On the interests of non-conscious beings.

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Photo by Benjamin Combs on Unsplash.

My parents used to live in Tucson, Arizona. Tucson is situated in the Sonora Desert, which is one of the few places in the world you can find the Saguaro Cactus. These are the kinds of tall cacti we often see in old western movies.

I would visit them during breaks when I was a student. For some reason, I used to imagine slicing through one of these cacti with a Samurai sword, like those people in infomercials testing knives and swords by cutting through a watermelon.

I wouldn’t actually do this but imagine if I did. Say I sliced through the Saguaro cactus in my parents' back yard. …


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Photo by Amanda Dalbjorn

The rise of artificial intelligence is changing our lives in fundamental ways. Algorithms know us better than our friends and relatives, we outsource more and more of our decision-making to AI, and much of our socio-economic structure is reliant on algorithmic systems.

The future of AI will likely bring substantial benefits. However, like the development of any revolutionary technology, it will also come with costs.

Some of these costs are inevitable. It’s likely that we are exchanging more of our autonomy for higher levels of convenience and efficiency as we integrate AI into our lives. Other costs could be more significant and possibly catastrophic. It’s no surprise then, that the ethics of artificial intelligence is a growing field. …


On Feminist Epistemology and Knowledge

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Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

Alison Jaggar is a contemporary philosopher who developed a feminist critique of traditional epistemology.

It’s a feminist critique in that it highlights the fact that theory has traditionally been undertaken by men, from a masculine perspective. This matters because the perspective from which philosophy is done can, arguably, influence the theory.

Here, I discuss Jaggar’s critique as well as her view of how emotions play a role in understanding our world.

Jaggar argues that traditional epistemology has been selective and biased in its investigation. Particularly, it has neglected the role emotions play in our understanding and acquisition of knowledge.

Jaggar’s aim is to illuminate the role of emotion in how we acquiring knowledge. …


Contemporary analytic philosophy and 80’s hair-metal owes much of its style to Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, a 17th-century philosopher, and mathematician. He was also interested in science, law, and literature. The work of Pascal influenced his development of calculus, which Newton, his contemporary, also developed. It was unfortunate for Leibniz that Newton at the time was credited with inventing calculus.

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In an earlier post, I discussed John Locke’s epistemology, whose work influenced Leibniz. Nevertheless, Leibniz disputed Locke’s claim that all ideas and concepts originated in sense experience. Unlike Locke, Leibniz was a rationalist: he believed that concepts and knowledge originate primarily in our capacity to reason. He rejected Locke’s ‘blank slate’ account of the mind and argued for the existence of innate ideas. These are ideas that we have or develop independently of our sense experiences. …


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The history of philosophy is a centuries-long conversation. Contemporaneous philosophers integrate and respond to each other’s views as well as those that came before. I like to imagine they’re all up in some Platonic heaven continuing the conversation in person.

John Locke was born eighteen years after Rene Descartes died. If Locke were to have a conversation with Descartes in Plato’s heaven, he might say something like this:

“Descartes, my friend; you say that all knowledge originates in our thinking, that we can know something only because we are able to identify that thing’s concept in thought. But you haven’t dug deep enough, for where do our concepts originate? Where do our so-called ‘intuitions of the mind’ come from? …


On epistemology, rationalism, and justified true belief

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Photo by Daniel Frank on Unsplash

Imagine this:

Sam is in the kitchen about to wash dishes. Before starting, Sam places the wedding ring next to the sink. The doorbell rings and Sam leaves the kitchen to see who’s at the door. While absent from the kitchen, a thief opens the window directly above the sink, reaches in, and steals the ring, replacing it with a duplicate that looks and feels exactly like the original. Sam comes back in the kitchen, finishes the dishes, and puts the ring on. Sam believes it’s his/her ring.

But does Sam know it’s her/his ring?

Students tend to give different answers when presented with this thought-experiment. Interestingly, it’s been shown that the gender of the protagonist can influence our intuitions, which is why I made their gender ambiguous. …


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I used to live next to a small duck pond. Sometimes I would stroll around the pond and see if I could get a duck to eat a piece of bread out of my hand. Usually, one of them would timidly walk up to my hand and snatch the bread. The duck performed an action. Back at the college where I work, a colleague down the hall would sometimes offer me a chocolate candy. He would offer it up and I would timidly walk up and take it. I performed an action.

Is there any difference between my action and the duck’s? Most would say that the duck acted out of instinct and I acted out of free-will. Despite my sweet tooth, I freely chose to eat the chocolate. According to many philosophers, my action was free because I could have acted otherwise. This is what it means for an action to be free. I could have chosen differently, if, say, I was trying to cut my sugar intake. The duck didn’t really have a choice since it was driven by nature. The duck lacks free-will. Indeed, one of the things that makes people special and distinguishes us from all — or most — other animals is that we have free-will. …


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Photo by David Matos

Mindfulness meditation is becoming increasingly popular in the west. There’s a good reason for this since it can make us happier, relieve stress and help us focus. Mindfulness meditation often involves simply sitting and maintaining an awareness of your breathing. After a while, you gain a heightened awareness of the content of your inner world: thoughts, beliefs, emotions, moods, sensations, the feeling of embodiment, and everything else. The philosophy of mind examines this content and, perhaps more importantly, the ‘container’ of this content: the mind

Even though it’s difficult to pin down exactly what a mind is, we all have them. We also have bodies composed of bones, organs, muscle, a nervous system, and so on. This is all material, physical stuff. But our minds aren’t material stuff. We can observe that someone feels pain by looking at his facial expression or brain activity. We can observe his behavior. However, we can’t experience his pain. We cannot observe it from his point of view as we can material things. Regarding his pain, all we can observe is his behavior and neural activity. We can only observe minds from the first person. …


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Photo by Marcelo Leal

The prominent medical ethics research institute, The Hastings Center, has released a document outlining an ethical framework for healthcare institutions to aid them in managing care in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic. I believe this discussion would benefit all healthcare professionals by outlining the ethical terrain that lies ahead.

The document — titled ‘Ethical Framework for Health Care Institutions and Guidelines for Institutional Ethics Services Responding to the Novel Coronavirus Pandemic’ — discusses three points: ethical challenges healthcare providers may face, ethical duties of healthcare leaders, and examples of institutional policies. I will address the first two points.

Ethical Challenges

The overarching ethical challenge for healthcare institutions posed by the outbreak is balancing normal patient-centered care with public health interests. Patient-centered care during normal circumstances stresses accommodating individual patient interests and values. However, due to the nature of a pandemic and the resulting scarcity of medical resources, healthcare professionals will need to shift toward an ethics driven by public interest. As the authors write, the public-centered approach “aims to promote the health of the population by minimizing morbidity and mortality through the prudent use of resources and strategies.” This requires curtailing the patient-centered approach to medical decision-making, especially regarding resource allocation. …


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Image by Tobias Bjerknes

In an earlier post, I discussed how Plato’s Allegory of the Cave can shed light on his metaphysics. For Plato, something’s essence is composed of form and matter. Plato has difficulty explaining how form and matter relate to each other since each inhabits a distinct, separate dimension of reality. Aristotle’s naturalistic metaphysics may be able to evade this problem faced by his teacher.

Aristotle was Plato’s student and attended Plato’s academy well into adulthood. After Plato died, Aristotle became the tutor of Alexander the Great. Aristotle had wide-ranging interests including biology, physics, and zoology. At that time, philosophy included natural science. There wasn’t the distinction between metaphysics and science we see today. …

About

Ryan Hubbard, PhD

A philosophy professor who works in practical ethics. @ryankhubbard

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