What Happens to Democracy When the Experts Can't Be Both Factual and Balanced?
Does democracy require journalists and educators to strive for political balance? I’m hardly alone in thinking the answer is "yes." But it also requires them to present the facts as they understand them — and when it is not possible to be factual and balanced at the same time, democratic institutions risk collapse.
Consider the problem abstractly. Democracy X is dominated by two parties, Y and Z. Party Y is committed to the truth of propositions A, B and C, while Party Z is committed to the falsity of A, B and C. Slowly the evidence mounts: A, B and C look very likely to be false. Observers in the media and experts in the education system begin to see this, but the evidence isn’t quite plain enough for non-experts, especially if those non-experts are aligned with Party Y and already committed to A, B and C....
One of my regular TAs, Chris McVey, uses a lot of storytelling in his teaching. About once a week, he'll spend ten minutes sharing a personal story from his life, relevant to the class material. He'll talk about a family crisis or about his time in the U.S. Navy, connecting it back to the readings from the class.
At last weekend's meeting of the Minorities And Philosophy group at Princeton, I was thinking about what teaching techniques philosophers might use to appeal to a broader diversity of students, and "storytime with Chris" came to mind. The more I think about it, the more I find to like about it.
Here are some thoughts.
* Students are hungry for stories, and rightly so. Philosophy class is usually abstract and impersonal, or when not abstract focused on toy examples or remote issues of public policy. A good story, especially one that is personally meaningful to the teacher, leaps out and captures attention. People in general love stories and are especially ready for them after long dry abstractions and policy discussions. So why not harness that? But furthermore, storytelling gives real shape and flesh to the abstract stick figures of philosophical abstraction. Most abstract principles only get their full meaning when we see how they play out in real cases. Kant might say "act on that maxim that you can will to be a universal law" or Mengzi might say "human nature is good" -- but what do such claims really amount to? Students rightly feel at sea unless they are pulled away from toy examples and into the complexity of real life. Although it's tempting to think that the real philosophical force is in the abstract principles and that storytelling is just needless frill and packaging, I think that the reverse might be closer to the truth: The heart of philosophy is in how we engage our minds when given real, messy examples, and the abstractions we derive from cases always partly miss the point.
I estimate that 97% of citations in the most prestigious English-language philosophy journals are to works originally written in English. In other words, the entire history of philosophy not written in English (Plato, Confucius, Ibn Rushd, Descartes, Wang Yangming, Kant, Frege, Wittgenstein, Foucault, etc., on into the 21st century) is referenced in only 3% of the citations in leading Anglophone philosophy journals.
Let me walk you through the process by which I came to these numbers, then give you some breakdowns.
We might think of fictions as extended thought experiments: What might it be like if...? Ordinary fiction confines itself to hypotheticals in the ordinary run of human affairs (though sometimes momentous, exotic, or exaggerated). In contrast, speculative fiction considers remoter hypotheticals. Although much speculative fiction considers hypotheticals of future technology (and thus is science fiction), speculative fiction also includes fantasy, horror, alternative history, and utopia/dystopia. (The abbreviation "SF" can be read either as meaning science fiction specifically or speculative fiction more broadly.)
Speculative fiction is often of philosophical interest: SF writers think through some of the same hypotheticals that philosophers do -- for example about personal identity, artificial intelligence, and possible future societies. Good SF writers think through these hypotheticals with considerable insight. I would like to see more interaction between philosophers and SF writers.
Since 2014, I have been collecting professional philosophers' recommendations of "personal favorite" works of philosophically-interesting science fiction or speculative fiction. Each contributor has given me a list of 10 works, each with brief "pitch" pointing toward the work's philosophical interest. So far, I have 48 sets of recommendations -- almost five hundred recommendations total!
Since the master list is huge, I have organized it in two ways: by contributor and by author recommended. The by-contributor list consists of each list of ten works, in alphabetical order by contributor. The by-author list lists the authors (or movie directors) in order of how frequently their work was recommended. For example, the single most recommended author was Ursula K. Le Guin. The list begins with her, gathering together the Le Guin recommendations from all of the contributors. Next come Ted Chiang and Philip K. Dick, so that you can see what work of theirs has been recommended and why; then Greg Egan, then... well, I don't want to spoil your surprise!
