Heap of Links

1. Jason Stanley (Yale) brings political philosophy to bear on Detroit and the idea of “emergency managers” in The New York Times. Detroit’s Metro Times  calls it the “most interesting read on the situation.”
2. “Things you should know before publishing a book.”
3. Looking for a brief, clear, and motivated explanation of likelihoodist, Bayesian, and frequentist methods in statistics that doesn’t already depend on you knowing a lot about math and probability? Greg Gandenberger, a PhD student at Pittsburgh, has two posts for you.
4. John Protevi (LSU) on path-dependence and merit in the philosophy job market.
5. How to deal with the fact that, for many of us, while “our salaries only reflect nine months’ worth of work, obligations from our colleges and universities often do leach into our summer time, time that is ostensibly our own.” In IHE.
6. Next time you see someone doodling while you’re giving a talk or teaching a class, don’t get offended—that person may, like Jesse Prinz (CUNY), just be trying to “help himself pay attention,” says The Wall Street Journal.
7.  The inaugural issue of Recreational Mathematics is out, and looks kind of fun. (via Bookforum)
8. Myisha Cherry (John Jay College) at the Huffington Post on why love isn’t all we need.
9. When it comes to love, we are the highly suggestible types. “The ideal situation is… to both be told you’re a good match, and at the same time actually be one. [But]… if you have to choose only one or the other, the mere myth of compatibility works just as well as the truth.” The head of OK Cupid writes, rather amusingly, about the experiments OK Cupid has performed on its users.
10. While we’re on love, this may be related. This probably isn’t.

Philosophy Tag

Gillian Russell (Washington University in St. Louis) was tagged last week by Franz Berto (Amsterdam) in the logic playground, where the game has been playing for a while now. Let’s see where Russell’s tag takes us.

There’s a pervasive thought in many cultures and religions—one that I’ve found attractive in the past—that moral anxiety in human agents is a lamentable and unfortunate thing, a sign that something is wrong.  The ideal moral agent might be either stoic, calm, and decisive—someone to whom the right path is straightforward—or alternatively someone who feels two things very strongly:  horror of the pain of others and a deep-seated eagerness to help.  But the person who spends time anxiously mulling over their moral options might be suspected of attempting to cook up a justification for the wrong action, or regarded as weakened by that anxiety, since it impedes their ability to act decisively when the moral situation demands it.  However, I saw Charlie Kurth (Washington University in St. Louis) present a paper last semester arguing that moral anxiety was good and should even be cultivated—and now I can’t stop thinking about it! I suspect he’s right.  So I’m tagging Charlie and his paper “Moral Anxiety and Moral Agency,” which is in preparation for Oxford Studies in Normative Ethics (edited by M. Timmons.)  It’s a paper with a very high “fascination score” and I strongly recommend it.  Charlie draws on work in psychology that shows that anxiety in general—including non-moral varieties like social anxiety—can help promote better decision making.   He argues that moral anxiety arises naturally in situations where we really need to think more about what the right thing to do is, and perhaps go out and acquire more information before we make a decision.  Moral anxiety motivates those behaviours and so tends to lead to better moral decisions. So it’s ok to be anxious—it’s a normal part of being a good moral agent. Charlie Kurth, you are it!

Blackburn and Me, Me, Me

Simon Blackburn gives us his version of a “kids, these days, let me tell you” cranky rant about selfies, which he rescues from crankyland only by saying we should respond to the vanity and conceit and narcissism encouraged in today’s society with mockery. Seems to me, though, that only someone completely full of himself would attempt such a sweeping characterization of contemporary culture. I mean, someone who is practically a baby boomer is calling someone else vain? Seriously? Right, Blackburn, I’m sure no one was ever narcissistic before today, especially not the folks who lived over 2000 years ago when the Narcissus myth was written! But seriously, inferring increased vanity in a population because they now have the technology to quickly take and widely share photos of themselves, and so take and share those photos, is like inferring a better sense of humor from a set of people because they are currently being told jokes, and so laugh.

Oy, what am I doing? Sorry–just look at me spout off. No seriously, look at me. Look at me!

Daily Nous Editorial Team Selfie


Or look at a review of Blackburn’s new book, Mirror, Mirror: The Uses and Abuses of Self-Love, in The Chronicle, by Clancy Martin.

Do We Need Philosophy of Religion Anymore?

