Why do students go to school? The usual answer is to learn. But if this is true, why do students rejoice at canceled class? Why do they prefer an easy “A” instructor over a difficult one who has more to offer? Why don’t they just sit in on classes for free, which you can do at many of the best schools? And why is the final year of school so much more lucrative than other years, given that we don’t usually learn more that year?
These problems and others fall into place when we consider that we go to school more for the degree than for the education. The main purpose of education is to send a signal to employers, says economist Bryan Caplan. Employers pay more for college-educated employees not because what they learned in school was itself useful, but because the fact that they got the degree demonstrates that they must be generally smart, disciplined, and conformist. This makes little difference to the individual – you should still go to school and send that signal. But for society, this makes education a bad deal; status, unlike learning, is zero-sum, making much of the education system a waste of resources. In this interview, Caplan explains the signaling model in more detail, addresses objections, and predicts what would happen if his prescriptions were followed.
Are there moral facts? If so, are they objective? Where do they come from? Do we have reason to think – or doubt – that our immediate ethical intuitions tell us what they are?
These are the questions I discuss this week with professor Michael Huemer. The metaethical landscape can be split up as follows: realists (those who think there are objective ethical facts) and anti-realists (those who don’t). Realists, in turn, fall into two further camps: naturalists, who think objective ethical facts can be reduced to descriptive facts about the world; and ethical intuitionists, who think ethical facts (or “evaluative” facts) are of a different sort and cannot be reduced to descriptive facts. As Huemer puts it, ethical intuitionists argue that ethical facts have a different type of ontology. We go on to discuss the reasons we should trust our ethical intuitions to reveal moral facts, why ethical intuitions seem shakier than perceptual ones, and what the source of moral facts is. Finally, Huemer gives us a teaser for his upcoming book, Paradox Lost, in which he claims to solve ten famous paradoxes, including the Liar, Sorites, Newcomb’s, and the Sleeping Beauty problem.
Do we have any reason to doubt appearances? And does perception show us intermediary mental representations or real objects themselves?
Michael Huemer’s first book, Skepticism and the Veil of Perception, tackles both these questions at once. Huemer is a direct realist: he thinks that when we perceive, we’re perceiving reality directly. This contradicts the common philosophical position (“indirect realism”) that our perception is of mental objects which are images or representations of real objects to which we have no direct access. The usual challenges against direct realism involve an appeal to illusion and hallucination, though Huemer argues that these are less problematic than is often suggested. Huemer also argues that a direct realism (along with a correct general approach to epistemology) helps refute the famous skeptical arguments: the infinite regress of justification (the “Agrippan trilemma“), the “problem of the criterion“, the famous brain in the vat, and Hume’s argument against the possibility of induction.