* Stable URL for both Master Lists and other "Philosophical SF" project links.
Consider cases in which a person sincerely endorses some proposition ("women are just as smart as men", "family is more important than work", "the working poor deserve as much respect as the financially well off"), but often behaves in ways that fail to fit with that sincerely endorsed proposition (typically treats individual women as dumb, consistently prioritizes work time over family, sees nothing wrong in his or others' disrespectful behavior toward the working poor). Call such cases "dissonant cases" of belief. Intellectualism is the view that in dissonant cases the person genuinely believes the sincerely endorsed proposition, even if she fails to live accordingly.Broad-based views, in contrast, treat belief as a matter of how you steer your way through the world generally.
Dissonant cases of belief are, I think, "antecedently unclear cases" of the sort I discussed in this post on pragmatic metaphysics. The philosophical concept of belief is sufficiently vague or open-textured that we can choose whether to embrace an account of belief that counts dissonant cases as cases of belief, as intellectualism would do, or whether instead to embrace an account that counts them as cases of failure to believe or as in-between cases that aren't quite classifiable either as believing or as failing to believe.
I offer the following pragmatic grounds for rejecting intellectualism in favor of a broad-based view. My argument has a trunk and three branches.
The trunk argument.
Belief is one of the most central and important concepts in all of philosophy. It is central to philosophy of mind: Belief is the most commonly discussed of the "propositional attitudes". It is central to philosophy of action, where it's standard to regard actions as arising from the interaction of beliefs, desires, and intentions. It is central to epistemology, much of which concerns the conditions under which beliefs are justified or count as knowledge. A concept this important to philosophical thinking should be reserved for the most important thing in the vicinity that can plausibly answer to it. The most important thing in the vicinity is not our patterns of intellectual endorsement. It is our overall patterns of action and reaction. What we say matters, but what we do in general, how we live our lives through the world -- that matters even more.
Consider a case of implicit classism. Daniel, for example, sincerely says that the working poor deserve equal respect, but in fact for the most part he treats them disrespectfully and doesn't find it jarring when others do so. If we, as philosophers, choose describe Daniel as believing what he intellectually endorses, then we implicitly convey the idea that Daniel's patterns of intellectual endorsement are what matter most to philosophy: Daniel has the attitude that stands at the center of so much of epistemology, philosophy of action, and philosophy of mind. If we instead describe Daniel as a mixed-up, in-betweenish, or even failing to believe what he intellectually endorses, we do not implicitly convey that intellectualist idea.
Eric Schwitzgebel and Carolyn Dicey Jennings
This article brings together lots of data that we have been gathering and posting about over the past several years, here and at The Splintered Mind. Considered jointly, these data tell a very interesting story about the continuing gender disparity in the discipline.
Here's the abstract:
We present several quantitative analyses of the prevalence and visibility of women in moral, political, and social philosophy, compared to other areas of philosophy, and how the situation has changed over time. Measures include faculty lists from the Philosophical Gourmet Report, PhD job placement data from the Academic Placement Data and Analysis project, the National Science Foundation’s Survey of Earned Doctorates, conference programs of the American Philosophical Association, authorship in elite philosophy journals, citation in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and extended discussion in abstracts from the Philosopher’s Index. Our data strongly support three conclusions: (1) Gender disparity remains large in mainstream Anglophone philosophy; (2) ethics, construed broadly to include social and political philosophy, is closer to gender parity than are other fields in philosophy; and (3) women’s involvement in philosophy has increased since the 1970s. However, by most measures, women’s involvement and visibility in mainstream Anglophone philosophy has increased only slowly; and by some measures there has been virtually no gain since the 1990s. We find mixed evidence on the question of whether gender disparity is even more pronounced at the highest level of visibility or prestige than at more moderate levels of visibility or prestige.
Full paper here.
As always, comments, corrections, and objections welcome, either on this post or by email.
The Survey of Earned Doctorates is a questionnaire distributed by the U.S. National Science Foundation to doctorate recipients at all accredited U.S. universities, which draws response rates over 90% in most years. The survey includes data on gender and ethnicity/race. Data for 2009-2014 are readily available online here. At my request, the NSF sent me gender and ethnicity/race data for philosophy going back to 1973.
