Thursday, 23 February 2017

What Love Is


Today's post is by Carrie Jenkins, Canada Research Chair and Professor of Philosophy at the University of British Columbia, where she is heading up a multi-year interdisciplinary research project on the Metaphysics of Romantic Love. She lives in Vancouver, and she is @carriejenkins on Twitter. Her new book is What Love Is And What It Could Be (2017, Basic Books).


The book takes off from a dilemma facing anyone who wants to know what romantic love is. One promising approach treats love as a biological phenomenon: a bundle, perhaps, of evolved neurochemical responses (chapter 1). Another promising approach locates it as a social construct: a creature of norms, institutions, and practices (chapter 2). These approaches appear inconsistent—evolved neurochemistry is not a social construct—yet choosing one to the exclusion of the other feels like discarding half our hard-won wisdom.

After a brief detour through some “canonical” (and often deeply problematic) philosophers of love (chapter 3), I propose a new approach. Drawing on broadly functionalist traditions in other areas of philosophy, I sketch a “dual-nature” theory of romantic love as ancient biological machinery embodying a modern social role (chapter 4). It is at the interface between love’s twin natures that I identify many of the most pressing philosophical questions about love, and I use these as a way to understand more deeply the reasons why love changes over time (chapter 5) and in what ways love is currently broken and in need of change (chapter 6).



Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Moral Exemplars


Hyemin Han (pictured above) is Assistant Professor in Educational Psychology and Educational Neuroscience at The University of Alabama. In this post, he summarises his paper "Attainable and relevant moral exemplars are more effective than extraordinary exemplars in promoting voluntary service engagement", recently published in Frontiers in Psychology.

Did your parent or teacher tell you the stories of morally great people, moral exemplars, e.g., Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr., when you were young? Your parents and teachers perhaps told you such stories at least once, and you were asked to learn how to live a good life from them. Do you think that the stories have made you a morally better person, who is trying his/her best to emulate such exemplars’ moral behavior?

Let’s make this question more general. Can such (seemingly) morally perfect people’s stories really promote motivation to engage in moral behavior? On the one hand, prior social and developmental psychological studies examining the motivational effects of moral modeling have demonstrated that it is possible (Bandura & McDonald, 1963). On the other hand, some other studies have shown that the mere presentation of moral stories, particularly the stories of extraordinary moral exemplars, might produce negative side effects, such as extreme envy and decrease in motivation for emulation (Monin, 2007). Then, how can we maximize the positive effects of the stories of moral exemplars while preventing possible negative side effects? 

Thursday, 16 February 2017

Addiction and Choice


Today's post is by Nick Heather and Gabriel Segal on their new edited collection Addiction and Choice: Rethinking the Relationship.

Nick Heather (pictured below) is a clinical psychologist by training and is now Emeritus Professor of Alcohol and Other Drug Studies at Northumbria University. He has over 500 publications, mostly in the area of addictions, with an emphasis on treatment and brief intervention for alcohol problems.





Gabriel Segal (pictured below) is Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at King’s College, London. He has published extensively in philosophy of psychology, cognitive science and philosophy of language.




In 1997, Nick Heather, together with Ian Robertson, published the 3rd edition of a book called ‘Problem Drinking’. It argued that there is no such thing as ‘alcoholism’ in the sense of a discontinuous form of drinking problem and that it was not helpful to see problem drinking as a disease. Rather, people drink in problematic ways for a variety of reasons that can be understood from the point of view of social learning theory.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Neil Levy on "Do religious beliefs respond to evidence?"


Neil Levy (pictured above) is Professor of Philosophy at Macquarie University (Sydney) and Senior Research Fellow at the Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics, University of Oxford. Here, he replies to last week's post by Neil Van Leeuwen. Neil Levy's post draws on themes from his paper recently published in Cognition.

There are two central strands to Neil Van Leeuwen’s post (hereafter NVL). One is the claim that there is a class of representational state (in the post he focuses on religious belief, but in his paper in Cognition he suggests that ideological beliefs belong to this class too) which fail to be evidentially vulnerable in the same way as more mundane beliefs. The second strand is the one developed in his paper in Philosophical Explorations, arguing that we best understand the limited signs of evidence responsiveness exhibited by these beliefs in terms of a kind of imaginative play. People who respond to evidence with regard to their religious beliefs typically do so because the apparent evidence is assigned a role within a circumscribed Evidence Game.

The suggestion that we sometimes engage in a game of make believe unbeknownst to ourselves in the way NVL suggests is fascinating and deserves exploration. It may even be true. As he mentions, Tanya Luhrmann’s subjects seem to take such an attitude toward their religious beliefs, and some people who profess belief in UFOs or ghosts may be only half serious in their beliefs. It is noteworthy, though, that Luhrmann’s subjects were at least half aware that their attitude to their religious beliefs had an element of playfulness; we should be careful about generalizing from this sample of charismatic Christians to other believers. Luhrmann’s sample is whiter, better educated and more affluent than most religious believers worldwide, and WEIRD people differ in important and relevant ways from other people. In particular, being educated correlates with a higher capacity to detect contradiction. It may be that WEIRD people can maintain their religious beliefs only by taking a semi-serious attitude toward them, but this attitude is not typical of religious believers.