Examples that Distort


“I worry that when most of the authors we read are white and male, some aspects of the subject matter get distorted, and it’s hard to tell where the essential stuff ends and the accidental stuff begins.”

That’s Ray Briggs, professor of philosophy at Stanford University, in a recent interview at What Is It Like To Be A Philosophy? Discussing their graduate education at MIT in the 2000’s, Briggs says “I now see that the canon we worked with was limited in important ways—very white, very male, very focused on one particular set of concerns.”

Interview Clifford Sosis (Coastal Carolina) responds: “So I think for a lot of physicists, it might be weird to say the canon of physics is ‘limited in important ways—very white, very male, very focused on one particular set of concerns.’ But in certain ways, philosophy seems different: demographic factors can have an impact on what we focus on and can have an influence on what we think is plausible in ethics or political philosophy. Do you think these demographic factors have less of an effect on certain areas of philosophy: probability, logic, things like that?”

Briggs replies:

That’s a really good question about the canon! I love abstract topics like probability and logic partly because when you study those topics, it seems to matter less what kind of body you live in or what social position you occupy. I definitely don’t think that there’s anything essentially white or male about logic or metaphysics or language… On the other hand, I worry that when most of the authors we read are white and male, some aspects of the subject matter get distorted, and it’s hard to tell where the essential stuff ends and the accidental stuff begins. Maybe examples will help?…

Recently I’ve been thinking about Newcomb problems in decision theory, and I’m bothered by some of the Newcomblike puzzles described in the literature. For instance, there’s one puzzle, from Richard Jeffrey, about how King David wants to summon Bathsheba (presumably to have sex with her), but he hesitates because she’s another man’s wife. And that’s a really terrible and misogynistic thing to use casually as a math example! Most people either avoid that example or sanitize it, because the culture has moved on since 1965 or so, but it still makes me nervous. Another favorite example rests on the contrary-to-fact hypothesis that smoking does not cause lung cancer, but is instead the result of a common cause, which was actually defended by the statistician Ronald Fisher, who was a smoker himself, and in the pay of the tobacco companies. I think these seedy origins are irrelevant to the structure of Newcomb problems, but why don’t we have better real-life examples? Would better real-life examples call for the same formalism? That’s a question that I’m actually trying to answer right now; I don’t think I can figure it out without doing the legwork.

Another example is the recent change in focus in metaphysics from the metaphysics of the fundamental to the metaphysics of social kinds. Both of these topics are worth studying, but the metaphysics of the fundamental has been more thoroughly investigated, and I think that’s bound up with a false image of social kinds as beneath notice. (None of this is original to me; I’m just repeating things I’ve heard from feminist philosophers like Sally Haslanger, Elizabeth Barnes, and Kristie Dotson.) On the one hand, there’s a sense in which the problems with these examples are incidental: all the social power relationships in the world can’t change which sentences are theorems of a given logical system, or alter the formal relationships between different versions of decision theory, or determine the correct physical theory for describing the small things that make up the universe. On the other hand, there’s a sense in which these problems could distort philosophers’ attention in ways that really end up mattering, by causing them to focus on some problems and applications for philosophical theories while ignoring others. I don’t think it’s so easy to gauge the intent of the distortion until you’ve actually examined your assumptions thoroughly, and I don’t feel like I’m far enough along in that process to have a reliable guess.

It would be useful to hear about other examples that “distort philosophers’ attention in ways that really end up mattering”. Readers?

The whole interview is here.

Michael Mapes, “Dutch Female Specimen”

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Nate S
Nate S
3 years ago

I think there’s a lot of disappointment over the 50 years spent on the Gettier problem. Would that be the kind of distraction they have in mind?Report

Josh
Josh
Reply to  Nate S
3 years ago

I’ve always been surprised at the vitriol directed at that debate. An ancient theory of knowledge was found wanting, and we expect the patch to be immediately obvious? Also, one of the best (recent) papers on the topic was written by a woman (L. Zagzebski).Report

Andrew Burrell
Andrew Burrell
Reply to  Josh
3 years ago

I’m surprised by your surprise. Any layman of any worldly experience knows that the line between likely and known is drawn not once for all, but according to the requirements of the discussion on hand; the ability of philosophers to make careers out of pretending otherwise is scandalous.

