I just stumbled upon the following interesting and timely exchange between Jonathan Haidt, David Sloan Wilson, Michael Shermer, Sam Harris, PZ Myers, and Marc Hauser over at Edge.org. Haidt's extended discussion can be found here. The responses on the part of Wilson, Shermer, and the others can be found here. One of the key issues is whether the so-called "New Atheism" as it has been developed by Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens, Onfray, Dennett, and others is (a) scientifically minded rather than emotionally driven, and (b) helpful in terms of fostering dialog between the factions of the "culture wars." I plan to post a response to Haidt here on LR in the upcoming days. Once I do, I will open a comment thread to get your feedback. For now, take a look at the exchange between the aforementioned parties.
Thom Brooks (Newcastle) compiles a list of the A*, A, and B journals from the APA exercise. The A* list isn't bad, apart from some dubious inclusions (probably meant to pander to this-or-that interest group) like Hypatia, Political Theory, and Philosophy East and West. (The best work in feminist philosophy, for example, has surely appeared in many of the other A* journals, not in Hypatia, and important work in political philosophy--the kind that engages philosophers--rarely appears in Political Theory.) But after the A* journals, it all gets a bit arbitrary. I would be hard-pressed to distinguish between many of the A and B journals, or between many of the A and B journals, and journals that were omitted altogether.
UPDATE: Correspondence from two different readers makes clear that some may not understand the institutional context of this ranking. As I understand it, the ranking of journals will ultimately affect funding of departments and universities depending on which journals their faculty members publish in. This means every group with a particular scholarly interest has a huge incentive to push to have their 'pet' journal ranked highly in this exercise. So the Kant mafia in Australasia and the feminist philosophers and the comparative philosophers obviously lobbied, successfully, to get their specialty journals into the same category with much broader (and generally better-established) philosophy journals. Anyone who thinks saying that some of these journals don't belong on the A* list is insulting must really have a dim view of the journals on the A list!
I want to hereby apologize to all ignorant yahoos for suggesting that Sarah Palin was one of you. There is now a consensus across the political spectrum in the wake of Governor Palin's recent Couric 'interview' [sic] that Palin is quite probably the dumbest, least developed and least prepared candidate for national office in our lifetime. Even a regular ignorant yahoo could have done better.
“The kind of thing that we’re proposing and developing transcends all those political differences whether you’re right, left or center,” said Robert Koons, the director of Texas’ program, who describes himself as a run-of-the-mill Republican. “It’s not the answers, but the questions” about ethics, justice and civic duty that are being discussed, he said.
Since these topics were already being discussed in tons of courses in Philosophy, Government, and other departments, it is a bit mysterious why a special Program was needed. But knowing that Rob is a fair-minded guy, I believe his description of what the Program is about, even though I'm not quite sure he's a "run-of-the-mill" Republican--but readers can judge for themselves. Of course, it can not escape notice that the "core" faculty is notable mainly for its ideological commitments, not its pertinent expertise or scholarly distinction (with a couple of exceptions, like the distinguished classicist Karl Galinsky). Even Rob--who is, as many readers will know, a very good philosophical logician and metaphysician--has not mainly worked on topics one would consider at the core of "Western civ." The educational mission of these initiatives would be more credible, alas, if they did not appear to be staffed based on considerations of ideological purity. But in the end, the proof will be in the pudding for these programs, i.e., what classes are really being offered and how they are being taught.
Meanwhile, my beloved former institution, the University of Texas at Austin, had a great year last year, with two winners of the National Medal of Technology and three faculty elected to the National Academy of Sciences, more than any other university. If it weren't for the bizarre U.S. News rankings of colleges, one might expect more people to realize that Texas is quite a bit better than almost all the state schools ranked ahead of it, except Berkeley, Michigan, and UCLA.
Leif Wenar (political philosophy), previously Professor of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield, has taken up a Chair in Ethics on the law faculty at King's College, London, effective this fall. With Wenar, Timothy Macklem, and Raymond Plant, among others, on the law faculty, KCL probably has the strongest philosophical profile of any of the law faculties in London.
