Philosophy Paper of the Day

From the invaluable PhilPapers, I discovered a very intriguing paper, “Feedback from Moral Philosophy to Cognitive Science“, by Regina Rini that is forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology.

Here is the abstract:

A popular argument form uses general theories of cognitive architecture to motivate conclusions about the nature of moral cognition. This paper highlights the possibility for modus tollens reversal of this argument form. If theories of cognitive architecture generate predictions for moral cognition, then tests of moral thinking provide feedback to cognitive science. In certain circumstances, philosophers’ introspective attention to their own moral deliberations can provide unique data for these tests. Recognizing the possibility for this sort of feedback helps to illuminate a deep continuity between the disciplines.

Our project mainly aims to use cognitive science to illuminate philosophical aesthetics. However, Rini’s paper suggests that the influence can go the other way as well — in our case, it would be from philosophical aesthetics to aesthetic psychology. The core idea, applied to aesthetics instead of ethics, is that aestheticians’ introspective reports of their own thought processes constitute a unique and underexplored kind of data that can help us to better understand aesthetic psychology. In turn, the better understanding of aesthetic psychology can then help us to settle ongoing debates in cognitive architecture.

One assumption in Rini’s proposal that I remain skeptical of is the idea that philosophers can be expert introspectors with respect to narrow and specific hypotheses (p. 6-8 in the onlinefirst version). Nevertheless, Rini’s paper has convinced me that, given the potential payoff, it is not a possibility that can be safely ignored.


3 thoughts on “Philosophy Paper of the Day”

  1. I’m very glad to see that you found the paper interesting! If you have some time and would like to tell me about why you doubt philosophers’ introspective capacities on this point, I’d be happy to discuss it. My views on this topic are still shifting, so I’m sure it would be helpful to think it through again.

  2. Hello Regina,

    After reading the first two pages, I understood that your words contain too much true. Of course, science and philosophy share infinite connections, although most scientists pay little attention to basic philosophical concepts before starting investigations, particularly if they feel a little pressure to obtain “miracles” with limited budget. I think that you are touching a very deep and infected wound in the body of science. Please, take care, because it may hurt to someone! I also see an asynchrony between cognitive science and moral philosophy, because philosophers are learning faster than scientists, and nothing suggest that there will be a change in this situation. Therefore, your intention of keeping an open discussion on the continuity of disciplines is more than justified, and it is of the broadest for all fields of knowledge.

    Concerning to the first example (Computationalism and Connectionism), I think that scientists are wrong when they argue that a human brain may function like a computer (with software). The reason is simple: abstraction and encapsulation would prevent them to know the true. If a brain would function like a computer, many Classes of this hypothetical software system would prevent external devices from obtaining information from the brain, as they would do with most of the remaining Classes. This is a very basic principle of computer science which is surely far from discovering the programing language of the human brain. I actually believe that the human brain function by rules, associations, and much more. I think that the physical magnitude INFORMATION was born freer than we can imagine. Both, Computationalism and Connectionism look like more as simple steps of information storage than as a mechanism of action. Probably, learning processes takes place by some kind of algorithm, to facilitate interactions between different parts of the brain, but after that, creativity, feeling, intuition, and love have nothing to do with computers and softwares.

    When I started reading your article, I could not imagine how much brave you are. Your intention to investigate “how moral philosophers think” immobilized my brain as if I were with you in the border of a precipice, but I continue reading, because I was sure that you were walking in the right pathway. My soul returns to my body, when I read on the introspective method, because I did not know about this very interesting field of Psychology. Your proposal that: “philosophers have an additional role to play as participants in research” is a smart example of the art of doubting, which is the core of every scince. It was a delicious pleasure traveling with you “From Moral Philosophy to Mental Architecture”. In my opinion, professionals like you, are those that need the contemporary world to create a new age of transparency and devotion to find the true.

    Best regards,

    Fidel Micó

  3. Like Fidel, I really like the paper.

    My skepticism about philosophers’ introspection is not that original, I think. Just the standard Nisbett and Wilson line, plus some version of confirmation bias — in this case, philosophers’ *reports* of their introspections might be rather laden with their own theories.

    Maybe here is a more conciliatory of putting it. I agree with you that theoretically, philosophers’ introspective reports can constitute good data. But I think practically, this is very hard — and certainly never achieved in casual contexts. We’d have to do the kind of stuff that Hurlburt did with Schwitzgebel, at least, to put the Titchenerian point into practice.

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