If Derrida's Baby Boomer detractors were correct about him being a charlatan, then thinkers such as Richard Rorty, Sam Wheeler, Lee Braver, and Martin Hagglund would have to be the lowest kinds of carny marks, about as gullible as the professional wrestling connoisseur from the American South who has yet to cotton on to the fact that the match endings are predetermined. You can always pick out this type because he tells you during intermission just what he's going to do if CM Punk tries to shave his kid's head.
Wheeler's Deconstruction as Analytic Philosophy probably did the most to help me get over the analytic/continental culture wars that I saw so many of my undergraduate professors wage. But Wheeler's recent NeoDavidsonian Metaphysics (the introduction is available here) looks fascinating independent of that context.
Check out this recent 3AM magazine interview, (hat tip Leiter*) where Wheeler articulates the connections between Davidson and Derrida. It's fascinating stuff, making explicit a number of issues sympathetic readers of Rorty will have already sort of suspected:
I don't mind people smoking outside, but as one of the 15-20% of the population psychologists are now calling "highly sensitive"* I do find gum chewing incredibly distracting.**
So this doesn't look good. All the nicotine addicts at LSU are going to walk around furiously chomping little pieces of rubber with their mouths open. Some percentage of them will do that thing where you make the gum snap, irritating even the lowly sensitive people.*** I'll be hiding out in my office blaring FIDLAR.
The policy doesn’t exactly have teeth. Campus police won’t be able to write tickets for smoking, and leaders acknowledge that it will be more of a recommendation to campus visitors and tailgating football fans.
But Sylvester said she hopes the campus community will take on the role of self-policing to stamp out tobacco.
“We’re definitely going to use the social-norming approach,” she said. “Seventy percent of us do not use any kind of tobacco products. We are the norm, not the tobacco user.”
So at best you are going to get all these busy bodies telling people "you can't smoke here," and smokers patiently explaining that actuality implies possibility as they continue to puff away. I don't see this ending well.
It would be nice if the suits at N.Y.U. had some cultural exposure to the Christian tradition (or even AA), where a confession is supposed to include at least attempted resolve not to do the same kind of thing and to make things better. Andrew Ross gets this:
“Apologizing to the workers is a good thing to do, but the university should use its resources and leverage to change the system that created the abuses,” said Andrew Ross, a professor at N.Y.U.’s New York campus and a leader of Coalition for Fair Labor, a student-faculty group that has called for better worker treatment. “N.Y.U. could help to ensure that all Saadiyat Island workers have a living wage, debt relief and the right to organize.”
. . .Ramkumar Rai, a Nepali immigrant who worked on the N.Y.U. campus until a year ago, told The Times that he and a friend were still waiting for the last six months’ of his wages, which were 16 months overdue. Told of the apology, he asked, “When will the money come? If the money comes it will be O.K.”
This makes as much sense as the embedded song above.* We're really sorry, and we're not going to do anything at all to rectify the situation? Why would you think that unless you really felt that there was nothing you could have done about the problem? But then why apologize at all?
[*Upon hearing it, poor John Lennon realized that side two of Abbey Road (mixed by McCartney and Martin) was really the first Wings album (not withstanding the fact that Sun King, Mean Mr. Mustard, and Polythene Pam were his).]
This song so easily could have been an outtake from Seven and the Ragged Tiger. It has all of the hall-marks of that era Duran Duran: quasi-religious lyrics, insanely catchy chorus, O.K. verse, and not very good bridge. There's even visual shout-outs in the video to that terrible 80's Patrick Nagel aesthetic many of us associate with Duran Duran.
I think Arcadia was the singer, keyboard player, and drummer's message to the bass and guitar player that if they wanted to keep making crap music with Power Station,* the rest of the band could keep doing this thing without them.
The band actually got back together after that and has had its ups and downs in the succeeding decades, but they did a more than creditable job of soldiering through the grunge era with no love from the record labels they had enriched. There's a very good chance that a Tarantino or Aranofsky protagonist will praise them in a future film, and that they (sans guitarist) will be playing at a casino near you sometime soon.