With the NSF's permission, here are the raw data. Philosophy response rates averaged 92% per year, and were over 85% in all years but two.
(Note: "Ethics" started being collected as a separate doctoral subfield in 2012. For gender analysis, I have merged the 83 recipients in that category with the 1442 "philosophy" doctoral recipients during the same period. Given the small numbers, much of the race/ethnicity data were suppressed, so for race/ethnicity analysis I have excluded the "ethics" recipients. The numbers are not sufficiently different from "philosophy" to make a material analytic difference in a pool of over a thousand (54/83 [65%] male; among U.S. citizens and permanent residents, 52/68 [76%] non-Hispanic White).)
Data on Women:
Almost all respondents reported gender as male or female, with only 25/14495 respondents (0.2%) declining to self-classify gender. The total number of respondents increased from an average of 354/year in available data from the 1970s to an average of 484/year for available data in the 2010s. The chart below shows the percentage of women by year, along with both a linear regression line (green) and the best fitting quadratic curve (red).
Consider these sentences, drawn from influential works of neuroscience (quoted in Figdor forthcoming, p. 2):
A resonator neuron prefers inputs having frequencies that resonate with the
frequency of its subthreshold oscillations (Izhikevich 2007).
In preferring a slit speciﬁc in width and orientation this cell [with a complex
receptive ﬁeld] resembled certain cells with simple ﬁelds (Hubel and Wiesel
1962, p. 115).
It is the response properties of the last class of units [of cells recorded via
electrodes implanted in a rat’s dorsal hippocampus] which has led us to postulate that the rat’s hippocampus functions as a spatial map. ... These 8 units
then appear to have preferred spatial orientations (O’Keefe and Dostrovsky
1971, p. 172).
These are completely standard, unremarkable claims of the type that neuroscientists have been making for decades. Figdor suggests that it's best to interpret these claims as literal truths. The verbs in these sentences work like many other verbs do -- "twist", "crawl", "touch" -- with literal usage across a wide range of domains, including organic and inorganic, part and whole.
Figdor's view sounds bizarre, perhaps. People literally have preferences. And rats. Maybe frogs. Not trees (despite 22,000 Google hits for "trees prefer", such as "Ash trees prefer moist, well-draining soil for optimum growth"). Definitely not neurons, most people would say.
One natural way to object to Figdor's view is to suggest that the language of neurons "preferring" is metaphorical rather than literal. I can see how that might be an attractive first thought. Another possibility worth considering is that maybe there are two senses of "prefer" at work -- a high-grade one for human beings, a thin one for neurons.
The new op-ed editor Juliet Lapidos is behind this trend. Encourage Juliet by sharing the LA Times philosophy links widely and by sending the LA Times your best op-ed queries. It would be terrific if this trend could stick and we could have another major U.S. newspaper that regularly publishes philosophers!
As a fan of profane language judiciously employed, I fear that the best profanities of English are cheapening from overuse -- or worse, that our impulses to offend through profane language are beginning to shift away from harmless terms toward more harmful ones.
Roache distinguishes between objectionable slurs (especially racial slurs) and presumably harmless swear words like "fuck". The latter words, she suggests, should not be forbidden, although she acknowledges that in some contexts it might be inappropriate to use them. Roache also suggests that it's silly to forbid "fuck" while allowing obvious replacements like "f**k" or "the f-word". Roache says, "We should swear more, and we shouldn't use asterisks, and that's fine." (31:20).
I disagree. Overstating somewhat, I disagree because of this eCard:
"Fuck" is a treasure of the English language. Speakers of other languages will sometimes even reach across the linguistic divide to relish its profanity. "Fuck" is a treasure precisely because it is forbidden. Its being forbidden is the source of its profane power and emotional vivacity.
