A number of readers have written to me about one William Bradford, who has a rather sordid history in legal academia; the latest development is here and follow the links therein for more about this strange character.
...this poll out of Iowa among likely Democratic and Republican voters is very revealing. A few takeaways: (1) Sanders is closing in on Clinton even in Iowa, and Clinton's lead has been collapsing all summer; (2) the real story on the Republican side is not Trump anymore, but the rise of Ben Carson (who is now the clear #2 favorite in Iowa), an utterly lunatic religious fanatic and the sole African-American on the Republican side--and note that Carson has very low "unfavorable" ratings among Republicans compared to Trump (indeed, compared to all the others); (3) the other big story on the Republican side is the collapse of Jeb Bush's candidacy (he's trailing not only Trump and Carson, but several others, and his "unfavorable" among Republican voters in Iowa are very high)--is this due to bad memories of the last Bush or to Trump's withering mockery of Jeb? Who knows? In any case, it's good news, as Jeb is probably the most likely Republican (other than Ohio's Kasich and Fiorina) to give Democrats a run for the money in the national campaign (the national election, remember, is decided by turnout among loyalists, on the one hand, and by the so-called "independent" voters, on the other, i.e., the folks who can't tell night from day, and who gravitate precisely towards the candidate who generates less loyalist response on each side).
The fact that either Trump or Carson may come out on top in Iowa is wonderful news for the Democrats, even for the sorry Clinton candidacy, since both are guaranteed to go down in flames in the national election. The Democratic establishment desperately wants to block a Sanders candidacy, though he's on track at this point to win New Hampshire and maybe to win Iowa too. But Sanders will have a harder time once the primaries move to states with large number of African-American voters, a constituency where the Clinton brand is still generally popular. Sanders would do well to make an early announcement of his VP selection, and to make it an African-American or Hispanic female!
And that's the end of my political prognostications for awhile!
AUG 31 UPDATE: Carson has now tied Trump in the latest Iowa poll. Cruz, Fiorina have some traction, and Bush is MIA. Bear in mind that the Republican caucus in Iowa is dominated by religious fanatics--hence the past winners were Mike Huckabee and Rick Santorum.
NY Times reports, including a link to the Science article. Haven't had time to read the article carefully; any readers care to comment on which results of interest to philosophers failed the reliability tests?
There's still one 3rd from the top spot available in September. October, however, is completely sold out, including the 4th spots. Thereafter, there is at least one spot still available at each level (top, 2nd, 3rd etc.).
Recently -- in May -- Dan Garber and I had a friendly debate in which we discussed both matters of interpretation of Spinoza and the issue of methodologies for the study of history of philosophy. On the former topic, the focus was on Dan's criticisms of my PSR-based interpretation of Spinoza in my book for the Routledge series. The debate took place at Yale as part of our early modern workshop and was well attended by folks from Princeton as well as from Yale and elsewhere. The event was recorded and it was entitled "Philosophical Superheroes?". (A similar debate recently appeared in the pages of the Journal of the History of Philosophy.)
You can see the video of the debate here (scroll to the bottom).
While advisors and committees are important, it can be incredibly helpful to discuss one’s work with peers in a lower-stakes environment, and it can be particularly enlightening to do so with those who take a different approach or have a different focus. Not only that, but there is evidence from psychological research that thinking about problems in relation to persons who are geographically distant can increase creativity. With students in programs from 8 countries and 20 different U.S. states, Virtual Dissertation Groups are a great (free!) way to capture some of these benefits.
The setup is simple: Students participate in three-membered groups, with one student each month sending a short-ish piece of writing to the other two for comments.
Torbjorn Tannsjo, Kristian Claëson Professor of Practical Philosophy at Stockholm University, asked me to share the following experience he recently had.
Dylan Matthews, a philosophically-minded editor at Vox.com, solicited Professor Tannsjo to write a piece for Vox on the "repugnant conclusion." More precisely, Mr. Matthews wrote:
I'm an editor for the US news site Vox.com, and we're trying to start a new series where philosophers and other thinkers argue for provocative and/or counterintuitive propositions that our readers might find intriguing.
I'm a big fan of your work from my undergraduate years — there aren't a lot of fellow hedonic utilitarians in philosophy! — and in particular found your argument for accepting the repugnant conclusion very compelling. It's a fascinating problem, and one that's fairly easy for lay readers to get into — people care about population size, and "We have a duty to make the world's population as large as possible" is a proposition that demands peoples' attention.
I'm writing to ask if you'd like to write up a popular version of your argument on this for Vox.