A few years ago in a discussion thread at Leiter Reports I was roundly pilloried for suggesting that universities would be better off if they went back to the system where university administrators worked part time and were appointed by faculty senates.*
But consider the takeaway from this article about university executive compensation during the great recession:
“The high executive pay obviously isn’t the direct cause of higher student debt, or cuts in labor spending,” Ms. Wood said. “But if you think about it in terms of the allocation of resources, it does seem to be the tip of a very large iceberg, with universities that have top-heavy executive spending also having more adjuncts, more tuition increases and more administrative spending.”**
How many people reading this got merit, let alone cost of living, raises during the three year period from 2009-2012?
While the average executive compensation at public research universities increased 14 percent from 2009 to 2012, to an average of $544,554, compensation for the presidents of the highest-paying universities increased by a third, to $974,006, during that period.
Lester Bangs famously wrote that the only rocker in A Hard Day's Night is Paul's grandfather.
It's a relentlessly weird movie, far weirder than the justly maligned Magical Mystery Tour. The oddest thing is that in A Hard Day's Night all of the songs concern romantic love, but nothing in the film has anything to do with romantic love. I mean, if you were an alien anthropologist limited to understanding human beings from repeated watching, you'd just have no idea what these guys were singing about.
There are three main tensions: (1) Paul's anarchic grandfather causing trouble, (2) the bossy manager not letting them go to parties where people stand around smoking cigarettes and yelling at one another over the din, and (3) the variety show squares not getting the Beatles in various ways. All of this is set against a background of screaming teenage girls and odd facets of the British class system. And there's a truncated concert at the end with close up shots of kids screaming.
Sometime in the next two years I hope to teach a class where the only texts are issues of Speculations.
Ridvan Askin, Paul J. Ennis, Andreas Hägler and Philipp Schweighauser did a great job editing Issue V. The introduction by Askin, Hägler, and Schweighauser is worth the price of admission alone.* Anyone interested in all the hoopla surrounding Speculative Realism could do much worse than to begin there.
Analytic philosophers tend to dismiss Continental metaphysics because they don't think that the principle historical figures (German Idealists, phenomenologists, soixante-huitards) have much to offer. Continental philosophers tend to dismiss it because they misunderstand Meillassoux's critique of correlationism as a critique of transcendental epistemology, instead of as a recapitulation of Hegel's critique of the claim that transcendental epistemology must replace metaphysics.
One of the cool things about PC is you discover blogs you might have missed before. This month it's being hosted by Amod Lele, Elisa Freschi, and Mathew Dasti's Indian Philosophy Blog. There's lots of cool stuff.
Brian Leiter and Simon Evnine have already signed this letter from students at The University of Saskatchewan who are attempting to convince university administrators not to gut their humanities programs. The organizers are inviting people to add their signatures by sending an e-mail to email@example.com with your name and any relevant information you would like to share (institutional affiliation, education, etc).
It's a very nice letter, citing Nussbaum and Bromwich on the value of the humanities while still explaining to the administrators how fantastically bizarre it is to claim to be building a top research school while destroying the humanities. With respect to the proposed changes, the authors write:
Such poor definition entails that the university has failed in whatever duty of clarity it possessed. We know from reading the brief only that some future program shall exist, taking ‘the best parts’ from each of four programs: Religion and Culture, Philosophy, Women and Gender Studies and Modern Languages. Forgive us if we remain sceptical of the virtues of such a combination. The attitude of presumption that must be required for university administrators to suppose that they, and not the cumulative force of tradition, are sufficient to develop a new program from the base materials of these four programs is beyond us, and our understanding. Most plausibly, the four programs shall be made into one ‘interdisciplinary’ program, which offers more upper-level classes than any of the four previous programs individually, but fewer than the four programs collectively. Most students, however, are not interested in a poorly-defined ‘interdisciplinary’ program, but instead are interested in Modern Languages, or Philosophy, or Women’s and Gender Studies, or Religion and Culture. Most universities, considering applicants for postgraduate degrees, are not interested in students who have taken poorly-defined ‘interdisciplinary’ programs, but are instead interested in philosophers, or linguists, with a thorough education in their subject.
