Nominations are OPEN for the PSA Women's Caucus new Highlighted PhilosopHer feature, recognizing the work of the Caucus's membership. Nominations need not be from Caucus members (although nominees do), so this is your chance to crow about some of your outstanding colleagues! Maybe you saw a great talk from a woman philosopher of science during this summer conference season?
The nomination form is here. Highlighted PhilosopHers will be featured on the Caucus's blog, Science Visions.
It is encouraging to see that the percentage of women in PSA is higher among more junior members, reflecting trends in other fields of philosophy and in academia generally. I am surprised, however, that there has been no statistically significant increase in the percentage of women in PSA over the last 8 years.
Student evaluations can be flattering; they can be unfair; they can be good reminders to get our act together. A few weeks ago, I received my student evaluations for the 'Twentieth Century Philosophy' class I taught this past spring semester. As I read them, I came upon one that brought me up short, because it stung:
I appreciated the professor's enthusiasm about the early portion of the class, but I was annoyed that it resulted in the syllabus being rewritten so that the already extremely minimal number of female and minority voices was further reduced.
There were some interesting cases from the Supreme Court yesterday. No, not gay marriage or Obamacare. But the Court ruled in favor of business privacy (against blanket government intrusion) and in favor of a jail inmate who had been badly handled by deputies. There’s also a potentially important regulatory takings case. I want to look at the first one for now. Los Angeles v. Patel involved an LA ordinance that required that hotel owners keep records of specified information about hotel guests, and that hotel owners must make these records “available to any officer of the Los Angeles Police Department for inspection” on demand. Several hotel owners sued, making a facial challenge to the ordinance on Fourth Amendment grounds. Today, the Court ruled (5-4, opinion by Sotomayor) that the statute was on its face unconstitutional because it provided no way to challenge an officer who showed up with a records demand.
Academic Placement Data and Analysis (APDA) is a new, collaborative research project on placement into academic jobs in philosophy. The current project members include myself, Patrice Cobb (psychology, UC Merced), Angelo Kyrilov (computer science, UC Merced), David Vinson (cognitive science, UC Merced), and Justin Vlasits (philosophy, UC Berkeley). This project is borne out of earlier work on placement that was posted here and elsewhere over the past few years. Funding for this project by the American Philosophical Association has so far provided for the development of a website and database that can host the data for this project (thanks to the work of Angelo Kyrilov over the past two months). There are approximately 2300 total entries, with several categories of data. Most of these categories of data have been made publicly available, whereas any categories that have not been made public (e.g. name, gender, race/ethnicity) will be provided to researchers with IRB approval from their home institutions. You can see the website and database so far here:
Publishing in general, and for the visual arts in particular, has moved to what’s called a “permission culture,” which basically means that nobody will publish your work unless you get explicit permission from the rights owner. This is often an arduous process, since art often includes many copyrighted images or other materials. A documentary film producer, for example, has to worry if an interview subject has the TV on in the background. Permissions culture means that the producer has to either remove whatever is on the TV, or secure permission to use it. It also means that scholars may not be able to publish articles that include images of the work they are discussing, either because the images are unavailable, or unaffordable.
On the surface of things, this seems odd: shouldn’t a lot of this fall under “fair use?’ The copyright statute, after all, cites education as an example. An important paper in 2007 explained why fair use doesn’t matter in this context. Basically, fair use is an affirmative defense against an infringement claim: you sue me for infringement, I claim fair use, and that’s the argument that litigation resolves. Fair use guidelines are deliberately vague and left to a case-by-case judicial determination, and so it’s not always obvious what gets counted as fair use. Litigation is very, very expensive, and publishers are risk averse. They don’t want to pay for litigation, and if they lose, they lose not only all that money, but the work they were trying to publish gets enjoined. So publishers won’t publish without prior permission (fair use thus systematically favors rich claimants and defendants). In addition to the problems all of this directly creates, it indirectly creates a ratcheting effect, because one place courts look to see if use is fair, is industry practices. So the more publishers seek permission for everything, the narrower fair use becomes.
