from Thane Rosembaum, professor of law at NYU, here. [Update: Rosenbaum's status at NYU is unclear. See comments below.] He argues that Gaza civilians aren't really innocent civilians because they elected Hamas. Isn't this the same argument that Osama bin Laden made for the legitimacy of 9/11?
Rosembaum goes on to say: " children whose parents are not card-carrying Hamas loyalists. These are the true innocents of Gaza." One doesn't need to be an astute reader of Grice to realize the implication is clearly that children of parents who are card-carrying Hamas loyalists are deserving of all the violence and killing that is directed at them. Of course, its not hard to think of past world leaders who have had similar attitudes about rightful punishment.
Interesting article here by Princeton English professor Raphael Allison comparing literary theorists and rock bands. There's some good stuff on the anthropology of subcultures to explain the weird ways that people talk at thea annual MLA convention, but the author's main conceit is as far as I can tell completely undermined by the radical uncoolness of professors.
Remember Colin McGinn's blog post about epatering the bourgeoisie, where he places himself as a cultural force alongside John Lennon and Kingsley Amis? It was sad in part because you realized that this deeply uncool person somehow made it that far in life with no idea how uncool he is, and also how this blithe unawareness was so central to his downfall. What is it about the ecosystem of academic stardom that makes that even remotely possible? I think this is related to my earlier post about how fame robs the famous of the moral friction that keeps the rest of us from being complete fools.
Allison kind of gets this, as he explores the tension between the radical pose of much literary theory and the deeply conventional lives of university professors filling out their TPS reports. But then Allison responds to the cognitive dissonance by arguing that this is similar to the way mods reappropriated conventional business suits and scooters as they rebelled against British society. The end result is kind of like the unconvincing speech by the ghost of Jim Morrison in Wayne's World II where Garth learns that you can do your homework during the week and party out on Friday night.
Obviously, neither Mike Myers nor Raphael Allison read Lester Bangs, whose character in Almost Famous partakes in the following bit of dialogue:
Lester Bangs: The Doors? Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Alice Wisdom: I like The Doors. Lester Bangs: Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic.
This is the third and last of a brief sequnce of posts widely dispersed over time on three major texts, which I taught during the academic year that has just passed. The first was on the Essays of Montaigne and the second was on Montesquieu's Spirit of the Laws. These are rather different cases, so that wit Montaigne it is a case of Montaigne not getting adequate attention as a major figure in the history of philosophy, as well as the attention he gets as a Renaissance literary figure and humanist. In the case of Montesquieu, the attention he get is appropriately directed at his contributions to political, social, legal, and historical thought, but despite his foundational role in all these areas he looks a bit second division, and marginal, a bit condescended to as an antiquarian of his time, and the amount of attention he gets is I believe believe below par given the level of his contributions.
What I am discussing is this post is the New Science of Giambattista Vico. It makes a slightly ironic sequel to the post on Montesquieu, since there is case for saying that Montesquieu, along with Rousseau, plagiarised Vico, particularly considering that both spent enough time in Italy that they must have had conversations about the distinguished Professor in Naples, who was at least well known in the peninsula in his own lifetime.
There's been a good bit conversation recently about the merits and demerits of "public philosophy" and, as someone who considers herself committed to public philosophy (whatever that is). I'm always happy to stumble across a piece of remarkably insightful philosophical work in the public realm. Case in point: Robin James (Philosophy, UNC-Charlotte) posted a really fascinating and original short-essay on the Cyborgology blog a couple of days ago entitled "An attempt at a precise & substantive definition of 'neoliberalism,' plus some thoughts on algorithms." There, she primarily aims to distinguish the sense in which we use the term "neoliberalism" to indicate an ideology from its use as a historical indicator, and she does so by employing some extremely helpful insights about algorithms, data analysis, the mathematics of music, harmony, and how we understand consonance and dissonance. I'm deeply sympathetic with James' underlying motivation for this piece, namely, her concern that our use of the term "neoliberalism" (or its corresponding descriptor "neoliberal") has become so ubiquitous that it is in danger of being evacuated of "precise and substantive" meaning altogether. I'm sympathetic, first, as a philosopher, for whom precise and substantive definitions are as essential as hammers and nails are to a carpenter. But secondly, and perhaps more importantly, I'm sympathetic with James' effort because as Jacques Derrida once said "the more confused the concept, the more it lends itself to opportunistic appropriation." Especially in the last decade or so, "neoliberalism" is perhaps the sine qua non term that has been, by both the Left and the Right, opportunistically appropriated.
