A couple of times I've co-written with people who don't use the Oxford comma. It can end up being a big headache when the usage isn't consistent, and then it's also weird to realize just how many times you conjoin three or more words in a phrase.
Putnam's book came out in Cambridge University Press, so I guess it's O.K. that he didn't use it.
The wikipedia article is quite nice, though the anti-Oxford comma section isn't sourced and the supposed ambiguity introduced by the Oxford comma is unconvincing, because the same phrase is also ambiguous without it. The pro-Oxford comma section gives examples that are ambiguous without it and not ambiguous with it, e.g. a book dedication that reads "to my parents, Any Rand and God" versus "to my parents, Ayn Rand, and God."
Vampire Weekend's eponymous song is pretty, though it's possibly NSFW because of f-bombs. I don't know what it's about, but the odd specificity of the lyrics ("Why would you lie about how much coal you own?") work very well. When I first heard the song I though it was pro-Oxford comma, and was pretty disappointing when I read the lyrics.
I've long been obsessed with what it would have been like to be a Saxon in post-Roman Britain. Roman concrete was so good that for hundreds of years Saxons inhabited Roman buildings. But their architectural wherewithal was primitive compared to the Romans, so as the roofs collapsed on the Roman buildings they would replace them with leaky timber and thatch jobs. What must that have been like, to live and die in hundreds of years old ruins that are still better than anything you can build?
I think with many things like this the change must be so gradual that nobody ever gets alarmed by it. Every moment in the progressing crappiness just seems like the way things statically are.
LSU is about six years into budget cutting that resulted from unsustainable tax cuts for the wealthy. Part of the result of this is that we have an atrocious backlog for building repair and rennovation. The money amounts are well into the tens of millions of dollars, so bad that it's hard for the administrators to triage. Just this year a six hundred pound chunk of ceiling fell in the dilapidated art studio. It might have killed a student, yet we still don't have the money to fix the building. Cracks in the stucco in my building have caused extensive water damage. Every year or so they cosmetically fix the bubbling over paint on the inside of my office wall, but haven't yet fixed the exterior of the building. The toilets are also slowly dying. About half of them don't flush appropriately, and only work if you hold the handle down for a long time, which of course many people don't do. As a result, by the end of the day most of the bathrooms have raw sewage in the toilets. It smells nauseating, sometimes out in the hallway.
Maybe it's just nostalgia from my youth in the 70s, but I think that public infrastructure has gotten increasingly crappy during the course of my life. When I was a kid we didn't have days long power outages every year from inclement weather. I remember airports as feeling almost like church or art museums, quiet, reverential in a strange way, and clean. It's interesting to think how far down this slope we might slide as we become increasingly a nation of private opulence for a very few and public squalor for everyone else. But maybe nobody will notice much.
Interesting article here by Princeton English professor Raphael Allison comparing literary theorists and rock bands. There's some good stuff on the anthropology of subcultures to explain the weird ways that people talk at thea annual MLA convention, but the author's main conceit is as far as I can tell completely undermined by the radical uncoolness of professors.
Remember Colin McGinn's blog post about epatering the bourgeoisie, where he places himself as a cultural force alongside John Lennon and Kingsley Amis? It was sad in part because you realized that this deeply uncool person somehow made it that far in life with no idea how uncool he is, and also how this blithe unawareness was so central to his downfall. What is it about the ecosystem of academic stardom that makes that even remotely possible? I think this is related to my earlier post about how fame robs the famous of the moral friction that keeps the rest of us from being complete fools.
Allison kind of gets this, as he explores the tension between the radical pose of much literary theory and the deeply conventional lives of university professors filling out their TPS reports. But then Allison responds to the cognitive dissonance by arguing that this is similar to the way mods reappropriated conventional business suits and scooters as they rebelled against British society. The end result is kind of like the unconvincing speech by the ghost of Jim Morrison in Wayne's World II where Garth learns that you can do your homework during the week and party out on Friday night.
Obviously, neither Mike Myers nor Raphael Allison read Lester Bangs, whose character in Almost Famous partakes in the following bit of dialogue:
Lester Bangs: The Doors? Jim Morrison? He's a drunken buffoon posing as a poet. Alice Wisdom: I like The Doors. Lester Bangs: Give me The Guess Who. They got the courage to be drunken buffoons, which makes them poetic.
