...at 3AM. This is a very interesting interview, although I should note that it is implausible that Nietzsche was positively influenced by Rousseau; the similarities Neuhouser points to--"Both genealogies have 'de-naturalizing' ambitions—they reveal the human-made character of phenomena normally taken to be natural or merely given—and...both emphasize the contingent nature of the developments in question"--reflect ideas and themes important in German philosophy and culture, starting with Herder. There was no need for Nietzsche to look to Rousseau for such an approach, and no evidence he did so.
This is an informative review by philosopher Manuel Vargas (UC San Diego). Many of the debates he describes will be familiar to those knowledgeable about other philosophical traditions and places at roughly the same time, suggesting the extent to which philosophical questions both transcend culture and place even as they reflect them.
In discussing the Ronell case, every article I’ve seen from The New York Times to The New Yorker takes as a given that Ronell is indeed, in the words of the Times, “one of the very few philosopher-stars of this world.” The designation has puzzled me from the start because in my own circles (Modernist and Contemporary Poetry and Poetics as well as Viennese Culture of World War I and Wittgenstein, on whom I’ve written a book and many essays), most people have never so much as heard of Avital Ronell. I myself have never met her: I did read The Telephone Book when it was published in 1991, and found it very clever but almost parodically deconstructionist, and somehow I had no desire to read those later books with titles like Crack Wars and Stupidity. I may be revealing only my own intellectual limitations here, but I would say that in our own eclectic moment, Ronell, whose Telephone Book did get a lot of attention in the early ’90s, is no longer a star in the late 2010s....
The media, whether sympathetic or not to Ronell’s case, have, in any case, accepted her self-definition as a fact. World-class star, lesbian, and Ronell is also regularly referred to as a philosopher, evidently because she is a disciple of the philosopher Jacques Derrida. But the fact is that in the US, she and her fellow deconstructionists perform their theory studies under the auspices of Comparative Literature; philosophy departments, including my own at Stanford, tend to focus on analytic philosophy and would never hire a literary theorist like Avital Ronell (or, for that matter, a Derrida). This may be a small detail, but it is important vis-à-vis the larger public’s understanding of fields of study in the Humanities and what they designate.
The media have ignored these issues because they have of necessity relied on Ronell’s friends and supporters and especially on members of Ronell’s very particular Deconstructionist circle. I say “of necessity” because in the current climate, the others — the large bulk of our profession — are understandably reluctant to get involved. Of the 50 “prominent” academics who signed the notorious Butler letter, only 11 are under 60 and another 11 are over 70! The signatories, in other words, are indeed, like Ronell herself, older Establishment figures: they hold the endowed Comp Lit, German, and French chairs in the institutions of which they are often so critical. As such, they have a vested interest in preserving what they consider the status quo: deconstructionist theory with a feminist/lesbian cast. There are of course signatories who don’t fit into this mold and no doubt signed the letter just to be collegial and supportive, but the large majority are members of the in-circle, whether in the US or in France or Germany, and except for two signatories, Manthia Diawara and Gayatri Spivak, all are white — a fact no one has mentioned but which surely tells us something....
From the perspective of other university departments or the medical school or law school, from the perspective of those who work in publishing or the TV industry or in Silicon Valley, the professor’s behavior must seem simply unbelievable. Many universities now have laws against faculty-student relationships, at least while the student is actively working with the professor in question. But more important, from the perspective, say, of a medical student or engineer: how do these Comparative Lit stars have such endless time on their hands? In one email, about two years into the relationship, Avital tells Nimrod she is available from Thursday through the entire weekend: he need merely say the word. When, outsiders ask, do these people actually do any work? Grade papers? Teach their classes? And how can knowledge in our field be so subjective and tenuous that a professor who begins by praising a given student so extravagantly then turns on him and declares that his dissertation had no solid argument?
I should only add that Ronell is a non-entity in scholarly circles devoted to the post-Kantian Continental traditions in philosophy as well, not just in analytic philosophy. When Michael Rosen and I edited the Oxford Handbook of Continental Philosophy more than a decade ago, her name never came up. In Nietzsche studies, she is unknown. Professor Perloff is right that it does a disservice to the other humanities to foist this character on all of them.
