Heap of Links

1. “Something as ‘mundane’ as coffee tasting generates one of the most challenging philosophical questions…” Anna Marmadoro (Oxford) on Aristotle on perception.
2. The mayor of Sao Paolo, Brazil, who has a PhD in philosophy, has been trying to implement progressive transportation policies in his city. He “has succeeded so far in unifying voters: They want him out.
3. A psychologist discusses the relationship between happiness and being focused on others, at Big Questions Online.
4. The Association for the Advancement of Philosophy and Psychiatry has a new blog.
5. Peter Singer is interviewed about the animal rights movement, “4 decades after he started it.”
6. True Detective continues to get the philosophical treatment at The Critique, with a post on the show’s ethical outlook. Previous entries in this series are here and here.
7. Joe Cole (Guilford College) has authored a bilingual “heartwarming parable of perseverance” for children called I Built My House on a Volcano. A brief article about how the book came about is here.
8. Alex Byrne (MIT), along with Wi-Phi and Kahn Academy, have put together a video about mind-body dualism.
9. Ezekiel Emanuel, director of clinical bioethics at the NIH, explains why he hopes to die at age 75. Related.
10. Thanks so much for your criticism!

Ebola and Humanity

We must find a method of caring without touching, of contacting without making contact. The physiological barriers are, for the time being, necessary. But we cannot stop people from caring about one another, so we must create, for the time being, mechanisms for caring. Since we will never be able to beat back humanity, we must coordinate humanity, at the family level, the local level, and the global level.

The only one way to battle a disease that affixes itself parasitically to our humanity is to overwhelm it with greater, stronger humanity. To immunize Africa and the rest of the world with a blast of humanity so powerful that the disease can no longer take root. What it will take to beat this virus is to turn its most powerful vehicle, our most powerful weapon, against it.

Ben Hale (Colorado), who has been relentlessly tracking the news regarding the Ebola epidemic, has an essay in Slate on the disease and what we should think and do about it. He has told me he will be happy to discuss the topic here should people have any questions.

Philosopher-Celebrity Lookalikes

Brian Talbot (Washington University in St. Louis) has been pairing up well-known philosophers with the celebrities who look like them. He kindly agreed to let me share the idea with you. Here’s my favorite so far:

Hume Lovitz

That’s David Hume and Jon Lovitz.

This match, owed to Julia Staffel, is also quite good:

Descartes Sambora

Descartes and Richie Sambora, of course.

Your additions welcome in the comments, but let’s try to not insult any living philosophers.

UPDATE: It turns out that it may be rather difficult, and perhaps impossible, for some people to add images in the comments as the site is currently configured. So if you mention the links to the images in the comments, I will add them to this post below the fold. Continue reading

Student Evaluations of Teaching

We’re confusing consumer satisfaction with product value.

That’s Philip B. Stark, a professor of statistics at Berkeley, discussing a mathematical critique of student evaluations of teachers he has written with a colleague, Richard Freishtat. There’s an article about the critique in The Chronicle of Higher Education. The study itself is here. Here’s a recap of major points from the study:

● We might wish we could measure teaching effectiveness reliably simply by
asking students whether teaching is effective, but it does not work.
● Controlled, randomized experiments—the gold standard for reliable inference
about cause and effect—have found that student ratings of teaching
effectiveness are negatively associated with direct measures of effectiveness.
Student teaching evaluations can be influenced by the gender, ethnicity, and
attractiveness of the instructor.
● Summary items such as “overall effectiveness” seem most susceptible to
extraneous factors.
● Student comments contain valuable information about students’ experiences [not necessarily teacher quality].
● Survey response rates matter. Low response rates need not signal bad teaching,
but they make it impossible to generalize reliably from the respondents to the
whole class.
● It is practical and valuable to have faculty observe each other’s classes at least
once between “milestone” reviews.
● It is practical and valuable to create and review teaching portfolios.
● Teaching is unlikely to improve without serious, regular attention.

A Response to the Colorado Undergrad

Wes Morriston, who retired this past summer after 42 years as a member of the philosophy department at the University of Colorado, has written a letter to the editor responding to the column by alumna Allison Blakeney (previously) asserting that the department has a “rape culture.”

There are several very basic things your readers need to know. No one in the department has ever been accused of rape, or of being a passive bystander to a rape, or of promoting or excusing or otherwise winking at rape. No one in the department has ever suggested that a woman with a sexually promiscuous past cannot be raped, or that a woman who has consented once has given her consent in perpetuity.

