I have nothing particularly interesting to say on the topic, but this account of recent science on the migration of people to the Americas is fascinating. What is most cool is the way that three distinct scientific routes - genetics, archeology, and linguistics - are converging on an account.
Jonathan Martin - the player for the Miami Dolphins who left football, at least temporarily, as a result of relentless locker room bullying - has prompted some voluminous soul-searching. (Whether it leads to meaningful action remains to be seen.) I want to suggest that there have been two profoundly wrong assumptions made in most coverage of this case, and end with a conclusion about how we, and he, should think of Jonathan's Martin's own behavior.
Trigger alert: discussions of misogyny, abuse, bullying, etc. below.
Dear readers: there have been lots of questions raised about our comments policy regarding the recent accusations of sexual misconduct in the profession. We think we have made some wrong calls along the way. In this brief post we want to explain how our thinking evolved over the last hectic 36 hours, and more importantly to put in place a new policy.
When we became aware of the accusations concerning Peter Ludlow, the bloggers at NewAPPS had a long internet conversation on whether to open comments or merely include a link to the news reports. In light of earlier discussions of similar topics, we suspected that an unmoderated blog debate on this case could become offensive and even cross the boundary of legality. So we did not open comments. This decision met with quite a bit of public criticism, some even hinting that we were protecting Prof. Ludlow. As a result, we decided to open comments, but to monitor them very closely. For nearly 24 hours, John Protevi - with some hours of others of us taking over - did this. Arguably some of the comments that stayed up should have been unpublished. But trust, us, the ones we did unpublish were worse. Comments were closed in light of a comment most of you haven't seen that we thought would push discussion in an unproductive direction.
Since this followed a comment that raised a different case - the claim that another department has had and hidden allegations - some have speculated that we don't want such allegations made public. This was, of course, not so. But a blog discussion like this was not the place to responsibly consider other allegations. We are not here to encourage a free-flowing discussion that will inevitably include anonymous speculation.
In the future, our general policy on issues like this will be to close comments, merely posting links to information, until such time as there are professional or philosophical issues that we think it will be useful for the community to discuss. We run this blog for a number of reasons. One of them, which we take very seriously, is to offer a discussion space for professional issues. However, our blog is not a soapbox, so although it is offered as a professional service, we can and will exercise our judgment as to what we want to appear here.
Georgetown, like many Jesuit schools, requires philosophy of all undergrads - two courses. Since most of these students are not going to go on in philosophy, some of us spend a fair bit of time reflecting on what best to aim for in such a class. I don't really think the first steps of professional training are the goal - and so try more to instill habits of philosophical reflection - the examined life - that might be useful to them in the future. As part of this, a few of us have tried to tailor courses to particular groups of students. For myself, this has meant a philosophy of music course - now in its second iteration. I'm not any kind of expert in the area, but I know a bit of philosophy, have a history in music -I was an orchestral trumpet player, was one course short of a music performance major, and have performed with everything from brass quintets to rock bands to professional orchestras - and I'm a thoughtful guy, so I figured I could fake it.
For the first assignment in this course, I ask them to select a performance of a piece of music to analyze in Aristotelian terms - a piece that generates an understanding conducive collective emotional reaction in the audience by way of the integration of all the elements, in such a way that nothing is superfluous.
Well, really I have nothing to say in this post. I just wanted to offer you this performance, by one GU student, that was selected by another as the topic of his analysis for the assignment.
There have been a number of discussions here at Newapps on various things that philosophical writing can legitimately aim for other than simply tell some truth or other. Here, I want to reflect on a distinction between telling and showing. In the simplest case, this distinction arises when we contrast being told some fact and seeing something for ourselves. So I can tell you about an apple, or show you one. I can tell you how to properly pull a sweep oar or show you. And there are clearly important differences here. For one, showing is "higher bandwidth". That is, the amount of information transfered in a typical observation or physical engagement with an object is orders of magnitude more than the information stated in a claim - even a very complex, say book-length one. And there may well be other important differences. One can talk about those in different ways - concrete embodiment in environmental-social context, phenomenal access, etc. I'm making no claims about what the difference is, merely pointing to the - I hope - uncontroversial claim that there is an important difference. And I claim that this is a difference that makes an epistemological difference. We can know more, know different things, have a different sort of understanding when something is shown to us than when we merely learn various facts about it.
My thought that something very like the showing/telling distinction can arise in language; that is, we can make use of language to show things to one another in ways that carry with them the positive features of material showing. That's to say that there are non-fact-stating features of speech acts that have the upshot of something very like showing.
