Schwitzgebel Thoughts

Philosopher Eric Schwitzgebel asks good questions

I’m interested in the moral behavior of ethics professors — and why, in particular, it doesn’t appear to be any better than that of non-ethicists of similar social background. One possibility is that philosophical moral reflection is behaviorally inert. In conversation, I’ve found that philosophers are often quick to endorse that idea.   Maybe I haven’t done a very good job of articulating what I find unattractive in that view. Let me phrase my concern as a dilemma: Is philosophical reflection about ethics different in this respect from everyday moral deliberation about what to do?

If no, then the view being espoused is dark indeed: Moral deliberation, in general, is behaviorally inert. When we think morally about what we are obliged to do, the resulting judgments must either simply justify what we were going to do anyway, or if they don’t match our prior inclinations they must be cast aside as we go ahead and act contrary to them.

He’s found relevant data here:

The majority of respondents expressed the view that ethicists do not, on average, behave better than non-ethicists.  While ethicists tended to avoid saying either that ethicists in general (Version I) or individual arbitrarily selected ethicists (Version II) behave worse than non-ethicists, non-ethicists expressed that pessimistic view about as often as they expressed the view that ethicists behave better.

and here:

Study 1 found that contemporary (post-1959) ethics books were actually 25% more likely to be missing than non-ethics books.  When the list was reduced to the relatively obscure books most likely to be borrowed exclusively by professional ethicists, ethics books were almost 50% more likely to be missing.  Study 2 found that classic (pre-1900) ethics books were more than twice as likely to be missing as other classic philosophy books.

Other thoughtful observations here: 

In the 1940’s and 1950’s, many people in the United States appear to have thought they dreamed in black and white. For example, Middleton (1942) found 70.7% of college sophomores reported "rarely" or "never" seeing colors in their dreams. The present student replicated Middleton’s questionnaire and found that students in 2001 reported a significantly greater rate of colored dreaming than the earlier sample, with only 17.7% saying that they "rarely" or "never" see colors in their dreams. Assuming that dreams themselves have not changed over this time period, it appears that one or the other (or both) groups of students must be profoundly mistaken about a basic feature of their dream experiences.

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  • g

    Some unsystematic thoughts:

    There might be a difference between moral reflection on specific questions (“should I have an affair with my secretary?”) and moral reflection on general principles (“is it wrong to break a promise if the person you made it to isn’t affected and doesn’t find out?”). Most people do a lot more of the former. Philosophers, at least in their professional capacity, probably do somewhat more of the latter.

    It’s often considered a *good thing* if reflection on general principles doesn’t lead to any change in your actual moral position on specific issues. If you discover that a certain set of ethical principles leads to the conclusion that torturing babies is a good thing, then a likely response is to reject those principles.

    I’ve long thought that when thinking about ethics (in either way, but especially the general principles) a lot more rationalizing than reasoning usually happens.

    The point of studying ethics isn’t (generally) to make oneself more moral.

    Expecting professional ethicists to be better than average at returning books to the library is a bit like expecting physicists who study mechanics to be better than average at ball games, or expecting evolutionary biologists to have more descendants than average. (Actually, probably both of those are true, and it’s probably about equally true that evolutionary biologists are better than average at ball games and physicists have more descendants than average. But not, in any of those cases, by much.)

  • “Assuming that dreams themselves have not changed over this time period…”


  • alex

    I thought the last item there is commonly attributed to television and movies transitioning to colour?

  • stuart

    Anecdotally, ethicists are more likely to be vegetarians or vegans than other philosophers. In the past when I’ve brought this up in discussion, people are likely simply to dismiss this or find it funny that I think it relevant to the issue.

    Also, aren’t ethicists likely to have systematically different beliefs about what actually constitutes moral behaviour, so why should they appear more moral to people who know less about ethics? There are probably good reasons why they don’t describe people in their profession as more ethical than others, like not appearing to be a self-righteous ass. When I became a vegetarian I learned very quickly to pre-emptively downplay the role that ethical reasoning had played in my decision.