There has been one (and only one) allegation of sexual assault. The accused person was not a professor, and there were no bystanders in the case of this particular incident.

I cannot see how any fair-minded person could think this adds up to a “rape culture.”

Advice for First-Year Grad Students

David Shorter, a professor world arts and cultures at UCLA, has published a list of “six key lessons” for people starting graduate school. Paraphrasing, they include:

1. Map out what the major requirements are for your program and for getting a job in your field and have a timetable for their completion.
2. Remember to act professionally and considerately with your professors and colleagues.
3. Figure out what kind of adviser you need, but don’t expect your adviser to solve all of your problems.
4. Prioritize the actual work of being a student, including taking good notes, writing a lot, reading material not required for class, and of course proofreading all of your work.
5. Remember that your letter writers will be honest in their assessments of you.
6. Improve your writing.

Other tips?

Calling UK & Europe Philosophers Working On…

Miranda Fricker, Jennifer Saul, and Holly Lawford-Smith at the University of Sheffield are interested in hearing from anyone with an interest in epistemological, metaphysical, and normative issues that touch on, apply to, or might be extended to, Philosophy of Race broadly construed. They write:

“Our own interests range over issues of social construction, culpable ignorance, implicit bias, political speech and manipulation, historic injustice, racial privilege, and rectificatory justice. But race touches on many other areas of philosophy besides these, and we’re keen to hear from anyone and everyone who thinks they might have something to contribute! At the moment we’re just keen to hear from people so that we can put a list together, with a view to future workshops and research events. It would be great if you could tell us your name, institutional affiliation, and a little about the research interests you have that relate or might come to relate to Philosophy of Race. You can email us at sheffphilrace@gmail.com.”

When Is an Area of Inquiry “Political”?

Certain subfields of philosophy, such as feminist philosophy, philosophy of race, and philosophy of disability, are sometimes accused of being improperly “political.” Lately, I have seen several defenses of these subfields that consist in saying that all or most philosophy is political. For example, Magicalersatz at Feminist Philosophers writes, “I can’t see any sense of ‘political’ in which feminist philosophy is political in a way that tons of other philosophy isn’t.” And by “other philosophy” she means to include areas such as analytic metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, ethics, free will, etc.

It may be helpful to get clearer on what it means to call an area of philosophical inquiry “political.” Continue reading

A Philosopher Talks with Psychopaths

“One of the striking features of people on psychiatric wards is how much their conversation is about topics also discussed in philosophy journals.” One thing they have in common is an awareness that “the common-sense interpretation of the world is not the only one”.

That’s Jonathan Glover (King’s College London), quoted in a review at New Scientist of his latest book, Alien Landscapes? Intepreting Disordered Minds

Glover decided to take [the Socratic method] to Broadmoor Hospital in the south of England. There he probed a common stereotype about psychopaths – that they lack a conscience – by discussing ethics with them…. Many of the men had a “vocabulary of moral concepts”, and by carefully directing his questions, he found ethical qualities mapping onto those concepts, such as fairness and respect. For Glover, it was a bridge between psychopaths and the rest of us, because it showed there are many dimensions to the disorder, and most of them overlap with personality traits of some people deemed normal.

Heap of Links

1. Greasy spoons and Gricean maxims. (via Gerald Dworkin)
2. The regress problem for consequentialism, robot version.
3. “In a deeper and more troubling way, it is canny and subversive artifice, spiced with a moralistic claim to personal liberation. A tattoo is a personal statement but also an anthropological position that accords with the prevailing transvaluations of our time.” — from “A Theory for Tattoos.”
4. Data on the use of “he” and “she” over time in Philosopher’s Index abstracts, as analyzed by Eric Schwitzgebel at The Splintered Mind.
5. The philosophical origins for parts of the U.S Constitution, particularly the proscription against cruel punishments in the 8th Amendment, may be in Italy.
6. Marina Warner, former professor of creative writing at University of Essex and current chair of the Man Booker Prize, writes about resigning from higher education, “where enforcers rush to carry out the latest orders from their chiefs in an ecstasy of obedience to ideological principles which they do not seem to have examined, let alone discussed with the people they order to follow them.” Additional piece here.
7. Political epistemology gets a special double-issue of Critical Review.
8. The latest episode of the BBC’s Philosopher’s Arms is on trolleyology.
9. PhD(isabled) is “a space for PhD students with disability or chronic illness to share their experiences.” The latest post is by a grad student in a philosophy program.
10. 8-Bit Philosophy takes a clip from True Detective as an opportunity to illustrate Nietzsche’s idea of eternal recurrence.
11. By Bentham.

