Some of you may be interested in "Belief States in Criminal Law," a forthcoming article I recently posted on SSRN. It's an updated version of the paper I presented at last year's X-Phi conference at University of Buffalo. Many thanks to those I met there and elsewhere for your insightful comments on this paper and related projects. More comments are always welcome! Here is the abstract:
Belief-state ascription—determining what someone “knew,” “believed,” was “aware of,” etc.—is central to many areas of law. In criminal law, the distinction between knowledge and recklessness, and the use of broad jury instructions concerning other belief states, presupposes a common and stable understanding of what those belief-state terms mean. But a wealth of empirical work at the intersection of philosophy and psychology—falling under the banner of “Experimental Epistemology”—reveals how laypeople’s understandings of mens rea concepts differ systematically from what scholars, courts, and perhaps legislators, have assumed.
As implemented, mens rea concepts are much more context-dependent and normatively evaluative than the conventional wisdom suggests, even assuming that jurors are following jury instructions to the letter. As a result, there is less difference between knowledge and recklessness than is typically assumed; jurors consistently “over”-ascribe knowledge to criminal defendants; and concepts like “belief,” “awareness,” and “conscious disregard” mean different things in different contexts, resulting in mens rea findings systematically responsive to aspects of the case traditionally considered irrelevant to the meaning of those terms.
This Article provides the first systematic account of the factors driving jurors’ ascriptions of the specific belief states criminal law invokes. After surveying mens rea jury instructions, introducing the Experimental Epistemology literature to the legal literature on mens rea, and examining the implications of that literature for criminal law, this Article considers ways to begin bridging the surprisingly large gap between mens rea theory and practice.
Some experimental philosophers might be interested in "Chomsky and Moral Philosophy," a new paper I recently posted on SSRN. It will appear in the second edition of The Cambridge Companion to Chomsky (J. McGilvray, ed), which is due out later this year. Here is the abstract:
Every great philosopher has important things to say about moral philosophy. Chomsky is no exception. Chomsky’s remarks on this topic, however, are not systematic. Instead, they consist mainly of brief and occasional asides. Although often provocative, they tend to come across as digressions from his central focus on linguistics and related disciplines, such as epistemology, philosophy of language, and philosophy of mind. Perhaps as a result, moral philosophers have paid relatively little attention to Chomsky over the past sixty years.
This neglect is unfortunate. Chomsky’s insights into the nature and origin of human morality are fundamental and penetrating. They address deep philosophical problems that have shaped the aims of moral philosophy for centuries. They also reinforce many of the lessons Chomsky has taught about the nature and origins of human language. Elaborating upon these themes, this chapter begins by recounting two of Chomsky’s most extensive discussions of moral philosophy, each of which draws attention to the fact that, like linguistic knowledge, moral knowledge is an example of Plato’s problem: a complex mental competence characterized by a profound poverty of the stimulus. The chapter then places these remarks in a broader context by providing a brief discussion of mentalist, modular, and nativist theories of moral cognition from Plato to the present. Finally, the chapter responds to one prominent criticism of Chomsky’s naturalistic approach to moral philosophy, that of the late philosopher, Bernard Williams. I argue that Williams’ “Wittgensteinian” skepticism about moral rules is no more convincing than a similar skepticism about grammatical rules in the context of linguistic theory.
I think that some readers of Experimental Philosophy, especially those who work on Gettier cases, might be interested in this paper (even though it is not an experimental paper).
Abstract: In this paper, I argue that, as far as Gettier cases are concerned, appearances are deceiving. That is, Gettier cases merely appear to be cases of epistemic failure (i.e., failing to know that p) but are in fact cases of semantic failure (i.e., failing to refer to x). Gettier cases are cases of reference failure because the candidates for knowledge in these cases contain ambiguous designators. If this is correct, then we may simply be mistaking semantic facts for epistemic facts when we consider Gettier cases. This, in turn, is a good reason not to assign much, if any, evidential weight to Gettier intuitions (i.e., that S doesn’t know that p in a Gettier case).
If a result fails to replicate, then it is not a finding but rather an unlucky aberration. This post isn’t about replication failure (or replication-failure failure). It’s about something I call “unfinding.”
The following combination is not an uncommon occurrence:
(1) a result (“R”) replicates and is a finding, but (2) different stimuli or procedures produce a different result (“R*”).
In many cases, the combination of (1) and (2) provides evidence for a more detailed or precise interpretation of R. Of course, in any particular case, people might reasonably disagree about whether the added detail constitutes a significant advance in our understanding of the underlying issues. Still, I think that there should be a presumption in favor of welcoming and encouraging work aiming to add detail.
