The Future Of series asks UOW experts and researchers a set of five questions to gain some insight into the future states of our lives, our communities, and the world.
Daniel Hutto is Senior Professor of Philosophical Psychology. His recent research focuses primarily on issues in philosophy of mind, psychology and cognitive science. He is best known for promoting enactive and embodied cognition that are non-representational at root, and for his narrative practice hypothesis about folk psychology, which claims that engaging with narratives, understood as public artefacts, plays a critical role in underpinning distinctively human forms of cognition.
What are you researching or working on in 2018?
Along with a team of colleagues and HDR students, I’ve been pursuing several diverse, though connected, lines of research. A good deal of our research has been focused on particular topics in the philosophy of psychology.
We’ve been addressing the following sorts of questions: What is our best account of empathy? When does self-awareness arise? Should the idea of basic emotions be retired from the sciences of mind? To what extent does our capacity to remember depend on environmental factors? How does culture shape our minds? Answers to these questions are of central concern to our ARC Discovery Project Mind in Skilled Performance, which began officially in 2017.
We’ve also been working on a number of papers that advance the agenda of my most recent co-authored book Evolving Enactivism. Building on previous work, that new book proposes to break with long-standing tradition and asks us to rethink the very foundations of cognitive science.
In particular, it seeks to move beyond the deeply entrenched classical ideas that, at root, minds represent and compute. Here again, co-authoring with members of the team, we’ve been advancing new arguments to show the shortcomings of that framework and to articulate a rival. We have done so in a series of publications for journal special issues and edited collections.
Finally, in a few joint papers, Glenda Satne and I have been reflecting on the nature of philosophical work itself, seeking to clarify the special and distinct roles that philosophy and science play in co-operative cross-disciplinary endeavors such as the cognitive sciences.
What are some of the most innovative or exciting things expected to emerge from your field of expertise over the next few years?
Twenty-first century philosophy is changing. One of its most influential grand programmes, at the dawn of previous century, has come under pressure and is giving way to several exciting new developments.
Until very recently, philosophers working in the analytic tradition have adopted an entirely armchair approach – one that puts descriptive conceptual analysis centre-stage. This old school vision has been steadily giving ground to alternate ways of doing and thinking about philosophy – alternatives that ask us to rethink its primary purpose and methods. One major development has been the rise of experimental philosophy (The New, New Philosophy).
Like conceptual analysts, experimental philosophers are interested to discover how we think about important topics – from mind to morality – but to determine this they have been prompted to cross disciplinary boundaries, getting out of their armchairs to go and “conduct systematic experiments to reach a better understanding of people’s ordinary intuitions about philosophically significant questions” (Knobe and Stich, 2008, Experimental Philosophy. OUP).
Taking this new thinking a step further still, philosophers were recently granted $3.6 million for a five-year mission to pursue conceptual engineering projects at the University of Oslo (Philosophers Win $3.6 Million for Conceptual Engineering).
Back in 2010, I joked with an interviewer on a BBC radio show that it would be very lucrative for philosophers to bill themselves as a kind of conceptual police (BBC Three Counties Radio, July 2010). It turns out that prediction was on the money, as the conceptual engineering project shows!
The work of its self-styled ‘concept lab’ is predicated on the idea that many great leaps in human insight and understanding have been associated with the forging of ‘better’ concepts, which has enabled us to ask ‘better’ questions.
In this vein, their project seeks to critique and improve our concepts, not just describe them. It looks at concepts that are of central interest not just to philosophy, but to the arts and sciences at large.
Excitingly, these developments open up foundational background questions about what concepts are, how they arise and how they influence our thinking. Investigations of that kind are precisely the sort of work that our team, who are at the vanguard of enactive approaches to mind and cognition, are ideally placed to conduct.
What are some of the things readers should be wary of over the next few years?
There is an ever-present danger nowadays that philosophers will confuse and conflate their contributions with those of the scientists with whom they closely collaborate. This is not an accident: philosophers have been encouraged to think of their work as entirely continuous with the sciences by a highly influential version of philosophical naturalism.