$3 Million Chair in “Applied Critical Thinking”

An anonymous donor contributed $3 million for the creation of Rochester Institute of Technology’s Eugene H. Fram Chair in Applied Critical Thinking, named for a tough professor the donor had there over 30 years ago. One task that comes with the position: “spread the gospel of critical thinking across the university, from engineering to the technical arts to the humanities. But don’t be preachy about it, and skip the gimmicks. Aim for real change.” The story of how the first occupant of this chair, Clarence “Chip” Burton Sheffield Jr., a professor of art history, tried to do this, which included some help from Philosophy Department Chair Timothy Engström, concerns dealing with the challenges of making courses more rigorous, getting buy-in from various units across campus, and showing how critical thinking skills are job skills.

UPDATE: Alex Sager (Portland State) has a column in today’s issue of The Oregonian about the importance of critical thinking skills and his department’s efforts to help high school students develop them.

Why Study the History of Philosophy?

In his contribution to A Teacher’s Life: Essays for Steven M. Cahn, David Rosenthal (CUNY) raises questions about philosophy’s fit with the humanities and the sciences, framed around the study of history.

A striking difference between those fields we classify as humanities and those we regard as sciences is the attitude within each field toward its history. Learning about literature, music, or the visual arts requires becoming knowledgeable about a significant amount of the history of those areas. And education in these fields, at whatever level, invariably involves some study of great accomplishments in the past. By contrast, scientific work and standard scientific textbooks make little reference to the history of the science in question, and such reference is typically relegated to the appreciative mention in passing of important empirical discoveries or theoretical innovations. And professional training in the sciences, both graduate and undergraduate, involves no serious examination of the achievements or methodology of past scientific work, no matter how impressive and influential those achievements may have been.

Rosenthal notes that, like the humanities, a lot of philosophy is focused on its history. Also like the humanities,

philosophical work is sometimes seen not as an investigation of the truth about things, but as the development and elaboration of various perspectives on reality. Philosophy presents us with ways of seeing how things fit together and the place that individuals and humanity in general occupy in the overall scheme of things.

Yet, that is not the whole story.

This picture of philosophy, though it justifies its classification as a humanity and explains its emphasis on its own history, leaves out a lot that has been considered central to philosophy throughout that history. The attitude of the great philosophers that constructed these alternative, often incompatible systems has seldom if ever been that of great literary figures whose work offers alternative perspectives. Rather, their attitude is that of scientific theorists who develop alternative theories. They assume that at most one of the philosophical systems gets things right, and they advance arguments in favor of their own…. The great figures we study saw themselves as trying to get at the truth about things, much as scientists see themselves as doing.

The challenge, then, is to explain how philosophy’s humanities-like emphasis on its history fits with its science-like aspirations to deliver the truth, a challenge Rosenthal takes up by trying to answer the question: why study the history of philosophy? Continue reading

Heap of Links

1. A sculpture of Edgar Allen Poe, crafted by philosopher Stefanie Rocknak (Hartwick), will soon be unveiled at the corner of Boylston Street and Charles Street South in Boston. This story’s a triple win: philosopher, art, and, of course, aptonym. Here’s other sculptural work by Rocknak. And here’s a post about how Poe anticipated the idea of the Big Bang.
2. A search for resources for teaching students how to read philosophy.
3. A new blog, Second Shift, features several philosophers and other academics and “is aimed at bringing academic feminist analysis (broadly construed) into conversation with politics and pop culture.”
4. “In a new study, researchers used a smartphone app to track moral and immoral acts committed or witnessed by more than 1,200 people as they went about their days,” reports Wired and the New York Times.
5. “I’ve always been puzzled by the way that some moral philosophers create extraordinarily far fetched examples and then ask us to see what sorts of intuitions we have about these cases. I am skeptical that any intuitions we might dig up contain important ethical insights. But I’m also puzzled by those who argue from abstract general principles, for example, about the unethical treatment of causing other animals to suffer or fail to flourish, without knowing many details about particular animals and what might constitute their well-being.”– from an interesting and wide-ranging interview with Lori Gruen (Wesleyan).
6. Say goodbye to the “American Philological Association.”
7. The New Yorker’s Alex Ross on the Frankfurt School and its influence.
8. Several philosophers are name-checked in these reflections on how environmental considerations may alter our understanding of human progress.
9. “Is Artificial Intelligence a Threat?” asks the Chronicle of Higher Education, in an article featuring Nick Bostrom (Oxford) and others.
10. Sometimes it ain’t a bad move.

