I invite teachers of modern philosophy to download and modify an open-source text/work-book on modern philosophy. The book is largely drawn from public domain sources, with some material of my own. In addition to an opening "minilogic" chapter and brief introductions of the authors, I've interspersed study questions and fill-in the-blank reconstructions of arguments. My hope is that others will take this work and improve on it, or modify it to suit their own teaching needs.
Please feel free to e-mail me (firstname.lastname@example.org) with any comments or suggestions.
You can download it as both .doc and .pdf, and read more about the project, here.
This article appeared in Lingua Franca more than a decade ago, and was recently republished by Slate. It's a curioius saga, though, of course, the Foundation is now well-known for its support for work in metaphysics and cognate fields.
Professor Hick, a leading philosopher of religion who taught for many years at the Claremont Graduate School and the University of Birmingham, has passed away. There are more details about his work and career here.
Details here. Please post links and other information about the budgetary situation for higher ed in Pennsylvania in the comments; information about the situation for philosophy departments, in particular, is also very welcome.
Interesting piece by Julian Baggini. Those of us who inhabit the universities are largely insulated from this weirdness; indeed, around here, the safe assumption is that everyone is an atheist, and those who aren't, tend to be quiet about it.
"I don't think there's any hard evidence that Obama is deliberately aping specific policies," says Iain Murray [from a right-wing think tank in DC].
"However, there is a gut feeling that he is moving away from the 'shining city on a hill', founded on the principles of self-reliance and individual genius, towards a Platonic form, as it were, of European government."
(Thanks to Catherine Atherton for the pointer.)
UPDATE: Bryan Van Norden (Vassar) writes with an interesting question:
The article mentioning the accusation that Obama is a Platonist was fun to read. It also reminded me of an issue that has been preying on my own mind. Gingrich "accused" Romney of speaking French. Okay, funny enough stuff already. But I would like to see a journalist confront Gingrich and ask him, "You criticize Romney for knowing French, but you cite French sources in your own doctoral dissertation. Either you know French yourself, or you lied in your thesis by representing that you had read primary sources you were not familiar with. Which is it?"
The issue in question is about the anti-discrimination flag that we adopted a couple years ago. As I understand what happened this year, there were so many problems with the website that JFP ended up posting all ads with no flagging. The website pdfs for the fall issues include the following disclaimer:
"Special Note: Due to technical problems resulting from our recent transition to new administrative software, we are unable to assure that all of the universities listed in this issue agree to abide by the APA’s nondiscrimination policy. If you have any concerns about this, please investigate the individual institutions’ policy before applying for a position."
These pdfs are still on the APA’s website, and constitute, in my opinion, an egregious failure to honor the will of the APA membership.
The question I want to raise is what it takes for the staff of the national office to commit a fire-able offense. My own perspective is this: I think of the discrimination clause as a monumental step taken by our profession, and that failure to honor the will of the membership on this score is monumental as well. Perhaps not as egregious as financial irregularities (though that is debatable), but certainly on the list of the most serious failures. The question this raises, from my perspective, is where to draw the line on when heads should roll. That is always a hard question. But the current system, where the staff is responsible to the Board, has left so many weaknesses in the operations of that office that it is easy to see why there are people like Peter Ludlow thinking about giving up on the organization entirely. Perhaps the Board could benefit from seeing discussion from its membership about what standards we would collectively like to see enforced?
The mess with the website constituted massive incompetence, I think, but the failure to honor the moral stance we took is certainly beyond that. So the question that warrants discussion is what it takes for the staff of the national office to commit a fire-able offense. Given what I’ve said, it is easy to see where I stand for now: I think that the mess concerning the website goes beyond incompetence, since it involves a failure of moral stance as well. My moral outrage, however, remains subject to my fallibilism: (insert boilerplate, sincerely asserted, here). But if I’m right, this is an utter disaster, constituting a reason to start from the top and start over.
Discussion about "what standards we would collectively like to see enforced" is welcome. Signed comments--full name and valid e-mail address--will be very strongly preferred, though comments must include a valid e-mail address at a minimum.
Of course, there's isn't quite the same demand for prior "philosophical results," but arguably this isn't wholly irrelevant, especially vis-a-vis publishers that charge extravagant fees for journals (like Springer).
Greg Moore, currently Lecturer in Modern Languages at the University of St. Andrews, has accepted appointment in both History and Philosophy at Georgia State University, starting this fall. An expert on German philosophy of the 18th- and 19th-centuries, he is perhaps best-known for his work on Nietzsche and on Herder. This appointment solidifes Georgia State's position as the strongest terminal MA program in the U.S. for students interested in 18th- and 19th-century German philosophy.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM JAN. 29--AN EXCELLENT DISCUSSION THREAD, ONE THAT HAS CERTAINLY CONVINCED ME OF THE IMPORTANT OF A NATIONAL ORGANIZATION AND NATIONAL MEETINGS FOR THE PROFESSION. MORE COMMENTS ARE, OF COURSE, WELCOME
Peter asked me to share with the readership the following reflections:
Camus famously wrote, “There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide.”
