We have touched on the topic of Templeton's now extensive funding of philosophy-related projects before, but over the weekend, Jason Stanley (Rutgers, moving to Yale) started a lively discussion on Facebook with this comment, which he gave me permission to repost here:
Because of Templeton, we may expect a huge number of papers and books in our field taking a religious perspective at the very least extremely seriously. This is not why I entered philosophy, and it is incompatible with my conception of its role in the university. I will not take any money from Templeton or speak at any Templeton funded conferences. Reasonable people may disagree, but I hope there are others who join me in so doing.
In the discussion that followed, the neuroscientist John Krakauer (Johns Hopkins) made a striking comment in support of Jason's suggestion, which he also kindly gave permission to repost here:
In the Wikipedia entry on Templeton, Dennett describes the experience of debating astrologers at an event and finding to his dismay that just doing this raised the respectability of astrology in the eyes of the audience. Templeton is not about the study of religion but about making sure that religion keeps a seat at the table when it comes to big questions. There is no better way to do this than to mix it up with scientists and philosophers. Can you imagine the reverse ever being necessary?
Drug companies love to be associated with whom they call "thought leaders" - these physicians are never explicitly asked to shill for the companies but they also rarely criticize the companies from that position. It is always good to institutionalize ( or pay) your rebels. Physicians who receive any kind of gift from drug companies from lunches to pens and free samples always say (there are studies on this) that they are not influenced and feel no pressure. The studies reveal otherwise.
Thoughts from readers? Please do check out the earlier links and discussions. Comments must include a full name and a valid e-mail address, or they will not appear.
So our poll got over 650 responses; here's the top 20:
1. Aristotle (Condorcet winner: wins contests with all other choices)
2. Immanuel Kant loses to Aristotle by 364–227
3. Plato loses to Aristotle by 414–168, loses to Immanuel Kant by 349–241
4. David Hume loses to Aristotle by 494–95, loses to Plato by 378–197
5. John Stuart Mill loses to Aristotle by 493–102, loses to David Hume by 292–271
6. Socrates loses to Aristotle by 464–104, loses to John Stuart Mill by 292–250
7. Thomas Hobbes loses to Aristotle by 556–29, loses to Socrates by 319–192
8. John Rawls loses to Aristotle by 557–38, loses to Thomas Hobbes by 272–250
9. Jeremy Bentham loses to Aristotle by 543–39, loses to John Rawls by 273–250
10. Aquinas loses to Aristotle by 547–23, loses to Jeremy Bentham by 280–222
11. Augustine loses to Aristotle by 550–20, loses to Aquinas by 306–131
12. Friedrich Nietzsche loses to Aristotle by 542–57, loses to Augustine by 263–247
13. Soren Kierkegaard loses to Aristotle by 553–31, loses to Friedrich Nietzsche by 290–210
14. Epicurus loses to Aristotle by 554–21, loses to Soren Kierkegaard by 218–214
15. Henry Sidgwick loses to Aristotle by 542–27, loses to Epicurus by 286–181
16. Jean-Jacques Rousseau loses to Aristotle by 566–21, loses to Henry Sidgwick by 242–216
17. G.E. Moore loses to Aristotle by 563–20, loses to Jean-Jacques Rousseau by 264–191
18. Benedict Spinoza loses to Aristotle by 543–24, loses to G.E. Moore by 252–194
19. G.E.M. Anscombe loses to Aristotle by 555–13, loses to Benedict Spinoza by 268–165
20. G.W.F. Hegel loses to Aristotle by 546–14, loses to G.E.M. Anscombe by 227–161
I'm not surprised by the top five, all of which I would have picked for the top ten, except perhaps Kant. But thereafter I do marvel at what my colleagues think! Thoughts from readers on the results, and what they say about the current state of philosophy? Signed comments strongly preferred. You may, of course, lament the absence of your favorite philosophers from the poll, though do consider whether they would have likely craked "the top 20." (Of those that didn't make the top 20, the biggest surprise to my mind is Adam Smith.)
