I am deeply grateful for the wonderful feedback I received from readers along the way (also in the form of comments and discussions over at Facebook). I could never have written this paper if it wasn't for all this help, given that much of the material falls outside the scope of my immediate expertise. So, again, thanks all!
(And now, on to start working on a new paper, on the definition of the syllogism in Aristotle, Ockham and Buridan. In fact, it will be an application of the conceptual genealogy method, so it all ties together in the end.)
Today is International Women’s Day, so here is a short post on what it means to be a feminist to me, to mark the date. Recently, a (male) friend asked me: “Why do you describe yourself as a ‘feminist’, and not as an ‘equalist’”? If feminism is about equality between women and men, why focus on the female side of the equation only? This question is of course related to the still somewhat widespread view that feminism is at heart a sexist doctrine: to promote the rights and wellbeing of women at the expense of the rights and wellbeing of men. Admittedly, the idea that it’s a zero-sum game is reminiscent of so-called second-wave feminism, in particular given the influence of Marxist ideas of class war. However, there is a wide range of alternative versions of feminism that focus on the rights and wellbeing of both men and women (as well as of those who do not identify as either), and move away from the zero-sum picture.
The much-watched TED talk by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, ‘We should all be feminists’ (bits of which were sampled in Beyoncé’s ‘Flawless’), offers precisely one such version, which I personally find very appealing. (After recently reading Americanah, I’ve been nurturing a crush on this woman; she is truly amazing.) The talk is worth watching in its entirety (also, it’s very funny!), and while she describes a number of situations that might be viewed as specific to their originating contexts (Nigeria in particular), the gist of it is entirely universal. It is towards the very end that Adichie provides her preferred definition of a feminist:
A feminist is a man or a woman* who says: yes, there is a problem with gender as it is today, and we must fix it. We must do better.
A few days ago the link to an interesting piece popped up in my Facebook newsfeed: ‘Three reasons why every woman should use a vibrator’, by Emily Nagoski. I wholeheartedly agree with the main claim, but what makes the piece particularly interesting for philosophers at large is a reference to Andy Clark and the extended mind framework:
Some women feel an initial resistance to the idea of using a vibrator because it feels like they “should” be able to have an orgasm without one. But there is no “should” in sex. There’s just what feels good. Philosopher Andy Clark (who’s the kind of philosopher who would probably not be surprised to find himself named-dropped in an article about vibrators) calls it “scaffolding,” or “augmentations which allow us to achieve some goal which would otherwise be beyond us.” Using paper and pencil to solve a math equation is scaffolding. So is using a vibrator to experience orgasm.
This is an intriguing suggestion, which deserves to be further explored. (As some readers may recall, I am always happy to find ways to bring together some of my philosophical interests with issues pertaining to sexuality – recall this post on deductive reasoning and the evolution of female orgasm.) Within the extended mind literature, the phenomena discussed as being given a ‘boost’ through the use of bits and pieces of the environment are typically what we could describe as quintessentially cognitive phenomena: calculations, finding your way to the MoMA etc. But why should the kind of scaffolding afforded by external devices and parts of the environment not affect other aspects of human existence, such as sexuality? Very clearly, they can, and do. (Relatedly, there is also some ongoing discussion on the ethics of neuroenhancement for a variety of emotional phenomena.)
I've been asked to write a review of Williamson's brand new book Tetralogue for the Times Higher Education. Here is what I've come up with so far. Comments are very welcome, as I still have some time before submitting the final version. (For more background on the book, here is a short video where Williamson explains the project.)
Disagreement in debates and discussions is an interesting phenomenon. On the one hand, having to justify your views and opinions vis-à-vis those who disagree with you is perhaps one of the best ways to induce a critical reevaluation of these views. On the other hand, it is far from clear that a clash of views will eventually lead to a consensus where the parties come to hold better views than the ones they held before. This is one of the promises of rational discourse, but one that is all too often not kept. What to do in situations of discursive deadlock?