Anyhow, please take time to read the letter and if you support it send in your info to the above e-mail address.
Nice article by slate dot com's Rebecca Schuman here,* about the move among university libraries to put more and more printed material in compact shelving where people cannot browse.
Schuman sees these moves as one more instance of administrators and staff turning universities into strip malls with frats:
But there’s one wholly unsentimental reason the stacks are both vital and irreplaceable, and that brings us back to Colby’s decision to replace theirs with a gleaming shrine to the corporate bottom line. As more of the books disappear from college libraries, the people in charge of funding those libraries will be more tempted to co-opt that space for events that bring in revenue, or entice students for the wrong reasons: food courts. Gaming lounges. I expect rock-climbing walls soon. Unless administrators make a protracted effort to preserve the contemplative and studious feeling, that feeling will disappear altogether, and the whatever-brary will become just another Jamba Juice.
Faculty around the country have been trying to fight the strip-mallification of their campuses, but in most cases the administration and staff argue that financial necessity dictates whatever thing it is they are doing to make the campus worse. In most cases the faculty don't have access to what the money is really being spent on, so no way to adjudicate the claims.
My generation inherited from the Baby Boomers the bizarre idea that one of the most important things about you was the bands you like. This is actually not that weird, since it's just one more instance of the late capitalist Boomer belief that people are to be classified in terms of what they consume (as opposed to the traditional classifications in terms of origins, beliefs, and activities). So I can attain a certain kind of quasi-religious purity if I shop at all of the right stores and recycle, no matter that me doing these things will make no difference at all to the state of the world, no matter that this ideology legitimates the very problems from which our virtuous consumption is supposed to be absolving us.
Nonetheless, we are all creatures of our age. I have a blue Burberry raincoat with a tear in the front left pocket. One of the stupidest thing I do is tell colleagues, "at least it's not the shoulder," and then judge them harshly when they don't get the reference (nobody I work with has yet).
The embedded video is almost perfect for this dysfunction as applied to Generation X. I.R.S. The Cutting Edge! RE/Search magazine! If Nirvana had stayed safely on the pages of Maximumrocknroll magazine and if you still had these small bookstores with every issue of Semiotext(e) the Millenials never would have happened.
Especially given the amount of sock-puppetry and trolling by anonymous internet voices prior to the point where most philosophy blogs started pre-moderating, I was extremely uncomfortable with anonymous people recently making public allegations against a semi-anonymous perpetrator, and then an anonymous person soliciting money.* I also know that I'm not the only person troubled by this.
So I think it's worth publicizing a number of things have happened very recently:
In the original fund-raising campaign, the accuser claimed that the bloggers at Feminist Philosophers would vouch for her identity. Given their recent posts on the issue, (e.g. here)I don't think I'm betraying confidences to share that I contacted them and they did (without in any way telling me the identities of the two people who have made public allegations).
In this post, Brian Leiter (making clear not to endorse claims which he could not have the evidence to substantiate one way or the other) unequivocally states that he knows the identity of the accuser taking legal action and that her claims deserve to be formally adjudicated.
A non-anonymous friend of the second accuser, Emma Sloan, has taken over the fundraising site.
Eric Schliesser provides an argument for contributing here.
I should note that nobody I've linked to here is trying to have a trial by public opinion about the veracity of these specific allegations against the person in question. In spite of this issue, I've left comments open (though premoderated to prevent public trial by commentor).
Very nice Mark Okrent inteview here, which includes this gem:
My single most important commitment in this area is that the intentionality of action is fundamental, and the intentionality of cognitive states, including conscious states, is to be understood in relation to this fundamental intentionality of action. Action, as action, always is directed towards some telos. That is, acts are always directed towards something, they are always either in order to bring about some end or for the sake of continuing some process. It is a corollary to this basic commitment that actions don’t in general ‘acquire’ their goals by being caused by mental states that pass on their intentional content to the acts that they cause. (That is, what it is for an act to have a goal cannot be cashed out in terms of the content of the desires that might or might not partially cause the act.) It also follows from this basic commitment that we will never understand what it is for a state or event to be intentional until we can answer two questions: ‘What is it to be an agent who can act? ‘What is it for an agent to act?’ There is an interesting relationship between these two questions, taken together, and Heidegger’s question regarding the meaning of the being of Dasein.
