Philosophy of Technology & Environmental Philosophy


A Proposal for Genetically Modifying the Project of “Naturalizing” Phenomenology

Heiner, B. T., & Whyte, K. P. (2008). A proposal for genetically modifying the project of “naturalizing” phenomenology. Continental Philosophy Review, 41(2), 179-193.

In this paper, we examine Shaun Gallagher’s project of ‘‘naturalizing’’ phenomenology with the cognitive sciences: front-loaded phenomenology (FLP). While we think it is a productive proposal, we argue that Gallagher does not employ genetic phenomenological methods in his execution of FLP. We show that without such methods, FLP’s attempt to locate neurological correlates of conscious experience is not yet adequate.Wedemonstrate this by analyzing Gallagher’s critique of cognitive neuropsychologist Christopher Frith’s functional explanation of schizophrenic symptoms. In ‘‘constraining’’ Gallagher’s FLP program, we discuss what genetic phenomenological method is and why FLP ought to embrace it. We also indicate what types of structures a genetically modified FLP will consider, and how such an approach would affect the manner in which potential neurological correlates of conscious experience are conceptually understood and experimentally investigated.

Competence and Trust in Choice Architecture

Selinger, E., & Whyte, K. P. (2010). Competence and trust in choice architecture. Knowledge, Technology & Policy, 23(3-4), 461-482.

Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein’s Nudge advances a theory of how designers can improve decision-making in various situations where people have to make choices. We claim that the moral acceptability of nudges hinges in part on whether they can provide an account of the competence required to offer nudges, an account that would serve to warrant our general trust in choice architects. What needs to be considered, on a methodological level, is whether they have clarified the competence required for choice architects to prompt subtly our behaviour toward making choices that are in our best interest from our own perspectives. We argue that, among other features, an account of the competence required to offer nudges would have to clarify why it is reasonable to expect that choice architects can understand the constraints imposed by semantic variance. Semantic variance refers to the diverse perceptions of meaning, tied to differences in identity and context, that influence how users interpret nudges. We conclude by suggesting that choice architects can grasp semantic variance if Thaler and Sunstein’s approach to design is compatible with insights about meaning expressed in science and technology studies and the philosophy of technology.

Why Not Environmental Injustice?

Whyte, K. P. (2010). Why Not Environmental Injustice?. Ethics Place and Environment. 13(3), 333-336.

Turner and Feldman address an important environmental justice (EJ) issue: ‘Under conditions of social and economic inequality, only some people. . .will have the clout and the funding to get the powers that be to pay attention to their NIMBY claims. Thus, as a rule, when governments adopt the policy of accommodating NIMBY claims, they perpetuate environmental injustices.’ Though not cited in the article, this issue begins to appear in early EJ scholarship, such as Robert Bullard’s Dumping in Dixie (1990), where he claims that policymakers who defer to NIMBY claims advocate PIBBY (put it in Blacks’ backyard) instead. A key impact of Turner and Feldman’s analysis of NIMBY and EJ, in cases of LULUs (locally unwanted land uses), is the  opportunity for further philosophical discussion on the difference between NIMBY and EJ claims in these cases. I will make an opening move toward such a discussion in the space of this commentary.

Trust, Expertise, and the Philosophy of Science

Whyte, K. P., & Crease, R. P. (2010). Trust, expertise, and the philosophy of science. Synthese, 177(3), 411-425.

Trust is a central concept in the philosophy of science. We highlight how trust is important in the wide variety of interactions between science and society. We claim that examining and clarifying the nature and role of trust (and distrust) in relations between science and society is one principal way in which the philosophy of science is socially relevant. We argue that philosophers of science should extend their efforts to develop normative conceptions of trust that can serve to facilitate trust between scientific experts and ordinary citizens. The first project is the development of a rich normative theory of expertise and experience that can explain why the various epistemic insights of diverse actors should be trusted in certain contexts and how credibility deficits can be bridged. The second project is the development of concepts that explain why, in certain cases, ordinary citizens may distrust science, which should inform how philosophers of science conceive of the formulation of science policy when conditions of distrust prevail. The third project is the analysis of cases of successful relations of trust between scientists and non-scientists that leads to understanding better how ‘postnormal’ science interactions are possible using trust.

Blue River Declaration: An Ethic of the Earth

Blue River Declaration: An Ethic of the Earth . Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture, [S.l.], v. 6, n. 2, p. 146-150, jul. 2012. ISSN 1749-4915.

Meeting in the ancient forests of the Blue River watershed in Oregon, the Blue River Quorum includes J. Baird Callicott, Madeline Cantwell, Alison Hawthorne Deming, Kristie Dotson, Charles Goodrich, Patricia Hasbach, Jennifer Michael Hecht, Mark Hixon, Robin Wall Kimmerer, Katie McShane, Kathleen Dean Moore, Nalini Nadkarni, Michael P. Nelson, Harmony Paulsen, Devon G. Pena, Libby Roderick, Kim Stanley Robinson, Fred Swanson, Bron Taylor, Allen Thompson, Kyle Powys Whyte, Priscilla Solis Ybarra, Gretel Van Wieren, and Jan Zwicky. The Quorum was convened by the Spring Creek Project for Ideas, Nature, and the Written Word (springcreek@ oregonstate.edu ) with funding from the Shotpouch Foundation, the Oregon Council for the Humanities, and the USDA Forest Service. The following is the Blue River Declaration.

Is There a Right Way to Nudge? The Practice and Ethics of Choice Architecture

Selinger, E., & Whyte, K. (2011). Is there a right way to nudge? The practice and ethics of choice architecture. Sociology Compass, 5(10), 923-935.

Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler’s Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness presents an influential account of why ‘choice architecture’ should be used to ‘nudge’ people into making better decisions than they would otherwise make. In this essay we: (1) explain the main concepts that Thaler and Sunstein rely upon to defend their project; (2) clarify the main conceptual problems that have arisen in discussions about nudges; (3) clarify practical difficulties that can arise during nudge practice; (4) review the main ethical and political objections that have been raised against nudging; and (5) clarify why issues related to meaning can pose methodological problems for creating effective choice architecture.

Action Schemes: Questions and Suggestions

Selinger, E., Aguilar, J., & Whyte, K. P. (2011). Action schemes: questions and suggestions. Philosophy & Technology, 24(1), 83-88.

In “Artefacts Without Agency,” Christian Illies and Anthonie Meijers articulate the basic framework of a notion identified as “Action Schemes.” We identify an internal inconsistency in their account and offer concrete suggestions on how to avoid it.

Nudging Cannot Solve Complex Policy Problems

Selinger, E., & Whyte, K. P. (2012). Nudging cannot solve complex policy problems. European Journal of Risk Regulation, 3(1), 26-31.

We deepen Adam Burgess’ insight that under current conditions nudging cannot solve complex policy problems reliably and without controversy. We do so by integrating his concerns about nudging into Braden Allenby and Daniel Sarewitz’s three-leveled model of the basic problems technology can address and generate. We use this model to explain why the UK experiment with nudging has revolved around techno-fixes with limited policy potential, and conclude that nudging is best seen as an emerging form of soft law.

Environmental Justice, Values, and Scientific Expertise

Steel, D., & Whyte, K. P. (2012). Environmental justice, values, and scientific expertise. Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal, 22(2), 163-182.

This essay compares two philosophical proposals concerning the relation between values and science, both of which reject the value-free ideal but nevertheless place restrictions on how values and science should interact. The first of these proposals relies on a distinction between the direct and indirect roles of values, while the second emphasizes instead a distinction between epistemic and nonepistemic values. We consider these two proposals in connection with a case study of disputed research on the topic of environmental justice and argue that the second proposal has several advantages over the first.

What Happens to Environmental Philosophy in a Wicked World?

Thompson, P. B., & Whyte, K. P. (2012). What happens to environmental philosophy in a wicked world?. Journal of agricultural and environmental ethics, 25(4), 485-498.

What is the significance of the wicked problems framework for environmental philosophy? In response to wicked problems, environmental scientists are starting to welcome the participation of social scientists, humanists, and the creative arts. We argue that the need for interdisciplinary approaches to wicked problems opens up a number of tasks that environmental philosophers have every right to undertake. The first task is for philosophers to explore new and promising ways of initiating philosophical research through conducting collaborative learning processes on environmental issues. The second task is for philosophers to recognize the value of philosophical skills in their engagements with members of other disciplines and walks of life in addressing wicked problems. The wicked problems framework should be seen as an important guide for facilitating philosophical research that is of relevance to problems like climate change and sustainable agriculture.

Nudge, Nudge or Shove, Shove—The Right Way for Nudges to Increase the Supply of Donated Cadaver Organs

Whyte, K. P., Selinger, E., Caplan, A. L., & Sadowski, J. (2012). Nudge, nudge or shove, shove—the right way for nudges to increase the supply of donated cadaver organs. The American Journal of Bioethics, 12(2), 32-39.

Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein (2008) contend that mandated choice is the most practical nudge for increasing organ donation. We argue that they are wrong, and their mistake results from failing to appreciate how perceptions of meaning can influence people’s responses to nudges. We favor a policy of default to donation that is subject to immediate family veto power, includes options for people to opt out (and be educated on how to do so), and emphasizes the role of organ procurement organizations and in-house transplant donation coordinators creating better environments for increasing the supply of organs and tissues obtained from cadavers. This policy will provide better opportunities for offering nudges in contexts where in-house coordinators work with families. We conclude by arguing that nudges can be introduced ethically and effectively into these contexts only if nudge designers collaborate with in-house coordinators and stakeholders.

Philosophy of Expertise

Selinger, E., Whyte, K. (2013). Philosophy of Experience. Encyclopedia of Philosophy and the Social Sciences. Ed Byron Kaldis. SAGE Publications, Inc. 722-724.

Experts are everywhere. People rely on doctors, lawyers, and accountants for many matters of personal well-being. Politicians and managers regularly turn to scientists, professors, and professional consultants for policy advice. Judges and journalists put experts on the spot to weigh in on numerous issues. It is impossible to imagine life without experts. Yet what is an expert? This paper explores this question.

A role for ethical analysis in social research on agrifood and environmental standards

Whyte, K., & Thompson, P. B. (2010). A role for ethical analysis in social research on agrifood and environmental standards.

Lawrence Busch claims that, although some philosophers may recognize the ethical import of standards, they do not endeavor to understand how people justify standards in social reality. The argument in this paper is that the Michigan State University (MSU) School of Agrifood Governance and Technoscience should actually be understood as fleshing out a more important role for ethicists. This argument is explored through an analysis of the MSU School’s research on standards, a reassessment of J.O. Urmson’s “On Grading,” and a review of major ethical theories, from utilitarianism to discourse ethics. The conclusion is that, though standards may be used and justified within social networks and worlds, there will always be points where their determination and application require discussion by stakeholders and other publics. It is at these points that the reasons offered in support of various standards should be subject to debate and skepticism, and the role of ethics as an activity is crucial in conjunction with social scientific research.