In eleven years of blogging, I've only once received a serious threat of legal action for something posted here--serious, not in the sense that the claim had any merit, but in that the person making the claim had a real lawyer and there was a real prospect of a nuisance lawsuit being filed. The case involved jeweler and self-styled metaphysician David Birnbaum, whose curious case we noted last year, and whose story was then picked up by CHE. The trouble did not start, however, until almost six months later when The Guardian contacted Mr. Birnbaum for a story they subsequently ran about him. From that reporter Mr. Birnbaum discovered my original post about the allegations of academic identity theft from Prof. Hagberg. This posting agitated him, so he phoned me up at the office.
The conversation didn't get off to a good start because within the first twenty seconds he used the word "defamatory"; I cut him off and said to him, "If you call up a law professor and start throwing around the word defamatory, then the conversation is over." This sobered him up and we had a pleasant chat and he assured me the whole matter with Prof. Hagberg was a misunderstanding, that he had documents to prove it, that my post was very upsetting to his children, etc. It was an odd ramble. I said to him if he could send me documents proving it was a misunderstanding, then I would revise or remove the post accordingly. I told him to e-mail me the evidence.
Mr. Birnbaum didn't, in fact, have any real evidence, but he did e-mail me. He also cc'd his lawyer, which meant our correspondence was at an end. This was a litigator with a major New York law firm; my best guess is that this lawyer represents Mr. Birnbaum in disputes involving his high-end jewelry business, where there is probably hundreds of thousands (or millions) of dollars at stake. But I think as part of the cost of keeping his client, he also has to handle Mr. Birnbaum's vanity litigations (Birnbaum apparently made similar threats against Bard College as well, though in the end did nothing).
Fortunately, I have the best lawyer in the United States (truly!), a friend I went to law school with years ago. It's not just that he's really smart and a person of extraordinary integrity, it's that he has impeccable and shrewd judgment, and knows how to handle people--a huge part of successful lawyering is understanding how to get people to do what the law requires without actually having to bring suit (though bringing suit is, of course, the final recourse for certain wrongs). Over the years, my lawyer has recovered bonuses and security deposits wrongfully withheld, secured revisions to factually inaccurate statements in a book put out by a major publishing house, and assisted me in dealing effectively with sundry cyber-crazies. In none of these cases was a lawsuit ever filed (though in one, as I recall, a draft of the complaint did motivate the miscreant to do the right thing).
I think it's not really fair to ask several million Scots to vote on the question of independence without input from the philosophical community. Therefore, as a public service, I present the following poll:
The good news is that it's clear more philosophers who actually have some idea what's going on are filling out the surveys (even I'm a participant now!), so the results in Philosophy are less totally worthless than before, though the halo effect looms large. (Bear in mind that the way their survey works is you are asked to name 10-15 schools that you consider good in the field--that's it!) But there's also data on citations and h-indices that are interesting (or simply curious)--unfortunately, QS still does not disclose the details of the faculty lists they use.
The overall "rank" factors in an employer score for the university, so that will obviously not have much if anything to do with the caliber of the philosophy faculty. I break out below the scores in some of the sub-areas that might have some relationship to faculty quality (I've done this only for the US schools, if someone wants to break it out for Canadian, British etc., I'll add a link):
Academic reputation according to the QS surveys
Remember that we have no idea who is completing these surveys, and, in the past, they had some rather dubious methods for soliciting participants. They also simply ask for lists of 10-15 leading departments, and that's it--so the least informed participants (e.g., the person who doesn't put NYU or Princeton on his/her list of the top 10) is the one who determines the outcome! Still, this starts off OK--though some of the surprisingly strong showings like Pitt and BU suggest to me that there are a lot of German respondents in the pool--but gets progressively weirder as one gets outside the top 10.
1. University of Pittsburgh (100.0)
2. New York University (93.9)
3. Rutgers University, New Brunswick (92.6)
4. Harvard University (86.7)
5. Princeton University (83.0)
6. University of California, Berkeley (82.4)
7. Stanford University (79.6)
8. Massachussetts Institute of Technology (79.2)
9. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (78.0)
10. University of Notre Dame (74.5)
10. Yale University (74.5)
12. Columbia University (73.5)
13. University of California, Los Angeles (73.1)
14. University of Chicago (72.8)
15. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (68.2)
16. Boston University (67.4)
17. University of Arizona (65.2)
18. Cornell University (63.5)
19. City University of New York (61.0)
20. Duke University (60.6)
Runners-up: Ohio State University (60.5) and Brown University (59.1)
Citations per paper
We don't know, unfortunately, what faculty lists were used for this exercise, but it tells a different story from reputation. I assume the Miami result includes Colin McGinn (but not Brit Brogaard).