James' definition of neoliberalism's ideological position ("everything in the universe works like a deregulated, competitive, financialized, capitalist market") ends up relying heavily on her distinction of neoliberalism as a particular type of ideology, i.e., one "in which epistemology and ontology collapse into one another, an epistemontology." In sum, James conjectures that neoliberal epistemontology purports to know what it knows (objects, beings, states of affairs, persons, the world) vis-a-vis "the general field of reference of economic anaylsis."
Thomas Reid argued that the human default trust in testimony is a gift of nature, which is sustained by two principles that "tally with each other", the propensity to speak the truth, and the tendency to trust what others tell us. Interestingly, he observed an embodied aspect of this trust:
It is the intention of nature, that we should be carried in arms before we are able to walk upon our legs; and it is likewise the intention of nature, that our belief should be guided by the authority and reason of others, before it can be guided by our own reason. The weakness of the infant, and the natural affection of the mother, plainly indicate the former; and the natural credulity of youth, and authority of age, as plainly indicate the latter. The infant, by proper nursing and care, acquires strength to walk without support (1764, Inquiry into the Human Mind, chapt VI, Of Seeing)
Reid's observations point to an intriguing possibility: to what extent is social cognition, such as trust in testimony, influenced by our bodily position, in particular the position we have as helpless infants? The Japanese primatologist Tetsuro Matsuzawa has argued that the supine position (that is, position on the back) of human newborns, has been a decisive factor in the evolution of human social cognition.
Humans and chimpanzees differ quite markedly in how much they trust others. For instance, although both chimpanzees and humans imitate, human children are more prone to overimitation than juvenile chimps, the children, but not the chimps, indiscriminately follow actions by an adult that are reduntant in obtaining a desired result (see e.g., here).
As this is the last BMoF before the summer break, I had hoped to post something cheerful (especially since we are leaving for Brazil tomorrow). But after a week of so much tragedy – the horrific situation in Gaza, the MH17 flight shot down in Ukraine – it is hard to think of anything that might be remotely appropriate to post today. There is however a song by recent BMoF guests Legião Urbana, a beautiful song about death, which might be just right: 'Vento no litoral'. Renato Russo wrote it after his long-time boyfriend had died, a victim of AIDS (which would in turn take Russo’s life a few years later). To be sure, the song does not have a political dimension to go with the deaths in Gaza and in Ukraine, but insofar as these are also private deaths (many people are now mourning the loss of their mother, father, son, daughter, lover, friend etc.), the song is spot-on what it means to still be alive after the death of a loved one. “Where are you now, beside here inside of me?”
Update: In the comments below philosopher Shelley Tremain takes issue with me posting this song and philosopher Christy Mag Uidur argues that the song's casual use of a derogatory term for disabled people is offensive. When I initially posted it I hadn't realized that it had the word "spastic" in it, nor even that it was historically a derogatory term for people with cerebral palsy.
This being said, given the satirical context, I don't have good intuitions about whether the usage is morally objectionable. First, having narrators over-commit to a premise to the point of offensiveness is a reliable trope in good satire (cf. Will Farrell's most brilliant routines on Saturday Night Live). I think that we would be much diminished as humans if the trope were hounded out of polite society. Second, but related, it's not Weird Al using the word, it's the song's narrator, who (as with many Weird Al songs) is himself part of what is being satirized. Third, as someone who had to cope with minor disabilities growing up, I can't help but find some of this concern paternalistic. I do think paternalism has a place, but I'm not quite convinced it does here.
