NY Times reports, including a link to the Science article. Haven't had time to read the article carefully; any readers care to comment on which results of interest to philosophers failed the reliability tests?
Recently -- in May -- Dan Garber and I had a friendly debate in which we discussed both matters of interpretation of Spinoza and the issue of methodologies for the study of history of philosophy. On the former topic, the focus was on Dan's criticisms of my PSR-based interpretation of Spinoza in my book for the Routledge series. The debate took place at Yale as part of our early modern workshop and was well attended by folks from Princeton as well as from Yale and elsewhere. The event was recorded and it was entitled "Philosophical Superheroes?". (A similar debate recently appeared in the pages of the Journal of the History of Philosophy.)
You can see the video of the debate here (scroll to the bottom).
While advisors and committees are important, it can be incredibly helpful to discuss one’s work with peers in a lower-stakes environment, and it can be particularly enlightening to do so with those who take a different approach or have a different focus. Not only that, but there is evidence from psychological research that thinking about problems in relation to persons who are geographically distant can increase creativity. With students in programs from 8 countries and 20 different U.S. states, Virtual Dissertation Groups are a great (free!) way to capture some of these benefits.
The setup is simple: Students participate in three-membered groups, with one student each month sending a short-ish piece of writing to the other two for comments.
Torbjorn Tannsjo, Kristian Claëson Professor of Practical Philosophy at Stockholm University, asked me to share the following experience he recently had.
Dylan Matthews, a philosophically-minded editor at Vox.com, solicited Professor Tannsjo to write a piece for Vox on the "repugnant conclusion." More precisely, Mr. Matthews wrote:
I'm an editor for the US news site Vox.com, and we're trying to start a new series where philosophers and other thinkers argue for provocative and/or counterintuitive propositions that our readers might find intriguing.
I'm a big fan of your work from my undergraduate years — there aren't a lot of fellow hedonic utilitarians in philosophy! — and in particular found your argument for accepting the repugnant conclusion very compelling. It's a fascinating problem, and one that's fairly easy for lay readers to get into — people care about population size, and "We have a duty to make the world's population as large as possible" is a proposition that demands peoples' attention.
I'm writing to ask if you'd like to write up a popular version of your argument on this for Vox.
After inquiring about its status after a period of silence, Prof. Tannsjo received the following from Mr. Matthews:
Afraid I have to be the bearer of bad news, Torbjörn. I ran the piece by some other editors and they weren't comfortable running it; I think the concern is that people will misinterpret it as implying opposition to abortion rights and birth control, which, while I know it's not your intent, is a real concern.
I'm sorry to waste your time; I really am a big fan of your work and appreciate your willingness to work with me.
As Prof. Tannsjo remarked to me this sorry affair illustrates "how sensitive abstract philosophical reasoning sometimes is"--and also, I might add, how difficult it is to translate it for a mass audience which apparently is more concerned with taking the "correct" view than with the reasoning.
UPDATE AUG. 26 (EVENING): This item has gotten a lot of traction, so much so that the Vox editor has responded. If I were feeling generous, I would describe the response as pathetically stupid. Prof. Tannsjo actually supports free abortion, as he told me. But what he supports or doesn't support is not the issue! If you solicit a piece from a philosopher, knowing what their work is about (as was clearly the case here), you have an obligation to publish it, subject to reasonable editing. What you can't do, if you are an even remotely serious operation (and not an echo chamber), is reject it because someone not paying attention might think the argument supports a conclusion they find icky. This rule for adult, scholarly discourse applies to the so-called "right" and to the so-called "left." Vox will be hard-pressed to get any serious scholars to write for them after this. But the same warning applies to so-called "conservative" sites (who are terrible offenders on this score too). If you really want to challenge your readers, then invite serious people with serious arguments, and don't reject them because their conclusions might be deemed offensive to casual readers. The Socratic ideal, which so many profess allegiance to, and so few act on, is to let the arguments run their course. That is what Vox failed to do.
