UPDATE: Philosopher Alan White (Wisconsin) tells me that officially they only want submissions from those in the STEM fields. Prof. White submitted an entry anyway, but just in case, philosophers are welcome to post answers in the comments here, which are now open.
Interesting review by Ricki Bliss (Lehigh) in Philosophical Review of a recent collection; from the conclusion:
One thing that is clear from the material presented in this volume, however, is that as much as proponents of the notion of ground may disagree with one another over the details, there is no question that an orthodoxy—metaphysical foundationalism—has fast settled upon the research program: reality is hierarchically structured and contains a fundamental level populated by contingent existents. To question these commitments, it has been suggested (although not in this volume), is to ask illegitimate questions, to flout common sense, or to just be so absurd as to not warrant serious consideration. In a research program whose literature can, at places, appear pedantic, it is somewhat striking to observe just how poor so many of the arguments presented in defense of this view actually are.
So far my posts have revolved around inequity caused by university structure, the lack of accreditation for philosophy, the rise of assessment, and university privilege and the problem of diversity in philosophy. I claim that the only solution to the problem of diversity in philosophy is to grow the discipline and profession. There is a lot to offer, so addressing these topics will be a multiple post affair. Let’s begin with development and pre-college philosophy education. Neither of these topics is new, but they deserve more attention, and so I begin with them.
As I explained in my last post, university structure can promote both success and failure of programs. But university structure is only one source of success and failure that most of us in philosophy don’t generally consider when trying to promote philosophy.
(A) Accreditation Maybe you’ve heard that Illinois is having a serious budget crisis (especially as it relates to higher ed), but even in these difficult economic times, two programs at my university have gotten hires because those hires are neededfor accreditation: Nursing and Recreation, Parks, and Tourism Administration (RPTA).
According to our external reviewer from a 2013 report, WIU’s philosophy program has an immediate need of two full-time faculty members (and would still be the smallest faculty in the state). Not surprisingly given our budget constraints, we did not get permission to hire. But RPTA is advertising for a therapeutic recreation position that is required for accreditation. Let that sink in.
Russell Blackford (Newcastle) thinks so. If there were, I predict it will end up like the Nobel Prize for Literature: bizarre inclusions and exclusions that will tell us more about fashions and politics than about literature. Part of the difficulty will be in deciding what counts as philosophy. Look at Blackford's gloss:
Philosophy is the reason-based, intellectually rigorous, investigation of deep questions that have always caused puzzlement and anxiety: Is there a god or an afterlife? Do we possess free will? What is a good life for a human being? What is the nature of a just society? Philosophy challenges obfuscation and orthodoxies, and extends into examining the foundations of inquiry itself.
Are these "deep questions that have always caused puzzlement and anxiety"? Doubtful. And it's doubtful that all "good" philosophy "challenges obfuscation and orthodoxies": lots of important philosophy just rationalizes orthodoxy (and sometimes contributes to obfuscation).
Would the later Wittgenstein be eligible for a Nobel Prize in philosophy by Blackford's criteria? Not clear at all.
UPDATE: Per request, I am opening comments, but please be advised I will not have much time to moderate, so comments may take longer than usual to appear. Please be patient.
I am not a professional or academic philosopher, my interest in philosophy came to me rather lae in life, with family, house, daytime job already being factors in my life. I have read a lot in the 7 years since I took my initial course in "history of thought" evening time at Uppsala University. In my spare time, which is getting more substantial as my kids now are almost grown up--and unfortunately since the work situation for Swedish engineers in multinational companies is rather poor with the competition from low-salary countries--I read philosophy. Philosophy magazines, original works, internet forums et al.
Already having read a lot original works in philosophy(Sein und Zeit, Tractatus, much Nietzsche, Plato's dialogues...), I want to get in the business of reading academic papers. I've read a few, classical ones like "On Denoting", and some contemporary ones that I have found, but rather randomly and without knowing my way around. What I'm looking for, is there a place or an article that can suggest good papers for "beginners"? And "how to read academic papers"? Since I have no formal education in modal logic and the like, articles filled with such, looking like computer programming logic (which I know but not love) is not maybe my cup of tea. Papers on ethics, aestethics or other humanistic subjects seem to be more readable, and ethics, and political philosophy is of a great interest to me (I read ATOJ and ASU by Rawls/Nozick earlier this year, to get "background"). But I am also interested in logic and language. But are there some starting points for an amateur interested in the papers from the universities?