Update: In the comments below philosopher Shelley Tremain takes issue with me posting this song and philosopher Christy Mag Uidur argues that the song's casual use of a derogatory term for disabled people is offensive. When I initially posted it I hadn't realized that it had the word "spastic" in it, nor even that it was historically a derogatory term for people with cerebral palsy.
This being said, given the satirical context, I don't have good intuitions about whether the usage is morally objectionable. First, having narrators over-commit to a premise to the point of offensiveness is a reliable trope in good satire (cf. Will Farrell's most brilliant routines on Saturday Night Live). I think that we would be much diminished as humans if the trope were hounded out of polite society. Second, but related, it's not Weird Al using the word, it's the song's narrator, who (as with many Weird Al songs) is himself part of what is being satirized. Third, as someone who had to cope with minor disabilities growing up, I can't help but find some of this concern paternalistic. I do think paternalism has a place, but I'm not quite convinced it does here.
All that being said, I do think that consequentialist concerns weigh very strong with respect to these kinds of issues. If the popularity of the song on facebook is causing a lot of harm, then it should not be popular.
Please add to the debate if you have any insight into this.*
[*Full disclosure: I've been a fan of Weird Al since My Bologna aired on the Doctor Demento Show when I was a kid. My wife and I saw him live in concert about seven years ago.]
Visits of condolence is all we get from them. They squat at the Holocaust Memorial, They put on grave faces at the Wailing Wall And they laugh behind heavy curtains In their hotels. They have their pictures taken Together with our famous dead At Rachel's Tomb and Herzl's Tomb And on Ammunition Hill. They weep over our sweet boys And lust after our tough girls And hang up their underwear To dry quickly In cool, blue bathrooms.
Once I sat on the steps by agate at David's Tower, I placed my two heavy baskets at my side. A group of tourists was standing around their guide and I became their target marker. "You see that man with the baskets? Just right of his head there's an arch from the Roman period. Just right of his head." "But he's moving, he's moving!" I said to myself: redemption will come only if their guide tells them, "You see that arch from the Roman period? It's not important: but next to it, left and down a bit, there sits a man who's bought fruit and vegetables for his family."
John Divers' Possible Worlds has a nice discussion of the worry that counterpart theory doesn't adequately justify the extent to which we are ego-concerned with our own possibilities. If the possible Humphrey that won the election is a distinct creature in a universe not spatially connected to ours, what does that matter to the actual Humphrey, very much concerned with the possibility of his own winning or losing?
Divers does a very good job on behalf of the counterpart theorist in trying to undermine this worry. It mostly involves showing how non-philosophical sentences involving ego concern end up coming out true as interpreted by the counterpart theorist. It's a little bit weak in that properties we might take to be intrinsic end up being relational. This is only a weakness because Lewis and Divers take this kind of thing to be a criticism of the person who holds that worlds overlap (the same Humphrey existing at multiple worlds), and this is why Divers himself only considers counterpart theorists who believe in the reality of non-actual possible worlds, and actualists who don't. But if you have to explain putatively intrinsic things relationally, why not do it to avoid counterparts in the first place? I think for Lewis the other part of the puzzle is a horror at ontic vagueness, which the overlapper would be more likely to face. For Lewis the possible worlds and objects aren't vague, but there is vagueness in our decision to take certain objects to be counterparts or not.
I'm still not up to date on this literature, but I think that Divers at least doesn't present the best argument to justify Kripke's original worry about ego concern. This is clear if we consider duplicates instead of counterparts. Duplicates are objects existing in the same world that could serve as counterparts if they existed in different worlds.* Given the kinds of recombination principles that Lewis and Divers countenance, it should follow that for any two counterparts at different worlds, there is a world where objects indiscernible to both counterparts (as well as the environmental aspects that make them work as counterparts) exist.
