MOVING TO FRONT FROM MAY 26: Please, if you haven't yet signed this, do so!
The petition is here, and it has the support of the philosophy faculty at Middlesex. I would, of course, urge all readers to sign, and I would also urge academics in other fields to sign and would ask philosophers to bring the petition to the attention of colleagues in other disciplines. For obvious reasons, given the way things are going, philosophers will get fewer occasions to boycott Middlesex going forward. But if Middlesex is still to function, it will require the cooperation of academics in many fields, and now is the opportunity to signal that this assistance will not be forthcoming. Already, the poet and author Michael Rosen has renounced a Visiting Professorship at Middlesex in protest.
Their list of best-selling "philosophy" books. No comment.
(Thanks to Andrew Kunsak for the pointer.)
UVA has now gone to court to put a stop to the harassment by the Attorney General. That's very good news for UVA and its faculty, and a credit to the Administration.
(Thanks to Antonia Lolordo for the pointer.)
I just got a copy of 12 Modern Philosophers, ed. by Belshaw & Kemp (Wiley-Blackwell), containing illuminating essays (based on the three I've read so far) about Davidson, Quine, Kripke, Rawls, Singer, Parfit, Williams, Nozick, Nagel, Rorty, McDowell, and Fodor. As the editors explain: "There are 12 philosophers represented here, all writing in English, and all of them active in the last third of the twentieth century.....They are all highly important figures in philosophy now: widely read, initiators of debate. Are they the top 12 philosophers of our time? Of course we make no such claim. But were someone to give a list of, say, the 20 key players, then, probably, the 12 here would be among them." A plausible hypothesis, I would say, even if there are others (Searle? Lewis? Nussbaum? Brandom? Wright? Williamson? Habermas?) who might be added.
But how many of these folks are likely to survive the proverbial "test of time"? It is, admittedly, hard to predict, but give it a try. Remember Nagel's observation (I forget where) that in the late 19th-century, no one would have guessed that a century later, Frege and Nietzsche would loom so large. Of course, this was before the total professionalization of all disciplines, including philosophy. This will no doubt change, in some measure, the long-term reception of philosophers. Of course, the universities may themselves change in ways that affect the nature and reception of philosophy. But even conceding that this is guesswork, I am curious to see which philosophers current readers think will be read and taken seriously a century hence: so have fun with the poll.
This is very odd, and, one hopes, it is simply the product of just bad writing: NEH summer stipends may not be used for "projects that seek to promote a particular political, philosophical, religious, or ideological point of view." Won't this prevent most philosophers from applying, unless they're writing a survey piece? One assumes that, given the list, by "philosophical" they mean something closer to "political" and "ideological," and not someone proposing to defend four-dimensionalism or compatibilism or epistemic internalism (imagine the controversy in Congress if some Senator gets wind that the NEH is funding work in support of internalism! The externalist Senators will go wild).
(Thanks to Alex Hughes for the pointer.)
This site has more information and details about the suspension of students and faculty who were protesting the decision to eliminate the school's most highly RAE-rated program. In the United States, this kind of heavy-handed behavior by the administration would result in civil lawsuits, which the school would almost certainly lose; I do not know whether there are legal remedies available in the U.K. for this kind of punitive treatment of faculty, without even a semblance of due process. But given the character of the sanctions imposed, the administration's purpose is quite clear: it is to silence protest, and make it more difficult to organize opposition to the administrative decision to eliminate philosophy. The Middlesex administrators are, indeed, bonkers, but they remain instrumentally rational in their vicious behavior. An international outcry produced positive results at King's College, London, but in that case we were aided by the aspirations of the administration to retain KCL's status as an internationally-respected research university. It is, alas, unclear at this point whether the administrators at Middlesex "University" [sic] are motivated by similar concerns.
That's what the new Tory government has done in choosing Theresa May. N.A.T. Coleman (Michigan), who flagged this issue for me, summarizes the case against her in response to a column in The Guardian claiming that the petition against her "perhaps helps illustrate how you often get little respect for changing your mind". Coleman writes:
On the contrary, there are three reasons why this petition quite rightly continues, in spite of her professed change of mind.
Several philosophy faculty have won awards from the American Council of Learned Society fellowship competitions (full lists are here).
ACLS Fellowships: Matthew Boyle (Harvard) and Tyler Burge (UCLA).
Ryskamp Reearch Fellowship: Elisabeth Camp (Penn).
Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars: Pamela Hieronymi (UCLA).
Collaborative Research Fellowship: Nicholas Huggett (Illinois/Chicago) and Christian Wüthrich (UC San Diego).
