Associate Professor, Department of Philosophy, Lewis & Clark College

The Savanna Hypothesis

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Gordan Orians and Judith Heerwagen argue for the "Savanna Hypothesis"; i.e. our landscape preferences are innate and are the result of hominid evolution in East Africa during the Pleistocene. These preferences include:

  • Open spaces of low grasses with occasional bushes and trees
  • Presence of water in view or nearby
  • Opening in a least one direction with vantage to horizon
  • Evidence of animal life
  • Greenery including flowering and fruiting plants 

Balling and Falk (1982) did experiments putatively confirming the Savanna Hypothesis. They examined 6 age groups (8, 11, 15, 18, 35, 70+) having them look at slides of 5 different biomes (tropical rainforest, deciduous forest, coniferous forest, savanna, desert) with no animals or water present. No one preferred the rainforest or desert and 8- and 11-year olds preferred the savanna over the other two. 

Question: Do Bailling and Falk's results provide reason to believe Orians and Heerwagen's hypothesis? If not, why not? 

Theory of Mind (ToM)

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We have considered several different accounts of how we mind-read. The first view is the intentional stance articulated by Daniel Dennett. We rationalize the behavior of others regardless of whether in fact they have mental states. The second is theory theory articulated by (for example) Alison Gopnik. To mind-read, we use laws concerning inputs, mental states, and outputs to predict and explain other's (and our own) behavior. The third is simulation theory articulated by Robert Gordon and Alvin Goldman. In effect, we make-believe and make-desire the beliefs and desires of others, simulate those "offline" and then compare the outputs to other's behavior. 

 A famous professor mind-reading

A famous professor mind-reading

Question: Of these views, which do you find most plausible and why? 

Nichols' Core Moral Judgment

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 Shaun Nichols

Shaun Nichols

According to Shaun Nichol's, Core Moral Judgment involves two capacities: a concern mechanism and ability to pass the moral/conventional task. The first is affect triggered by the pleasure or pain of other's; the second is due to the first in which certain norms are understood to be general, authority-independent and serious. 

Question: After reading various sentimentalists, do you think emotion is necessary for moral judgment? Why or why? 


Frege-Geach Redux

Added on by jay odenbaugh.
 Geoffrey Sayre-McCord's "Realist" Interview

Geoffrey Sayre-McCord's "Realist" Interview

Here is a favorite moral argument of all time. 

  1. It is wrong to tell lies.
  2. If it is wrong to tell lies, it is wrong to get your little brother to tell lies.
  3. ∴ It is wrong to get your little brother to tell lies.

First, According to Gibbard, for any normative sentence we replace those predicates with N-corresponding predicates (e.g. N-required, N-optional, N-forbidden). Second, the normative content of such sentences is this: holds at <w, n> iff S_n holds at w. Thus, here is the paraphrase: 

  1. Feeling guilt and resentment for lying is N-permitted at w
  2. If feeling guilt and resentment for lying is N-permitted at w, then feeling guilt and resentment for getting little brother to lie is N-permitted at w
  3. ∴ Feeling guilt and resentment for getting little brother to lie is N-permitted at w.

An argument is Gibbard-valid iff there is no <w, n> where the premises hold and yet the conclusion. Since there is true of (1), (2), (3), we have a valid argument. 

Question: Do you think Gibbard resolves the Frege-Geach problem? Why or why not? 

Acceptance versus Being in the Grip

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 Allan Gibbard, by Steven Pyke

Allan Gibbard, by Steven Pyke

According to Allan Gibbard, to judge that x is morally wrong is to express acceptance of a system of norms which permit feeling guilt for x-ing and resentment towards those who x. He wants to distinguish between accepting a norm and being in the grip of a norm.

With regard to the former, he write, 

To accept a norm, we might say, is in part to be disposed to avoid it in unconstrained normative discussion, as a result of the workings of demands for consistency in the positions one takes in normative discussion. (74) 

Question: What then is the difference between accepting a norm and being in the grip of a norm?  Why does the distinction matter for Gibbard?

Blackburn on Frege-Geach

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

Blackburn claims he can solve Frege-Geach as follows. Here is Geach's example.

  1. Lying is wrong.
  2. If lying is wrong, then getting your little brother to lie is wrong.
  3. Therefore, getting your little brother to lie is wrong. 