When Tyson laughs as he dismisses philosophy as "pointless" he reminds me nothing so much as a high school bully who has just visited an indignity on his victim. And, as in high school, nobody much seems to mind.
I don't know why this kind of thing is so popular among physicists who don't know any post-World War II philosophy of science or any pre-World War II history of science (one could do worse than starting here). See Stephen Hawking telling Google that "philosophy is dead" and Lawrence Krauss calling David Albert a "moronic philosopher" in a manner which suggests the phrase is pleonastic for him.
It's maybe not so weird how often philosophy's enemies end up just doing bad philosophy themselves.
Anyhow, it was very nice to read Damon Linker's take-down of Tyson's philistinism here. Depending on your meta-philosophical commitments you might be tempted to split hairs with respect to Linker's epistemology-centric characterization of the philosophical tradition. But what he writes isn't implausible, and he's clearly getting a very large part of the tradition correct.
We had a big internal debate at newapps a while ago about the use of snark and each of us individually resolved to try our best to avoid it from that point on out. First, it's too easy to be mistaken about when it might be justified. Second, even if might be in principle justified there are just too many negative consequences. We all resolved to try not to use snark even if snark was directed against us.
Nonetheless, there is some great snark in the philosophical canon. Perhaps the most famous is from Voltaire:
I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: 'O Lord make my enemies ridiculous.' And God granted it.
This is pretty funny at first glance, but I think a little bit problematic too.
First, as Voltaire realized to his detriment, it's possible that one's enemies be ridiculous without people realizing that they are. This can get pretty destructive. So he could have come up with a better prayer. Second, in a more Nietzschean vein, ridiculous enemies don't really help you do a better job. At best they just waste everybody's time. Finally, we should have some compassion for the ridiculous. We've all been ridiculed, rightly and wrongly. It's so little fun being ridiculed that it can drive people mad, making them that much more ridiculous. This is a pretty bad dynamic.
Long-time Philosophers Anonymous discussion contributor Glaucon SonofAriston has started a Philosophy Metablog* here. The purpose:
Don't like their comment policy? Think blogger x is a doofuss? Tired of threadjacking to air your grievances about other blogs? Here's a blog for you.
It will be interesting to see if this works as a pressure valve for discontented anonymous posters who are being blocked at pre-moderated blogs and/or threadjacking at non-moderated ones (e.g a not untypical example here and Spiros' response here). I think it's a very nice idea independently of that though.
I wish a smart Habermasian would write a book on internet communication. His theory of ideal speech situations might help people set up good policies, and the way communication characteristically breaks down on the internet is probably good grist for testing and ammending the theory itself.
We all know of the thing where not being face to face or even hearing the person's voice, yet still communicating in real time, leads to a rapid ramping up of negative affect. But I also think that we haven't quite mastered the art of communication between people who are not anonymous and people who are, especially in a culture where anything you say probably will be used against you.
My co-writer* Joshua Heller is currently working on a project connections between vagueness literature, literature on semantic underdetermination, and new work on metaphysical indeterminacy.**
One thing we're both interested in exploring the next few weeks is the extent to which Evans' argument against ontic vagueness applies to either semantic underdetermination or metaphysical indeterminacy. But I'm about ten years out of date on the vagueness literature. The last time I dipped my toe in this, it seemed like everyone was trying to save supervaulationism from Williamson's criticisms about wide and narrow entailment and from the charge that it has no advantages over three valued systems with respect to modelling higher order vagueness. I didn't think there was any consensus on Evans' argument then.
Is there now anything approaching a consensus among people working on vagueness about Evans' argument? If so, what should I read? Have any of the new people working on metaphysical indeterminacy or semantic underdetermination said anything interesting about Evans' argument?
