UPDATE: A reader has kindly informed me that my title just betrays my complete ignorance of trends in popular culture. "Bro Culture," which the linked site parodies, has to do with (in the words of my correspondent)"polo shirts with popped collars, ridiculous handshakes, sunglasses indoors... many of the absurdities of modern frat culture are roughly bro-ish. If I close my eyes and picture a 'bro,' he's a musclebound white guy with a bad tan." This has nothing to do with Hip-Hop.
Silber, who began his career as a Kant scholar (!), but was best-known as a serial violator of academic freedom as the tyrannical ruler of Boston University for more than a quarter-century, has passed away. It's curious how gullible journalists repeat the myth that he enhanced BU's academic stature, and cite as evidence a few Nobel Laureates in literature whom he hired in their dotage. Where is the evidence that he helped create and sustain top 20 PhD programs in any fields that didn't have them? I'm not aware of any--maybe economics? Older philosophers will recall the exodus from the Philosophy Department in the late 1970s and early 1980s (including Alasdair MacIntyre), as philosophers fled the autocracy. (The Department today is probably stronger than it was then, I should add, but much of that happened despite or after Silber over the last 15 years.) I imagine similar things happened in other departments. He may well have improved the school's finances (as the linked article claims), but it's not at all clear he improved the academics. That appears to be a self-serving myth he promoted, and which journalists simply repeat.
Campbell Brown, a moral philosopher at the University of Edinburgh (one of whose papers was recognized in this year's Philosopher's Annual), has accepted a permanent post in the Department of Philosophy at the University of Glasgow, effective January 2013. This is the second recent lateral hire for Glasgow this year.
That Hegel is a metaphysician, and that he thinks metaphysics is fundamental to philosophy, is plain enough from his definition of philosophy. Hegel defines philosophy as knowledge of the absolute. The absolute is essentially what Spinoza calls substance. Since substance is infinite, the universe as a whole, i.e., god, Hegel is telling us that philosophy is knowledge of the infinite, of the universe as a whole, i.e, god. You cannot get more metaphysical than that. I think that Hegel scholars have to admit this basic fact rather than burying their heads in the sand and trying to pretend that Hegel is concerned with conceptual analysis, category theory, normativity or some such contemporary fad. Spooky terms like “spirit” and “absolute”? They should get their meaning from their historical context not from contemporary concepts that we impose upon them (viz., normativity). All the spookiness comes from giving a contemporary anachronistic sense to terms whose historical meaning is lost to us....
No one nowadays talks about the absolute, not even people with firm and deep religious convictions. The whole Hegelian project has no resonance for us, as it once had for the Germans in the 1820s and the British and Americans around the 1880s. This is not to say Hegel is unimportant, or that we should not take his philosophy seriously. We should take him very seriously, but that is essentially for historical reasons. Hegel remains of great importance to understand ourselves, but essentially because we have all grown out of a reaction against Hegel. This is to say, then, that Hegel is still important for us for essentially negative reasons, i.e., to show us what we are not. Feuerbach wrote in his Principles of the Philosophy of the Future: “Hegel’s philosophy is the last great attempt to rescue lost and fading Christianity through philosophy…” I think that this is absolutely accurate. The more we come to terms with it, the more we can see the degree of Hegel’s relevance for us. I think that for most of us nowadays, who have accepted life in a secular age, Hegel’s project is obsolete. Christianity was still central to the life and worldview of my old supervisor, Charles Taylor, and that is why he went back to Hegel. But as a secular pagan Hegel’s project has no resonance at all for me.