All that being said, I do think that consequentialist concerns weigh very strong with respect to these kinds of issues. If the popularity of the song on facebook is causing a lot of harm, then it should not be popular.
Please add to the debate if you have any insight into this.*
[*Full disclosure: I've been a fan of Weird Al since My Bologna aired on the Doctor Demento Show when I was a kid. My wife and I saw him live in concert about seven years ago.]
“Yo” Is an App that doesn’t let you do much: it just lets you send or receive a “Yo” message to/from another subscriber. Purists might insist on this being content, but it really is pretty de minimis, which lets you ask the obvious question: why on earth would a communication technology that doesn’t really let you communicate anything interest anyone? My colleague Robin James has a brilliant answer to that question, which is that Yo basically embodies what Jodi Dean calls “communicative capitalism.” Here is James:
Visits of condolence is all we get from them. They squat at the Holocaust Memorial, They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall And they laugh behind heavy curtains In their hotels. They have their pictures taken Together with our famous dead At Rachel's Tomb and Herzl's Tomb And on Ammunition Hill. They weep over our sweet boys And lust after our tough girls And hang up their underwear To dry quickly In cool, blue bathrooms.
Once I sat on the steps by agate at David's Tower, I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. "You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there's an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head." "But he's moving, he's moving!" I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, "You see that arch from the Roman period? It's not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family."
In order to examine and address issues of participation faced by minority and underrepresented groups in academic philosophy (e.g. gender, race, native-language, sexual orientation, class, and disability minorities), a number of UK departments have recently started to build a UK network of chapters of MAP ( www.mapforthegap.com ).
With 24 active chapters to date, MAP (Minorities And Philosophy) is already a successful and widespread organization in the US and elsewhere. If you would like to have a MAP chapter at your own institution, this Call For Collaborators is for you. MAP chapters are generally run by graduate students (typically 3 or 4 per department), with some help from academic staff members; undergraduate participation is also encouraged.
At this stage we would be happy to hear especially from graduate students (groups or individuals) at UK Philosophy departments as well as from UK Philosophy academic staff who would like to coordinate graduate student interest in their institutions. Please contact Filippo Contesi (filippo.contesi at gmail dot com).
John Divers' Possible Worlds has a nice discussion of the worry that counterpart theory doesn't adequately justify the extent to which we are ego-concerned with our own possibilities. If the possible Humphrey that won the election is a distinct creature in a universe not spatially connected to ours, what does that matter to the actual Humphrey, very much concerned with the possibility of his own winning or losing?
Divers does a very good job on behalf of the counterpart theorist in trying to undermine this worry. It mostly involves showing how non-philosophical sentences involving ego concern end up coming out true as interpreted by the counterpart theorist. It's a little bit weak in that properties we might take to be intrinsic end up being relational. This is only a weakness because Lewis and Divers take this kind of thing to be a criticism of the person who holds that worlds overlap (the same Humphrey existing at multiple worlds), and this is why Divers himself only considers counterpart theorists who believe in the reality of non-actual possible worlds, and actualists who don't. But if you have to explain putatively intrinsic things relationally, why not do it to avoid counterparts in the first place? I think for Lewis the other part of the puzzle is a horror at ontic vagueness, which the overlapper would be more likely to face. For Lewis the possible worlds and objects aren't vague, but there is vagueness in our decision to take certain objects to be counterparts or not.
I'm still not up to date on this literature, but I think that Divers at least doesn't present the best argument to justify Kripke's original worry about ego concern. This is clear if we consider duplicates instead of counterparts. Duplicates are objects existing in the same world that could serve as counterparts if they existed in different worlds.* Given the kinds of recombination principles that Lewis and Divers countenance, it should follow that for any two counterparts at different worlds, there is a world where objects indiscernible to both counterparts (as well as the environmental aspects that make them work as counterparts) exist.