There has been some blogging recently about whether philosophy of religion should still be taught. The recent discussion appears to have been sparked by an interview that a blogger known as the Godless Skeptic conducted with Graham Oppy (Monash) about his recent book, Reinventing Philosophy of Religionin which he objects to the homogeneity of the field, which is composed mainly of Christian theists, and dominated by questions relevant to Christianity (see Helen De Cruz’s study here, which, I would guess, underreports the prevalence of Christianity in the field as a whole).  Atheist author John Loftus then responded to the interview, “calling for an end of the philosophy of religion as a discipline in secular universities.” To this, Matt DeStefano, a PhD student at Arizona, disagreed, arguing that philosophy of religion should not be eliminated, but improved, basing his suggestions on the very interesting article, “Diagnosing Bias in Philosophy of Religion,” by Paul Draper (Purdue) and Ryan Nichols (CSU Fullerton), that appeared in The Monist last year. They write:

The practical importance of philosophy of religion, the intense interest of non-philosophers and students of philosophy in the subject, and the central role that topics in philosophy of religion play in the history of philosophy all strongly suggest that philosophy of religion is a vital part of the discipline of philosophy, worth saving.

That seems correct, even if atheism seems correct, too. Of course, there is the question of whether philosophy of religion can be saved. The main worry seems to be that it is a cover for Christian apologetics, owing to entrenched social factors and biases. I personally do not know enough about the field to know whether that is a fair characterization. For a few reasons, it is not a sociologically surprising fact that most philosophy of religion in the West today is conducted by Christian theists. But it is certainly philosophically surprising (bordering on philosophically suspect) that, of all the possible options for religious belief (which include not just actual religions), only a narrow slice of them are taken seriously by philosophers of religion. I invite others to chime in here, particularly those working in or more familiar with philosophy of religion.

UPDATE: The site, Philosophy of Religion, has a series of guest posts taking up the question “What is philosophy of religion?” Thanks to Paul Draper for pointing this out in the comments.

UPDATE (7/30/14): From a gem of a comment by John Schellenberg: “Atheism, as I see it, therefore marks not the end of philosophy of religion but is something more like its beginning. Of course, if one is suffering from such common afflictions as the assumption that there are no real intellectual options in this realm other than traditional theism and metaphysical naturalism, or the virus that subtly turns one’s mind from a love of truth to an activist orientation, then one cannot be expected to make much sense of this. But philosophy is supposed to deliver us from such afflictions.”

What Do Philosophy Majors Do? LinkedIn’s Answer

LinkedIn, a service I am familiar with largely through doing battle with its hydra-like emailing, has a feature called “Field of Study Explorer.” Its aim is to provide information to would be college students about the kinds of jobs and employers different majors end up with. Of course, what the service really tells you is what kinds of jobs and employers that different majors who are members of LinkedIn and have filled out enough information about themselves end up with. According to the “Explorer,” 391,527 members of LinkedIn studied philosophy in college. Below, I’ve listed the top ten categories of employment and the top ten largest employers of philosophy-majors-turned-LinkedIn-members.    Continue reading

Maybe Next Summer

Amanda Ann Klein, an associate professor of film studies at East Carolina University, writes:

A few months ago, after a failed attempt to get a job at a university that might actually pay me a salary commensurate with my rank and experience, I came to the realization that the stress and late nights, the self doubt and loathing, were now unnecessary. I am not going to get a better-paying job and my current employers, no matter how many books I publish, how many students I mentor, or how many committees I serve on, are not going to give me any more money. Or at least not much money. Initially this realization made me despondent. If no one is paying me more money to produce more work, and very few people read the peer-reviewed articles or monographs I’m trying to crank out, then what happens? What happens when a professor no longer has any incentive to work at the breakneck pace at which she has been encouraged to work since she first embarked upon that great and arduous journey towards a career in academia?

Nothing happens. And, dear reader, it is glorious.

The post from which this is excerpted, about how academia makes some feel that “If we’re not always working (and I mean always working) then we don’t exist,” will, I’m sure, resonate with many readers. It is at Klein’s blog, Judgmental Observer. Thoughts about work-life balance in the philosophy profession are welcome.