Timothy Williamson’s Tetralogue is precisely an investigation on the merits and limits of rational debate. Four people holding very different views sit across each other in a train and discuss a wide range of topics, such as the existence of witchcraft, the superiority and falibilism of scientific reasoning, whether anyone can ever be sure to really know anything, what it means for a statement to be true, and many others. As one of the most influential philosophers currently in activity, Williamson is well placed to give the reader an overview of some of the main debates in recent philosophy, as his characters debate their views.
In this post, I discuss in more detail the two main categories of genealogy that were mentioned in previous posts: vindicatory and subversive genealogies.
III. Applications of genealogy
In the spirit of the functionalist, goal-oriented approach adopted here, a pressing question now becomes: what’s the point of a genealogy? What kind of results do we obtain from performing a genealogical analysis of philosophical concepts? I’ve already mentioned vindication and subversion/debunking en passant along the way, but now it is time to discuss applications of genealogy in a more systematic way.
III.1 Genealogy as vindicatory or as subversive
By now, it should be clear that genealogy is a rather plastic concept, one which can be (and has been) instantiated in a number of different ways. Craig offers a helpful description of a range of options:
[Genealogies] can be subversive, or vindicatory, of the doctrines or practices whose origins (factual, imaginary, and conjectural) they claim to describe. They may at the same time be explanatory, accounting for the existence of whatever it is that they vindicate or subvert. In theory, at least, they may be merely explanatory, evaluatively neutral (although as I shall shortly argue it is no accident that convincing examples are hard to find). They can remind us of the contingency of our institutions and standards, communicating a sense of how easily they might have been different, and of how different they might have been. Or they can have the opposite tendency, implying a kind of necessity: given a few basic facts about human nature and our conditions of life, this was the only way things could have turned out. (Craig 2007, 182)
In this section, I pitch genealogy against its close cousin archeology in order to argue that genealogy really is what is needed for the general project of historically informed analyses of philosophical concepts that I am articulating. And naturally, this leads me to Foucault. As always, comments welcome! (This is the first time in like 20 years that I do anything remotely serious with Foucault's ideas: why did it take me so long? Lots of good stuff there.)
I hope to have argued more or less convincingly by now that, given the specific historicist conception of philosophical concepts I’ve just sketched, genealogy is a particularly suitable method for historically informed philosophical analysis. In the next section, a few specific examples will be provided. However, and as mentioned above, I take genealogy to be one among other such historical methods, so there are options. Why is genealogy a better option than the alternatives? In order to address this question, in this section I pitch genealogy against one of its main ‘competitors’ as a method for historical analysis: archeology. Naturally, this confrontation leads me directly to Foucault.
[UPDATE: It seems that my post is being interpreted by some as a criticism of the Charlie Hebdo collaborators. Nothing could be further from the truth; I align myself completely with their Enlightenment ideals -- so I'm intolerant too! -- and in fact deem humor to be a powerful tool to further these ideals. Moreover, perhaps it is worth stressing the obvious: their 'intolerance' does not in any way justify their barbaric execution. It is not *in any way* on a par with the intolerance of those who did not tolerate their humor and thus went on to kill them.]
I grew up in a thoroughly secular household (my father was a communist; I never had any kind of religious education). However, I did get a fair amount of exposure to religion through my grandmothers: my maternal grandmother was a practicing protestant, and my paternal grandmother was a practicing catholic. In my twenties, for a number of reasons, I became more and more drawn to Catholicism, or at least to a particular interpretation of Catholicism (with what can be described as a ‘buffet’ attitude: help yourself only to what seems appetizing to you). This led to me getting baptized, getting married in the Catholic church, and wearing a cross around my neck. (I have since then distanced myself from Catholicism, in particular since I became a mother. It became clear to me that I could not give my daughters a catholic ‘buffet’ upbringing, and that they would end up internalizing all the dogmas of this religion that I find deeply problematic.)
At the same time, upon moving to the Netherlands in the late 90s, I had been confronted with the difficult relations between this country and its large population of immigrants and their descendants sharing a Muslim background, broadly speaking. At first, it all made no sense to me, coming from a country of immigrants (Brazil) where the very concept of being a ‘second-generation immigrant’ is quite strange. Then, many years ago (something like 13 years ago, I reckon) one day in the train, I somehow started a conversation with a young man who appeared to be of Arabic descent. I don’t quite recall how the conversation started, but one thing I remember very clearly: he said to me that it made him happy to see me wearing the catholic cross around my neck. According to him, the problem with the Netherlands is the people who have no religion – no so much people who (like me at the time) had a religion different from his own.* This observation has stayed with me since.
