You've linked to two articles by Todd Gitlin recently. Both indicate troubling characteristics of college students that are possibly (at least in part) attributable to the influence that capitalism exerts on American culture (e.g. freshmen are now in general more interested in great financial success than "develop[ing] a meaningful philosophy of life," while in 1974 the latter was more strongly valued than the former - perhaps this is explicable in terms of changes in the college population, but from what I understand (uniquely capitalistic) economic forces may well be to blame). Then there are larger worries about growing depression among Americans (Gitlin speaks to this in one of the articles that you posted), which is sometimes vaguely explained as a product of an empty consumer culture that allegedly breeds nihilism. (A more expansive list of cultural problems supposedly produced by capitalism is offered by Terry Eagleton in Why Marx was Right: "Alienation, the ‘commodification’ of social life, a culture of greed, aggression, mindless hedonism and growing nihilism, the steady hemorrhage of meaning and value from human existence . . . .")
In light of the foregoing, my question is this: Are there any good, and relatively recent, books or articles that argue that capitalism has deleterious effects on American (or, more broadly, Western) culture? If there are, I've had little success in finding them. The Frankfurt School is clearly relevant here, but Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse were (obviously) engaged with a world substantially different from the current one, and the modern representatives of the Frankfurt School (e.g. Habermas and Honneth) repeatedly strike me as far too gentle with contemporary culture, possibly for fear of seeming too pessimistic.
Habermas basically abandoned the original critical/Marxian/Freudian aspects of Critical Theory in favor of a return to Kant. But the question posed is a good one. What would readers recommend by sociologists, historians, political theorists, philosophers etc.?
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY, AN INTERESTING DISCUSSION IN THE COMMENTS; MORE CONTRIBUTIOSN WELCOME
Stefan Sciaraffa (McMaster) calls my attention to a striking item by philosopher Elizabeth Barnes (Virginia); an excerpt:
I have sat in philosophy seminars where it was asserted that I should be left to die on a desert island if the choice was between saving me and saving an arbitrary non-disabled person. I have been told it would be wrong for me to have my biological children because of my disability. I have been told that, while it isn’t bad for me to exist, it would’ve been better if my mother could’ve had a non-disabled child instead. I’ve even been told that it would’ve been better, had she known, for my mother to have an abortion and try again in hopes of conceiving a non-disabled child. I have been told that it is obvious that my life is less valuable when compared to the lives of arbitrary non-disabled people. And these things weren’t said as the conclusions of careful, extended argument. They were casual assertions. They were the kind of thing you skip over without pause because it’s the uncontroversial part of your talk.
Now, of course, no one has said these things to me specifically. They haven’t said “Hey, Elizabeth Barnes, this is what we think about you!” But they’ve said them about disabled people in general, and I’m a disabled person. Even just thinking about statements like these, as I write this, I feel so much – sadness, rage, and more than a little shame. It’s an odd thing, a hard thing, to try to take these emotions and turn them into interesting philosophy and careful arguments. My first reaction isn’t to sit down and come up with carefully crafted counterexamples for why the views I find so disgusting are false. My first reaction is to want to punch the people that say these things in the face. (Or maybe shut myself in my room and cry. Or maybe both. It depends on the day.) It’s a strange thing – an almost unnatural thing – to construct careful, analytically rigorous arguments for the value of your own life, or for the bare intelligibility of the claims made by an entire civil rights movement....
Sally Haslanger once told me to trust my anger. That was some of the best advice anyone’s ever given me. I’m trying to learn how to take my anger and use it as motivation to keep writing, especially on those days when the thought of using philosophical arguments to push back against the status quo feels somewhere between overwhelming and pointless. And while feeling this way can be exhausting – in a way that writing about, say, metaphysical indeterminacy never was – it can also make the end result deeply special and meaningful in a way I wouldn’t have anticipated.
Thoughts from readers on the issues raised by Prof. Barnes?