Also surprising is the ability to hold simultaneously the beliefs that Zagzebski is on to something important here, and that all that’s needed is a patch on the old theory.

[Also, since “Elusive Knowledge” settles the matter, the considerable merits of Zagzebski’s paper do not challenge Healy’s findings on the relative philosophical importance of David K. Lewis and women.]Report

Joshua
Joshua
Reply to  Andrew Burrell
3 years ago

a) The Gettier problem isn’t about the line between likely and known.

b) I didn’t say all that’s needed is a patch on the old theory – the problem is deep, and not easily patched.

c) Elusive knowledge is surely a great paper, but even it’s author does not take it to settle the matter. Also, according to this ‘settling of the matter’ knowledge isn’t context dependent.Report

Andrew Burrell
Andrew Burrell
Reply to  Joshua
3 years ago

The Gettier problem isn’t about the line between likely and known.

True, for sufficiently small values of “about”; but beside the point. Understanding that the line is a fiction is a sufficient prophylactic against taking the Gettier industry and its problems seriously.

I didn’t say all that’s needed is a patch on the old theory …

If you want to walk away from your conversational implicatures, that’s fine by me. It’s not my job to chain you to them.

… according to this ‘settling of the matter’ knowledge isn’t context dependent.

You might want to reread the bit about the Rule of Belief, or the bit about the Rule of Attention.Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Andrew Burrell
3 years ago

The hindsight bias on this one, am I right folks?Report

Andrew Burrell
Andrew Burrell
Reply to  sahpa
3 years ago

Nope.

There are the papers that make you think “Oh wow, where did that idea come from?” And there are the ones that make you think “Oh look, one of these muppets just stumbled over the obvious.”Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Josh
3 years ago

Was there really an “ancient theory of knowledge” involved here? If I squint, I can see the idea of justification in the famous passage about the statues of Daedalus, but it really looks to me much more like Nozick’s tracking idea than whatever notion of justification Gettier and others were working with.

I’ve always thought of Gettier’s refutation of justified true belief as similar to Adam Smith’s refutation of mercantilism – the theory was read into the thinkers of the past as a way for the newcomers to say they were disagreeing with them.Report

Joshua Turkewitz
Joshua Turkewitz
Reply to  Kenny Easwaran
3 years ago

Gettier’s paper is aimed at folk like Chisholm, but Plato at least seems to consider a similar theory of knowledge (what separates it from mere true belief is justification, i.e., ‘an account’) in the Theaetetus. They never settle on a agreed upon formulation of ‘an account’ – but that seems to be what following philosophers continued to work on. That is, it was assumed that knowledge is justified true belief, and the task was to spell out ‘justified.’ (hence coherentism, foundationalism, reliabilism, etc.) Gettier showed us that there was more work to be done.

Perhaps this narrative is mistaken?Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  Joshua Turkewitz
3 years ago

This narrative is basically correct. Gettier explicitly addressed himself to Ayer as well if I remember correctly and these were two of the most prominent philosophers alive. It should be said though that Gettier-style cases were brought up before Gettier. Russell for example had the stopped clock case, and there are other examples beyond 20th century analytic philosophy.Report

Cratylus
Cratylus
Reply to  Joshua Turkewitz
3 years ago

“An account” there is explanation (or something in that ballpark), not justification.Report

Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

In the area of personal identity: dealing with brain transplants (which don’t actually occur) but not pregnancy (which occurs).Report

Tom Marley
Tom Marley
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

Would you say more about how one could substitute pregnancy for brain transplants in the typical examples in the personal identity literature?Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Tom Marley
3 years ago

I am not sure that they are an exact substitute. However, it is puzzling that issues personal identity are primarily being complicated by a fantastical example rather than by a non-fantastical one. I think this is explained by a masculinist bent in accounts of personal identity (and metaphysics more generally): only non-pregnant persons are ever used as examples. The exclusive use of non-pregnant persons as examples in this area distorts the results we may see.