AUGUST 27 UPDATE: I asked Prof. Tannsjo whether he cared to respond to Vox's response, and he sent me the following:
As Vox admits, they solicited a piece from me on the ”repugnant” conclusion, it went through a thorough editing procedure, and it was eventually rejected. I quoted the reasons that were given for the rejection, a concern that ”people will misinterpret it as implying opposition to abortion rights and birth control, which ... is a real concern”. To put it mildly, Vox has wasted my time. Furthermore, it is indeed bad policy to defend a right to free abortion and to refuse to take seriously the moral problems abortion gives rise to. That’s what pissed me off. Now other reasons are given. The argument I gave is not convincing enough for us /Vox/ ”to stand behind a conclusion so sweeping and dramatic”. But I, and not Vox, would have stood behind the conclusion! Of course, the argument is, given the context, very simplified. It would not convince a fellow philosopher. That was not the intent. But those who take a real interest in the subject can read the chapter on abortion in my recent book, Taking Life. Three Theories on the Ethics of Killing (Oxford UP) upon which the short article is built and to which a reference was given. Or, they can read my ”Why We Ought to Accept the Repugnant Conclusion” in the scholarly journal Utilitas (2002). Finally, there is an entry on the repugnant conclusion in Standford Encyclopedia of Philosophy which I have co-authored with Gustaf Arrhenius and Jesper Ryberg.
Via Steve Gross (Johns Hopkins) on facebook, I come across this interesting review by my part-time colleague Michael Forster (Bonn) of what looks to be a quite substantial collection on The Impact ofGerman Idealism, edited by Karl Ameriks. In his discussion of an essay by Robert Pippin arguing that "a standard 'impositional' reading of Kant's theoretical and practical philosophies is only superficially correct," Forster writes:
Both in the theoretical and in the practical cases, the positions in question seem to be susceptible to, and indeed to cry out for, empirical confirmation or disconfirmation: in the theoretical case by empirical psychology, in the practical case by a hermeneutically sensitive interpretation of people's moral judgments. Pippin does not seem sufficiently aware of this fact. Moreover, in the only case where he himself invokes empirical considerations in this spirit, namely in relation to the question of whether animals ever really correct themselves (as shown, for example, by manifesting embarrassment over a mistake) (383), he gives a negative answer based on his experience with his own dog that is both (a) methodologically unsound (induction from a single example -- or at best, a single limited type of examples -- to a very general conclusion) and (b) in fact mistaken (for example, the cognitive ethology literature on chimpanzees is full of cases of self-correction).
Here's where tenure-track (junior) faculty in 2015-16 (with the tenure home in philosophy) at the top 25 U.S. programs (list below the fold) earned their PhD or DPhil; the first number is the total number of graduates in tenure-track positions at the top 25 U.S. programs; that is followed by the Department's PGR rank in 2014 and in 2006-08, the report many of those now in tenure-track jobs might have been using when deciding where to get their PhD.
1. New York University (11) (#1 in 2014, #1 in 2006)
2. Rutgers University, New Brunswick (7) (#2 in 2014, #2 in 2006)
3. Massachussetts Institute of Technology (6) (#13 in 2014; #7 in 2006)
3. Princeton University (6) (#2 in 2014, #3 in 2006)
3. University of California, Berkeley (6) (#10 in 2014; #12 in 2006)
6. Yale University (5) (#5 in 2014; #16 in 2006)
7. University of California, Los Angeles (4) (#10 in 2014; #7 in 2006)
7. University of Pittsburgh (4) (#6 in 2014; #5 in 2006)
9. Harvard University (3) (#6 in 2014; #7 in 2006)
9. Oxford University (3) (#1 in UK in both 2014 and 2006)
9. Stanford University (3) (#8 in 2014; #6 in 2006)
12. Columbia University (2) (#10 in 2014; #10 in 2006)
12. Cornell University (2) (#17 in 2014; #16 in 2006)
12. University of Arizona (2) (#13 in 2014; #13 in 2006)
12. University of California, San Diego (2) (#23 in 2014; #20 in 2006)
12. University of Maryland, College Park (2) (#31 in 2014; #27 in 2006)
12. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (2) (#13 in 2014; #10 in 2006)
12. University of Texas, Austin (2) (#17 in 2014; #13 in 2006)
12. University of Toronto (2) (#1 in Canada in both 2014 and 2006)
I've only listed overall rankings, but in the cases of departments outside the top ranks, the graduates who landed in top 25 programs worked in specialty areas where the program was even more highly ranked.