  • poke

    How much moral philosophy concerns practical issues? Until the recent revival of practical ethics the field has been almost completely dominated by metaethics, which doesn’t have any practical consequences (except the negative consequences of skepticism). I think the error here is in assuming philosophers are concerned with issues that have practical consequences.

  • Julian Morrison

    My friend talks about sport a lot, shouldn’t this make him fit?

  • On the color phenomenology of dreaming, I remember being a kid watching a black and white episode of the original television series Superman and pointing out the “colors” of Superman’s costume to my mom (I was lobbying her to make one for me for Halloween). She just laughed. Apparently, I actually believed I was seeing the colors.

  • Caledonian

    As Julian Morrison suggests, there is a difference between thinking and putting into practice.

    Given that professional philosophers seem to have been extraordinarily unproductive over the past few centuries, with most “philosophical” progress being made by non-professionals in other fields, why should we concern ourselves with what ethicists think or do not think, and do or do not do?

  • Completely unfounded hypothesis: people with ethical problems are driven into studying ethics. Those who think they already understand right and wrong feel no need to study ethics, while sociopaths have great opportunities to find new ideas. The study of ethics at most brings them up to average. The bad numbers for ethicists represent a different underlying population: the people who are drawn to study ethics versus the general population. We would expect books on ethics to be stolen more often if they are primarily of interest to people who as yet have no moral code; perhaps they might be returned after having been read, at which point another ethicist-to-be can steal them; if the book fails to convert its reader to good ethics, it will remain out of circulation, a sort of natural selection.

    I have absolutely no basis for this speculation. I was just reminded of two things. First, a great many undergraduate psychology students who seem to take up the subject in hopes of solving their emotional problems (or rationalizing that everyone is just as bad). Second, an atheist comic’s routine that included, “Thou shalt not kill. Duh.” This went on to explain that if you need a divine being (or here, a grand system) to tell you that killing people is bad, you have issues.

  • eric falkenstein

    two anecdotes: note that the abortion art hoax at Yale last week, The Yale Daily News interviews some students, and enabling by the professors, that this was a good idea. These people, students and faculty, are very smart and highly educated, but to see both sides of this issue is profoundly amoral, in my opinion.

    In my existing litigation, where an ex-employer accused me of using ‘mean-variance optimization’, among other common, vague, techniques, I sought professors to simply attest that ‘mean variance optimization’ was ‘well known’. I would pay standard expert witness rates (ie, lots, presumably more than their daily hourly rate for anything else they might do). The local professors at the University of Minnesota business school were not interested. The response was they were ‘busy’, or ‘it wasn’t their area of expertise’. Now, I am suffering from these accusations, being slowly bankrupted by the litigation expenses and my inability to work because anything I do is tainted, so it would help me a lot. It would not involve doing lots of work, I think these are pretty common tools that don’t take a lot of research to make such a statement in a deposition. It would not involve shading the truth. It would expose them to a little inconvenience, I suppose, but as they are getting paid, I figure they were most afraid of exposing themselves to liability in some way, even though expert witnesses making such statements are pretty safe, especially in this case. The indifference of people with the ability to help an individual, but choose not to because of some minute risk, is all too common, and reflect an intellectual cowardice I think is amoral. [I finally found an expert, btw].

  • I explore five possible explanations in my post ‘Does Moral Reflection Do Any Good?‘ But we may also question the premise that ethicists aren’t truly better behaved (rather than merely perceived to be no better), as per Stuart’s comment above.

    g – “It’s often considered a *good thing* if reflection on general principles doesn’t lead to any change in your actual moral position on specific issues. If you discover that a certain set of ethical principles leads to the conclusion that torturing babies is a good thing, then a likely response is to reject those principles.