The blog is here (courtesy of some Buffalo PhD students) and you can send them announcements for posting via this address. As readers know, I don't post these kinds of announcements, but I hope readers will take advantage of this new site and also spread the word (and link to it). I will add it to my 'blogroll" as well.
I have come across a number of graduate students -- typically students from overseas -- at [school name omitted] who complain about somewhat appalling conditions there. I may be wrong but here is my perception of what is going on: truckloads of overseas graduate students are being admitted without a proper understanding of what they are letting themselves in for. They are given encouraging signals about various possibilities for funding but the reality is that in most cases they are being used to service the undergraduate teaching in a way that makes it absolutely impossible to make progress in a doctoral degree. In very many cases, these students are given no full fee waiver and teach between 3-3 and 4-4 loads (yes, three to four courses a semester) just to survive. In a number of cases these students had offers from other graduate programs in the USA and would have been infinitely better off to have taken one of those options instead. Now I don't know all the details -- though I have spoken to more than ten graduate students who have told me a similar story. And I make no pretension to have gotten all the facts right. But I think its important that talented overseas students in philosophy coming into this country do not get exploited, and I think you are in a position to make a difference here if what is getting reported to me is correct. Let me emphasise that I do not want my name brought up in this connection, and I have no personal grudges against anyone at [the department in question] (I am writing this simply because I felt genuinely sorry for some of the students that I have spoken to and felt that they could have been so much better off if they had been just a little better informed). I thought that at the very least your site could do something to warn prospective graduate students -- if they indeed need warning -- about the pitfalls of certain underfunded graduate programs.
Here's the key point: there are big differences in the quality of funding between programs, even when the programs have comparable faculties. Students should be particularly alert to this with respect to private versus public schools, even though some public schools (e.g., Michigan) have excellent funding available. But, as the PGR has long noted, public schools tend to provide more of their financial aid via teaching assistantships, but it's crucial to know what the teaching burden really is: both how many contact hours per week and how many students you will be responsible for grading. If you don't get a satisfactory commitment in writing about this, you should think again about that program.
Thomas Nadelhoffer, a leading experimental philosopher and innovator in bringing philosophy to the blogosphere, will be returning as a Guest Blogger starting next week. He'll be blogging about various philosophical and meta-philosophical topics.
A shutdown of the electrical system at the Law School on Monday night created some problems for those sending me e-mail at my Chicago address. It appears everything got through to me, but not till morning.
Please note we're having a repeat of the same shutdown tonight (Tuesday starting around 5 pm Central Time, 6 pm NYC time), and running through Wednesday morning. It might be best not to try to e-mail me during that time. The system should be up and running by 6 or 7 am on Wednesday morning. For urgent matters, leave me a phone message at my office. Thanks.
The [new grant] program, which goes public today, will grant up to $25,000 each for “pre-disciplinary” pilot courses designed to tackle “the most fundamental concerns of the humanities.”
Among the “enduring questions” the endowment hopes the courses will ask: What is the good life? What is justice? Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Is there a human nature and, if so, what is it?
The endowment expects to make up to 20 awards, and $15,000 of each $25,000 grant will be a stipend for the faculty member who designs and teaches the course.
[I]ntroductory philosophy courses regularly offered throughout the country routinely cover a selection of the “big questions” that interest the endowment. These are all time-honored questions of philosophy with a large and thoughtful literature associated with them. Further—-something that apparently concerns the endowment—-it is standard to consider a variety of answers to a given question rather than to push a particular “line”. The idea that these questions should be tackled in “predisciplinary” courses strikes me as a tad bizarre in light of this situation, unless it is only the idea that these courses should be part of a “core curriculum” intended for students who have not yet decided on a major. This is already often the case with introductory philosophy courses.
(Thanks to Jeff Dean for the pointer to this story.)
Talking Points Memo. I'm sure many readers already know this site, but I expect many of those abroad do not. It's a useful and intelligent site, that also doesn't mince words with respect to the Imprudent Wing of the Republocrat Party. Meanwhile, as several readers pointed out, people outside the U.S. prefer Obama over McCain by a 4-1 margin, though, interestingly, one out of five have no preference or think it makes no difference--which it probably does not on most foreign policy issues, except war with Iran. But perhaps some of those outside the U.S. don't realize that McCain is the candidate of endless war.
