...and he's also mystified why a serious journal is devoting an issue to it. If other parts of philosophy had as clear Wissenschaftlich standards as philosophy of language/linguistics does, there' be more protests of this kind.
(Thanks to Peter Ludlow for the pointer.)
UPDATE: I've heard from one well-known philosopher and one well-known psychologist telling me that things are not quite as simple as they appear. The psychologist, for example, wrote:
Re the Hornstein post, you're way overestimating the degree of agreement among linguists (I don't know about philosophy of language) re standards of evidence, argumentation, what counts as progress, which issues have been resolved or are open, etc.
The book in question addresses many issues that remain contentious in modern linguistics. The author apparently takes positions that Hornstein deeply opposes. I have not read the book and do not know if the arguments are any good, but the questions are valid ones, and matters of ongoing debate. The journal in question is at least as credible as the others he mentions, and less parochial, so airing the disagreements is a reasonable thing to do--assuming the book is not poorly done, not merely at variance with NH's personal views. The Language editorial board includes many outstanding scholars—including ones who compare favorably to Hornstein I would say. It is not heavily weighted to the traditional MIT/generative grammar side of the field, however. But the current MIT department doesn’t seem to be either!
Norbert is a keeper of the Chomskyan faith. That approach and set of beliefs has faded in prominence and acceptance, mainly because it got overtaken by progress achieved by other approaches. The fate of Chomsky's proposals about language (structure, origins, acquisition, brain bases) will be a great case study in the history of ideas. Pinker's popularizations bought the approach some extra time, but most of the important claims turn out to have been wrong (e.g., that language is an "instinct," that there is a "language organ", that language is unrelated to other types of cognition, or to other forms of communication, etc.).
It's been amazing to watch how the events have played out over the past 40 years, since I got into it.
You can now expect to receive responses to the effect that these comments are as worthless as that book. The line between intensive intellectual debate and trolling is a thin one.
ADDENDUM: A reader sends along this sophomoric prattle; The Monist must have fallen on hard times to be publishing material like this. The abstract alone will probably be enough for most readers, but do press on, it gives one real insight into the nether regions of the 'profession' where no actual intellectual standards prevail. Imagine, an entire paper organized around an alleged "conflation" that any smart undergraduate would avoid!
Rightly so, do read the whole thing. From the conclusion:
In my view, in this book Fuller lends support to some dicey propositions, including creationism and intelligent design, the ideas of Teilhard de Chardin, neurotheology, and transhumanism, not to mention an epistemology of divine psychology. By itself that would not trouble me. What troubles me -- I should say, annoys me -- is that he just avers these things. There is very little argument in this book. In place of it are obsessive self-citations to the author's other publications. That annoyed me because I had time and occasion to read his new book, only to find out that I cannot understand it without reading twenty others by the same author, including maybe even his dissertation. Without studying the earlier books, I can't understand the point of this one, yet nothing in this one makes me want to read those others.
One does begin to wonder whether Fuller is really bonkers, or whether this is all simply to be chalked up to narcissistic stupidity.
She put Rahm Emmanuel in his place a couple of years ago, now she's going after our new Republican Governor (I hope she's wrong with the Scott Walker comparison, but since these people all confer with each other and none are capable of actual critical thought and decision-making, I fear she may be right).
You decide, but Prof. Karzarian is certainly giving John Protevi a run for the money! I reprint this amusing display in whole below the fold, since, as several who sent it to me observed, it may not last:
...you were wrong. As far as I know, this is the only document in existence that concludes that Linda Alcoff's objections to the PGR (which are, indeed, utterly specious and self-serving!) shouldn't be taken seroiusly because I hate Republicans.
I am not going apologize if I am occasionally rude to an ill-informed overpaid Harvard professor making absurd pronouncements on economics that have the effect of obstructing policy aimed at ending unnecessary suffering.
Pomposity can be amusing, but pomposity sitting like an oversized hat on top of fear is hilarious. Wieseltier is afraid that the humanities are being overrun by thinkers from outside, who dare to tackle their precious problems--or "problematics" to use the, um, technical term favored by many in the humanities. He is right to be afraid. It is true that there is a crowd of often overconfident scientists impatiently addressing the big questions with scant appreciation of the subtleties unearthed by philosophers and others in the humanities, but the way to deal constructively with this awkward influx is to join forces and educate them, not declare them out of bounds.