    Non-sequitur. By the method of reflective equilibrium, we should want our general principles to inform our views on peripheral or unclear specific issues. That’s entirely compatible with using clear-cut specific cases to inform our general principles.

    Poke – the field has changed a lot since the first half of the 20th century. There’s now a great deal of work being done in normative and applied ethics, in addition to metaethics.

    Caledonian – are you interested in the questions of normative ethics? If so, it would seem to make sense to consider what the brightest people who spend their lives studying these questions have to say. (You might learn something! It certainly appears from your above comment that you’re not actually familiar with the work of professional philosophers. Ever heard of Parfit’s “Reasons and Persons”?) Unless you think some other group (physicists? economists? priests?) might be better placed to answer them, but then we’d require some explanation of why (the methods of) non-philosophers should be more reliable in uncovering philosophical truths.

  • Unknown

    I’m not an ethicist, so I don’t know about them. But during periods of my life when I think more about ethics, I behave more ethically, and during periods when I think less about ethics, I behave less ethically. I suspect that many other people could say the same.

  • Sister Y

    Based on my unsystematic but profuse observation of actual ethics graduate students and professors, I think Zubon has nailed it. Folks with Asperger’s and mild sociopathy are overrepresented in the professional philosophy world. I won’t speculate as to why – Zubon has an excellent hypothesis. And if this data is based on self-reporting, let’s note that perhaps philosophers are more modest than others – note Warren Quinn shooting himself in the head because he thought his work wasn’t good enough.

    I am not saying anything here against folks with Asperger’s or even mild personality disorders – that describes most of my best friends. I just think they tend to self-select into philosophy, and specifically, into ethics, and they might have a harder time than folks with normal social functioning at acting ethically.

    To really test whether ethical reflection had any effect on behavior, you’d have to test non-self-selected groups against each other, or the same group against itself before and after reflection. There’s some good work on this done by Thomas A. Pyszczynski, Sheldon Solomon, and Jeff Greenberg, though they’re primarily interested in other things.

  • Caledonian

    If so, it would seem to make sense to consider what the brightest people who spend their lives studying these questions have to say.

    I think it would be a better use of my time to consider what the brightest people who spend their lives trying to answer the questions, instead of studying them, have to say.

    It would probably do me some good to speak with cognitive psychologists, neurologists, evolutionary biologists, and computational scientists, too. They don’t address the questions directly, but have a long history of shedding light on the topics through investigation into other matters.

  • Douglas Knight

    Peter Singer became famous for saying that ethical thought really should affect people’s behavior, eg, convincing his students to become vegetarians.
    I’m not sure what conclusion to draw from this, nor do I really know if he is atypical of “applied ethics,” but at least I think he’s unusual in affecting his students.

    eric falkenstein,
    while I agree with your outrage, it seems a strange venue. No one suggests that business school faculty might be specially moral! In fact, there are studies that claim that undergraduates become less moral after choosing to study economics. You put ‘busy’ in scare quotes, but surely business school faculty, more so than other academics, are signaling a desire to be academics over money!

  • I find that Schwitzgebels characterization of the dilemma as being a bit to apocalyptic.

    “Moral deliberation, in general, is behaviorally inert. When we think morally about what we are obliged to do, the resulting judgments must either simply justify what we were going to do anyway, or if they don’t match our prior inclinations they must be cast aside as we go ahead and act contrary to them.”

    First, I think it runs into the problem common to ethics where the situation involving moral deliberation is too idealized; where the individual is conceivably actively deliberating the moral situation set before them and then acting. Everyday experience should show that this is rarely if ever the case. We need to act to fast.

    Perhaps the problem isn’t that moral deliberation is behaviorally inert, but instead that it is behaviorally paralyzing.

