Politician Ron Johnson and columnist Christian Schneider have claimed that assault weapons don't need to be banned because they already are. They say this to deflect attention from the AR-15-style weapons used by the Orlando murderer, since his weapon was a semiautomatic, and since it shares the same kind of reloading mechanism used in many other kinds of rifles that are primarily used for sport — target or hunting — and does not deserve the pejorative "assault" adjective.
Weapons are tools of intent. Black-powder muzzle loaders are obviously weapons used with the intent to hunt, and to do so with particular skill, given opportunity. Bull-barrel blowback semiautomatic pistols are intended to hit targets accurately without reloading after every shot (I own one). Blowback and recoil-operated shotguns with tube magazines are intended to allow better chances to kill waterfowl in flight (as improved over older double-barrels).
And then there's a lightweight, gas-operated, rapid-fire semi-or-fully automatic that fires high-powered but small-bore cartridges, complete with high-capacity magazine and (usually) a field hand-grip/sight first designed by the U.S. government for the single-minded purpose of what is genially called "anti-personnel field combat." What would you call that?
If that murderer in Orlando had used a classic Gatling gun, it would not have been automatic or semiautomatic by contemporary parlance. It is a single-fire rapid-repeating mechanically driven weapon that, using the vocabulary of Johnson, et al, would not have been an "assault weapon."
Shame on them for using mere words to try and wash away obvious truths about what should be public policy.
All the best suggestions for improving the PGR have come, without exception, from those who contributed to it over the years. Almost all the other criticisms were on the spectrum from self-serving to silly. The PGR was a fabulous resource, unlike anything else in any field, that let prospective students in on the secret sociology of the hierarchy in the profession. I hope it can continue, but the “slave revolt” in philosophy exacerbated by the Internet is now a real obstacle.
Could you explain the term "slave revolt" for folks unfamiliar with Nietzsche?
By “slave revolt,” I’m alluding to Nietzsche’s idea that our Judeo-Christian morality arose from an inversion of previous values, an inversion that was self-interested, but in the interest of the “slaves,” literal and otherwise. I do think what’s happened in the last few years is that people who aren’t very good at philosophy and/or feel otherwise marginalized in the profession have taken to the Internet, and under various high-minded sounding moralized banners—equality, fairness, inclusiveness and so on—have launched an attack on the idea of philosophical excellence and smarts.
Now along comes the latest example, a presentation on "Prestige: The first and final hurdle for a more inclusive philosophy," though it might just as well have been called, "Excellence: The first and final hurdle for a more inclusive philosophy." The author, philosopher Helen De Cruz, has a PhD from the University of Gronignen, and is, I am guessing, concerned that those, like herself, from non-prestige departments are unfairly excluded from professional opportunities in philosophy. Now she herself is an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Oxford Brookes University (not part of Oxford, but a separate institution in the same town), so she has done well, but might, of course, be doing better were if not for the supposed "prestige" bias.
Since I know nothing about her work, it may well be that Professor De Cruz is someone who has been a victim of pernicious "prestige" bias. Pernicious prestige bias is when someone thinks that because someone got a PhD from Fancy Pants University they must be competent (or, the reverse). That's bullshit and pernicious, of course, and the PGR upset that apple cart a long time ago. But what most cyber-complainers call "prestige bias" is that hiring departments prefer candidates from well-regarded departments. That's plainly true, but perhaps well-regarded departments are so-regarded because they are actually departments with very good faculty and very goods student? Prof. De Cruz never fairly considers that possibility. Non-pernicious prestige bias is simply a rational and time-saving heuristic for identifying candidates with excellent qualifications trained by excellent faculty, attributes that, in the PGR era, are well-tracked by what's now called "prestige." As Prof. De Cruz notes, "prestige" bias is a feature of academic hiring in all disciplines; the difference in philosophy is that it no longer simply tracks "brand name" universities, but now reflects where the strongest clusters of philosophers and students actually are. (In what other academic field does everyone know that two of the very best programs are at NYU and Rutgers? There is none.)
"Excellence" doesn't, in reality, exclude any demographic groups, except the mediocre.