An interesting set of contributions, some by well-known philosophers, over at Weinberg's blog. I didn't read them all by any means, but in skimming I didn't see anyone consider the possibility that philosophy is not important, but perhaps pathological. While I'm sympathetic to Nietzche's view, I do think philosophical training serves a valuable purpose: it is training in what I've calleddiscursive hygiene, i.e., in being able to reason and think carefully and, to a lesser extent, argue (philosophy pays too little attention to rhetoric ever since Plato's successful defamation of the Sophists, so it is not as helpful in teaching argument as it might be).
Dan Kaufman (Missouri State) and I discuss these issues at "Meaning of Life TV." The first 45 minutes or so is like an introduction to Marx's theory of history (and its Hegelian background) and the genius (albeit self-destructive genius) of capitalism. Dan asked exactly the right questions I thought, so hopefully it will be informative for those new to these topics. After that, we discussed so-called "cultural" Marxism and identity politics. Hope some readers find this enjoyable!
Compare Plato and Aristotle, superficially. Plato made no effective contributions to how to acquire true belief. Plato had analyses and counterexamples (The Meno) and a huge metaphysical discourse; we still don’t know necessary and [sufficient] conditions for virtue, the subject of the Meno. Aristotle had axioms for logic, a logic that was pretty much the best anyone could do for 2300 years. He had a schema for conducting inquiry (albeit, not a terribly good one, but it wasn’t bested until the 17th century). Euclid was not a contemporary of Plato or Aristotle, but he systematized the fragments of geometry then current. The result was a theory that could be systematically investigated mathematically, applied in a multitude of contexts, and that constituted a stalking horse for alternative theories that have proved better empirically. Euclid has no formal definition of “point” that plays any role in his mathematical geometry. Just imagine if instead the history of geometry consisted of analyses of necessary and sufficient conditions for something to be a point, which is McGinn’s ideal of philosophy. Or look at Newton’s Principia, axiomatic if anything is. Many of the ideas Newton put together were in the air in the early 17th century. Combining them into the three laws, and relating the variables in specific conditions to observed quantities, created modern physics. McGinn would have preferred a litany of necessary and sufficient conditions for “quantity of matter” which Newton does not define. (Of course there is an interesting question of how, given the theory, “quantity of matter” can be estimated, on whatever extra assumptions.) Or look at von Neumann’s foundations of quantum theory, the best work in philosophy of physics in the 20th century...which put to rest the disputes over what were taken to be different theories. Or look at Frank Ramsey’s brief formulation of behavioral decision theory, derivatives and developments of which still run a good deal of economics, or Hilbert and Bernay’s axiomatization of first order logic, which was a critical step towards computation theory, or David Lewis’ and others’ axiomatizations of the logic of counterfactuals, which run through contemporary philosophy and much, much else. Socratic thinking has no comparable fruits.
I don’t claim that the back and forth of Socratic philosophy is entirely useless. The canon of proposals and counterexamples is, or could be, a caution for superficial definitions and neglect of subtleties. Philosophers are good at subtleties.
McGinn and Giere and their like can botanize the world of thought into “philosophy” and “not philosophy” and corral the mostly fruitless into the former, as they wish. Universities make those sorts of separations an invitation to triviality and sometimes, outright stupidity. I think the basic motivation is pretty simple: most philosophers can’t do any mathematics, certainly not original mathematics; they are trained not to know statistics or computation. They treasure playground and rewards for the skills they have, and want to make sure the playground is well-guarded. Sometimes that reaches to ignorance as a policy, as in Tim Scanlon’s recent book, Being realistic about reasons, which insists (argues would be too complimentary) that ethics and metaethics need take no account of any other subject in the intellectual universe (save possibly logic) and the theories of that enterprise cannot be assessed or assailed from any other discipline; no new knowledge about the human condition can or should touch the metaethcists’ arguments. John Rawls opened that trail in his Theory of Justice, using the “veil of ignorance” as a conceit to pick and choose what facts of the human condition can be used in deciding the political constitution of society so as to get his conclusion, much like a prosecutor working a grand jury.
