You would think this came from a Sinclair Lewis novel, but it's for real:
Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama sent a letter this week to Carol M. Watson, the acting chairwoman of the NEH, in which he demanded the agency explain its peer-review process for funding grants that explore “very indefinite” questions.
Sessions pointed to seven grants the NEH funded that seek to explore the following questions: “What is the meaning of life?”, “Why are we interested in the past?”, “What is the good life and how do I live it?”, “Why are bad people bad?”, “What is belief?”, “What is a monster?”, and “Why do humans write?”
A longtime member of the Department of Philosophy at the University of Minnesota, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Professor Gunderson was best-known for his work in philosophy of mind. A brief memorial notice is here.
Over the past year I have been involved in a couple of panels on Ted Kaczynski (aka, the Unabomber -- a serial killer, currently in a supermax prison, who in the 80s and 90s mailed bombs to persons involved with technology). Organized by Jeffrey
Young of the Chronicle of
Higher Education, the panels involved Dan Skrbina of UM Dearborn providing a
partial defense of the Unabomber and me offering a criticism. We’ve done the panel at Rutgers and at SXSW in Austin.
In my view the the "Unabomber manifesto" is a
smorgasbord of critical reasoning fails, and you could use it in a critical
reasoning course if you wanted to task introductory students with finding basic
fallacies in a written work (see my slides here). But I also have a positive thesis which is
related to my interest in hacking, but which so far as I know is not advocated
by anyone I know in the philosophy of technology.
The Unabomber believes that any post-hunter-gatherer
technology is alienating and dehumanizing.
But I believe that like bees and beavers and spiders and birds we are
technological creatures. In my view,
alienation comes not from technology (any more than a beaver can be alienated
from its dam or a bird from its nest) but rather comes out when technology is
“jailed” and we can’t tear apart the object and see what makes it tick. So it isn’t technology that alienates us, but
corporate control of technology – for example Apple, when it makes it difficult
for us to reprogram our iPhones.
This is the point where hacking becomes important. Hacking is fundamentally about our having the
right and responsibility to open up the technologies of our everyday lives,
learn how they work, repurpose those technologies.
Before I start reinventing wheels here, does anyone know of
people in the philosophy of technology who have articulated such a view? Beyond that, any comments and criticism?
Jonathan Strassfeld is working on a doctoral dissertation in the History Department at Rochester on the history of philosophy in mid-20th-century America, especially an institutional history about the leading departments and their areas of focus. I've been helping him at various intervals with questions about faculty rosters, tenure status, and the like. He recently wrote with a question to which I don't know the answer, but perhaps some readers can help: "What were the circumstances leading to Nelson Goodman's exit from Pennsylvania's philosophy department?" I believe he initially went to Brandeis, then to Harvard. I have a dim recollection that Penn in the 1950s and 1960s was, like Yale, resisting the turn to "analytic" philosophy, with a large coteria of folks working in "classical" American philosophy. But I am not at all confident about any of this. Anyone know? Signed comments very strongly preferred, since Mr. Strassfeld would like to be able to follow up with knowledgealbe individuals.
A much more sympathetic account (that is, sympathetic to McGinn's version of events), with some supporting details. (Bear in mind, of course, that Katie Roiphe made her 'career' as the anti-feminist to her mother's well-known feminist work, so she can hardly be considered a disinterested journalist.) No doubt this will spur another round of revelations and claims and counter-claims. In any case, readers who have been following this saga should take a look at this latest report.
...and fortunately there isn't one in philosophy. The closest cousin is probably the Schock Prize, begun in 1993 and awarded every 2 or 3 years. Past recipients are Quine, Dummett, Dana Scott, Rawls, Kripke, Solomon Feferman, Jaakko Hintikka, Thomas Nagel and, in 2011, Hilary Putnam. The Schock Prize favors formal work, as the list of recipients would suggest, but not exclusively so. So who should be next in line? Kit Fine? Timothy Williamson? John Searle? Tyler Burge? Submit your nominations and your reasons; no doubt the Prize Committee will pay careful attention.
Some useful data here. The presentation is a bit misleading in some respects, however, so I'll just repost here the comment I posted there:
You have put together some very interesting data, for which my thanks and no doubt the thanks of others. However, you need to reframe your presentation of this data in several respects to avoid grossly misleading students:
First, you should immediately remove the UK and Australasian schools from the lists, since you have grossly undercounted their placements. It's just irresponsible and unfair to those schools to list them given thtat, as you acknowledge, you didn't really know how to interpret their placements. [The author has since removed these schools.]
Second, many students interested in placement are interested in the quality of the jobs, as well as the tenure-stream status. Your way of 'ranking' the schools erases the distinction between placement at a 4/4 school with mediocre students and a placement at Princeton (not to mention all the gradations inbetween). You should make clear in each chart that the "Placement Rank" is really only "Percentage of PhDs Who Secured a Tenure-Track Job Somewhere." (If you were so inclined you might examine the placements in terms of the kinds of schools, perhaps using the Carnegie system for categorizing institutions of higher education.)
Third, of course there is no correlation between placement in tenure-track jobs over the last 15 years, roughly, and the quality of faculties in 2011! Why would the quality of the faculty in 2011 predict placement circa 2000, for a cotorie of students who started 5-8 years before that? As I note, including in the material you link to, placement records are backwards-looking measures, so only where faculties have not changed in the interim could past performance be thought a likely indicator of future success. So you should eliminate entirely the meaningless comparison between 2011 faculty quality rankings and tenure-track placement (without regard to kind of institution) going back some 15 years.
Fourth, the chart about the percentage of graduates currently in academic philosophy needs a caveat for the benefit of students. Schhools vary quite a bit in how many of the students that enroll end up getting the PhD. MIT, for example, has historically had very low attrition. Other schools have attrition on the order of 50% or more. So while the data you've collected tells us the percentage of *students who managed to complete the PhD* who got some tenure-track job, it doesn't given an incoming student a realistic picture of his or her prospects of getting the PhD. Schools that have high attrition may, in fact, be losing or forcing out precisely the students less likely to be competitive on the job market--we just don't know. It's why I've encouraged schools to post their attrition and completion rates, which many have now now done.
UPDATE: There are various errors in the data (besides the egregious one of undercounting placement from British and Australasian schools), including for Northwestern and CUNY. So students should approach this with caution. The errors identified so far do raise questions about the reliability of what is reported, quite apart from its correct interpretation.
Nigel Warburton comments. One characteristic of the various pseudo-philosophical cults that crop up now and then--the Straussian, the Randian, the Derridean are prime examples--is that their members stringently avoid such face-to-face conversation with their critics, and for obvious reasons.
[N]otwithstanding the current spin from the Providence College administration, my event is not being rescheduled. It is being replaced with a different event.
In February I agreed that I would come to Providence to give a lecture, which would be followed by a Q&A period. Although Professor Arroyo and I had previously (last Fall) discussed the possibility of a debate, that idea was dropped for budgetary reasons. Then, just last week, I agreed to change the format so that I would have a lecture with an official respondent. Now, finally, I am being invited for a debate. These are three different kinds of academic events, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. I have plenty of experience with all three, and (as I’ve long said) I’d be happy to do a debate at Providence College. What I’m not happy to do is to aid the administration in the pretense that “the September 26 event was merely being postponed, not cancelled, until we could be sure that it went forward in the format in which it was originally proposed,” as Provost Lena’s statement said yesterday....
The truth is that it’s difficult not to feel as if the Providence College administration regards me as a sort of virus, which might infect students if not blocked by some administration-approved surgical mask. This feeling is sadly familiar, to me and to any gay person. It is the malaise of the closet, the notion that some features of oneself are unspeakable. I am the Other. And if I feel that way, I can only imagine how young gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgender Providence College students must feel. It is for them that I remain most concerned.
That’s where “damage control” should be focused right now: the personal harm to LGBT Providence College students, not to mention faculty, staff, and alumni. Pope Francis has called for a “new balance” in the Church’s pastoral ministry, and there is an opportunity—yet unrealized—to implement that balance here.
The Provost's disingenous statement here. Kudos to the Providence College faculty for "raising hell" about this. (I'm waiting for permission to post a strong statement by the President of the Faculty Senate there.) The newly appointed defender of bigotry against gay people is a familiar figure. It is always an occasion for sadness when irrational religious dogma leads intelligent people down the road of moral depravity--at least when they aren't effective (when they are effective, which won't happen here, a different emotion is appropriate).
UPDATE: The letter that no doubt helped the Provost to backtrack:
This is pretty funny (not sure how I landed between A. Dworkin and MacKinnon! [UPDATE: it's organized by first name, I missed that]):
Irritus college has received several requests for lists of banned books so that a new student browsing a bookstore other than our college bookstore does not inadvertently purchase a book that would confuse or complicate issues for our students. While we hate to use the word 'banned,' this list contains books that under no circumstances should even be opened for perusal - they are that dangerous.
Charles Darwin tops our list, Howard Zinn and Noam Chomsky are also verboten, most of our students already know these three names, but many of the authors below are not as familiar and should be avoided. Any book from these authors could confuse our students and even our teachers. Remember if a book does not contain God, Guns, and Freedom on its cover, use care when reviewing.
As a first, crude attempt, I’ll describe philosophical work as work with and on "concepts". Philosophers are concerned with concepts in the same rigorous sort of way that, say, a pathologist is concerned with diseases, or a mathematician with numbers. This may look like philosophers apply their energies to other-worldly things (“staring at the ceiling”, “head in the clouds”) or to the contents of their own imaginations, but this is based on a misleading account of concepts.
Concepts are not the contents of so-called thought-bubbles. They are the hinges or links of reasoning processes. They describe those aspects of thought that enables it to make the right connections: connections with the rest of the world; with other thoughts; and with actions. I use the word "right" here to indicate the possibility of getting these connections wrong.
Looked at this way, a concern with concepts can seem important indeed. To recycle an idea from Aristotle, it’s the capacity for conceptual thought that allows us to reason and act on the basis of reasons, and not just react to environmental stimuli. That we all work with concepts at some level allows us to exercise reason and act freely—to be more than mere bundles of conditioned responses. Concepts are what make us distinctively us.
In the division of intellectual labour, philosophers work mainly at the level of the hinges between thoughts, on those concepts deeply embedded within the argumentative threads weaving through our culture. But these are threads that have started somewhere with the formation of beliefs, and end somewhere in actions. As the concepts on which philosophers work are typically located a long way from where these threads start or terminate, philosophical research is generally described as "pure" rather than "applied". But "pure" does not mean "irrelevant". Who would question that the activity of finding and attempting to fix problems in our collective thinking was a relevant thing to do?
Although that's not my conception of philosophy, it is certainly an important and legitimate one. Given Australia's out-sized place in the modern philosophy canon (relative to the size of the country), one may hope that the party now in power there will come to its senses and find more constructive things to do with its time and its power than trash philosophy.
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)