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).
After more than 3,5 years of weekly Brazilian music posts, I decided to discontinue the weekly regularity. For a number of reasons, it had become increasingly difficult for me to keep up with the rhythm (and NOT due to paucity of good Brazilian music!). I may still occasionally post when I come across or am reminded of something particularly inspiring, but it will be a ‘go with the flow’ thing rather than a weekly column.
For this last (regular) BMoF, I’m posting Caetano Veloso’s ‘If you hold a stone’, which I had intended to post at the very beginning of BMoF (at the time, BMoT) back in February 2011. After writing the whole text, I came to realize that the song was not available on youtube (beginner’s mistake…); for whatever reason, now it is. So if you are interested, go back and read what I wrote back then, and listen to the best song about being homesick that I know of -- appropriate for a goodbye, I suppose.
Many thanks to readers who regularly (or irregularly!) followed BMoF over the last 3,5 years; it's been great fun for me, and hopefully a bit fun for you too. Most likely, there will still be some Brazilian music here at NewAPPS, only less frequently.
I expect many readers to be following the ongoing debate, prompted by a poll run by Leiter last week, on the (presumed) effects that blogs have had for professional philosophy, both at the level of content and at the level of ‘issues in the profession’. (Roberta Millistein weights in at NewAPPS, and I agree with pretty much everything she says; another summary at Feminist Philosophers.) Now, there is a sense in which I am personally not in a good position to have an opinion on this, simply because I haven’t been around long enough to know what it was like before, and thus to be able to draw an informed conclusion. But I can say that my very process of becoming a professional philosopher (not so much content-wise perhaps, but in terms of deciding on the kind of professional I wanted to be) was considerably influenced by reading in particular the Feminist Philosophers blog. Also, I won’t deny that my career as a whole has tremendously benefited from my blogging activity at NewAPPS and at M-Phi, both in terms of the opportunity to discuss my ideas with a larger number of people than would otherwise have been possible, and (more pragmatically) simply in terms of increased visibility and reputation.
But obviously, my individual experience (or that of other bloggers) is not what is under discussion presently; rather, the question is whether blogs have been good for the profession as a whole. This, however, is obviously a multi-faceted question; it may for example be read as pertaining to the quality of the scholarship produced, to be measured by some suitably ‘objective’ criterion. (As a matter of fact, I do believe that blogs have been ‘good’ for philosophy in this sense, for reasons outlined here for example.) But it may also pertain to the overall wellbeing of members of the profession, in which case the putative effect blogs will have had could be conceived of in terms of a simple formula: for each member the profession (I is the set of all professional philosophers), estimate the net gain (or loss) in professional wellbeing by comparing their situation before (wb) and after (wa) the advent of blogs; add it all up, and divide the total by the number of members considered.
Exactly 15 years ago today, I arrived in the Netherlands with a suitcase full of dreams (ok, maybe two), ready to start a new phase of my life, but having no idea I'd end up staying for so long. I still do and always will feel a strong bond with my home country Brazil (as BMoF readers of course know!), but looking back on these years, I realize I feel entirely at home here now. Perhaps the main turning point in my relationship with this country was the birth of my children, who were both born here, and who, for all intents and purposes (sadly, including rooting at the World Cup…), are basically Dutch. After they were born, I started feeling a visceral connection with this place, which I didn’t experience before.
However, it is not only because they happened to be born here and have lived here almost all their lives (except for 20 months living in NYC for my older one) that I feel this connection. More importantly, I simply see them happy and thriving, being given all the conditions they need to develop healthily and joyfully, and I am extremely thankful for that. And it’s not only my kids: the Netherlands is consistently ranked as number one at studies comparing the well-being of children in a number of developed countries.
Everyone’s next question is then: what’s the secret? How does one raise the happiest kids in the world? Obviously, the Netherlands is a prosperous country, with levels of social equality only to be compared to those in the Scandinavian countries, and that goes a long way of course. To start with, virtually every child here has access to health care, education, nutrition etc. (Which is not to say that everything is perfect! But even for what is not so good, it’s still probably better than in most other places.) However, there are more factors involved, and on the basis of my experience as a parent I would like to outline two of them.
