UMBC Philosophy Department

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Philosophy is sometimes described as the study of the true, the good, and the beautiful, but a more useful characterization might describe some of the standard areas of philosophy. Metaphysics studies what there is and the role of humans in the structure of things. Does God exist? Are minds and thoughts real and basic, or are we merely bodies and brainstates? Does everything have a cause, and if so do we have free will? What is the nature of personal identity? These are examples of metaphysical questions. Epistemology is the study of knowledge: what we can know and how we know it. Can we really know anything? Is the world really the way it appears to us? Do other minds exist, and are their experiences like mine? How can we ever know the truth of a universal scientific law, based on our finite experience? Ethics considers what is right and wrong, ideals of the good life, and what we owe ourselves and others. Do I have any reason to obey a moral code if it conflicts with my self-interest? Why should I obey the law? Are moral values objective, or are they simply matters of convention or agreement? Logic studies arguments, inferences, and reasoning. What is a proof? What is a good argument? What is rationality? Other areas include philosophy of art, philosophy of science, philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of religion. Our department offers courses in all of these areas. We also teach courses in the History of Philosophy, which explore that the great thinkers of the past have said about these issues. In these courses, you will read the works of Plato, Aristotle, St. Augustine, Descartes, David Hume, Leibniz, Immanuel Kant, John Locke, John Stuart Mill, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and others.


Recent Submissions

Now showing 1 - 14 of 14
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    Money in Fichte’s The Closed Commercial State
    Nance, Michael
    In his 1800 book The Closed Commercial State, J.G. Fichte gives an account of what he regards as the ideally rational form of political economy – “the closed commercial state” – and then describes the kind of political transition that would be required to bring this form of political economy into being. Fichte’s arguments give a leading theoretical and practical role to the politics of money. The purpose of this chapter is to develop an interpretation of Fichte’s monetary doctrine in CCS. I argue that Fichte’s general theory of money is a quantitative, institutionalist theory. I further argue Fichte’s institutionalist theory becomes, in the special case of the closed commercial state, a specifically statist theory of fiat money. Fichte’s statism brings along a raft of theoretical and practical consequences, which taken together underwrite his politics of money.
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    The Conceptual Unity of Dissociation: A Philosophical Argument
    (Routledge, 2019-06-29) Braude, Stephen
    Psychologists and psychiatrists have studied dissociative phenomena for a long time. However, they demonstrate surprisingly little agreement about what dissociation is and about which things exemplify it. Of course, many agree that certain l orid phenomena count as dissociative—for example, fugue states and DID. But when mental health professionals tackle the topic of dissociation theoretically and attempt to dei ne it, they do so in ways that often conl ict with one another, and (perhaps most surprising of all) they tend to overlook a large and important class of phenomena. Historically—and contrary to what the recent clinical literature would lead one to believe— most (if not all) hypnotic phenomena have been regarded as dissociative (see, e.g., Gauld, 1992; Van der Hart and Dorahy, 2008). In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, researchers into hypnosis were trying to study systematically the same sorts of subconscious mental divisions they believed occurred spontaneously in hysteria and to some extent in somnambulism. Indeed, some considered hypnotically induced systematized anesthesia or negative hallucination to be paradigm instances of dissociation. Yet when clinicians now try to analyze dissociation, hypnotic phenomena are largely ignored. Despite evidence to the contrary (e.g., Crabtree, 1993; Braude, 1995; Van der Hart & Dorahy, 2008), historians of psychology usually credit Pierre Janet with having originated the concept of dissociation, although he regularly used the term désagrégation instead. Janet focused on a distinctive and relatively limited type of traumainduced psychopathology. He considered dissociation to be a kind of weakness, a failure (in the face of disturbing events) to integrate parts of consciousness and maintain conscious unity. However, the concept has evolved in the hundred years since Janet tackled the subject. Subsequent researchers (e.g., James, Binet, Myers, Liègeois, Sidis) also recognized an apparent causal link between trauma and dissociative pathology. But they tended to agree that the processes Janet was describing from cases of hysteria (which 28 Dissociation and the Dissociative Disorders included conversion disorder and double consciousness) were also at work in a wider variety of phenomena, drawn not just from psychopathology but also from experimental psychology and even everyday life (see, e.g., Binet, 1896; Myers, 1903; Sidis, 1902). And along with that, they tended to view dissociation not as a weakness, but as a kind of capacity (not necessarily maladaptive) to sever familiar links with one’s own mental states. Signii cantly, this evolution of the concept of dissociation happened quite rapidly. Other turn-of-the-century researchers, interested