  • I second stuart’s point regarding vegetarianism. There seem to be quite a few more vegetarians among moral philosophers than elsewhere and almost always for ethical reasons. This is a bigger issue than library book returning which I think is a somewhat puzzling, but not very convincing result (there could be many confounding factors and few good reasons to believe it). I think modesty and holding themselves to different standards are possibilities. I would also expect non moral philosophers to be potentially biased in their reporting, either out of some kind of ‘they think their so good…’ reasoning, or just accidentally by comparing them to a raised expectation rather than to the average.

    In my experience as a moral philosopher, I’d say moral philosophers act more morally than the average academic and the average person. However, this difference is smaller than I would have predicted. Considering the external evidence as well, I’d still say they are slightly more moral on average, but that the difference is even smaller than my personal experience suggests. Obviously I’m open to accusations of bias as a member of the group in question — think what you will!

  • > Ever heard of Parfit’s “Reasons and Persons”?

    One interesting thing from parfaits “Reasons and Persons” is that while I agree with the main points – I actually formulated everything in the ‘crib notes’ without ever hearing of him, in fact as far, as I know, prior to reading any serious philosophy at all.

    Which raises the question as to whether these famous philosophers are generally inventing something important or just stating something in an eloquent way (maybe a more eloquent way than before).

    I get the impression that a lot of fields philosophy in particular (but not alone by a long way) are more about literary eloquence than logic. Of curse I’m loathe to say that there is NO progress in philosophy – that would be a rather strong claim.

    anyway my theory regarding the main point of the post was that I expect it to not have a big effect, and that even where there is a ‘theoretical effect’ that there are in a sense cycles that buffer against ethics ability to be more moral than peers, one being my proposed ‘sorting algorithm of morality’.

  • Douglas Knight

    Toby Ord:
    Could you give this evidence from personal experience? Vegetarianism is the only concrete point. (If it’s just a gestalt, then I’d be inclined to guess it in-group bias.)

  • Moral deliberation, in general, is behaviorally inert.

    This is not only a problem of moral deliberation but of deliberation in general. Examples:

    -Doctors who smoke
    -People who know better but eat the wrong things, don’t take care of their health etc…

    Why is this so? One hypothesis: thinking is easy, making actual changes is hard especially when these changes are painful and/or effortful.

    Look at your own life: how many things are there which you wanted to change but still didn’t change? How many highly intelligent people are chronic procrastinators who can’t get their shit together? How many hours did you spend on this website when there where other more important things to do?


    PS: I finally created my TypeKey account I was posting under “Roland” but without an account previously. Btw I don’t like this TypeKey thing, they want your email address and are probably going to spam you. There are sites that let you create an account without the need for an email address.

  • Stuart said:
    ‘Also, aren’t ethicists likely to have systematically different beliefs about what actually constitutes moral behaviour, so why should they appear more moral to people who know less about ethics?’

    This is fundamental. Any change in behaviour resulting from philosophical reflection will necessarily appear to others as immorality, as it will coincide less with commonly held views. The only failure on the part of the moral philosophers that this research shows is that they aren’t more ostensibly unethical.

    In my experience studying ethics leads to a greater consistency of ethical principles, which means dropping a lot that turn out to be unjustified artifacts of culture or a disgust response. For instance to most people incest is wrong even if the couple is infertile, it is consensual, and it doesn’t harm anyone. Thinking it’s fine seems to universally require a bit of ethical thought (and an obsession with ethical consistency). In even ‘worse’ cases, ethical thought leads to moral relativism and the ability to justify nihilistic behaviour. There is no reason to think studying ethics leads to a belief in more ethical constraints to behaviour.

  • Joseph Knecht

    @Douglas Knight

    The vegetarianism point is a huge one, if it’s true. Unless you’ve fundamentally changed your diet in a culture that does not support the change, you probably don’t realize how much of a sacrifice it represents.

    If that turns out to be a statistically significant difference between ethics professors and non-ethics professors (both inside and outside philosophy), I would regard that as very good evidence of a stronger sense of ethics and willingness to act ethically even at the cost of inconvenience to oneself.