1. Rutgers University, New Brunswick (97.4)
2. Stanford University (96.2)
3. New York University (92.3)
3. Princeton University (92.3)
5. Massachussetts Institute of Technology (90.7)
6. University of California, Riverside (90.0)
7. Yale University (89.5)
8. University of Arizona (88.7)
9. University of Notre Dame (85.9)
10. University of California, Berkeley (84.9)
11. Harvard University (84.7)
12. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (84.1)
13. University of Pittsburgh (83.1)
14. University of Massachussetts, Amherst (82.4)
15. Northwestern University (80.1)
15. University of Texas, Austin (80.1)
17. City University of New York Graduate Center (77.7)
18. University of California, San Diego (77.1)
19. University of Miami (76.3)
20. Duke University (75.6)
Runners-up: Penn State (75.2) and Brown University (73.9).
Dave Edmonds (known to many readres from Philosophy Bites, as well as books and his BBC programs) writes:
I am co-writing a book on the Vienna Circle – part biography, part philosophy - and wondered if I can ask for your readers’ help. Many of those linked to the Circle emigrated to the US and lived until the 70s/80s/90s. If anybody met or has any interesting stories or information about thinkers associated with the Vienna Circle, such as Gustav Bergmann, Rudolf Carnap, Herbert Feigl, Kurt Gödel, Karl Menger and Rose Rand (plus Carl Hempel, W.V.O.Quine and Alfred Tarski), I would love to hear from them. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or @DavidEdmonds100 (on twitter). Many thanks.
Eugene Park, a former PhD student in philosophy at Indiana University, Bloomington, recently wrote a piece purporting to explain his departure from academic philosophy in the Huffington Post (thanks to Sarah Stroud for the pointer.) Allowing that the bad job market had something to do with it, he then went on to say:
But, more importantly, as a person of color, I found myself increasingly uncomfortable in my department and within the discipline at large. Granted, a PhD program in any discipline will involve a certain amount of indoctrination, but the particular demands of philosophy were, in my view, beyond unreasonable.
As I discovered over the course of my graduate career, in order to be taken seriously in the discipline, and to have any hope of landing a tenure-track job, one must write a dissertation in one of the "core areas" of philosophy. What are these core areas? Philosophers quibble about how exactly to slice up the philosophical pie, but generally the divisions look something like this:
Metaphysics & Epistemology
Logic & Philosophy of Language
Philosophy of Mind
Such is the menu of choices available to the philosopher-in-training today. (See, for example, the PhD requirements at these prominent philosophy departments: Penn, Berkeley, and Duke.) On the surface, this might look like a wide range of options. But appearances are deceiving. For instance, the subfield of philosophy of mind does not typically engage at all with Indian, East Asian, African, or Native American ideas about the nature of mind. It's as if non-Western thinkers had nothing to say about the matter. Similarly, those who work in the history of philosophy work almost exclusively on the history of Western philosophy -- e.g., Plato, Aristotle, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Russell, Wittgenstein, etc.
So why don't Anglo-American philosophers engage with non-Western philosophical traditions? In my experience, professional philosophers today often perceive non-Western thinkers as inferior. Of course, few would say this explicitly. Rather, philosophers often point to non-Western philosophy's unusual and unfamiliar methodology as the primary reason for the disconnect.
There is much that seems to me strange and a bit dubious about this. Do we have any evidence that Asian-Americans generally expect the fields they study to feature Asian thinkers? And should we really add East Asian philosophers to the curriculum to satisfy the consumer demands of Asian students rather than because these philosophers are interesting and important in their own right? (Mr. Park, oddly, never explains, or even affirms, the merits of these thinkers.)
But what is quite surprising, and unsupported, is the claim that the absence of non-Western thinkers is due to Anglophone philosophers thinking them "inferior." I suppose some think that, but philosophers, who are quite opinionated as a group, no doubt hold every opinion under the sun. (My former colleague Herb Hochberg, about as unabashed an apologist for the most parochial conception of analytic philosophy imaginable, thought Kripke "inferior" to Russell.) My own impression, from having talked to a lot more philosophers than Mr. Park and for a much longer period of time, is that most Anglophone philosophers have no opinion at all about non-Western philosophy because they are simply ignorant of it. Some regret the ignorance, others think it is excusable since there are so many philosophical traditions in the world and one can only master so many, and others just don't think about it at all because it is possible to pursue an academic career in philosophy ignorant of a lot of things, including large swaths of the history of European philosophy (and the further back in the past we go, the more the boundary lines of "what's European, what's not" get harder to draw).
...of unintentional amusement. (You have to wade into the comments--and read the "response" by Ed Kazarian of Rowan University--to get the full flavor of this bizarre display.) (It is a testament to the abysmally low level of the discourse at NewApps that Jon Cogburn (not exactly my favorite blogger there) comes off looking like the paragon of rational virtue--he even got a shout-out from the wild Meta blog, Apparently, this latest incident has led Cogburn to quit NewApps too!)
ANOTHER: The faculty have also been rebuffed over attempted oversight of sexual harassment investigations:
Aya Gruber, a professor in the law school, said she feels knowledgeable about ODH policies and procedures, and yet the office is still intimidating.
