Ethical Realism

May 15, 2012

Do Default Positions Exist?

The term “default position” refers to a belief (or lack of belief) that is preferable prior to debate or before any evidence is considered. Many people claim that some belief (or lack thereof) are default positions, so everyone who disagrees with those positions has the burden of proof. What exactly is a default position, and do default positions exist? (more…)

May 6, 2012

What is the Burden of Proof?

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 3:52 am
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One of the most confusing topics regarding argumentation and rationality is what we call the “burden of proof.” What is it? Who has a burden of proof? I will argue that there are two kinds of burden of proof—(1) a principle of debate and (2) a principle of rationality. These two principles are similar but there are important differences. As a principle of debate, the burden of proof determines who needs to prove their assertions. As a principle of rationality, it determines what beliefs are irrational without further evidence in their favor. (more…)

April 16, 2012

Argument Mapping Classes Are The Most Effective At Improving Critical Thinking

According to a meta-analysis of existing studies, argument mapping classes are by far the most effective at improving critical thinking.

Claudia María Álvarez Ortiz completed an in-depth analysis regarding the most effective forms of critical thinking education in 2007. Her MA thesis was Does Philosophy Improve Critical Thinking Skills? It can be downloaded for free right here in PDF format. She wanted to know how effective philosophy classes are at teaching critical thinking compared to other classes. Her study provides evidence for the following conclusions: (more…)

February 2, 2012

Beliefs Are Innocent Until Proven Guilty Part 2

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 9:10 am
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This is part 2. You should read part 1 first.

I have argued that beliefs are innocent until proven guilty and various objections have been raised to this position and my arguments. I will provide some clarification and respond to various objections here. (more…)

January 18, 2012

Beliefs are Innocent Until Proven Guilty

Many people equate “justified” with “justification”—they think beliefs are justified if and only if we give a good justification for them. A sign of this attitude is found in statements such as, “We should only believe something if we can observe it’s true.” I will explain that not all our beliefs require justifications to be justified because (a) we have justified beliefs that we can’t give justifications for, (b) such an assumption is self-defeating, and (c) such an assumption would lead to an infinite regress or vicious circularity. (more…)

December 20, 2011

Five Tips For Better Debates

Debate can be an educational opportunity (for hopefully at least one participant), but many people find it to be a “waste of time.” This is likely due to the fact that many people have bad habits and know very little about how to debate well. Nonetheless, the Internet gives us new opportunities to debate using message boards, blogs, and so on. I want to encourage people to debate informally in everyday conversation whether face-to-face or online, and I will discuss five argumentative virtues that can help us have better debates—charity, relevance, clarity, modesty, and justification. These virtues apply to any sort of debate including philosophical essays, but I will also discuss certain flaws I’ve encountered in informal debates. (more…)

September 29, 2011

No, We Don’t Have To Agree With You!

Do you think everyone has to agree with you about something? Do they have to agree that God exists, Christianity is true, atheism is true, Islam is evil, libertarianism is true, socialism is true, Obama is the antichrist, or Harry Potter is satanist propaganda? Many people seem so confident that they’re right and they know that you need to agree with them. The other person might think that you’re an idiot for not agreeing. This attitude of certainty and confidence often leads to intolerance and insults. Of course, few people are perfect and almost everyone suffers from over-confidence and immodesty at one point or another. (more…)

June 16, 2011

Examples of Errors in Reasoning

One common way to learn about good reasoning is to pick apart arguments by spotting errors in reasoning and applying our knowledge of epistemic principles in various contexts. In other words, we can improve our rational thinking through practice. Once we can better criticize other people’s arguments, we can learn to better criticize our own. I will describe twenty examples of poor reasoning and one example of good reasoning, but I won’t immediately explain why I think the examples use poor reasoning. Instead, my answers will be listed in a separate section. You are encouraged to think about why each of these examples are examples of poor or good reasoning before reading my answers. If two arguments are presented in an example, then consider why there are errors in the reasoning of the objection rather than the positive argument. It is possible that my answers are mistaken or incomplete, but I will defend them. It’s possible for more than one error to be made, but my focus will be on the most serious failings of each argument rather than the less serious ones. Additionally, the focus here is not on false premises or conclusions as much as poor reasoning. That’s not to say that false assumptions don’t play an important role in poor reasoning in general. (more…)

June 14, 2011

Philosophical Thought & an Illustration of a Supporting Argument

It’s often a lot easier to pick apart someone else’s argument than to come up with a supporting argument of your own. Additionally, it’s usually a lot harder to present a philosophical argument for a controversial position than an uncontroversial one. It’s not as hard to argue that bread is nutritious or that killing people is wrong than it is to argue that God exists or abortion is wrong. One way to learn more about how to create supporting arguments of your own is to read philosophy and examine the thoughts of a philosophical thinker who develops such an argument. It’s a good idea to pay close attention to the kinds of questions and answers a philosophical thinker comes up with. I will try to do that here and present the thoughts involved with developing a supporting argument. In particular, I will discuss an argument against the existence of ghosts. (more…)

June 7, 2011

Philosophical Thought & An Illustration of An Objection

We can learn how to think more like a philosopher by engaging in philosophical debate, reading philosophy, thinking about the nature of philosophical argumentation, and examining the thought process of philosophers. A philosophy professor can be very helpful as a guide to help people engage in philosophical argumentation by helping them verbalize their arguments and avoid fallacious reasoning. Since I am writing about philosophical argumentation, I am not able to help guide your philosophical thoughts as you engage in philosophical debate. However, I can help you peer into the thoughts of someone who engages in philosophical thought. In particular, I will discuss the thinking involved with constructing a philosophical objection. (more…)

