Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cosmetic Amputation

In one of our textbooks for the Bioethics class I'm TA'ing for this quarter is an article called "Amputees by Choice". And it is about just what it sounds like - otherwise seemingly mentally competent, healthy, "normal" people who have an intense, lifelong desire to be an amputee and have some very specific part of their body amputated to meet their preconceived body image. This is perhaps one of the strangest things I've ever heard of - a little disturbing, too. The author compares it to gender identity disorder and speculates that both these sorts of maladies either couldn't exist or wouldn't be nearly so prevalent were it not for the nature of the culture we live in - our culture creates an 'ecological niche' in which the disorder can be conceived, grow, and thrive. Apparently, there's a whole internet subculture of people who are into amputation. Some are "wannabes" - people who want cosmetic amputation. Others are "devotees" - people who are sexually attracted to amputation and to amputees. Some wannabes are "pretenders" - they are not disabled but use wheelchairs, etc. in public in order to feel disabled.
Somehow I don't have the courage to google any of this stuff, for fear of what I might come up with!

Some choice quotes:

"In May 1998 a seventy-nine-year-old man from New York traveled to Mexico and paid $10,000 for a black-market leg amputation; he died of gangrene in a motel. In October 1999 a mentally competent man in Milwaukee severed his arm with a homemade guillotine, and then threatened to sever it again if surgeons reattached it. That same month a legal investigator for the California state bar, after being refused a hospital amputation, tied off her legs with tourniquets and began to pack them in ice, hoping that gangrene would set in, necessitating an amputation. She passed out and ultimately gave up. Now she says she will probably have to lie undera train, or shoot her legs off with a shotgun...."

"On the Internet there are enough people interested in becoming amputees to support a minor industry. One discussion listserv has over 3,200 subscribers."

" 'My left foot was not part of me,' says one amputee, who had wished for amputation since the age of eight. 'I didn't understand why, but I knew I didn't want my leg.' Another says, 'My body image has always been as a woman who has lost both her legs.' A woman in her early forties wrote to me, 'I will never feel truly whole with legs.' Her view of herself has always been as a double amputee, with stumps of five or six inches."

"Amputee wannabes more often see their limbs as normal, but as a kind of surplus. Their desires frequently come with chillingly precise specifications: for instance, an above-the-knee amputation of the right leg."

"Isolated and lonely, he spent some of his time hobbling around on crutches, pretending to be an amputee, fantasizing about photographs of war victims. He was convinced that his happiness depended on getting an amputation. He desparately wanted his body to match his self-image: 'Just as a transsexual is not happy with his own body but longs to have the body of another sex, in the same way I am not happy with my present body, but long for a peg-leg.' "

Monday, April 23, 2007

Cockburn and Dummett on Understanding Statements About the Past

So I've been reading David Cockburn's (boy, I bet with a name like that he got made fun of as a kid) book Other Times. It's very different from anything else I've read on time since it takes a weird Wittgensteinian behavioristically anti-realist "No, I'm not an anti-realist" stand that threatens to collapse into either a strong anti-realism or a confused realism. A few comments on some stuff I've read:

Cockburn's take on Dummett is that Dummett thinks that it is wrong to think that there is a common core, "A is F", which, when one understands that and also has a general understanding of the past and future tenses, one can then understand "A was F" or "A will be F". Cockburn's Dummet (CD hereafter) thinks that, instead, to understand "A was F" is to know, for instance, what counts as present evidence for that - which will depend on the kind of event in question. On CD's view, it's not enough to have the general understanding of the tenses plus an understanding of the present-tensed version of the sentence. But isn't it? If one knows what being A and being F are, one knows the kinds of causes and effects associated with them to some degree. If one (perhaps expertly) deeply understands "A is F", one needs to understand what being A and being F are. But that, combined with a general understanding of the past tense, will also yield knowledge of what counts as present evidence for the past tense claim that A was F.