And I'll take the liberty of here quoting myself from "The Hermeneutics of Suspicion: Recovering Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud," in The Future for Philosophy (Oxford, 2004):
If we can recover the naturalistic ambitions of Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud, we will also accomplish two important meta-philosophical goals: first, it helps make philosophy “relevant”--as the critics of philosophy so often demand--and, second, it bridges the so-called analytic/Continental divide in philosophy. Philosophy becomes relevant because the world—riven as it is with hypocrisy and concealment—desperately needs a hermeneutics of suspicion to unmask it. And by taking these three seminal figures of the Continental traditions as philosophical naturalists we show their work to be continuous with the naturalistic turn that has swept Anglophone philosophy over the past several decades. Such a reconciliation of Continental and Anglophone philosophy may seem to some the wrong one, but it is beyond the scope of this essay to defend the importance of the naturalistic turn. All I hope to establish here is that the antipathy to naturalism often thought to be constitutive of “the Continental tradition” is simply an artifact of cutting the joints of that tradition in certain places. Much of that Continental tradition has earned the--sometimes justified--antipathy of Anglophone philosophers, but there is reason to hope that just as German intellectuals of the 1840s and 50s, in the grips of the first great naturalistic turn in philosophy, gave up on Hegel as an obscurantist metaphysician, that we, too, may leave behind Hegel and his progeny.
Details here. My impression--but it is only an impression, I'm not aware of data yet--is that something similar has been true in philosophy. Unfortunately, these modest gains still leave us well short of where the profession was prior to the economic collapse. The unknown is how many academic job seekers are or will give up. My impression--again, mostly anecdotal, but a lot of anecdotes--is that most PhD programs are enrolling smaller classes than a few years ago, so 5-7 years out there should also be a significant decline in the number of new job seekers entering the market.
In another one of his delicious dissections of Obama, David Bromwich offers the following apt observation about the "big picture" in American politics over the last generation or two:
The Obama presidency has gone far to complete the destruction of New Deal politics which began when Bill Clinton brought Wall Street into the White House. The right won the political wars of the last two generations, the left won the culture wars, and we are now in a position to measure the gain and loss. On the one hand, greater tolerance of mixed marriages, the enforced habit of not showing race prejudice in public, gay rights. On the other hand, most Americans today with modest means and a modest chance in life are swayed by the gambling ethic: they speak in the commercial patois – which many of their grandparents would have scorned – of the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ and the ‘American dream’. Obama did nothing to change this. He tried to wield the language of the dream more effectively than his opponents: a gambit that can now be seen to have failed.
ANATOMY PRIZE: Frans de Waal [The Netherlands and USA] and Jennifer Pokorny [USA] for discovering that chimpanzees can identify other chimpanzees individually from seeing photographs of their rear ends....
A senior feminist philosopher (not the philosopher quoted in the earlier post) writes with some interesting comments that she gave me permission to share:
The level of attention this petition (or better, pledge) has gotten irritates me. It's true that gender balance among keynote speakers is worth pursuing, but there are far more important problems surrounding gender in philosophy in particular, and power dynamics in the profession more generally. I don't want to participate in the wave of enthusiasm that is making this look like a lynchpin issue and eclipsing other issues. It feels like this is mostly about people making a pubic display of their feminist credentials and checking the list to see who has those credentials and who doesn't; it has little to do with making a real difference to those who are seriously disempowered and face real obstacles in the field, as far as I can see.
Furthermore, I think it's a bad idea. I am a big supporter of the GCC and think it has had a positive impact because it is well-designed and conservative in its claims. I think that putting pressure on people to turn down all invites that don't meet some gender balance criterion is ill-conceived. Conference organizing is hard, and lots of times one has to try to line up keynotes without knowing anything definitive about who else will be coming. How will this work in practice now? You need to have invited everyone before you can invite anyone? Or secure yourself a woman before you move onto inviting men? This seems ridiculous and burdensome, and often it will fall apart - someone will back out, etc. My view is: If you get invited to a conference with an egregious gender imbalance (or any kind of egregious oversight), speak up. Encourage the organizers to consider some awesome woman you know to be doing good work in the area. Try to do the same thing for philosophers from other underrepresented groups. If the organizers are pricks about it, consider not going. But this formulaic kind of rule strikes me as unhelpful and insensitive to the realities of conference organizing.
UPDATE: In response to some e-mails: it is unfortunate that this is a subject on which so many prefer to speak without attribution, though their reasons are quite understandable. Anyone who has witnessed the general tenor of responses at the New APPS blog when any dissent is voiced about their self-righteous high-mindedness can understand why most prefer to steer clear. I am happy to both vouch for my correspondent and endorse her claims, since I'm either bullett-proof...or the bulletts all pass through the existing holes. It would be nice if one could call out sanctimonious stupidity without being smeared, but that's not likely given the players.