This is just a short note to express my hope that all the celebrities and ordinary folks celebrating the two former members of pussy riot will recall that there are political prisoners rotting in US prisons as well. This is not to criticize TFMPR - I don't really understand the issues behind the split, but that aside, I take it that their primary moral responsibility is to stand up to abuses in Russia. On the other hand, while there is nothing at all wrong with cheering on these efforts from the safe Brooklyn sidelines, this is not the primary moral responsibility of someone in the US. For those who would like to learn more about US political prisoners, there are quite a few excellent resources Here
Is an African American political prisoner in the US. He was convicted of killing a police officer in the course of resistance work with the armed wing of the New African Liberation Army. He has been held in solitary confinement for the last 30 years, in violation of numerious international agreements, and under conditions that clearly constitute torture. Below is a letter from various Nobel Laureates calling for his release into the general population, and information on how to support him.
He is gone. When someone is 94, you can't call it a surprise. But when someone has always been there as a part of just about everything you cared about politically your entire life, it somehow is. We are much the poorer.
In a recent blog entry, Laurie Santos and Tamar Gendler very nicely lay out the idea that explicit propositional knowledge is only a small part of the sort of understanding that guides action. As they say “Recent work in cognitive science has demonstrated that knowing is a shockingly tiny portion of the battle for most real world decisions. You may know that $19.99 is pretty much the same price as $20.00, but the first still feels like a significantly better deal. …You may know that a job applicant of African descent is as likely to be qualified as one of European descent, but the negative aspects of the former's resume will still stand out. “ (The post is short and really well written, go read the whole thing.) They then note, “You might think that this is old news. After all, thinkers for the last 2500 years have been pointing out that much of human action isn't under rational control.”
I would add: not only is this a point that one finds in Aristotle, but for the last 350 years it has been central to: Pascal, Marx Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Althusser, Foucault, pretty much every feminist epistemologist and philosopher of science (longino, Harding, Kukla, and on and on), and forcefully developed within mainstream analytic philosophy by Dreyfus, Haugeland, and others. )I sometimes think that the only important philosopher not to accept the point is Jason Stanley. – j/k!)
There was a story in today's NYT about a number of colleges that are lowering tuition, sometimes drastically. The argument is that they can do this without loss of revenue, since so few pay full tuition anyway. Thus, they are lowering tuition and cutting financial aid and making a splash vis a vis the current concern over high tuition.
The article makes a number of useful points: that colleges have done a terrible job at advertising how few people actually pay the official tuition amounts that sound so scary, or that there is a significant phenomenon of high tuition causing a perception of quality. But one obvious point goes utterly unmentioned in the NYT coverage: that cutting both tuition and aid hurts the most economically vulnerable and benefits the less vulnerable. (The NYT mentions that the college it most focuses on will retain mert-based scholarships, but fails to discuss the effects of cutting need-based.)
All of which leads me to float a suggestion for discussion - one that I once raised with our university president at a party, predictably being responded to with a chuckle and a raised eyebrow: let's raise tuition. A lot.
There is a theme I'm seeing over and over in the coverage of Mandela's funeral - in everything from mainstream press, to "expert" commentators both inside and outside the press, and essays on the left. People note how brilliant, effective, humane, democratic, strategic, etc. Mandela was when leading the resistance movement. Then they note that he was less effective, less strategic, less brilliant, less democratic as president. (Those on the left add that he began collaborating with international corporations, imperialist or otherwise disreputable states, etc.) And then they move onto how much this negative trend has continued and in some cases wonder whether there is a leader who can bring South Africa back to the excitement and progress of the revolution.
What is striking is that everyone takes this history to reflect on Mandela, on Mandela's legacy as a person. It is if the main observation is that this guy was great for a time and only good later, to be followed by people who were massively worse. And so we are led to take from this the lesson that we need to find someone who is as he was earlier but able to maintain this disciplined humanity as president.
No one that I have seen has so much as entertained the possibility that this difference might imply not changes in Mandela, but the difference between democratic voluntary movement coalitions and institutionalized states, even ones with marvelous constitutions like that of South Africa. If we did consider seriously this other possibility - that it is the structures that were the independent variable in this experiment - might we possibly be led to the thought that the way such revolutions are organized is a better model for society than the way states are?
My own involvement in the anti-apartheid struggle began in the mid 1980s when I was a graduate student at Pitt. It was a formative period for me, a time when I was learning to be an activist and organizer, and taking that on as part of my life and identity. throughout that time, Mandela was a symbol more than a real live figure. We read his speeches and analysis, studied his life. But locked up in prison, he was not someone we interacted with, even from a distance. Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo, Joe Slovo, Ruth First, and many others were the ongoing partners in our thinking. Numerous less well known representatives came to our campuses and engaged with us directly. Mandela was this figure on "free Nelson Mandela" posters, but nonetheless important for all that. Of course this change with his release from prison and the transformation of roles that he took on as a result. In this first post, I want to reflect on the importance that this time had for me, by passing on a few little vignettes. I invite others to do the same in comments. this might seem odd, talking about my own life on the occasion of the passing of one of the world-historical greats. But as I see it, a good measure of the importance of Mandela lies in the changes he brought about in so many thousands of less significant people like me.