This is a revised version of the keynote address I gave at the Danish Philosophical Association last month; the abstract:
Nietzsche views the Western philosophical tradition as organized around a conception of philosophy deriving from Socrates. According to this (loosely) Socratic philosophical canon: (1) Philosophy, as the “love of wisdom,” aims for knowledge of timeless and non-empirical truths, including truths about the good and the right; (2) Knowledge of the truth is the overriding value in philosophy and is also essential for living well; and (3) Philosophical knowledge is acquired through the exercise of reason, understood as a faculty that can operate independently, in whole or in part, of a posteriori evidence. This paper explores Nietzsche's reasons for rejecting this conception of philosophy on each count, especially as developed in his book, Twilight of the Idols. Nietzsche's replacement of metaphysical speculation with psychological diagnosis is compared to Carnap's own critique of metaphysics, and helps explain Carnap's high appraisal of Nietzsche compared to other major figures in post-Kantian German philosophy. Nietzsche's rejection of the traditional philosophical canon is contrasted with that of other critics of the tradition, including Marx, Quine, Heidegger, and Wittgenstein. The reaction against naturalism in recent Anglophone philosophy is offered, finally, as a case study in support of Nietzsche's skepticism about the philosophical canon.
Not much news right now, and we haven't run a poll in awhile, so here it goes. No living philosophers were included. I'm sure that almost everyone will think there is at least one outrageous omission, so I apologize in advance, but so it goes. Have fun! (Links now fixed, sorry about that.)
[W]hat is the surest way of knowing that one's idea for a philosophy paper is original? I have often found myself frantically looking up possible titles of papers/books with similar ideas to mine on Google scholar, philosopher's index etc., and, conducting an almost identical search months later, new entries always seem to creep in. Is that just about the best one can do, apart from talking to experts in relevant fields?
My inclination is to think the best bet is to ask faculty in your department who are expert in the area, but I imagine many readers would benefit from the experience of others on this front.
[W]hen we try to think about what it is like to be another animal, we bring our human standards with us, and then the other animals seem to us like lesser beings. A human being who lives a life governed only by desires and instincts, not by values, would certainly be a lesser being. But that doesn’t mean that the other animals are lesser beings. They are simply beings of a different kind. When we look at the other animals through the lens of our own standards, just as when we look at them through the lens of our own interests, we cannot get them properly in view.
We are all born, as Eliot says, in moral stupidity, unable to see others except through the lens of our own interests and standards. Kant suggested that it took four steps for us to emerge from this moral stupidity, but perhaps there is a fifth step we have yet to take. That is to try to look at the other animals and their lives unhindered by our own interests and specifically human standards, and to see them for what they really are. What is important about the other animals is what we have in common: that they, like us, are the kinds of beings to whom things can be important. Like us, they pursue the things that are important to them as if they were important absolutely, important in deadly earnest—for, like us, what else can they do? When we do this, we claim our own standing as ends in ourselves. But our only reason for doing that is that it is essential to the kinds of beings we are, beings who take their own concerns to be important. The claim of the other animals to the standing of ends in themselves has same ultimate foundation as our own—the essentially self-affirming nature of life itself.
Some of us are hearty and confident and think we are almost there [in explaining life]. Others think there is still a revolution in our future if we are to make sense of intelligence, or of life, as a genuinely natural phenomenon.
What kind of disagreement is this? To my mind it is foolish to cast it as a standoff between those who embrace science and admit its stunning achievements and those who reject the project of natural science itself. It is not a conflict between those who know and those who are confused.
Certainly how such a description looks may depend on which side of the standoff one is on. But Michael Weisberg (Penn) and I continue to be puzzled by Noe's position, both in his original quasi-defense of Nagel and this new piece. Michael gave me permission to post his response:
All parties agree that we don't know how life got started, but most scientists, contra Noe, see this as a problem of historical reconstruction. The event in question was almost 4 billion years ago, and since the historical record is so limited, we have to construct plausible hypotheses about what happened. There are plausible mechanisms for each major step in the origin of life (including inorganic molecules to organic molecules, achiral to chiral molecules, chiral molecules to self-replicating systems, cellular encapsulation, RNA to DNA, etc.) The real problem is not having a plausible account, it is knowing which plausible account is correct since more than one is consistent with the data. We might never be in a better epistemic situation, but I don't understand why we would need dramatic theoretical innovation as opposed to more data.
It is also strange that Noe thinks we are very far from making life in a test tube. We can already construct novel DNA-like systems from scratch. Synthetic DNA has been inserted into cells. We seem to be close to making the first artificial cells (all the parts have been made, but functional integration is still an obstacle). If we put all these pieces together, will we not have life in a test tube?
In sum, this does seem to be in part a "conflict between those who know and those who are confused," at least about some important aspects of the science.