(The reason for the title of this post will become clear, below.)
Glenn Branch of the National Center for Science Education called my attention last week to this putative review by Steve Fuller of Nagel's Mind and Cosmos; the review was aptly described by another correspondent as "a largely content-free mix of self-promotion and derogation of his Enemies, in which you held the place of honour." (Michael Weisberg, co-author of the review in The Nation, is not on Fuller's "Enemies list" so was erased from Fuller's score-settling.) Just to give the flavor of Fuller's "review," a short excerpt:
Another day, another tedious tirade from the pompous Leon Wieseltier. This one is a long take-down of Paul Ryan and his idolatry of Ayn Rand. Such high-minded seriousness! I am reminded of Dick Cheney, attired in military fatigues, hunting quail with his assault weapons.
What caught my eye amid all the fulmination and folk wisdom--there are few arguments or supporting evidence of any kind to be found--is how Wieseltier casually pronounces Atlas Shrugged and Also Sprach Zarathustra to be in the same category of adolescent sins and chides Rand and Marx for advancing economic theories towards moral ends, albeit antithetical ones.
This is embarrassing even by Wieseltier's low standards. Granted a lot of adolescents are excited by Nietzsche when they encounter him (even if for all the wrong reasons), and the inscrutable Zarathustra is plainly not his best work (or perhaps the clearest exposition of his views). But to draw any kind of equivalence between the works of these 2 thinkers (if you can charitably call Rand one) is so buffoonish that one is left wondering who the adolescent in this discussion is.
UPDATE: As Catarina Dutilh Novaes continues to dig, the best line in response is due to Dan Kervick: "I can't think of a time in my life when I thought, 'Damn, I wish my penis were more sensitive!'"
ANOTHER: 24 hours later, and there's still no apology for the ludicrous comparison of circumcision to female genital mutilation, but a link to a video has been added. The video is remarkable for being almost totaly irrelevant to the comparison at issue, but perhaps Dutilh Novaes is counting on no one really watching it. Still, the comments are worth reading to get a sense of how utterly nuts some people are.
George Mason University economics professor, Dr.Don Bourdreaux believes that professional economists have done a poor jobexplaining basic economic truths to the general public. His passion is to better explain those truths to broad audiences and in his newest book, Hypocrites & Half-Wits: A Daily Dose of Sanity from Café Hayek, he tries to do so with short, pithy letters-to-the-editor, mostly aimed at correcting common misunderstandings of economics.
I would love to put you in touch with Dr. Boudreaux. He can provide non-partisan insight and commentary on any economic or political stories you may be working on, in a way that is easily accessible and understandable to the general public. Review copies of his newest book, Hypocrites & Half-Wits are available and I’d be happy to send you a copy. He would also be available to provide an article for publication if interested.
I have provided some further info on Dr. Boudreaux as well as some potential story ideas below. Thanks for taking a look and I hope to hear from you soon.
As I pointed out to Ms. MacDonald-Birnbaum, someone living on Planet Hayek is not a "non-partisan" expert, indeed, not even an expert, let alone a purveyor of "economic truth[s]." I can understand sending out hack solicitations like this to journalists and other gullible types, but to send this crap to scholars (I assume I'm not the only academic blogger who got it) is unbelievable. SmithPublicity is now in my spam filter. Nice job!
One of my philosopher friends on Facebook gave me permission to repost this funny item he wrote on his FB page:
Saw Carlin Romano talk about his book, America the Philosophical, with Simon Critchley tonight in a bookstore downtown. Critchley was surprisingly down to earth, informed, and engaging. Romano was probably the worst example of bullshittery I've seen from an adult. Half the time was spent name-checking semi-important people he's met. The other half was spent bad-mouthing the interesting and important work of people at prestigious institutions, despite the fact that he clearly understood none of it.
Socrates, Plato and Aristotle are not the founders and titans of philosophy, according to Romano; rather, they hijacked it. The notion of philosophia was fluid in Plato’s time, and Romano wishes that the usage and practice of the less famous Isocrates, a rhetorician and educationalist, had caught on instead of that of his slightly younger contemporary. Isocrates (“A Man, Not a Typo,” as Romano headlines him) wrote that “it is far superior to have decent judgments about useful matters than to have precise knowledge about useless things.” For him, philosophy was the imprecise art of public deliberation about important matters, not a logic-chopping attempt to excavate objective truths. Isocrates, Romano says, “incarnates the contradictions, pragmatism, ambition, bent for problem solving and getting things done that mark Americans,” and his conception of philosophy “jibes with American pragmatism and philosophical practice far more than Socrates’ view.” Romano writes sorely of “the triumph of Plato and Aristotle in excluding Isocrates from the philosophical tradition” and announces that “Isocrates should be as famous as Socrates.”