Anyway, this long autobiographical prologue is meant to set the stage for some observations on the recent tragic events in Paris. As has been remarked by many commentators (see here, for example), the kind of humor practiced by the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists must be understood in the context of a long tradition of French political satire which is resolutely left-wing, secular, and atheist. Its origins go back at least to the 18th century; it was an integral part of the Enlightenment movement championed by people like Voltaire, who used humor to provoke social change. In particular in the context of totalitarian regimes, satire becomes an invaluable weapon.
Here's a short piece by the New Scientist on the status of Mochizuki's purported proof of the ABC conjecture. More than 2 years after the 500-page proof has been made public, the mathematical community still hasn't been able to decide whether it's correct or not. (Recall my post on this from May 2013; little change seems to have taken place since then.)
Going back to my dialogical conception of mathematical proofs as involving a proponent who formulates the proof and opponents who must check it, this stalemate can be viewed from at least two perspectives: either Mochizuki is not trying hard enough as a proponent, or the mathematical community is not trying hard enough as opponent.
[Mochizuki] has also criticised the rest of the community for not studying his work in detail, and says most other mathematicians are "simply not qualified" to issue a definitive statement on the proof unless they start from the very basics of his theory.
Some mathematicians say Mochizuki must do more to explain his work, like simplifying his notes or lecturing abroad.
(Of course, it may well be that both are the case!). And so for now, the proof remains in limbo, as well put by the New Scientist piece. Mathematics, oh so human!
The great historian of logic and mathematics Ivor Grattan-Guinness passed away about a month ago, aged 73. I only heard it yesterday, when Stephen Read posted a link to the Guardian obituary on Facebook. From the obituary:
He rescued the moribund journal Annals of Science, founded the journal History and Philosophy of Logic, and was on the board of Historia Mathematica from its inception. A member of the council of the Society for Psychical Research, he wrote Psychical Research: A Guide to Its History (1982). In 1971 the British Society for the History of Mathematics was founded: Ivor served as its president (1986-88) and instituted a formal constitution.
Indeed, many of us owe him eternal gratitude for founding the journal History and Philosophy of Logic, which continues to be the main journal for studies combining historical and philosophical perspectives on logic. Ivor's work and scholarship spans over an impressive range of topics and areas, and is bound to continue to influence many generations of scholars to come. It is a great loss.
Those of you who can’t get yourselves to be offline even during the Xmas break have most likely been following the events involving Brian Leiter (BL), Jonathan Ichikawa (JI) and Carrie Jenkins (CJ), and the lawyers’ letters regarding the legal measures BL says he is prepared to take as a reaction to what he perceives as defamatory statements by (or related to) Ichikawa and Jenkins. As a matter of fact, a blog post of mine back in July seems to have played a small role in the unfolding of these unfortunate developments, and so I deem it appropriate to add a few observations of my own.
On multiple occasions (and in particular in comments at Facebook posts), Leiter claims to have been directed to Jenkins’ ‘Day One’ pledge by this blog post of mine of July 2nd 2014, in defense of Carolyn Dicey Jennings. It begins:
Most readers have probably been following the controversy involving Carolyn Dicey Jennings and Brian Leiter concerning the job placement data post where Carolyn Dicey Jennings compares her analysis of the data she has assembled with the PGR Rank. There have been a number of people reacting to what many perceived as Brian Leiter’s excessively personalized attack of Carolyn Dicey Jennings’s analysis, such as in Daily Nous, and this post by UBC’s Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins on guidelines for academic professional conduct (the latter is not an explicit defense of Carolyn Dicey Jennings, but the message is clear enough, I think). [emphasis added]
Leiter claims that this observation is what led him to Jenkins’ post in the first place, which he perceived as a direct attack on him. He also claims that this is what the passage above implies, and continues to repeat that the post “was intended by Jenkins as a criticism of me (as everyone at the time knew, and as one of her friends has now admitted), and thus explains my private response, which she chose to make public.” However, there is nothing explicitly indicating that the post was intended as a criticism of BL beyond the fact that he read it this way and keeps repeating it.
