Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Notes and Notes

Chris has an interesting post on motivated reasoning. In it he points to evidence that "motivated reasoning is in fact our default mode of reasoning; the one that we revert to when we are threatened, when our cognitive resources are limited, or when we aren't highly motivated to make an effortful attempt to come to the objectively 'right' answer." I find this interesting because it seems to me that in philosophical work on the role of the emotions in reasoning (e.g., De Sousa's The Rationality of Emotion) something at leasts vaguely like this has been suggested, for at least quasi-independent reasons (I say quasi-independent because they are influenced by cog sci research on these topics, but they are developed at least in part in response to philosophical issues); i.e., one of the roles of emotions in reasoning are to provide saliences that allow us to continue with some sort of rational action in cases when purer forms of rationality aren't possible (cases like those Chris mentions). De Sousa gives some (very general) indication of how emotions can provide such saliences. And note, by the way, that the fact that these are not purer forms of rationality doesn't entail that they are irrational, or even that reasoning in this way is always less rational, than purer cases. To be irrational this sort of reasoning would have to be poorly suited to fulfill the role needed in a given case; it may well be as rational, or even more rational, to reason in a motivated way in certain kinds of cases than to try for something more objective. The tricky thing, if this is so, is to determine the precise sphere and mode in which motivated reasoning is acceptably rational, as well as any sort of contribution motivated reasoning makes to the support of purer forms of reasoning; and this requires a better theory of rationality than we currently possess. (Those interested in this sort of issue might see De Sousa's Modeling Rationality, which is a good, accessible, albeit narrow and incomplete, discussion of some of the relevant issues, or The Rationality of Emotion, a brief paper discussing a small sampling of the issues he discusses in his book.)

That post gives the background for another good post on the recent highly-publicized results by Westen et al. on motivated reasoning in political partisanship, in which he corrects a number of serious misinterpretations. Much of it is the sort of thing that's very obvious in retrospect, when it's pointed out, that might be missed by those of us who don't normally work with imaging studies and aren't thinking out the implications of claims very closely. Well worth reading.

"Heo Cwaeth" has a series of posts called "Medieval Women I Adore". So far it includes Aethelflaed, Chrodield and Basina, and Hilda of Whitby. (HT: Mixing Memory) She also has a good post on Why Medieval Women Writers Belong in the Canon; a number of things she says could be said, mutatis mutandis, of early modern women in the philosophical canon.

Michael Pakaluk defends the history of philosophy at "Dissoi Blogoi". See also the follow-up post. I would add to it a more purely aesthetic reason. Sometimes in doing history of philosophy, one comes across an argument that is breathtakingly beautiful. It may still be flawed (and usually is) but it is a stunning example of human reason at its best. However, these arguments are often hidden. It isn't obvious to the superficial reader just how beautiful Aquinas's multi-layered theory of the will is; or, if we start sorting out what goes where and why, just how exquisitely crafted Hume's analysis of the components of causal inference, apparently rambling and confused, really is. To find these things you must do history of philosophy. If you eschew it, or take a purely instrumentalist interest in it, you will miss some of the wonders of the world.

Janet Stemwedel has an interesting post on theory vs. experiment in science, which has garnered some interesting comments. I don't normally find this an interesting topic at all; but what makes the discussion at "Adventures in Science and Ethics" interesting is that it touches on an aspect of the question that I think is much more interesting and important than the one usually discussed, namely, the pedagogical side of it (taking 'pedagogical' in a broad sense to include all communication between scientists and the general public).

At verbum ipsum Lee has a post that asks bloggers, What big-ticket issues have you (in the course of blogging) changed your mind about or found yourself "an incorrigible squish" about? My primary answer would be just about anything political: I always have the feeling that talking about a matter in a purely political light is suspiciously close, by its very nature, to missing the point. Or so I analyze my squishiness about politics, anyway. I waver on the New Hume interpretation; which is not surprising because the data for choosing between New Hume and Old Hume are fairly slight. I've become less sympathetic to arguments for anti-realism (outside a handful of domains), although I'm still not as dogmatic about it as some realists. I've also become more serious about issues of racism and sexism in the history of philosophy. But overall I haven't done much changing. But then, I'm the sort of person who tends to change very slowly -- a lot of slow shifts all over the place rather than one or two major shifts in one or two places.

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