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03/11/2015

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I'm not super-comfortable with the "foxes and hedgehogs" metaphor, but in its terms I see Dennett as a fox, I guess.

Huh? I'm not getting the distinction clearly enough. I would have thought Frankfurt's series of essays on identification is foxy. Wolf's Freedom within Reason? But is the idea that foxy requires a general (and original) view of responsibility that, at least implicitly, is assuming (or advancing) a wide ranging system of meta-ethical and metaphysical views. I'm not trying to be douchy and ask for necessary and sufficient conditions. I'm just not quite getting what you're asking us, Taimlier.

And if anyone is reading this, I'll also point out that Tiamleir and Pizarro have a Very Bad Wizard episode with Sam Harris. It's nearly 3 hours long (yes, you read that right.)

And if anyone cares, I lost the New Yorker caption contest (yes, you read that right.) I don't understand it.

I should have known. I didn't make a sufficiently hedgehog distinction for you. But yeah, I could have been clearer. Hedgehog views are views that try to come up with a theory of responsibility, and the theories typically come in the form of necessary and/or sufficient conditions. They don't in addition have to commit themselves explicitly to a broader metaphysical or metaethical view. Other hedgehog papers may issue challenges to those theories, but they accept the hedgehog theory-driven terms of the debate.

I see Frankfurt's 1971 paper as hedgehog paper because it attempts to develop a condition-based theory. Most the papers in that tradition play on those terms. Strawson's account--I wouldn't call it a theory--doesn't do that, to the frustration of many subsequent commentators. And Watson in the Harris paper doesn't either. The subtitle "Variations on a Strawsonian Theme" is a perfect fox subtitle.

Does that make more sense? And sorry about the New Yorker contest. Now you know how the Seahawks feel.

All of Smilanski's work is fox like.

I think the field is dominated by hedgehogs because it is easier to get a hedgehog paper published. It's easier to defend a statement, if the statement says very little. Also, focus on a small domain allows you to become an expert in that domain - it's harder to be an expert in everything.

I remember Joe Campbell giving me advice on publishing: pick a narrow, precise thesis and stick to that. Any deviation from your one, small objective is going to hurt your chances of getting published.

Both types of articles have their virtues and vices. Fox work is mind opening. But it suffers from a lack of precision. And that lack of precision can put off a lot of people (esp. hedgehogs) - it can also prevent foxes from seeing critical holes in their own logic.

Foxes routinely miss the forest for the trees, and waste a lot of paper and ink arguing distinctions that are too subtle to matter to anyone. Arguing about different shades of definitions of "moral responsibility" is like this.

Yeah Kip, I think Smilansky is a good example, except when he's arguing for hard determinism. Weskags, for some reason I don't detect the fox spirit in Dennett, maybe because he's so focused on the compatibility question. I could be wrong. Also, why aren't you comfortable?

Two other hedgehog features. If you focus on the compatibility question, you're being a hedgehog. If you see moral responsibility as all or nothing, you're probably a hedgehog. (Although Scanlon and John in certain moods may be exceptions.)

I'm having a bit of a hard time understanding the distinction as well but perhaps it's precisely the lack of strict definitions for the two categories that makes you foxy as well! (Just joking) I see how P.F. Strawson is a fox. And I take it that you are asking why there are not more Strawson's around. But how many Strawson's do we need?! Plus, I take it that many foxes will see the traditional free will debate as misguided or useless to begin with, hence they move on to other things. So maybe the reason there are less foxes around is that they have decided to go hunt where there are no hedgehogs.

Instead of asking where are the foxes, perhaps we should ask "what did the fox say?" (See the link below for the answer.)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jofNR_WkoCE

I guess I'm not clear. It seemed clear last week. Ok Gregg, if you get the Strawson's a fox, then you get the distinction to some degree. But he's not the only one. Now as to "how many Strawsons do we need?!" I'd say we can use as many as we can get! We can definitely use more than one to avoid getting locked into a debate with artificially narrow boundaries.

And I don't see any reason for foxes to move on to other things, other than the reason Kip gave: it's harder to publish a fox paper. But that's not a good reason to hunker down rather than explore new territory, right? Are you suggesting that we've exhausted all the interesting dimensions of the topic? Really? Do you think that about other areas of ethics? Should the punishment debate be entirely focused on utilitarian vs. retributive theories?

I'm not bashing hedgehogs, really, but I'm surprised that there's no love at all for foxes.

Sorry Tamler, I was trying to be funny. I don't think foxes should move on to other things--I have much love for foxes. It may be, though, that it's hard for some foxes to see how they fit into the current contours of the debate. And it may be even harder for hedgehogs to see where foxes fit in and how their positions line up. Combined, these factors may be discurring for some budding foxes.

Sorry Tamler, I was trying to be funny. I don't think foxes should move on to other things--I have much love for foxes. It may be, though, that it's hard for some foxes to see how they fit into the current contours of the debate. And it may be even harder for hedgehogs to see where foxes fit in and how their positions line up. Combined, these factors may be discouraging for some budding foxes.

I wonder if there are less foxy books because the form of a book is just less amenable to being foxy. If Strawson's wonderful paper was stretched into a book, I suspect I would think he, at some point, was simply beginning to ramble. When I read a book I have usually read papers by the author and am interested to see how she has come to work out her thoughts in more detail.