Each of the following programs has one PhD graduate in a tenure-track positions at one of the U.S. "top 25" departments: Michigan, Oklahoma, Cambridge, Paris I, Leeds, UC Irvine, Notre Dame, King's College-London, Catholic, Southern California, and Groningen. Of the top-ranked PGR programs, Michigan is, as in the past, the clear under-performer relative to its faculty strength. USC has, of course, only recently entered the top ranks of PhD programs, and I fully expect its placement to improve accordingly.
Below the fold, I list the graduate programs of the tenure-track faculty by each school; please e-mail me with corrections.
There's a brief notice here in Finnish (though Google translate does a pretty good job with it). Hintikka taught at the University of Heslinki, Stanford University, Florida State University, and Boston University, where he was professor emeritus. He made seminal contributions to mathematical and philosophical logic, but also wrote widely on other topics in philosophy. I will add links to English-language memorials as they appear.
UPDATE: Philosopher Brad Wray kindly sends along the English-language announcement from Helsinki:
A philosopher of science and physics, Professor Shimony was a longtime member of the Department of Philosophy at Boston University. There's a brief announcement at the BU page with a link to a longer memorial notice.
This paper is forthcoming in an issue of the leading European journal devoted to the Frankfurt School, Analyse und Kritik, in a special issue on an important topic in Marxist theory, namely, "The Normative Turn Away from Marxism." The abstract:
Marx did not have a normative theory, that is, a theory that purported to justify, discursively and systematically, his normative opinions, to show them to be rationally obligatory or objectively valid. In this regard, Marx was obviously not alone: almost everyone, including those who lead what are widely regarded as exemplary “moral” lives, decide and act on the basis of normative intuitions and inclinations that fall far short of a theory. Yet self-proclaimed Marxists like G.A. Cohen and Jurgen Habermas have reintroduced a kind of normative theory into the Marxian tradition that Marx himself would have ridiculed. This essay defends Marx’s position and tries to explain the collapse of Western Marxism into bourgeois practical philosophy, i.e., philosophizing about what ought to be done that is unthreatening to capitalist relations of production (more precisely, practical philosophy that is addressed to individuals, that is primarily concerned with what to believe, and that is obsessed with moral trivialities).
Part I argues that the Marxian account of revolution under capitalism presupposes only that the agents are instrumentally rational (and thus Marx is, for all important purposes, a Humean). Part II offers a kind of intellectual genealogy of the rise of bourgeois practical philosophy in America, England, and Europe, focusing, in particular, on Cohen and Habermas, but also Peter Singer. Various forms of intuitionism (Moore, Rawls) are central to the story in the Anglophone world, while the crucial event in the European context was the merely philosophical challenge to instrumental rationality launched by Horkheimer and brought to Kantian fruition by Habermas.
Part III concludes with some speculative structural hypotheses about why Marxism should have collapsed into irrelevant normative theory over the last half-century, noting the political and legal purge of Marxists in both American and Germany, as well as the massive expansion of the university system and the premium placed on an appearance of a “method.”
Editors: Patrick Grim (Logic & Formal Semantics, Philosophy, Stony Brook), Sara Aronowitz, Zoe Johnson King, Nicholas Serafin (all Philosophy, University of Michigan)
Rachel Barney, JC Beall, Ned Block, Ben Bradley, Tyler Burge, David Chalmers, Andrew Chignell, David Christensen, Gregory Currie, David Danks, Keith DeRose, Cian Dorr, Lisa Downing, Julia Driver, Adam Elga, Brandon Fitelson, Stacie Friend, Alan Hajek, Ned Hall, Elizabeth Harman, Verity Harte, Gary Hatfield, Benj Hellie, Christopher Hitchcock, Des Hogan, Brad Inwood, Simon Keller, Tom Kelly, Joshua Knobe, Marc Lange, Brian Leiter, Neil Levy, Martin Lin, Peter Ludlow, Ishani Maitra, Shaun Nichols, Paul Noordhof, Derk Pereboom, Jim Pryor, Greg Restall, Geoffrey Sayre-McCord, Richard Scheines, Mark Schroeder, Laura Schroeter, Ted Sider, Michael Slote, Scott Soames, Roy Sorensen, Peter Spirtes, Johan van Benthem, Mark van Roojen, Peter B. M. Vranas, Ted Warfield, Eric Watkins, Sam Wheeler, Jim Woodward, Gideon Yaffe
After the Kipnis fiasco several weeks ago, one in which, unfortunately, philosophers played a starring role, a law colleague asked me "Are all philosophers nuts?" Well, not all, but certainly plenty of them lack professional judgment, as we have had occasion to note before. Still, given the awful publicity for academic philosophy, one might hope that philosophers would think twice before providing further evidence to an unflattering narrative about the field. But, as Sartre said, one must live without hope.