"I have an intimate understanding of how ODH operates, and it makes me afraid," she said. "You can educate me until the day is long, but the fact of the matter is anybody can make a complaint about anybody to ODH, and it is an unreviewable, secret process."
...thankfully. (It's news to me that Camille Paglia is a philosopher, but in certain circles, I guess it turns out everyone is.)
(Thanks to Jim Klagge for the pointer.)
UPDATE: Tom Hurka (Toronto) writes: "The philosophers you link to are pikers compared to C.D. Broad -- Nietzsche was Miss Manners compared to him. Here's Broad on T.H. Green (taken from a forthcoming book of mine):
Broad did the same, saying Bradley was as inferior to Sidgwick in ethical and philosophical acumen as he was superior to him in literary style (FT 144) and making two brilliantly vitriolic remarks about Green. ‘Even a thoroughly second-rate thinker like T.H. Green, by diffusing a grateful and comforting aroma of “ethical uplift”, has probably made far more undergraduates into prigs than Sidgwick will ever make into philosophers’ (FT 144). And of a paper of Prichard’s criticizing Green: 'Seldom can the floor have been more thoroughly wiped with the remains of one who was at one time commonly regarded as a great thinker and who still enjoys a considerable reputation in some circles. A large part of the lectures is occupied with disentangling the strands of clotted masses of verbiage, in which inconsistency and nonsense are concealed by ambiguity.'"
Whatever the precise percentages, the vast majority of readers thought philosophy blogs have had some effect on the profession, most thinking that effect either somewhat positive or somewhat negative, but with others going further in both directions. For purposes of discussion, let's distinguish between what I will call Substantive Blogs like Certain Doubts and PeaSoup, which are primarily devoted to discussing substantive questions in particular areas of philosophy (e.g., epistemology or ethics) and Professional Blogs, which deal with various issues in the profession (as well as news of the profession), like this blog or Feminist Philosophers. Some others do a bit of both. (For amusement, I remind readers of this poll from just three years ago. NewApps, alas, imploded in the interim.)
So in explaining how or why you think philosophy blogs have had positive or negative effects on the profession, please make clear whether you are referencing Substantive Blogs or Professional Blogs, or both. I would prefer signed comments, but if you do not sign your name, please use a distinct moniker and you must include a valid e-mail address (I do sometimes e-mail to suggest how a comment might be made more constructive). Keep the discussion substantive, please, no bald declarations of praise or blame for this blog or any other.
[A] professional acquaintance of mine kindly sent me a link to your blog, where he had spotted the reference to my 1999 analytical article on Elisabeth Lutyens's Wittgenstein Motet. I've noticed a spike in traffic on my Academia.edu site since the reference was posted, and since I've been thinking of revising that article, I thought I would write.
I wrote that article as a grad student at the beginning of my dissertation research, and since then I've been able to make several trips to the Rare Book and Music Room at the British Library where I've uncovered a sketch among Lutyens's papers revealing an essential bit of music-structural information about the piece that I did not have when I wrote the article 15 years ago. As a result, I've been planning a major rewrite. My article showing up on a philosophy blog therefore seems like an opportune occasion to get some constructive feedback from scholars who know far more about Wittgenstein's and Nietzsche's ideas about language than I do, and who could direct me to more current research that might be particularly relevant to my article.
If you think it would be appropriate, I would very much appreciate it if you could post at least some of this message on your blog.
You can reach Dr. Parsons at the University of Victoria e-mail address, above.
Prof. Kirk Sanders, the Chair of the Department, writes, "The Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign today (August 28) approved the following resolution:
Whereas the recent words and actions of Chancellor Phyllis Wise, President Robert Easter, and the Board of Trustees in connection with the revocation of an offer of employment to Dr. Steven Salaita betray a culpable disregard not only for academic freedom and free speech generally but also for the principles of shared governance and established protocols for hiring, tenure, and promotion, the faculty of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign declares its lack of confidence in the leadership of the current Chancellor, President, and Board of Trustees.
Needless to say, they are right to lack confidence, and I join, I am sure, many other philosophers in commending them for taking this public stand.
The odd thing about this article is that neither of the two cases mentioned (David Barnett and Dan Kaufman) involve allegations of sexual harassment: Barnett was alleged to have retaliated against a student who complained about a graduate student, whereas Kaufman was the victim of gross wrongdoing by the university in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. And, oddly, the article says nothing about a third case in the Philosophy Department, which may turn out to involve sexual harassment (or may not).
Charles Kahn, Professor of Philosophy Emeritus at Penn, has been awarded the inaugural Werner Jaeger Award by the German Gesellschaft für antike Philosophie (GANPH). The award honors a famous and outstanding senior scholar in the field of ancient Philosophy and is named in honor of Werner Jaeger, one of the most influential figures in the study of ancient philosophy for the first half of the twentieth century.
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)