    It’s certainly far better evidence than self-reported feedback, feedback from other professors, or missing library books.

    The Dunning-Kruger effect could explain why those who had systematically approached ethics would consistently regard themselves more critically than those who had not.

  • Douglas,

    As Joseph Knecht just pointed out, vegetarianism is actually a large point. Much larger than library book returning or something… The other main point I would make from experience is that moral philosophers are more willing to give money to help fight extreme poverty in the developing world. They are much less willing to do this than I would have expected, but seem to give more than average. For example, quite a few give all the proceeds of their books, I know of one who gave his large inheritance (half a million dollars, I think) and several giving 10% or more of their income.

    Also, I was thinking about my earlier suggestion that people who aren’t moral philosophers are more likely to dismiss the actions of moral philosophers out of some kind of sour grapes, and I think this is actually fairly likely. For example, I’ve seen this story about the library books a few times and people seem to like it in a ‘Huh, see those guys are just hypocrits!’ kind of way. People seem to want this to be true for a number of reasons and are thus more likely to downgrade their reports of moral philosophers’ behaviour.

    FInally, I think Stuart and Katja have an excellent point in terms of the difference in what people see as moral after studying moral philosophy. Moral philosophers are perhaps more likely to make flippant remarks about certain moral issues, after such familiarity with them, and they are more likely to think that (for instance) white lies and late library books are relatively unimportant on the moral scale (i.e. they can see that other things can be much, much more important).

  • Stealing library books is good data because we seem to have very wide agreement it is immoral. Donations to extreme poverty charities would also be good data, as agreement is somewhat strong there. But I’m reluctant to weigh that heavily until someone collects more systematic data. Vegetarianism is not very good data as there is little agreement that this is in fact more moral.

    Saying “sure philosophers are less moral on widely-agreed-to-be immoral acts but more than compensate on widely-disputed-moral-status acts” seems suspiciously special pleading to me.

    The possibility of non-random selection of who becomes philosophers seems worth considering – have students ever been randomly assigned to take an ethics course vs. some other course?

  • Robin,

    Are you serious? Obviously some actions are much worse than others. For example, killing someone so you can eat their body is considered worse than not returning a library book (which may not be theft anyway), and for many who turn to vegetarianism for ethical reasons that is the type of thing they are talking about (I don’t think so, but I admire their self-sacrifice in pursuit of what they see as moral). The fact that 99% of people would say that stealing a penny is wrong but only 30% would say that not saving lives abroad is wrong would not mean that we should count people who have stolen a penny as less ethical than those who don’t save lives abroad…

    The library data is a single and very odd data point that looks liable to be entirely cherry-picked. I would completely ignore it until further evidence accumulates, just as I’d ignore an article saying that beer is good for you after all because some weird little study found a positive effect of it in some way.

  • I should add to this that I haven’t specified an ideal way to measure ‘ethicalness’ of different professions from our position where we are not sure which actions really are ethical and how good/bad they are. I don’t know how one would do so and there would probably be different methods depending on who you are trying to convince. I just think that the method Robin mentioned is very bizarre as it seems to pay no attention to the degree to which an action is wrong.

    It also ignores the intent of the person, saying that sacrificing eating meat on the grounds that they believe it is a moral obligation does not count if there is in fact no such obligation (or if most people think there is not…). Thus it would not argue at all against moral philosophers being more prepared than average to do what they think is ethical. We would then need some good reasons to believe that moral philosophers are worse judges of what is ethical than average if we wanted to maintain that they have worse behaviour overall.

  • Douglas Knight

    Robin Hanson,
    Let us first rule out the claim that moral reflection is behaviorally inert and only later worry about the sign of the effect.

    Can you produce an example more relevant to behavior than incest? (If moral philosophers had more incest it would be an impressive example; even if they had much in the way of opportunities to demonstrate their lack of condemnation, it would be something.)

    Toby Ord,
    Vegetarianism is a good example, but you seemed to claim both to confirm that and to provide additional evidence.