After inquiring about its status after a period of silence, Prof. Tannsjo received the following from Mr. Matthews:
Afraid I have to be the bearer of bad news, Torbjörn. I ran the piece by some other editors and they weren't comfortable running it; I think the concern is that people will misinterpret it as implying opposition to abortion rights and birth control, which, while I know it's not your intent, is a real concern.
I'm sorry to waste your time; I really am a big fan of your work and appreciate your willingness to work with me.
As Prof. Tannsjo remarked to me this sorry affair illustrates "how sensitive abstract philosophical reasoning sometimes is"--and also, I might add, how difficult it is to translate it for a mass audience which apparently is more concerned with taking the "correct" view than with the reasoning.
UPDATE AUG. 26 (EVENING): This item has gotten a lot of traction, so much so that the Vox editor has responded. If I were feeling generous, I would describe the response as pathetically stupid. Prof. Tannsjo actually supports free abortion, as he told me. But what he supports or doesn't support is not the issue! If you solicit a piece from a philosopher, knowing what their work is about (as was clearly the case here), you have an obligation to publish it, subject to reasonable editing. What you can't do, if you are an even remotely serious operation (and not an echo chamber), is reject it because someone not paying attention might think the argument supports a conclusion they find icky. This rule for adult, scholarly discourse applies to the so-called "right" and to the so-called "left." Vox will be hard-pressed to get any serious scholars to write for them after this. But the same warning applies to so-called "conservative" sites (who are terrible offenders on this score too). If you really want to challenge your readers, then invite serious people with serious arguments, and don't reject them because their conclusions might be deemed offensive to casual readers. The Socratic ideal, which so many profess allegiance to, and so few act on, is to let the arguments run their course. That is what Vox failed to do.
AUGUST 27 UPDATE: I asked Prof. Tannsjo whether he cared to respond to Vox's response, and he sent me the following:
As Vox admits, they solicited a piece from me on the ”repugnant” conclusion, it went through a thorough editing procedure, and it was eventually rejected. I quoted the reasons that were given for the rejection, a concern that ”people will misinterpret it as implying opposition to abortion rights and birth control, which ... is a real concern”. To put it mildly, Vox has wasted my time. Furthermore, it is indeed bad policy to defend a right to free abortion and to refuse to take seriously the moral problems abortion gives rise to. That’s what pissed me off. Now other reasons are given. The argument I gave is not convincing enough for us /Vox/ ”to stand behind a conclusion so sweeping and dramatic”. But I, and not Vox, would have stood behind the conclusion! Of course, the argument is, given the context, very simplified. It would not convince a fellow philosopher. That was not the intent. But those who take a real interest in the subject can read the chapter on abortion in my recent book, Taking Life. Three Theories on the Ethics of Killing (Oxford UP) upon which the short article is built and to which a reference was given. Or, they can read my ”Why We Ought to Accept the Repugnant Conclusion” in the scholarly journal Utilitas (2002). Finally, there is an entry on the repugnant conclusion in Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which I have co-authored with Gustaf Arrhenius and Jesper Ryberg.
1. Approximately half of the talk was devoted to narcissistic bluster. Whatever issue he addressed in passing, Trump would interrupt himself to talk about himself. (Surely the pompadour hairstyle is the appropriate one for so pompous a figure.) His solipsism would not be problematic were he just your drunken uncle at Thanksgiving, who entertains and amuses you. But Trump is making messianic claims that resonate among at least a quarter of registered Republicans, who comprise maybe one-third of the electorate. Among registered independents, another one-third, he gets even more support, according to polls. They love his hot air and are possibly gravitating towards a real personality cult. Those are usually bad.
2. The lack of content, too, is troubling. Not that I personally like the content of any of the rival candidates’ speeches...[b]ut at least the others are supplying details about their programs and to some extent appealing to reason. Trump appeals purely to emotion, to faith (in him), to barely disguised racism and mindless nationalism. This too is bad, reminiscent of fascism.
3. Exhibiting a complete lack of knowledge of the Middle East, Trump has declared that as president he would “put boots on the ground” again in Iraq (and maybe Syria), encircle and seize the oil fields funding ISIL, and “take the oil for the United States.” In the Republican presidential candidates’ debate August 6 Trump boasted that he was “the most militaristic person there is.” While some note that at some point he came to oppose the Iraq War (as “stupid”) he is the opposite of an antiwar candidate. (Not that there are any I’m aware of with any prospect of getting elected.) His bravado about nobody messing with the U.S. under his leadership, and making the U.S. military juggernaut even “stronger” is scary.
All apt observations, but the real question is how much of the electorate (outside Alabama and Texas, say) will go for this? African-Americans and Hispanics will vote against him by landslide proportions; so will women. We saw in 2012 that Republicans can't win nationally when the only vote they can count on is white men. So I still think the longer Trump lasts, the more destruction to the Republican brand he will produce.
More on Canada's apparently most dysfunctional university. The culture of bullying clearly extends to the philosophy department, where Alan Richardson (the Chair of the Department at UBC and a longtime PGR hater, going back to 2002!) tried to bully colleagues, as we've since learned, into signing last fall's PGR boycott statement, until there was a backlash in the department--at which point Richardson had to make clear that he and Jenkins didn't want to force anyone to sign. Once that happened, five members of the Department who had signed prior to the release of the statement withdrew their names just days before its publication! (Amusingly, outside UBC, David Velleman also withdrew his name too: he obviously realized it was absurd to suggest that my derisive e-mail to Carrie Jenkins after she threatened me was especially "harmful" because of my role in the PGR.)
More here. Another hopeful sign--Chancellor Wise is gone, Board Chair Chris Kennedy is gone, now the Provost. With the original micreants out of the way, this will make it much easier to reach a settlement with Salaita, involving reinstatement, and rescuing the reputation of the University (and saving it millions).
This rather odd piece is making the rounds (thanks to reader David Zimmerman for sending it to me initially). It is titled, "5 Reasons to Be Skeptical of 'Campus Coddling' Scare Pieces," alluding to this. Oddly, though, there's only one actual reason given, since the other four points are irrelevant to whether or not these "scare pieces" are accurate. Here are the five purported reasons:
1. Most of the examples to support these pieces are purely anecdotal
True, but what in the world would data even look like in this context? And the denial that there is a problem is, of course, anecdotal too. What's clear by now is that there are a lot of anecdotes from a lot of different places; if they have anything in common that would caution against generalizing it is that they come overwhelmingly from elite colleges and universities, which probably have disproportionate numbers of coddled, spoiled narcissists in the student body.
2. Conservatives are in fact more likely to be “sensitive” and “babyish” about content, yet all the alarm is about liberalism.
Even if this were true, it would be irrelevant to the claims about the "New Infantilism" on campus. But is it true? The author offers this further non-sequitur:
A recent op-ed in the Washington Post also used facts and numbers to push back on the idea that “political correctness” was a left-wing phenomenon. Citing a survey about censorship, Catherine Rampell noted that: “In almost every category, Republicans were more likely than Democrats to endorse book bans.” Why is no one calling these censorious types squeamish babies who demand to be coddled?
Well, for one things, the attempts to ban books are not happening at colleges, typically, but at the pre-collegiate public schools, and one typically calls those trying to ban books more unpleasant names, e.g., "fascists" or "the Texas Taliban."
3. There may be real ways that millennials have a different cultural outlook, but no one is exploring the cause and effect of technology and culture on that outlook.
The question is how widespread the New Infantilism is, the question about its cause is separate, so this is irrelevant.
4. There are crises in academia, but they are not solely curricular or student-caused.
The author mentions the problems confronting adjuncts, as one example. Who could disagree? But the truth of the presence of the New Infantilism on college campuses does not depend on whether there are other more serious crises in the academy.
5. PTSD is not a being a baby.
No one called those suffering from PTSD "babies." Someone with PTSD is entitled to systematic accomodations under the Americans with Disabilites Act, and should receive them.
Given how absurdly unresponsive this piece is, one might note that another problem confronting universities is graduating nitwits who can't reason--though, as a friend on facebook quipped, for a site called "flavorwire," coming up with one feeble reason out of five alleged ones isn't bad!
Via Steve Gross (Johns Hopkins) on facebook, I come across this interesting review by my part-time colleague Michael Forster (Bonn) of what looks to be a quite substantial collection on The Impact ofGerman Idealism, edited by Karl Ameriks. In his discussion of an essay by Robert Pippin arguing that "a standard 'impositional' reading of Kant's theoretical and practical philosophies is only superficially correct," Forster writes:
Both in the theoretical and in the practical cases, the positions in question seem to be susceptible to, and indeed to cry out for, empirical confirmation or disconfirmation: in the theoretical case by empirical psychology, in the practical case by a hermeneutically sensitive interpretation of people's moral judgments. Pippin does not seem sufficiently aware of this fact. Moreover, in the only case where he himself invokes empirical considerations in this spirit, namely in relation to the question of whether animals ever really correct themselves (as shown, for example, by manifesting embarrassment over a mistake) (383), he gives a negative answer based on his experience with his own dog that is both (a) methodologically unsound (induction from a single example -- or at best, a single limited type of examples -- to a very general conclusion) and (b) in fact mistaken (for example, the cognitive ethology literature on chimpanzees is full of cases of self-correction).