In May, a 13-year-old named Izabel Laxamana took a selfie wearing a sports bra and some leggings, and sent it to a boy at her school. When school administrators heard about the picture, they contacted her parents. What happened next defies easy comprehension: delivering on a threatened punishment for breaking his social media rules, Izabel’s father cut off her hair. He then made a video of Izabel with her hair (in a pile on the floor), demanding that she say breaking their rules hadn’t been worth it. The video found its way to social media. Two days later, Izabel jumped off an overpass, and a day later, she died from her injuries. The reasons why Laxamana committed suicide are of course complex, and may or may not be because of the shaming (and the father may or may not be the one who posted it to social media).* But the videoed retaliatory haircut seems to be real. In a recent piece in Slate, Amanda Hess catalogues the sudden re-emergence of this medieval phenomenon – literally medieval; women were punished by having their hair cut off, often in public – and situates it as part of a more general re-emergence of the public shaming of teenagers by their parents:
by Eric Schwitzgebel
Academic philosophers in Anglophone Ph.D.-granting departments tend to have a narrow conception of what counts as valuable philosophical work. Hiring, tenure, promotion, and prestige turn mainly on one's ability to write an essay in a particular theoretical, abstract style, normally in reaction to the work of a small group of canonical historical and 20th century figures, on a fairly constrained range of topics, published in a limited range of journals and presses. This is too narrow a view.
I won't discuss cultural diversity here, which I have addressedelsewhere. Today I'll focus on genre and medium.
Consider the recency and historical contingency of the philosophical journal article. It's a late 19th century invention. Even as late as the mid-20th century, leading philosophers in Western Europe and North America were doing important work in a much broader range of styles than is typical now. Think of the fictions and difficult-to-classify reflections of Sartre, Camus, and Unamuno, the activism and popular writings of Russell, Dewey's work on educational reform, Wittgenstein's fragments. It's really only with the generation hired to teach the baby boomers that our conception of philosophical work became narrowly focused on the academic journal article, and on books written in that same style.
Consider the future of media. The magazine is a printing-press invention and carries with it the history and limitations of that medium. With the rise of the internet, other possibilities emerge: videos, interactive demonstrations, blogs, multi-party conversations on social media, etc. Is there something about the journal article that makes it uniquely better for philosophical reflection than these other media? (Hint: no.)
Nor need we think that philosophical work must consist of expository argumentation targeted toward disciplinary experts and students in the classroom. This, too, is a narrow and historically recent conception of philosophical work. Popular essays, fictions, aphorisms, dialogues, autobiographical reflections, and personal letters have historically played a central role in philosophy. We could potentially add, too, public performances, movies, video games, political activism, and interactions with the judicial system and governmental agencies.
Nick Huggett and Christian Wüthrich are happy to announce the award of a major grant from the John Templeton Foundation to fund a three year investigation into the philosophical implications of theories of quantum gravity, "Space and Time after Quantum Gravity." The work, which will be divided between the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Geneva, continues their "Beyond Spacetime" project. The premise of the project is that scientific research programs in quantum gravity simultaneously demand philosophical, conceptual investigation for their progress, and raise profound questions about fundamental philosophical assumptions resting on a non-quantum understanding of space and time. How physics thus ‘meets philosophy at the Planck scale’ has been explored so far in the various publications and meetings coming out of the project.
The new grant, supplemented with funds from UIC and Geneva, will fund postdocs and predocs in the research groups at both institutions; regular speakers and visitors to the groups; essay competitions; a summer school at Chicago in 2016; a conference at Geneva in 2017; edited volumes; and a course of video lectures for non-specialists. Many of these activities will be made publicly available on video. For more information you can subscribe to the project blog at beyondspacetime.net or look out for calls for participation.
In the current issue of Philosophy and Rhetoric, Kelly Happe has an interesting paper interpreting Occupy Wall Street (or at least the Zuccotti Park component) as an example of cynical parrhesia. In a time when all expression is always already co-opted by neoliberal capital as a source of surplus value (this point has been canvassed extensively by the autonomist Marxists as “complete subsumption,” and I’m going to take it for granted here. I summarize it here in my discussion of Hardt and Negri’s Empire), it becomes hard to know what kind of speech would count as protest. Anyone who has seen the branding of Che Guevera T-Shirts has some idea what the problem is. It’s also one that has been very difficult to address; in Empire, for example, which lays out the problem quite clearly, we are offered the somewhat discouraging example of Coetzee’s Michael K, a character who drops out and nearly starves to death in caves.
