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Episteme Vol. XVII


"Revisiting Singer's 'Famine, Affluence, and Morality'" by Wesley Halcrow Holliday

"Bratman on Intending" by Joseph Alberts

This article is a response to Michael E. Bratman’s novel thought experiments in “Toxin, Temptation, and the Stability of Intention” and so concerns instrumental rational planning agency. The basic question is: When should an agent alter her intentions? Bratman criticizes two planning strategies, Sophistication and Resolution, which rely on too narrow planning logics: the linking principle and/or the standard view. As an alternative, Bratman introduces the No-Regret principle to meet the demands of rational planning in his more complicated examples. The author notes a problem, though: Bratman is operating under a misleading understanding of intention that violates the condition of belief consistency. Once we borrow the concept of indefeasibility from epistemology, and also introduce the notion of defeaters, we can formulate a new test for intention which deems Bratman’s argument in his Toxin case a failure.

"Hilary Putnam's Semantic Scientism: A Critique" by Gregory R. Warner

This author is puzzled by and disagrees with Putnam’s theory of meaning. In particular, the author argues that there can be a gap between scientific meaning and acceptable normal use, thereby showing the tension between Putnam’s scientism and his attention to linguistic communities. Part of the problem is Putnam’s imprecision, given that he neither argues for why we should privilege scientific classification, nor helps us draw the boundary surrounding our linguistic community. The author cites commentator Gregory McCulloch a great deal to help summarize and grasp Putnam’s project, thereby necessitating a discussion of McCulloch’s own “the understanding tracks real essence” doctrine as well as analyses of Putnam’s Twin Earth, beech/elm, “bonnet” and “robin” scenarios. Even if we are attracted to Putnam’s theses that 1) resemblance to a representation is not sufficient for representation, and 2) syntactic and phonetic similarity is not sufficient for co-extension, Putnam’s theory does not add up.

"A Logical Absurdity: Jeremy Bentham and the Auto-Icon" by Anna Brenton Brawley

Ever wonder what might be the most absurd idea to come out of the Age of Reason? This paper in the history of philosophy supplies one possibility: Jeremy Bentham’s Auto-Icon. This study places Bentham’s decision to preserve his physical body in the context of his full body of philosophical and social work, itself contextualized within the revolutionary ideas and advances of the Enlightenment. The author touches on Bentham’s philosophy, his fondness for invention and science, as well as his vehement religious and political critiques. It is argued that the Auto-Icon embodies Bentham’s desire to promote universal happiness and to set a moral precedent. The Auto-Icon is actually a logical conclusion given Bentham’s views, no matter its absurd character.

"An Analysis of Freedom and Rational Egoism in Notes From Underground" by Michael Hannon

In trying to decide between Nikolay Chernyshevsky’s rational egoism and Fyodor Dostoevsky’s expressivism, the author confronts a huge overarching question: What does it mean to be human? The discussion looks at Dostoevsky’s Underground Man, who believes that a rational utopia leaves humans without their most prized advantage: free will. The author determines that Dostoevsky’s notion of freedom is designed to negate Chernyshevsky’s, but to what extent must the Underground Man exist in a society organized so rationally? If the Underground Man need not be a product of society, then what can be the value of the unpleasant experience the Underground Man seems to offer as the alternative to rational egoism? Ultimately, since the two philosophers offer incompatible conceptions of freedom, we cannot definitely decide which to prefer. But, the author asserts, Dostoevsky still fails to justify satisfactorily his conception of human nature.

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