From the chapter "Of Liberty and Necessity" from the Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding:
The general observations treasured up by a course of experience, give us the clue of human nature, and teach us to unravl all its intricacies. Pretexts and appearances no longer deceive us. Public declarations pass for the specious coloring of a cause. And though virtue and honor be allowed their proper weight and authority, that perfect disinterestedness, so often pretended to, is never expected in multitudes and parties; seldom in their leaders; and scaracely even in individuals of any rank or station.
A priceless observation from philosopher Alan Thomas (Tilburg), which he gave me permission to share:
I think you would have to be Balzac or Dickens to capture philosophers' current form of competitive self-assertion: the manifestation of the exquisite delicacy of one's own moral feelings. Perhaps social media invites this kind of preening-as-concern. Or is that concern as preening?
UPDATE: Alas, as I feared...Dr. Roger Albin, Professor of Neurology at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, writes: "There are about a 100 things reported to be effective in AD mouse models. This is a good research group with solid data but the validity of these models is an open question."
This is an open letter on behalf of the Harvard Philosophy Department’s Graduate Student Organization. We were very concerned to learn about the public attacks by Marquette Professor John McAdams against Marquette graduate student Cheryl Abbate.
Anyone who teaches ethical theory will have to manage conversations involving politically sensitive topics, and in doing so, it is impossible to express agreement with every student on every occasion. Indeed, part of the point of an ethical theory course is to equip students to examine critically even their most deeply held views on moral issues.
These are sound and sensible points. But then the letter continues:
However one may characterize Cheryl Abbate’s way of managing a discussion of same-sex marriage inside or outside the classroom, she ought not to have been subject to the public attack orchestrated by Professor John McAdams. As a foreseeable result of this attack, Cheryl Abbate has been subject to an overwhelming volume of hate mail and threats, as well as negative attention in national media. In initiating this flurry of attacks, we believe that Professor McAdams exploited the power differential between a professor and a graduate student.
Universities owe their graduate students—who are among the most vulnerable members of their communities—a guarantee of protection from this kind of treatment. But at Marquette, we were recently disturbed to learn, Cheryl Abbate was put in a position where her best option was to transfer out of her doctoral program.
We call on Marquette to articulate a clear policy for protecting its graduate students from abuses by more powerful members of its community.
There is much that is strange about this, in roughly ascending order of significance:
1. Ms. Abbate was able to transfer to a much better program (Colorado), a silver lining in an otherwise dark rain cloud. It's hard not to see her as being better off professionally in the end, despite the ugliness that prompted her to transfer.
2. Professor McAdams's creepy behavior was not in any way facilitated by "the power differential between a professor and a graduate student." Note, first, that McAdams is, despite his many years in the academy, still merely an Associate Professor of Political Science. And apparently even his local institutional clout is so meager that the University is unabashed to suspend him without a hearing. More importantly, since Ms. Abbate was a student in the philosophy department, McAdams had no power over her at all. What enabled him to ignite a right-wing firestorm was his ability to use his blog to tap into a pre-existing network of "conservative" social and traditional media that love narratives about intolerant liberals in the academy. This has nothing to do with power differentials between faculty and students; graduate students, after all, have pulled the same kind of stunt against tenured professors! There is a serious problem with the way in which social media is used to harass faculty and students, which we have noted before, and universities ought to defend their teachers and students against such attacks, as they sometimes do, but not by punishing faculty or student speech.
3. In this regard, I do wonder what these graduate students are asking Marquette for by way of "a clear policy for protecting its graduate students from abuses by more powerful members of its community"? Presumably, the University already protects students, including instructors, from sexual harassment, physical assault, and other unlawful misconduct. But is it to protect them from speech critical of their pedagogy? How can a university, consistent with a commitment to free speech and inquiry, including about its own teaching and research, possibly "protect" anyone from that?
IMPORTANT UPDATE: A PhD student in philosophy at Harvard writes:
As a PhD student in the philosophy dept. here at Harvard, I wanted to write you regarding your recent post on your blog, entitled “More on the Marquette Case.” As you noted there, a letter was written by the “graduate students in philosophy at Harvard,” addressed to the Dean at Marquette. However, not all the students in our department approved of this letter, and indeed, some of us wanted not to send it. It was sent because we were outnumbered in a straight vote about whether to send it; effectively we had no choice after that vote.
