Tuesday, 28 April 2015

The Epistemology of Religious Testimony

Boudewijn de Bruin
My name is Boudewijn de Bruin and I am Professor of Financial Ethics in the faculties of Economics and Business, and Philosophy, at the University of Groningen. 

In this post I will summarize a paper I wrote for a symposium organized at the occasion of the publication of Herman Philipse’s book God in the Age of Science in which he takes issue with Richard Swinburne’s attempts to provide evidence showing that the existence of God is highly probable.

Most evidence Swinburne marshals is publicly available. But some is only private: evidence gained through religious experience. Ideally Swinburne would not need private evidence, but, as he admits, all publicly available evidence is not by itself sufficiently strong for the unbeliever to be moved to adopt the belief that God exists.

The unbeliever needs religious experience, then, but it cannot be his or her own lest Swinburne only persuades those that have had an experience of God themselves. Swinburne therefore resorts to invoking testimonial evidence of ‘of-God experiences’, as he calls them.

Monday, 27 April 2015

Bipolar Whispers on Writing

This post is part of our series of monthly posts by experts-by-experience. This month, Bipolar Whispers tells us about the importance of writing. This is how she introduces herself: "33 year old Mental Health blogger who is married to the love of her life and together they have 3 wonderful children and 2 fur babies. She has Bipolar disorder, PTSD, OCD, and Anxiety. Lover of butterflies. Survivor."

They say that many people with Bipolar Disorder are creative. I always wondered if this were true. Within myself I could never see my creativity. I could not play music, I was not crafty. In retrospect I can see my creative outlet has always been writing. My love and knack for writing began around the time I experienced my first true mania, although I never knew it was mania at the time. Retrospect is a very powerful thing.

I never knew I could write, or rather, I never knew I wrote well. I went to appointment after appointment with my psychiatrist or my psychologist for therapy and they always praised my writing. I just thought they were being polite.

You see, I found it hard to talk during these appointments. So we decided I would write between sessions and during my sessions I would read what I wrote and they could ask questions if need be. Reading what I wrote made it much easier to express myself to them because it was like I was disconnected from the situation, reading someone else’s story.

I continued writing through my teens and into my adulthood. I have written pages and pages, books on top of books worth of my thoughts.

I never shared my writing with anyone except various therapists or psychiatrists through the years. It has only been recently, during a manic phase that I found the courage to begin Bipolar Whispers and began putting my writing out there.

Thursday, 23 April 2015

The Phenomenological Bases of the Therapy of Severe Mental Disorders

Giovanni Stanghellini
A course entitled The Phenomenological Bases of the Therapy of Severe Mental Disorders took place on April 9-11 in Florence. Organized by the EPA (European Psychiatric Association) Section of Philosophy and Psychiatry, the course accommodated 30 practitioners and philosophers from all over Europe to offer an advanced practical workshop on Phenomenological Psychotherapy.

The participants learned therapeutic skills from such professionals as Giovanni Stanghellini, Thomas Fuchs, Andrea Fiorillo, Andrea Raballo and Borut Skodlar.

The first day started with an intensive but fascinating introduction by the course’s director Giovanni Stanghellini, who took his audience through the theoretical underpinnings of the phenomenological model, with philosophical references to Husserl, Heidegger and Levinas. Stanghellini argued that a human being ought to be seen and understood as a dialogue with Alterity. It is exactly in a dialogue, where the true essence of language lies and where subjectivity is displaced. Mental illness, argued Stanghellini, ought to be understood as the crisis of this dialogue.

Psychopathology happens when a human being becomes unable to maintain his/her dialogue with Alterity. The dialogue, in turn, was defined as driven by the subject’s will to reveal something new about the subject to the interlocutor. It functions like Husserl’s phenomenological reduction: it is the means by which it becomes possible for things to show themselves to a subject. In this light, a phenomenon which is regarded as a symptom, has a very special meaning: it is the Truth in a person that manifests itself.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Adaptive Rationality and Individual Differences

My name is Andrea Polonioli and I am a PhD student in Philosophy at the University of Edinburgh. My primary research interests concern the philosophy of biological and cognitive sciences. The unifying theme of my research is the investigation of rational behavior and cognition.
Andrea Polonioli

Scholars in the field of judgement and decision-making have described a variety of heuristics that reasoners seem to deploy. Yet little attention had been paid to individual differences in the use of these heuristics, until Stanovich and his co-workers conducted a stream of individual differences studies involving reasoning and decision-making (e.g. Stanovich and West 1998; Stanovich 1999; and Stanovich and West, 2011).

They found a remarkable heterogeneity in the use of reasoning strategies and that a sizeable number of people do not deploy heuristics. But they also discovered important correlations between the use of heuristics and measures of cognitive ability. In one of my current projects I explore the implications of research on individual differences for the so-called 'rationality debate'.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

The Nature of Representation: Interview with Robert Williams

Robbie Williams
In this post I interview Robert Williams, Professor of Theoretical Philosophy at the University of Leeds. Robert is currently leading a project on the Nature of Representation (NatRep), funded by a European Research Council Starting Grant (2012-2017). The aim is to explore the metaphysics and epistemology of mental and linguistic representation. The team includes Jennifer Carr and Rachel Goodman as post-doctoral research fellows, and Nick Tasker and Will Gamester as PhD students.

LB: What was your main motivation in choosing to investigate the nature of representation? How did you become interested in the topic?

RW: I’ve been fascinated since days in graduate school with underdetermination/indeterminacy arguments in the theory of representation. To illustrate with one I’m thinking about right now. Start from the following picture of the metaphysical grounds of belief and desire content: the content of an agent’s mental states is whatever it has to be, to rationalize the agent’s actions (the outputs) in the light of evidence (the inputs). An indeterminacy argument seeks to show that the constraints just mentioned can be met, not just by sensible-seeming interpretations, but by wild and crazy ones. The one I’m looking at right now, for example, constructs interpretations that have the agent thinking of themselves living in a universe that is void except in the local perceivable and manipulable environment of the agent (the agent’s “bubble”).

It’s fun to think up these crazy interpretations and show that they meet specified constraints. But what’s philosophically interesting is the lessons we draw. The most natural one—and my first instinct—is to draw the lesson that our account of the metaphysical grounds of content is incomplete, that we’re missing some `saving constraint’ that knocks out the crazy interpretations. And then the goal is to pin down what that missing ingredient could be. An alternative is to accept the arguments and revise our views about how determinate mental or linguistic content is. This strategy too raises interesting questions in the theory of representation—if we want to pinpoint what’s wrong with accepting indeterminacy of content, in my view we’ll need to say something about the theoretical role of representation, which pinpoints what we’d lose by embracing deviant interpretations. A final alternative—more popular historically than nowadays, perhaps—is to preserve the account of the grounds of representation but avoid indeterminacy, by rejecting presuppositions of the argument about the metaphysical character of the world that is being represented.

My graduate work focused on indeterminacy arguments and possible saving constraints—working in particular within the kind of `interpretationist’ metaphysical grounds for content David Lewis proposed (one element of which involves the rationalization story about mental content described above), which in certain parts of the philosophy literature has become almost orthodoxy, though rarely examined or defended in detail. The moral I drew from that work 10 years ago was largely negative—that living with indeterminacy wasn’t a real option because it’d prevent content from doing the work it needed to; and that the saving constraints that people (including Lewis himself) proposed didn’t work.