I now discuss the five main features of the historicist conception of philosophical concepts that motivates and justifies the method of conceptual genealogy for philosophical concepts. In a sense, this is the backbone of the paper and of the whole project, so I'm particularly interested in feedback from readers now.
We are now in a better position to describe in more detail what I take to be the five main characteristics of the historicist conception of philosophical concepts that I defend here, borrowing elements from Nietzsche’s conception of genealogy and Canguilhem’s concept-centered historical approach. In short, these are (they will each be discussed in turn subsequently):
Superimposition of layers of meaning
Multiple lines of influence
Connected to (extra- or intra-philosophical) practices and goals
...is online! It merges the different lists hitherto available with specific underrepresented groups within philosophy and for different areas into a single directory. From the description:
The UPDirectory publicizes information about philosophers who are members of traditionally underrepresented groups in philosophy. The purpose of the directory is to provide an easy-to-use resource for anyone who wants to learn more about the work of philosophers who belong to underrepresented groups within the discipline. [...]
For the purposes of the UPDirectory, traditionally underrepresented groups in philosophy include women philosophers, black philosophers, Asian philosophers, Latina/o and Hispanic Philosophers, Indigenous/Native philosophers, LGBTQ philosophers, and philosophers with a disability, among others. [...] Inclusion in the directory is primarily a matter of self-entry.
So, philosophers belonging to one or more of these underrepresented groups: go add yourselves! And everybody else: go check it out! Make sure you use this amazing resource next time you plan a conference, an edited volume etc.
This is the third installment of my series of posts with different sections of the paper on conceptual genealogy that I am working on. Part I is here; Part II.1 is here; a tentative abstract of 2 years ago, detailing the motivation for the project, is here.
I now turn to Canguilhem as an author exemplifying the kind of approach I have in mind when I speak of 'conceptual genealogy'. The main difference is that Canguilhem focused on scientific concepts (especially from biology and medicine), whereas I am articulating a methodology for the investigation of philosophical concepts (though of course, often the line between the two groups will be rather blurry). The same caveat of the previous installment on Nietzsche applies: this is a very brief and inevitably superficial discussion of Canguilhem's ideas, on which there is obviously much more to say.
The thesis of the relevance of historical analysis for philosophical theorizing rests crucially on a historicist conception of philosophical concepts, namely that they are not (or do not correspond to) a-historical essences or natural kinds. However, ‘historicism’ can have different meanings (Beiser 2011, Introduction), so let me now spell out in more detail in what sense I defend a historicist conception of philosophical concepts.
This is the second installment of my series of posts with different sections of the paper on conceptual genealogy that I am working on. Part I is here; a tentative abstract of 2 years ago, detailing the motivation for the project, is here.
I now present some of the basics of Nietzschean genealogy which will then be central for my general project. The goal here is thus not to offer a thorough account of Nietzsche's thought on the matter, obviously (a lifelong project!), but it should still be an accurate presentation of some aspects of it. If that is not the case, please do let me know! (I rely mostly on Geuss' and Leiter's interpretations.) Feedback in general is more than welcome.
The mundane, commonsensical sense of genealogy is typically related to the idea of vindication, i.e. of validation of one’s authority through the narrative of one’s origins. This is particularly conspicuous in historical disputes for political power within the traditional monarchic model: a contestant has a claim to the throne if she can prove to be a descendent of the right people, namely previous monarchical power-holders. In such cases, a genealogy is what Geuss (1994, 274) describes as ‘tracing a pedigree’, a practice as old as (Western?) civilization itself. The key idea is the idea of transmission of value: a person with noble ancestry inherits this status from her ancestors.
As some readers may recall (see this blog post with a tentative abstract -- almost 2 years ago!), I am working on a paper on the methodology of conceptual genealogy, which is the methodology that has thus far informed much of my work on the history and philosophy of logic. Since many people have expressed interest in this project, in the next couple of days I will post the sections of the paper that I've already written. Feedback is most welcome!