When I was growing up in California in the 1970s, "fuck" was considered the worst of the seven words you can't say on TV. You would never hear it in the media, or indeed -- in my posh little suburb -- from any adults, except maybe, very rarely, from some wild man from somewhere else. I don't think I heard my parents or any of their friends say the word even once, ever. It wasn't until fourth grade that I even learned that the word existed. What a powerful word, then, for a child to relish in the quiet of his room, or to suddenly drop on a friend!
by Eric Schwitzgebel
Academic philosophers in Anglophone Ph.D.-granting departments tend to have a narrow conception of what counts as valuable philosophical work. Hiring, tenure, promotion, and prestige turn mainly on one's ability to write an essay in a particular theoretical, abstract style, normally in reaction to the work of a small group of canonical historical and 20th century figures, on a fairly constrained range of topics, published in a limited range of journals and presses. This is too narrow a view.
I won't discuss cultural diversity here, which I have addressedelsewhere. Today I'll focus on genre and medium.
Consider the recency and historical contingency of the philosophical journal article. It's a late 19th century invention. Even as late as the mid-20th century, leading philosophers in Western Europe and North America were doing important work in a much broader range of styles than is typical now. Think of the fictions and difficult-to-classify reflections of Sartre, Camus, and Unamuno, the activism and popular writings of Russell, Dewey's work on educational reform, Wittgenstein's fragments. It's really only with the generation hired to teach the baby boomers that our conception of philosophical work became narrowly focused on the academic journal article, and on books written in that same style.
Consider the future of media. The magazine is a printing-press invention and carries with it the history and limitations of that medium. With the rise of the internet, other possibilities emerge: videos, interactive demonstrations, blogs, multi-party conversations on social media, etc. Is there something about the journal article that makes it uniquely better for philosophical reflection than these other media? (Hint: no.)
Nor need we think that philosophical work must consist of expository argumentation targeted toward disciplinary experts and students in the classroom. This, too, is a narrow and historically recent conception of philosophical work. Popular essays, fictions, aphorisms, dialogues, autobiographical reflections, and personal letters have historically played a central role in philosophy. We could potentially add, too, public performances, movies, video games, political activism, and interactions with the judicial system and governmental agencies.
But what about extremely remote possibilities with extremely large payouts? Maybe it's reasonable to have a one in 10^50 credence in the existence of a deity who would give me at least 10^50 lifetimes' worth of pleasure if I decided to raise my arms above my head right now. One in 10^50 is a very low credence, after all! But given the huge payout, if I then straightforwardly apply the expected value calculus, such remote possibilities might generally drive my decision making. That doesn't seem right!
I see three ways to insulate my decisions from such remote possibilities without having to zero out those possibilities.
My credences about extremely remote possibilities appear to be approximately symmetrical and canceling. In general, I'm not inclined to think that my prospects will be particularly better or worse due to their influence on extremely unlikely deities, considered as a group, if I raise my arms than if I do not. More specificially, I can imagine a variety of unlikely deities who punish and reward actions in complementary ways -- one punishing what the other rewards and vice versa. (Similarly for other remote possibilities of huge benefit or suffering, e.g., happening to rise to an infinite Elysium if I step right rather than left.) This indifference among the specifics is partly guided by my general sense that extremely remote possibilities of this sort don't greatly diminish or enhance the expected value of such actions. I see no reason not to be guided by that general sense -- no argumentative pressure to take such asymmetries seriously in the way that there is some argumentative pressure to take dream doubt seriously.
As Aristotle notes (NE III.1, 1110a), if the wind picks you up and blows you somewhere you don't want to go, your going there is involuntary, and you shouldn't be praised or blamed for it. Generally, we don't hold people morally responsible for events outside their control. The generalization has exceptions, though. You're still blameworthy if you've irresponsibly put yourself in a position where you lack control, such as through recreational drugs or through knowingly driving a car with defective brakes.
Spontaneous reactions and unwelcome thoughts are in some sense outside our control. Indeed, trying to vanquish them seems sometimes only to enhance them, as in the famous case of trying not to think of a pink elephant. A particularly interesting set of cases are unwelcome racist, sexist, and ableist thoughts and reactions: If you reflexively utter racist slurs silently to yourself, or if you imagine having sex with someone with whom you're supposed to be having a professional conversation, or if you feel flashes of disgust at someone's blameless disability, are you morally blameworthy for those unwelcome thoughts and reactions? Let's stipulate that you repudiate those thoughts and reactions as soon as they occur and even work to compensate for any bias.