UPDATE: Meanwhile, this fellow has some good advice on campaign strategy for Obama. (Warning to the sensitive: he's mad and uses naughty words.) I just sent an e-mail to one of my colleagues, who knows Obama well from his years teaching here at Chicago, as follows:
Could you ask your friend Barack Obama to start running a real, slash-and-burn campaign against the war-monger McCain and the ignorant yahoo and serial liar Palin. Maybe he could hire this guy:
Being nice and high-minded ain’t working, and I’m scared for my kids.
What is very worrisome about the polls is that there is some evidence that respondents overstate their support for African-American candidates when asked, but when they actually vote, latent or not-so-latent racism kicks in and they don't follow through with that professed support. That probably wouldn't matter if Obama had a 10-point lead in most national polls; but right now, he's either behind 3 or 4 points or up 1 or 2 points in the national polls. It's unbelievable. (Even in New Jersey, heart of blue territory, Obama is up by only six points over McCain!)
SOME TIPS FROM READERS: Alex Sinha points to an interesting site containing detailed analysis of poll results and their meaning. And Joshua Robison points me to a useful, skeptical discussion of whether or not polling results on Obama are over-stating his results perhaps because of his race.
The latest honor bestowed on Thomas Nagel (NYU) is the Balzan Prize, which I had not heard of previously (there are more details here), but which has been awarded since 1961: past winners include Quentin Skinner, Eric Hobsbawm, Paul Ricoeur, John Maynard Smith, Emmanuel Levinas, amd Jean Piaget, among many others. Anglophone philosophers have not been recognized previously, it appears. The statement recognizing Nagel's work is here. The prize amount is $885,000, half of which must be devoted to research purposes.
UPDATE: As one reader points out, the prize would have been awarded prior to Professor Nagel having "jumped the shark"! The surprising thing about that article is that it is essentially devoid of citations and scholarly apparatus, which allows Nagel essentially to make up the positions of everyone: the proponents of Intelligent Design, the opponents, the Court's opinion in Dover and on and on. Very strange.
Carlos Mariscal, a graduate student at Duke, wrote last Friday:
While I was watching the convention this week (and last week as well, actually), it astounded me at how often the speakers would resort to obvious logical fallacies. I counted five false dichotomies and four straw men within the Sarah Palin speech alone. As a result, I've decided to throw a 'Spot the Logical Fallacy' party during the first debate September 26. It occurs to me that this would be a good way of showing the use of philosophical training and a fun way to reach out to the community. So, I'd like to throw the idea out to the Internet in the hopes that a few philosophy departments, clubs, or meet up groups will also decide to throw parties of their own.
It should be a busy and festive event, given the relative role of rhetoric vs. logic in political debates!
Details here. The winners are Joshua Greene (PhD in philosophy from Princeton, who now teaches in the Psychology Dept. at Harvard), Eddy Nahmias (Georgia State University), and Valerie Tiberius (University of Minnesota).
I have been unpacking Unpacking my life Some of you have done this You move The boxes arrive Usually labeled But when you open them They are not quite What the label promises In each box you find Something you did not know you had Something special although unfamiliar You suspect you should remember it
You realize you have forgotten your life And somehow in the packing and unpacking (Especially when others have done the packing) It comes back to you At first strange then gradually pleasurable As if you'd dreamed a poem And gone on living in it A life better than the one you thought you knew
The spectacle in Minneapolis is generating lots of interesting e-mail from philosophers. I'll share a few items here.
The Palin nomination has unleashed a tidal wave of hypocrisy from the hypocrites who know no limits on the right, as Jon Stewart notes.