Today I'm lecturing on issues relating to the adoption of a new translation of the Heidelberg Catechism and the possible adoption of the Belhar Confession into the PC(USA)'s Book of Confessions.
In preparing for them I had to study a fair amoung of neo-Calvanist Kuyperian Apartheid theology (which, if Belhar is correct, is heretical) as well as scholarship on what the Christian Bible does or doesn't say about homosexuality (the new translation of Heidelberg removes a denunciation of gay people that was not in the original German). It's pretty interesting stuff, albeit very dispiriting at times. It's astonishing to me that defenders of Kuyperian "pluralism" at least on the web never seem to take into account its horrific legacy in South Africa.
Given the connection between Dutch Calvanism and Apartheid, it is a wonderful sign of reconciliation that the two biggest American Calvinist denominations (RCA and CRCNA) have added it to the traditional three Confessions accepted by Calvinists (though the more conservative CRNEA has accorded it lesser standing).
This being said, along with South African civil rights pioneer and leader of the campaign for Belhar Allan Boeseck, in my heart of hearts I can't help but take the Belhar rejections to apply to injustices committed against GLBT people. So it's a little bit weird to me that both of these denominations accept Belhar yet embrace explicit doctrinal statements decrying homosexual acts as sins (though some member churches of the CRA, which accords Belhar full confessional status, reject this teaching).
Full CFP at Leon Niemoczynski's After Nature blog HERE.
John Caputo's going to be hosting it. I saw him speak a couple of years ago to a group of philosophers, theologians, ministers, and laypeople and it was dynamite. If I remember right, during the question and answers "the new metaphysics" (not meant as scare quotes) came up, and he had really interesting things to say about his interpretation of Derrida versus Hagglund's.
This morning I was rereading this string, where we discussed things not to do at conferences, and I noticed a comment by Neal Hebert:
Although I can't speak for Jon on this, I do think this is a good place to point out that some of the above are next to unthinkable at conferences in other disciplines. When Jon and I jointly presented our paper at the American Society for Theatre Research in Dallas this past November, I can't recall any of the above happening.
If anything, the bigger problem was that feedback to all papers was TOO positive, and there wasn't much opportunity within the nomoi of the conference to push the speakers into considering new territory.
In addition to the ASTR conference Neal is mentioning, I've presented at a radical theology*and narratology conferences recently,** and the thing I've noticed is that the difference that Neal writes about creates potential severe incommensurabilities. In particular, other fields don't handle the question and answer session in anything like the way philosophers do. In philosophy it's perfectly licit to just give some reasons why you think the speaker's view is wrong. If you are in a philosophy conference the person will then engage in dialectic with you. But, at least in my experience, this is completely unacceptable in other fields.
This was very hard for me at the narratology conference. Since so many of the papers engaged with analytic philosophy (including panels on semantics and pragmatics, structuralist theories of narrative, fictionality, and counterfactuals), I wanted to engage with the speakers in the way we do in analytic philosophy.*** The person would be talking about somebody like Lewis, Walton, or Carroll then in the Q&A I'd do the normal philosopher thing of presenting a challenge for the view. But then there would be this long, uncomfortable silence with all of these Northern Europeans stoically grimacing at me. As it stretched out I would begin to feel like my Chihuahua mix probably does right after he defecates on the rug. After ten or so seconds of agony the moderator would just say "Next question please."
A few days ago, I used the lack of historical figures in its top-20-pernicious list to propose that Leiter’s poll about pernicious philosophers said a lot about the politics of academic philosophy, and not so much about anything else. “Pernicious,” in other words, is a political designation. In the comments, Jon Cogburn wonders:
“You had me up until the historical construct bit. Aren't we in danger of presupposing that something can't both be a political act of boundary policing *and* a statement with a truth value? I mean I think that it's objectively false that Heidegger is a pernicious philosopher. I also think that calling one's colleagues charlatans in public forums is objectively pernicious. Maybe I [am] trying to police a boundary here, but aren't some boundaries objectively worth policing?”
This is a fair question; let me try to pursue and answer in three slightly different ways.
