic intuitions and explored the implications of such variation for philosophical arguments that appeal to some theory of reference as a premise. Devitt (2011) and Ichikawa and colleagues (forthcoming) offer critical discussions of the experiment and the conclusions that can be drawn from it. In this response, we reiterate and clarify what we are really arguing for, and we show that most of Devitt’s and Ichikawa and colleagues’ criticisms fail to address (...) our concerns. (shrink)
Among race theorists, the view that race is a social construction is widespread. While the term ‘ social construction’ is sometimes intended to mean merely that race does not constitute a robust, biological natural kind, it often labels the stronger position that race is real, but not a biological kind. For example, Charles Mills writes that, ‘‘the task of those working on race is to put race in quotes, ‘race’, while still insisting that nevertheless, it exists ’’. It is to (...) ‘‘make a plausible social ontology neither essentialist, innate, nor transhistorical, but real enough for all that’’. Racial constructionism, thus conceived, is a metaphysical position that contrasts both with the view that race is an important biological kind and with the more recent claim that race does not exist. The desire for a constructionist metaphysics of race emerges against the background of a cluster of normative disputes, including. (shrink)
One of the central debates in the philosophy of language is that between defenders of the causal-historical and descriptivist theories of reference. Most philosophers involved in the debate support one or the other of the theories. Building on recent experimental work in semantics, we argue that there is a sense in which both theories are correct. In particular, we defend the view that natural kind terms can sometimes take on a causal-historical reading and at other times take on a descriptivist (...) reading. The meaning will shift depending on the conversational setting. The theoretical view has roots in work by Kitcher. We present some original experiments that support the thesis. (shrink)
Recent work by Joshua Knobe has established that people are far more likely to describe bad but foreseen side effects as intentionally performed than good but foreseen side effects (this is sometimes called the 'Knobe effect' or the 'side-effect effect.' Edouard Machery has proposed a novel explanation for this asymmetry: it results from construing the bad side effect as a cost that must be incurred to receive a benefit. In this paper, I argue that Machery's 'trade-off hypothesis' is wrong. I (...) do this by reproducing the asymmetry between judgments about good and bad side effects in cases that cannot plausibly be construed as trade-offs. (shrink)
Social constructionism about race is a common view, but there remain questions about what exactly constitutes constructed race. Some hold that our concepts and conceptual practices construct race, and some hold that the causal consequences of these concepts and conceptual practices also play a role. But there is a third option, which is that the causal effects of our concepts and conceptual practices constitute race, but not the concepts and conceptual practices themselves. This paper reconsiders an argument for the reality (...) of race that grows out of the role of racial kinds in social scientific generalizations. It then uses recent work on the correlation of racial attitudes with behaviors to raise questions about the sufficiency, and perhaps also the necessity, of our concepts and conceptual practices in constituting constructed race, thus understood. (shrink)
Evolutionary psychology and social constructionism are widely regarded as fundamentally irreconcilable approaches to the social sciences. Focusing on the study of the emotions, we argue that this appearance is mistaken. Much of what appears to be an empirical disagreement between evolutionary psychologists and social constructionists over the universality or locality of emotional phenomena is actually generated by an implicit philosophical dispute resulting from the adoption of different theories of meaning and reference. We argue that once this philosophical dispute is recognized, (...) it can be set to the side. When this is done, it becomes clear that the two approaches to the emotions complement, rather than compete with, one another. (shrink)
There are two ways of understanding experimental philosophy's process of appealing to intuitions as evidence for or against philosophical claims: the positive and negative programs. This chapter deals with how the positivist method of conceptual analysis is affected by the results of the negative program. It begins by describing direct extramentalism, semantic mentalism, conceptual mentalism, and mechanist mentalism, all of which argue that intuitions are credible sources of evidence and will therefore be shared. The negative program challenges this view by (...) questioning if there can be in fact a shared intuition about a specific hypothetical case, as conflicting intuitions are as likely to arise. The chapter then discusses other issues raised by the negativists such as the limits of surveys and the proper domain problem. (shrink)
Some psychologists aim to secure a role for psychological explanations in understanding contemporary social disparities, a concern that plays out in debates over the relevance of the Implicit Association Test. Meta-analysts disagree about the predictive validity of the IAT and about the importance of implicit attitudes in explaining racial disparities. Here, I use the IAT to articulate and explore one route to establishing the relevance of psychological attitudes with small effects: an appeal to a process of “accumulation” that aggregates small (...) effects into large harms. After characterizing mechanisms of accumulation and considering some candidate examples, I argue that such mechanisms suggest how a contemporary attitude with small effects could figure in the explanation of large disparities, but they do not vindicate the importance of such an attitude since such mechanisms are typically also determined by competing causes. I close by sketching several strategies for advancing a defense of the relevance of attitudes with small effects. (shrink)
