""http://www.w3.org/TR/html4/loose.dtd" The Philosopher's Annual


From the literature of 2022

Every year the editors of the Philosopher’s Annual receive a long list of excellent papers published the preceding year from an impressive group of nominating editors. From this list, they eventually select ten papers as their suggestions for a top list of papers published that year. As a rule, these papers constitute exceptional contributions to the discipline, and natural suggestions for must-reads from that year.

This year has been no different. After extensive discussions, the editors have produced a list of some of the greatest papers published in 2022. This list includes groundbreaking contributions in metaphysics, ethics, formal philosophy, and the history of philosophy, among other areas. In the rest of this introduction, you will find a short summary and motivation for inclusion for each paper on the list.

Some things are typically considered to be exact, such as fundamental physical laws or being 183 cm tall. Other things are typically thought to be vague, such as being bald or being tall. Eddy Keming Chen’s “Fundamental Nomic Vagueness” argues that some fundamental laws of nature may be vague, in the same way that e.g. being bald is vague. But what does it mean for a fundamental law to be vague? Chen carefully lays out conditions for considering fundamental laws vague, centrally among them the existence of borderline lawful possible worlds. Among the implications of fundamental nomic vagueness is an especially interesting one. Physicists often seek to express the fundamental laws using mathematics; but if our fundamental laws are vague, such exactness in their expression may be a lost cause. In the latter part of the paper, Chen expertly illustrates and addresses such issues, using a discussion of fundamental laws regarding time as a case study.

Here is another big question—perhaps the biggest: Is there just one universe, or vastly many—a multiverse? In “Multiple Universes and Self-Locating Evidence”, Yoaav Isaacs, John Hawthorne, and Jeffrey Sanford Russell start from the argument that not only evidence of fine-tuning in favor of life but essentially any mundane qualitative evidence seems to support the multiverse hypothesis. But the question has also been raised whether self-locating evidence regarding our own place in the universe might screen off such a conclusion. The result has been “a flurry of conflicting analogies” without a deep enough understanding to see which analogies are apt and which are not. What the authors offer is one of the best discussions of several analyses of self-locating evidence to date, with fascinating results indicating the difficulty of escaping a conclusion that fine-tuned life does indeed provide evidence for a multiverse.

Chunghyoung Lee’s paper “I am not the zygote I came from because a different singleton could have come from it” addresses the issue of when life and personhood begin. A zygote may not strike us as much akin to a born human, but it is a widespread view that it should still be granted certain rights based on its future as a human being. If the zygote is bound to develop into a specific person, it seems that we wrong that person if we destroy that zygote, for example. Lee argues that this argument is wrongheaded because a zygote can naturally develop into different individuals. If this is true, the zygote and the born human are numerically distinct, undercutting the argument that a specific person, or even a human being, started existing as a zygote. Lee’s argument for the developmental plasticity of zygotes rests on cutting-edge research regarding human embryos and is an exemplary work of empirically informed scholarship.

It might seem appropriate to shrug off the language of thought hypothesis, grounded in Fodor and Pylyshyn’s work in the 1970s and 1980s, as a twentieth-century relic, particularly as a general theory of representation appropriate to the cognitive sciences. Jake Quilty-Dunn, Nicolas Porot, and Eric Mandelbaum argue the contrary: that the fundamentals of such a theory are strongly supported in current work in computational cognitive science, perceptual and social psychology, and comparative and developmental psychology. The authors use a flexible rubric for ‘language of thought’ in terms of six core properties: discrete constituents, independent syntactic roles, predicate-argument structure, the use of logical operators, inferential automaticity, and general abstract content. With a particular emphasis on how these properties cluster in empirical results, the authors attempt to document “The Re-Emergence of the Language of Thought Hypothesis Across the Cognitive Sciences.” It remains, they argue, “The Best Game in Town.”

In recent years, it has become increasingly obvious that metaphysics can have social and practical implications. Elizabeth Barnes’ “Gender without Gender Identity” constitutes an excellent example of this. In her paper, she considers the role of self-identification in determining gender. While affirming the central role of self-identification, she argues that it cannot constitute a necessary condition, because that would imply that people without the cognitive abilities to self-identify as, for instance, women could not be women. Yet, she argues, they will still face gendered violence in the way faced by people who are able to self-identify in that way, which makes this an unacceptable consequence. The argument is admirably straightforward, and both theoretically and practically powerful in its simplicity.

Moving via social metaphysics to normative theory, in “Personal Ideals and the Ideal of Rational Agency”, Sarah Buss examines the relation between being reasons-responsive and acting under the guise of both the thick (i.e. substantive) and thin (i.e. aspirational) aspects of one’s personal ideals. In the process, Buss adroitly weaves in discussions of – and makes significant contributions to – the debates regarding normative ‘fetishism’, acting under the guise of the good, and moral dilemmas.

In the 1950’s, John Harsanyi made a landmark contribution to formal political theory by proving that any social planner that satisfies conditions of standard expected utility theory and impartiality will be utilitarian. Since then, critics have attempted to avoid this conclusion partly by arguing that Harsanyi’s rationality conditions are too strict. However, in his paper “Impartial Evaluation under Ambiguity”, Richard Bradley shows that we can arrive at similar results to Harsanyi with far weaker assumptions. In particular, he demonstrates that even if we adopt a theory of rationality that allows for risk and ambiguity aversion, a social planner will end up strongly restricted in how they can adapt their distribution in response to uncertainty. This means that Harsanyi’s conclusions are far harder to avoid than has been properly appreciated before and constitutes a significant contribution to formal political theory and normative economics.

Continuing on the formal theme, in her paper “Bayesian Merging of Opinions and Algorithmic Randomness”, Francesca Zaffora Blando demonstrates a new explanation for why Bayesian updaters usually eventually come to agree with each other if they receive the same evidence. According to the standard Bayesian convergence theorems, assuming some constraints on agents’ prior probabilities, two agents who update on the same set of evidence will converge towards the same posterior probabilities. Drawing on computability theory, Blando proves that this will also occur under another set of conditions, namely when the agents agree on the algorithmic randomness of data streams. The paper is a rare modern contribution to Bayesian approaches to the problem of induction.

Finally, this year we also saw significant contributions to historical philosophy. Karolina Hübner’s article, “Representation and Mind-Body Identity in Spinoza’s Philosophy” impressively illuminates one of Spinoza’s most famous and exegetically-challenging claims: that minds and bodies are ‘one and the same thing’ (E IIP7S) and, further, that this is the case despite the fact that they cannot be substituted in causal contexts (E IIP5-6). Hübner offers an eminently plausible, and carefully textually-grounded, account which argues that Spinozistic mind-body identity is an identity that obtains in virtue of an intentional or representational relation between minds and bodies—a view which cuts through interpretative controversies and makes an enormous contribution to the literature on Spinoza by providing a solid foundation upon which future scholarship can build.

In the post-Carneadean New Academy, two forms of Academic scepticism arose. On the one hand, there was ‘moderate scepticism’, which held only that there were no cognitive impressions and, hence, no knowledge of things in the world. On the other hand, there was ‘radical scepticism’, which held both that there were no cognitive impressions and that there should be a universal withholding of assent, meaning that even the formation of opinions was forbidden. In James Allen’s “Radicalism and Moderation in the New Academy,” the commitments of—and the exact sources of disagreement between—these two strands of Academic scepticism are astutely elucidated, as is Cicero’s place in this major Hellenistic debate.

As editors, it was our great pleasure to read these papers, and we unreservedly recommend anyone else in the profession to do so too.

Patrick Grim
Sean M. Costello
Paul de Font-Reaulx
Malte Hendrickx