Suppose there is an ideal language Eex, which has operators H!( - ) and B!( - ) that take "descriptions of things" and return attitudes. Specifically, H!( - ) returns an attitude of approval of - and B!( - ) returns an attitude of disapproval of -. Let |H!(X )| refers to a description of "approving of (X)". Using the ';' to represent a coupling of attitudes or beliefs, speakers of Eex could paraphrase conditionals like (2) as:

H!(|B!(lying) |; |B!(getting little brother to lie)|). 

Okay, we now have Blackburn's Eex paraphrase of Geach's argument: 

  1. B!(lying) 

  2. H!(|B!(lying)|; |B!(getting little brother to lie)|)

  3. B!(getting little brother to lie) 

Thus, if the conclusion was “H!(getting little brother to lie)” instead, then he would fail to have a combination of attitudes of which he himself approves. 

Question: What objections do you have to Blackburn's solution to the Frege-Geach problem?*

*Blackburn was not altogether happy with this solution. He offered another one in his paper "Attitudes and Contents."

Blackburn, Supervenience, and Mixed Worlds

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 Simon Blackburn

Simon Blackburn

Simon Blackburn claims that moral realists cannot explain "the ban on mixed worlds." Let's say that moral properties supervene on natural properties (or predicates if you like) if there can be no difference in the former without a difference in the latter. Then, we can formulate the following three claims: 

(S) □((∃x)(Ax & B∗x) → (∀x)(B*x → Ax)) 

(N) □(∀x)(Bx → Ax)

(P) ♢(∃x)(B*x & ¬Ax) 

According to (S[upervenience]), if having moral property B results in having moral property A ('*' when coupled to B, B* denotes a complete base description of everything that could be relevant to A), then anything which has B has A. (N[eccessity]) tells us that in every possible world, if something has B, then it has A. And, (P[ossibility]) says there is a possible world in which something has B, B results in a moral property, but it is not-A. 

Given that (N) is simply not true and (S) and (P) are, then we have worlds where: 

  • objects have B/A combinations
  • objects B/not-A combinations

However, we have no worlds where: 

  • objects have B/A and objects have B/not-A

Question: Why do realists have a difficulty explaining mixed worlds? Why do projectivists have an easier time explaining them? 

The Frege-Geach Problem

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 A. J. Ayer&nbsp;

A. J. Ayer 

According to A. J. Ayer, if one makes a moral judgment like "Stealing is wrong," one is expressing or arousing feelings. 

The presence of an ethical symbol in a proposition adds nothing to its factual content. Thus if I say to someone, ”You acted wrongly in stealing that money,” I am not stating anything more than if I had simply said, ”You stole that money.” In adding that this action is wrong I am not making any further statement about it. I am simply evincing my moral approval of it... If now I generalize my previous statement and say, ”Stealing money is wrong,” I produce a sentence which has no factual meaning – that is, expresses no proposition which can be either true or false. It is as if I had written ”Stealing money!!” – where the shape and thickness of the exclamation marks show, by a suitable convention, that a special sort of moral disapproval is the feeling which is being expressed. (107) 

Peter Geach, following an insight from Frege, claimed that Emotivism cannot make sense of arguments like the following. 

  1. Lying is wrong.
  2. If lying is wrong, then getting your little brother to lie is wrong.
  3. Therefore, getting your little brother to lie is wrong. 

Question: What is the problem that Geach and others have highlighted?


Added on by jay odenbaugh.


According to Green, showing-α is perception-enabling form of showing. We can make our emotions perceptible by either part-whole perception or "perceiving-in." The former occurs when α is an object, such that by seeing a part of α we perceive α. Thus, on a neo-Jamesian view, emotions include (a) characteristic facial expressions, (b) musculoskeletal, hormonal, and endocrine patterns, and (c) autonomic nervous system patterns. Green claims that by seeing these parts of emotions, we see the emotions. 

Question: Do you agree with Green that we see emotions? if so, does this solve the problem of other minds? 