Pregnant persons complicate personal identity, and the numerical identity it presupposes, in a way that is AKIN TO the transplant examples.Report

Dani
Dani
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

Could you explain a little how pregnancy might complicate personal identity? Because, on the face of it, I have trouble seeing how that works unless one commits oneself to the idea of unborn fetuses as persons, which, in my experience, is a rather unpopular position among philosophers (and feminist philosophers in particular) because of its implications in debates surrounding the morality of abortion.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Dani
3 years ago

No commitment to the idea that unborn fetuses are persons is necessary. The question might just be: how many particulars are there in a pregnancy? (There’s no requirement that the particulars are of the same kind.)

Pregnancy has have implications for discussions of persistence. Merricks (1998) argued there are no criteria of identity over time based on the example of fission in unicellular organisms. I think mammalian pregnancy/reproduction complicates the picture in similar ways.

For more on this, here’s a link to a major research project in this area: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/assets/imported/transforms/content-block/UsefulDownloads_Download/E13065820B804133816196D2A525E89B/Kingma%20BUMP%20ERC_StG_2015%20B2FINAL.pdf

I don’t think in general that such questions could be answered in short form. And there are MANY attendant questions.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

If something is missing, it is philosophical issues arising from pregnancy, not the fact that people aren’t using pregnancy as an example enough. Also, I don’t see that not discussing brain transplant cases, which raise all sorts of interesting and important philosophical questions, is a step towards better discussion of pregnancy.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
3 years ago

How can philosophical issues arise from pregnancy if pregnancy is not used as an example? I wish to understand the distinction you’re pointing at.

And: I don’t think (and I don’t think I said or implied) that not discussing brain transplant “cases,” is what would lead to better discussions of pregnancy. What I mean is that discussing pregnancy would lead to more comprehensive results, as would the use of any example/counterexample in an area where it has not been used before.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

It makes sense to start with a philosophical question and then look for an example to fit it, or even to start by thinking about pregnancy and looking for philosophically interesting questions it raises. But it doesn’t make sense to start with the example you want to use and then look for a use for it.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

to Hey Nonny Mouse: But the topic of this DN post is: examples that distort. And I said I thought that brain transplant examples are examples that distort. And I more-or-less said, or at least I meant, that these examples pull the results in a certain direction.

Here’s a philosophical question pregnancy raises: what account of personal identity is available to someone whose *numerical* identity is not clear?

Or: if a person is a psychological continuity, then how did they get here?

Or: if animalism is true, and persons are irreducible (mereological) individuals, then are persons nested as a result of all being the products of pregnancy in some causal sense?

And so on. We insert counterexamples in to existing accounts all the time. Why is this different?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

There may be independent reasons not to use brain transplant cases, but whether that’s so or not seems independent of the use of pregnancy cases. As for raising philosphical issues related to pregnancy, that’s a fine idea, but not because we get to use pregnancy as an example.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

Also, note that as we raise the sorts of quetions about pregnancy that you are raising, we may well find ourselves returning to brain transplants as we try to answer them. When we ask questions like, “what account of personal identity is available to someone whose *numerical* identity is not clear?”, we’re going to have to talk about how unclear numerical identity really is. To do that, we’re likely to ask questons like “what is a person” that lead us back to brain transplant cases.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

I’d like to note that there are no brain transplant cases. These are thought experiments. The one actual brain transplant that was proposed in the global medical community did not go ahead because of ethical-legal reasons. What we would learn from an actual brain transplant remains a mystery, and it is altogether unclear if an actual brain transplant would lead to the kinds of insights that we take brain transplant thought experiments to lead to.