Senator McCain's speech last night was awful, even quite apart from its absurd content (a Republican who almost always votes with George W. Bush has become the agent of 'change'): as has been remarked before, the man apparently can't read a teleprompter. Which reminds me: we've heard lots about 'experience' lately, not much about smarts, and perhaps that's because the Republican ticket may be one of the dumbest in history, with the guy who graduated at the bottom of his class from the Naval Academy and the gal who attended five colleges over six years before finally graduating with a communications/journalism major at the University of Idaho. Don't get me wrong: I'm sure there are some intelligent communications/journalism graduates of the University of Idaho, but I'm pretty confident they didn't have to transfer in and out of nearly a half-dozen colleges in as many years before earning the sheepskin in Idaho. Maybe this has something to do with why the McCain campaign is hiding Palin from the media, lest she have to answer questions without a script? (Maybe they might ask her about what her old friends have to say about her?) As I remarked once before, there is no bottom to dumb, and this ticket sets new standards for dumbness. Of course, that issue can't be broached in public, and for obvious reasons.
But it's not just the stupidity, it's the venality of this pair--the war-monger prone to temper tantrums and the ignorant yahoo who buys into every delusion of the fundamentalist right--that's really alarming. A colleague from a leading American law school writes giving apt expression to this, after listening to Governor Palin's speech on Wednesday night and its reception among the diehards:
I heard some of the 'Republicans' on the radio last night and it was horrific. Only twice have I heard anything so blood-curdling: First, on viewing Leni Riefenstahl's Triumph des Willens while an undergraduate. And second, on listening to a radio broadcast of an old tape of a Jim Jones sermon in 'Jonestown' Guyana. These people - Romney, Huckleberry, Giuliani, Palin - are so unbelievably depraved it doesn't even feel remotely like America any longer. Even Bush and Cheney seem almost quaintly familiar by comparison.
Why is someone's having set up job-training and college-prep training courses for inner city poor folk before attending law school worthy of mockery? In what way is this less noble than reporting on hockey games as a sports announcer on a local television affiliate? I don't know how anyone could have listened to this ugly revelry last night and not felt deep, deep shame and dread.
The Republicans last night also took evident relish in comparing Perky Palin's executive experience as a dinkytown mayor and novice governor to Obama's and Biden's merely legislative experience as US Senators (and of course Obama's years as an Illinois state senator before that). Notably missing in this hoot-fest was any reference to that other legislator in the race, McCain. Here then is a question for the Republicans: Why isn't Perky Palin heading their ticket, with McCain in the veep slot? Is it 'sexism?'
Here's another question: Why does no one speak of the Keating Five any longer? Or about the fact that McCain was nothing but a drunken yob at the Naval Academy, finishing at the bottom of his class and doing absolutely nothing 'heroic' or even vaguely admirable in the military apart from staying in his cage once he got shot down? In what sense is this ugly, ugly man a 'hero' or a 'reformer?'
It will admittedly 'spoil the brand' if Obama has to start fighting. And besides, the 'independents' will be *really* frightened if they see a black man looking angry. But this is all the more reason, I think, for the rest of us to take the gloves off.
Here's one other thing: Perky Palin's 'official biographer' said something on the radio the other day (it might have been on Amy Goodman's program but I can't remember) about how Perky left the Catholic Church because she found Evangelicalism 'more meaningful.' Given the number of conservative Catholics who it's said voted for Reagan and then for Bush, perhaps somebody ought to be asking Palin to 'come clean with the American people about her anti-Catholic bigotry.' I'm a bit more hesitant about this than about Keating Five, etc., in that making politics of religion is especially disgusting. But if these brownshirts begin to gain any traction, I think just about anything necessary, or anything legal, will have to be done to stop them.
A few days ago I was tempted to say that Perky Palin was Dan Quayle in go-go boots. But after hearing that horrifying rubbish last night I think we're faced with something much more sinister.
Speaking of brownshirts, the political police have been operating full force around the convention, rounding up protesters, journalists, and anyone in their path: lots of details here,here, and here.
Meanwhile, dear readers, let me assure you that this week has been atypical: I am not resuming political blogging, but it's been a slow week for philosophy news, and a big week for ugly political spectacles. Thanks to all who sent interesting links. Back to philosophy, I hope, next week!
UPDATE: This right-wing woman and Thatcherite is pissed about the choice of Palin! It's an amusing column, even if it is mysterious why she ever thought McCain was an 'honorable' person. An excerpt:
John McCain’s choice of Governor Sarah Palin was the last straw. It makes American politics look like a sick comedy....Today no rational conservative can vote for the Palin and McCain ticket. It makes America an international laughing stock. The fact that there has been a Palin bounce, after her charismatic speech, fills me with dismay.