Lots of nice reflections here about how fear undermines our vocation. Though much of it is (appropriately) scary, there's some optimism too. Arvan's post ends with:
The only final thing I would suggest--following Zombie's remarks above as well as my experience with the Cocoon--is that whatever risks you take, whether they are blogging or whatever, commit yourself to pursuing those risks kindly, and helpfully. As I mentioned above, early in my career I found the discipline to be a rather scary place, full of judgmental people. Part of this, I think, was just my fear talking (I "saw" judgmentalism everywhere). But it was not all fear talking: there are judgmental people here and there. But, what I will say is this: if you commit yourself to pursuing your career--your "risks"--kindly, you may be surprised just how many people of good will are out there. In my experience running the Cocoon, there are a ton of people out there looking for more kindness in the discipline. Be among them, and be among those who contribute kindness. If you do, you have little to fear.
This is an important thing to remember. There are so many kind and helpful people studying and teaching philosophy. Their kindness usually (though not always) precludes them from being that great at tooting their own horns, but if you stay in the biz long enough you'll be humbled by the amount of supererogation you run into. This is really pronounced with respect to people who agree to write letters for tenure files. The letter writers get nothing out of it. It's just a lot of work, and you don't get any money for it and it doesn't go on your CV. But at this point I've witnessed dozens of philosophers give up a month or so of their summer to charitably assess one of my colleague's works and then explain it in a way that is accessible to LSU administrators. It's one of the most inspiring things I've experienced. And some non-trivial amount of journal reviewers put in a lot of extra work giving the author helpful advice about how to rewrite the paper. Twice when I was not tenured I got new paper ideas from the reviewers' comments. I couldn't thank the person by name because it was anonymous.
I don't own a television (one of many area men I approximate), but with the advent of Hulu now my wife and I watch an episode of some reality cooking show nearly every evening after the kids go to bed. I've seen nearly every episode of the Gordon Ramsay vehicles Master Chef and Hell's Kitchen. In both shows twenty or so people compete with one another in inventively designed cooking contests. One loser is thrown off every episode until the lone survivor emerges victorious at the end of the season. The ginned up drama is fun and there's lots of interesting food.
Recently though Ramsay's schtick has started to wear thin. Before throwing people out at the end of every episode of Hells Kitchen, he makes two or three people tell him why they deserve to stay in Hell's Kitchen. What follows are desperate platitudes about how they are a fighter and getting better all of the time. It's infantalizing. Then Ramsay strings it out dramatically, telling one person to step forward and starting a sentence where you might think one thing will happen and then ending it by telling them the opposite. It's frankly obnoxious. And of course he yells at and belittles the contestants in the manner of an abusive father starting to lose his temper. And nearly every episode has the obligatory bits where the contestants gush at length about what a wonderful person this obnoxious man is. It's Orwellian.
Hand and Kvanvig argue that Tennant's solution would be analogous to a set theorist responding to Russell's Paradox by proposing naive set theory with Frege's comprehension axiom restricted to instances that don't allow one to prove absurdity from that instance and the other axioms (call this theory N'). For Hand and Kvanvig this is a reductio of Tennant, and in my response* I argued that Tennant's solution was not actually analogous to N'.
If I remember right, Hand and Kvanvig argue that N' is bad because it doesn't illuminate the nature of sets in the way we properly expect of solutions to paradoxes. But they don't go into the logical properties of N' at all, and tonight I'm thinking that this is actually an important question in its own right. Let's just consider consistency, completeness, and axiomatizability.
While glancing through Graham Priest's new book I came across a place where he said something to the effect that what distinguished existing from non-existing things was whether or not the thing in question was causally efficacious.
Following up on Mark Lance's suggestion that we should be most skeptical when a philosopher suggests something taken to be obvious enough not to elaborate on (look for adverbs of the clearly family).* I think that this is probably a case of that.
On counterfactual analyses of causality, non-existent entities and events clearly have causal powers. At the 2014 Narrative Theory Conference at MIT I saw a great paper by Emma Kafelanos called "How Can Events that Do Not Occur Make Things Happen?" that conclusively showed that any theory of narrative structure will have to include nodes denoting events that didn't happen. The speaker gave real world examples such as Obama not ordering the bombing of Syria. She didn't mention counterfactual analyses of causation, but clearly many counterfactuals of the form "If it were not the case that Obama hadn't ordered the bombing of Syria, then it would not be the case that P" are true.