They are: Jonathan Livengood (HPS, University of Pittsburgh) and Anat Schechtman (Philosophy, Yale University).
More ACLS Fellowship news (for faculty) to follow shortly.
(Thanks to Larry Solum for the pointer.)
Posted by Brian Leiter on May 23, 2010 at 06:55 PM in Personal Ads of the Philosophers (and other humor), Philosophy in the News | Permalink
Professor Lappin has invited me to share the following letter from he and Wilfried Meyer-Viol in the Philosophy Department:
Dear Friends, Students, and Colleagues,
As many of you have heard, The School of Arts and Humanities at King's has now announced
that the consultation period for its restructuring proposal is over, and we are safe. There will be
no compulsory redundancies in the School, as cost reductions have been achieved through
alternative means. This is welcome news, and a source of considerable relief. We are deeply
grateful to those of you who have supported us through letters, petitions, and statements
during this difficult time. The campaign that you organized on our behalf played a central
role in persuading the College to revise its original plans for the School. We owe our positions
We wish that we could tell you that the crisis at King's has fully passed and that all is now well
throughout the College. Unfortunately, this is not the case. The College management is
continuing to pursue restructuring plans in other Schools, where the academic staff have
been forced to re-apply for their positions. Not a few of our colleagues in these Schools
remain at risk of dismissal, and some are being pressured to accept "voluntary"
severance. Moreover, the events at King's are by no means unique. They are an acute
instance of a pattern that we are seeing, in one form or another, in many other universities
throughout the UK. As Britain's new government embarks on deep cuts in public spending
in order to deal with the country's large deficit, we think it likely that processes of the sort
that we have been experiencing at King's will be widespread across the entire UK university
sector within the next few years.
The way in which King's, and other universities here in the UK have been responding to
the financial challenges that they are facing raises at least two fundamental issues of
principle. First, in dealing with a budgetary crisis does one treat forced redundancy as the
last resort, to be invoked only after all other possible methods of cost reduction have been
exhausted, or does management reserve the right to dismiss academic staff at its discretion
in order to optimize its revenue? Second, although academic tenure at British universities
was abolished by the Thatcher government in the 1980s, a long standing norm has remained
in force, whereby permanent academic staff remain in their positions until retirement, as long
as they are fulfilling the conditions of their contracts with respect to research, publication,
teaching, and administration. Will this norm continue to apply, or will management appropriate
the right to reconfigure a Department or Faculty for the purpose of excluding certain faculty
members, even when they are performing at a satisfactory standard? These questions
remain unresolved at King's, and within most other British universities. They will become
increasingly pressing in the next few years. The way in which they are answered will determine
the character of higher education in the UK for the coming generation. It is imperative that we
defend the principles on which free inquiry and the autonomy of research depend, as these
provide the very foundations of university life.
Shalom Lappin and Wilfried Meyer-Viol
Posted by Brian Leiter on May 21, 2010 at 06:23 AM in Of Cultural Interest, Texas Taliban Alerts (Intelligent Design, Religion in the Schools, etc.) | Permalink
The real problem with giving a philosophical lightweight and poseur like Critchley a public platform is the damage it does to the image and reputation of philosophy, including, importantly, the Continental traditions in philosophy. I linked in my earlier piece to a couple of good criticisms, but here are a few more that have come my way:
Roman Altschuler (who, by the way, had the most interesting defense of Critchley last time around) tries to give a charitable reading of the silly column, but can't sustain it, to his credit.
Jean Kazez has a patient critical discussion of the 'substance' of the column (though, to clarify, I was not and am not worried about Critchley's credentials--those are all in order [PhD in philosophy, teacher of the subject, etc.]--but about his philosophical competence as evidenced by his work. Kazez's critique nicely confirms that worry I thought). She has more thoughts here.
This blog--whose raison d'etre reflects, alas, an all-too-common parochialism of some Anglophone philosophers--nonetheless has an apt "shorter Critchley":
What is a philosopher? This one philosopher, Thales, fell into a well. He was looking at the sky. This is a metaphor. Silly philosophers. Water clocks are stealing your time, except only if you’re a lawyer. Lawyers have no souls, but they are successful, unlike PHILOSOPHERS. Silly philosophers, you have time, but you also don’t, but mostly you do. Your heads are always in the clouds. This is important: PHILOSOPHY KILLS. This is because Socrates once died, and he was a philosopher. Also, Bertrand Russell didn’t get a job once. Because of blasphemy! Silly philosophers. You are so anti-establishment and whatnot. This is why the Athenians killed Socrates. Were they right? I dunno. Whatevs.
"STFU" (to use the rude blog lingo) may be the right response to a bullshit artist like Critchley, but it is important to remember that he has essentially nothing to do with the best Continental traditions in philosophy.