This has little to do with Palin’s views. I disagree passionately with some of them, but the Republicans are entitled to present any views they choose to the electorate. Nor do I share the objections to Sarah Barracuda of the liberal sisterhood; unlike them I don’t in the least object to an ambitious woman being right-wing. I am rather right-wing myself, and Margaret Thatcher is one of my heroines....
What horrified me was not so much the woman herself, though she is clearly entirely unfit to be vice-president or president. It was McCain’s cynical and sudden choice of her. Would you give power of attorney over your entire life to someone you had only met once, or possibly twice? Of course not. You would give the matter and the person very serious consideration. Yet McCain in effect is offering power of attorney over all the affairs of the United States and over all Americans, including me, to a woman he had barely met. I myself wouldn’t hire a house-sitter on such scant acquaintance....
Obviously McCain’s public relations people have been scouring the country for libertarian babes. But politics is not painting by numbers. McCain doesn’t know Palin at all, nor it seems did his vetting people; revelations keep emerging about her all the time. But he showed himself willing to hand the free world over to a stranger because his people think she is a psephological paragon.
I had thought that McCain was, for a politician, an honourable man. Certainly honour is one of his top selling points. But who can think so now? In choosing a woman he doesn’t know or understand, purely for electoral advantage, he reveals a dishonourable lust for office, a disrespect for women generally and a dishonourable indifference to the future of his country. After all, if this known unknown woman does become president, it will almost certainly be because he himself is dead - quite possible given his age and health - and past caring.
Though he didn’t know Palin personally, he must have known a few facts about her. He must have known that she compares feebly with previous vice-presidential candidates. Her education is minimal, her real political and managerial experience very slight. The only previous woman candidate for vice-president, the Democrat Geraldine Ferraro, was well qualified, well educated and experienced; Palin can’t hold a candle to her. Palin’s experience is as nothing compared to that of Dick Cheney (congressman, secretary of defence and White House chief of staff), Al Gore (senator and congressman) or George Bush Sr (congressman, ambassador to the United Nations and China, head of the CIA). Being a vice-president is not just a matter of PR and homespun rhetoric, or used not to be....
In short Palin is an ill-educated, inexperienced hypocrite. The Republicans are trying to sell her to the voters as something she isn’t, and McCain hardly cares what she is. It’s a bad day for my native land.
So, after doing some real work last night, I watched, again on C-Span, the speech by Senator McCain's V-P pick, Alaska Governor (and Alaska Taliban mamber) Sarah Palin. I'm sorry to report that she was an effective presenter of the speech written for her, and kept her ignorant yahoo credentials completely under wraps: no gaffes about creationism, the Founding Fathers' commitment to the Pledge of Allegiance, the need to ban books from libraries, or God's support for the American war of aggression against Iraq. Maybe this spells trouble, maybe it doesn't, for the prudent wing of the Republocrat Party. Hopefully, in actual interview settings, where she doesn't have a prepared script, the real soul of this Alaska Talibaner will shine forth and the so-called 'independent' voters--the ones who can't tell night from day, and who actually decide elections in America--will run for the hills. It's just too soon to tell.
Amusingly, though, when Senator McCain appeared on stage with Governor Palin after her speech, he looked extremely uncomfortable, as though he didn't quite know what to do with a woman not as his wife or secretary, but his running mate. This ticket is still rich with potential for self-destruction. And for the sake of humanity, let's hope it happens sooner rather than later.
UPDATE: Too bad the Obama campaign probably isn't going to put out an anti-Palin ad this rough.
ANOTHER: A hopeful sign that independent voters are not taking to Palin.