May 31, 2011

Three Forms of Evidence

An argument uses premises to reach a conclusion, but we can’t just accept that every valid argument proves the conclusion to be true. If an argument has a valid form, we need to know that the premises are true before we can know the conclusion is true. We rarely know for certain that the premises of an argument are true. Instead, we do our best at justifying the premises. One way to do this is to provide evidence—reasons we should believe something to be likely true or accurate. Many people equate “evidence” with “observation,” but there could be other reasons to accept beliefs as well. I will discuss three types of evidence: (more…)

April 20, 2011

Three Types of Intuitive Arguments

Our arguments depend on assumptions. We prefer these assumptions to be intuitive and coherent with our other justified beliefs rather than counterintuitive and incompatible with our other justified beliefs. We might not be able to fully explain how we know “1+1=2” but we find it to be an intuitive belief, and we think it’s absurd (and perhaps incoherent) to deny that it’s true. Intuitive arguments are not only very common in philosophy, but it’s possible that all our justifications are grounded in intuition in one way or another. (more…)

March 31, 2011

Arguments for Intuition

Philosophers often discuss what beliefs are intuitive or counterintuitive to support their conclusions. I will argue that we should prefer theories and beliefs that are intuitive or sensitive to our intuitions rather than ones that aren’t.1 The fact that a theory or belief is intuitive isn’t conclusive proof and a theory or belief being counterintuitive isn’t a conclusive refutation, but it is one important element when evaluating the plausibility of a theory or belief. Intuitive beliefs range from things we know with high degrees of confidence—such as “at least two people exist”—to beliefs that are merely plausible enough to take seriously as possibly true. When a theory isn’t intuitive, then we call it counterintuitive, absurd, or revisionistic. I will argue that, all else equal, we should prefer that our theories are intuitive rather than revisionistic for at least the following three reasons: (more…)

March 26, 2011

Is Knowledge Impossible?

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 12:13 am
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Some people have thought that knowledge is impossible. It might seem implausible to think knowledge is impossible, but there are important philosophical concerns we can have about knowledge and challenges to the possibility of knowledge can be illuminating. First, I will discuss what ‘knowledge’ means and suggest three different definitions: (a) justified true belief, (b) certainty, and (c) a deep understanding. Second, I will discuss why the belief that knowledge is impossible seems to be self-defeating. Third, I will discuss an argument against the possibility of knowledge known as the Münchhausen Trilemma and explain where it might go wrong. The Trilemma supposedly shows how unsatisfying any proof is in order to show that none of our beliefs are proven—and knowledge is taken to be impossible as a result. I reject the Trilemma because it is too demanding about what counts as a justified belief. Perhaps proof or evidence is not always necessary to have a justified belief. (more…)

November 19, 2010

Review of Nathan M. Nobis’s Truth in Ethics and Epistemology

This review is available as a free ebook (PDF file) here. (Right click/save as to download).

Terance Cuneo argued that moral realism is true (moral facts exist) based on the fact that (a) epistemic facts exist1; and (b) if moral facts don’t exist, then epistemic facts don’t exist. Around the same time Nathan Nobis wrote his doctoral thesis, Truth in Ethics and Epistemology: A Defense of Normative Realism (2004), that contained a similar argument (and it is available for free on his website). Nobis argues the following: (more…)

October 24, 2010

Common Sense Assumptions vs. Self Evidence

I would like to know whether or not knowledge is possible, and whether or not it’s possible for a belief to be justified without observation. If observation is the only good reason to have a belief, then it’s not clear that we can have knowledge concerning mathematics, morality, or logic—and it might even be impossible to have knowledge about anything. Perhaps we can have good reasons to believe something based on common sense assumptions or self-evidence rather than observation. I will argue that that some beliefs are justified as “common sense assumptions” that are not self-evident, and they aren’t justified through observation. These assumptions are justified by embodying various intellectual virtues better than alternatives. (more…)

August 6, 2010

10 Myths About Morality

Although philosophers disagree about many elements of morality, they agree about quite a bit as well. Philosophers disagree about whether capital punishment or the war on drugs are right, but they agree that slavery and torture are almost always wrong (if not always wrong). Philosophers also agree quite a bit about what views about morality are false, and for good reason. These myths are untenable views about morality, and they are often very popular among the nonphilosophers. I think it’s important that everyone find out that these views are untenable. I will discuss ten of these myths about morality:


July 30, 2010

10 Myths About Beliefs

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 10:00 am
Tags: , , , , , ,

There are many myths and misunderstandings that prevent clear thinking, good debate, and proper argumentation. I will discuss ten myths about beliefs, but first I will describe knowledge. (more…)

June 24, 2010

Knowledge, Justification, and Theoretical Virtues

Filed under: epistemology,philosophy — JW Gray @ 3:56 am
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We don’t always think about what really makes our beliefs justified or rational but we tend to be pretty good at identifying which beliefs are justified or rational anyway. We can often take a uncontroversial example of a justified belief then assess why another belief is or isn’t justified by how similar (or analogous) it is to the uncontroversial one. For example, the belief in the law of gravity is a good example of a highly justified belief. It is rational to hold such a belief (in part) because of how well it helps us predict the future. However, the belief that energy can be created or destroyed seems to be unjustified insofar as it has never helped us predict the future. (more…)

October 27, 2009

Objections to Moral Realism Part 2: Intuition is Unreliable

Many ethicists agree that moral philosophy requires the use of intuition. My argument for moral realism itself requires the use of intuition. However, philosophers will require that we justify our use of intuition. Some philosophers have argued that intuition is too mysterious or unreliable to be used for philosophy. I will present the case that intuition represents our tendency to be unable to verbalize various justifications. I will explain how our intuitions makes use of relatively reliable justifications, consider four objections against intuition, and I will attempt to explain why the objections are not convincing. (more…)

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