AS IF TO MAKE THE LAST POINT do see the remarkable response to Neil Levy's wholly sensible and correct comment here, and also Matt Smith's observations later in the same thread, which I quote in part (he does, however, have a more favorable view of the Lance & Schliesser petition, I should note):
Reasonable, good people can disagree with this particular petition project without thereby demonstrating an unwillingness to promote the goal of equality. Furthermore, reasonable, good people can disagree with *particular arguments* for that goal and for this project without thereby demonstrating that they stand in the way of that goal. Not to put too fine a point on it, people can disagree with Lance and Schliesser without thereby demonstrating that they are stupid jerks who need to be told off.
I was interested in Leiter's (and others') response to this project and came over here to read New APPs. What I found was vitriol and pettiness.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM JANUARY 21, 2010, SINCE IT'S LETTER-WRITING SEASON.
A young philosopher writes:
We all know how important letters of reference are and how much weight they have in the decision who to interview at the APA or at least for making the first cut. There were comments in an earlier thread on this blog that seem to suggest that at some point of the decision process this is the most important factor and many of my colleagues share this view.
The problem is the following: not every letter writer seems to be playing the same game. And I am not referring to the notorious US/UK difference in this respect. Some professors are very explicit about giving comparative statements about their student, e.g., “she is among the best three students I have ever had” and then if this professor does not make such a statement in the case of another student, it is to be assumed that this student is not so great. But there are professors who do not follow the same rules in their letters: they just never make comparative statements. And this is true of some excellent philosophers from some excellent departments. So how are we supposed to assess these letters? Are we, letter readers, supposed to know the idiosyncratic habits of all letter writers?
Part of the problem with these letters--besides their uniform inflation and hyperbole--is that the code is hard to interpret. For example, letters will frequently conclude with one of the following recommendations:
I recommend X warmly/highly.
I generally assume that this is a weaker recommendation than:
I give X my highest recommendation.
But maybe not: it could depend on the writer?
And how does "highest recommendation" compare to:
I recommend X without reservation.
The same? Stronger? Does it depend on the author again?
And how does the warmly/highly recommendation compare with,
I recommend X with enthusiasm.
And does one writer who says the latter necessarily mean to convey less enthusiasm than a different writer who says,
I recommend X with great enthusiasm
I'm not always sure. Nor am I always sure whether "warmly" means the same as "highly" or whether "warmly" is really code for "not enthusiastically," and so on.
I have chatted with others, here and elsewhere, about this subject, and if there is a consensus among readers of such letters it is this: what is most meaningful in a letter of recommendation are explicit comparisons with other graduates of the program or other philosophers working in the same area. All the "warmlys," "highlys" etc. just don't help. Philosophers ought to drop them, and say, "X is the best student since Y and Z that we've had" or "X's work is comparable to the work of A and B," where A and B are employed philosophers working in that area. Such comparisons are slightly distasteful, and there's no guarantee that Y and Z, or A and B, won't see the comparisons; but there's no question they are MUCH MORE informative than the code words.
Thoughts from readers on these issues? Signed comments preferred, as usual; submit the comment only once, it may take awhile to appear.
A couple of readers asked me about this petition--which, among other things, supports the Gendered Conference Campaign (GCC) promoted for a couple of years by the Feminist Philosophers blog--but in fact goes well beyond the GCC, which probably explains why so few senior male philosophers have signed it (more on that in a moment). The GCC calls on philosophers, in essence, to not organize all-male conferences (or all-male volumes). The GCC includes some speculation about possible harms of single-gender events, but regardless of the speculative harms, it seems to me that the basic imperative--include qualified female philosophers in conferences and volumes--is an eminently sensible one, and a basic demand of fairness in a field with a pretty poor history on gender equity. As a female philosopher I respect put it to me in correspondence:
The causes of all-male conference lineups are various: age distributions, topic areas, social networks, self-promotion, salience, implicit bias, chance. I personally don't really care what the fine detail of the causes is—I actually think the effect of implicit bias specifically is vastly overplayed, whereas the weight of both conscious sexism and more institutional or structural facts about the field play a much larger role. Be that as it may, and aside from sheer bad luck, most of what's happening is in the general ballpark of unjustified exclusion-by-default, whether due to active malice or passive entitlement. That culture needs changing.... The ingrained sexism of professional philosophy is real. It is a problem that I (and women like me) have experienced directly, in small ways and large, at almost every point in our careers. I am tired of waiting for it to magically go away by itself....The GCC has been great for women in [my fields].....[Philosophy has terrible problems with institutional sexism, and I think the GCC has proved itself unexpectedly effective in shifting the balance of expectations in a positive way.