However, it is deeply contentious whether adopting such an approach is the right way to go.
Long ago, in the pages of his Blue and Brown Books, Wittgenstein warned that philosophy would be led into ‘complete darkness’ in trying to ask and answer questions in the way science does.
More recently the question of naturalism and its limits has been prominently debated in the pages of the New York Times (What is Naturalism?). Where we should stand on this issue is complicated.
Like Williamson, a major voice in these discussions, I think philosophers should positively embrace the aspiration to think in a scientific spirit, where doing so is a matter of emphasising values like curiosity, honesty, accuracy, precision and rigor.
At the same time, we must be cautious of the idea that we are in the business of producing first-order scientific theories and explanations.
There is a danger for philosophy in rushing to theorise and explain: philosophical frameworks are not scientific theories, they do not immediately generate testable models, even if they can inspire, help to direct and must be constrained by productive programmes of empirical research.
As Putnam, the father of functionalism, told us back in 1967, his philosophical spadework resulted in “the putting forward, not of detailed scientifically ‘finished’ hypotheses, but of schemata for hypotheses” (Putnam 1967, The nature of mental states).
More recently, Andy Clark, a major figure in the philosophy of cognitive science, reminds us that some important philosophical issues are unlikely to admit of straightforward scientific resolution even though they are “scientifically important, and able to be scientifically informed” (Clark 2011, Finding the mind).
Philosophy and science have complex relations that need to be better understood.
Where do opportunities lie for people thinking about a career in this field?
We are in the midst of an info-revolution. It is a time of deep learning and big data. The robots are coming! Artificial intelligences are coming! Indeed, both are already here: they are developing fast, and they want our jobs!
The world of work is changing – rapidly and quite dramatically before our eyes. As the information revolution gets firmly underway there will be a growing need to employ philosophers.
We need those who specialise in philosophy of mind and cognitive science in order to understand the nature of intelligence and how to implement it.
We need those who work on metaphysics and epistemology in order to better understand our own status and that of the entities we whom will be sharing our world as well as the possibilities new technologies afford for creating and ensuring knowledge.
We need those who work on ethics, legal and political philosophy to analyse and help set policy about how we should regulate practices in the wake of changes ahead.
The changes afoot are extremely good news for philosophy researchers and those studying the discipline at all levels! Philosophy focuses on the clear and systematic expression of ideas, the logical development of arguments and the careful use of examples and analogies.
Crucially, philosophy graduates love to tackle unfamiliar, novel problems. Such skills are greatly sought-after in an age when are witnessing the rise of the knowledge worker, as this Wall Street Journal blog reveals.
There is already robust evidence of an extraordinarily strong demand for creative, critical thinkers of the kind philosophy produces – The New Basics - Foundation for Young Australians.
Should the now familiar predictions about the future prove correct, jobs requiring philosophical skills and knowledge will be future-proofed as compared to many of their traditional, so-called vocational counterparts.
As the Harvard Business Review reports, the future of work may well be philosophical through-and-through (Liberal Arts in the Data Age, July-August 2017)
What’s the best piece of advice you can offer our readers based on your expertise?
My advice is think big, be bold and dig deep. Most of all, reach out to and work with those in other fields in the arts and sciences. Think strongly about the wider societal value and impact of your research.
Indeed, it is wise to reverse-engineer research projects with potential end-users in mind.
Having recently served as Chair of the Humanities and the Creative Arts panel during my current stint on the ARC College of Experts, in my experience a great many research projects suffered precisely because they lacked the kind of deep theoretical framing of the sort that philosophy can provide.
Without question, great opportunities abound for philosophers to collaborate on major cross-disciplinary projects to the benefit of all.
For more from Professor Daniel Hutto you can visit his UOW Scholars profile, which links to his papers and publications.
To read more about whats happening in the UOW philosophy department take a look at the blog.