We must challenge the thought that philosophy aims to contribute to human knowledge of the world. Its task is to resolve philosophical problems. The characteristic feature of philosophical problems is their non-empirical, a priori character: no scientific experiment can settle the question of whether the mind is the brain, what the meaning of a word is, whether human beings are responsible for their deeds (have free will), whether trees falling on uninhabited desert islands make any noise, what makes necessary truths necessary. All these, and many hundreds more, are conceptual questions. They are not questions about concepts (philosophy is not a science of concepts). But they are questions that are to be answered, resolved or dissolved by careful scrutiny of the concepts involved. The only way to scrutinize concepts is to examine the use of the words that express them. Conceptual investigations are investigations into what makes sense and what does not. And, of course, questions of sense antecede questions of empirical truth – for if something makes no sense, it can be neither true nor false. It is just nonsense – not silly, but rather: it transgresses the bounds of sense. Philosophy patrols the borders between sense and nonsense; science determines what is empirically true and what is empirically false. What falsehood is for science, nonsense is for philosophy.
Let me give you a simple example or two: When psychologists and cognitive scientists say that it is your brain that thinks, then, rather than nodding your head and saying ‘How interesting! What an important discovery!’, you should pause to wonder what this means. What, you might then ask, is a thoughtful brain, and what is a thoughtless one? Can my brain concentrate on what I am doing – or does it just concentrate on what it is doing? Does my brain hold political opinions? Is it, as Gilbert and Sullivan might ask, a little Conservative or a little Liberal? Can it be opinionated? or narrow minded? – What on earth would an opinionated and narrow-minded brain be? Just ask yourself: if it is your brain that thinks, how does your brain tell you what it thinks? And can you disagree with it? And if you do, how do you tell it that it is mistaken – that what it thinks is false? And can your brain understand what you say to it? Can it speak English? – If you continue this line of questions you will come to realise that the very idea that the brain thinks makes no sense. But, of course, to show why it makes no sense requires a great deal more work.
Alan Schrift, a mediocre Nietzsche scholar at Grinnell College (otherwise a reputable liberal arts college), writes:
A general consensus has emerged that following the passing of Foucault, Deleuze, and Derrida, Alain Badiou remains, in the words of Slavoj Žižek that appear on this book's cover above the title, the one final "figure like Plato or Hegel [who] walks here among us!
This is typical, I fear, of the embarrassing hagiography that is characteristic of those parts of the discipline where fealty counts for more than content. I have read only a bit of Badiou, partly because it didn't seem worth more effort, though I didn't have the sense he was a charlatan of Derridean proportions. But surely no one really thinks that Foucault or Deleuze is on a par with Plato or Hegel in terms of philosophical influence (Foucault is a more profound social theorist than Hegel and probably Plato, but that's a different matter).
In any case, as a sociological matter, declarations like this are interesting, even if absurd.
Since antiquity, philosophy has been centrally concerned with what we usually call metaphysics and epistemology (what exists, and what can we know about what exists?), and the theory of value (how should we live and what should we value?). Because our predecessors answered these questions often more profoundly and more perspiculously than us, the history of philosophy is central to our discipline (though probably not as central as it should be). Because in the wake of the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, the sciences, including mathematics, emerged as powerful guides to the metaphysics and epistemology, reflection on those disciplines has also become central to philosophy. Unsurprisingly, then, the very best departments are excellent in all these areas of our discipline. NYU emerged about a dozen years ago as the best department in the Anglophone world because it brought together not only many of the leading figures in metaphysics and epistemology, broadly construed, as well as the philosophy of the sciences and mathematics, but because it also invested heavily in value theory and--in a way some other leading departments have not--in the history of philosophy, including leading scholars of modern philosophy (Don Garrett), Kant and post-Kantian philosophy (Beatrice Longuenesse), and later 19th- and 20th-century Continental philosophy (John Richardson [a long-time member of the department], Tamsin Shaw).
There is a myth afoot, especially in cyberspace, that strength in the Continental traditions in philosophy does not help a school's ranking in the PGR. But as far as I can tell from years of doing these surveys, the opposite is the case. That is, hold constant strength in the other areas of philosophy, those who come out on top have excellent scholar(s) of the Continental traditions on the faculty. NYU's dominance over Rutgers is almost entirely traceable to that fact, and such examples could be easily multiplied (e.g., Yale vs. North Carolina; Stanford vs. UCLA and Southern California; Columbia vs. Arizona and CUNY; Chicago vs. Wisconsin and Duke; UC Riverside vs. Virginia and UC Santa Barbara). Given the financial pressures on philosophy departments these days, and the tremendous undergraduate interest in the post-Kantian traditions in European philosophy, I expect one of the "growth" areas in philosophy hiring over the next decade to be in scholars of the Continental traditions.