[Hume] was...deeply and systematically concerned with issues and problems of religion -- especially as they concern the corruption of both philosophy and morality. These themes and issues inform much of what motivates and directs Hume's thought. They constitute, moreover, the strong, sturdy spine of Hume's thought and his intellectual achievement. The whole body of Hume's thought, like the Treatise itself, is to a considerable extent shaped, animated and directed by these core concerns and issues. Harris's study systematically obscures and distorts these features of Hume's fundamental motivation and thought and, as such, to use Harris's own language, does "harm" and poses a real "danger" to our understanding and appreciation of Hume's life, work, and achievement.
It's a bit astonishing that Cambridge University Press would publish something so misguided.
UPDATE: It has been pointed out to me that Professor Harris wrote a complimentary but critical review of Paul Russell's book on Hume making the case for the centrality of religion, and critique of religion, to Hume's corpus. That review is not, alas, on-line, but can be found in Philosophical Books 50 (January 2009): 38-46. So this is clearly a fault line in Hume scholarship, though the Russell position seems to me the more compelling, but readers interested in this debate should consult Prof. Harri's review of Russell. (Recall also this earlier review notice.)
A couple of weeks back, I had the privilege of visiting Springfield, Missouri, for a public lecture on "Why Tolerate Religion?", and then meetings with students at the three colleges there: Missouri State University; Drury University; and Evangel University. (As a sidenote, it was the Templeton Foundation and the Institute for Humane Studies that made my visit possible, plus the excellent organizing of Prof. Brandon Schmidly from Evangel. And if you're in Springfield, make sure to go to Bruno's, great linguine & clams, and apparently everybody else enjoyed their pizzas, calzones etc. [thanks to Daniel Kaufman from MSU for taking us there!].)
ADDENDUM: The YDN piece suggests that five full professors in the Yale Department did not sign; they are clearly counting all those with courtesy appointments in philosophy (some of those did sign, as it happens, but several didn't--they may not even have known of it, I do not know). But of those whose tenure home is Philosophy, only two did not sign: Gendler (for legitimate reasons noted originally) and Karsten Harries (for reasons unknown).
Prior to news articles published last month by BuzzFeed and HuffPost, some professors had been working behind the scenes to share what they knew about Pogge’s behavior and to encourage other academics to shun him. Those sorts of individual efforts are continuing in light of the public allegations.
Sterba, for instance, said he’s no longer including Pogge’s work in exams for his graduate students.
“You don’t need him. He carries too much baggage — he doesn’t have to be cited anymore,” Sterba said. “He’s a negative image and we don’t need that. Maybe if he was Einstein we’d have to cite him, but he’s not.”
I fully understand not inviting Prof. Pogge to conferences, given the allegations that he uses them as dating opportunities (or worse), but not assigning his work when it is relevant to the topic? Really? That's educational malpractice, as far as I can see. But let's see what readers think.
Via Weinberg, I learn that the Chair in Philosophy of Religion at Rutgers, supported in part by a grant from the Templeton Foundation, is now official. Taking a somewhat longer view, this is an interesting development. William Alston, a philosopher of language and epistemologist who eventually became a leading figure in the "Analytic Christian Mafia" in philosophy (besides Alston, Alvin Plantinga, Robert Adams, Richard Swinburne, William Rowe, William Wainwright, George Mavrodes, and others were major players), taught at Rutgers in the early 1970s, though spent most of his career at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor and Syracuse University. When Rutgers catapulted to the top ranks of philosophy departments in the late 1980s it was with the appointments of resolutely naturalistic and non-religious philosophers like Jerry Fodor and Stephen Stich. The renaissance in Anglophone metaphysics in the 1990s and afterwards, which often went hand-in-hand with philosophy of religion, reached Rutgers in the 2000s when, at one time, John Hawthorne, Ted Sider, and Dean Zimmerman were all members of the faculty. Zimmerman remains, and has become the anchor for the strong philosophy of religion presence at Rutgers as well.
I agree with John Martin Fischer (UC Riverside) about the reasons why, even from a non-theistic perspective, philosophy of religion is of interest. Alston (as well as Platinga, Adams et al.) were apologists for religious belief, of course, so one may hope that this new Chair will honor Fischer's vision of the importance of the field, and that philosophers of religion who do not only do apologetics will be considered.