Camus’ problem has been on my mind since I was recently appointed to the American Philosophical Association (APA) Task Force on Development – one of four new committees charged with rethinking the structure and operations of the APA. My refection on Camus’ problem isn’t driven by the fact that committee assignments drive me to despair (which they do), or even that attempting to fix the APA is a lot like rolling a stone up a hill over and over again for all eternity (though it is kind of like that). Rather, my reflection has been driven by a structurally similar question: is there any reason why the APA should not dissolve itself?
In this note I want to make the case for dissolving the organization, not because I’m convinced it ought to be done, but because I think it is a question that needs to be seriously entertained. Right now, as I write, dozens of philosophers are expending valuable energy trying to think of ways to repair the APA, but this may well be a waste of intellectual labor. Maybe it is time to pull the plug on an organization that is dysfunctional, no longer serves a useful purpose, and is in an untenable position financially.
Let me begin with the financial situation, because that is the charge of the Task Force on Development – finding a way for the organization to be financially viable. Here are the depressing details. The APA has pathetic amount of income for a professional organization, some of the sources of income it does have are (in my opinion) morally questionable, and the possible sources of additional income are (again in my opinion) morally questionable as well.
First of all, let’s put the APA financial situation in the context of how it relates to other professional academic organizations. In the financial period ending June 30, 2011, the APA had operating revenue of around $1.2 million, but operating expenses of around $1.3 million, meaning that it was digging a financial hole. An operating budget of a million dollars might sound like a lot of money, but in comparison to other professional organizations it is not. The APA’s operating budget allows it to maintain a staff of eight individuals (the budget line for those staffers is $640,000), while according to the APA’s David Schrader, the American Anthropological Society has a budget of $5 million and a staff of 20, The American Historical Association has a staff of 18, The American Political Science Association has a staff of 27, The American Sociological Association has a staff of 32. All of this is a reflection of the fact that these organizations are better funded. And the rich organizations get richer because they can afford to put (multiple) people on full time development, allowing those organizations to raise more money etc.
As I said, the charge of the Development Task Force is to envision ways by which the APA can raise more money, but the options on the table are not particularly appealing. Currently, the main source of revenue for the APA is dues, which bring in around $704,000. The next budget line is a category called “Publication, Items and Services” at around $460,000. This includes the revenue from “Jobs for Philosophers”, which remains a cash cow for the organization (although revenue from ads has been slipping in recent years because of the weak job market). So what are the potential sources of future income?
One option is to have a full time development person working senior APA members (and charitable organizations) for donations. But assuming a world of finite resources would we really prefer that people donate to the APA rather than many other important causes? Another option on the table is to generate more revenue off of the APA divisional meetings (in effect this would involve higher fees for attendance; the APA currently loses money on its conventions). Finally, one option under discussion is the idea of establishing a journal that will be the “flagship” journal in the profession. How one creates a flagship philosophy journal by fiat is quite beyond me, but the real question is, flagship or not, why would anyone buy it? I know that some societies require members to subscribe to their flagship journal, so would we make buying the journal a requirement of members? Required or not, I find it odious to think that a philosophy journal would be established solely to keep a professional organization afloat.
So those are the options: get charitable organizations and wealthy members of the APA (if there are any) to give money to the APA rather than other causes, get more money out of members at the divisional meetings by charging higher fees, create a journal (and force people to buy it?). All in all it is not a very appetizing slate of options. Maybe there are other options for fundraising out there, but the question has to be asked: What is the point? Is there some intrinsic reason why the APA ought to survive? Is it even worth saving?
As it stands the two main functions of the APA are to support the job market and to organize the three regional APA divisional meetings. Discussions of the role of the APA in the job market have been all over the internet for the past several years, and the reviews have been largely negative, but quite apart from the performance of the APA, is there any reason why it should be involved at all? Do job interviews really need to be conducted at a hotel in a distant city over the holidays? Is there any reason to think that Skype interviews are inferior to interviews in hotel suites or to interviews at tables in noisy cavernous hotel meeting rooms? Do they need to be conducted at all in order to come up with a short list of three or four candidates? Is there some reason why there is not enough information contained in the dossiers of the job applicants? We are given the applicants’ grades, their writing samples, letters of recommendation, teaching evaluations, and statements of purpose. What exactly is missing that could not be gleaned from a Skype interview? Are we trying to find out the firmness of their handshake? Whether they know which fork to use? Maybe size up the cut of their jib by evaluating their fashion sense?
It is puzzling to me that philosophers want to continue the practice of APA interviews, but if some feel compelled to do so, it is far from obvious that the practice should be sanctioned and supported by a professional organization, much less that we should be scrambling to find the financial resources needed to perpetuate the existence of an organization that supports this practice.
It might be argued that the APA’s Jobs for Philosophers serves an important role in the job search cycle, but this assumes that the APA is needed for such a publication. In fact, matters are currently backwards. Jobs for Philosophers has become a critical cash cow for the APA, it is doing more for the APA than the APA is doing for it. I would suggest that an independent organization could publish this information just as effectively, without exploiting it as a device to tax schools and job seekers in an effort to keep the APA afloat.
