How to define nihilism: Universal vs. egalitarian nihilism

I don’t know what nihilism is and how to distinguish it from similar views. For example, I don’t know for sure what the difference is between the nihilistic “nothing is good or bad so I just do what brings me pleasure” and the hedonistic “I just do what brings me pleasure because in the end nothing is really good or bad”. But it seems to me that there are, at a fundamental level, two different ways of defining nihilism.

Nihilism can either be an equality thesis: With respect to value or meaning everything is equal. Neither meaningful/insignificant nor good/bad allow us to draw any differences in the world because everything has the same meaning or value.

Alternatively, nihilism can be a universality thesis: Everything is meaningless or valueless. No matter where you look you won’t find any meaning or value.  Continue reading How to define nihilism: Universal vs. egalitarian nihilism


Upcoming Events/Talks (9/2018)

Upcoming events/talks in September:

  1. Workshop New Perspectives on Conditionals and Reasoning, Regensburg, Sep. 5–6, co-organised with Christoph Michel and Hans Rott
  2. Talk at ESPP 2018 (Conference of the European Society for Philosophy and Psychology): “Three experimental approaches to epistemic closure”, Rijeka, Sep. 10–13
  3. Talk at GAP.10 (10th conference of the German Society for Analytic Philosophy): “Knowledge, belief and the how/why asymmetry”, Cologne, Sep. 17–20
  4. Talk at 6. Tagung für Praktische Philosophie: “True belief ignorance and excuses” (in German), Salzburg, Sep. 27–28

Hope to meet some of you at some of these events!

Ignorance and Optimism – On Rosling’s “Factfulness”

Hans Rosling with Ola Rosling and Anna Rosling Rönnlund: Factfulness. Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – And Why Things Are Better Than You Think. London: Sceptre, 2018.

Rosling’s Factfulness popped up in my filter bubble several times and since two topics dear to my heart – ignorance and optimism – surface a lot in his book, I just had to read it with my philosophical glasses on. This isn’t a full review – the book is a nice read and I can certainly recommend it! –, just some comments on what Rosling has to say about ignorance and optimism. In a nutshell, Rosling argues that we (= adults from developed, level 4 countries) are mostly ignorant about the current state of the world, in particular about population growth, poverty, education, gender differences and health. This claim is based on a survey of 12,000 participants from 14 countries in which most participants consistently choose an option that represents the world as worse than it actually is. For example, most participants think that 50% or less of the world’s children are vaccinated against at least one disease – despite the correct answer being 80%. We aren’t just ignorant – we suffer from a pessimistic illusion! Continue reading Ignorance and Optimism – On Rosling’s “Factfulness”

New draft “How (not) to respond to Putnam’s brain in a vat argument”

Among students and colleagues I’m known for defending Putnam’s brain in a vat argument against all comers, be it incredulous stares or heated objections. Although I’m still a big fan of it, I have come to the conclusion that scepticism can escape it after all. (Some may think that was obvious all along. Alas, for me that is a new insight.) I started writing the paper with the intention to explain why sceptical scenario must not mess with memory, but couldn’t find a convincing reason to ban memory-alteration from sceptical scenarios. Unfortunately, Putnam’s argument is powerless against recent memory-altering envatment. After some tweaking of this scenario, I ended up with a scenario that is sufficiently radical for a successful sceptical argument, or so it seems to me. – As always comments are very welcome! But please don’t cite without asking for the latest version.

Paper: PDF

Keywords: Cartesian scepticism · Putnam · brains in a vat · constraints on sceptical scenarios · scepticism and content externalism · memory

Abstract:  Putnam’s argument that we are not brains in a vat has recently seen a resurgence in interest. Although objections to it are legion, an emerging consensus seems to be that even if it successfully refutes one version of the scenario, lifelong envatment, it is powerless against the recent envatment version of the scenario. Although initially appealing, this strategy generates problems of its own. In this paper I argue that merely switching to recent envatment is indeed a bad response to Putnam’s argument, yet there is a different version, recent memory-altering envatment, that Putnam’s argument does not refute and is also sufficiently radical. The crucial issue turns out to be which epistemic sources sceptical scenarios may attack. It is argued that there is no convincing reason for exempting memory from the sceptical attack. Putnam’s argument does not fail because of some ‘deep’ philosophical mistake, but because it overlooks how flexible and adjustable sceptical scenarios are.

Update: Slides (Issues in Philosophy of Memory, July 2017, Cologne)

New Paper “How to read the Tractatus sequentially”

My paper “How to read the Tractatus sequentially” is currently up for open review at the Nordic Wittgenstein Review. That means you can comment on it or discuss it with me on their website (until Dec. 7). The paper is here, additional background here.

Update: The final version is here. David Stern’s paper in the same issue contains a short comment on my paper.