It is no news to anyone that the concept of consistency is a hotly debated topic in philosophy of logic and epistemology (as well as elsewhere). Indeed, a number of philosophers throughout history have defended the view that consistency, in particular in the form of the principle of non-contradiction (PNC), is the most fundamental principle governing human rationality – so much so that rational debate about PNC itself wouldn’t even be possible, as famously stated by David Lewis. It is also the presumed privileged status of consistency that seems to motivate the philosophical obsession with paradoxes across time; to be caught entertaining inconsistent beliefs/concepts is really bad, so blocking the emergence of paradoxes is top-priority. Moreover, in classical as well as other logical systems, inconsistency entails triviality, and that of course amounts to complete disaster.
Since the advent of dialetheism, and in particular under the powerful assaults of karateka Graham Priest, PNC has been under pressure. Priest is right to point out that there are very few arguments in favor of the principle of non-contradiction in the history of philosophy, and many of them are in fact rather unconvincing. According to him, this holds in particular of Aristotle’s elenctic argument in Metaphysics gamma. (I agree with him that the argument there does not go through, but we disagree on its exact structure. At any rate, it is worth noticing that, unlike David Lewis, Aristotle did think it was possible to debate with the opponent of PNC about PNC itself.) But despite the best efforts of dialetheists, the principle of non-contradiction and consistency are still widely viewed as cornerstones of the very concept of rationality.
However, in the spirit of my genealogical approach to philosophical issues, I believe that an important question to be asked is: What’s the big deal with consistency in the first place? What does it do for us? Why do we want consistency so badly to start with? When and why did we start thinking that consistency was a good norm to be had for rational discourse? And this of course takes me back to the Greeks, and in particular the Greeks before Aristotle.
Mathematics has been much in the news recently, especially with the announcement of the latest four Fields medalists (I am particularly pleased to see the first woman, and the first Latin-American, receiving the highest recognition in mathematics). But there was another remarkable recent event in the world of mathematics: Thomas Hales has announced the completion of the formalization of his proof of the Kepler conjecture. The conjecture: “what is the best way to stack a collection of spherical objects, such as a display of oranges for sale? In 1611 Johannes Kepler suggested that a pyramid arrangement was the most efficient, but couldn't prove it.” (New Scientist)
We are pleased to announce the completion of the Flyspeck project, which has constructed a formal proof of the Kepler conjecture. The Kepler conjecture asserts that no packing of congruent balls in Euclidean 3-space has density greater than the face-centered cubic packing. It is the oldest problem in discrete geometry. The proof of the Kepler conjecture was first obtained by Ferguson and Hales in 1998. The proof relies on about 300 pages of text and on a large number of computer calculations.
As this is the last BMoF before the summer break, I had hoped to post something cheerful (especially since we are leaving for Brazil tomorrow). But after a week of so much tragedy – the horrific situation in Gaza, the MH17 flight shot down in Ukraine – it is hard to think of anything that might be remotely appropriate to post today. There is however a song by recent BMoF guests Legião Urbana, a beautiful song about death, which might be just right: 'Vento no litoral'. Renato Russo wrote it after his long-time boyfriend had died, a victim of AIDS (which would in turn take Russo’s life a few years later). To be sure, the song does not have a political dimension to go with the deaths in Gaza and in Ukraine, but insofar as these are also private deaths (many people are now mourning the loss of their mother, father, son, daughter, lover, friend etc.), the song is spot-on what it means to still be alive after the death of a loved one. “Where are you now, beside here inside of me?”