Today I post Part I, on the traditionally a-historical conception of philosophy of analytic philosophers. Tomorrow I will post Part II.1, on Nietzschean genealogy; on Thursday and Friday I will post Part II.2, on the historicity of philosophical concepts, in two installments.
Wiliams (2002) and Craig (2007) fittingly draw a distinction between genealogies that seek to expose the reprehensible origins of something and thereby decrease its value, and genealogies that seek to glorify their objects by exposing their ‘noble’ origins. The former are described as ‘subversive’, ‘shameful’ or ‘debunking’, while the latter may be dubbed ‘vindicatory’. (I will have much more to say on this distinction later on.) Nietzsche’s famous genealogical analysis of morality is the archetypal subversive genealogy, and has given rise to a formidable tradition of deconstruction of concepts, values, views, beliefs etc. by the exposure of their pudenda origo, their shameful origins. As described by Srinivasan (2011, 1),
Nietzsche’s innovation prompted a huge cultural shift towards subversive genealogical thinking – what might be called the ‘Genealogical Turn’ – including Freudian analysis, 20th-century Marxism, Foucault’s historical epistemology, certain strands of postcolonial and feminist theory, and much of what goes by the label ‘postmodernism’. These ideological programmes operate by purporting to unmask the shameful origins – in violence, sexual repression, gender or racial hegemony and economic and social oppression – of our concepts, beliefs and political structures.
Today is UNESCO’s World Philosophy Day, which is celebrated on the third Thursday of November every year. As it so happens, November 20th is also the United Nations’ Universal Children’s Day (here is a blog post I wrote for the occasion 2 years ago). I am truly delighted that these two days coincide today, as children and philosophy are two of my greatest passions. But the intimate connection between children and philosophy runs much deeper than my particular, individual passions, and so it should be celebrated.* As Wittgenstein famously (but somewhat dismissively) put it:
Philosophers are often like little children, who first scribble random lines on a piece of paper with their pencils, and now ask an adult "What is that?" (Philosophical Occasions 1912-1951)
My own favorite definition of philosophy is that philosophy is at heart the activity of asking questions about things that appear to be obvious but are not. (True enough, it also involves attempting to provide answers and giving arguments to support one’s preferred answers.) And so it is incumbent on the philosopher to ask for example ‘What is time, actually?’, while everybody else goes about their daily business taking the nature of time for granted. Indeed, philosophy is intimately connected with curiosity and inquisitiveness, and this idea famously goes back all the way to the roots of philosophy as we know it:
As readers will have noticed, since yesterday there has been an outpour of expressions of sorrow for the passing of Patrick Suppes everywhere on the internet. He was without a doubt one of the most influential philosophers of science in the 20th century, and so all the love and appreciation is richly deserved. I do not have anything much to add to what others who knew him better have been saying, but I thought of posting a link to the video podcast of a lecture he delivered at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy some two years ago, titled ‘A neuroscience perspective on the foundations of mathematics’. (Back then I even wrote a blog post about the lecture, just before it took place.)
As much as it is sad to see dear, talented people passing away, I think it is comforting to note that Suppes lived his life to the fullest until the very end, for example by flying across the ocean to give a lecture on a new, exciting topic at age 90. The vitality he displays in the lecture is truly impressive, and a lovely reminder of his decisive contributions to philosophy and the sciences.
Alexander Grothendieck, who is viewed by many as the greatest mathematician of the 20th century, has passed away yesterday after years of living in total reclusion. (To be honest, I did not even know he was still alive!) He was a key figure in the development of the modern theory of algebraic geometry, among others, but to philosophers and logicians he is perhaps best known as one of the major forces behind the establishment of category theory as a new foundational framework for mathematics.
So far, I’ve only seen obituaries in French (Libération and Le Monde), as Grothendieck (of German origin) lived almost all of his life in France (I expect that soon obituaries in English will be available too). His life story is almost as remarkable as his mathematical achievements: his father died in Auschwitz in 1942, while he was sent to a concentration camp in France with his mother. In all of his adult life, he was as passionate about pacifism as he was about mathematics (and perhaps even more), and continuously engaged in a number of activist initiatives like lecturing on category theory in a forrest of bombed Vietnam to protest against the war. He seems to have basically stopped doing any mathematics in the 1970s, but the influence of his work in the field is bound to remain colossal in many years or even centuries to come.