Heap of Links

1. Advocates of the “open carry” of firearms sometimes enter stores, restaurants, and other establishments, proudly and openly carrying their guns. What is the rational thing to do in this situation? Jack Russell Weinstein (North Dakota) has an answer: GTFO. Wonkette has the story.
2. The mechanism by which the brain reinforces learning has a side-effect that causes you to value the option you chose over equivalent non-chosen options. I’m sure this has no bearing on how philosophy is done.
4. Simon Blackburn (Cambridge), John Haldane (St. Andrews), and Melissa Lane (Princeton) discuss the philosophy of solitude, together, on BBC Radio 4.
5. “Scientists rarely have the opportunity or support to step back from their research and ask how it connects with other work on similar topics. I see one role of philosophers of science as the provision of that larger, interpretive picture.” Helen Longino (Stanford) answers some questions about her last book, Studying Human Behavior: How Scientists Investigate Aggression and Sexuality.
6. Michael Sandel (Harvard) is a guest on the latest episode of The Partially Examined Life discussing what should and should not be sold. (via Dirk Felleman)
7. Pierre Bourdieu, while a soldier in the French army, took thousands of photos of the Algerian people during the Algerian War (1954-1962). Columbia University press has posted some on their blog. They have been published as Picturing Algeria.
8. Kudos to Minnesota Monthly for interviewing Valerie Tiberius (Minnesota) for its special issue on happiness, and kudos to Professor Tiberius for being able to put some of her ideas out there in such a Minnesota Monthly-reader-friendly way.
9. Aaron James (UC Irvine), the author of Assholes: A Theory, is one of the guests on a recent episode of CBC Radio’s show, “How To Do It?” The topic: how to deal with people you hate.
10. In case you missed it the first time around: “Psychologists search philosophical mind for bullshit detector, find ‘friendship deterrence system’ instead.”

Lucy Allais (Sussex, Witwatersrand) half-time to UC San Diego

Lucy Allais, currently senior lecturer in philosophy at the University of Sussex and associate professor of philosophy at the University of the Witwatersrand, has accepted an appointment at the University of California, San Diego, where she will be in residence during the Winter and Spring quarters. The remainder of her time will be at Witwatersrand. Professor Allais works in the history of philosophy, particularly Kant, as well as topics in metaphysics, moral psychology, and ethics. (via Leiter)

David Enoch on Israel and Gaza

Some means — even though they’re best for achieving a goal — might be so evil that the goal should be dropped, as long as we’re not forced to pursue it. If the only way to promote freedom from repression is terror, this could be enough to justify dropping this legitimate goal.

David Enoch, professor of philosophy and law at Hebrew University, weighs in on the current conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, in an article in Haaretz. It may appear behind a paywall. If so, the entire text is reprinted after the fold. (via Elinor Mason)


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Do You Want to Date a Philosopher?

We’ve all dated a dude in academia and, yes, that mysterious air of “think of all these deep, important, bookish things that he knows” can be intoxicating at first. His vague condescension can even be a turn-on, in the right context. But cut to six months later when you’re hungover, blearily sharing a plate of hash browns at the Waffle House he deeply feels is beneath him, and you’re trying to tune him out while he corrects you on the correct pronunciation of a French author’s name.

That’s from the “academia” section of a widely-shared Thought Catolog piece titled “6 Professions That Produce the Worst Boyfriends.” It reminds me of a recent discussion about the dating preferences of philosophers, in particular whether philosophers prefer to date other philosophers. Such a topic is silly, bordering on prurient, and thus perfect for the Friday of a slow philosophy news week in the middle of the summer. So come on, everybody, let’s do an internet poll!

Heap of Links

1. “The fact you are unwilling to examine the philosophical foundations of what you do does not mean those foundations are not there; it just means they are unexamined.” Physicist George Ellis is interviewed at Scientific American’s site.
2. The researchers behind a study (previously) that concluded that students would rather self-administer shocks than spend time alone with their thoughts do not appear to have spent enough time with their thoughts. (via Bryce Huebner)
3. Reports about the findings from a study that purported to show that “children exposed to religion have difficulty distinguishing fact from fiction” have come under scrutiny from philosopher Helen de Cruz (Oxford).
4. The leader of the Ukrainian rebels, Alexander Borodai, has a degree in philosophy from Moscow State University. He is the son of Yury Borodai, who is also a philosopher. Borodai the elder argues that humans evolved from apes through masturbation. Or at least so says an article in the Moscow Times, which notes that Borodai the junior “is not known to have a girlfriend.”
5. Teresa Marques, a philosopher at the University of Lisbon, critiques the Portguese Science and Technology Foundation’s employment of the European Science Foundation to review the country’s research institutes, arguing that it could lead to “disaster.”
6. Art and the philosophy and history of science come together in an exhibition called “Inventing Temperature” at the Korean Cultural Centre in London.
7. “Our actions in the concrete world and the manner in which we inquire into the world is premised on our concepts.  And this is precisely why philosophy matters,” says Levi R. Bryant (Collins College), at his blog, Larval Subjects.
8. The Independent has a series called “Book of a Lifetime.” A.C. Grayling reveals his pick here.
9. Debate continues over “Confucius Institutes.”
10. Socrates makes Buzzfeed… for seven times he was a total douchebag — like “when he invented the entire Socratic method.”