On the other hand, there are cases of pregnancy.

We can use the brain transplant thought experiments as examples in the context of personal identity. But not bringing another, arguably more “real” example–pregnancy–to bear on discussions of personal identity, renders the results of such discussions distorted. So it’s not that brain transplant thought experiments are inherently distorting. It’s that excluding a relevant example in any discussion is distorting. And the example of pregnancy is definitely excluded, a fact that Kingma (linked above) is attempting to change.

Furthermore, given the “realness” of pregnancy compared to the brain transplant, I don’t see any reason to privilege the use of the brain transplant as a sort of… ultimate or decisive example. I don’t see (or hear) any reason to think that brain transplants are decisive in a way that pregnancy is not. I don’t see how asking “what is a person” necessarily leads us back to brain transplant thought experiments to settle the issue. But *answering* “what is a person” in a way that doesn’t count pregnant people is unacceptable (to anyone who thinks pregnant persons are persons). And many discussions of personal identity do answer in a way that precludes pregnant persons from being persons. That is not to say that this is strictly as a result of brain transplant thought experiments. But brain transplant thought experiments, among other examples, implicitly endorse a picture of a person as non-pregnant; i.e., the “person” goes with the brain. But if the “person” goes with the brain, then the person cannot be a pregnant person.There are many ways to get around this problem, but the point is: it is a problem! And addressing this problem will result in less-distorted accounts of personal identity.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

“It makes sense to start with a philosophical question and then look for an example to fit it … But it doesn’t make sense to start with the example you want to use and then look for a use for it.”

That seems like a really strange prescription to me. I would have thought that philosophical questions usually arise out of examples, except in cases where theory has already gotten to the point where you can categorize logical space and start making up combinations of views that haven’t been held and trying to think of examples that problematize them.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

I don’t understand why it would be true that “if the “person” goes with the brain, then the person cannot be a pregnant person”. I’m not trying to be difficult, but pregnant persons have brains, right? I’m so sorry if I’m missing something obvious.Report

Ben Serber
Ben Serber
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

@JDRox

Well, you might think that one issue is that pregnant persons actually have *two* brains! At some stage of fetal development, the fetus has a brain, but there are lots of views that don’t attribute personhood to fetuses. So maybe it would be more correct to say the fetal brain is a part of the parent. But if the parent has two brains as parts of itself, and persons are their brains, then who’s the parent? Now, maybe this is a silly argument that can be dismissed fairly easily. But it’s weird and interesting enough that you’d think someone would at least go to the trouble of dismissing it.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

Hmm, I guess I was thinking that there was no confusion over which of the brains in the mother’s body was the mother’s brain, even if we grant that the fetus’s brain is part of the mother in some sense. I mean, the main actual relevant theory of personal identity that we’re talking about is the psychological continuity theory, right? That’s why the person follows the brain–because that’s where the psychological continuity is. To get any sort of pregnancy case that makes trouble for the psychological criterion, we’d have to go back to sci-fi land, right?Report

sahpa
sahpa
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

I find the responses to this comment (with which I’m 100% on board) unintentionally hilarious. Like maybe if the “canon” on personal identity weren’t such a silo, Maja wouldn’t have to patiently explain to grown-up philosophers why pregnancy (and birth!) *just might* complicate personal identity.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  sahpa
3 years ago

There’s no need to be rude or to engage in personal attacks.Report

Michel
Michel
3 years ago

In aesthetics, there are some relatively well-documented problems with relying too much on the art-historical canon (or received opinion about the canon) or on “high” art to give content to our definitions of ‘art’, to draw the boundaries between art-kinds, or to pick out what counts as “great” art. (Nochlin’s “Why have there been no great women artists?” is obviously the touchstone text.)