On pg. 61, Cockburn says that a 'fundamental aspect of our use of a sentence' is 'the ways in which it may feature in the justification of actions and emotions. This not one we should expect to be able to derive from other feature of its use... We cannot even characterise those supposed 'other' features of the use of a sentence independently of the actions and emotions with which it is characteristically linked.' I'm not sure there's sufficient evidence for this sort of claim. It's not clear how justification can be fundamental unless we become some sort of behaviorist or something close to it. Even then, I'm not sure what justification would even mean. If the entire meaning of a sentence is captured in its inferential role and we leave no room for reference or reality or correspondence to external facts, this is an extreme anti-realism. Otherwise, either the facts expressed will themselves determine the sentences' inferential role or, more in line with Cockburn's ideas, the inferential role of a sentence will determine the facts. That is, if p justifies q then, given that facts are "chosen" from the world that match the given inferential role, the fact expressed by p will be the sort to ground such a justification or be a reason - not just any old facts, but the ones that actually fit the role. Either way, we still can ask about what in reality is playing that role. Cockburn doesn't seem to allow this - his whole focus is on sentences and our behavior but he fails to deal with what those sentences correspond to.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

BSD Conference

Saturday I attended the annual Berkeley-Stanford-Davis Graduate Conference in Philosophy which was held this year on the Berkeley campus. It was nice to see my alma mater again. Anyway, I attended a few interesting talks. One of them, of course, was my own. :)

The title of my paper was "The Modal and Temporal Problems from Concern". The basic idea was that certain theories of modality (necessity and possibility) as well as certain theories of time and persistence across time all have a similar problem in that they interpret the modal and temporal facts of reality in such a way that we would have no good reason to care for such facts and such facts could give us no good reasons to act in the ways we ordinarily think such facts justify us in doing so. So for instance, the theory of presentism says that the past and future do not exist - they are not real. So in order to give future tensed or past tensed statements the right truth-values, they have to interpret "past" facts or "future" facts as really facts about the present time. Ordinarily, we would take the past fact that, say, I committed some heinous act as a giving us good reason to punish me or blame me, etc. But, (I will leave the specific details of the paper aside) the sorts of facts the presentist identifies with such a past fact cannot do that - it cannot give us any reason at all for punishing me or otherwise holding me responsible for my past action. After all, on the presentist view, there is no such thing as my past heinous action to blame me for in the first place.

I got some good feedback from others at the conference. Mostly what came out was that I had forgotten to make explicit a few things in the paper, which I will soon remedy (that's what conferences are for, after all!). All in all, it was a good time.

Peeps Alive!

Check out the peeps, yo!

Monday, April 9, 2007

Report on the APA

Sorry about the lack of blogging lately - I've been in the Bay Area at the annual Pacific Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association. It was kinda cool seeing all these famous people and not knowing they were famous people until someone called them by name. Anyway, I caught the first two sessions of the second and last day of the Mini-Conference on Models of God and it was semi-interesting. I sat in for the first session on open theism, which was interesting. Alan Rhoda made the good point, which I had not considered before, that an open theist might take the point of view that the future is settled in the sense that every meaningful statement about the future is either determinately true or determinately false. This sort of open theist, by stating that God does not know all future contingents, denies that God knows everything - there are truths about the future that God just doesn't know. I think that's not a very plausible position to take, if not incoherent, but it's a point well-taken that this sort of position would also count as an open theist position.

Another panelist made the claim that a lot of the debaters in the controversy over open theism are simply evaluating things based on differing values or ordering of values. For instance, non-open theists think that a God who takes risks is somehow less than God - it is not befitting of God or his greatness. Open theists respond that, on the contrary, a God who doesn't is somehow less than God - it is not befitting of God or his greatness to constrain people. This clearly seems to be a disagreement about values at the fundamental level - if you start with grandeur then you're not likely to be an open theist whereas if you start with love and self-sacrifice you are more likely to be one. While much of this debate may be like this, however, I think a lot of it is not. Whether open theism can do justice to biblical prophecy, biblical teaching on God's knowledge and control, whether it can provide a coherent or plausible view of time and God, and so on are not subjects in which values mainly come to the fore - these are primarily exegetical and metaphysical issues.