And, finally, a word from Nietzsche on philosophers and lawyers:
[Philosophers] all pose as if they had discovered and reached their real opinions through the self-development of a cold, pure, divinely unconcerned dialectic...; while at bottom it is an assumption, a hunch, indeed, a kind of 'intuition'...that they defend with reasons they have sought after the fact. They are all advocates [Advoktaen] who resent that name, and for the most part even wily spokesmen for their prejudice which they baptize 'truths'--and very far from having the courge of the conscience that admits this, precisely this, to itself....
The "consultation" document has just been released for Arts & Humanities, and, as I read it, all the threatened positions in Philosophy are saved, and no one is being terminated. I've heard from many at KCL over the past few months that the international outcry and support was having an important influence on the process. As one philosopher there wrote: "[O]ur deep thanks go to all those who gave us such tremendous support from outside the college, as well as to our wonderful students, who have been stalwart throughout."
UPDATE: David Papineau, Head of Department at KCL, writes:
Yes--I'm pleased to say that King's has just announced that it will be able to make the necessary cost savings in the School of Arts and Humanities without any forced redundancies.This is excellent news, particularly for the Philosophy Department. One result of the difficult last few months has been to bring home to everyone the value of our Department and the importance of preserving its strengths.Nobody is leaving the Department. In particular Shalom Lappin, Wilfried Meyer-Viol and Charles Travis will all be remaining with us.What is more, we expect to be advertising one or more new appointments very soon.On behalf of my colleagues, I'd like to thank all those who have done so much to support us over the last few months. They have made all the difference.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM MAY 14
I am sorry to report that Professor Hoffman, a distinguished scholar of early modern philosophy and Professor of Philosophy at the University of California at Riverside, has passed away very suddenly. I will post links to memorial notices as they appear. John Martin Fischer (UC Riverside) writes: "Right now we are all in shock. He was a super, super guy. He was not only a world-class Decartes scholar, but a world-class person."
UPDATE: Remembrances from a former student, philosopher Roderick Long (Auburn).
A NICE STATEMENT FROM THE UC RIVERSIDE CHANCELLOR TO THE UNIVERSITY COMMUNITY:
It is with great regret that I inform you that UC Riverside Professor of Philosophy Paul Hoffman passed away unexpectedly on Thursday, May 13, 2010.
Dr. Hoffman was a world-class Descartes scholar. Although he wrote on a broad range of philosophers and topics, he is best known for his revolutionary work on Descartes, which is said to have changed forever the way philosophers think of this central figure in the history of philosophy.
In addition to being a noted historian of philosophy, he was a constructive philosopher in his own right, who contributed significantly to the discussion of philosophy of the mind, causation, free will, and metaphysics.
In the Department of Philosophy, and nationwide among former students and colleagues, Dr. Hoffman was known as an energetic, supportive, and inspirational teacher and mentor at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He was famous for his conscientious - if tough and rigorous - reading of students' work.
Within his department, Dr. Hoffman was regarded as a remarkably self-less person, who was never concerned with self-aggrandizement, but always with helping others -his undergraduates, graduate
students, and colleagues on and off-campus. Indeed, the outstanding success of the department's graduate students in a tough job market was credited to Hoffman's guidance and hard work on their behalf.
He organized and ran a Latin reading group, which included UCR students and colleagues, in addition to scholars throughout the nation (including Harvard University).
Born in 1952, Dr. Hoffman did his undergraduate work at Michigan and earned his PhD in philosophy at UCLA. He was an assistant professor at Harvard University from 1982-85, a Mellon Postdoctoral Fellow at Cornell University from 1985-87, and an assistant professor at MIT from 1987-1992. He joined the UCR faculty in 1992 as an assistant professor and was promoted to associate professor in 1994 and full professor in 2003.
Dr. Hoffman was an avid swimmer and surfer, and was a nationally ranked swimmer in his age-group.
Dr. Hoffman is survived by his wife, Brooks, of Irvine, and his two daughters, Eva and Elaine, both of whom live in Boston.
Funeral arrangements are pending. A memorial service will be held at UCR in the fall.
Timothy P. White
An interesting thought experiment raised early on in Michael Dummett's new The Nature and Future of Philosophy (Columbia University Press, 2010):
It is by no means obvious that universities...should support philosophy but for historical precedent. If universities had been an invention of the second half of the twentieth century, would anyone have thought to include philosophy among the subjects that they taught and studied? It seems very doubtful. But the history of Western universities goes back 900 years--that of Islamic universities even further--and philosophy has always been one of the subjects taught and studied in them. It just does not occur to anyone not to include a philosophy department among those composing a university.
