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Agnosticism, Inquiry, and Unanswerable Questions

Abstract

In her paper “Why Suspend Judging?” Jane Friedman has argued that being agnostic about some question entails that one has an inquiring attitude towards that question. Call this the agnostic-as-inquirer thesis. I argue that the agnostic-as-inquirer thesis is implausible. Specifically, I maintain that the agnostic-as-inquirer thesis requires that we deny the existence of a kind of agent that plausibly exists; namely, one who is both agnostic about Q because they regard their available evidence as insufficient for answering Q and who decides not to inquire into Q because they believe Q to be unanswerable. I claim that it is not only possible for such an agent to exist, but that such an agent is also epistemically permissible.

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Frustrating Absences

Abstract

Experiences of absence are common in everyday life, but have received little philosophical attention until recently, when two positions regarding the nature of such experiences surfaced in the literature. According to the Perceptual View, experiences of absence are perceptual in nature. This is denied by the Surprise-Based View, according to which experiences of absence belong together with cases of surprise. In this paper, I show that there is a kind of experience of absence—which I call frustrating absences—that has been overlooked by the Perceptual View and by the Surprise Based-View and that cannot be adequately explained by them. I offer an alternative account to deal with frustrating absences, one according to which experiencing frustrating absences is a matter of subjects having desires for something to be present frustrated by the world. Finally, I argue that there may well be different kinds of experiences of absence.

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The Social Furniture of Virtual Worlds

Abstract

David Chalmers argues that virtual objects exist in the form of data structures that have causal powers. I argue that there is a large class of virtual objects that are social objects and that do not depend upon data structures for their existence. I also argue that data structures are themselves fundamentally social objects. Thus, virtual objects are fundamentally social objects.

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Virtual Realism: Really Realism or only Virtually so? A Comment on D. J. Chalmers’s Petrus Hispanus Lectures

Abstract

What is the status of a cat in a virtual reality environment? Is it a real object? Or part of a fiction? Virtual realism, as defended by D. J. Chalmers, takes it to be a virtual object that really exists, that has properties and is involved in real events. His preferred specification of virtual realism identifies the cat with a digital object. The project of this paper is to use a comparison between virtual reality environments and scientific computer simulations to critically engage with Chalmers’s position. I first argue that, if it is sound, his virtual realism should also be applied to objects that figure in scientific computer simulations, e.g. to simulated galaxies. This leads to a slippery slope because it implies an unreasonable proliferation of digital objects. A philosophical analysis of scientific computer simulations suggests an alternative picture: The cat and the galaxies are parts of fictional models for which the computer provides model descriptions. This result motivates a deeper analysis of the way in which Chalmers builds up his realism. I argue that he buys realism too cheap. For instance, he does not really specify what virtual objects are supposed to be. As a result, rhetoric aside, his virtual realism isn’t far from a sort of fictionalism.

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Virtual Reality: Fictional all the Way Down (and that’s OK)

Abstract

Are virtual objects real? I will claim that the question sets us up for the wrong type of conclusion: Chalmers (2017) argues that a virtual calculator (like other entities) is a real calculator when it is “organizationally invariant” with its non-virtual counterpart—when it performs calculation. However, virtual reality and games are defined by the fact that they always selectively implement their source material. Even the most detailed virtual car will still have an infinite range of details which are missing (gas, engines, pistons, fuel, chemical reactions, molecules, atoms). This means that even the most detailed virtual object will still have fictional aspects. Rather than argue that virtual objects are, or aren’t, real, it is preferable to think of overlaps and continuities between the fictional and the real, where even the most painstakingly detailed virtual reality implementation of a non-virtual object is still art: a human process of selection and interpretation. Virtual reality should therefore not be philosophically understood just as a technological implementation on a trajectory to perfection, but as a cultural artifact which derives its value in part from its simplification and difference from its source material.

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Kant Meets Cyberpunk

Abstract

I defend a how-possibly argument for Kantian (or Kant*-ian) transcen- dental idealism, drawing on concepts from David Chalmers, Nick Bostrom, and the cyberpunk subgenre of science fiction. If we are ar- tificial intelligences living in a virtual reality instantiated on a giant computer, then the fundamental structure of reality might be very dif- ferent than we suppose. Indeed, since computation does not require spatial properties, spatiality might not be a feature of things as they are in themselves but instead only the way that things necessarily ap- pear to us. It might seem unlikely that we are living in a virtual reality instantiated on a non-spatial computer. However, understanding this possibility can help us appreciate the merits of transcendental ideal- ism in general, as well as transcendental idealism’s underappreciated skeptical consequences.

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On Phenomenal Functionalism about the Properties of Virtual and Non-virtual Objects

Abstract

According to phenomenal functionalism, whether some object or event has a given property is determined by the kinds of sensory expe- riences such objects or events typically cause in normal perceivers in normal viewing conditions. This paper challenges this position and, more specifically, David Chalmers’s use of it in arguing for what he calls virtual realism.

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The Transition into Virtual Reality

Abstract

In “The Virtual and the Real,” David Chalmers argues that there is an epistemic and ontological parity between VR and ordinary reality. My argument here is that, whatever the plausibility of these claims, they provide no basis for supposing that there is a similar parity of value. Careful reflection upon certain aspects of the transition that individu- als make from interacting with real-world, physical environments to interacting with VR provides a basis for thinking that, to the extent that there are good reasons to deny the reality of virtual objects, there are also reasons to place a correspondingly higher value upon the ex- perience of interacting with a VR environment. Chalmers’ assump- tion to the contrary arises from a subtle misrepresentation of how the phenomenon of cognitive penetration works in the perception of virtual objects, and from an unwillingness to acknowledge how our attitudes toward virtual environments are conditioned by the values we adopt when engaged in gameplay.

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Virtual Reality: Digital or Fictional?

Abstract

Are the objects and events that take place in Virtual Reality genuinely real? Those who answer this question in the affirmative are realists, and those who answer in the negative are irrealists. In this paper we argue against the realist position, as given by Chalmers (2017), and present our own preferred irrealist account of the virtual. We start by disambiguat- ing two potential versions of the realist position—weak and strong— and then go on to argue that neither is plausible. We then introduce a Waltonian variety of fictionalism about the virtual, arguing that this sort of irrealist approach avoids the problems of the realist positions, fits with a unifying theory of representational works, and offers a better ac- count of the phenomenology of engaging in virtual experiences.

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Do We Need Propositions?

Abstract

Trenton Merricks argues that we need propositions to serve as the premises and conclusions of modally valid arguments (Merricks 2015). A modally valid argument is an argument in which, necessarily, if the premises are true, then the conclusion is also true. According to Mer- ricks, the premises and conclusions of modally valid arguments have their truth conditions essentially, and they exist necessarily. Sentences do not satisfy these conditions. Thus, we need propositions. Merricks’ argument adds a new chapter to the longstanding debate over the exis- tence of propositions. However, I argue that Merricks’ argument does not quite succeed. Merricks has overlooked one viable alternative to pos- tulating propositions. However, this alternative employs the relation of being true-at-a-world, which is difficult to analyze. Thus, the soundness of Merricks’ argument ultimately depends on the comparative merits of accepting propositions as abstract entities, versus accepting truth-at-a- world as an unanalyzed relation between sentences and possible worlds.

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