Another one of the panelists reported and agreed with the writings of some open theist scholar to the effect that the development of the doctrine of the Trinity, far from being influenced by or a product of Greek philosophical thought as is sometimes claimed, was actually a reaction to such influence. According to this viewpoint, Arius and other heterodox thinkers, influenced by Greek ideas of the kinds of gulfs between human and divine and oneness and simplicity, etc., objected to the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity was an attempt to resist what was thought to be an effort to squeeze the Divine Persons into the procrustean bed built for it by Greek thought and sensibilities. He also claimed, however, that Trinitarianism was the answer to the anti-open theism of the day and that reflection on the Trinity demands open theism. This move, however, was vastly unclear and I really have no idea how one is supposed to get from Trinity to God not knowing future contingents - this was quite a leap.

I also saw the panel on panentheism but this was pretty unclear and boring (at least to me). The first speaker was not a native speaker and unfortunately I wasn't able to clearly make out a lot of what he said because the accent was so thick. So I wasn't quite sure what his paper was about and he wasn't quite sure what was going on when audience members asked questions, which was too bad. Panentheism (for those who don't know) is, by the way, the view that God includes the world in himself. God is more than the world, but the world is not a separate being from God even though God and the world are different entities. The basic metaphor of many panentheists is that the world is "God's body" in some weird sense. I'm not sure about the whole "God's body" thing - which is pretty weird - but something like panentheism used to be highly attractive to me. I think an adequate theory of God ought to take on the kernel of truth in panentheism but jettison the whole "God's body" business and treating the physical world as if it was a literal proper part of God.

In the remainder of the conference, I went to a lot of talks. A lot were hard for me to follow and I didn't get much out of them - this was most of the time due to lack of sleep, my generally poor attention span even under normal conditions, being too far in the back or unable to see the speaker well, etc. A few of the ones of note from Thursday and Friday: David Papineau argued that identity theorists must not really fully believe mind-brain identity since even to them the association seems contingent. If they really fully believed it, this wouldn't even appear contingent to them. David Chalmers noted that in a substantive dispute, the terminological dispute associated with the dispute is due to the dispute itself whereas in a merely terminological dispute the order of dependency is reversed. Chalmers gave a heuristic for uncovering merely terminological disputes: disallow the offending the word and make each party rephrase their position without it. If the respective rephrasings do not conflict, this is a merely terminological dispute. If they do, then it isn't. Some words, however, cannot be so eliminated. Chalmers dubs these "bedrock" and debates involving these words are probably going to be substantive rather than merely terminological since there are no more basic words in which to frame the disagreement and display the lack of substantive disagreement.

On Saturday morning, I commented on Stephan Torre's paper "In Defense of a Formulation of the Date Theory" (I think I got that title about right). It went pretty well. I'll have to keep in touch with Stephan since we have some similar projects in trying to defend a tenseless view of time. The last time session of Saturday was on a paper attempting to show that our temporal biases in our concern for others is conflicted and irrational. Our very own Cody Gilmore commented on the paper and argued against the thesis. During the discussion period, I offered some objections of my own. At a session on perception later that day, all I remember is that the idea of a Spinozistic system was introduced. In a Spinozistic system (perhaps perception is one of these as is testimony), this system directly gives us a belief which we only afterwards evaluate and decide whether to reject it or keep it. This nicely explains how brainwashing and cult indoctrination works - keep telling people stuff often enough and don't give them the opportunity or ability to evaluate or decide for themselves whether to keep such beliefs and they will keep them by default.

At the Society for the Philosophy of Time group meeting Saturday night, Cody presented the idea of a new theory of persistence - distension theory. According to this theory, objects wholly occupy temporally thick regions of spacetime where the thickness is determined by size, complexity, and kind. This is a pretty interesting view, and congenial to me in various ways. It's definitely better than endurantism, I think, but I'll have to think more about how it compares with perdurantism.

This coming Saturday - another conference in the Bay Area...