Available here. Attrition appears to be much lower than when I was at Michigan in the late 80s and early 90s. In my class of nine (seven men, two women), the two women did not complete the program, but all seven men did eventually--and that was a good year. The following year, as I recall, only one or two students out of eight or so completed the program, and attrition of half or more of the class seemed to be the norm for the preceding years. A lot has changed in the interim: Michigan now offers better financial aid for all admitted PhD students than it did then; and the Department was a pretty ferocious place at that time (Peter Railton is alluding to this briefly in his Dewey Lecture); I think it is less so now.
I myself do not think on the evidence available that Prof. Barnett acted wrongfully (though without a doubt imprudently, as one of his colleagues suggested the other day), but I can certainly see how reasonable people could differ on that question. I am more astonished by the 10% who think that what Prof. Barnett did could constitute a firing offense for a faculty member with tenure.
I hope a Department looking to raise its profile in philosophy of language and mind, as well as metaphysics, will take advantage of the misconduct of Colorado's Administration in the Barnett case. In addition to having a strong publication record (papers in Mind, Philosophical Review, Nous, Australian Journal of Philosophy, Philosophy & Phenomenological Research and elsewhere), Barnett also got a Teaching Excellence award at Colorado a few years ago.
Just posted the Mary Louise Gill interview. It's interesting stuff. She talks about reading Gone with The Wind in secret at home (it was forbidden), being required to read J Edgar Hoover’s Masters of Deceit in the 6th grade, her father, John Glanville Gill—a unitarian minister who was eventually fired for being too radical --and his fight with the Ku Klux Klan in St. Louis, how she realized she was never really religious, being Chair of the Classics Department at University of Pittsburgh, a department the administration was itching to get rid of, finding out about and subverting a secret plan to get rid of Classics, suffering reprisals in the form of rumors, finding peace of mind at Princeton and, eventually Brown, teaching philosophy in China, and what she would do if she was a philosopher-queen!
[H]er latest publication, For the New Intellectual, offers a selection of those passages, with an overtly philosophical introduction which places the rest of the system in perspective. At last the eager student can get some sort of overview of the intellectual edifice which is presented for his acceptance. I must say at the outset that I have not found the offering very palatable. Not, let me hasten to add, because I disagree with the conclusions—free trade, a minimum of governmental interference in the economy, the immorality of altruism, are, I think, eminently justifiable intellectual positions. Rather it is the paucity of rational arguments, the frequency with which nonsense is offered as self-evident truth, the hysterical ranting against opponents who have had their views distorted beyond recognition, the amateurish psychologizing—in a word, the sloppiness of the whole thing, which forces me to regard it as a paradigm of philosophical incompetence. The temptation is to see it as a huge joke, a farce by means of which its creator can laugh at the gullible. But at the risk of being taken in I shall treat this book seriously, with perhaps only the popularity of the doctrine to justify the enterprise. My method shall be the following—I shall quote, sometimes at length, from the book, and then comment on the material presented.
And this from the conclusion equally sharp:
It is not difficult to understand the attraction Ayn Rand has for the uninstructed. She appears, I suppose, to be the spokesman for freedom, for self-esteem, and other equally noble ideals. However, patient examination reveals her pronouncements to be but a shroud beneath which lies the corpse of illogic. Those who are concerned with discovering the principles of a sound social philosophy can read and study libertarian thought at its best. The ludicrously mistitled “philosophy of Ayn Rand” is a sham. To those who are travelling her road I can only suggest its abandonment—for that way madness lies.
They have secured the resignation of philosophy professor David Barnett, whom a faculty committee found did not commit "retatliation" against a complainant in a sexual harassment case, with a payout of $160,000 to Barnett (roughly 1 1/2 years of salary and benefits), forgiving an $80,000 loan, and payment of his legal fees. Since philosophers don't really understand how lawsuits work, let me explain what actually happened here.