Story here (with a link to the letter). One notable absence among the Yale faculty signatories is philosopher Tamar Gendler, who is also a Dean, and so presumably not in a position where she can take a public position on what may become a disciplinary matter under her jurisdiction. (I was not aware of this letter until this morning, though it is consistent with points I've already made.)
ANOTHER: A couple of readers point out that Prof. Mercer's affidavit consists mostly of "hearsay," i.e., she is reporting what others asserted. (Formally, hearsay is an "out-of-court statement offered to prove the truth of the matter asserted," as distinct from live testimony from a witness with personal knowledge of the matter.) That is certainly correct. But hearsay evidence is relevant evidence, and sometimes highly probative, especially when it comes from someone like Prof. Mercer well-placed to have had access to those with reliable knowledge. One might discount a single piece of hearsay evidence, but here there are multiple pieces of such evidence, conjoined with a fact, namely, that Prof. Pogge was sanctioned by Columbia for some kind of sexual misconduct. (In most jurisdictions, where judges are triers of fact, hearsay is much easier to admit into evidence than in the U.S.--though even in the U.S., hearsay is frequently admitted--because it is assumed that professional jurists will know how to discount the weight of such evidence when appropriate. In this instance, given the source and the variety of instances, the hearsay evidence is clearly probative.)
I should note, since some have inquired, that I have not signed the letter (initially, I didn't realize new names could be added). I've already made clear here my views about the allegations on more than one occasion. In addition, I was put off by the fact that a quarter of the initial signatories were repeat players with a track record of reckless accusations who will sign anything, regardless of the merits; this is unfortunate, given that enough allegations in this instance are meritorious. Finally, the most significant fact about the letter was that it was signed by all but two of Professor Pogge's tenured colleagues in the Philosophy Department (one of whom, Gendler, had very good reasons for not signing, as noted originally); others signing at this point (when there are already 700 signatures or thereabouts) seems to me just piling on for no real purpose. The condemnation by his colleagues who are closest to what has transpired is sufficiently damning in my view.
I'll be on Gurvey's Law tomorrow (Saturday) from 2-3 pm Pacific time, 790 KABC talk radio. Not sure whether it is live-streamed. I had an enjoyable conversation with Mr. Gurvey, who studied philosophy as an undergraduate Brown (wrote a senior thesis with Dan Brock I learned on omissions and consequentialism) before becoming a lawyer. We cover a lot of territory, from Nietzsche to legal positivism and more.
I'm particularly pleased to report that my colleague Martha Nussbaum is the winner of the 2016 Kyoto Prize for "Thought and Ethics," previously awarded to Charles Taylor, Jurgen Habermas, W.V.O. Quine, and Karl Popper, among others.
Let me begin by thanking all the people who signed the Change.org petition to save the WIU philosophy major. Though I have signed quite a lot of petitions, I used to think signing them was silly, and now I know they are broadly ineffective. But what I didn’t anticipate was the feeling of emotional and psychological support the kind words of friends and strangers from across the globe could provide. So, thank you.
It will come as no surprise to those paying attention that the Board of Trustees has voted unanimously to authorize the elimination of philosophy and three other programs at Western Illinois University, but readers may be interested in how this happened so quickly over the last two weeks.
I'm hopeful that Professor Pynes will post more about what's going on and what this vote will mean. There are three philosophy faculty, including Professor Pynes, though theirs is also a unionized faculty, which provides more protection in a situation like this. However, it is possible that those with less seniority may lose their positions as well.