Carolyn Dicey Jennings has a post up discussing the unfortunate implications of criticizing a person’s views in terms of their presumed (lack of) intelligence. I agree with much of what she says there (though I don’t think the issue is exclusively or even predominantly about criticism of women and members of other disadvantaged groups, even if impacts these groups to a greater extent). I want however to bring up another aspect of Brian Leiter’s criticism of Carolyn’s analysis, namely his use of the adjective ‘nonsense’, and connect it to what seems to be a pervasive but somewhat questionable practice among philosophers.
In fact, I was thinking of such a post even before reading Carolyn’s post. The idea was prompted by a conversation with Chris Menzel over lunch last week in Munich. Chris was telling me about some of his thoughts on Williamson’s Modal Logic as Metaphysics, and how Williamson describes the actualism vs. possibilism debate as ‘confused’, i.e. as something that he cannot make sense of. So technically, Williamson is (here) not accusing specific people of holding nonsensical positions, but according to him this is a nonsensical debate, as it were. (Chris Menzel is working on a paper on this material where he objects to Williamson's diagnosis of the debate.)
The notion of ‘nonsense’ has an interesting philosophical (recent) history, dating back at least to the Tractatus, and then later appropriated by the Vienna Circle. (I’d be interested to hear of earlier systematic uses of the notion of nonsense for philosophical purposes.) So, to be sure, it is in itself a philosophically interesting notion, but I think it becomes problematic when 'this is nonsense!' counts as a legitimate, acceptable move in a philosophical debate.
[Special edition] After the massacre of yesterday, there is little left to do other than reminding oneself of other, more mutually rewarding Brazilian-German encounters. So here is ‘Garota de Berlin’, the song that owes its existence to the brief but intense encounter between German singer Nina Hagen and Brazilian singer Supla. This happened back in 1985, when Hagen went to Brazil to perform in the first edition of the Rock in Rio festival. At the time, Supla, now also a reality TV celebrity of somewhat dubious reputation (and the son of two influential politicians – quite a mix!), led the post-punk band Tokyo, and so the band ended up recording ‘Garota de Berlin’ with Hagen’s participation.
The video-clip below is almost comic in its badness, and the song is not exactly a high point in Brazilian music. (I didn’t say that this particular Brazilian-German encounter would be rewarding for all the parties involved, including listeners.) But it is a funny episode in the history of Brazil-Germany relations, and in any case way less painful than those depressing 6 minutes in yesterday's match -- which are easily the most painful 6 minutes in the history of the Seleção.
(On the bright side, I get another chance today! The joys of carrying two nationalities…)
A Portuguese colleague (who has good reasons to remain anonymous) has brought to our attention some very important and worrisome recent events/developments pertaining to research funding in Portugal and Europe, which are described below. Academics in Europe (and also outside Europe) wil do well to pay close attention to these developments.
UPDATE: Perhaps my original phrasing was ambiguous, so to be clear: I am not the author of the post below, rather it is a guest post by the Portuguese colleague in question.
This post serves as a warning, and a plea for help, to academics around Europe.
It’s Friday evening, so I’m just in time for another BMoF. The reason for the ‘delay’ is that I just came back from Munich, and the notorious paucity of German youtube did not allow for a timely BMoF. But it was also in Munich that I finally got to meet Steven French, who besides being an accomplished philosopher of science and the editor of a ‘small, provincial journal’ (his words), is a big fan of Brazilian music. (He lived in Brazil for some time in the 1980s.) I asked Steven what his request would be for today’s BMoF, and his answer was: ‘Faroeste Caboclo’ (1987). It is an interesting choice: an extremely long song, with even longer lyrics (not a single line gets repeated), by a band that was hugely popular in my youth, Legião Urbana. (I posted a few songs by them a few years ago.) After the tragic death of leader Renato Russo (a victim of AIDS) in 1996, the band ceased to exist, but their music remains immensely popular among successions of younger generations.
‘Faroeste Caboclo’ tells the story of João de Santo Cristo, a criminal who ends up dying as a hero. The story is so elaborate that a whole movie was recently made based on the song. Below I am posting a video of the song illustrated with scenes from the movie, so that gives listeners who do not understand Portuguese at least an idea of what the whole thing is about. So all in all, a terrific suggestion by Steven, who I hope will like the video I'm posting below.