Aside from the nauseating mythological reminiscences of the Kennedy presidency, news today is dominated by discussion of the US Senate's decision to eliminate the possibility of filibuster for certain nomination votes. All manner of dire consequence has been suggested on both sides of this procedural issue. (Has there ever been a more hyperbolic characterization of anything than calling this change in voting procedures a "nuclear option"?) It seems to me that there is a deeper issue here that points to a rather depressingly misguided focus of intellectual thought on collective rationality, one that cuts across a wide variety of disciplines.
Ein Mann wohnt im Haus der spielt mit den Schlangen der schreibt--Celan.
Yesterday, I posted a very lengthy (by our blogging standards) piece about the role(s) the purported contrast between understanding and explaining the Holocaust can play in the arts, ethics, and social science. It was framed as a response to a two-part review by Mark Lilla. I was careful not to motivate my disagreement with Lilla in political terms. In fact, I avoid mention of "politics," "Israel," "evil," "Hitler," (etc). Interestingly enough, three out of four published comments on the piece thus far (two by fellow NewAPPSies),* focus on political abuses of the Holocaust in Israel or Stateside (or elsewhere); these comments seem to target primarily what they take to be the political and legal implications of Lilla's position.
I want to offer a reading of the classic film Casablanca through the lens of a conception of love developed in bell hooks's All About Love. In that series of essays, hooks picks up on ideas of M. Scott Peck's in The Road Less Traveled. Peck, whether explicitly or not - I haven't read that book - is developing Aristotelian notions. Leaving that aside, and taking a few liberties with what hooks has to say, the concept of love that I want to make use of here is roughly this: a mutual social-psychological orientation between a group of people through which they systematically contribute to each other's spiritual growth. (Here 'spiritual' can be given a more directly Aristotelian reading in terms of virtue, or others. These differences do not matter for present purposes.)
A few quick points: this is meant in the sense of concept crafting. That is, the claim is not that this notion captures the (all, even some) commonsense usage of 'love' but that it is a useful concept for cutting some aspects of moral-social-psychological reality at the joints. Note as well that this notion of love is not at all essentially tied to romantic love. It applies as well to friendship, parenting, political comreades, members of a close social group, etc. Importantly, this sense of love is not equated with affect or emotion, though some sorts of emotional engagement may be necessary. It is essentially measured by effect. Love is a relationship that leads to mutual growth, reinforced by the relationships that nurture it. Finally, note the emphasis on mutuality - which is not to say symmetry. A loving relationship is one in which each nurtures the growth of the others. There may be healthy relationships that nurture growth in one direction, but that is something different, and something that is very likely to quickly become unhealthy.
Consider the typical way we grade students in a course. We give a number of assignments. We grade each. Then we average those grades to get a course grade. That course grade is then taken by various outside agents - employers, grad schools, etc. - to be a measure of accomplishment. But there is one very obvious irrationality in this system. Consider two students: student 1 has had the benefit of excellent prior training at, say, a top private HS. 2 has gone to much weaker schools. Maybe 1 has already had some philosophy and certainly has good training in writing papers. 2 does not. Thus, on the first assignment, 1 ends up with a much better grade than 2 because the paper is just plain better. Over the course of the term, however, 2 improves at a vastly higher rate and by the end of the term they are doing work at the same level. Even those professors who include "improvement" as a factor in the final grade are likely to give 1 a higher grade than 2. (Let's assume that 1 does better on all assignments up to the final one, but stipulate that one's assessment at the end of the course is that they are now producing work of equal quality.)
Following on Eric's post about the Nobel in economics, a brief comment on the latest Peace Prize. A number of recent prizes have been truly bizarre - given to Obama in 2009 for, I guess, getting elected and not being Bush; to the EU in 2012 for, I guess, not totally dissolving, and now to the UNs Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons for, I guess, being pressed into service in Syria where they might, at some future date, possibly do something useful as that country dissolves into chaos and mass death. But as an award to the person (well, nevermind) who "shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses" color me skeptical. In particular, it is worth remembering the role this body was assigned by the UN in the leadup to the criminal invasion of Iraq in 2003.
In a recent post I introduced a distinction between two types of pragmatic functions corresponding to two
directions of fit with social norms. An invocative function was one whereby a
properly performed speech act contributed to the institution of a social norm -
say, giving a warranted order - and a reflective function - that asserts the
(prior) existence of norm. Here, I first mention two other independent
dimensions of variation and develop a single example that has been on my mind
It is familiar to categorize speech acts according to "direction of fit". Normal empirical assertions have word to (fit) world direction of fit, in that what you say is correct or incorrect insofar as the world is as you say. If the world isn't, then you are wrong. On the other hand, a claim like "it ought to be the case that P" has world to (fit) word direction of fit. If the world isn't as described - P is false - then the purport of the sentence is that the world is wrong.