Happe’s move is to suggest that Occupy succeeds in avoiding cooption by way of its rejection of politically expressive speech. As she puts it, “what is striking is the time and space devoted to the material culture and everyday life of public, communal living. Indeed, in the various accounts of the Zuccotti moment of Occupy, the radical imagination is inseparable from the otherwise unremarkable practices of day-to-day living in an encampment” (214). That is, it is in the rejection of symbolic and explicitly “political” speech that Occupy evades neoliberal cooption. Such speech, she proposes, is a good example of the sort of ethical parrhesia that Foucault recounts in the ancient Cynics. For the Cynics, it is precisely the extent to which their speech is unintelligible to politics that makes it radical, suspends its subsumption into the political apparatus, and presents the contingency of a new way of life. Happe writes:
(Philosophical Aesthetics' answer to Philosophers’ Annual) has just been announced.
A panel of seven judges were asked to nominate work in Aesthetics or Philosophy of Art published in 2014 they found to be particularly outstanding. From those initial nominations, the panel further deliberated and selected a final five works. Here's the link to the official announcement of the winners:
Readers of New APPS may recall Nathaniel Adam Tobias Coleman as the author of a powerful piece last March in Times Higher Education that drew attention to the discipline of philosophy’s overall, systemic failure to critically engage its own Whiteness. And now, DailyNousdraws our attention to a piece in The Independent, itself sourced (again) from Times Higher Education, in which Coleman announces that he will lose his position at University College London—along with the chance of that position becoming permanent—as a result of the rejection of a proposed MA in Critical Race Studies, which he had been hired specificallyto develop over the past year.
One important consequence of Coleman'sTHE piece, which is now illustrated by his current plight, is to connect the problems that are specific to the disciplinary constitution of philosophy to a set of structural and systemic factors, present throughout the academy, constraining Black scholars’ ability to engage critically with material that is of importance to them, including Whiteness and White Supremacy. These factors remain operative despite the at least rhetorical—and at times much more substantive and sincere—welcome given to these scholars and their work, especially under the sign of diversity. And because they do, not only has representative diversity remained problematic but also the more fundamental distribution of power and privilege centered around Whiteness has remained substantially intact.
One of my summer projects is to work up my SPEP paper from last year, which used the school desegregation decisions (like Brown v. Board) as a way to think about the relations between juridical power and biopower in the courts. The role of the courts in the transition from hegemonic juridical power to hegemonic biopower hasn’t been studied a lot, and the tendency is to dismiss the courts as institutions along with juridical power. The centrality of the judiciary in school desegregation convinced me that there’s more to be said, however. Current litigation about whether corporate entities can use rights claims to deny contraceptive insurance coverage to their female employees seems to bear that intuition out. So I’ve been reading, and one thing that didn’t particularly strike me until now is the complexity of the relation between school desegregation policy in the U.S. and what Foucault calls a “race war” at the end of Society must be Defended.
For my MA course on Wittgenstein earlier this year, students had to write a short essay, blog post-style, on the Tractatus. One of them, Joseph Wilcox, took up the challenge of asking what exactly it means to say that Wittgenstein's project in the Tractatus is essentially a Kantian project -- something I kept hammering on them relentlessly. (To me at least this seems like the best and perhaps the only way I can make sense of the Tractatus!) The result is the insightful post below. (Proud teacher here!)
By Joseph Wilcox
Wittgenstein [in the Tractatus] is a Kantian philosopher. Or so I'm told.
What exactly does it mean to say that someone is a Kantian philosopher? I always find it hard to grasp what is meant by such comparisons. Is it some fundamental belief that they share? Is it a field of thought that they both enter into? Is it a common goal that guides their thinking?
As often seems to be the case when it comes to philosophy, I am inclined to say that all the options must have some truth to them. In the case of Wittgenstein, however, I've been led to believe that it is the goal he sets out to achieve that forms the main connection between him and the lifework of his Prussian predecessor. What is it then, that both of these thinkers desire above everything else? The answer is to limit. To designate a point or level beyond which something does not or may not extend or pass. To place a restriction on the size or amount of something permissible or possible. On first looking, this doesn't seem like a very encouraging, confident or even useful objective. Why in the world would we bother to spend our precious time thinking about that which we can't reach? Isn't it far more interesting to seek to pass over such borders? Isn't it more inspiring to think that the impossible can serve as a beacon to aspire to? Isn't the thought of placing limits a token of the kind of pessimism that might cause one to give up hope?