Toronto's Joseph Heath wrote an insightful and sensible piece about the overblown rhetoric in the media about "political correctness," but then identified a more serious problem with one current of academic work:
Often when journalists talk about [political correctness], what they have in mind is old-fashioned language policing. Now I must admit, it is still possible to find this sort of thing in the nooks and crannies of academia. For example, one academic reviewer took exception to a line on the dust-jacket of my recent book: “Over the last twenty years, the political systems of the Western world have become increasingly divided—not between right and left, but between crazy and non-crazy,” condemning my use of the term “crazy.” Apparently it is “ableist.”
So yeah, this sort of thing still exists. What’s important is that it is no longer taken very seriously. This sort of verbal policing is the academic equivalent of a stupid pet trick – one that everyone knows how to do, and most people get over by end of undergraduate. In mixed company, using a term like “ableist” provokes a lot of eyeball-rolling, and is generally recognized as a good way of ensuring that no one outside your own very small circle will take you seriously.
There is, however, a deeper problem that has not gone away. This is the phenomenon that we refer to as “me” studies....
[S]ome people take the advice, to “follow your passion,” as an invitation to choose a thesis project that is essentially about themselves. For example, an old friend of mine in Montreal studying anthropology wrote her Master’s thesis on, I can’t remember the exact title, but it was something like, “Negotiations of difference in Quebecois-Jewish couples on the Montreal Plateau.” At the time, she was living with a Jewish guy on – you guessed it – the Plateau. So she basically wrote an MA thesis about issues in her own relationship. This is classic “me” studies....
Where “me” studies can easily become more problematic is when people decide to study, not their own lives per se, but rather their own oppression. Now of course oppression, in its various forms, is a perfectly legitimate topic of inquiry. Indeed, many of the forms of social inequality that we tried to eliminate, over the course of the 20th 1century, have proven remarkably recalcitrant in the face of our efforts....
[W]ho is best positioned to study these various forms of oppression. After all, we all live in the same world that we are studying. So who is best positioned – those who suffer from it, or those who do not? The inevitable conclusion is that neither are particularly well-positioned, since both will be biased in the direction of producing theories that are, at some level, self-serving, or self-exculpatory. Thus the best arrangement will be one in which lots of different people study these questions, then challenge one another to robust debate, which will tend to correct the various biases. This is, unfortunately, not how things usually play out. Instead, the field of study tends to attract, sometimes overwhelmingly, people who suffer from the relevant form of oppression – partly just for the obvious “me” studies reason, that the issue is greater interest to them, because it speaks to their personal ambitions and frustrations. But it can also set in motion a dynamic that can crowd out everyone who does not suffer from that particular form of oppression.
In terms of the quality of academic work, the results of this can be really disastrous. I can’t tell you how many people I’ve met, who specialize in some form or another of “critical studies,” who are among the worst critical thinkers I’ve met. It’s because they lack the most important skill in critical thinking, which is self-criticism – the capacity to question one’s own view, and correct one’s own biases. And the reason that they’re so bad at it is that they have never had their views seriously challenged....
The problem is that, when you’re studying your own oppression, and you’re obviously a member of the oppressed group in question, people who are basically sympathetic to your situation, but who disagree with your specific claims, are going to be extremely hesitant to challenge you, because they don’t want to appear unsympathetic.....So you are only going to hear from two types of people – those who are sympathetic but want to take a more radical stance, and those who we might label, for convenience, “jerks,” which is to say, people who are both unsympathetic and who are, for one reason or another, immune to any consideration of what others think of them....