One influential view is that at least some putatively natural human kinds are actually social constructions, understood as some real kind of thing that is produced or sustained by our social and conceptual practices. Category constructionists share two commitments: they hold that human category terms like “race” and “sex” and “homosexuality” and “perversion” actually refer to constructed categories, and they hold that these categories are widely but mistakenly taken to be natural kinds. But it is far from clear that these (...) two commitments are consistent. The sort of mismatch between belief and underlying nature constructionists’ suppose is often taken to indicate a failure of reference. Reliance on a causal-historical account of reference allows the preservation of reference, but unfortunately, constructionists' appropriation of causal historical accounts of reference is beset by difficulties that do not attend natural kind theorists’ appeals to such accounts. Here, I set out these difficulties, but argue that they can be answered, allowing terms for apparently natural human kinds refer to some sort of social construction about which there is massive error. (shrink)
Human social intelligence comprises a wide range of complex cognitive and affective processes that appear to be selectively impaired in autistic spectrum disorders. The study of these neuro- developmental disorders and the study of canonical social intelligence have advanced rapidly over the last twenty years by investigating the two together. Specifically, studies of autism have provided important insights into the nature of ‘theory of mind’ abilities, their normal development and underlying neural systems. At the same time, the idea of impaired (...) development of the neurocognitive mechanisms underlying ‘theory of mind’ has shed new light on the nature of autistic disorders. This general approach is not restricted to the study of impairments but extends to mapping areas of social intelligence that are spared in autism. Here we investigate basic moral judgment and find that it appears to be substantially intact in children with autism who are severely impaired in ‘theory of mind’. At the same time, we extend studies of moral reasoning in normal development by way of a new control task, the ‘cry baby’ task. Cry baby scenarios, in which the distress of the victim is ‘unreasonable’ or ‘unjustified,’ do not elicit moral condemnation from normally developing preschoolers or from children with autism. Judgments of moral transgressions in which the victim displays distress are therefore not likely the result of a simple automatic reaction to the distress and more likely involve moral reasoning. Mapping the cognitive co-morbidity patterns of disordered development should encompass both impairments and sparings because both will be needed to make sense of the neural and genetic levels. (shrink)
Controversies over the innateness of cognitive processes, mechanisms, and structures play a persistent role in driving research in philosophy as well as the cognitive sciences, but the appropriate way to understand the category of the innate remains subject to dispute. One venerable approach in philosophy and cognitive science merely contrasts innate features with those that are learned. In fact, Jerry Fodor has recently suggested that this remains our best handle on innateness.
A core question of contemporary social morality concerns how we ought to handle racial categorization. By this we mean, for instance, classifying or thinking of a person as Black, Korean, Latino, White, etc.² While it is widely FN:2 agreed that racial categorization played a crucial role in past racial oppression, there remains disagreement among philosophers and social theorists about the ideal role for racial categorization in future endeavors. At one extreme of this disagreement are short-term eliminativists who want to do (...) away with racial categorization relatively quickly (e.g. Appiah, 1995; D’Souza, 1996; Muir, 1993; Wasserstrom, 2001/1980; Webster, 1992; Zack, 1993, 2002), typically because they view it as mistaken and oppressive. At the opposite end of the spectrum, long-term conservationists hold that racial identities and communities are beneﬁcial, and that racial categorization —suitably reformed —is essential to fostering them (e.g. Outlaw, 1990, 1995, 1996). While extreme forms of conservationism have fewer proponents in academia than the most radical eliminativist positions, many theorists advocate more moderate positions. In between the two poles, there are many who believe that racial categorization is valuable (and perhaps necessary) given the continued existence of racial inequality and the lingering effects of past racism (e.g. Haslanger, 2000; Mills, 1998; Root, 2000; Shelby, 2002, 2005; Sundstrom, 2002; Taylor, 2004; Young, 1989). Such authors agree on the short-term need for racial categorization in at least some domains, but they often differ with regard to its long-term value. (shrink)
The traditional philosophical doctrine of double effect claims that agents’ intentions affect whether acts are morally wrong. Our behavioral study reveals that agents’ intentions do affect whether acts are judged morally wrong, whereas the temporal order of good and bad effects affects whether acts are classified as killings. This finding suggests that the moral judgments are not based on the classifications. Our results also undermine recent claims that prior moral judgments determine whether agents are seen as causing effects intentionally rather (...) than as side effects. (shrink)
