Florida Philosophical Review

Vol. II.2, Winter 2002

Volume II, Number 2

Winter 2002

Copyright 2002 by The University of Central Florida: ISSN 1535-3656

Editorial Board
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Table of Contents

  1. Editors' Introduction by Shelley Park and Nancy Stanlici
  2. "The Uncanny Proximity: From Democracy to Terror" by Farhang Erfani5
  3. "Probability and Risk Assessment: Taking a Chance on 'Terrorism'" by James E. Roper23
  4. "Our National Tragedy: Some Philosophical Reflections " by Ronald L. Hall45
  5. "A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Volition" by Hoyt Edge and Luh Ketut Suryani56
  6. "Answering Some Objections to Scientific Realism" by S. Brian Hood73

Book Reviews

  1. "Philosophy, Literature and the Human Good" by Steve Wall84
  2. Notes on Contributors87
Abstract: The Uncanny Proximity: From Democracy to Terror

There is a very fine line separating democracy from terror. Through analysis of the work of the French political philosopher Claude Lefort, I hope to show that there is an uncanny proximity between terror and democracy. In Lefort’s view, political power rests on the contingency and groundlessness that politics has experienced since the French Revolution. Since that time, political power has been separated from the divine and has become a human affair. For Lefort, totalitarianism can come only after the democratic turn because democracy and totalitarianism have the same political foundation in the French Revolution. The openness of democracy is what allows for a totalitarian regime to take power and to terrorize people. But democracy is also able to combat terrorism because, by giving more voice to the excluded and the oppressed, democracy may be able to assimilate them; for if the claim of such people is a lack of autonomy, democracy is the system that should be able to allow them to exercise power. A true war on terror, therefore, would empower people through democracy and not disenfranchise them further.

Abstract: Probability and Risk Assessment: Taking a Chance on 'Terrorism'

Beginning with an analysis of the "reluctant gambler problem"—in which the notion of guiding one's life by probability seems to conflict with the preferences of rational people—we draw a distinction between rule and act probabilism. Arguing that humans are rule probabilists by default, we show that reluctant gamblers can be viewed as rule probabilists. If so viewed, their reluctance to gamble (in specified examples) is consistent with their rational use of probability judgments to guide their lives.

The distinction between rule and act probabilism suggests a way to analyze the risks stemming from the September 11 terrorist attacks. Assessing the risks posed by the new reality of terrorism in the U.S. in light of the rule versus act probabilist distinction shows the risks Americans face from a terrorist attack are essentially the same as they were before September 11, 2002. Yet empirical investigation indicates Americans exaggerate their personal risks from terrorism.

The perception that the risks of terrorism mushroomed on September 11 is partially explained by the 24-hour news stations' TV coverage and the current administration's "interest" in diverting attention from their own questionable practices. While the risks of terrorism are not appreciably higher than they were prior to September 11, they might be further reduced. Unfortunately, our government's strategy to reduce the risks of terrorist strikes involves weakening the Constitution. Americans face the question how much it is appropriate to pay—in diminished rights and liberties—to reduce a risk that is essentially the same as it was prior to the attacks.

Abstract: Our National Tragedy: Some Philosophical Reflections

Mostly in blank verse, I consider the question "What value can a student receive from a single course in philosophy?" More specifically, in line with my own teaching duties, I focus on the value to students of a single course in, say, epistemology, metaphysics, or philosophy of science or mind. I consider and reject answers based on the examples of introductory instruction in science or in art, finally concluding that even just a bit of this sort of philosophy can communicate some of the delight philosophers enjoy in finding a world of questions in apparently obvious facts of everyday life.

Abstract: A Cross-Cultural Analysis of Volition

Western philosophy has emphasized the concept of will (or volition), viewing it as the agent through which we affect the world. That same tradition has put emphasis on an individualist, atomistic concept of the self. In a related vein, cross-cultural psychologists have distinguished between individualist and collectivist cultures, with Western cultures, especially the U.S., being put into the former category, while most non-Euro-American cultures are placed in the latter one.

We delve deeper into the individualist/collectivist distinction by examining the concept of volition, trying to determine whether it is a cross-cultural concept or if it systematically changes according to whether the culture expresses an individualist or relational concept of self. Since the concept of autonomy is related to the concepts of self and of volition, we also question whether it also changes, depending on the culture. In the end, we argue that the concepts of self, volition, and autonomy form a family of concepts, which are systematically different in an individualist and in a collectivist culture.

Our work is based on empirical research gathered by us in Bali and in the U.S. using a survey questionnaire. We found that American and Balinese responses suggested a cross-cultural component of volition, focusing on the ability to take initiative and to persist in action. On the other hand, we found decidedly cultural responses in their views of volition, and these correspond with their different ideas of self. In particular, the Balinese respond that they employ more secondary control, in which they try to conform to the world, while Americans show more primary control, in which one attempts to conform the world to one’s own wishes. Likewise, both cultures respond that autonomy is fundamental to them, but the concept seems to be understood differently, relating to their concepts of self and volitional control.

Abstract: Answering Some Objections to Scientific Realism

Scientific realism is, roughly, the thesis according to which science is an epistemically progressive enterprise and current well-confirmed theories are at least approximately true. Putnam has argued that scientific realism is the only philosophy of science that does not make the success of science a miracle. This “explanationist” defense of scientific realism has come under attack by philosophers such as Arthur Fine, Chuang Liu, and Putnam himself. In this paper, I defend the explanationist defense against some of these objections.

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