To help fix ideas, let's consider a hypothetical. Hemlata, let's say, lacks the kind of muscular control that most people have, so that she has a disvalued facial posture, uses a wheelchair to get around, and speaks in a way that people who don't know her find difficult to understand. Let’s also suppose that Hemlata is a sweet, competent person and a good philosopher. If the psychological literature on implicit bias is any guide, it's likely that it will be more difficult for Hemlata to get credit for intelligence and philosophical skill than it will be for otherwise similar people without her disabilities.
Now suppose that Hemlata meets Kyle – at a meeting of the American Philosophical Association, say. Kyle’s first, uncontrolled reaction to Hemlata is disgust. But he thinks to himself that disgust is not an appropriate reaction, so he tries to suppress it. He is only partly successful: He keeps having negative emotional reactions looking at Hemlata. He doesn’t feel comfortable around her. He dislikes the sound of her voice. He feels that he should be nice to her; he tries to be nice. But it feels forced, and it’s a relief when a good excuse arises for him to leave and chat with someone else. When Hemlata makes a remark about the talk that they’ve both just seen, Kyle is less immediately disposed to see the value of the remark than he would be if he were chatting with someone non-disabled. But then Kyle thinks he should be try harder to appreciate the value of Hemlata's comments, given Hemlata's disability; so he makes an effort to do so. Kyle says to Hemlata that disabled philosophers are just as capable as non-disabled philosophers, and just as interesting to speak with – maybe more interesting! – and that they deserve fully equal treatment and respect. He says this quite sincerely. He even feels it passionately as he says it. But Kyle will not be seeking out Hemlata again. He thinks he will; he resolves to. But when the time comes to think about how he wants to spend the evening, he finds a good enough reason to justify hitting the pub with someone else instead.
Cultural moral relativism is the view that what is morally right and wrong varies between cultures. According to normative cultural moral relativism, what varies between cultures is what really is morally right and wrong (e.g., in some cultures, slavery is genuinely permissible, in other cultures it isn't). According to descriptive cultural moral relativism, what varies is what people in different cultures think is right and wrong (e.g., in some cultures people think slavery is fine, in others they don't; but the position is neutral on whether slavery really is fine in the cultures that think it is). A strong version of descriptive cultural moral relativism holds that cultures vary radically in what they regard as morally right and wrong.
A case can be made for strong descriptive cultural moral relativism. Some cultures appear to regard aggressive warfare and genocide as among the highest moral accomplishments (consider the book of Joshua in the Old Testament); others (ours) think aggressive warfare and genocide are possibly the greatest moral wrongs of all. Some cultures celebrate slavery and revenge killing; others reject those things. Some cultures think blasphemy punishable by death; others take a more liberal attitude. Cultures vary enormously on womens' rights and obligations.
However, I reject this view. My experience with ancient Chinese philosophy is the central reason.
My father, Kirkland R. Gable (born Ralph Schwitzgebel) died Sunday. Here are some things I want you to know about him.
Of teaching, he said that authentic education is less about textbooks, exams, and technical skills than about moving students "toward a bolder comprehension of what the world and themselves might become." He was a beloved psychology professor at California Lutheran University.
I have never known anyone, I think, who brought as much creative fun to teaching as he did. He gave out goofy prizes to students who scored well on his exams (e.g., a wind-up robot nun who breathed sparks of static electricity: "nunzilla"). Teaching about alcoholism, he would start by pouring himself a glass of wine (actually, water with food coloring), pouring more wine and acting drunker, arguing with himself, as the class proceeded. Teaching about child development, he would bring in my sister or me, and we would move our mouths like ventriloquist dummies as he stood behind us, talking about Piaget or parenting styles (and then he'd ask our opinion about parenting styles). Teaching about neuroanatomy, he brought in a brain jello mold, which he sliced up and passed around class for the students to eat ("yum! occipital cortex!"). Etc.
As a graduate student and then assistant professor at Harvard in the 1960s and 1970s, he shared the idealism of his mentors Timothy Leary and B.F. Skinner, who thought that through understanding the human mind we can transform and radically improve the human condition -- a vision he carried through his entire life.