at least as much in hypnosis as in psychopathology, were eager to explore the ways in which hypnotic states seemed to produce a kind of division or doubling of consciousness, or creation of seemingly autonomous sets of mental processes (for a quick history of these developments, see Braude, 1995, and Van der Hart & Dorahy, 2008. For a more detailed account, see Gauld, 1992). As Messerschmidt (1927) eventually made clear, these apparent divisions weren’t as fully autonomous as they seemed. But that didn’t undermine the view that the phenomena in question could arise either experimentally or spontaneously or, for that matter, pathologically or nonpathologically. These nonpathological (including hypnotic) contexts, in which the concept of dissociation has historically played an important role, tend to be neglected by most clinicians. Given their pressing clinical concerns, perhaps that is not surprising. Nevertheless, keeping in mind what pathological and nonpathological dissociative phenomena have in common may bring clarity to other issues, such as the difference (if any) between dissociation and apparently similar or related concepts—in particular, repression. In a fairly recent development, some clinicians have examined the concept of dissociation by using diagnostic surveys (e.g., the Dissociative Experiences Scale (DES) and the Multiscale Dissociation Inventory (MDI)) to consider how dissociative symptoms cluster. These survey instruments were initially designed as screening devices, to assess the presence or absence of phenomena already believed by the test designers to be dissociative. However, subsequent research on thousands of survey results has a more ambitious goal—namely, to determine more precisely what dissociation is. But data of the sort elicited by these surveys can’t tell us what the concept of dissociation is. To reiterate, the surveys look only for symptoms antecedently judged as relevant by their designers, who are limited by their selective grasp of the history of the concept. What they most clearly tend to neglect are the many nonpathological hypnotic phenomena that have been considered dissociative, but simply fall outside the purview of the surveys. In some cases, the studies in question are even more problematical than these remarks might suggest. For example, Briere et al. (2005) apply the MDI to determine whether dissociation is a multidimensional construct, and they conclude that it is, and that “the notion of ‘dissociation’ as a general trait was not supported” (p. 221). Apparently, then, the authors see themselves as trying to settle the issue of what sort of thing dissociation is. Indeed, on the basis of their survey they claim that “the term dissociation may be a misnomer to the extent that it implies a single underlying phenomenon” (p. 230). We’ll consider shortly whether dissociation can in fact be regarded as a single underlying phenomenon. But for now, I want only to observe that Briere et al. can’t possibly have shown that it isn’t (quite apart from concerns about using survey instruments for conceptual analysis). Briere et al. purport to uncover what dissociation is on the basis of a survey that tracks relationships among a handful of factors—of course, factors they antecedently determined to be relevant. Moreover, one of those factors is identity dissociation and, obviously, one can’t analyze the concept of dissociation by appealing to that very concept. So if Briere et al. are (as it seems) trying to analyze the concept of dissociation, their attempt is blatantly circular. So I believe we need to do some conceptual and methodological housecleaning. I agree with Cardeña (1994; Prince, 1905) that when clinicians attempt to characterize dissociation, they tend either to exclude too much or include too much. However (and apparently unlike Cardeña), I think it may be possible to pull together many of the varied intuitions about and approaches to dissociation and come up with a single, general, and useful characterization of dissociation that covers both its pathological and nonpathological forms, including many of those once deemed important but largely ignored today. I shall attempt to dei ne a single inclusive concept of dissociation that rests only on reasonable and recurrent assumptions distilled from more than a century’s literature on the subject. I start by identifying specii c assumptions underlying typical uses of the term dissociation, then see if they can be stated plausibly, and then see whether we can extract from them a dei nition that has both generality and utility.1
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    Expressivist Moral Abolitionism
    (Taylor & Francis Online, 2020-09-22) Campbell, Eric
    Moral abolitionists argue that ordinary moral discourse has downsides substantial enough to warrant abandoning the discourse in favour of some replacement(s). Their most common critique is that the ‘realist’ character of moral discourse inhibits important forms of self-awareness. Until recently, metaethicists had operated on the assumption that abolitionism depends on error theory. To this day, there has been no discernible recognition that well-established metaethical views might strongly support abolitionism, despite rejecting error theory. Here I argue that expressivism supports abolitionism and fits very poorly with quasi-realism. That is because (1) the quasi-realist strategy for defeating error theory helps abolitionists by entailing that they have no need of error theory, (2) expressivist interpretations of belief in realism strongly support abolitionist critiques from self-awareness, and (3) there is an inherent instability between expressivism and quasi-realism, while abolitionism and expressivism fit very nicely together.