You have to be a full professor, that’s what it takes. This is an entirely absurd, obsolete system – in particular in view of the fact that many PhD studentships are financed by external funding obtained by researchers who cannot be the official supervisors of these students (and who in practice do all the supervising work). The system is not only unfair; it is also nefarious for the functioning of academia in the Netherlands as a whole. (See a statement (in Dutch) by three philosophers and members of the Young Academy of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences – Ingrid Robeyns, Arianna Betti and Peter-Paul Verbeek – with nine objections to the current system.)
Reinhard Muskens, a very distinguished logician-linguist-philosopher at the University of Tilburg, has started a petition asking the board of his university to revise this policy and extend the rights to be the official supervisor of a PhD thesis to non-full professors. Muskens himself has attracted very large amounts of external funding in his long and fruitful career as a researcher, has de facto supervised a number of PhD students, but still does not have what is referred to as ‘promotion rights’ around here.
Related to my post on the invisibility of sexual harassment earlier this week, here’s a video that has been making the rounds on the Internet, and rightly so: a woman walks on the streets of NYC, and a hidden camera captures the unsolicited comments and aggressive attempts at making contact by numerous men she runs into. Now, that’s a good way to make (street) harassment more visible!
As reported a few weeks ago, I’ve been working on a paper with my student Leon Geerdink (for a volume on the history of early analytic philosophy being edited by Chris Pincock and Sandra Lapointe) where we elaborate on a hypothesis that I first presented in a blog post more than 3 years ago: that the history of analytic philosophy can to a large extent be understood as the often uneasy interplay between Russellianism and Mooreanism, in particular with respect to their respective stances on the role of common sense for philosophical inquiry. In the first part of the paper, we present an (admittedly superficial and selective) overview of some recent debates on the role of intuitions and common sense in philosophical methodology; in the second part we discuss Moore and Russell specifically; and in the third part we discuss what we take to be another prominent instantiation of the opposition between Russellianism and Mooreanism: the debate between Carnap and Strawson on the notion of explication.
The paper is now almost ready (and we’d be happy to share the draft if anyone is interested), but one puzzle remains: when and how did the term ‘intuitions’ begin to be used in the philosophical literature in its current sense(s)? (As argued by C.S.I Jenkins, the term seems to be used in different senses in the current debates.) As established by Leon, Russell and Moore do not use the term ‘intuitions’ in any of these senses (and in particular, not in the sense of common sense and folk beliefs); instead, they use the term in the technical, largely Kantian, sense of immediate knowledge. We have not found occurrences of the term in the Carnap/Strawson debate either.
Does anyone know the answer to this pressing question? The SEP entry on intuitions is silent on the history of the terminology, and I haven’t found any discussions of this issue in the recent papers I’ve been reading for this project (maybe I’m missing something?). Not much hinges on this matter for the purposes of my paper with Leon, but it did make us curious. Perhaps our knowledgeable readers know the answer? We hope so!
A few years ago, I was going through airport security at Schiphol for a short European flight (to Munich, if I remember correctly), with hand-luggage only. As I was struggling with some lower back pain at the time, I was bringing an electric massager with me; sure enough, when my trolley went through the x-ray, the massager caught the guard’s attention. He made me open the trolley, and asked: ‘what is this?’ I said: ‘it’s an electric massager’. His reply (salacious voice): ‘oh, but isn’t it better if someone else does the massaging on you?’ (Wink, wink…) I am usually rather short-tempered, and normally would have made quite a fuss about it, but I didn’t want to risk missing my flight so I simply moved on.
Now, this is only one of many similar episodes I and every single woman in the world have experienced in our lives – nothing very extraordinary about it. But when I told my friendly, well-meaning male friends about this episode, they just couldn’t believe their ears: yes, there it was, a male airport security guard making entirely inappropriate remarks to a female traveler.