Social “construction,” “constructionism” and “constructivism” are terms in wide use in the humanities and social sciences, and are applied to a diverse range of objects including the emotions, gender, race, sex, homo- and hetero-sexuality, mental illness, technology, quarks, facts, reality, and truth. This sort of terminology plays a number of different roles in different discourses, only some of which are philosophically interesting, and fewer of which admit of a “naturalistic” approach—an approach that treats science as a central and successful (if (...) sometimes fallible) source of knowledge about the world. If there is any core idea of social constructionism, it is that some object or objects are caused or controlled by social or cultural factors rather than natural factors, and if there is any core motivation of such research, it is the aim of showing that such objects are or were under our control: they could be, or might have been, otherwise. (shrink)
Is it wrong to torture prisoners of war for fun? Is it wrong to yank on someone’s hair with no provocation? Is it wrong to push an innocent person in front of a train in order to save five innocent people tied to the tracks? If you are like most people, you answered "yes" to each of these questions. A venerable account of human moral judgment, influential in both philosophy and psychology, holds that these judgments are underpinned by internally represented (...) principles or rules and reasoning about whether particular cases fall under those rules. Recently, this view has come under sustained attack from multiple quarters, and now looks to be in danger of being discarded. In this chapter we consider this evidence, and find that it does not support the elimination of rules from moral psychology. (shrink)
Race is one of the most common variables in the social sciences, used to draw correlations between racial groups and numerous other important variables such as education, healthcare outcomes, aptitude tests, wealth, employment and so forth. But where concern with race once reflected the view that races were biologically real, many, if not most, contemporary social scientists have abandoned the idea that racial categories demarcate substantial, intrinsic biological differences between people. This, in turn, raises an important question about the significance (...) of race in those social sciences: if there is no biological basis of race, why are racial categories useful to social scientists? More specifically, in virtue of what are racial categories a successful basis of informative, important social scientific generalizations? 2 We’ll call this social science’s race puzzle. (shrink)
Recent work proclaims a dominant role for automatic, intuitive, and emotional processes in producing ordinary moral judgment, despite the fact that we have little direct evidence about moral judgment “in the wild.” Indirect support comes via an assumption of dual-process theory: that conscious, reasoning processes are resource intensive. We argue that reasoning that employs consciously available moral rules undermines this assumption, but this has not been appreciated because of a failure to distinguish between explanation and justification. We conclude that it (...) remains unclear what sorts of cognitive processes are dominant in ordinary moral judgments. (shrink)
In recent years, numerous articles and books in the humanities and the social sciences have been devoted to understanding the ascription of race, gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental illness, and other ‘human kind’ concepts to persons. What may be more surprising given the enormous volume of this research and the diversity of its sources is that much of it shares a common commitment to understanding the categories picked out by these concepts in an non- essentialist way. For example, Iris Marion (...) Young suggests of social groups (including races, genders, classes, age groups, and ethnicities) that they. (shrink)
The idea that genuinely racial thinking is a modern invention is widespread in the humanities and social sciences. However, it is not always clear exactly what the content of such a conceptual break is supposed to be. One suggestion is that with the scientific revolution emerged a conception of human groups that possessed essences that were thought to explain group-typical features of individuals as well the accumulated products of cultures or civilizations. However, recent work by cognitive and evolutionary psychologists suggests (...) that such essentialism is a product of culturally canalized, domain-specific, and species-typical features of human psychology. This suggests that one common explanation of the content of a break in racial thinking is wrong, and casts some doubt on the thesis that genuinely racial thinking is a culturally and historically local invention. (shrink)
Alison Gopnik and her collaborators have recently proposed a bold and intriguing hypothesis about the relationship between scientific cognition and cognitive development in childhood. According to this view, the processes underlying cognitive development in infants and children and the processes underlying scientific cognition are _identical_. We argue that Gopnik’s bold hypothesis is untenable because it, along with much of cognitive science, neglects the many important ways in which human minds are designed to operate within a social environment. This leads to (...) a neglect of _norms_ and the processes of _social_ _transmission_ which have an important effect on scientific cognition and cognition more generally. (shrink)
Griffiths and Machery contend that the concept of innateness should be dispensed with in the sciences. We contend that, once that concept is properly understood as what we have called 'closed process invariance', it is still of significant use in the sciences, especially cognitive science.