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). UPDATE: supportive post also at the Feminist Philosophers.
It goes without saying (but I’ll say it anyway) that we, NewAPPS bloggers, fully support Carolyn’s right to post her important analyses of job placement data, and deplore the tone and words adopted by Brian Leiter to voice his objections to her methodology. (This is not the first time that episodes of this kind involving Brian Leiter and junior, untenured colleagues occur; I for one deem such episodes to be inadmissible.)
Most readers will have had at least some exposure to John Searle’s interview by Tim Crane, which was published earlier this week. It was then hotly debated in the philosophical blogosphere at large (in particular at the Leiter Reports). Together with Peter Unger’s interview published roughly around the same time, it seems that the ‘old guard’ is on a Quixotesque crusade to chastise the younger crowd for the allegedly misguided, sorrow state of current philosophy. Now, I do think there is some truth to be found in what Searle says about the role of formal modeling in the philosophy of language, but his objections do not seem to apply at least to a growing body of research in formal semantics/philosophy of language. Moreover, it is not clear whether his own preferred methodology (judging from his seminal work on speech acts etc.) in fact does justice to what he himself views as the primary goal of philosophical analyses of language.
Here are the crucial passages from the interview (all excerpts from the passage posted by Leiter), the main bits in bold:
Well, what has happened in the subject I started out with, the philosophy of language, is that, roughly speaking, formal modeling has replaced insight. My own conception is that the formal modeling by itself does not give us any insight into the function of language.
Any account of the philosophy of language ought to stick as closely as possible to the psychology of actual human speakers and hearers. And that doesn’t happen now. What happens now is that many philosophers aim to build a formal model where they can map a puzzling element of language onto the formal model, and people think that gives you an insight. …
Last week I had a post up celebrating Chico Buarque’s birthday, and among other things I mentioned his relationship with young singer Thaís Gulin (I’m not sure if they are still together or not, but that’s not the point obviously). But it would be utterly unfair to portray her only as ‘Chico Buarque’s girlfriend’, and so to dispel this image of Gulin, here is one of her own songs, ‘Cinema big butts’. It is the strange mix of her own ‘Cinema americano’ interjected with her cover of the 1990s ‘trash-classic’ ‘Baby got back’. The result is at the very least surprising and refreshing. It is the kind of song that provokes reactions of either love or hate, but in any case no indifference; to me, it is strange and compelling at the same time. So, ‘shake that healthy butt!’
Some time ago, I wrote a blog post defending the idea that a particular family of non-monotonic logics, called preferential logics, offered the resources to explain a number of empirical findings about human reasoning, as experimentally established. (To be clear: I am here adopting a purely descriptive perspective and leaving thorny normative questions aside. Naturally, formal models of rationality also typically include normative claims about human cognition.)
In particular, I claimed that preferential logics could explain what is known as the modus ponens-modus tollens asymmetry, i.e. the fact that in experiments, participants will readily reason following the modus ponens principle, but tend to ‘fail’ quite miserably with modus tollens reasoning – even though these are equivalent according to classical as well as many non-classical logics. I also defended (e.g. at a number of talks, including one at the Munich Center for Mathematical Philosophy which is immortalized in video here and here) that preferential logics could be applied to another well-known, robust psychological phenomenon, namely what is known as belief bias. Belief bias is the tendency that human reasoners seem to have to let the believability of a conclusion guide both their evaluation and production of arguments, rather than the validity of the argument as such.
Well, I am now officially taking most of it back (and mostly thanks to working on these issues with my student Herman Veluwenkamp).