    The library books study is minor, but I really doubt it is cherry-picked. I imagine it is the only relevant study. If you want to claim it is cherry picked from a literature showing a different general trend, prove it by showing that other articles exist.

    I’m not terribly impressed by the charity claims, either. I’m neither convinced that the moral philosophers are giving more than similar others nor am I convinced that their choice of charity reflects moral reflection and not just what’s in fashion among moral philosophers.

  • Julian Morrison

    I predict that vegetarianism correlates with hypocrisy as a trait, and that book-returning correlates with kindness, but neither correlates with the other.

  • I suppose it is possible that enlightened moral reflection leads to the conclusion that stealing library books may be OK. If the unexamined life is not worth living, then perhaps the unexamined book is not worth sitting on the library shelf. Putting it into the philosopher’s hands may allow it to make a bigger contribution to human knowledge than leaving it in the library, especially for the more technical and esoteric books, which we are told are even more likely to be stolen.

    On the dreams, I’m not sure what is cause and effect, but I seem to recall back then that it was commonly quoted “expert” knowledge that dreams were only in black and white. (It was also commonly stated that experts had learned that dreams lasted only a few moments, even when they seemed to go on for an hour or more.) It is possible that the population was merely reflecting what they had been told about dreams. Since our memories of dreams are vague, and in my experience our dream sensory perceptions tend to be confused and muddled, it is possible that the question of color could go either way depending on what assumptions we bring to it. People today, who have never been told anything about whether they dream in color, may just assume that they do, without having strong evidence.

  • I predict that vegetarianism correlates with hypocrisy as a trait

    Julian, I bet you $500 at equal odds that vegetarianism doesn’t correlate (positively) with hypocrisy, on a mutually agreed-upon operationalization of that concept.

  • GNZ

    Toby, it wasn’t ‘cherry picked’.
    I understand that Eric just had easy access to library data so he figured he would look at that in order to answer the question. I highly doubt he fiddled his figures and think its a bit unfair to jump to that conclusion.

  • stuart

    I don’t think it matters whether we agree about the moral content of eating meat for the example to be relevant, just that ethicists behave systematically differently in this situation and they describe it as an ethical decision.

    I don’t think Robin’s comment avoids the problem of dismissing evidence simply because he disagrees with them (of course I’m not 100% sure that they are more likely to be vegetarian, but I’m pretty confident that’ll hold up).

  • To be clear, I certainly wasn’t claiming that the book figures are fiddled. I am saying that out of all possible ways in which a group of people might be more or less ethical and in which this might be observed, there must be on the order of 1,000,000 which are as sensible as this one. Thus, when one of these million are found to have a controversial and fun result (people would not have been as interested had the reverse been found), and when there are myriad other reasonable hypotheses as to why the result was positive, there is perhaps enough evidence to start doing more experiments, but not enough that moral philosophers are expected to defend themselves, which is what appears to be happening here.

    I could also point out the following. Why isn’t the title of the paper ‘Do Ethicists Lose More Books?’. There is equal evidence for both hypotheses and presumably they are not both bizarrely correlated with being an ethicist, so there is no reason (apart from pre-existing beliefs/prejudices about ethicists) to assume the books are being stolen rather than being lost. There are many other hypotheses like these which would explain the one odd result. These studies just aren’t enough to tip our pre-existing beliefs on this matter more than 1%.

  • Of course my anecdotal evidence shouldn’t shift your belief much either. I was just offering it because I was asked for it.

  • michael vassar

    I made Zubon’s point to Aubrey De Grey years ago at Transvision as a joke and discovered that it was terribly offensive. I actually agree with Stuart. This is like finding that evolutionary biologists know less about the origin of life because they don’t even know that god was involved. Seconding Hal, on the evidence stealing books on ethics is ethically permissible or even obligatory. M-th only knows how overdue my copy of Reasons and Persons is.

