...offered by the distinguished HPS program at the University of Pittsburgh. Professor Machery tells me that applications will also be considered from students who are first-generation college students and from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, although those are not explicitly mentioned at the website.
Reader Samuel Murray calls these interesting pieces to my attention, Part 1 and Part 2 (more coming), by regular SA writer John Horgan. Some striking remarks from Part 1:
So what makes good philosophy good? What makes it valuable? We wrestled with these questions last year in my philosophy salon when we considered a fascinating paper by David Chalmers, “Why Isn’t There More Progress in Philosophy?”
Chalmers is almost comically passive-aggressive in the paper, veering between defiance and doubt. He opens by insisting that “obviously” philosophy achieves some progress, but the rest of his paper undercuts that modest assertion.
He concedes that whereas scientists do converge on certain answers, “there has not been large collective convergence to the truth on the big questions of philosophy.” A survey of philosophers carried out by Chalmers and a colleague revealed divisions on big questions: What is the relationship between mind and body? How do we know about the external world? Does God exist? Do we have free will?
Philosophers’ attempts to answer such questions, Chalmers remarks, “typically lead not to agreement but to sophisticated disagreement.” That is, progress consists less in defending truth claims than in casting doubt on them. Chalmers calls this “negative progress.”
Chalmers suggests that philosophers’ methods keep improving, and that these refinements constitute progress of a kind. But if improved methods of argumentation still aren’t yielding truth, do they really count as progress? That’s like equating scientific progress with advances in telescopes and microscopes, regardless of whether these instruments discover viruses or pulsars. If philosophers can’t reach agreement on anything, why keep arguing?
And some notable observations from Part 2:
I’m often struck, watching philosophers interact, by their aggression. Scientists can be rough, but less so, on average, than philosophers. Why is that? Because philosophical clashes, unlike scientific ones, cannot be resolved by appeals to data; they are battles of wits.
In “Why Isn’t There More Progress in Philosophy?,” David Chalmers notes that science employs “the observational/experimental method,” which has “the power to compel agreement on the answers to big questions.” In contrast, philosophy relies on “the method of argument,” which does not compel agreement.
Chalmers acknowledges that millennia of philosophical debate have not yielded convergence on big questions. So why do philosophers keep bickering if they can’t arrive at a resolution?
Perhaps philosophy has devolved into mere competition, in which victors are rewarded with fame and glory--more specifically, grants, tenure, book contracts, invitations to Davos and appearances on Charlie Rose.
He concludes Part 2 by suggesting maybe the point of philosophy is like the point of a martial art.
I favor a more plausible hypothesis, due to Nietzsche perhaps unsurprisingly, namely, that philosophers are "advocates who resent that name," who defend their non-rational "hunches" and "inspirations" "with reasons they have sought after the fact" (sec. 5, Beyond Good and Evil). Maybe not all philosophers all the time are like that--some are like Nietzsche's "scholars" (Gelehrten), whose real interests in life lie elsewhere (in family or money or politics), and for whom it is a matter of indifference whether they become a good professional philosopher "or a fungus expert or a chemist" (sec. 6). But "every great philosophy" is "a type of involuntary and unself-conscious memoir" in which "the moral (or immoral) intentions...constitute the true living seed from which the whole plant has always grown" (sec 6). Kant at least had the decency to admit that (to limit reason, to make room for faith!).
Nietzsche to one side, I'm curious to hear what readers think of Mr. Horgan's observations. What is the point of philosophy, insofar as philosophy doesn't seem to make much or any progress?
Philosopher Jack Zupko (Alberta), editor of Journal of the History of Philosophy, asked me to share this announcement, which I'm happy to do:
The Board of Directors of the Journal of the History of Philosophy has awarded the prize for the best article to appear in volume 54 of theJHP to Jean-Luc Solère for "The Coherence of Bayle's Theory of Toleration," JHP 54.1 (January 2016): 21-46. Professor Solère is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Boston College.
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 that each member is grouped with two others working on dissertations in the same general area of philosophy. About once a month, one member sends the others a 3-6k word piece of their dissertation to the other two for feedback and comments.
Today I am launching the first episode in the 10-episode series of Hi-Phi Nation, a show that integrates narrative storytelling, journalism, documentary audio, and philosophy. The hope is that it will bring a lot of the public to philosophy that would not otherwise seek it out, and that it can serve as an alternative medium for doing public philosophy. The show is inspired by the best documentary audio, utilizing professional production techniques and soundtracking. Topics for the first season include posthumous harm, the morality of war, music aesthetics, philosophy of language, demarcating science and pseudoscience in the replicability debate, and more. Anyone can listen and subscribe for free here or here.
Story here. Faculty positions will not necessarily be lost, even if the major is, though that remains to be seen. Some of this is due to the wicked Illinois Governor Bruce "country club" Rauner, whose refusal to compromise has prevented a regular budget from being enacted, creating huge pressures on the public universities. Readers will recall that the philosophy major at Western Illinois University was also axed last year.
Many philosophers contributing, including Gerald Gaus, Sharon Lloyd, Nicole Hassoun, Matthew Lister, Torbjör Tännsjö , and Simon Keller, among many others. I've only looked at a couple of the many essays; Gaus's was, I thought, interesting in particular.
Shocking! (Context.) A shame he didn't understand the paper, though (alternatively, if he did understand it, a shame he couldn't make any relevant counter-arguments). Do read the first few comments on the post, they're very funny.
(Kudos, by the way, to Justin Tosi and Brandon Warmke, who instead of demanding a juvenile pity-fest for their vulnerability, communicated to their critic that given that the paper was in the public domain, it was fair game for mocking criticism.)
(Thanks to several readers who brought this to my attention.)
The NEH press release is here. Will President Trump attend? One doubts it!
ADDENDUM: A list of past Jefferson Lecturers--I see only three previous philosophers (Sidney Hook, Leszek Kolakowski, and Stephen Toulmin). Republican Administrations have typically favored humanists with "conservative" reputations--this may be a challenge for Trump, since so many conservative scholars opposed him! (I'd bet money on signatories to this statement being good candidates for Jefferson Lecturer and a National Humanities Medal, at least until Trump's impeachment.)
I thought it might be of interest to you, as it seems to be the product of a challenge to see how many professional norms can be violated in a single email. The highlights: they want a response within 5 hours, or cannot guarantee an interview; for spots beginning at 8am tomorrow. Nowhere in the body of the message does the author identify his university (it's Cal State Sacramento). They were, however, kind enough to attach a list of questions to be asked--fittingly, this single act of kindness is also odd as far as I'm aware. Incidentally, this is the school that required applicants to create a special web page just for them last year, simply to apply. (I've heard there were more such hoops later on in the process. Perhaps this year there will be a fight to the death during flyouts.)
The invitation e-mail, sent five hours before a response was required, follows below the fold:
A well-known philosopher of science, he was emeritus at Wake Forest University, when he passed away at the very end of last year. During his career, Professor Shapere also held tenured positions at the University of Chicago and the University of Maryland, College Park. There is an obituary here.
Edouard Machery (Pittsburgh), a leading scholar working at the intersection of philosophy and psychology, gives a useful assessment:
The history of attitude measurement in psychology is one of exuberant, irrational enthusiasm followed by disappointment when the shortcomings of the new indirect measures come to light.
The recent history of the implicit association test is just the most recent episode in this sad history of irrational exuberance followed by disappointment. We were told that the IAT measures a novel type of attitude—mental states that are both unconscious and beyond intentional control, which we’ve come to know as “implicit attitudes”—and that people’s explicit and implicit attitudes can diverge dramatically: As we’ve been told dozens of times, the racial egalitarian can be implicitly racist, and the sexist egalitarian can implicitly be a sexist pig! And law enforcement agencies, deans and provosts at universities, pundits, and philosophers concerned with the sad gender and racial distribution of philosophy have swallowed this story.
But then we’ve learned that people aren’t really unaware of whatever it is that the IAT measures. So, whatever it is that the IAT measures isn’t really unconscious. And we’ve learned that the IAT predicts very little proportion of variance. In particular, only a tiny proportion of biased behavior correlates with IAT scores. We have also learned that your IAT score today will be quite different from your IAT score tomorrow. And it is now clear that there is precious little, perhaps no, evidence that whatever it is that the IAT measures causes biased behavior. So, we have a measure of attitude that is not reliable, does not predict behavior well, may not measure anything causally relevant, and does not give us access to the unconscious causes of human behavior. It would be irresponsible to put much stock in it and to build theoretical castles on such quicksand.
Lesson: Those who ignore the history of psychology are bound to repeat its mistakes.
There are other commentaries at the same site, though Machery's stood out for cutting to the chase.
When I first got the e-mail from Rob Tempio with that subject line (above), I thought, "Oh no he's been hacked by someone who is now sending out pornography links!" In fact, while it does turn out that Scrutopia is slightly obscene, it's not obscene that way.
MOVING TO FRONT FROM JANUARY 9--SOME USEFUL COMMENTS, ESP. REGARDING PRACTICES AT BERKELEY (see esp. comment #19)
A student applying to PhD programs in philosophy writes:
I'm currently applying to PhD programs, and several of them are in the University of California school system. Many of these schools (Berkeley, UCSD, and UCLA, at least) of these schools either require or strongly recommend submitting a "personal history statement." Unlike the well-known (and relevant) "personal statement," the history statement says,
"Please describe how your personal background and experiences inform your decision to pursue a graduate degree. In this section, you may also include any relevant information on how you have overcome barriers to access higher education, evidence of how you have come to understand the barriers faced by others, evidence of your academic service to advance equitable access to higher education for women, racial minorities, and individuals from other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education, evidence of your research focusing on underserved populations or related issues of inequality, or evidence of your leadership among such groups."
