Brian Robinson

Texas A&M University-Kingsville

A New Answer to Newcomb’s Paradox

William Newcomb proposed a famous thought experiment now called Newcomb’s Paradox. Robert Nozick first brought it to the attention of the wider world and put it this way:

Suppose a being in whose power to predict your choices you have enormous confidence. (One might tell a science-fiction story about a being from another planet, with an advanced technology and science, who you know to be friendly, etc.) You know that this being has often correctly predicted your choices in the past (and has never, so far as you know, made an incorrect prediction about your choices), and furthermore you know that this being has often correctly predicted the choices of other people, many of whom are similar to you, in the particular situation to be described below. One might tell a longer story, but all this leads you to believe that almost certainly this being’s prediction about your choice in the situation to be discussed will be correct.

There are two boxes, (Bl) and (82). ($1) contains $ 1000. (B2) contains either $1000000 ($M), or nothing. What the content of (B2) depends upon will be described in a moment.

You have a choice between two actions:

  1. taking what is in both boxes
  2. taking only what is in the second box.

Furthermore, and you know this, the being knows that you know this, and so on:

(I)    If the being predicts you will take what is in both boxes, he does not put the $M in the second box.
(II)   If the being predicts you will take only what is in the second box, he does put the $¡¿ in the second box.

The situation is as follows. First the being makes its prediction. Then it puts the $¡¿ in the second box, or does not, depending upon what it has predicted. Then you make your choice. What do you do?

There are two plausible looking and highly intuitive arguments which require different decisions. The prôblem is to explain why one of them is not legitimately applied to this choice situation.

There is another option that Nozick and (at least most of) the rest of the literature on this miss:

Don’t take either box.

CFA: Moral Psychology of Amusement

Call for Abstracts

Abstracts are sought for a collection on the moral psychology of amusement, as part of Rowan and Littlefield International’s current series of volumes on the moral psychology of various emotions (Mark Alfano, series editor). The aim of the volume is to provide interdisciplinary perspectives on amusement, so a wide range of disciplines and methodologies are welcome.

Possible topics include:

  • Consideration of some of the causes or consequences and the moral implications of those causes or consequences,
  • Morally relevant ways that amusement interacts with other emotions,
  • Morally appropriate or inappropriate uses of one’s own amusement
  • Examination of the contexts in which it is morally permissible to induce (or not) amusement in others,
  • A cross-cultural analysis of amusement,
  • Amusement and feminism,
  • Ways in which amusement can subvert or aid our moral reasoning,
  • Amusement as a means of oppression,
  • The dangers of amusement, or
  • An analysis of what about jokes amuses us.

Deadline for Abstracts: May 15, 2018

Full details available here. 

A New Start

Welcome to my updated website. Last week a nasty .php error brought down my whole site. After staring at and fighting with the code for a few hours, I gave up. It was easier just to back up old posts and start anew. So here we are.

If you’re looking for something you’ve seen here before, but can’t find it, I haven’t re-posted it yet. I’m working to restore most of my old posts that got read. So please be patient as I restore them a few at a time in my rare spare moments.

Toolbox in Amsterdam

De Waag at NightIn December, I ran a Toolbox Dialogue Initiative workshop in Amsterdam for the Workshop + Master Class: Digital Humanities, Social Epistemology, & Virtue Theory in a Post-Truth Society, hosted by Mark Alfano and Digital Humanities & Experimental Philosophy Collaborative (DHEPCAT) at Delft University of Technology and Eindhoven University of Technology.

Rembrandt's The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp

Before getting to the details of the TDI workshop, it’s worth mentioning that this was quite possibly the coolest and oldest venue for a TDI workshop. The event was held at The Waag (Weigh House) in Amsterdam’s Nieuwmarkt square, a 15th-century building originally a gate in the city walls and later used to weigh house and meeting place for various guilds. Inside the Waag, the event was held in Theatrum Anaticum, which was built in 1690, held public dissections, and was the setting for Rembrandt’s The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. The event–with its emphasis on fake news and a post-truth society–was billed as a modern dissection of the body politic.

