Like many others, I was deeply concerned to read on your blog about recent events in Hungary, and especially about what appear to be politically-motivated attacks on philosophers and intellectuals. These events raised an immediate practical issue for me: I had been due to take part in a conference in Pécs in May, one of a series organised over many years by Professor János Boros, of the University of Pécs. This year, the focus of the Pécs meeting was to be my own forthcoming collection, Naturalism Without Mirrors (OUP, 2011).
The practical issue stemmed from the fact that in his role as Director of the Research Institute of Philosophy of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, Professor Boros is widely seen as associated with those who launched the attack on the philosophers. While the facts of the case are difficult to determine – especially at a distance and without knowledge of Hungarian – I was concerned that if the conference were to go ahead under Professor Boros's direction, there would be a real risk that it would be portrayed in the pro-government media within Hungary as lending support to the intellectual respectability of these politically-motivated attacks.
In these circumstances, after extensive discussions with other invitees to the Pécs meeting, and with Hungarian colleagues both inside and outside Hungary, I have decided that the conference should not go ahead. I deeply regret having to take this decision, and I am, of course, very conscious of the inconvenience caused to Professor Boros and his colleagues and students. But the other option seemed to me even worse, given the importance of the issues at stake, and the unpredictable nature of the situation. An alternative meeting will now take place in Zurich, with the kind assistance of Professor Anton Leist; and joint sponsorship by the Centre for the Study of Mind in Nature, Oslo, as well as by my own Centre.
That seems to me the right decision under the circumstances.
Whenever I read the tortured "philosophical" defenses of traditional marriage and attacks on gay marriage, I am always reminded of this remark of Nietzsche's:
[T]he reasons and purposes for habits are always lies that are added only after some people begin to attack these habits and to ask for reasons and purposes. At this point the conservatives of all ages are thoroughly dishonest: they add lies. (The Gay Science, sec. 29)
ADDENDUM: It is amusing to be called a "kook" by a notorious right-wing smear merchant and simpleton like Taranto, who, true to form, also can't read, since no one here is "nostalgic" for the Soviet Union. Apparently discussion of counterfactual questions about the consequences of its demise is off-limits in his parochial universe.
A couple of readers took me to task for being too generous to Reagan, in crediting him (as a side-effect of his Keynsian deficit-spending on the military) with helping bring about the economic and then political collapse of the Soviet Union. Longtime reader Roger Albin, for example, sends the following informative comments:
Reagan's anti-Communism and that of his supporters was deep, sincere, and wildly out of proportion to the actual threat. You're assuming that Reagan had a rational view of the Soviet Union. You're assuming also that Reagan was following a rational Keynesian macroeconomic approach. This is simply giving him too much credit; he really believed the supply side fantasy. As with Bush II, there was a complete disconnect between foreign policy goals and their financial consequences. His OMB Director, David Stockman, actually admitted that they essentially concealed the financial consequences of the military buildup from Reagan. Reagan, of course, was too cavalier to actually evaluate budgets.
The collapse of the Soviet Union was partly the cumulative effect of decades of great power competition with the USA, but not Reagan's spending specifically. If anyone deserves pride of place in terms of competing the Soviet Union into the ground, it would be the Truman administration, which inaugurated the containment policy. Reagan's considerable increment of military spending (which had already started to rise under Carter), probably made little difference.
I think the most thoughtful concise account is found at the end of Melvyn Leffler's For the Soul of Mankind. Leffler, a very distinguished historian of the Cold War (his book on the onset of the Cold War, A Preponderance of Power, won the Bancroft Prize and is superb) wrote this book with a broad audience in mind but it is based on his own research and a considered analysis of the secondary literature. If you want to wade through a very detailed analysis that is quite (and I think appropriately) critical of Reagan, I recommend Raymond Garthoff's The Great Transition. Even the relatively conservative John Lewis Gaddis accords Reagan and his policies a secondary role.
I should add, of course, that whether the collapse of the Soviet Union should be considered a good thing is a separate question. Certainly everyone (except the despots) welcomes the end of totalitarian regimes, though some of the former Soviet republics have remained thoroughly undemocratic, and Russia itself has moved strongly back in that direction. Then, of course, there was the enormous human cost to the collapse (increased mortality, a decline in longevity, and massive economic and thus human dislocation and suffering). Finally, certain other world-historic crimes, such as the U.S. war of aggression against Iraq, are unlikely to have occurred if the Soviet Union had remained intact.