This episode illustrates a well-known phenomenon: the invisibility of harassment to those who do not experience it (and similarly for racism, ableism etc.). The ‘nicer’ guys who do not engage in overt harassment often think it is so inconceivable that anyone could be so grotesque that they fail to see it when it happens near them (and in fact, it often does not even happen near them; I doubt that the security guard would have made his remark had I been accompanied by a male travel companion). This tends to lead to an under-appreciation of the problem among these well-meaning men. Moreover, the men who do engage in such behavior often think there’s nothing wrong with it (‘hey, it’s just a joke!’), and so also fail to appreciate the gravity of the problem.
As most kids (I suspect), my daughters sometimes play ‘upside down world’, especially when I ask them something to which they should say ‘yes’, but instead they say ‘no’ and immediately regret it: ‘Upside down world!’ The upside down world game basically functions as a truth-value flipping operator: if you say yes, you mean no, and if you say no, you mean yes.
My younger daughter recently came across the upside down world paradox: if someone asks you ‘are you playing upside down world?’, all kinds of weird things happen to each of the answers you may give. If you are not playing upside down world, you will say no; but if you are playing upside down world you will also say no. So the ‘no’ answer underdetermines its truth-value, a bit like the no-no paradox. Now for the ‘yes’ answer: if you are playing upside down world and say ‘yes’, then that means ‘no’, and so you are not playing the game after all if you are speaking truthfully. But then your ‘yes’ was a genuine yes in the first place, and so you are playing the game and said yes, which takes us back to the beginning. (In other words, 'no' is the only coherent answer, but it still doesn't say anything about whether you are actually playing the game or not.)
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).
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:
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.
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.
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:
In December, I will be presenting at the Aesthetics in Mathematics conference in Norwich. The title of my talk is Beauty, explanation, and persuasion in mathematical proofs, and to be honest at this point there is not much more to it than the title… However, the idea I will try to develop is that many, perhaps even most, of the features we associate with beauty in mathematical proofs can be subsumed to the ideal of explanatory persuasion, which I take to be the essence of mathematical proofs.
As some readers may recall, in my current research I adopt a dialogical perspective to raise a functionalist question: what is the point of mathematical proofs? Why do we bother formulating mathematical proofs at all? The general hypothesis is that most of the defining criteria for what counts as a mathematical proof – and in particular, a good mathematical proof – can be explained in terms of the (presumed) ultimate function of a mathematical proof, namely that of convincing an interlocutor that the conclusion of the proof is true (given the truth of the premises) by showing why that is the case. (See also this recent edited volume on argumentation in mathematics.) Thus, a proof seeks not only to force the interlocutor to grant the conclusion if she has granted the premises; it seeks also to reveal something about the mathematical concepts involved to the interlocutor so that she also apprehends what makes the conclusion true – its causes, as it were. On this conception of proof, beauty may well play an important role, but this role will be subsumed to the ideal of explanatory persuasion.
I am working on a paper now (together with my student Leon Geerdink, for a volume on the history of early analytic philosophy being edited by Chris Pincock and Sandra Lapointe) where I elaborate on a hypothesis first presented at a blog post more than 3 years ago: that the history of analytic philosophy can to a large extent be understood as the often uneasy interplay between Russellianism and Mooreanism, in particular with respect to their respective stances on the role of common sense for philosophical inquiry. In the first part of the paper, we present an (admittedly superficial and selective) overview of some recent debates on the role of intuitions and common sense in philosophical methodology; in the second part we discuss Moore and Russell specifically, and in the third part we discuss what I take to be another prominent instantiation of the opposition between Russellianism and Mooreanism: the debate between Carnap and Strawson on the notion of explication.
I am posting here a draft of the first part, i.e. the overview of recent debates. I would be very interested to hear what readers think of it: is it at least roughly correct, even if certainly partial and incomplete? Are the categories I carved up to make sense of these debates helpful? Can they be improved? Feedback would be most welcome!
UPDATE: I forgot to mention that a paper that has been extremely useful for me to organize my thoughts on this topic is Michael Della Rocca's 'The taming of philosophy', which gets quite extensively discussed in other sections of my paper with Leon. It is an excellent paper. However, there is still a substantive disagreement between Della Rocca and us, namely that we think there is a lot more tension between Russell and Moore on the question of common sense's role for philosophy than Della Rocca recognizes (he describes both Moore and Russell as fans of common sense).