Unfortunately, the petition noted above, and drafted by Mark Lance (Georgetown) and Eric Schliesser (Ghent), goes well beyond the GCC in committing signatories to a bizarre quota:
We call on all senior male philosophers to refuse invitations to keynote at conferences with two or more keynotes none of which are women.
So a male philosopher should decline a keynote if the other keynote at the conference is not female (unless he can get the organizers to invite a woman as the other keynote instead). About 16% of senior philosophers (i.e., likely keynote candidates) are female, and in some sub-fields, the numbers are worse. I am not going to decline invitations to keynote based on such a standard, and I imagine many others feel the same way. (Even one of Lance's and Schliesser's co-bloggers objected to this.) The GCC has, wisely I think, never proposed quotas, and has instead called attention to conferences with multiple keynotes and speakers (from four to ten in the cases I've seen), all of whom were male. Maybe I've missed it, but I've yet to see the GCC call unfavorable attention to a conference with two keynotes, both of whom were male.
I have no idea what motivated inclusion of this bizarre quota, which is not part of the GCC, but I imagine it has depressed support from senior philosophers, especially senior male philosophers who would have to make this commitment in order for the provision to have any effect. As I learned in correspondence, some who did sign the petition didn't realize what they signed on to, being misled by the general show of support for the GCC and not reading the particulars.
If someone wants to organize a public petition of support for the actual GCC, I'll be happy to publicize it (and sign it). But quite apart from petitions, philosophers should make a real commitment to not put on all-male conferences. It ain't hard, but it does require being self-conscious about the issue--and the GCC has, as my correspondent suggested, "shifted the balance of expectations in a positive way" on that front.
ADDENDUM: Some readers point out an additional reason that some had for not signing, namely, that Lance and Schliesser apparently changed the language of the petition even after there were a couple hundred signatures, and have indicated they may make more changes. I haven't followed this little drama, but having heard it from more than one source now, I imagine this is the case, and I can see why some might find it a bit worrisome to put their name on a document whose content is fluid.
ANOTHER: Eric Schliesser writes, regarding the addendum, to note that "we never claimed that further changes would be made, and don't plan to make any." He adds: "[T]he only change we made was at the start of the petition (with under 10% of current signatures [I think we were around 70 signatures at the time]) was the insertions of two clarifications/qualifications that weakened the shared obligation (so as to take into account unusual circumstances that may be taken to be defeasible of the shared obligation). We did so after much public discussion on the blog with critics and friends of the petition....[N]obody that had signed the petition wrote us to complain about the change, and we also haven't heard indirectly from anybody that regretted signing for this reason."
AND ONE MORE: Another reader points out this post, which would have led readers to think changes to the petition were forthcoming. In any case, I take Professor Schliesser's message, above, to indicate that is no longer an issue, even if it was perceived to be, not unreasonably, at one point in time.
This is quite entertaining, and some of the predictions weren't bad! (Some were!) So what do you predict for 2100 for America? What, in particular, do you think universities will look like? What will philosophy look like?
Brendan Ritchie, a grad student at Maryland, calls my attention to this story. Mr. Ritchie writes:
It is about a site where unemployed professors write papers for students that has recently been created. It is deeply unsettling, especially in light of the "argument" on the part of the site's creators that they have somehow removed the "ethical dimension" on their side. To quote from the article: "This removes the ethical dimension on our side as we have no control over what a client does upon paying for and receiving the project "
Apparently the argument is:
(1) we have nothing in place to make sure students don't use our service to cheat.
(2) Therefore, we bear no moral responsibility if students use our service to cheat.