I don’t know how many talks I’ve been to where the question period goes this way. Someone presents a view that a solid majority of people in the room think is totally wrong-headed. But no one is willing to say things like: “I don’t think that what you are saying makes any sense” or “you have no evidence to support this contention” or “the policies you are promoting are excessively self-serving.” The questions that will be asked come in only two flavours: “I’m concerned that your analysis is unable to sustain a truly emancipatory social praxis” (i.e. “I don’t think you’re left-wing enough”), or else “you people are always whingeing about your problems” (i.e. “I’m a huge, insensitive jerk”).
Then of course, out in the hallway after the talk, people say what they really thought of the presentation – at this point, a whole bunch of entirely reasonable criticisms will get made, points that probably would have been really helpful to the presenter had they been communicated. The end result is a perfect example of what Timur Kuran refers to as belief falsification (not a great term, but Kuran’s work on this is very interesting). So basically, practitioners of “me” studies suffer from a huge handicap, when it comes to improving the quality of their work, which is that only people who are extremists of one sort or another are willing to give them honest feedback....
This dynamic may help to explain why the reaction that so many “me” studies practitioners have to criticism becomes so highly moralized. They begin to think that all criticism of their views arises from some morally suspect motive. This is what then gets referred to as “political correctness,” namely, the tendency to moralize all disagreement, so that, instead of engaging with intellectual criticism intellectually, they respond to it punitively.
At the FP blog, Jenny Saul (Sheffield) then called attention to a "great piece" by philosopher Audrey Yap (Victoria) responding to Heath; Saul singled out this passage in particular as evidence of the "greatness":
Western philosophy in general has too much in the way of “me” studies, namely straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men studying other straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men. This, as far as I can tell, has narrowed the discipline in general, much to its detriment.
This was such an obvious non-sequitur on Heath's argument, that I originally thought it had to be misquotation, but, alas, it was not. Apparently the author thinks that the philosophical systems of Descartes, Hume, and Kant are usefully explained as being about their own experience as "straight, upper-middle-class, cis, heterosexual white men." This kind of mindless identity politics is not the face that philosophy should put before the world.
UPDATE: Reader S. Wallerstein writes:
In fact, contrary to what Audrey Yap claims, traditional philosophy does not represent the point of view of heterosexual males, because so many famous philosophers were probably gay (if that term has any meaning before the mid 20th century) or did not marry (were they asexual or homosexual?). Philosophy begins with Plato, who seems not to have been heterosexual. The term "upper middle class" refers to mid 20th century and early 21th century social conditions and I doubt that anyone would call Plato "upper middle class" nor could they call Hume "upper middle class" nor Descartes nor Nietzsche nor Marx nor Engels nor Spinoza. Professor Yap should study some history and she would learn that "white, heterosexual upper-middle-class" is a category that only makes sense within the context of contemporary U.S. and Western European societies.
By the way, it's Foucault, whom I always thought was beloved by the "me studies" crowd, who points out that the term "gay" (and hence, the term "heterosexual") has no meaning before the late 19th century, that's there a history of sexuality, of how we categorize these things. I don't know if Foucault's research can always be relied on, but it's obvious that the Greeks had no idea of "heterosexuality" and "homosexuality" in our sense and it seems that in Shakespeare's time, in England at least, they didn't see things that way either.
ADDENDUM: Audrey Yap claims she doesn't understand the point of the preceding. I will help: the point was to call attention to mindless identity politics of a kind that philosophers should oppose. The point of posting Mr. Wallerstein's comment was that it made some nice points, and was funny. Prof. Yap thinks this is 'adversarial': well, yes, I was criticizing something I thought deeply misguided. Prof. Yap's reply is also "adversarial" and tries to score points.