The University has been under intensive Title IX scrutiny for several years; toleration of sexual harassment in the philosophy department was the tip of the iceberg (those boys, now forced into early retirement or resignation, look like "saints" compared to some of the misconduct associated with the athletics program). Serial violations of Title IX can result in loss of all federal funding for a university (the Obama Administration has been aggressive in cocking the trigger on that gun); for a school like Colorado, whose areas of academic excellence (outside Philosophy) are overwhelmingly in the natural sciences and engineering, such a loss of funding would be fatal. So the University has been keen to show that the bad 'ole days are over. To that end, they actually got rid of serial sexual harassers and, allegedly, stopped the recruitment-by-rape program for football. Good for Colorado! But so fearful are the administrators at Colorado that they've now forced out a tenured professor whose only malfeasance was to write a report that tried to exonerate one of his grad students against hotly contested accounts of sexual misconduct.
So what does the settlement mean? It's pretty simple: the university knows its case for firing Barnett is pathetically weak; it knows there is a real risk he would prevail in litigation; it also knows that the University, unlike Barnett, can afford to spend years litigating the matter; so it has offered not only a cash settlement with Barnett but it has offered to pay his legal fees hoping, reasonably, to take advantage of Barnett's prudent risk aversion (five years of litigation, lawyer fees, he loses, etc.--for just a year, his legal fees are already 50K). Just for the record: you generally don't agree to pay legal fees when you're on the side of the angels. You do so when you have a chance of getting rid of a complicated legal problem--firing a tenured professor who didn't engage in a fireable offense--that it would be to your advantage to get rid of.
In short, this settlement says: We, the University of Colorado are acting wrongfully, but we are leveraging our superior financial position, to get the result we want, to show that we are Title IX saints, despite the sordid history.
I do not know David Barnett; I do not even know his work. The only time I ever posted about him was here. Some people have told me David Barnett is an asshole; perhaps so, though his enemies would seize the moment to say so. But that isn't a firing offense, or lots of philosophers would be fired, and for worse behavior than trying to defend graduate students they believed to be wrongly accused of sexual misconduct. (When the Velleman/Shulz story becomes public soon, this will be rather clear.)
As with many such cases, there is no doubt a lot that is not public. What is public suggests that Barnett has been wronged, and the terms of the settlement suggests that the University knows its position is legally dubious, but they hope to sustain it by virtue of superior resources.
In the current neoliberal environment for state universities--in which right-wing Governors like Scott Walker are eviscerating preeminent public universities, while others are privatizing their functions--this development can only be viewed with alarm.
ADDENDUM: It's indicative of Colorado's highly selective interest in alleged faculty malfeasance that it has not moved to fire Paul Campos, a law professor who is such a notorious charlatan and underperformer--one who even admitted in print that he is a fraud--that a Dean of another law school wondered in public about the case for firing him. But since there is no Title IX credibility at stake, the University, so far, isn't interested.
ANOTHER: A philosopher at Colorado writes:
Your diagnosis of the situation at Colorado was quite accurate. For the record, I can assure you that Barnett is not an asshole. It is true that he is not a terribly prudent person. He rather recklessly risked his career, and ultimately lost it, trying to defend a graduate student from an administration that became deeply invested in making an example, in the first instance, of the accused graduate student, and then of Barnett himself. Having placed an $825000 bet [the amount paid to settle the retaliation claim] on Barnett’s guilt (prior to having conducted any kind of inquiry into the accusations against him), they were never going to back down, notwithstanding the Privilege and Tenure committee’s not-guilty verdict. Barnett’s real character flaw was his rather naive faith in the willingness of administrators to respond to evidence and reason. (Some philosophers have no sense of audience.) There are a couple of assholes in the CU Philosophy Department - as there no doubt are in most large departments - but Barnett was not one of them.
AND ANOTHER: David Koepsell, a familiar noxious mediocrity to readers of this blog, tweets sarcastically, "Guess who thinks Barnett was the one wronged at Colorado." Apparently not Koepsell!
I was wondering if you could ask your readers for what they think is the best advanced introductory texts in their respective sub fields. I am thinking of something akin to Miller's excellent 'Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics' or Kymlicka's 'Contemporary Political Philosophy'. I found Miller's book to be very helpful and it would be nice to know what other advanced introductory texts are widely considered top notch (I'm most interested in suggestions for epistemology, philosophy of science, and normative ethics, but I suspect readers might be interested in advanced introductions for other areas too).