Update: oh, and 11 & 12: Two from around the philosoblogosphere: Martha Bolton’s remarks from the inaugural meeting of the Society for Modern Philosophy, at The Mod Squad; and Bas Van Der Vossen on “Why Philosophers Should Stay Out of Politics,” at Bleeding Heart Libertarians.

The Ideas of Objectionable Philosophers

A reader writes:

Recently I have found myself engaging less with the work of certain philosophers who have engaged in highly objectionable or unprofessional behavior, either not addressing and citing it when it could be relevant, or not reading it when I am unsure of its relevance. I am unsure whether I should be moved by these “personal” considerations. On the one hand, it seems somewhat unphilosophical, insofar as the ideas are separable from their authors (a point which is stressed in many ways in philosophical training). Yet on the other hand, insofar as they are their ideas, and they have behaved badly, it hardly seems unfair or wrong of me to ignore or shun their work. Besides, there are plenty of other philosophers whose work I can discuss. I am curious whether others have thought about this issue and what they would recommend.

Readers are welcome to discuss this issue, but I ask that, unless there are very compelling reasons, we use hypothetical cases and avoid naming names. (We can loosen this guideline so as to allow for the discussion of actual historical cases, though.)

Heap of Links

1. There is a “profound disconnect between Heidegger’s anti-Semitic prejudice and his philosophy,” argues Michael Marder (University of the Basque Country, Vitoria-Gastiez). But even if there wasn’t, Plato defended slavery and we still read him. Hmmm… so I guess part of the defense of Heidegger comes down to “what, too soon?”
2. The Mod Squad this week is featuring remarks from the inaugural meeting of the Society for Modern Philosophy by Don Rutherford (UCSD), today, and Martha Bolton (Rutgers), on Thursday.
3. Emphasize kindness, not respect, for a good philosophy classroom experience, says David Birch of the Philosophy Foundation.
4. The beautifully designed Nautilus brings us an article on psychopharmaceuticals used to suppress the feelings that accompany traumatic memories, asking: who are memories are for?
5. Eric Linus Kaplan, who went to grad school in philosophy for five years but may be better known as a television writer forThe Big Bang Theory, The Simpsons, Malcolm in the Middle, and other shows, has been blogging.
6. Alva Noë (Berkeley) asks whether the power of a work of art depends on its being the original, rather than a copy.
7. Aeon is currently featuring a four-minute flick on Kwame Anthony Appiah (NYU) on the concept and uses of “honor.”
8. Apparently, Earth is home to some electricity-eating bacteria. Seriously. There are micro-organisms that “eat and excrete pure electrons.” They don’t even put ketchup on them. No this is not philosophy. It is just badass.
9. We haven’t checked in with 8-Bit Philosophy in a while. Looks like they’re up to Hegel’s philosophy of history.

Heap of Links

1. You have just 10 minutes until your next meeting? Write. 15 minutes between classes? Write. 8 minutes before that advisee comes knocking? Write, dammit.
2. Early risers are less moral at night, compared with night owls.
3. An interview with Corey Mohler, the man behind Existentialist Comics. (via Philosophy Matters)
4. “Conspiracy theorists ruin the whole game for great academics like Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky. Radio hosts… who prop up wild theories… effectively make the public uneasy about trusting people who take the more nuanced approach toward investigating the ills of the world.”
5. This sounds interesting: a book in which the chapters alternate between a novel in which a philosophy professor is coming to terms with his changing views, and the philosophical manuscript the professor is writing. It’s called The Thinker Artist and is by Mark Anderson (Belmont).
6. An article describing and assessing Bertrand Russell’s pacifism and its value, with supporting roles by D.H. Lawrence and Wittgenstein.
7. Newcomb’s Problem + AI + Simulation = the philosophical equivalent of The Ring? Meet Roko’s Basilisk. (via Cristin Chall)
8. Regret (via George Felis).

