...but I've been on the road (in California) first here and then here.
Visiting the wonderful UCR Department, as I've been fortunate to do several times in recent years, prompts some reflections on our field and also on the interests in the Continental traditions that I share with many others. There are, fortunately, lots of good places in the U.S. these days for students interested in Kant and post-Kantian European philosophy--Columbia, Georgetown, Notre Dame, Brown, BU and, in many ways, Chicago--but UCR is as good as any of them, and may be the best. It's not just that they have a first-rate group of scholars working on Kant and post-Kantian European philosophy (Clark, Keller, Reath, Wrathall)--and an impressive group of grad students as well--but that everyone in the Department is interested in philosophy, meaning that those with primarily "Continental" interests are conversant with "analytic" philosophy and other parts of the history of philosophy, and vice versa.
The term "pluralism" has, alas, been debased to the point that everyone now knows it is usually a code word for "crappy philosophy is welcome here." But if it had not been devalued, then it would apply to UCR, though I think the more appropriate appellation is that UCR is an actual philosophy department, in which everyone is interested in philosophy, even if different figures or themes are more important for some than others. When I left UT Austin some six years ago, part of the reason was that it had ceased to be a department of philosophy and had become something more like a "Department of Logic & Metaphysics," where that meant recent logic and metaphysics. That's fine, UT Austin has become a leading Department of "Logic & Metaphysics" in the recent 'analytic' tradition. I am (to the annoyance of my critics) a fan of the "analytic" tradition, but mostly I am a fan of philosophy, and most of the really important philosophy is not, by my lights, to be found in "recent logic and metaphysics".
The field needs more places like UCR. (The world needs more places with decent weather, but that's a separate issue!)
UPDATE: One current PhD student at UT Austin not working in M&E/Language/Mind/Logic wrote to say he felt the department was more supportive of his work than my commentary would suggest. I am happy to hear that, and I hope other students feel the same way.
The good, the bad, and the ugly. (This is a comment on the quality of the reviews, not the verdicts they reach!) You would think a very clear, 185-page book would generate more consistently competent reviews, but the topic of religion, alas, seems to be an obstacle.
Two years ago I took part in panel in a conference on progress in
philosophy. (The contributions of me,
Jennifer Nagel and Dave Chalmers are still online -- I had a tech fail in recording Pettit’s contribution). My view was and is that philosophical
progress is robust – the growth is Fibonacci (think of a tree branching). Just speaking from what I’ve seen in areas of
philosophy that I am familiar with, the grown and development has been astounding
over the last thirty years.
Fibonacci growth is impressive, but is it enough? The second part of my talk was that it is not
Many people are familiar with Kurzweil’s thesis about the
exponential growth in technology leading to a kind of technological
singularity. Singularity happens when you hit the elbow in
the exponential curve and the curve effectively shoot straight up (or appears
to). If that is right, then the
technological curve is pulling away from the philosophy curve very rapidly and
is about to leave it completely behind.
What that means is that our technology is going to leave our critical
thinking skills behind. You may think
that is already happening, and I agree: I’m just saying the problem is about to
get much worse.
It doesn’t have to get worse. The only reason that technology grows
exponentially is that we keep feeding it resources. The only reason philosophy doesn’t is that we
starve it for resources (we don’t have enough bodies to throw at philosophical
problems). I say we need to seriously
think about redistributing resources away from technological development and
into philosophy, and allow philosophy departments to grow new programs that
focus on new technologies and their development. Why would anyone do this? Well, someone needs to make vivid what can go
wrong if we don’t. One idea is that if
we don’t understand technology we become alienated from it – a view that I floated
So here are some questions for discussion. Is philosophy making the kind of progress I
believe it is? Is technology pulling
away from us as Kurzweil believes it is?
Is this a problem? Can we fix
it? If so, how?
A journal recently sent me an automated request to referee a manuscript, which, unfortunately, I could not do within the parameters offered. From the salutation, I learned how the editors keep track of me:
Of course, I don't know if particular groups responded at differential rates. But on the assumption this is a representative sample, 68% of respondents are in philosophy, as faculty or students; 39% of readers are academic faculty in one field or another (40% are teachers of some kind); and the non-academic readership is somewhere around 10-15%. I appreciate all the comments from readers, especially those who chose 'other,' and I find it very gratifying that these readers find a way to stay connected with philosophy via this site.
I'm also opening comments. No need to sign your name, though please use a distinctive 'handle,' so we don't have a thread full of "anons" (e.g., "Indiana undergrad in philosophy," or "Jerry B" etc.). Feel free to offer a bit more detail than the poll above permits (esp. if you check 'other') and/or to say what you mostly come here to read. Thanks.
This blog is, remarkably, ten years old today. It's the most widely read philosophy blog in the world, as best I can tell, with nearly 23 million visits and more than 30 million page views during its decade of life (I recall how surprising it was the first time it got 200 hits in one day way back in 2003! Now, even in the summer, it's running an average of 10,000 hits per day). Issues raised here have made it into The New York Times, The Guardian, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Inside Higher Education, The Boston Globe, and many other traditional media. My thanks to all you readers for making it a success and making it worth continuing.
Here's three things I never would have guessed way back in 2003:
1. The extent to which blogs would become part of the mainstream of the profession.
2. The extent to which academic philosophers, though overall a more enlightened group, would still have representatives of every political and moral pathology of the United States. (I shall have to do another survey of the readership like this one from a few years ago.)
3. The extent to which airing on the Internet the kind of moral and political views I express all the time to friends and colleagues would make me an object of widespread cyber-vilification--yes, in retrospect, I realize that was naive. Cyberspace, alas, enables an extraordinary amount of shameless defamation by people with political or philosophical axes to grind; and American libel and cyber-law mostly gives them cover.
I've posted some reflections at various milestones in the past, but the realization that ten years have passed inspires more verbosity. I've put most of it below the fold, to spare those of you who are not interested.
...either because of this or this, not sure which. Money quotes:
"[O]ne of the most troubling and intellectually discreditable books by a serious American scholar in some time."--Family Research Council
"Students and scholars likely will be citing Leiter's clear and powerful arguments for many years."--Choice
(For non-US readers: Choice is widely used by libraries in deciding what to purchase; the Family Research Council is the main policy arm of the far right Christian movement in the U.S.)
UPDATE: My thanks to Brandon Conley for posting a sensible reply at the FRC blog. Still, I am trying to persuade PUP to use the FRB blurb, above, in promotional materials!
ANOTHER (May 5): There was a second comment pointing out the obvious, that the FRC author had not read the book, but that comment has disappeared. So just in case, here is Mr. Conley's comment from the FRC site, which, happily, is still there:
This review willfully misrepresents Leiter's aim as one of criticizing freedom of religious practice without persecution when Leiter's actual target is the idea that religious practices should receive preferential treatment by being exempted from laws designed for the common good. Here's a quote from an honest synopsis of the book displaying the kinds of questions it tackles:
" Why, for example, can a religious soup kitchen get an exemption from zoning laws in order to expand its facilities to better serve the needy, while a secular soup kitchen with the same goal cannot? Why is a Sikh boy permitted to wear his ceremonial dagger to school while any other boy could be expelled for packing a knife? Why are religious obligations that conflict with the law accorded special toleration while other obligations of conscience are not?"
In other words, Leiter is arguing for equal treatment of all claims of conscience, whether secular or religious. Since by far the most persecuted religious affiliation in the U.S. is atheism (in many states it is illegal for an atheist to hold public office), these questions are important to ask. The FCR is employing the all to common tactic of painting an argument against special treatment as an argument for persecution.
...I want to confirm that I have withdrawn from consideration for the vacant position in Rome.
UPDATE: Michael Otsuka (UCL) writes: "Since the last pope had a twitter account, I think the next pope will be a blogger. And you could have declared that everything you post is ex cathedra, in order to shut up Vatican censors."
So Princeton University Press tells me they have ordered a new printing of 1,000 more copies of Why Tolerate Religion?, in addition to the 2,000 initial run from October--so while I won't be retiring on the royalties, I must say it's quite a remarkable experience to be on the verge of selling 3,000 hardcover copies of an academic book! Thanks to those of you out there who have bought a copy!
In addition to the event in DC in April, I'll be doing something similar for the Center for Inquiry in Los Angeles in early October; more details on that to come.
It was only in February 2010 that this blog crossed the ten million threshold, and now today we crossed the twenty million visitor mark. It took not quite seven years to hit ten million visits, and less than three years to add another ten million, a tangible indication that, even as the philosophy blogosphere has become busier and more lively, blog readership is not a zero-sum game: more and more philosophy students and faculty (as well as others) continue to read, and to read more blogs. I've nothing really to add to my reflections from the 10 million mark, but I will reiterate my thanks to you, the readers, and to the many who send me interesting material and links, which makes it feasible to keep the blog going while doing my actual job!
Usually as summer starts, blog readership declines, but not this month--as of this morning, the blog had already had over 300,000 unique visits and over 445,000 page views during June, compared to figures, respectively, of 283,000 and 421,000 a year ago. (June traffic is double what it was four years ago, but that is part of a general trend in the readership.) June traffic this year has been higher than September 2011 traffic, also surprising. One thing I've noticed is that as the number of philosophy blogs has increased in recent years, overall readership here has gone up--my best guess is that the increasing number of philosophy-related blogs brings more readers with philosophical interests on-line.
Anyway, whatever the explanation, thanks for reading!
There is a "Brian Leiter 'interest'" page on facebook, for which I bear no responsibility! I'm not sure why it's there, except it seems to have its source in Wikipedia mischief. If you "like" the interest page on FB, then I will be able to skip purgatory and go straight to Heaven. If you don't like it, then life will go on. Thank you for your consideration for my eternal soul.
...to come home on Sunday from a (great) philosophy conference on Friday and Saturday to find that the blog had been deluged with visitors, some sent by right-wing scolds loyal to the plutocracy (reacting to this) and some sent by a liberal blogger loyal to his former teacher Warren Goldfarb (and to Thomas Kuhn!). Cyberspace is truly weird!
Brian Leiter, that's who--everything you didn't want to know, and a Steve Pyke photo! Another Brian Leiter (really, some guy in Maryland) got the .com, so I got the .net. (It appears the .com has been colonized by advertising connected to the .net Leiter, however!)
This might be of modest interest to some. Google has just released a tool for viewing relative word frequencies in their database of scanned books (slightly more details on the exact subset of books can be found here). I inputted the names of the Top 10 Most Significant Philosophers of Science of the 20th-Century, as polled this October. This is the resulting chart. Caution must be exercised, of course: this is a chart of full-name instances only, relying on the results of an imperfect OCR process, in books only, across all disciplines, etc., etc., etc. The dataset is available for those with spare time.
UPDATE: Philosopher David Auerbach (North Carolina State) writes: "Two important points about using the search. The distortion introduced by it being only books is important, particularly since for most of the 20th century articles were where the action was. Second, if one of your search terms has high frequency it can swamp the others; get rid of it and the scale shifts so that you can see the details of the less frequent ones." The former point was certainly true in Anglophone philosophy for much of the 20th-century, though one would expect books to reflect the prominence of certain articles as well.
So with over 1100 votes cast, here's how it looks:
So how would you describe *your* political views?