This leads to the role of the APA in organizing the three divisional meetings. Again, the question is, do we really need the APA to organize and put on large philosophical meetings? For that matter, do we even need large philosophical meetings? I know that the argument is that one has the opportunity to hear talks on a range of topics that one wouldn’t otherwise, but my personal experience is that one often ends up going to talks by friends to provide them moral support. A broad range of topics are on offer, but we end up going to talks in our individual areas. There are other options for philosophical breadth, not least is the World Congress of Philosophy, which is offered every few years. If you are an analytic philosopher interested in what is happening in recent French philosophy, then go to a meeting of SPEP (the Society for Phenomenology and Existential Philosophy). There is no barrier to organizing meetings with a broad range of topics if that is the goal. We don’t need a professional organization to make this happen.
In sum, we find ourselves in a situation where the APA is badly in need of financial resources if it is to be functional. There are options available for raising this money (fundraising, higher meeting fees, a “flagship journal”) but all of these options raise the question of why we should bother. Are we doing all of this just to keep the APA alive? What is the point? I’m asking because I would honestly like to know and because, barring good arguments to the contrary, it looks very much to me like it is time for members of the APA to consider dissolving the organization.
John Evans Professor of Moral and Intellectual Philosophy
Evanston, IL 60654
Jan. 28, 2012
Thoughts from readers? Signed comments will be strongly preferred; unsigned comments that have a valid e-mail address will be considered.
A new PGR always brings the aggrieved out of the woodworks, though I do wish they would learn some new routines. Herewith, to save time, the five most commonly repeated "objections" to the PGR, almost all without merit (the last one raises a legitimate issue, to which I'll return):
1. No one filling out the surveys really knows enough about everyone on the faculty to evaluate them all. No kidding! That's why we do a survey of hundreds of experts in many different fields. A good survey aggregates a lot of partial knowledge to give us a more complete picture. If any one individual could know as much as the 300 philosophers who complete the PGR surveys, then we could just ask that person, and be done. And, of course, in the absence of the PGR as a resource, that's what happens: students ask a couple of teachers, and that's the end of it. (And if your teachers are really "out of the loop" or in the grips of utterly idiosyncratic prejudices, then the student is really in trouble.) Anyone can look at the list of the 300 evaluators. If you really don't care about their opinion, then don't use the PGR (and good luck to you!).
2. Why rely on opinion surveys, there are objective measures of quality, aren't there? No, actually, there aren't, as the National Research Council in the U.S. discovered, having squandered millions of dollars on results no one takes seriously. Really, take a deep breath: there isn't any fact in the world that can prove or disprove the quality of particular philosophical work. All there is in philosophy is the opinion of experts. Research universities--in their hiring and tenure decisions--are based on the premise that the opinion of experts is what matters. We have nothing else to go on.
3. Isn't this just a 'popularity' contest? Only if you think the philosophical caliber of a faculty, which is what evaluators are asked to assess, is equivalent to popularity or friendliness. The whole rationale for a "snowball" sampling procedure, which is what the PGR uses, is to garner informed, expert opinion, not to gauge 'popularity'. No such procedure is, or could be perfect, but the PGR's is clearly "good enough" to provide some useful guidance to students identifying suitable programs for further study.
4. This whole report is biased against Continental philosophy, isn't it? No, it's not--in fact, Continental philosophers are, arguably, disproportionately represented in the evaluator pool compared to their presence in the profession at large. Unfortunately, there is a vocal fringe group of philosophers (the "Party-Line Continentals" as I've called them) who want to protect "Continental philosophy" as their turf, and so they have a vested interest in systematically misrepresenting the PGR, especially since the dozens of Continental philosophers and scholars who participate in the survey don't generally have a high opinion of this fringe.
5. The report encourages departments to be "conservative" in their hiring decisions. Where is the evidence? Given that the PGR also evaluates some 30 different philosophical sub-specialties, there is opportunity for departments to improve their national and international standing along multiple dimensions, and many departments, in fact, do just that (think Carnegie-Mellon or South Florida or Bowling Green and so on). What is true is that, as the sociologist Kieran Healy (Duke) found in studying prior iterations of the survey, all else being equal, appointing someone in language/mind/ metaphysics/epistemology gives a program a bigger boost in the overall results than appointing someone in, say, history of philosophy. ("All else being equal" means that the philosophers in question are of equal stature in their fields. In fact, appointing Alan Code or Terence Irwin in ancient, or Michael Forster or Raymond Geuss in Continental, clearly delivers more reputational bounce than appointing "B-team" philosophers in other areas.) Given my own philosophcial sympathies and interests, I wish it weren't so, but the question is whether the PGR created this valuation or simply records it. I'm certain the PGR didn't create it, but the more important question is whether it reinforces it. I welcome suggestions about how to handle the surveys so as not to reinforce existing professional opinion on this score, without at the same time engaging in manipulation of that opinion that would vitiate the value of the exercise.
ADDENDUM: "Snowball sampling," the technique utilized by the PGR, is not a disreputable method, it is the correct method to use when what is wanted is expert, "insider" information.
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)