So, for example, you might think that theatre or music are text-based art-kinds governed by compliance to the typescript or score, and thus yielding some kind of type-ontology of those works. But closer examination of the history of those practices casts serious doubt on the idea that they are or were text-based, which might in turn affect your willingness to class them as indicated types, or whatever. Similarly, focus on the mechanical component of photography has distorted several philosophers’ accounts of the art-kind, usually by compelling them to deny that it *is* an art-kind. But doing so seriously misrepresents the photographer’s actual work, and completely ignores the widespread use of mechanical reproduction in other artistic activities, such as in printmaking, the reliance on moulding in smithing and sculpture, the use of camera obscura in painting, and the use of Jacquard punch-cards in weaving–not to mention the workshop model of production that dominated painting for centuries!Report

Animal Symbolicum
Animal Symbolicum
3 years ago

In the past year or so, there has been much interesting discussion, in these pages and elsewhere, about whether philosophy is as pluralistic and open-minded as it is often claimed to be, or about whether what we’re prepared to recognize as the best philosophy is as non-cultish and exalted-only-because of-its-argumentative-merit as it is often claimed to be. From what I’ve gathered, many of those who would like to proclaim philosophy as an open-minded pursuit of truth assume that the plurality of theories out there is evidence of open-mindedness.

One thing that’s valuable about Briggs’s comment is that it draws attention to the fact that (the content of) theories, arguments, views, or perspectives don’t exhaust one’s philosophical mindedness. Along with all of these are what we might call /sensibilities/. Philosophical sensibilities are strange insofar as they can be so obvious in their fashion, so clearly felt or registered, and yet nigh impossible to articulate in any fruitful or informative way. One place they are on display, as Briggs points out, is in the choice and description of examples. But that’s not the only place.

Philosophical sensibilities can draw together philosophers with otherwise divergent theories, reading lists, or interests. This is a wonderful thing. But the situation can also turn stifling. A specific, narrow range of sensibilities might suffuse an entire literature, with the consequence that there’s a plurality of theories but a one-party system of sensibilities. And insofar as sensibilities can shape what one finds important, how one assigns weight to evidence, how one describes real or imagined states of affairs, whether one is comfortable risking importance for the sake of cleverness or subtlety for the sake of boldness, and a thousand other things, a specific sensibility can come to dominate a conversation and work to exclude, through no ill will on the sake of its participants, other theories, views, arguments, etc.

One final note. Since philosophical sensibilities are often absorbed or picked up in graduate school, and, again, since sensibilities shape the conversations that constitute our discipline, there might be reason to despair at the situation we find ourselves in nowadays, where — if you’ll allow the hyperbolic shorthand — a handful of departments dominate the journals and the jobs.Report

Grad Student4
Grad Student4
3 years ago

This is a sincere, open-minded question, not to be regarded as an argument or solidified skepticism: What is the aim of pointing to the whiteness. maleness (or insert favorite descriptor) of examples? This brings to mind when someone objects to an example because of a potential equivocation or fallacious suggestion evinced by that example, whereby the author says “well, you need to show my work trades on that (equivocation, fallacious suggestion, etc.) in my argument. If I don’t at all, then it’s pretty irrelevant.”

I get that we want to stop people from being offensive—I endorse that goal—but the discussion about examples here seems to go further to suggest that these examples make arguments somehow systemically worse in terms of validity/truth.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Grad Student4
3 years ago

Not to beat a dead horse, but: a fallacious suggestion evinced by the example of brain transplant thought experiments in the context of personal identity is that pregnant persons are not persons or that persons cannot be pregnant (see above). I think that this has something to do with the maleness of the group that tends to discuss personal identity, because the members of that group tend not to be pregnant on account of their maleness, which creates a situation where the pregnancy example/counterexample does not tend to occur to them. The purpose served by pointing to maleness then is to explain the probable reason that certain examples are used while others are not.

