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:
The eighteenth century saw a dramatic renewal of ancient ideas of republicanism and democracy (Latin and Greek originated works of course), but that came in the late eighteenth century. The American Declaration of Independence in 1776, the French Revolution of 1789, and the Haitian Revolution of 1791 are the important moments in complex ways which I will not attempt to cover here. The one thing to be noted here is that ideas of republics certainly attracted attention before these events, which are hard to imagine without the influence of those idea, but not in the sense that anyone would have expected the centre piece of the British Empire, the premier nation in Europe, and the centre piece of French colonialism in the Americas to have so dramatically followed through on them.
The idea of democracy was even more anachronistic looking before these events, which in any case did not lead to full implementation of democracy and certainly not its normalisation, but did take steps in that direction. Earlier in the eighteenth century, even Rousseau did not think of democracy as the ideal. Even allowing that his advocacy of elective aristocracy is in accord with representative democracy, it does not look as if he expected republicanism to sweep through Europe. His text on a constitution for Poland was for an aristocratic state on the verge of extinction as Prussia, Russia, and Austria arranged its complete partition between 1772 and 1795. It was not a model for European republics, nor was it any more democratic than the existing aristocratic commonwealth with a limited monarchy. Montesquieu, Smith and Hume looked upon republicanism as a form of government appropriate to liberty, but not as necessarily superior to monarchy, and maybe less desirable than monarchy in the circumstances of most modern states.
High registration fees at conferences and workshops ignore the growing group of people who have a PhD but are not securely employed and have no institutional support. Often, there are only reduced rates for students. High conference fees creates a barrier of entry for adjuncts, lecturers and other non-tenure track faculty members to participate. We can make this situation a bit less unjust by pledging to create a reduced or waived fee category for contingent faculty in any conference we organize, lobby with academic organizations we are members of to create this category of fees, or - for more privileged members of the profession - forego honoraria or payment of travel expenses to make lower registration fees possible. Sign this petition to pledge on one or more of the actions we can take http://www.thepetitionsite.com/108/832/205/inclusive-fees-campaign/
The Supreme Court on Tuesday heard oral arguments in Obergfell v. Hodges, which presents the Court with an opportunity to strike down state bans on same-sex marriage once and for all. Most observers seem to think that the court will take the opportunity. The four liberal judges are taken as a given, and both Justice Kennedy and Justice Roberts arguably have obtainable votes. Kennedy, who has repeatedly departed from his conservative colleagues on gay rights issues, seemed to think that the recognition of marriage afforded a kind of dignity to a relationship, and that there wasn’t any good reason why gay couples should be denied that dignity. Chief Justice Roberts, as Andrew Koppleman points out, seemed to be considering a very easy way out: bans on same-sex marriage are sex discrimination.
The sex discrimination argument isn’t immediately apparent, but once you see it, it makes pretty good sense. Mary wants to marry Joe. So does Bob. Mary can, and Bob can’t. The only reason Bob can’t marry Joe is his sex. It’s clear, it’s tidy, and it doesn’t require anything legally novel, like declaring that being gay (or otherwise gender non-conforming) makes one a member of a “suspect class” (something like race, where members of the class have been historically the objects of “invidious discrimination;” legislation affecting them as a class is then guaranteed a higher level of judicial scrutiny). If same-sex marriage bans discriminate on the basis of sex, then they have to survive judicial strict scrutiny, and that seems pretty unlikely. For one thing, it’s not at all clear what compelling governmental interest is served by restricting marriage only to heterosexual couples. The states in question were putting their eggs in the basket that marriage is for the sake of having and raising (one’s own biological) children. As William Saletan points out, that argument makes sense in a vacuum, but if it’s true, then states ought to ban marriage by the old or the infertile. Attorneys defending the ban apparently had one of those bad-days-at-work, repeatedly falling into incoherence.
Just as Donna Haraway’s Primate Visions sought to expand our view of women and primate research, Science Visions seeks to expand our view of women in philosophy of science. The goal is to gather the best of the web on issues of interest to its readers, from research and teaching issues in philosophy of science and the experience of minorities in the academy to conference announcements, news briefs, and career advice. Its editors will draw on their own perspectives and interests and those of their peers to lend philosophy of science a new set of voices. It will host their original content, as well as items of interest to our readers from elsewhere on the web, calls for fellowships and conferences, and other special features.