Social democratic left
American moderate democrat
Nearly two-thirds of the readership is on what I would call the genuine left (social democratic or Marxian), which isn't surprising given, among other things, the fact that a substantial portion of the readership is not US-based (roughly one-third), and that philosophers generally lean left. Add in the "American liberals" (who would be, admittely, in the center, or maybe the center-right in many other Western democracies), and fully three-quarters of the readership is on the 'left' capaciously understood. To my ten Republican readers, I appreciate your indulgence! Libertarians represent another major block (nearly 10%), though as I learned from correspondence, some readers who might have picked "anarchist" were it a choice may have gone with libertarian. But since philosophers like theoretically well-articulated positions, it's not a surprise that libertarianism, like Marxism, gets significant support from readers. I'm a tad puzzled by the 3% of those who self-identify with the fascist/authoritarian right--of course, since I do have a whole category of "authoritarianism and fascism alerts" (I'm unique among blogs in offering that!), it may be they are here for news about their prospects! More likely is that some jokesters couldn't resist the opportunity to so identify. On the other hand, the revival of interest in Carl Schmitt may have now translated into more philosophers taking the hard line. The 6% self-identified conservatives, both Burkean and social/religious, are presumably either here for the philosophy news, or they just like to scratch their heads in wonder at what left academics believe, or both! (I should note that, even though law professors are officially forbidden from reading my philosophy blog, some do, and so that might be skewing the results a bit, since law professors are certainly more to the right, on average, than philosophy professors.)
Last October, the Center for Law, Philosophy & Human Values here at the University of Chicago sponsored a conference on "Rethinking the Genealogy of Morals." The conference ranged far beyond Nietzsche, to look at other efforts to understanding the origins of our moral values, from Hume and Darwin, to contemporary theories in the social science. We had six genuinely excellent and fascinating papers by my colleagues Michael Forster and Robert Richards, as well as by Daniel Batson (Kansas), Peter Kail (Oxford), John Mikhail (Georgetown), and Jesse Prinz (CUNY). Excellent commentary was provided by my colleagues Agnes Callard and Martha Nussbaum, as well as Robin Kar (Illinois) and three PhD students: Nir Ben-Moshe and Nic Koziolek here at Chicago, and Guy Elgat from Northwestern.
Five of the six sessions are now available on audio recordings (scroll down). Unfortunately, a technical problem resulted in a failure to record Professor Mikhail's session, though interested readers should can find his rich and fascinating paper here.
Some time in the last 24 hours, this blog had its ten millionth visitor, at least according to the SiteMeter gods. Whatever the precise number, that seems like an awful lot, given my non-existent expectations that I'd have any readers in the beginning. The blog started in August 2003, mostly by accident: the IT folks at the University of Texas created blog software and were looking for faculty to use it. The IT folks in the Law School asked if I was interested, and I said 'no thanks.' But a week later I changed my mind, since I thought it would be a good complement to the on-line ranking material, and would be an easy way to do updates and corrections. So it began. The disgusting behavior of the "Texas Taliban" and the shills at the Discovery [sic] Institute, as well as the criminality of Bush & his bestiary of madmen caught my attention, indeed, occupied a lot of the blog for awhile, resulting in an expansion of the readership. (Especially memorable, I suppose, was the scandal of the Harvard Law Review publishing laudatory nonsense by a confused law student about notorious ID apologist Francis Beckwith, followed by one of Beckwith's students doing a hatchet job on me in The National Review.) Lots of fun, and maybe it even did a bit of good, but it became too time-consuming, and so things migrated back to mostly academic stuff.
Mostly it's been enjoyable working on this blog, though my earliestreflections on the experience still ring true to me. I've certainly enjoyed the privilege of corresponding with a lot of interesting folks (philosophers, other academics, non-academics) thanks to the blog; I've probably recruited a few extra readers for my actual scholarly work; I'm pleased to have provided useful information and help to many students, many of whom have been kind enough to write over the years; and I've had the opportunity to promote good causes, whether it is stamping out anti-gay bigotry in academia, exposing bad behavior by philosophers, or calling attention to egregious actions by administrators that affect philosophy. Many readers have found particularly valuable the many discussion threads we've run about "issues in the profession" over the last couple of years.