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    The Creativity of Dissociation
    (Taylor & Francis, 2008-10-17) Braude, Stephen E.
    This paper examines the complex and creative strategies employed in keeping beliefs, memories, and various other mental and bodily states effectively dissociated from normal waking consciousness. First, it examines cases of hypnotic anesthesia and hypnotically induced hallucination, which illustrate: (1) our capacity for generating novel mental contents, (2) our capacity for choosing a plan of action from a wider set of options, and (3) our capacity for monitoring and responding to environmental influences threatening to undermine a dissociative state. These observations are then extended to cases involving dissociated memories of trauma. The strategies needed to maintain a dissociated belief or memory are strikingly similar to those involved in preventing our lies from being exposed. Moreover, these strategies are complex, and they potentially affect seemingly remote aspects of a person's psychology. That point is illustrated by examining the dispositional nature of both memory and belief, the complex web of relations between our mental states and other elements of our psychology, and the interrelatedness of personality states and human capacities.
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    Counting Persons and Living With Alters: Comments on Matthews
    (Project Muse, 2003-12-29) Braude, Stephen E.
    I am pleased to see an increasing amount of attention being paid to the topic of responsibility in cases of Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID). But I question whether Matthews and others are taking matters in a helpful direction. I have a number of related concerns, some dealing with specifics of Matthews's present paper, and some with views presupposed here but argued for elsewhere.
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    Book Review: Australian Poltergeist: The Stone-Throwing Spook of Humpty Doo and Many Other Cases
    (Society of Scientific Exploration) Healy, Tony; Cropper, Paul
    No doubt this breezily written and informative volume will fill a gaping lacuna in most JSE readers’ knowledge of evidence for psychokinesis generally and poltergeist phenomena in particular. It certainly did for me. Healy and Cropper survey 52 different Australian cases, spanning the years 1845–2002. The first eleven chapters cover the authors’ 11 strongest cases in considerable detail. Chapter 12 describes the remaining 41 cases more briefly, and catalogues all 52 cases in chronological order. Chapter 13 purports to wrap things up, but it’s followed by three appendices introducing additional cases outside Australia and brief discussions of similar or at least potentially relevant physical mysteries—for example, some Asian fire poltergeist cases, ball lightning, UFOs, and reported rains of fishes.
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    Ian Stevenson: A Recollection and Tribute
    (Society of Scientific Exploration, 2008) Braude, Stephen E.
    I had the pleasure of debating the issues concerning survival with Ian Stevenson over many years, both in person and in print. And there were quite a few issues on which we didn’t see eye to eye. But what made those disagreements possible, and what allowed them to be as focused and substantive as they were, was the indispensable and monumental body of work that Ian had already produced and continued to produce.
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    The Mediumship of Carlos Mirabelli (1889–1951)
    (Society of Scientific Exploration, 2017) BRAUDE, STEPHEN E.