Check out Science Vision's first editorial, from editor Soazig Le Bihan, who argues that our moral obligation towards our students goes beyond providing them with good critical and analytical skills. (And while you're there, there's some other good stuff posted, so please browse around!)
The European Society for Analytic Philosophy was created in 1990, with the mission to promote collaboration and exchange of ideas among philosophers working within the analytic tradition, in Europe as well as elsewhere. It has thus been responsible for organizing major conferences every 3 years, the highly successful ECAP’s.
The current Steering Committee (of which I am a member), under the leadership of current president Stephan Hartmann, is seeking to expand the ways in which we can serve the (analytic) philosophical community in Europe. We will of course continue to organize ECAP, which will take place in 2017, and for which we already have a fantastic lineup of invited speakers (check it out!). But we are also considering various ways in which we can provide valuable services to the ESAP members, such as negotiating journal access with publishers (this is still in the making), among other initiatives. In particular, the brand-new website of ESAP is now online, and the goal is, among others, to concentrate useful information for (analytic) philosophers working in Europe all in one place.
However, we are only getting started, and at this points suggestions on how ESAP can truly support and galvanize the analytic philosophy community in Europe (as well as strengthening ties with colleagues elsewhere) are much welcome! We haven’t even started with an official membership system yet, precisely because we first want to have a number of services in place so as to make membership to the ESAP an attractive proposition. What are the initiatives and services we could provide that would really make a difference and facilitate the activities of our members? Comments with suggestions below would be much appreciated!
I’d like to look here a little more at Foucault’s claim that Heideggerian ontology is internalist (see my discussion here), because I think it makes an important point about the political nature of context-setting. Although questions of context are of course very difficult, one can quite plausibly propose that Being and Time begins in Plato (as evidenced by the opening passage), and most of Heidegger’s career follows the sort of trajectory that opening might suggest, conducting an extended engagement with Greek philosophy, attempting to discover whatever mistake it was the Greeks (or maybe the Romans) made that led to modern technology, according to an intrinsic logic that is present at its inception. None of this is news, and I bring it up here only to notice why the shift in context (as evidenced in his rejecting the “Heideggerian habit” in the D’Eramo interview) in Foucault’s case is significant. Indeed, one can compare Heidegger and Foucault directly on the point. Foucault introduces the question of Being in the parrhesia lectures with reference to Leibniz, and Heidegger’s 1955 lecture course ThePrinciple of Reason [= PR] basically reduces Leibniz’s principle of sufficient reason to the Greeks. Heidegger, though talking about the atomic age, has Leibniz channeling the ancients:
This past Monday, on 20th April, Christia Mercer, the Gustave M. Berne Professor of Philosophy at Columbia University, delivered the Philosophy Department's annual Sprague and Taylor lecture at Brooklyn College. The title of her talk was 'How Women Changed The Course of Philosophy'. Here is the abstract:
The story we tell about the development of early modern philosophy was invented by German Neo-Kantians about 150 years ago. Created to justify its proponents’ version of philosophy, it is a story that ignores the complications of seventeenth-century philosophy and its sources. In this lecture, Professor Christia Mercer uncovers the real story behind early modern rationalism and shows that many of its most original components have roots in the philosophical contributions made by women. [link added]
At one point during the talk, in referring to the contributions made by Julian of Norwich, Professor Mercer began by saying, "Julian does not offer an argument here, but rather an analysis...". During the question and answer session, focusing on this remark, I offered some brief comments.
Following on Helen De Cruz's excellent Why we should cite unpublished papers and some recent reflections of my own while refereeing, I thought it might be helpful to compile a list of suggestions for when to cite (now that we know that our citations should include both published and unpublished work):
If someone has provided a way to understand a certain debate that had not been recognized before and you find it useful to present the debate in that way, you should cite them.
If someone has provided conceptual distinctions that you are using in your paper, you should cite them.
If someone has done the work to find and explain a case study and you want to refer to that case study too, you should cite them.
If X has developed further the ideas of Y, you should cite both X and Y.
It is possible to see Homer as the beginning of a lot of things. (The use of ‘Homer’ here is simply for convenience as a way of referring to The Iliad and The Odyssey and should not be taken as an assertion that there was a single author of those two epics or that if there was such an author, the author had that name). Nevertheless, it may be particularly appropriate to see Homer at the beginning of virtue ethics. There are ways that there is a version of virtue ethics in the Homeric epics related to later virtue ethics in antiquity, and while there is no equivalent version of later metaphysics, epistemology, or political theory.