Perhaps one foxy book is Jean Hampton and Jeffrie Murphy's *Forgiveness and Mercy* (though perhaps that is cheating since it is more of a collection of a papers than a monograph).

One of the foxiest papers I have ever read in our area is Michael Stocker's 'Desiring the Bad: An Essay in Moral Psychology'

Follow up question: Can you have a fox who is skeptical of moral responsibility or are you restricting foxes to those you embrace the reactive attitudes?

Could Patrick Double be a fox or is he too hedgehog-like?

Gregg, sorry, apparently aspiring foxes can beoversensitive. MR skeptics can be foxes, although it would have to be for reasons other than their commitment to incompatibilism (I think). Do you mean Richard Double? I think Richard Double has a lot of fox in him yeah.

Chris, thanks. That's just what I was looking for. I know another Stocker essay that's very foxy. I'll check out this one. And I agree about Forgiveness and Mercy.

Yes, I meant Richard Double.

Hey Tamler--so to get a better understanding of the fox v. hedgehog distinction (and perhaps give a bit of cheap promotion to my own work), would you consider my upcoming book a foxy work inasmuch as it seeks to: a) undermine a particular kind of moral responsibility via arguments against free will and arguments for moral nativism; b) explain how scientific insights recommend a more pragmatic ethical perspective based on self-interest (as well as how self-interest is best pursued); and c)argue that contemporary science has certain socio-political implications?

Neil Levy is a fox, without a doubt. And double on Double.

Tamler,

Could one characteristic of fox-like work (though not a defining feature) be that it takes as its target some aspect of our responsibility-related practices or associated notions, instead of big-picture responsibility theory? At least so long as it isn't merely spinning out the implications of a particular theory.

If so, then one place to look would be at work that targets such things: work on forgiveness, moral anger, the ethics of blame, etc.

Also, I wonder whether one reason Strawson seems so foxy is that he only wrote the one thing. If "forced" to contribute multiple pieces to a single topic, should we expect most (all?) philosophers to tend toward hedgehogging?

"Could one characteristic of fox-like work (though not a defining feature) be that it takes as its target some aspect of our responsibility-related practices or associated notions, instead of big-picture responsibility theory? At least so long as it isn't merely spinning out the implications of a particular theory."

Yes Matt, that's exactly right, what I was trying to get across in the original post. And yes, the ethics of forgiveness, revenge, gratitude, apology--all of that is usually foxy unless its role is just to form part of a larger theory. You have some fox papers.

I've lost confidence in my ability to express this distinction clearly. And obviously it's a spectrum, a matter of degree. But much as I like Stephen and Neil's work, they don't strike me as foxes. Both strike me as having broader, more systematic ambitions. You know I like your book Stephen, but isn't that right?

Last shot at offering an example, this time from outside the free will literature. Susan Wolf's "Moral Saints" is a prototypical fox paper and concludes with a gentle rebuke of hedgehogs.

Deep down, I knew I was foxy! Thanks, Tiaimilieir.

Thanks Tamler, that helps clarify it. The aims of my book are broader that what you ascribe to foxy works. I was thrown by the original Berlin quote that, "The fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one big thing really well," which I took to mean that a foxy work tends to explore many subjects.

Can I be a badger? A honey badger? I reject your false dualism of foxes and hedgehogs.

You know who complains about "false dualisms"? hedgehogs. Defensive hedgehogs. Also foxes.

But if you really want to be a honey badger, I'm OK with that.

I am pretty sure the title of this (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4r7wHMg5Yjg) video should have been: Manuel Vargas.

Isaiah Berlin wrote an essay in 1953 (see
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hedgehog_and_the_Fox) echoing the ancient point of Greek poet Archilochus: “The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing." Berlin later wrote "I never meant it very seriously. I meant it as a kind of enjoyable intellectual game, but it was taken seriously."

People say the same thing about there being fox and hedgehog science (see http://www.creatingtechnology.org/papers/fox.htm). Is anything learned in making such distinctions?

A distinction that makes more sense to me in science is made between 'conquistador' and 'settler' science. Conquistadors open whole new domains of inquiry, typically with a global or visionary view, plant their flag and then on to other new big domains. Settlers come in and work in some already discovered valley, spending an entire career mapping out one little stream. Both are paths to success, and certainly both are necessary for a field to advance and thrive. In science there are more settlers than conquistadors.

Hello, Peter, Eddy and others. As always, all of this is very interesting stuff. On that note, I wanted to pass on to you guys a link I just came across on a new study. Peter, you in particular will likely find this quite interesting!

Is it possible. Can even WORMS have FREE WILL?


http://newswire.rockefeller.edu/2015/03/12/analysis-of-worm-neurons-suggest-how-a-single-stimulus-can-trigger-different-responses/

Jeff--thanks for that link--extremely interesting!

What I wonder is if this kind of study lends support to constrained randomness in neuronal function as an adaptive factor favored over more focused behavior even if the latter has high survival value. Neuronal structures that are highly reliable in food-finding are also slaves (as it were) to the appropriate stimulation, and subject to environmental factors that might leave the organism vulnerable to changes that lead to extinction (a food source is uniformly contaminated by a new microbe mutation or some such). Some randomness in vital neuronal function may then give such structures a chance to avoid such a fate: they are not inexorably drawn to deadly changes in the environment. It seems that such randomness--though it must be constrained I should think--might be a real advantage in these circumstances, and thus selected for.

Again thanks.

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