According to a broad class of materialist views, conscious experiences -- such as the experience of pain -- do not supervene on the local physical state of the being who is having those conscious experiences. Rather, they depend in part on the past evolutionary or learning history of the organism (Fred Dretske) or on what is "normal" for members of its group (David Lewis). These dependencies are not just causal but metaphysical: The very same (locally defined) brain state might be experienced as pain by one organism as as non-pain by another organism, in virtue of differences in the organisms' past history or group membership, even if the two organisms are molecule-for-molecule identical at the moment in question.
Donald Davidson's Swampman example is typically used to make this point vivid: You visit a swamp. Lightning strikes, killing you. Simultaneously, through incredibly-low-odds freak quantum chance, a being who is molecule-for-molecule identical to you emerges from the swamp. Does this randomly-congealed Swampman, who lacks any learning history or evolutionary history, experience pain when it stubs its toe? Many people seem to have the hunch or intuition, that yes, it would; but any externalist who thinks that consciousness requires a history will have to say no. Dretske makes clear in his 1995 book that he is quite willing to accept this consequence. Swampman feels no pain.
Let's say the world is morally ordered if good things come to those who act morally well and bad things come to those who act morally badly.
Moral order admits of degrees. We might say that the world is perfectly morally ordered if everyone gets exactly what they morally deserve, perfectly immorally ordered if everyone gets the opposite of what they morally deserve, and has no moral order if there's no relationship between what one deserves and what one gets.
Moral order might vary by subgroup of individuals considered. Perhaps the world is better morally ordered in 21st century Sweden than it was in 1930s Russia. Perhaps the world is better morally ordered among some ethnicities or social classes than among others. Class differences highlight the different ways in which moral order can fail: Moral order can fail among the privileged if they do not suffer for acting badly, can fail among the disadvantaged if they do not benefit from acting well.
Oskar Schindler, as you probably know, saved over a thousand Jews from death under the Nazis by spending vast sums of money to hire them in his factories, where they were protected. Near the end of Spielberg's movie about him, the script suggests that Schindler is broke -- that he has spent the last of his wartime slave-labor profits to save his Jewish workers, just on the very eve of German surrender:
Stern: Do you have any money hidden away someplace that I don't know about?
Schindler: No. Am I broke?
Stern: Uh, well...
Then there's the surrender, Schindler's speech to the factory workers, and preparations for Schindler's escape (as a hunted profiteer of slave labor).
Seeing the film, you might briefly think, what's with the truck that caravans off with Schindler? But the truck gets no emphasis in the film.
Thomas Keneally's 1982 book Schindler's Ark (on which Spielberg's 1993 film was based) tells us more about the truck:
Emilie, Oskar, and a driver were meant to occupy the Mercedes. [Seven] others would follow in a truck loaded with food and cigarettes and liquor for barter (p. 375).
In one of the factory garages that afternoon, two prisoners were engaged in removing the upholstery from the ceiling and inner doors of Oskar's Mercedes, inserting small sacks of the Herr Direktor's diamonds... (p. 368).
This mega-list of about 360 recommendations is compiled from the lists I've been rolling out on The Splintered Mind over the past several weeks. Thirty-four professional philosophers and two prominent science fiction / speculative fiction (SF) authors with graduate training in philosophy each contributed a list of ten personal favorite "philosophically interesting" SF works, with brief "pitches" for each recommended work.
I have compiled two mega-lists, organized differently. One mega-list is organized by contributor, so that you can see all of Scott Bakker's recommendations, then all of Sara Bernstein's recommendations, etc. It might be useful to skim through to see whose tastes you seem to share and then look at what other works that person recommends.
The other mega-list is organized by author (or director or TV series), to highlight authors (directors / TV shows) who were most often recommended by the list contributors.
I have been asked to be an evaluator for the 2014-2015 edition of the Philosophical Gourmet Report. Contrary to what seems to be the general (but not universal) sentiment of New APPS contributors and commenters, I support the rankings and will participate.
The PGR rankings have at least three related downsides:
1. They perpetuate privilege, including the privilege of people with social power in the discipline, the privilege of people in PhD-granting institutions over other types of institutions, and the general privilege of Anglophone philosophy and philosophers.