Virtue ethics dominates the way we see ancient ethics and that vein of ancient ethics can be taken back to Homer even if not quite the same as in later more abstract philosophical elaborations, and even lacking in the same vocabulary. What follows will just assume that a language of virtues can be applied to Homer and is not concerned with how far such a language can be found in an explicit way in that literature. The Homeric approach is interestingly different and even superior to the later philosophical reflections in that virtues are shown to varied and conflicting, rather than as part of rationally unified and hierarchically structures.
I'm writing a paper where I'm citing an unpublished paper. It's by a relatively junior author, available on the internet, and it has been already cited, for example, I recently saw a citation to it in a published paper that's already in print for several years (that paper is very well known in the subject matter I'm writing about now - it is unsurprisingly by a far more senior author at a high-ranking institution).
I talked to the author of the unpublished draft a few months ago, and they said that the paper had been under review a couple of times, once in a top journal where it was under review for over a year until eventually the editor decided 'no'. They are now resubmitting this paper for the nth time.
Upon learning this paper is unpublished, my first reaction was to avoid citing it. And I was frustrated with my own initial reaction - was I trying to use my citations strategically (not implausible, see e.g., here) to cite the papers that are deemed "central" in this discussion? Was I not willing to cite because I have often tried to track down, in vain, unpublished papers that are cited in the works of others and I am trying to avoid this frustration in my potential audience?
The best teacher I’ve ever had in my life was my history teacher in my first year at the Lycée Claude Monet in Paris: Monsieur (Denis) Corvol. Aged 14, I had just arrived from Brazil to spend two years in France with my parents, who were on an extended research leave from their positions as medicine professors in São Paulo, Brazil. I barely spoke French upon arrival, and to say that the first months were tough is an understatement. Many of the teachers seemed to be particularly harsh on me, and one (the math teacher) said in front of everyone in class: “if you can’t solve this problem, and you obviously don’t speak French very well, I wonder what you are doing in this class”.
But there was Monsieur Corvol, whose unorthodox teaching methods included talking about a variety of topics that seemed to have no connection whatsoever with the content we were supposed to be learning (the French Revolution and so forth – for that, he told us to go read the textbook on our own). (Years later I realized he was some sort of Habermasian, emphasizing inter-subjective communication and rational discourse.) When I arrived, he spent some two or three classes talking about Brazil -- what a remarkable country it was, how much the French could learn from Brazil -- in an obvious maneuver to make me feel more welcome, and to invite my classmates to engage with me in more positive ways.
From time to time I remember Monsieur Corvol with much fondness; many of the things I heard from him for the first time still reverberate with me. One of them, which I am reminded of now with the ongoing disaster of the migrant crisis in Europe, was: “Migrants are the bravest people in the world.” Migrants are the people who have the courage to fight for a better life in a new, unknown, possibly inhospitable country; for that, they must be resourceful and determined. Lucky is the country that can count on the drive and ambition of migrants, as a wonderful recent campaign in the UK has also highlighted. The 800 people who died in the Mediterranean Sea, many of whom children, should be remembered as among the bravest people in the world.
It's been a little over a week since I posted my Why is this philosophy? reflections, and I find myself still puzzling over a common sort of reaction that I got to the post. The common reaction seemed to be that other areas of philosophy are subject to similar challenges, and/or that philosophers in other areas are subject to similar difficulties on the job market, etc. And so (the implication seemed to be), what was my point?
Let me first clarify that I certainly never meant to imply – and looking back over the post, do not see where I said – that philosophy of science or philosophers of science have it worse than anyone else. I do not take that to be the case. I know that there are certain areas of philosophy that are quite marginalized, causing practitioners in those areas to struggle at various points in their careers. So, why speak about philosophy of science? Well, philosophy of science is what I do, and so the particular criticisms of it are in my face more so than criticisms of other areas. I encourage others to speak out about challenges in their own areas, challenges that I am not in a position to speak to. But let's be clear that the challenges in area X, even if worse than the challenges in philosophy of science, don't make the challenges in philosophy of science go away or unworthy of discussion.
So, what are the particular criticisms that can make doing philosophy of science challenging?