Miller's book is indeed an excellent example of the genre in question. (I have not read Kymlicka's, though have often heard it recommended.) In epistemology, I will note that I learned a lot in grad school from Laurence BonJour's The Structure of Empirical Knowledge, which was an important scholarly monograph in its own right, but hugely instructive about the state of the art in epistemology in the 1980s. Richard Miller's Fact and Method was similar in philosophy of science, but again also a bit dated now. Frederick Suppe's long introduction to the old The Structure of Scientific Theories was a terrific overview of main currents of twentieth-century philosophy of science through the early 1970s. I'm sure readers will have more current suggestions.
Here. Philosopher Clifford Sosis, the interviewer, writes:
In this interview, he talks about his childhood dealing with the death of his mother, an unsupportive father and the crushing British class system, his struggle with depression as an undergrad and grad student, discovering Philosophy via Descartes, dropping out of Rochester, getting divorced, turning around his career at Guelph, how he got into Philosophy of Biology, fighting creationists in the courts, finding love again, building a family, becoming an American citizen, his frustration with and deep respect for his colleagues (and philosophers generally), the way it appears the administration at Florida State University has handled the investigation of athletes accused of sexual assault, his beef with Thomas Nagel, spending a year in the South of France (and the steep cost), and, of course, his favorite curse word.
I've been reading Matthew Crawford's book with great interest, and I think your head suggesting that it's "against philosophy" is quite misleading. His analysis is explicitly philosophical and very appreciative of the discipline as a whole, although-like many other philosophers-he opposes a certain conception of the mind associated with modern thought. Even the review you link to makes clear that the book is a "philosophical inquiry". It's far from saying "Forget about philosophy and make something real."
I found that less clear from the article, so am grateful for Prof. Gutting's clarification.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM EARLIER TODAY--SEE KNOBE'S COMMENTS; ALSO COMMENTS ARE OPEN
Here, though it seems to have been limited to philosophy papers published only in 20 or so journals. You can guess why I noticed this, since my "Explaining Theoretical Disagreement," a paper in legal philosophy published in 2009, was cited 50 times, "The Demarcation Problem in Jurisprudence," another legal philosophy paper in 2011 cited 15 times, "Legal Realism and Legal Formalism: What is the Issue?" in 2010, another paper in legal philosophy was cited 40 times, and a paper with Michael Weisberg on legal theory and evolutionary biology in 2010, was cited 20 times. All four papers appeared in legal philosophy journals apparently omitted.
Vanity aside, the stunning thing to me on this list is the subject matter of most of the most-cited articles and what it says about the discipline in the Anglophone world.
UPDATE: Joshua Knobe (Yale) kindly writes with an explanation:
The list I put up is generated just by taking all of the papers listed under the category "Philosophy" in Google Scholar Metrics. I certainly don't mean to suggest that this list is perfect (clearly, it isn't); the advantage of this approach is just that it provides an unbiased sample, i.e., a sample that isn't at all influenced by my own beliefs or motivations. This makes it well-suited for studying questions in the sociology of philosophy, and I used it to conduct a quantitative study of recent work in the philosophy of mind.
Not sure if you would find this at all helpful, but I was thinking that it might be interesting to open up comments on your post. I would especially interested in hearing people's thoughts about what these data show about how the kind of philosophy people are doing right now differs from the kind of philosophy people were doing earlier (say, in the late 20th century).