The Toolbox workshop served as a bridge between the two days of the event. The first focused on talks about social epistemology and fake news. On the second, participants engaged in a Toolbox dialogue on digital humanities in order transition them to the master class on how to conduct various forms of digital humanities research. Robinson constructed a new TDI instrument for this purpose that focused on various forms of misunderstanding about of debates regarding the nature and methods of digital humanities. There were many philosophers present, but several other disciplines as well, including many computer scientists. Though the TDI session was short, the dialogue was fertile and generally regarded as useful for framing the rest of the event.

Responding to Egoism

I’ve been teaching ethics since 2006, and just about every semester I teach the problem of ethical egoism. In short, that problem is: Why should I do what’s right if it’s not in my self-interest. To me, this is THE central question in ethics. Continue reading

Measuring Intellectual Humility

As a culmination of our intellectual humility grant in 2013, my co-authors (Mark Alfano, Kathryn Iurino, Paul Stey, Markus Christen, Feng Yu, and Danial Lapsley) have just published our new multi-dimensional measure of intellectual humility. Over five studies (N=3,651), two languages, and five years went into producing this paper in PLoS One, where we present our validate tool for measuring the trait of intellectual humility in people. Here’s the abstract:

This paper presents five studies on the development and validation of a scale of intellectual humility.This scale captures cognitive, affective, behavioral, and motivational components of the construct that have been identified by various philosophers in their conceptual analyses of intellectual humility. We find that intellectual humility has four core dimensions: Open-mindedness (versus Arrogance), Intellectual Modesty (versus Vanity), Corrigibility (versus Fragility), and Engagement (versus Boredom). These dimensions display adequate self-informant agreement, and adequate convergent, divergent, and discriminant validity. In particular, Open-mindedness adds predictive power beyond the Big Six for an objective behavioral measure of intellectual humility, and Intellectual Modesty is uniquely related to Narcissism. We find that a similar factor structure emerges in Germanophone participants, giving initial evidence for the model’s cross-cultural generalizability.

The Danger of Philosophy

Tania Lambrozo recently argued that philosophy’s “tools for critical evaluation run counter to another valuable set of tools: our tools for effective social engagement.” Philosophers’ training teaches them to critically analyze statements, which is a degree of scrutiny that most statements made in typical, social conversation are not meant to withstand. Applying our philosophical tools outside of philosophy, Lambrozo argues, is socially determinantal. Danielle Wenner, while agreeing with Lambrozo’s hypothesis, contends that philosophers should not learn to “turn it off” sometimes (at least outside of academic settings). Continue reading

Strength of a Democracy

democracyChurchill did warn us, “Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of Government except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.” And, “The best argument against democracy is a five-minute conversation with the average voter.” Plato warned us, too: “So tyranny naturally arises out of democracy, and the most aggravated form of tyranny and slavery out of the most extreme form of liberty.” Something I take away from these thoughts is that necessarily democracies have a non-zero chance of producing a demagogue. Any democracy, given a long enough time will produce a leader that rises to power by whipping up the base fears and prejudices of the mob. It will eventually happen. There are, therefore, two tests of a democracy: (1) How often does any particular democracy allow such a demagogue to rise to the heights of power? (2) How does the state/society respond when (1) occurs? Together, these questions ask how well a democracy does at preserving itself, at prevent itself from devolving into any of “those other forms” of government. Continue reading

New Job: Texas A&M University-Kingsville

I’m very excited to announce that I’ve accepted a tenure-track position as an Assistant Professor of Philosophy at Texas A&M University-Kingsville, starting this fall. I’ll be joining Jeff Glick and Emil Badici as the philosophers in the Department of History, Political Science and Philosophy.

Gossip and Its Limits

The timing was rather fortuitous that as I finish final revisions for my forthcoming article on gossip in The Monist (“Character, Caricature, and Gossip”), news breaks about soon-to-be-released app Peeple. The Washington Post billed it as “Yelp, but for humans.”

This is a terrible idea, as the internet quickly pointed out [here, here, here, here, and here]. Others can review you whether or not you’ve created a profile on the site. You can’t opt-out. You can dispute a negative comment or rating, but not remove it. Rather than rehashing all reasons that Peeple is a terrible idea (and see here for a prior comedic exploration of why it is), I want to focus on what this tells us about the importance of context for gossip. Continue reading

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