I don't mind the first part of the question regarding how your personal experiences inform your decision to pursue a graduate degree. I can see its relevance (it speaks to the applicant's motivation and perhaps can be a useful predictor of how likely the applicant will be to finish the degree), and I can even see some students feeling pleased that they can personalize their application a bit more, expressing the unique things they can add to the program.
That said, besides the first sentence, the rest of the things on this personal history statement bother me quite a bit, especially when the essay is *required,* and therefore is likely being used to evaluate an applicant.First, the latter part is completely irrelevant to academic fit of the prospective student, like requiring an applicant to describe their medical history. Second, it seems overtly politicized, displaying a left-leaning preference in the institution. Since academia is *already* taking flak for being a politicized enterprise, this only brings that problem into sharp relief. Third, and most deeply frustrating in my opinion, is that this seems a clear selection mechanism for applicants who belong to a certain moral club -- that of making their dominant moral aims helping underprivileged students -- instead of being a selection mechanism for applicants with a strong moral character (having a strong moral character I could see being relevant, since most academics will draw on public funds for their work).
These are rounded to the nearest 100. I tried to find all post-WWII philosophy books with at least 5,000 citations. Clearly, cross-disciplinary interest causes the cite count to surge (contrast, e.g., David Lewis with Alasdair MacIntyre). You can post additions or corrections in the comments, which are open below.
Thomas Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962) (89,500)
John Rawls, A Theory of Justice (1971) (65,000)
J.L. Austin, How to Do Things with Words (1962) (35,200)
John Searle, Speech Acts (1969) (23,100)
Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (1981) (21,400)
John Rawls, Political Liberalism (1993) (17,000)
Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State & Utopia (1973) (16,800)
Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963) (15,700)
Ronald Dworkin, Taking Rights Seriously (1978) (15,400)
Gilbert Ryle, The Concept of Mind (1949) (15,200)
H.L.A. Hart, The Concept of Law (1961) (13,400)
Charles Taylor, Multiculturalism and the Politics of Recognition (1994) (13,100)
Richard Rorty, Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature (1979) (12,900)
Jerry Fodor, The Modularity of Mind (1983) (12,800)
Saul Kripke, Naming and Necessity (1980) (11,400)
Daniel Dennett, Consciousness Explained (1991) (11,100)
W.V.O. Quine, Word and Object (1960) (10,300)
Richard Rorty, Contingency, Irony and Solidarity (1989) (10,300)
Charles Taylor, Sources of the Self (1989) (10,300)
Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (1972) (10,100)
It appears some readers missed this item added as an update to the Parfit post earlier this week, so I post it again here:
Jeff McMahan (Oxford) writes: "I believe that the last public talk he gave was to the moral philosophy seminar here in Oxford in November. In it he presented some new ideas that he was continuing to develop up until the moment of his death. Fortunately the talk was recorded. Here is the link if you think it would be worth posting it on your blog: http://media.philosophy.ox.ac.uk/moral/MT16_DP.mp4."
...from Peter Adamson (KCL/Munich). They seem fairly sensible. (I might quibble with #17, at least in the case of historical figures who have been subjected to exhaustive and sophisticated philosophical commentary--their the secondary literature may of co-equal importance with the primary text, at least for someone motivated by the philosophical issues.) What do readers who work in history of philosophy think? Submit your comment only once, they may take awhile to appear (busy day!).
There are more than 200 suggestions by a diverse group of contributors, including many non-scientists, some philosophers (e.g., Daniel Dennett, Andy Clark), and even one charlatan. It's an interesting list, though a few of the concepts seem to me more the purview of pseudo-science (or not-well-confirmed scientific ideas or concepts).
Our basic contention is that one grandstands when one makes a contribution to public moral discourse that aims to convince others that one is “morally respectable.” By this we mean that grandstanding is a use of moral talk that attempts to get others to make certain desired judgments about oneself, namely, that one is worthy of respect or admiration because one has some particular moral quality—for example, an impressive commitment to justice, a highly tuned moral sensibility, or unparalleled powers of empathy. To grandstand is to turn one's contribution to public discourse into a vanity project.
I will resist naming the professional philosophers who should read this, but you know who you are (or at least your colleagues know who you are)! The paper also incorporates a useful discussion of group polarization, which as we've noted before, is quite relevant to the phenomenon.
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)