Johnny Brennan at the ACLS has kindly sent alone the results of the latest competitions:
As our current competition season has come to an end and all fellows have been announced, I wanted to let you know of the 11 philosophers who were awarded one of our fellowships for their outstanding work. I thought you and your readers would be interested to know of their impressive accomplishments:
Roger Ariew, Professor, University of South Florida (with Erik-Jan Bos, Independent Scholar) ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship A New Critical Edition and Complete English Translation of the Correspondence of René Descartes
Lauren Ashwell, Associate Professor, Bates College Frederick Burkhardt Residential Fellowship for Recently Tenured Scholars (for residence at Harvard University) Projection and Desire
Brendan de Kennessey, Doctoral Candidate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship Joint Practical Deliberation
Joy Gordon, Ignacio Ellacuría, S.J. Chair in Social Ethics, Loyola University Chicago ACLS Fellowship Perfect Injustice: The United Nations Security Council and the Question of Legitimacy
Tyler Huismann, Doctoral Candidate, University of Colorado Boulder Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship Aristotle on Accidental Causation
Mary Kate McGowan, Luella LaMer Professorship of Women’s Studies and Professor of Philosophy, Wellesley College ACLS Fellowship Just Words: Speech and the Constitution of Harm
Andrew J. Mitchell, Associate Professor, Emory University (with Kevin C. Karnes, Professor of Music, Emory University) ACLS Collaborative Research Fellowship Wagner and the Subject of Redemption: Politics, Erotics, and Religion in the Music Dramas
Samuel Reis-Dennis, Doctoral Candidate, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship I Do Blame You: Responsibility in Real Life
Julia Staffel, Assistant Professor, Washington University in St. Louis ACLS Fellowship Unsettled Thoughts: Reasoning, Uncertainty, and Epistemology
Daniel Ludwig Sutherland, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago ACLS Fellowship Kant's Philosophy and the Question of Mathematical Knowledge
ADDENDUM: The list Mr. Brennan sent omitted one other recipient of a Mellon/ACLS Dissertation Completion Fellowship, to Adriana Solomon, a PhD student in the History and Philosophy of Science program at the University of Notre Dame working on Newton. (Thanks to Graham Clay and Mousa Mohammadian for flagging this for me.)
A philosopher and historian of ideas, Professor White spent the bulk of his academic career at Harvard University and then the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton; the IAS memorial notice is here. His 1949 book Social Thought in America: The Revolt Against Formalism was probably his most important and influential, enjoying a wide audience among intellectual historians, legal scholars, and others.
This is an excellent book. Garrett provides a comprehensive yet concise introduction to Hume's thought that should be accessible to newcomers to Hume, including upper-level undergraduates. It is not especially ground-breaking; much of the book is based on work Garrett has published in papers over the past two decades and in his 1997 book, Cognition and Commitment in Hume's Philosophy. Nonetheless, even those already familiar with his work will find it illuminating to see how interpretations that were previously published separately fit into his unified interpretation of Hume's thought.
You can get your copy here! (And, yes, this is in the series I edit, so I am not an impartial observer.)
Let me introduce myself - I am Esmat Zeerak, a high school student based in Kabul, Afghanistan. I am really interested in learning and reading philosophy. I started reading philosophy books at an early age, around 11 years old, starting with the ancient texts of Aristotle and dialogues of Plato, from books that my brother had brought back from his college years in the U.S. Though I have learned a lot, and have immersed myself in these books, I know that I still have a lot more to read and understand.
The problem however is that I need guidance and recommendations and someone who I can regularly discuss the topics that I am reading with. I was hoping if you could be the person I could ask for guidance. I know that you might be a very busy person, and you may not have the time to have these discussions with me, however I would really appreciate it if you could share this email with your students or anyone who might be interested to have these discussions and provide guidance.
Please let me know and I would gladly answer any questions you may have!
I corresponded with Mr. Zeerak, and got his permission to post this. You may contact Mr. Zeerak at firstname.lastname@example.org (which is a great e-mail address!). I hope some readers will reach out to him.
Philosopher Brian Powell (Western Illinois) asked me to share this statement he wrote, and I am happy to do so:
In Defense of Philosophy
I first discovered philosophy in a public library in Kansas. I was wandering the stacks looking for something; I didn’t know what. All I knew was that I did not feel at home in the world—I didn’t care about the same things that the people around me cared about. I found Plato’s Republic and it saved my life. I’m here to testify that this sort of thing happens all the time: philosophy saves people’s lives. My best friend from Grad school found philosophy at a community college in rural Virginia. Having been introduced to Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, Marx, and Sartre, he stopped doing drugs and counted these, the great thinkers, as his new community—the community of scholars in which one lives the life of the mind.
Western Illinois University’s administration has recommended the elimination of the philosophy major. The Board of Trustees will vote on the matter Friday, June 10. I write in defense of the philosophy major.