Prof. Yap reports she believes that "everyone's social position affects their thinking." I believe that too; I think the class position of academics is, for example, quite important to understanding what they spend their time on; indeed, I think it's very helpful in understanding a lot of academic identity politics. (Even more important, with Nietzsche, I think one needs to understand the non-rational psychology of people [their cruelty, malice, envy, resentment, fearfulness etc.] to really understand the meaning of what they say and do, superficial appearances notwithstanding.) But Prof. Heath's original essay was not disputing this: indeed, he conceded that the social situation of those studying the oppressed will bias their approach, whether they are oppressor or oppressed. His point, as I read him, was that when the oppressed study themselves, they tend to do so extremely uncritically, moralizing their positions instead of defending them with evidence and arguments. Yap's reply was a non-sequitur with regard to Heath's article, though she now says she was being "sarcastic." Sarcasm only works, however, if it's responsive to what was being said.
At the FP blog (where there isn't even a link to this post!), a commenter "Susan" makes a nice point:
Audrey, I don’t think that you’re reading Leiter’s response to you correctly or charitably. Leiter called your response to the Heath piece a “non-sequitur,” and hence, he gave a philosophical reason for his implicit conclusion that your piece, whatever its independent merits, was not argumentatively relevant to the Heath piece that you took yourself to be responding to. Many top-notch articles and books in philosophy, as well as blog posts, personal conversations, etc. correctly and non-aggressively use a charge of “non-sequitur” to advance an argument. Thus, your claims that Leiter “wrote a dismissal” and that this dismissal was caused by a “preoccupation with adversariality” are simply false and unfounded, respectively. A dismissal, on the other hand, would not have provided a compelling reason for thinking that your piece was not argumentatively relevant to the Heath piece. In honesty, I agree with Leiter here that your piece does not engage with the claims made by Heath, changes the subject, and then declares a conclusion irrelevant to Heath’s to be probable or proven.
I can not resist noting, for the annals of the New Infantilism, that instead of linking to this post directly, Prof. Yap uses something called "do not link" to link to it. Yap and co-conspirators apparently believe that by doing this, they do not add to the google prominence of this blog. Alas, it's way too late for that.
Some entity called "TrueSciPhil" tweeted to me the following list of philosophers on Twitter based on their total followers. The total number of followers is a bit misleading, since it seems to be affected by how many other twitter users the philosopher follows (if you follow someone, they often follow you in return, or so it appears). By the ratio of "followers" to "following," Daniel Dennett is far and away the most genuinely "followed" twitter philosopher, with a ratio of 3,231 followers for each person Dennett follows. Alain de Botton, by contrast, comes in at 649 followers for each person he follows. Peter Singer does better than that, with a ratio of 898 to 1. Patricia Churchland clocks in at 163 to 1, Peter Boghossian at 261 to 1, and A.C. Grayling at 98 to 1. I clock in at 113 to 1, while Luciano Floridi registers at about 2 to 1.
From this, I think it's safe to include that this list is meaningless.
...in The Guardian. I was astonished that Baggini asserts that, "Another priority is to make philosophers understand better the psychological effects which interfere with their supposedly clear, rational thinking. They should all know, for example, about Sally Haslanger and Jennifer Saul’s work on how psychological phenomena such as implicit bias and stereotype threat might be at work in their subject." But as we saw in an earlier discussion, it's not clear stereotype threat in the gender case is even real (there have been failures to replicate, and worries about publication bias in the results that are out there); implicit bias, by contrast, is real, but the scope of the effect is also quite unclear. It seems well-established that implicit bias influences superficial evaluations (e.g., skimming CVs and evaluating them), less clear that it influences careful reading and scholarly assessment. That some philosophers have effectively misrepresented the state of the psychological research is now fairly clear, but that should not lead the community to ignore more obvious problems affecting the number of women in philosophy, like explicit bias and sexism, as well as sexual harassment.
Reader Jason Palma kindly sends along this link (which I may have posted before) which is relevant to the "Effective [sic] Altruism" movement we've been discussing; this may be the most honest thing any member of the ruling class ever published in The New York Times:
Inside any important philanthropy meeting, you witness heads of state meeting with investment managers and corporate leaders. All are searching for answers with their right hand to problems that others in the room have created with their left. There are plenty of statistics that tell us that inequality is continually rising. At the same time, according to the Urban Institute, the nonprofit sector has been steadily growing. Between 2001 and 2011, the number of nonprofits increased 25 percent. Their growth rate now exceeds that of both the business and government sectors. It’s a massive business, with approximately $316 billion given away in 2012 in the United States alone and more than 9.4 million employed.