Several readers sent this cleverly wicked review of what is quite possibly the most embarrassingly bad philosophy book published by Harvard University Press in fifty years or so. (It's particularly funny that the headline writer for THES didn't realize that the Hart comment about Dworkin's style [which Blackburn quotes, and the writer paraphrases] was pejorative, not laudatory!)
I hope Iranian readers will be able to access content of interest through other channels. Anyone with advice about how to circumvent the official censors, please post in the comments--anonymously is fine, under the circumstances!
Today is the centenary of the birth of Ronald Reagan, certainly the most significant U.S. President in my lifetime, and the one most responsible for the long, downward spiral in sanity and decency that has marked the last 30 years in the United States.
The Republican Party, before Reagan, mostly kept its crazies hidden away, and mostly functioned as the political arm of the Chamber of Commerce, reliably defending the interests of a prudent ruling class, one that had largely made its peace with the labor movement, with progressive taxation, and with the welfare state.
Reagan changed all that: he turned conservatives into reactionaries; pandered to the most imprudent elements of the ruling class, whose goal was to turn back the Great Society and the New Deal; and set in motion attacks on labor unions, progressive taxation, and the welfare state, that have continued unabated through two Democratic presidencies (Clinton's and, so far, Obama's). He inherited an American economy in recession, and pulled it out of recession through tried-and-true Keynsian methods, namely, massive deficit spending, primarily on the military. (This had the side benefit for the American Right of ultimately driving the Soviet Union into economic and then political collapse, since its dysfyunctional bureaucratized relations of production could not sustain productivity adequate to keep pace in the arms race.) His actual economic policy was concealed behind rhetoric about "less government" and "fiscal restraint," which permitted him to slash taxes on the wealthy, beginning three decades of enrichment for the richest.
...offering as 'evidence' that, "Buddhism...is about finding a form of psychological happiness that goes beyond the usual pursuit of fleeting pleasures." One can only wonder how he conceives of "ethics." There are some other weird claims as well.
The results are now out (philosophy results ont he last page--there are also separate results for "Applied Ethics" and "History and Philosophy of Specific Fields," such as science [Sydney was the lone '5' in that category]). The highest score, "5", went to just two philosophy program: the Australian National University and the University of Sydney (no surprises there). The next highest score "4" went to the University of Adelaide, La Trobe University, University of Melbourne, Monash University, University of New South Wales, University of Queensland, and University of Wollongong. I think it's fair to say that Monash and Melbourne have loomed a bit larger on the international stage than some of the others.
Mark Colyvan (Sydney) writes with "a few comments on the methodology":
(i) The exercise attempted to assess quality of the research being conducted by the faculty members at each institution. It used quality of publications (over the period 2003--2008), research grant success (over the period 2006--2008), and a couple of other more nebulous measures (esteem and applications).
(ii) The quality of the publications was determined largely on the basis of a ranking of the relevant journals into 4 rather broad bands. [BL: we discussed the Australian journal rankings previously.]
(iii) Although the assessment exercise was conducted in 2010, it is based on faculty members at each institution in March 2009. It is retrospective in the sense that it considers the publications, grant success and the like for the period 2003--2008. But I guess all such ranking exercise are retrospective to some extent -- you're always trying to rank now, based on past success.
(iv) The assessment exercise does not respect departmental boundaries -- the scores in question are for fields of research. So the philosophy scores are for philosophical work, wherever it is being conducted in each university. Of course, most philosophy is being done in philosophy departments, but the department boundaries and fields of research come apart in more interdisciplinary areas. For example, in HPS one finds active researchers in HPS departments, history departments, philosophy departments, and various science departments.
13% of high school biology teachers devote an hour or more of time to presentation of creationism (either in its pure or "intelligent design" version) as a serious option for students to consider, and the majority are "cautious" about leaving students with the impression that the best justified theory, evolution by natural selection, is in fact the best justified theory, with no meaningful competitor.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)