This doesn’t mean any particular group’s arguments fail on any logical grounds (logical validity/truth). But it means that the group’s conclusions are distorted because of the type of “evidence” used. Just imagine the result if in every argument that a brain transplant thought experiment was used, an example of a pregnant person was ALSO used. Or forget pregnancy. Imagine the result if in every argument that a brain transplant thought experiment was used, an example of conjoined twins or polycephaly was ALSO used. (And maybe then we’d explain *that* omission by reference to able-bodiedness, not maleness/whiteness.)Report

Grad Student4
Grad Student4
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

Thanks for your thoughtful reply.

First, I’m not sure how thinking about brain transplants immediately suggests “well, it follows that pregnant persons, of course, are not persons.” That seems like a total leap, unless you assume the truth of your conclusion a priori (that they should be talking about pregnant persons instead). Since one can’t make that assumption in justifying the critique of the brain transplants’ usage, I’m left a bit confused.

Second, say that a reader would justifiably say “well, I wonder what the author would think about pregnant persons!” Sounds like a good question. But we still haven’t arrived at a distorted conclusion, unless a plausible (or the correct?) view on pregnant persons is shown to be in conflict with the conclusions of the author. If it isn’t, then I still don’t see why it isn’t open to the author to say “that sounds like a different paper I could write, but it seems irrelevant for my argument here.”

Third, I am now completely confused as to what we mean by distorted, since you claim something can be “distorted” despite avoiding failure on any validity or truth grounds. If what an author says is true and valid, how is it distorted?Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  Grad Student4
3 years ago

Briefly: most brain transplant thought experiments (that I’ve read) depend on the idea that the “person” goes with the brain. But a pregnant “person” cannot go with the brain. (In which case we can say that maybe there’s co-location or maybe take a constitutionalist view of persons, or maybe that the person doesn’t go with the brain and something else happens, or that we’re mixing up the types of properties we’re trading in, whatever. The point is then we have some more stuff to work out, and if we don’t work it out that is a deficiency in our work.)

The meaning of “distorted”: there are many logically valid arguments about personal identity which conflict. Taken singularly, the arguments may not in themselves be distorted. Taken together, the overall picture we paint of personal identity with our mosaic of conflicting arguments, is incoherent. We aim for coherence by arguing about the truth of the premises in these valid arguments. The falsity of a premise can be shown with an example/counterexample. So the more examples/counterexamples we use, the closer we get to an accurate OVERALL picture, because the result of any singular argument will have been forced to deal with any counterexamples already. It’s the overall picture that gets distorted when certain examples/counterexamples are not included.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  Maja Sidzinska
3 years ago

Why would it be true that “a pregnant “person” cannot go with the brain”?Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  JDRox
3 years ago

??

Because a pregnant person has, by definition, a uterus, placenta, and fetus, and having a uterus, placenta, and fetus is not a property that brains can have.

You could say that it’s the animal, or it’s the body, that has a uterus, placenta, and fetus, not the *person*, but then you’d have to work out some version of the mind-body problem that accounts for the fact that fetal brains develop inside of/are causally determined in part by maternal bodies, i.e. “someone else’s” bodies. And you’d have to have an explanation of where persons come from, if not from pregnancy/birth.Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  JDRox
3 years ago

I don’t doubt that there are really interesting metaphysical issues associated with pregnancy but I’m still unsure why you claim that a pregnant person cannot go with the brain. Even if I accept that a pregnant person by definition has a uterus and so forth, and that a brain cannot have a uterus, your claim doesn’t seem to follow. Freckled people by definition have freckles and brains cannot have freckles, but it doesn’t follow that a freckled person cannot go with the brain. If the brain is transplanted into a body without freckles then the person would perhaps no longer be freckled, and so being freckled would not be an essential property of the person, but these strike me as plausible claims about the property of being freckled, and I think that similarly plausible claims could be made about the property of being pregnant. But maybe there’s just a miscommunication here? I’m no expert so if there is a paper published that explains and defends your remark, I apologize for not being aware of it.Report

Maja Sidzinska
Reply to  JDRox
3 years ago

Point taken, and I don’t think it’s a miscommunication. But I don’t think that similarly plausible claims can be made about the property of being pregnant and the property of being freckled. I think being freckled and being pregnant are fundamentally different types of properties, seeing as the latter, unlike the former, leads to the ontological reproduction of persons, which has consequences for the number of particulars under discussion. That is why IT must be brought to bear on accounts of identity rather than JUST the reverse.