2. They reinforce mainstream ("Gourmet ecology") valuations of topics and approaches, in a discipline where the mainstream needs no help and it would probably be productive to push against the mainstream.
3. They risk blurring the distinction between second-hand impressions about reputation (especially outside evaluators' own subareas) and genuine quality.
In light of these downsides, I understand people's hesitation to support the enterprise.
I view the rankings as an exercise in the sociology of philosophy. The rankings are valuable insofar as they reveal sociological facts about how departments, and to some extent individuals (especially in the specialty rankings) are viewed by the social elite in Anglophone philosophy -- by the people who publish articles in journals like Nous and Philosophical Review, by the people who write and are written about in Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries, by the people who teach at renowned British and U.S. universities like Oxford, Harvard, and Berkeley. As a part-time sociologist of philosophy interested in patterns of esteem, I am curious how people in this social group view the field, and I regard the PGR as an important source of data.
... here, have been approved. Some ended up in spam, some I lost track of in the flood of comments on other posts. Sorry about that! If you have submitted one and it's still not showing, please email me. I'm delighted that the discussion has been so fruitful!
Enclose the sun inside a layered nest of thin spherical computers. Have the inmost sphere harvest the sun's radiation to drive computational processes, emitting waste heat out its backside. Use this waste heat as the energy input for the computational processes of a second, larger and cooler sphere that encloses the first. Use the waste heat of the second sphere to drive the computational processes of a third. Keep adding spheres until you have an outmost sphere that operates near the background temperature of interstellar space.
Congratulations, you've built a Matrioshka Brain! It consumes the entire power output of its star and produces many orders of magnitude more computation per microsecond than all of the current computers on Earth do per year.
Here's a picture:
(Yes, it's black. Maybe not if you shine a flashlight on it, though.)
In a recent survey, I asked philosophers about their submissions to journals, to get a sense of what journals people submit to and also what factors might influence their decisions on where to submit papers. Specifically, I wanted to know how frequently people submit their work to the top 5 journals in philosophy, which are usually regarded (according to polls) as the best journals in the field: Philosophical Review, Journal of Philosophy, Mind, Noûs and Philosophy and Phenomenological Research. Increasingly, publications in these journals are regarded as a marker of excellence.
However, there are several hurdles to getting published in the top 5. The acceptance rates are forbidding (I don’t have exact numbers, but journals in the top-20 that have published acceptance rates as low as 5%, (e.g., Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Canadian Journal of Philosophy). Presumably, the acceptance rates in the top-5 are lower still, making them more difficult to get into than Science or Nature. Also, review times at some of these journals tends to be longer than the standard 3 months. Those journals that are quicker close submissions for half the year, and unfortunately, they do so concurrently (otherwise, so a senior philosopher pointed out to me, they wouldn’t have the lower submission rates they are aiming for).
251 philosophers completed the survey. Below the fold is a summary of some results. I asked respondents to say how many papers they submitted to top-5 journals and any refereed journal over the past year (i.e., since September 2013).
See here. The last MacArthur "genius" fellowship awarded to someone they classified as philosopher was in 1993.
On the whole, scholars outside of philosophy tend, I think, not to see much value in what most professional philosophers do. The MacArthur drought is one reflection and measure of that.
Not that prizes matter. Sheesh. We're too busy thinking about important stuff like whether the external world exists (82% of target faculty agree that it does). The MacArthur folks probably think that climate change is a more important topic. But if the external world doesn't exist then the climate can't change, can it now? So there!
On Friday Sept. 5, Chancellor Dirks of UC Berkeley circulated an open statement to his campus community that sought to define the limits of appropriate debate at Berkeley. Issued as the campus approaches the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, Chancellor Dirks' statement, with its evocation of civility, echoes language recently used by the Chancellor of the University of Illinois, Urbana and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (especially its Chair Christopher Kennedy) concerning the refused appointment of Steven Salaita. It also mirrors language in the effort by the University of Kansas Board of Regents to regulate social media speech and the Penn State administration's new statement on civility. Although each of these administrative statements have responded to specific local events, the repetitive invocation of "civil" and "civility" to set limits to acceptable speech bespeaks a broader and deeper challenge to intellectual freedom on college and university campuses.