My first thought about this claim was that it is simply nuts, which is also my considered view. Romano offers no explanation of how Plato and Aristotle managed to achieve the nefarious feat of obliterating the wonderful Isocrates. The only demonstrable sense in which they excluded him from the philosophical tradition is that their work eclipsed his, just as the music of Johann Sebastian Bach eclipsed that of his older brother Johann Jacob. Puzzled by Romano’s high estimation of the relevance of Isocrates, even to the broadest conception of philosophy, I reread some of his discourses and emerged none the wiser, though I did remember why I had so quickly forgotten him the first time around. Where are Isocrates’ penetrating treatments of the soul, virtue, justice, knowledge, truth, art, perception, psychology, logic, mathematics, action, space or time? And if philosophy would be better off not trying to talk about such things, what exactly should it be talking about?
E-mail messages were flying among leaders of the Board of Visitors of the University of Virginia in the weeks leading up to the ouster of Teresa A. Sullivan as president of the university. The e-mail messages show that one reason board leaders wanted to move quickly was the belief that UVa needed to get involved in a serious way with online education.
The board leaders traded articles in which various pundits suggested that online education is the only real future for higher education -- and the e-mail messages suggest that board members believe this view. On May 31, for example, Helen Dragas, the rector (UVa-speak for board chair) sent the vice rector, Mark Kington, the URL for a Wall Street Journal column about online education. Dragas's subject line was "good piece in WSJ today -- why we can't afford to wait." The column, a look at the MOOC (massively online open course) movement in higher education, has the subhead: "The substitution of technology (which is cheap) for labor (which is expensive) can vastly increase access to an elite-caliber education."
The column argues that the MOOCs have the potential to change the cost structure in higher education, as long as institutions are willing to replace some in-person education with online education. "[I]n this way, college X might have its students take calculus, computer science and many other lecture courses online from MIT-Harvard (or other suppliers), and have them take other classes with their own local professors for subjects that are better taught in small seminars. College X can thus offer stellar lectures from the best professors in the world — and do locally what it does best, person to person," the column says....
[T]he e-mail records suggest both Dragas and Kington are committed to a major push into online education.
Both took time to comment on a major donor's e-mail in which he suggested that university leaders study the way Stanford and Harvard Universities, among others, were having success online. The donor wondered in his e-mail if these developments are "a signal that the on-line [sic] learning world has now reached the top of the line universities and they need to have strategies or will be left behind." Dragas replied: "Your timing is impeccable -- the BOV is squarely focused on UVa's developing such a strategy and keenly aware of the rapidly accelerating pace of change."
Another article -- this one forwarded from Kington to Dragas -- was the "The Campus Tsunami," by the New York Times columnist David Brooks, predicting massive change from the MOOCs, and also predicting that the new model will involve much more learning from professors who are not at the college or university a student attends.
So there you have it: these glorified shopkeepers were taking their cues on the future of higher education from David Brooks. UVA is doomed if these bozos aren't gone, quickly.
I'm writing to give you the annoying news that C. Romano, one of your favoritebugbears, has written a book. Here he is on the literary circuit, getting interviewed and producing on demand an annotated list of 5 of his favorite philosophical texts. (Not surprisingly, his choices are mostly either trivial or unrelated to philosophy).
Many of your readers, myself included, take vicarious pleasure from your well-justified irritability and intolerance of fools, so why not keep us entertained and have another go at this poor dope? And to be constructive, I suppose you could also ask those learned readers to supply better quality listings of their 5 favorite books.
CHE has also run an advert for the book. The "argument," if there is one, appeasr to be just a massive non-sequitur: it is quite consistent with American being an anti-intellectual country that its well-heeled research universities produce massive amounts of philosophy. In any case, per Mr. Lakritz's constructive suggestion, I invite readers to name their five favorite philosophical texts. Signed comments only: full name and valid e-mail address.
Her response (in a Murdoch vehicle, of course) to the long-overdue decision of the Chronicle of Higher Education to fire her is, unsurprisingly, not responsive to any real issue. I'll preface this by saying those critics who called her a racist were probably mistaken. She's dumb, trite, and lacks rhetorical and analytical skill, but I actually don't see convincing evidence that she's a racist (I'll return to the issue below). She simply has no business writing for any publication that aims to reach scholars or intellectuals or educated adults. Mostly, she has been excluded from such fora, and rightly so. CHE made a serious error when they hired her as a blogger, but that they did so, is a good indication of how civilized journalists have been cowed by repeated harassment by far right ignoramuses, her natural constituency.
It was her original post, of course that was "puerile and vitriolic"; the responses were mild by comparison. Making fun of doctoral dissertations by recent PhDs based on their titles and a few lines of an abstract? That's all she did, nothing more. If she'd posted it on www.naomischaeferrileyblowhard.com no one would have noticed. But she was given a forum by CHE that she was supposed to share with adults and scholars, and that's what stunned people.
The allegations of racism arise from the fact that one could have undertaken the same exercise with dissertation titles in most fields, even philosophy. (Think how much fun a malevolent fool like Schaefer Riley could have with recent dissertation titles from Princeton!) But Schaefer Riley chose a field rich with "hot button" issues that lent themselves naturally to the various stereotypes into which the Right-Wing Blob deposits ideas and positions it can't understand. That all these issues, and the stereotypes, are demeaning, directly and indirectly, to African-Americans is no doubt what led many to assume Schaefer Riley is a racist. Maybe she is, but let's not lose sight of the most important fact, namely, she's a moron who couldn't defend her tripe in a debate with any serious scholar anywhere. This last point is really the more important one: her failing is not really moral, but intellectual, as anyone who has read her other "blog postings" at CHE would have known long ago.
Her firing is a triumph for intellectual standards in the public sphere. It should be celebrated.
UPDATE: Several readers have called to my attention that the victims of Riley's smear job have now replied.
WOW, CHE REALLY DOESN'T GET IT: Look at the editor's response. Not everything is worth debating; some people should just shut up or at least not be heard in grown-up company. Schaefer Riley is one of them. She belongs in the cesspools of cyberspace, of which there are many, devoted to right-wing ranting. She shouldn't be debated in CHE. That we are asked to "debate" this empty vessel means there is no editorial oversight at CHE. What's next? A post on the world-wide Jewish banking conspiracy, which we should "debate"? A post on the white man's burden, which we should "debate"? A post on the centrality of Intelligent Design to biology, which we should "debate"? CHE deserves to perish if this is going to be their editorial posture. If CHE wants to savage ethnic studies programs, retain someone who (a) isn't ignorant, and (b) addresses the scholarly content of the programs.
One thing that cyberspace makes very clear is that there is no position that is too absurd or depraved to not find a defender. Even the loathsome Rush Limbaugh had to back-peddle a bit on his abuse of the Georgetown law student who had the temerity to testify about contraception, but last week an economics professor at the University of Rochester came to Rush's defense. You can read a transcript of Ms. Fluke's actual testimony here (to which Landsburg pretends to be responding) and there's some good commentary on the mess of what passes for Landsburg's "mind" here (and follow the links therein). Philosopher John Casey also comments. There isn't a lot to add: Landsburg has embarrassed his department (most Free Market Utopians aren't as tone-deaf and confused as Landsburg) and his university, and the childish level of his rationalization hardly warrants further discussion.
But there is another aspect of this case that deserves notice. The University of Rochester President issued a rather strongly worded statement about the matter. I actually think President Seligman failed in his duties here. It is simply not his job to criticize members of the faculty, even if they are fools like Landsburg. A serious university leader can certainly issue a statement noting that the views expressed by Professor Landsburg are his alone, and not those of the University or President Seligman. But when he became President of the University, he lost his right to speak freely, especially when speaking in his official capacity: his job is to defend the autonomy and freedom of the faculty to express their views, however misguided he or others may deem them to be, and however misguided they actually are. The University of Chicago's Kalven Committee Report on the University’s Role in Political and Social Action from 1967, named after a distinguished First Amendment expert and longtime member of the law faculty here, put it well: “The university is the home and sponsor of critics; it is not itself the critic. A university, if it is to be true to its faith in intellectual inquiry, must embrace, be hospitable to, and encourage the widest diversity of views within its own community.”
UPDATE: Reader Aaron Baker calls to my attention two other critiques of Landsburg: here and here.
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)