A relevant question is: is pregnancy a relational or non-relational property? Either way you answer it, strange metaphysical conclusions follow. If you say it’s relational, then there are (at least) two particulars that constitute the pregnant person; so then do both particulars get transplanted when the brain gets transplanted? If you say it’s non-relational, then from whence persons (whatever you take them to be)? How do they get here?

There is really very little published on this, and it really needs sustained attention for I cannot do justice to the questions in short form. I will link Kingma’s work again: https://www.southampton.ac.uk/assets/imported/transforms/content-block/UsefulDownloads_Download/E13065820B804133816196D2A525E89B/Kingma%20BUMP%20ERC_StG_2015%20B2FINAL.pdf

And that is all I have to say about that.Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  JDRox
3 years ago

If you’re arguing against the view that human persons *are* human brains, then I get the counterexample: some human persons are pregnant, but no human brains are pregnant. However, I don’t think we need pregnancy to generate such counterexamples: human persons run, eat, mate, are overweight, are freckled, etc., but human brains don’t do those things or have those properties. But the view that human persons *are* human brains is not widely endorsed, right? I assumed you were objecting to the psychological continuity view of personal identity, according to which the person “follows” the brain, if the brain and body are disassociated. I do think a weakness of this sort of view is that it doesn’t take a stand on what human persons *are*, but because it doesn’t take a stand on that it’s not clear to me that pregnancy will cause any special problems for it.Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  JDRox
3 years ago

Maja Sidzinska, you say:

”Because a pregnant person has, by definition, a uterus, placenta, and fetus, and having a uterus, placenta, and fetus is not a property that brains can have.”

But a vast number of persons have two legs. But having legs is not a property brains can have (since it is not brains that have legs, but persons). So does that somehow mean that persons with legs complicate the personal identity debate?Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Grad Student4
3 years ago

It seems to me that there are some examples in which whiteness and/or maleness is very important to the philosophical response to the example, and others where it isn’t but it can be distracting to intuitions, and other where it might be entirely incidental.

I take the Solomon/Bathsheba example mentioned in the original post to be one of the second types – it seems to me that the names and discussion of the example doesn’t help anyone’s thinking about the case, but instead is likely to distract. (I think the same is true of certain types of casual violence in ethics examples – the “fat man on the bridge” example has always struck me this way, because the stipulations of the example are just so far removed from anyone’s actual experience.)

There are ways in which the third type (incidental cultural features of example) can lead to problems in the aggregate, even if they’re not issues in any particular case. The fact that discussions of personal identity mention brain transplants more than pregnancies is one example. But it can also be an issue if every example involves the sorts of problems that come up in the life of an upper-middle-class tenured faculty member in a modern industrialized democracy, rather than considering cases that are important to people with greater precarity.

I’m less sure of when and where examples of the first type arise.Report

aladygrad
aladygrad
3 years ago

The best example of an example that distorts is, to my mind, the state of nature. Nearly every depiction of it entails massively inaccurate or otherwise very flat accounts of human subjectivity, need, and desire. I can’t think of a contract theorist who has not been critiqued on those very grounds.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
3 years ago

This probably isn’t about whiteness or maleness, but one example in the literature that’s bothered me for a while is the David Lewis example of a counterfactual Sobel sequence beginning “If the USA threw all its weapons into the sea tomorrow, there would be war.” That seems geopolitically dubious!Report