Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Humean Nature symposium in RiFP

Thanks to my book symposium contributors, Humean Nature hasn't fallen dead-born from the press! Carla Bagnoli presents classic rationalist objections, Nevia Dolcini explores my account of moral judgment, Kengo Miyazono offers a detailed discussion of how vividness affects desire, and Alex King maps out the options for a Humean account of reasoning. It was wonderful to have people engage so deeply with my work.

The symposium appears in a new Italian open-access journal that brings together philosophical and psychological research, the Rivista internazionale di Filosofia e Psicologia. All the symposium contributions are in English, so you don't have to learn Italian to read them. You can see them by clicking the 'pdf' buttons on the right-hand side of the page. 

Monday, May 7, 2018

Introducing foof: if or only if

I hereby introduce an unimportant new logical connective: if or only if!

 It's like if and only if, but with a disjunction of material conditionals instead of a conjunction. Since we already have iff, I suggest calling it "foof", for iF Or Only iF. So "p foof q" is true if p→q or q→p.

Those of you who are quick with logic will notice the thing that makes foof so unimportant. No matter what the truth-values of p and q are, p foof q is true! If either p or q is false, at least one material conditional is trivially true because of a false antecedent. If neither is false, both conditionals are true.

Since foof claims always come out true, I don't think anything significant depends on them. But maybe someone can show me otherwise, or make a cool point about foof with kinds of logic I'm not good at. Then I'll be happy to give up my claim about the unimportance of foof. Maybe foof is useful for conditionals other than the material conditional, since some of them won't guarantee trivial truth.

Even with the material conditional, I suppose you might like foof if you have a weird and intense love of truth. Whenever you see a claim of the form "p foof q", you know it's true! The other connectives you learned in introductory logic could never guarantee you that.

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Radcliffe on Humean Nature in AJP

Elizabeth Radcliffe refers to Humean Nature as “Neil Sinhababu’s brilliant book” and says that it “manages to rebut a remarkable number of critics.” (The book note is behind the AJP paywall.) She describes the structure and strategy of the book just as I conceived of it, and as I hoped readers would understand it. She concludes:

“Humean Nature is written in a clear and personable style. Its ingenious arguments will prove invaluable for scholars and students and—given the range of literature that it covers—for those simply seeking an overview of the current state of discussion in action theory.”

The Humean psychological story is broader and more interesting than people have thought over the past couple decades. I wanted to tell that story in a clear and engaging way. It didn’t occur to me that I was writing a good overview at the time, but I see how my pursuit of other goals might’ve had that result.

It’s very fulfilling to have an eminent Hume scholar tell me that Humean Nature is what I hoped it would be, and maybe even more.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Oprah for Democratic Primary Interviewer / Moderator!

People are talking about an Oprah Winfrey presidential candidacy after her speech at the Golden Globes. It’s probably a good time to say some general things about X-for-President conversations as they relate to 2020.

1. The Democratic field is going to be packed. I’d guess that at least half of the following are going to offer themselves as options, at least in the early stages: Kirsten Gillibrand, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders. There will be many others too. I remember Jeff Merkley telling me that every Republican Senator looks at Trump and thinks: “I could do so much better!” and every Democratic Senator thinks “I could totally beat him!”

We’re going to have way more choices than we did in 2016 when everybody got out of Hillary’s way, except for Bernie who probably was just running to bring left-wing issues into the conversation… until a movement formed up behind him. So if 2016 has led you to think we'll have a shortage of options, we’ll have a lot more options in 2020, and it’s worth looking into them.

2. Given that we’re going to have a densely packed field, I’m just going to let candidates bid for my support by coming out with innovative policy proposals. This primary needs to be policy-dense, with candidates pledging support for things like Medicare for All, defense cuts, opening up immigration, marijuana legalization, and foreign policy ideas that prevent the collapse of the world into feuding illiberal ethnic nationalist regimes. I expect to vote for a candidate with a good package of all that stuff, plus good favorability ratings when early 2020 rolls around and the polling isn’t all name-recognition effects.

There’s a decent chance of unified Democratic control of Congress in 2020, and we need to hit the ground running and pass big stuff fast. If Oprah comes out with the best policy ideas on stuff like this, I could see voting for her, but since she hasn’t been in the business of doing that before it’s a bit hard to expect.

3. Oprah is uniquely well-positioned to make a big impact on the 2020 race, as a power broker rather than a candidate. She could start a show sometime in 2019 where she interviews the leading primary candidates, asks them questions, and presses them to sign onto her favored policies. This is broadly like the role that Al Gore played in the 2008 primary – instead of running, he let the candidates compete for his support with good climate-change policies. Everybody came out in favor of cap-and-trade, and there was enough of a party consensus behind the policy that Nancy Pelosi got it through the House. If not for the filibuster, we’d have passed major climate change legislation in 2010.

Oprah’s media profile gives her the ability to galvanize support behind a favored policy in a much bigger way than Gore did. Moderating Democratic primary debates would also be a natural extension of her core skills. If I were a person Oprah listened to, I'd say: do that!