The Dennes Room

Event Detail

Fri Feb 6, 2015
Chevron Auditorium, International House, 4–6 PM
Howison Lectures in Philosophy
Kwame Anthony Appiah (New York University)
The Philosophy of “As If”

Dr. Appiah will begin with an account of the ideas of the philosopher Hans Vahinger, who argued a century ago that almost all of our theories of the world–in every domain–involved understanding things “as if” what is in fact false were true. The nineteenth-century theory of gases treated them, for example, as if they were made up of tiny inelastic spheres … which they are not; in political philosophy we grant people certain rights as if they were responsible, rational agents … which we are not. Dr. Appiah shall then use Vahinger’s ideas to discuss a contemporary philosophical proposal, due to Dan Dennett, that says that human beings can be understood by way of an “intentional strategy” that “consists of treating the object whose behavior you want to predict as a rational agent with beliefs and desires and other mental states …” Since, as Dr. Appiah suggests, we are not fully rational, there is a puzzle about why this should work. He wants to say something about this puzzle, though he doesn’t aim to solve it.