A recent philosophy graduate gave me permission to share his questions, which might be of interest to others:
I am currently deciding between graduate school in philosophy (I graduated in honors philosophy from [school name omitted] in 2015) and law school. In the long run I am considering whether to pursue philosophical or legal academia. I have benefitted greatly from your advice to prospective philosophy graduate students and prospective law school students with philosophical interests on Leiter Reports. Since I have a couple of questions that as far as I can see have not been directly discussed in a Leiter Report blog post I thought I would email them to you in case you have the time to answer them.
1. My primary area of philosophical interest is political philosophy. In the spirit of your post on the difference between the study of political philosophy in political science and philosophy departments, I am wondering about the difference between working in political philosophy in a law school or in a philosophy department. What would you say are the most significant differences that someone considering both options should take into account?
2. a. If one were to plan on obtaining a philosophy PhD and a JD separately in order to pursue legal academia, is there a significant difference academically in doing one of them first? For instance, would there be a significant impact on one's study of the subjects themselves? on job market chances?
b. If there is, is one course of study preferable? In other words, is it more beneficial to come to the study of law with significant training in relevant philosophical areas (political, moral, epistemology), or to come to the study of philosophy with philosophical questions arising from one’s study of law?
Here are my answers:
1. At many good law schools (see this section of the PGR), there are serious opportunities to study political philosophy, but even at the best law schools, given that most of your studies will not be philosophy-related, you can't get adequate training to do professional work. At best, you can acquire competence with themes, authors, and arguments, but you won't emerge as a political philosopher with a JD only.
2a. I've known students who have done it in both directions, and had good success at it. PhD programs seem, in recent years, to be keen to admit those with a good JD record, but those who come to the JD with a PhD in philosophy already have a set of intellectual and disciplinary skills that can help them thrive and do quite well in law school.
2b. I don't think there's a one approach fits all answer to this question. But I'm opening comments for thoughts from other readers.
A few months into a cushy postdoctoral fellowship at Princeton, where the walls were a soothing yellow and poached salmon was a staple, it dawned on me that I could reasonably be considered an arsehole. This wasn’t the first time the thought had occurred to me: after all, I am the kind of Brit who insists on the difference between a donkey, otherwise known as an ass, and a backside, otherwise known as an arse. But on this occasion my reflection was prompted not by looking in the mirror or by hearing a recording of my voice but by the experience of being a philosopher in a non-philosophical setting. Calling yourself a philosopher already makes you sound a bit of an arse, but the fact remains that I have spent most of my professional life studying, discussing, writing and teaching philosophy—and it is this, I submit, that has made me liable to appear a right royal arsehole....
One of the norms governing ordinary conversation is that to disagree too much is to be disagreeable. Just as socially competent individuals tend to encourage whoever’s speaking by nodding or giving other affirmative signals, so they also tend to agree with most of what is being said unless something really important is at stake. If a stranger says that the last few days have been brutal with all the rain, a well-adjusted conversationalist might gently suggest an alternative viewpoint (“It’ll make us appreciate the weekend even more!”) but they would be unlikely to dispute the proposition entirely (“Actually you’re wrong: there was a lot of gray sky but not that much rain. People often make that mistake.”)....
The trouble for philosophers is that they find disagreement to be one of life’s higher pleasures. Part of the fun of philosophy, for those who have acquired the taste, is the cut and thrust of argument: for the person proposing it’s the thrill of trying to articulate yourself in the knowledge that a step in the wrong direction could get you skewered; for the person responding it’s the thrill of trying to reverse engineer an argument until you find a chink in the armor. In principle there’s nothing personal about this, just as there’s nothing personal about trying to exploit a weakness in someone’s backhand. In practice things tend to be more complicated. To take an obvious example, philosophers will often test an argument to see if it implies something ridiculous or if it rests on premises that do. But it’s a short step from calling someone’s argument ridiculous to ridiculing them—and in most contexts even asking whether someone’s view might imply something ridiculous is already a violation of trust and mutual respect.
