Thursday, 29 September 2016

The Good Life

Michael Bishop is a philosopher at Florida State University. He wrote, with J.D. Trout, Epistemology and the Psychology ofHuman Judgment (Oxford, 2005). And more recently hes written The Good Life: Unifying the Philosophy and Psychologyof Well-Being (Oxford 2015). The goal in both books is the same: Build a theory that makes sense of what both philosophers and psychologists have to say about normative matters. Bishop is currently working on a number of projects, including one that aims to show how we might improve how we teach critical thinking. You can find more of his writings at his blog.

Theres an old yarn about six people groping in the dark to study an elephant: The tusk was thought a spear, the side a wall, the trunk a snake, the leg a tree, the ear a fan, and the tail a rope. A happy life is like the elephant. It consists of many varied parts. And we philosophers, groping in the dark, hold fast to our little corner of the elephant, confident that weve got the whole thing figured out.

Imagine Felicity: She has a life thats valuable for her. Shes happy, she has well-being. (I will use these expressions interchangeably.) Now, take a few moments and come up with three facts about Felicity that would make you confident she's happy. Did you do it? You didn't, did you? Don't worry. Because when you do do it, you're going to find that every fact you've come up with is some combination of Felicitys:

     positive feelings (pleasure, joy, contentment, satisfaction);
     positive attitudes (optimism, joie de vivre, curiosity);
     positive traits (determination, courage, friendliness); or
     successes (academic or professional accomplishment, good health, strong relationships).

Philosophers have a tendency to be like the person who thinks the elephant is a spear. Hedonists explain Felicitys well-being in terms of her positive feelings (and lack of negative feelings). Aristotelians explain it in terms of her virtues (positive traits) and perhaps enough luck so that her virtues are rewarded. Desire (or preference satisfaction) theorists explain her well-being in terms of her successes, understood as Felicity (suitably informed) getting what she wants.

Objective list theorists do a bit better. They identify happy lives with having a reasonable number of happy life parts (or prerequisites for those parts). But just as an elephant isnt a random assortment of elephant parts, a happy life isnt a random assortment of happy life parts. They have a shape and a structure that objective list theories neglect.

In The Good Life, I try to describe the whole elephant. I start by assuming that positive psychology - the psychology of happy lives - studies happy lives. And then I argue that positive psychology studies enduring causal networks of positive feelings, attitudes, traits, and accomplishments. (You can find more on this reading of positive psychology here.) When youre happy, your good feelings, attitudes and traits work together to contribute to your successes; and those successes in turn feed back into your good feelings, attitudes and traits. In the book, I called these self-maintaining feeling-attitude-trait-success clusters positive causal networks or PCNs. But on the internet, I can throw off the shackles of cautious academic discourse and call them what they really are: positive grooves. You have a happy life - youre in a state of well-being - when youre in a positive groove.

Tuesday, 27 September 2016

Explanatory Judgment, Moral Offense and Value-Free Science

My name is Matteo Colombo. I am an Assistant Professor in the Tilburg Center for Logic, Ethics and Philosophy of Science, and in the Department of Philosophy at Tilburg University in The Netherlands. My work is mostly in the philosophy of the cognitive sciences, in the philosophy of science, and in moral psychology. I am interested in questions about evidence and explanation, and in how resources from the sciences can help address philosophical puzzles about mind and moral behaviour. I pursue these interests by combining experimental and non-experimental methods.

In a recent experiment study, Leandra Bucher, Yoel Inbar, and I investigated how moral value can bias explanatory judgement. Our general goal was to assess the empirical adequacy of a popular view in the philosophy of science, which contends that scientific reasoning is objective to the extent that the appraisal of scientific hypotheses is not influenced by moral, political, or economic values, but only by the available evidence. In particular, Lea, Yoel, and I wanted to understand how the prior credibility of scientific hypotheses, their perceived moral offensiveness, and the motivation to be accurate in judging their explanatory power affect one’s assessment of a scientific report.

We asked our participants to express their opinions on the quality of a series of scientific reports. Imagine, for example, that you are asked to evaluate a report that provides evidence that being raised by a same-sex couple increases the chances of suffering from certain developmental disorders. This hypothesis does not apparently carry any moral value and can be objectively tested. Although you may find it morally offensive, you are sure that your personal values will not influence your appraisal of the quality of the report. You are also confident that the fact that you have a monetary incentive to properly assess how the evidence bears on the hypothesis will not make any difference in your considered judgement. But will these convictions of yours be borne out in practice? Will your personal values play no significant role in your assessment of the evidence?