Intro to Philosophy…Department

At Texas Christian University, Introduction to Philosophy is team taught—and by “team” they mean the whole departmentas a brief article in the school paper describes.

[Assistant Professor Kelly] McCormick said she… enjoys the concept of team-teaching because each faculty member has the opportunity to introduce students to the different topics of philosophy they specialize in.

“We’re each teaching to our specialty,” McCormick said. “So, the students taking that course really get the best possible presentation of each of these different areas. So if there’s something that really grabs you, you’re getting a presentation of that material by the person you’re going to end up working with in future years.”

Any other schools do this? Has it worked well?

Philosophy of Time Gets Down to Business

Here’s a sentence you might never have expected to read:

“Drawing on his research on presentism, he has suggested a variety of ways in which we might refine the product.”

Jonathan Tallant, associate professor of philosophy at the University of Nottingham, has been brought on as a consultant by Time.ly, a Canadian firm that is developing time machines “produces event planning and calendar software, which is installed in over 70,000 websites across the world, indexing 3,500,000 upcoming events.” One of the executives there saw a video of a talk Tallant gave, and got in touch with him for help “in looking at ideas for new ways to represent events in time.” More here.

Continue reading

Alain Locke Given Place in Congressional Cemetary

This weekend, 60 years after his death, Locke is finally being given a permanent resting place in Capitol Hill’s Congressional Cemetery, where a polished-granite gravestone will sit across from the sandstone cenotaphs honoring early members of Congress and adjacent to the first director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African Art, Warren Robbins.

Alain Locke is known as the “father of the Harlem Renaissance” and as an important, if too often neglected, figure in American pragmatism. He was chairman of philosophy at Howard University and the first African American Rhodes scholar. He was also gay, black, and short, and as a result faced numerous professional obstacles. In a 1949 note he writes, “Had I been born in ancient Greece I would have escaped the first [homophobia]; in Europe I would have been spared the second [U.S. racial segregation policies]; in Japan I would have been above rather than below average [height].” The story is in The Washington Post Magazine.

The History of Racism in Philosophy

Christoph Meiners (1747-1810), a philosophy professor at the University of Göttingen and prolific scholar, initiated “a successful campaign to exclude Africa and Asia from the history of philosophy.” In turn, Wilhelm Tennemann (1761-1819), the most important Kantian historian at the turn of the 19th century, and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (who observed that “real philosophy begins in Greece”) carried the campaign forward. They channeled elements of Meiners in almost identical language, leading to “the formation within German philosophy of an exclusionary, Eurocentric canon of philosophy.”

That’s an excerpt from a review in the Chronicle of Higher Education of Africa, Asia, and the History of Philosophy: Racism in the Formation of the Philosophical Canon, 1780-1830 by Peter K.J. Park (University of Texas at Dallas) (via Samantha Brennan). It is an important topic and it is helpful to get an “outside” perspective on it (Park is an historian).

At one point in the review, author Carlin Romano draws attention to how Jacob Brucker (1696-1770), “the foremost German historian of philosophy of the late 18th century” argued “that ideas be put forward apart from any connection to their authors’ or proponents’ lives.” This separation of the person from the ideas the person puts forward seems central to the method of philosophy as we know it. I am curious whether other historians agree with the suggestion here that its emergence was a historical accident, and that it happened when it did. (Did Socrates care, in any more than an incidental way, who he was arguing with?) I am also curious about the connection between this idea and racism in the formation of the philosophical canon, but I suppose I will just have to read the book.

At the end of the piece, Romano accuses philosophy of failing to “investigate its own past, and change in ways that keep it vibrant, challenging, and relevant.” Yet such an investigation and various changes are ongoing and have been for quite some time, with philosophy branching out into new areas while also turning its history inside out to bring neglected figures to the fore. Of course, that is not to say that further investigation and change is not needed, as various discussions here at Daily Nous and elsewhere attest.