Philanthropy has become the “it” vehicle to level the playing field and has generated a growing number of gatherings, workshops and affinity groups.
As more lives and communities are destroyed by the system that creates vast amounts of wealth for the few, the more heroic it sounds to “give back.” It’s what I would call “conscience laundering” — feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling a little around as an act of charity.
But this just keeps the existing structure of inequality in place. The rich sleep better at night, while others get just enough to keep the pot from boiling over. Nearly every time someone feels better by doing good, on the other side of the world (or street), someone else is further locked into a system that will not allow the true flourishing of his or her nature or the opportunity to live a joyful and fulfilled life.
From the "Critique of the Kantian Philosophy," an Appendix to The World as Will and Representation:
[T]he most injurious result of Kant's occasionally obscure language is, that it acted as exemplar vitiis imitabile; indeed, it was misconstrued as a pernicious authorisation. The public was compelled to see that what is obscure is not always without significance; consequently, what was without significance took refuge behind obscure language. Fichte was the first to seize this new privilege and use it vigorously; Schelling at least equalled him; and a host of hungry scribblers, without talent and without honesty, soon outbade them both. But the height of audacity, in serving up sheer nonsense, in stringing together senseless and extravagant mazes of words, such as had previously only been heard in madhouses, was finally reached in Hegel, and became the instrument of the most ponderous general mystification that has ever taken place, with a result which will appear fabulous to posterity, and will remain as a lasting monument of German stupidity.
...and gives money to charity and now feels good about himself. How much harm is he doing by working at the hedge fund? I guess that doesn't count. How much good would he and the hedge fund managers do if they gave all their money to Bernie Sanders? Can't be measured effectively, so doesn't count.
I agree with most of what Pete Mills writes here (scroll to page 4); some excerpts (sorry about the font problems):
In practice...80,000 Hours has one dominant answer to the problems of the worst-off: in most cases, it turns out the right thing to do will be to embark on a high-paying career, get rich, and donate some of the proceeds to particularly efficient charities. What 80k offers is not neutrality, but a degree of certainty. It gives you a metric, a number – of lives saved – which you can use to evaluate your career choices. In fact, this method makes the ostensibly difficult ethical decision about what to do with your life rather simple. For the vast majority, the best choice proves to be what 80k calls “professional philanthropy”: a long march through the banking institutions. That is the novelty of 80k. The problem is political. 80k’s avowed neutrality serves to conceal the political logic of its practice. Professional philanthropy does not just involve making your peace with the system – it means embracing it. The unstated imperative: don’t rock the boat. As a banker, or a corporate lawyer, or a management consultant, what enriches you is your position in a set of profoundly exploitative social relations, which we might label capitalism....
The result is a toxic political quietism. As a professional philanthropist, the size of your donations depends on the size of your company’s profits. Your interests are aligned with the interests of capital. Anything that might disrupt production – from taxes on the wealthy at home to a strike of factory workers abroad – is potentially suspect. It is no accident that 80k’s professionalised account of political change is limited to lobbying within the system....
Once the assumptions which allow the precise calculation of the benefits of professional philanthropy – 2,000 lives saved – are in place, it is difficult to see how 80k’s other career suggestions can be much more than an afterthought (save, perhaps, persuading other people to do it). The dubious precision of these calculations and the rhetoric of efficiency obscure the real uncertainty that surrounds these decisions. In practice, if people follow 80k’s logic to its conclusion, only those supremely confident in their own abilities will opt for something else....
80k makes much of replaceability: “the job will exist whatever you do.” This is stronger than the claim that someone else will become a banker; rather, it states that there will always be bankers, that there will always be exploitation. Nothing can change. This is what I mean when I say professional philanthropy is dependent on perpetuating capitalism. Capitalism is not a policy programme which you are for or against but a set of social relations; taking a low-paid job, or no job at all, does not mean you somehow live outside the system. But professional philanthropy needs exploitation in order to mitigate the effects of exploitation. That is why it cannot address the causes of the world’s problems. 80k collapses the question of what is to be done into the individualist framework of career choice....