ANOTHER ONE: A philosophy graduate student writes with some interesting observations:
There is one Palin-theory, pushed by the media, that I find particularly galling.It is that Obama is some strange exotic creature whose odd qualities make us justifiably suspicious of him, while Sarah Palin is a very normal, familiar mom with whom we all grew up.David Brooks pushes this idea at every opportunity.Obama "does not fit into the categories we know."I spent my formative years in Pennsylvania, in a pretty-much rural town, where people farmed and hunted and rode dirt bikes.And had you presented Sarah Palin to me at age 15, with her talk of moose-burgers, her "snow-machine" champion husband, and kids with names like "Track" and "Willow", I would have assumed she had been dropped here from another planet.
Can't we just admit that Obama is black, and that this makes a lot of people uncomfortable?And his community organizing- which, apparently we have determined, is now worthy of ridicule- makes people uncomfortable because it was aimed at empowering poor blacks?Maybe we could have bought the "unfamiliar" explanation until people began to embrace a candidate from one of the most atypical states in the nation.
Steven Hales (Bloomsburg) calls to my attention that September is "Metaphysical Awareness Month." Professor Hales has pledged to "remain essentially self-identical all month long." What are your plans?
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY: I hope more readers will comment on these issues! Thanks
A philosophy student in Australia writes:
(1) To what extent are people applying to philosophy graduate programs at the top schools disadvantaged (in the selection process) if they are older than your average grads - say 35-40 years?
(2) To what extent are older graduates disadvantaged in the job market once they've received their phds?
I get asked variations on this question every couple of months, and it occurs to me that I ought to solicit input from other philosophers, faculty and students, on this score. I'd prefer signed comments, but as long as you use a real e-mail (it won't appear) that matches the IP address, it's OK to post anonymously on this thread. I'll add my own comments after others have weighed in with their perspectives and experiences.
Putting aside the fact that patriotism is immoral, one might think that a candidate for Vice-President of the United States who favored secession of her home state might be fairly questioned about her loyalty to her country. You may learn more about the "Alaska Independence Party" here; its founder, as the site proudly informs us, deemed members of the lunatic right John Birch Society "too liberal." As I noted before, "ignorant yahoo" may just scratch the surface of how dangerously foolish this woman is.
As longtime readers know, I open comments selectively when I think reader input is likely to be especially informative and when I have time to moderate comments. This practice has worked well, in terms of the quality of the comment sections, but it is time-consuming and it also means that relatively few threads have commenting opportunities. But it seems to me that more laissez-faire policies have significant disadvantages.
First, there are likely to be far more anonymous comments, and anonymity generally encourages irresponsible behavior. Second, there would be a lot more spam--a lot of older threads with open comments get spam fairly regularly, but that never sees the light of day under the current system. Third, the quality of threads is likely to be much more uneven--take a look at Crooked Timber threads to get an idea of what tends to happen. There are some folks who comment rather excessively on any blog where the opportunity presents itself, and what they have in common is rarely skill and insight. (Search "John Emerson" on Crooked Timber for an example of the problem.) The comment sections of highly-trafficked blogs are very attractive for those who want attention, and especially if their professional competence does not permit them to get such recognition from established fora outside the blogosphere. And some nuisance commenters are just literally nuts. (Pharyngula maintains a whole list of permanently blocked commenters, including some denizens of Cyberspace whom he deems, not implausibly, to be mentally ill--a phenomenon, needless to say, with which I have some familiarity.)
The question, of course, is how likely it is an "open" comments policy here would devolve in these ways. When there was more scathing political commentary on the blog, that risk was certainly greater, but these days the quality of submitted comments are pretty good, and I approve at least 90%. On the other hand, the amount of garbage would surely increase if there were not the specter of comment moderation, so for the foreseeable future I intend to maintain the comments status quo. If you have thoughts on the issue, feel free to e-mail me. Thanks.
UPDATE: Sentiment so far is strongly in favor of continuing moderation. One student gave apt expression to the case for moderation:
Per your recent post, I think it would be better if you kept moderating comments as you have. The vast majority of discussion on the internet is worthless, your blog being a rare exception. If comments are not moderated it is safe to assume not only that there will be more junk comments, but that this decrease in average quality will cause a decrease in the number of worthwhile comments as well. Many of the most informative and best-considered comments in current discussions come from well-respected, and no doubt very busy, philosophers, whom I imagine would have little desire to spend their scant free time engaging with belligerent internet trolls.