The great Chico Buarque joined the club of the ‘over-70’ yesterday (recall Caetano Veloso joining the club last year). Now, while one may speak of a constant stream of talented musicians in Brazilian music, we still haven’t come across anything like the brilliant generation of singers/composers emerging in the later 1960s, including Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil, Milton Nascimento and of course, Chico Buarque. They are now all in their early 70s, and alive and kicking. Chico Buarque in particular released an acclaimed new album in 2011 (Chico), and a DVD surveying his whole musical career in 2012. He also continues to pursue a celebrated literary career; in particular, his 2009 novel Spilt Milk has been translated into a number of languages (I very much enjoyed the novel myself).
To celebrate Chico’s birthday, here is ‘Essa pequena’ from his 2011 album (about his relationship with singer Thais Gulin – here is the two of them in the duo ‘Se eu soubesse’), and a classic, ‘O que será’ (1976), a duo with Milton Nascimento. So here’s to many more productive years for him, from which we all benefit…
Thanks to fellow Brazilian logician Valeria de Paiva, I cam across this amazing video, ‘City of Samba’, created by the multimedia artists Jarbas Agnelli and Keith Loutit. The city of samba is, of course, Rio de Janeiro, a city that is perennially beautiful no matter how you look at it; but through the tilt shift lenses of the artists, it becomes frankly supernatural. The music is also specially composed by Jarbas Agnelli, using non-percussion instruments to recreate the magical drumming of a samba school. (Here is a video where he explains the creative process.)
Many of you may by now be a bit fed-up with the World Cup-induced Brazil frenzy, but I assure you that this video will blow your mind even if you are suffering from Brazil-fatigue.
Anyone who spends a modicum of time on the internet will have been exposed to the recent hashtag battle opposing #NotAllMen and #YesAllWomen, so I don’t need to rehearse the details here. What I think is significant is that there may well be a sense in which both camps are right: it may well be the case that the proportion of men engaging in the more extreme forms of sexism and violence against women – the limit cases being sexual assault and rape – is relatively small, while the proportion of women being victims of these assaults is very high. There is no contradiction between the two.
Indeed, a 2002 study mentioned in this recent Slate article (which Eric W also linked to in a recent post – btw, it’s Eric’s post that got me thinking about this issue) on the sexual histories of college men found that ‘only’ 6% of those interviewed had attempted or successfully raped someone. But the catch is that there was an average of 6 rape attempts per perpetrator. So the math is simple: in a population of 100 college men and 100 college women, if 6 men are rapists but each engage in rape attempts 6 times during their college years, then it is perfectly possible that 36 of the 100 women, so more than a third of them, will have been the victims of successful or attempted rapes. (Naturally, there may also be cases of men sexually assaulting other men, but it seems that, in the college population in particular (as opposed to the prison population, or among younger male victims), the wide majority of cases is of male perpetrator and female victim.)
In less than a week from now, the opening match of the World Cup will take place, between Brazil and Croatia. Inevitably, the World Cup exposes spectators to a variety of national anthems from around the world – many of which we’d be just as well not having to listen to. To be honest, the Brazilian national anthem is not particularly beautiful, especially as the lyrics contain the usual dose of chauvinism; but in an instrumental version, here with the virtuoso mandolin player Hamilton de Holanda, it actually sounds surprisingly good.
Continuing the football-themed series I started last week, today I’m posting ‘Fio Maravilha’ by Jorge Ben(Jor). In January 1972, the iconic team Flamengo was playing a friendly game against the Portuguese team Benfica in the Maracanã, and Jorge Ben, a fanatic Flamengo supporter, was among the spectators. Less than 15 minutes before the end of the game, the score was a frustrating 0 x 0, and so the spectators started to demand that João Batista de Sales, a much beloved player who was benched for that match, be let in the game. Coach Mário Zagallo finally decided to comply, and Sales was brought in as a substitute. In no time he scored an astonishing goal, sadly not immortalized on video. The goal is however immortalized in the song ‘Fio Maravilha’, which was the nickname given to Sales after this match; it was an angel’s goal, according to Jorge Ben. The song became very popular and won a national song festival in 1972, in the voice of singer Maria Alcina.