    The case of the Brazilian medium Carlos Mirabelli is one of the most tantalizing and frustrating in psychical research. If his phenomena— especially his psychokinetic manifestations—occurred as reported, he was probably the greatest physical medium of all time. Mirabelli reportedly moved objects (including very large objects) without contact, levitated himself while bound to a chair, and dematerialized and transported objects of all kinds (including himself) to distant locations. Mirabelli also reportedly produced numerous different full-figure materializations in bright daylight, and these were often recognized as deceased relatives, acquaintances, or well-known public figures by those attending the séance. Sitters would watch them form; attending physicians would carefully examine them for up to 30 minutes and report ordinary bodily functions; photographs of the figures would be taken; and then they would slowly dissolve or fade before everyone’s eyes. However, Mirabelli was also clearly guilty of fraud on occasion, including his notorious use of a doctored photo ostensibly showing him to be levitating. His case therefore presents an all-too-familiar challenge to psi research—namely, how to assess cases of so-called “mixed” mediumship.
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    Follow-Up Investigation of the Felix Circle
    (Society of Scientific Exploration, 2016-03-15) BRAUDE, STEPHEN E.
    In October 2015, I supervised a series of séances in Hanau, Germany, with the Felix Experimental Group (FEG) physical medium Kai Mügge. The purpose was to try to obtain better documentation of Kai’s table levitations than my team was able to achieve in Austria in 2013 (Braude 2014). Although that goal was not met over the course of four séances, we nevertheless witnessed some interesting phenomena that are difficult to explain away normally given the control conditions imposed at the time. These include object movements beyond the reach of the sitters, a very strange “exploding” sound from the séance table, and some extended levitations in which the table seemed to sway or swim in midair. But what may be most interesting about this series of séances is the way the phenomena reflect the complex, and tortured, underlying psychodynamics of the occasion. Indeed, what readers need to know about the FEG phenomena has as much to do with the personalities involved as with the phenomena themselves. As a result, this report focuses as much on the background to the investigation as on the investigation itself.
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    Investigations of the Felix Experimental Group: 2010–2013
    (Society for Scientific Exploration, 2014-05-28) BRAUDE, STEPHEN E.
    This paper chronicles my introduction to and subsequent investigation of the Felix Experimental Group (FEG) and its exhibitions of classical physical mediumship. It’s been nearly a century since investigators have had the opportunity to carefully study standard spiritistic phenomena, including the extruding of ectoplasm, and the FEG is the only current physical mediumistic circle permitting any serious controls. The paper details a progressively stringent, personally supervised series of séances, culminating in some well-controlled experiments with video documentation in a secure and private location belonging to one of the investigators. Regrettably, recent indications of fraud (explored also by Michael Nahm in this issue) have tarnished the case as a whole. However, it remains unclear how extensive the fraud has been. Accordingly, this paper evaluates the arguments both for and against the paranormality of the phenomena displayed under the author’s supervision.
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    Perspectival Awareness and Postmortem Survival
    (Society for Scientific Exploration, 2009) BRAUDE, STEPHEN E.
    Critics of survival research often claim that the survival hypothesis is conceptually problematic at best, and literally incoherent at worst. The guiding intuition behind their skepticism is that there’s an essential link between the concept of a person (or personality or experience) and physical embodiment. Thus (they argue), since by hypothesis postmortem individuals such as ostensible mediumistic communicators have no physical body, there’s something wrong with the very idea of a postmortem person, personality or experience. However, critics can’t simply beg the question and assert that physical embodiment is essential to personhood, personality, or experience, because the evidence suggesting survival is a prima facie challenge to the contrary. On the other hand, defenders of ostensible mediumistic communication need to explain how postmortem awareness and knowledge of the current physical world can occur without a physical body that experiences the world and represents it accurately enough to ground veridical postmortem reports. This paper will fi rst consider why survivalists face potentially serious problems in trying to make sense of apparent postmortem perception. Then it will consider a plausible—and arguably the only—way to deal with the issues. However, that solution turns out to be a double-edged sword. Ironically, the best way to deal with the problem of perspectival postmortem awareness may render the survival hypothesis gratuitous.