Showing What's Within

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Mitchell Green argues roughly that one expresses a mental state insofar as one signals and shows it. He writes,

 Mitchell Green

Mitchell Green

Where A is an agent and B a cognitive, affective, or experiential state of a sort to which A can have introspective access, A expresses her B if and only if A is in state B, and some action or behavior of A’s both shows and signals her B. (212)

First, a signal is a cue that is designed to convey information. There are three types of showing; showing-that, showing-α, and showing-how. Suppose you are sad. You can show-that you are said by providing evidence that you are (e.g. leaving a note saying, "I am sad."). You can show-α you are sad by making it perceptible (e.g. tears). Finally, you can show-how you are sad by displaying your sadness such that one can empathetically know you are sad. 

Question: What then is the difference between showing one your sadness and saying that you are sad? Or is it rather that some kinds of showing are sayings, and some are not? 

Frank, Faces, and Guilt

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On Frank's account, an emotion is a commitment device if and only if (a) it increase the probability of prosocial behavior and (b) it is a hard to fake signal (i.e. evolutionary biologists call them "handicaps"). 

 Robert H. Frank

Robert H. Frank

Consider an emotion like guilt. One can argue that guilt accomplishes (a) because it is reparative when moral transgressions occur (i.e. when one cheats). However, it does not look like (b) is satisfied. Specifically, psychologists deny that guilt has a unique facial expression. Averting one's eyes and lowering your shoulders can express embarrassment, shame, etc. Even Paul Ekman acknowledges the point, 


As best as I can determine, shame doesn’t have its own signal. And neither does guilt. They’re very hard to reliably distinguish from the family of emotions: sadness, disappointment, grief, discouragement, and anguish. It’s not that I think shame and guilt are the same; it’s just that they are the same in signal.


Thus, it appears that guilt is not a commitment device. Question: How might Frank reply to this argument? 

Reciprocal Altruism and Commitment Problems

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 Prisoner's Dilemma

Prisoner's Dilemma

We have explored both Robert Triver's account of reciprocal altruism and Robert Frank's account of commitment problems and devices. Both are attempts to explain how something like Humean "sympathy" could have evolved by natural selection with regard to non-kin.

Questions: How do their approaches differ? Is one approach better than the other how-possibly explanation for the evolution of the emotions? Why? 

Shachter and Singer

Added on by jay odenbaugh.

In their famous paper, Shachter and Singer argued for the "cognitive labeling" theory of emotions. Emotions are composites of physiological arousal and labeling with emotional concepts. The experimental protocol of their study was as follows: 

  • Some participants were given epinephrine and others a placebo.

    • pinephrine-Informed: they knew the effects (e.g. shaking hands, pounding heart, flushed face).

    • Epinephrine-Ignorant: they were not told about side effects.

    • Epinephrine-Misinformed: there were incorrectly told about the effects (e.g. numb feet, itchy all over, headache). 

  • Some participants are put in a “euphoria” situation (e. g. paper air planes manila folder buildings) and others an “anger” situation (mean questionnaires). 

The predictions of their study were these: 

  1. Those given epinephrine and in Epi-Inf would be less likely to report (behave) emotion.

  2. Those given epinephrine and in Epi-Ign or Epi-Mis would report (behave) with respect to the appropriate emotion of the situation.

  3. Those given saline would not report emotion. 

The data they collected are in the following tables. 

Many cognitivists about the emotions cite this study as providing support for the view since bodily changes are undifferentiated absent some judgment or "labeling." 

Question: When you look at the data, does it confirm the predictions? Why or why not? 

William James and the Subtraction Argument

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William James famously offered what we call the "subtraction argument." He writes,

 William James in the 1890s, Notman Studio (photographer)&nbsp;

William James in the 1890s, Notman Studio (photographer) 

If we fancy some strong emotion, and then try to abstract from our consciousness of it all the feelings of its characteristic bodily symptoms, we find we have nothing left behind, no 'mind-stuff' out of which the emotion can be constituted, and that a cold and neutral state of intellectual perception is all that remains. (1884, 193)

When you consider your emotional life, does James claim seem correct? Why or why? 

Prinz and Embodied Appraisals

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You have now become fluent in Jesse Prinz's Neo-Jamesian account of emotions. Here are three questions. First, what do you take to be the strongest piece of evidence for his theory? Second, what do you take to be the strongest piece of evidence against his theory? Third, all things considered, which piece of evidence is most convincing?