What’s Going On at the Central?

What’s Going On at the Central?


The Central Division meeting of the American Philosophical Association is underway. Let’s hear about it.

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SCM
SCM
6 years ago

Best. Central. Evah.Report

S
S
6 years ago

Peter Railton is what is going on at Central.Report

William Blattner
William Blattner
6 years ago

This is what’s going on: it’s crazy cold here. I walked to CVS a few blocks away yesterday morning, and I thought my eyeballs were going to freeze in their sockets. I propose all meetings be held in the Spring.Report

Donald Stahl
Donald Stahl
6 years ago

I live in St. Louis. I was going to go, but wanted to take a couple nonphilosopher friends with me to a particular lecture scheduled for yesterday. I wrote to the organizer (s?) quite a long while ago about whether I would be permitted to do that, but received no reply; so I did not go.Report

Jan Dowell
Jan Dowell
6 years ago

Here’s a brief description of Peter’s important lecture:
The Dewey Lecturer is asked to say a bit about his own life, his professional trajectory, and how the profession has changed during the course of his career. Peter characterized several important periods in his own life by focusing on particular events in them and the ways those events changed him. Two particularly interesting ones were an act of spontaneous civil disobedience on his first day back at school after King’s assassination that almost got him expelled from school and a beating by a police offeicer during an anti-war protest as an undergraduate that left him unconscious. (The police dragged his body behind a bush to hide the ‘evidence’.)
He also spoke of his own evolving views on the aims ofhilosophical interaction and his increasing disappointment with the needlessly combative and unconstructive style of philosophical exchange that dominates in our profession. He then spent the remaining 15 minutes or so talking about the episodes of deep depression that accompanied each of these periods in his life, about what it is like to live with depression, and about the need for people such as himself to talk about their illness as a way of helping to overcome the stigma that prevents many people, especially men, from seeking treatment. It was easily the bravest and most moving talk I have ever attended.. He recieved two standing ovations, the first following the talk and the second after his gracious answers to our questions.
Our profession owes him our deep gratitude for his selfless courage.Report

Daniel O'Connell
Daniel O'Connell
6 years ago

Jan, that sounds amazing. I hope a published version will be available at some point.Report

Jan Dowell
Jan Dowell
6 years ago

Yes; the APA makes written copies of the Dewey Lecture available.Report

Kenny
6 years ago

Regarding holding all meetings in the spring – my dream is that once the APAs have no connection to the job market, we can spread them out instead of having them clumped together, and they’ll fall in different academic calendar breaks and take advantage of the weather variance North America has. The Pacific should be in January (even Vancouver would be a pleasant respite from winter for most North Americans). The Central should be in May (Chicago and other continental cities often have very unpleasant winters and summers, and late spring is one of the few reliably pleasant times there, and it is after many university terms end, though admittedly not all). The Eastern should be in September (that puts them all four months apart, and early autumn is one of the most pleasant times of year in New York and New England, though perhaps not for more southern cities).

I think January, May, and September are reasonable times for avoiding major holidays, and while some university calendars overlap each of them, I’m fairly sure that every university is off on at least one of those times.Report

Anne Jacobson
Anne Jacobson
6 years ago

I just heard a great comment from Carole Lee on Edouard Machery’s paper on bias. It made me realize that it would behoove those of us wanting to make fine grained distinctions in the ontology of philosophy of mind to pay attention to those in social psychology who are tryong to do a comparable thing. Empirical data can show distinctions in what can appear to be monolithic phenomena.Report

Annette Bryson
Annette Bryson
6 years ago

Peter Railton is not only, for good reason, a philosophical hero to many of us, but he’s also a remarkable human being. Listening to him deliver his Dewey Lecture at the Central APA is an experience that has marked my life–and that clearly marked the lives of everyone in the room. As has been highlighted above, we responded to Railton’s lecture with two standing ovations and tears all around. His coming out as someone who suffers from deep depression was deeply moving, and there was not a dry eye in the room as he made his plea for the need to overcome the stigma associated with such illness.

I’d like to add something to Janice’s wonderful description of the talk. In addition to talking about his incredible personal experiences (being expelled from high school, knocked out and left in the bushes while in college, etc.), and how formative all of this was for him, he also talked about other activists who have suffered (and continue to suffer) more intensely, who don’t end up being pulled out of the bushes, who don’t end up graduating even from high school after being expelled, who don’t end up able to enjoy the opportunities he has had, and the opportunity to undertake a career as rewarding as his. And he expressed admiration for activists today who make sacrifices but who don’t have a movement behind them. What’s impressive, he said, is that activism even exists today. He talked, too, about people with whom he connected when he worked in a factory after college and on a fishing boat, and his recognition that these people were no less intellectually capable than his colleagues at Harvard, and about his dismay over the exceedingly high cost they had to pay to sustain an unjust social order–and the similar cost others continue to pay.

The depth of Railton’s compassion and goodness came through as he talked about his dismay over the combative nature of philosophical exchanges and the unfortunate tendency in philosophy to focus on what’s wrong with the work of others–a tendency to focus on cutting down rather than building up. He called on all of us to move toward a more constructive way of doing philosophy, to spend more time focusing on the positive, to emphasize more the question of what’s of value in a work than what’s wrong with it–and to show more respect for each other. The case for a more constructive way of doing philosophy was made all the more powerfully by the deeply moving personal stories he told. Railton’s stories of being wracked with self-doubt highlight, of course, how misleading self-doubt can be, what poor evidence it is of whether someone has something philosophically worthwhile to say. But also his stories of self-doubt along with his expressions of dismay over the emphasis on the wielding of what he called “sharp, argumentative knives” made me think about just how easy it would have been for him to leave the field. And it made me think about how many voices have been marginalized or silenced–how much richness, finally, has been lost for all of us.

He clearly had lost voices in mind when he expressed his dismay over the importance philosophers give to what they take to be innate brilliance–which ends up disadvantaging minority groups who are stereotyped as not possessing such traits. He talked about the various ways in which people can do good and productive philosophical work, the various ways in which creativity can be expressed and developed. And he issued a call to action to philosophers to join the fight that he characterized as being fought at least primarily by philosophers with the most to lose, a fight for inclusion of more women, more members of other minority groups and a fight to change the way philosophy is being done.

As anyone who’s had any interactions with Railton knows, he really does exemplify the best of us and provide a model for how to do philosophy respectfully and constructively. I left his talk deeply moved but also grateful–and hopeful.Report

Kristina Meshelski
Kristina Meshelski
6 years ago

Is there any official APA talk of National Adjunct Walkout Day (coming up this Wed Feb 25)? MLA just put out a guide for what TT faculty should do http://actionforallies.commons.mla.orgReport

APA Attendee
APA Attendee
6 years ago

Something to add to conference/talk behavior norms: if the presenter is a graduate student, and the commentator is a famous person, *do not* direct your questions to the commentator.

I thought the commentator handled it excellently, so follow-up norm: if you’re a commentator and this happens to you, do exactly what the commentator in this case did — always act surprised that questions are being directed to you, and take every opportunity to invite the presenter to speak.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
6 years ago

Thank you, Annette Bryson and Jan Dowell, your comments on Peter Railton’s lecture highlight many of the great points therein. It was great to have read Railton’s lecture and now to see how well you have captured and emphasized some of the best parts of it.Report