Jorge Ben recorded 'Fio Maravilha' a number of times: I'm posting here 'Fio Maravilha' on its own, and also a hugely popular medley of this song with two other Jorge Ben classics: 'Taj Mahal' and 'País Tropical'. (And let me say for the 1000th time that Jorge Ben is an effing genius.)
Last year weannounced the launch of Ergo, an Open Access Journal of Philosophy. Today is the grand day of the publication of Ergo’s very first issue, with four amazing papers. To commemorate this occasion, the Ergo editors asked four distinguished philosophers each to comment on one of the four papers by means of blog posts. These are:
Julia Jorati (OSU) on a paper in early modern by Paul Lodge (Oxford), at The Mod Squad.
I’ve written a fewposts in the recent past questioning the whole idea of anonymous peer-review as a reliable guide to quality – in philosophy as well as elsewhere. In other disciplines, there have been numerous recent cases of ‘false positives’, i.e. papers which made it through the peer-review process but then were discovered to be fundamentally flawed after they were published (leading to a very large number of retractions).
The issue with false positives is well known, but as I’ve suggested in some of my previous posts, the issue of false negatives is equally serious, or perhaps even more serious, and yet it tends to be under-appreciated. A recent piece by JP de Ruiter, a psycholinguist at the University of Bielefeld, articulates very nicely why it is serious, and why it remains essentially invisible.
The two main goals of a review system are to minimize both the number of bad studies that are accepted for publication and the number of good studies that are rejected for publication. Borrowing terminology of signal detection theory, let’s call these false positives and false negatives respectively.
It is often implicitly assumed that minimizing the number of false positives is the primary goal of APR. However, signal detection theory tells us that reducing the number of false positives inevitably leads to an increase in the rate of false negatives. I want to draw attention here to the fact that the cost of false negatives is both invisible and potentially very high. It is invisible, obviously, because we never get to see the good work that was rejected for the wrong reasons. And the cost is high, because it removes not only good papers from our scientific discourse, but also entire scientists. […] The inherent conservatism in APR means that people with new, original approaches to old problems run the risk of being shut out, humiliated, and consequently chased away from academia. In the short term, this is to the advantage of the established scientists who do not like their work to be challenged. In the long run, this is obviously very damaging for science. This is especially true of the many journals that will only accept papers that receive unanimously positive reviews. These journals are not facilitating scientific progress, because work with even the faintest hint of controversy is almost automatically rejected.
With all this in mind, it is somewhat surprising that APR also fails to keep out many obviously bad papers.
Another sad loss this week: psychologist Sandra Bem, a pioneer in the empirical study of gender roles, passed away on Tuesday, May 20th. Here is the most complete obituary I could find so far, which details nicely her scientific contributions and the practical impact they had in gender policies. For example, it was largely based on her scientific work that the infamous practice of segregating classified job listings under "Male Help Wanted" and "Female Help Wanted" columns was finally abandoned, after a 1973 decision of the US Supreme Court ruling against the practice. (The case was against a particular press, but within a year all other newspapers in the country changed how their classified ads were listed.)
There are many other aspects of Sandra Bem’s life and work worth mentioning, but let me focus on two of them. As an undergraduate in 1965, she met Daryl Bem, then a young assistant professor, and a romantic relationship between them began. (Yes, there are successful stories too, apparently…) Initially, she did not want to get married, as this course of events seemed to preclude the professional path she had in mind for herself. But Daryl was not deterred, and so together they agreed on an arrangement that would allow her to flourish professionally, and which would basically consist in what is now known as equally shared parenting – an ideal that many couples aspire to, but which remains a challenge to implement (speaking from personal experience!). The ‘experiment’ was largely successful, and Sandra narrates all the ups and downs of raising two children (a boy and a girl) on this model in her 1998 book An Unconventional Family. (I’ve been meaning to read the book for years, and now may well be the time to stop procrastinating.)
In a few weeks, the football World Cup will start in Brazil, so in the coming weeks I will be posting a few football-themed songs. Don’t worry: I will not be posting the monstrosity that is the official theme song (with Pitbull & co. -- I refuse to put the link up). I will focus instead on some classics about football in Brazilian music.