This excellent Handbook presents Anglophone work which aims to familiarize Continental Philosophy to Anglophone practitioners, whilst insisting on its distinctiveness. The term ‘Continental’ is taken to cover post-Kantian philosophy in Germany and France, and traditions including Idealism, Marxism, Phenomenology, Hermeneutics and Structuralism. It is somewhat unusual in giving a thematic treatment in which key figures recur under different aspects. Part I covers philosophical method in relation to the sciences and to its own history; Part II, the response to Kant’s Copernican revolution; and Part III, questions of human existence and ethics.
An outstanding contribution to Part I is Michael Rosen’s ‘The History of Philosophy as Philosophy’, a model of clarity combining novel insights with deep knowledge of English and German philosophical literatures. Rosen outlines how history entered into philosophical method with Hegel, an approach foreign to the English-speaking world....
Alex Callinicos, in ‘Marxism and the Status of Critique’, also pursues Marx’s attitude to philosophy, in a pellucid treatment extending to the Frankfurt School and Habermas’ post-Marxism. He notes that Marx’s rejection of Idealism’s constitutive role for the subject led him not only to naturalistic positivism – which denied both philosophy’s cognitive status, and a normative dimension to the critique of capitalism – but also to the ‘philosophical anthropology’ which surfaced in
Capital and other works of1857–67. In this period, Marx continued to describe his enterprise as ‘scientific’, but also engaged in critique of bourgeois ideology, and Callinicos discerns complex theoretical sources in his resistance tomorally condemning capitalism, among them Hegel’s critique of Kant’s transcendentalism...
There is an unusual level of clarity in this volume, given the nature of the material. Frederick Beiser, a sane commentator on Hegel, charts the complexities of ‘Historicism’: the programme of legitimating history as a science, which rejects both metaphysical explanation of historical action by goals outside history and naturalistic explanation of them as part of nature. Proponents included von Ranke, Dilthey and Burckhardt, with Hamann, Herder and von Humboldt as precursors....t is an implication of historicism that ‘all human values and institutions change . . . The autonomy of the social-historical world, and the complete historicization of the human world, are the two fundamental principles of historicism’ (158). Although historicism has often been equated with relativism, Beiser argues, no historicist regarded himself as such. However, Popper originated the Anglophone definition of historicism as (Hegelian and Marxist) teleological theory of history – a position precisely rejected byclassical German historicists....
Jessica Berry’s ‘The Legacy of Hellenic Harmony’ examines the philosophical significance of Germany’s long affair with Hellenic culture.
The central figure is art historian Johann Winckelman, who never set foot in the country whose cultural legacy he established. His pamphlet ‘Reflections on the Imitation of Greek Works in Painting and Sculpture’ (1755) became enormously popular and led to his A History of the Art of Antiquity (1764). Berry discusses the ‘Winckelmannites’, Lessing, Herder, Goethe and Schiller, and Kant’s contrasting neglect of Greek heritage. Kant’s few references are vague.When he comments on the utility of Platonic archetypes, Berry writes, he really means ‘if Plato were not in fact Plato, but Kant, he should be imitated’ (608)!....
Sebastian Gardner’s ‘Philosophical Aestheticism’ locates art and emotion in the grounds of philosophical thought. ‘Aestheticism’ here does not refer to, and indeed may conflict with, art for art’s sake, since ‘if art is its own end . . . no cognitive end may be attributed to it’ (76). (Distinguishing direct and indirect function may resolve this tension – Adorno for instance inherits the standpoint of art for art’s sake, whilst stressing art’s truth-content.) Kenneth Baynes’s ‘Freedom and Autonomy’ addresses freedom as selfgovernance, which he argues produced a Copernican revolution in practical philosophy as important as Kant’s critical epistemology. Positive versus negative freedom is also touched on in Fred Rush’s ‘Dialectic, Value Objectivity and the Unity of Reason’ in which he comments that Adorno was sceptical about both bourgeois, capitalist ‘negative freedom’, and selfactualizing ‘positive liberty’. James Finlayson’s ‘Political, Moral and Critical Theory’ addresses the Frankfurt School’s practical philosophy, commenting perceptively on Adorno’s ‘absent politics’.