Corey Robin recounts the increasingly bizarre and ironic saga. (Her son, by the way, is a partner at a major law firm; I'm guessing she will get some gratis help on this one.) She's, of course, right to seek legal counsel under the circumstances. So was Steve Salaita, and that has worked out well for him--maybe the former Chancellor was inspired by his example?
UPDATE: Talk of lawyers had the desired effect, at least in part: the Board has accepted Wise's resignation, and will not move to dismiss her. Will she sue over the $400,000? Unlikely, as she claims she was going to gift it anyway to the new medical school.
There's a brief notice here in Finnish (though Google translate does a pretty good job with it). Hintikka taught at the University of Heslinki, Stanford University, Florida State University, and Boston University, where he was professor emeritus. He made seminal contributions to mathematical and philosophical logic, but also wrote widely on other topics in philosophy. I will add links to English-language memorials as they appear.
UPDATE: Philosopher Brad Wray kindly sends along the English-language announcement from Helsinki:
Over at the FP blog, there is someone described (opaquely) as "having some expertise in law and philosophy." Is the person a lawyer? I'm not sure. Is it one person or several (the FP blog refers to the pseudonym as "they"). In any case, in the post at issue, the procedural posture of the recent events in the Salaita lawsuit is correctly described. But buried in the rather pedantic discussion of the procedures comes this gem:
(Pardon a brief detour in the discussion. Looming over the entire process is settlement. Discovery is very costly, so the University may be especially motivated to settle now that their motion to dismiss has been denied. Suppose that the University wants to depose 10 people, and suppose each deposition takes 8 hours. Depending on who is taking the deposition, the hourly billable rate might be anywhere from $450 to upwards of $1000. Suppose it’s something in the middle, maybe $700. Just the deposition time itself — setting aside preparation time and assuming that it’s just this one lawyer doing all the work — will cost the University $56,000. That’s a new professor’s salary or a few graduate student stipends for a year and that’s just taking depositions. There will also be time spent defending depositions (what the University will do when their witnesses are being deposed, which amounts to sitting there and occasionally objecting for the record), collecting and reviewing documents, and preparing for trial. The high costs of litigation may often make settlements a good economic proposition for both parties, which is why reading anything about the merits into the existence or amount of a settlement alone, as some did after the University of Colorado settled with David Barnett, is disfavored.)
That last line is obviously a reference to my (correct) diagnosis of the Barnett case But I did wonder, who exactly is it that "disfavors" drawing inferences from the terms of a settlement? Certainly not anyone familiar with the law or lawsuits. Indeed, even FP's "they" are in favor of drawing inferences: after all, the point of noting the costs of discovery is to suggest that sometimes lawsuits settle simply for economic reasons. No one, of course, denied that cost-benefit calculations go into settlements, though they don't work in the simple-minded way "their" discussion suggests: after all, it just isn't the case that a university's budget for litigation is fungible with its instructional budget. And the more important point, which I made in connection with the Barnett settlement, is that universities can almost always afford to litigate longer than individuals: all the economic considerations typically force individuals to settle for less when litigating against institutional actors. That's why the terms of the Barnett settlement were so striking: not only a cash payout, and a forgiven loan, but payment of a substantial portion of Barnett's attorney fees. Against the backdrop of Colorado's Title IX troubles (described in my post), and no evidence of wrongdoing by Barnett that would justify revocation of tenure, the inference to the best explanation of what happened is plainly the one I offered. The only relevant question is whether there is a better explanation; it certainly isn't "theirs."
But back to Salaita: although "they" describe the procedural posture of the case correctly, they omit all the relevant strategic considerations that now kick in. The University wants to avoid discovery, which will be hugely embarrassing, even more embarrassing than what's already come out. The most potent claims in Salaita's lawsuit survived the motion to dismiss. If, as seems very likely, Salaita establishes the facts alleged in the complaint for the breach of contract claim, he will win a motion for summary judgment before the judge who decided the motion to dismiss claim. The lawyers for the University of Illinois understand all this. This is why, as I said a few days ago, I predict a settlement before the calendar year is out, and I would not be surprised if it includes reinstatement for Prof. Salaita, which will save the University millions of dollars in monetary damages (as well as legal costs).
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)