Unfinding goes beyond merely reinterpreting R. Instead, unfinding occurs when (1) and (2) support a more radical conclusion, namely:
(3) R is uninformative (relative to the primary research question).
Uninformative findings can be set aside. They do not constrain future research on the topic, except insofar as it should not repeat the mistake.
Here is a hypothetical example illustrating an unfinding. Someone hypothesizes that the concept of physical beauty is partly constituted by visual symmetry. In a series of studies, manipulating visual symmetry strongly affects beauty judgments (R). This is taken to support the hypothesis. Subsequent research reveals that the symmetry manipulation was systematically confounded with changes in hue or saturation, and once those factors are controlled for, symmetry does not affect beauty judgments (R*). In this case, I think it’s fair to say that the original result is not genuinely informative relative to the primary research question. As an indication of this, if subsequent research on beauty judgments failed to find an effect of visual symmetry, the authors would not be obliged to explain the apparent inconsistency with the original result.
Unfinding is a possibility for just about any result, and we should be open to it in principle. Nevertheless, I do not think that there should be a presumption in favor of welcoming or encouraging work that aims at unfinding.
Should we focus exclusively on the topics that dominated the philosophical study of mind in the 20th Century (dualism, functionalism, etc.)? Or should we also be teaching students about the kinds of questions that have dominated more recent work in the philosophical study of mind -- questions that are more directly about how people's minds actually work?
Speaking just for myself, I feel like I have a pretty good sense of how one would go about teaching a course that focused exclusively on traditional 20th Century topics but that I don't have a very good sense of how one would teach a course that also dealt with the sort of thing philosophers mostly do these days.
Accordingly, I was delighted to see that Carolyn Dicey Jennings has a new post asking for ideas about precisely this question.
[Comments closed here to keep all of the discussion on Carolyn's post.]
We would like to invite you to an online experiment on moral decisions. In the experiment, you will be asked to judge about several cases which option the agent in the scenario should choose. You can enter the experiment via the following link:
We especially encourage the participation of people with expertise in philosophy and/or ethics. At the end of the study, every participant can register for a price draw to win a copy of Daniel Kahneman’s book “Thinking: Fast and slow”.
If you have any further questions regarding our experiment, please feel free to contact Alex Wiegmann, Department of Psychology, University of Goettingen (Alex.Wiegmann@psych.uni-goettingen.de) or Joachim Horvath, Department of Philosophy, University of Cologne (email@example.com).
Helen de Cruz, Senior Lecturer (Associate Professor) in philosophy at Oxford Brooks University in England. De Cruz holds a PhD in both philosophy (2011, University of Groningen) and archaeology and art sciences (2007, Free University Brussels), and her main areas of specialization are philosophy of cognitive science and philosophy of religion. De Cruz is co-editor (with Ryan Nichols) of Advances in Religion, Cognitive Science, and Experimental Philosophy (2016, Bloomsbury). She has also written on issues within epistemology, aesthetics, philosophy of science, and metaphilosophy.
We invite submissions for paper presentations on any topic pertaining to experimental philosophy. Submissions can report new experimental results or contribute to broader philosophical or methodological debates over existing or possible results. Both XPhi-friendly and XPhi-critical papers are welcomed. We prefer to receive complete papers, but we will also accept extended abstracts. Participants who give paper presentations will be given 50 minute sessions within which to present their research and to respond to questions. Speakers are encouraged to allow at least 15 min. for Q&A. Speakers are also strongly encouraged to talk through their papers rather than read them verbatim.
We invite submissions for poster presentations on any topic pertaining to experimental philosophy. For poster submissions, please submit an extended abstract. A poster session and hors d’oeuvres reception will take place on the evening of Fri., Sept. 9.
New Ideas Workshop
This year’s conference will feature a half-day workshop for researchers who are new to experimental philosophy and are interested in learning more about how to further develop an idea they may have for a research project. Presenters will pitch their ideas to other workshop participants and conference attendees and will receive feedback and advice on experimental design, the construction of research materials, and statistical analysis. Anyone interested in participating in the workshop should submit a detailed description of their project idea.
The conference registration fee will be $60 for faculty and $30 for graduate students, post-docs, and independent scholars.
Organizers: Robert Kelly and James Beebe (Experimental Epistemology Research Group, University at Buffalo). The event is sponsored by the Marvin Farber Memorial Fund, the George Hourani Memorial Fund, the Peter Hare Memorial Fund, and the William Baumer Memorial Fund at the Dept. of Philosophy at the University at Buffalo (SUNY).
A week from now, NYU will be hosting a workshop on issues at the intersection of experimental philosophy and the history of philosophy. Basically, the workshop will be about how figures from various periods in the history of philosophy thought about the kinds of issues raised by contemporary experimental philosophy.
Judging from the program, it should be pretty awesome.