A few days ago I posted a list of features that I take to be essential to an ideal report on placement, seeking comments and suggestions. One of the features I mention there is recency. All departments are likely to place more candidates given more time, but this slope is steeper for certain departments. Moreover, placement varies year to year. Thus, one's choice of time frame can substantially alter data on placement. This is the reason that Brian Leiter's numbers for NYU look better than mine (here and here)--I looked at the years 2012 to 2014 (3 years in the recent past), whereas he looked at the years 2005 to 2010 (6 years in the distant past).* Looking at NYU's placement page, one can easily see that the percentage of graduates placed in tenure-track jobs drops as one reaches the present. As I said, this is likely true for all departments. This means that if you look at data in the distant past, it might not matter what the length of the time frame is, but if you look at data ending in the recent past, the length of time frame makes an impact. That is, for NYU for the years starting in 2005, a 6-year time frame has 87% TT placement, a 5-year time frame has 90% TT placement, a 4-year time frame has 88% TT placement, and a 3-year time frame has 90% TT placement. But for the years ending in 2013, a 6-year time frame has 69% TT placement, a 5-year time frame has 65% TT placement, a 4-year time frame has 56% TT placement, and a 3-year time frame has 56% TT placement. Note that even the 6-year window ending in 2013 is associated with much lower placement than any of the windows starting in 2005. It seems obvious to me that we should favor more recent data, since they reveal which departments place students more quickly than others and since they are more relevant to students looking at graduate programs. Beyond that, it is not obvious just what length of time we should choose (3, 4, 5, or 6 years) or just which year we should use as the endpoint.
Yet, one's choice of time frame has a large impact on comparative placement data. Let's compare NYU's placement page to the placement pages of those departments that I found with these methods to have the highest tenure-track placement rates: Berkeley, Princeton, Pittsburgh HPS, and UCLA. If we look at NYU's worst time frame it comes out behind all the others (2010-2013: NYU 56%, UCLA 59%, Berkeley 63%, Princeton 65%, and Pittsburgh HPS 88%). If we look at NYU's best time frame it comes out ahead of all the others (2006-2009: NYU 94%, UCLA 67%, Berkeley 78%, Princeton 86%, and Pittsburgh HPS 93%). If, on the other hand, we look at multiple time frames then a new type of comparison is possible. We can determine, for example, which department has the least low value for tenure-track placement, given any time frame in the period from 2005 to 2013 (with a 3-year minimum time frame and a 6-year maximum time frame). In that case, Pittsburgh HPS comes out on top. It's lowest value is 85%. In comparison, the lowest value for Princeton is 65% (2010-2013), the lowest value for Berkeley is 59% (2009-2012), the lowest value for UCLA is 52% (2009-2012), and the lowest value for NYU is 56% (2010-2013). So if we look at the least low placement for all of these time frames, NYU comes out second to last. Finally, if we look at the full range, from 2005 to 2013, NYU comes out in the middle (Pittsburgh HPS 93%, Princeton 76%, NYU 74%, Berkeley 70%, UCLA 65%).
Suffice it to say, these decisions make a substantial impact on one's results. For that reason, one should attend carefully to justifications on recency and time frame. I will remove the links to Brian Leiter's two posts on placement data here, since I am concerned that they will mislead students. If I had written those posts, I would certainly take them down knowing what I have made clear in this post (i.e. that the numbers for NYU are inflated for the very time frame that Brian Leiter chose to look at, relative to other departments). I have emailed Brian a link to this post.
As for my data, I use the years 2012 to 2014 because those are the most recent years and the years for which I have large data sets. (ProPhilosophy was kind enough to email departments directly in 2012 and 2013, which substantially increased the number of reported hires for those two years.) To go prior to 2012 I would have to either look at individual placement pages for all 118 departments, many of which do not have data of the sort I need, or use what I know to be a skewed sample from the Leiter Reports blog. I have made clear that any rankings I produce are a work in progress and should not be taken as authoritative. (That is one reason I post them to blogs, and not an independent website.) But as time goes on and this process is improved I will have to start making decisions about which time frames matter. I may well follow the lead of David Marshall Miller in reporting multiple time frames, since this might be helpful for students. Suggestions on this point are welcome. (The data that I used for this post are after the break. Feel free to suggest corrections where needed.)
