Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Ongoing research

While I'm spending the next ten years or so paying off my student loans, I plan to do a lot of independent research in philosophy, mostly exploring the following general areas or questions:

*Semantic anti-realism (i.e., anti-realism about truth due to concerns about unavoidable constraints on meaning in a natural language) and whether a version of it can be adapted or supplemented to form a sort of axiological anti-realism (i.e., anti-realism about goodness due to concerns about unavoidable constraints on practices in a community). The idea here is not to reject or ignore the realist conceptions, but to explore the merits of anti-realist conceptions (and maybe find a place for both). -- I don't like most of the realist/anti-realist debate because I find it distastefully antagonistic.

*Empirical psychological analysis of thought experiments, focusing especially on when subjects of the experiment think it is acceptable to initiate an action vs. thinking it is inappropriate to initiate an action without investigating the circumstances more ("How did I come to know that pushing this fat guy onto the trolley tracks would stop the trolley?" or "How did I end up in a state where I'm really sure Jim is going to successfully kill those Indians?"). -- I especially want to explore the status of states of information (assuming they exist) in which the appropriate thing to do is to always refrain from acting and instead always confirm that one has correctly identified one's circumstances, no matter how many times one has already double-checked the evidence. (Presumably, this would include at least some of the thought experiments in the literature that seem the most contrived.)

*Minimalism about value. -- I'd like to identify the most basic platitudes about value (following the general strategy of Wright's work on truth) and determine what, if anything interesting, follows from them.

*Socratic intellectualism and the Socratic paradoxes. -- I'm not very interested in studies about Socrates himself or about Plato's work, but rather in contemporary explorations of the views generally identified by these terms.

*William Wollaston. -- I'd like to explore whether Wollaston's idea of moral wrong as the presentation of falsehoods can be resuscitated from Hume's criticism (or altered in response to it). NOTE: I haven't yet read Wollaston himself.

*Consequentialism and which (if any) of the objections raised against it can be dissolved by adopting a form of intellectualism as its value theory. -- pace Rawls, of course.

*Wittgenstein's ethics. -- I know little about this, but given what I do know I can't help but feel it is relevant to my other concerns here.

Mostly, I just hope to encourage (even if in a very slight way) philosophers working in one or more of these specialties to explore any connections their work might have with the other areas here in which they haven't done substantial research. As I think is obvious from this list, I'm looking to explore the connections between the-thing-to-do (in the moral sense, or in some other normative sense) and understanding or some similar notion--whatever we choose to call it--on the presumption that we have it and generally can recognize it.

If you'd like to recommend any work in any of these diverse fields that I might find useful, please do so. Also, if you'd like to recommend any philosophers or areas of specialized research that might be importantly relevant to the others I've listed here, please do so.


  1. I think you would find Alice Crary's book Beyond Moral Judgment (Harvard University Press, 2007) very interesting. It brings together Wittgenstein, philosophy of language, and ethics (among other things), and has been praised highly by Stanley Cavell (among others).

  2. I just had a look at your review of this on metapsychology and I think you're right. I'll be looking into this one. Thanks!