We’re having our first meeting of the semester next Thursday, October 21st, in Room 420A of the Engineering and Technology building at 6:00 PM.
TL; DR: the discussion will center on a variety of ways in which attitude is philosophically interesting.
Here’s a longer spiel of my thoughts for the discussion topic:
In analytic philosophy, attitude is most familiarly conceived in its relationship to propositions. Particular attitudes and the propositions to which they’re related are taken as forming many of our basic mental states (for instance, belief). However, analytic philosophy does not seem to have had much to say about what attitudes are nor their experiential qualities. Best to leave the issue, it seems they thought, to empirical psychology.
Various conceptions of attitudes can be found elsewhere in philosophy, as well as outside of it. In early modern European philosophy, attitudes and affects were sometimes thought of according to the concept of “conatus,” an impulse, striving, or tendency toward the world. Recently, some philosophers and psychologists have divided attitudes into explicit and implicit kinds. Of implicit attitudes, controversy has focused on the “implicit association test” (IAT), a supposed indicator of a person’s inclinations to act on racial stereotypes. Controversy aside, implicit attitudes (and the related phenomenon of cognitive biases) provide a framework for explaining the automaticity of the various positions we take toward the world that are evoked in our day to day lives. What emerges in the consideration of alternative conceptions of attitude is a messy and complicated collage of understanding. Is there any reason to embrace the mess or should we declare one view ‘the best explanation’?
Whatever an ‘attitude’ is, attitudes are important to us in our lives. Attitudes provide guidance in our social intercourse — for example, are we polite or are we jerks? They are inescapable yet we are sometimes capable of altering the attitudes we take — for example, we cannot avoid anger but we can sometimes change how we respond to the object of our anger. And our capacity to influence our attitudes, as well as those of others, plays a crucial role in defining a culture’s ethos and their responses to trying times. Nowhere is this perhaps felt more, today, than in response to the news of climate change. The shadow of an uncertain but miserable future brought to us by a changing planet inspires a deep pessimism. And although pessimism may be unpleasant and debilitating, strangely it can also be comfortable. Though there are obstacles to responding to promised climate disasters, do we want to live a future life of comfortable malaise? Might we instead take a cue from the advice to adopt a “pessimism of the intellect, optimism of the will”?
Hope to see you there,