Philosophre Florian Cova, a participant in the project, writes:
Here is an information that might be of interest to the readers of Leiter Reports. In 2016, several experimental philosophers (including me) have teamed for a wide-scale replication project involving the replication of 40 experimental philosophy studies. In the wake of the replication crisis in psychology, it indeed seemed necessary to assess the reliability of results in experimental philosophy. The results of the projects are now out and can be found:
This lecture was on the occasion of his appointment to the rank of University Professor at UC Riverside; the lecture itself begins around the five-minute mark, and it includes a lot of interesting examples of the phenomenon:
Philosopher Kathleen Stock (Sussex) discusses the issues in a measured and informative way here and here. Those who recall the reaction to an earlier philosophical discussion of Germaine Greer's views can surmise why so many avoid the topic. But philosophers shouldn't, for reasons Professor Stock addresses.
An excerpt from Professor Stock's second essay below the fold:
....at 3AM. He discusses English psychologist and philosopher James Ward! From Professor Basile's interview:
I like forgotten figures in the history of philosophy, they are like smaller, tortuous roads, sometimes leading nowhere, sometimes leading to bizarre, undreamed of places… James Ward is one such figure, both personally and philosophically intriguing. He grew up in a very poor family, went through a religious crisis, studied in Germany, and eventually became a professor in Cambridge. He was also a teacher to Russell and Moore, and Russell always writes of him with great respect and affection. Ward lived at a time when Idealism was the dominant philosophy in Britain. With some simplification, it seems correct to say that the first British idealists looked to Hegel (as well as to other monist metaphysicians like Spinoza and Lotze) as their main source of inspiration. Ward, who disliked Hegelian monism as much as materialism, turned to Leibniz. His metaphysics, which he expounded in a book titled The Realm of Ends, or Pluralism and Theism, is a form of pluralistic metaphysical idealism (or spiritualism), according to which the basic constituents of the world are experiential substances....
[H]e did not slavishly follow Leibniz, but tried to adjust the theory of monads to his own needs. His monads differ from Leibniz’s in that they have windows, that is to say, they are capable of direct causal interaction. We do not live in the best of all possible worlds, but there has been progress in the course of evolution. How is this to be explained? There must be a God working within history, Ward insinuates, leading the monads towards an ideal end, but leaving them free to do their own choices and mistakes. There is a fascinating parallel between this metaphysics and Ward’s own development. Born in a very humble family, he became one of the most respected philosophers of his time (he held the prestigious Gifford Lectures twice). In a way, his life illustrates the basic metaphysical principle that slumbering monads may achieve the highest levels of rationality in the course of time.
The role of deductive logic in rationality is often exaggerated. The notion of rationality isn’t very precise (and indeed doesn’t have fixed descriptive content: ‘rational’ is an approval-term), but logic is one of only many factors. For instance there could probably be a perfectly logical advocate of the claim that the moon landing was a hoax, but few would regard such a person rational. It’s frequently noted that when one becomes aware that certain of one’s beliefs are logically inconsistent, the most rational response is often to keep the inconsistency, because one is not sure how best to eliminate it. The ability to manage known inconsistencies and other tensions in one’s beliefs is one of the many important factors in rationality that stress on “being logical” obscures.
COWEN: Let’s turn now to your new book, Aspiration: The Agency of Becoming. There’s a sentence from the book. Let me read it, and maybe you can explain it. “Proleptic reasons allow you to be rational even when you know that your reasons aren’t exactly the right ones.” What’s a proleptic reason?
CALLARD: What I’m trying to explain is, how do people get themselves to care about things that they don’t yet care about? Suppose that you want to come to appreciate a certain kind of music — that’s the example I use in the book — more than you do.
Then there’s the question, why should you do that? Why should you take the music appreciation class? You might say, well, the value of music. Classical music is this great thing, but you don’t see it as valuable, presumably. That’s why you have to take a class.
So there’s a kind of paradox that would suggest we should never try to get ourselves interested or into new things because, in order to have a reason to do that, we’d already have to have the interest.
...has been making the rounds on social media, and is a moderately interesting read. It is nice to see how important he considers Nietzsche to be, though I never had the sense he really understood Nietzsche very well.
Someone, who definitely did not want credit, just e-mailed me this, which he said is making the rounds on Facebook. Let's hope Prof. Satz changes things so much that even that joke won't get traction anymore.