During the 1955-56 academic year, the Professors of Philosophy at Harvard were Henry D. Aiken, Raphael Demos, W.V.O. Quine, Morton White, John Wild, and Donald Williams. There was one associate professor: Roderick Firth. The junior faculty were Hiram McClendon, Hao Wang and Paul Ziff.
At Princeton, in the same year, the full professors were Carl Hempel, Gregory Vlastos, and Ledger Wood. The associate professors were Walter Kaufmann, James Ward Smith, and Arthur Szathmary. The junior faculty were Hilary Putnam, Bernard Wand, and John Yolton.
It is an interesting question whether the academic philosophical world of sixty years from now will look more or less discontinuous. I bet on more continuous, since the professionalization of academia has become more firmly entrenched since 1955.
Mohan Matthen (Toronto) comments on the peculiar spectacle of Thomas Nagel and Alvin Plantinga trading laudatory reviews of their recent anti-naturalist books in different high-profile publications, especially when at least one of the books (Nagel's) is obviously not very good (I have not read Plantinga's, though I'm not optimistic given what I've read about it). (Commenting on Professor Matthen's post, the distinguished Oxford philosopher of physics David Wallace offers the amusing quip: "I was initially shocked to find that two such distinguished philosophers were so remarkably ignorant of basic science. It totally violated my common sense. Then I realised that in that case, it couldn't be true. So that's okay.")
NAGEL IS NOT AFRAID to take unpopular positions, and he does not seem to mind the obloquy that goes with that territory....Nagel has endorsed the negative conclusions of the much-maligned Intelligent Design movement, and he has defended it from the charge that it is inherently unscientific. In 2009 he even went so far as to recommend Stephen Meyer’s book Signature in the Cell: DNA and the Evidence for Intelligent Design, a flagship declaration of Intelligent Design, as a book of the year. For that piece of blasphemy Nagel paid the predictable price; he was said to be arrogant, dangerous to children, a disgrace, hypocritical, ignorant, mind-polluting, reprehensible, stupid, unscientific, and in general a less than wholly upstanding citizen of the republic of letters.
I suppose it testifies to the influence of this blog that most of Plantinga's sarcastic aside clearly references criticisms levelled at Nagel on this blog (and other authors to whom I linked). But Plantinga's silliness aside, let's be clear why Nagel earned the criticism:
1. There is no scientific controversy about Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection.
2. There is no evidence for Intelligent Design or any other religiously motivated alternative.
3. As good fallibilists, we can acknowledge that, despite (1) and (2), Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection might turn out to be false. But fabrications, confusions, and bone-headed philosophcial speculations give us no reason to be skeptical.
4. Given 1-3, it's an outrage to try to encourage high schools to teach children anything other than Darwin's theory of evolution by natural selection as part of the standard biology curriculum. The raison-d'etre of the Discovery [sic] Institute and its paid shills like Stephen Meyer are to perpetrate this outrage.
No one doubts that Nagel and Plantinga are capable philosophers, who have done high quality professional work during their careers. Plantinga at least has the excuse of his religion to explain his more doubtful philosophical forays. But neither can be excused for trying to legitimate the hucksters at the Discovery [sic] Institute and the Intelligent Design scam. This really isn't a hard issue, and one can predict with certainty that both Nagel's and Plantinga's trafficking with this nonsense will not redound to their credit over the long haul.
PhilosophyBites asked lots of philosophers (and some others), and collected all the answers here. Participants inlude Frank Jackson, Tim Crane, Kit Fine, Martha Nussbaum, Raymond Geuss, Cynthia Freeland, Helen Beebee, Joshua Knobe, Sean Kelly, Gideon Rosen, Noel Carroll, and me, among many others; in the "others" category there's Nicola Lacey, Catharine MacKinnon (a disappointing answer, I thought, more political than intellectually revealing), and Alison Gopnik, among others.
Jason Clark, a postdoc at the Institute for Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrueck, writes:
It seems clear that philosophers co-author papers far less often than scientists do, but while there has been some discussion on your blog as to the market value of co-authored works, I haven't found any mention of comparative data on co-authorship rates by discipline (not to mention the potential significance of such differences). Do you know of any such research, or could you post this question for comments?
I asked David Papineau (King's College, London) to share a bit about how he teaches logic at KCL, since I thought it might be of general interest:
Once philosophy students get beyond the foothills, they are likely to start coming across passing references to ideas like denumerability, Bayesian conditionalization, modal scope distinctions, logical completeness, and so on. Yet often there will be nothing in their education designed to explain these technical notions to them.
