Thursday, 5 March 2015

Epistemic and Practical Normativity: Explanatory Connections

Logo of the Normativity Project
On 16th January the Department of Philosophy at the University of Southampton hosted a one day workshop on Epistemic and Practical Normativity: Explanatory Connections. The workshop was the second in a series of three workshops, which are being held as part of the Normativity: Epistemic and Practical project at Southampton. 

The first speaker was Asbjørn Steglich-Petersen (Aarhus), giving a paper entitled ‘Epistemic Normativity: Absolute or Instrumental?’ Steglich-Petersen argued that some features of epistemic assessment which have been thought to support an absolutist conception of epistemic rationality (and speak against an instrumentalist conception), actually suggest a problem of normative insignificance for the absolutist. He offered a positive proposal of epistemic normativity which made use of aim-restricted instrumental assessment, the idea was that epistemic assessment could be a version of assessment of this kind. This means that the correctness, say, of a belief that p, does not on its own permit or require believing that p. For one to be permitted or required to believe that p, one would need a reason to pursue the aim which governs the activity of believing. Epistemic reasons were argued to be hypothetical ones, and whether they are taken up depends on whether one has other reasons to take up the aim of belief. On Steglich-Petersen's view epistemic assessments alone do not have normative significance.

Tuesday, 3 March 2015

The Virtual Bodily Self

This is the fifth in our series of posts on the papers published in a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on the Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions. Here Aikaterini Fotopoulou summarises her paper 'The Virtual Bodily Self: Mentalisation of the Body as Revealed in Anosognosia for Hemiplegia'. 

How do humans know what is real? As though the philosophical issues raised by this question were not complex enough, my paper tries to tackle an even more convoluted question; how do humans know what is real about their own body? A simple answer would be that they have an evolutionary prescribed perceptual system that allows their brain to combine and ‘read out’ various signals about the body deriving from (a) within the body (e.g. heart beats), (b) outside the body (e.g. light), and (c) the body’s boundary, the skin (e.g. pressure).

This answer however turns out to be simplistic both philosophically and scientifically. Thankfully for the reader, the paper does not aim to reveal all the sources of trouble in this answer. Instead, I focus on one neuropsychiatric syndrome, unawareness of the body following right hemisphere stroke (anosognosia) and one computational theory of brain functions, the free energy principle to discuss only certain facets of a potential answer to the aforementioned grand question. First, this syndrome and theory are useful for reminding us that we may not be so good at knowing what is real about our own body.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

Eating Disorders Awareness Week

During Eating Disorders Awareness Week, we take the opportunity to list some useful resources for people who want to know more about what it is like to live with an eating disorder and what can be done to help.

B-eat, the UK charity for eating disorders, has organised an event for tomorrow, called "Sock it to Eating Disorders": you can wear silly socks for a day! B-eat has also just released a report of the costs of eating disorders to the UK economy, which you can read about and download here.

The Mental Health Foundation website and the website of Mind, the mental health charity, are a good source of information about eating disorders in general. The MHF features the story of Casey that illustrates the difficulties of people facing eating disorders in receiving adequate support. Mind features the story of Hope, who writes about her time in an adolescent psychiatric unit.

There are several blogs dealing with eating disorders from different perspectives you may want to visit. Here is a small sample: Eating Disorders Blogs, Does Every Woman Has an Eating Disorder?, Laura's Soap Box, Make Peace with Food.

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Fakers and Fanatics Revisited: A Response to Anna

Neil Van Leeuwen
I would like to thank Anna for her insightful response to my latest blog. I’m delighted to respond to her response.

The dialectic so far is this.

I maintain that psychology and epistemology should posit a cognitive attitude I call religious credence. This attitude is not the same as ordinary, mundane factual belief. But it is also not the same as fictional imagining, the attitude that underlies pretend play and cognition of fiction.

I hold this position for a number of reasons. But the motivation I gave in my blog is that most ordinary religious 'believers' are not full-blown fanatics (like Joan of Arc), nor are they fakers, who merely pretend to be religiously committed. Since ordinary religious people are in-between (that is a rough way of speaking), we should posit an attitude that captures their underlying mental state; so I posit religious credence. (See the full paper for a more thorough set of empirical and theoretical motivations.)

Anna responds that she agrees that ordinary religious 'believers' do not have factual belief attitudes toward their religious doctrines, as she’s argued before. But she does not agree that an additional attitude of religious credence needs to be posited. Rather, she thinks imaginings of various sorts can do the explanatory work needed to capture the behaviours of ordinary religious people.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Remembering, Imagining, False Memories, and Personal Memories

This is the fourth in our series of posts on the papers published in a special issue of Consciousness and Cognition on the Costs and Benefits of Imperfect Cognitions. Here Catherine Loveday summarises her paper, co-written with Martin Conway, 'Remembering, Imagining, False Memories and Personal Memories'. 

Ogwo David Emenike once wrote, 'Our imagination goes ahead of us, bringing our yesterday's imaginings into present realities'. This beautifully encapsulates the extraordinary capacity and need that humans have for mental time travel but, more than that, it illustrates the inextricable relationship between memory and imagination. When we remember we imagine and when we imagine we use our memory. Both are mental constructions based on past experience and there is significant evidence to suggest that the same brain structures are involved when we remember and when we imagine.

The building blocks for both remembering and imagining are semantic memory – the knowledge we have of our world – and episodic memory – sights, sounds, smells, thoughts, and feelings that we have experienced. These are used to create a conscious experience that takes us out of the present moment and into another place that may be anywhere in the future or the past. So for example, I can easily call to mind the last time that I met a particular friend but by using much of the same knowledge and experience I can also imagine what a future encounter with the same friend might be like.