As a philosophy professor at Western Illinois University, I have the privilege of introducing hundreds of students to philosophy each year. Most of these students didn’t know there was such a thing as philosophy before entering my class, and many of them leave transformed. In the philosophy classroom they are lead to think more deeply and rigorously than they have ever done before. Some of these students find philosophy so transformative that they decide to pursue it as a major. These students, the majors and non-majors alike, become better thinkers and more reflective people. That’s what we do—philosophy professors—we show people how to think better and deeper and become more reflective people.
Philosophy is about asking the most fundamental questions: How should I live? What is justice? What is truth? How can we tell science from pseudoscience? In this way, we follow Socrates. After asking these questions we pursue the answers with the rigorous methods of careful reasoning. Good reasoning—that’s our real expertise—the study of good reasoning is called logic, and Aristotle was its most important ancient practitioner.
All of this has always been central to the academy. The academy even gets its name from the study of philosophy. It was the name of Plato’s school. Still today the highest degree conferred by any university is the Ph.D.—the doctor of philosophy. The university, higher education, the academy, the life of the mind—these began with philosophy. This is why the Provost’s Academic Enhancement Task Force identified philosophy as one of six foundational disciplines for Western Illinois University in the fall of 2015. A university that turns against philosophy appears to turn against its very foundation. This is why many of WIU’s most prominent emeriti professors have come out publicly against the elimination of the philosophy major.
Please consider contacting those listed below and asking them to retain the philosophy major at WIU.
A propos this story, Professor David Scott Kastan (English, Yale) kindly shares "another heavyweight champion and philosopher story" that is probably better-known than the one about Ali and Russell:
Oxford philosopher A.J. Ayer's classic work Language, Truth and Logic, in which he put forward the central theses of Logical Positivism, was published when he was just 24. Ayer is said to have been a man in whom "intellect and the senses were unusually highly developed at the expense of the faculties of feeling and intuition". He had a talent for picking up unlikely people, and while staying in New York had befriended the fashionable underwear designer, Fernando Sanchez. It was at a party being held by Sanchez that Ayer, like Kant before him, was required to use all his skills of reason. Ayer was standing near to the entrance of the designer's apartment, chatting with a group of young models and designers. There was a commotion as a young woman rushed in, saying her friend was being assaulted in the bedroom. Ayer went to investigate and found heavyweight champion Mike Tyson pestering a young model just embarking on her career, Naomi Campbell. Ayer asked the boxer to desist but he was unwilling. "Do you know who the fuck I am?", Tyson warned Ayer "I'm the heavyweight champion of the world". "And I am the former Wykeham Professor of Logic", Ayer replied calmly. "We are both pre-eminent in our field; I suggest that we talk about this like rational men".
Note, of course, that many listed jobs, especially around 2008-2010, may not have been filled due to budgetary pressures. Philosophy listings are down 50% from their recent high a decade ago, and below where they were in 2002-03.
Thanks to philosopher Cheyney Ryan (Oxford) for sharing this anecdote from Ali's biography:
When Ali encountered a distinguished, ninety-something English fellow prior to his fight with Henry Cooper, he asked him his opinion on the outcome.
“Our ‘Enry’s capable but I think you’ll win.”
Ali responded, “You’re not as dumb as you look.”
He had no idea at the time he was addressing the eminent philosopher and pacifist Bertrand Russell and later wrote to him to apologise. Fortunately, the author of Principia Mathematica took no offence at Ali’s backhanded compliment and the pair exchanged correspondence until Russell’s death in 1970, with Russell writing Ali letters of encouragement concerning his stand on the Vietnam war.
(Russell corresponded with Ali offering material from his Vietnam War Crimes Tribunal for Ali's legal defense for refusing conscription.)
As a kid in Manhattan, I can still recall huge posters advertising "Cassius Clay." I'm pretty sure they were leftover from before he changed his name.
