Quote of the Week: L. A. Paul on Having Children

I conclude that having your first child, in many ways, is like becoming a vampire.

– L. A. Paul, Transformative Experience, p. 82

This quote invites jokes and Paul makes one in a footnote. (You have to get the book to find out what the punchline is. It is not that great.) But she also has a serious point. Both choices, having a child or becoming a vampire pose problems to normative decision theory. Can we ever rationally choose to become parents or rationally choose against it? The decision would lead to unforeseeable experiences, which transform our own motivations.

For more see my discussion of Paul’s book.

Talk: Nested Groups at ENSO V

It is still a while away, but if you are planning your summer trips you might want to include the fifth conference of the European Network on Social Ontology or ENSO V for short. It takes places in Lund from the 30th of August until the 1st of September (program).

I will speak on the 31st of August on the topic of nested groups. Don’t be afraid if you have never heard the phrase “nested groups” before, the terminological choice was mine. I am going to talk about groups which are in some sense within other groups. For example, marketing departments are usually nested within larger corporations. My talk revolves mostly around unpacking the way in which groups can be nested within one another.

My paper remains work-in-progress, so I do not want to get too specific at this point. Generally I want to defend that groups can be parts and members of other groups. That sounds innocent at first, but only at first. As so often philosophy becomes difficult when one tries to get the details straight.

Reading: Transformative Experience

L. A. Paul’s Transformative Experience has received unusually broad praise for a contemporary work in analytic philosophy. How many proper philosophy books come with a quote from a Slate interview on the back?

Paul’s book deserves the attention, whether or not you are convinced by its conclusion. It presents an issue of decision theory in clear terms and with accessible examples. At the heart of the book lies the question how we can rationally choose in light of a transformative experiences, such as turning into a vampire or having a child. Continue reading “Reading: Transformative Experience”

Quote of the Week: Misak on Peirce and Peirce on Doubt and Action

In Peirce’s view, what is wrong with the state of doubt is not that is uncomfortable, although it is in fact uncomfortable. What is wrong with doubt is that it leads to a paralysis of action.

-Cheryl Misak, The American Pragmatists, p. 33

I consider Misak one of the best current scholars of pragmatism and in this quote she captures a distinctive feature of pragmatist thought. Many philosopher have produced theories about belief and knowing, but the pragmatists have their own theory of doubt, which they turned against the Cartesian scepticism.

Misak’s quote points out the strong connection between doubt and action, or rather paralysis of action. I wonder, however, whether we should say that causing paralysis of action is wrong. Is it not the function of doubt to stop action? And in many situations such a pause to action in light of doubt might be advisable. If in doubt whether the bridge will carry the weight of my car, I should stop in front of it.

However, the pragmatists seem to think that the paralysis is always something to be overcome. At least until the end of the universe, action has primacy. Doubt plays a role in redirecting the action, giving it a secondary role.

Quote of the Week: Amartya Sen on Revealed Preferences

I do not find it difficult to believe that birds and bees and dogs and cats do reveal their preferences by choice; it is with human beings that the proposition is not particularly persuasive. An act of choice for this social animal is, in a fundamental sense, always a social act.

– Sen, “Behaviour and the Concept of Preferences”, p. 253

Continue reading “Quote of the Week: Amartya Sen on Revealed Preferences”

Blumer’s Ontological Claims and the Curious Absence of Any Argument

I am currently re-reading some foundational texts on Symbolic Interactionism (the school of sociology) for my thesis. One of the most influential is Herbert Blumer’s Symbolic Interactionism and I am struck by Blumer’s ontological claims and the curious absence of any argument for them. Consider the following passage:

For purposes of convenience one can classify objects in three categories: (a) physical objects, such as chairs, trees, or bicycles; (b) social objects, such as students, priests, a president, a mother, or a friend; and (c) abstract objects, such as moral principles, philosophical doctrines, or ideas such as justice, exploitation, or compassion. (Blumer 1969: 10)

Blumer proposes three categories for objects and we can discuss this proposal, but Blumer does not provide any argument for it. He just moves on. From my own research into social ontology I know that such categories are far from uncontroversial. I would also object to the examples Blumer offers. Consider the bicycle (or the chair), which he proposes as an example for a physical object: A bicycle has a teleological function. All bicycles necessarily have the purpose of serving as means of transportation. Electrons do not have a necessary teleological function. One might make the argument that only social objects can have such functions. But Blumer does not even attempt to defend his categorisation. Continue reading “Blumer’s Ontological Claims and the Curious Absence of Any Argument”

Reading: Arlie Hochschild “Strangers in Their Own Land”

It took me a while, but I finally found the time to read Arlie Hochschild’s Strangers in Their Own Land.  The book addresses burning questions: How came the USA to be so politically divided? How does the other side relative to Hochschild, that is the right-wing tea-party, see the divide? How do emotions influence the political allegiances?

But being a philosopher I want to discuss the methodology and underlying theory of the book instead of those juicy topics. I hope that this discussion is at least as interesting. In fact, the philosophical aspect might be of more lasting interest. The political landscape of the US will shift sooner or later, while the insights for sociological theory might stay with us for a long time. And at the end of this post, politics creeps in after all. Continue reading “Reading: Arlie Hochschild “Strangers in Their Own Land””