I have focused my remarks on Idealism and Marxism, but there is equally wide treatment of Phenomenology and post-war French philosophy in this volume. Thomas Baldwin discusses ‘The Humanism Debate’ between Heidegger and Sartre, and others. He locates the classicist concept of ‘humanism’ as dating only from the later eighteenth century, but confusingly given the centrality of this use, Heidegger treats humanism as a metaphysical commitment to truth as representation. Michael N. Forster’s essay offers a wide-ranging survey of ‘Hermeneutics’.... Other very impressive essays include Robert Stern’s ‘Individual Existence and the Philosophy of Difference’, which contrasts Hegel’s solution of the problem of individuality with Deleuze’s critique; Herman Philipse’s ‘Overcoming Epistemology’; Stephen Mulhall on God’s place in post-Kantian philosophy; and ‘Morality Critics’ by Brian Leiter. This is a well-conceived and edited volume, and an excellent resource.
In sum, this handbook is a remarkable achievement. On the one hand, the scope of the themes and authors is large enough to count as an excellent overview of the many facets of continental philosophy; on the other hand, the creative and critical nature of the contributions provides a thorough and in-depth discussion of the trends making up continental philosophy. It is both a scholarly work providing a large amount of information and a philosophical work testing and assessing the originality and fruitfulness of continental philosophy. If a case had to be made about the relevance, originality, and fruitfulness of the continental approaches, this handbook makes it rather convincingly and brilliantly.
Thanks to the 740 readers who completed the poll about the blog from earlier in the summer. The results were mostly what I expected, except for the strong showing for substantive philosophical postings--we've done relatively few of those, but I infer they are welcome, and so I'll aim for more such discussions. I was also struck by the very strong interest in "issues in the profession" postings with opportunities for reader comments. These are undoubtedly instructive, and the main constraint on doing more of them is time to moderate the comments sections, but they will surely continue to be a major continuing feature. Given the turn away from regular political commentary awhile back, it was not surprising that the political categories were less popular with readers who remained, though they each still enjoyed, somewhat to my surprise, strong support from noticeable minorities of readers (almost 20% of respondents, for example, rated "Texas Taliban" alerts in their top five). Interestingly, a number of readers e-mailed me as the poll was going on to voice support for more political postings. And as one reader wrote: "Interesting that the religion and 'other ignoramus' categories are polling so low, despite the fact that those have huge response/comment rates. I wonder if the religious and other ignoramuses are voting out of self-interest in the poll…! I think you should keep excoriating them." I suppose it is reasonable to think readers who find "Texas Taliban"-style posts hitting too close to home would be less fond of this category. In any case, I don't expect to significantly increase or decrease those postings.
Either top spot (left or right) is still available for May, so we're slashing the price to $300 for each spot. Please contact me ASAP if you're interested.
There is also at least one top spot available for each month for the remainder of the year, including the peak traffic fall months (Sept and Dec have only one spot open at present, Oct and Nov have both spots available).
I will also offer a discount for anyone who takes a top spot for all three summer months (which would ordinarily be $810). Again, contact me for details on the summer discount.
...in the last two months, and I'm not quite sure why. It began in early January, and then, I think, it was due to previews of the now-published PGR. But it lasted beyond that, and continued to increase in February. Clearly the discussion of the petition to the APA, and now the counter-petition, has been a factor. But January and February were at levels of traffic (average 8,000 hits per day) usually not seen except in April right before decision time for PhD students). I'll be interested to see whether it lasts.
UPDATE: Well, I've now received lots of invitations to join other philosophers on Facebook as "friends," so that's at least part of the "what"! Thanks for the invites. I've also gotten invites from some people I don't know. Perhaps one of my new Facebook friends will write on my "wall" explaining the protocols of this to me.
Over the last 12 months, a number of folks have tried to reach "Brian Leiter" via a LinkedIn site I'd created ages ago--unfortunately, I then forgot the password. But I've now re-established access to it, for those for whom that might be relevant. I apologize for not replying to those who had tried to contact me that way.
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)