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    The Metaphysics of Recollection in Plato’s Meno
    (Walter de Gruyter Inc., Boston/Berlin, 2019-03-06) Schwab, Whitney
    Recollection is central to the epistemology of Plato’s Meno. After all, the character Socrates claims that recollection is the process whereby embodied human souls bind down true opinions (doxai) and acquire knowledge (epistêmê). This paper examines the exchange between Socrates and Meno’s slave to determine (1) what steps on the path to acquiring knowledge are part of the process of recollection and (2) what is required for a subject to count as having recollected something. I argue that the key to answering these questions is to get clear on the kind of process recollection is supposed to be. In particular, I argue that recollection is a process akin to the kind of process Aristotle calls “changes” (kinêseis or incomplete energeiai). The key feature of such processes is that they aim at an end beyond themselves and are not complete until that end comes about. In the case of recollection, the end is knowledge, but inferior mental states, such as false opinion, puzzlement (aporia), and true opinion can come about because of a process of recollection without making it the case that the subject has recollected anything. I argue that this interpretation provides a textually supported and philosophically coherent understanding of Socrates’ conception of recollection.
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    Higher Dispositional Optimism Predicts Lower Pain Reduction During Conditioned Pain Modulation
    (Elsevier B.V., 2018-09-13) Hinkle, Caroline E.; Quiton, Raimi L.
    Optimism is associated with lower pain sensitivity, positive adjustment to chronic pain, and greater reduction of pain thresholds in a conditioned pain modulation (CPM) paradigm. We hypothesized that participants with higher levels of optimism would experience greater inhibition of suprathreshold pain during CPM. Seventy-seven healthy adults completed a test of optimism, the Life Orientation Test-Revised, as well as measures of depression, pain catastrophizing, and neuroticism. Participants also underwent psychophysical tests of heat pain tolerance, heat pain threshold, and CPM. CPM magnitude was calculated as the change in heat pain ratings when applied alone and simultaneously with painful pressure. Greater optimism was significantly correlated with reduced CPM magnitude (P = .013). Regression analysis was performed using optimism as a predictor of CPM magnitude while controlling for pain catastrophizing, neuroticism, depression, and age. The overall model was significant (P = .003). Significant positive coefficients were found for depression (P = .014) and optimism (P < .001) scores. These results suggest that greater optimism predicts less inhibition of suprathreshold pain, the opposite of our hypothesis. This unexpected finding may be due to factors such as perceived stress and coping differences, and suggests that modulation of threshold-level and suprathreshold pain involves different underlying mechanisms. PERSPECTIVE: This article reports that greater optimism predicts less inhibition of suprathreshold pain, in contrast with previous work showing that optimism correlates positively with pain threshold reductions. These findings suggest that the association between optimism and the function of endogenous pain modulatory systems is complex and differs for threshold-level and suprathreshold pain.
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    New World orioles (Icterus) include several closely related species and subspecies pairs that provide excellent opportunities for studying recent speciation. We examined a subspecies pair in the Orchard Oriole group: Orchard Oriole (I. spurius spurius), a longdistance migrant that breeds in eastern North America, and Fuertes’s Oriole (I. s. fuertesi), a short-distance migrant that breeds in a restricted range in Veracruz, Mexico. We sequenced parts of the mitochondrial cytochrome-b gene (925 base pairs) and control region (344 base pairs) from 23 Orchard Orioles and 7 Fuertes’s Orioles. Subspecies are not reciprocally monophyletic. Instead, our data suggest that at least one taxon is paraphyletic or polyphyletic. We found little support for any further phylogenetic structure, including whether one subspecies might be derived from the other. However, haplotype frequency analysis suggests that there is little or no current gene fl ow between the taxa. The phylogenetic relationship between Orchard and Fuertes’s orioles is likely a result of recent divergence and incomplete lineage sorting. That interpretation is consistent with theoretical models of speciation, which predict patterns of nonmonophyly at early stages of taxon divergence. Our findings suggest that Orchard and Fuertes’s orioles are separate species and provide a case study for evaluating the importance of monophyly in defi ning species limits.