Philosophy Tag

Last week, A.J. Cotnoir (St. Andrews) tagged Franz Berto (Amsterdam). Will the next it be in Europe again? Let’s see…

How does the epistemology of logical claims work?
Says Carnap: “Well, such claims are analytic: true in virtue of meaning. So we know them a priori, and in the same breath we appreciate their necessity.”
Quine retorts: “Don’t even mention analyticity, Rudolf! Logical claims are in the same holistic boat as anything else: they stand or fall depending on our overall best theory.”
In her ‘Metaphysical Analyticity and the Epistemology of Logic in Philosophical Studies (also here), Gillian Russell aims at keeping the virtues of Carnap and Quine’s opposite stances while avoiding their troubles. She resorts to the distinction between between metaphysical and epistemic analyticity. Logical truths are analytic in the former sense, not in the latter: they are indeed true in virtue of meaning—which explains their modal status. However, competent speakers may fully understand them while failing to take them as true, because the epistemology of meaning is itself a complicated, holistic business. This is a lovely paper engaging with one of the deepest issues in the philosophy of logic. And so, Gillian Russell, you are it!

Overcoming the Analytic-Contintental Divide

There is quite a bit that can be done to reconcile analytical and continental approaches, combining them into an expanded view of philosophy that has both depth and breadth, and is concerned both with specific technical “puzzles” as well as with broad socio-political issues.

At Scientia Salon, Massimo Pigliucci tries to get a grip on what the analytic – contintental distinction is, and whether it can be overcome, using the relationship between “philosophy of science” and “science studies” as an example.

The Future of the Philosophy Profession

Many graduate philosophy programs rely upon what could be characterized as a game of bait and switch. These programs exist not because there is a job market for their graduates. They exist for a variety of reasons, including the intrinsic value of philosophy and institutional mandates to produce Ph.D.’s. But they also exist in part to help universities reduce the cost of tuition while providing faculty members with the opportunity to conduct research…

In the majority of graduate programs, students are overworked and underpaid during their time in school, and they have few prospects for work once they graduate. And the beneficiaries of this system—again, setting aside the pleasure of studying philosophy for a period of one’s life—are the universities, which save costs on instruction, and the professors, who practice their specialties in graduate courses and use their reduced workload to produce philosophical research.

Adam Briggle and Robert Frodeman (both at University of North Texas) take a hard look at the prospects of a “future for philosophy” in The Chronicle of Higher Education. 

Whose Problem Is It? (Guest Post by Heidi Lockwood)

Heidi Lockwood is associate professor of philosophy at Southern Connecticut State University, where she focuses on questions in logic, metaphysics, and epistemology. She also works on issues in the philosophy profession, particularly regarding the treatment of women (see this post for example). She kindly authored the following guest post* on the issue of whose responsibility it is to address some of the problems the profession is currently grappling with. Comments welcome.

A true story: Philosophy Professor X, who taught at University Y, engaged in unwanted sexual contact with Student A. After learning that Professor X had also allegedly engaged in sexual misconduct with Students B and C and possibly D, Student A decided to file a formal complaint, in the interest of protecting future students and doing the right thing and justice and all that lofty stuff. University Y found Professor X guilty of sexual misconduct, and, for various non-transparent but predictable reasons, decided to quietly offer Professor X a non-disclosure agreement and an attractive voluntary severance package. Professor X got by with a little help from his academic friends, and rode his golden parachute to University Z, where he met Student E, with whom he had non-consensual sex.

Professor X, in other words, is a serial sexual predator and rapist who has managed to adversely impact the academic careers (and likely much more) of at least four students (and likely many more). His behavior, arguably, has been sanctioned by higher education.

But who, we might wonder, is “higher education”? His academic friends? The University Y administrators who gave him the golden parachute? The University Z administrators who failed to investigate his reasons for departure from Y? The students who didn’t file grievances? The untold number of ostrich-colleagues who were dimly aware of the problem but figured it’s none of their business? The APA or other organizations in the discipline? The Department of Education?

Professor X’s serial predation is not unusual behavior on college campuses. Most (90-95%) of the sexual assaults on campus are committed by just 4-6% of the rapists, who commit an average of 5-7 rapes each (see, e.g., Lisak’s 2002 study of more than 1800 college students). Serial sexual offenders are a pressing problem. But who should be responsible for addressing it? Here are a few of the answers I’ve seen bouncing around in both the open airways and shadowy underbelly of the cloud, where folks are tweeting, messaging, and blogging about the question:

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