Although we are enthusiastic about a Darwinian approach to culture, we argue that the overview presented in the target article does not sufficiently emphasize the crucial explanatory role that psychology plays in the study of culture. We use a number of examples to illustrate the variety of ways by which appeal to psychological factors can help explain cultural phenomena.
This paper raises concern with the use of theories of reference in philosophical discourse and then to consider the possibility of empirically validating this concern by reference to a novel sort of “quantitative” empirical approach suggested recently by Shaun Nichols (forthcoming). The concern is whether the particular theories of reference or reference relations employed in particular philosophical discussions are actually chosen with a view to entailing or accommodating a desired philosophical outcome. I argue that such dependent selections of assumptions about (...) reference give us little reason to think the assumptions are true. I go on to argue that if we became convinced that such assumptions really are chosen simply to ensure a desired outcome, it would give us reason for skepticism about arguments from reference since it would undermine our sense that such arguments tracked any independent truth about the reference of our words or concepts. (shrink)
Although we are enthusiastic about a Darwinian approach to culture, we argue that the overview presented in the target article does not sufficiently emphasize the crucial explanatory role that psychology plays in the study of culture. We use a number of examples to illustrate the variety of ways by which appeal to psychological factors can help explain cultural phenomena. (Published Online November 9 2006).
This paper proposes a revision of our understanding of causation that is designed to address what Hartry Field has suggested is the central problem in the metaphysics of causation today: reconciling Bertrand Russell’s arguments that the concept of causation can play no role in the advanced sciences with Nancy Cartwright’s arguments that causal concepts are essential to a scientific understanding of the world. The paper shows that Russell’s main argument is, ironically, very similar to an argument that Cartwright has put (...) forward against the truth of universal laws of nature. The paper uses this insight to develop an account of causation that does justice to traditional views yet avoids the arguments of Russell. (shrink)
Knobe's argument rests on a way of distinguishing performance errors from the competencies that delimit our cognitive architecture. We argue that other sorts of evidence than those that he appeals to are needed to illuminate the boundaries of our folk capacities in ways that would support his conclusions.
Marc Hauser, Liane Young, and Fiery Cushman’s paper is an excellent contribution to a now resurgent attempt (Dwyer, 1999; Harman, 1999; Mikhail, 2000) to explore and understand moral psychology by way of an analogy with Noam Chomsky’s pathbreaking work in linguistics, famously suggested by John Rawls (1971). And anyone who reads their paper ought to be convinced that research into our innate moral endowment is a plausible and worthwhile research program. I thus begin by agreeing that even if the linguistic (...) analogy turns out to be weak, it can do titanic work in serving, "as an important guide to empirical research, opening doors to theoretically distinctive questions that, to date, have few answers" (p. XXX). Granting the importance of the empirical investigation of moral judgment generally, and of research designed to probe the linguistic analogy specifically, I will nonetheless argue that there is simply no evidence that there is a specialized moral faculty, no evidence that the stronger version of the linguistic analogy is correct (p. XXX). (shrink)
A traditional social scientific divide concerns the centrality of the interpretation of local understandings as opposed to attending to relatively general factors in understanding human individual and group differences. We consider one of the most common social scientific variables, race, and ask how to conceive of its causal power. We suggest that any plausible attempt to model the causal effects of such constructed social roles will involve close interplay between interpretationist and more general elements. Thus, we offer a case study (...) that one cannot offer a comprehensive model of the causal power of racial categories as social constructions without careful attention both to local meanings and more general mechanisms. (shrink)
Leda Cosmides and John Tooby have some advice for moral philosophers and deontic logicians trying to understand deontic notions like ought: give up trying to provide a univocal, domain-general treatment. The domain-specific character of human cognition means that such a research program is probably fruitless and probably pointless. It is probably fruitless, since a univocal account of the meaning of "ought" will not capture the multiple inferential patterns of deontic reasoning exhibited in different contexts (and similarly for lots of other (...) words like "obligation," "entitlement," etc. - but let’s stick with "ought"). And it is probably pointless, because even if a domain general logic can be developed, it will "fail to capture major distinctions the human mind makes when reasoning deontically" (ms 5). As a result, it is "not likely to be widely understood and adopted" so it will "not succeed in guiding ethical decisions beyond an esoteric circle of specialists" (ms 5). (shrink)
Socializing Metaphysics supplies diverse answers to the basic questions of social metaphysics, from a broad array of voices. It will interest all philosophers and social scientists concerned with mind, action, or the foundations of social theory.