Some may recall that the World Cup in Brazil has been surrounded by controversy, especially with the truly astonishing amount of money that seems to have gone into the construction of the stadiums. But like it or not, it will happen, so we may as well get ready for it.
Let me start with ‘É uma partida de futebol’ (1996) by the pop/ska band Skank (I’ve posted about them before). Both the song and the video nicely convey the fanatic, euphoric approach to football among fans in Brazil, with lots of footage from actual matches and the supporters; so quite a treat for football fans!
Last week I was ‘touring’ in Scotland, first in St. Andrews for a workshop on medieval logic and metaphysics, and then in Edinburgh for a workshop on philosophical methodologies, organized by the Edinburgh Women in Philosophy Group. In the latter, I presented a paper entitled ‘Virtuous adversariality as a model for philosophical inquiry’, which grew out of a number of blog posts on the topic I’ve been writing in the recent past (here, here and here). Quoting from the abstract:
In my talk, I will develop a model for philosophical inquiry that I call 'virtuous adversariality', which is meant to be a response to critics from both sides [those who criticize and those who endorse adversariality in philosophy]. Its key feature is the idea that a certain form of adversariality, more specifically disagreement and debate, is indeed at the heart of philosophy, but that philosophical inquiry also has a strong cooperative, virtuous component which regulates and constrains the adversarial component. The main inspiration for this model comes from ancient Greek dialectic.
And so I gave my talk, and somewhat against the spirit of it, everybody in the audience seemed to agree with pretty much everything I had said – where are these opponents when you need them? But one person, Amia Srinivasan (Oxford), raised what is perhaps the most serious objection to any adversarial mode of inquiry, virtuous or not: it may well minimize our endorsement of false beliefs, but it does so at the risk of also minimizing our endorsement of true beliefs.
Some years ago, at the end of an evening that probably involved more alcoholic beverages than it should have, I found myself as a member of a small party of four, composed of two colleagues (and incidentally, good friends) and one PhD student (all three male). As the conversation progressed, I ended up saying things that were somewhat sexually explicit (as some readers may recall, I don’t shy away from talking about matters pertaining to sexuality – see a recent lecture of mine on the science of female orgasm). To be clear, what I said could not have been construed as ‘flirtatious’ in any way, but the next day I came to deeply regret the whole episode. My reasoning was as follows: had I been a male individual, and had the student in question been a female individual, what I said would have been undoubtedly inappropriate, by my own lights. (Similar considerations could be offered concerning interactions with colleagues, but I was particularly concerned with the asymmetry between me and the student).
This episode led me to formulate and since then apply a principle of parity to regulate my behavior in professional situations: not to say or do anything that would be construed or viewed as problematic, had I been a man dealing with (especially more junior) women, be they colleagues, students etc. Until then, I would on occasion make remarks during class (e.g. ‘here, size does matter’ when talking about some issue pertaining to model-theory) which seemed to me to be ok (and in a sense, even a ‘political statement’ in some way), but which would not have been appropriate if uttered by a man. I do not make such remarks in class anymore.
A few weeks ago, the Rainforest Alliance, an NGO whose aim is to "conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods", released a promotional song, ‘I’m alive’, recorded in the Tijuca Forest in Rio de Janeiro, celebrating the wonders of Brazilian rainforests. Some of my favorite Brazilian musicians (Caetano Veloso, Lenine, Criolo) were involved, and the song is inspired by Caetano’s ‘Nine out of Ten’, from his classic 1972 album ‘Transa’. There is a sense in which it is yet another slightly embarrassing attempt by musicians to get involved in a ‘good fight’, but the result is musically not bad at all actually, hence me posting it here at BMoF. But I’m also posting the original ‘Nine out of Ten’ by Caetano Veloso, which, as my friend Jeroen would put it, has a lot more ‘balls’ than this newer version….