This doesn't just occur with non-existent events but also with impossible events. The fact that Max can't surf explains quite a lot about him. Consider the sentence "Hobbes' inability to square the circle caused him to experience no small amount of ridicule." On a counterfactual analysis of causation with impossible worlds** there is nothing wrong with sentences such as that. Maybe these work as counterexamples to the counterfactual analysis. I don't know.
Check out all the people chewing around the 4:00 minute mark of the video at right. I don't get this. Close ups of people eating are disgusting, yet they form a fairly reliable trope in LSD movies.
If you've suffered through the entire Magical Mystery Tour movie, then the infamous spaghetti scene is traumatically imprinted in your mind (if you dare, go to the thirty minute mark at the video here). Or consider the Mad Hatter scene of the Ringo Starr directed T-Rex documentary where the band's tamborine/conga drum player and a group of nuns masticate wildly to the T-Rex's Jeepster. Yuck. Why? Why? Why? Or consider the amount of gratuitous eating in Easy Rider, the old man's farm, the commune, and the diner with the rednecks that end up beating Jack Nicholson's character to death.
Interestingly, the pivotal scene in Terry Gilliam's Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas also occurs in a diner. Benicio Del Toro's character's bullying of the waitress completely changes the tone and reality intrudes on what had to that point been an absurdist escape. Fear and Loathing isn't really a drug movie in the sense of classic LSD movies, or even Oliver Stone's Natural Born Killers (Vitamin B injections). In classic drug movies, some large subset of the performers and off-camera people are abusing the substance themselves. Unfortunately, this tends to eliminate the aesthetic distance necessary for making something non-horrible. Clearly, Gilliam gets this, and thus we can see that the food scene in his movie works as an implicit critique of the trope and its associated genre.
Near the end of summer the LSU philosophy reading group is going to begin reading things on vagueness. We're going to start with Rosanna Keefe's excellent Theories of Vagueness, which gives an excellent overview of the state of the field circa 2000.
We don't really know where to go from there, since so much has been done in the ensuing 14 years. Are there any more recent books that achieve what Keefe managed, presenting an overview of the state of the field? Barring that, are there a handful of more recent canonical texts that one must cover to get reasonably up to date? Any help would be greatly appreciated.
One of the worst things that can happen to someone is that they become so powerful in their field that the community no longer works as a check on their behavior. We should pity their victims more, but we should also have some sympathy for people like Dov Charney and Terry Richardson. Who in their right mind would want to be so controlled by the awful desire to control?
Reformed Christianity speaks to this. Not only do we believe in Calvin's (insert Schopenhauer if theism isn't your bag) "depravity of man" thesis, but we also believe that the solution involves moral communities willing to publicly call people on their depraved behavior (Presbyterians call this "discipline").
When I screw up even in little ways there are lots of people near and far who publicly call me on it. I don't know what kind of monster I'd be if I had the resources to silence them.*
Academics are a little bit like the fashion industry, like rock and rollers, like dictators. We have this awful cult of genius where someone's awfulness can be evidence that they deserve to get away with being awful. I don't know if philosophy is worse than other fields in this respect.
[*UPDATE 7/7/2014 I removed a parenthetical involving people who threaten lawsuits that some readers with justice took to be both unfair and passive-aggressive. When writing it, I didn't mean for this post to single out one person. But we know what good intentions pave. And to be honest, while writing it I was pretty depressed about the latest brouhaha concerning Brian Leiter reacting to criticism in ways that strike me as frankly abusive. So the criticism is fair.
Nearly every role playing game suffers from this. At the outset the impetus is to present something that is easy for new players and game masters to figure out and play. After the game hits a kind of popularity threshold the only way to make new money on it is to produce expansions with new character classes and rule-based mechanics. To get people to pay the money, there has to be some sort of ludological advantage to using the new characters and mechanics. So if you just stay with the old set, at a minimum your characters will be underpowered.
But each expansion makes the game more complicated, until it finally reaches a point where it becomes borderline unplayable for everyone (except for the Simpsons Comic Book Guy who loves this kind of thing). And it gets so slow. Where you could have had twenty combats a night in the unexpanded version, now you can only complete two, and you spent long increments of time thumbing through various books figuring out the proper algorithm for how the dragon-spawn Barbarian's grappling ability works during attacks of opportunity when the opponent is half submerged in water.