This is from the self-review by the UCLA Department of Philosophy in 2012 (which has been making the rounds on social media); it's a useful reality check on a lot of the blather in cyber-space:
This guides our approach to hiring: we place a premium on finding creative, talented people who can contribute to the intellectual life of the department. Like many top philosophy departments, we view raw intellectual talent as a sine qua non of an appointment; it's the lifeblood of any thriving philosophy department. Even so, we are mindful that there are specific areas in which we are understaffed....While different members of the department balance these needs differently, all are agreed that, in the matter of appointments, a first-rate department must give highest priority to quality of mind: better a gap than a stopgap.... (p. 3)
I think there's little question that the latter represents the actual thinking of almost all the top-ranked PGR programs. On the other hand, what follows seems to me more UCLA-specific:
Although much of the best philosophical work occurs in journal articles, we think it is important to avoid letting this create a bias toward quantity of publication. The best articles are rare creatures. It is our expectation that work of this quality will be done by our colleagues. This standard is shared by many of the best departments in the profession. It can create a problem for us, though, when authorities at a higher level of review are unaware of the standards that prevail in the better departments in our discipline: not only do philosophers tend to have fewer publications than those working in other disciplines (especially in the humanities), but very good philosophers often publish fewer--and more searching--articles than less good philosophers. (pp. 4-5)
Pogge also wrote that he passed a polygraph test. (He sent a letter to the Register from the Center for Investigation and Forensic Polygraph, which stated that during the April 21 polygraph Pogge was truthful in his denial of having touched Lopez Aguilar inappropriately.)
See page 45 of the just-released agenda items. A report prepared by a university committee for the Provost had not recommended closure, but had recommended other measures to reduce costs (see the report to the Provost here: Download APER Committee Report). My frequent guest-blogger Professor Christopher Pynes, who is a Professor of Philosophy at Western Illinois, tells me via e-mail that he is on the road at the moment, but I hope he will be able to post about these developments before long and advise about ways in which readers might help avert this catastrophe.
UPDATE: Roger Clawson is the Chair of the Board of Trustees--his e-mail contact information is here. Remember that they face a difficult budgetary situation; what they need to hear about is the value of philosophy. It would be particularly nice for professionals outside academia, who studied philosophy as an undergraduate, were to contact Mr. Clawson about the value of their undergraduate course of study. I will be writing to Mr. Clawson as well, since was fortunate to be a Mary Olive Woods Lecturer there a few years ago, and was very impressed by the faculty and the students I met. (There are some more details about enrollments here from the Philosophy Department Chair.)
ANOTHER: A wonderful letter from Prof. David Ozonoff, a cancer epidemiologist at Boston University, which he kindly gave me permission to share:
Dear Trustee Clawson
I am sure you will hear from many professional philosophers about the value of their discipline and asking you to reconsider any decision to discontinue it at WIU. I am not a philosopher, but a physician-epidemiologist. Epidemiology, as I am sure you know, is the study of the distribution and determinants of diseases in population, and throughout my rather long career I have concentrated on cancer epidemiology, especially the detection and analysis of cancer clusters. My current research is quite theoretical but aimed at finding efficient methods to mine large datasets for clues to the causes of cancer.
This may not sound very close to philosophy but for the last six months I have been deeply immersed in the philosophy of language and philosophical logic because they hold the keys to some of the most intractable puzzles in cancer epidemiology. In particular, untangling the interaction of the criteria for when something “causes” something else is at the heart of current practice (so-called causal inference). I use the work of academic philosophers on a daily basis. Indeed, I have read little else in the last 6 months but books and papers on philosophical logic, much of it quite technical. Because I am not a philosopher, I depend heavily on the expositions and research of today’s academic philosophers for my work. This is a connection I suspect would not have occurred to you, but it is the cutting edge of today’s epidemiological analysis. The first book has now appeared on the Philosophy of Epidemiology by Alex Broadbent (who has also written a well-regarded text on Philosophy for Graduate Students). This is an exciting career future for today’s philosophy student.
I was a Department Chair for 26 years at a School of Public Health at a major research university and am well aware of the budgetary pressures, required work-arounds and compromises needed to keep the lights on and the roof from leaking. I am hoping that in this case, one of those compromises won’t result in the loss of an excellent and well-regarded Department that is at the core of a liberal arts university and a discipline of emerging importance in the field of public health.
With best wishes and respect for the difficult job you do,
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)