In this note, I suggest an emendation of this schematic framework that I think is fruitful for understanding the complex function of a wide range of speech act types.
Post WWII, Hanah Arendt made a valiant effort to turn moral and political attention to the ways that unexceptional individuals performing actions that, when looked at locally, were unexceptional yet contributed to exceptionally evil systems. Sadly, current attitudes across the professions, literature, the press, and philosophical ethics suggest that her efforts were a failure. And that is, in my view, a bad thing. The overwhelming majority of the violence in the world today is what Galtung has labeled "structural violence" - roughly, the point is that far greater harm is done to people as the result of complex social forces than by individual actors. And in my view it is a scandal of philosophy that this is not a central issue in applied moral and political philosophy. (Of course there are philosophers who address such things. But I doubt that anyone could claim that such work is generally treated as central to philosophy.)
Suppose that you want to defend someone or some institution from criticism that it has engaged in unacceptable behavior of type t. Here's a common rhetorical strategy understood by all professional pundits: First, you define some spectrum, relevant to t. Then you find a way to identify demons at the right and left-hand ends of that spectrum that will allow you to place your hero in the rational middle. It helps if one of the demons can be associated - even if unfairly - with actual people, preferably people that are already demonized by your likely readers. Balancing that first demon needn't actually be real people. Rather, you can use some vague phrase that suggests demonizable extremism. Such non-referential vaguery is useful because it allows you to suggest to readers that real critics fit this extreme, without having to actually defend claims about what they really say. Next you assume the middle, with high fanfare and moral certainty. Finally, you rhetorically assimilate your spectrum to three discrete points: point occupied by you and your hero; the crazies on one end, and all critics on the other.
Voila: Hero defended without having to actually address any of the substantive criticisms. No one who is a crazy spectrum-ending demon needs to be engaged with seriously.
Julian Young has now forthrightly corrected passages from his biography Friedrich Nietzsche: A Philosophical Biography (Cambridge University Press, 2010), discussed here a while ago. In two pages of Errata inserted in unsold copies of the book, he writes:
The author wishes to correct an oversight on his part in omitting to provide appropriate acknowledgement of
material reproduced from, and references made to, the late Curtis Cate’s biography, Friedrich Nietzsche (London:
He writes (in correspondence):
I went through my biography with a fine tooth comb and identified every occasion there was a phrase that overlapped with the earlier biography, changed the phrase, and inserted a footnote to the earlier biography. The foreign translators were informed of this.
Kim sympathizes with his frustrated colleagues, but suggests a
different reason for the rancor. “It really is painful to read other
people’s work,” he says. “That’s all it is… All of us are just too lazy
to read them.” Kim is also quick to defend his friend. He says Mochizuki’s reticence
is due to being a “slightly shy character” as well as his assiduous
work ethic. “He’s a very hard working guy and he just doesn’t want to
spend time on airplanes and hotels and so on.” O’Neil, however, holds Mochizuki accountable, saying that his refusal to cooperate places an unfair burden on his colleagues. “You don’t get to say you’ve proved something if you haven’t
explained it,” she says. “A proof is a social construct. If the
community doesn’t understand it, you haven’t done your job.”--Has the ABC Conjecture been solved? [HT: Clerk Shaw on Facebook]
This piece is a nice inside perspective on the 'political economy' and social epistemology of mathematical proof.
Various sorts of attacks on academia have been a theme at Newapps since the beginning: Increasing corporatization of the university, growth of administration, take-over of administration by non-academics, funding cuts, increasing student debt, uses of MOOCS that are contrary to goals of education, increasing use and abuse of adjuncts, hyper-emphasis on "evaluation", anti-intellectualism, federal attacks on academic freedom and research independence, legal attacks on faculty and graduate student organizing, and here's a new one - "outsourcing" grading to Bangalore (coming in a pilot project from a director of business law and ethics studies, as probably was just inevitable.)
Anyway, I've been saying for some time that I'd start a thread in which we might think collectively about what can be done. Should we work within existing organizations like AAUP and APA, or give them up as hopeless? Should we take an activist/organizing approach or focus on legislation and lobbying? Should unionization be a focus - whether legally or not? Creative new ideas would be most welcome.
An annoyingly inaccurate, but touching obituary in the Washington Post. Not only did he solve one of the grand conjectures - and one of the easiest to explain to non-mathematicians - but he launched a subliterature in epistemology, by providing the classic case of indirect evidence of the existence of a proof.