It must be summer: Facebook has released a controversial study of its users. Last year, it was the demonstration that the emotional contagion effect did not require direct contact, and could in fact spread across social networks without direct, face-to-face contact (the controversy wasn’t in the result, it was in the fact that FB did the study by manipulating its users’ Newsfeeds to present more happy content) This time, Facebook’s research wing published a paper in Science purporting to demonstrate that Facebook wasn’t responsible for whatever online echo-chamber effect its users might demonstrate. Or, at least, if the site did contribute to an echo-chamber, it wasn’t the main contributor. From the FB blog discussing the paper:
I'm sure we've all had the experience of committing to the final version of an article, only to think of that one more thing you should have said. Yeah, that just happened to me. Just the nature of the beast, I guess.
My recent instance has to do with an article concerning GMOs I wrote for The Common Reader, an article aimed at a general educated audience. In the article, one of the claims I defend is that a critique of GMOs is not anti-science, and I note in particular that a critique of GMOs is not the same as a critique of evolution or climate change. (Comments welcome on the article, by the way).
I was OK with my argument, although I knew that with more space I would have elaborated more than I did. But then I read this from Mark Lynas:
I recently talked to a US theologian, who just got a job in a really difficult market. He was reflecting on the challenges facing theologians. You can either work in a secular university, in a religious studies department. Those jobs generally discourage you from making any normative claims, or recognizing religious authorities. Or you can work in a religious college (a so-called confessional college, which is founded upon a confession or creed - in practice almost always some Christian denomination). This sort of job does encourage you to make normative religious claims, but polices those claims to preserve their particular religious identity. There are a few university divinity schools that successfully avoid confronting theologians with this dilemma, but such jobs are far and few between. So jobs at confessional colleges are a theologian's most realistic shot at stable employment.
A theologian needs to be careful about the views she's exploring. My interlocutor's new employer was interdenominational, which typically means they'll have a more liberal stance toward doctrinal issues since they can't follow one particular line. But still, he said, you've got to be cautious - test the waters, consult with other faculty members, to see how far you can go.
This suggests that the case of infringements on academic freedom where people are fired because they say Adam and Eve aren't historical people, or the case of Thomas Oord* more recently (see here and here) aren't just outliers, but part of a greater problem of lack of academic freedom for the majority of US theologians. How can theologians do cutting-edge work if they have to fear for repercussions all the time?
Here's a particularly unsentimental view about last, dying thoughts: Your dying thought will be your least important thought. After all (assuming no afterlife), it is the one thought guaranteed to have no influence on any of your future thoughts, or on any other aspect of your psychology.
A narrative approach to the meaning of life seems to recommend a different attitude toward last thoughts. If a life is like a story, you want it to end well! The ending of a story colors all that has gone before. If the hero dies resentful or if the hero dies content, that rightly changes our understanding of earlier events. It does so not only because we might now understand that all along the hero felt subtly resentful, but also because private deathbed thoughts, on this view, have a retrospective transformative power: An earlier betrayal, for example, now becomes a betrayal that was forgiven by the end (or it becomes one that was never forgiven). The ghost's appearance to Hamlet has one type of significance if Hamlet ends badly and quite a different significance if Hamlet ends well. On the narrative view, the significance of events depends partly on the future. Maybe this is part of what Solon had in mind when he told King Croesus not to call anyone happy until they die: A horrible enough disaster at the end, maybe, can retrospectively poison what your marriage and seeming successes had really amounted to. Thus, maybe the last thought is like the final sentence of a book: Ending on a thought of love and happiness makes your life a very different story than does ending on a thought of resentment and regret.
In Shame and Necessity(Sather Classical Lectures, University of California Press, 2nd ed., 2008, pp. 68-69) writing on the ancient Greeks' conceptions of responsibility and human agency via the tale of Oedipus, Bernard Williams writes: