--out of 460 Signatures* (including the original list), 34% are women.
--of all the faculty in the top 50 PGR departments (2011 worldwide ranking), 11% signed the document. (Update: I am attaching the Excel spreadsheet I used here.)
--(Update) of these departments, those with greater or equal to 11% of faculty signatures include: ANU; Brown; CUNY; Columbia; Duke; Georgetown; Indiana; King's College, London; MIT; NYU; Northwestern; Rutgers; Syracuse; UCSD; Cambridge; Edinburgh; Leeds; U Mass Amherst; Michigan; Oxford; Penn; Sheffield; St Andrews/Stirling; UVA; Washington U
--(Update) and those departments with no signatures include: Johns Hopkins; Arizona; UC Irvine; UC Riverside; U Chicago; Reading; USC; Sydney; UT Austin; Yale
--there is little to no correlation between PGR rating and either number of signatures per department or percentage of faculty who signed (for departments in the top 50 of the worldwide ranking).
*I pulled the list at approximately 5 p.m. PST , September 29th, 2014.
Update: I took the post offline a couple of times because I found pointing errors in the Excel document that led to changes in the overall numbers. I have fixed those that I spotted, but do let me know of any errors if you find them!
Rarely, if ever, does the term 'intellectual property' add clarity to any debate of substance--very often, this is because it includes the term 'property' and thus offers an invitation to some dubious theorizing. This post by Alex Rosenberg at Daily Nous is a good example of this claim:
Locke famously offered an account of the justification of private property, one that Nozick brought to our attention in Anarchy, State and Utopia. The account worked like this: morally permissible private property begins with original acquisition, and that happens when you mix your labor with nature, and leave as good and as much for others. Alas, this “Lockean” proviso is impossible to satisfy. Or at least it is in every original acquisition other than the case of intellectual property. Here one mixes one mental labor with nature—empirical facts about reality, including social reality. Since there are an infinite number of good ideas, the creator of intellectual property leaves as much and as good for others, and therefore has an unqualified right to what he has created.
Brian Leiter’s ownership of the PGR satisfies the most stringent test of private property I know. It’s his creation and he excluded no one else from mixing his or her labor with nature to produce a substitute for or for that matter a complement to his creation.
In light of this fact, the effort to separate him from his intellectual property owing to disapproval of his emails and posts seems rather preposterous.
It has often been proposed--most notably by Richard Stallman, free software's most fiery proponent-that the term 'intellectual property' be junked in favor of more precise usage. That is, when you are tempted to use the term 'intellectual property' use 'copyright,' 'patents,' 'trademarks,' or 'trade secrets' instead. Doing this would enable immediate grappling with the precise nature of the issue at hand--in each named domain there are separable legal and policy issues at play.
The question is inevitably arising as to whether there is, at present, a phenomenon of internet shaming going on on the various blogs and other social media. I think we should take seriously the concern that there is. That's one thing I like a lot about this post by Simon Cabulea May. He makes it perfectly clear what are and what aren't the issues that are worthy topics of discussion. I would go further and say that nobody in the profession's moral character should be a topic of public discussion.* What is a suitable topic for discussion is whether or not the profession as a whole believes it is being well-served by having Brian Leiter as its de facto spokesperson and the orchestrator of its de facto official ranking system. Or whether, contrarily, those things are harming the profession. Whether or not he would admit it, Professor Leiter chose to fuse together for himself the roles of editing the PGR and being the de facto spokesperson for the profession. And we members of the profession have the right to try to remove him from that role if we think it is harming the profession. No viable theory of academic freedom guarantees him the right to maintain that role. But we do all of ourselves a dis-service if we let the discussion wander away from that narrow topic and engage online in activities that legimate a concern about internet shaming.
*In cases, such as the ones we have seen recently, where members of the profession have been alleged to have acted in ways that would provide obvious evidence of bad character, my claim holds so long as bad acts that they are alleged to have engaged in are being addressed by the relevant agents in their relevant institutions. I agree with Professor Leiter on this issue that not much is gained when the community piles on after the fact.
The emergence of republicanism as a major stream in political theory and philosophy, as well as history of political ideas, since I suppose the 1980s, but since the late nineties for political philosophy in the normative Rawlsian style, is a highly welcome phenomenon from my point of view. That does not mean I have no criticisms. For example, it seems to me that much of it has gone a bit far in the direction of equating the active liberty of the citizen in republics of the past with a very equality oriented sense of distributive justice. Despite the historical consciousness that republicanism has helped to bring more into theoretical discussions, some areas of historically oriented relevant discussion have not been dealt with adequately so far. This particularly applies to Foucault, and his discussions of antiquity, which is a strange omission in that Quentin Skinner claims to have taken inspiration from Foucault, at least in questions of method.
However, in the present post, I will focus on another issue, which is the narrow range of republics considered. The standard range is ancient Athens (sometimes compared with Sparta), Ancient Rome, Renaissance Florence (maybe compared with Venice), England in the era of the Civil Wars and the Commonwealth, the political awakening of the British colonies in America, incorporating the foundation of the United States, and finally the French Revolution though that tends to be given less attention than the Anglo-American revolutions. Interest in Spinoza's political theory has not in my experience led to much consideration of the Dutch Revolt and the Dutch Republic, though the republican impulse has probably led to a bit more attention being paid than would otherwise be the case.
This strikes me as extremely good advice, and in the modern age of the information overload, a perfectly adequate method once a prospective graduate student knows where to start. That suggests to me that all we really need, by way of "rankings," is a list of departments that have strengths in each of the sub-disciplines in philosophy. (And perhaps, for some subdisciplines that seem to be badly fractured, like continental philosophy, there could be a separate list for each movement within the subdiscipline.) Such a list could either be generated by a representative panel for each sub-discipline without too much fuss. Or it could even be a wiki where departments could list themselves in any category they like. On the second method, it might become necessary, for some of the more highly represented areas, for a panel to cull the list down to a manageable size, or to split it into two or three tiers. What prospective graduate students really need, it seems to me, and not much more, is help generating a list of 12-15 schools to research given a particular area of interest. They really do not need ordinal rankings.
UPDATE: In response to comments below, I concede that the link I provided does not provide terribly useful advice (in its details!) for American prospective students. It does seem much more tailored for the UK. Having said that, I think my main point still stands. In the cases in which I have advised students on finding a graduate program, the PGR has primarily played the following sort of role: we use it to collect a list of programs that are strong in the area the student is interested in, and then I give them several "homework assignments" on how to do futher research. I tell them to look at placement; to read papers by the people who work in the area that they are interested in; to look at citati0n metrics; I give them a list of journals and presses that I think are strong in the area that they are interested in, and I tell them to look at CVs of scholars in their area of interest and to look for those presses and journals etc. To the extent that ordinal rankings play any role in my advice, it is mostly as a predictor of how difficult it will be to get into the program in question--but I take it that's a feature of the PGR that is mostly self-fulfilling.
Over the past three years I have collected and reported on placement data for positions in academic philosophy. (Interested readers can find past posts here at New APPS under the "placement data" category, two of which have been updated with the new data, severalpostsatProPhilosophy, or the very first post on placement at the Philosophy Smoker.) This year, placement data will be gathered, organized, and reported on by the following committee of volunteers (listed in alphabetical order):
Over the next academic year, we aim to create a website, which will be parked at placementdata.com. This website will include a form for gathering data, a searchable database, and reports on placement data. Until that time, I am suspending updates to the Excel spreadsheet, which contains much of the data used in the past few years, plus the updates I have received over the past few months. (Many thanks to Justin Lillge for incorporating the bulk of these updates into the spreadsheet!) When the website is ready, departments will be able to update their placement data through an embeddable form. Stay tuned for these links in the coming months!
Marcus Arvan, of The Philosophers' Cocoon, had the idea of running a graduate student survey. This was something that the five of us had already talked about (and Justin Lillge had some preliminary work on this), so we have invited Marcus to join us in this project. He has posted s0me initial ideas here. Please do contribute to the discussion if you have insight!
The story about Leiter and the PGR is covered in the CHE here. I certainly hope that those who have been putting pressure on Leiter to step down from his Editorship of the PGR will find the remedy he proposes in the article insufficient and will keep up the pressure on him to step down.
The following ideas and arguments were central to my dissertation work, and are now published as an article in Philosophical Studies. I include them below in a much shortened format for those readers short on time, but high on interest (but hopefully not literally).
The ultimate claim of this work is that top-down attention is necessary for conscious perception. (I argue elsewhere that attention is not necessary for conscious experience, in general.) That is, we might ask the question: what is the contribution of attention to perceptual experience? Within cognitive science, attention is known to contribute to the organization of sensory features into perceptual objects, or object-based organization. I argue something else: that attention enables the perceptual system to achieve the most fundamental form of perceptual organization: subject-based organization. That is, I argue that subject-based organization is brought about and maintained through top-down attention. Thus, top-down attention is necessary for conscious perception in so far as it is necessary for bringing about and maintaining the subject-based organization of perceptual experience.
Today my research group in Groningen (with the illustrious online participation of Tony Booth, beaming in from the UK) held a seminar session where we discussed Fabienne Peter’s 2013 paper ‘The procedural epistemic value of deliberation’. It is a very interesting paper, which defends the view that deliberation has not only epistemic value (as opposed to ‘merely’ ethical, practical value), but also that it has procedural epistemic value (as the title suggests), as opposed to ‘merely’ instrumental value. I'll argue here that I agree with the thesis, but not for the reasons offered by Peter in her paper.
The paper begins with the following observation:
An important question one can ask about collective deliberation is whether it increases or decreases the accuracy of the beliefs of the participants. But this instrumental approach, which only looks at the outcome of deliberation, does not exhaustively account for the epistemic value that deliberation might have. (Peters 2013, 1253)
One way to spell out this idea is the following: suppose there were two knowledge-producing procedures with the exact same accuracy, i.e. which would produce the same amount of true beliefs and avoid the same amount of false beliefs. Moreover, procedure D involves deliberation, while procedure O relies entirely on an oracle, for example. If we can show that procedure D is superior to procedure O on purely epistemic grounds, then we can establish that deliberation has procedural epistemic value, rather than merely instrumental epistemic value (i.e. increase accuracy).
My association with her goes back some twenty years, when I first began my graduate studies in philosophy as a non-matriculate student at the CUNY Graduate Center [in the fall of 1992]. My first class was ‘Social and Political Philosophy,’ taught by Professor Held. [During our first class meeting] on her reading list, I saw four unfamiliar names: Carole Pateman, Susan Okin, Catherine MacKinnon and Patricia Smith. Who were these, I wondered, and what did they have to do with the ‘public-private distinction’ (the subtitle Virginia had added to ‘Social and Political Philosophy’)? As we were introduced to the syllabus, Professor Held skillfully handled some questions: Why were these readings on the list? Why not the usual suspects? I was impressed, of course, by her deft location of feminist philosophy in our canon and its importance in exploring the public-private distinction, but I was even more impressed by the grace and firmness that she displayed in dealing with contentious student interlocutors.
I want to add a little more detail to this story--as well as a little follow-up; your mileage may vary with regards to your assessment of the topicality or relevance of these embellishments.
Many of you will have seen the following Facebook update posted by both David Chalmers and Jason Stanley (it’s astonishing how events in the philosophy profession unfold over at Facebook!):
Over the past day or so, 24 members of the advisory board of the Philosophical Gourmet Report have signed a letter saying that they value the extraordinary service that Leiter has provided with the PGR, and that they now urge him to turn over the PGR to new management. The letter (drafted by David Chalmers, Jonathan Schaffer, Susanna Siegel, and Jason Stanley) has been delivered to Brian Leiter, who received it with good grace. We are in the process of collecting more signatures, and will soon make the letter public.
At this point, this is pretty much the best outcome anyone could hope for, in my opinion. It is now a matter of waiting to see how the situation will further unfold, but should Leiter agree to step down, a PGR led by a number of people from the current board seems like a very promising solution. Brian Weatherson weights in with some ideas/suggestions, and mentions in particular Leiter’s treatment of Linda Martín Alcoff a few years ago, which seems not to have been on the radar enough in recent discussions. (Every time I thought of the possibility of BL throwing some legalese at me on account of my post suggesting he step down from the PGR, I reassured myself that he had said similar things before about others, but with a different tone altogether.)
However, there is another aspect of Brian Leiter’s behavior that seems worth noting. I’ve been contacted by a graduate student at Chicago offering the following testimony:
There have been lots of discussions on the PGR (e.g., here), especially on its leader, Brian Leiter, including a poll on whether the of 2014 should be produced. Regardless of the outcome of this, I think we can already start considering alternative ways, independent of the PGR, to provide information for prospective philosophy graduate students.
Ideally, such information should should not be primarily about rankings of quality. Quality is a complex concept that is vulnerable to biases and enforcing the status quo. We should rather provide prospective grad students with clear measures of placement rates and places where they could study the topic of their choice. Perhaps any type of ranking will be problematic. We could just provide descriptive info on a wide range of topics, e.g., where are places to study experimental philosophy, continental French etc. One can give that info *without* giving an overall rank of perceived quality.
The methodology by which placement rates are made and by which assessments of strengths within departments are made should be empirically informed by the social sciences e.g., in its selection of experts who make these assessments
Collecting and dessiminating this information shouldn't be in the hands of one individual but shared responsibility. I originally thought it was something the APA, or perhaps a task force consisting of people from the APA, the AAP etc could do, but I am now not so sure whether this is a good idea. PhilPapers+ seems like a good place to host the information, especially given that prospective graduate students will already be familiar with PhilPapers
It would be nice to expand information for prospective graduate students to non-Anglosaxon departments. There are lots of grad students outside the English-speaking world who could benefit from lists of placement records and specializations of faculty members outside the US, UK etc.
It is up to each of us individually to decide what we will volunteer to do. The undersigned members of the philosophical community have decided to decline to volunteer our services to Leiter’s PGR. While we recognise that there are other ways to condemn Professor Leiter’s behaviour and to support our colleague, we think the best choice for us involves publicly declining to assist with the PGR. We cannot continue to volunteer services in support of the PGR in good conscience as long as Brian Leiter continues to behave in this way. We therefore decline to take the PGR survey, we decline to serve on the PGR advisory board, and we decline to send Professor Leiter information to help him compile the survey (e.g. updated faculty lists and corrections). We are only declining to volunteer our services to the PGR while it is under the control of Brian Leiter. With a different leadership structure, the benefits of the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.
We feel that we need to consider very carefully what kind of example we are setting for graduate students, and for philosophers across the whole discipline, when something like this happens. Tolerating this kind of behaviour signals to them that they can expect the same in their own professional lives. We wish to set a clear example of how to respond appropriately but firmly.
UPDATE : The post has been slightly edited, for reasons I can clarify if people get in touch with me directly.
In his response to the ‘Statement of concern’ made public yesterday by Sally Haslanger and David Velleman, Brian Leiter is now presenting the issue as a ‘crusade’ against the PGR by long-term critics of the PGR. In light of this suggestion, a few clarifications seem in order.
There may be many reasons why something like the PGR is good for the profession; but I can think of no good reason why it should run by someone like Brian Leiter (despite the fact that he is the originator of the PGR). He systematically resorts to aggressive, offensive and intimidating behavior against those who dare express views different from his own, both in public and in private correspondence, often targeting junior colleagues and others who can't 'compete' with his power and influence. We are talking about a pattern here, not isolated events. Now, it is partly through the PGR that Brian Leiter has become such a powerful figure in the profession, and he has arguably been misusing his position of power and influence to target colleagues who he disagrees with on a number of issues.
The question is then whether (given these frequent displays of disrespectful behavior) he is suited to run an initiative that has become so influential as the PGR. A related question is whether he is not misusing the power and influence he has acquired through the PGR and his blog to impose his views and positions by resorting to intimidation and other silencing maneuvers. More generally, I (and others) feel it is important to send the signal that his aggressive behavior is simply unacceptable; it conveys a very disturbing message, if one of the most powerful members of the profession goes around insulting people with no consequences for himself. And why are there no consequences? Arguably, because most people are too scared of him to speak up, especially as they fear PGR-related repercussions.
So no, this is not primarily about the PGR; it's about what many of us perceive as Leiter's inappropriate behavior on a large number of occasions. As many others, I am in principle not opposed to the continuation of the PGR (as a service to graduate students, for example, or as an instrument for hiring negotiations with the university administrators), but *not* in its current structure, i.e. as a one-man-show run by someone prone to intemperate reactions. This is why I voted ‘No’ at the poll currently being held on the question: “Should we proceed with the 2014 PGR?” My own position is that the PGR should be thoroughly reformed, in particular put under new leadership (preferably, a group of people rather than a single person), if it is to be continued. In sum, I have no objections to a reformed 2015 PGR.
This being said, Leiter has been running the PGR diligently for years (even if one can quibble with the reputation-based methodology used), and for this he should be thanked (at least by those who think that the PGR has had an overall positive effect on the profession, and there seem to be many such people). It should also be recognized that he has acted admirably on a number of occasions when issues in the profession arose, and perhaps it is also worth noting that none of what I am saying here pertains to his scholarly work, which is (or so I am told) of the highest quality.
I have a confession to make: I enjoy reading Alan Watts' books. This simple statement of one of my reading pleasures, this revelation of one of my tastes in books and intellectual pursuits, shouldn't need to be a confession, a term that conjures up visions of sin and repentance and shame. But it is, a veritable coming out of the philosophical closet.
You see, I'm a 'professional philosopher.' I teach philosophy for a living; I write books on philosophy. Sometimes people refer to me as a 'philosophy professor', sometimes they even call me--blush!--a 'philosopher.' I'm supposed to be 'doing' serious philosophy,' reading and writing rigorous philosophy; the works of someone most commonly described as a 'popularizer' do not appear to make the cut. Even worse, not only was Watts thus a panderer to the masses, but he wrote about supposedly dreamy, insubstantial, woolly headed, mystical philosophies. An analytical philosopher would be an idiot to read him. Keep it under wraps, son.
To be sure, I have read some original works in the areas that Watts is most known for popularizing: Zen Buddhism, Daoism, and Indian philosophy--especially that of the non-dualist Vedanta. I have even taught an upper-tier core class on Philosophies of India and China--my class covered the Vedas, Jainism, Buddhism, Confucianism and Daoism. My philosophical training enables me to grapple with the substantial metaphysical, epistemological, ethical, and political issues these writings so richly engage with. But I'm not a specialized scholar in these domains, and hardly ever read modern academic writing that tackles their areas of ongoing disputation and analysis. My current areas of interest--legal theory, pragmatism, Nietzsche--and my current distractions and diversions--mainly the politics of cricket--take up most of my time and intellectual energy.
So I enjoy reading Watts when I can. I always have. He was erudite, he wrote clearly and passionately, and if you'll indulge me just for a second, I would even describe him as 'wise.' He tackles issues that are at the core of philosophical questioning and inquiry and attitudes; he often offers quite lucid insights into matters that emotionally resonate with me. Perhaps I do not have the background necessary with which to evaluate his claims about Zen Buddhism and the Vedanta; those more specialized in those domains have often contested his readings and explications. (Merely being of Indian origin does not, unfortunately, make me an expert on Indian philosophy.) But from my limited perspective, and with an acknowledgment of some expressions of only partial comprehension, and sometimes even disagreement, with his writings, I would venture that I did not find him guilty of too many philosophical sins. (For instance, his 'The Language of Metaphysical Experience' is a very clear piece of writing; this was first published in 1953 in The Journal of Religious Thought and later reprinted in Become What You Are (Shambhala Classics.))
I do not know if Watts ever featured on philosophy reading lists at universities; my guess is not. He certainly is unlikely to in the future; he is dated now, I think. Perhaps only ageing hippies--dunno if I qualify as one--continue to read him. But I think it would be a shame if our fastidiousness about a certain kind of professional philosophical hygiene were to prevent us from approaching writings like his--that is, those who set themselves to expounding for the plebes--with less than an open mind.
In the course of a discussion on Facebook begun by a colleague’s thoughtful and nuanced reflection on the kind of rankings we might want to have in the discipline, I was moved to offer an objection to the idea of ranking departments at all. I think it stands outside that particular discussion, so I’d like to reproduce it here.
I have, basically, two reasons for thinking that the practice of ranking departments is unwise and likely to be harmful:
1) Rankings devalue the work of an awful lot of folks and, perhaps more importantly, provide the various agents of forces within the institution that may be hostile to the discipline (and to the humanities more broadly) a ready excuse to claim that most philosophy departments at US universities (or at least at research universities) aren’t worth the investment they require to maintain. Given the way we have seen some such people abuse metrics of any sort (no matter how questionable said metrics might be), I find it difficult to understand why we insist on producing one ourselves.
2) It should be evident by now that the problem of determining acceptable ranking criteria in a pluralistic discipline is tremendously fraught and has proven to be very resistant to a solution that is broadly acceptable.
Instead of rankings, I think we should be moving towards a model where we collect and maintain as much up to date information about the various programs out there as possible. The discussion I mentioned above had already produced some really wonderful thoughts on what such a ‘database’ of programs might contain, and how it would benefit the various constituencies in the philosophical community. Indeed, as Justin Weinberg notes in one of his early posts at Daily Nous, part of what has been very valuable about Brian Leiter’s effort is that it has facilitated the broad circulation of key information about the profession that had previously been difficult to access for many people, including prospective students. Surely that sort of transparency is something we want, no matter what else happens going forward, to preserve and enhance—and which the various responsible parties in the profession should be working hard to foster.
Many readers will have seen this already, but it needs to be widely shared and viewed: David Velleman and Sally Haslanger have been collecting instances of Brian Leiter threatening people with legal action, among other kinds of intimidating tactics, in private correspondence. Here are some examples. (My understanding is that there are more such examples, which may eventually be posted as well.) These are people he disagrees with on a number of issues, but the level of aggressiveness in his responses is astonishing, shocking, and unacceptable in a professional context (or any context, for that matter).
(This is why my comment to his recent post on having been threatened with legal action only once in his blogging career was: the question is not how many times he was threatened with legal action; the question is how many times *he* threatened others with legal action. Answer: many times, from the looks of it.)
The emails speak for themselves; no further comment is required. At the very least, I think this calls for those involved with the PGR in various capacities (board members, evaluators) to reassess their involvement.
In a recent post, and by way of an important paper by Katherine Hayles, I suggested that “insofar as RFID chips negotiate the boundary between informatics and objects, and transitions between those, they should be studied as sites for the primitive accumulation of capital. That is, they are places where objects can become subsumed into capitalist market structures, while being dispossessed (following David Harvey's terminology) of whatever value they might have had before.” In the comments, Ed Kazarian suggested that the analysis also needs to think about the role of circulation and the ways that the wide diffusion of RFID tags facilitate the smooth circulation of commodities with the sorts of supply chain management techniques that characterize “just in time” capitalism. Here, I want to try to further that analysis a step or two, in part by complicating the sense in which I was using subsumption.
All too often, when we love somebody, we don't accept him or her as what the person effectively is. We accept him or her insofar as this person fits the co-ordinates of our fantasy. We misidentify, wrongly identify him or her, which is why, when we discover that we were wrong, love can quickly turn into violence. There is nothing more dangerous, more lethal for the loved person than to be loved, as it were, for not what he or she is, but for fitting the ideal.
For some reason, these lines occurred to me shortly after I posted the following irate status on Facebook yesterday:
Teaching honeymoon over. Walked out of class today with 25 minutes still left on the clock. 3 out of 33 students had bothered to do the reading. I struggled for as long as I could, and then told them I couldn't teach them given their failure to do the reading, that I'd see them next week.
A stream of eminently sensible suggestions followed: assign short quizzes, do 'cold-calling,' ask students to do oral presentations in class, write response papers, write online in a blog or forum; and so on. I've tried all of these at one point or the other in my teaching career. (I can also add to this list: I have asked students to bring in marked-up passages from the text, which are supposed to serve as the basis for class discussion.) I have not been able to sustain any of them; most of these strategies, if not all of them, fall by the way-side during a semester. Perhaps I grow exhausted; perhaps the students do. Nothing works quite as well as a few students--half-dozen, say, in a class of twenty--doing the readings and coming to class prepared to hold forth on anything that caught their fancy. (In case you are wondering. the assigned reading was the first eighty pages of A Canticle For Leibowitz for my Philosophical Issues in Literature class.)
Perhaps my struggles with The Problem of the Unread Reading Assignment are mine alone. Perhaps I am in the grip of an unshakable, untenable, fantastic, conception of my students: they do the readings because they have found the expressed rationale for doing so--the percentage of the class grade that depends on class participation, the intrinsic interest of the text, the intellectual value of close reading and analyses of philosophical material, and so on--to be sufficiently compelling; they are provoked, vexed, amused, irritated, and otherwise stimulated by the assigned readings and seek outlets through which they can express their responses; the classroom, populated by their fellow students, who have read the same material as them, and a teacher, who has promised to discuss it with them, seems like an ideal venue to do so.
All too often, I impose this vision upon an uncooperative reality and find myself disappointed. You may be right in considering this a not particularly intelligent response, but here, sadly, as in too many places elsewhere, I find myself the slave of emotion, not reason.
So if there is a 'violence' here, it is always inwardly directed: a crumpling of my resolve to continue teaching, a paralyzing, seething, frustration that undermines my self-esteem and sparks dissonance about my decision to have ever chosen a path I seem eminently unsuited for.
Of course, this is only the beginning of the semester, so it's too early to step off the road; for now, it's back into the breach, forewarned and forearmed.
I was asked to write a review of Terry Parsons' Articulating Medieval Logic for the Australasian Journal of Philosophy. This is what I've come up with so far. Comments welcome!
Scholars working on (Latin) medieval logic can be viewed as populating a spectrum. At one extremity are those who adopt a purely historical and textual approach to the material: they are the ones who produce the invaluable modern editions of important texts, without which the field would to a great extent simply not exist; they also typically seek to place the doctrines presented in the texts in a broader historical context. At the other extremity are those who study the medieval theories first and foremost from the point of view of modern philosophical and logical concerns; various techniques of formalization are then employed to ‘translate’ the medieval theories into something more intelligible to the modern non-historian philosopher. Between the two extremes one encounters a variety of positions. (Notice that one and the same scholar can at times wear the historian’s hat, and at other times the systematic philosopher’s hat.) For those adopting one of the many intermediary positions, life can be hard at times: when trying to combine the two paradigms, these scholars sometimes end up displeasing everyone (speaking from personal experience).
Terence Parsons’ Articulating Medieval Logic occupies one of these intermediate positions, but very close to the second extremity; indeed, it represents the daring attempt to combine the author’s expertise in natural language semantics, linguistics, and modern philosophy with his interest in medieval logical theories (which arose in particular from his decade-long collaboration with Calvin Normore, to whom the book is dedicated). For scholars of Latin medieval logic, the fact that such a distinguished expert in contemporary philosophy and linguistics became interested in these medieval theories only confirms what we’ve known all along: medieval logical theories have intrinsic systematic interest; they are not only curious museum pieces.
Despite not being the first to employ modern logical techniques to analyze medieval theories, Parsons' approach is quite unique (one might even say idiosyncratic). It seems fair to say that nobody has ever before attempted to achieve what he wants to achieve with this book. A passage from the book’s Introduction is quite revealing with respect to its goals: