Photographing some other possible worlds

Mental Illness and the Naturalism Debate

This paper introduces and explains a particular interesting phenomenon.

 

Interesting Phenomenon: very able and informed theorists sometimes act as though they agree with claims which, in the cold light of day, they would certainly reject.

 

It introduces the interesting phenomenon by presenting an exemplifying case; the mental illness literature. It explains it by introducing a new notion; the notion of an ‘inference web’.

 

I argue here that the mental illness literature operates against a backdrop of bad inferences. By this I mean that there are common inferences and associations made in the literature at large that i) are bad, ii) would be rejected by participants in the literature if brought into the cold light of day, iii) are almost invisible even to those who make them. To explain this, I bring in the notion of an inference web; a web-like structure of inferences that underly a discipline or research project and form a shared backdrop against which discourse can happen. As a toy example, if I state that P is true, and you set out to refute my claim by showing the P is impossible, you take my claim that P is true to license the claim that P is possible. This is quite right. We all know that things that are true are also possibly true, and hence your response to me is justified. This is an inference (or association) that forms part of the web of inferences (or associations) that are permitted by our discipline. They are moves that we all are allowed to make without (except in exceptional circumstances, for example when defending a certain position in modal metaphysics) excess justification and without even bringing that move to light.

 

Moves like this one are knitted into the fabric of our discourse. But they can go wrong. When they do go wrong, they are especially pernicious because their very nature makes them hard to catch and because their centrality or ‘fixedness’ in our discourses makes them hard to avoid.

 

The paper will proceed as follows: in §1, I gloss the mental illness literature. In §2, I introduce the interesting phenomenon. In §3, I introduce the notion of an inference web. And in §4, I show how inference webs can explain the interesting phenomenon.  

 

The Ethical Dimension of Lethal Specimen Collection in Ornithology

Co-authored with Vanya Rohwer

Ornithologists and researchers routinely kill and collect bird specimens for research, education, and conservation. Many object to this practice on ethical grounds, arguing that this endangers the very species that researchers claim to care about, or that the taking of a life in the name of research is never justified. The researchers in question then respond by citing data on populations to prove their work in no way endangers species or arguing that conservation and (hence) ethical considerations should be made at the species (rather than individual) level.

 

We investigate this literature, especially as it pertains to ornithology. Rather than assessing individual arguments, we identify problematic inferences made in the literature as a whole using the notion of inference webs to explain the prevalence of these mistakes. An inference web is a structured collection of claims and inferences that frames our reasoning in a given area.We argue that there is a problematic inference web in the background of this literature resulting in assumptions that i) are bad and ii) would be rejected by the people who make them if asked directly.

 

For example, many arguments in favor of collection assume that cost-benefit analyses are the most poignant way to assess research. This is so even though in another context researchers would deny the relevant considerations are reducible to mere costs and benefits. Firstly, almost all of them undoubtedly think the benefits derived from collecting go far beyond preserving biological diversity. It’s clear that conservation efforts, for which collection is necessary, aim at a huge variety of ends over-and-above protection of individual species. Sometimes the aim is to preserve information for further scientific study of ecological and evolutionary forces. Sometimes it’s to preserve features of nature important for human enjoyment. In these instances, arguing that collection is ethical on the basis of cost-benefit analyses misses the most important concerns in favor of collection. Second, most researchers would acknowledge the growing literature about deep and prevailing problems with the concept of ‘species’ as well as the extensive literature suggesting biodiversity is not best measured by counting the number of species conserved. 

 

Our aim here is not simply to reject arguments but to improve on them. According to our account, the problematic inference webs that pervade this literature foreclose discussion of more productive views. Once we clear the ground of these problematic arguments, we can set the stage for more productive debates.

Injustice in the Spaces Between Concepts

Forthcoming in the Southern Journal of Philosophy

I argue that epistemic injustice manifests not only in the content of our concepts, but in the spaces between them. Others have shown that epistemic injustice arises in the form of ‘testimonial injustice’ - where an agent is harmed because her credibility is undervalued - and ‘hermeneutical injustice’ - where an agent is harmed because some community lacks the conceptual resources that would allow her to render her experience intelligible. I think that epistemic injustice also arises as a result of prejudiced and harmful defects in the inferential architecture of both scientific practice and everyday thinking. Drawing on lessons from the philosophy of science, I argue that the inferential architecture of our epistemic practices can be prejudiced and wrongful, leading to a variety of epistemic injustice that I am calling ‘inferential injustice.’ This type of injustice is fully structural; it inheres in our epistemic practices themselves rather than as a direct result of an individual’s action. For this reason, cases of inferential injustice are importantly different from extant cases of epistemic injustice and are especially hard to track. We need a better understanding of inferential injustice so that we can avoid and ameliorate cases such as the ones I present here. 

Advanced Modals, Advanced Quantifiers, and Reduction

I offer a solution to the problem of advanced modalizing which is supposed to show that  genuine modal realism is unable to accommodate claims like ‘possibly, there are many possible worlds.’ I argue that, given the ontology of modal realism, those claims are simply not apt to be modalized.

Trust, Power, and Transformation in the Prison Classroom

This article asks two main questions: i) what is the role of power and trust in transformative learning in the prison classroom, and ii) in particular, what is the role of power and trust in the decision of whether to transform one’s meaning scheme in the face of new information or whether to simply reject the new information. I interviewed 19 educators who teach in correctional facilities about their experiences. These interviews were transcribed and the data was analysed. In light of this data, I constructed a five-stage model of transformative learning which should be thought of as complementary to (not exclusionary of) Mezirow’s original ten-phase account. The data collected indicates that trust and power are particularly important at stages 3 and 4 of my suggested five-stage model, where the student is at a crossroads as to whether to revise their existing meaning schemes or merely to reject the new information. 

The Extensional Adequacy of Lewis’ Counterfactual Analysis

In ‘Counterfactuals and Explanation’ (2006) Boris Kment argues that David Lewis’ (1973, 1979, 1986) counterfactual analysis is extensionally inadequate by offering what he thinks is a counterexample to Lewis’ criteria for assessing the similarity of possible worlds. I defend Lewis against Kment by showing that Kment’s case is not a counterexample to Lewis’ theory. Lewis requires that regions of exact match are continuous and spatially maximal, but Kment’s counterexample assumes that discontinuous, non-spatially maximal regions can also contribute to exact match. If we assess exact match properly and as Lewis intended, Lewis’ analysis is safe.