1. Philosophical Review (Condorcet winner: wins contests with all other choices)
2. Nous loses to Philosophical Review by 256–143
3. Journal of Philosophy loses to Philosophical Review by 264–131, loses to Nous by 217–183
4. Mind loses to Philosophical Review by 277–119, loses to Journal of Philosophy by 203–193
5. Philosophy & Phenomenological Research loses to Philosophical Review by 304–97, loses to Mind by 249–144
6. Australasian Journal of Philosophy loses to Philosophical Review by 327–74, loses to Philosophy & Phenomenological Research by 292–104
7. Philosophical Studies loses to Philosophical Review by 325–76, loses to Australasian Journal of Philosophy by 203–176
8. Philosopher's Imprint loses to Philosophical Review by 322–68, loses to Philosophical Studies by 190–181
9. Philosophical Quarterly loses to Philosophical Review by 342–57, loses to Philosopher's Imprint by 208–154
10. Analysis loses to Philosophical Review by 348–61, loses to Philosophical Quarterly by 189–186
There was a big drop-off after Analysis, so the top ten cut off actually makes some sense in this instance. As mentioned the other day, I'll run another poll next week to figure out 11-20 by including not only those polled this time, but also the journals wrongly omitted.
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).
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.
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.
Jonathan Strassfeld, an intellectual historian completing a PhD at the University of Rochester on the history of American philosophy, is seeking help with research for his dissertation that involves using text mining to examine the development of analytic philosophy in the mid-twentieth century. Part of the work calls for using a classification algorithm to identify analytic and non-analytic texts. To do this, one must 'train' the computer what analytic philosophy looks like by giving it a sample of of representative texts. Jonathan would like to put the question to the readers: what works should be included in a list of texts meant to exemplify philosophical analysis? He requests you restrict suggestions to journal articles published between 1930-1980.
BL COMMENT: It's a bit amusing that the only books Brandom recommends that he didn't write are by the one important philosopher who adopts an anti-representationalist view like his (Huw Price at Cambridge), plus one colleague and two former students. Oh philosophy!
Here’s a depressing thought that sometimes occurs to me: someone I teach may, one day, end up in a position of elected power. It’s not an unreasonable fear. The Houses of Parliament are stacked with former Oxford PPE students, shiny-faced and slick of hair, trumpeted by the University as proof of our continuing excellence. Many of our students seem halfway there already, constitutionally incapable of taking any stand on a position that matters. How long before one of them makes the journey from my tutorials to elected office?
Prime amongst the ‘transferable skills’ so lauded by philosophy’s proselytisers are those of drawing careful distinctions, of paying attention to small but subtle differences between cases.
The development of these skills is thought to be central to a philosophical education. (‘Oxford Philosophy: training tomorrow’s thinkers today.’) And when used effectively, they allow a clarity of thought shocking in its brilliance and precision.
But they sometimes lapse into institutionally sanctioned pedantry. And when they do, they have analogues in a particular kind of self-deception, that involved in rationalising our bad behaviour. It is easy for a philosopher, trained in the making of distinctions, to distinguish lying from reticence, as Kant did, when writing to a suicidal correspondent. Lying is contrary to the moral law, he claimed; reticence on the other hand…
Here is one use for philosophical thinking: to draw distinctions that make one’s immoral conduct seem permissible, even praiseworthy. It is the kind of thinking which justifies claiming light bulbs on expenses or pressuring one’s spouse into taking one’s speeding points.
It is as if philosophy provides the tools which enable us to do all that we do whilst looking in the mirror and saying: yes, you’ve done good.
You've linked to two articles by Todd Gitlin recently. Both indicate troubling characteristics of college students that are possibly (at least in part) attributable to the influence that capitalism exerts on American culture (e.g. freshmen are now in general more interested in great financial success than "develop[ing] a meaningful philosophy of life," while in 1974 the latter was more strongly valued than the former - perhaps this is explicable in terms of changes in the college population, but from what I understand (uniquely capitalistic) economic forces may well be to blame). Then there are larger worries about growing depression among Americans (Gitlin speaks to this in one of the articles that you posted), which is sometimes vaguely explained as a product of an empty consumer culture that allegedly breeds nihilism. (A more expansive list of cultural problems supposedly produced by capitalism is offered by Terry Eagleton in Why Marx was Right: "Alienation, the ‘commodification’ of social life, a culture of greed, aggression, mindless hedonism and growing nihilism, the steady hemorrhage of meaning and value from human existence . . . .")