Since the industry needs non-Simpsons Comic Book Guys to remain viable, a new edition* is then released, and the process starts all over again.
I wish George Martin had achieved something like it for Ringo's toms during the White Album sessions. Or maybe Ringo just needed to pound them harder. I don't know. The snare and symbols are wonderful, but the wimpy toms make songs like Helter Skelter fall well short of what Paul intended (in that case, to rock heaver than the Who).
Wow Badiou says some weird things about analytic philosophy in the Introduction to Being and Event.
The 'analytic' current of English-language philosophy discounts most of classical philosophy's propositions as senseless, or as limited to the exercise of a language game (1).
. . .for Kant, the transcendental subject, after which the question [of the utility of mathematics] was no longer seriously practised, save by Bachelard in a vision which remained constitutive, and by the American partisans of the stratification of languages) (7). . .
From that point onwards, with the exception of Husserl-who is a great classic, if a little late-modern (let's say post-Kantian) philosophy was no longer haunted by a paradigm, except that of history, and, apart form some heralded but repressed exceptions, Cavailles and Lautman, it abandoned mathematics to Anglo-Saxon linguistic sophistry (7).
Poor Saxons! As if it isn't bad enough that they got destroyed by the Normans mere days after finally winning a hundreds years struggle against the Vikings. As if it isn't bad enough that the 80s metal band of the same name was so indifferently talented. No. Badiou must compound the injuries with insult. In addition to military annihilation and no copy-write recourse with respect to crap bands, all Saxon philosophers are sophists, just sitting around stratifying languages, declaring all philosophy senseless and language games and whatnot.
Good news from San Fransisco Theological Seminary chaplain Scott Clark about the 2014 Presbyterian Church (USA) General Assembly here.
The bill sent out from committee a couple of days ago would take the "one man, one woman" talk out of the Book of Order and add an accompanying authoritative interpretation that allows teaching elders to perform marriage ceremonies for same sex couples.
Most people don't understand just how democratic reformed churches are. In the PC(USA) each presbytery sends one teaching elder (minister) and one ruling elder (non-minister serving on the Session or Deaconite) to the General Assembly. A change to the Book of Order has to be ratified by the General Assembly and then by over half of the presbyteries in the two years before the next General Assembly. So when we moved to allow ordination of gay priests and as we now move towards full inclusion of GLTB in the church this isn't something foisted on us by Bishops who have all the power (as they do in the Episcopal and Roman Catholic churches). Everyone I've talked to thinks that the presbyteries will ratify this.
In other General Assembly news, it looks like the church will divest from three companies involved with apartheid in Israel. Story here.
Is there a word for this, where you not only have to waste time doing something absolutely meaningless ("Kafkaesque"?), but where it's also the case that successful completion of the meaningless tasks requires enthusiastic pretense that the task isn't meaningless?
Whatever the term is, it increasingly applies to university assessment procedures. Not only do you have to do a week or so of make-work, but more and more of the make-work is showing the people who check your reports exactly how the assessment process helps your classes get better and better to infinity.
Is this a violation of academic freedom? I did enough philosophy of mind (and virtue ethics) in the past to know how foolish it is to think that simple quantitative surveys of the type acceptable to the assessment Czars (who know nothing about the academic subjects in question) could yield useful information of the sort that would help improve programs. Decent practical reasoning doesn't work this way. I even have a paper with Jason Megill relevant to this topic, and a substantive blog post on four sources of stupidity relevant to assessment. Yet the metastasizing assessment (which at LSU has gone from yearly to now three times a year and almost certainly soon to be quarterly) regime forces me to say things inconsistent with commonsense and the relevant scholarship (again, some of which is my own).
This summer I'm trying to get a little bit up to speed on modality issues by doing an independent study with some students.* I've started looking ahead to Williamson's recent magnum opus and this little bit of the preface weirded me out:
Since cosmological theories in physics are naturally understood as embodying no restriction of their purview to exclude Lewis's multiple spatiotemporal systems, many of which are supposed to violate their laws, his cosmology is inconsistent with physicists', and so in competition with them as a theory of total spatiotemporal reality. On such matters, physicists may be felt to speak with more authority than metaphysicians. The effect of Lewis's influential and ingenious system-building was to keep centre stage a view that imposed Quine's puritan standards on modality long after Quine's own eliminativist application of those standards have been marginalized (Williamson 2013, xii)
I don't get this at all.