*I hope that this does not need saying, but I am not picking on NYU here. One of my dissertation advisors was at NYU and one of my best friends is currently a student there. I am looking at NYU because it appears to be a focal point in Brian Leiter's criticism of my work. If one were to look at other measures beyond just tenure-track placement, NYU may well fare better than it does here.
Update (7/14/14): In order to satisfy the worry that NYU is particularly burdened by graduates of the JD/PhD program in this measure (2 graduates from NYU left academia for law in this time period, compared to 1 from Princeton, 3 from Berkeley, and perhaps 2 from UCLA), I compared NYU to these other programs while leaving out all those graduates who left academia. In that case, as I point out in the comment below, it is still clear that time frame matters and, in particular, that the time frame of 2005-2010 overly inflates NYU's record (2008-2013 puts NYU in the middle of the group, at 80%, whereas 2005-2010 puts it at 95%, square with Berkeley and Pittsburgh HPS, ahead of UCLA and Princeton. It might be worth noting that with the same methods Fordham University placed 69% of its graduates into tenure-track jobs between 2008 and 2013). See my comment below for details.
Lots of nice reflections here about how fear undermines our vocation. Though much of it is (appropriately) scary, there's some optimism too. Arvan's post ends with:
The only final thing I would suggest--following Zombie's remarks above as well as my experience with the Cocoon--is that whatever risks you take, whether they are blogging or whatever, commit yourself to pursuing those risks kindly, and helpfully. As I mentioned above, early in my career I found the discipline to be a rather scary place, full of judgmental people. Part of this, I think, was just my fear talking (I "saw" judgmentalism everywhere). But it was not all fear talking: there are judgmental people here and there. But, what I will say is this: if you commit yourself to pursuing your career--your "risks"--kindly, you may be surprised just how many people of good will are out there. In my experience running the Cocoon, there are a ton of people out there looking for more kindness in the discipline. Be among them, and be among those who contribute kindness. If you do, you have little to fear.
This is an important thing to remember. There are so many kind and helpful people studying and teaching philosophy. Their kindness usually (though not always) precludes them from being that great at tooting their own horns, but if you stay in the biz long enough you'll be humbled by the amount of supererogation you run into. This is really pronounced with respect to people who agree to write letters for tenure files. The letter writers get nothing out of it. It's just a lot of work, and you don't get any money for it and it doesn't go on your CV. But at this point I've witnessed dozens of philosophers give up a month or so of their summer to charitably assess one of my colleague's works and then explain it in a way that is accessible to LSU administrators. It's one of the most inspiring things I've experienced. And some non-trivial amount of journal reviewers put in a lot of extra work giving the author helpful advice about how to rewrite the paper. Twice when I was not tenured I got new paper ideas from the reviewers' comments. I couldn't thank the person by name because it was anonymous.
I applaud Brian Leiter's efforts to examine placement data in the past few days *Update 6/13/14: I have removed these links because I think that Brian Leiter's posts have the potential to mislead students. See my new post here*, as well as the efforts of David Marshall Miller and Andy Carson over the past few years. All of this is effort to improve the profession and deserves recognition as such. I plan to continue reporting placement data next year and will likely post the report to an independent website. Below is a list of features that I take to be essential to an ideal report on placement, together with some ideas for improvement on my own work. Please comment below!
1) the original data: as far as I know this is missing from both Brian Leiter and Andy Carson's efforts. This is important because it keeps the analyses honest by opening them up to public scrutiny. I have provided links to my data and will continue to do so. Recommendations on format are welcome here.