    Richard: Good posts! Thanks for reminding me that I wasn’t an idiot to think that you were actually good at philosophical thinking! I certainly do think that physicists seem to be better than philosophers at doing philosophy and I have a reason, namely that the relatively impartial nature of judgment in their domain both inculcates practice in intellectual honesty and better selects for talent in doing physics, which is more strongly correlated with philosophical ability than is the ability to gain recognition in academic philosophy. I’m pretty confident that academic philosophy does actually attract people with talent and inclination for doing philosophy well, but also that it selects poorly among them and that it actively teaches bad habits of thought as well as good ones so that the optimum exposure to it is only high if one gives little credence to the whole enterprise. Economics, as a field that inculcates practice in denying credence to respectable enterprises, is thus a necessary complement for any serious student of philosophy. Alternatively, substitute continental philosophy for economics.

    Caledonian: Good response to Richard. Maybe add game theorists to your list, though they haven’t made much interesting progress lately. Also possibly add legal scholars, judges, politicians, etc.

    Robin: I second Douglas Knight’s request that we establish the existence of the effect before the sign.

    All: Let’s try to distinguish between quality of ethical judgments, where I expect ethical philosophers to far exceed the general population and to modestly but impactfully exceed a socio-economically similar population a-priori, and effort exerted in conforming to some ethical standard, where I wouldn’t expect that a-priori. Ideally, lets also distinguish between effort dedicated to conforming to ethical standards that are supported by social pressure and effort dedicated to conforming to ethical standards opposed to social pressure. Arguably, only the latter is relevant to examination of this question.

  • Caledonian

    Also possibly add legal scholars, judges, politicians, etc.

    Why in the world would I do that? Like the Bene Gesserit, those groups believe that the purpose of debate is to change or redefine the nature of truth.

    I’d be better off querying those involuntarily committed to institutions – there would be a greater chance of finding sanity there.

  • “sociopaths have great opportunities to find new ideas”. (channeling Garfield) Hey, I resemble that remark!


    “I’d be better off querying those involuntarily committed to institutions – there would be a greater chance of finding sanity there.” Caledonian, I think Richard had you pegged with this: “It certainly appears from your above comment that you’re not actually familiar with the work of professional philosophers.” Perhaps we can add the work of professional legal scholars to the list?

  • Caledonian

    That would be a biting criticism, HA, if you actually presented some accomplishments of academic philosophy.

    People keep saying that I don’t appreciate what they do, but they never offer an example of something I should be appreciative of. It sounds an awful like I’m not actually familiar with the elegant design and esoteric materials used to make the Emperor’s flashy new wardrobe.

    Because what I actually see, when I read philosophers’ books and read people claiming philosophical expertise, is that they’re dressing up nonsense with a new hat.

  • Brandon Reinhart

    “Assuming that dreams themselves have not changed over this time period, it appears that one or the other (or both) groups of students must be profoundly mistaken about a basic feature of their dream experiences.”

    That assumption might be flawed. There wasn’t any color TV in the 40s and it wasn’t common in the 50s. Perhaps exposure to color TV changed the way people considered their dreams or actually dreamed. In which case maybe the contents of their dreams did change over that period of time.

    I mention this because a few people I know say their dreams are more “vivid” and their appreciation for visual detail more refined after getting HD TVs. Could be the brain improving its ability to filter certain types of signals.


  • Me: “It certainly appears from your above comment that you’re not actually familiar with the work of professional philosophers. Ever heard of Parfit’s ‘Reasons and Persons’?

    Caledonian: “People keep saying that I don’t appreciate what they do, but they never offer an example of something I should be appreciative of.

    I retract my recommendation; books are only helpful to those who can read.

  • Caledonian

    We are not grateful for the Principia Mathematica, we are grateful for the ideas about calculus contained therein.

    What ideas are contained within ‘Reason and Persons’ that I should care about and that cannot be found elsewhere?