Are students aware that most of their professors can accurately predict their final grades prior to the final exam or paper? Is this just hubris on my part, or do people in the biz long enough get very good at this?
If it's not hubris, then it raises a genuine practical ethics problem. If I already know what the student is going to make, why do I feel morally obligated to grade the paper? I can't figure this out.
I'm clearly obligated by prudence to grade the papers as the LSU hair and teeth men* would be very unhappy with me for not doing so. But would they be right to be unhappy?
Maybe the problem is that if the students knew I wasn't grading their final papers, then they wouldn't do the work. So perhaps not doing the grading would involve deception? This seems pretty weak to me though. I could just not say anything one way or the other, or honestly say that I might** grade the person's exam or paper. Knowing their exams might be graded would motivate them enough.
A few students want comments on their work and we owe them that, but the overwhelming majority of them don't. So why not just hold onto the papers and grade them later if a student wants comments?
This is clearly invalid, because there are anti-symmetric relations (note that if it were valid one can prove ExEx (Rxx) from ExEy (Rxy), and that ExEx(Rxx) has the same truth conditions as Ex(Rxx)).
Intuitively, Existential Introduction should be restricted so that one cannot replace a name or eigenvariable with a variable that is already bound in the sentence. But I can't find this restriction in Barker-Plummer/Barwise/Etchemendy. My friend couldn't find it in the old red Mates book either, so we think it's not unlikely that we're both missing something obvious.
I turned to the soundness proof in Barker-Plummer/Barwise/Etchemendy and they leave the case of Existential Introduction as an excercise to the reader. It has a little star next to it showing that it is a difficult problem. I'm wondering if it's impossible. But, again, it's more likely that I'm missing something, so if anyone who teaches from the book could take a look my introductory logic students would appreciate it.
Have you done any of the following or had them done to you?
Changing your paper after receiving written versions of the comments, so that the comments no longer make sense (Eric Schliesser on this HERE).
If you are a senior European philosopher, instead of asking a question during the Q&A, just telling the junior speaker that only a fool would believe their premises.*
Not turning your comments in ahead of time, so the speaker cannot prepare a response, and then in your comments trying to eviscerate the speaker's paper (hypothetical imperative- if you are not going to turn your comments in on time, then either show interesting things that follow from the speaker's claims, or show that something interesting is left of the speaker's claims after your criticism, or opt out and don't deliver them).
Attend other talks but grandstand during the Q&As in a way that is not as bad as the senior-European-philosopher malfeseance, but still manifestly unhelpful to the presenter (see PrawfBlawg for good Q&A guidelines).
Go overtime on your paper so that other speakers are shorted.
Act radically different towards other scholars, depending upon where they currently are in the academic hierarchy.
Two new books argue that pre-agricultural societies were far more Hobbesian than Rousseauean.
Read the Spectator review of Ian Morris’ War: What is it Good For? The Role of Conflict in Civilisation, from Primates to Robotshere, which includes this:
If sometime around 7a.m. on 1 July 1916, as you waited to go over the top somewhere along the Somme, you had been tapped on the shoulder and told that you’d never had it so good, you might well have been mildly surprised at the news, but you would have been wrong to be. It would seem from the growing evidence of graves that Stone Age man had something like a 10–20 per cent chance of meeting a violent death, and if you factor in the anthropological evidence of surviving 20th-century Stone Age societies, then, as Morris puts it, Stone Age life was ‘10–20 times as violent as the tumultuous world of medieval Europe and 300–600 times as bad as mid-20th-century Europe.’
If I understand right, Morris is building off of Stephen Pinker's earlier research. Napolean Chagnon has just released his book about the Yanomamo that provides some more contemporary evidence.
Lot's of great stuff. Epistemology and ethics form a strong plurality this month. There are two by newappsers and one by friend of the blog Joshua Knobe and one cool interview with friend of the blog Roy Cook.
Very happy to see Aesthetics for Birds' Christy Mag Uidhir interviewing Cook about his Lego work. My second punkrockmonday three years ago post was dedicated to his jawdroppingly awesome Lego building skills. Uidhir's interview is pretty awesome and has some more recent of Cook's work.