2) the methods: key information is missing in Brian Leiter's presentation, such as the criteria for determining which placements are to "research universities and selective liberal arts colleges," but as far as I can tell David Marshall Miller and Andy Carson are clear and up front about their methods. I have tried to be clear about my methods, but I have received some emails that reveal shortcomings here. Recommendations welcome.
3) completeness: Brian Leiter's efforts, as of this moment, include only a few departments (that were not selected at random). An ideal report should include all the philosophy departments that have made placements of the type in question, which is something David Marshall Miller, Andy Carson, and myself have all tried to do. What is missing from all of our reports is complete placement data. PhilAppointments is not a complete source, for example, but neither are placement pages. Further, placement pages are often missing key data points on placement (such as names, which help to identify duplicate candidates). Next year I aim to cross-reference PhilAppointments with individual placement pages. Recommendations on how to efficiently improve completeness are welcome.
4) recency: since these efforts are in their infancy, it is currently unknown what time frames are relevant. Recent data are ideal, so long as recency is balanced with completeness. Brian Leiter chose a 5-year time frame between 2005 and 2010, which I see as a drawback of his report. Although David Marshall Miller, Andy Carson, and myself have all used the most up-to-date data, David Marshall Miller also looked at different time frames. In the future, with more data, the use of time frames should help us to determine how recent our data needs to be. Recommendations on how to proceed with time frames is welcome here, since next year the data set I have will be in its fourth year (2011-2015).
5) neutrality: Those collecting, analyzing, and reporting the data should be as neutral as possible with respect to hypotheses and results. I have concerns about this with respect to Brian Leiter's report, especially given the absence of 1 and 2. The fact that David Marshall Miller, Andy Carson, and I have performed this work on our own is also potentially problematic, even with the inclusion of the original data and methods. Over the next year I plan to form a task force to work on placement data, composed of several people who have reached out to me over the past week or so (but others are welcome). Having more people on the project should help with neutrality. Recommendations on this point are welcome.
To my knowledge, full book manuscripts are never reviewed anonymously. Given that the double anonymity of peer review is implemented to decrease biases, and presumably, thereby increase the focus on the quality of the writing, this is puzzling. David Chalmers wrote, in a very helpful comment on how to publish a book "Most book refereeing is not blind, unlike journal refereeing. And when what's being reviewed is a proposal rather than a full manuscript, reputation of the author make a huge difference in reviewers' and editors' confidence that the proposal will be fleshed out well to a book."
While I can see that the reputation or renown of an author can relevantly play a role at the proposal stage in assessing the competence of the prospective author in writing a full manuscript, I don't see why it should play a role when the full manuscript is reviewed. This will inevitably happen when review of full manuscripts is non-anonymous. It would be hard not to be influenced if the author of one's manuscript happened to work at high-ranking institution, is very senior, and already has an excellent track record (I declined to review a book for a major press for this reason), or conversely, if the author is relatively junior, working at a teaching-focused or obscure place.
I don't own a television (one of many area men I approximate), but with the advent of Hulu now my wife and I watch an episode of some reality cooking show nearly every evening after the kids go to bed. I've seen nearly every episode of the Gordon Ramsay vehicles Master Chef and Hell's Kitchen. In both shows twenty or so people compete with one another in inventively designed cooking contests. One loser is thrown off every episode until the lone survivor emerges victorious at the end of the season. The ginned up drama is fun and there's lots of interesting food.
Recently though Ramsay's schtick has started to wear thin. Before throwing people out at the end of every episode of Hells Kitchen, he makes two or three people tell him why they deserve to stay in Hell's Kitchen. What follows are desperate platitudes about how they are a fighter and getting better all of the time. It's infantalizing. Then Ramsay strings it out dramatically, telling one person to step forward and starting a sentence where you might think one thing will happen and then ending it by telling them the opposite. It's frankly obnoxious. And of course he yells at and belittles the contestants in the manner of an abusive father starting to lose his temper. And nearly every episode has the obligatory bits where the contestants gush at length about what a wonderful person this obnoxious man is. It's Orwellian.