CUCFA Board has been gravely concerned about the rise of this discourse on civility in the past few months, but we never expected it to come from the Chancellor of UC Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. To define “free speech and civility” as “two sides of the same coin,” and to distinguish between “free speech and political advocacy” as Chancellor Dirk does in his text, not only turns things upside down, but it does so in keeping with a relentless erosion of shared governance in the UC system, and the systemic downgrading of faculty’s rights and prerogatives. Chancellor Dirks errs when he conflates free speech and civility because, while civility and the exercise of free speech may coexist harmoniously, the right to free speech not only permits, but is designed to protect uncivil speech. Similarly, Chancellor Dirks is also wrong when he affirms that there exists a boundary between “free speech and political advocacy” because political advocacy is the apotheosis of free speech, and there is no “demagoguery” exception to the First Amendment.
Especially given the attention we've paid to the case here (see our new tag, and also Samir's posts here and here, and Eric Schwitzgebel's here), it is important to note that Steven Salaita had a press conference today, at which he issued this following statement.
The full audio of the statement and the press conference is here. And in addition, there's a short video (embedded below) of Salaita addressing two of the core questions that have been raised in the affair, that of the nature of his engagements on Twitter and that of his approach in the classroom.
[Update: here is the full video of the event, including Salaita's full statement and the press conference.]
Finally, as many of you surely know, the Board of Trustees at UIUC is meeting on Thursday. This is a very crucial day, and it is important to produce as many visible expressions of support as possible in advance of the Trustees' meeting. If you have not already done so, there is still time for you to email the Trustees. Corey Robin's post on how to do so is here. Also, John Protevi is managing the philospher's boycott statement (see here for info on how to add your name).
[Update 2: The report on which this discussion has been based is now being called into question. UIUC English Professor Ted Underwood tweets as follows: "@Ted_Underwood: Regret to say that last night's report from students appears premature. Faculty have since met with Wise, & report no change in position."]
[Update: Thanks to John Protevi for providing the correspondence address for the UIUC Board of Trustees in the comments below.]
Yesterday evening, reports began to emerge that University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Phyllis Wise has forwarded Steven Salaita's appointment to the University's Board of Trustees, who will vote on it at their meeting ten days from now, on September 11th.
Obviously, this is a hopeful sign, given that the Chancellor's position until how has been to refuse to submit the appointment to the board—as Corey Robin puts the point, what amounts to a 'pocket veto.' That said, it's difficult to feel too much confidence that the process now underway is intended or should be expected to terminate in the restoration of Professor Salaita's position. Robin has spent some time parsing a couple of scenrios here; but the key thing to recognize, as John Protevi also noticed very quickly last night, is that this could easily be a move that the University is legally required to make or that it would be in its best interest to make if it wants to avoid being sued for denying Salaita due process.
Nevertheless, as Robin points out in his post, these developments also mean that those supporting the causes of academic freedom and faculty governance* in this case now have an important opportunity: ten days in which to bring maximum pressure on the Trustees to vote in favor of Salaita's appointment. In other words, the game is still on, and it must continue to be.
As I write this, at least 543 philosophers have signed our disciplinary pledge to boycott UIUC until this matter is resolved in Salaita's favor—see this post by Eric Schwitzgebel, where he explains his rationale for honoring the boycott.** Please consider adding your name if you have not yet done so. Additionally, please consider writing to the trustees directly expressing your support for Salaita's appointment, as well as your sense of the cost to the Unviersity's reputation should it fail to respect the principles of academic freedom and faculty governance in this case.
I rarely post on hot political topics (unless quantitative analysis of philosophers' lack of diversity counts), but one hot political topic has been very much in my mind this week: the boycott of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I've been forced to consider the issue especially carefully because I was scheduled to give a talk to the Philosophy Department there in December, and UIUC was starting to invite speakers for a proposed mini-conference on experimental philosophy the next day, where I would give the keynote address.
I'm spinning out a series of posts at The Splintered Mind, based on a new citation database my son built for me, from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Maybe it will be of interest to some NewAPPS readers.