I find this argument rather unconvincing. But perhaps I am alone in this respect.
I suspect most readers will agree with Mr. Ritchie, as I do. Thoughts from readers? Signed comments strongly preferred.
UPDATE: Two readers have pointed out a rather unfortunate ambiguity on the second page; the sentence about Nietzsche's sister's selective editing of his work should indicate that she cut material that reflected Nietzsche's hostility towards BOTH Germany and anti-semitism.
ANOTHER (9/17): I'm certainly gratified by the tremendous interest in this paper, which has generated over 500 downloads in the first 24 hours. Thanks! (I haven't gotten such a strong response since my polemic about Dworkin a good number of years back.) This is very much a draft, so I do welcome feedback, on substance, on clarity, and on ambiguities or sloppy writing, like the one noted already.
See here. It seems quite understandable that revenue is needed, but I wonder what philosophers think of this model? Given that PI has been quite successful and also quite selective, I imagine some philosophers will be deterred from submitting. Might a smaller submission fee and then a higher publication fee upon acceptance work better? Thoughts from readers? Signed comments preferred.
UPDATE: Professor Velleman comments below that they have decided to change the policy; he writes:
Thank you all for your comments. In response to the concerns expressed here, we have changed our proposed policy. Our submissions page now asks for a donation, with a suggested amount of $20.00. Authors can replace the suggested amount with any amount of $1.00 or more.
We are grateful for everyone's help in fashioning a workable model for funding.
I hope that those who submit to PI will donate proportional to their means, which may mean $1 for some, and more than $20 for others. This strikes me, at least, as a very sensible and fair proposal, and it's now up to the philosophical community to make it work.
This one in Comparative Literature at Harvard: “Applicants must have received the PhD or equivalent degree in the past three years (2009 or later), or show clear evidence of planned receipt of the degree by the beginning of employment.”
I last polled the readership not quite two years ago about their reactions to the new philosophy-related blog, moderated by Simon Critchley, which at that time had run for about six months. 6% of readers then thought the series should be discontinued, given its weaknesses (e.g., too many 'friends of Simon' representing philosophy poorly). 83% wanted the series to continue "but with a new editor/moderator and higher editorial standards." 10% thought the series was fine as it was then. The big mystery, then as now, was how a marginal philosophy professor with a weak reputation even in Continental philosophy had been tapped as the "moderator" of a blog series representing philosophy to the broader culture. I'm now told that it's because he happens to be personal friends with Peter Catapano, an editor at the Times. If that's true, it's pretty shocking--one might have thought the New York Times might consult experts in creating a forum to represent an academic discipline, not just pick whoever happens to drink beer with one of the editors. (It's worth noting that Capatano apparently solicits many contributions independently of Critchley, but there are still lots of "friends of Simon" appearing.)
In any case, the blog series went on hiatus at the end of 2010 for awhile, resuming again later in 2011, and now has run for over 18 months since. I largely gave up reading it, except when readers would flag something (usually something embarrassingly bad, sad to say). Others I know read it more often.
I thought it might be worth asking the same question as we asked in November 2010, to see whether the views of philosophers about "The Stone" have changed:
UPDATE: So with about 350 votes, 10% now think the series should be canned, 54% think the series should continue but with a new moderator and higher editorial standards, and the remainder like the status quo. There's been some Facebook lobbying for the latter, so we'll see what develops, but for awhile now it's been about 10-55-35.
THE RESULTS: 711 votes were cast. However, in reviewing the IP logs, it turns out there were eight IPs from which multiple votes were cast for the status quo, sad to say. (Apparently by deleting cookies, one can vote multiple times--we'll fix that for future polls.) This would explain also the late surge for the status quo vote tally. So we'll count 8 votes for the status quo from these IP addresses, but have to subtract 23 (the repeat votes) from the total. So the final tally was 64 favored eliminating the series altogether (9%), 333 (49%) supported continuing the series but with a new moderator and higher editorial standards, and 291 (42%) favored the series just as it is. So while a clear majority still favors changes, many more have "made their peace" with the status quo (a familiar fact in human history!).
Here are the offending IP addresses and their total repeat votes:
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)