...in The Washington Post of all places! It's quite a nice overview, and especially remarkable that it appeared in a mainstream outlet. (They do suggest, less plausibly, that the neglect of some of the early modern figures they mention has something to do with the underrepresentation of women in academic philosophy.) Herewith a question for other scholars and students of the history of philosophy: what do we know about why these figures were neglected? In every period I know something about there were figures of enormous importance in their day who are now largely unknown (e.g., Ludwig Buchner's Kraft und Stoff, a polemic and brief on behalf of materialism, was the best-selling book in Europe in the 19th-century after the Bible, though is almost wholly unknown today--Beiser devotes a chapter to Buchner and the materialist controversy in a recent book, the first extended treatment I had ever seen in English). Sometimes the explanation is changing philosophical fashions, something the explanation is that the work really wasn't very good (that's Buchner, in my view), and sometimes other kinds of bias and prejudice.
I will be starting my MA (terminal) programme in Philosophy in the Fall of this year, in Europe. I don't have a background in the subject and want to spend the few months before the session begins, in reading several works in the subject.
Could you please give (or ask on your blog or, perhaps, direct me to any pre-existing link) a list of "25 (or so) Must Read Books before starting Graduate School in Philosophy"?
Since I am only beginning to explore the various fields of the subject, I don't want to limit myself to any particular areas of interest.
This is a tough one, since many important books in philosophy are surely not profitably read on one's own; and what will count as "must read" will not be indifferent as between "fields of the subject." Even allowing for that, what would readers recommend? It might be particularly useful to say something about whether or not the book (or article) can be approached by someone without a background in philosophy.
[The student's] long-term boyfriend, Benjamin Yelle—a fifth-year graduate student in the department—described some of the correspondence [from McGinn], including several passages that he said were sexually explicit. Mr. Yelle, along with two professors with whom the student has worked, described one message in which they said Mr. McGinn wrote that he had been thinking about the student while masturbating.
Mr. McGinn once wrote to the student that they should "have sex three times in my office over the summer when no one else is around," Mr. Yelle says. He also says the professor once suggested that the student should wear shorts more often because he thought her legs were attractive.
Mr. McGinn says he never suggested to the student that they should have sex. He also says he merely told the student that her legs were "muscular." He is unwilling, however, to share the e-mails he sent to the student.
"Professor McGinn harassed, stalked, and preyed upon" the student, the summary of the complaint says. The professor touched her hands and feet, told her "you are mine," and proposed they have sex, the document says. The student, it continues, felt "hounded, suffocated, and trapped by his constant barrage of communications and need."
Officials at Miami ignored the student’s complaints and charged Mr. McGinn with violating its relationship policy as a way to get him out the door fast and to avoid further fallout, the summary of the complaint says. In that way, it says, officials "hijacked" the grievance process "to save UM a public scandal, rather than provide a fair accounting of Professor McGinn’s misconduct."
And some more here regarding Prof. McGinn's propensity to attack and defame anyone who doesn't adopt his version of events in its entirety. (Addendum to the last lilnk: I'm no longer confident there aren't First Amendment issues with the way some schools are interpreting "retaliation" under Title IX.)
...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.
MOVING TO FRONT (originally posted April 21)--MANY INTERESTING COMMENTS, MORE WELCOME
This question, from the open thread, deserves separate notice and discussion:
Could we start a discussion on what philosophers have found to be the most surprising positives and surprising negatives of becoming a professional philosopher (or PhD grad)? It may help me, and perhaps others, with my decision to apply to PhD programs or not. If there is a similar thread with many comments, a link would suffice. (I'm aware of the poor job market, so hopefully there are other comments.)
I was just sent a copy of the appellate court's opinion, concerning this case, and it turns out the earlier news article misdescribed the trial court's decision rather badly, making it sound as though the judge thought the article admitted of an "innocent construction" because the "sting" of allegedly groping someone was the same as the "sting" of being accused of rape. That was a terrible argument, which suggested bias on the part of the judge against the plaintiff. But based on the appellate court's decision, that wasn't the "innocent construction" argument at all: rather, the articles admitted of an innocent construction because they did not name Ludlow (or the student for that matter), and so could not constitute defamation per se. That is a very different, and actually more plausible, argument, at least given American libel law which, as we have noted before, is more friendly to defamers than libel law in any other democracy.
UPDATE: Weinberg has uploaded a copy of the opinion 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)