The language of probability will always fail to capture the possibility of system change. What was the expected value of the civil rights movement, or the campaign for universal suffrage, or anti-colonial struggles for independence? As we have seen most recently with the Arab Spring, every revolution is impossible, until it is inevitable.
The Babylonian calculations that constitute 80k’s careers research exclude these possibilities by design. 80k addresses its subject as a participant in exchange, a future employee – and nothing more. The result is a self-fulfilling prophecy of impotence. Without any concept of society as a collective endeavour, we cannot address problems at their root but only those symptoms which are tractable on an atomised, individual level.
There are also responses from the charity crowd; readers may judge for themselves.
(Thanks to Pablo Zendejas Medina for the pointer.)
And so defenses like this are silly. Who, besides Ayn Rand, isn't in favor of improving the well-being of others? The problem has to do with the way the EA folks interpret "effective," which guarantees that it will be both ineffective and very appealing to the capitalist media, which loves moral self-congratulation that is utterly unthreatening to capitalist relations of production and the ruling class.
I want to be clear: those philosophers giving their money to charities are not acting wrongfully in my view. They are acting wrongfully, however, in pretending that this is what one ought to do, that somehow the catastrophic harms that afflict large segments of humanity are in any meaningful way addressed by their charitable contributions.
...again at Boston Review; an excerpt, but do read the whole thing, especially if you're on the verge of falling for the "effective altruism" sales pitch:
[R]andomized controlled trial (RCT) field experiments...are designed to make the complex social world as much like a scientific laboratory as possible in order to isolate the effect of a particular intervention. The focus on impact makes RCTs appealing to effective altruists. Indeed, organizations like GiveWell and Giving What We Can rely heavily on these studies as the “best available evidence” to recommend top charities.
As in medical studies, RCT researchers randomly assign subjects to treatment and control groups to ensure that the two groups are roughly identical prior to the experiment. Then they administer the intervention—mosquito bed nets, de-worming pills, curriculum interventions, eye surgeries—only to those in the treatment group. Any differences in outcomes (malaria rates, parasite infection incidence, literacy levels, vision) between the treatment and control groups are attributed to the intervention. The clean research design makes researchers confident they have correctly identified whether a program has had the intended impact....
However, this approach to assessment has a serious downside: RCTs only capture a narrow view of impact. While they are good at measuring the proximate effects of a program on its immediate target subjects, RCTs are bad at detecting any unintended effects of a program, especially those effects that fall outside the population or timeframe that the organization or researchers had in mind. For example, an RCT might determine whether a bed net distribution program lowered the incidence of malaria among its target population. But it would be less likely to capture whether the program unintentionally demobilized political pressures on the government to build a more effective malaria eradication program, one that would ultimately affect more people....
Effective altruists are committed to evidence-based selection of charities, but in interpreting RCTs as the “best available evidence” they have prioritized certainty, narrowing the scope of impact they consider in identifying top charities.
This choice has built political and institutional blind spots into the way the effective altruism movement redistributes money. All charities exist within a broader ecosystem of service providers that includes the welfare state. NGOs that distribute bed nets and provide vaccinations operate alongside an array of public health programs run by the state. NGO-run schools operate up the road from government-run schools. While these state-run programs may be performing poorly and lack resources, they are still the core provider for the majority of the poor in many developing countries....
[U]nintended institutional effects on government welfare programs are seldom incorporated into effective altruists’ calculations about worthwhile charities to fund.
Yet any scholar of the political economy of development would be skeptical of the assumption that the welfare state in poor countries would remain unaffected by a sizeable influx of resources into a parallel set of institutions....
In the worst case, the presence of NGOs induces exit from the state sector. When relatively efficient, well-functioning NGOs enter a health or education market, for example, citizens in that market who are paying attention are likely to switch from government services to NGO services. The result is a disengagement of the most mobilized, discerning poor citizens from the state. These are the citizens most likely to have played a previous role in monitoring the quality of state services and advocating for improvements. Once they exit, the pressure on the government to maintain and improve services eases, and the quality of government provision is likely to fall.
This dynamic, sometimes called skimming, has unfortunate consequences for those most in need of services.
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)