The Winners of the 3 Quarks Daily 2011 Philosophy Prize

Philosophy_2011 Philosophy_160_winner PhilosophyCharmWinner2011

Patricia Churchland has picked the winners:

1. Top Quark, $1000: Terrence Tomkow, Self Defense
2. Strange Quark, $300: John Schwenkler, Has Molyneux's Question Been Answered?
3. Charm Quark, $200: Jussi Suikkanen, Williams, Thick Concepts, and Reasons

Here is what Professor Churchland had to say about them:

Each of the blogs was truly fascinating and productive in its own way, so choosing involves some arbitrariness. I liked the fact that they had to be succinct and so got straight to the point instead of horsing around.

1. Tomkow: Self Defense. This is an insightful and pithy piece that shows how claims about rights can go wrong. Taking a seemingly water-tight right, namely the right to self-defense, Tomkow shows that life can actually get messy as conditions drift from the prototypical examples of permissible self-defense where we all (pretty much) agree. If, as I suspect, virtually all moral concepts are anchored by proptypical cases and we extrapolate as best we can to nonprotoypical cases (see Mark Johnson), then it should not be surprising if deciding the merits of cases far from the prototype center is difficult. Worse, in some borderline cases there may be no right answer. I realize Tomkow keeps winning these contests, but I aimed to adhere to the merits of the writing.

2. Brains: Has Molyneux’s question been answered? Hard-headed, careful, and empirically up-to-date, this looks at Richard Held’s recent results of a study of congenitally blind children who gain sight after surgical correction (Project Prakash in India). Held’s report was published in Nature Neuroscience, and concluded that the answer to Molyneux’s question is likely negative. In his blog, John Schwenkler shows that the question is still open, given the way the experiment was set up. I had been convinced by Held’s report, but I now think Schwenkler’s criticism is dead on. This is progress in philosophy. I hope Held takes Schwenkler's advice on the right way to do the experiment.

3. PEA Soup: Williams, thick concepts, and reasons. This is very useful as it shows some internal tensions in Bernard Williams’ approach to reasons and motivation. Supposedly, thick concepts such as “ingrate” or “coward”, if applied to a person, will provide a reason for him to cease and desist from his ungrateful or cowardly behavior. Typically such terms carry disapproving connotation, as most linguistically fluent humans know, and most humans most of the time respond negatively to disapproval by those they respect. Hence, if you wanted to, I guess, you could say that being called a coward provided you with a reason to stiffen your spine. Or a motive? Whatever. Obviously not all humans respond with negative affect to disapproval. It may be because they have no respect for the person judging, or perhaps because their current affective state blocks the response, or even because their brain is such that they have abnormal social responses in general, not merely transiently. Or sometimes what you may regard as a negative epithet, I do not — e.g. “pragmatist”, “feminist”.

4. Leonardo Ferreira Almada's blog: Epistemology of Neurosciences and Psychiatry. I know the rules —I am obliged to restrict myself to three blogs, but I want to give an honorable mention, if I may. Almada is a Brazilian philosopher, with a richly informative blog. He addresses issues such as how to integrate in an explanatory framework affective factors (e.g. feeling fear, pain or hunger) and cognitive factors (seeing a raccoon, expecting a hailstorm, planning an escape). His work is very well-informed by neuroscience and psychology, and he is asking really good questions. I am reasonably sure that all of the nine submissions on the short-list are from North America or England, and because there is excellent philosophy being done elsewhere, and in South America in particular, I wanted to use this occasion to give a shout out to that philosophical community.

Many thanks to all of you for giving me such great reading, and now that I know about your terrific blogs, I shall visit often.

Congratulations also from 3QD to the winners (I will send the prize money later today or tomorrow–and remember, you must claim the money within one month from today–just send me an email). And feel free to leave your acceptance speech as a comment here! And thanks to everyone who participated. Thanks also, of course, to Patricia Churchland for doing the final judging.

The three prize logos at the top of this post were designed, respectively, by Sughra Raza, Carla Goller, and me. I hope the winners will display them with pride on their own blogs!

Details about the prize here.