The connection between Lewisian Genuine Realism and Quine's eliminativism is a promissory note that I assume he'll cash in later, but the first bit just makes no sense to me. In On the Plurality of Worlds, Lewis explicitly says that the nomologically possible worlds will be a subset of all possible worlds and he discusses physically impossible forms of space time in this context. He has to do this, since possible worlds are individuated by the space-time which each world shares with itself. But nowhere does he make claims about which class of worlds will be the nomologically possible ones.
Very nice report from the folks at Debt and Society here about higher ed's tango with Wall Street. Lot's of distressing stuff, including the change from old fashioned bonds to newer, more risky types of debt:
Private and public colleges in the past more commonly issued municipal bonds that would be repaid using only tax revenue or revenue from a particular project like a dormitory. Investment banking houses like JP Morgan and Barclays today have helped some higher education institutions to issue general revenue bonds that collateralize all college revenue in exchange for lower interest rates. Such bonds pledge state appropriations, project revenue, and even future tuition increases if necessary to repay bonds. Other institutions have gone a step further, adding variable rate bonds to their debt mix. Other institutions still, from Harvard to the Peralta Community College district have securitized these variable rate bond offerings with derivatives known as interest rate swaps. For-profit institutions, on the other hand can turn to corporate bonds, stock offerings, and private equity capital.
There is also a nice history of higher education financing, describing how and why student and institutional indebtedness has exploded recently. In one decade alone the amount of institutional debt has tripled, much of it spent on new buildings and things related to athletics programs. It's a vicious circle. Colleges take out loans to expand amenities to attract students who will pay higher tuition, which requires raising tuition to pay off the debt, which requires expanding amenities, which requires taking out loans to expand amenities. . .*
It's a very weird thing to have happened right after the financial crisis that caused the current recession.** Maybe not that weird though. . . If history teaches anything it's that very smart people can collectively do very stupid things.
[*Also remember that, as recounted here, universities with the highest paid administrators and coaches also are the worst at larding their students up with debt and adjunctifying the faculty.
**Also, check out Ed's piece from March here, which has a nice discussion of how the expanded institutional indebtedness ends up dictating administrative policy.]
Letter HERE, containing an explanation of what they are trying to accomplish, a discussion of labor issues in the gulf region, and what the university is doing about the recent scandals. It takes a lot of guts to be this forthright, and I think overall the letter's a good advertisement for the virtues of the kind of education they are delivering.
So Abram rose, and clave the wood, and went, And took the fire with him, and a knife. And as they sojourned, both of them together, Isaac the first-born spake, and said, My Father, Behold the preparations, fire and iron, But where the lamb for this burnt-offering? Then Abram bound the youth with belts and straps, And builded parapets the trenches there, And stretched forth the knife to slay his son. When lo! an angel called him out of heaven, Saying, Lay not thy hand upon the lad, Neither do anything to him. Behold, A ram, caught in a thicket by its horns; Offer the Ram of Pride instead of him. But the old man would not so, but slew his son, And half the seed of Europe, one by one.
It was a time of great and exalting excitement. The country was up in arms, the war was on, in every breast burned the holy fire of patriotism; the drums were beating, the bands playing, the toy pistols popping, the bunched firecrackers hissing and spluttering; on every hand and far down the receding and fading spread of roofs and balconies a fulttering wilderness of flags flashed in the sun; daily the young volunteers marched down the wide avenue gay and fine in their new uniforms, the proud fathers and mothers and sisters and sweethearts cheering them with voices choked with happy emotion as they swung by; nightly the packed mass meetings listened, panting, to patriot oratory with stirred the deepest deeps of their hearts, and which they interrupted at briefest intervals with cyclones of applause, the tears running down their cheeks the while; in the churches the pastors preached devotion to flag and country, and invoked the God of Battles beseeching His aid in our good cause in outpourings of fervid eloquence which moved every listener.
It was indeed a glad and gracious time, and the half dozen rash spirits that ventured to disapprove of the war and cast a doubt upon its righteousness straightway got such a stern and angry warning that for their personal safety’s sake they quickly shrank out of sight and offended no more in that way.