In “The Data against Kant,” Vlad Chituc discusses psychological research challenging Kant’s principle that ought implies can. This is the principle that “it would be absurd to suggest that we should do what we couldn’t possibly do.” The research shows that there are common situations in which nonphilosophers do think it makes sense to say someone ought to do something that it is impossible for them to do it. In these situations “ought” has more to do with “blame” than with “can.” This in turn raises questions about “experimental philosophy” and the role the intuitions of nonphilosophers ought to play in philosophical analysis. Can we draw conclusions about what we ought to think from data about what some people actually think?
Which happens first … a conscious decision to do something or the brain activity associated with doing it? Thanks to experiments Benjamin Libet conducted in the 1980s, it seemed that “the timing of … conscious decisions was consistently preceded by several hundred milliseconds of background preparatory brain activity.” It seemed, that is, that our brains had already acted to carry out what we only later consciously decided to do. But in “Neuroscience and Free Will Are Rethinking Their Divorce,” Christian Jarrett says that may be changing. As researcher Dr. John-Dylan Haynes puts it, neuroscience may actually show that “a person’s decisions are not at the mercy of unconscious and early brain waves.”
In “How Phantom Limbs Explain Consciousness,” Michael Graziano says that “the brain’s model of the body can tell us a lot about its model of attention.” Just as the brain generates a schema of the body, it generates a scheme of attention. “You know, the feely thing inside me. Consciousness.”
In “The A. I. Anxiety,” Joel Achenbach discusses the ideas of philosopher Nick Bostrom, physicist Max Tegmark, and others about A. I. or artificial intelligence. “Big-name scientists worry that runaway artificial intelligence could pose a threat to humanity. Beyond the speculation is a simple question: Are we fully in control of our technology?” Which is the greater threat … that machines will become superintelligent or superstupid?
In “To Be Happier, Start Thinking More About Your Death,” Arthur Brooks recommends ways to realign the balance between your momentary desires and your existential goals.
In “Are These 10 Lies Justified” Gerald Dworkin listed ten lies he believe can be justified as morally permitted. He asked his readers to add their comments to begin a dialogue. The article broke all records for “hits” on the New York Times’ philosophy blog “The Stone.” As he promised he would do, in “How You Justified 10 Lies (Or Didn’t)” Dworkin has now followed up with a report on readers’ comments about those ten lies.
In “Unnatural Laws,” Nancy Cartwright challenges the idea that everything could ultimately be accounted for with universal laws of nature that are immutable and without exceptions. “We live our everyday lives in a dappled world unlike the world of fundamental particles regimented into kinds, each just like the one beside it, mindlessly marching exactly as has forever been destined. In the everyday world the future is open, little is certain, the unexpected intrudes into the best-laid plans, everything is different from everything else, things change and develop, and different systems built in different ways give rise to different patterns. For centuries this everyday world was at odds with the scientific world governed through-and-through by immutable law. But many of the ways we do science today bring the scientific image into greater harmony with what we see every day: much of modern science understands and manipulates the world without resort to universal laws.’