KEYNOTE: Skilled Seemings

Helen De Cruz
School of History, Philosophy and Culture
Oxford Brookes University

Abstract: We have seemings as a result of the ordinary workings of our cognitive faculties (ordinary seemings), and seemings as the result of long-standing deliberate training and practice (skilled seemings). Do these kinds of seemings confer justification in the same way? I argue that, in spite of their similar phenomenology, ordinary and skilled seemings have distinct developmental origins and neurological underpinnings, and that these differences matter for the justification of beliefs formed on the basis of these seemings. I identify three key areas where skilled and ordinary seemings differ: cognitive penetrability, metaphysical structure, and social practice.

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The Dark Side of Morality: Group Polarization and Moral-Belief Formation

Marcus Arvan
University of Tampa


Most of us are accustomed to thinking of morality in a positive light. Morality, we say, is a matter of “doing good” and treating ourselves and each other “rightly.” However, moral beliefs and discourse also plausibly play a role in group polarization, the tendency of social groups to divide into progressively more extreme factions, each of which regards other groups to be “wrong.”[1] Group polarization often occurs along moral lines[2], and is known to have many disturbing effects, increasing racial prejudice among the already moderately prejudiced[3], leading group decisions to be more selfish, competitive, less trusting, and less altruistic than individual decisions[4], eroding public trust[5], leading juries to impose more severe punishments in trials[6], generating more extreme political decisions[7], and contributing to war, genocide, and other violent behavior.[8]

This paper argues that three empirically-supported theories of group polarization predict that polarization is likely caused in substantial part by a conception of morality that I call the Discovery Model—a model which holds moral truths exist to be discovered through moral intuition, moral reasoning, or some other process. Continue reading The Dark Side of Morality: Group Polarization and Moral-Belief Formation

The Mental Affordance Hypothesis

Dr Tom McClelland
University of Warwick


Affordances are opportunities for action. A teapot, for example, has the property of being grippable. When a subject grips the teapot, she exploits the teapot’s affordance. The concept of affordances, introduced by the ecological psychologist J.J. Gibson (1966), has been applied extensively across a range of disciplines. Throughout the considerable literature on affordances the afforded actions that theorists discuss are, with only a few exceptions, bodily actions such as gripping, walking or eating. This paper presents the hypothesis that we are also sensitive to affordances for mental actions such as attending, imagining and calculating. Although this Mental Affordance Hypothesis is ultimately answerable to the empirical evidence, a variety of phenomenological and theoretical considerations strongly suggest that we are appropriately sensitive to opportunities for mental action.  Continue reading The Mental Affordance Hypothesis

Water is and is not H2O

Kevin Tobia
Yale University

George Newman
Yale University

Joshua Knobe
Yale University


The “Twin Earth” philosophical thought experiment has importantly influenced the study of psychological essentialism. The standard philosophical intuition about that thought experiment suggests that it is an entity’s deeper causal properties—and not its superficial features—that are criterial for categorization. Four studies suggest that people do not share this intuition. Instead, people have two distinct criteria for category membership, one based on superficial features and one based on deeper causal properties. Studies 1a and 1b show that people reject the standard Twin Earth intuition, instead endorsing two (opposing) criteria for category membership. Study 2 shows that contextual cues affect categorization of entities in Twin Earth cases. Studies 3a and 3b extend these findings by looking both to a real-world case involving genetically modified organisms and a population of graduate students from elite universities. Together, these studies provide an enriched understanding of essentialized concepts. People do not endorse the standard Twin Earth intuition, categorizing entities solely on the basis of their deep causal properties; instead, people employ two sets of criteria in natural kind categorization.

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