In light of the foregoing, my question is this: Are there any good, and relatively recent, books or articles that argue that capitalism has deleterious effects on American (or, more broadly, Western) culture? If there are, I've had little success in finding them. The Frankfurt School is clearly relevant here, but Adorno, Horkheimer, and Marcuse were (obviously) engaged with a world substantially different from the current one, and the modern representatives of the Frankfurt School (e.g. Habermas and Honneth) repeatedly strike me as far too gentle with contemporary culture, possibly for fear of seeming too pessimistic.
Habermas basically abandoned the original critical/Marxian/Freudian aspects of Critical Theory in favor of a return to Kant. But the question posed is a good one. What would readers recommend by sociologists, historians, political theorists, philosophers etc.?
MOVING TO FRONT FROM YESTERDAY, AN INTERESTING DISCUSSION IN THE COMMENTS; MORE CONTRIBUTIOSN WELCOME
Stefan Sciaraffa (McMaster) calls my attention to a striking item by philosopher Elizabeth Barnes (Virginia); an excerpt:
I have sat in philosophy seminars where it was asserted that I should be left to die on a desert island if the choice was between saving me and saving an arbitrary non-disabled person. I have been told it would be wrong for me to have my biological children because of my disability. I have been told that, while it isn’t bad for me to exist, it would’ve been better if my mother could’ve had a non-disabled child instead. I’ve even been told that it would’ve been better, had she known, for my mother to have an abortion and try again in hopes of conceiving a non-disabled child. I have been told that it is obvious that my life is less valuable when compared to the lives of arbitrary non-disabled people. And these things weren’t said as the conclusions of careful, extended argument. They were casual assertions. They were the kind of thing you skip over without pause because it’s the uncontroversial part of your talk.
Now, of course, no one has said these things to me specifically. They haven’t said “Hey, Elizabeth Barnes, this is what we think about you!” But they’ve said them about disabled people in general, and I’m a disabled person. Even just thinking about statements like these, as I write this, I feel so much – sadness, rage, and more than a little shame. It’s an odd thing, a hard thing, to try to take these emotions and turn them into interesting philosophy and careful arguments. My first reaction isn’t to sit down and come up with carefully crafted counterexamples for why the views I find so disgusting are false. My first reaction is to want to punch the people that say these things in the face. (Or maybe shut myself in my room and cry. Or maybe both. It depends on the day.) It’s a strange thing – an almost unnatural thing – to construct careful, analytically rigorous arguments for the value of your own life, or for the bare intelligibility of the claims made by an entire civil rights movement....
Sally Haslanger once told me to trust my anger. That was some of the best advice anyone’s ever given me. I’m trying to learn how to take my anger and use it as motivation to keep writing, especially on those days when the thought of using philosophical arguments to push back against the status quo feels somewhere between overwhelming and pointless. And while feeling this way can be exhausting – in a way that writing about, say, metaphysical indeterminacy never was – it can also make the end result deeply special and meaningful in a way I wouldn’t have anticipated.
Thoughts from readers on the issues raised by Prof. Barnes?
Just posted the Mary Louise Gill interview. It's interesting stuff. She talks about reading Gone with The Wind in secret at home (it was forbidden), being required to read J Edgar Hoover’s Masters of Deceit in the 6th grade, her father, John Glanville Gill—a unitarian minister who was eventually fired for being too radical --and his fight with the Ku Klux Klan in St. Louis, how she realized she was never really religious, being Chair of the Classics Department at University of Pittsburgh, a department the administration was itching to get rid of, finding out about and subverting a secret plan to get rid of Classics, suffering reprisals in the form of rumors, finding peace of mind at Princeton and, eventually Brown, teaching philosophy in China, and what she would do if she was a philosopher-queen!
I was wondering if you could ask your readers for what they think is the best advanced introductory texts in their respective sub fields. I am thinking of something akin to Miller's excellent 'Introduction to Contemporary Metaethics' or Kymlicka's 'Contemporary Political Philosophy'. I found Miller's book to be very helpful and it would be nice to know what other advanced introductory texts are widely considered top notch (I'm most interested in suggestions for epistemology, philosophy of science, and normative ethics, but I suspect readers might be interested in advanced introductions for other areas too).
Miller's book is indeed an excellent example of the genre in question. (I have not read Kymlicka's, though have often heard it recommended.) In epistemology, I will note that I learned a lot in grad school from Laurence BonJour's The Structure of Empirical Knowledge, which was an important scholarly monograph in its own right, but hugely instructive about the state of the art in epistemology in the 1980s. Richard Miller's Fact and Method was similar in philosophy of science, but again also a bit dated now. Frederick Suppe's long introduction to the old The Structure of Scientific Theories was a terrific overview of main currents of twentieth-century philosophy of science through the early 1970s. I'm sure readers will have more current suggestions.
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)