The last sentence must, of course, have an ironic ring in light of the fiasco at Middlesex "University" [sic]. Thoughts on Professor Dummett's hypothetical: if universities arose after WWII, would philosophy have been a standard subject?
They create a blog forum related to philosophy ("The Stone"), and then choose a complete hack as its moderator. Simon Critchley? Even among scholars of Continental philosophy (his purported area of expertise), he's not taken seriously, let alone among philosophers in any other part of the discipline. (When Michael Rosen [Harvard] and I edited The Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy, the idea of inviting Critchley never came up--how could it?) If the APA weren't fatally compromised by its need to pander to everyone, it would launch a formal protest. Unbelievable.
I would urge readers to send a short note to the public editor, Clark Hoyt, stating, roughly, that you are pleased to see increased attention to philosophy in the NY Times, but are concerned that someone who is not taken seriously as a philosopher or scholar has been invited to serve as "moderator." Keep it short and sweet. If they get a couple thousand e-mails to that effect, maybe they will wake up to the spectacular mistake they've made.
UPDATE: A philosophy grad student has a good comment on the inaugural Critchley piece here. Thanks to the various philosophers who have sent or blind cc'd me on their letters to the NY Times. I have, however, heard from an Assistant Professor of Media Studies (with a PhD in comparative literature) that, in fact, Critchley is a leading scholar of Continental philosophy; this same individual also reported (without any sense of embarrassment, as far as I could tell) that he had never heard of any of the contributors to The Oxford Handbook. Perhaps the NY Times might take this hint, and retitle the new blog, "The Media Studies Stone."
ANOTHER: A reader points out that several other philosophers have already been announced as contributors to this forum, including Arthur Danto, Nancy Fraser, and Peter Singer, so that's a bit more hopeful. The NY Times is, predictably, New-York-centric, but there is not a shortage of very good philosophers in NYC who can also write in an accessible way for the educated public (off the top of my head: Ned Block, Paul Boghossian, Philip Kitcher come to mind right away). Perhaps if they retained a moderator who actually knew some philosophy, they could put together an even stronger list.
THIS IS A FIRST: This blog has been linked from Gawker, which for some reason picked up the Critchley story. The comments are funny.
ANOTHER FUNNY (AND APT) COMMENT from the NY Times site: "Philosophers do a lot of important work and it's pretty out of touch to focus on how a few of them fall in wells. That's one reason why so many philosophers find the treatment here out of touch with the important work that many philosophers are doing. Philosophy is serious work, on serious topics that matter."
ONE MORE: More reactions from other philosophers. I've yet to find a philosopher who has been willing to defend the original column.
A young philosopher at a ranked PhD program writes:
I’m in a top 50 research university. While on the job market recently, being humiliated in interviews in cramped bedrooms, the phone continually ringing, faculty members emerging from the shower still shaving, being firmly instructed to drink the leftover wine from an interviewer’s glass, etc. etc., I thought, “At least it can’t get any worse.” I was wrong. Three things stand out.
(1) “Teaching counts for nothing.” It was a shock to me how dishonest research schools are about teaching: on the brochures, to parents, in official pronouncements the line is that we care about teaching deeply. But in private all my colleagues, even at the official orientation, have said teaching counts for virtually nothing for tenure purposes, for merit raises, etc. (Exception: if your student evaluations are truly awful that might hurt a bit.) In other words, there is hardly any institutional concern for teaching, i.e. concern that manifests itself in aligning incentive structures with good teaching. It’s not 50-50 research/teaching, it’s 100-0 or maybe 90-10. Experiment: try explaining to your non-academic friends, neighbors, legislators that our top universities basically ignore teaching in their evaluation of teachers. I often wonder whether our actual policies could survive publicity.
(2) Many journals are run like soviet car factories (with honorable exceptions). This has been addressed at length, so I’ll just mention my own (perhaps anomalous) experiences, which have led me to tell others not to enter the field and to explore leaving it myself: Ethics – two and a half years to decision (including three months of me revising), J Phil – a year and a half; Phil Review – almost a year. My colleagues have told me I absolutely must not submit to sluggish journals in the foreseeable future to make sure I get something published before tenure review, which is again demoralizing.
(3) Checked-out colleagues. At every university I’ve been to, there have been senior colleagues who have effectively checked out. They don’t seriously work at new research and their teaching is eccentric and often unprofessional. I’ve seen several of them teach and they are incapable of communicating effectively at this point. (They mumble incoherently, get lost in their train of thought, etc. etc.) Yet there doesn’t seem to be any mechanism for detecting any of this and doing something. I find this bizarre. When the administration tries to change anything the faculty nervously protest, but although that’s in my long-term interest, I find the response depressing. I don’t want to work at a place where incompetence is overlooked or goes undetected.