For the past few years I’ve been teaching a course at King’s College London that aims to remedy this. I’ve just published the course as a text with OUP, called Philosophical Devices. (The book’s four sections cover: sets and numbers, starting with the membership relation and ending with the generalized continuum hypothesis; analyticity, a prioricity and necessity; probability, including objective versus subjective probability, conditionalization and correlation; metalogic, starting with syntax and semantics, and finishing with a sketch of Godel’s theorem. All in under 50,000 words including exercises and solutions.)
No doubt the techies will think that a book like this can only be a bluffer’s guide. But I think that I explain everything properly, and moreover make it philosophically interesting. Of course I don’t provide the depth available from higher-level courses in mathematical logic and the like. But for those many aspirant philosophers who will never go near such courses, I at least offer a way of understanding what the experts are talking about.
My course at King’s uses half the twenty weeks the first-year students used to spend on elementary logic. I’ve long been unsure about the point of normal introductory logic courses. It is doubtful they do anything to improve argumentative skills, and they tend not to leave time for any philosophically significant metalogic. Of course, they are a necessary prerequisite for those who are going to go on in logic. But for the many who aren’t, it is not obvious what the philosophical payoff is.
Not that this need be a competition. Ideally I’d want the students to do some introductory logic alongside my introduction to technical ideas. That’s what our students at King’s now do. But if they did have to choose, I think that my course would do more for their philosophical education than an extended training in elementary logical exercises.
In CHE. A comment from one "dvelleman" (I'm assuming it's the philosopher) that follows the article makes the key point:
Those who lament the loss of "relevance" and the rise of "specialization" in philosophy haven't read Aristotle's Metaphysics ... or Spinoza ... or Leibniz ... or Kant ... or, for that matter, Aristophanes' Clouds, which shows that their complaint is as old as the discipline itself.
We created a self-transforming paper survey of moral opinions, covering both foundational principles, and current dilemmas hotly debated in the media. This survey used a magic trick to expose participants to a reversal of their previously stated attitudes, allowing us to record whether they were prepared to endorse and argue for the opposite view of what they had stated only moments ago. The result showed that the majority of the reversals remained undetected, and a full 69% of the participants failed to detect at least one of two changes. In addition, participants often constructed coherent and unequivocal arguments supporting the opposite of their original position. These results suggest a dramatic potential for flexibility in our moral attitudes, and indicates a clear role for self-attribution and post-hoc rationalization in attitude formation and change.
So with over 2,000 votes cast, we know something about the eating habits of philosophers and their views about the ethics of those habits. 8% of respondents were vegans (a rate 10-20 times higher than in the population at large), 25% are vegetarians (a rate about 8 times higher than in the population at large), and 67% are carnivores. Not quite a quarter of the vegetarians, however, had ethical doubts about their eating practices--I assume many of those thought they really ought to be vegans. (Matthew Hernandez, a philosophy student at Portland State, wrote with a question for those folks: "I've never heard a reason for being Vegetarian that did not extend further to Veganism. That is, every reason I've heard for being Vegetarian, is a reason to be Vegan and say if we rated the level of ethical outcome of the acts, the Vegan would rank higher than the Vegetarian (solely based on my knowledge of the arguments and relevant scientific and statistical data as well as knowledge of factory farm practices)." I hope some readers will take that up in the comments.)
More than half of the carnivores professed ethical doubts about their eating practices. (That might be consistent with a recent finding by Eric Schwitzgebel and Joshua Rust that moral philosophers "were...substantially more likely [than other philosophers] to self-report vegetarianism. However, when asked about their last evening meal, ethicists reported eating meat at approximately the same rate as did the other groups.") It would be interesting to hear from carnivores on this subject. Are moral considerations in fact not overriding in their practical reasoning? Is it that they think the ethical arguments against meat-eating are not wholly persuasive, and they are still undecided?
Finally, 5% of carnivores identified ethical reasons as central to why they do eat meat. What did readers have in mind? Is it that that they are Kantians or contractarians who think that non-human animals have no intrinsic moral standing or worth, such that it would be a moral mistake to refrain from eating meat for allegedly ethical reasons? Or do they share the view widespread, for example, in the disability rights community, that Singer-style reasoning in support of vegetarianism entails morally reprehensible conclusions in other domains, constituting a reductio of the premises? Or something else altogether?
I'll consider unsigned comments, IF they include a valid e-mail address and they are substantive and on point. I would prefer signed comments. Readers may comment on any aspects of the results that are of interest.
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)