I, for one, agree with your analysis of the latter half of the letter, and wanted to clarify, for what it’s worth, that the letter does not speak for all the students of the department. Rather it represents some of the more politically-inclined folks who get riled up about these sorts of things and then take action ‘on behalf of the students’ as soon as they have a straight majority. There is at least some significant minority of us not represented by this letter.
I had suspected as much, but it's good to have confirmation of this fact.
ANOTHER: Jeremy David Fix, another PhD student at Harvard (who gave permission to use his name), writes:
While I did not help compose the letter, the voting process did not require a 'straight majority'. A 75% majority was required to pass the motion and send the letter. This requirement was clearly stated in the open graduate student meeting where the letter was discussed, the email that asked for the vote through an anonymous online survey, and the email that confirmed the result of the vote, as far as I remember. Though my colleague is correct that "not all the students in our department approved of this letter, and indeed, some of us wanted not to send it", the actual percentage of supporting votes was significantly higher than 75%. Whatever the validity of the concerns about the content of the letter, this letter in no way indicates that the graduate community is overrun by politically motivated folks illegitimately pretending to speak for others.
I agree that there is no evidence that "the graduate community is overrun by politically motivated folks illegitimately pretending to speak for others," and I did not interpret the original e-mail, above, that way. The unknown is how many of the graduate students actually voted (my originally correspondent thinks only about 20 of the 40 students in the program voted). In any case, the important point, given that the letter is not very sensible, is that not all Harvard graduate students supported it.
...at The Atlantic. It's telling, I think, that the University of Kansas law professor's experience with his students is different than Professor Suk's at Harvard. My suspicion is that this has something to do with class background and coddling, with places like Harvard at one extreme, while the students at Kansas are less accustomed to having their narcissistic neediness indulged and so more willing to accept that as part of their professional education they must discuss uncomfortable topics.
What the editorial says seems right--in shorter form, the U.S. is a lawless, criminal nation on the international scene, but we all knew that, right?--but what it omits is the role the Times, like most of the mainstream media in the US played, in shilling for war and offering apologetics for criminality until such apologetics could no longer be sustained. After all, the report describes standard operating procedure of the CIA for decades.
UPDATE: Some highlights of American tax dollars at work. As with most important moral questions, there were no hard philosophical questions here.
This is a solid explanation of the legal standards, which make these outcomes predictable. Remember, also, that a grand jury proceeding is not adversarial: it is only the prosecutor presenting evidence, and if the prosectuor is skeptical that an indictment is appropriate, there's no one arguing the other side.
Philosopher Andrew Levine (emeritus, Wisconsin) comments:
Nowaday...all we hear about, in liberal circles especially, is civility. It is a virtue not much practiced, but extravagantly praised.
The idea that civility should be maintained at all times – in politics especially — is a conceit of recent vintage. Perhaps, in a different possible world, some good could come of it. In the actual world, it is more likely to be disabling than constructive.
A wiser principle would be to accord civility only where civility is due — to persons and opinions that, right or wrong, really do merit respect.
This standard would rule out capitalist predators.
But class hatred is hard to maintain towards a few very conspicuous late model capitalists: the kind behind iPhones and Google searches and social media. They seem too hip to hate...
Yes, they are the modern day counterparts of the tycoons workers used to hate, but who can hate tycoons who provide consumers with harmless, well-designed and eminently useful deli.ghts; and who offer user-friendly services that nearly everyone these days finds indispensable.
Could it be that they are the vanguard of a friendlier, hipper – nicer – capitalism? It appears so.
The Republican agenda for next year also includes several changes for the University of Wisconsin, according to Vos. He said that he wants to ensure that faculty spend more time teaching, and that research is geared toward helping the state's economy.
“Of course I want research, but I want to have research done in a way that focuses on growing our economy, not on ancient mating habits of whatever,” said Vos. “So we want to try to have priorities that are focused on growing our economy.”
Vos and Joint Finance Committee Chairman John Nygren were asked whether they were open to a budget request by the UW that would increase funding for the System by $95 million dollars. Nygren called that a “tough sell,” saying he didn't think the state should make up for funding the System lost as part of a mandatory tuition freeze.
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)