Two comments of my own, and then I will invite reader comments. On teaching: it is clearly true that at research universities, teaching counts for relatively little in terms of promotions, salaries, etc. I'm less sure whether surviving publicity is a good criterion for any university policies, though, given that even the best ones would probably be found wanting by a public that is uninformed and has its own worries unrelated to the production of knowledge, which is what, one might hope, research universities do, and sometimes do well. Ohio State has been talking about creating different professional tracks within the tenure-stream ranks to reflect differing emphases on research vs. teaching. We'll see whether that goes anywhere.
On senior faculty who are in dereliction of their professional duties: they should be fired. Tenure means termination only for cause, and it requires that certain procedures be followed. But it manifestly does not mean that the incompetent and irresponsible are entitled to a job. The person who I heard make this argument most forcefully was a former general counsel of the AAUP: tenure has a purpose, but it can only be defended as serving its purposes if it is also stripped for malfeasance of the kind my correspondent describes. I will say I'm a bit skeptical how widedspread this problem is. At neither Chicago nor Texas is there anyone who would fit the disgraceful profile the correspondent describes; there was one borderline case at Texas, who did in fact retire a bit early after facing the prospect of post-tenure review by an admirably pro-active Dean.
Signed comments will be strongly preferred; no comments, in any case, will be posted unless accompanied by a valid, identfiying e-mail address (which will not be published).
Here. Although the immediate damage is to children in the nation's second-most populous state, the misconduct by the Texas Taliban on the SBOE has ramifications nationwide, because of the power of Texas in the national market for school textbooks.
(Thanks to Thomas Noah for the pointer.)
Posted by Brian Leiter on May 14, 2010 at 01:33 PM in Texas Taliban Alerts (Intelligent Design, Religion in the Schools, etc.) | Permalink
The U.S. government might decide you should be assassinated. I guess they are relying on the little-noted "deprivation of life via killer drone without due process of law" clause of the Constitution.
(Thanks to Adam Taylor for the link.)
Posted by Brian Leiter on May 13, 2010 at 02:43 PM in "The less they know, the less they know it", Philosophy in the News, Texas Taliban Alerts (Intelligent Design, Religion in the Schools, etc.) | Permalink
UPDATE: A strong statement of protest from the University of Virginia faculty senate. (Thanks to Mitch Green for the pointer.) Where is the UVA law faculty on this one, I wonder? The incoming University President is married to a distinguished constitutional law scholar at UVA, Douglas Laycock (my former colleague at Texas for many years). And one of the leading legal authorities on academic freedom is Robert O'Neil, an emeritus professor of law at UVA.
ANOTHER: There is a petition protesting the harassment by the Attorney General, that is open to academics in Virginia to sign. (Thanks to Brie Gertler for the pointer.)
Eric Schwitzgebel (UC Riverside) has some terrific charts here showing the growth and decline of interest in various figures (e.g., Kant, Hume, Sellars) and topics (e.g., "twin earth," "ordinary language") over the last century. I'm pleased to see that Nietzsche is a growth industry!
UPDATE: More charts here: Wittgenstein in decline (about time!), but Quine's stock receding as well (sigh), and Merleau-Ponty coming into his own! And check out the Dewey and Whitehead charts--very striking.
From Robert Paul Wolff's memoirs; he was prompted to act by the naked sex discrimination his first wife, an English professor, confronted:
On September 17, 1969 I sent a letter to eleven senior members of the philosophy profession, asking them to serve as co-signers with me on a motion to be presented to the annual meeting of the Eastern Division of the APA, calling for the establishment of a Standing Committee on the Status of Women in the Profession. Alice Ambrose and Morris Lazerowitz [who were husband and wife] came on board, as did Justus Buchler [whose wife taught philosophy], and Sue Larson and Mary Mothersill, both of Barnard. Maurice Mandelbaum, who along with Lewis White Beck had read my Kant manuscript for Harvard, was sympathetic, but pointed out that as the incoming APA president, if he signed he would be in the position of petitioning himself. A good point. The great Classicist Gregory Vlastos also said yes, as did Ruth Marcus, whom I knew from my Chicago days, when she was at Northwestern. Morty White was supportive, but declined to sign for fear that if the motion passed, he would be expected to serve on the committee, something he said he could not do because of writing obligations. That left Jack Rawls, who declined to sign. In retrospect, this does not surprise me. Although Jack was on his way to becoming the world's leading expert on justice, he never seemed to be there when action was needed.