Experimental Philosophy Advances

Experimental philosophy is a young (and controversial) subdiscipline of philosophy, but enough of it has been conducted that potentially informative meta-analyses are now possible. The first ever x-phi meta-analysis to be published will soon be appearing in Consciousness and Cognition. It is by Adam Feltz (Michigan Tech) and Florian Cova (University of Geneva) and is entitled “Moral Responsibility and Free Will: A Meta-Analysis.” It raises doubts about the findings of some earlier x-phi work. From the abstract:

Recent research suggests that emotional reactions play a prominent role in judgments about free will, influencing judgments about determinism’s relation to free will and moral responsibility. However, the extent to which affect influences these judgments is unclear. We conducted a metaanalysis to estimate the impact of affect. Our meta-analysis indicates that beliefs in free will are largely robust to emotional reactions.

A version of the paper is available here. (via Sara Protasi)

Heap of Links

1. Why study paradoxes? Roy Cook (Minnesota) answers.
2. An argument for the following: “The maxim ‘my country must fight a war to end this episode of political violence and politically-induced suffering’ is approximately equivalent to the maxim ‘the political elites of my country may fight wars at the times and places of their choosing, for the reasons of their choosing, whether their motives are good, wicked, or opportunistic,'” by Jacob Levy (McGill).
3. NorMind is a new informal network of philosophers of mind and cognitive science working in the Nordic countries (and nearby). (via Ole Koksvik)
4. How Rudolf Carnap ended up in philosophy, according to Hilary Putnam.
5. Why is there something rather than nothing? Jim Holt explains in a recent TED talk.
6. “Wittgenstein Jr is about a Wittgenstein-wannabe, a pseudo-Ludwig, a despairing, tormented philosopher in contemporary Cambridge struggling to produce a proper thought, who is nicknamed Wittgenstein by his students.” The Guardian has a review of this new novel by Lars Iyer.
7. In the Dust of This Planet: Horror of Philosophy, Volume 1, by Eugene Thacker, is, according to Radiolab, “an academic treatise about the horror humanity feels as we realize that we are nothing but a speck in the universe.” Who knows, but apparently it is kind of a big deal in some entertainment circles.
8. Some people are trying to electrically stimulate  their own brains to become smarter and happier. Please note that “plugging a 9-volt battery directly into your head is a bad idea, of course.” (via Matt Burstein). In other brain news, doctors have discovered a normal functioning woman with no cerebellum.
9. Would philosophers be good on this upcoming game show?
10. What it is sometimes like putting together the heap of links.

UIUC Board Votes Down Salaita Offer

The University of Illinois’s Board of Trustees voted on Thursday to deny the appointment of Steven G. Salaita to a professorship on the Urbana-Champaign campus, in the latest chapter of a month-old saga that has inflamed academe.

The Chronicle of Higher Education has the story.

UPDATE: Salaita and his attorneys release a statement.
UPDATE 2: Inside Higher Ed has some more information.

Thoughts About the Analytic/Continental Distinction

The so-called Continental-analytic division within philosophy is not a philosophical distinction; it’s a sociological one. It is the product of historical accident. It is unreasonable to cleave to it, and the insistence on remaining closed to work that is either presumptively “analytic” or presumptively “Continental” is irrational and unphilosophical. Further, rejecting or refusing to consider positions one has not studied and consequently does not understand is not a philosophical stance. It is, if anything, the very antithesis of the philosophical attitude. In light of this conclusion, I prefer to the extent possible not to use the terms “Continental philosophy” and “analytic philosophy.” They perpetuate the divisions of the past, divisions that it behooves us to overcome.

The above is from a short essay by Bill Blattner (Georgetown), “Some Thoughts About ‘Continental’ and ‘Analytic’ Philosophy,” which I thought would be of interest to readers in light of the recent discussion here.

Philosopher’s Eye / Climate Change

It has been around for a while, but in case you aren’t familiar with it, you may want to check out The Philosopher’s Eye. It’s Wiley-Blackwell’s philosophy blog. They “aim to provide regular thought-provoking coverage of real-world events with a critical, philosophical eye.” Recent features include three video interviews on philosophy and climate change, of Michael Doan (Eastern Michigan), Lorraine Code (York), and Heidi Grasswick (Middlebury), which arose from a special issue of Hypatia.